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Encryption

+ - TrueCrypt 5.0 Released, supports Mac OS X

Submitted by
RedBear
RedBear writes "TrueCrypt 5.0 has just been released and is available for download from truecrypt.org. Finally the long-awaited graphical versions for Mac OS X and Linux are here, with the ability to create and manipulate TrueCrypt volumes natively without third-party GUI interfaces, although the ability to create hidden volumes seems to still be restricted to the Windows version. This is the first iteration of TrueCrypt available that supports Mac OS X. There are versions available for Tiger and Leopard on PowerPC and Intel. Is a usable totally cross-platform method of encrypting portable storage devices finally within our grasp? Grab the files and help test it out on as many platform combinations as possible, and we'll find out. Comments about additional alternatives for true cross-platform (and easy to use!) file-level and full-disk encryption are welcome as always. Since my last posting on the release of TrueCrypt 4.3 in early 2007 I still have found nothing in the real world that could compare in usability and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, despite several comments to the contrary. But I enjoy being proven wrong! The closest I've come so far is EncFS on FUSE which has been much too complicated to set up so far. Interestingly, the new Mac OS X TrueCrypt version also installs MacFUSE 1.3."
Data Storage

+ - Just how delicate are modern hard drives?

Submitted by
RedBear
RedBear writes "Recently I've been researching the idea of setting up a computer system like the Mac mini on small to medium-size boats, for use as on-board entertainment centers and/or computer navigation systems. One of my main concerns has been figuring out whether the hard drive will need to be replaced with solid-state media in order to be completely reliable. Having been conditioned by various information sources over the years to treat a spinning hard drive like a baby made of eggshells, I was surprised to find many "car PC" enthusaists commenting in forums that they've had absolutely no problems using desktop hard drives in moving vehicles for years. I've also been surprised to find very little information about or mounting systems for "ruggedizing" hard drives for mobile use, besides some references to sticking a bit of rubber between the drive and the mounting frame, which really seems inadequate. So I'm left wondering, just how delicate is the modern hard drive, really? Are they hardier than I've always been led to believe? Is a modern hard drive ever actually likely to die from just being bumped around a bit, or do they usually die nowadays for other, more mysterious reasons?

Here's the scenario: A small boat (15-35ft) traveling on choppy or rough seas at various speeds can encounter several different kinds of motion, and that motion can shift very suddenly from going in one direction to going in a perpendicular or opposite direction. With the wrong hull design, cruising speeds or wave crest spacings, resonant vibrations can develop that can practically shake your teeth out of your head at times. Go over a big wave the wrong way and you can find yourself doing a belly-flop or nose-dive a dozen or more feet down into the trough behind it, with a nice resounding thump. Again entirely dependent on hull design and angle of incidence, but the harder you hit the water, the harder it hits back. Then there is the lovely continuous rocking (technically, pitching) and rolling that never really stops when you're in unprotected waters, and can vary from -85 to 85 degrees from one moment to the next. I can't imagine any of this motion being good for any kind of hard drive.

Now, a computer like a laptop or the Mac mini has a notebook-size 2.5" hard drive, which by all accounts will be more resistant to G-force shocks than a typical desktop-size 3.5" hard drive. I've read that this is mostly because of their use of "ramp load/unload" technology, where the drive head never touches the platters. Recently some desktop hard drives have started to use this ramp loading technology, so does that mean those desktop drives will be just as shock-resistant as notebook drives, or is the size difference also important? And just how motion resistant are the notebook drives, in a practical outside-the-testing-lab sense?

Some laptops and even drives these days also have motion sensors that will trigger the drive to park the heads during excessive movement, like when a laptop gets pulled off a table onto the floor. I have to guess on this but I'm suspecting these motion sensing systems would get triggered far too often, possibly interrupting the computer during important read or write activities, at best causing a performance hit and at worst crashing the system if it happens too often. So this doesn't seem like the ultimate solution for a drive that may be affected by nearly continuous strong G-forces.

Is anyone here experienced with building systems like this? I'm not talking about a typical car-PC traveling around on mostly paved city streets, I'm talking about a system that will stay functional and reliable while strapped in the back of a racing pickup while it goes through a thousand-mile off-road race through the Mojave desert. Does any company make mounting systems specifically for this kind of use, or is it totally nonsensical to expect any hard drive to survive under such conditions? My Google-fu may not be the best in the world, but I can usually ferret out what I'm looking for, and I've found basically zilch on ruggedized hard drives or mounting systems for either hard drives or computers in high G-force environments.

Keep in mind, one of my main goals is to keep costs as low as possible, so it would be interesting but pointless to discuss commercial solutions that cost a small fortune. The available specialized marine computer systems I saw seem to be designed for large commercial vessels and are horrendously expensive. We aren't talking about military clients here, just regular people who happen to live and/or work on boats. I just want to be able to take a regular computer and make a few ehancements that would allow it to be used on a boat reliably for years under any possible circumstances. Thus one of the main problems with solid-state media, it would cost 3-5 times as much to get 1/10th to 1/5th of the storage capacity, and that's comparing it to notebook hard drives. 160GB notebook HDD = $110, 16GB UDMA CompactFlash card = $300. With desktop hard drives the cost vs. capacity gap widens even further.

This is even more of a problem because one of the main advantages to using a system like the Mac mini would be its ability to run Windows in a virtual machine for access to a lot of Windows-only navigation, mapping/charting and GPS software as well as Windows-only drivers for GPS hardware, while still having access to the great stability and usability experience of Mac OS X, including the multimedia aspects like gigs of music and MP4/DivX rips of movies. The most recent versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion both have snapshotting and reversion capabilities which would make it incredibly simple for non-technical users to recover from Windows software glitches while out at sea, and keep their software navigation systems working under almost any circumstances. But installing multiple operating systems (and keeping backups) and having access to all those multimedia files means you need plenty of disk space. For most people, obtaining an adequate amount of solid-state storage to really replace a 100+ gigabyte hard drive would be very cost-prohibitive.

If you were tasked with "ruggedizing" a computer system for use under similar circumstances, how would you go about it? How would you make a mounting system to protect a computer from G-forces that may sometimes be the equivalent of, let's say, being dropped on a carpeted floor from about desk height, over and over again? I don't think a couple of rubber feet will be quite enough, and I'm very interested in hearing ideas on simple padding and suspension systems that could isolate a computer from this level of G-shock. A bungie-cord type suspension system would probably just exacerbate the bouncing motion. It would need to be something different, something that would really dampen sudden motion rather than reacting to it. My only idea so far is complicated, probably expensive, and has something to do with counterweights, pulleys, copper tubing and neodymium magnets. Alternatives are welcome, as are any comments pointing out that I'm being ridiculous for thinking computers are so delicate. Am I? Please back up any such statements with references, of course."
Encryption

+ - TrueCrypt 4.3 Released

Submitted by
RedBear
RedBear writes "A new update to the best open source transparent encryption software has been released. Sadly there is still no Linux GUI or Mac OS X port in sight. If you are one of the thronging hordes who have been patiently awaiting ubiquitous multi-platform encryption please consider donating time or money to the cause, and add your voice to the forum so the developers get some idea of how many of us need this software to work on other platforms. For those not in the know, TrueCrypt is (the only?) open source encryption software capable of creating and mounting encrypted virtual disk images that can then be worked with transparently like any other storage drive, with data being encrypted and decrypted in real-time. These virtual disks can be created as files, or entire partitions or physical drives can be encrypted and mounted transparently. Also including features like plausible deniability, steganographically hidden volumes, unidentifiable partition headers, traveller mode, and your choice of the strongest available encryption algorithms up to and including multi-algorithm cascades, it is practically the Holy Grail for advocates of free ubiquitous encryption. Now, if only it was platform independent. From the site:

We are pleased to announce that TrueCrypt 4.3 has been released. Among the new features is full compatibility with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista, support for devices and file systems that use a sector size other than 512 bytes (such as new hard drives, USB flash drives, DVD-RAM, MP3 players, etc.), auto-dismount when a host device (e.g., a USB flash drive) is inadvertently removed, and many more. In addition to new features, there are many significant improvements.
To reduce load on their servers here are some Coralized versions of all the links above:

TrueCrypt home page
Future development goals
Forum thread about Mac OS X version
Donations page
General forum
Plausible deniability
Hidden volumes
Traveller mode
Encryption algorithms
Multi-algorithm cascades
Version history"
Graphics

+ - Sources for 3D graphics?

Submitted by
RedBear
RedBear writes "If you were looking for 3D graphics suitable for use with computerized carving machines or 3D printers, where would you go? The few sources I've seen online have a rather dismal selection of very unoriginal patterns (flowers, boats, deer? whoopety-doo) and are charging ridiculous prices, from $10-25 per graphic for even the simplest patterns like a circular rope border. Surely there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of non-copyrighted shapes, drawings, devices and carvings in this world that have been catalogued by various institutions (e.g. Egyption heiroglyphs, statues, carvings and stone writings from all over the ancient world, fascinating ancient devices like astrolabes, compasses and sundials, religious icons, all sorts of ancient buildings and monuments, etc.). Where are they? If nothing else are there any sources of hi-res photographs that could conceivably be converted for 3D use?

At least one software package I've seen can create 3D patterns from grayscale images. Are these sorts of graphics out there but only available to businesses who can afford to spend vast amounts of money to acquire them for commercial reproductions? What about all those computer reproductions they show on places like the History Channel, is all that stuff created from scratch or what? How would an individual who wanted to do for instance a reproduction in miniature of ancient Athens get access to the necessary data files to do it?

As a complementary question, if you were tasked with recording physical objects in 3D, how would you go about it, short of an MRI machine or 3D probe? What methods and software are out there for converting 2D images to 3D data? Is there some way to convert (for instance) stereoscopic image pairs into true 3D information? What other methods can be used to create detailed 3D patterns short of recreating objects from scratch with expensive CAD applications?"

Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future. - Niels Bohr

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