Mounting Floppy Disk Images in Windows

It’s fairly easy to find information on the creation and use of CD images. Many solutions, both commercial, shareware/freeware and open source allow CD/DVD images to be created and or mounted for use without actually burning a disc. A bit more esoteric, especially in the world of Windows based systems is the floppy disk image and knowledge of them is shrinking, not growing.

Back before bootable CDs (and support in BIOSs) were common most Linux distributions distributed a boot disk image to go along with their CD so it was not uncommon for the power user to encounter a disk image. In these cases a DOS compatible utility called rawrite (or in more advanced distrobutions WinRawrite) could be used to write the image to a disk or, conversely, read a disk to an image file. In *NIX based systems such functionality, and the functionality of mounting a disk image without using a physical disk is usually built in to the operating system. Disk images have also been more common among Macintosh users going back many years with the Apple Disk Copy utility but especially in recent years with OS X where “Disk images have become the preferred transport mechanism for downloading files…” Still disk images remain fairly uncommon among Windows users, especially as floppy disk drives themselves become increasingly uncommon.

Because of my interest in vintage computing and vintage software I store much of my old software that originally came on floppy disks in disk images on my server. Creating the images from physical disks is fairly straight forward using WinRawrite but in some cases I have earlier copies of disks done in a proprietary self extracting image format which only can write the image to a physical disk. Obviously I would like to get all my images in the standard raw format but without spending the time to write each image to a physical disk and then reading it back with rawrite. Today I located a handy tool called Virtual Floppy Drive which works similarly to the virtual cd drive tools in that it can mount a disk image or a “blank” image to a drive letter on your system. This allows me to then run the proprietary self extracting image and “write” the image directly to a raw file. The tool is also handy if you want to create an image from scratch for distribution or edit an existing disk image.

Road Sign Fonts and Typefaces

I don’t even remember how it happened anymore but somehow a few weeks ago I ended up reading about the various typefaces (fonts) used on highway and road signs. Traditionally road signs, specifically on federally funded roads but often on on local roads as well, have used a series of Gothic typefaces specified in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) documents. It’s my understanding that the original specification called for all uppercase lettering but eventually some of the series were modified to provide for lowercase. As an interesting aside I hadn’t ever really thought about it but if you drive around you’ll still find a great many roadsigns that use uppercase lettering only.

A fairly recent and interesting development is that a private company has received FHWA approval for a new typeface which they developed called Clearview and which supposedly allows for better recognition at a distance without increasing sign size. It’s also interesting to note that this new typeface “natively supports” lower case lettering. Although not yet allowed by all states the Clearview typeface does seem to be gaining momentum and may be coming to a sign near you. The Clearview people have some interesting documentation on their website about the research they did to design the font.

While not officially approved for use on signs and some licensing restrictions apply there are some free fonts such as the Roadgeek set which provide an excellent approximation of the FHWA Gothic and Clearview fonts. The same site points out that the Minnesota DNR makes available a font with the recreation symbols often found on state maps and highway signs. Both of these would be handy resources if you were trying to create a road sign graphic for say a web page. Interesting stuff.

Something to watch?

Today I have four suggestions for things you might be interested in watching. First is the hilarious French comedy Le Dîner de cons (The Dinner Game). Each week Pierre and his friends invite the strangest (or stupidest) guests they can find to dinner and compete to see who can find the best guest but one of Pierre’s guests turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Second is the made for TV movie Atomic Twister. This cheesy and incredibly inaccurate action/drama movie depicts a nuclear power plant which gets hit by a tornado — twice in one day. It details the struggles faced by the power plant team to keep the plant from “going bang” and destroying western Tennessee. Meanwhile the deputy neighbor with a bad childhood tornado experience must save one of the children next door, his estranged girlfriend (and boss’s daughter) and the power plant all in one day. If you watch this during primetime you’ll be sorely disappointed but it’s one of those movies that’s a great late late night flick (and in that way similar to The Final Countdown). This was originally for USA network I think (and not yet on DVD) but was playing several times on the SciFi channel last weekend.

Third is a summer atartup TV series on the USA network called Burn Notice. This series is about a spy who has been blacklisted, cut off and back in Miami under FBI surveillance. While he trys to figure out what happened and why he’s been cut off he has to help all his friends, family and neighbors solve problems (getting set up for crimes, children kidnapped, etc.) and make a little money. Something of a cross between MacGyver’s ingenuity (with more violence) and a spy’s slickness and witty remarks it makes for a fun watch.

Finally, I have not seen the documentary Helvetica yet but it look quite interesting and has had many good reviews. This documentary marks the 50th anniversary of the Helvetica typeface by exploring the role of fonts in our lives. Interesting indeed.

A bit about copyright

Copyright was in the news again recently. Researcher Rufus Pollock has written a new paper in which he both qualitatively and quantitatively makes a case for limited length copyright being a better incentive than perpetual (or lengthy) copyright for the creation of new works (the goal of copyright). If you don’t want to read the full paper a review of it is available from ars technica. Pollock has also written in the past about the value of the public domain. Though his most recent paper is not as strong as other critics of current intellectual property policies (see Boldrin and Levine who suggest it provides no incentive and that it be abolished altogether) it provides an important (and perhaps more reasonable point to start discussing the purpose, success and benefit of intellectual property to society.

There’s more than Chernobyl and Three Mile Island

One of the classes I teach at the University of Minnesota is a course on Technology and Public Ethics. In this class we attempt to uncover some of the social and ethical issues surrounding technology. In some cases technology is a solution to a social dilemma and in other cases it creates or contributes to the dilemma. One topic we look at is the production, transmission and consumption of energy. In the study of society and ethics cut and dried answers are few and far between, such is the case for nuclear power.

While nuclear power has traditionally been viewed with disdain because of a lack of understanding about how it works, the dangers involved and the question of nuclear waste it is again being discussed as a power production option as we become more concerned with the causes and effects of global warming, specifically carbon emissions such as those from traditional power generation sources. In the end nuclear power may provide an important supplement to renewable energy sources in combating the problem of carbon emissions. Before arriving at a conclusion like that it would be important to understand concerns surrounding nuclear power. For the most part these center on the potential for disasters and nuclear waste. While many people have heard of the Three Mile Island incident in the United States and the Chernobyl incident in the Ukraine (see this posting) these are certainly not the only incidents on record.

Two incidents that took place much earlier in the history of nuclear reactors were the Windscale (U.K.) and SL-1 (U.S.) incidents. Thanks to the web you can read about these incidents from several sources:

In addition to these reactor incidents there have been many incidents or close calls in research laboratories which, while they do not generally pose a significant threat to the general public, are dangerous for those in the immediate vicinity.

There is also the question of what to do with nuclear waste. One might argue that a sound policy is the reprocessing of nuclear waste into less harmful and more useful/reusable isotopes and while this has been met with success in Europe it is not currently policy or procedure in the United States where indefinite storage is used. The current plan is for waste to be housed deep underground at Department of Energy storage facilities (Yucca Mountain and WIPP). One of the challenges posed by this plan is a desire to warn future generations of the potential hazards in these locations when all current languages might be lost. This article explains some of the proposed solutions for just this problem.

Handy tool for sheetmetal cutting

Yesterday I was introduced to the TurboShear by Malco which is one of the greatest innovations I’ve seen in sheetmetal work. Instead of using a hand or electric shear for cutting the metal this devices chucks into your cordless drill and allows much more precise cutting (such as square corners) than electric shears and is much faster than hand shears. Shears also work well for cutting vinyl, steel mesh and other similar materials. Malco also makes a heavy duty and fiber cement board version of the product though for basic sheetmetal work such as HVAC ducting the standard TS1 seems to do the trick just fine.

Argh… More Power

You can find quite an interesting selection of videos on YouTube. Today we’re going to watch electricity in action. No, not doing useful things around the house but lots of electricity going awry. Here is a high voltage power line arcing for a while before it arcs to another phase and blows a fuse. Here is a similar video showing night time arcing at a substation. Finally, here is a substation where the arcing got bad enough to superheat the transformer oil, vaporize it and explode it.

Music Tagging

When I used to maintain a large MP3 collection my absolute favorite tool to organize and “tag” the MP3s with artist, album and title information was Magnus Brading’s MP3/Tag Studio. Thde reason this worked so well for me is because as I ripped CDs I would put the music into folders by album and artist using track number and title for the filename. MP3/Tag Studio allowed me to capture all of that information from the path and put it into the tags. But some time ago I switched from MP3s to the lossless FLAC format. FLAC also allows tagging but tools are fewer and far between. Luckily I’ve discovered an open source tagging tool that looks like it will fit the bill. EasyTAG appears to have many of the same features as MP3/Tag Studio but works with many types of files including MP3, MP2, MP4/AAC, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, MusePack, Monkey’s Audio and WavPack which is a great advantage in my implementation. It’s also a cross platform application available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows which is useful for those of us who regularly work with several different OSs.

A better antivirus/anti-malware?

Even when I’m generally satisfied with software I’m using I like to keep an eye out for other, potentially better, solutions. In this case I have great hopes that eEye Digital Security has produced a better antivirus/anti-spyware/anti-malware solution than what has been available in the past. From Norton to McAfee to TrendMicro and others the traditional antivirus vendors seem to suck up more and more computing resources even when most of the security threats are coming from spyware, rootkits and other areas for which little or no protection is provided. Luckily, if you’re a home user the new kid on the block, eEye, has come out with a product called Blink which purports to be a security center for your PC which works and uses considerably fewer resources than the other options. If the hype is real this could easily become my solution of choice. Thanks to the current free 1-year subscription promotion I’ve installed it on a few computers and will be watching to see how it performs. It sounds like an interesting product and has some powerful features so I have high hopes.

Network Settings Profiles

When you’re regularly moving from one network to another it’s often useful to be able to store a profile of network settings which can quickly be recalled to set things such as a static IP address, etc. Many newer laptops include software to do just this but for those doing it with desktops or who have replaced the OS on the laptop it’s useful to know third party utilities exist which can accomplish the same thing.

Two free utilities are Network Switcher and SwitchNetConfig some of the low cost/shareware ones are SwitchPro, NetSetMan, Mobile Net Switch and NetSwitcher though many others exist as well. If you know of others, especially a free or open source solution I would encourage you to leave a comment and let others know about its existence.