Monday, October 29, 2007

Oldest animal found reports that a team of scientists from the Bangor University school of Ocean Sciences have found a quahog clam, which they believe is approximately 400 years old. The clam was apparently living on the seabed off the north coast of Iceland. Dating was done by counting the growth rings on the shell.

According to the article, the discovery was made by postdoctoral scientist Al Wanamaker, the newest member of the ‘Arctica’ team. "No wonder it tasted so rubbery," Wanamaker was later heard to remark.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Storm Worm Open Warfare

I mentioned the Storm Worm yesterday, and now Ars Technica reports on more recent developments. As computer researchers had begun to close in on the worm, it now appears that it has the ability to see who is probing its servers, and it subsequently launches a denial of service (DDos) attack against the IP of the investigator! According to the article, "some reasearchers are now afraid to publish any of their findings about the worm for fear of even harsher retaliation."

People had previously thought that the primary intent of the Storm Worm -- so named because it orininally claimed to provide information about storms going on in Europe -- was as a SPAM-bot. Now, it is feared that perhaps it is a launch platform for DDoS attacks.

Cyber warfare anyone?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen

The latest factoid from
The network of compromised Microsoft Windows computers under the thumb of the criminals who control the Storm Worm has grown so huge that it now has more raw distributed computing power than all of the world's top supercomputers, security experts say.

According to some experts, this botnet could easily outperform IBM's BlueGene/L, which is the top-ranked supercomputer on the planet.

Storm Worm is diabolical. Unlike traditional botnet, which are controlled through a central server, Storm Worm seeds a botnet much in the same way as a peer-to-peer network, such as bittorrent. There is no centralized control. Each infected host shares lists of other infected hosts so that no one machine has a full list of the entire botnet.

Do you know what your PC is doing while you are asleep?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We Can't Handle the Truth!

An AP article, White House Edited CDC Climate Testimony, by H. Josef Herbert, accuses the Bush administration of eviscerating a Center For Disease Control report that was given to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Things that the public should not hear:

The deleted sections of the draft, covering more than half of the original text, included a list of specific impacts on which "climate change is likely to have a significant impact on health." The list included the effect of more frequent hot spells on vulnerable populations, the impact of extreme weather, more air pollution in drought areas, and greater likelihood of vector-borne and waterborne diseases as well as mental health problems.

While these impacts would be expected to be less significant in the United States than in the developing world, one deleted section says, "nevertheless many Americans will likely experience difficult challenges."

Of course, a government spokesperson says that the report "was not watered down in terms of its science." Any more than the United States "does not torture."

But if criticism of the war in Iraq is said to give "aid and comfort to the enemy," then what is to be said about our providing specific details about how climate change might affect public health? This is time-sensitive information that shouldn't get out until well after the 2008 elections.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another Look at Word 1.00

In a previous post, I mentioned that the entire DOS version of Microsoft Word came on two 5.25-inch floppy diskettes. Given that these floppies date back from 1983 and they have only one write-protect notch, I have to deduce that they are the 360K variety and not the new 1.2 M.

Here's a directory listing of what's on the first floppy:

Note there are three files listed, which have a total size of 54,713 -- that's only approximately 54K! Now the listing also says that there's 17,920 bytes free, so I'm guessing that there must also be some hidden files on this diskette.

I'm really out of practice with my DOS commands and I practically have no utilities left with which I can sniff around on the diskette. Since the file is only 2060 bytes large, I think it's also safe to assume that it must be linking to some hidden stuff on this floppy.

Here's what's on the second WORD diskette. I used a /W flag on the DIR command, so that I would get a multi-column listing that would fit on the screen. Unfortunately, the /W flag also leaves off the file sizes.

There may very well be hidden files on this diskette. What you see here, however, is very little in the way of real program files, mostly some .PRD printer drivers. There are a couple of sample .DOC files and a couple of .STY files. Could these be early incarnations of Word Style templates? I wish I could really play with this stuff to find out.

My final comment on all of this is a matter of perspective. You're looking at the entire Microsoft Word program (minus Mouse drivers, which are on the third floppy) on two (count them, two) 360K diskettes. Not even 720K total, given that there's free space on both floppies. I wonder how large Word 2007 is?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Yesterday's Word

With the potential eBay success of my GEM Suite, I thought that I'd continue my thread of DOS-related curios. One of the real treasures in my collection is Version 1.00 of Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word was officially released on October 25, 1983. This was the first word processor for the IBM PC that showed actual line breaks and typeface markups, such as bold and italics, directly on the screen while editing.

Years ago, I literally rescued this copy of Word for DOS from the dumpster at work. It comes in a dark green, plastic-covered three-ring binder. Packed inside were the Microsoft Word Word Processing Program manual (Copyright 1983), as well as the Customer Service Plan/Service Support Warranty booklet, a Quick Reference Card for IBM Personal Computer, and a pre-paid Microsoft Product Line Product Information form. In addition, this early version of Word came on two (count them: two) 5.25-inch floppy diskettes. A third disk contains the drivers for the Microsoft bus mouse. The bus mouse is so-named because it is attached to a special ISA bus card -- this was even before standard mouse ports appeared on the back of the PC case.

A fascinating detail about this software is in an "Easter Egg" that I had once read about in a trade magazine. I used an old DOS sector edit program (Central Point Software's PC Tools) to locate the following ASCII text on the program disk:

"The tree of evil bears bitter fruit, crime does not pay. THE SHADOW KNOWS. Trashing program disk."
Here's what it looks like on the original impact printer paper that I saved:
I think that I had read about this Easter Egg in PC Magazine, but I cannot verify it. The "trashing program disk" part was supposed to be a scare for people who were using a pirated copy of Word. I recall something to the effect that the person who placed that code in the program might have had to find a new job.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Circa 1985 GEM Shows its Polish

After a bit more noodling (see my earlier post titled Paleo-Geekology), I managed to load the other GEM applets onto my VMWare Workstation. Below is another picture of the GEM Desktop, with (clockwise) a clock/calendar (surprise -- no Y2K problem!), a colorful little calculator, and a snapshot applet for taking screen shots. The whole thing does look a bit like the first Mac screen. Apple made DRI take out the "Trash." ;-)

The next picture is a screen shot from the GEM Write program. According to literature on the back of the box, Write is based on the Volkswriter Deluxe word processor. GEM Write lets you write and edit, move and copy, search and replace, or erase and print without learning complex commands. You'd have to be familiar with an old workhorse like WordStar on DOS (or Vi on Linux) to know what they're talking about.

The following screen shot is from GEM Paint. Thankfully, they provided some stock files, such as this "proposed office floor plan." Your Paint project was limited to 16 colors -- and that's if you had the latest and greatest IBM Enhanced Color Graphics Adaptor at the time. I think you could achieve the same results now with the WebCT Vista chat/whiteboard applet on the web.

Below is the GEM Draw package displaying some computer clip art. If you wanted colors, you'd have to go back and finish this project with GEM Paint.

Oh, brave new world!

I put the GEM suite up for sale on eBay today. My starting price is $19.99, which I feel is modest, given that this software belongs in a museum. Sadly, there are no bids yet at this time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Many moons ago I rescued a three-box suite of Digital Research, Inc. (DRI) GEM sofware from a dumpster at work.

GEM (Graphical Environment Manager) was a windowing system created by DRI. The first version for DOS-based 8086 computers shipped on February 28, 1985. This version of GEM is an almost direct copy of the Macintosh (DRI was sued by Apple and later had to change various aspects of their interface).

The eponymous GEM suite includes:

  • Write
  • Paint
  • Draw
  • Graph

And GEM Desktop in the darkness binds them.

My plan is to eventually unload the GEM suite on eBay, but I have been hoping to devise a way to preserve a copy of it for myself.

I recently came up with an old 5.25" floppy drive and wrestled it into submission on an Athlon XP box. Windows XP, however, didn't like the drive or anything that I put into it. With VMWare Workstation installed under Windows XP, I was able to intall a copy of MS-DOS 5 onto a two megabyte virtual hard disk. VMWare, it turns out, was able to dummy down the hardware interface and let me read data off of these old 5.25" diskettes. The additional beauty of this is that VMWare Worskstation will let me clone this install and preserve a working copy!

Perhaps it's hard to appreciate the extent to which it was necessary to dummy things down. Bad enough that I had to work with 360k capacity 5.25" floppies, but when it came time to configure GEM Desktop, I chose the highest point of 1985 technology for my install: IBM's Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA), which renders a whopping 16 colors at up to 640x350 pixels. Mice had just begun to scurry around amongst the dinosaurs in 1985... I configured for a Microsoft bus mouse.

Here's a screenshot of the GEM Desktop component that I installed:

Friday, October 5, 2007

Lessons in Geekdom

My old DFI Lanparty motherboard died in its sleep several months ago, forcing me to limp along on my cheapo laptop until I could scrape up the spare cash to build a replacement desktop unit.

This was a non-trivial upgrade -- the industry has cast aside the AGP video format in favor of PCI Express. In order to make that jump, my shopping list required a new motherboard and video card. In for an inch.... let's also get a new CPU and memory worthy of this new threshold.

But this is a tale about SATA and RAID. On my old system, I had kept a lot of data on a pair of 150GB SATA drives, which were combined into a single, 300GH, striped, RAID 0 array. As I waited peacefully and unawares for my upgrade, I thought that my data on the volume I called "Stripey" was safe and sound. Technically, I suppose that it still is. The problem, I discovered, is that my new motherboard will not recognize an imported RAID 0 -- I must initialize both drives if I wish to use them again in that fashion.

It turns out that there is some software out there, which is designed to recover data from RAID 0 drives. Unfortunately, this software is not free or even cheap. My data is certainly not worth that expense, anyway.

Ah, but wisdom comes with age (though often too late to do any good). With the advent of rewiteable DVDs, I actually began to practice the seemingly arcane art of data backups. I'm resigned to the fact that Stripey is going to have to die. For, while my backups are not perfect or all-encompassing, they're good enough to get me by.

Post Script: How is is that in my pile of backup DVDs I do not have a copy of the intall program for the backup software?