Category Archives: Computer

Jennifer Aniston and Bill Gates

What comes to mind when you think about the ’90s?

Obviously, Jennifer Aniston of Friends and Windows 95!

As of the date of this writing, all this is an eternity ago – a quarter of a century, in fact. One of the two is nearly forgotten, and it is not Jennifer – thank God!

We have to admire the cloud and the foresight of Bill Gates to hire Jennifer and her co-star Matthew Perry to lend their fame to teach people about Windows 95. When the infotainment, below, was published, Friends was in its first season, and it could not have been clear what phenomenon Friends would become.

About a decade earlier Steve Jobs had rocked the world of product announcements with his Superbowl commercial introducing the MacIntosh. Boring Microsoft – in comparison – had to come up with something earth-moving, and celebrities probably seemed like a good idea.

The first move was to include a pretty cool music video on the distribution CD, Eddie Brickell’s Good Times, but the problem here was that you must have already bought the software, so it was not a particularly good promotional tool.

For this, Jennifer was put to work. At least by today’s standards, it was rather cringe-worthy, but then again, many of the 90s soaps carried the same hallmark.

Lean back, pour a drink and enjoy – all while learning how to use Windows 95.

Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide – 1995 – Jennifer Aniston & Matthew Perry

As an afterthought – how much more fund would that have been, had Bill Gates hired Ross instead of Chandler!?

My Old TRS-80

TRS-80 top modelOne of my first ‘investments’ I made after college, when I started making a boat-load of money (that’s how it felt, at least) with my new job, was a TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack.

Today I ran into an article on Mashable about that Trash-80 that brought back memories of sitting on that machine for long nights, the ash tray overflowing, discovering all the things you could do with BASIC.

Despite my feeling of being totally rich, my pay check of nearly 2000 Deutsch Marks would not allow me to buy anything but the entry model of this computer. At that time the US Dollar was around 4 Marks which brought the price of that computer to an amazing DM 3000 – one and a half month’s pay. This made me think about what that top model Tandy computer would cost in today’s Dollars – – – turns out to be over 26 thousand Dollars!

And looking at the exchange rate from the other side – I made only $1500 in today’s Dollars and I thought I was rich? Now I wonder if the exchange rate of DM to US$ really reflected the relationship of cost of living. A quick Google search reveals that in 1980 a bread in the US cost about 50 cents, while a bread in Germany cost DM 2.50 – so the exchange rate is at least in the ballpark.

Maybe I should have moved to the US right after college – I might have been able to afford one of those fancy floppy drives from Radio Shack…

In case the TRS-80 catalog on Mashable ever goes away, here’s a copy…

Expanding on “Computers with Consciousness”

halI always enjoy Jon Rappoport’s articles on NoMoreFakeNews. The latest post on the idea of computers developing consciousness prompted me to add a bit of a different viewpoint to it:

Jon, this article just screams to me for an answer. First of all, I do agree with you on pretty much all of your viewpoints and actually enjoy your “Escape From the Matrix”. But where I want to bring a bit of a different viewpoint is body v. computer – for me they are pretty much the same – they are machines. But why is it that we have developed consciousness, one may ask? – I actually don’t think we have – but instead we started to occupy those meat-machines once they became good enough to represent us. In the same way, I imagine, that computers will become attractive enough at some point of sophistication for a souls/spirits to occupy them.
I realized this – many, many years ago – when I saw a window mannequin, during a nightly walk and window shopping, with a being trapped inside. That being had been attracted by the beauty of the plastic body and got stuck in it believing it could not escape that matrix of plastic any more. It tried to communicate with me and maybe I was able to help a bit with conveying the idea that it is trapped only if it believes so – I sure hope.
My experience with computers is similar – sometimes I notice beings in there and if I work with them they usually work with me – that’s how I make a living with computers.
I agree that the sudden appearance of consciousness with more memory and TeraFlops is humbug – but once the filigree sophistication of computers gets to the same order of magnitude as our meat bodies I see a good chance that beings get trapped in there as well and make the computers/robots to appear to have developed consciousness. That will – obviously – lead those scientists further down the rabbit hole.

Typing Relief

When running an online business and you want to be known as a reliable and responsive company you are going to answer a lot of emails.

Many of those emails will contain the same – or mostly the same – information, like,

“Thank you so much for your interest, but currently we don’t offer a whole sale program. Let me add you to our mailing list so that we can inform you when that changes.”

I learned very early that I definitely don’t want to type this over and over and have looked for solution to reduce my typing.

I found many. One that offers the most features is AutoHotKey. It could do all I needed but is very hard to set up. You have to edit a text file defining macros – it’s nearly a programmers job. Not that I mind as I am, by trade, of that breed, but I found something much easier to use for my limited objective: a plugin for Thunderbird. It was perfect as I was using this email client anyways. But then the support for this plugin got slower and slower and was always a few versions of Thunderbird behind, so I had to postpone upgrading it until the plugin update had come out.

And now with the idea to go to possibly using a different email client – I would lose all my functionality that I got so used to.

So I searched again and found AutoText by Jitbit AutoText, and that seems to not only offer me to replace the functions in Thunderbird, but in any other application I use as well. Once I have a definition for something like ‘chm’ defined to be expanded to “Cheers, Merlin” I can use that abbreviation also in Gmail and any other web-based program.

I searched hard and long for this – so hope it helps you out.

Gibberish Last Names Clogging up Subscriptions

I had been annoyed recently by an increasing number of SPAM subscriptions on my web site. The script behind the form for these subscriptions and requests for rebate immediate send out a confirmation email to the address entered (as well as to the admin of the site) and add the visitor to a database.

Initially there were a few of those spam entries and I could easily go into the database and manually remove them. But they became more and more numerous, so the first step was to add a link to the email the admin received which allowed for an easy removal of that spam entry.

But finally it got so annoying and time-consuming that I tried to think of a more automated way to handle the spam entries. What they all had in common was

  • a good first name
  • a gibberish last name like NLMAkPJpIVyqCkCeuEh, YijhgzswktJTVWqXhmA or MPSVPkfXInMzFYhEOpp
  • and a good email

The email was probably a good one because there were hardly any bounces for the automatic confirmation emails. That actually bothered me also because these poor recipients got some SPAM apparently coming from me.

Now the quest for me was to find something that all these spam entries had in common so that I could filter them somehow. Unfortunately php does not have a ‘gibberish’ function, so I had to come up with one of my own. Meditating over these entries I finally saw that these spam names often have longer sequences of consonants than would occur in valid names.

With a little bit of help from my friends at Google I came up with the following. With the hope that it might help somebody bothered by the same spammers, here the code snippet to filter those entries:

$first = $_REQUEST[first];
$last = $_REQUEST[last];
$gibberish = preg_match('/[bcdfghjklmnpqrstvwxz]{4,}/i', $first)
          || preg_match('/[bcdfghjklmnpqrstvwxz]{4,}/i', $last);
if (! $gibberish) {
    //do the regular processing
else {
    // pretend every thing went find for the spammer
    // but don't really do anything

Will see how many will slip through – gibberish with less than 4 consonants in a row.

What I am still curious about is ‘WHY’? What the spammer intends with these spam entries. I don’t see any way that could be beneficial to him/her. Discrediting me because the site sents out spam? But why then use gibberish in the last name? I am really curious.

How To Make Symbols With Keyboard

Alt + 0153   ™   trademark symbol
Alt + 0169   ©   copyright symbol
Alt + 0174   ®   registered ­ trademark symbol
Alt + 0176   °    degree symbol
Alt + 0177   ±   plus-or ­-minus sign
Alt + 0182   ¶   paragr­aph mark
Alt + 0190   ¾   fractio­n, three-fourths
Alt + 0215   ×    multi­plication sign
Alt + 0162   ¢   the ­ cent sign
Alt + 0161   ¡    upside down exclamation point
Alt + 0191   ¿   upside down question mark
Alt + 1   ?   smiley face
Alt + 2   ?   black smiley face
Alt + 15   ?   sun
Alt + 12   ?   female sign
Alt + 11   ?   m­ale sign
Alt + 6   ?   spade
Alt + 5   ?   Club
Alt + 3   ?   Heart
Alt + 4   ?   Diamond
Alt + 13   ?   e­ighth note
Alt + 14   ?   beamed eighth note
Alt + 251   ?   square root check mark
Alt + 24   ?   up arrow
Alt + 25   ?   down arrow
Alt + 26   ?   r­ight arrow
Alt + 27   ?   l­eft arrow
Alt + 18   ?   u­p/down arrow
Alt + 29   ?   lef­t right arrow
Alt + 0196   Ä   umlaut upper A
Alt + 0214   Ö   umlaut upper O
Alt + 0220   Ü   umlaut upper U
Alt + 0223   ß   german sz
Alt + 0228   ä   umlaut a
Alt + 0246   ö   umlaut o
Alt + 0252   ü   umlaut u
Alt + 0128   €   Euro

A more complete list of Windows Alt Key Codes.

The Internet is Humming with Dr. Who

The-Doctor-and-ClaraToday the wait was over – the second half of season 7 of Dr. Who has started.

I bet that most views of the show happened on the official channels like BBC America here in the US of A, but, as we are out in the boons, with the cable left behind, we depended on the good old pirate bay to get our fix of Dr. Who (obviously this is a lie, as we would never download any tv show illegally.) Had we actually looked at the torrents we would have been surprised by all the buzz on the interconnected pipes that make up the internet. Way over 2000 seeders is rather rare, and still, download speed would have been – had we done that – still rather slow, so there would have been many, many people as excited to find out about the Doctor’s new adventures and all with a new companion.

Had we been able to watch the show after downloading it illegally we would have been able to actually watch it on the west coast before it officially aired. As I write this, it’s only a bit after the show ended and we would have finished it hours ago – way ahead of all the people waiting for the BBC to start it – Man – are time zones cool, or what?

I’m really curious if the Doctor will get lucky with this companion, but I’m not really holding my breath as one of the big tensions in the series is that that never happens. Strange things can happen if time travel is involved, like Amy turning out to be the Doctor’s mother in law – who comes up with those things?

Thanks, Steven Moffat!

Look Ma, No Breasts – A Photoshop Disaster

I have, in the past, enjoyed some of the Photoshop disasters that happen when the graphics editor just does not pay enough attention or is not given enough time by his editor to do a good job.

Today I found one myself…

Escali Body-Composition Scale – Groupon Online Deal

Instantly I had the feeling there was something not quite kosher but I had to look twice to see what’s wrong with that lady. I guess with the help of that scale that measures body fat she succeeded to get rid of all the fat in her mammal glands because they are not there any more.

Subliminal advertizing?

There certainly is the possibility that this model has a very long upper body, but as models are usually well-shaped and proportioned, I am leaning more towards a little mishap with the clone tool.

(clicking the photo might bring you to the Groupon page where I found this image, but there is a good chance that it will not be there when you look – just the way Groupon works.)

X11Forwarding But DISPLAY variable not set

x11-logoSerious programming in the olden days mean to deal with Unix – the father of today’s ubiquitous Linux running bigger part of the internet.

The first bigger project I was involved in was still the good old DOS with Turbo Pascal – anybody remember that?

As soon as I could, and we had to build something less of a hack but more of a software-engineered application, I steered my client into Unix, first the X86 version of Xenix, which turned out to be too flaky, and then a nice hundred thousand dollar HP Workstation. As it was an application involving graphics, an important order of business was to get familiar with the principles and techniques of the X11 windowing system.

This was not a very long-lived project and with the advent of more powerful x86 hardware and a finally decent piece of software from Microsoft – Windows NT – the develoment was moved to that new platform. The fact that the port from X to NT was not terribly difficult was a nice testimonial for proper application of software engineering principles. Hacking mentality as promoted by something like Turbo Pascal would have required a complete rewrite.

System administration, I had become familiar with during that time, was helpful when I started to maintain a few linux web servers years later. I always considered X11 far superior to all the other graphical windows software but I really had never anything to do with it any more – until a point in time a few days ago.

First of all, I finally succeeded in getting Ubuntu running on an old laptop. A flaky DVD had never gotten me through an installation properly and the machine was so old that it could not boot from a memory stick. I ultimately succeeded when I found a utility I could burn on a CD and boot from that made my USB bootable. Now I could load Ubuntu from the USB stick.

So, there I finally was again with a computer with a proper graphical user interface. But that computer was tucked away somewhere with little physical access. It serve as a local testing machine for web development – did not really need that X Windows for that!

But it was sitting there, teasing me, so I finally got XMing – an X Server running on MS Windows – installed on my main computer where I sit all day and I could finally connect to that old laptop remotely with a graphical user interface. In my early days of X11 there was not too much concern about security – it was all on the local network – yes, a coax ethernet cable – and to have an application display on an xterminal you just had to set the DISPLAY environment variable to the IP address of any X-Server, like a xterminal, and authorize its use.

That is all different now. I learned that from a remote machine you start an ssh connection on my workstation (windows 7) to the remote host (old linux laptop) using putty. If the putty session had X Forwarding enabled then a secure tunnel for all the X traffic was created. This tunnel could even go through a router with NAT without a problem. Initially I had wondered why I saw the value of the DISPLAY variable set to strange things like localhost:10.0 – but I finally understood that this was how the ssh tunnel worked: the ssh server on the old laptop pretended to be a local X server on display number 10; then it transported all the X traffic it received securely to the machine I was sitting on and fed it into XMing. It all worked perfectly.

Two weeks later I received my first Raspberry Pi and that little wonder did behave the same way as the old laptop, a bit slower I have to admit, so the old laptop is still a bit more powerful than the miniature linux box sitting over there on my speaker. Both are full LAMP systems and are even accessible from the rest of the world through the magic of DynDNS and port forwarding.

But then my trouble began.

As I had all this so nicely and easily set up, it was suddenly not enough any more that I logged into my real web servers only with putty, SCP, and DirectAdmin. Nostalgia had me in its grip and I just had to get X running on them as well.

First of all there was no X-stuff installed on those servers as they were web servers in some remote data center. But a “yum install xterm” got this handled. Still no go – starting xterm from the ssh login gave me the error message that the display was either not there or could not be opened.

The next step, I found out, was to enable X11Forwarding for the sshd on the remote server – but still no go – the DISPLAY variable was still not set. Lots of Googling around but no solution – everything I tried made no difference.

But I learned about the -vvv parameter to ssh. It would give me insight into what was happening during the establishing of the ssh connection. Unfortunately, putty does not have it! But I found that it has a logging function and after turning this on and comparing the logs from connections to my local old laptop and the remote web server I finally saw the light:


After I had it yum-installed and run to generate a new .Xauthority file for a local X server my quest for the xterm running on that web server and displaying on my local machine behind a NAT router in my office had come to a successful conclusion.

Not that I will use that much – putty and SCP have done the job for me for years – but I now could, potentially, install firefox on that server and start browsing through that server located at a very different place on the planet.

Hmmm  – why don’t I just try that: yum install firefox……………………….
finally, after installing a gazillion dependent packages, the installation is – complete!

Now: firefox& – wait – wait – wait…


But it is clear that I have to file this away under ‘education’ as it is so slow to make it more or less unusable.

Google in the 60s

My first encounters with computers were through the medium of punch cards and line-printers.

Thus, finding the Google60 art project made me a bit nostalgic. The project tries to show how you would interact with the all-pervasive Google through the mediums of the 60s.

Click on the image to experience it yourself…


Google 60 Art Project