Tuesday, November 30, 2004
If you’re a Lord of the Rings movie fan (and hey, what geek isn’t?), probably the best DVD release of the series is about to happen.
A four-disc Platinum Series “Special Extended Edition” of the Return of the King (a Platinum special edition collector set version is also available) will be released with a shipping date of December 14th, with many additional scenes chosen by the director – There’s 50 minutes of new footage and 20+ hours (yes, hours) of bonus materials. That means the feature movie is 250 minutes long and pressed onto two DVD discs. Two additional DVDs, called “The Appendices,” contain tons of behind-the-scenes and complimentary content and documentaries.
A new online trailer gives a sneak preview of some of the additions, along with commentary by the director and actors.
Buy it online if you want to get a head-start:
I recently moved offices, and I was just talking to a co-worker of mine, Phil Weber. At his desk (which is by my new digs) he has a sealed package with a posable action figure and accessories in it that I had never seen before.
It's called GEEKMAN.
Now this is really something else... I had GI-Joes and some action figures from TV shows like Adam 12 and Emergency when I was a kid, but never would I have guessed - even in today's world - that a geek action figure would appear.
Geek and action in the same word... Well - you get the point.
But sure enough, it exists. Want one? They sell them at ThinkGeek, and there's even a web site for the action figure - how's that for complete?
It'll probably end up being a collector, just wait. Sheez!
Monday, November 29, 2004
The largest (supposedly) panoramic picture in the world weighs in at 2.5 GIGAPIXELS – Holy Cow! TNO TPD in The Netherlands created the image. They explain their approach on their web site.
Wow, you can zoom wayyyy in and see great detail. Since its a set of 600 stitched images, there are also some neat artifacts from image overlap to see. Nifty stuff.
Oh, and the tool they use to create the zoom-able panorama? Zoomify – you can download it and use it, too.
Some facts and figures about the gigapixel image:
- Final image dimensions: 78.797 x 31.565 pixels
- Number of pixels in final image: 2,487,227,305 (2.5 gigapixel)
- Final image file format: 24-bit colour bitmap
- Final image file size: 7.5 GBytes
- Number of source images: 600
- Number of pixels in source images: 3,537,408,000 (600 images * 3008*1960)
- Lens focal length: 400 mm (equivalent to 600 mm on a 35 mm camera)
- Aperture: F22, Shutter speed: 1/100, ISO: 125
- Horizontal field of view of final image: 93 degrees
- Time required to capture component images: 1 hour and 12 minutes
- Time required to match overlapping images: 20 hours
- Time required to optimise project: 4 hours
- Time required to compose the image: 3 full days using 5 high-end pcs
- Time required to blend seams / correct misalignments / finalise image: 2 days
View the image (uses Flash player) at: http://www.tpd.tno.nl/smartsite966.html
(via the BBC and a feedster.com search for gigapixel)
I’m always a little surprised at how few people are not yet familiar with what is arguably one of the best little IT tools available for those of you needing to troubleshoot and configure what Windows is running under the hood. It’s been around for several versions (see the comments on this post for more info on use with different versions of Windows), and is still as useful today as it was when it was written.
Since I had a craving to write a basics tutorial, for those who are not yet familiar, allow me to introduce MSCONFIG.
MSCONFIG is a standard Windows utility that allows you to see and modify most everything that happens from boot-time to the initial loading and login process in Windows. It’s a simple yet powerful way to find problems, tweak settings, and generally speed things up when Windows gets slow and sloppy over time.
And the best part is, with a little education (such as this article), even your typical end user can learn to make certain changes and revert back to the original settings if they don’t work out. Of course, that may be saying too much in some cases – It is possible, regardless of the method used to tweak things, to completely kill your operating system and render the computer useless. So, be warned – unless you actually know what you’re doing and are allowed to make system changes (business users need to check with your IT departments), you should not be tackling what’s covered here.
If you’re adventurous and want to learn – and can afford to do that on your computer no matter what happens, read on.
So, power users, admins and anyone who wants to learn a little about Windows, how it works and what’s happening under the hood, back up your stuff and let’s get moving.
For the purposes of this article, I am running MSCONFIG on a Windows XP computer with Service Pack 2. So if you are running a different version of Windows, yours may look slightly different, and might be missing a few of the features (like the system restore launch button, for example).
Admonition Number One: While we’re at it, please be aware of one thing: If you are running Windows XP, and have the ability to apply updates (meaning your IT department does not do so for you), and you are not yet running on Service Pack 2 – SHAME ON YOU! Upgrade now. For stability and security purposes, it’s a no-brainer. So go get caught up with the rest of the world and come back here when you’re done. If your IT department manages your computer’s updates, go ask them if you can apply it yourself, or alternatively when they plan to apply the service pack. Hopefully it will be sometime soon. Tell them it fixes some terminal server issues, that might get their attention. And by the way, this side-rant about SP2 is not actually related in any way to MSCONFIG – it’s just a plea to make sure Windows systems are as secure as they can be. You don’t have to be running SP2 – it’s just good common sense.
Okay, anyhow – about that MSCONFIG thing. First you do this:
Click START > RUN > MSCONFIG > [ENTER]
You’ll see something like this:
There you go – that was the hard part! From this screen you should probably first launch the System Restore utility and choose “Create a Restore Point” (assuming your version of Windows includes it – meaning you’re running Windows XP). Upon completion of that wizard, you will have the ability to roll-back (or undo) most changes you make in the MSCONFIG utility. That’s a nice thing to be able to do in a pinch, so be sure to take advantage of it before you start making any changes.
There is also a utility in the XP version that allows you to choose a single file from an installation .cab file (a CABinet file, which is a compressed archive that can hold a whole bunch of other files that are to be used in computer program installation packages). Useful for especially geeky people that can find their way around messy file names and elusive .cab files. If you don’t understand .cab files, feel free to pretend that button’s not there. No biggie.
By the way – We’re not going to cover MSCONFIG in order here – We’re starting instead with the last things first…
In the real world, people who use tools like this don’t usually read articles like this one. But for those of you who are still here, even after seeing the amazing screenshot above, I am going to introduce you to the First Rule of Geeky Computer Configuration: Skip straight to the end and don’t read anything between where you are now and your intended destination.
Historical psychological note: I have worked closely with dozens of very smart, very talented technicians and programmers. Almost without fail, none of them actually reads the dialog boxes, warnings or instructions presented to them on the computer screen. They just jump ahead. This behavior typically results in 200% extra downtime of critical systems, 600% more mistakes made, and 1500% unnecessary software bugs. So, if you want to be like all the other geeks out there, please skip over everything you see and make some manager’s job a living hell. Many of us who manage this type of people refer to this phenomenon as “job security.” Very similar to police work, in that someone will always be needed to clean up after the people who screw everything up. Hey, that’s why we get paid the big bucks – we do read the info on the screen. It might take an extra 15 minutes to complete the task, but it also likely means 15 less hours spent rebuilding that damn server.
Anyhow – we’re going to skip to the end, but in a controlled fashion, mostly because it’s hard to screw it up that way. Yes, I have a method to my madness, so stay with me here...
There’s a set of tabs along the top of the MSCONFIG window. The very last one across says “Startup” – Click on that. You’ll see something similar to this:
On this page, you can control what programs run when Windows starts up (hence the name of the tab, go figure). It doesn’t present a lot of information about the names of the programs, though, so you’ll have to read carefully and do some deduction to understand what’s happening here.
For example, in the screenshot above, you can see a bunch of “Startup Items” listed and you will see that they are checked, meaning they are loaded when Windows starts. If you were to un-check a box and hit Apply or OK, the next time you start Windows (when you reboot the computer), that program would not run. So – only the programs with a checkmark next to them will run when Windows boots up.
Let’s say I wanted to disable the “Wbutton” program from running when Windows starts. PowerKey is a little program that Acer installed on this computer that allows a button near the keyboard to control the built in wireless networking card. If I don’t want it to load for some reason, I just un-check the box and hit the “Apply” button. The next time Windows loads, the Wbutton program won’t be run by the system.
Why do this? Well, over time, there are often unexpected or extra programs (often called Spyware programs) that get installed on a system, and the more programs that get loaded at startup, the longer it takes for Windows to get moving, and the less resources you’ll have available for running other programs. In other words, we do this to speed things up when they get slow and to make room for other, more important programs to do their work.
A note about SPYWARE: Spyware is a name given to programs that install themselves on your computer and collect information about you or your Internet use, and then provide that information (in some form) to others – typically the people who wrote the program or someone who pays for the information. Usually this information is only somewhat personal – things like who you are and what web sites you visited, maybe what products you looked at but did not buy, etc… But at other times, the information taken and transmitted can be stuff you want to keep very personal – the kinds of things you would never give someone if asked, unless you had confidence in and trusted them with that information. The worst kinds of spyware include keyloggers (programs that capture everything you type and send it off on the Internet to someone you certainly don’t want getting it) and programs that capture information like credit card numbers and other data you use when doing things online.
That’s not to say you should never use a credit card online, or that you cannot safely conduct business transactions. Quite the contrary: I do almost all of my banking, a lot of shopping, and a number of other regular financial and other personal transactions online. What’s important is that you understand what you’re doing, what the actual risks are and how to avoid them.
There are a number of good tools out there that can detect, clean and prevent malicious software like spyware programs. AdAware and SpyBot Search and Destroy are two that I recommend regularly. They are easy to learn how to use and can make a huge difference in terms of what types of junk tries to make its way into the depths of your Windows system.
Next step backwards: The Services Tab
The next tab in our geek-trek from the end to the beginning of the MSCONFIG window is the “Services” tab. In this section you can disable services from running. In reality this is a slightly-more-friendly and much simpler version of the native Windows interface that lets you do the very same thing – but it’s nice to have it all in one place. You will not be able to changed advanced settings for services here, but you will be able to disable ones you don’t want to have running, and perhaps the most useful thing in this section is the check-box you can select to filter out services required by Windows. If you select “Hide All Microsoft Services,” you’ll only see those services that have been installed for third-party or extra applications.
What’s a service? The term sounds very official and therefore difficult to understand, but really it’s not. A service is just a program that gets run by the computer either at startup or when needed by the system. Some services start themselves up and keep running.Others fire up, do their thing, and then quit. Still others wait for another program to send them a start command, and only run when needed. Services are generally considered to be programs that need to run to make your system or software work, and usually the are providing some kind of basic service to another program or set of programs – they are the programs that can run under the hood in the context of the operating system before you log on (as opposed to running in the context of the logged in user after you log in). Examples of services are the networking service, that handles all network communication for programs that need to access a computer network like the Internet or your home/work network, and the automatic updates service, which checks for security and other patches/updates when you are on the Internet, and can install them for you.
In a nutshell – if you stop services from loading, you can expect that certain aspects of your operating system will no longer function. If the service you make changes to is one you don’t need (Windows has a bunch of services that you may have no use for, depending on what programs you use), you won’t see an ill effect. But disable a critical service and reboot, you might encounter some problems. Google is a great place to search for what different services do, and a helpful web site to get you started is http://www.blackviper.com/ – written by someone who needed the information and chose to share it with everyone.
BOOT.INI, WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI – At your own risk
I won’t be going into any real detail here about these three sections. Each of these three files is loaded by Windows just as the operating system starts loading on your computer at boot time. They contain some basic options that set up Windows basics. The most commonly messed-with option here is the boot.ini section, which has some nifty check boxes that you can select to control how the boot loader configures Windows startup – you can force safe mode or change the number of seconds Windows will wait for you to tell it which option for boot you wish to choose (useful if you need to get into safe mode or if you dual-boot to a second or third operating system).
First, but now last, and certainly not least: The General Tab
Back to the beginning we go. The “General” tab controls how you want to treat the changes you have made in MSCONFIG, and allows you to select what configuration files are used at startup. Here you can specify Whether or not to process the INI files, load specified services, and/or startup items (in other words, all the stuff from the other tabs). Note that in the image below, my system is set to “Selective Startup,” because I made changes to the items on the startup tab and saved the changes. You’ll also see that the “Load Startup Items” box is “partially checked,” which indicates startup items will be loaded, but not ail of them (since I disabled some).
After you make any changes and save them, when you reboot and log into Windows you will see a notification window that tells you Windows has started up in the modified mode. In that window you will have an option not to show that dialog again – your choice as to what you want to do there. Remember, you can always start MSCONFIG as described at the start of this article.
Final words of caution: Again, note the “Launch System Restore” button that we talked about at the beginning of this article. Be sure to use it before you make changes, especially if you are experimenting and are not sure what you’re up to. Also remember that your mileage can and probably will vary, and you make changes to your computers at your own risk.
Also remember Greg’s Rule for Learning Computer Tweaks: Make changes in small increments, and view the results for each change one at a time. In other words, disable one startup item and reboot, and see if it does what you expect. If you disable more than one item at a time, you may find yourself guessing at what causes some unexpected behavior.
I took a short week off and flew down to San Diego, to hang out with some cool friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, and just got back home. I had a great time. We did the Sea World thing, hit the tattoo shop, went crazy on hotel boxing matches and swimming in the coldest freakin' pool ever in Southern California, ate Thanksgiving dinner, all the good stuff. Many people (even family) have been trying to reach me and probably wondering why they have not heard back from me for a week or two – Sorry to everyone, I was gone and badly (but necessarily) distracted, and that’s pretty much why.
I am not sure why, but for some strange reason, pretty much every time I go away to any place where I won’t be using a computer for more than a day or two (as well as at other random, unpredictable times) my blog software installation (dasBlog) freaks out and starts creating zero–byte XML content files on the server with wonky dates, which effectively renders kaput dasBlog’s ability to render any content for the site. Hence, the blog goes bye-bye, or at least everything except the theme shell does. That happened again while I was away, but it’s back to normal (if you can call it that) now.
I know this unusual problem has been seen before on other people’s dasBlog driven weblogs, but only very rarely and without any real ability to reliably reproduce the problem. If anyone has the same problem (where you have to go and delete the bad files to make your site start working again) please let me know, and maybe we can figure out why its happening.
It could very easilly be a change I made, but since I know of at least one other person who has experienced the same issue, I'll throw out the question... There are a few things I can think of about my blog that are non-stock, and I am not sure whether or not they might be related:
- Older content on the site was created programatically using a home-grown tool that a friend cooked up while I watched and learned.
- I have modified the search stuff a little in the template
- I have definitely modified the site template itself, quite a bit
- Any other changes I can think of were made after the problem started happening
Sunday, November 21, 2004
MSN rather quietly (I think) released from beta testing its Web Messenger IM interface last week. If you have a desire to do IM from anywhere, any time, even when you’re away from your computer at home or work, this is for you.
Just don’t sue me for feeding your sick electronics addictions, though…
How do I access MSN Web Messenger from another computer?
In one of the web browsers listed above, enter http://webmessenger.msn.com/ in the address bar. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, you can add this site to your favorites by pressing CTRL+D.
What is the difference between Web Messenger and Messenger?
MSN Messenger is a fully featured instant messaging program that you install on your own computer or one you have permission to install on. MSN Web Messenger enables you to quickly and easily use basic instant messaging features on a web browser on any computer without installing any software.
Jesper M. Johansson, Security Program Manager at Microsoft, has published the third in his series of three articles about the pro’s and con’s of using passwords or pass-phrases in authenticating users to a network or application.
“This is the final article in our series on passwords versus pass phrases. The first part covered the fundamentals of passwords and pass phrases, how they are stored, and so on. The second part focused on relative strength and detailed mathematical approaches to determine which is stronger. This final installment concludes the series and gives some guidance on how to choose passwords and configure a password policy.”
Read the article here. Also read Rob Hensing’s review and point of view. His comments are worthwhile.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
(Or, "Isn't it interesting the ways we meet the coolest people nowadays?")
The world's changing, and changing fast. How we meet people, how we get to know each other, how we communicate and stay in touch over vast distances, how we immediately connect with someone around the world... It not like it used to be when we (those of us who remember the first skateboards, that is) were kids.
Nowadays they have extra wheels on skateboards. We have instant communication of several types, and we share our lives online for others to read and relate to. Sometimes we meet people online that just seem to click, with whom we have something in common. People we want to meet in the carbon world, not just in the silicon one.
That happened to me.
For quite a while now I've linked to Jill's web site, which chronicles her family's progress as they remodel a fixer upper in a Portland suburb. I started reading her web site a while back when the writing style caught my eye. I saw it on ORBlogs, a web site that aggregates blog entries from people around Oregon, or who used to be here.
Charlie, Jill's husband, is a cop. I used to be a cop. Jill's stories (with the occasional Charlie prose tossed in) are hilarious, and paint a great picture of life in general, not just the process of repairing their rather unique fixer upper home, which she nicknamed their own little Kosovo.
Jill and Charlie also embedded into me the term "big ass honking truck," to the point where I have adopted it as my own, because it so perfectly describes what I recently acquired (yes, I know I owe pictures, they're coming...).
Anyhow, it also turned out (in this big small world we live in) that someone I work with and respect greatly is friends with Jill and Charlie. Funny how that happens, eh? You meet in the ether and someone made of carbon makes the connection.
I drove my Big Ass Honkin' Truck to Kosovo today, to go say hi to Jill and Charlie, to show off the Hemi and built-in bluetooth, and to tour the fixer-upper. It's quite a project, but a good one. The front deck is awesome. The fireplace is great. The trim is very nice. Downstairs is ready to paint. It's going to turn out to be very nice, I can tell.
It's fun to meet people you have something in common with - Things like a desire to write in order to clear your mind of the clutter and to think new thoughts is a process that drives bloggers everywhere. I also have a bunch of unfinished home projects (upstairs floor and painting in the "bonus" room, deck plans, yard, fencing... Ummm, you get the idea). Cops always have something in common that others can't quite experience unless you've been there - not in a bad way, just a real-world, seen-it-all kind of way.
So, I'm really glad I got to meet them in person. And the "kids," if only briefly (Random inside info: The anti-fart spray was a bonus, but vegan food will do that to ya. Go-Go Speed Racer. Heh. But alas, another story, for another time. And hey General - take your time and driving will come easily. You'll be fine.).
Have you ever "met" someone online, wished you knew them in person, but never got around to meeting and shaking hands? Stop putting it off. You'll know if it's the right thing to do. Do it and you'll be glad.
I know I am.
Just a quick hit list off the top of my head this morning of things I would like to change or add to my blog app (which is dasBlog, by the way):
- Email notifications on a scheduled basis – I used to like getting an email on my blackberry when someone linked to my blog from another web site (a referrer notification), but then things took off, and I had to turn it off due to the enormous volume of email. If I could schedule an hourly or daily summary that would be sent via email, that would be great. Note that I still want to get my comment email like I do now – as soon as they are posted – so I can continue to reply via email if needed, or at least see what’s going on. I would also like to specify different email addresses for different items – like one for referrers, one for comments, etc., if I want to.
- Better statistics – dasBlog lets me see what’s been happening today (well, actually, more like today on my calendar but data available based on someone else’s time zone, which is kinda weird). It would be nice to see aggregated stats that I can sort through in whatever way I like.
- Multi-user posting support would be nice, not so much for this blog but for another one I am planning.
- SQL server option for data storage.
- Templates 100% CSS, and some of the hard-coded stuff to move out into the templates. I’d like to be able to specify what the “Comments” link says, or to be able to apply the link associated with that function to a graphic on my page (like the one next to the comments link below, for example – you can’t click the image, just the text, since I can’t seem to figure out a way in the templates to add the href to the image).
- IP logging in the event log for the user viewing the page.
- IP logging with comments in the app.
BlogJet v1.2 beta has been released for download. As a paid user for many many months, I am excited to see this coming. A few bugs to work out, but it’s nice to see new stuff!
BlogJet is a windows app that allows to you quickly and easily post to your blog, including text, images and files. New features being worked on in the beta include a properties page that lets you do time and date adjustment, summaries, pings, comments and trackbacks in the UI. Not working for me on the first computer I installed it on, but hey its a first-beta. Can’t wait for the functionality. Very cool.
You know you’re in a real rut when you mean to type:
and it comes out:
Friday, November 19, 2004
Our world, it is a-changin' ...
The folks over at audioblog.com have recently released a beta of their new videoblogging browser-based service to their users. It's super-sweet, and works great. Nice job!
What will this kind of capability mean down the road for personal Internet broadcasting and media in general? Only time will tell, but the possibilities seem endless.
Of course, videos of me talking to inanimate objects about the technology itself from my kitchen are not exactly great examples of effective content planning... But hey, it's a geek-out kinda thing, ya know?
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and in this part of the world, the day after that holiday is traditionally known as "Black Friday." It's the day when gazillions of crazed people (the kind who can actually function early in the morning) get up even earlier than usual to drive to a store and get in line to gash open their faces and arms as they break through glass doors at thousand of businesses stupid enough to open at 4am.
Uh, yeah. Anyhow, it's a huge holiday shopping day here in the United States, and pretty much marks the start of the big holiday buying season. And we all now the holidays are about that: Buying stuff. Although I seem to recall something about a baby and a barn and wise men and angels. I must be confused.
But I digress... It's called Black Friday because - in theory - it's a huge day for business, it's when many retailers move from red ink to black on their ledgers, meaning it's the point at which they become profitable for the year.
Here is the important part: The web site Black Friday @ GottaDeal.com is a great place to go to see what deals will be available at your favorite stores. You can plan ahead, and make your own list of items. You think the Sunday and Thanksgiving papers are good? Check out http://bf04.com/ - it's cool, and it's digital.
(And no, this blog entry is not paid-for. I just saw the link at Eric's site and decided people here might be interested, if they are crazed enough to wake up that early and risk bodily injury. I'll be traveling. Thank goodness, otherwise I might be tempted.)
A word of caution for Black Friday newbies: Watch out for the ladies trying to get at the socks at Fred Meyer. They're freakin' crazy.
Recently I described how, due to unexpected circumstances that unfolded over the past week or so, I had to find a new vehicle. Well, I did my research, made up my mind, and bought one.
I decided to go the Big-Ass Honking Truck route. A Dodge Ram truck. With a Hemi. With heated leather seats. With cup holders. And with Bluetooth.
Yeah, I said Bluetooth. Built straight into the truck.
That's right, my Big Ass Honking Manly Ranch Truck has the ultimate geek-out feature: Bluetooth built into the rear-view mirror (cabin microphone, computer and two push-button controls) and the stereo system (for high quality audio output to the speakers, text menus that compliment the female voice that prompts you to speak your commands, and more computer stuff). So, I have complete speakerphone voice-recognition and command control of my mobile phone.
I'm talkin' geek-out in a big way, heheheh... It's awesome.
The system is called U-Connect, and Chrysler has taken it from being an add-on knock-off style option to a fully-integrated system. It's all part of the car's fine fit and finish. In fact, if no one told you it was there, you'd probably never notice it til the phone rang and the system switched the audio from your in-dash stereo system over to the phone.
U-Connect is very cool. Friendly voice prompts walk you through the menus, and voice recognition software allows you to set it up, pair it with your Bluetooth phones (yes, you can use multiple), create speed dial voice entries, and all the other nifty stuff you'd expect from a relatively high-end piece of software and hardware that does the Bluetooth boogie. And the audio is very good, even when driving down the road. It's really quite cool, and on top of that it's extra safe - two small buttons on the rear-view mirror and your voice are all that's needed to make the system work.
Oh, and the rest of the truck is great, too. Did I mention it's got a Hemi? Woah, dude, a Hemi... Heh... Sweet...
Yeah, sure, the gas mileage kinda sucks, but everything else about it is awesome. As much as I drive, comfort and convenience matter these days, so I am glad for the extras. It's the best of both worlds: Geeky and Tough. So, it's all good.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
West Burnside (in Portland, Oregon, where I live) seems to have a recurring problem with sinkholes magically appearing under the pavement. Typically they are huge. They can easily become potholes. Big-Ass Honking potholes if not caught in time.
And in classic Portland fashion, we can blame the problem, like all the other problems in the city, on the sewer system. Butt, of course we can.
Well, it looks like there may now be a solution to the problem of massive caves of poop water, oh ye engineers, and high school kids are the inventors:
Engadget: "Some high school students near Boston have figured out what has eluded transit agencies for hundreds of years: they have come up with the Road Iron, a device that detects and repairs potholes before they have a chance to form. The device looks for cavities below the pavement and then drills in and fills them, fixing the problems before they occur...
[Read more here]
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Five years and millions of dollars spent, and finally the unlocking has begun:
November 16, 2004, 12:07 am · valve
Half-Life 2 is available now for purchase and to play. Those who pre-purchased their copy via Steam may access the game by double-clicking on the Half-Life 2 icon in their Steam Games directory. To purchase your copy via Steam, get Steam now.
We hope you enjoy it!
I probably should have pre-ordered, but hey, I already played early, so I can wait. I think... Heh...
Monday, November 15, 2004
Mark Tuesday, November 16th down as the only day in the history of G4techTV that they did something (potentially) right. Let's face it, that network pretty much sucks now.
BUT, credit where credit's due... On Tuesday evening, they are doing nothing but "Half-Life 2 Day" on their channel:
We took a crowbar to G4techTV's schedule to cram in as much Half-Life programming as we could. The result: on November 16th, you can catch special Half-Life and Half-Life 2 segments on many of G4techTV's fine shows, including an entire episode of Icons devoted to the Half-Life phenomenon.
So, even if you scrapped the network like me, you might be interested in checking out what they have to offer on Tuesday.
News is that Half-Life 2 will be released tonight at midnight Pacific time. W00t!
I had the privilege of play-testing a pre-release version of Half-Life 2 for a little while up in the Seattle area while visiting a friend who works for Valve. He sat next to me and watched how I played (not very well I think, heh) and what all I did. Since that release candidate version, they have worked out bugs and - I am certain - created a completely awesome game. For obvious reasons I have not written about that experience, albeit short-lived, here.
It was awesome when I play-tested it, so I have no doubts people will enjoy the new game. Great characters, great story, great new physics, super graphics, and just a general WOW factor.
Midnight... That's just 28 minutes away from the time of this writing. Woo hoo!
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Spaceweather PHONE is a geek's after-hours gem, a nerd's nirvana. Subscribe for a small monthly fee, and you'll get phone calls and accompanying emails to notify you when an event is about to happen that you'll want to step outside and watch in the night sky.
I linked through to this site last week when Doc Searls wrote about the Auroras that were taking place and linked to spaceweather.com. I had just taken some pictures of the event near my home. I signed up for the phone/email notification services a few days back, and sure enough, tonight I got my first call and email at about 5:20 p.m. - The International Space Station was about to pass overhead:
Nov 14, 2004: Space Station Flyby Alert
The International Space Station is about to fly over your location.
It will reach a maximum elevation of 61.6 degrees at around 06:14 PM.
To be on the safe side, go outside 5 minutes early and watch the sky for 10 minutes. If the sky is clear, you'll see the ISS rise in the WSW and move across the sky to the E.
Note: To be sure you can see flyovers, Space Weather Phone only sends alerts for visible flyovers that are above 45 degrees elevation.
And here is a recording of the phone call: swp-station.wma (43.23 KB)
If you're an astronomy or science geek, or maybe you're interested in evening and night watching with the family, here is what you can get notified about:
Space Weather Alerts:
- Aurora warnings (early notifications)
- Geomagnetic storms (in progress)
- X-class solar flares
- Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and solar wind gusts
- The Interplanetary Magnetic Field changes
- Solar radiation storms
Backyard Astronomy Alerts:
- Space Station Sightings
- Moon and Planets
- Meteor Showers
- Other Unexpected Events
So - Geeks and Nerds who want to see the night sky's events, there ya go. Enjoy.
You knew the day would come, and Windows Mobile will continue to get better and better:
Engadget: A full 48.1% of all non-smartphone PDAs sold in the third quarter of this year run on some flavor of Windows CE (mainly the Pocket PC operating system), while Palm-powered PDAs accounted for only 29.8% of sales, a pretty significant decline from the same period last year.
Windows Mobile is cool, on PDAs and SmartPhones. The hardware gets better and better. The multitude of touch points and common apps between the Windows desktop OS versions and the mobile platform OS make Windows Mobile an integrated and usable system, and therefore valuable to end users. On top of that, they've done a very good job making it look and feel nice. It's got the electronic bling, if you will, that other handheld operating systems are at least partially missing.
Freebord is just plain free-kin' cool.
Go to this site, look at this video (high|low) and check out the online store.
If you are or have been a skater, and if you're a snowboarder, your jaw will drop. Wow. That's cool.
"If you're going 50 miles an hour, you're not scared, because you have the confidence, you know you can slow down for a car, or a stop sign, in like two seconds."
Switch, float, brake, turn. On pavement.
Sweet. Watch the video. You'll see.
"Every kid walks around his neighborhood and looks at looks at every street in the neighborhood, and now its a snowboard run."
Now I really want to play with one of these things. Not like I'd be able to stay up on it or anything, but I'm just as big on cracking my head open on the pavement as your average 17-year-old. Bring it on!
(found via Giorgio Baresi)
Saturday, November 13, 2004
I have to make an unplanned vehicle purchase sometime in the next week or so, and I will be heading out of here in a few minutes to start looking around at what's available these days. I have no idea at this point what I am interested in.
But maybe someone who reads this will have some ideas of their own they want to share.
What I need and who I am:
I'm a guy who lives in the woods with a house at the end of a long gravel driveway. It snows up here. I drive around 80 miles a day going to and from work, and in the past I have used my SUV to pull a trailer.
I am not an anti-SUV person, and you won't be able to convert me to the hatred side of the force on principle. I am open to looking at what ever works for me (in other words, I am willing to be "for" a vehicle type, rather than being opposed to it).
I sometimes transport as many as four other people in my car. It has to be safe. After recent experiences, I'd say it has to be super, super safe (as Bill Gates would say). Let's just say I am glad/lucky to be alive and leave it at that.
So anyhow - If you're a Consumer Reports nut, have recently shopped for vehicles, or otherwise have some knowledge, experience, or opinions that you think would be valuable to me in my vehicle search, either email me (use the little envelope thing in the copyright message at the bottom of this web page), comment here where others can see (I will get an email instantly with your comment), or if its Saturday afternoon, you can even try calling my cell phone (hey, call even if you don't know me, it's all good) at 503-970-1753. Let me know what you think.
While I will be making my own decision on a purchase, I think it would be great to get some ideas from others.
Triva Note: Most of the feedback I get through this site seems to come in the form of direct emails, along with a few comments left on the site's comment system (see the bottom of this entry and look for the icon and click the link to leave your thoughts).
MSN launched the new beta version of their new search engine the other day, and I finally got around to playing around with it just a bit. There's some cool stuff in there. It seems to have a decent catalog of stuff to search through, although (no surprise here) it's not as complete as Google's directory. I appreciate the clean layout - it's very readable.
I like the new search interface, and the Search Builder tool (available from any search entry box) let's you do advanced searches without having to be a complete geek - nice for typical end users.
There are a few things it has that Google doesn't, though.
For example, it seems to understand when I ask questions in context. Or at least it provides answers to some questions - typically factual ones. Nice for high-school research projects and the like, or for trivia lookups.
For example, I tried searching for the term "What is the population of the United States?" Google provided some useful and well-chosen links to web sites (Census Bureau, etc.), but MSN Search came up with something even better - the actual answer to my question (click the image to perform the search yourself):
(click image to perform the search in your browser)
I also found if I searched for the population of Oregon or other locations, it worked just as well.
Population, well that's cool. What about other facts? I searched for "Exports of the United States" and got this:
(click image to perform the search in your browser)
Searching for other country's/states exports and populations and values yielded similar results.
And it's not just social studies - physical sciences, too:
(click image to perform the search in your browser)
I'll have to play around with what MSN search provides answers for - I am sure I just scratched the surface.
Google's popular "Calculator" functionality has long been touted as useful, and it looks like MSN has similar capabilities. One subtle difference, though, is that Google Calculator returns a page with just the calculator results followed by a link to perform the web search, where MSN returns the answer plus the web search results lower on the same page:
(click image to perform the search in your browser)
(click image to perform the search in your browser)
Also not surprising are the links provided to "Encarta Answers," since that appears to be the source of the MSN Search "answers" content.
Cool stuff. I have seen the MSN search indexing my web sites in my stats logs, and it looks like they've done a pretty good job on building an index of this web site, although they have not indexed the full content. Google's got a lot more.
It's also interesting to see how they list sites that link to mine.
But I like it. For the first time, I will likely use MSN's search as a regular tool for finding information, alongside others like Google.
If you're in the Portland Oregon area, have some computer equipment to get rid of, and are inclined to do good in the world, you owe it to yourself and your neighbors to check out Free Geek, a non-profit organization in Portland that will take your computer donations and do great things:
Free Geek was founded in February 2000 (and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in April 2000) to recycle computer technology and provide low and no-cost computing to individuals and not-for-profit and social change organizations in the community and throughout the world.
In the four years since its formation, Free Geek has recycled over 360 tons of electronic scrap and refurbished over 3,000 computer systems that are now in use by individuals and organizations in the community.
You can even drop by at Noon or 6pm, Tuesday through Saturday and take a tour.
Volunteer 24 hours at their facility and you can earn a refurbed computer with Linux on it. Donate computers of any type, in any condition - details here. They'll take old monitors, too - but there's a $10 charge, since they're like, nasty inside and all.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Ok, this is freakin' hilarious... If you're easily offended by things like fart jokes, click here and stop reading now. If you have a sense of humor that includes laughing at bathroom noises (in other words if you are like 95% of the people in the world), read on. This information is really about technology, not bathrooms or poop. Uh, yeah.
RoboDump is a robot. Sort of. And it poops. Sort of. Forever. A horrible, never-ending bowel movement complete with straining grunts, horrific gas, splashes, and pee sounds.
I snuck RoboDump into the men's room at the office. Unfortunately, today turned out to be the day of a board meeting. Whoops! It still went over well; the office was abuzz all morning with gossip about the guy in the bathroom. Several people theorized it was the CFO. The janitor commented to someone in the hallway that he wanted to clean the restroom but "this guy's been in there all morning."
I also decided to dress it in businessware to make coworkers less likely to try to talk to it... if it looks like a customer or visiting bigwig, they'll be less likely to offer help or ask for a courtesy flush.
Pictures and an audio sample are available at the web site, and you can comment at the blog... I can't help but laugh at this one... Hahahah...
The work that went into this marvel of electronic wonder was pretty extensive, and let me tell ya - I want one.
(found via singlenesia.com)
Thanks to my friend Scott, I made a few enhancements to my dasBlog weblog app that drives this site. I'll leave all of them active for a while to see how they work. If you have thoughts, feel free to leave them here as a comment on this post.
- As of a few minutes ago, I enabled GZIP HTTP compression for site content (which matters a lot more to me in the bandwidth-saving area than it does to anyone else).
- I also added an object to the comment pages here that requires anyone who wants to post a comment to read the text from an image on the page and enter the text on a text box. This will help reduce the comment spam that comes and goes on this site.
- Finally, I downloaded the latest dasBlog web core DLL as posted on the GotDotNet workspace, which enabled me to add a NewsGator ranking object to each blog post.
Looks like TopLayer will be hosting a series of three “webinars” (oh how these new clichés bug me) on the topic of Understanding Network Intrusion Prevention.
I am not personally familiar with the company, but the content looks interesting. It is advertised as free training, and specifically not a sales pitch.
Here's the info and links to sign up if you're interested. Each session will last for about 60 minutes. From their email and web site, the session will include:
- Understanding problems that Network IPS can solve
- Network Intrusion Prevention technology overview
- Vulnerabilities, exploits, regular expressions, and protocol validation
- Comparing and contrasting IPS technology to IDS technology
- Requirements for in-line operations
- Reliable, scalable network IPS deployment scenarios
This educational webinar series will be led by Top Layer's senior engineering team. Individuals that are investigating or installing network intrusion prevention technologies should attend this webinar series. There will be a question and answer period at the end of each session. Each webinar is an educational session, it is not a sales presentation.
To Register: http://www.toplayer.com/content/news/webinars.jsp
Detailed Descriptions of the Sessions:
Network Intrusion Prevention Webinar Session I
Topic: "Problems that Can be Solved by Network IPS"
- Background of IPS and Attacks
- Problem Review
- Massive Network Attacks
- Known and Unknown Network Exploits
- Requirements for an Inline Network Device
Network Intrusion Prevention Webinar Session II
Topic: "Network IPS Deployment Goals"
- Brief Review of Session I
- Universe of Attacks
- IPS Mechanisms
- Protection vs. Recognition & Classification
- Requirements for Inline Network Device
Network Intrusion Prevention Webinar Session III
Topic: "Network IPS Requirements and Example"
- Brief Review of Session I & II
- Network Usage Model
- Network and Security Performance/High Availability Requirements
- The challenges of IP Fragments and TCP Segments
- Security Event Reporting
- IPS Deployment Example
Thursday, November 11, 2004
I'm feeling a bit put-off today. And a little sarcastic, I admit that freely. But there's a reason...
I just don't get why it is that sales people will make cold calls, leave a long, run-on message that they're obviously reading from a note card or computer screen, and then when they leave their phone number, speak so damn fast you can't catch the freakin' numbers.
Then, of course, comes the obligatory indignant follow-up call a couple weeks later, going something like, “I've been trying to reach you and left you a voice mail, but have not heard back from you, so please call me as soon as possible at one-eighthundred-fourtwofishevyumaevablahblahblah.
Look, sales guys, here's the deal.
Leave me a short but meaningful message that includes the purpose of your call, and when you leave your phone number, please speak slowly and clearly. DO NOT go on and on espousing crap like synergy, top-100 blah blah, value-added yada yada and the same crap every other poor sales person drones on and on about. Just tell me why you're calling and what you really want to talk to me about.
Don't expect me to call you back. Believe it or not, I have plenty of other things to do, and believe it or not, those things are almost always more important than speaking to every vendor that cold-calls me.
If I am interested, I will call you back, If I am not, I won't. If you slurred or raced through your phone number, then obviously I won't. Don't take it personally. And don't expect me to listen to a two-minute voice mail full of buzzwords a second and third time just so I can try to decipher that slurred phone number you left at the very end.
And whatever you do, don't get me on the phone and act indignant because I have not returned your cold call. It's one of a hundred I got this week, and your indignant disposition will earn you a “don't call me again.”
Thank you in advance. I appreciate your time and value our relationship. Hope to speak to you soon.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
I recently posted maps showing both state-by-state and county-by-county red/blue maps. The validity of the maps was challenged by a reader in the comments for the post. While I don't exactly agree with the position the reader took, I did comment that it would be interesting to see results not in bipolar red and blue, but in varying shared of purple, the result of mixing red and blue in varying amounts to show the distribution of the votes.
Well here we go - lots of additional maps from Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman at the University of Michigan, purple variation maps from Robert Vanderbrei, and a cool 3D map from GIS/CBS News. Here's an animation of the 2004 vs. 2000 vote distribution - click it to get to the full-size image.
Monday, November 08, 2004
The one where I try to sound smart, but really just make a fool of myself in the process. But if I learn something new, it's all good.
I'm just a glutton for punishment, so it's not too unusual that I would attend a developers' evening conference event put on by Microsoft about development for mobile devices, regardless of (or perhaps in spite of) the fact that I am most definitely not a developer.
That said, don't use anything I write here for anything real. Don't quote me or anything. Please. This information is all wrong, I can pretty much guarantee it. This is just an attempt on my part to see how much I can learn in three hours, in an area where I easily get lost.
But I mean hey, I keep seeing these techie developer-like guys writing two lines of code at most in these sessions and how they just magically make things work, shazam!, so I figure even a guy like me should eventually be able to figure this stuff out, at least sort of. Enough to create something useless but functional, at any rate.
Because secretly I sometimes wish I was a developer. I long to make things. New things. Different things.
I just want to create.
So here I am, seeing if I can learn any of this stuff. And I am finding - as usual - that its kinda cool.
Windows Mobile development random thoughts (or maybe this is just a cheap excuse to use bulleted lists):
- Design applications assuming your app will need to rotate portrait>landscape>back again.
- Screen dimensions - be flexible here and include hi-res resources for VGA quality screens in the future (use higher res to improve quality, not so much for more real estate).
- Emulators are cool - deploy, test on a software phone or Pocket PC.
- VS.net will compile and deploy x86 executables to emulators, and ARM compliant code to the real devices. In the future the emulators will emulate ARM chip-sets.
Ok, so this dude just wrote 2 lines of code and made an app that collects a ticker symbol from the user, calls a web service and returns the current price. Two lines of code. Cool. The term code-behind probably relates to this. But I'm not a developer, so I am guessing here.
Look Mom - TWO LINES! Neat.
Idea: Have special evening sessions just for non-developers, where you teach them to develop cool simple stuff. People like me, whose brains are a little older and slower, but who desperately want to be a cool nerd (like that makes sense) and create things. Seriously. I'd go to every one of those events. No real nerds allowed, unless they are teaching (sorry to all my developer friends - I need someone to work at my pace heheh). Target guys like me, who really want to learn, the ones who spend the money. Focus on making something simple, cool and complete. Let me create something, let me feel like I understanding these guys that work for me and around me. Help me grok your world. Let me create something that works, something that when we're done is all mine and does something - hey, anything - useful.
Okay - back to the session...
Ahhhh here we go - demos. I like it when I can see something created and then working.
Tipper is a little program someone wrote that helps you figure out how much of a tip to leave. Cool, especially for foreigners who may not be accustomed to the tipping stuff.
- Windows forms and controls - I think I know what this all means... Looks like there are some controls not available in the mobile framework, which makes sense, since it's a more limited memory space and less-powerful hardware.
- Networking - looks like you don't have to understand HTTP in order to use it. Something about streaming and stuff that escapes me. Okay, it's actually way over my head, but "escapes" sounds cool.
- Data - XML or SQL Server CE for storage, depending on type, amount and size of data (SQL for bigger/more I guess). Web services for data exchange. SQL Mobile 2005 will be a cool enhancement with all kinds of new stuff like data grids and binding and stuff. Make SQL CE development easier. Not require you to use a SQL CE device to develop a database. Nice.
- XML Parsing - XmlTextReader and XmlTextWriter parse a doc, but with no in-memory caching. XmlDocument lets you parse a complete document at once and traverse it in memory.
- ADO.NET - Uhhh, yeah. Way over my head. Heh.
- Web Services - This I get. Sort of. more so than ADO.net anyhow heh... XML web services, both basic and digest authentication. SSL encryption support here, too. SOAP stuff. Clean is good, right?
More demos... A news reader that goes out and reads RSS feeds - now that's a cool one. Thom Robbins wrote this and some of the other demos. The news reader and others can even be downloaded from his blog, here.
Hmmmm Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. Cool - that should be interesting...
There was an interesting presentation about the future of the compact framework and Windows Mobile, and there will be positive changes in VS.NET 2005 for the new version, too. Life becomes friendlier and easier for the mobile developer.
Microsoft Location Server - lets your application find itself or other apps. Real time location information integrated with MapPoint technology. Very, very cool. Hosted by your company, not Microsoft, which is even cooler.
Ok, I am prety close to brain dead now, and I need to save a few brain cells for my trip to buy Halo at 12:01am. Cool stuff here. I have no idea what I am talking about, really, but I do feel smarter, so that's good.
Thanks to Bliz for the heads-up and invite.
Fredrik at corporateblogging.info has created a Corporate Blogging Primer, in which he has organized much of his sites content into a single PDF document that can be easily read and used for, well, whatvever you need it for. I think it's kind of funny to consense a blogging primer into a PDF file, but I can see the purpose in the corporate world - it's just not quite a dogfood thing to do is all.
His definition of a corporate blog?
"A corporate blog is a blog published by or with the support of an organization to reach that organization's goals."
It's pretty well done. The contents include:
Corporate Blog—A Definition
The Nature of Blogs
Reasons for Corporate Blogging
Six Types of Corporate Blogs
14 Steps to Your Business Blog
What Corporate Bloggers Say
More corporate blogs
Blogs to read
About & Copyright
Get the free PDF file from here.
Of course, you should always check out other resources as well, like Robert's Corporate Weblog Manifesto for one, if you are thinking about blogging in the business world. Remember that a teeny-tiny bit of good, reasonable, simple forethought and planning can make blogging a very positive and useful thing for business.
It was so cool to see the Northern Lights for the first time. Like fast waves of light rolling and tumbling from the horizon, up over your head. The light went well past straight overhead from where it started in the north. There were some light clouds near the horizon, but the greenish glow reached far above them. I took these 20-second exposures with my Nikon D70, propped carefully on the hood of my car and rested on my arm, since I didn't have a tripod with me. The location is near my house in Deer Island, Oregon.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
I'm seeing something right now that I have never seen before in my life. Coronal Mass Ejections are lighting up the night sky with these incredible rolling waves of Northern Lights. It's amazing. One more reason for my list of why its good to live out in the sticks. Trying to get pictures, too. Wow, so cool...
More auroras are possible on Nov. 8th and 9th when a pair of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are due to hit Earth's magnetic field. The CMEs were hurled in our direction by weekend explosions near sunspot 696: an M7-class solar flare on Nov. 6th (0030 UT) and an X1-flare on Nov. 7th (1605 UT).
This is so great - I have always wanted to see these!
And this from NOAA:
This plot shows the current extent and position of the auroral oval in the northern hemisphere, extrapolated from measurements taken during the most recent polar pass of the NOAA POES satellite.
Thanks to Doc Searls for the links, and unabashedly to Art Bell on the radio who made me stop and look while I was driving home with a very brief mention on the radio.
I got a couple pictures - going to see how they turned out.
This post is for the brain-dead and hermits among us.
Just in case you missed it, Halo 2 is coming out this week on Tuesday Noveber 9th. Thousands of stores are opening at midnight+1 to sell the game, so find the stores closest to you, choose one, and go get in line.
Meanwhile, here are a few new and nifty items to tide you over until Tuesday at 12:01 am:
So - is anyone actually taking vacation from work to beat the game? Heh.
Here is what Microsoft says you'll need - go to the xbox.com readiness guide page for more details...
- A copy of the most anticipated game of 2004: Halo® 2. (Obviously!)
- An active subscription to Xbox Live™.
- An Xbox®-compatible router.
- A Friends List full of potential opponents and teammates.
- A linked Gamertag.
- A TV and sound system to take in the whole experience. (HDTV and Surround Sound optional, but recommended.)
- At least one day completely set aside for nothin’ but gaming bliss.
- Supplies (food, refreshments, toilet paper, etc.).
Who's planning on getting in line and buying their copy at midnight? I'm game if someone else is going along, but I won't be skipping work, I'm not that hard-core, heh.
I discovered Microsoft PhotoStory 3 last night via a link from Sean Alexander's blog. By the way - Sean has one of the best weblogs on my subscription list - If you are in any way interested in digital media, do yourself the favor of checking out his blog often, or subscribe to his feed here:
One free download later (5 megs), I was up and running with a very cool app that let me go through a whole slew of digital photos I took while on my vacation recently. I was able to edit, tweak and arrange the images and create packages of images, with narration and music and titles. It works, and in fact it pretty much rocks. I kicked out a few windows media video files with sound and everything to send people who have asked for such a thing. None of the ones I created last night are geared for this web site, but I will likely put together a few to post along with my vacation pics a little later on.
Clean up and edit your photos. Add transitions, motion, music, narration, and other effects, then publish it to a movie-like format that others can view. Put it on a web site, in an email, on a CD or DVD, or even on a mobile device that will play Win Media video.
If you're looking for an easy but classy way to package up photos to tell a story and/or to send to people in a way they can easily view, this is for you - recommended.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Coming November 7th? That's tomorrow...
Rumor is more will be revealed Sunday during ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and ESPN's Sunday Night Football. Sean's teasing us!
Ahhh - here we go... Info from the Seattle Times.
Microsoft is using the campaign to pitch Media Center Edition, a version of Windows that has digital TV, scheduling and recording capabilities and a TVlike remote control. It's installed on PCs with TV tuners that start at about $1,000.
Also new this fall is a companion device called Media Center Extender. It's basically a small box with a radio antenna that sits on a TV. It lets users wirelessly get digital media from a PC — including recorded movies and TV shows — to sets elsewhere in the home.
Intel is pitching its Pentium 4 chips with hyperthreading, a technology that boosts PC performance during data-intensive tasks such as digital-media processing.
The Channel 9 Guy took a little change-of-pace vacation recently, and flew to Hawaii to join up with a US Navy aircraft carrier for a week-long Pacific cruise...
Arriving at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Finding the ship at Pearl Harbor
Making friends with the Navy crew
Out to sea and hanging out above the flight deck
Ready to fly: On the steps of an F-14 Tomcat on the flight deck
The ship - USS John C. Stennis
9-Guy actually accompanied me on my vacation last week, and we had the privilege of joining the crew of the USS John C. Stennis for a week-long "tiger" cruise, which took us from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to San Diego, California. The air wing was on board, the ship was underway with the battle group, and it was a terrific week.
I'll be posting more pictures soon, but 9-Guy told me to hurry up and get his posted, so there they are.
Microsoft announced on Thursday that they will be returning to providing advanced notifications to the public of security bulletins. From the TechNet web site, here is the announcement:
In response to consumer feedback, Microsoft is expanding its security bulletin program to provide all customers with advance information about upcoming monthly security updates.
Starting in November 2004, the TechNet Security site will publish a general summary of planned security bulletin releases three business days before each regularly scheduled monthly bulletin release. Currently, security bulletins are scheduled to be released on the second Tuesday of each month.
The advance notifications will include the number of bulletins that might be released, the anticipated severity ratings, and the products that might be affected.
The purpose of the advance notification is to assist customers with resource planning for the monthly security bulletin release. The information provided in the notification will be general and will not disclose vulnerability details or other information that could put customers at risk.
The notification will be based on the information available three business days before the monthly bulletin release date. However, this information often changes due to the complexity of testing security updates. Therefore, the notification should not be viewed definitive.
Check back again in December when customers will be able to sign up and receive advance bulletin notifications via email.
See the most recent security bulletin advance notification
My Blackberry phone device up and died on me as soon as I got to Hawaii a couple weeks ago (a blessing in disguise to be sure), so I got a replacement this week. The new one is the Blackberry 7290 model - the latest rendition of the smaller form factor devices with the full keyboard. It's nice. Have fun with an online tour here.
Want to add ringtones? Instructions here.
Some things I like about it:
- Nice, contrasty, clear color screen
- CallerID info is now big, bold and easy to read, and backlights itself for dark places
- A new Help icon on the home screen that works really well
- VERY bright back-light, and two-stages of brightness (hit the back light button once for half light, again for full brightness, again to turn off - cool)
- Color background images for the home screen and the "screensaver" mode, and a new icon on the home screen called "pictures" that I'll have to explore a bit
- Bluetooth (YAY!) (but no printed documentation in the box on how to use it - Go to the help icon on the device's home screen - that only took me a day to find... Once you enable and configure it in the device settings an icon is added to your home screen, as well)
- Quad-band radio on AT&T (850/900/1800/1900 GSM/GPRS) means noticeably improved network coverage over other devices I have used
- USB charging and connector uses a standard USB cord with the itty-bitty plug on the device end, same as several other devices I use like my MP3 player
- Improved keyboard layout (subtle)
- Better information on the home screen - if I enable wireless calendar sync with Exchange for example, the icon on the home screen changes to indicate it's active in that mode. In vibrate mode, the profile icon (which is moved to the home screen, by the way - that took me another hour to find heheh) gets an overlay of - uhhhh - a vibrate gylph or something like that.
A couple of things are really bugging me, though:
- I can't get the RBRO code to work on the browser that's installed on this one. If I go to Google, I'd like to be able to choose to use HTML only. I'll have to play with this some more. Trying to view a larger HTML page results in an error that the page is too large to convert to "HDML" - whatever that is... That sucks, guys.
- The thumb wheel used for navigation is a little too stiff and slick compared to other BB models like the 7280 or 7780, which means my thumb slips a lot. I am sure I will adjust, it just bugs for now.
- Mine came with a version of the v3.6 desktop software in the box that needs to be updated to ensure wireless calendar works correctly. If you use it, get SP3a. Hmph.
- Still uses the old style ring tones. Come on, guys - polyphonic tones have been around for quite a while now - what's up with that? UPDATE: At least you can add your own simple MIDI files!
- Maximum volume on the earpiece is lower than on other models. It makes it harder to use in noiseier environments. But it's still adequate, just not as nice as other Blackberry phones I have used.
Other than that, I am pretty happy with this thing. It's (for the most part) a real improvement.
Robert Scoble opened the session on Overload - or as he coined it in the opening conversation, "Information Pressure." He deals with 950+ RSS feeds that he has subscribed to, and so he's a good person to have guide the discussion on this topic.
What a great session.
There are already 4.5 million blogs out there. Overload is inevitable for many. Everyone has limits. They're different for each of us.
For my part, I have to manage my RSS feeds regularly. I am subscribed to more than 500 in total. I move them, reclassify them, and occasionally (but rarely) even unsubscribe to ones that have not met my needs or expectations, and I also have a section in my RSS reader for those feeds I want to keep track of, but which I don't put in my higher-priority list. They are my general dumping ground categories, if you will - good enough to watch now and then when I have time, but not part of my daily chores.
But then there are my high-priority feeds, and there are a couple hundred of those. I deal with my primary RSS feeds daily - usually several times a day. I get critical information I need for my work delivered to me in RSS throughout the day. It's reliable, fast and goes with me. It just works. It's lightweight. I can use it the way I want.
But that is exactly what makes it easy to get overloaded. Make something that really, really works, and people like me with use the hell out of it, sometimes to the point of making it less usable.
Scoble asks an excellent question - What about people who read only say 20 feeds? Why not more? One good answer: "If I save 20 minutes not reading feeds, that's 20 minutes I can spend looking at a sunset." Or maybe a sunrise. How true.
Which makes me think - maybe we could convince Nick Bradbury (who is the author of FeedDemon) to consider providing a way to see what feeds I have not read in a given period of time, those that have not posted in x days or weeks, those that are no longer there, and report that info to me and then let me act on it. Also let me report on the opposite - what feeds are really really active? I'd want to be able to move any of them, mark them, delete them, or a combination of the above. Kind of a little clean-up wizard. Hmmmm... Is this what attention.xml does?
Robert makes what seems like it should be an obvious suggestion, but is a good one to hear: Write better headlines. Tell me what it's about. A head line of "GAHHHH!" does nothing for me when what the article is about is something like "I had a really frustrating day at work today." Or something like that.
Or maybe attention.xml should do this, as one person suggested: "Here's the list of people I don't pay attention to anymore."
A tangent topic of "what do you use your blog for" came up (and for some reason Robert said my name when he showed the crowd his feed aggregator - thanks for the plug, heh). Interesting topic. Blogs are used for all sorts of things: Personal memory catalogs, culture development and coming together of people with similar interests, espousing opinion, publishing fact, conversing and replacing letter writing, you name it.
And thanks to Robert for asking for people at the conference to stand at the mic who had not spoken yet. Nice job guiding and maintaining the focus of the conversation without controlling the session too much. I like it when I hear Robert say, "That's for all of you to decide, right?" and "What else would you like to talk about?" (photo by Doc Searls)
Brainstorming ideas on overload:
- Social networking worked into bloglines - show me recommendations based on who I read, ability to browse the network of content.
- Eric Rice says - with these ideas, are we risking going away from that peer-to-peer distributed model, away from the model we were trying to reject?
- What goes on between the time when an idea has an idea and when I read it - content producer can filter, linkers can filter when they describe and link, governments in same places might filter, services can filter, and the end user can filter content. How do we find information unfiltered without overload? Can it be done?
- A certain Zen acceptance that there might be something you won't see - don't give in to the pressure to give in to the anal-retentive obsession to read and see everything.
- Thought that the major overlaid is not the number of blogs, but the comments, which ones are by smart comments, which are on topic, which are tolls, etc.
- Podcasts control the browser. (Note: This is an idea I have already given to a team I am working with, but MP3 won't do it. Windows Media will, but that's not open).
- There's a problem in the room and in the blogosphere in general with blogaholism. It's causing a lot of problems, solve it like a medical condition? (hmmm)
By the way, it's hard to say enough time how much Doug Kaye and ITConversations rule. I can't be there, but I can be there. Nice - thanks.
And she's right.
I am listening to a live windows media feed from BloggerCon about podcasting (I am not there because I needed to stay home for other things, so I canceled my trip).
Adam Curry says (paraphrased) don't think you can change the name, it's a done deal. He's right (unfortunately). No one thought ahead about the name, or not far enough ahead. Or there was an agenda to use the name for any of a number of reasons. Or it's a good name because it's catchy and immediately invokes interest when you hear or read it. Whatever. I *still* think we need to get away from the name when we think up new additions to this technology, just to make sure people don't assume it's just for the iPod. Because like it or not, they do.
For the creator, this is personal Internet broadcasting. For the end users, it's simply audio aggregation with a magical ability to get the files on your computer and/or portable audio device of choice.
And it's in its infancy as far as time alive and maturity of technology. John Dvorak was at least partially right. It pretty much sucks for the average user. At least right now.
But it will get better.
Take a look at early technology being developed specifically for aggregating mp3 and other enclosures and tying into, say, Windows Media player. I have had the personal experience of providing input and being involved in making suggestions for Doppler, a program that is 100% focused on doing just that.
Adam points out that there is no all-in-one solution for the podcaster. We are far from having that available.
Which means by next week someone will have written it.
Every now and then I am given a tangible reminder of why I decided to live way out in the sticks. Coffee on the front porch and a decent digital camera make it all worthwhile, even at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. Oregon's a great place to live.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Not much has been said recently in the news about Mt. St. Helens and the fact that it's still active and spewing some steam and ash. The alert level for volcanic unrest, as they call it, remains at Orange. Earlier today USGS photographers took some pictures from the air of a steam and ash eruption (it's actually been ongoing for almost a month now). A new lava dome has formed, and continues to be active and grow.
From the USGS: “Seismicity remains at a low level compared to that observed early in this unrest. The current seismicity is consistent with a continuing, slow rise of magma driving uplift of the crater floor and feeding a surface extrusion of lava. The overall low rates of seismicity and gas emission suggest that the lava reaching the surface is gas poor, thereby reducing the probability of highly explosive eruptions in the near term.”
These images are from November 4th. Click the images to go to the official web site, where more pictures and info can be found. Note the ash stains on the snow in both images. You might also be interested in the "repeat views" image gallery, which contains same-angle images over time, so you can see the progression of change.
Just ran across this cool online tool. At chami.com there is a favicon.ico generator for your web sites that will let you generate a FavIcon from any image. It works great:
If you want to create an icon to associate with your web site in the address bar, shortcuts, favorites, etc... this is for you.
Turns out I'm going to have to skip BloggerCon this weekend, and so I just canceled my spot so someone else can have it. It's too bad, and was a tough decision - I signed up when it was first announced - but I'll just use the airline credit for something else over the holidays I am sure. It's just been a little too much all at once in terms of travel (I've been out of town recently much more than in), and I need to take care of business at home instead.
I'll listen to the MP3s after the fact, and the webcasts if they're available. I regret I won't be there to converse and say hi to friends, though.
Finally some action and results in the spam war.
A jury in Leesburg, Virginia has convicted Jeremy Jaynes and his sister of scamming millions of dollars via SPAM email schemes.
The jury has recommended Jaynes spend 9 years in prison.
Hey Jeremy... You've got
mail male. Congratulations.
Worth reading (as always):
Charlie has written a rather funny story over at the Indoor Camping blog. Usually it's Jill who's the author of the blog, and her prose is always hilarious (hence she's permanently linked in the side bar here), but her husband Charlie gets today's words in:
"From then on, I was on a quest. I sat there and looked at every woman who came in the store. Specifically, I watched their butts. I stared at all the mid-thirties Mom butts shopping and walking. The clerk was right. I’m so used to my own wife’s butt that everyone else’s looked huge. They were well-dressed but their butts were way out of whack."
Hahahah... Cool man. I love blogs, and especially this one. So go read.
We've pretty much all seen how the states stacked up in the presidential election, but have you seen what it looks like when you display the votes county-by-county?
Images are taken from USA Today online. Click each one for the latest info.
I have had the privilege of helping test Doppler, a Windows program that allows podcast aggregation as well as windows media aggregation (audio or video). Good stuff. If you have not checked it out and you're a podcast consumer, you need to go get it now. And there's even more features to come soon!
People who read this blog regularly probably know I use FeedDemon, a terrific software creation of the infamous and very cool Nick Bradbury, as my RSS aggregator. I was excited to see that Nick is programming RSS enclosure support into FeedDemon - Awesome! Hey Nick - linky linky????
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
I guess I should make those who know me from outside the office aware that I have accepted a new job where I work, since much of what I write here is related - albeit somewhat indirectly - to my job. That, and many readers of this blog tell me they keep an eye on this site because of my professional work and experience in that regard.
Note: Just a quick reminder that this blog represents my own personal thoughts, positions and beliefs alone. Nothing I say here is in any way associated with my employer.
Up until last week, I was the Corporate IT Director at a terrific software company in the Portland Oregon area, managing the team of people that makes all the IT systems the company relies upon work. The team there does a lot of work: They handle all company desktops and laptops, software, help desk and end user support, phones, servers, enterprise apps, intranet and Internet web sites, corporate web and software app development, networks, lab environments, infrastructure, network security, and a bunch of other aspects of IT at the company. I have had the pleasure to work with a talented and great group of people in that department, and am proud of all the employees there and the work they have done and will continue to do. One real sign of success as a manager is when you get to the point where you have one or more employees who are ready, able and even hungry to take your job away from you. I was privileged to be in that position as a manager with my employees, and as a result I am confident the department will continue to grow and serve the company well.
So what now? I have made the move to a new position at the same company as Director of IT and Security Operations. That means I will be focusing on working with a team that does amazing security work at Corillian, while continuing to work with the IT department in a higher-level guidance and strategic planning role.
It's a natural and positive move for me (I have been heavily involved in many aspects of security operations and planning over the past few years) and an opportunity to continue to learn and grow in a red-hot and quickly-expanding area. It also means I can maintain somewhat of an IT-planning focus and continue to stay on top of new and unusual software and technology. It's a challenge that looks exciting to me, and for which I am quite motivated.
And it means a slight change of pace, which will be nice. I've worked at the same company for five years, and a little change here and there is a good and healthy thing.
It also means this blog will likely take on an even stronger security slant and emphasis, but I intend to continue to cover IT and technology in general. In fact, it's hard to divorce the two from each other and truly stay in touch with goings on.
And besides, when it comes down to it, I'm really just a technology and gadget geek.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
I'm chatting with a friend on IM as the numbers flow in. We're teaming up and splitting duties between news sources, and sending each other info on MSN Instant Messenger. I copied and pasted numbers from a web page into the MSN IM program:
|77% of precincts reporting|
And here is what was sent/converted by the IM client when I cut-and-pasted the text:
Interesting that MSN IM thinks Bush is the gay one, Kerry is a drunk, and Nader has the bright ideas. And it must be true - I saw it on the Internet!
Or maybe I'm missing something?
I am taking some time off from the "well it looks like we won't get to go home on time after all" news-pundit crowd by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart election night coverage on Comedy Central. Much has been said recently about the "fake news" show. It's hilarious.
Great references to Tron and any number of other hilarious things. Rob Corddry exit polling aliens in Halo. And the interviews are classic. The best part is these interviews are not set up - their real, just off the wall in the question department.
The looks on the faces of the interviewees are priceless... And Rob even gets them to lick voting booth curtains after speaking to a scientist about what's likely to be found on those curtains when so many people use the booths.
Question by Rob Corddry: "Is it possible that I got genital warts while voting?"
Scientist's answer: "The probability is near zero."
This is so much better than the real news.
Will it be the same thing all over again, only exactly the opposite? If Zogby's exit polls hold true (always use caution with exit polls, as we learned 4 years ago), Kerry wins the election, and Bush wins the popular vote. Now that would be ironic. It would be interesting to see what impact that would have on the pre-election polls done by Time Magazine that showed the majority of Americans are in favor of abolishing the electoral college. Do you think that opinion would change, as well?
CAUTION: Early 2000 exit polls showed Gore +3 in Florida [and we know what happened there]; showed Gore-Bush even in CO [Bush won by 9], 2000 exits showed Gore +4 in AZ [Bush won by 6]
Zogby International's 2004 Predictions
(as of Nov. 2, 2004 5:00pm)
2004 Presidential Election
Too Close To Call
Too Close To Call
Zogby International Finds: Bush at 49.4%, Kerry at 49.1%
The nationwide telephone poll of 955 likely voters was conducted (November 1-2, 2004). The MOE is +/- 3.2
Well, after what I can honestly say was one of the best weeks of my life, I am back home again, quite tired but feeling great.
I got to spend time with a good friend, and made a new one, too. I saw the dedication, hard work, fun and shenanigans of the young people that make the USS John C. Stennis work. If you ever have a chance to sail on a US Navy ship for a cruise, take the opportunity, no matter what. You'll be glad you did.
Being home again feels both great and terrible. I could have spent another few weeks, easily - Mostly because of the people I had the opportunity and privilege to meet and spend time with.
From this cruise I take home a number of important things:
- Spending only a day and a half in Hawaii is as close as you can get to committing a sin without paying for it by going to hell. So, I have to go back. The north shore is awesome.
- Good friends just happen.
- Getting old sucks.
- Being old is a state of mind.
- The modern aircraft carrier is an incredibly amazing system, and a terrific example of the integration of people, process and technology.
- People make the world go round, and it takes all kinds.
- If you spend a week sleeping on a big ship on the ocean, don't be surprised if you wake up on land to the feeling of swaying. Woah.
- The F-14 Tomcat is FREAKING LOUD. It's also being retired, which is a sad thing. And end of an era.
People are emailing, IM'ing and calling me asking for pictures and how it went. Coming soon - I'm pretty wiped and still need to unpack my crap. Plenty of pictures and stories to come. Probably 20 of you will be interested in my trip, and hundreds of others will wonder what happened to the random technology posts. Oh well, it's my blog, and heck, I'm still trying to figure out why anyone pays attention anyhow! ;)
© Copyright 2015 Greg Hughes
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"Computers used to take up entire buildings, now they just take up our entire lives."
"So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this... You won't. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience."
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