Just a quick post to let you guys know that Firefox 2.0 Beta 2 is out. Those of you who wish to play around with it can download the installer via this locations (Win 32, English-US). If you want to get the beta in another language or for another OS, then you'll have to browse around Mozilla's FTP site to find it.
The Web Monkey adds: There's a VERY easy way to test this app without running into problems overwriting your existing firefox profile.There's a "portable" version that'll run in a completely self-contained state. It uses its own profile, own everything. Check it out.
Reading junkies rejoice! Google just announced that starting today, their book search site would now allow people to search and download PDF versions of out-of-copyright books for free. Whether you want to download a copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or briefly look at the work of some obscure 18th century author, everything is there, completely free for the taking.
To find out-of-copyright books that you can download, simply select the "Full view" radio button when you search on books.google.com. (Please note that we do not enable downloading of any book currently under copyright. Unless we have the publisher’s permission to show more, we display only small snippets of text –- at most, two or three sentences surrounding your search term -– to help you determine if you’ve found what you’re looking for.)
Is there anything more depressing then having to work all day under the unhealthy glow of fluorescent light? Of course there is, but you have to admit that if your cubicle could be located outside, right under the sun, most of your work days would probably be much more enjoyable.
To help bring sunshine into the life of office workers, a new company named Sunlight Direct came up with an amazing new lighting system that can pipe daylight into buildings directly through fiber optic cables. How cool is that?
Its hybrid solar lighting system features a 40-inch mirrored dish with a GPS-director monitor to move it during the day and maximize light intake. Once light is collected from a roof and concentrated, it is filtered and then spread through a building through bundles of plastic fiber-optic chords.
Selling your old cell phone to make a bit of extra money after getting yourself a new one may sound like a great idea, but trust me, it's not. A bunch of Security analysts working for a company named Trust Digital found 27,000 pages of documents on 10 phones they bought online - including details of a multi-million dollar contract bid, bank account passwords and secret notes between a married man and his girlfriend.
Selling your old phone once you upgrade to a fancier model can be like handing over your diaries. All sorts of sensitive information pile up inside our cell phones, and deleting it may be more difficult than you think. A popular practice among sellers, resetting the phone, often means sensitive information appears to have been erased. But it can be resurrected using specialized yet inexpensive software found on the Internet.
A while back, about 3 years ago, I wrote a white paper on restoring an Exchange 5.5 Server, and published it at Tek-Tips.com. Back then I used Veritas Backup Exec 8.x (Today, Symantec Backup Exec 10d is still my backup suite of choice.)
** Disclaimer: I'm in no way affiliated with Symantec, Veritas or Backup Exec! I am merely a customer who's set in using a product he's familiar with. There are other really great backup products out there such as: ArcServe, NetWorker, Retrospect Server Backup, and if you have the HUGE budget, Overland Data Neo. See options here for cost comparison and features
So, now that that's out of the way... Ever since I wrote this white paper, I have received countless emails asking how to implement it properly. As concise as I'd like to think my white-paper is, there are so many variables and little details that can be overlooked in such a procedure, that sometimes the readers have to contact me directly. Just recently, I received a bottle of wine from a guy in Jersey for helping him restore his setup over a 3 day period (that was nice of him!).
With every email that I have received from these users, they all had made the same errors. And though the technology over the last 3 years has changed, the principals have not. So, I felt it may be helpful to post these insights here today!
If anyone has ever been a part of a Mock Disaster Recovery test with Exchange, he/she would know that the documentation provided with the products and on the subject to be incredibly confusing. Unfortunately, at the time that I wrote this White-Paper, it was not a Test - it was real life. Our Exchange server had tanked due to the fact that my apprentice at the time restored a single mailbox around 10 or 11 times without doing any sort of Logfile rollback (or just do a full back up to shrink the logs). In essence, the 20 gig volume for my logs filled up so much that the services shut down and left the server useless. We couldn't delete the logs, because we would loose data, so our solution was to restore the server to a Zero Data loss recovery. Great in theory; frustratingly difficult in reality.
The white-paper describes the issues we had (so if you read it, you will see all that had to be done), but two of the issues that I wanted to focus on were the restoration of the Directory Service (DS), and the naming of your Organizational Units within the rebuilt Exchange server. These are the two snags that all of the readers of my white-paper miss. They are small details, but they are very, very important ones, because if you miss them, restores fail and service restarts fail. I also found that these two things are not documented ANYWHERE that I could find.
It is very important to note that you must install the new server into the same state as your original server. Document all the paths to the MTA, Log Files, and to the Database files (PUB.EDB, PRIV.EDB). And make sure that the Site Name, Organizational Unit names and the Server name are typed identically to your production server. These values are Case-Sensitive (we found this out the hard way). Should you miss a capital letter anywhere in these values, the restores will not work....
....And I mean "identically"!
Directory Store - Restore procedure:
Delete everything within the DSADATA folder. This will effectively delete your current DS. This is a MUST. Without this step, upon restoration, the DS will fail to start. Then Restore a Directory Store that is OLDER than the Information Store you've just restored. Two weeks or two months, it does not matter how old it is.
This is a very important step! You must get rid of any files associated with the new installation of Exchange Server's Directory Store folder (DSAData). Allow the restore to replace it with an OLDER version of the DS (older as in, older than the Information Store). Why? Honestly, I am not 100% sure. But, I will theorize.
When the Exchange server is being backed up (a full backup), my observations have been that the Information Store gets backed up first. Usually, the Info-Store is larger than the DS and it takes alot more time to complete. And because I use ONLINE Backups (this is to say that the servers services are still running, and the Exchange Server continues to deliver mail and operate normally), the DS is still writing transaction logs and maintaining its own database during the IS backup. When all is said and done, the DS backups are always more up-to-date than the IS backups. If you restore both services with the backups from the same date, the DS service will not start citing that the logs are more up to date than the Information Store's and it fails. Hence, we came up with the idea to restore the DS using older backups, and voila it worked.
So, these are just two of the MANY confusing things that you can run into restoring an Exchange Server, arguably, one of the most imporant servers in an Enterprise. Hope you find it helpful; if not, I hope it was enlightening nonetheless!
An Interview with Sony Entertainment’s President, Kazuo Hirai
News.com has an interview this morning with Sony Entertainment’s president Kazuo Hirai, in which Mr. Hirai reveals that as of August 2006, the PS3 has still not entered the production phase. He also claims that Sony's next-gen console will be a great value at $600 USD.
The pricing that we announced for the PlayStation 3 is a price that ultimately offers fantastic value to the consumers. I think that we are offering a very good value for the consumers. We look at our products having a 10-year life cycle, which we've proven with the PlayStation. Therefore, the PlayStation 3 is going to be a console that's going to be with you again for 10 years. We're not going to ask the consumers to suddenly buy another PlayStation console in five years time, and basically have their investment go by the wayside. So for all those reasons, I think at $599 we're offering a very good value to the consumers.
The McAfee Siteadvisor blog has an interesting post today about the hidden cost of free software on the web. They warn that the results produced by using the "free" keyword on search engines often lead users to malicious, malware-spreading websites. Is anyone here crazy enough to search Google for things like "Free Screensavers", "Free Ringtones" or "Free Music"? If you're going to answer "yes" to this question, then please go bang your head on the nearest wall a few times; it may help bring you back on the path of good sense.
We in the technical community are aware that screensaver downloads often come with potentially unwanted programs. Yet typical consumers conduct 15 million searches for screensavers every month. The problem, in our view, is that the screensaver "freebie" often comes with adware strings attached. And it's not just consumers. Major advertisers continue to use adware vendors. Remember the recent episode with Warner Bros. and Zango?
In this nine-minute video, LiveSecurity Editor-in-Chief Scott Pinzon, CISSP, talks about the tools and techniques used by malicious hackers to crack encrypted password files. He then proceeds with a demonstration of the procedure using l0phtcrack 5 (discontinued, but can still be found here), one of the most popular commercial password cracker available on the web. If you've never seen one of these applications in action, prepare to be amazed at the speed at which they can unveil your clever passwords.
If you are interested in reading more about password cracking tools and techniques, here's a few articles we wrote that should help you learn more about the subject:
I recently coughed up the cash to get myself one of those sexy Razr phone things. I must say that so far, I am rather pleased with it. It is a solid device that fulfills the function of "telephone", without trying to shakily add a mess of unnecessary (and crippling) features on top. The Razr V3i is a phone with a relatively solid foundation, and some extra functionality that is actually meaningful and useful rather than flashy and worthless.
But, before I go into why exactly this slim little piece of metal and silicon makes me so happy, let me give you a little background of my dealings with cell phones. What was it that made me decide to drop a substantial amount of money into this particular phone?
My first phone (obtained right before I left for college) was a tiny Siemens brick phone. It didn't look like much, and its screen was fantastically tiny and low-quality, but it was a decent phone. I could usually carry on a conversation with it. And it had a bunch of mostly worthless extras that nobody should care about. The best feature though, was Bluetooth and infrared connectivity. My laptop at the time didn't have Bluetooth, but I could still push a few .mp3 files (for ringtones) and image files (to color that tiny screen) across to it via the IR Wizard that's built into Windows XP. I started using the Bluetooth with a hands-free Jabra earpiece for long conversations home. It was nice. Then, one fitful day, the tiny brick-phone and its scratched-to-hell screen met accidental death via water damage from a sprinkler.
Next came a very hefty Motorola V551. The only reason I got this phone was because it was the one handset available at a stomachable price at the local Cingular outlet that supported Bluetooth. I didn't want to lose the use of my Jabra. It wasn't cheap. And hey, ugly as the phone was, it had a camera in it! Things were looking okay.
Phone death, forced downgrading, media orphaned!
Then the Jabra died. Then the phone's earpiece died. That one reason to own that particular phone was now uselessly collecting dust, and I could no longer hear anyone who called unless I put them on speakerphone. And the best part: there was no way to get any non-SIM data off without buying an expensive, proprietary cable AND installing Motorola's "special" software. My lovely, low-quality pictures were orphaned.
While I saved some cash to buy a replacement phone, I inherited my brother's bashed-up Samsung x427m. It seemed like a good, minimalistic phone. It got far better reception than the radio-wave-challenged Motorola ever did. Best of all, I could actually make and receive calls again! It was a much better phone, even with the smaller (and quasi-damaged) screen, lack of extra superfluous features, and next to no customizability. And then my cat chewed the charger cable.
No workable phone (my house doesn't have a land-line). Crunch time.
I did a bit of research, ponied up the cash, and got myself an unlocked Motorola Razr V3i. I've wanted one of these phones since the first generation Razr units shipped. Besides solidly fitting the definition of "sexy new technology", the phone is literally a Tricorder (TNG-era and later) flipped 180-degrees.
But more importantly, this particular phone (the V3i model) is open. What is this "open" that you speak of?
First, there is the critical "telephone" functionality. The reception and voice quality is definitely on the high end of phones I've used. It is easy and fast to search or scroll through the phonebook and make a call. Battery life and call time is average, but far better than the other phones I've owned. As I mentioned above, the phone is "unlocked". This means that it is completely independent of any cellular service provider. Subscribe to a new company, swap in their SIM card, and the phone will just work. In my humble opinion, a service provider should be chosen on the merits of their service, not the phones they sell. Cellular devices and cellular service should be modular items, not rigidly integrated. Hate the service but love the phone? You should have the freedom to ditch the service provider but not be forced to ditch an expensive piece of equipment at the same time.
So the phone works well as a phone and isn't tethered to a specific telecom. What else is "open" about it?
You undoubtedly know that this phone has a camera built into it. But, unlike a lot of the camera-phones that have been built so far, this particular camera doesn't suck. Great, so now I'll have a bunch of non-crappy pictures orphaned on my new camera, compared to the bunch of crappy images orphaned on my old handset, right? Wrong.
The V3i has an internal microSD card slot (and the unit I bought came with a 256MB card, plus standard SD adapter card). Also, the phone has a standard mini-USB slot. No more messing with quirky Bluetooth connections or one-way IR communication. Every computer I've plugged this phone into has mounted the internal card as a standard removable storage device. 100% read/write happiness, with no special software or hardware, or obscure settings. This is something that none of those other Razr's could do (I tried with my brother's new V3c), and was previously written about regarding Mac OS X. The picture on the right shows me browsing my pictures on a Linux box, no voodoo hackery needed.
Is it completely "open"? Sadly, no. It still comes with a (Windows-only) software CD, that I imagine would allow me to sync my outlook contacts to the phone's internal phonebook or something. And of course, the on-board iTunes application is just as closed and uncool as the full-blown version of the program. But it is still a strong step in the right direction, and I don't mind continuing to manually sync my phone's limited phonebook listing with my computer's master address books. All in all, it is a solid phone, with a not-terrible camera. It allows me to freely move media files back and forth between internal storage and the microSD card. It talks standard US-lingo over a standard USB cable. I am free to chose my supporting operating system, and I am not tethered to a specific cellular service provider.
Manufacturers should design some solid base functionality into a product before trying to add new stuff on top of it. This goes for all software and hardware, not just cell phones. We shouldn't even think about those extra crazy features (like calendaring, emailing, web-surfing, or video capturing) until the core "telephone" implementation is taken care of. Multimedia applications shouldn't even be on your radar until basic storage and retrieval functions have matured.
The V3i is finally a good example of a PHONE-phone (I'm ignoring the big, bulky, PDA-phone genre) that is starting to get some of the basics right. And it looks dead sexy while doing it.
eWeek has a great article on the emergence of Generation Y into the work market. As Baby boomers slowly start to retire, management jobs are left opened, and we, of Generation X, take advantage of this situation to move up the corporate ladder. Generation Y is then there to fill in the gaps created by our promotion. As pointed out by the article, companies will have to treat this new generation of workers in a completely different way if they want them to be loyal and productive.
Generation Y, made up of those born between 1977 and 1990, goes by innumerable names—"The MyPod Generation," for their penchant for social networking sites such as MySpace and their surgically attached iPods, "The Baby Boomlets," referring to their status as children of the "Baby Boom" generation, and "The Boomerang Generation," in reference to the hordes who have moved back in with their parents after living on their own for a while—that tell you a lot about what to expect.
The only thing that pisses me off with IT newbies that recently came out of school is that I feel that their knowledge base is really incomplete. Most of them don't even know a thing about DOS or Batch files, so when you're talking to them about these things, the only reaction you get is an empty-headed stare which mean something like "Uh? Was I supposed to know anything about this?"
Weekend Fun: DIY Magnetic Acrylic Rubik's Cube (Video)
If you're bored and looking for something to do this weekend, Instructables.com has an awesome tutorial showing you how you can make a cool magnetic version of the original rubik's cube using 27 3/4" clear acrylic cubes and 108 D32 neodymium disc magnets. Here's a small video showing you how the thing works. Enjoy the show!
At Konami's Summer Press BBQ, I got a chance to sit down with Will Oertel (producer for the upcoming Silent Hill: Origins on the PSP) to talk about some of Origins' elusive details. In particular, one of my questions drew a rather interesting reply:
Vansau: So something that a lot of us want to know about the game is whether or not Pyramid Head is going to come back into the franchise. Does he return in Origins?
Will Oertel: (long pause) How do I answer that? My hesitation would mean that that’s not a no, but not saying “yes” doesn’t mean it’s a yes either. It’s somewhere in between… Pyramid Head as depicted in Silent Hill 2 does not appear in this game.
Selecting a new laptop isn't necessarily the easiest of tasks, especially when you're a student with a limited budget. What features and components should the notebook have? Where's the best place to buy one? If you've been asking yourself these questions, the guys at MobilityGury recently pubbed an article that will give you all the answers you need to help you make the right decision when the time to buy that new laptop comes.
Trying to buy a notebook computer for less than $700, excluding tax and shipping, can be an interesting experience. At this price point you're not going to get the fastest, most memory-filled model available. Generally you'll have to settle for a lower end CPU and as little as 256 MB of memory. This is especially true if you want a name brand notebook from the likes of HP, Toshiba, Dell and Acer. Other brands, especially "whitebook" brands assembled from parts by a third party vendor can give you more value for your money, but you may find it difficult to get parts and service, especially a year or two after purchase.
According to a recent study done by a Harvard University researcher, Pac-Man is a violent game. Yes, you read that right: violent. How on earth could someone have arrived to this conclusion baffles me.
In June of 2006, Dr. Kimberly Thompson testified before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection about the effectiveness of video game rating systems. In one of the chief studies she cited in her testimony, Thompson lists the classic arcade version of Pac-Man as being 62% violent. In the same study, Dig Dug is 67% violent, Ms. Pac-Man 54.3%, Q*bert 33.5%, and Centipede 92.6%.
What? Centipede is 92.6% violent?!? If this is the case, then I wonder what kind of rating a game such as Doom or Quake would receive.
Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 Available for Download
Just a small post to let you guys know that IE7 RC1 has just been released for all versions of Windows XP (x32 and x64) and Window Server 2003 SP1.
A release candidate is fundamentally different from a beta. With the exception of a very short list of issues we’re aware of and working on, we think the product is done. We’re looking to enthusiasts, developers, and IT Pros to tell us if this build has any critical, must-fix before we ship issues. The real world is much richer than our test environment and I appreciate the feedback that has helped us make the product better.
You can read the official announcement right here.
Microsoft shot themselves in the foot this month by releasing a security update (MS06-042) that not only caused IE6 to crash when used to visit certain websites, but could also be exploited to allow attackers to gain control of an unsuspecting user's computer.
Patched browsers would crash when using Web-based versions of several applications, including PeopleSoft, Siebel, and Sage CRM. Web sites that used HTTP 1.1 compression to speed up the downloading of images could also cause the browser to fail.
"What people didn't know about that patch is when [Microsoft] introduced that patch, they actually introduced a new exploitable vulnerability," said eEye chief hacking officer Marc Maiffret. "They basically butchered that patch."
I don't think I can consider myself a disorganized person. I know that I'm not perfect, but most of the time, my things are always in order and neatly organized. Unfortunately, there's one notable exception to my usual tidiness: my home office desk (as referred by my wife as "that pig pen"). Since I definitely need to do a major cleanup of my work area, I thought that stumbling on this very useful article listing "10 tips to keep your desk clean and tidy" was probably not a simple coincidence but a message from god himself. I wouldn't want god to be angry with me, so from now on, I'll start following the excellent advices that are given in this article.
A messy desk is a sign of creativity and imagination. This is the excuse I gave myself for the mountain of papers, knickknacks, and San Pellegrino bottles normally piled on my desk at work. Truth is, I’m just lazy. When I started wasting more and more time looking for lost items instead of being a brilliant creative person, I knew I had to do something. I got my desk organized, and have been miraculously keeping it clean for the past three months.
The Telegram has an interesting piece this morning about a kid who invented a device that he hopes will help prevent traffic fatalities among teenagers. The "Speed Demon", which has to be plugged into the electrical outlet of a car, will monitor a car's speed and location when, and only when the driver exceeds a certain speed limit.
The palm-sized device was developed by a Lunenburg High School student entering his senior year. Jonathan Fischer, 18, hopes his invention will facilitate communication between parents and teenagers and prevent young drivers from speeding and swerving on treacherous rural roads.
Ron Patrick's jet powered beetle may look fun to drive at first glance, but I doubt anyone could push its 1350 horsepower engine to its limit without peeing in their pants. Enjoy the show!
This is a my street-legal jet car on full afterburner. The car has two engines: the production gasoline engine in the front driving the front wheels and the jet engine in the back. The idea is that you drive around legally on the gasoline engine and when you want to have some fun, you spin up the jet and get on the burner (you can start the jet while driving along on the gasoline engine). The car was built because I wanted the wildest street-legal ride possible. With this project, I was able to use some stuff I learned while getting my fancy engineering degree (I have a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University) to design a street-legal jet car without the distraction of how other people have done it in the past - because no one has. I don't know how fast the car will go and probably never will. The car was built to thrill me, not kill me. That doesn't stop me from the occasional blast on the highway though.
The ITtoolbox blog has a great article this morning about a few sites that you might want to reconsider using or subscribing to.
If you use any number of popular web forums or even some commercial services like classmates.com, amazon.com, netzero.com or your provider's webmail service, you may not be aware that you're sending your credentials over the internet in the clear.
Can you imagine that in 2006, huge web portals such as amazon.com are still not offering a secure login page to their customers by default? This is quite shocking, especially when you think that a lot of these sites allow people to save their credit card information to their account.
Disk Wiping Utilities: How to Get Rid of Your Data Permanently
On one sunny summer day, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Those 2 characters are completely fictional and are in no way related to anyone) decided that they'd had enough with their old, sluggish computer and wanted to get a brand new one. After doing a traditional format, Mr. Smith decided to put up the system for sale on ebay and prayed that they would get a good bid for it. 2 days later, a guy named John Doe offered a decent amount for the system, so Mr. Smith immediately sent it to him via an interstate courier. Everyone was happy. Mr. Smith received some good money for his old piece of crap, and Mr. Doe had a new computer to play with. Two months later, while having dinner with his wife, Mr. Smith received a phone call from one of his friends telling him that pictures of him dressed up as a baby and wearing a diaper were being circulated on the web. Our poor friend was furious! He thought that by formatting his drive, he could then prevent anyone from recovering data from it, but guess what? He was wrong! Recovering files from a formatted drive is easy when using the right tools, so you have to take extra steps if you want to to make sure that the information on your disk gets deleted permanently. There are many solutions on the web that can help you do this, and fortunately, a lot of them are free!
All these utilities are self-contained boot floppies that will help you securely erase data from any hard drive using one or more of the following wiping techniques (Via the Wipe Page):
Quick Erase: Fills hard drive with 0's
Gutmann: 27 random-order passes using specific data combined with eight passes using random data.Due to changes in the different data encoding schemes now used by modern hard drives, Gutmann no longer recommends 35 passes. A few random passes should suffice.
American DoD 5220-22.M: A seven-pass wipe using random characters, complements of characters, and random data streams.
A Quantum Leap for Cell Phones: A No-Button Hand Set
SlashGear has an article about a new prototype of a cell phone that can do anything that other cell phones do, but without any buttons. How cool is that?
From the article:
To call the Onyx touchscreen-based is to do it a disservice; in fact, it uses Synaptics innovative ClearPad technology, the first transparent touch-sensitive capacitive sensor. ClearPad is capable of recognizing not only points and taps but also shapes and complex movements, together with multi-point input. At 0.5mm thick, the sensor layer can recognize touch and gestures through up to 1.6mm of plastic, making it far more durable and optically clear than traditional multi-layer touchscreens. And above and beyond those touchscreens it can recognize one or two finger contact, a finger used on its side, or even different body parts; a phone call to Onyx can be answered by simply holding it to your cheek, messages sent by swiping them off the screen with the whole finger.
If you are currently looking for a new video card to pimp up your system and have no idea about which brand or model to choose, TechARP has a very complete comparison guide on their site that should help you make up your mind.
These days, there are so many graphics card models that it has become quite impossible to keep up with the different configurations. Therefore, we decided to compile this guide to provide an easy reference for those who are interested in comparing the specifications of the various desktop GPUs in the market as well as those already obsolescent or obsolete.
Laptop computers have become indispensable to business because of the portability they offer, but this mobility inherently conflicts with another modern essential: security. One common solution to this dilemma is the use of encryption. To that end, the guys at Tom's Hardware wrote an article examining the cost, capability, and complexity of three cryptographic solutions for Linux laptops.
Cryptographic storage solutions are an essential part of securing confidential information from exposure to the wrong individuals. Crypto systems are designed to safeguard intellectual property, trade secrets or personal information. They can take on many forms, offer varying levels of functionality, and contain any number of features to suit a variety of operating circumstances and environments.
SecurityFocus.com has a great article this morning about email privacy in the workplace. Does your company have the right to monitor all mail that comes in and goes out of your workstation? Maybe, maybe not. Have you ever been a victim of such practice? Please feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments section below.
So, can an employer in an all party consent state read inbound or outbound electronic communications without the consent of all parties? We do it all the time, so it must be okay... but then again, where is that magic 8-ball?
In these first moments of the day, sensory information floods the system—the bright sunlight coming through the curtains, the time on the screeching alarm clock—and all of it needs to be processed and organized, so the brain can understand its surroundings and begin to perform more complex tasks.
Only five months after Sony's announcement of a final PlayStation 3 release date was met with widespread acclaim and anticipation, the mood has changed somewhat. Some experts are second-guessing Sony's decision to bundle a Blu-ray player into the PS3 package, contributing to its $599 price tag. Some...though not all.
Los Angeles (CA) - Back in March, when Sony Computer Entertainment President Ken Kutaragi made a brave decision to postpone the release of one of the most critically important and highly anticipated entertainment devices in his company's history in order to give it time to get one key component - specifically, Blu-ray Disc - ramped up and working properly, his plea for patience met with largely positive response. As the 17 November release date draws nearer, many of the technical issues regarding Blu-ray have been ironed out, though some still remain even as Blu-ray players are made publicly available. The curtain has risen, if partly, on the stage of high-definition video; and if you peek under the curtains, it seems the PlayStation 3 is ready for its debut.
I'm quite the sucker for eye candy. In particular, I absolutely adore eye-candy involving really shiny display technologies. Check out the video below, and join me in the drool-fest.
It's easy to watch all the pretty lights and colors, listen to the high-powered geeks who make them dance explain how their toys work, and think of this stuff as nothing more than that: bright, shiny, complicated toys. But that's not all they are. We need to look beyond that impression.
Awhile ago, I wrote a post on some ongoing research in the areas of human-machine interfaces. Specifically, I highlighted the extremely cool stuff (and the similarly shiny demo video) that the Multi-Touch Interaction Research project has produced. When I originally saw the video, the first thing I thought was how "freaking cool" it looked. The next thought involved how much I would *kill* to get my hands on one of those units and play around with it. This motivated me to post the video and a bit of commentary on this site. But as I was writing, some of the larger ideas that surround these kinds of flashy demos (and the research behind them) started tugging at my brain. It got me thinking about some of my experience and opinions concerning this facet of technology. But those thoughts remained largely in the periphery, and weren't addressed much beyond references to a couple of movies, and a very snazzy video of an awesome artist going nuts with a Wacom.
And then there were comments. Not a huge number, but some of them were surprisingly lengthy and verbose. You'll get a tiny bit of summary of the commentary here, but I strongly encourage you to read them (and check out the link in YeeJen's comment) if you haven't already had the pleasure.
The second comment was particularly interesting. The poster presented an argument that essentially refuted my "Wow! This is really cool stuff that could revolutionize humanity's interaction with technology!" commentary, and postulated how touch-screen technology will "never, and in fact cannot, work in the real world for very simple ergonomic reasons having to do with human anatomy." My personal annoyance at having something I was excited to talk about being called "over-hyped crap" aside, Richard's comment pointed out numerous problems that effect not only currently deployed touchscreen technology, but also the traditional keyboard/mouse implementation. He also discussed various reasons why touchscreens will supposedly never work within a very specific setting. Fortunately, an anonymous poster responded point-for-point in refute of this, using a Powerbook to simulate a touchscreen, and I thankfully don't have to devote any more space responding directly to this very short-sighted scenario.
But something still annoyed me about the comments to my post (with a couple notable exceptions. Ian Mckay, I am delighted that the Smart People of the world have had successful prototypes of this kind of "futuristic" technology as early as 2001! ). Starting with the second comment, discussion largely centered around existing technologies used in a traditional workstation scenario. This is not the space that these alternate interface technologies are trying to occupy. With current technology, we have largely solved the problem of creating a computer workstation that excels at certain desktop jobs. I have set up a number of multi-screen, multi-machine workstations that allow a saavy user to monitor and manipulate enormous amounts of data simultaneously. With a little practice, the only limit to productivity is how fast one can think...but only for *certain tasks*. This is very important to remember. Depending on everything from physical abilities and characteristics, to the task to be performed, to good old personal preference, a 15-inch and keyboard/mouse combo may be perfect. Or it could completely suck.
Consider the task of typing. I think most people can agree that a touchscreen isn't the best input device for most, if not all typing tasks. But what about voice recognition? If you've read my little "Hi! This is me!" post, you'll know that I'm a college student. I've had to write *many* pages of notes, analytical arguments, and various papers. I can tell you with certainty that reliable voice recognition technology would be far superior to the keyboard for this kind of data input. But what of writing code, or some other kind of data-entry that is nothing like spoken language? Imagine how fun it would be to dictate a few lines of PHP or C#. No, I didn't think you'd want to do that either. At least not without a serious IDE to interpret a scheme of special phrases. Our traditional input hardware is obviously not perfect for everything, even within the restrictive workstation setting.
But things, they are a-changin'. Thankfully, people are realizing that the individual workstation isn't the only place for productivity, nor is it the only place for computers. The vast digital world has made its way into our pockets and briefcases, into our boardrooms and meeting places, even into our art studios. If what we are seeing in the touchscreen prototypes noted earlier is any indication, computers are on their way to being in our tables and walls, in any number of settings.
Anyone who has spent considerable time with a professional multimedia creation software suite will quickly understand the amazing benefits of a mutable interface that can be directly interacted with. We currently spend most of our time interacting with these applications with one hand on the mouse, and the other hand trying to feel its way around the keyboard, hunting for various shortcut or selector keys, or stabbing at context modifiers. A lot of these programs are designed to be the best approximations of their old-school physical-world counterparts, but can only manage insofar as the mouse/keyboard model will allow. The large-format, accurate and responsive interactive displays that are likely to evolve from the technology shown in these shiny videos and pretty demonstrations will be incredibly useful for people working with multimedia. And no, I'm not pulling this out of thin air. I have spent many, many hours working with the last few generations of this software. I've done everything from architectural and mechanical CAD drawings, 3D modeling and animation, to audio/video editing, and mounds of Photoshop work. I've seen and felt the limitations of the keyboard/mouse abstraction in these fields. Large work areas that can respond and transform to fit our needs, whether they be on table-tops, walls, or new-age drawing boards, will be be incredibly beneficial to multimedia folks.
Before I wrap up this post, I absolutely have to talk about accessibility. Not everyone has the same abilities to interact with the world around them. There are people who don't have the visual capabilities to see a screen. There are those who can't hear well enough to listen to audio. There are plenty of people in this world who can't physically manipulate a keyboard or mouse. Again, in his comment to my previous post on this, Richard talked condescendingly about gestural input technologies essentially being a form of sign language. But, come to think of it, wouldn't it be great for a deaf person to be able to dictate a letter to their computer instead of having to type it? This is yet another example of how some models work beautifully for certain people in certain scenarios, but don't necessarily make sense for everybody everywhere.
There doesn't seem to be much discussion about current alternative interaction technologies outside of certain usability and accessibility circles because, let's face it: stuff like screen-readers just aren't sexy. Again, I'm speaking from experience. As a web designer who is at least conscious of accessibility concerns, this is part of my world. They may be boring to most, but they are absolutely essential to some. Without them, people with disabilities would be completely cut off from the rapidly exploding society that inhabits digital space. Any new technology that stands a chance of enabling a larger number of people to easily and intuitively shouldn't be dismissed based on first impressions and a couple isolated and limited use-cases.
These technologies aren't being created simply because they are "cool", with the hope that an application will come along to make use of them. They are solutions being engineered for problems that have not yet been solved. Take a second to think beyond the initial reaction of "Hey! That's cool!!" or "That's total crap, and will never work." There's a lot more going on than the cool-factor floating on the surface.
But hey, if there's eye-candy, enjoy the friggin' eye-candy. Oh, and congratulations if you actually read to the end of this post. You're all truly pocket-fulls of awesome!
[Edit] The following showed up in one of my feeds mere hours after this was posted. Not only is it more beautiful eye-candy, but the presenter speaks very well about this technology and its evolving purpose in our world. He briefly touches on some of the same points I brought up in this post.
Inventor Jeff Han demonstrates his intuitive "interface-free" touch-driven computer screen.
This story comes directly out of our "Oh my god this can't be true" department. CNN reports that AOL, armed with a few shovels and a bulldozer, is ready to dig into the yard of some folks in Massachusetts, and beleive it or not, they're looking for gold and platinum bars that a spammer they successfully sued and who disapeared before paying them may have hidden there.
I wonder why AOL plans to use heavy machinery to do this when a good old-fashioned metal detector would probably be just as effective.
Google just announced that starting today, they will offer free wireless Internet access to the inhabitants of its home town. The 1 million dollar WiFi network spans almost all of the 12 square miles of Mountain View and is completely free. The only thing people will need to access it is a Google account and a computer that has a wireless network card. I wish my municipality would offer something similar, but unfortunately, I doubt that this will happen anytime soon.
The Mountain View network is part gift to an adoring city, and proof of how easy it is to build and operate a free municipal wireless network, said Chris Sacca, Google's principal for new business development.
Here's something that will please those among you who weren't able to download Vista Beta 2 before it was pulled from Microsoft's website. Our friend from Redmond have just started to give away a bunch of Vista Beta 2 CDs for free. All you need to do to get one is answer a small quiz.
Too lazy to search for the answers? Here they are:
1- Vista 2- Clarity 3- November 2006 4- True 5- Aero 6- All 7- All 8- 512
Kingston Adds Data Recovery Software to 'Ultimate' Line of Compact Flash Cards
Kingston announced today that it will now start preloading Ontrack's Easy Recovery Professional 6.1 on their new line of "Ultimate" CompactFlash memory cards "for added peace of mind". This is definitely a great move from kingston; it will allow anyone who possesses one of their cards to recover deleted / damaged files from anywhere, at anytime. The new cards have write speeds of up to 20MB/s, read speeds at 23MB/s and are offered in a 2, 4 and 8GB version.
With its impressive minimum sustained write speed rating of 133x, CompactFlash Ultimate is the perfect match for high-end digital cameras and other devices that benefit from fast capture and storage functions. It’s designed to deliver superior results with fast transfer and support for continuous shooting. With capacities up to 8 GB*, CompactFlash Ultimate offers plenty of room for capturing and storing high volumes of images.
Yeah, you heard me. Why am I so pessimistic today? Because this article reminded me that even if people keep on applying security fixes to their OS each month, they're only doing about 50% of the job needed to secure their computer. Most of them tend to ignore the fact that 3rd party applications also need to be patched, and I think that this lack of knowledge has the potential to lead Mr. And Mrs. Everybody to disaster someday.
This is for all you Dell laptop owners out there. Dell has just announced that they are issuing a worldwide recall for the batteries of most of their laptop that were manufactured between April 2004 and July 18, 2006. If you have such a laptop, get your replacement battery now!
Dell has identified a potential issue associated with certain batteries sold with Dell Latitude™, Inspiron™, XPS™ and Dell Precision Mobile Workstation™ notebook computers. In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other regulatory agencies, Dell is voluntarily recalling certain Dell-branded batteries with cells manufactured by Sony and offering free replacements for these batteries. Under rare conditions, it is possible for these batteries to overheat, which could pose a risk of fire.
I'm sure this recall has something to do with the bad press Dell received when one Dell laptop literally exploded at a nameless Japanese conference 2 months ago.
As you all are no doubt aware, Blogger is the content management system we currently use to power this site. I have also used Blogger for my personal blog for quite awhile. In fact, it was through there that Kiltak found me and brought me on-board [Geeks Are Sexy]. It may not have the super-powered interconnected social functionality of something like Live Journal, or have the power and myriad of options that a full-blown CMS has, but Blogger blogs are still capable publishing mechanisms that are a part of a large, linked, Blogger-web. It is actually quite a good, solid, and flexible platform for relatively simple stand-alone blogs.
Unfortunately for Blogger, this site long ago stopped being a anything close to "relatively simple." We have multiple contributors, are producing and publishing more varied content than in the beginning, and our needs have outgrown the Blogger platform. Plus, we don't generally enjoy being eaten by their anti-spam bots.
Not too long ago, Kiltak announced the acquisition of a domain name. Since then, we've been poking around looking for a good web host, and discussing possibilities for a content management system. And yes, we are still dying to get our hands on "geeksaresexy [dot] com". It may not loo like much is happening with this move, but trust me, wheels are turning in the background. Slowly, but surely, we'll get there.
But, in light of Blogger's announcement (and a little hands-on testing), it may be worth giving them a brief second try. The web app itself feels a lot snappier over all, and its publishing behavior has gotten some significant improvements. There are very welcome "tagging" and security features in the works, and the ease with which basic template modifications can be made is actually rather impressive. Tech Crunch has a more detailed review/preview of what to look forward to.
Will these additions and improvements be enough to keep this site on Blogger? Probably not, but that remains to be seen. I, for one, am still planning on migrating to my own server space and a better content management solution. But for all of you happy Blogger-bloggers out there, start getting excited. You guys have some good stuff coming!
Party time is over guys. I'm back to work and hating every minutes of it. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but all good things must come to an end; we're not getting paid to do nothing after all. Fortunately for me, a few minutes after sitting down at my cubicle this morning, I stumbled upon this interesting article that helped me, and should help you too if you are in my current situation, get back on the road to productivity in no time.
I think # 17 will probably shock a lot of our readers:
Limit time on Digg, Delicious, news sites and blogs. I don’t think I need to say too much about this. There are so many sites on the Internet worth looking at, including this site . Digg, Delicious, news and blogs are great from an interest perspective, but they can really take you away from the work you should be working on. Try to limit going to these sites during the working day. If you really have to, try doing it during your lunch time. No, you don’t need to have your finger on the pulse every single minute of the day…
The folks at Time Magazine just published a nice list of what they consider to be today's top 50 coolest web sites. If you're bored and looking for something to look at, this is definitely a great place to start. The sites are classified into six different categories and there are probably a couple of names that you are going to recognize in there.
Have you ever heard about "Drive-by download" attacks, but never really seen one in action? This twelve-minute video featuring network security analyst Corey Nachreiner, CISSP, uses Ethereal and other packet-sniffing tools to show exactly what happens when a malicious Web site force-feeds malware to your computer. Enjoy the show!
Produced by LiveSecurity for WatchGuard Technologies.
Patch Your Computers Now : Bot Spreads Using Latest Windows Flaw
If you still haven't applied the Windows security updates that were released last Tuesday, you better hurry up and install them now! There's a worm going around the Web targetting computers that were not patched for the MS06-040 flaw.
Security firms reiterated advice to companies and home users to patch their Windows systems this weekend, after a bot program was detected on Saturday using a recently fixed flaw to compromise computers.
Now this goes against all common sense. Why would a company release a $1400 Blu-Ray PC drive that cannot even play Blu-Ray movies?
Bautista says that one of two reasons for this is the fact that commercial content is encrypted with High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), which can only be decrypted using a HDCP-compliant graphics card that offers DVI or HDMI connections. Since there are currently no PCs for sale offering graphics chips that support HDCP, this isn't yet possible.
This is typical of Sony. They start by developing a great new media format and promote it like crazy. Then, they cripple it and wonder why people flee away from their products (BetaMax, MiniDisc, etc.).
PatchGuard is Microsoft's new Anti-kernel Hacking package that they added to Vista's 64bit Operating System. It was introduced in XP 64-bit, but never really made it to wide-spread fame.
"PatchGuard will make it harder for third parties, particularly host intrusion prevention software, to function in Vista," said Yankee Group analyst Andrew Jaquith. "Third parties have two choices: continue to petition Microsoft to create an approved kernel-hooking interface so products like theirs can work, or use 'black hat' techniques to bypass the restrictions."
The whole idea behind this is to make a very secure operating system which is harder to hack, harder to write viruses for, harder to .... Well, you get the picture. It just seems to me that everyone out there screams at Microsoft because they develop operating systems full of holes, and now that they've pushed forward with an OS that closes out all those holes, everyone in the business starts to complain. Sometimes, in tech, we get such a double-standard.
I'm curious to hear the opinions of our esteemed readership on this.
In case you guys haven't heard about this already, Microsoft, in partnership with Universal Movies, is going to have a Halo movie produced. To help them in this difficult task, they recently hired an unknown yet awesome film director named Neill Blomkamp. Mr. Blomkamp might be just what MS needs to make a good movie adaptation of their top selling video game. The guy has been acclaimed for his work in many short films (Video: Alive in Joburg, Tetra Vaal, TempBot) and television commercials (Video: Citroen - Alive with Technology). I know that most of you think that the movie will be a disaster, but before judging the project too quickly, be sure to take a look at what Mr. Blomkamp can do; I'm sure your opinion will then change slightly.
Here is an amazing video of a device named "the Time Fountain". This high-tech toy gives the illusion of making falling drops of water slow down, stop, and even reverse. An explanation of how to build your own is available here. Enjoy the show!
As many of you know, we utilize Oregon State University's Open Source Lab for our hosting and support. They do a fantastic job of taking care of us here, as well as a number of other great projects including phpBB, Drupal, Gentoo, mozdev, the Mozilla Foundation/Corporation, and many others. The OSL is kicking off their 2006 Rackathon today to raise money in support of their efforts to provide great hosting support to the Open Source community. In lieu of our traditional mozillaZine donation drive, we ask that you donate directly to the Open Source Lab, which will help increase the capacity of OSL to not only help us here at mozillaZine, but all the other great projects hosted at the OSL.
Mozilla's (and all those other awesome-and-free) open-source worlds wouldn't exist in their fine form today if it wasn't for Oregon State University's OSL. They make it possible for all of you to download, use, and contribute to a TON of freely available software. If you can spare some cash, please consider donating to this cause. Just think about the amount of money you're already saving because of them. Giving them even a fraction of that value is far more thanks than they're even hoping to get. Want to truly support freedom? This is freedom.
Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy from Tweak3D.net recently pubbed this fantastic tutorial offering a couple of suggestions that should help you get your old and sluggish PC back running at top speed in about 15 minutes. A must read for all of you non-tech people who are in need of a good OS tune-up.
A fine-tuned Windows XP PC can run quite fast even if it's seriously lacking in the memory and CPU department. Before you chuck out your PC to buy a new one, try stripping some of the rust that's built-up over the years; the results may surprise you.
Duran Duran (Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Roger Taylor, Andy Taylor and Nick Rhodes) have announced that 3-Dimensional avatars of themselves are being developed for Second Life.
"When the video revolution began we instantly saw the opportunity to experiment and explore a new form of expression to enhance the musical experience. Second Life is the future right now, offering endless possibilities for artists. Duran Duran are thrilled to be the first band to become citizens of Second Life and are rehearsing now for our first concert there in the coming months. I think I can safely say that it will be filled with surprises," said Nick Rhodes, the keyboardist of Duran Duran, on the band's Web site."
I can't imagine HOW they are going to pull off a Concert from WITHIN the game, but there is something to be said for doing whatever you can to push the envelope of technology. I'd be very interested in seeing how they're going to do it.
I've actually played "Second Life" and find it very close to THERE. Second Life, however, is a little bit more hardcore in that you can actually make real cash by selling things that you develop for the game to other users. My brother is one such vendor, and he reports to me that he makes, on average, $180 US per month (This month, he's made $300) - and he's not a die-hard player. He designs clothing for avatars within the game. He sells his expensive type stuff for $2 US per item. So imagine how much a die-hard can make!??
Some users choose to run bars within the game. Who is to stop these people from say... "hiring" Duran Duran to play in their Cyber-Establishments. How much could that person make by charge a nominal fee of (I'll throw this out there) 0.50 cents (or 150 Lindens) a head to see the band perform a Cyber-concert.
Another new toy….a Razr V3c. I have had it since the beginning of July and I finally had a chance to play around with it this week. I have taken several pictures with it over the last month (it is the first camera phone we have had in the family), and yesterday I decided to try and get the pictures off the phone.
I started with a phone call to my cell provider (US Cellular). The customer service representative was extremely helpful and her command of customer service concepts was excellent. She was easy to understand and extremely patient. She walked me through the steps to send the pictures on my phone to my online album (kind of like flickr, but provided by US Cellular). I started sending the first picture, assumed it was working, and hung up the phone.
About an hour after my first attempt to send the picture, I realized that the attempt failed because the progress bar never got past 0% and my phone locked up. So I shut it down, turned it back on and tried again. Still no luck. I then made a second call to customer service. The second representative informed me that the only way for me to send pictures to my online album was to add the picture messaging feature to my phone and to pay 25 cents a picture to send them. While I was not happy, I agreed.
While the representative was adding the service to my account, she explained that in order to add picture messaging, it was also necessary to add EasyEdge to my account. EasyEdge is their internet content service, and there was NO way I wanted to add that to my phone. My kids will sometimes borrow my phone, and I did not want the potential for them to accidentally run up huge service charges while they were using it. I told the representative to forget the picture messaging; that I would figure out a way to get the pictures off without an additional cost. After all, the phone has a USB AND a BlueTooth connection, so how hard could it be, right?
I have previously synced the phone with my MacBook to copy all my Address Book Contacts to it. The process was pretty easy, except, it created A LOT of duplicate entries on the phone, which I needed to go through and delete. I was unable to sync the calendar, because apparently that functionality was disabled at Verizon’s request (this is the Verizon model of the Razr).
When I connect the phone to my MacBook using my USB cord, all it does is charge. It doesn’t recognize the phone as a device. I searched Google with the phrase “MacBook and Razr sync” and came across a few forums that mentioned a program called BitPim. I downloaded and installed it, and while I could get the MacBook to “find” the phone, I could not access any of the files on it. I deleted the software and went back to Google.
Further down the search results list I came across a forum posting that mentioned using the BlueTooth File Transfer utility that OS X has. To find it, look in the Utilities Folder in your Applications Folder. Before starting your file transfer, I suggest that you create a folder to easily find the files with another application. I added the phone as a BlueTooth device using the BlueTooth Assistant, and opened the File Transfer utility. I selected the phone from the device list, and it presented me with a list of folders, one of which was pictures. I clicked on the folder and found a list of all the pictures that were on the phone. I selected them all by clicking on the top picture, holding down the shift key, and clicking on the bottom picture. Select Send, and away they go! You can also use this utility to delete the pictures from your phone after they are safely on your computer.
I imported the pictures into my iPhoto library and emptied the temporary folder I had created. The quality of the photos is not at good as the ones I take with my usual digital camera, but iPhoto did a great job of adjusting the lighting and taking care of the red eye. The Razr is a decent alternative if I leave the house without my camera, especially since I can get the pictures off it without having to pay for them!!
Hackers Can Work for the Feds - No Degree Required
This is for all of you undiplomed IT security dudes / chicks out there; if you're looking for a job, the US government is hiring!
Las Vegas (NV) - The great need for qualified computer security personnel is now forcing the government to rethink rigid hiring guidelines. At the Defcon computer security convention in Las Vegas, more than a dozen federal agents told attendees that traditional requirements like college degrees and polygraph tests were no longer strictly required for government employment. They also said security clearances are being approved quickly.
Wise move Feds: If you can't beat the guys that can get in your systems, have them work for you!
[GAS] Results for the Win a Book and Free Logo Contest
Get a free logo from [GAS]
Just to let everyone know, Kirsty Last from Wollongong, Australia won the logo design I was offering in the "Free Logo Design for You!" contest I started 3 weeks ago. Kirsty is a young Aussie Engineer chick who runs a race team and is currently designing a new race car called the Venus Vee. Here's the link to her blog, and also the one to official website. Her logo is halfway done, I'll post it here when it's finished.
Get a FREE book from [GAS]
After reading the summaries of the 41 suggestions people left me, I decided to stop my choice on "Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku. Congratulation Tracy, you won! So, what will you have?