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December 31, 2015

Social Media

In the past few years Social Media sites on the Internet went from something that you could avoid to a requirement. Now you are considered backward or a "tin foil hat" type if you don't have some sort of presence. While it is true that some, if not all people, create a virtual personal brand firewall to show their successes and block their failures, sometimes you still can see the true essence of people in their stressful times. Over the past few years I have seen friends (real world friends, old friends from college and high school, work friends, etc.) talk about their experiences coming out of the closet, issues with addiction/abuse, divorce/dissolution of relationships, mental illness, serious health issues and the death of loved ones.  It really amazed me what people were willing to share.  At the time, social media for me what the place to make connections for business and like pictures of other people's kids when they liked pictures of mine.  Or cats.

Then I was diagnosed with Cancer.  At that point social media, specifically Facebook, became a support network as I went through diagnosis and treatment.  I really appreciated the genuine outpouring of love.  Physically and emotionally I'm back to normal, but I will always appreciate the people that came out of woodwork to support me and encourage me.  People that had been through similar or more traumatic experiences that let me know it was going to be okay.      

November 04, 2015

Cheap Media Playback

Over the past few years I've played with several different technologies that allow for video streaming to your TV.  I own a bunch of Chromecasts, an Amazon Firestick, and have had a few BluRay players that do streaming from various services.  As much as they are slick and sometimes the size of a USB thumb drive, you have to buy into their tools and use Wi-Fi to access your streaming content.

A few years ago I played with XMBC to play back some files and liked it, but never played with it in depth.  After I got my Firestick, I sideloaded XMBC and was really impressed.  That was a pretty nice platform, but it would stutter on anything above 480p.  More recently I repurposed an old laptop that didn't have a functional keyboard into a media playback device.  I loaded the Ubuntu distribution that that XBMC... or should I say Kodi, created to make configuration easy.  I really love Kodibuntu, but I was running into issues with the audio levels getting to the TV.  The audio was so low.  After some searching, I found a solution on the Kodi forums in the way of a change to the advancedsettings.xml file that configures Kodi.  The addition of this made all of the difference:

<advancedsettings>
  <audio>
    <ac3downmixgain>48.0</ac3downmixgain>
  </audio>
</advancedsettings>

 

I would recommend Kodi to anyone who wants a free method for streaming video or playing back local content:

July 18, 2015

A month without a smartphone

Recently my wife lost her iPhone at Disneyland.  I had no luck with FindMyiPhone or the carrier specific services.  The hotel where she was staying at had no returned device.  She needed the iPhone-tastic features, so I moved her number over to my iPhone and picked up a crappy(tm) Tracfone to use until we were sure that her phone was indeed lost and non-recoverable. 

When I mean crappy pre-paid phone, I mean the $9.00 USD unit that I picked up at Walmart on special, since I didn't expect to use it long.  A week turned into two, but I was still holding on to a false hope that I'd get the other handset back.  No dice.  About three weeks into this venture I was still working with the crap-tastic phone and relearning how to T9 text message, my Mom had a medical emergency.  I had to make my way to the midwest to help deal with family emergency.  

At that point I was starting to feel like a second class citizen.  Lacking even the most basic of 2G cellular Internet connectivity, I was at the whim of my laptop battery and the airport/hotel/restaurant wifi for any sort of information.  Lyft and Uber were unattainable and I ended up paying 2x as much on my Taxi fare from the airport that I would have with a ride sharing services.

As much as it was limiting, it was a freeing experience.  I didn't have my email dinging constantly.  I didn't have my Facebook notifications buzzing in my pocket.  If is an unsettling feeling when you start to understand that you so plugged into things that you start wasting all of your idle time seeing what people are posting on Instagram.  At some point I need to do a full digital detox.  With a pen and paper, a few dozen rolls of 35mm film and a bunch of people that I love.  

I need to schedule that in Outlook.

December 07, 2014

Amazon Firestick - Part 2

After singing the praises of the Firestick in my last blog post, I've had some more experience playing with the unit.  Last night was the first time I've had some network delay issues with 1080P content, but nothing really terrible.

The big thing for me was looking at apps to do local streaming.  After doing a few google searches, I found that while XBMC is not an option from the Amazon store, you can "Side Load" the application.  While not seamless, running XBMC on the firestick is pretty amazing.  Streaming local 1080P content over my local network works like a charm.  If you are looking to do this, read these links.  As of the next release XBMC will be officially known as Kodi.

Using this method, you can load a lot of other APK file packaged applications beyond what I've mentioned.

December 05, 2014

Amazon Firestick

When I came home from running errands the day before Thanksgiving, there it was on my doorstep, the Amazon Firestick.  As you may have read, I've been playing with the Google Chromecast units and have had lots of fun messing with them.  When the Firestick was announced a few weeks ago at $19.99 USD I couldn't pass it up, since my wife has an Amazon Prime addiction.  As I type this I'm watching an Amazon Prime HD movie and it has yet to hiccup.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The UI is fast compared to the Amazon Prime app on my Panasonic BluRay player
  • The same BluRay player above has network stutters, so I assume the Firestick has more buffer memory
  • The unit was preconfigured at the factory to hook into my wife's account.  Sorta cool or sorta creepy depending on if you were buying it for yourself or for a gift.
  • The Wi-Fi also does 5.8Ghz, which is pretty awesome.
  • It has Miracast built in.  That's cool to have, but I never use it.

We've been playing with this thing for a little over a week now and it is pretty awesome.  It doesn't seem to stutter on 1080P content, which is pretty awesome.  If you have Amazon prime, this thing is something that you want to have, but if you are buying your content from random sources, a Roku might be a better choice.

May 31, 2014

The Only Game in Town - Part 2

As I have mentioned before, I am a Comcast/Xfinity customer at home, not from choice, but from lack of it.  While I complain a lot about their video offering and craptasic DVR, overall their Internet bandwidth and latency are amazing and their phone service is quite clear and is virtually  indistinguishable from a standard POTS line (and I can send SuperG3 33.6Kbps faxes to boot.. try that on any VOIP carrier...).  

I originally started this blog post a few months ago, only to have life pop up and give me more important things to deal with.  Since then, my bill has creeped up by around $20 USD per month since my initial install.

A few weeks ago I went back and checked with all the other broadband players in my ZIP code to see what they are offering.  I was surprised to hear that AT&T has rolled out 6Mbps service in my neighborhood.  That would be exciting if it were 2001 again, but I guess it was much better than their 3Mbps service they were promoting.  Since DSLextreme and Sonic.net (two of my favorite small ISPs) use AT&T cable plant, you are stuck at 6 megs as well.   

Without any real options for switching, I called Comcast and gave the whole faux argument that I might switch and I was looking at lower cost providers.  They backed down pretty quick and gave me $50 off my bill every month to go into a 24 month contract.  As much as I hate contracts, I can't imaging AT&T rolling out Uverse TV and high speed internet in my neighborhood in the next two years.  

It is nice to save money, but it is an empty feeling to know that there are no other viable (i.e. fast and affordable) options where I live.   There are whole geographic regions in Africa that share a single VSAT internet connection, so I should really shut up and be thankful.  Note to self: Evaluate Internet options in 2016.

 

March 26, 2014

We Started Nothing

So, after a decade or so of working in jobs that provided cell phones with personal use policies, I am now at a place that doesn't provide a cell phone.  That's not a huge deal, as it is nice to be off the night time and weekend on-call list. 

With a growing family, I need to be connected when I'm out and about, as well as keeping costs under control.  I looked into the major carriers, and while a basic phone wasn't bad, to go up to a smartphone was cost prohibitive for something that is used sparingly.  

After doing some research I found that a bunch of MVNOs that run carriers on Sprint's network and had decent pricing, but I decided to go with Ting, the wireless brand of TuCows.  I looked into using Glyde to buy a phone to bring over, but didn't find what I wanted for the price I wanted to pay, so I bought a phone on eBay.  It is a little riskier, but it turned out fine.  Fifteen minutes after I received my phone through the mail, I had my new iPhone up and running with voice, text and data on Ting's network.



On the bad side there are a few things.  There are limits on which handsets that you can bring over.  I was able to bring an iPhone 4s onto Ting during their beta program, but you can't just use a CDMA handset that is meant for Sprint and bring it online.  That is a risk if you buy on eBay or any other service, as if the phone doesn't have a "Clean ESN", you might not be able to use it on the network.  The other issue is coverage.  Sprint has terrible coverage.  I'm not the first to say this and I'm not complaining.  The voice and text portion of the service roams seamlessly onto Verizon's infrastructure in my area and I have had no problems with that portion of the service.

What doesn't roam is the data plan.  This is why the service is less expensive and could be a deal killer for some people.  In my case all the places that I need data indoors, I also have WiFi and fast Internet, so I never even use up my data plan.  When I am outside, Sprint's data service is pretty decent, but nothing to write home about.

In my first month of service, my iPhone bill was $18.20.  $17.00 in usage plus $1.20 in taxes and regulatory fees.  So, for below the price of any of the other carrier's minimal data plan, I was able to get voice, text and data service.  Hard to beat.

It goes without saying, but I will say it again, any public post that I make is a personal opinion and not the views of my employer and should not be seen as an official endorsement by any organization. 'Nuff said. 

And yes, the title is an obligatory reference to The Ting Tings, better known to the parental crowd as "the people who sing that birthday song on Yo Gabba Gabba"

February 17, 2014

Feature Wishlist for Chromecast

It is official.  I'm sold on Chromecast.  The whole KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) concept seems to work out well.  Things are smooth with all the officially supported clients.  I have a 95% success rate with the Casting extensions running on the x86 release of Chromium on Linux.  For software that isn't officially supported, it really isn't that bad.

I hate to whine about something so simple, but this is the Internet and that is how we do things here.

Things that I would like added to the Chromecast in order of importance.

  • Ethernet Jack.  I know, I know, the future is wireless.  Tell that to my neighbor with a 2.4Ghz phone from a decade ago.  Things are streaming great and then *splat*.  Regular Youtube content just buffers, but it breaks the DRM on the content streaming from the Google Play Store.  Which brings us to...
  • Dual Band WiFi.  Actually this is probably cheaper than adding wired Ethernet.  In my neighborhood that 5GHz band is wide open and the 2.4GHz band is heavily utilized.  I can imagine in a high density housing situation like an apartment complex, dormitory or condo that it would be much worse.  
  • Ability to use local (network) media.  This is probably the most requested feature and I can see why you aren't giving it up easily.  The dongle is a loss leader for folks to use your services.   Even if you limited something like this to Google controlled hardware like Chromebook, I'd probably buy your hardware just to allow me the convenience.  I know you can cast a whole screen including the audio (which is in beta), but I'd rather have an experience similar to what Songza provides for the Chromecast, but with my local media. 
  • Application Partners that don't require a login.  I get it, Netflix, HBO to Go, Hulu Plus and the like are subscription services.  Pandora does both subscription and free models, but why should I have to authenticate with their site to cast their service to the Chromecast.  Songza has it right.  Redbull.tv has it right.  
  • Application Wrappers for Interested third parties.  An example would be a streaming audio site like SomaFM, which I enjoy.  If an API wrapper were to be created that would allow anyone who is a Google Adsense vendor to cast various application from their site, with Adsense taking 1/2 or 1/3 of the screen real estate for ads and the rest for the customer, it would be a win-win situation.  They would get revenue from the advertising, you (Google) wouldn't have to host the service or pay for the bandwidth and the content can be governed by the current rules of Adsense that doesn't allow it to be used for the purposes of explicit content. 
  • A bit more security.  You know that these things are going to be used to connect large projectors to laptops at conferences and conventions, right?  You made such a neat little product and people won't be able to help themselves.  God help the Hello Kitty convention that has some pervert blasting Goatse images or renaming the units with the iPhone client to objectionable words that get displayed on the idle screen. 
  • Digital Audio Out.  A minor thing.  Not all of us have upgraded our HiFi systems to do HDMI switching.  I take an optical output from my tv and run it into my surround sound setup.  Either a coax or toslink/fiber SPDIF output would be great, but you guys are probably saving that for some sort of set top box that will make us forget GoogleTV.

Most likely your marketing guys have already figured out this stuff, but if not feel free to bring Google Fiber to my street as compensation.

February 02, 2014

Chromecast on Linux

I was recently pondering purchasing a Google Chromecast unit to mess around with at home.  The price is so low that they are almost giving them away.  I assume that is so Google can harvest your viewing habits and resell them, but that is another story.  Originally I was thinking about using a Raspberry Pi unit with XMBC to do media streaming, but as cool as it is, I don't have the time to install, configure and train my family... even if it is way cooler and would give me way more geek cred.  While Minimum System Requirements for using the Chromecast includes most of the normal equipment to be found on my home network, it doesn't support Linux.  Now, thanks to the best (and in depth protocol) explanation from Paul Donahue on the AskUbuntu forum, I know that I'm covered with my Linux devices at home.  Now all is right with the world again.  Thanks again Paul, you made my day a little better.  Now if Google would officially support it as a product and not a beta, that would be cool.

Screen Capture Edit/Addition: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago but never ended up publishing it.  Since then I've bought two Chromecast units to hook up to various TVs around the house.  I would rather have a direct Ethernet connection to them, but they never skip and you really can't beat the price.  I mainly use Ubuntu 13.10 with Chromium to cast content to the Chromecast units, but my kids use the iPad client and it is seamless.  Sometimes less is more.

 Links:

 

 

 

 

 

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November 28, 2013

Splunk Revisited

A few years ago I was evaluating a cool log analysis package called Splunk for a project at work.  I had a few instances running on a development machine at work and on a server at home.  I found that I was able to drill down to very specific events to debug what was happening so I could correlate problems among various devices and software packages.  When I upgraded my home server a year ago I didn't spend the time to reinstall Splunk, as I was busy with moving into a new house and having children, so it went to the back burner. 

Recently I was having a conversation on system monitoring architecture and Splunk came up.  I decided to take a look and see what a few years of maturity has done.  First of all, the basic software is now free for individual use.  While there is a reduction in enterprise features and there is no password/account authentication, the core functionality is all there. There is a 500Mb limit on the amount of data you can processes, but if you have half a gig of syslog/logfiles/etc to parse a day, then you shouldn't be so cheap and just buy a full license.   If you were paranoid, it would be very easy to use this software and to only share the management port to localhost, so you would have to use a SSH tunnel to get into the box to be able to view any of the data.  I know that is pretty hokey, but it does work as far as anyone with account access to the box gets to see your data.  Beyond that you could always run Splunk within a virtual machine. 

Beyond the cool factor of being able to drill down into your data, it runs well on pretty anaemic hardware.  The server I installed this software on is cobbled together from remnants of several dead computers that are at least six years old, yet the response time from the database with around half a million events is surprisingly fast.  

November 26, 2013

Home Automation

I am always looking for new things to try to automate tasks around the house.  Recently our lawn sprinkler timer started acting strange after a big power surge.  Instead of debugging it or replacing it with another Home Depot special, I decided to replace it with something that was network connected.  A family friend installed the Irrigation Caddy a few months ago and was really happy with it.  I search around on eBay and Amazon, but couldn't get it as cheap as I wanted.  In my search I found several different options, including the OpenSprinkler platform.  While it is pretty bare bones, the price is right.  I ordered it right away and soldered together the kit the day after I received it in the mail.  They also have a higher end unit that uses SMT chips that is assembled and a bit more expensive.  They did not have any of the injection molded cases in stock for that unit, so I build a small box using leftover lexan.  I was able to re-use the 24volt AC wall wart to power the unit.

OpenSprinkler Web Interface 

The unit is pretty basic and the web interface is very sparse, but it does exactly what it is supposed to do, water my lawn and plants.  Hey, it synchronizes time using NTP, so you don't have the issues that come up with a traditional dumb unit.  That being said, there is very little security on this and if you actually password protect it, the passwords are passed over HTTP as plaintext in the URL.  As long as you are aware of this and accept the risk, it is not a big deal.  If I need to access this while I'm away from my house, I would use an SSH tunnel or VPN connection to my home LAN.  The commands for this unit are sent via HTTP get requests, so if you were to use a port forwarding solution and were to lock it down to only be accessed by certain I{ addresses or ranges, you could still control it by spoofing the source address.  I haven't looked into it, but Ray's Hobby also has a sprinkler subsystem that works with the Raspberry Pi as well as the Beagleboard, so that could afford you some extra security if you needed it.  While my sprinkler system is far from a SCADA system controlling nuclear enrichment centrifuges, I sure would be annoyed with a soggy lawn.

My next stop is to add a rain/freeze sensor, but that is for another weekend.  I have a lot of friends and co-workers that are big fans of the Raspberry Pi line of single board computers, but this project has shown me how powerful the Arduino line is. 

 

February 26, 2013

The Only Game in Town - Part 1

We recently moved to another city and decided that we would consolidate our television/internet/phone into a "triple-play" package to save a bit of money and to make billing more convenient.  At our previous house we had separate services from DSLextreme for Internet, DirecTV for television and Vonage for the house phone.  We had 6 megabit DSL service, which wasn't super fast, but it was incredibly solid.  Based on reviews from friends, I was excited to try AT&T's Uverse offering.  Unfortunately the neighborhood that we moved to has a copper infrastructure installed in the late 1960's and is more than two wire miles from the AT&T central office, so you can't get any DSL based services at my residence of anything more than 3 megabit. 

What did this leave us with? Comcast.

Xfinity/Comcast/Kabletown Logo 

This did not make me happy.  I had been free of Comcast and their previous feeder incarnations for close to a decade.  People that know me in real life understand the amount of loathing that I had for them in the past.  But that was a decade ago and it was time to turn over a new leaf.

My odyssey began a week before we were slate to close on our new home.  I decided that I would just go to the Xfinity website and order up services.  The order process won't go through properly.  I get on the built in web chat and try to order up service.  No go.  I get on the phone to India and it is a no go as well.  After the third customer service agent, they finally figure out that the issue is related to an identity theft incident that happened to me a few years back.  I'm told that I need to go to a Comcast storefront location to identify myself in person before they will build an account.  So, I can get a huge mortgage and buy a car without even showing my drivers license, yet Comcast is on the verge of getting DNA to open account for a few hundred a month.  I digress.

I happened to be in the area, so I went to the Comcast store in Concord, California thinking it would be a quick stop to identify myself and set up an account.  Wrong.  The closest thing I can think of is an Emergency Room, but without the blood.  45 minutes later a nice customer service agent gets me set up with an account, with a nice shiny folder with my package and an appointment to set up service on the day we get the keys to the house.  Everyone there was really nice with the exception of an older lady at the front desk that kept raising her voice at folks that didn't have English as their first language.  

The day that we got the keys to our house, I was so excited to have everything electronic in place before we even moved in the furniture.  I had an extra $200 in cash in my pocket, ready to bribe the technician to pull some CAT5 along with the RG6 coax that they needed for the cable service.  I had already bought voice capable cable modem that was on the Xfinity approved list so I could bypass the $7/month cablemodem rental.  Things couldn't have gone further from what I expected.  The technician showed up two hours late and tried his hardest to get things running.  He was finally able to get phone service and Internet service up and running, but at the lowest most marginal level.  It turns out that he wasn't there to install TV service at all, since the house didn't have any internal wiring.  Comcast doesn't do internal wiring anymore, so their plan was to tack up RG6 on the exterior of our house.  They mentioned that we could hire a third party contractor to wire it up internally, but they couldn't recommend anyone.  I'm fairly annoyed at this point, but my phone works and the Internet is working, so it isn't awful yet.  Then the news turns awful.  The cable between my house and the street, which is underground, is bad.  They have to open up a work order to have it replaced.  7-10 days I am told.

In the meantime I wiggle around under the house and run cabling to the places that it needs to go.  Now that I've got the internal wiring, I make another trip to the Comcast store in Concord and pick up a HD DVR unit and a HD receiver to just have TV in the house until our "Whole House DVR" appointment in a few weeks.  I try activating both boxes using the Xfinity phone number.  The HD Receiver gets signal, but the quality is awful (the street cabling hasn't been fixed yet).  The HD DVR gets only audio after spending an hour on the phone with Xfinity.  After switching all the cables, it turns out that the DVR is bad.  I switch it out at the Livermore Comcast store, which I have a much better experience at.  I'm able to get the DVR activated.  A few hours later our phone and Internet stop working.

At this point I have a heated exchange with some Comcast phone support people.  It turns out that the Internet and phone were turned off since the ticket wasn't closed yet and the installation wasn't officially closed/done yet.  I get another team out the next day to close the ticket and finish the installation, but they tell me that they can't do anything yet since the street cabling hasn't been replaced yet.  They are able to do some magical stuff and get the Internet back on and the phone up and running.  They tell me that I won't be able to connect up the TV service because the signal level is too low after it is split.  

On the tenth day, a team comes out while I'm at work and blows out the cable to the street and puts a new one in.  I am very impressed they could do this without any cement work, as there is no conduit under the cement near our driveway.  I connect up the splitter and *BAM* everything works.  A few days later a technician comes and installs the Whole House DVR solution.  

At this point I am happy to have everything up and running.  The internet is super fast and the home telephone audio quality is great.  I'll give Comcast that, once you get the service up and running it is very solid.  The amount of time I have spent on this one project is pretty annoying.  I still have issues that need to be resolved, but I'll leave that for a follow up post.

To be continued...

Note: While initially annoyed, I was told by a Comcast employee that they do not do internal wiring anymore due to insurance issues.  They told me that an employee fell through the ceiling of a customer while doing wiring and was seriously injured.  If this is actually the case, I can understand why their insurance would no longer allow this.  

 

January 12, 2012

BART to the future...

It looks as if BART has made a leap forward in their quest to update the train cars in the system.  The original car design has been running with minor changes and refurbishments since 1972, so this will be a welcome upgrade.

 

(Photo Courtesy of BART)

So if all goes as planned, we might be riding these in September 2016.  BART is still taking community input in regards to the internal seat configurations and the color palette to be used, so if you actually care, let them know.

Links:

December 30, 2011

QR Code Malware

You might have seen QR Codes affixed to advertisements in magazines or in public spaces.

They look a little something like this:

 Spectrox URL QR code

For the last several years they have been used to quickly transfer URL information, phone numbers and other types of information to people that use smartphones or PDA devices with cameras.  It turns out now that with the success of this format, people have figured ways to subvert the system to send people to malware sites and other unsavory locations.  Dark Reading as a great article on how the system works and what it being done to use it for evil purposes.

 

Links:

December 14, 2011

How to ruin a good thing in three steps

Step 1: Create an innovative product that fills a niche market.

meebo 

Step 2: Grow it over half a decade.  Make your product fast and fault tolerant.

Step 3: Relaunch it as something else that doesn't resemble the original innovative product.  Have the graphics re-branded for Web 3.0 or whatever iteration we are in now.  Wait for VC money to run out.

 

 

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October 24, 2011

Off the grid

Sometimes you need to get off the grid and have a bit of privacy.  With the proliferation of phones that don't have removable batteries, it becomes fairly difficult.  Many other technologies such as RFID are embedded in identification documents and credit cards.  It is easy to wrap up these items in aluminum foil or in RF blocking Mylar bags, but you risk being unfashionable or as being branded a paranoid lunatic.  To control when and where your wireless devices can talk, a company called MIAmobi has created a fairly ordinary looking pouch that has a silver foil lining that blocks RF.  The company's website does not state specifics on the RF attenuation or what the frequency range that it blocks.  A similar, less expensive, less fashionable bag can be had from Ramsey (yeah, the guys who make the FM transmitter kits), which is designed for cell phone forensic testing.

 

 

Links:

September 02, 2011

$25 PC - Delicious Raspberry Pi

Taking the cost of computing down to the cost of a textbook is the plan for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.  This is not just an educational tool for developing countries like what the OLPC project is doing, it is a platform for discovery and experimentation in the developed world as well.   Think of it this way: Do you want little Johnny taking apart the home computer that houses your tax returns which you never backup?  Or would you rather plunk down $25 for a computer that he can experiment with that can integrate with old CRT TV's that you were going to recycle anyways?  Oh, and it can run Linux, which is awesome.

(Picture from Raspberry Pi Blog)

Links:

 

 

July 12, 2011

Another social network.. again?

Much has been said about the new Google+ social networking service.  After a few different approaches (i.e. Orkut and Google Buzz), Google has rolled out something that might take off.  Beyond all the social media hogwash about monetizing the web and other jargon, Google+ has some features that are wonderful.

  • The G+ backend is not based on MySQL.  Facebook's infrastructure is based on a wonderful piece of technology that is now end of life.
  • Anyone who is already using Gmail is already 99% of the way there.
  • Picasa integration.  I'm still more of a Flickr fan, but would rather store and manage photos on Picasa than in Facebook's network.
  • A more granular and configurable security model.   Having the ability to use the same account to connect with work and friends is key.  Being able to have asymmetrical relationships is one of the biggest highlights in my mind.  
  • Once they add iPhone and SMS support they are in the Facebook and Twitter killer market.

January 13, 2011

How to unstream a stream

Sometimes you are places where you can't be connected to the internet, or where your bandwidth is too small to get streaming media.  In the search for easily accessible entertaining video files to play for my son on long car trips, I re-discovered SaveVid.  This site allows you to download Youtube content (or content from Dailymotion, Metacafe, Break, Veoh, MySpace, Revver, Blip.tv, WeGame, Tangle, 5min, Game Trailers, LiveVideo.com, RuTube, FaceBook, Vimeo, current, Funny Or Die, eHow, Megavideo), so you can play it offline in a media player.  The DVD player that we use in our car happens to work with MP4 format video, but this would work well with a number of other target devices such as iPods, iPhones, iPads, PSPs and Zunes.  Oh, and it is free.  So, for that price you get a great deal, as there is no drive by malware, pop-ups or annoying stuff on that site.  On a side note, you can also see what everyone else is downloading.

 

There are a lot of other packages that can do way more, but it is hard to beat the price of free.

Link:

January 12, 2011

Mark your calendars

The Internet Society has declared that June 8, 2011 will be "World IPv6 Day".

 

(Image courtesy of Brajeshwar Oinam on Flickr)

From their site:

"On 8 June, 2011, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks will be amongst some of the major organisations that will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour "test drive". The goal of the Test Drive Day is to motivate organizations across the industry – Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and web companies – to prepare their services for IPv6 to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out."

I know, this is so incredibly exciting.  I guess it takes this kind of event to get people to get IPv6 connectivity and put AAAA records on their DNS server.  I'm not sure that they will be able to outshine the press coverage of World Oceans Day, the Chemistry and Druggists Awards, or the famous Sugarcreek 5 Mile Trail Run

Links:

 

August 12, 2010

Round Trip

There has been a lot of media about human missions to Mars due to the recent publication of Mary Roach's book Packing for Mars.  When I think back to all of the explorers, colonists and adventurers  of the last 500 years that I learned about in school, many of them took one way trips.  Some of these one way trips were intentional due to political or religious persecution, others were cut down by conflict or disease, but all of pushed forward the amount of knowledge about the world around us at that time.  As a society, have we become so risk averse that we cannot deal with any form of mortality to further the knowledge of our species?  There is a middle point between a one way suicide mission to Mars and a robotic exploration, of which I don't think we have found yet. 

 MARS - NASA JPL Image - Viking 1 Orbiter

(Photo Source: NASA JPL)

If Steven Hawking is telling us that the only hope for our success as a species is the longterm colonization of space, I'm going to listen! 

 

Links:

 

July 30, 2010

Anything Fake is golden

Hunch has been around the web for a while now, but there has been a lot of buzz the last several weeks since the Wired article came out about Caterina Fake and her new project.  You may know Caterina as one of the key people behind the photo sharing community Flickr, which I happen to love.  The basis for hunch is that they can take data about preferences, mix with demographic data, then crunch using complex algorithms that allow complex relationships to appear.  Based on what their system knows about your tastes, it can make amazingly profound suggestions. 

 

I have been playing with their system for a few days now, especially since they have a connection to Facebook and Twitter built in now.  It is playful and amusing, but I'll have to work with it over a longer period of time to see how accurate it is in regards to the suggestions that it provides.  I also wonder if it will naturally correct for changes in my preferences over a long period of time.  Maybe it is the fact that I watched Blade Runner again last night, but the "getting to know me" questions almost felt like a Voight-Kampff test. 

 

Links:

July 20, 2010

Whuffie and the value of your social network

When it comes to the internet, the value of your brand or name depends on who else is interested in what you have to say.  I was recently thinking about this concept and the idea of this social value, coined as a type of currency called a Whuffie by Cory Doctorow in his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  Of all the social networks, Twitter seems to fit that model the best, with the ability to RT or Re-Tweet messages, therefore ascribing more social status to the original poster.  Turns out that someone had this idea at least a year ago (they registered their domain in Aug 2009, so I assume it was around then).

I'm sure the exact algorithm to determine the actual whuffie value is as complex, changing and proprietary like that used in a FICO score, but it gives a rough measure of someone's standing in the social media space.

Here is a screen capture of Lance Armstrong's value.

 

For comparison, here is a capture of Tim Goodman's value, who is an excellent media critic and local celebrity in the SF Bay Area.

 

 

Link:

June 07, 2010

So true...

I was reading this article today on why Twitter is doomed and all that, and ran across this comic embedded in it. 

This made me laugh, so I figured that I would share.

 

 

May 26, 2010

Non-Western Character DNS goes live

When you are looking through your server logs, you might find something really perplexing soon.  While this is great for localized markets, it is something that you might need to work with very soon if you work at an ISP.  Recently ICANN started allowing non-latin (or Internationalized Domain Names) TLDs

 

So this site in Egypt that was accessed this way for several years:

Is now accessed by:

Or if your operating system doesn't do unicode:

 

 Links:

April 29, 2010

BitTorrent Privacy Threats

While many organizations use the BitTorrent protocol as an efficient way of distributing large volumes of data (i.e. Linux DVD ISO files), others use it to distribute copyrighted or protected content.  With the large volume of users and traffic (from 27% to 55% of total internet traffic depending on geographic location), some users feel a sort of anonymity in all those numbers.  Researchers at the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) collected 100 days worth of BitTorrent traffic from one client machine and analyzed it.  Even using anonymizing networks such as Tor, they were able to retrieve as many as 70% of the original host computer IP addresses.  Mind you this is not data collection at the center of the network, but data collection and processing from a leaf node to the network.  It is definitely worth a read if you are interested in internet privacy issues.

 BT Swarm

(Photo Courtesy of Travelin' Librarian on Flickr)

Links:

March 30, 2010

Google Fiber, the next step.

Last month Google got a lot of press for their request for interest from any and all comers from all around the United States to have the first beta Google network in their town.  Over 1100 Cities around the country responded to this call.  Well, they closed their inbox on this subject on March 26th and many towns and cities across the US are anxiously waiting for the final verdict later this year.  I put in a request for the town I live in, but in my mind it is not what Google is looking for.  Where I live is a fairly modern bedroom community that has large scale infrastructure for broadband provided through Comcast (or Xfinity or whatever) and AT&T, and is one city over from an AT&T U-verse test market.  We are also just a little over 30 miles from the main Google campus, which in my mind is too close for a real test.

What Google really needs is small (less than 25k residents) community that is medium density and that has a mix of commercial and residential interests, as well as a very flexible city/county planning department.  But, Sergey and Larry, if you decide on the town where I live, you are totally invited to have Margaritas by the pool.
 
Google RFI Fiber map of the USA

Links:

March 12, 2010

When you want to disappear 2.0

With the proliferation of Web 2.0 social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Myspace, sometimes people find it difficult to pull the plug when the decide that they do not want to participate any longer.   If you are a budding luddite and decide that you want to remove your presence from the web, you'll find that putting content online is very easy, but removing it can be very difficult.  The folks at WORM decided to create program that automates the content removal and account deletion process, but has the unfortunate name "Web 2.0 Suicide Machine"Facebook served them with a cease and desist notice for their service, but they have countered by planning to release a LiveCD that has the same functionality as their website.  From their description, this is not a specialized set of software, but a collection of python scripts that automates standard web browser sessions that reduces the time to remove your content (video, pictures, posts, etc.).

Pull the Plug! 

(Courtesy of cyberdees on Flickr)

Getting rid of all your content can be difficult, as sites such a Spock (now Intellius), Google Buzz and Plaxo mirror your Web 2.0 profiles if you make the connections. 

Link:

March 10, 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out

With the economy being in the toilet these days, I have several friends and acquaintances who are looking for work due to one reason or another.  In the past I had suggested indeed.com to several folks due to the large group of job sites that it aggregates data from.  For that function, it seems to work quite well.  The thing that I found more interesting is the Free Salary Search that indeed.com promotes.  I'll sum up my results with a few images.  I put in some nonsense data to see what comes back and was quite amused. 

Indeed Silly Search #1
Indeed Silly Search #1 

And for the Grand Finale..  

 With the data and graphs it is clearly evident: Pimps earn 93% more than Playas.Indeed.com Silly Search #2

 

Links:

February 14, 2010

Video Speed Test

I am always a fan of displaying information in a compact and accessible format.  Youtube has just launched a new speed test display that allows you to see how fast your broadband provider is compared with other providers in your geographic area based on their actual log data.  The ISP in my case is fairly low end, since it is a 3G cellular connection.

youtube speedtest

youtube speedtest 

Oh, and Happy Valentine's day everyone.

Link:

 

 

February 07, 2010

Best. Homepage. Ever.

Eugene Hsu, if I had a job for you, I would hire you on the spot. Bask in the glory of my adoration. 

 Eugene Hsu

Links:

January 02, 2010

Sweet XO-3

It looks like the One Laptop per Child team may beat Apple at the tablet game.  Take a look at these sweet concept demo pictures of the OLPC XO-3 tablet.

 

 

Links:

December 22, 2009

Huzzah! Cell coverage under the Bay on BART

It has finally happened.  Oh happy day! Four wireless carriers turned on their cellular coverage in the BART Transbay tube, which goes under the San Francisco Bay.  Now people will have more ways to annoy each other while hurtling at 70 miles per hour under water of the bay.  With the recent issues with the Channel Tunnel in the UK/France, it is nice to have a bit more communications infrastructure in place for a piece of mind.

 

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulwicks/2578861789/

(Photo Courtesy of Paul Wicks on Flickr)

Link:

December 11, 2009

BART into Oakland Airport! WOOT!

It was just announced today that BART will finally build a train to connect the Oakland Coliseum Station in Oakland to the Oakland International Airport. Why is this so exciting?  For one, the AirBART bus connection was awful.  In the past the only real mass transit route to a major airport was via BART to the San Francisco International Airport, and that train ride was approximately 90 minutes including one transfer.  According to BART's news release, this new train will make the trip in a little over 8 minutes, which makes the trip from my station just 34 minutes total.  Talk about time and money savings!  Just make sure there aren't any Raiders games when you plan on flying!  While it won't be finished until at least 2014, it is definitely something to look forward to.

 BART

 BART

BART 

Links:

July 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Unix

It is hard to believe that Unix is 40 years old!  How time flies.  Pretty soon it will be buying a red sports car and picking up operating systems half his age.  What a cad!

 

(Photo Courtesy of prettydaisies on Flickr)

Links:

July 13, 2009

Flighty data

According to an article in NetworkWorld, over 12,000 laptops go missing in airports around the United States every week, with 1200 just at LAX.  The thought of outright theft or some other sort of loss is quite unnerving. 

(Image Courtesy of dklimpke on Flickr)

If you travel often there are several things you can do to mitigate the security risks.  If you don't care about your privacy and would just pick up another laptop at Costco or Fry's if you lost it, you can skip this article.  The first item is the backup.  Everyone talks about it, but most of the time, people don't do it at all.  There are several online backup services that allow you to securely (at least for personal data) backup over the internet using an automated client.  At a minimum, make a dump of your data files to a thumb drive or DVD disk every month or so.  If you can't afford to be without your data, you can't afford not backing up.  The next issue is privacy.  Who owns the data on your laptop?  Do you have proprietary data that people would want to buy?  Do you have embarrassing photos from your buddy's bachelor party saved on your laptop?  Do you have personal information that could lead to your identity being stolen?  If so, you should consider full disk encryption.  While it does take some processor overhead, it is worth the extra processor cycles for your data's protection.  Microsoft has their new Bitlocker technology in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, PGP has full disk encryption for the Mac and Windows, Checkpoint has full disk encryption for Mac, Windows and Linux in their Pointsec software, and there are also free open-source alternatives such as Trucrypt.  These products render the data on your laptop useless to anyone who wishes to get the content off the machine.  You may lose the monetary value of the laptop, but usually that is much easier to bear than losing millions of customer records or your unfiled patent application.

 

May 09, 2009

Windows 7 RC... Tasty and refreshing?

After a hefty download, DVD burn and install, I'm playing with Windows 7 RC, release 7100.  Seems to be as stable as 7000 was on decent hardware.  The only thing that I find amusing is that my Windows Experience Index increased by .3 without any hardware changes...

 

Even if I don't end up using the final release, I won't have to think about reinstalling until June 1st, 2010 when this Release Candidate will expire.  Previous review link below.

Link:

 

May 08, 2009

Polaroid is dead. Long live Poladroid

While the instant Polaroid film is becoming a thing of the past, a new application for Windows and Mac OSX called Poladroid allows you to process graphics files to get the look and feel of Polaroid film.  While you could have always done this using a host of image editing software such as Photoshop or The Gimp, this software has the sound and feel of a Polaroid.  You have the ability to watch the picture appear, to shake it, and to develop it early to get the effects that you want. 

It is prettty simple... you drag your file to the virtual camera and watch it develop.  There are a few variables you can adjust, but it is pretty basic.  As much as I like Web 2.0 applications, it is nice to have an app like this that can process images on your local machine.  The only thing that would be cooler is that if the application set the EXIF data on output file.

 

Step 1 - Drop it here:

Poladroid

Step 2 - Watch it develop.

Poladroid

Step 3 - All Done! (or Profit?!?!?)

Poladroid 

The image before:

 

The image Poladroided:

 

It turns out that Fuji still manufactures compatible film in the Polaroid form factors and a version of the Holga camera, informally called the Polga or Holgaroid allow you to take pictures with the same dreamy feel as a Polaroid.

 

Links:

April 27, 2009

IED removal, FCC approved

What's this?  Just your friendly neighborhood non-jamming, FCC approved bomb neutralizer unit.  While wideband RF jamming units can often time cause IED and other explosive units to detonate, California based Protective Systems provides a unit that can safely neutralize ordinance.     


 

Link:

April 23, 2009

Resolution Revolution

Just when you upgraded to HDTV you thought you were all set.  You get your high end TV with 1080p resolution and 120Hz refresh and think it will be top of the line for a long time. 

WRONG!

 

 (Picture Courtesy of Triotex on Flickr)

Several manufacturers have higher resultion digital displays in the works.  Standards are already in the works for 2160p and 4320p resolution television sets.  While those standards will most likely be a few decades off from being broadcast over the air without and major leaps in digital compression, other services that provide television and movies over IP links such as Netflix might be able to thrive by offering content for this.  

April 17, 2009

I tweet a spy!

With more an more people using Twitter as a fun Web 2.0 communication tool, it is becoming a mainstream way of talking.  For some people it is becoming an addiction and supercedes e-mail and instant messenger as a way to communicate in groups.  Hey, if the President used it and the NASA Mars Rover is using it, it must be great, right?

Enter TwitterSpy, a cool mashup application that takes the raw public Twitter feed and allows you to filter it for content or context.  Michele Marcucci created this incredibly addicting application as a practical application of her knowledge.   

Twitterspy 

Be careful what you tweet, as there are more people than just your close friends watching!  Remember, the walls of social networking are very thin, and can be redefined by the service provider at their whim. 

April 03, 2009

DirectTV VOD

In January we decided to take the leap to HDTV at the ranch.  Since we already had DirecTV at our place, we decided to just upgrade our main DVR/receiver to HD.  Although it was zero cost for us, they had to spend half a day installing a new dish on our roof (and they actually properly grounded everything per the NEC code, that is amazing!).  We received a HR22 receiver, which was pretty sweet for a non-Tivo unit.  I wrote about my experiences with the SD version of this box in my blog last year.  The cool thing about that box, is that if you hook up an ethernet connection to the Internet, you can receive video on demand (VOD), from DirectTV.  The selection is middle of the road, but they have a large cluster of SD and HD content.  The really cool part is that they are starting to deliver pay per view HD movies as well as 1080P HD content over that link.  The VOD interface is available from the channel guide or from stand alone section of the main menu. 

 

You can also select VOD content to be downloaded to your DVR from DirecTV's web page.

 Bad Viewing habits in HD

While the interface isn't incredibly intuitive, it does work and after a while you get used to it.  Last night I decided to try downloading two episodes of Ax Men in HD, after one of my co-workers mentioned how cool the show was.  While you can watch shows while they are downloading, I decided to let them go full course before taking a look.  I use MRTG to monitor my home network usage, so I decided to see how much bandwidth was used during the download period of time.  I am very happy to say that DirecTV's servers were able to completely saturate my ADSL link.  Normally when my link is somewhat idle it has about 10kbps of traffic from various server machines, and only spikes a bit during large downloads or when my wife is on her work VPN.  As you can see in the MRTG graph below it took about 3 hours or so to download two HD episodes, each episode being 45 minutes, so with my network I'm at about 1/2 real time.   I guess it is time to get a DS3 at home.   


 

February 28, 2009

Who watches the watchmen (or your baby monitor)

Recently I had a discussion about video baby monitors with a neighbor.  I mentioned that we had bought a unit that digitally encrypted the video and audio stream, so that creepy people would not be able to watch our baby sleep.  They seemed to think that it wasn't such a big deal and that you would need a lot of equipment to spy on your neighbors.  To rebut this I have two items that are freely available in the United States for a minimal cost.  Both of these items can be outfitted with higher gain antennas to allow for the long range monitoring and reception of video signals.

 

  • The discontinued ICOM R3 scanner with Video (About $400 USD on eBay)
  • The AOR-STV Unit.  At approximately $900 USD, this thing can view any NTSC or PAL nannycam, baby monitor, backup camera, or analog wireless camera in production. 

 

AOR STV unit 

February 21, 2009

Digital TV Conversion and what you can do to help

I just received this today in the ARRL weekly e-mail newsletter.  While it is targeted at Amateur Radio operators (Hams), it has a lot of great debugging tips for technical types wanting to get their friends and family back watching over the air television.

 

==> HAMS CAN STILL HELP WITH DIGITAL TV (DTV) CONVERSION

Even though the mandatory conversion date for television stations to
switch from analog signals to digital has been delayed by four months
<http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-09-9A1.pdf>, hams
are still assisting the FCC and their communities by providing technical
support to those who need assistance
<http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2008/12/10/10499/>. Although many TV
stations won't turn off their analog signals until the new deadline, the
law allows stations to apply to switch on the original date -- February
17 -- or any time before June 12.

According to the FCC, there are nearly 1800 full-power televisions
stations in the US. Of these, the FCC said that "220 will have
terminated their analog signals before Tuesday [February 17] and another
421 will terminate their analog signals on Tuesday [February 17] before
11:59 PM, for a total of 641 stations, or about 36 percent of all
full-power stations nationwide." The FCC has posted a list of stations
making the conversion on or before February 17 on their Web site
<http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-288530A2.pdf>.

ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP, said he has
been getting e-mails and phone calls from Amateur Radio operators
concerning the digital TV conversion, now set to take place on Friday,
June 12. "People are asking what's happening with the DTV conversion --
especially now that it's been delayed -- and wondering what we as hams
can do to help," he said. "There has been considerable confusion
concerning the extension of the date, but the role of Amateur Radio is
simply to be helpful to the people in our communities."

Pitts advises those hams that are helping to provide technical
educational assistance keep in mind the following troubleshooting
pointers, provided by the FCC:

* Check Your Connections
Check that your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital television)
is connected properly. Make sure that your antenna is connected to the
antenna input of your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital
television). If you are using a digital-to-analog converter box, ensure
that the antenna output of the converter box is connected to the antenna
input of your analog TV. If you are unsure of the proper connections,
refer to your owners manual.

Make sure that your components are plugged in and turned on.
If using a digital-to-analog converter box, tune your analog TV to
channel 3. You should see a set-up menu or picture on your screen. If
you do not see this, re-check your connections.

* Perform a Channel Scan
Digital-to-analog converter boxes (and digital televisions) have a
button -- usually on the remote control -- that is labeled "Set-up" or
"Menu" or some similar term. Press that button to access the set-up
menu. Using the directional arrow buttons on your remote, scroll to the
option that allows you to perform a "channel scan." The channel scan
will search for digital broadcast channels that are available in your
area. If you are unsure how to do a channel scan, please refer to the
owners manual for your converter box or digital television (whichever
applies).

Once the channel scan is complete, you will be able to tune to the
digital channels received by your antenna.

* Adjust Your Antenna
As many hams know, small adjustments to an antenna can make a big
difference; digital TV is no exception. If you have an indoor antenna,
try elevating it and moving it closer to an exterior wall of your home.
After adjusting your antenna, perform another channel scan to see if
your reception has improved.

While adjusting your antenna, it may be helpful to access the "Signal
strength meter" on your converter box or digital television set to
determine whether your adjustments are improving the signals' strength.
You can probably find your signal strength meter via the "Menu" function
on your remote control, and your owners manual will provide detailed
information on how to perform this function. Remember to do another
channel scan after you have adjusted your antenna.

Make sure that you are using an antenna that covers both the UHF and VHF
bands and that is connected properly (depending on what channels are in
use in your area).

Late last year, the FCC requested assistance from the ARRL in providing
educational support to local communities regarding the digital TV
conversion.

"I really appreciate the willingness of the ARRL to actively participate
in helping Americans with the transition to DTV and your helpful
suggestions," said George Dillon, FCC Deputy Bureau Chief for Field
Operations (now retired). "The DTV transition will be an historic moment
in the evolution of TV. Broadcast television stations can offer viewers
improved picture and sound quality and new programming choices.
All-digital broadcasting also will allow [the FCC] to significantly
improve public safety communications and will usher in a new era of
advanced wireless services such as the widespread deployment of wireless
broadband. Our goal is to engage the amateur community on a cooperative
basis to help with the DTV outreach and to educate consumers."

The FCC said that it is seeking to ensure that even where all or most
stations in a market are terminating analog service, consumers who are
unprepared for the switch will continue to have access to critical local
news and emergency information. In a statement released by the FCC, the
Commission "examined each market in which stations planned to end analog
service to try to ensure that at least one affiliate of the four major
networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- would continue broadcasting in
analog after February 17. Many had such a station, but in those
instances in which there would be no top-four affiliate remaining in a
market, the FCC attempted to ensure that analog local news and emergency
information would remain available -- generally through what is being
called 'enhanced analog nightlight' service. Under 'enhanced analog
nightlight,' the top-four affiliates must keep at least one analog
signal on the air to provide programming that includes, at a minimum,
local news and emergency information"
<http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-288530A1.pdf>.

FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps said that the Commission is "trying to
make the best of a difficult situation. While this staggered transition
is confusing and disruptive for some consumers, the confusion and
disruption would have been far worse had we gone ahead with a nationwide
transition on [February 17]."

For more information on the conversion to digital television, please see
the DTV Conversion Web site <http://www.dtv.gov/>.

January 24, 2009

Sometimes analog just feels right.

Duke, JD, Ely.. all on the couch in our old house in Livermore 

In a world where everything has gone digital, most are choosing to eschew the old analog mediums.  While not dead, media such as Vinyl and chemically processed negative film still survive as a niche.  One such analog medium lost out to profit margins in mid-2008.  The Polaroid camera is one of those things that has an amazing feel to it.  You take the picture and watch the picture develop and appear right in the palm of your hand.  As much as I love digital media, there is nothing as palpable or basic as a Polaroid picture.  There is no negative, so each picture is a unique beast.  All of that was going to be lost when the film stock ran out, until the Impossible project started.  This group of people has banded together to restart production and redefine the future of a media.  Good luck!

Link:

January 23, 2009

Open Government: A Memo

The new US President has been in office for three days and he is already sending out public memorandums to the heads of all the governmental agencies in the executive branch.  If you read the fifth paragraph closely, you can see it screams out to technology companies to send their best and brightest people to Washington.  If you are an executive at a large network technology company that is currently laying off employees, you might want to get in on this action.   

 

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT:      Transparency and Open Government
 
 
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.
Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.
Government should be collaborative.  Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.  Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.
I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.
 
This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
 
This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.
 
 
BARACK OBAMA

 

Source:

January 22, 2009

Windows 7 - Better than Beta

Over the past week I've been spending some time using and abusing Windows 7.  I'm in a period of readjustment right now, as I was using Ubuntu 8.10 as my main Internet surfing operating system for the last two months.  As many of you know, the Windows 7 public beta program allows free downloads for evaluation.  I've been working with the 64bit and 32bit versions on several different boxes.  While the O/S has been really great on newer (less than 18month old) hardware, running Windows 7 32bit on the minimum configuration (1GHz processor and 512Mb RAM) is like self administering a colonic using kerosene. 

Windows7 info 

I'm not trying to convert anyone here, but I'm mildly impressed with how stable it is on current hardware.  The driver base for older peripherals is going to be somewhat limited, but I'm sure that with time Windows 7 will have just as broad a driver base as XP does.  In my limited, totally non-scientific evaluation I would give recommend Windows 7.  I need to spend some more time with the security subsystem, as well as testing application performance of things that I use on a daily basis.  Bottom line is that if you application runs on Vista, it will most likely run just fine on Windows 7.  If it does not run well, install Virtual PC 2007 or Virtualbox and run a virtual instance of Windows XP inside Windows 7 for your legacy application. 

 

Links:

 

And in addition... somewhat interesting... the first Windows review, ever.

January 07, 2009

OLPC layoffs, boo!

With the technology market and the web 2.0 in the toilet (oh, and the rest of the economy is going to hell in a hand basket), the OLPC group has announced that they will be laying off people.  Best of luck to everyone involved is this amazing endeavor.

Sad logo for OLPC layoff. 

 

From the OLPC Wiki:

Like many other nonprofits that are facing tough economic times, One Laptop per Child must downsize in order to keep costs in line with fewer financial resources. Today we are reducing our team by approximately 50% and there will be salary reductions for the remaining 32 people. While we are saddened by this development, we remain firmly committed to our mission of getting laptops to children in developing countries. We thank team members who are departing for their contributions to this important mission.


This restructuring is also the result of an exciting new direction for OLPC. Our technology initiatives will focus on:

  1. Development of Generation 2.0
  2. A no-cost connectivity program
  3. A million digital books
  4. Passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community.


With regard to deployments:

  1. Latin America will be spun off into a separate support unit
  2. Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub
  3. The Middle East, Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan will become a major focus


Separately, OLPC will be dedicated to bringing the cost of the laptop down to Zero for the Least Developed Countries — the $0 Laptop.

Restructuring brings with it great pain for some of our friends and colleagues who are being let go. These individuals are people who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of a noble cause, and to say that we are exceeding grateful for the time, the ideas, the energy and the commitment they have given OLPC does not — cannot — adequately express our admiration or our gratitude. The fact that there are 500,000 children around the world who have laptops is testament to their extraordinary work and is already a key part of OLPC's legacy.

The future brings with it some uncertainty, some difficulty, but also the excitement that comes with the rededication to a cause, and a new path that will allow us to realize the moral purpose of OLPC. I hope that each one of you will remain supportive of OLPC, and its mission of opening up a universe of knowledge to the world's poorest children living in the most remote parts of the Earth.

— Nicholas Negroponte

 

November 23, 2008

Elvis the Robo-cat

This video is fairly old, but it always amazes me.  This guy's cat was injured in an accident with a car, so instead of putting it down, he built it a robotic platform to move around. I guess sometimes it pays to be a mad scientist. 

Link:

November 22, 2008

Talking photography with virtual friends

Whether you are a novice or and old pro when it comes to digital photography, it is always nice to have a place to share resources.  ShutterBudd is that sort of community.  Whether you want to evaluate how various pieces of gear work for you, talk about photo manipulation software or just share some of your work, this is a great site to frequent.  This community is active in both digital and analog mediums, so you are as likely to find information about the newest Digital SLR camera or medium format black and white photography and everything in between.

ShutterBudd Screen shot 

While other sites such as Flickr, SmugMug, and Picasa allow you to share photographs and make connections, ShutterBudd is a smaller community that feels closer knit.  ShutterBudd has ventured from the cyber world into the real world with their photo exhibitions that take place around the San Francisco Bay AreaThere is still time to submit your photos for the January 2009 show which features the theme: Good Food, Good Friends!

Links:


October 08, 2008

Linux fanboy alert: Linus has a blog

It may be worth noting that the famed inventor of Linux and Silicon Valley Portland, Oregon resident (Thanks for the correction!), Linus Torvalds has a personal blog.  In the Open Source development community people cower in fear and revere the name of Linus, the creator of  Linux

 

Link:

September 12, 2008

When upgrades go bad

One of the cardinal rules of running a large scale Internet business is that you want to have a production network and an R&D network that are independent.  You test on the R&D network, then push it out for production.  Every once in a while you have to roll back the updates due to errors, but that should not happen very often or at all.  I guess Facebook didn't get this memo.  Maybe I should write something on their Wall.

 

September 03, 2008

All that glitters isn't Chrome

The big buzz for the last few days has been the newly released Chrome browser from Google. In a nutshell it is pretty slick.  On Windows XP it renders pages as fast as Firefox 3.0 and performs 2 or 3x faster than Safari.  All the normal websites I go to render just fine and work like a charm.  The only issue I ran into was with Flash video playback not working as well as it should (chunky like a monkey).

 

On teh interwebs, they are saying that there might be security issues in regards to the WebKit that Google used to develop Chrome.  Specifically, a bad guy could run JAR files on your system withour asking for your permission.  It doesn't pay to be a first adopter I guess.  You can guess that Chrome would be the future browser of choice if you are a Google suite user.

 

Links:

August 11, 2008

Blogs used for propaganda/PsyOPS

After blogging for a few months, I have gotten used to the automatic content spamming robots that try to fill the comments section and individual postings with trackbacks.  While most of these posts include links to sites that have drive-by malware or send you to sites that sell drugs, I encountered something completely new today.  The trackback was sending a link for the "Real Situation" in the ware between Georgia and Russia.  No malware.  No v1agra.  No Rep1ica.  Just a link to Youtube with a video of some scared to death guy talking about his situation in Georgia with the sounds of bombs and machines guns going off in the background.  Is this the new overt technonological front line for how war will be fought in the future? 

 

July 24, 2008

FTP to Jupiter, surfing on Mars.

Vint Cerf, one of the original designers of what we now call the Internet, has been working with NASA and some other contractors on technologies that would extend our network connectivity to the stars.  The DTN or Delay Tolerant Network design that they are working on would allow for the extreme network latency that would be incurred by radio transmissions between planets.

And you think the delay on Dial-up internet is bad...

 

Link:

July 13, 2008

The iPhone can cure cancer and 100 other fables

I was at the local mall with my wife today to do my part in supporting our crumbling economy and ran into the line (or queue for all you folks across the pond) at the local Apple store.  Even on a Sunday in the suburban mall, there is a line 30 people deep to get an iPhone.   I was thinking back to 2007 when Maddox wrote an in depth analysis of his throughts on the iPhone.  18 months later, I think it still applies.

 

Links:

July 12, 2008

Millennials

I was just reading an article in Government Technology about the so-called Generation 2.0 phenomenon of Milennials. (Article Here) The article pretty much breaks up into two sections, the first being about the security risks that are brought up by the computer savvy youth, and the second being the different work styles and habits of this generation. 

The first item begs the question: If your information is so confidential, why do you not have a stricter risk mitigation process in place already?  You can blame the 20-something guy that likes to frequent Facebook and MySpace for malware or data loss, or you can address these issues with policy and technology.  Educating the users as to what sites are appropriate for work, helping them understand your security policies and computer use policies can go a long way.  The issue is this: How many environments are running with close to zero security controls because it is "behind the firewall"?  Internal threats are more likely to cause data theft or loss than visiting a web popup, but unless you have the proper anti-virus/anti-spyware and access controls set on your network, you are skating on very thin ice.  Technology such as virtualization can allow users to be connected to several different networks from the same terminal, but without the data mingling between networks.  When the internet virtual machine gets infected with some trojan, just reload it and be on your way.  If you are concerned about employees using too much bandwidth for Youtube and other pipe cloggers, set bandwidth limitations at the firewall.

People are going to violate IT policy.  People will destroy your data out of spite.  People will steal your data for small sums of money.  Your job in the CXO position is to be flexible enough to understand how to leverage policy to fix some issues and technology to solve others.  In this day and age, people are afraid to fire people for blatant violations of company policy.  When an employee's behavior threatens day-to-day organizational operations, it has to be taken seriously.  I don't mean an environment of fear, but an environment where the employees know that their web usage can be monitored, so hey, try to do some work most of the time. Whether it is Milennials or the parents of Milennials that have gotten some great IT training at home, put into place policy and infrastructure that is blind to age, gender, race and all that good stuff.

As for the Millennial working style.  So they hop around from job to job...  I thought that was how Gen-X is characterized.  So they multitask...  if that is an efficient way of doing work, who are you to judge.  As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, if this generation is willing to implement a new version of the American work ethic and be successful in their endeavors, huzzah!  If not, never fear, a whole generation of workers in China, Russia, India, and dozens of other countries with highly educated workforces will come and fill the gaps.  While I would hate to see a generation of unemployed folks that just don't like working, sooner or later they will realize that nobody REALLY likes working, then they'll figure out that you need money to do things, and then to get money you have to work.  And so the cycle of selling out to "The Man" continues.   

Don't be scared by the iPod, iPhones, skinny jeans or social networking.  The thing you should be worried about is the core business and the bottom line.  The working environment constantly evolves socially and technologically, sometimes with both happening at the same time.  

 

Link:

July 09, 2008

Make your own online comics

Are your kids home from school this summer and driving you crazy?  Are you a big geek that never grew up and would like to design your own comic strip?  The site BitStrips may solve both of these problems.  They have a free interactive based comic strip building site that allows you to author and publish your miniature works of art.  I created a non-funny example to show what can be done even if you are devoid of the ability to generate humorous content.

 

 

Link:

June 25, 2008

OpenSolaris


 

For those of you who are interested in different Open Source and *nix-y operating systems, Sun would like you to take a look at OpenSolaris.  For those folks who are too lazy to download the ISO of the disk image, Sun will even ship you a copy of the CD to your home or workplace.  That's not such a bad deal, and makes such a better drink coaster than the AOL CD-ROMs.  Seriously, it might be worth a look if you like messing with different BSD and Linux distributions.

Link:

 

Update 6/27/08 - I came home yesterday to a sparkling new CD from Sun.  That is a FAST turnaround.  Less than 36 hours!

 

June 23, 2008

Open Source AdvFS!

Unless you've worked with Compaq/HP/Dec DigitalUnix/OSF1/Tru64 Unix you haven't had the pleasure of working with AdvFS.  While Sun is getting all the media attention by having Apple adopt ZFS into their core OS release, the beauty of AdvFS is now going Open Source.  In a previous life, I spent a lot of time working with Tru64 Unix on the Alpha platform.  The stability and recoverability of their file system compared with UFS was amazing.  One of the best features of this file system is that it didn't kill its wife.

Link:

June 11, 2008

Wi-Fi on BART - Part 2

Back in February I wrote a post about BART getting WiFi service.  Last time I flew through SFO, I decided that I'd play around with the wireless signal when I was riding on the train.  In a nutshell, the signal was only available in the underground stations in downtown San Francisco from Civic Center to Embarcadero.   I was really hoping that that the signal would be available while the trains were moving, but unfortunately, no luck.  Just keeping a signal a few feet after leaving the stations was an impossible feat for my cheap Linksys wireless card.  Below are a few screen captures from the connectivity in the four station run.

1. The SSID's available as we rolled into Civic Center Station

 

 

2. The captive portal login screen

 

3. The SSID's available at the Embarcadero station, just before hitting the Transbay tube

 

The cellular providers use the "leaky coax" method to distribute cellular signals in the 800 and 1900MHz bands in the tunnels, so I don't see how hard it would be to do this at 2.4GHz.  A caveat as well...  I took this trip back in early May, so they may have improved the coverage since then.

This better be the pre-alpha testing, or they are going to have problems with their long term plans... 

June 03, 2008

Everybody is blogging these days

I know this post is so five years ago, but it seems that everyone is blogging these days.  It is not just the techno savvy youngsters, witty political pundits or gossip merchants, but the young families that want to communicate across continents and time zones.  How else are we going to get details on the Preschool graduation of the century?  I hear that P-diddy planned the party with his playground posse.

In the future (or even now) there is no absolute privacy, so you have to take control and reign in digital identity from birth.  An interesting take on this comes in the form of a short story written in 2000 by Cory Doctorow called "The Rebranding of Billy Bailey".

June 02, 2008

July 1st Deadline

A few weeks ago, I received a mailing list announcement reminding me about the new Cellular Phone law that goes into effect on July 1st in California. With less than 30 days to go, I figured I should start looking into some solutions.

While I work on getting my TerdPhone(tm) hooked up to some sort of headset or hands free driving setup (it is true, I don't have bluetooth on my cell phone, how sad is that),  the thing that was interesting is that there is an exemption for two way radios service. So as long as you are a licensed ham radio operator, I doubt you will have trouble from the police.

Costco and some other office supply stores have some great deals on bluetooth handsfree speakerphones for the car, so there is no excuse for being a bad driver. 

My wife has been using the Jabra SP5050 for about a week, and that this is great, all for $49 USD. 

From the ARRL East Bay Mailing List: 

"There has been a lot of confusion around this issue and I am still
receiving questions from concerned Amateurs. Apparently, there was some
incorrect information on the DMV web site that added to the confusion.
DMV has updated their web site and makes it clear that the law applies
to "wireless telephone' use and not "dedicated two-way radio" use. For
more information go to the FAQ section at:
http://www.dmv.ca.gov/cellularphonelaws/"

For amateur radio operators, you might also look into the TalkSafe Ranger (doc file) product from RPF Communications in the UK. This unit provides Bluetooth connectivity to all manner of radio units. While it isn't required by law, it might be the safest bet.

 

May 31, 2008

SPOT my location, please.

Recently I was looking at Electronics at REI.  I ran across this personal locator beacon, that was fairly inexpensive, called the SPOT Satellite Personal Messenger.  This little box has a GPS receiver and a satellite transmitter all in a ruggedized and simple case.  If you are in danger, you can press the 911 distress buttons and it alerts their emergency operations center.  But the cool feature is that it can be used to "check-in" with your location, which gets forwarded to your designated SMS and e-mail recipients.  

 

I would love to see an SMS or e-mail to APRS-IS gateway that for a device like this.  Could you imagine the search and rescue implications for hurt hiker or boater to give their exact coordinates to the SAR staff this is trying to rescue them.  Heck, this might even be a wonderful tool for people that are outside of normal phone service range that just need a reliable way to signal their need for help.  It isn't complex, nor can it send complex messages, but a location and a distress signal is worth every penny you pay for it when you really need it.

 

April 21, 2008

SPLUNK! ZUFF! PAN!! SNUH! BORT! POOO! NEWT! MINT! ZAK!

Over the past few years I've been meaning to evaluate Splunk's main product, a log aggregation and analysis tool by the same name.  Often times as a sysadmin, you have makeshift tools due to budget limitations or other types of hardships.  Many places I've worked have had enterprise level network monitoring capabilities, but unfortunately were monitoring the wrong things.  The items of the most importance on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis were done in shell scripts or manually at the command line.  What Splunk does is to give you the configurability of the command line, but packages it up in a nifty web based GUI that allows you do drill down to specific problems (and see the log entries associated) or just skim along at the 40k foot level through graphs and charts.

I recently built a new Ubuntu server box at home (from completely anemic old hardware) and decided that I'd try out Splunk.  Even with the most minimal of hardware Splunk was up and running in no time at all.  From downloading the debian install package to fully functional was about 25 minutes.  My system load churned for about an hour at around 2.0 while all the /var/log and other directories were indexed and pulled into the Splunk database.  It is pretty amazing, as the base version of Splunk can access anything that is local to the system, so if that machine is your syslog server, you can correlate error events over a large network in no time at all.

In the picture below you can see the log entries for a brute force attack against my ssh server (from host 209.239.35.45, which is probably just a hacked intermediary host).  Using Splunk allows me to drill down to see specific attacks by type or host, by very quickly changing the query statements.

 

Below you can see the ebb and flow of 'page not found' 404 errors on my webserver.  I recently started hosting a domain that had been down for about a year.  That domain hosted a bunch of jpg files, which were linked to by some idiot myspace page designer.   Once I track down the individual files that are linked to, I make a symbolic link to this file

 

In the extended entry, I've copied the output from the install.  Just make sure to limit access to port 8000, or whatever other port you'll be using, as there is no access control in the demo version.

 

In a nutshell, Splunk is like a swiss army knife that you never knew you needed, but now you crave.  While it works great as a near real time system monitoring tool, you can also import files from anywhere and process them for historical data.  It would make a great tool for network forensics timeline reconstruction as well as a fine day to day IT operations tool.  I'm sure that there are millions of other things that can be done with this, but just being able to grok so much data at one time is like having some sort of sysadmin super power.

  

Continue reading "SPLUNK! ZUFF! PAN!! SNUH! BORT! POOO! NEWT! MINT! ZAK!" »

April 16, 2008

Movin' on up

Several weeks ago my wife an I had discussion about the speed of our DSL connection.  For the last five years our connection has been humming along and working just fine.  Originally we chose an internet provider called DSLExtreme due to their fairly low cost for a circuit with dedicated IPs (at the time it was $30 USD cheaper than AT&T/SBC's monthly "business" DSL).  When I went to our provider's website I was blown away to find out that by upgrading to 6Mbps/768kbps and keeping static IPs, that we'd actually save about $12 USD a month. 

Clicking on the upgrade button on the provider's online service center was easy enough, but it ended up being a bit more trouble than I expected.  When the DSL provider turned on the juice yesterday morning our service started becoming very unstable.   The traffic that the DSL modem was providing to my firewall was actually causing it to freeze up.  After seven or eight full power cycles, my wife was pretty done with being civil.  I came home from work with a mission.  The first thing that I did was replace the DSL modem with something newer.  The Westel Speedstream DSL modem that I was using had been a workhorse for over 8 years, with this being the third location that it was used at.  The beige plastic case had changed color over the years to an unsightly urine hue.  With the modem replaced with a newer spare Netopia model, things were running much better.  The connection would still drop when traffic was heavy, so I bit the bullet and ran new CAT6 to the network box on the side of the house.  I know this sounds like overkill, but it was my silver bullet.  The existing cabling must have been sufficient for a 1.5Mbps connection, but not good enough for the 6.0Mbps link. 

To test out speed, I'm a big fan of the BroadBand Reports tools.  The flash based speed tester has a nice graphical report and has pretty consistent results.   

Our service before: 

Our Service after:


 

Status:

 

 

I've really liked my DSL provider DSLExtreme over the years.  They keep you up to date on system issues (upgrades/outages/etc) and they generally just work.  The only time I had to contact them directly was back in 2006 when they had some BGP routing issues with one of their peers that was screwing up my wife's VPN traffic, but other than that they just work.  The icing on the cake with them, is that they don't use any annoying PPPoE, just regular bridged ethernet (RFC 1483) connectivity to make access a snap.   

This is a direct quote from my wife: "You put off other home repairs forever, but god forbid we lose our internet connection and you fix it right away."  Hey, one has to have priorities.   Hopefully I won't have to go through all this trouble again when I get 24Mbps ADSL2+ rolled out in our area.

Update:

I needed some new Linux distros, so I downloaded Azureus and fired up some torrents.  The download throughput is right up against the limit!  Huzzah.

Azureus download/upload 

Coffee Overload

Recently my wife purchased a Nespresso espresso machine for the house.  I was leery at first, but I am totally sold on it these days, due to the low cost and how clean the thing is.  The only downside is that you have to buy coffee in these little pod containers that are the size of a normal half and half container, but made of plastic and foil.  While these things are proprietary, it isn't going to last forever (or at least at the rate my special monkey goes through the caffeine), so I'm not too worried about being trapped into a standard.  I guess I'll never be a coffee purist, just a practical caffeine enthusiast. 

 

What got me thinking about the sweet dark elixir was this article in GizMag. OMG, a walk-in coffee machine!  That's almost like relaxing inside the udder of a cow waiting for some milk, in a less creepy way. 

 

 

April 07, 2008

Digital TV Deadline

$40 Rebate Cards - Yay FCC 

With the FCC switchover set to go February 17, 2009, I figured I should check out how the unwashed masses will be getting their television signals.  I've been using either cable tv or a form of satellite tv for the last 20 years or so.  The TV I have sitting in my garage still runs on a rabbit ear antenna setup, I so registered on the FCC DTV Voucher site for a $40 USD off coupon for a set top box.  When I received the coupons, I did the search online for vendors, only to find that it would be cheaper just to go down to a neighborhood Wal-Mart and pick up the box.  The following is an account of what I think...  

Update 4/14/2008 - The SF Chronicle has done a nice review of the same boxes, as well as several more.  It is worth taking a look if you are having a hard time making a decision.

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/14/BUV11045KT.DTL 

Continue reading "Digital TV Deadline" »

March 27, 2008

Spicy HOT Lanes

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the commute can be incredibly tedious.  Depending on my work location, I need to commute from 30 to 45 miles from my house, which in turn requires between 35 and 70 minutes of transit.  As often as I can I try to take mass transit (BART to San Francisco in my case) to reduce my fuel costs, bridge tolls, wear and tear on my vehicle, as well as stress from driving around a bunch of nutjobs.  With the advent of the Fastrak system of wireless toll collection in the SF Bay area, the possibility of paid toll lanes became possible.  Current rumors have the toll rates along Interstate 580 and 680 in the $4 to $5 USD range.  Would it be worth it to me to pay an extra five bucks to shave half an hour off my commute?  Heck yeah!  The only thing you lose out on this is anonymity.

HOT Lanes! 

Source for images and information: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/pdf/hot_lanes.pdf 

March 07, 2008

DVR != TiVo

 

Several months ago my DirectTivo finally gave up the ghost.  Beyond a hard drive crash, the MPEG decoder board was starting to go wacky several weeks before the final and bloody death.  I called DirectTV to see if I could get a replacement and I was told that the Tivo units were now legacy and that I would have to use their new DVR unit if I wanted a replacement.  Being an open minded lad, I decided to give it a try.  After the first week, we were beamed a software upgrade that made the DirectTV.  While the R15 unit we have at home only crashes about once every 4 to 6 weeks now, the scheduler absolutely sucks.  I am not an expert in regards to what patents that Tivo holds in the DVR product space, but it didn't patent the fact of a DVR working correctly.

Originally I chose DirectTV as my television provider.  1.) They had an exclusive on Tivo technology 2.) I hate Comcast Cable.  My wife can attest that I have a healthy dislike for Comcast, but that is fodder for another post. 

At this point in time I am very dissatisfied with my service, but I'm locked in for another 18 months or so.   Without the Tivo angle, television is a commodity and I might as well shop around the other satellite providers or even the local cable tv provider (*gasp*, yes that is how much I hate this DVR).  Or I might end up having to go to MythTV or some other system like that, but I don't want to explain another system to houseguests.

Rupert Murdoch, stop the insanity!  That other DVR company you bought really sucks, please don't force that crap down our throat.  Just be done with it and buy Tivo.  At least the DirectTivo units ran Linux on them, and a geek could feel good about watching TV on something that Linus Torvalds had indirectly touched.  If Dish network had Tivo built in to their receivers I'd be on the phone with them this second...   

Lesson Learned.  I should have googled for this crapbox before I signed up for it:

engadget.com 

weaknees blog 

March 03, 2008

Is free music the key to music industry profits???

NIN 

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has now one-upped Radiohead in the realm of free online music.  While Radiohead provided their music in a downloadable non-DRM package with the option to buy a real packaged physical CD, Reznor has created a package with all the album source materials on data DVD discs as well as slideshows and other neat stuff.

An interesting blog posting on this is available at TechBlorge.

Update.  I just received the download email (edited of course):

From:"NIN Store" <support@store.nin.com>
To: xxx@spectrox.com
Subject: Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I download link
Date: Mon, 03 Mar 2008 07:26:51 -0800
Thank you for your interest in Ghosts I. To download your files, click on the link below. If the link below is not clickable, copy it and paste it into your web browser's address bar.

http://ninstore.cpdev.sudjam.com/download/order?id=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                                                     
Note: Your download will be a zip file. The zip file contains all the music, the PDF, and some extra content. If you are using Mac OS X or Windows XP/Vista, just double-click on the zip file once it's downloaded, and it will open the folder with your content. You can also use free "unzipping" software like StuffIt for Mac and WinZip for Windows.

Update March 13, 2008:

The Chicago Tribune reports that Trent Reznor has already made $1.6 Million USD from the download of his album.  W00T! 

Update March 27, 2008:

WIRED Magazine has an article titled "Reznor vs. Radiohead: Innovation Smackdown" 

February 27, 2008

A Safer DNS

 

Recently we have been hearing more about phishing and redirection attacks on internet connected client machines using hacked DNS or DHCP servers.  If you have reason to distrust the security of your network provider's DNS, or you are just fed up with advertisements popping up when you mistype a URL.  One such service that allows you to receive DNS service seperate from your network provider is called OpenDNS.

They have instructions for using their service on Windows, Mac, Unix/Linux boxes, DSL routersh, as well as corporate internal DNS servers to work with their service. 

I have found that this service works on most ISPs, but sometimes if you are at a hotel or Wi-Fi hotspot that requires logging into a captive portal for payment, authentication, or to validate the terms of service, you may need to use their DNS first before switching the settings. 
While you would have to put your trust in the providers at OpenDNS to keep their DNS servers hacker free, I would would rather use their service that rely on some random DNS server that is provided over a free WiFi connection.  This is not to be construed as an endorsement, but I have been happy with their free service.  There are a ton of other services out there, or you could even build your own DNS server and sync it to the ROOT DNS servers, but this solution is pretty mindless and mitigates a lot of security concerns.

IP addresses to use OpenDNS:

  • 208.67.222.222 - Primary
  • 208.67.220.220 - Secondary 

February 26, 2008

The Pragmatic Adult Learner

After I finished graduate school, I was asked to participate in the Ambassador program at Capella University.  I was very happy with my education there, so I agreed to participate.  After exchanging e-mails and phone calls with several potential students I started thinking about all the things that made me successful as a working adult learner.  I've put together a small paper with my ideas on this.

Continue reading "The Pragmatic Adult Learner" »

Worldwide Social Network Usage Graphic

Playing around with Spock and Plaxo recently, I've been interested in the worldwide usage of social networks.  It always seemed that one Country/Region/Linguistic area have higher proportions of useage, but I hadn't seen any hard figured until now.  But I really haven't been looking, and yes I found this through Digg.  While Le Monde's graphic is in French, I'm pretty sure anyone with a basic grasp of a romantic language can figure this out.

 

February 04, 2008

You go, Tae Bo, Meebo!

Wow, what a terrible title, eh?  My 8th grade journalistm teacher would frown upon such terrible  usage of alliteration.  Anyways... those who have the pleasure of working with me directly, know that I love Meebo's service.  Being able to aggregate all of your various IM accounts into one web interface is pretty awesome.  Many organizations have explicit policies regarding usage of P2P and instant messenger applications.  While it is a matter of symantics, it allows you to do your personal or work related IM activity on a computer that you wouldn't want to install an IM client on.  The  Meebo Repeater software package can allow you to do IM'ing from places where meebo and other  services are blocked at the firewall or internal proxy server.  Doing IM from random web cafe locations can be a bit safer using Meebo instead of using the IM software loaded on the systems on site.  I had used Trillian, GAIM and Pidgin extensively in the past, so I didn't know what to expect.  The fact that meebo uses a heavily modified GAIM as part of their infrastructure lends credibility to how awesome their service is.  

Meebo Screenshot from their photo stream

(image courtesy of the Meebo Flickr Photo Stream) 

I don't use their add-on toys, Meebo rooms or chatlog features, but I can see that many people would find that interesting and/or useful.  If I am at a location in which I want to get on the Internet, but don't have my laptop with me, my method of choice is to boot up a system with Knoppix or Damn Small Linux, then use Firefox to get to Meebo.  DSL linux will actually fit on a thumb drive as well, so you can carry a clean operating environment on you keychain.

 

Spock.com - Live long and prosper?


Over the last few months I have been playing around with the social network aggregator Spock.  In the usual Web 2.0 style, they are still in beta.  Another Web 2.0 service you say, why should I even play with this or what is it good for?  

 Spock

Here are a few things that I really like about Spock.

1. It allows you to take ownership of information about you or attributed to you.  

Did the Spock robot aggregate information from your MySpace profile and LinkedIn, but you don't like the goofy picture that became part of your profile?  Easy enough, create an account, and have that information removed. Other people can add content or vote about tags that are related to your profile, but in the end you can vote them down if you don't find them appropriate. 

2. If you want to know things about yourself, but you are too lazy to Google yourself.
The Spock robot constantly trawls the web to find information related to your name and tagged attributes.  When the robot has results, you can vote them down if they don't apply to you.  I found some things about myself through their robot search results that I've never found in Google or Yahoo search.  I found out that while my name is pretty unique, a relative with the same first and last name was born in Camden, New Jersey in 1848.  Who knew?  Thanks Spock!

3. One way relationship links.  
My wife likes Colin Firth.  If she had a profile on Spock she might create a link to Colin Firth with the attribute of "fan" or somesuch identifier of her love.  If someone were to look at Colin's profile, most likely created from the WikiPedia entry, there would be no back link to her profile, unless she created a secondard link.  Having symetrical link structures can be great in small amounts, but with one-way links you can have a link described by two people in different ways such as "student" and "teacher".

4. Enthusiastic Staff

You only have to be on Spock for about 30 seconds before you see that there are several Spock ambassadors spanning the world that have brought Spock into their daily (and sometimes hourly) life.  That's you Maia!

5. Cute name
I am sick of Web 2.0 phonetic soup and dig Star Trek.