Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Have you seen this? Pretty nifty. I can't imagine Google's really happy about the look/feel of the web site, but if you can get past that, it's interesting:

How to use Speegle:

  • Just type in your keywords in the normal way and press enter or click search.
  • Ten results are listed and read out to you in order some may be skipped as they have no content or they have been to slow to contact.
  • If you want to visit a page press the corresponding number on the keyboard and it will redirect to that site.
  • Press S to stop P to play and N for next ten results B to go back to the previous 10 results.
  • Press A to go to the advertised site.


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Geek Out | Tech
Tuesday, 21 December 2004 15:46:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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In the wonderful world of computer security, we’d just assume have all you users logged in under an account that doesn’t have administrator rights to the computer. It’s not that we don’t trust you, it’s just that we can’t. There are too many risks associated with running that way, and some people will tell you it’s bad form (or even just plain lazy) to do so while developing software.

Along those lines, this is pretty darn cool: If you have the new MSN Desktop Suite’s DeskBar running for desktop search, you can do much more than just search your computer (as mentioned a few days back). So, for those of use looking for easier ways to run as an unprivileged user but still launch an occasional app as admin, here is a nugget of gold that you can use in the DeskBar:

@su,=runas /user:administrator $w

Once you enter that little line of code into the DeskBar and hit enter, all you’ll have to do going forward is type something like this in your DeskBar field:

su notepad.exe

Do that, and a window will open up prompting you to enter the Administrator account password (note that your @entry configuration line could just as easily specify an account other than Administrator – even domain\username). If you do so successfully, Notepad will open, running in the context of (and with the permissions associated with) the administrator account. Obviously, notepad is not the most likely candidate for this – I can see other programs getting some real miles out of this setup, though.

(Thanks to Brandon Paddock and a link found via someone’s linkblog…)



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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 21 December 2004 07:27:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 20 December 2004

“Give me fuel, give me fire…”

Robert Scoble turned some heads and offended some technology “sensibilities” this weekend with a few posts on his weblog, including this one, which apparently ticked off more than just a few people because – among other things – Scoble used the terms “open source” and “Microsoft” and “leader” in the same breath.

I’ll admit, when I read the entry (and a couple others he wrote that day), the first thing that went through my mind was “Now that’s a real can of worms.” In fact, about the time I finished reading the article, I saw Robert pop up on my screen via IM toast. So, I clicked and mentioned what I was thinking:

Greg Hughes    cans o worms ;)
Robert Scoble  You think?
Robert Scoble  Might as well get them out in the open.
Greg Hughes    yeah but its a good thing

All day Sunday (and no doubt since then as well) people complained about what Scoble wrote. There are also a few lonely souls that have something positive to say. Robert, true to form, has linked to his detractors on his blog. As far as I’m concerned, everyone’s at least a little bit right. But, even more important than who’s right and who’s wrong is the fact that what Scoble did here should make people stand up and look around. Not just at what he’s saying, but also about how and where he’s saying it, and to whom it’s addressed.

And if something comes of it, well look out – Because nothing breeds adoption like success.

It’s important enough to pay attention to, so I am going to ramble on here stream-of-consciousness style about what Robert wrote. You’ll have to go to his web site to read the original entries…

Scoble: Dear Bill Gates: can we create an interesting music player?

This blog entry – “Another letter to Bill Gates” – suggested that Microsoft should open-source the development of a new Windows Media hardware device, to be designed and built by a community in order to go to market before back-to-school next year. It would compete with the iPod. It’s a damn interesting idea. It has merit, whether or not its realistic. I’d like to see what he’s suggesting become a real product, one way or another.

But you know, it doesn’t need to be realistic. Think about it – The fact that someone can work for that company, write an open letter to one of its leaders on a public web site, and apparently not fear repercussions (or maybe he does but writes what’s on his mind anyhow) is definitely worth noting. This isn’t same-old-same-old. It’s not what we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s – get this – innovative and new.

That blog entry irked many, in part because Robert suggested that Microsoft succeeds as a leader in the open source realm. I think he was referring to Channel 9, where he works – It’s a Microsoft web site community (and a very successful one at that). That community sort of embraces the open source marketing concept and does, in fact, succeed at what it sets out to do.

The thing that bothered me the most about Robert’s weblog entry wasn’t the product/community design/develop/market idea, or the fact that Robert associated Microsoft with the open source “movement,” a comparison that many people would (and did) freak out over in disagreement. No problems there – That’s healthy. It started a powerful conversation. That’s why it’s a good thing. It’s marketing, and its working. It’s not really about being right or wrong, nearly as much as it is about just being there.

Honestly, what bothered me the most about what Robert wrote was this one line:

“Start a weblog. NOW. Get the person who runs the team to start a blog. NOW. Or fire him/her. I'm serious.”

Ouch. I have no problem with starting a blog to fire up a project and make it as open as possible, if that’s the goal. But I was more than a little surprised to see Robert advocate even the idea of firing someone because they won’t write a weblog. That’s a thin line over which I am not so sure Microsoft should tread. Fire them? Weblogs are one tool among many to market and communicate products. I know we’re all big into the whole blog-as-marketing-tool thing, but firing someone because they won’t blog – I don’t think so. It would be better not to hire someone into the project position in the first place than to fire someone for not blogging. I hope the Kool-Aid’s not getting too strong, man. :-)

Were you really that serious, Robert?

Scoble Again: Linux user advocates switching from Windows

In another entry, Scoble essentially scolded a *nix sys admin who wrote another “open letter” – this one apparently addressed to the whole world – for his suggestion that people should move now from Windows to Linux. It’s not an innovative idea, this whole “switch” thing – I think it’s been done before.

This article and resultant responses of the community were a little harder to swallow - on all sides of the argument. It did make me stop and think though – quite a bit. I considered putting my thoughts over in Scoble’s weblog comments, but instead I’ll just put them here. You should go read the original entry on Scoble’s weblog first, or this response won’t make too much sense:

It's clear the author of the "open letter" spends his time using Linux. Five hours to clean a Windows system simply means he was not familiar – and he alludes to that in his letter. It takes Robert an hour or so to do the same thing because he's done it before. Apples and oranges here.

Hard to prevent spyware? Maybe, maybe not. Want to know where to spend your family security time and money? How about education? For example: http://alwaysuseprotection.com/Book/intro/toc.htm

About Windows Apps - There *are* alternatives to MS Office, Photoshop, Illustrator, et al. Ink? Yeah, well honestly I use two Tablet PCs and Ink is the last thing I'd hold over Linux's head at this point. Or just run the MS apps (some of them anyhow) on Linux with WINE. I don't do that (I like Windows myself, and I use a number of programs that won’t cooperate with Wine), but others do.

About problems running as admin - While it's a perfectly valid point to say that not running as admin would solve many problems, it will *not* solve all of them. However, Microsoft would do well to introduce a paradigm-shift level of change in this regard, and force the user context as restricted as possible, with some usable, easy-to-understand tools that would allow the user to specify elevated privileges for certain tasks, like installing software for example. Not some add-on stuff - it needs to be built in and intuitive. I like power-toys as much as the next guy, but this is important - BUILD IT IN and make it work the way it should. And build these changes and tools not only into future versions of the OS, but also as installable patches to ALL the past versions (the 32-bit ones, anyhow). Seriously. It's worth the investment.

Linux is not a threat in the bad sense of the word - rather it's a healthy marketplace competitor. Competition makes for healthy companies/teams. The fact is, Linux would not be what it is today if Microsoft was not part of the landscape; neither would Microsoft be what it is today without Linux in the world. Same goes for Apple and a bunch of others. The loss of any of thee players would be bad for all the others, plain and simple.

Complaining for the purpose of getting people to change their personal behavior more often than not just doesn't work. But complaining to get companies to change their products - now that's another story. But be ready to support and defend your argument, and think through the gaps before you start.

The unfortunate thing about many people today is that rather than voicing reasonable complaints and making rational, well-formed suggestions to solve problems, they instead take the route of whining loudly and then looking around to see if anyone is talking about their whining. “Did you hear what so-and-so said???”

A blog doesn't *make* a person a Voice - it just *gives* them one. There are plenty of bloggers who have blown that opportunity. Truth be told, I'm getting pretty tired of the whiny people. Maybe RSS 2.1 needs a whiner filter field or something. Umm, no pun intended - Sorry, Dave.

And as far as relative costs of Linux vs. Windows, if my company had a dime for every time I had to listen to someone pitch a half-baked argument advocating switching from Windows, or to Linux, or whatever - Well let's just say they'd owe me a great big honkin' bonus check. It’s not all about the cost of the OS itself. There are many other factors to consider. I am pretty darn happy with the computer systems we have now. I can fix spyware problems and secure computers - but I can't make an operating system more friendly, usable by non-geeks, or centrally manageable.

I'm a huge fan on the secure-by-default methodology that Linux and OS-X leverage - but it should never replace a good, solid security config, check and review. Assume nothing, check everything. Of course, I can’t very well expect my mom to secure her own computer, and she’s seriously asked for a gift of one year worth of tech support for Christmas. I told her she has to cover the travel – she lives more than 1300 miles away.

And before anyone starts the "but Linux is so much better now than it used to be" thing, just save the speech til it's ready. I use Linux here and there, I stay familiar with it and how its progressed, and while I like it a lot it's not ready for what I need from a desktop operating system to use in business today. Servers yes, desktops no. And that's okay. I don't need better, I need done. I know some will argue it is done – I just don’t agree there, and the definition of “done” will vary from person to person, depending on their specifc needs.

For some, Linux is better. For others, it’s not. That won’t be changing anytime soon.

Ultimately, computer arguments have fallen victim to the same problem that plagues every other form of discussion in today's world: People assume it has to be all one way or all another. It's not a black-and-white world we live in, though. Believe it or not, Linux, Apple and Windows can all co-exist peacefully, and will continue to make each other better over time as a result.

Ahh the continued one-sided mantra rants of a clueless generation...

Meanwhile, I’m willing to push Microsoft to continue to improve their products – which is something they need to do. I’ll continue to use Linux in those places where it works best for me – typically in security applications and certain server environments. On the desktop and on most servers it’s Windows, centrally managed and patched automatically and reliably. Our users know what they’re using. And spyware? Well, it’s really not that hard a problem to solve for me. Once you know how, anyway.

But Microsoft truly needs to do something about it, and needs to do so now.

Clearly, something about this works. Look, I wrote all about what I think. Others have done the same. Something’s happening here.

Somebody look what’s goin’ down…



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Blogging | Tech
Monday, 20 December 2004 11:47:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 19 December 2004

I recently started carrying around a Blackberry 7290, which (aside from the fact that it’s an electronic leash) I like a lot. One of the complaints I have about it, though is a lack of anything beyond the stock, simple, same-old Blackberry ringtones. Well, as it turns out, you can add ringtones of your own. If you were to search the depths of the help file on the device, you’d find some information about this, but – I mean come on – who actually reads help files?

Now, granted, you’re limited to the relatively simple audio implementation supported by the Blackberry device, meaning MIDI files only – and you can’t play polyphonic sounds on these devices. But in Crackberryland, just having the ability to add my own personalized sounds is a welcome fix!

So, if you want to try it yourself – here you go. Keep in mind, I am working from the point of view of a being a RIM7290 user with service from AT&T Wireless – uh, I mean Cingular. So, that’s what you’ll see here. This should work with certain other models and service providers as well, but since I don’t have other devices to test with, you’ll just have to try for yourself. Feel free to comment here (see comment link at end) with your experiences.

Step One: Get your Blackberry’s web browser working – Hopefully you’re already good to go in this area. You’ll need to use the M-Mode browser and go to a page on the Internet that will provide you with the MIDI files.

Step Two: Find some good MIDI files – There are two common ways to do this, but ultimately this step involves simply downloading a MIDI file to your device from a location on the Internet:

Option A: Just find some random MIDI links and load them… One way to do this is to browse to a site that has links to MIDI files and just click the links. For example, point your Blackberry’s browser to http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/midi/?plain (found it searching on Google) and if your browser cooperates, you’ll be able to click on a midi file link:

Get_file_link

Option B: Use a site that has lots of MIDIs and makes it easy (note - web addresses updated 3/2008)… Namely, you really can’t beat the amazing number of selections available at the Free Ringtone Heaven, and you can easily use this site to update your Blackberry’s ringtones. Browse to http://www.freeringtoneheaven.com in your computer’s web browser and find ringtones you want to try (there are more than 49,000 cataloged there). You can listen to the MIDI files on  your computer, but remember they will sound different (much simpler) on your Blackberry. Once you’ve found a few choice audio files, make note of their ID numbers and point your Blackberry’s M-Mode browser to http://www.freeringtoneheaven.com/wap.php (this link works on your Blackberry, but on your computer it may throw an error – this is normal). You’ll see a screen where you can enter the ID number of each MIDI file you want to load – one at a time:

Enter_ring_id

Step Three: Listen to the files and save the ones you like to your Blackberry Device – It turns out when you launch a MIDI file, the Blackberry 7290 has a player for the format. As soon as it is downloaded, the MIDI file will start playing on the handheld.

Player_go

You’ll see three round buttons in the Blackberry audio player – One starts the audio file, one stops it, and the other gives you an action menu – which includes the option to save the MIDI file to the handheld:

Save_file

A couple of quick hints about MIDI files for the Blackberry:

  • Dealing with file names can get kinda goofy on the Blackberry. I downloaded The First Noel and ended up with a sing called “Get” on the handheld – which is the name send down via the PHP app on the Icarus web server. Annoying, but there is a way to deal with it, you can rename the MIDI files as you are saving them – just move the cursor to the “File:” field in the Save File dialog (pictured above) and give the file a more meaningful name before you save it.
  • Small MIDI files are usually simple MIDI files, and that’s a good thing for our purposes. Simpler – in terms of the number of instruments playing at once – will more often than not translate into better sound on the Blackberry, since it seems to play only one MIDI voice/channel at a time. Of course, so if you find a MIDI file you really like, you can always try it and delete it if it doesn’t sound good enough on the handheld.

You can delete audio files you don’t want any more by going to Profiles on the home screen, clicking the wheel once and choosing Show Tunes…

Show_tunes

…and then highlighting the file name, clicking one more time, and choosing Delete from the menu. Bye-bye MIDI file.

You can choose where to use your new MIDI files just like you would any other Blackberry ring or alert tone.

Select_tone_phone

That’s about it – enjoy!



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Mobile | Tech
Sunday, 19 December 2004 19:57:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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NORAD, in cooperation with a slew of computer geeks in Canada, will once again track Santa as he travels the world delivering presents this year. I remember when I was kid hearing the NORAD radio updates on Christmas eve each year. Technology has advanced, and today we have more options available to us.

On December 24th kids can call toll free at 1-877-Hi-NORAD anytime after 9AM Eastern Standard Time (7AM Mountain Standard Time) to find out the status of Santa from NORAD. Or, even better, check out the NORAD Track Santa web site (available in several languages):

Santa_moon_wallpaper

So, take that future, up-and-coming young geek and keep an eye on Santa’s progress this year. There’s a fun Days til Christmas/Santa Tracking Fact page here, and lots of other good stuff on the web site.



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Random Stuff
Sunday, 19 December 2004 10:00:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 18 December 2004

Despite the fact that it’s right there in front of my face every time I walk out the door, I’ve started to forget that St Helens is still quite active and spewing steam. A fresh series of four earthquakes (magnitude 2.5 to 3) in the past couple of days and more steam vents prove it. In fact, the mountain is adding new material to the dome growing in the crater at a pretty amazing rate – the equivalent of one dump truck load of new material every second.

This picture was taken this morning from my front porch:

Sthelens121804

If you’re too young or just plain don’t remember, St. Helens used to be kind of pointy and tall (click the image below for historical photos from before and during the 1980 eruption event:

MSH80_st_helens_before_big_eruption_04-10-80_med

Scientists say that at this rate, in just 11 years the mountain could be back to the about the same size it was before it completely blew its top back in 1980. There’s no guarantee of that, and lots of variables are involved, of course. However, it’s pretty amazing to note that in just the last couple of months, the new lava dome in the crater has grown one third the size of the dome that took six years to form after the 1980 eruption. Here’s a picture of the growth of the new dome as of November 12, 2004, with a football field graphical overlay for scale purposes:

The mountain remains under what they call a Level Two volcano advisory, meaning the Johnston Ridge visitor center – the one closest to the crater - is still closed, but the Coldwater Creek visitor center is open. For those who cannot visit, the Volcano Cam offers a great view into the crater 24/7.

I have had a lot of inquiries from people who know me (and some who don’t) about how close I live to the mountain. I guess people think we’re all gonna die. We’re not. My house is something like 50 or so miles away as the crow flies, so no worries there.

The latest info can always be found at the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network web site and the USGS Cascade Range web site. KATU News in Portland did a good update, and you can read it on their web site and watch the streaming video of their news report.

By the way – St. Helens is not the only volcano in the area, it’s just the one that’s acting up right now. All the other volcanoes in the Cascade Range are all at normal levels of background seismicity. They include:

  • Mount Baker, in Washington
  • Glacier Peak, in Washington
  • Mount Rainier, in Washington
  • Mount Adams, in Washington
  • Mount Hood, in Oregon
  • Mount Jefferson, in Oregon
  • Three Sisters, in Oregon
  • Newberry, in Oregon
  • Crater Lake, in Oregon
  • Medicine Lake, in northern California
  • Mount Shasta, in northern California
  • Lassen Peak in northern California


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Mt. St. Helens
Saturday, 18 December 2004 12:31:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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