First Curiosity P-a-n-o-r-a-m-a From Mars!

This is just sublime, and it's uncanny how much this looks like a desert of Earth: no weird rock formations or towering pinnacles like we used to see in 50's SciFi movies. NASA has done it again.

Click HERE for the panorama!


Switch Web Mail Provider, Don't Lose Stuff

At some point, you may find yourself wishing you could consolidate multiple web-based email accounts into one. It can become a chore keeping track of three or four (or more) different accounts, on top of Facebook, Twitter, et al. HowToGeek has a nice guide and the author covers three major webmail providers: Gmail, and Yahoo! Mail.
Do you use a webmail service you’re unhappy with because it’s where all your email is? There’s good news – you can easily switch, without losing your old email and contacts and without missing email sent to your old address.


A Dark Side to Augmented Reality

We are seeing the beginnings of augmented reality with smartphone apps and the new Google Glass project. There is a certain creep factor involved in some aspects of the young technology, and that is highlighted is this rather thought-provoking short film.

A short futuristic film by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo.
This is their graduation project from Bezaleal academy of arts.

An Apple Tax On Android Devices?

After the historic legal ruling in the Apple/Samsung patent case, there may be significant fallout where the sale of future Android devices could be subject to an "Apple Tax" - payment to Apple for licensing the disputed technology.

"There may be a big Apple tax," says one analyst. "Phones will be more expensive." The question is how much more. It's possible Apple might not license some of its patents at all, considering the feature part of its "unique user experience" and forcing competitors to figure out different approaches
Glad I just got an Android phone this weekend, then...


Dinosaur Fish Lives (And Takes A Nice Photo)

This is one of those pesky Coelocanths that showed up unannounced in the early twentieth century despite having been declared extinct since the Late Cretaceous period - 60-odd million years ago, which was even before I was in short pants. In the photos below from National Geographic, you can see the fossilized version and the swimming-around-in-the-ocean-just-fine-thank-you version. Scientists are awesome, but they sometimes think they know more than they actually do. On the other hand, I freely confess I know very little, but spread it over a wide range of subjects.
SpiegelOnline (German)


RuggedCom Security Issue Awakens DHS

The slumbering giant that is the Department Of Homeland Security (DHS) has stirred at the news concerning a reported SSL vulnerability with Siemens RuggedCom network equipment. The DHS 's interest is because that type of gear is used in ICS (Industrial Control Systems) for things that could be critical to the national interest should they be hacked; power plants, water treatment plants, etc. SCADA password vulnerabilities have been an open secret for years.
RuggedCom’s routers are deployed extensively worldwide for mission-critical networks using ICS and SCADA equipment. They are used by electric sub-stations, railroad switches, the US Navy, Chevron and other authorities such as the Department of Transportation, opening up countless avenues of attack for hackers wishing to target such services.

Mars Rover Officially Ready To Rumble

The Mars Rover Curiosity has passed a short shake-down test of it's driving system. Watched by it's own "mast cam" (below), the rover performed a few simple maneuvers (drive forwards, rotate, drive in reverse), enough to get a thumbs up from the the NASA engineers. The testing of the on-board instruments was completed ahead of schedule and so the little emissary can start trundling off some 400 meters (almost a quarter of a mile) to the first designated point of interest, and start scrabbling around.

Keep on truckin'

NAND Flash Memory - Happy 25th!

SanDisk Corporation celebrated the 25th anniversary of NAND flash memory Monday, and noted that while flash memory capacity has increased 30,000 fold, the cost has decreased 50,000 fold over the same time period!
"Fifty years from now, people will look back and realize that flash memory was one of the most important technology advances of our time. For companies around the world, flash memory has revolutionized their business from how they design products to how their customers use them." said Tim Bajarin, analyst and futurist, Creative Strategies.


Digital File Conversion

Amit, over at Digital Inspiration, has come up with a handy-dandy, all-encompassing file conversion article featuring both online tools and software utilities. This is definitely one to bookmark, stumble, etc.
Digital Inspiration

Just For Geeky Fun


Firefly/Serenity Fun Facts

At the risk of completely neutralizing any last shred of geeky cred I may have ever had, I confess I came to Firefly late. When the Serenity movie hit, I literally had no idea that Firefly had ever existed as a (shamefully short) TV series. When I did find out, of course I went looking for it and was not disappointed - and it made a couple of the deaths in Serenity all the more *sniffle* poignant. I seldom rave about TV, but what a wonderful show! I came across this Infographic that has some genuinely interesting tidbits for all you Browncoats out there. Shiny!

Microsoft's Kinder, Friendlier Windows 8 Licensing

Microsoft really seems to be going large with Windows 8; new hardware in the form of the Surface devices, aggressive upgrade pricing, and now a more accommodating licensing policy. Folks who build their own computers (like me) are a minority of computer users, to be sure, but who still exist and who still spend money. If you use Microsoft Windows, then the cost of a Windows license is part of your build cost (typically $100 or possibly more). Most home builders would try to use a OEM version of Windows as it's somewhat cheaper, but that's not really what it was intended for. Microsoft seems to be finally acknowledging the existence of such people, as they now have an option specifically for them in the form of a Personal Use License for System Builder (PULSB). A bit of a mouthful, but a welcome concession.

windows 8 new logo


Polaroid Camera, Resurrected

Old coots of my generation will remember the original Polaroid Land camera, which allowed you to take black and white or color photos, and would then produce a print on the spot - well, after a minute or so of tantalizing anticipation. They were very popular for a while, and higher end models were even used by professional photographers to check lighting and composition - as they could see a printed result almost immediately. 

Many years later, we now have a digital version. The Polaroid Z2300 is a 10 megapixel camera with a built in "zero ink" printer that can pop out a 2x3 color print on demand in under a minute.


DNA Data Storage - 700TB Per Gram

Those bright sparks over at Harvard have been able to encode 700 TB of data - that's about 14,000 Blu-ray  disk's worth - onto (into?) a single gram of DNA material. It's a concept that has been around for a little while, but this latest effort breaks any previous records. It's not a solution for everyday data storage, although it looks like it may be a viable solution for archiving large amounts of data in the future.
Just think about that for a second, soon we may be documenting our species' many triumphs in the very same material that defines who we are. Sort of poetic isn't it? Poetic and awesome.

Virtual Mugging - The Aftermath

I previously wrote about Tech Journalist Mat Honan's virtual mugging, where his digital life was basically taken from him in matter of minutes. A huge deal to someone in that line of work, and pretty devastating had it happened to any of us mere mortals. Some good came out of Mr. Honan's misfortune, though; it raised awareness to be sure, and also showed his ability to write forcefully and in a detailed way about his experience that really hit home. The aftermath has him describe picking up the pieces, and just how difficult (and expensive) it can be - even for an individual as technically savvy as he is. The article below is once again a pretty long and detailed read, but it's gripping stuff when you know what's at stake for the writer.


Raspberry Pi - Why?

The Raspberry Pi is the Arm-based, Linux-running, teeny-tiny single board $25 computer that is fast becoming the darling of geeky hobbyists. But what, one may ask, can you actually do with it? A lot, actually - it's one of those basic things that is so flexible that it just boggles the mind - it's like asking "what can you do with a wheel"? Any 10-year-old can probably come up with a dozen things in one afternoon. So Mashable has a list of (arguably) the top five things to do with the little bugger.

Android Malware Explosion! But Wait...There's Less

Anitvirus company Kaspersky reports that the number of Android viruses is now around 15,000 - and that number more than doubled in the second quarter of 2012. Yikes.

And yet F-Secure, another well-known antivirus company shows "only" 40 new variants in the same time period, so what gives? The reason is simply down to a different way of counting the different versions seen in the wild. F-Secure uses a more sophisticated method and should give a more representative result - but there is no denying that Android is very popular malware target in the mobile world.


MPEG Agree On New Draft Video Compression Standard

Video accounts for huge amounts of mobile data (possibly as much as 90% by 2015), and HD devices are everywhere. The struggle to provide quality video in a smaller file size is an ongoing one, and the Motion Pictures Experts Group now has a new format for High Efficiency Video Coding called H.265, or MPEG-H part 2. This new compression method allows a 50% lower bitrate for the same visual quality.


Apple Siri vs Google Search

I don't know that this "proves" anything, but it's interesting nonetheless that the coolest feature of the recent iPhone 4S now has an apparently serious competitor on the Android side. While the two products don't necessarily do exactly the same thing, both are pretty impressive pieces of technology.


SQL Injection - Still Lots Of Questions

SQL injection as a hacking technique is widely used, is often successful, and yet the exploit itself is well understood and can be guarded against. So naturally the question "why?" comes up when you see continuing reports of breaches due to SQL injection exploits month after month - for years.
Database security people as "Why?" a lot. "Why didn't they patch the database?" "Why did they move production data into testing?" "Why are they still vulnerable to SQL Injection?" "Why did forget to change the default admin password" "Why are we seeing these same simple errors?"

Just For Fun


Android's Magic Number is 68

Apple continues to sue the pants off anything and everything Android. Steve Job's hatred of Android and it's parent company, Google, is well documented. Mr. Jobs is gone now of course, but Apple continues in a scorched earth type of effort against it's competition - and that seems to be the key to this whole legal morass. In the second quarter of 2012, 68% of all smartphone shipments were of Android-based products. That's a more than 100% increase in market share year-over-year. Ouch. 

Market share of Smartphones sold Q2 2012 by OS


Just For Fun

Microsoft Metro Malarky

Microsoft has let it be known in no uncertain terms to it's employees that the term Metro, referring to the appearance of the Windows 8 and Windows phone UI, is no longer welcome in the Halls of Redmond. Apparently, someone goofed and they had to change it to something else, lest they offend a "European Partner". Fine, I get that. However, there is something about the way they announced this - or rather sneaked it in - that seems ... offensive is probably too strong, but certainly insulting to our intelligence and reeking of an old-time totalitarian disinformation campaign.


DoS Attacks On The Rise

Denial of Services (DoS) attacks on websites are on the rise, up 82% over the same time last year. It's a pretty easy way to get your point across (or just get bragging rights) - it's publicly visible as the site is effectively "taken down", and there are hacker "kits" available that make the actual process available to whoever wants to take the time to do it. Often the assumed reason is that the hacker(s) disagree with the viewpoint or politics of the affected site; recent victims are WikiLeaks (ironically), Demonoid (a torrent tracker site) and KrebsOnSecurity (again pretty ironic).


Old Time Digital Voice Recording

Back in the day - late 80' and early 90's - I worked for a Lanier Office products distributor; it was a fun job, I got to interact with a lot of people each day and so on. The technology was pretty cool too, for that era; among other things, we actually had a VoiceWriter digital dictation system that could process speech and convert it to written text. It was not a full-on continuous dictation system like Nuance's Dragon Dictate, or the Lanier HealthCare dictation products of today, but it allowed physicians to greatly speed up the dictation of case notes by allowing them to use keywords to generate stock phrases. This was running on an Intel 486 processor, too!

This is a typical digital Lanier dictation station of the day


A Cloud Services Self-Audit

In the aftermath of the rather disturbing "virtual mugging" I referred to earlier, ArsTechnica has an excellent self-audit article, building upon best practices, and the experiences of the victim. It's a must read (and a must do!) for all of us that use cloud services to any extent.

The first step is to determine how securely you've configured your cloud service accounts—and how much interdependency they have. The best passwords in the world won't help if the exposure of just one account by a server hack or social engineering lets a hacker or fraudster bypass the password and your accounts are too heavily connected



Virtual Mugging

Here is a very sobering tale of the cascading and sometimes pervasive effect of being hacked in the digital age; one open door leads to another, and another. In this case, interestingly, the initial breach was the result of some old school social engineering - in other words, a bit of smooth talking on the part of the hacker. The victim ended up having his iPhone, iPad and Macbook remotely wiped (normally a nice security feature, unless it gets flipped around on you, as in this case). Several other accounts were breached and trashed as well. The victim has at least put up a full description of the carnage, and it's quite revealing.


Happy 35th, Radio Shack TRS-80

Yes, the hoary old man of computers, the TRS-80 from Radio Shack, turned 35 on August 3rd. The computer sold well from 1977 (the same year the best Star Wars movie came out) through 1982, via the popular 5,000-odd Radio Shack stores. The computer was powered by a Zilog Z-80 processor, hence the "80" suffix, and initially used a cassette device for storage and loading programs, which was pretty dire. 

I never had a TRS-80, it was a bit rich for my blood - although I did have a Timex TS1000, which also used the same CPU and the gnarly cassette storage, but in a cut-rate quirky package. Later on, I did have a Radio Shack Color Computer 3, which I remember as being pretty sweet and I fiddled around with it's BASIC programming language (as I had also done with the Timex).

SSD Drives And Windows XP SP3

At work, I am currently using a frankenstein-ed computer running Windows XP SP3, 32-bit. We'll be getting a computer refresh later this year, but meantime I picked up an SSD drive on sale (fifty bucks!) at the local computer store, and set about reconfiguring to take advantage of the new drive. I figure once I get a new work computer, I can repurpose the SSD for home use.


Rise Of The Triad Resurrected!

Well, this is a real blast from the past - the Apogee PC shooter Rise Of The Triad is being re-released via Steam later this year. The original game was a quirky hoot, with all kinds of weirdness and over-the-top nonsense - I spent many an hour crouched over the keyboard with this one back in the day. The new version will be spiffed up of course, with better graphics and so on - but it looks like the basic functionality is the same - which gets my vote.


Cracking With The Cloud

Cloudcracker is a web service that can supposedly crack any VPN of WiFi connection using MS-CHAPv2 encryption within 24 hours - for $200. This feat is accomplished by a fancy server that is able to test 18 billion keys every second which is, um, quite a lot.
Despite its (long) known weaknesses, MS-CHAPv2 is still widely used, especially in company environments, as the authentication protocol is supported out of the box by many operating systems. A PPTP/MS-CHAP2 combination is also in widespread use on smartphones.
Sounds like it's time to change that protocol, folks.