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Showing posts from June, 2013

Money From Nothing

I confess I don't quite fully "get" Bitcoins - I have admitted this before, and my grasp of it has not really improved. I understand the basics of the process for creating the coins, it's where the "coins" interface with the real world that my mind sort of goes blaaarrgggh. Regardless of my deficiencies, there is a fascinating article on ArsTechnica about a Bitcoin "mining" box; a small, sub-$300 device that should churn out about $20 worth of Bitcoins each day. I assume that means you are making money from nothing?

Nextel Push-To-Talk Pushes Off

Sunday, June 30, the Sprint Nextel iDEN network is being shut down after years of push-to-talk service. Push-to-talk was a popular tool for many blue-collar businesses such as plumbers and construction workers - a single button push put you in direct communication with your co-workers, no need to dial numbers. Over time, though, the technology fell out of favor and the time has come to pull the plug. The iDEN system came from Motorola and formed the basis of Nextel's network, which was begun in 1996. The network ran over spectrum from small regional carriers and frequencies for Motorola's two-way radios. The company built a strong business through its push-to-talk feature, which let users talk to each other instantly without having to first answer a ringing phone. ComputerWorld

The Last Days Of Google Reader, No Tears From Me

Google Reader, the popular RSS feed reading tool, is no more after July 1st. There are plenty of articles (and arguments) regarding alternatives, and on how to carry over your precious list of feeds and so on, but I have frankly being wondering what all the fuss is about. I know, I know - RSS Feeds (those updated snippets or "headlines" from your favorite websites) are very important to a lot of people; it's just that have never really used a reader. I follow quite a lot of sites, I just chose to do it in different ways. The three resources I currently use - and these vary a little over time - are Daily Rotation, ProtoPage, and the Live Bookmarks Toolbar on Mozilla Firefox (the latter being my longstanding favorite). None of these would really be considered feed readers, but they do just what I need - my two cents.

Internet Of Windows Things

Following in the heels of the revelation that Windows 8.1 will improve support for 3-D printers, we now also learn that the new versions of Windows embedded will be offering support for the Internet of Things. Windows embedded (like Linux) has powered devices like cable set top boxes and so on for year, and at the Microsoft Developer Build 2013 conference they emphasized the interconnectedness of such devices. ...Microsoft announced the availability of the Windows 8.1 Preview, which the company said underscores the opportunities for developers and partners throughout the ecosystem to execute on the company's devices and services strategy. The company also tweaked its embedded OS platforms that power intelligent systems and industrial devices in the Internet of Things eWeek

Windows Opera Users - UPDATE!!

If you are a Windows user of the Opera browser, you should make sure you have the latest version after a digital certificate on Opera's servers was tampered with. This may have exposed a relatively small number of Windows Opera users to malware problems. According to Opera, it is possible that a few thousand Windows users using Opera between 1:00 and 1:36 UTC on June 19 may have automatically received and installed the malicious software. As a precaution, Opera stated, the company will roll out a new version of the browser using a new code signing certificate. The breach shows the importance of heavily protecting cryptographic keys and certificates, said Jeff Hudson, CEO of data encryption management firm Venafi. "Organizations' failure to control and protect cryptographic keys and certificates, the foundation of digital security and online trust, leaves the front doors open for attackers to enter at will and pilfer whatever sensitive data they want, wheneve…

No More Desktop PCs From Samsung

South Korean company Samsung is reported to be ending production of desktop computers. Although it's perhaps not an earth-shattering revelation (when was the last time you actually saw a Samsung branded desktop?), it is perhaps a confirmation of the shaky state of the traditional PC - a victim of the laptop, the tablet, the smartphone, et al. Samsung makes and sells all of these in huge quantities (your humble blogger has a Samsung laptop), and so is probably in a good position to plan its future manufacturing from its own internal sales figures.

Wood You Use This Battery?

While you can't whittle yourself a battery, how about a rechargeable battery made with wooden anodes? What always intrigues me about discoveries like these is not even necessarily the end result, but how the idea came about - where do "wood" and "rechargeable battery" meet in a person's mind? Apparently, the fibrous nature of wood, and it's ability to soak up liquid electrolytes make it an environmentally friendly material suitable for a long-lasting rechargeable device. “Existing batteries are often created on stiff anode bases, which are too brittle to withstand the swelling and shrinking that happens as electrons are stored in the battery and used up. The scientists found that wood fibers are supple enough to let their sodium-ion battery last more than 400 charging cycles, which puts it among the longest-lasting nanobatteries.” KurzweilAI

Music Production On The Computer

One of the very neat things about computers - both Windows and Mac flavors - is that because they are a platform that allows you to run a variety of software, there are many things they can do well. Music production is one of those things that might not be immediately obvious, and Lifehacker just concluded a short but informational series about just that, from setting up a home studio to mixing your final product. The authors speaks to hardware and software and gives an idea of the cost involved at each step, discussing products for both Mac and Windows PCs. The series of articles is also now available as a single download .PDF document: "Music Production Night School Complete Guide".
Just like learning an instrument and writing songs, the art of recording, arranging, and mixing takes time to learn. In this music production night school series we’ll introduce you to the basics, but you’ll need to continue to learn, practice, and develop a good ear in order to create great fi…

How To Really Delete PC Files

On Microsoft Windows, when you delete a file the default behavior is to send the file to the Recycle Bin, and it will stay there until you actually empty the Recycle Bin (and you can readily restore it from the bin if you need to in the interim). Once you empty the Recycle Bin, it's gone, right? Well, yes and no; the file is no longer visible to you and you can't get it back by normal means, but until that area of the hard drive is used for something else, the file (or at least parts of it) are still there and could be recovered if someone had the right tools to do so. You can do a more thorough job of erasing deleted files with the free tool CCleaner, which is usually used to clean up "junk" files on your computer.

Internet Speed - Advertised vs Reality

Internet speeds depends on a lot of things, the kind of device you are connecting with, the time of day, what else is using the connection in your home, and who knows what else. To help get things into perspective and to actually help you measure your connection speed, HowToGeek has a new guide to walk you through the basics. Data showing that most people are getting slower broadband speeds than they’re advertised is easy to find. To get this data, all someone has to do is run a speed test on their connection and compare the actual results to the advertised speeds. In most cases, the speeds are slower.HowToGeek

Big Java Critical Update Forthcoming

Once again the security Swiss cheese that is Java is being patched to try to staunch the flow of leaks due to security vulnerabilities. This Tuesday, June 18th, no less than fortyitems are being patched. Of the 40 bugs, all but three are remotely exploitable over a network without the need for a username or password.Yes, that's bad. Oracle ranks the severity of its flaws using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), and the top-ranked bug in this particular update rates a 10.0 – the highest possible score."Due to the threat posed by a successful attack, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply Critical Patch Update fixes as soon as possible," the database giant helpfully suggests.Register

Photoshop For Fun And Art

Adobe Photoshop is a widely used, sophisticated piece of software used to manipulate digital images - the modern version of what used to be known as "airbrushing", if you like. Modern image editing software can do things that airbrushing never could, and the term "Photoshopping" has come to describe images that have been manipulated in this way, whether subtly or obviously. The relative ease with which one can muck around with original or existing photos has allowed a lot of people to express ideas in a new way, or to just be silly. The web site Worth1000 has a huge amount of user-generated content, and often runs contests - assignments, if you like - to see what their readers can come up with. A typical contest might be to show your favorite actor, singer or sports personality as a zombie, or to turn animals into deadly weapons. It's quite a trip at times, and is definitely a site you can waste a lot of time in. Worth1000

Android Antivirus Products Easily Fooled

In a pretty disappointing survey, apparently most current Android antivirus products are trivially easy to bypass - which I would assume means that they are being bypassed... The products' downfall was due to their use of overly simple content-based signatures, said researchers, who recommended more widespread use of static analysis to sniff out transformed viruses. Though the good news is that last year 45% of signatures could be evaded easily, whereas only 16% could be this time around.Attackers are going after Android because it is so widely used. Kaspersky estimates more than 94% of all mobile malware targets Android.  NetworkWorld

How Does Superman Shave?

In the trailers for Man of Steel (the new Superman movie), you see some shots of Clark Kent aka Kal-El from Krypton with a full beard - but later, Superman appears traditionally clean-shaven. Remember, Superman is not a human being - he's an alien from Krypton who looks like a human. So, assuming all of him is "super", how can he do that? He can't shave using an Earthly razor, which would surely just tear up on his super stubble. Hmmm.
Such important questions demand answers, and Gillette - who coincidentally makes shaving product for us Earthlings - has a site called HowDoesHeShave, which has put together some possible answers from various celebrities (I like Mayim Bialik's take).

MIL-STD Computer Testing

When government agencies determine that a computing device meets their specifications for "rugged" or "ruggedized", how do they actually test that - what do they look for? Among the things that are tested are exposure to heat, cold and other harsh environments such as exposure to sand and vibration or impacts. When testing exposure to cold, for example, checks would include not only if the device could be safely stored in a cold setting, but would it work in such cold, and could it be operated successfully in those conditions?  The U.S. Military Standard (MIL-STD) 810 gives agencies a guide. It was introduced in 1962 to provide a series of tests to simulate how materiel would hold up to environmental stress during its operational lifetime. It has been revised several times over the years, the most recent being Revision G in 2008. It details 28 different testing methods that cover everything from temperature to fungal infestation to gunfire. Of course, not all …

PRISM, Blarney And Metadata

The big noise right now is the revelation concerning the US government's PRISM and Blarney surveillance programs gathering data on phone calls, emails and so on. Much is being made about the claim that the process does not "listen in" to phone calls, but rather collects and disseminates metadata. Assuming that is true (and these days, who really knows), what is metadata? In effect, it is data about data. Even if the actual audio content of a phone conversation is not recorded, the metadata describes information such as the parties involved in the call, the time the call was made, the length of the call and possibly the physical location if GPS or cell tower data is available. You can see that this could be quite sensitive, embarrassing or damning - and this is being done to US citizens in a rather sweeping manner. eWeek

Windows 8.1 Preview And Upgrade

The public preview of Windows 8.1 (previously codenamed "blue") will be available June 26th from the Windows store. However, if you do install the preview and then later wish to upgrade to the final Windows 8.1 release, you will need to reinstall some or all of your apps, depending whether you have Window RT or Windows 8 Pro. If you wait until the final version without doing the preview, you will not need to reinstall anything, it should be a straightforward traditional upgrade. Windows 8 users who do not install the preview build and opt instead to go straight from Windows 8/Windows RT to Windows 8.1 will not have to reinstall their apps. All settings, data and apps will carry over, a spokesperson said when I asked. Users will be able to decide when and if they want to move from Windows 8 and Windows RT to the 8.1 versions, officials stressed. ZDNET

Steganography - Hidden In Plain Sight

Steganography is one of those things that when you first learn of it, it strikes you as a really cool process - which in fact it is.

Steganography is a word of Greek origin meaning "hidden writing", and in today's world typically refers to concealing data within some other kind of computer data; a photo, an mp3 file etc.

In other words, if we have a "secret" message to send to someone, we could send them an email with a photo attached which has the message invisibly embedded in it.

The recipient can "decode" the message with a password. While cryptography is the process of encrypting (scrambling) something to make it inaccessible without a password, steganography adds the twist that the encrypted file is also hidden within a different kind of file - the phrase "security by obscurity" is often used in this context.

If you want to try using steganography yourself, there are several free utilities to do this, including the open source OpenPuff.

A New Man Of Steel Featurette

The Man of Steel countdown is getting pretty intense, with a steady flow of trailers - each seemingly adding a wee bit of footage here and there, showing a slightly difference facet of the story. The latest - and I suspect the last - video item is a featurette lasting over ten minutes. It goes over the different characters, the general approach of the movie, and also throws in a few pieces of new footage, setting the table nicely for the main event in less than two weeks now...

An Age Old Geeky Urban Legend Revisited

Many moons ago, Atari released a pretty ghastly video game based upon the the blockbuster movie ET The Extraterrestrial. The game was for the popular Atari 2600 cartridge-based home video game platform, but apparently the game was dreadful to the point of being pretty much unplayable, and most of the 5 million cartridges sold were actually returned to Atari. This was such a logistical problem that Atari reportedly took the blasted things to a landfill in New Mexico, crushed and buried them and poured concrete over the whole mess. That's the story and while Snopes lists it as "True", there is still doubt as to what really happened - it sounds too much like an urban legend. So, a film crew with a lot of time on it's hands is now going to try to track down the scene of the crime and exhume the evidence to settle the matter in time for the 30th anniversary of the dirty deed. TheRegister

TSA Loses Nudie Body Scanners

If reports are to be believed - that's just my snarky caveat regarding privacy issues - the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) has now removed or retrofitted all of the "advanced image technology" (AIT) scanners from our airports. The AIT scanners were the ones that not only showed hidden contraband, but also the passenger/victim's naughty bits in pretty graphic detail. The scanners have now either been removed or retrofitted to only show a body outline, with boxes highlighting possibly suspicious items. The new approach has a new TLA (three letter acronym) - it's now ATR (Advanced Target Recognition). So after all that alphabet soup of abbreviations, you can now be a little less creeped out next time you fly. Register