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Showing posts from May, 2013

Google's Kinder, Gentler, Skynet

In the Terminator movies, Skynet is the military computer network that eventually becomes self-aware, and decides that mankind is a pest and wreaks terrible havoc upon us. Google, however is proposing it's own sky-net; a wireless network across Africa and Asia comprising high altitude blimps and balloons to bring the web to that part of the world in a low cost way. The company is intending to finance, build and help operate networks from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, with the aim of connecting around a billion people to the web.
To help enable the campaign, Google has been putting together an ecosystem of low-cost smartphones running Android on low-power microprocessors. Rather than traditional infrastructure, Google's signal will be carried by high-altitude platforms - balloons and blimps - that can transmit to areas of hundreds of square kilometres.Wired

Tomorrow People Redux

Looks like the 70's UK teen Sci-Fi adventure Tomorrow People is being brought back by the CW. I was a fan of the original series, which featured a small group of older children/young adults who had reached the next stage of human evolution and who found themselves with various unexpected powers - reminiscent of the X-Men. Speaking of which, that seems to be the kind of vibe the CW series is going for - and TV shows these days certainly seem to have access to infinitely better visual effects than the original British show did. Even so, the original series had a nice, eerie quality to is, as the kids discovered and fine-tuned their powers - hopefully the new version can tap into that. The original cast of the 70's series is shown on the left, and the video below is a tease for the new CW series.


Superman's New Duds

Since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the comic book character of Superman, the Man of Steel has gone through many changes. The very first incarnation of Superman was as a baddie, in the short story "The Reign of the Superman". He reappeared a few years later in Action Comics #1 as basically the character we are familiar with today - although there have been some changes. He did not originally actually fly but could jump to great heights, and over the years other powers have come and gone or changed in strength. Another physical change has been in his "work outfit" itself.

Burger Chain Hardee's Hires the Man of Steel

Ah, movie tie-ins - you gotta love 'em. The Hardee's burger chain has a TV spot featuring Superman, the Man of Steel himself - at least for a few seconds. One of the notable things about the commercial is that it shows a lighter side than the movie trailers we have seen so far - which have been quite "serious", with the exception of a little bit of banter between Lois Lane and Superman - 
Lois - "What's the 'S' stand for?" (referring to the shield symbol on Superman's outfit).
Superman - "It's not an 'S'. On my world, it means 'Hope'"
Lois (being feisty) - "Well, here it's an 'S'".

The commercial shows a Metropolis city worker taking a break from cleaning up the aftermath of a super battle and tucking into a Hardee's burger, when the Man of Steel flies in and lands a bit heavily, creating another crater in the pavement. The worker looks up, Superman shrugs as if to say "Oops", …

Internet Explorer 10 Sucks...Less

With Internet Explorer 10, Microsoft is trying hard to bring their flagship browser back into the good graces of the legions of IE haters. Why the hate? For a good long while, earlier versions of internet Explorer were malware magnets of a sort, largely due to Microsoft's ActiveX component. The browser was also tightly integrated into the Windows operating system, and so any browser flaws had the potential to spread the mischief. Now that IE 10 is also available for Windows 7 - previously it was only available on Windows 8 - people are are least *starting* to sit up and take notice. Apparently, Microsoft has also been on a bit of a marketing blitz with IE 10 over the last several months - although I had not actually seen any of these until very recently. The ads do play humorously on the hate out there, and probably work better because of that approach:

Xbox One - Suspicious Minds

Following a rather odd Xbox One reveal, where the focus seemed to be on TV and some Sports games, there was still a bit of a specter hanging over the product that Microsoft is trying to address -  the impression that users will not be able to play "used" games. That concept first came up when Adam Orth Tweeted about a possibly "always-connected" console, which raised some questions (and some ire) among potential customers. Most recently, Xbox's Larry Hryb posted this on his blog - which *sounds* like a pretty clear statement:
Over the past few days, we have been reading comments and message boards following the Xbox One announcement. There are a few questions regarding used games. I wanted to clarify and provide this official statement:

The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete…

A Medical Tricorder - A Couple Of Hundred Years Early

The TV series Star Trek introduced us to a lot of fancy (and imaginary) high-tech gadgets, used in a nonchalant manner by the 23rd-century characters in the show. It's almost shocking how many of the devices and concepts portrayed have come to fruition in the ensuing years - either through the prescience of the writers, or maybe it's life imitating art. The latest in a long line of Star-Trek inspired devices is a "Medical Tricorder" - the Tricorder being a multi-purpose scanning/diagnostic/recording device presented in several versions (medical and non-medical) in the show. Scanadu has announced updates to its Scanadu Scout, the “first medical Tricorder,” a prototype device designed to measure vital signs; and the launch of an indiegogo campaign. A first-edition Scout can be reserved on indiegogo and will be available in March 2014.KurzweilAI

Xbox One Jumps The Shark

Microsoft revealed the next iteration of their popular gaming platform May 21st - the Xbox One - except the main things that seemed to be noticeably absent were, well, games...oh, except for Call of Duty (and a new dog).

Adobe Photoshop Express App For Windows 8

Adobe Photoshop Express is a free, feature reduced app version of Adobe Photoshop and is now available for Windows 8 and Windows RT. Comparing this free app to Adobe Photoshop is like comparing a harmonica to the London Symphony Orchestra, but as a free tool for doing some quick work on your digital images, it's fine. You can save the edited images of course, or send them to Facebook or Revel, Adobe's online photo library. There are additional features available for purchase, but the free version allows you to remove red eye, adjust colors and brightness etc - the basics you would expect. The app was previously available for Android and iOS, so it's nice to see it on the Windows App Store now too.

Creative Cloud Brings Stormy Weather For Adobe

Adobe recently launched a new suite of products, called Creative Cloud - a collection of professional graphic design tools - and has run into quite a bit of resistance from users of the previous Creative Suite. Creative Cloud is a subscription-based product; instead of paying a (substantial) one time fee to buy the product, users would now pay a monthly fee. This has ruffled feather to the extent that an online petition has arisen to try and get Adobe to consider reversing this decision. To make matters worse, one of the components of the Creative Cloud - it's sync feature - has not been working properly, and has been pulled for now. The sync feature, which means files being fiddled with on mobile devices such as tablets or in web browsers stay synced-up with desktops, has been out of action since May 15 at 6:02pm UTC, according to Adobe, but users have been reporting problems since Monday. This means that one of – in Adobe's own words – the "core pieces" of its C…

Ford Brings The Kitchen Sync

Our daughter just got a new Ford vehicle, and it comes with Ford's Sync technology. Sync allows you to make hands free phone calls, and to control other in-car entertainment functions by voice commands. In the short time we were with her yesterday, it seems to work well - after a slightly fiddly setup process. It forms a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone (Bluetooth is a short range wireless connection protocol) and allows you to download your phone book to the Sync computer, so that you can just say "Call Mom" as you are driving along, and the "car" will call Mom via your smartphone. While you call, the radio is muted and you can hear Mom through the vehicle sound system. Another feature is that you can control the audio system, which I think is a good move. If you have not been in a newer vehicle recently, the sound systems generally either have a ton of buttons, or some kind of touch screen - either way you are fiddling around and distracted while ma…

Java Flaws Don't Impact Oracle CEO Salary

Larry Ellison is the CEO of Oracle, the company that provides powerful database software to businesses around the world. Oracle also purchased Java in 2010 and has maintained the product since. Oracle's Java and Adobe's Flash and PDF Reader products continue to be the most exploited pieces of software for Windows and other users, despite multiple continuing patches. The security issues have persisted with these products for years now. Mr Ellison still managed to pull in an income of $96 million last year - about $3 per second.
Oh, and a pet peeve - the multi-billion dollar company also tries to make a few more pennies by installing the crappy Ask toolbar by default when you install Java.

PC Sales In Western Europe Are Waaaaaay Down

Ouch! PC sales in the first quarter for Western Europe are down more than 20% over the first quarter of 2012. Both mobile and desktop products suffered, likely due to the poor economic conditions in most of the Western European countries. Only Apple and Lenovo escaped the carnage, and made some gains. The wide availability of Windows 8-based PCs was again unable to boost consumer PC purchases. Users still wonder about its suitability for traditional PCs, according to Gartner analyst Meike Escherich.

All market segments were affected by the first quarter drop: Mobile and desktop shipments fell by 24.6 percent and 13.8 percent respectively. Shipments in the professional PC market declined by 17.2 percent, while those to consumers decreased by 23.7 percent. PCWorld


Welcome Back, Start Button

Microsoft looks to be bringing back the traditional Windows Start Button in Windows Blue - which is now officially going to be called Windows 8.1 - and the first release will be a free upgrade and should be here before the end of 2013. So, it looks like Windows 8 users will not be forced to boot into the somewhat controversial Start Page and it's tile icons, but rather have the option of landing at a more Windows 7 - like environment, with a Start Button and a traditional desktop. TheRegister

TuneCrawl Does Just That

Hunting around for music can be fun, and TuneCrawl has a neat way of searching several sites at once - namely Spotify, YouTube and SoundCloud. Your search results are listed in three columns, from which you can listen (stream), share, or purchase the songs you have found. You will need a free Spotify account to be able to stream those tunes.

Windows 8 Apps

I have been using Windows 8 for a few months now. This is my second crack at it, as I had also used the preview version last Summer for several weeks and disliked it pretty intensely. This time around, it's tolerable; the OS runs well on my laptop, and I have grudgingly come to terms with the new UI (user interface). The one thing I still don't get though are the Apps. When you start up Windows 8, you arrive at the Start screen which shows your installed Apps - there are several already installed, and you can add both free and paid Apps from the Windows store, of which there is a growing selection.

Google Cloud To Be Debian-Powered

Google is moving to Debian Linux for the computers supporting it's Cloud storage servers. Previously, the stripped down Linux OS GCEL (Google Compute Engine Linux) was used for this. Debian is a well-established Linux distribution, and forms the basis for Ubuntu and other distros. Debian is a famously stable Linux distribution. Version 7 was released earlier this week after over two years of development. "If you're looking for a stable, rock solid Linux distro the new Debian will not disappoint," wrote our own penguin fiddler in a review of the distro. TheRegister

Drone Airliner Testing In Scotland

A smaller executive aircraft was flown via a ground-based control system for several hundred miles over Scotland last year. Details are just being made public now, and while the takeoff and landing were made by an on-board pilot (and the pilot was "standing by" during the test), the bulk of the flight was controlled remotely, as with a drone aircraft. Oddly enough, the stated purpose for this experiment was not to pave the way for ditching airline pilots, but rather to evaluate a collision avoidance system installed on the aircraft. With massive drone presence apparently on the way whether we like it or not (personally, I don't), they need a reliable way to stop the little buggers from slamming into each other while aloft - preferably an automated method, as many drones will likely follow programmed flight paths rather than be individually controlled by a remote driver. The sense and avoidance system is designed to follow the rules of the air as established by the vario…

Oh No, They Didn't

Yes, I'm afraid they did. Kimberly-Clark Corporation (Huggies) is testing a device in Brazil with a few families that will send out a Tweet when their kids makes peepee in their diaper. Seriously.
TweetPee is apparently a small device that looks like a bird, with a sensor that clips to a diaper. When the diaper is wet, it will alert parents by sending a tweet.
The device works with a TweetPee app that lets parents monitor diaper moisture, inventory and keeps count of the average amount of diapers their baby uses. CBSNews

Man Of Steel Easter Eggs

"Easter Eggs" in modern use are little tidbits or puzzles in software or movies that allude to some surprise to come, or perhaps just a pop-culture reference - examples would be the little teaser scenes at the end of movies like Iron Man and Captain America. The folks with sharp eyes have been scanning the trailers for Man Of Steel, the new Superman movie, and I have seen several articles about it's Easter Egg content. These folk must have a lot of time of their hands, and are obviously going through the trailer frame-by-frame to catch this stuff. One catch was a building featuring the LexCorp name - Lex Luthor being an arch nemesis of Superman, but who was not announced as being in this film (even though the actor who played an older Lex Luthor in the Smallville TV show is reportedly in the movie to some extent). See how deep this stuff goes? The latest one is even more obscure (at least to me), and refers to another DC comics character "Booster Gold" - and t…

Ad-Aware Back In The Game

Ad-Aware used to be to the go-to product to remove spyware back in the day, along with SpyBot - Search & Destroy. Both of them faded out of popularity as new products became available, and I was a little surprised to learn that Ad-Aware was actually still around. Apparently, after a bit of a wonky start with version 10.0, the latest version - now 10.5 - is available and performing well according to this article on PC Magazine. What's more, it's now a full-fledged antivirus solution as well, and there is a free version. Now I have not tried this on my computer yet, but I believe I will. When the article refers to problems installing other AV products - bear in mind the writer was trying to install on already infected systems (which can be tricky). It's nice to have choice, and this sounds like another good one.

How About Glow-In-the-Dark Trees?

So, how would you like to walk down your neighborhood street and have your way lit by trees rather than street lamps - and I don't mean lamps that look like trees, I mean actual living tress that glow in the dark? While that sort of thing may look enchanting in the movies on far-flung Pandora, we would be introducing something we artificially created into nature, and that sounds a wee bit dicey. I often think that scientists and researchers sometimes enter into things with more hubris than actual knowledge of what they are embarking upon, and this sounds like one of those cases. Synthetic biology is a nebulous term and it is difficult to say how, if at all, it differs from genetic engineering.In its simplest form, genetic engineering involves snipping a gene out of one organism and pasting it into the DNA of another. Synthetic biology typically involves synthesizing the DNA to be inserted, providing the flexibility to go beyond the genes found in nature. The glowing pl…

I Guess Big Brother IS Watching

If a new report is to be believed, the US government is maintaining a database of all - yes, all - domestic communications. I'm sure the rationale is to protect us from another 9/11 style disaster, but in the recent security and surveillance failures in the Boston Marathon bombing case make that ring a bit hollow. Also, anytime you have huge amounts of data on citizens, it opens up all kinds of cans of worms - privacy concerns, political watch lists and so on. Just on a computing/data storage level, it's daunting to think of the huge amounts of data being store - although on a more "up front" level, you may be aware that all Twitter traffic is already cataloged by the Library of Congress... Last year, Wired took an in-depth look a new multi-billion dollar NSA complex in the Utah dessert scheduled be completed later this year. According to their report, the complex’s “near-bottomless” databases will store “all forms of communication, including the complete content…

Enable F8 Safe Mode Startup Option In Windows 8

For some reason, Microsoft has made it very obscure to use "Safe Mode" in Windows 8. The actual process now requires multiple steps, rather than just pressing the F8 key at boot time like you could do with previous Windows versions. I came across an article describing how to enable the F8 key method, and it's a beautiful thing. Do it now, please, before you actually need to start up in safe mode. Courtesy of Tech-ForEveryone

1) Press the Windows key + the X key to open the Start menu.

2) Click on Command Prompt (Admin), and answer “OK”/”Allow”/”Proceed”.

3) Type into the black command box the following string of text (below, in bold) mindful of the spaces. (Or, Copy>Paste)

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

4) Press Enter. After a moment, you should see the message “The operation completed successfully”.

Now you will be able to – in an emergency – press the F8 key to (try to) boot into Safe Mode and attempt repairs, should your computer fail to start up.

This Does NOT Look Good On A Resume...

This is not a good way to get a favorable reference from a previous employee. A software programmer became disgruntled and handed in his two week notice. However, he also allegedly hacked the company network and was charged with causing $90k worth of damage.  Meneses employed various high-tech methods to hack into the victim company’s network and steal his former colleagues’ security credentials, including writing a program that captured user log-in names and passwords. Meneses then used the security credentials of at least one former colleague to remotely access the network via a virtual private network (VPN) from Meneses’s home and from a hotel located near his new employer, corrupting the network. Meneses’ efforts ranged from using a former colleague’s e-mail account to discourage new applicants from taking Meneses’s position, to sending commands to alter the business calendar by one month, disrupting the company’s production and finance operations. The victim company suf…

Video Game Graphics Retrospect

Wired has a very interesting slideshow of video games from the last 20 years, showing not just the technical improvements during that time, but how the look and feel of the graphics can lend a huge amount to the gaming experience. While any gamer will tell you the game play is the thing, it can be enhanced (or stymied) by the graphics used to represent the game play. There are levels of ambiance and immersion that can be helped or hurt by the way the graphics are used - whether through the gaming environment, the lighting, the color palette, the art style and so on. Wired

Amazon Leaks Small Screen Windows Tablet

Oops! Amazon briefly posted information on a 8.1 inch Acer brand Windows 8 tablet - interestingly, apparently running Windows 8 rather than Windows RT. Up till now, Windows 8 was configured to run at resolutions suitable for the 10 inch and above displays, but Microsoft appears to be taking consumer interest in the smaller tablet form factors (like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7) to heart. Details - such as they are - at PCWorld

Bluetooth Bulbs - Oh, Behave!

There have been some reports on smart light bulbs - these bulbs are controllable via your home computer network. There are also Bluetooth bulbs now, too - Bluetooth is the short range wireless connection protocol used with Bluetooth phone headsets and the like. These LED bulbs can be varied in both brightness and color via a smartphone app - surely something Austin Powers would love. Gadgetzgeek

Ellen's New iPhone App

Ellen DeGeneres has a new iPhone app that is going gangbusters. The app came about through a game Ellen sometimes plays with a guest where Ellen will hold a card up so she can't see it, and the guest has to give her clues to name what or who is written on the card - sort of like charades. It seemed like something that could readily be made into an app, and would be a nice tie in with the show and perhaps expand the fan base. The $1 iPhone app is doing great business on the iTunes store and as a bonus, the app uses the iPhone camera to record the participant trying to describe the word to the person holding the iPhone - so a chance of comedy gold, right there. Pretty smart marketing.

Ancient Systems Still In Use By UK Goverment

Putting forms and the like online can be helpful for those trying to apply for public assistance  (for example), and in the UK a lot of those forms are available - as long as you have a computer from the last decade, it seems. At first glance, this appears to be a positive use of the internet by the government, letting its citizens apply for benefits over the web, rather than having to fill out forms and send them via the post or visit offices in person. However, it seems that many of those claimants could fall at the first hurdle due to some rather outdated stipulations about the computer systems supported by the DWP.We won't publish the full list of system requirements here, but in summary this is what the government requires you to run on your PC in order to complete and submit your benefit application: Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP; Internet Explorer (IE) 5 or 6, Firefox 1 or Netscape 7.2TheInquirer

Google Spills The Jellybeans

Google is happily announcing that Android Jellybean is now on more devices than the previous version, Ice Cream Sandwich - 28% vs 27%. However, there are still 38% of current devices using the two-year-old Gingerbread version of Android, perhaps highlighting the Android fragmentation situation - the elephant in the room. While this sounds like good news for Google, it's worth noting that the firm's latest two Android releases have fallen under the Jelly Bean branding. It's rumoured that Google will launch Android 4.3 Jelly Bean at its I/O conference later this month too, as it seemingly tries to hide the extent of Android fragmentation. Inquirer

Iron Man 3 Trailer - Sweded Via Thailand

Swedeing is one of those things you need to experience to appreciate it - the term refers to bargain-basement recreations of movies, or more often, movie trailers. The 2008 movie "Be Kind, Rewind" featured a story where, after accidentally erasing a bunch of VHS movie tapes, video store employees remade the movies on their own with predictable results. The term comes from the line in the movie that the recreated movies “take longer to arrive and cost more to make because they are from Sweden”. The Iron Man 3 example adds a little more, in that it was made in Thailand with an all-male cast (even the Pepper Potts character). It's cute to see how folk come up with solutions to big-budget special effects, and the one below is a good example of that (plastic models, body paint, fireworks, cardboard props and so on). The actual Iron Man 3 trailer is here.