Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hacking Bluetooth - We hear you

The history of the Internet has been the story of connecting things together - machines, data, and people. We have all benefited from the almost frictionless access to information that now prevails.

There is a dark side however, whether it is spam, identity theft, or in this case, intrusion. Hackszine has an article and video on how to hack a Bluetooth connection. It turns out to be relatively simple to do. The really scary part is that the hack goes on to show how to activate a Bluetooth device remotely, and then monitor the data stream.

In plain English, that means that somebody can hack into your fancy Bluetooth headset, and listen to what you are saying, even when you are not in a phone call.

And yes, there are other hacks to turn on your web cam remotely and monitor the video stream.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

ASUS - The Most Hated Company In the PC Industry

Mile Elgan, of "Mike's List" fame, has an interesting piece here, where he looks at the impact ASUS is having on the PC industry by releasing the Eee PC.

The size, operating system, features, quality of construction, use of SSD storage, and price, all directly challenge the incumbent suppliers who have controlled the rate of change and pricing.

"The source of ire is a tiny laptop called the ASUS Eee PC. This open, flexible, relatively powerful, and very small laptop is notable for one feature above all: It's price. The Eee PC can be had for as little as $299. (Go here to read the reviews -- they're all positive.)

Let's take a moment to ponder how cheap that is. This full-featured laptop costs $69 less than the 16 GB Apple iPod Touch. It's $100 less than an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. The most expensive configuration for the ASUS Eee PC on is $499."

"The reason Microsoft hates Asustek couldn't be more obvious. The Eee PC runs Linux (Xandros running KDE) and uses an appealing and innovative tabbed-based user interface developed by Asustek. The device also comes with OpenOffice, a Microsoft Office replacement, and Firefox. The entire system -- hardware, OS, office suite and applications -- costs $30 less than's discounted price for Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate alone. The Asus Eee PC is demonstrating to the world that its success depends on aggressively *avoiding* any Microsoft product."

Well said, and very true.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Netgear ReadyNAS NV - Power Supply Burns Out

Having gone through a number of low end network attached storage (NAS) devices, I finally opted to pay for a premium product that also happened to run the streaming music server software I use. That combination was the Infrant ReadyNAS NV, a toaster-sized unit that houses 4 hard disks and connects to your network to provide a common storage pool. I initially reviewed the unit here.

Everything was going along well until I received a technical support email informing me that overheating problems in some power supplies required a mod to the unit. As luck would have it, my unit was within the range of affected devices. I checked the temperature the unit was operating at by looking at the status screen of the built-in web server, and everything looked OK.

As my equipment room at home is reasonably well ventilated and air conditioned, I figured that would be the end of the story. Unfortunately not. Coming home from dinner out one evening, I was greeted with the unmistakable and panic inducing smell of electrical burning. The sniff test revealed the ReadyNAS as the culprit.

I did a quick system shutdown, and then unplugged the unit. Checking the online support forum, it was clear this was a common problem, and the new owners of Infrant, Netgear, were replacing faulty power supplies. My challenge was that I had imported three of the units from the United States directly, and the Netgear support call centre, which turned out to be in Australia, didn't know or want to know anything about the problem.

After getting increasingly frustrated, the tech finally suggested that if I called the Netgear support number after 6pm local time, I would get the US call centre instead of Australia. That actually worked, and I was able to walk the phone jockey through the problem and get an RMA. Since I was going to be in the US anyway, I figured I would have the replacement power supply shipped to me there and then bring it home and do the swap myself.

All of which was great, except that Netgear never shipped the replacement, and charged my credit card for shipping.

On returning to Singapore, I was able to make contact with the local Netgear office, and the extremely helpful Andrew Tan. In the end, I was able to do a swap with him at their office in Raffles Place, and install the new power supply myself.

So a happy ending, but a few insights as well.

I had always thought of the NAS as extremely safe archival storage because of the 4 disks and RAID arrangement that allows data to be recovered even if there is a disk failure.

What I didn't consider was that a power supply failure would cause all the data to be inaccessible because the RAID controller and software format are essentially proprietary. I did find some forum posts about using Linux and some utilities to get at the data, but that is way too hard for most.

StarHub - Smart TV HubStation Set Top Box Update

I was one of the early adopters of Starhub's Smart TV HubStation DVR set-top box back in March, 2006. I did a review at the time. And it was dreadful. The unit was consigned to the dead box and forgotten.

Having moved to a new apartment, and re-installed the home theatre at our new place, the Starhub box ended up connected again.

After powering up and loading new firmware, I am happy to report the thing actually, mostly, works properly now. The firmware revision has moved from 1.10 to 1.23, so there have obviously been continuous attempts to fix the problems.

The freezing that happened every time one fast forwarded through recorded material is gone. The scheduled recordings now actually take place. The time to move between channels is still too slow, and of course there is no way to burn DVD's of the recorded material. The user interface has a couple of bugs, particularly the inability to select a channel from the schedule screen, which the normal digital set-top box allows.

All in all, a pedestrian offering, but one that is now functional.

Tweaking the Asus Eee Pc

Further to my review of the Asus Eee PC, I have now had the chance to try a few more tweaks, both software and hardware.

Following instructions given on, I managed to reveal the Start button and create a filled menu structure for it. Going a step further, I also applied the mod that gives access to the underlying Xandros Linux interface, which is well described here. Feeling lucky, I used the Synaptic package manager to install a couple of additional repositories and then installed VLC, the excellent multi-codec media player.

On the hardware front, I decided to add additional memory to the unit. The model 4G which I have, ships with 512Mb. There is absolutely no reason to add more memory with the existing applications, but since it was possible....

The memory slot is under a cover on the rear, and just takes the removal of two screws to access. Remember to remove the battery and ground yourself before playing with the guts. There is only one memory slot, so you are throwing away the 512Mb SO-DIMM that comes with the unit, and replacing it with a 1 or 2Gb SO-DIMM DDR2 5300 667Mhz RAM card.

I chose the 1Gb size as it was relatively cheap, and the Linux image only recognizes 1Gb. A check on Hardwarezone showed the current pricing for memory of this type, which was followed by a quick trip to Fuwell at Funan, resulting in the exchange of S$32 for the SO-DIMM.

Installation took all of 30 secs, and the Eee PC was back in operation and proudly displaying its new memory total in the System Information panel. As expected, no visible benefits, but I haven't worked with multiple applications open yet.

Anyway, we do this because we can, not because we must.

Linksys CIT400 Skype Phone - Firmware Upgrade

I've reviewed the Linksys CIT400 Skype Phone before, and it continues to see heavy use by the wife, proving its high SAF (Spousal Acceptance Factor). There have been a few nagging bumps along the way, and I finally got around to checking for a firmware update to see if anything had been fixed.

The Singapore Linksys web site is useless when it comes to firmware, and a conversation with a Linksys support tech confirmed that one basically has to use the US site for firmware updates. A quick check showed that there was indeed a new firmware release here, dated 2007 06 29 and taking the code to version

Upgrading is done by downloading the firmware to a PC, then accessing the CIT400 base unit by typing its IP address into a browser. The base unit has a built in web server that gives access to various status and administration pages. By browsing to the downloaded firmware file and clicking the update button, the unit performs the firmware upgrade.

All that worked fine, and things seem a bit more stable with the new firmware.

One other discovery. Starhub announced that subscribers with the HubStation Smart TV Set-top box have "free" internet access through the built in Ethernet port on the back. I didn't really have a use for that until I thought of putting the CIT400 base station there instead of on my normal Maxonline service.

It turns out the 1Mb bandwidth is enough to support good quality Skype calls, and it gets the traffic off my regular network, along with any lingering security fears.