PCgeekdom.com - PC Tricks and Projects

Sunday, March 26, 2006

VOIP - Asterisk@Home


Asterisk@Home is an open source Linux based PBX system. I have a couple of friends from work who have setup AAH in their homes and have shown me some of the cool features, so I decided to check it out for myself. Since I already have VMware Server running I decided to test out the system virtually. Thanks to vmwarez.com, you can download the virtual machine already setup and ready to go from their website. AAH comes with a nice web GUI that makes it a breeze to setup. For extensions, I am trying two different softphones because, hey they are free! X-Lite (SIP) on my Linux machine and Idefisk (IAX2) on my Windows machine.
I wanted people to be able to call me, since I dont have a land-line and didn't want to spend any money I looked at some good VOIP providers. I found two VOIP providers that offer free inbound calling, FWD (you also need IPKall) which gives you a free Washington state number. The registration time for this took a while, an hour for the IPKall # to go active, and a whole day for FWD to turn on the IAX2 service. It also seems like FWD is a lot less reliable at connecting incoming calls.
Another VOIP provider is StanaPhone, they give a New York # free for incoming calls. The registration and activation of the number only took around 10 minutes. I am using both services, I use FWD to call out to Toll Free numbers for free, and I use StanaPhone for my incoming calls. (StanaPhone also has a pre-paid outbound service which is only 1.6 cents per minute for all domestic calls.)
Asterisk@Home is very powerful and customizable, for example some of the simple to setup features are; auto-attendant, wake-up calls, a weather extension, voice-mail, you can also view detailed calling reports, setup advanced dialing plans and so much more.
For more information on VOIP and tip and tricks for setting up AAH check out, VoipJots.com and NerdVittles.com.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bootable USB Drive - Damn Small Linux


I first came across Damn Small Linux when I was first playing with VMware Server, I had installed the DSL VM to test using another OS. Damn Small Linux, as the name implies is very small, only 50MB, but is a complete feature filled OS. The neat part of such a small OS is that it can easily fit on a USB flash drive. Below are the steps I took to create my own Linux-PC-on-a-stick.

First, you will need to format your USB drive. Download and install this HP utility, and format the drive in FAT.

Then, download Damn Small Linux, you can view their website for all their versions, or download the embedded version directly from PCgeekdom.com here. Unzip the files to your USB drive.

You will now need to make your USB drive bootable, to do that download and extract syslinux. Now in a command window cd to the syslinux directory and type the command "syslinux.exe F:" where "F" is the letter of your USB device.

Now the tricky/fun part is actually booting, you will need to use a PC with a newer version of BIOS that supports USB booting. You will need to open up BIOS and make sure USB devices are allowed for boot up, and change the boot sequence to check for USB before your HDD.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

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Monday, March 13, 2006

SSH Tunnels :: Access Your Work PC From Home


As I mentioned in the first SSH article, SSH can be used in many ways, another use of port forwarding is to be able to securely access your work computer from home, even though it may be in an internal network behind a firewall.
To do this, you will need the same setup as in the first article, a home PC with a SSH server and a SSH client on the work computer. I am going to describe how to VNC to the work computer, although you can use any other service as well, if you want to RDP you will use port 3389 instead of 590*, I like VNC because is seems a little thinner and simpler and runs well over congested Internet connections. If you don't already, you will need to install VNC on both PCs.
You will now setup a SSH connection to your home PC from work. In PuTTY the Host Name, will again be the IP address of your home computer. Then click on the Tunnels section, you can have many tunnels setup for each session. The image to the right also shows tunnels to VNC to two home PCs from work and for web traffic.
To add the tunnel for a VNC connection from home to work, you will add the following parameters, in source port you will type "5901". For destination, put "localhost:5900", select Remote and click add. Now you will open the connection and login. As long as the SSH connection is open you will be able to connect your work PC from home, (by default the SSH server at home will keep the connection alive.) To establish the VNC connection from your home PC, you will open up the VNC viewer, for the server you will use, "localhost:1". You should now be connected to your work PC.

Friday, March 10, 2006

PCgeekdom Toolkit


My old USB jumpdrive finally fizzled out on me. It had gotten a lot of use and had been beaten up pretty bad. I found that TigerDirect has the 1GB Lexar Sport Jumpdrive for only $36.99 (limited-time sale.) This jump drive is designed for rugged use, and I hope will last a long time. In preparation for my new jumpdrive, I have been updating and gathering the essential parts of my PC repair toolkit for fixing most spyware and anti-virus related problems. Below is a list and description of the files in the PCgeekdom toolkit, which you can download in one handy zip file.

  • AdAware SE : A thorough spyware/adware remover.
  • AVG FREE Anti-Virus : A great antivirus software all users should use.
  • CWShredder: Tool to remove Cool Web Search variants.
  • FxSasser: Symantecs Sasser virus fix.
  • HijackThis: Great for removing browser plugins and toolbars, and more advanced settings.
  • LSPFix: Repair Internet files from Newdotnet.
  • MSconfig: A Windows utility to control startup items, not included with win.
  • SpyBot Search and Destroy: Another spyware/adware remover.
  • Winsock XP Fix: Easy to use tool to restore Internet access, fixes the "An operation was attempted on something that was not a socket" message.
  • W2Fix: Similar to WinsockXP Fix but for pre-NT windows, (Great for Dial-up networking problems.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

SSH Tunnels :: How to Beat a Firewall


SSH is a very powerful and secure tool to remotely access a computer. Setting up a secure tunnel, also known as port forwarding, can be very handy. One popular use of a "shunnel" is to get through a secure or over-zealous firewall. Please note that if you are going to use this technology in your workplace, those firewalls and security settings are set in place for a reason, so don't go surfing and downloading things you really shouldn’t. I have been playing with this as means for learning, ok and so I can download my Firefox extensions. Anyways, so in order to “beat” the firewall, you will setup a SSH session from your computer behind the firewall; computer W, to a computer at home; computer H. Computer H will need to have a PuTTY Tunnel SettingsSSH server on and running, if you are running Linux at home, most distros will already have a SSH server. If computer H is running Windows, you will need to install a SSH Server. On computer W, you will need a SSH client, a great Windows client is PuTTY. Once all the necessary software is installed, you will need to know your home IP address. (If you have multiple computers at home, you will need to setup your router to forward port 22 to the computer with the SSH server.) Now on computer W, you will open up PuTTY, for Host name you will put in your home computers IP address, and then go to the Tunnels section. For source port type 8080 and select Dynamic and click add. (As shown in the image to the left.) Socks Proxy SettingsNow when you click open, you will connect to your home PC and will have to login. Once you are logged in, open up your browser, you will need to change the connection settings to use a Socks proxy (as shown in the image to the right.) Now when you go to access a webpage, your request is forwarded (in the Secure Shell, so the firewall can't see what your are doing) to you home PC, and back. To check to see if it is setup right check your IP address again, it should now say the IP of your home PC. This method is not limited to just web traffic, for example, I also use SSH tunnels to VNC to my home PCs, this way I do not have to punch more holes in my home router, the only port I have to have open is for the SSH connection.