Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go…

First day of study period 4 today!

This time around, I’m only doing one unit, called EBS11: Strategic E-Business. This should be interesting, if for no other reason than it’s offered through RMIT, rather than Curtin, which delivers most of my other units.

The unit has 3 assignments, worth 30, 40 and 30% of the total, in order. They look like they are going to be a bit of writing ๐Ÿ™

On first glances, I can make the following observations;

  1. Their LMS, “SERF” looks terrible. The UI is a shocker, and it’s not intuitive at all.
  2. The unit looks quite comprehensive, although I suppose that will remain to be seen once I start reading etc
  3. There’s an external text book, but I think I’ll hold off on buying it unless I really need to (this is an elective after all).

I’ll keep things up to date on here on the way through, and hopefully this unit won’t make my festive season too much of a drag!

Installing and Formatting a Hitachi Travelstar 5K80

So I wasted around 6 hours trying to get a Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 to work in my external USB-driven hard drive enclosure the other night… and I wasn’t a happy camper.

I did the normal things, put it in the case, plugged it in, restarted Windows a couple times to try and pick it up, stuff like that. I had no luck getting it to show up in My Computer to start with, so I checked in the Adminitrative Tools (in Control Panel) launched the Computer Management MMC. In there, I checked the Disk Manager and found that the drive was there, but marked as Online, Unallocated.

According to everything I could find on the ‘net (and believe me, I looked) all I had to do was right-click the drive, select ‘Write Signature’ and then I could format it and off I go. The problem with this was that when I did that, it would start doing something with the disk, then just sit there with its access light on, but not do anything – still couldn’t access it, still couldn’t format it.

To cut a long story short, I noticed that it was making a similar noise to what my old drive made when it woke up after being asleep for a while. All I had to do was unplug the drive (from the USB), then plug it in with Disk Manager open, constantly clicking ‘Re-Scan Disks’. As soon as the new drive appeared on the listing, I did the right-click signature trick and it worked straight away. Then I kicked it into an immediate, complete format and everyone’s happy!

Now all I need to do is clone my current drive onto this one, switch them over and I’ve got an upgraded drive and a spare external one ๐Ÿ™‚

Secure Hard Drive Format

In case you didn’t know, when you ‘format’ a computer’s hard drive (or delete a file for that matter), it doesn’t necessarily remove the data properly, it just marks those sectors as being available to write over in the future. If you don’t actually write anything over them, then there is a distinct chance that someone can recover that data, using an excellent program such as R-STUDIO (which I bought a copy of, to recover data off my broken laptop, as described in this post).

So anyway, there are a number of ways that you can go about deleting something permanently, but I figured that the best approach was a physical one. I had an old drive that I was retiring (well, it retired itself on account of a hardware failure), so I decided that now was the chance to test my procedure, here’s how it all went down;

  1. Remove drive from host machine
  2. Remove PCB board from the bottom of the drive (you can just lever it off with a screwdriver if you don’t have the right type of screwdriver for the screws… you won’t be needing it again ๐Ÿ™‚
  3. Place the drive so that the side where the PCB board was is *down*, and one end is supported on a small ledge (a doorstep works nicely)
  4. Place pressure (i.e. stand) in the middle of the drive, angling your foot to ensure that the blade of your foot is applying the pressure to the drive
  5. Continue standing/jumping on the drive until you hear a snapping sound, and then hopefully a pleasant little ‘tinkle’
  6. Review the situation: you should have broken the aluminium framing of the drive, which in turn allowed you to shatter the disk platters, which will now be on the ground and inside the drive.

You can now clean up the pieces of drive platter, and if you’re really paranoid, dispose of them separately. Otherwise, throw them all in the bin and you can be pretty confident that your drive is very permanently erased.

NOTE: I take no responsibility whatsoever for the damage of your drives, their proceeding uselessness, or any potential recovery of the data that may or may not have been on the drive!

Blosxconfig: PHP Tool To Configure blosxom Plugins

The most common complaints/questions on the blosxom developer’s mailing list all relate to difficulties with plugins, so I have been trying to think of a way to make them a little easier to work with for people. What I came up with is blosxconfig, a single PHP script which works with very basic configuration files to determine what variables a user should have access to and what format they should be in. It will also confirm the existence and readability of the plugin files, and write the modified variables directly into the plugin files.

Download blosxconfig BETA version now!

Here’s the details that I posted to the blosxom list;

WARNING: Back up all you plugins before saving changes via blosxconfig!!!

configure.php is a PHP script (duh!) so you’ll need PHP on your server to run it. You can pass a path to it to look for a specific config file via either a GET or POST request (GET use ?conf=path-to-conf.conf on the querystring, POST use variable name ‘conf’ with a value of a path to a config file). if you don’t pass a value, then blosxconfig will look for a file called blosxom.conf in the same directory as it, or die trying ๐Ÿ˜‰

The config files are very basic, and look a little bit like a Windows ini file, but it’s a custom style; The first line is similar to a unix ‘shebang’ line, and should look like this;

#@/path/to/plugins

where obviously the /path/to/plugins is the full path to where your plugins live – this should be the same as the $blosxom::plugin_dir variable configured in your blosxom cgi executable.

After that line, you have plugin sections which are defined using [plugin_name] – be careful that you use the *exact* name of the plugin, because the value is used for confirming the plugin’s existence ๐Ÿ™‚

Under each plugin section, you define definable variables on a line each, in this format;

variable_name|type|default

variable_name is the actual name of the variable (as written in the script), without the ‘$’ or ‘@’ (in the case of arrays)

type can be one of ‘string’, ‘boolean’ or ‘code’. Arrays should be defined as ‘code’. Strings are enclosed automatically in quotes (“) and all types are followed by a semi colon when written to file. Booleans are presented to the user as a Yes/No select box (0/1 passed as values) and other types are presented as simple text input fields.

default is a value to use by default. make sure this makes sense (so for a boolean make sure it’s 0/1, for a string it’s a string etc). You don’t need to wrap it in quotes or anything, this is handled automatically.


Now, assuming you have a valid config file and blosxconfig can find it, it will load the file, and present you with an interface where you should be able to modify all the values that you spcified as being editable in the config file. *hopefully* blosxconfig will also tell you at this point if plugin files are available (file exists in plugin dir) and if they are not readable or writeable. when you have made you changes – click ‘save’ and the following will happen;

WARNING: Back up all you plugins before saving changes via blosxconfig!!!

  1. All plugin files which are referenced in your config file will be MODIFIED – they will technically be overwritten entirely, since the contents of the file are processed, then the lines that look like they define the variables in question are replaced with new lines, with the new values.
  2. The config file will be updated with the new details that you specified and written back to file.
  3. blosxconfig will load again, with all your new values in place, and messages telling you what happened.

Assuming all goes well, you’ve just used an external interface to reach into your plugin files and modify certain details. The hope is that authors of plugins (or community-minded participants) can supply the simple, 1 – 10 lines worth of config required to add to this configuration file, which can then be distributed with this little application to help people configure their plugins.

Please be aware that I have *NOT* tested this extensively at all, it was hacked together and seemed to work for a couple of plugins that I was running (the ones in the config file included) on a Windows test box, other than that I can’t make any promises. I’d LOVE if some people could try it out on some other plugins, on other systems, and let me know (directly if
you like) how it goes. I’ll fix any problems and then release it as public so that other people can use it.

Hope it’s useful for someone out there, and can perhaps eventually make life easier for some newbies (and pro’s alike ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh yeah – did I mention; BACK UP YOUR PLUGINS BEFORE YOU TRY THIS!

On the suggestion of Andreas Banze, I’ve removed one small section which checked to make sure that the plugin files were executable, since as he pointed out, this is not necessary, they are just included in the main operation of the blosxom script, not executed individually.

Download blosxconfig BETA version now!

Lack Of Updates

Things have been very quiet around here lately because I’ve been working on my Uni work too much.

On the up-side, I’ve finished essays on Ethical Online Ethnography (800-ish words), and The Ups and Downs of Online Research (benefits v risks, 2,000 words). I’ll post links to both of them once I’ve submitted them (next couple days).

Now I just need to research and write my 3,500 word project about Online Wiretapping and Privacy Regulations in Australia, then these 2 units are completed.