How do software crackers make money

There are many cracks or keygens for pricey software, but do those crackers work for free or they are up to something else? Here is one side of the story I heard from a user on a torrent site:

Yes a lot of people do not understand that Key Generator developers are paid by malware distributors/programmers to place worms and viruses into their programs. Do you think they key gen developers do this all for free? Pity that people fall for this trap all the time. I am a Security Engineer for a 3000+ client work office and this is just the way these developers make money by help distributing malware for the benefit that malware programmers most of the time put your computer into a silent Zombie state. Wake up people there is more behind they key generators popping up saying it found a signature of a virus.

This quote is from a discussion whether to trust a keygen when an anti-virus program flagged it as a danger. Some said it was necessary to temporarily disable anti-virus software before running the keygens, because anti-virus software naturally consider keygens illegal and harmful despite their neutrality. This opinion is stupid. Because anti-virus programs are not innately hostile to keygens, after all, keygen method does not work very well with non-free anti-virus software, which requires to be constantly updated for virus definitions. There is no reason for this alleged animosity.

When a keygen is flagged as a Trojan or a virus, chances are that they do pose a threat to your OS security. Like the “Optimized Windows XP” versions widely used in China, users never know what changes have been made to the system files and what dangers they have invited by choosing to install these “free, fast and streamlined” Window versions.

The solution to the villian keygens include using Linux, buy the software, use a virtual machine to run the keygen or use the text format registration information. The bottom line is never use a cracked anti-virus or firewall, which serves as the last line of defense for the computer.

Right now I am using Saftety.Net as the firewall and AVG 8.5 for anti-virus — both are doing an excellent job.

Side notes

The zombie machines are called 肉鸡 (Meat Chicken) in China. Millions of such meat chickens are mainly targeted by the Internet Mafia for online game accounts and other sensitive data. Meat chickens could be sold by the organized groups at the price of cabbage, i.e. very cheap price. This has become an underground industry with profane revenues.

Family DVD authoring in three steps

By using Sony Vegas Pro 8.0 and TMPGEnc Authoring Works 4, I finally created the long-overdue family DVDs for the 80th birthday celebrations of my grandfather.

Editing the original files

The original videos were taken by a Sony hard drive Handycam, which creates video files with MTS extensions. I have about ten gigabytes of these files, and I need to find an efficient way to edit them — mainly taking out the shaky footage.

Sony Vegas Pro is made for such task after opening the file in the trimmer: either use “add media from/Up to cursor” or draw a region on the media and drag or copy it to the editing zone. This is the most time consuming task, and every second of the media needs to be watched for highest editing quality, which is not an easy job for a long footage.

Out of the treasure of functions sported in Sony Vegas Pro, I employed two features for my task: overlap the media for smooth transition between scenes; creating text media to preclude certain videos as an introduction or explanation. The first feature is especially useful, and I can overlap clips in the same track or even overlap videos on different tracks. I use this feature for smooth transition between the scenes, but it seems possible to create a man walking in the sky by merging a walking scene with a clip of the blue sky.

Exporting the files

After finishing the editing, the next step is rendering the media into certain formats. I choose DVD PAL format to create a mpeg 2 file for DVD. Make sure to check the audio settings because some DVD file rendering does not have audio enabled by default.

I believe I made a mistake when rendering the media. Since the original MTS files are NTSC format, it is better to choose DVD NTSC for the mpeg file to save the conversion time, though I haven’t tested the conversion speed with or without the format conformity. It took about six hours for a 1.5hr MTS video being converted into DVD mpeg format on a HP DV2000T with a Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU.

At hindsight, I should also have wasted time on setting transition effects between clips because I can do almost the same much faster under TMPGEnc DVD authoring program.

Make the DVD

The converted file is approximately 4.7GB, tailored by Sony Vegas for the size of a common DVD disc. The next move is turning the mpeg file into DVD files, create a menu and burn it into the disc.

Just add the video file into TMPGEnc Authoring Works as a track, and split the long file into chapters. I am amazed how easy to quickly navigate though the whole video, and pinpoint the exact frame to split into chapters. Right or left click on the video strip can quickly move forward or backward, which is faster and accurate than seeking with cursor.

With a long video split into chapters, I added transitions between them, and used a menu template for the navigation menu. All this can be done quickly and intuitively under this amazing application. TMPGEnc Authoring Works is also good for creating photo slide shows, and I decide to use it to replace Proshow Gold for my future photos slide projects. Proshow does come with more lens movements for the photos, and even with more transition effects. Unfortunately some transition effects of Proshow Gold is not suitable for photoed people.

Transition effects and culture

Proshow Gold has some transition effects which may slit a person in the picture into halves or make that person’s head detach from the body — certainly not good for sensitive viewers. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an option to exclude these cutting transitions and apply the rest to the batch of pictures. Checking and changing the transitions for every single picture is just too time-consuming.

When watching the DVD, my mother complained about the ‘blackout transition effects’ between scenes, although that transition is widely used in documentaries and other TV programs. She might think that it’s not good to darken a person in the video into a black background.

I am not sure if the westerners have the same perspective.

Plone is superb but resource-hungry

Plone rocks but certainly doesn’t suit for budget hosting solutions.

Minimum hardware requirements

Minimum 256 MB RAM and 512 MB of swap space per Plone site
Minimum 512 MB hard disk space

This is way too much for my VPS with only 64M of memory. Instead I think I’ll give CMS Made Simple a try.

A nice skin

Quintagroup seems to offer some nice free plone skins. Out of the list, Lite and Schools impressed me most. I’d choose Lite for a technical site and Schools for a university site.

Flash video plugin

I always wondered how to insert a flash movie into a webpage, and in this case, for plone. It turned out to be quite easy — Flash video plugin serves the purpose well. The back end player for this plugin FlowPlayer, and I particularly like the screen size options of this player.

The author of this plugin is also a fan of the movie Office Space, and have just ran the entire lag of the London Marathon race. Interesting guy to know.

After thoughts

I would definitely run Plone for any site if the hardware resources suffice. Clean, elegant and well-ordered is the impression I have for Plone.

No, I won’t pay for the Premium themes or CMSs. For me the GPL licensed programs and artwork are good, although I will find other means to support the contributors — for example clicking their ads.

A lightweight free firewall for Windows XP

I regretted that I just started using it today, and I already like it very much. It is the free and efficient firewall I have been looking for — Safety.Net Free Version from NetVeda.

All I need to do in order to download Safety.Net is writing down my email address. After downloading it, it installed without any nagging pop-ups about registration and you-own-me-money stuff. It just started working right away.

Like any application filtering firewall, it alerts me about the network activities from the programs. However, what makes this program great is that its filtering features are easy, I mean really easy, to manage and edit. This is the feature I like about Safety.Net the most, and it is better than any other firewalls I ever used, be it Comodo Firewall, Nod32 Smart Security and AVG Internet Security.

Safety.Net also has features of a gateway firewall. It can filter website addresses and phrases, controls applications, as well as enforce parental control — far advanced than the [expletive] Green Dam Youth Escort program in China.

Most of all, Safety.Net has really small footprint and I highly recommend anyone who is running Windows XP. This is the ONE.

Other thoughts

I noticed that this NetVeda wasn’t very active in developing their products, and it is a great pity. But I’ll stick to it as much as I stick to XP. I really don’t want to upgrade to bloated Vista or Windows 7.

Update: I no longer use Safety.Net and now Comodo Firewall is my choice.

Gmail and Google blocked in China?

Maybe it’s just me or some random glitches.

As of June 24, around 9:30 pm, neither Google in English or Gmail could not be accessed by many Chinese users. Here are some reports by users in other provinces on a Baidu forum

I can visit the homepage of Goolge English using these two IP address:

74.125.91.100
64.233.161.147

But I can’t click further or search anything on it. It seems to take forever to load a page or the search results. What happened?

Some user even reported as early as 19th of June that there were warnings about the forthcoming blockage of Gmail. I thought it was a DNS resolution problem so I changed the DNS server addresses to those provided by OpenDNS, still no help. I also failed to connect using secured link address https://mail.google.com. Gtalk seems to connect to the mail server alright and even check mail, and some pre-configured local mail clients are also supposed to work.

Some important blogging habits to follow

After blogging for more than a year, I think the following list of habits will better facilitate my blogging.

  • A blog is just a blog. Don’t expect it to become as popular as the Internet portals or large forum sites. A blog should make uniqueness its first objective and perviousness comes in second place
  • Don’t put too much Google Ads on the blog. 99.9999% of the bloggers are not going to get rich by blogging using Google Ads, and Google Ads ruin the aesthetics of  any theme. Just place one or two small Ads in the unobtrusive places
  • Don’t be shy. Just write down your honest thoughts, and who cares if the whole world would like it or not
  • Curb the temptation to tweak and modify WordPress themes. Any theme is good for it presents, not how it looks. In case you did make a few changes to the theme — particularly for the sake of uniqueness — back up the changes so you don’t have go through the ordeal again
  • Make writing a second nature. Jot down your thoughts whenever you get them and crystallize them into blog posts
  • KISS. Keep your blog simple — not so many plugins, not so many Ads, not so many fancy eye candies and not so many tags. These are trivia and your main focus should be on the content, not distractions. For example, use lower-case words for tags to save your time thinking how to write WordPress correctly

Quickly create favicon for WordPress

Creating a favicon is easy. Only three steps are required.

  1. Go to favicon.cc. Either upload a picture or draw your own picture for the icon.
  2. Upload the generated favicon.ico file to the root of your WordPress installation. You can choose other places but using root directory is much simpler.
  3. Modify the header.php file under your theme. Insert the following code between head with your own url.

Press Ctrl+F5 in the browser to see the effect.

WordPress theme Tarski hacks

For a very short while, I forayed into TextPattern and wanted it to replace WordPress. It turned out that WordPress is just too convenient and powerful to be replaced. But I am still very impressed by Textile formating syntax embedded in TextPattern.

My adventure (as I have promised) into TXP does give me one benefit. I came across a ported theme for Tarski from WordPress and I love it.

Here are a few things I learnt about tweaking Tarski — all dug from its forum and documentation.

Using alternate styles

To overriding the default style, one just need to select an alternate style in Tarski’s option page. And in the new style, input the new syntax and attach the new theme to the body classes.

This is what I use to change the color of the wrapper for my own style:

body.thinkweird #wrapper { background: #fff; }

Align the sidebar with the post

By default, the sidebar bottom border does not line up with its counterpart under the post title. One has to manually the sidebar a little to achieve that.

body.thinkweird #sidebar {padding-top: 1.06em; background-color: #fafafa;}

The color of the background can also be changed by adding background-color: #fafafa;

Make the post navigation bar span

How to force the post navigation that appears on single post pages to span the entire length of the header?

body .thinkweird.articlenav {padding-left:0; text-align:center;}
body.thinkweird.janus .articlenav {padding-right:0;text-align:center;}

text-align:center; in the second line is especially important. If the sidebar is moved to the right, the value in that piece of code should be either center or left

Adding Google Ads

One thing about Tarksi is that its developer makes simple and effective plugins for the theme. Users are spared the hassle to manually modify theme files. Here is the plugin to insert Adsense to the post.

Two things to keep in mind to insert ads to other places.

  1. Theme hooks. For example, if I want to place ads on the on top of the navigation bar, I just use th_navbar hook. It is a gold mine worthy to dig into.
  2. Rename the function. Obviously, to insert ads into the navigation bar, I can create another plugin and change the function into tarski_output_adsense_bottom or something else unique.

I am a happy users of Tarki now.

Postfix for WordPress

Setting up a basic single domain postfix mail server was not as difficult as I imagined. Configuring a postfix mail server is not rocket science, and here is what I did to configure postfix for my WordPress blog.

The Book

I highly recommend The Book Of Postfix published by No Starch in 2005. A reviewer on Amazon says it is better than the O’Reilly Postfix book, and I agree even if I didn’t read that O’Reilly book. After reading the first two chapters, I was able to configure a basic Postfix mail server.
What’s very important, as the book says, is preparing the host for Postfix.

Preparation

In my case, I need to setup hostname and DNS MX records correctly from the onset.

  • Setting the hostname. To set hostname in Debian, edit /etc/hostname and put thinkweird.info as my hostname.
  • Install dnsutils to for dig command. To check and modify DNS records, dig command will come in handy.
  • Modify DNS information. Find out the DNS MX records for my domain dig thinkweird.info MX. I use the DNS server of Godaddy.com, and I use its total domain control to modify my DNS MX record into thinkweird.info. Once correctly configured, dig shows this record:
  • thinkweird.info. 1800 IN MX 10 thinkweird.info.

  • Install bsd-mailx to have mail command to test postfix. It is better than telnet method.

Install and Configure

For mail transfer functions of WordPress, I don’t need complications and installing postfix is suffice. A few steps prompted by debconf is enough to get the mail system working for WordPress. For now, I only want WordPress to use postfix on localhost, and disable the access of postfix from the rest of the world. I am not sure what to do to disable the feared Open Relay, but it seems the following lines in the main.cf do the trick:

mydestination = thinkweird.info, localhost, localhost.localdomain, localhost
relay_domains = $mydestination
mynetworks = 127.0.0.0/8 [::ffff:127.0.0.0]/104 [::1]/128

The line relay_domains = $mydestination tells postfix only to relay mail for my own destinations.

Check if the Open Relay is enabled

Open Relay is the mail server admin’s nightmare.
Test the mail server domain at abuse.net to see if Open Relay is enabled for postfix or not.

Putty with ssh key authentication

When using ssh keys generated by puttygen.exe, I receive a “Server refused our key” error. Then I found out that the error-proof way is this: generate ssh key pairs under Linux, and then convert the private key into putty format using puttygen.exe.

Procedures

  • change ~/.ssh directory and authorized_keys permissions
chmod 700 .ssh
chmod 600 authorized_keys
  • generate the key pair. Most tutorials seems to prefer to use dsa format
ssh-keygen -t dsa
  • use the default file name and enter the passphrase
  • add the public key to authorized_keys
cat id_dsa.pub >> .ssh/authorized_keys
  • copy the private key (id_dsa) to the local windows machine. Then use puttygen.exe to convert the key and save it to a separate private key

Then configure the putty to use the new private key.

Additional notes

Under Debian Lenny, I don’t need to make any changes to /etc/ssh/ssh_config to make putty auto authentication work.

The putty does not authenticate with the public key, but with .ssh/authorized_keys instead, that’s why the public key should be copied to authorized_keys file.

References

ssh – authorized_keys HOWTO for some fundamentals