The White Cane Wiz

This is about a different meeting I attended some time back, on the 15th of October 2006. The monthly general meeting of Lions Club of Colombo Circle (which is the parent club of my Leo club – Leo Club of Colombo Circle) was held at Hotel Western, Colombo 4.

As it was the “World White Cane Day”, which has a very close relationship with Lions, the organizers had invited two guest speakers to the event. The first speaker is a famous Tamil writer, and the second one works at the Social Services Department, and both of them were visually handicapped – blind.

Here I’m going to share some of my experiences and knowledge I gained from their speeches, specially the second speaker, Ashoka Bandula Weerawardane. His speech was about how technology and computers could be used by blind people. We are in a world where we run for colorful GUIs and run behind ‘Mr. Bill’ to get his so-said ‘USER-FRIENDLY’ operating systems and I thought they would be doing some typing and easy stuff like that.

He started his speech by saying, “You all would know many more things than me on computers, but I’ll share the fraction I know”.

First point he started with was the narrator software, and his choice was JAWS. He said that with this software, the blind can understand the interface which we see. When he mentioned the words, “Dialog boxes, Check boxes, OK buttons, etc”. I was stunned. I was surprised to here that he uses a ‘CRACKED’ version of JAWS which is a proprietary software and the crack was also done by some ‘blind-programmers’.

His thoughts about office packages was, “They are easy for us (blind), and I hope nothing for you all (sighted)”. He had used all of them and “I can even insert pictures and effects to slid shows, but you only can see…” was his comment about them. He also mentioned about many other latest tools for graphics, monitoring, navigation, printing, trans-coding, etc., but I was unable to grab those, simply because I didn’t understand those. He also know some basics of Linux and open-source software. (Mr. Bill, you might lose another guy, so bring in some more ‘crazy’ laws to CLOSE the doors, ASAP.)

Another important point from his speech is – blind people and Internet. He said “I have browsed many sites on the Internet, and I think Firefox is a good browser, having used browsers like IE, Netscape and Opera”. He said that we can chat with him when he is online, and he had also used Skype, which he thinks is ‘blind-friendly’.

The final point was about a web site, which is meant for blind computer users, www.blindprogramming.com, where they teach from ‘assembly-to-Java’ specially for blinds.

Quoting him once again – “You all would know many more things than me on computers, but I’ll share the fraction I know”. Who know the fraction, me or him? The answer is ME..

SeagullSoftwares.com – A Ponzi-style fraud!

NEWS

A Ponzi-style fraud that was masquerading as an Internet based outsourcing company, shut up shop Wednesday (25-10-2006), leaving thousands of Sri Lankans defrauded of millions of rupees. Two Indian nationals (we all know Indians are ever famous for their chit-cheat fund schemes) who were king pins of the scheme are now believed to have fled the country. A Ponzi is a variation of a pyramid scam where the people who joined first is rewarded with the money taken from those who join later. They are named after Charles Ponzi an Italian immigrant in the United States who offered high returns for investing in a business which in traded postal coupons.

Mount Lavinia police stated that the operators who ran the scheme have fled the office and they had no idea how many people had joined the scheme. The operators claimed it was a BPO operation. The firm had offices in several other locations in Sri Lanka.

PAST

SeagullSoftwares.com, which claimed to offer Internet based data entry work for a monthly payment first asked people who joined the scheme, to make a deposit of LKR6,500(~US$65) to purchase what was called a ‘slot‘ before this easy ‘work from home’ job begins. At the end of the month each user gets a paycheck of LKR4,000(~US$40). Basically, the user can cover the amount he or she spent on the registration with the second paycheck.

The process requires access to Internet once everyday, that’s to log-in to SeagullSoftwares.com and to obtain the tasks for the day. The Seagull Softwares head office automatically assigns 5 products (5 tasks) with external web links (eg. View Sonic, Benq, Acer, Dell, HP), and the user has to prepare a specification for each product in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, once the five product specifications are saved into five individual .xls files, the user has to compress the files and upload them back to the SeagullSoftwares.com data-base. It’s a 5 to 10 minutes job and that’s just it.

Also each user was allowed to have unlimited accounts with SeagullSoftwares.com, depending how much time the user can spare sitting in front of the PC everyday, and many of the ‘scheme members’ had more than one ‘slot’, some even up to hundreds. The scam started 9 months back has attracted many people around the Colombo areas. There were so many people from the government universities and other private colleges joined this scheme. Some net-cafes in Wellawatte area were dedicated to SegullMembers, and even they had SeagullExel classes. There were even some people who did it as a full time ‘job’.

PRESENT

Several members of the SeagullSoftwares.com are believed to have developed a website to discuss the issue at www.seagullmembers.com. They invite all who lost to register into this site.

This SeagullSoftwares.com has no connection to the UK based company Seagull Software or the Sri Lankan company Seagull Group of Companies. But these fellows had used a similar logo that of the UK company.

For Related Information:
How To Avoid Investment Scams That Target Groups
SeagullSoftwares.com on The Sunday Leader
Domain Information – seagullsoftwares.com

Now its past. The Sri Lankan and Indian police are ‘very’ famous in catching frauds. Also there is no workable solution to refund those who lost. I warned all my friends who were in to this and I even showed them how this can be worked out as a fraud scheme. Work hard to earn money. Don’t fall for schemes like this in future…

Advantages Unix-like OS over Windows for virus protection

We being the unfortunate from this part of the world, Sri Lankans; even though we are always very much keen in using a Genuine Windows, which Mr.Bill puts up at Microsoft Corp, USA, as he claims it is THE best and SECURE operating system in the world. But we still find it difficult to obtain a highly priced genuine Windows and end up buying a ‘Windows XP 2006 Bill Gates Edition’, which is a CD from Pakistan and sold at any computer store for just 100 LKR (~US$1).

Recently when I was talking with a friend he mentioned that he got a lot of viruses, trojans, worms, etc. on his machine which runs on Windows XP (of course not genuine). He said he tried downloading patches from Microsoft website, but it ended up saying ‘You are using a countefit version of Windows…’, and then many things started going abnormal.I asked him ‘What are you going to do now?’, he said ‘Simple, I formated the hard and reinstalled Windows’.

I wondered ‘Then how are you going to get updates…’; ‘Hee.. hee.. NO MORE UPDATES, thats it!’ he replied.

This is a very common scenario among us in Sri Lanka. We use the so said ‘pirated(?)’ Windows, which obviously has the same security risks and holes as a genuine version of Windows. But we can’t get updates from Microsoft website as Mr. Bill don’t like these ‘pirates’. So those holes will remain forever on a machine with ‘pirated’ Windows, and they could be exploited any time. I would like to explain some more of what we do and where it goes wrong.

Viruses will not return after you format

Unfortunately, that’s a specious claim. Although turning on an inbound firewall by default is good, nevertheless until you’ve run the updates, the firewall does nothing regarding outbound connections from your machine. There are numerous exploits which will automatically infest your machine if you attempt to browse the web using Internet Explorer without installing the latest security patches and rebooting first.

You can ensure you don’t get infected right away by first visiting Mozilla.com and installing Mozilla Firefox to browse the web, rather than IE, and immediately afterwards use Firefox to download and install AVG Free Edition. Free for home users, and it’s a very competent, non-invasive virus scanner. It’s worlds better than the CPU-hog that is Norton Antivirus. Just make sure your firewall is turned on all the time. But one thing most of us cant do is to ‘download your latest SP2 updates from Windows Update, and you’re fairly safe if you set your PC to auto-update’.

Linux and Unix, however, definitely still have several advantages over Windows for virus protection

The list includes all the Unix-likeoperating systems; OpenSolaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, etc.

It has a smaller installed base. This alone makes virus-writers, who are going for the “low-hanging fruit”, less likely to write viruses for the platform. The installed base tends to be technically clue-ful. Obviously, as the “masses” continue adopting Linux or UNIX widely (as has been predicted for ten years, and is happening today at an accelerating rate), this becomes less of an advantage.

The security model has been tested longer, and is inherently more secure, than the Windows model. The largest portion of the reason for this is due its simplicity and age: it’s been around forever, and it’s very easy to
wrap your head around the basic UNIX security model.

Hence, it’s easier to write secure non-root programs on UNIX which won’t open up system-level security holes. UNIX and Linux machines are generally set up to be secure by default. Windows, on the other hand, sets the default user as a computer administrator, and roughly 50% of all programs I install fail to work at all unless run from an account with administrative privileges (or without a ton of post-install tweaking on file and registry permissions to allow a non-administrative user to function).

Mac OS X and Linux have the solution right: prompt the user for the root password when performing privileged system functions, and prefer to install programs in the user’s home directory to avoid asking for root-level access at all. Of course, smart virus and spyware writers will write their programs to prompt for the root password, invalidating this protection, but fixing bugs in a program is much easier than attempting to fix clueless users.

In a corporate environment, administrators can afford to spend the time “tweaking” a program’s install script to make these modifications automatically, but 99% of users will simply leave their account set to “computer administrator” and forget about it.

I would conclude saying, as UNIX-based systems (including Mac OS X) continue to grow in popularity, more rootkits, viruses, trojans, and worms will begin to spread. However, just comparing numbers of system-level compromises, you have to add together every distribution of Linux, FreeBSD, and proprietary UNIX operating systems, PLUS every piece of popular open-source software, in order to surpass the number of Microsoft Windows exploits over the last ten years.

You can read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_vs._Linux

Microsoft, Windows, Windows XP are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the U.S.A. and/or other regions and/or countries. (Mr. Bill might get angry if I don’t mention this)

CS&ES AGM 2006 – Sponsors Video Clip

Its just 2 months after I have come to Computer Science and Engineering Department. And this is my first video clip I’m doing for the department alumni AGM, the CS&ES AGM 2006. This is a small clip that shows the list of Event Sponsor. Its not a big one, but as always I am doing my thing here also, hopefully this will got for the next three years till I complete my degree. 🙂

My blog, I’m learning…

A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order. Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Most blogs are primarily textual although many focus on photographs, videos or audio. The word blog can also be used as a verb, meaning adding an entry to a blog.

This is what Wikipedia says.

Everyone is having blogs thesedays, and I wanted to have one too. My first stop was WordPress, BlogSome (which used WordPress), where I had my first blog . Even though I had a lot in my mind to write about, I had no time to put them in words, or rather I was ‘lazy‘. Thus that blog had only a few posts (less than 10). Later on the timeline I heard about Yahoo! 360º, via a promotion mail from Yahoo!. I always try any service on the internet, specially if it is from Yahoo! or Google. So I started my second blog on Y! 360º, which  unfortunately still has one post, which was posted on the last Valentine’s Day. But still I am far away from the blogging world.

Now I’ve landed in blogger. We’ll see what happens in the future.