Pic of the day: Screenshot of my computer today. With the controversial program OptOut, the nice Mr Gibson has taken up the fight against some quite powerful adversaries.
Steve Gibson, superhero
I trust you know the concept of superheroes: People with more than normal abilities, using these to help their less lucky fellows and protect them against natural hazards and similarly gifted villains. Examples are Superman, Captain America and Breakup Girl. Oh, and Steve Gibson, who has the added advantage of living in our world.
More than a decade ago, we were glad to have a hard disk at all, having recently graduated from floppies of various formats and still vividly remembering the time of cassette tapes. So we sort of accepted that hard disks were not always reliable. Sometimes they would degrade over time, suddenly popping up unrecoverable errors. If this happened to a program, chances were it would not run at all. In data files, errors could be more subtle, changing one digit into another. This would have no effect at all, or your bridge might collapse or your business turn into a charity, unless you kept watching those data.
And then there was SpinRite, and behold,SpinRite was good. It was a small 1-floppy program that would test your harddisk, fix errors, identify weak areas, identify good areas that were not in use, refresh and realign the magnetic pattern, optimize the interleave and low level reformat the hard disk without hurting a single data bit. In short, it would renew your harddisk, except for the sheer mechanical parts that eventually wear out. The accompanying booklet was lucid and informative. And the program was stunningly efficient.
A few words here. All of Steve's programs are in 100% assembler code, and as fast as the hardware permits. Remember I compared assembler programming with "digging with a teaspoon"? This guy not just dug the Suez canal with a teaspoon, he took the time to build the Great Pyramid with the same teaspoon while he was in the area. OK, perhaps not quite, but you get the idea. This program was awesome in its early incarnations. Today's version is far more evolved. It certainly seems to be on the upper limit of what humans can create. There is stuff in there that I still have trouble believing is possible, such as low level reformatting a compressed write-caching SCSI drive full of data, without losing one single bit on it. In fact quite the opposite, recovering missed bits if necessary. It simply defies imagination, at least if you know a little about computers.
Now the years passed and hard disks became faster, cheaper and better. Eventually I gave my SpinRite to a friend in need, and moved on with my life (such as it is). Then around two years ago, I started to have trouble with a Zip disk from Iomega. (The company is market leader in cute and shoddy storage technology. Their products are so convenient that I tend to forgive the poor quality, which has plagued every single Iomega product I have ever used, from the Bernoulli box to the new 250MB USB Zip disk.) Anyway, when disk disaster struck, I rememered SpinRite. (This seems to be a recurring pattern in us humans. This is also where we suddenly remember that backups should be taken. Ahem.) Not knowing if the product was still alive, I logged on the Web and searched.
It turned out that the website had a whole section dedicated to the Zip and Jazz drives from Iomega, and a freeware program to test and maintain them. (I still have the program and have been running it in the background while writing.)
Since then, the web site of Gibson Research has grown with various new sections. There are some free programs, and lots of free advice. Lately Steve has turned his attention to the Web, and is already making waves. You can test whether your computer is open to hacking via the Net, and if so, there is a detailed step-by-step explanation on how to close the security holes. Recently there is also a free small program to detect and remove a small spy program that has become common, and which reports your net activity to an advertising company without your consent. This program however will be replaced with a larger, paid program that will tackle all kinds of spyware, removing or disabling or restricting them. Since I don't download lots of "grey" stuff from the Net, I won't need this program, but it sounds like a good addition to your anti-virus program. You probably didn't even know that this stuff existed, right?
Yeah, yeah. Give us the link already: www.grc.com. Or you could have clicked today's picture all along! Muahaha! Eh.. Bye for now.
Back already? OK, here's the news from my fascinating life.
Today as I sat down outdoors with two small hotdogs, I became aware of a few small sparrows that quietly settled nearby, watching me. One of them eventually landed on the rought outdoors table, rather obviously wanting crumbs. I broke off some crumbs and gave them, and pondered the recent theory that their ancestors were dinosaurs, back when my ancestor was a mouse. And people say that teaching evolution in school destroys faith?
The fiction writing urge is itching again. I'm currently doing the world building for another fantasy novel. Uhm, actually another attempt at a fantasy novel. My friends - or indeed any regular reader - already knows how this will go, I guess. I'm famous for not finishing anything. But this time I have something I don't usually have at this stage: A real fantasy quest! Of course it is still somewhat sketchy. I'm for instance not sure if I really should include those nymphs...
For some reason, my right foot is sore today.
No news on the other stuff.
Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.