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Notes from the March 2017 Meeting

This month’s Linux News – from Nick Vespo – started with an item called “What’s New in Android Wear 2.0.” It was about Google trying to free their watch from needing a phone to operate with. It showed the watch with an improved user interface.The watch dial can be customised to the user’s taste, and applications can be installed independently.

The other item was about the PWN2OWN conference/competition in which groups or individuals aimed to hack into Windows or MacOS systems. Any attempt to hack in via an already-known system bug was disqualified. There were a number of successful break-ins, each was rewarded with a substantial amount of cash – tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. The competition lasted three days, and some people went away considerably richer.

At the start of the Open Forum it was announced that there would be no group meeting in April.  The main Open Forum item was a video of James Veitch telling a story at TED of receiving a spam email from a person with a Nigerian-sounding name who was suggesting that he would ship gold to James and that James could keep ten percent of the gold before it was on-sold.

Rather than just consigning it to email trash, he responded to the email with a modification to the offer, and this resulted in several email exchanges before the spammer/scammer finally gave up. At the end of this entertaining story James suggested that he was performing a public service by wasting the spammer’s time and energy and preventing him from being a nuisance to others.

The story gave rise to a question about how one could get spam. Suggestions included getting an email account and subscribing to a magazine or two. This discussion prompted a narrative about a well-known and despised spammer bragging on the Internet. This caused slash-dot website members – mostly computer enthusiasts – to use publicly available data to find his home address.

Then he was subscribed to thousands of free paper magazines. His life was made a misery disposing of tons of unwanted paper. The lesson here is – don’t annoy the geeks !

After the usual active social break, the meeting was called to order for the main item of the evening: David Hatton’s popular Bits and Bytes session, which featured two rather unusual projects.

The first “byte” was about Neverware’s CloudReady offering. CloudReady is software intended for an organisation that wants hardware to be re-used as Chromebook work-alikes. It is based on the Chromium operating system, on which ChromeOS is based. Several versions are available. The Home version for individual private use is a free download, but the only support is via a forum. Other versions include one for schools with teacher and student offerings.

There is also an Office365 version integrated with Microsoft OneDrive and online Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. The Neverware web site has a list of “certified models” of specific laptops and desktops which have been tested and found to work with the CloudReady software. Others can be used, but there is no support for non-certified computers except via the forum. Note that any machine made before 2007 or having older Intel built-in video is unlikely to work correctly.

To install, you will first need a computer running Windows, OSX or ChromeOS with the Chrome browser installed. Using the Chromebook Recovery Utility App – a chrome browser plugin – you are able to create a USB install memory stick from the appropriate download. Then, you can install CloudReady on the same or another computer with at least 2GB of memory and 16GB of available hard disk space using your newly created USB install stick. For the installation of CloudReady you will also need an internet connection and a Google account – eg/. gmail.  There are comprehensive installation instructions on the Neverware web site at neverware.com

The second “byte” was about a project to run a simulated PDP-8 on a Raspberry Pi,called the PiDP-8. Essentially it is a front panel of the PDP-8 with a Raspberry Pi attached, running a modified version of the SIMH program. The front panel comes as a kit of parts (shipped from Europe) complete with switches and lights. The installer/user needs soldering skills to complete the front panel, and the RPi is attached to the rear of the panel.

It is possible to purchase a pre-assembled version of the panel, but that will roughly double the price. The PiDP-8 can store software and data on the Pi SD card or USB-attached devices. The hardware is open-source, and comprehensive information is available from the “Obsolescence Guaranteed” website at   http://obsolescence.wixsite.com/obsolescence/pidp-8

A final reminder that there will be no group meeting in April. The next one will be our May meeting. The usual meeting attenders should “Enjoy the break”.