Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years Resolutions

From the "Wait, what?" department at Gigastrand International:

I am continuing my annual New Year's resolution of not making a New Year's resolution. It is the only one I seem to be able to keep.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Pre-orders shipping this week.

Gigastrand Pre-Orders Ship...NOW!
Here are a few notes on the release.

Gigastrand OS pre-orders are shipping earlier than the .ISO will be released. Gigastrand OS download will be released on January 4th, 2014. If you want it earlier, get it from the Gigastrand Store right away.

Retail versions of the software Include a full version of Crossover with 30 days of support and 30 minutes of phone and remote support for free. That is a $60 value!

Crossover and VLC have been updated since the discs have been manufactured. Get the updates from the Gigastrand OS Software Repository.

Products in the Gigastrand Store have been updated for the release. All PCs include a retail copy of the Gigastrand OS, a Gigastrand OS CD/DVD case and extended support for Crossover and the Gigastrand OS.

A bit of an easter egg for those of you who play around with XBMC, the repository has been added in Aptitude. It is not installed by default, but is easily installed.


Gigastrand OS: v1.0 being prepped for shipment.

Gigastrand OS hardware-accelerated desktop
Development is complete, final testing is over, and Gigastrand OS v1.0 is being readied for shipment. Major hurdles have been overcome and feedback from the test market has been invaluable. 
Gigastrand OS Standard (non-accelerated) desktop
Flash player for Firefox has been fixed and it has taken the spot for the default browser in the release. Chrome is still available as a secondary browser. Updates have been installed and the issue with remote support has been resolved. 

Some notes on the Crossover software included in the Gigastrand OS:

  1. If you choose to download the OS, you will have a 14 day trial to try out Crossover. After that, you can request a full version with 30-days of support with a small processing fee from our store. 
  2. If you purchase a Gigastrand OS disc (either single disc or retail box), the full version of Crossover with the 30 day support is included.
  3. You will have the option of purchasing 1 Year of Crossover support by itself or bundled with a Gigastrand support package.
  4. The Crossover key is specific to the Gigastrand OS and cannot be transferred to other distros.
  5. The version in the release can be upgraded to Crossover 12.2.2 by going to the Gigastrand OS Repository.
Pre-orders will begin shipping as soon as January 1.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Gigastrand 2013

Merry Christmas from Gigastrand
Enjoy this update to the Epic of Mr. Gigabytes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Does Gigastrand OS "ignore the rules" for Linux and Open Source?

A question was once posed to me: "By incorporating closed source and considering the inclusion Microsoft apps like Skype, does Gigastrand OS break with FOSS standards and ignore the rules for a traditional Linux distro?"

My answer at the time was "I hope so." 

Truth be told, I really don't care if this distro breaks a few of the traditionally held rules that Linux must be all open source or not at all. I don't care because my customers don't care. They just want it to work for them.

Look at all the bad OSes that users run. Look at how disparate they are. Look at how some users trade one set of OS problems for another. Not that I am saying Gigastrand OS is perfect, but these are the problems it is trying to solve.

Here is another truth: if you understand that question well enough to ask it or even be offended at my answer, then you are not the target audience for this distro. The politics of open vs. closed source is not something most users are even aware of. They not only buy devices with closed source software, but the devices themselves are more closed (read "non-upgradeable") than ever.

If I had a choice to build this OS exclusively on open source software, I would do that in a heartbeat. The reality is that what we wanted to do requires the combination of closed and open source software.

For your final truth, closed source is not bad. There is very good closed source software out there. For example, I have a colleague of mine (http://www.sidewalktech.com/that develops specialized software on Linux systems and most - if not all - of his software is closed source. His customers love it and still buy from him.

When we think of closed source it is often the companies themselves and their business practices that makes us think of it as bad. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Gigastrand OS: On Security

A quick disclaimer: Comments made in this post on Microsoft Windows as comparison/contrast to the Gigastrand OS for the purpose of educating the reader on computer OS security that may be misconstrued as a disparagement on Microsoft, Windows, or its users. It is not the intent of the author or Gigastrand International to make any such disparagements on these entities. 

"Gigastrand OS is a self-supporting PC operating system designed with superior cross-platform compatibility but is safer and less expensive to operate than other systems."

What exactly does it mean that an OS is safer? Well, for a start, it isn't Microsoft Windows which, historically, has a disastrous track record for PC security. There are many reasons for this - many of which are outside of Microsoft's control.

So why is Windows that much less secure than any other operating system in the world? 

Well, for a start, it is a big target. Let's say you could write a program to attack any computing device in the world. In the PC world, Windows is still the dominant desktop and laptop operating system. If you were aiming to make as big an impact as possible, Windows PCs are a good place to start.

Second, it is a relatively easy target to exploit. Windows has improved vastly over time in regards to vulnerabilities that could be exploited by virus programs in no small part to the efforts of Microsoft, however, its users often install spyware and malware on their computers in the pursuit of free software. In other words, users are installing virus-like programs willingly without knowing it to accomplish a specific task.

Third, programming for Windows is expensive. Far more than other OSes. So, good software tends to cost money which makes users tend to pursue, download, and install free software alternatives from less than trustworthy websites. This, of course, really has nothing to do with Windows at all. It is more about human nature than software faults.

Finally, Windows software tends to be closed-source. While there is nothing inherently wrong with closed-source software, it does not allow the review by programming peers that open source software does. Fewer eyes on the code, means fewer things get fixed in a timely manner. I could go on about the benefits of open source software (OSS) but that is a whole other blog. 

OK. What makes Gigastrand OS security that much better?

Gigastrand OS is a smaller target. Dropping a stone into a puddle doesn't really have the effect of an asteroid dropping into the ocean. Often fewer users affected makes it not worth the time of someone looking to make headlines with their latest exploit.

Gigastrand OS does not run Windows programs natively. Therefore, Gigastrand OS is not affected by Windows-based malicious software. You can run some Windows software using the Windows compatibility layer or inside a Windows Virtual Box but if you break that part of the OS, you do not break the entire computer.

Gigastrand OS also has a package manager (think App Store) that you can search for free and guaranteed safe programs to install on your computer.

Gigastrand OS is less expensive all around. Much of the software available in Gigastrand OS is free and all programs from the package manager is free from malicious software.

Gigastrand OS is built primarily on open-source software. While some programs we include are closed source, much of the OS and its programs are open source.

What, if anything, am I still vulnerable to?

No security is absolute and while Gigastrand OS has much better security than some other OSes, ultimately, your security is only as good as your password and the security of the institutions you trust with your data. Phishing scams, spam, e-mail scams, and password hacking of large institutions are all things that users of ANY operating system can still be susceptible to. Using common-sense safe computing practices will help you stay safe.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Casual Fridays: Doctor 12

I remember the 4th Doctor Who as something that scared me as a child. When I was re-introduced to Doctor Who in 2005, I was hooked but had little interest in re-visiting old episodes.

When Dr 9 regenerated into David Tennant, I missed the Christmas Special and watched one episode of the second season and was done with Doctor Who for a few seasons. I later went back, caught up, and got to like Dr 10 very much.

When Dr 11 came along, I was prepared for the regeneration but was skeptical of the new actor. I was quickly converted and have enjoyed Matt Smith's Doctor.

Now that Dr 12 is coming, I am actually looking forward to it. The only problem I have with Doctor Who is the same reason I REALLY like Tom Baker's Doctor. Longevity.

I sincerely hope Peter Capaldi will have the will and the staying power to last more than a few years as the Doctor. As I have been indoctrinated in American Sci-fi, I am used to watching the same cache of actors for up to 7 years without much change. I would like to see that kind of staying power in Doctor Who. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Download BETA 4 Now!

We had a small computer failure trying to get BETA 4 uploaded on Sunday December 1st, but all is fixed and you can now get your copy of Gigastrand OS BETA 4 now!

We have added Skype for you to play around with. We are currently working on the additional software for release.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Gigastrand announces the release date for 1.0

Gigastrand announces the release date for Gigastrand OS 1.0

In a much anticipated announcement, Gigastrand International has revealed the release date for its operating system: the Gigastrand OS.


Gigastrand OS Desktop
Gigastrand OS Desktop
PRLog (Press Release) - Nov. 22, 2013 - SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- In a highly anticipated statement, Founder and CEO Josh Tordsen announced plans to release a completed Gigastrand OS.

"Funds from Indegogo and private contributions are enough to create one final BETA version to be released December 1st and a finished product (v1.0) on January 4, 2014."

"This will be a free distribution for version 1.0, however, we plan to incorporate some or all of the premium software features with this product. Our aim with this release is to have a finished product with as many of the goals and ideas we set out to accomplish incorporated into a single product."

Version 1.0 ISO downloads for the Gigastrand OS will be made available at no charge through the Gigastrand OS website ( www.gigastrandos.com ). Alternatively, you will be able to purchase a Live Installer Disc (DVD format) from the Gigastrand store ( www.gigastrand.biz ). PCs and laptops will also be available in the Gigastrand store. Other options will be announced as they become available.

Gigastrand has indicated there are plans for the OS beyond the 1.0 release, but have not released any details.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Casual Fridays: K-9 Project

Halloween is over, but this project is still going. It is an attempt to build the K-9 robot dog from Doctor Who. This was a fun project and proper accessory to my 4th Doctor Costume.

The intent was to build a novel candy bucket by Halloween and to expand it to do so much more. I will reveal its fate at the end, but for now, check out the construction shots.

The skateboard:  Why? Because it is just wood and wheels at this point. The problem (I realized later) is that the skateboard wasn't square. It was an inch too long on one side.

The skeleton: Framework complete. The angle on the back is an accident. I started making the second level too short and had to re-cut new pieces. The top was already built to fit so I used the too short pieces from the front (which were already cut at the correct angle) and reversed them. Then the top fit without hassle.

The skinning is beginning. I cut the panels roughly to size and nailed them on. Then I trimmed the panels with an oscillating saw and nailed the entire panel on.

Skinning nearly complete. I was using finishing nails to skin the unit but it wasn't looking like I wanted. 

Grabbed some roofing nails to cover or replace the finishing nails to look like rivets (which are non-canon). Finished the 4th side, then did a 2nd paint test on the front to get an idea of how many coats it might take to get it looking the way I want.

Wood fill has begun. Only took one tube of filler to fill the joints. Sanded between each of the 2 applications and is starting to look better.

Achievement unlocked: paint applied. 2 cans.

 I got partly a head. The foam won't go straight to his brain though, the foamboard is just a mock-up to get the other measurements.

Complete head mock up. I now have all the outside pieces measured and patterns put into the computer. Going to try and input the profile measurements as well.

Talk about upping the difficulty level, 3 pieces need to be recut. I tried to pin nail it, carpet nails, and finally I just screwed it together. It was the only thing that held.

Head built. Next cut-outs, hinges, lights, nose, wood putty, primer and paint. Then eyes, neck, and control panel.

Wood putty phase.

 Head shot with paint.

 How close am I? Ears are on, eyes light up in 3 modes, and the head is finally attached!

K-9 no longer topless.

Control panel assembled. Once I connect it to power the switches will light up. All of the switches are completely functional as well.

 K-9 fully assembled. Neck tightened and welded. Panel lights wired. 2 buttons work. One for the eyes and one for the panel lights.

 Wiring start inside head.
Beginning wiring panel. Note the eyes' light box below and panel light wire above.

Built a small battery to test the light wiring. Test was successful, but 12 lights wired in parallel created too much amp draw on the little battery and burned the 8 cells and battery holder up.

K-9 was taken out on Halloween but did not survive the trip in the car. The neck broke and needs some shortening and straightening. The entire project needs much refining and correction. It was never intended to be completely canon to the original prop. This was intended more as an assistant at a convention.

The robotic parts and sound controls still need to be bought and wired up. This is a project that may never end. More to come.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Indiegogo

For those who haven't heard already, Gigastrand is developing its own operating system simply called the Gigastrand OS. In order to continue the development, we need to raise a minimum of $4000 (our overall goal is $40,000). We have embedded a page here so you can check it out.

You can see the full page at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gigastrand-operating-system

Friday, October 11, 2013

Casual Fridays: Cosplay Halloween 2013 4th Dr. Who

Since 2003, I have rarely dressed up for Halloween. After my Romulan costume was destroyed, I borrowed a StarFleet uniform from a friend of mine one year and then disbanded the Star Trek Guild and closed the store. Halloween for the next few years was not a lot of fun for me and I rarely took part.

Last year changed all that. For the first time, Halloween became fun again when we took my 2 year old out trick or treating. Not the stand in line at the mall crap or pay a bunch of money to be in a "Safe" controlled environment. No, we did REAL, honest to god, run around and knock on stranger's doors trick or treating.

This year had an effect on me as well as I started to look at going to conventions. Wanted to go to several but never made it. My brother, however, managed to go to 3. Even my Dad went to Dragon Con in Atlanta with my brother. That just steeled my resolve.

So this year I was going to design my own costume to be a part of a cosplay collection I could take to conventions next year.

It started with the hat...the 4th Doctor Who's hat. It truly spoke to me. Tom Baker's Doctor is the one I remember my Dad watching on PBS in the 80's. He was my first Doctor as they say. The theme song for Doctor Who frightened me when I was little and I associated Tom Baker with that memory.

Tom Baker as 4th Doctor
Me as 4th Doctor
Today, of course, I am a big Doctor Who fan and no longer have that little kid fright. I did, however, have a sense that I wanted to own that old fear. So, Doctor Who it was.

A good choice it was too. ThinkGeek had the hat and the scarf I could simply purchase. The rest of the outfit  I picked up at goodwill for less than $10. The brown wig was a harder find but only $10 at a local Halloween store.

The outfit itself was pretty brainless to put together. The real challenge I set about for myself was the sonic screwdriver.

Once again, though, the 4th Doctor's design was pretty simple. Hell, it didn't even light up! I could have bought the replica toy for about what I might be able to build one for but where is the challenge in that? 

I thought about it and decided that I was going to go for a design that was similar, but non-canon. I wanted it to make noise and light up and I was not terribly concerned with making it look EXACTLY like the TV screwdriver.

So, a trip to my local home center and I scored $7 in plumbing parts, $4 can of silver spray paint, and a $3 red paint pen. A trip to Radio Shack got me a $3 12v buzzer, 2 - 23a 12v batteries for $6, a $3 momentary switch, and a 12v red LED module for $3.

I thought about using a recorder module but there were a lot of things wrong with that. Mainly it was far more expensive ($12) than I wanted and might not fit inside the body of the unit. 

I cut the "T" connector I bought into just the middle piece and sanded it down. I then sanded all the parts smooth, I drilled a hole for the switch in the body, placed the switch inside, and spray painted all of it silver. I painted the end of the "T" red with the paint pen and assembled the simple series circuit for the buzzer and light. Using a piece of paper clip, I wrapped the LED and created a spring to center the module.

This video shows you the end result.

So that is the story. The one thing I took away from this was definitely do not wait until October to design your Halloween costume. If I waited to buy the hat, I would have been scouring thrift stores to find a similar one. At the time I wrote this, the hat was sold out on ThinkGeek.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Casual Fridays: My Cosplay History

Cosplayshort for "costume play", is an activity in which participants wear costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea from a work of fiction. - Wikipedia

Most of us have done cosplay in one form or another. Whether it was for Halloween when you were little, or dressed up as Santa for your kids. However, when I refer to cosplay, I refer to more than just buying an off the rack Santa suit and stuffing a pillow in your belly (although, in it most basic form, that is essentially what cosplay is). 

When I talk about participating in cosplay, I am talking about the challenge and experience of designing, building and putting together a complete costume that closely resembles the character I want to emulate.

It all started on Halloween...
I was brought up in what I would consider a lower-middle class household. Through hard work and persistence, our family gradually improved our fortunes over time, but unnecessary expenditures - like store bought Halloween costumes - were typically off the table.

The one Halloween costume I consider the original inspiration for my future cosplay was the one I remember most complaining about. It was a Shaggy (of Scooby-Doo fame) costume that my mother made for me. It consisted of a brown yarn wig, untucked shirt and pants. While I wasn't overly enthused at the costume itself, I was glad I got to go out as what I wanted to be and (secretly) was glad my mom had made it for me.

Fast forward to Halloween 2002. I owned Gigabytes Computer Store and hosted a group of Star Trek card game players every Sunday night. We decided to have a Halloween party where costumes were mandatory - though none of us knew the term "cosplay".

Several weeks before, I decided I was going to go as a Romulan. The problem was, that I could not buy a costume without having someone custom-build it and paying far more than I was willing to spend.

I searched a few fabric stores for the quilted material I needed to make the costume, but could not find any suitable. I found the right material (on clearance for CHEAP) and bought the entire bolt. I then got quilt batting and borrowed my mother's sewing machine. I spent 7 hours measuring, cutting, quilting, and finally sewing the pieces together. I did this without any pattern to go by. All I had were my measurements and an image in my head of what I wanted it to look like.

The following year, I made a few improvements: I added a belt I made from dollar store duct tape; bought pointy ears; and made a Romulan disruptor I carved from balsa wood. The only picture I have of it was so blurry I modified it to help people get the gist of what it was. (and to say that I accidentally shot the picture taker to explain why the photo was so blurry.)

The costume was destroyed in a basement flood and all that hard work went down the tubes. I was upset to say the least.

I have resolved to re-make the costume...next year. I was really proud of that and want to see if I can improve upon my efforts from over 10 years ago.

This year I took a different approach....

To be continued.....


Monday, September 16, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Want a Better PC?

Want a better PC? Get better software!

We are in the process of creating several videos that you will see over the next few weeks. Some are promotional, some are for a specific purpose, but all are about the Gigastrand OS.

We are back in part-time development of the Gigastrand OS and will be starting an Indegogo project to raise the money to complete the development.

We will post the videos here as they are completed. So, stay tuned.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PC or PoC: XBMC Media Center

This little PC is one of the cooler computers I've seen recently that doesn't run Linux. It isn't even mine!

My brother actually designed and built this system himself. It is an XBMC media Center running Windows 7. It is a mini ITX system with a large hard drive and a Blu-ray burner. The USB cable you see on top is a way for him to connect additional storage to be unit. It is controlled not with a keyboard and mouse but a wireless Xbox controller.

This system is connected to his 50 inch rear projection television and plays movies games and is his primary entertainment source as he does not have cable or satellite TV.

In XBMC, he has set up what is called pseudo-TV. This is where he has taken and digitized all of the TV episodes he has on Blu-ray and DVD and setup channels that play through just like channels on television. So at 8 o'clock on the BAB COM channel episode X of Babylon 5 airs. Starting at nine episode Y of Babylon 5 starts. So on and so forth. If you change channels to the Star Trek channel and happen to jump into the middle of an episode it will begin playing from the middle of the episode. I'm not completely sure how it works but I'm guessing it has something to do with time indexes on the video syncing up with the clock on the system.

The other neat thing he has played around with is Valve' s Steam engine. If you are unfamiliar with it this is a gaming engine designed to run across multiple platforms. It is currently supported in Ubuntu and it is one of the things that we want to get working in the Gigastrand OS.

In a way, this system is the prototype for a game box that we want to build using the Gigastrand OS. We can see with this type of system can do running Windows so it gives us a target to shoot for when designing and building a similar box with the Gigastrand OS.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Casual Fridays: Bitcoin

My experience with Bitcoin has been bittersweet. It is a fantastic idea and an idea that will someday replace currency in one form or another.

For those unfamiliar with Bitcoin it  is also called cryptocurrency. That is, rather than physical money that you can carry around, Bitcoin is made up of a cryptographic string of data that can be traded on exchanges much like stocks are traded and exchanged on the stock exchange.

Bitcoin was something that Gigastrand was wanting to get in on. After unsuccessfully searching for a domestic exchange that would fill our needs, we finally settled on Japanese exchange, MT. Gox.

Mt. Gox is the largest and oldest Bitcoin exchange. It has the most applications and is the most PayPal like of all the exchanges. It was fairly easy to get started with them however, there was a long drawn out verification process that took some time to get through. Once we made it through the verification process, we were in business.

It was fairly easy to set up a small store that took Bitcoin. We simply programmed buttons like you do in PayPal and cut and paste the code onto a webpage. The buttons themselves could translate from US dollars to Bitcoin or vice versa depending on which button you select. We chose to start with US dollars and have it translated into Bitcoin. The reason for that was simple: US dollars are a relatively fixed value currency. Whereas Bitcoin goes up and down in value like a share of stock in the stock market. If you try to fix your value with Bitcoin, the value of the item you purchase will change with the value of the Bitcoin.

One of the issues we had with MT. Gox was trying to get US dollars into our account. Mt. Gox, for all intents and purposes, is a Japanese bank. It required us to do an international transfer which cost us $20. Then, the money set in limbo for 4 months while we waited for the transaction to complete. They finally got in touch with us, but failed to transfer the money into our account until just about a week ago from this post.

A single Bitcoin is currently valued above $100 in US currency. As people buy and sell the value goes up and down depending on how much supply or demand there is for the Bitcoin. When Bitcoin was 1st introduced, its value was only a few dollars. With the banking crises in Europe, the value has gone way up past $250 at one point as people in those countries have bought up Bitcoin rather than their own unstable native currency. As those crises subside, Bitcoin has stabilized. However, it still fluctuates between $70 and $150 with the average being about $120.

Bitcoin has another technique called mining. Yes, you heard right, you can actually mine Bitcoin. The problem with this is that as each new Bitcoin is mined the next one is even harder to process. As a result, it requires very single-minded devices with a lot of processing power just to create the next Bitcoin. These devices cost several thousand dollars apiece. It is not something you can do on your personal computer.

There is an Android app that monitors and tracks the value of Bitcoin and I use it on my phone. I can see the value as it goes up and down and, if I wanted to, make buy or sell decisions based on that information.

For now, Gigastrand is currently not accepting Bitcoin for purchases made on our website. Part of this decision is based on the fact that our new online store does not have the capability of accepting Bitcoin. However, Gigastrand is not ruling Bitcoin completely out just yet.

As for the average person, Bitcoin is still a bit too geeky to use. However, for those willing to do a little research and a lot of learning, Bitcoin can be a fun and even money making opportunity.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PC or PoC: SysteMax Laptop

This is one of my newer acquisitions, a Tiger Direct Systemax laptop which in reality is a MSI MS-1719. It had Windows XP Home edition on it but was originally purchased by the first owner about the time Vista came out. It has a 17" screen connected to an Nvidia Geforce 8600 graphics card in it which is the same graphics card that is in my DVR at home.

It has a dual-core Pentium (also the same as my DVR) but the specs fall down where it has only 1Gb of memory and a 110 Gb hard drive. 

If this was a puppy, it would be a rescue. The laptop was apparently more than this person could handle as it has clearly been abused. Many things on the right-hand side are broken, covers are missing, and the screen case is cracked. I have repaired much of the damage but it also smells like the cross between an ashtray and a harem. The wireless card is currently not working in Linux and the PC is - well - still pretty dirty. Stuff has been spilled on it and before I got it, the user complained the keyboard didn't work all the time. I cleaned it up and it seems to work ok.

Normally, I would clean a system up like this and consider selling it. Not going to happen with this one. It has been thoroughly abused and I am even having an odd quirk with the screen after my repairs. It may be a capable laptop, but it is not - and probably never will be - in any shape to sell.

I will add more memory, maybe a bigger hard drive if I decide to turn it into a gaming/media laptop. I will have to work on the wireless issue but that should be fairly easy as it is an Intel Pro Wireless 4965. 

For now, I will work on cleaning it up and fixing the quirks. Then we will work on the upgrades.