Sunday, 30 October 2005

HO-LY CRR-AP!!

Okay, so... When Microsoft says the XBOX 360 is a whole new level of gaming machine, they're serious.

I just played a couple shooters on a XBOX 360 game console and that's it, I'm sold. The graphics are GREAT. The visuals make the gameplay amazing, and it's clear the processing and video power is extreme. Add to that the Media Center connections and, well... Wow.

If you want to get your hands on one, go to the Best Buy in Beaverton, Oregon on Cedar Hills Blvd. Apparently, at least according to the sales guy there, that store is the second one to get a working display setup (the first one was a WalMart in California, he said). Some Microsoftie walked in with a bunch of boxes, set up the display, and just left. "No one knew what to do!" said the Best Buy kid. Heh. Cool.

The crowd was excited. A sign is taped to the end cap where the 360 resides that says "5 minutes, please." The crew of giddy people (mostly adults by the way) quietly contained themselves and politely took turns splattering people with their virtual firearms. It pretty much rocked. Ooohs and Aahhhhs abound.

Check it out if you can. I'll try to post some pics in the next day or two if I can get back there. This was the first day in months I didn't have my camera with me, go figure.



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Sunday, 30 October 2005 16:41:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 27 October 2005

I've been using my X41 for a few months now, and overall I like it a lot. It's one of the better portable computers I've used.

Charles Jade over at Ars Technica has put together an "unreview" of the X41 and it's a fun read, not to mention an interesting evaluation of this specific Tablet PC computer, as well as a commentary on the Tablet PC edition of Windows, which he frequently refers to (in his somewhat sarcastic but also accurate fashion) as "WXPTPCE2005."

He finds both good and not so good things to write about. I liked the review. Read it here.



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Humor | Tablet PC | Tech
Thursday, 27 October 2005 19:17:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Pumpkin-carving-patterns-tazCan you tell it's almost Halloween? I can. And I can also tell how much traffic one little blog article can drive. My stats for the past few days are awash with Google and other searches landing people on this site for pumpkin carving patterns, since I wrote about a great deal I found and how to get them them the other day. Here's a small, partial listing of a small portion of the search referrers for pumpkin carving, taken from today's web traffic stats on this site:

 
pumpkin carving patterns (www.google.com) 34
free pumpkin patterns (www.google.com) 29
pumpkin patterns (www.google.com) 29
free pumpkin stencils (www.google.com) 21
free pumpkin carving patterns (www.google.com) 13
pumpkin patterns (www.google.ca) 11
pumpkin patterns (www.google.com) 11
free pumpkin patterns (www.google.com) 11
pumpkin designs (www.google.com) 10
free pumpkin carving stencils (www.google.com) 10
pumpkin stencil (www.google.com) 10
free pumpkin stencils (www.google.ca) 9
free pumpkin patterns (www.google.ca) 9
pumpkin carving pattern (www.google.com) 9

And it just keeps going from there, too. Hundreds of similar search combinations and terms in addition to those. Definitely noticing the increase in the number of visits (still a small drop in the bucket, but interesting to see).



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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 15:32:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 24 October 2005

"Microsoft: Connecting with the IT community for a pain-free future"

Did you know that 1% of bugs account for more than 60% of errors? As a result of the Windows XP error reporting dialog box, Microsoft has reduced crashes in the consumer products by as much as 80%. Leveraging this program, Microsoft formed WE-SYP, which stands for "We Share Your Pain," a direct feedback program that connects customers to the people responsible for programming the portion of code that creates your frustration.

Oh, if only it was true, hehehe... But the video (take off from TechNet) is hilarious, and the premise is great. View it here.

(from ActiveWin)



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Monday, 24 October 2005 19:03:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 23 October 2005

Unless, of course, you die today... In which case, you probably don't care much about this right now.

     Blogging-headstone

Hugh over at gapingvoid.com writes hilarious (and often poignant) cartoons on the backs of business cards. Come of them are decidedly off-color, granted - but they're worth looking at as long as you don't have easily offended sensitivities or something.

Oh and many of the designs are available as T-Shirts and BlogCards.



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Blogging | Humor
Sunday, 23 October 2005 15:46:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Batman-pumpkinHalloween is coming, and for those who really get into the event, carving pumpkins is a lot of the fun. No better place to discover the intricacies and tricks of the jack-o-lantern carving trade than the Internet.

The Pumpkin Carving 101 site has lots of information, history, tips and tricks to make you a real pro in the carving biz. Whether you're doing traditional, old-fashioned carving or going the stencil route, there's lots of help there. They even have tips for photographing your carved work of art.

If you're looking for patterns and stencils, SpookMaster has a few free ones as well as a HUGE number (more than 200) of advanced designs, all of which you can get for a one-time fee - not a bad deal. When you subscribe, you get access to their subscriber site, which you can  continue to use through at least January of next year. I just ordered them for a youth group even that's coming up, and I think it's a great deal. The patterns can be downloaded in PDF or JPG formats.


Enjoy.

(via Make blog)



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Random Stuff
Wednesday, 19 October 2005 20:41:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Promo1_voiptestOver at bandwidth.com they've added a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) test to let you check your Internet pipe for factors relevant to supporting VOIP phone services. The VOIPTEST "gives you the inside track to understanding how many VoIP phones you can support, evaluates the quality of your Internet connection and provides insight into your firewall configuration."

Click to run the test. (it's free)



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Tech
Wednesday, 19 October 2005 17:48:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Hls_exchsp2Lots of service pack and patch announcements the past couple weeks, and here's another one of note. Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 was released the other day, and it contains a number of fixes and important enhancements.

Better support for Windows Mobile devices (push technology with Windows Mobile 5, for example - which stands a chance of giving RIM a run for it's money eventually if the devices keep getting better) and incorporation of the Sender ID protection from spam, enhanced security, better offline address book support and even enhanced mailbox store sizes (75GB per store).

Webcasts are available here, and a top-ten reasons to upgrade list can be found here. The latest information about Exchange Server can always be found on the Exchange web site.



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Office 2003 | Tech
Wednesday, 19 October 2005 17:30:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 18 October 2005

If you have the MSN Toolbar on IE6, go grab the new beta Phishing Filter (shouldn't that be PHilter?) and install it.

The Phishing Filter Add-in offers access to the beta version of a new dynamic online service, updated several times an hour to warn you and help protect your personal information from these fraudulent websites by:  

  • Scanning websites you visit and warning you if they are potentially suspicious.
  • Dynamically checking the web sites you visit with up to the hour online information via an online service run by Microsoft and blocking you from sharing personal information if a site is a known phishing website. 

I only get, ohhhhh... maybe 50 phishes a day (seriously), so I checked my email from tonight, chose one of the several PayPal phishes that arrived this evening (most of which still had live web sites associated with them) and found the new add-in for the MSN Search Toolbar did the job quite well. It caught the page and blocked my ability to enter info into the form fields (click the image to view full size):

Phish Blocked by MSN Search Toolbar Phishing Filter



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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 18 October 2005 21:16:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) 2003 Service Pack 2 is now available to be downloaded. It contains a significant number of important security fixes and enhancements as well as changes to improve performance and stability. Several previously released fixes and those from the previous service pack for SPS are included in this release.

Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) Service Pack 2 was also recently released. It is also a roll-up of the previous service pack and previously released (post-SP1) fixes, plus it includes some new fixes.

Finally, Version 1.7 of the WSS Administrator Guide has been updated to reflect changes in WSS SP2



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Tuesday, 18 October 2005 20:16:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Now this is both interesting and kind of nifty... Microsoft Labs has published and posted a download for "Virtual WiFi," which allows a wireless card use to connect to more than one WiFi network at a time with a single wireless card.

VirtualWiFi is a virtualization architecture for wireless LAN (WLAN) cards. It abstracts a single WLAN card to appear as multiple virtual WLAN cards to the user. The user can then configure each virtual card to connect to a different wireless network. Therefore, VirtualWiFi allows a user to simultaneously connect his machine to multiple wireless networks using just one WLAN card. This new functionality introduced by VirtualWiFi enables many new applications, which were not possible earlier using a single WLAN card. For example,

  • With VirtualWiFi, you can connect to a guest's machine or play games over an ad hoc network, while surfing the web via an infrastructure network.
  • You can use VirtualWiFi to connect your ad hoc network, which may contain many nodes, to the Internet using only one node.
  • VirtualWiFi can help make your home infrastructure network elastic by extending its access to nodes that are out of range of your home WiFi Access Point.
  • Other possible uses are listed on the Virtual WiFi web pages at Microsoft Research
  • There are some limitations in this release. For example, the current version of VirtualWiFi does not support networks using WEP or 802.1X. Also - be sure to review and follow the install/uninstall instructions carefully and note that this is not production grade software (when they say Microsoft Labs, they actually mean it's, well, experimental).

    Installation (and uninstallation) of the app/service and drivers are done at the command prompt, after making some other manual changes (seriously, read the instructions before you start).

    Wwfinstall

    Here's a screen shot snippet from my system after setting up the multiple connections. Shown are two connections created via Virtual WiFi: My infrastructure (IS) network (SSID=hughes), plus an ad-hoc (AH) network connection (SSID=TEST).

    Vwfconnections
    It works. It's very manual and not for beginners (you have to disable the wireless auto configuration in Windows and manually install the service, set up connections, etc), but it's an interesting technological idea with some interesting possible uses.



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    Tech
    Tuesday, 18 October 2005 19:47:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Monday, 17 October 2005

    Correction posted: SANS updated their post to reflect the fact that it was in fact MS05-012 that had been exploited. That's good news, but get patched before it's here...

    If you think you can wait to apply patches til it's convenient, think again. According to an update from the Handler's Diary at SANS, the first instances of code exploiting MS05-051 have been detected in the wild on the Internet:

    Trend Micro reports that they spotted a POC for MS05-051 in the wild. They found it included  as a new exploit in other malware. We don't have any details yet beyond what can be found in at Trend Micro. If you find a copy of this malware, please forward it.

    Trend Micro states that the malware was written in Visual Basic, which usually indicates some low skilled bot-kid. Kind of odd to see it surface this way, but having it included as a new warhead in existing malware matches past patterns.

    Trend Micros virus statistics do not report any "captures" of this exploit in the wild. Not exactly sure if this is just a lab sample, or if it was actually seen in the "wild".

    We will update this diary as we learn more.



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    IT Security | Tech
    Monday, 17 October 2005 19:02:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Friday, 14 October 2005

    Rich Claussen has the low-down on a new pact between Microsoft and the government of Nigeria to combat fraud:

    Not well publicized is how this came to be. Unknown to most, Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, Bill Gates, received the following (condensed) email from the government of Nigeria soliciting his and his company's assistance.

    FIRST, I MUST SOLICIT YOUR STRICTEST CONFIDENCE IN THIS TRANSACTION. THIS IS BY VIRTUE OF ITS NATURE AS BEING UTTERLY CONFIDENTIAL AND 'TOP SECRET'. I AM SURE AND HAVE CONFIDENCE OF YOUR ABILITY AND RELIABILITY TO PROSECUTE A TRANSACTION OF THIS GREAT MAGNITUDE INVOLVING A PENDING TRANSACTION REQUIRING MAXIIMUM CONFIDENCE.

    Read more on Rich's blog here. Nice sense of humor there, man.

    Seriously though - Read the news about the *actual* agreement (for real) between the company and the country here.



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    Humor | IT Security | Tech
    Friday, 14 October 2005 20:14:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    Microsoft on Tuesday released nine security patches that are intended to alleviate 14 problems in various versions of the Windows operating system. Today the company issued an advisory to its enterprise customers via email that the MS05-051 patch, which is considered to be the most critical of the bunch, may cause problems on some computers where it is applied. However, Microsoft if still strongly encouraging everyone to apply the patch and has published a knowledge base article describing the issue with the patch and explaining how to resolve the associated problem, should it come up.

    On a computer that is running Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, or Windows Server 2003, one or more problems may occur after you install the critical update that is discussed in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS05-051. These problems include the following:
    The Windows Installer service may not start.
    The Windows Firewall Service may not start.
    The Network Connections folder is empty.
    The Windows Update Web site may incorrectly recommend that you change the Userdata persistence setting in Microsoft Internet Explorer.
    Active Server Pages (ASP) pages that are running on Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) return an “HTTP 500 – Internal Server Error” error message.
    The Microsoft COM+ EventSystem service will not start.
    COM+ applications will not start.
    The computers node in the Microsoft Component Services Microsoft Management Console (MMC) tree will not expand.
    Authenticated users cannot log on, and a blank screen appears after the users apply the October Security Updates.

    For a complete description and resolution instructions, read KB article 909444.



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    IT Security | Tech
    Friday, 14 October 2005 20:07:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    If you happen to have the .NET Framework 2.0 pre-release installed on a Tablet PC and you've noticed reliability and/or stability problems using the Microsoft Ink functionality on your Tablet, Microsoft has released an update to fix some compatibility problems:

    "Compatibility issues (events not firing, classes being disfunctional) with CLR2.0 have been found in Windows XP SP1/SP2 versions of Microsoft.Ink.dll on Tablet PCs. Since this dll is a system file on these configurations, they require update through Windows Update."


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    Tablet PC | Tech
    Friday, 14 October 2005 06:59:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Wednesday, 12 October 2005

    So negative you are. Lighten up you must.

    So - Before you say Microsoft sucks one more time, just let yourself laugh at what some of its employees manage to come up with from time to time.

    Case in point: YODA, the programming language

    Matt Warren posted his idea to build a programming language in Yoda-like English (can't quite call it plain English, can you?).

    From Matt's post:


     

    Instead of the cryptic c-like syntax below:

     

     

    public void Main(string[] args) {

       Console.WriteLine(“Hello World”);

    }

     

     

    We will now have eloquent YODA-like syntax:

     

     

    (args of string many are they) Main is what they seek yet return they do not.

     

    Brace you must

         Written it is, the Console. “Hello World”

     

     

    I know it’s difficult to believe, as strange as it seems. Yet, sometime in the future, everyone will be writing software this way. Knowing this, it makes my work so much more invigorating. I can literally feel the electricity in the air around here. It’s like some queer energetic force.

     


    Go read the comments. They're just as good.

    And by the way, for the record it only takes a little looking around to find out that Matt Warren isn't 100% joker. His real job has had him working at Microsoft with a supremely talented team on LINQ, which is "a set of extensions to the .NET Framework that encompass language-integrated query, set, and transform operations. It extends C# and Visual Basic with native language syntax for queries and provides class libraries to take advantage of these capabilities." I barely understand that, but I know it lets me (well, more like those code artists around me) do some cool querying of data in XML file, relational databases, in-memory data stores, whatever - which is cool. It's kinda like SQL syntax in .NET, is what it looks like to me. Linq is short for "language-integrated query." Makes sense. It's all for the next versions of C# and VB.NET.

    [via Philippe Cheng [who also taught me some mad new beginner programming skillz today], via analog data transfer by Matt Lapworth]



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    Humor | Random Stuff | Tech
    Wednesday, 12 October 2005 20:31:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    Google-toothIt must be true. I read it on the Internet. On a blog even.

    It looked pretty convincing, really. Someone started a blog called Google Tooth in September, under the guise of being Google's first live-in, on-site dentist. A plausible possibility, when you consider the benefits Google offers its employees.

    But it's not for-real.

    Google has already confirmed it's a fake, but the real fun is in figuring it out without asking the newest Internet giant for their two cents on the matter. Of course, the one group you can count on to do just that is a bunch of weblog readers. Not to mention real Google employees.

    The most obvious tell-tale giveaway was an image that was posted on the Google Tooth blog, ostensibly of the new office space (click the image below to go to the blog entry):

           GoogleToothOfficeFake

    Nice use of color and open space, eh? Only problem with the image is this photo from the SUNY Stony Brook web server (click the image to load it from the sunysb.edu server):

           DentalOffice

    Amazing and uncanny resemblance. What do you figure the odds are?

    This was a harmless enough - and even amusing - fake blog. Don't be surprised though if it ends up rubbing some people the wrong way. Fake blogs threaten some and amuse others. I thought it was creative and funny.

    But people do get fooled:

    Or maybe it's real and the trick is that people are saying it's not real, but what they're saying is actually the part that's not real.

    Yeah, that's it.



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    Blogging | Random Stuff
    Wednesday, 12 October 2005 19:42:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Tuesday, 11 October 2005

    Interested in checking out and beta testing the next version of Hotmail (code-named Kahuna)? Willing to provide feedback? Microsoft's newest web-mail client is in testing and the poll of testers is being expanded. You can sign up to be considered for testing here:

    http://www1.imagine-msn.com/minisites/hotmail/Default.aspx

    You can also see a few scrren snips and descriptions of some of the new features here.

    Omar Shahine (Hotmail "front door" program manager and all-around good guy) posted the link to the signup on his weblog.



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    Tech
    Tuesday, 11 October 2005 19:30:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    None last month, but nine security patches were released today for Patch Tuesday - three critical, four important and two moderate severity. So, do your testing where needed and then go get all patched up.

    November Security Bulletins:

    Critical
    MS05-050 - Vulnerability in DirectShow Could Allow Remote Code Execution
    MS05-051 - Vulnerabilities in MSDTC and COM+ Could Allow Remote Code Execution
    MS05-052 - Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer

    Important
    MS05-046 - Vulnerability in the Client Services for Netware Could Allow Remote Code Execution
    MS05-047 - Vulnerability in Plug and Play Could Allow Remote code Execution and Local Elevation of Privilege
    MS05-048 - Vulnerability in the Microsoft Collaboration Objects Could Allow Remote Code Execution
    MS05-049 - Vulnerabilities in Windows Shell Could Allow Remote Code Execution

    Moderate
    MS05-044 - Vulnerability in the Windows FTP Client Could Allow File Transfer Location and Tampering
    MS05-045 - Vulnerability in Network Connection Manager Could Allow Denial of Service



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    IT Security | Tech
    Tuesday, 11 October 2005 18:17:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    Note: The Dyn-O-Mat web site is now a different product, so all links have been removed from this article.

    Hurricanes are certainly a hot topic these days, and the destruction that they can cause we've all come to see and know. A company called Dyn-O-Mat has developed a product that absorbs water into a gel, then drops to the ground. One cool thing about their product is that when it hits salt water, it liquefies again and dissipates, supposedly harmlessly.

    Apparently the company already used the formulated polymer product to take a thunderstorm off the radar back in the summer of 2001, and they hope now to use it to combat hurricanes, probably in their early stages, or to reduce the severity of an existing one.

    "The way the Dyn-O-Mat team is going after the storm is by using what is called a 'Venturi Action.' The Venturi Action can be described as a pie-shaped piece that will be cut from the outer band into the eye of the storm. The intended result of this action is to allow the system to use it's own strength on itself. Essentially disrupt the cell, in hopes of significantly weakening the devastating power of the storm."

    I saw the product demo'ed on a television news show this morning, and it looks very interesting. It does what they say - load a bunch of water into a bowl with a little bit of the Dyn-O-Mat product in it, and the water is instantly sucked into the gel. Someone should load a bunch of C130s or C5s up with that stuff, drop it over a section of big storm out in the middle of the ocean somewhere, and see what happens. What the heck.

    Now, I don't know how I feel - ethically that is - about shutting down random storms on a whim, since they're a part of how the world works and all. But I suppose if there was a bad one that was clearly going to kill lots of people, this product could prove to be a very good thing. The hard-core Darwinians among us may disagree, but my opinion is that if it's safe and saves lives, it's worth checking out.

    Dyn-O-Mat storm-fighting web page: (removed as expired)



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    Tuesday, 11 October 2005 03:19:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Sunday, 09 October 2005

    Sounds like tomorrow will be the day DirecTV announces their own branded and created PVR/satellite receiver combo unit, thereby leaving TiVo behind as their PVR enabler. Subscribers who already own DirecTiVo devices don't need to worry (they'll keep working), and it sounds like customers of the company may still be able to order TiVo-enabled receivers if they specifically ask for them (TiVo's the only option for recording DirecTV's HD programming, although there's not a whole lot of HD channels available, even nowadays... Can someone bring back VOOM?).

    From nytimes.com: "DirecTV's standard DVR, originally set to be released this past June, will be introduced in late October, and another model featuring high-definition service will be introduced in mid-2006. The standard DVR will feature up to 100 hours of recordable space, compared with TiVo's 70 hours."

    DirecTV will be spending some $30 million promoting their new PVR. I hope it's better than the crippled DirecTiVo units, but I'm not holding my breath. Mostly I just want one company to give me a really good, solid reason to fire DishNetwork as my service provider.

    How to do that? Well here's a start:

    • Receive and record HD programming. Including locals over the satellite. Seriously. I live just outside the range where I can receive OTA locals, and you already provide the standard def signal. Help a guy out, here.
    • Record by program name and subscriptions to record all episodes of a program (like the season pass). Dish promised this on the HD PVR receiver I have, then didn't deliver. Ugh.
    • Longer Live-TV replay/pause buffer (I hear rumor the new DTV receiver will have this feature)
    • Give me native MediaCenter PC compatibility, damn it - I'm sick and tired of these won't-work-together, closed systems. It freakin' sucks dealing with virtual brick walls between all my technology devices, and I don't like it enough to where I won't buy unless you fix this problem.

    But I don't want to switch from one inadequate provider to another. You have to convince me for real this time. In this market space, the historically slow-moving development and general mediocrity of it all is rather - uhhh - underwhelming. Someone "wow" me - please...



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    Tech
    Sunday, 09 October 2005 13:43:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    A friend asked me the other day about credit counseling, because she's trying to get her financial life squared away after some hard times. I figured this was a good place to put down some related thoughts, even though it's not tech-related. It's an important topic for many. You have to be very careful these days what you're getting yourself into, especially now that the new federal "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act" is about to go into effect (November 17th). The act requires participating in some form of credit counseling (no one if sure what that means yet, of course) before one can declare bankruptcy. It also changes who can file which forms of bankruptcy based on median income levels, ability to pay and other factors. It's probably a good thing, but the whole credit counseling requirement is a potentially confusing and fraudulent mess.

    The problem is this - While the "consumer credit counseling" industry has many worthwhile players, it is also plagued by a whole slew of useless, harmful and downright fraudulent thieves. Not all companies that offer "credit counseling" are legitimate. When it comes down to brass tacks, if you owe someone money, you owe the money. Negotiating settlements is always a possibility, but you do so at a cost, and unless an organization has a program to work with you to change your financial habits and learn how to budget, it's a big waste of time - and potentially a rip-off in the making.

    Chances are very good that any company that promises to "repair" your credit score/record, when the entries that appear in your credit report are accurate and valid, is counting on the possibility that you're a sucker and is trying to take advantage of your emotional situation. Unfortunately, these rip-off businesses charge people who are already in financial straits serious amounts of money for a service and promises that they almost certainly can't deliver on. Don't do it.

    Only false information can be reliably removed from a credit report, and even that often takes a bit of effort and a chunk of your time. If you want to "fix" your credit, there's one way to do it: Pay off your debts, pay the bills yourself (firms that offer to make payments for you are notorious for being late, which shows up as a black mark on your credit report), and make all of today's and tomorrow's payments early or on-time. It takes an extended period of time (like as in months or years) for a credit score to improve, and there is no overnight repair possible when you've made bad financial decisions. It sucks to hear that, but it's the truth. Most people who end up in credit hell are also the people who can't stand the thought of putting a few years of effort in to improve their situation. They want results right now, or in the very near future. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Come to grips with that fact and accept that you can start making a difference today and see some very real long-term results down the road.

    Most importantly, don't fall prey to "credit repair" and "credit counseling" companies that want to take your money up front and make promises they can't deliver on. Check out any companies you think you might want to work with in depth and before you engage them. Non-profit organizations are out there to help, but unless you're careful it might be difficult to tell them apart from the sharks. Don't fall prey.

    NOTE: The United States Dept. of Justice has a list of approved credit counseling agencies by state. They also have information online about choosing a credit counselor.

     



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    Sunday, 09 October 2005 11:48:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Friday, 07 October 2005

    My broadband phone service, which is purchased through Vonage, is better than ever after they recently sent me a new Linksys terminal adapter to replace the old Motorola one. Turns out that old device was wreaking havoc on call quality and reliability (big time). It even prevented my non-voice traffic from working reliably. But with the new hardware in place, all is well.

    In fact, it's so good I actually completely forgot it was VoIP service for a while. I think that's saying something, really. When you can call and download and everything just works, you know someone's done something right.

    So, for now you can chalk me up as one happy guy when it comes to my phone service. And that's better than it used to be, for sure.



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    Friday, 07 October 2005 10:24:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Thursday, 06 October 2005

    RSS-UsersYahoo! and Ipsos Insight just published a study that shows there are more than six times as many unaware RSS users as there are people who know they're using it. These are some numbers that are worth thinking about.

    In the report, "RSS - Crossing into the Mainstream," here's what we find out:

    • 12% of users are aware of RSS.
    • 4% of users have knowingly used RSS.
    • There's some interesting information hidden in the demographics of different RSS users (aware, unaware, podcast consumers, etc.).
    • One figure that stands WAY out: Of "unaware" RSS users, 72% get their RSS through My Yahoo! and 41% through My MSN.
    • "Aware" RSS users subscribe to an average of 6.6 feeds each. Ummmm, more proof that I'm an addict I guess???
    • and lots more...

    It's clear that when you have an app that by its very nature makes it easy to consume RSS content, it no longer matters to the end user that RSS is the delivery vehicle. Many of the people benefiting from RSS don't even know what RSS is. All that matters to those kinds of people is the content. And believe it or not, we're not all uber-geeks.

    So, it's a very good thing(TM) that IE7, Safari, Firefox and even the new versions of the operating systems we all use will support RSS natively (or already do). And with more browsers right around the corner, the line between app and content is getting blurrier all the time.

    Read the full 12-page report here, or the one-page brief synopsis here (both links are PDF docs).



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    RSS Stuff | Tech
    Thursday, 06 October 2005 19:51:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Wednesday, 05 October 2005

    And you thought GMail was a good deal...

    1TerabyteMailDetailMailNation is offering ad-free email accounts, ONE TERABYTE in size. That's 1,000 GIGABYTES. GMail's accounts are like 1/400th the size of that. And you don't need an invitation. Uh, wow. I just signed up for mine.

    Web mail, POP3, IMAP - you choose. Sign up here.

    1TerabyteMail
    (click to enlarge)

    Here's the feature list from the MailNation site:

    • FREE 1000GB Email (POP3/IMAP Access)
    • 10MB attachment limit!
    • Address Book/Notes/Tasks Spam Preventing Features For Your Protection
    • WAP Access - Mobile Device (http://www.mailnation.net:90/mail/wap)
    • Auto Message Responders & Auto Forwarders
    • Multiple Web-Interface Styles & Multiple Languages Supported
    • Always Count On Our Highly Ranked Email System & Server Reliability
    • Sophisticated Search For Email Messages
    • Never Have To Delete Again (Large Email Box)
    • HelpDesk Ticket System For User Help, Comments, And Updates
    • All emails (outgoing/incoming) are protected by TrendMicro Server Protect and Avast! AntiVirus (Dual Protection)
    • Support Hotline

    (via TechBlog)



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    Random Stuff | Tech
    Wednesday, 05 October 2005 19:44:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    Arcs of Fire - Tablet PC GameGot a Tablet PC and wondering about games on the platform? Yeah, me too. Recently I've been thinking about the Tablet PC platform in general (I have had four different models in the past few years) and what could make a difference in terms of more real reasons to need one (as opposed to want one, but hey - I suppose 'want' counts for something, too).

    Some games have incidental (as opposed to direct and intentional) support for the Tablet PC, but what games are out there that are designed specifically for the Tablet? I know it's hard to design and build expensive games for an audience that won't let you recover your dev costs, but someone has to start somewhere. Microsoft should really push this envelope harder.

    I did some searching around, and discovered one that I missed before. It's called Arcs of Fire - and appears to be written in C#. It's made up of a game engine, the Tablet Game SDK, and the Tablet PC SDK. Tied together, the combined platform makes for a game environment that lets you leverage all kinds of features of the Tablet PC - like pen pointing, ink and drawing, and screen rotation. On the web site, there are whitepapers, video tutorials and overviews (see the documentation section), and a whole slew of other technical information about the game.

    Heck, the Arcs of Fire web site is cool in and of itself - when I go to provide my info to download the game package (which weighs in at 50MB), I am presented with text input boxes that sense my Tablet pen input device. I write in ink, and the web site code leverages the Tablet bits (the TIP, I imagine?) to convert my ink to text by default - very cool.

    The site's ink-enabled forums allow you to write handwritten forum posts. It's a bit hard (read: impossible) to index those in search engines (including the forum search), but the concept and execution are quite well done. The ASP.NET source for the ink forums is also available for download.

    Granted, you have to use IE to do these fancy things, but hey - someone should be able to fix that problem...

    The Game

    Oh, that's right - there's a game on this site... The source code for the game is available on the download page for anyone who wants to tackle that. After downloading and running the MSI installer, which includes a distribution of the required DirectX 9, you're presented with a rather nifty game. It's simple, to be sure, and it takes some getting used to. But for a tank-vs-tank battle, it's an interesting gameplay experience.

    It's not much more than what you're used to in shoot-the-other-tank games with third-person, cross-section view. The difference here is that you use the pen to fire your ammo at the other side. Pressure, speed and inking gestures all make a difference in how your rounds get fired at your enemy. Background music and sounds effects make it more fun.

    I'd say this is a good start to something bigger and better, for sure. I was mostly (and pleasantly) surprised to find a site and game that are geared directly at the Tablet PC user. Makes me wonder what other games would lend themselves well to Tablet PC deployment. Maybe use the pen to draw your strategy plan for the Terrans to annihilate the Zergs? Or maybe draw your next play from the virtual huddle?

    Check it out at http://www.arcsoffire.com/

    Choose your player screen
    Choose your player name (click to enlarge)

    Game screen
    Game screen (click to enlarge)



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    Tablet PC | Tech
    Wednesday, 05 October 2005 16:00:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Monday, 03 October 2005

    I subscribe to a VoIP telephone service, and I used to be a law enforcement officer, so this recent news was especially interesting to me when it was made official a little while back. The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released a decision in which the commission rules that commercial VoIP providers are subject to the same wiretap laws under CALEA as other phone providers. In other words, is a VoIP system interconnects to the switched telephone network, law enforcement can request a wiretap order from a judge with probable cause.

    But in reading the order, it looks like it only applies - at least for now - to those companies that provide a mechanism to connect their VoIP services to the public switched networks. We'll see how long that lasts - the commission has promised to issue further decisions on the order in the near future. The pertinent section states:

    38. As a result, certain VoIP service providers are not subject to CALEA obligations imposed in today’s Order. Specifically, today’s Order does not apply to those entities not fully interconnected with the PSTN. Because interconnecting with the PSTN can impose substantial costs, we anticipate that many of the entities that elect not to interconnect with the PSTN, and which therefore are not subject to the rules adopted in today’s Order, are small entities. Small entities that provide VoIP services therefore also have some control over whether they will be have to be CALEA compliant. Small businesses may still offer VoIP service without being subject to the rules adopted in today’s Order by electing not to provide an interconnected VoIP service.

    You can read the full ruling here: FCC 05-153 (PDF file)

    Ya gotta love the acronyms these days...

    • CALEA = Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act
    • VoIP = Voice over Internet Protocol
    • FCC = Federal Communications Commission


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    Tech
    Monday, 03 October 2005 19:40:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    AjaxbookOkay, so granted, it's not the first DHTML/Javascript book, but "Foundations of Ajax" is the first (that I can find, anyhow) book extolling the virtues and details of building Ajax web applications. It's still listed as pre-order on Amazon, but on Apress you can purchase and download the eBook right now for only $20 (regular book price is $40). the PDF version is about 38 megabytes in size and 260 pages in length. The whole Ajax thing is cool in my mind, and I have been doing a lot of reading about it lately. Ever since Outlook Web Access on Exchange 2003 and then Google Maps came out, I've been pretty amazed at what you can do with this technology. Now there's lots of interesting apps that run in a web browser, a little more than thin client, but not really a fat client either.

    So, go get this book and start to put that XMLHttpRequest object to work for you. Go build something usable and cool. Probably the one big thing that impressed me about this book was the fact that it pushes a test-driven/test-first approach to development (using JSUnit) and the fact that it has so many detailed, in-depth code samples and discussions. It doesn't just present code samples though. It takes you through the how's and the why's, which is cool.

    What's this Ajax stuff, anyhow, you ask? From the book description:

    "Google Maps, Google Suggest, Gmail, Tada List—these are all examples of highly dynamic web applications. In the past, we had an awkward choice: a thick client or a thin client. With a thick client, we got rich user experiences but had to deal with an error-prone and time-consuming deployment process. With a thin client we got ease of deployment but had to sacrifice the user experience.

    "Today we have a third choice: highly dynamic web applications that are nearly as feature-rich as their thick client brethren. Using Ajax techniques, we can provide our customers the rich user experience they have come to expect while still enjoying the ease of deployment that we’ve come to expect.

    "An Ajax application is very similar to the web applications we’re already familiar with. The difference is that it incorporates an “Ajax engine” that negates the start-stop nature of traditional web interaction and drives the whole process along. A quick look at an Ajax application like Google Maps will demonstrate the improvement to user experience very clearly. Gone are the constant page-refreshes and instead, you’re presented with a smooth, responsive interface that seamlessly reacts to your requests.

    "Leading technology companies are adopting these techniques, and pressure is increasing for other companies to do the same in order to compete. The bar has been raised in the web application world, and what was once considered impossible is now being realized. With the help of these revolutionary Ajax techniques and this groundbreaking book as your companion, you can lead the way and get ahead of the game."

    The eBook version is available to buy online now for $20.00, right here (at least at the time of this post).



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    Tech
    Monday, 03 October 2005 19:04:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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    The beginnings of putting some more bite behind the anti-phishing bark are in play. The Governor of California (you all know who he is) today signed a bill into law that makes phishing - the practice of using fake e-commerce web sites to try to trick people into submitting their personal information - punishable with civil penalties.

    "Victims may seek to recover actual damages or $500,000 for each violation, depending upon which is greater. Phishing often involves the use of names of legitimate banks, retailers and financial institutions to convince recipients of bogus e-mail offers to respond."

    This is a good thing, in theory. Federal anti-fraud investigations are driven - like it or not - by the dollar amount associated with the loss. If it's not $100,000 you can't expect a lot of federal action, which makes sense when you consider that there are limited resources ad you have to focus on the biggest crimes.

    Only thing I want to know is this: How are we going to recover judgments from bad guys in Romania and other foreign countries? Fact of the matter is that most all phishers are not in the United States. That's something to think about.



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    IT Security | Tech
    Monday, 03 October 2005 06:25:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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     Sunday, 02 October 2005

    Brian Jones posted an item about the announcement this weekend of the fact that Office 12 applications will all support PDF as an output format natively. This might not seem like much to some, but in reality it's a big deal:

    "The PDF support will be built into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Visio, and InfoPath! I love how well this new functionality will work in combination with the new Open XML formats in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. We've really heard the feedback that sharing documents across multiple platforms and long term archiving are really important. People now have a couple options here, with the existing support for HTML and RTF, and now the new support for Open XML formats and PDF!"

    More here.



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    Office 2003 | OneNote | Random Stuff
    Sunday, 02 October 2005 02:30:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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