Showing posts from November, 2012

Water On Mercury!?

After the THUD of any high hopes falling to the floor regarding the Mars Rover Curiosity's "one for the history books" discovery, now we are told there are gobs of water ice and possibly even organic compounds on tiny, roasted/freezing Mercury (the little guy closest to our friendly, neighborhood nuclear fireball). Of course we may still get the "Ha ha, psyche!" announcement, but for now we'll be magnanimous and assume these scientists have not been at the sherry...

Intel-Based Surface Tablets Expect 5hr Battery Life

The Surface RT tablet computers available now are based upon the low-power type of chips designed for mobile devices, used in Android tablets and iPads (each device has different chips, but they have the same kind of purpose). These devices do pretty well for most tasks, and run on operating systems designed for that environment - Windows 8 RT, Android, and iOS, respectively. The one thing in common is that they all can provide very good battery life; most users talk about using them "all day" without recharging. 
The Windows Surface Pro tablets, due in January, will use Intel chips similar to a "normal" notebook. They will therefore have more horsepower to throw at the full Windows 8 operating system, but also have an expected battery life of something like 5 hours - about half that of the Surface RT, and similar to that of a MacBook Air (Apple's featherweight notebook). It's unclear if the perception of the Surface Pro as a tablet, rather than a sort of …

The Cost Of (Internet) Freedom

The notion that "freedom is not free" has been borne out by the blood of martyrs, soldiers and patriots over the years. The cost of freedom on the Internet is not often costly in blood, but can be so in reputation and in monetary costs. An Austrian operator of a TOR server found that out, when police determined that child pornography was being passed through his network. TOR ("The Onion Network" - because it is "layered", like an onion) is a specialized way of sending and receiving data on the Internet, that is designed to "cloak" the IP addresses of those using it, and also encrypting the data en route. It is used in many countries by political activists, journalists, police...and yes, criminals too. With freedom comes the potential for misuse.

Microsoft MSE Antivirus Takes A Tumble

This is a little unsettling, even though I personally think the AV testing game is a bit of  a racket. I guess the two established free Antivirus solutions would now be AVG and Avira. The latter, although having good detection rates, is even more "naggy" than AVG. Maybe this is atemporary dip for MSE, we'll see... Every two months, AV-Test takes a look at popular antivirus software and security suites and tests them in several ways. In their latest test which was performed on Windows 7 during September and October, Microsoft Security Essentials didn't pass the test to achieve certification. Although that may not sound that impressive, Microsoft's program was the only one which didn't receive AV-Test's certificate. For comparison, the other free antivirus software, including Avast, AVG and Panda Cloud did. Neowin

Texting Tips For Seniors

Here you go, courtesy of Team Coco...

Feeling "Blue" About Windows 8?

This is both interesting and a little confusing - largely because details are sparse, I suppose. Microsoft looks like it's planning to move to an "Apple-like" model, where it offers yearly OS upgrades, and what may be the first part of this approach is codenamed "Blue". Originally unveiled by ZDNet, the update on the Windows side, due in mid-2013, will include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform and pricing. We’re told that Microsoft is aiming to make Windows Blue the next OS that everyone installs. The approach is simple, Microsoft will price its next Windows release at a low cost or even free to ensure users upgrade. TheVerge

Even More Gangnam Style Video

The "Gangnam Style" phenomenom/meme/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has a new outlet - synchronized Christmas lights! For those of you still clinging to their sanity, "Gangnam Style" is a song and video by Korean performer "PSY"; it's a relentlessly upbeat pop ditty and rapidly-cut music video with a set of dance moves that kind of hearkens back to "The Macarena" from back in the day. PSY's effort recently became the most watched video ever on Youtube.

Who Did We Search For In 2012?

Microsoft has released it's "Bing Top Searches" list for 2012. In a sure sign of the coming Apocalypse, the Most Searched For Person Of The Year was ... Kim Kardashian, who is famous for, I don't know, being famous I guess. The rest of the results for various categories fall into a fairly predictable, if slightly depressing, pattern - Most Searched For News Story was iPhone 5 - you get the idea.  I think I hear the Four Horsemen saddling up...

Facebook Eats Their Own App

Facebook is hoping to get its own employees using the Facebook app on the Android platform; so much so it has posters to that effect on display around their HQ office. They even co-opted the phrase "eating your own dogfood" - meaning a company considers their product so highly that they themselves use it (as we do at my place of work!). In Facebook's case, they refer to the practice of using the Facebook Android app as "Droidfooding". Facebook has supported the iPhone and iPad for a longer period and so the Android app is playing a bit of "catch up", so it's encouraging to see a bit of extra attention being given to it.

Facebook automatically updates its employees' Facebook apps to the most recent beta available. As users discover issues within Facebook's apps, they need merely shake their smartphones back and forth to activate a built-in "Rage Shake" feature. This clever means for bug reporting automatically saves the sta…

Hooked On Crapware

Ah, crapware! New PC manufacturers love to "add value" to your computer purchase by installing A LOT of software, most of which are trials for paid programs. The tiresome part is that the sheer number of these can adversely impact the performance of the computer, and give a rather bad first impression to a new user - hence the term "crapware". The computer manufacturers get a small monetary consideration for this setup which helps with their costs, and the software companies get some "free" advertising to a captive audience. 
Even the new crop of slick new Windows 8 computers are not immune to this phenomenon, and in the world of already thin margins, it's unlikely that we will see an end to this anytime soon. A shame, because most folk don't want to spend the first half hour or so with their new PC uninstalling toolbars and trial versions of marginally useful software - there will be plenty of time for the new owner to gum up the works themselve…

Wait, What?

I had a "Wait, what?" moment earlier today when I found out that apparently Android devices like the Google Nexus tablet do not automatically mount attached USB devices such as thumb drives and such. I don't know if that's meant as a security feature or it's just a nod to the Neanderthals, but that seems quite...lame. Anyway, if you want to be able to automatically mount an attached USB device, HowToGeek has an article on how to do it. Oh, except you also need to root your device first. Again, does that not seem to be hitching a ride on the lame express (not the HTG article, the whole concept)?

500 More Windows 8 Apps Per Day

The Microsoft Windows 8 App Store is adding around 500 apps each day, and already has about 20,000 apps available - a good chunk of which (about 87%) are free. Apple and Android currently have around 700,000 and 600,000 apps respectively, but Windows seems to be off to a good start - although I can't help but feel these sorts of numbers must purely be for bragging rights; surely a lot of those apps must be crap? Seven hundred thousand quality programs? I don't think so. Microsoft may struggle to reach it's stated intention of having 100,000 apps available within 90 days of launch, but it's chugging along. PCWorld

December 2012 Is M.I.A.

In a tin-foil-hat-wearer's dream, Google programmers left December 2012 out of the Android People App. The whole month. Gone. Surely a confirmation of our nightmare scenario that the Mayans had it right all along - that when December 21st rolls around, that's it; game over, man. It does seem almost unimaginable that an entire month would go missing - I mean, everyone knows each year has twelve of them, right? Well, sure, but computers don't know that unless someone tells them. So, a suitably chagrined Google is rushing out a fix - hopefully it will arrive before the 21st.... The missing month doesn't affect Android's calendar app, but makes it impossible for users to put birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates into their Android People application, according to a post by the Android team on Google+. Eweek

Historically Hardcore Parody Posters

Historically Hardcore are a series of fake ads for the Smithsonian Institute created by Matt Kaplan and Jenny Burrows, poking fun at modern figures in contrast to "hardcore" historical ones (see below for an example).
The ads are not official Smithsonian copy, however, but were a portfolio project for both artists. At that, over the past few days they have stirred up a ton of interest in history and in the Smithsonian online, particularly among the younger audience they were trying to reach with their light tone and contemporary references. Geekosystem

Nuclear Reactor Recon Robot Needs Work

A Toshiba-built quadruped recon robot took a powder during a press conference, indicating maybe it needs a little work yet. It's a great concept of course, to use robots to go into hostile environments such as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, so that engineers can get a better idea of what the damage is without risking more human lives in the process. However, the little robot that could...couldn't, at least not this time... CNET

My Continuing OS Merry-Go-Round

I don't know how it started exactly, but for the last 8 months or so I have been futzing around with various operating systems on my notebook. I had just re-installed Windows 7 a week or so ago, but quickly became irritated with the whole drivers/updates/spyware thing, and so decided to go back to Linux Mint - which coincidentally just came out with version 14. To my chagrin, the Cinnamon desktop version I downloaded was having problems with my video card (whereas Mint 13 had been okay). I fiddled around a bit and just made things worse, so I decided to try Xubuntu - which is still Ubuntu (Mint is also based upon Ubuntu), but running the more lightweight Xfce desktop. So far, so good. I have not tweaked a whole lot yet, just added things like VLC player and so on. I think I must subconsciously enjoy this kind of malarkey...

TED Talks - Onion Style

The Onion has another TED Talk parody, and it's a wicked, scathingly accurate look at Social Media Gurus. Ouch!

Cranking Up A 61-Year-Old Computer

A still-working 61-year of digital computer has been unveiled at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, the home of the United Kingdom’s Second World War encryption and codebreaking efforts. Bletchley Park was where Alan Turing and others broke the German Enigma cipher, which was tremendously helpful during the conflict. The computer, originally called Harwell but now called the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell (WITCH), was originally powered up in 1951.

USAF National Museum - Virtually

Okay, it's not quite the same as being there in person, but this is a pretty good stop gap until you can get there yourself: a virtual tour of 360-degree panoramic views from multiple locations within the exhibition area of the National Museum of the US Airforce. You can either just mosey around from the starting point, or use the map drop-down on the right to select your vantage points within the various display sections (World War II, Presidential Aircraft, etc). There are also audio tours for each area, and you can click on individual exhibits for more information. Start The Tour!

A Tolkien Primer

With the first part of the new movie version of The Hobbit due next month, you may want to brush up on the people and places of the Tolkien universe. While it's true that the Peter Jackson Lord Of The Rings movies varied quite a bit from the written trilogy - and it's likely that The Hobbit will do the same - the main story and characters are there, and many of the set pieces will no doubt be recreated for the new movies. One site I have used myself over the years and can recommend is The Encyclopedia of Arda. J.R.R. Tolkien created the world of Arda as a setting for the stories, and Middle Earth is part of Arda. If nothing else, the complexity of his creation should become clear, as Professor Tolkein created a whole mythology as a backstory and setting for both The Hobbit and the Lord Of the Rings stories.

FreeBSD Servers Compromised

FreeBSD, the Unix-like operating system descended from the original AT&T and BSD Unix versions, had an unfortunate and embarrassing breach on their servers where the code to the OS is stored. The team says that it has now audited the basic system (base) as well as the third-party packages: no unauthorised changes have been found in the base system's source code, and all program packages that are currently available to download have also been verified. However, the developers note that they can't guarantee the integrity of packages that were downloaded between 19 September and 11 November. TheHSecurity

Streaming Netflix On Linux!

Because of Netflix's desktop streaming app's reliance on Microsoft Silverlight, it's been a no go for Linux users - till now.
Developer Erich Hoover has figured out how to get Silverlight 4 to work with the Firefox web browser in Ubuntu Linux by using Wine.WINE technically stands for “Wine Is Not an Emulator,” but it’s basically a Linux app that makes it possible to run some Windows software in a Linux-based operating system.In other words, what Hoover’s tools let you do is run the Windows versions of Firefox and the Windows versions of Silverlight in a Linux environment, rather than trying to get native Linux versions of those apps to work with Netflix.Liliputing

Sci-Fi Weapons - But For Real

Lasers, sonic blasters and robots are the stock-in-trade of a large part of the Sci-Fi universe. Even the more introspective and existential stories usually throw in a robot or two for good measure. Perhaps surprisingly (or maybe not, depending on your perspective) a lot of these types of things are here and now - for real.

Taliban Email Fail

Revealing a "human" side, a Taliban spokesman accidentally exposed their mailing list by not using proper email etiquette. I did this myself once (and only once!), so I sympathize - as much as one can with the Taliban. When you send out email "blasts" to a number of addresses, you would use the "BCC" field (Blind Carbon Copy), meaning recipients can't see who else the emails went to - well, the spokesman used the "CC" field instead (Carbon Copy), which shows all the recipients to all the other recipients. Oopsie.

Famous Last Words?

If you have seen the UK version of the motoring geek show "Top Gear", you will have no doubt witnessed the scenario where the hosts will explain some goofball project they have in mind (like making a railway train out of a modified Jaguar car), and one of them will pipe up "How hard can it be?". At that point, the audience can be sure that hilarity will ensue. This week, recently-installed RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told an assembly at the NewYork Times "I don't expect things to get much worse". Now, the maker of the Blackberry has a new handset and OS coming out - Blackberry 10 - and is pretty much relying on this device to pull them back from the abyss of total irrelevance. The NYT's Bits blog reports that "the phone will not introduce any significant hardware innovations", but that the BB10 OS seeks to make tasks much easier by intelligently consolidating "bits of information and capabilities that are distributed through separate…

Social Media Wars

The title does not refer to competition between Twitter and Facebook, but the fairly recent trend of bringing social media into arenas where there is actual fighting. Think back to the Iranian uprising in 2009, where cell phone videos were uploaded showing what was going on to the outside world. While we (meaning the USA) tend to carefully trickle out information that seems helpful, and then usually only after days or weeks, yesterday's killing of Ahmed al-Jabari of Hamas was followed by an immediate YouTube posting of the incident by the Israelis, together with a "watch out, or your next" type message on Twitter. This follows an intensive social media campaign in recent weeks by Israel's IDF, on Facebook,  Flickr and Twitter. More targeted and perhaps more effective than the allies dropping leaflets over Europe in WWII...

Pssst, Wanna Try IE 10?

If you have a hankering to try Internet Explorer 10 (the new version that comes with Windows 8), you can - if you already have Windows 7. XP users need not apply, sorry. An IE 10 preview is available for download, and should give much the same sort of experience as it would for Windows 8 users - sans the built in Flash player. The preview will replace your current version of Internet Explorer, but can be uninstalled and you can revert to the previous instance as needed.

Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft Part Ways

Steven Sinofsky and Microsoft are no longer "sitting in a tree, kay eye ess ess eye en gee". The head of Windows is leaving immediately and his position is being filled by two other Microsoft-ies, Tami Reller and Julie Larson-Greer. The split is reportedly a mutual one, and lest you think this is some kind of punishment for Windows 8, Larson-Greer is thought to be a force behind the Modern Style (nee Metro) interface. Maybe with a couple of smart women taking over the marketing and development of Windows we may see something good actually come of all this?

What Are We Thinking?

Today's timely Google doodle was of Rodin's instantly recognizable sculpture "The Thinker" - you'll know it as soon as you see it. It depicts a person lost in thought, wrestling with something or other in their mind. It occurred to me, seeing the beautifully evocative depiction, that most of us don't think very much anymore; or at least, I suspect we seldom ponder things, mull them over, or cogitate. Most times we blithely follow the meme, "like" and "retweet", or simply soak up whatever CNN or Fox News is telling us and perhaps repeat that to our friends in lieu of actually coming up with a reasoned position on something. Of course, there are still great "thinkers" out there, but I suspect most of us - myself included, I'm afraid - just sort of go along for the ride...kinda sad, actually.

Hey Let's Be A Tool On YouTube!

YouTube seems to bring out the worst in some people - or at least in this case it was YouTube; the same things seem to happen on Twitter, Facebook, et al. Somebody will act like a complete tool, video tape the act of toolish-ness, and post it for his or her admirers to see - seemingly oblivious of the concept that people other than their buddies may also see it; like, oh I don't know, their employer. To wit; Walmart employees videotape themselves chucking around and "spiking" boxes apparently containing iPads. They then posted it on YouTube. Why? Who knows. They got themselves fired,  naturally, and I suppose are fortunate that criminal charges weren't forthcoming. Warning, some cussing on the video.

Online Attacks: Java Is The Way To Go

Kasperky's top ten exploits for the third quarter of 2012 show Java vulnerabilities being exploited for more than 50% of online attacks. In addition, the report also criticizes the update mechanisms for Java and Flash reader.In my opinion, using something like Secunia's PSI might be helpful. Java vulnerabilities were exploited in more than 50% of all attacks. According to Oracle, different versions of this virtual machine are installed on more than 1.1 billion computers. Importantly, updates for this software are installed on demand rather than automatically, increasing the lifetime of vulnerabilities. In addition, Java exploits are sufficiently easy to use under any Windows version and, with some additional work by cybercriminals, as in the case of Flashfake, cross-platform exploits can be created. This explains the special interest of cybercriminals in Java vulnerabilities. Kaspersky

Climate Change Dangers To Coffee Crop

Apart from everything else, if the dire predictions of global warming researchers hold true we may also be in for a big time shortage of the little magic beans. Coffee is pretty finicky crop and optimal growing conditions are not found all over the world. A study done forecasting various scenarios over an extended period mostly point to a rather dire future for our cup of joe.
While the most favourable scenario leaves coffee survivable – 62 percent of the areas now able to support it would survive – the worst-case model suggested that 97 percent of its range would no longer support the crop.

Gmail And The Fall Of David Patraeus

Lot's of folk have Gmail accounts, also Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and so on. These web-based email services are intended to be secure, within the confines of also being easy to use and readily available. David Patraeus, the fallen ex-CIA chief had a personal Gmail account. While no-one is suggesting he was keeping national secrets in his Gmail account, the FBI investigation that apparently triggered his resignation was kicked off when some of his associates began receiving harassing emails, the source of which appears to have been information perhaps culled (directly or indirectly) from Patraeus' Gmail account. It's well know that countries try (sometimes relentlessly) to hack into any kind of accounts that can give them any kind of access to other accounts, and so on, up the ladder. It's like the small hole in the retaining wall that starts to allow the flood water to come through. So maybe this is a bit of a wake-up call?

Happy Birthday Firefox!

My favorite browser for some time, Mozilla's Firefox, is 8 years old. Back in November 2004 a notoriously buggy Firefox 1.0 saw the light of day. Firefox brought us tabbed browsing and add-ons, along with sometimes prodigious memory leaks - but my long-time favorite feature has to be Live Bookmarks. I think that feature is just the bees knees, and has always been the thing that drives me back to Firefox after flirting time after time with Chrome as my primary browser.

Patch Tuesday, Flash Tuesday

Adobe is going to alter their patch release schedule to coincide with Microsoft's Patch Tuesday. When Microsoft announced that IE 10 would have Flash integrated into the browser in Windows 8 and RT, it left open the possibility of extended periods where a known vulnerability in Flash (and there have been plenty) would not make it into IE 10 till the following Patch Tuesday. This realignment should avoid that rather scary scenario. Computerworld

Computer Museum


Air New Zealand Does It In (Hobbit) Style

As you may know, the Lord Of The Rings movies and the forthcoming Hobbit movies were made in New Zealand, so it seems fitting that Air New Zealand would take the opportunity to spice up the usually boring safety video with some "Middle Earth: style...

Nerd Alert!

The Department Of Homeland Security is looking for a few good nerds to populate a "Cyber Reserve". The idea is to have a collection of knowledgeable young minds on retention rather than farm this kind of thing out to contractors - sort of a digital National Guard.
The U.S. department’s immediate goal is to bring in some former government computer experts to fortify the weak spots in its security, then the plan is to scout fresh blood at community colleges. The Homeland Security task force that pushed the need for the Cyber Reserve also recommended that the department incorporate two-year training programs into higher education at certain schools. The programs could start as soon as next school year. Motherboard

George Lucas Makes It All Worthwhile

Following the news of the sale of George Lucas' media empire to Disney, there was quite a bit of high-fiving and comments about him ruining Star Wars anyway with the prequels and so on. Whether you feel that way or not, Mr. Lucas is donating the bulk of the proceeds of the $4 billion transaction to his educational fund (where a lot of his money has gone, by the way). So major props, good karma, etc. must go to GL. I trust the Force is strong with him:
“I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education. It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future—and the first step begins with social, emotional, and intellectual tools we provide to our children. As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt—as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so.”