Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Logitech Media Player Remote For Your PC

Gadget of the month has surely got to be the new Logitech Media Play Cordless Mouse.

If like me you've moved your CD collection from your CD's to your PC's hard drive you may find this new mouse/remote control a very useful gadget. It's a cross between a computer mouse and stereo remote control.

It features an extended wireless RF range, (not bluetooth or infra red) so you can control your media player from the comfort of your armchair and use it as a conventional optical wireless mouse when using your PC.

It has all the features you'd expect from a top-of-the range mouse, plus all the usual media player buttons you've come to expect, including:

Play, Pause, Forward, Back, up, down, and a Media Player Launch button (Compatible with Windows Media Player and Win Amp). All of which are illuminated on touch.

Just remember not to lose it down the edge of the sofa! otherwise you'll have to navigate Windows(TM) with your excellent keyboard shortcut knowledge ;-)

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Using A Parallel/Serial Connection To Copy Files

Even in the days of wireless networks and Gigabit Ethernet it's still sometimes convenient to directly connect two computers together to copy files using parallel or serial ports. Not all computers have an Ethernet card or LAN connection built-in so it's sometimes the only option, or maybe you don't have a hub or cross-over RJ45 Ethernet cable lying around ready to use.

What Next?

Using a parallel or serial cable can be very useful for connecting two PC's together. You can reach up to 4Mbits/sec using a direct parallel connection. It's ideal for copying files to a new computer or laptop.

Windows XP Set-up

To set-up a direct parallel or serial connection in Windows XP on the Start menu select 'My Network Places', then under the 'Network Tasks' panel on the left-hand side select 'Create a new connection', this will launch the 'New Connection Wizard'. Select Next and then select 'Set up an advanced connection'. To set up a direct connection, whether you wish to create a parallel or serial connection you must specify whether the PC you are currently using is the host (contains the files you wish to access) or guest (The computer used to access the information on the host PC). On this screen you have to make this decision, choose either 'Accept incoming connections' or 'Connect directly to another computer', depending on your selection you will be asked whether to connect using your parallel or serial port or you will be either asked to enter the name of the computer you wish to connect to or select the users who you wish to give permission to access you machine. Once you've set up the connection on one machine you will have to do the same on the other machine before you can successfully connect, remembering if you've made the first machine the Guest to make the other machine the Host and visa versa.

If you are using a software firewall such as Zonealarm, you will need to make sure you add your computer's IP addresses if applicable to the 'trusted zone' to allow your connection to be established between your two machines.

BTX Motherboards Provide Better Thermal Layout And Acoustics

The new PC motherboard form factor BTX (Balanced Technology Extended) has been developed to accommodate the latest processors and the problems arising from their ever-increasing clock rates.

It sounds as though the BTX standard takes system design tips from Apple's G5 when it comes to thermal and acoustic performance.

The BTX form factor uses an inline airflow layout to cool the hottest computer components with fewer fans. It does this by simply positioning the processor, chipset and graphics processors in the same vicinty on the board to one another allowing easier cooling, less fans and less noise. That's the theory anyway.

When Apple's G5 was introduced PC owners chuckled to themselves when they heard it contained 9 fans, but because of the internal layout spliting the chassis into thermal zones it enabled these fans to work at very low revs, keeping noise to a minimum and the system cool.

Hopefully with these new boards which also embrace the new PCI Express and Serial ATA technologies we will once again be able to have powerful PC's that don't sound like they are about to take off.

BTX form factor details

Wireless LAN Security Vulnerabilities

Since I last wrote about WLAN Security shortly after buying a Netgear Wireless router, I thought I'd write about improving your wireless network over-and-above that of what WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) offers.

In 2001 two universities in the US, Maryland and UC Berkeley published separate studies into the inherent flaws with WEP encryption.

This had, until recently put many corporations off the idea of WLANs. After all there are tools freely available that can decipher the WEP encryption keys used on a network.

So what technology can we use to improve WLAN security?

Ever since the flaws in WEP were discovered the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance have been busy trying to ratify a new standard in WLAN encryption. Known as 802.11i or WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) it is meant to be a software upgrade that is designed to address all known WEP vulnerabilities.

WPA uses an IEEE standard called 802.1X with Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP). Basically TKIP uses a dynamic key rather than the static one used in WEP, with TKIP a new key is generated every 10000 packets. TKIP also checks packets to make sure they haven't been altered by an intermediary.

Even though the upgrade to WPA was supposed to be a software (Firmware) upgrade it's still down to the hardware manufacturer to continue supporting it's hardware. Looking on the Netgear site it looks like my hardware (Netgear DG824M) won't be getting new firmware to upgrade the security from WEP to WPA.

Securing a home wireless router

Wireless and Linux

While I'm on the subject of wireless networks (WLAN) I'm still waiting for Linux to catch up and support more Wi-Fi devices so I can start to use my Linux box to the full. As yet I'm still unable to get Mandrake or Red Hat to work with my MA111 out of the box or using linux-wlan.

If anyone knows of any PCI or USB solutions that are compatible and available in the UK please contact me via my contact page.

XP SP2 and Netgear MA111

I installed XP Service Pack 2 last night for the second time after rolling it back previously.

The first time I installed it I couldn't get my Netgear MAlll wireless 802.11b USB device to work, I've since installed it on various other XP machines and with each install i've had different issues with the device.

I learned fairly early on that the supplied Netgear software wouldn't work under SP2, instead you have to opt for Windows XP wireless configuration, which incidentally has been slightly improved since SP1. Having said that it's still not perfect, since you have to enter your WEP in manually rather than use a password to create it like the Netgear software.

There are also issues with driver installation when you do a fresh install of XP and patch it with SP2 before installing the MA111.

The joy of computing :)

WLAN (Wireless LAN) Security

Since I bought my Netgear DG824M Wireless ADSL Modem Gateway I've been interested in securing it sufficiently enough to prevent it getting hacked.

Out of the box the router will work with default values, however it is VERY risky to keep your wireless access point running like this.

Here are a few tips which should keep out casual hackers and bandwidth thieves.

SSID (Service Set Identifier) Broadcasting

Your Service Set Identifier is basically the name of your wireless service, wireless access points all come with a default value for this, in the case of Netgear this can either be "Netgear" or "Wireless", you should change this to something else that does not describe your business or location (Note: SSID is case-sensitive).

The default setting on most Access Points is for the SSID to be broadcast out to anyone in range of the router, this is convenient for users to join your network, but handy for hackers to easily identify your network as a potential target. You should disable SSID broadcasting.

WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)

This is the wireless security standard, which has been proven to be quite easy to crack, however it does provide some protection, so it is highly recommended you enable WEP preferably 128 bit encryption and change the WEP key from the default value.

MAC address access control

Each wireless (and conventional) network card has a unique MAC address. Most Access Points allow you to configure access to the network via a set of MAC addresses instead of all users, which is usually the default setting. You should use this functionality since it will make it harder for casual hackers to join your network. On Windows machines open a DOS command prompt and type ipconfig/all in order to find the MAC address of your wireless card/USB dongle, simply add the MAC addresses of all the computers you need to access the router.

Wireless coverage

You should try and locate your Access Point in such a way as to reduce the coverage outside your building. Try to position your Access Point in the middle of your building equidistant from your computers and wireless devices, but away from windows and perimeter walls since this will provide good wireless coverage for people outside your building.

Power Requirements for PC Components

I found an interesting article in a PC magazine the other day, which might help people who are building a PC or upgrading their PSU. I've come across this problem too while building my own machine.

What power requirements do my PC components need?

I've tried looking in manufacturers manuals and websites, but most fail to mention this vital piece of information. How do I know what PSU to buy? 200W, 300W or 350W, maybe I should go the whole hog and splash-out on a 400W Power Supply beast!

Use this rough guide to estimate the power consumption of your PC.

PC Component Requirements (Rough Guide)

Celeron - 60W

Pentium 4/Athlon - 70W

Fans (CPU/Case) - 10W

Motherboard - 60W

256MB RAM - 20W

512MB RAM - 35W

AGP video card - 30-80W

CD/DVD drive - 30W

Hard disk - 20W

Floppy disk - 8W

Sound card - 10W

Network card - 5W

Modem - 5W

Firewire card - 40 W

USB 2.0 card - 20 W

Thinking of building a PC from scratch and on a budget?

Maybe you should consider a cardboard case like the one below?

Sounds odd, but when you think about it there are many things that you could fit a PC inside. All you need is an ATX PSU (Power Supply Unit) and a switch off an old power supply (ATX style only), or you could make your own Switch/Reset using momentary switches from Maplin or the like.

Cardboard PC Case

Construct your own ATX PSU switch

If you fancy creating your own ATX switch and reset button, it's easy check out this site.

Apple Mac G4 PC Conversion

Maybe if you have an old G4 lying about you could convert the innards into a PC!

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