Showing posts from September, 2013

Your Steam-y Living Room

Valve Corporation is a video game developer and owner of the Steam video game distribution service, and they are after your living room. Valve brought us games like Team Fortress and the Half Life series. Announcements this week included a new category of device; a special kind of dedicated videogame computer: Essentially, a Steam Machine is a personal computer based on SteamOS operating system and equipped with a gamepad or a different set of controller. Beginning in 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines with an array of specifications, price, and performance, made by different manufacturers. Since SteamOS will be available publicly and free, every experienced user will be able to design and build his or her own Steam Machine. They also announced a funky new game controller/touchpad device to work with these Steam Machines:

Malware, Malware Everywhere

The latest wrinkle in the malware scene is the revelation that malware can "hide" in your GPU (Graphics Processing Unit - or "video card" to us oldsters). It can also be present in the memory on other hardware, such as network cards. Antivirus software typically does not scan these memory areas, so that's kind of an ugly scenario. Patrick Stewin has demonstrated a a detector which can be built to find sophisticated malware that runs on dedicated devices and attacks direct memory access (DMA).
This will mean that it will finally tell us how effective crackers have been at getting malware into graphics and network cards.
The code has managed to find attacks launched by the malware, dubbed DAGGER, which targeted host runtime memory using DMA provided to hardware devices.

DAGGER attacked 32bit and 64bit Windows and Linux systems and could bypass memory address randomisation. It has now been developed to a point where the host cannot detect its presence, Stewin …

iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner - First Cat Paws, Now Nipples?

So, you have likely seen or heard that the fingerprint scanner on the Apple iPhone 5S can unlock the phone by fingerprints - and some other things, like cat paws. It's not that the cat's paws are tricking the iPhone, but if a cat's paw was registered as one of the 5 allowable "fingerprints", then it can be used to unlock the phone. Apparently the same goes for a human nipple. Two young (male) Chinese Apple fans demonstrated this via a video, and reports and rumors are that other, er, body parts might be in play here too. When you try to make something foolproof, you need to take into account the ingenuity and imagination of some fools...

Cisco And The Internet Of Things

eWeek - Cisco Systems executives on Sept. 24 will unveil a networking system they say will underpin the infrastructure for the upcoming wave of the Internet of Everything.

For the longest time, networking was about speed and cost—increasing how quickly data could move around and between data centers, and doing so while continuously reducing costs. However, that’s changing, according to Cisco officials. While speed and cost are still important factors in networking, the real challenge will be the rapid increase in Internet traffic that will happen in the coming years, driven by such trends as cloud computing, mobility, video and machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, according to Pankaj Patel, executive vice president and chief development officer at Cisco.
Read the rest of the article - "Cisco to unveil networking for Internet of Things" at

Cisco Systems executives on Sept. 24 will unveil a networking system they say will underpin the infrastructure for the upcomin…

iOS 7 Battery Life

My daughter recently upgraded her Apple iPad Mini to iOS 7 - and hates it so far. I'm sure she'll get used to it over time, but it was quite jarring for her. One complaint heard by iPhone users (moreso than iPad users) is a worsening of battery life after the upgrade to iOS 7. Quite a few articles have therefore shown up on how to reclaim some of that battery life, and this is a familiar struggle with mobile device users - the more doodads your device has, the more battery power it needs. Most of the articles cite fairly common-sense configuration changes, such as turning off auto-updating and location features (anytime data and WiFi services are used, it can be a significant battery drain). This one from Gottabemobile is pretty representative, and should be of help.

There's Gold In Them Thar Apples

Much to Apple's overall delight, the gold-colored iPhone 5S is selling like hot cakes. Such are the rush of orders on the web site that deliveries have been pushed into October. While on the one hand I'm sure Apple would like to be able to supply the demand, on the other it's great publicity to be selling out of your new product right off the bat. The gold iPhone - actually more of a "champagne" color to my eyes - is one of three colors for the 5S; the others are silver and grey.

iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Is Cat-Friendly

Yes, cat lovers everywhere - if you so desire, you can register your cat's paw print on the iPhone 5S, in case kitty needs to make a call to score some catnip. Your dog is not happy.

Apple iOS 7 - When And How To Upgrade

Apple iOS 7 is the latest version of the mobile operating system for recent Apple devices. It's now available for download and installation on the iPhone 4 and later, 5th generation iPod Touch and later, and iPad 2 and later. Obviously, some hardware-dependent items and features such as the fingerprint scanner will only be available on the iPhone 5S. As with any substantial OS upgrade, it may be prudent to proceed with caution for several reasons.

Windows Shadow Copy Magic

Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service (aka VSS) is a rather clever low-level file backup feature that has been available in some form since Windows XP. In later Windows versions persistent shadow copies, with multiple versions of files, have been available. It's usually used by system utilities, such as System Restore and NTBackup, but a piece of software called Z-VSSCopy allows you to pretty easily access past VSS versions of a file you may have recently deleted, for example. In Windows 8, you can access previous/recently deleted file versions by using the file history feature - which also uses VSS. The most interesting option is probably "Show", which displays the contents of the currently-selected shadow copy in an Explorer-type tree view. If you've accidentally deleted a file on your desktop, say, you may be able to find a copy here; right-click it, select "Export" and the file will be restored to its original location. (You can only select one file a…

Must Have Android, iOS Apps

A new smartphone or tablet eventually leads you to the iTunes Store or to Google Play to find some new apps to jazz up your device or to add functionality. Trouble is, with literally thousands of apps available for each platform, it can be a bit of a chore to sort through them, especially if some of the apps are non-free. To that end, here are a couple of recent articles that help sort out the wheat from the chaff for both platforms:
Android Essentials (Computerworld)

iPhone Absolute Essentials (Appadvice)

Cortana, From Microsoft

Cortana is not the code name of a new operating system from Microsoft; it is the name of an AI character in the Halo games, and also of a possible future competitor for Apple's Siri, but on Windows mobile devices and perhaps computers. Part of the power behind what could be a rather sophisticated "personal assistant" is Bing's Satoritechnology. Cortana will be more than just an app that lets users interact with their phones more naturally using voice commands. Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire "shell" -- the core services and experience -- of the future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I've heard from my contacts. In Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's strategy memo from July about Microsoft's reorg, there were hints about Cortana. Ballmer mentioned that Microsoft will be working, going forward, on "a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell."ZDNET

Raspberry Not Pi In The Sky

Ben Hess put up an article on ZDNET that I took exception to, regarding the Raspberry Pisingle board hobbyist computer. The article is titled "How I Spent Almost $150 On A $35 Computer". The premise of the article is that the Raspberry Pi is somehow falsely perceived as a $35 computer, and that it will "costs between four and ten times that much, depending on what you have to buy to make it work". While I don't argue with his numbers, the surrounding argument is silly. You are not buying a desktop computer or a laptop; you are buying the foundation of a hobby project; like buying a motor then building a car around it. The kind of geeky folk who buy these little marvels (like my future son-in-law) know full well what they are getting. They have something in mind, and the Pi forms the basis of whatever doohickey they have dreamed up. Take a look at these example projects; I'm sure all of them cost considerably more than $35...

PGP Inventor On The Surveillance State

Way back in 1991, Phil Zimmerman brought us PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), an encryption/decryption package that is still in use today. He knows a bit about the subject of encryption. In this article from Gigaom, he gives his thoughts on the current state of crypto and the user of Open Source products in light of the ongoing NSA revelations.
Zimmermann said that media needs to have a perspective about the “breaking-the-encryption” disclosures made by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian. “From a mathematical perspective, the crypto still works,” he said. The fact to note is that NSA has been able to find a way around encryption. “Think of it is as instead of blasting through a steel door, you can break open the glass window next to it and put your hand in and open the door,” he said.

A Geeky Look Back At Magnetic Tape

The Register has a geeky look back at the history of magnetic tape, in all it's many iterations. I still have very fond memories of my TEAC reel-to-reel deck back in the 70's that allowed my buddy Colin and I to record and overdub ourselves playing guitars and singing for our own amusement. While "singing" may be a bit of  a stretch in my case, Colin actually went on to put out a CD with some friends in later years! Today [9/9/13] marks the 80th anniversary of the first patent filing for a magnetic tape recording medium, though the tech I worked with was a bit more recent than that. Still, it has been quite some time since I last went shopping for tape.
I recall the last time as being a deal on a load of JVC miniDV cassettes that I still haven't worked my way through. So my browsing for analogue reels from a bygone era was surprisingly saddening. Like a stroll down a small town high street, where were those names that I used to know?

Ampex, BASF, 3M, to name…

Prey Helps You Avoid Becoming Just That

Laptops are prone to theft by virtue of their most attractive feature - portability. People lug them around and sometimes just set them aside and forget - until that stomach-churning moment when it dawns on you. Easy enough to do, and once it's gone - what then? Well, if your hard disk is encrypted, the bad guys won't have easy access to your data - but in most instances, they just want the hardware to sell it or to use it themselves. 

How Secure Are Online Password Managers, Anyway?

Online password managers, such as Lastpass, are a great convenience; they allow easy secure access to your passwords, and allow you to use more complex ones, as you don't need to remember each individual password - just the master password that secures your password manager. However, in light of recent NSA revelations - how secure are those things, really? PCWorld has the scoop:
The NSA is decrypting all things. You might have your passwords stored with a password management tool, such as the popular LastPass or 1Password apps. Should you be worried? Yes and no.

This question was posed on Quora: Is it reasonable to assume that developers of popular password management software are/will be forced by law enforcement to install backdoors in their encryption algorithms? 

That's A Nice Windows XP Install - I'd Hate To See Anything Happen To It...

I suppose Microsoft is just supplying an answer to a thorny problem, but it smacks a bit of the local thugs getting protection money from the liquor store. Windows XP support is going away next year (as my little counter on this site shows). This means Microsoft will no longer supply security updates and so on for the ancient OS, probably leading to horrible security issues for those who continue to use it in an Internet-connected environment. Unless, that is, you happen to a company running something really old and/or really important on some XP computers and can't upgrade yet for whatever reason - then for a couple of Benjamins per XP installation, Microsoft will extend support for "critical" vulnerabilities. Support for "important" issues may be available at an additional cost.  Infopackets

Web-Based Photo Editors

If you need to do some editing or processing of your digital images, you don't really need any installed software; there are plenty of free online resources you can use. Some give the basics, such as resizing and color correction, while others are pretty sophisticated products allowing almost Photoshop-like abilities; so they could be very handy if  you need to do some editing from someone else's computer, for instance. MakeTechEasier has a round-up of 5 candidates here. I have used Pixlr myself a couple of times in the past, and it's actually pretty great.

Web Encryption Crack-a-lackin'

eWeek - Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden we now know that most of the communications pathways you thought were secure can’t be relied on.

Most of the secure cloud storage, almost all of the on-line encryption to websites, the 4G wireless communications you use and your WiFi encryption have been compromised by the U.S. National Security Agency and probably by the intelligence services of other nations. In some cases the actual encryption has been cracked, and in other cases the encryption has been circumvented.
Read the whole article "NSA Surveillance: Is There Any Way to Keep Web Communications Private" at

Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden we now know that most of the communications pathways you thought were secure can’t be relied on. Most of the secure cloud storage, almost all of the on-line encryption to websites, the 4G wireless communications you use and your WiFi encryption have been compromised by the U.S. National Security Agency and probably by t…

California - Electronic Auto License Plates

I don't know why this concept never occurred to me, but the great state of California is looking to try out electronic vehicle license plates to replace the traditional ones. The "plates" will be a screen that is able to display information (such as if the plates have expired), and no doubt at some point they will throw GPS capability in there if it takes off because that's what everyone wants - to be trackable at all times, right? Right? Not surprisingly, though, privacy concerns abound. After all, if the state’s authorities can send and receive data to your digital license plate, then they have to know where you are. That would make the use of the increasingly ubiquitous license plate readers completely irrelevant—law enforcement likely would be able to either directly access location data in real-time and/or get historical travel data. ArsTechnica

Apple OS X 9.1 Mavericks

Breaking the recent trend of using feline names for their OS X operating system versions, Apple's forthcoming upgrade will be "Mavericks" - after a California surfing area. From reports from various blogs and insiders, while there will be a few new features the upgrade seems to be concentrating on bringing a new, cleaner aesthetic and a lot of tweaks and polishing. Some of the new features include iCloud keychain, a tabbed Finder and some new Apps. The new Apps should sync across Apple products like the iPhone, and continue steering the desktop and laptop OS X towards the iOS sort of experience. The OS upgrade should be available towards the end of October, probably for around $20, although the cost has not been officially announced yet.

Microsoft: "Hey, Nokia - Here's 7$ Billion..."

TheRegister - Microsoft is paying €5.44bn in cash (about $7bn) for the once-mighty Finnish mobile phone company's Devices and Services business and for the licensing of Nokia’s patents. Let's look at the counter-Google armaments Microsoft already has in its weapons store: We have Bing, Microsoft's search engine, going up against Google's own search tech.We have Azure going up against the Google cloud.We have Microsoft's SkyDrive product going up against Google's cloud storage.We have the Windows family of operating systems – PCs, notebooks, tablets and mobile phones – going up against Google's Android device software.We have the Internet Explorer browser going up against Chrome.We have Microsoft Office going up against Google Docs, etc. Read the rest at TheRegister: "Microsoft - do you really think you can take on Google with Nokia?"

Camera Lens Conundrum

If you have a "nice" (i.e. expensive) camera, they typically come with interchangeable lenses as a way to provide more flexibility for the photography process; this is true of both digital and traditional SLR models (Single Lens Reflex). The lenses themselves have a lot of information on them that is pretty much indecipherable unless you are "in the business". So, if you are starting out and maybe just trying to compare lenses and features, HowToGeek has a very handy guide to all the abbreviations and acronyms you may encounter with most of the common brands - Nikon, Canon, etc. HowToGeek