Help with CAPTCHAS

Have you noticed one of those impossible to read word-in-a-box prompts when signing up for a service to logging into a web site like Facebook or Digg. These are called captchas, and they are used to prevent spammers from automating the login process and creating thousands of accounts in minutes. The scripts the spammers use are not smart enough (yet) to solve the CAPTCHAS. However, a number of research projects have been able to beat the visual CAPTCHAs by using following methods

  1. Pre-processing: Removal of background clutter and noise.
  2. Segmentation: Splitting the image into regions which each contain a single character.
  3. Classification: Identifying the character in each region.

The captchas are being  made increasing more difficult for a human to read.  In the very near future, a program will have an easier time solving the puzzle than humans will and the point of this additional security measure would be nullified.


Google has realized this and is trying a different and much needed approach. The new captcha method will require users to choose the correct orientation of a picture or which picture is a cat, rather than decipher a word. This method effective as it is difficult for a program to determine what should be right side up or the difference between a cat and a dog. Other methods make you solve a math problem or answer a common knowledge question.

This makes much more sense to me than trying to figure out what the letters in the box are. The issue with these methods is the inability for visually impaired people to use these systems.  Such CAPTCHAs may make a site incompatible with Section 508 in the United States.  In order to comply with this regulation the site  should allow blind users to get around the captcha, for example, by permitting users to opt for an audio or sound CAPTCHA. It will be only a matter of time before the hackers try finding vulnerabilities in the audio captcha. Perhaps answering a question that a human would know and that can be provided in audio format is a way of providing security and accessibility.


Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Wins

I might have won a few battles with my xbox but I’m afraid I have lost the war. Aftter I thought i had fixed the rrod problem, it came back and I don’t think there is anything else I can do at this point but to buy a new xbox. I was thinking of getting an Xbox Arcade system. It is cheaper since it doesn’t come with a hard drive, but I can use the drive from the old system. The Xbox Arcade also has a HDMI connection which is a plus. I would also swap the DVD since it is flashed with the iXtreme 1.51 firmware. I am probably buy it from BestBuy since they have a good protection program. I am missing Halo Wars.

Got the RRod Again on a “Fixed Xbox”

This is f#%k’n ridiculous. I got the red ring of death on my 360 again after I thought fixed it. The fix did work for a while so it was a surprise to me when it happened. I was playing Halo Wars
the other day and the game froze. I thought no big deal. Then it froze a few more times and more frequently, which is a tell-tale sign that you are going to get a RRoD soon. Well it did happen and I was pissed. I was about to go out an buy a new one, but I thought to my self that I should just try to tighten down the screws a little more. The worst case is I crack the chip and buy a new Xbox 360 (the new models have HDMI connections).

For some reason, I had the easiest time taking it apart this time. At this point I have done it enough times that I  feel like Forrest Gump disassembling a rifle. After it was stripped down to the motherboard, I let the sucker overheat and tighten down the screws on both heat sinks. I got a little more than a quarter turn out of each screw which leads me to believe I was being cautious the first time around. It started up and I couldn’t believe I brought it back to life.

I guess this fix really does work. Well, while it was open I figured I would update the DVD Rom firmware to iXtreme 1.51 to fully and utterly void my warranty.

Xbox 360 iXtreme 1.51 firmware DVD hack


My Xbox 360 RRoD again, but I was able to recover it and I updated the DVD ROM firmware to boot! I installed the iXtreme 1.51 (which has the ability to read new format games) using the Jungle Flasher beta utility. I downloaded the utility and the iXtreme bios as a torrent off the Pirate Bay, however the utilities are available off of Xbins. The package includes the original bios for all the possible Xbox drives since you will need to go back to factory default bios to install the iXtreme 1.51 bios. You can not update to the new version of the bios from an older one.
My drive is the Hitachi 78FK. Each drive has its own procedure for flashing the bios. I had the iExtreme iXtreme 1.4 flashed, using the Maximus utility, before I got the RRoD. In order for the Hitachi drive to be flashed you need to connect the DVD drive to your computer using a SATA connection and because the power connector on the xbox dvd drive is special you need to have the power connected to the  xbox 360 to power the DVD drive. You can get a connectivity kit to make this part easier for the next time you need to flash the drive The DVD drive then needs to be put into “Mode B”. For the iXtreme 1.4 firmware I used a Slax 2 linux distribution to get the drive in mode B. But the Jungle Flasher utility took care of that from a single utility. I was able to put the drive in mode B, flash the drive with the original bios, and the flash it with the iXtreme 1.51 firmware. It took me a few tries to get it working right. I needed to installed .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 and install the IOPort drivers, but after that it worked great. This is all documented with screen shots in the installion manual. Good job to Team Jungle for getting this all in one tool working.

Now I can go back to playing Halo Wars

Update 5/4/09Jungle flasher 1.59 is available

WoW Guild Recruiting

My wife and I occasionally play World of Warcraft, but she is much more of a WoW-head than I am. I often hear from her that it is difficult to get a good cohesive guild and that makes playing end-game content a frustrating process. That’s when we came to the conclusion that there should be an e-Harmony or for guilds so you can ensure your guild members will be compatible with each other. I created a proof-of-concept site using an open source social networking framework Elgg. Then I went to see if someone else has already had this concept, and of course they beat me to the punch again.

The site is a place where those recruiting for a guild can screen potential guild mates based on the culture of the guild. Built more like a job site like, those looking for a guild can search through recruiting guilds based on their class and server. The site uses some logic based on the guild culture to determine if you are a fit for that guild. Guild culture is determined on whether the guild members are Reckless / Deliberate, Sociable / Competitive, Fun /Serious, and  Learners / Veterans. You can then apply to the guild and begin interviewing with the guild. Guild leaders post the classes they are recruiting and the requirements of applicants.

The site and has been reviewed by GameSpot and WoW Insider and has the concept that I was going for, except my twist would have been to make it more like a Facebook for WoW players and Guilds. Well at this point I feel I have missed the boat and will not continue to develop this any further. I am glad to have played around with Elgg since it gives me ideas for other projects. What do you think about continuing development on this concept?

APC SmartUPS Serial Cable Pinout

I replaced my old APC SmartUPS 620 with an updated model. I had lost the serial cable that allows you to communicate with the UPS via a computer for the old unit. The new unit came with the serial cable and for a while, I was looking for the correct pinout so I could build a cable myself. So I wanted to get the pin out documented. The cable is a male to female DB9 cable. Well I got my voltmeter and using the continuity setting I mapped the pinout. It would not be difficult to create this cable. Many of the cables DB9 serial cables I had laying around were female to female and it was hard finding a male end. Hopefully, this will help others out there that need this cable and don’t want to pay $30 for it.
UPDATE: I have updated the diagram based on the comments I got on this post. Apparently, I counted the male pins incorrectly so I made the correction. Thanks for your feedback.apc-smart-ups-serial-pinout


Do I Need an Expensive HDMI Cable

I am in the market for an HDMI Cablefor my digital TV so I can get the best quality out of the technology, and  I was shocked at the cost of the cables. There has been a debate whether high performance cables improves the quality of digital equipment the way it does for anolog equipment. I feel that many people don’t know the difference between analog and digital technology and people are being taken advantage of with clever marketing  because of their ignorance when it comes to digital technology. Analog technology uses waves to transfer information, while digital uses 1’s and 0’s. Electronic equipment need to interpret or translate analog signals based on the strength and clarity of the wave. In the square wave pictured, the areas at the top and bottom of the wave can be interpreted by electronic equipment as 1 and 0 respectively. If the signal is weak or has noise, the signal will not be interpreted correctly and the equipment will distort the output. That is why you hear hissing or static on audio tape. For analog the better the cables the less noise and stronger signal you will get which will improve the quality of the video and audio. However, digital is different. Analog Square waveIt is either on or off, there is no in between. Any conductor will allow a digital signal to be transmitted. It either gets there or it won’t. You would not see static or low quality with true digital audio and video. If the connection or cable is poor quality you would see flickering, pixelization, or hear hiccups in audio. The point here is not to be fooled by the marketing that would like you to buy $100+ gold plated cables. These performance cables are however,  important and will improve quality for analog audio and video but is not needed for digital equipment. If your signal are truly digital, like from a PS3 or Blu-Ray player, a “cheap” HDMI cable will do just fine. However do not confuse the quality of the cable with the performance of the cable. If the cable is made poorly or you don’t have a proper connection you will see significant quality deterioration in audio and video.


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