Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Minority Report’-type Interface Debuts with Microsoft ‘Surface’

Remember Minority Report? A Tom Cruise movie, based on a Philip K. Dick short story, with one of the cool things being able to interface with a computer using gestures only. It was a vertical interface, and it was virtual. What we have here is a table-top (shades of old-style video games in pizza parlors!) interface, no keyboard, no mouse, dubbed ‘Surface’, and supposedly, opening the doors to ’surface computing.’ Surface will be demoed today at the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference.
"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said. We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision."

In its current form, Surface is incorporated into a 30" display mounted into a table. This allows user involvement to expand beyond just one person. Surface is capable of recognizing input from not just one finger, but multiple up to dozens of inputs simultaneously. Source: DailyTech
It’s cool that multiple users can interact with the screen at once. Though of course, at about $10K a pop, the price isn’t so cool. But initially the target is places like casinos, hotel lobbies, and restaurants. There is a demo available for viewing here.



Tuesday, May 29, 2007

U.S. BroadBand Average an Abysmal 1.9Mbps

SnailI suppose I should be happy with what I have, but still. Generally I get 5Mbps and sometimes up to 12Mbps from Comcast. But compared to average speeds of 61Mbps from Japan and 7.6Mbps from Canada … it’s really annoying.

The organization conducted its own download/upload speed tests online, which were taken by roughly 67,000 people across the country, and concluded that the average download speed in the US was 1.9Mbps. According to CWA president Larry Cohen, “the results are deeply troubling.”

The data, says the CWA, is in in stark contrast to broadband speeds available in other countries. The organization compared its own survey data to numbers provided by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s “Assessing Broadband in America” (PDF) report, which showed that countries such as Japan and even our closest neighbor of Canada have significantly higher broadband download speeds—61Mbps and 7.6Mbps, respectively. Source: Ars Technica

Well, of course, if you ask someone else you get different numbers. The ITIF report, which gives the Canadian and Japanese numbers, says the US average is 4.8Mbps. That doesn’t really make me less annoyed, when I notice that besides Japan at 61 there’s Korea at 45.6Mbps (now we know why they love MMORPGs). :-)



Saturday, May 26, 2007

MySpace Labels Innocent Woman ‘Sex Offender’, Then Gives No Comment

After reading this, I definitely had to write about this. While it’s true that MySpace is cooperating with states and giving them sex offender data, as well as taking down MySpace pages associated with such offenders, if they make a mistake … they need to admit it. In this case a woman was mistakenly labeled as a sex offender, had her page taken down, and MySpace has yet to respond to her … despite the fact that the security company they outsourced some of the work to has said she is innocent.

It took nearly a week for Jessica Davis to get an explanation about why MySpace had labeled her a sex offender and pulled her profile from the social networking Web site.

And when her name was finally cleared, it wasn’t because of anything MySpace did.

“They have a corporate and a moral responsibility to me as far as coming up and saying, ‘We messed up. This is going on. We’re doing what we can to fix it,’” said the 29-year-old, newly engaged University of Colorado senior, a woman who confessed to losing her driver’s license for careless driving a decade ago but insisted she’d never committed a crime to earn the status of sex offender. Source: ABC News

As I said, Sentinel CEO John Cardillo has come to her defense, but MySpace has yet to apologize, or even contact her directly short of “form emails.” The scariest thing is this sort of thing could happen to anyone, even to you and I, and I personally feel that MySpace should come out with a public apology … and be more careful in the future.



Thursday, May 24, 2007

Best Buy Sued by Connecticut Over Deceptive Practices

Remember the allegations over deceptive use of an intranet site (with different pricing) instead of the public Internet site in Best Buy stores? The Connecticut AG has decided, after a couple of months of investigation, to bring a lawsuit against Best Buy.
"Best Buy treated its customers like suckers, not patrons to be prized," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal: a bait-and-switch-plus scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices."

"The company commonly kept two sets of prices – one on its Internet site and an often higher set on its in-store, look-alike, available on kiosks," Blumenthal said. "The in-store site was an Internet look-alike, commonly with higher prices, which were charged to consumers. Best Buy broke its promise to give the best price." Source: eWeek

Throw the book at 'em, I say. If I go into a store, and am shown a site, I expect it to be the right one, as would most people. This is shameless.


Dell to Sell Desktop PCs in Wal-Mart Stores

Wal-Mart StoreIt’s been rumored for a while that as part of the “recovery plan” Dell was instituting, to bring itself back to a leadership role in PCs, it would begin selling in retail channels. Well, if you’re gonna do that, how about picking the biggest retailer? Wal-Mart.

Computer maker Dell Inc. plans to start selling personal computers at 3,000 Wal-Mart stores in the United States and Canada as of June 10, launching a major drive to sell its PCs through retailers, a company spokesman said on Thursday. Source: Reuters

The desktop will be the E521, with and without a monitor. More models to come? Who knows, but this isn’t a gamer’s box so I’m still not tempted to go to Wal-Mart. :-)

Seriously though, this disappoints me, as I am not a fan of Wal-Mart and their poor labor practices (both in the U.S. and abroad with their suppliers). This may affect whether or not I buy Dells in the future.



Monday, May 21, 2007

Cell Phone Radiation Protection with Isabodywear Underwear

Protective UnderwearLast year I wrote about a possible link between cell phone radiation and infertility … well, all your worries could be gone, if you try out this new underwear that purports to protect against cell phone radiation.
The briefs are made with threads of silver which the company claims blocks cell phone rays and reception. The inventor, Andreas Sallmann, explains that when you put a cell phone inside your briefs, then dial your number from another phone, you probably won’t even get a signal. Source: Textually.org
Reading through the article, I found mention of other protective garb by other companies, such as Levi Strauss and anti-radiation lined pockets (but these were announced in 2002 and I haven’t seen anything about them … probably because if you put your phone in your pocket you couldn’t get any calls … kind of an oversight). Despite what Sallmann thinks, however, I usually use voice dialing and leave my phone in its holster, not in my underwear. :-)


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Blizzard Announces Starcraft 2; Korea Goes Nuts

Starcraft II

As Blizzard succinctly says on their own website, “Hell, it’s about time.” At the Blizzard World Wide Invitational event in Korea (where else), Blizzard has announced the long-awaited sequel to the mega-hit (and still addictively played by many!) Starcraft.

Featuring a unique single-player campaign that picks up where StarCraft: Brood War left off, StarCraft II will present a cast of new heroes and familiar faces in an edgy sci-fi story filled with adventure and intrigue. In addition, Blizzard will again offer unparalleled online play through Battle.net, the company’s world-renowned gaming service, with several enhancements and new features to make StarCraft II the ultimate competitive real-time strategy game. Source: Blizzard

You can see artwork here, screenshots here. I thought I felt a seismic tremor earlier today. Most likely all those attendees in Korea stomping their feet or fainting at the news. The release date has been announced, sorta. “As with all Blizzard games, we will take as much time as needed to ensure the game is as fun, balanced, and polished as possible.”

Now, Blizzard, about that next Diablo sequel … :-)



Tuesday, May 15, 2007

eBay Criticized Over Ivory Sales

Although I admit that a) I buy from sellers posting on eBay, and b) I realize that the sheer number of postings on the site makes it difficult for eBay to police them, we’re talking about an endangered species and extinction here. An animal welfare group said they had found and tracked over 2000 ivory items on eBay.
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said it had conducted a survey in Britain, Australia, China, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the United States and tracked more than 2,200 elephant ivory items listed on eBay websites. It found more than 90 percent of the listings breached even eBay’s own wildlife policies.

International wildlife trade laws differ from country to country and are often complex, but according to the IFAW in general it is illegal to sell carved or uncarved ivory unless it is antique and accompanied by a proof of age certificate. Source: Reuters
eBay specificially lists ivory in its Animals and Wildlife Products FAQ, and they do allow some sales (based on the quote “ivory from African elephants may be sold within the United States as long as it was lawfully imported into the United States”).

I wish they would conform to the more strict policy on endangered species listed slightly above that, however ("Endangered or protected species, or any part of any endangered or protected species may not be listed on eBay"). Unfortunately, they do not.


Google to analyze Net Users during online games?

It's no secret that Google, in its Gmail service, posts ads based on text it gleans from scanning your emails. At least, I hope you all knew this. Now, that's one thing, Google, but stay away from scanning my behavior in City of Heroes, will ya?
Internet giant Google has drawn up plans to compile psychological profiles of millions of web users by covertly monitoring the way they play online games.

The plans are detailed in a patent filed by Google in Europe and the US last month. It says people playing online role playing games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft would be particularly good to target, because they interact with other players and make decisions that probably reflect their behaviour in real life.

The information could be used to make adverts that appear inside the game more "relevant to the user", Google says. Source: Guardian Unlimited
Huh. Well, in City of Heroes, all they would get from me is that I really, really hate missions that can't be soloed. I also really hate in-game ads, but that's for another post.


Friday, May 11, 2007

"Everyone Else Does It"

Since I upgraded my laptop to Windows Vista, I've been reinstalling all the software I usually use. I've been hesitating over the image editing software to install, as I own both Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI as well as Ulead PhotoImpact 12. Since Corel has purchased Ulead, they're essentially both Corel products, but Paint Shop Pro Photo (let's just call it PSP, shall we) XI isn't as hard to install (PhotoImpact packages its components into a ton of separate installers), it also installs Protexis licensing software, which runs as a service and does not uninstall when PSP is uninstalled. That is a big pet peeve of mine; if you're uninstalled uninstall everything!

On the other hand, you can disable the service (you also have to remove it from the registry or it will continue to show up in services.msc), delete the files manually and the product will still run ... which makes me wonder why it's even included. I do like the One-Step Photo adjustment feature (PhotoImpact has a similar feature but it's not very easy to find in the menus). However, a bug really soured me on PSP this week.

I downloaded an JPG image from the Internet. Tried to open it, and received a "Not a valid JPEG-JFIF file" error. Huh. But PhotoImpact opened it fine. And so did Paint.NET (freeware).

I submitted a ticket to Tech Support. A few back and forths with Tech Support ... and some investigation with PhotoImpact ... and it turns out the file was really a BMP file, which had been saved and stored on the site with the wrong extension. So PSP couldn't open it. And the explanation they gave me was "a lot of other programs will fail" in the same way.

Hmmm ... maybe, but PhotoImpact, your "cousin" doesn't. Neither does Paint.NET, as I said. It's kinda like when a kid says "Everyone else does it" to which Mom says "If everyone jumped off a bridge, blah, blah." To make a short story long, this kinda made up my mind. Here comes multiple PhotoImpact installers. Now if I could just get them to combine the installers all into one ...


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cox to Test Video-on-Demand with Ad-Skipping Disabled

Tivo LogoI shuddered when I read this. Honestly. After being spoiled by past PVRs as well as my current Tivo, commercial skipping is a necessity nowadays. We almost never watch anything live, or at least delay it until the point where "ok, we can start watching now; it's late enough so we can skip all the commercials". :-)

You may recall I wrote earlier about Philips and their ad-skipping technology. Well, Cox Communications has signed a deal with ESPN and ABC for a video-on-demand (VOD) service. Part of the deal, though, involved making sure people couldn't skip ads ... and while this only affects VOD for now ... and it's only a test ... it's quite possibly a sign of things to come.
The goal with the new program is to increase ad revenue, which broadcasters have been crying foul over since the dawn of PVRs like TiVo. ABC, ESPN and parent company Walt Disney Co. handed Cox the rules to abide by if Cox wanted to have access to hit programs. But Cox isn't showing any concern, and in fact welcomes the restriction.

Reports say that Cox and Disney are still ironing out the details on what kind of ads will play, for how long and how often during a program. None of the above companies mentioned whether or not users will still be able to switch channels when a commercial pops up. Source: DailyTech
Yes, yes, same "feature" possibly as the Philips tech ... no channel changing during ads. Although that's still a rumor, right. Hang on to your old PVRs, people, the newer, better ones might just tick you off in the future, if this becomes de rigeur.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

AOL Shortchanges Your Passwords

It’s bad enough when I’m forced to use a really long password. It’s not like my standard, strong password isn’t long enough for most (10 characters) or strong enough for most (not a word, combination of letters and numbers). And I use Roboform for those rare cases when they ask for specific requirements which I will not remember no matter what. Sometimes I still have to enter a longer one. But what if I choose to enter a long password … and they ignore part of it?

Enter AOL’s latest gaffe. It appears that even though they allow you to enter a password with 16 characters … they only recognize the first 8.
It turns out that when someone signs up for an AOL.com account, the user appears to be allowed to enter up to a 16-character password. AOL’s system, however, doesn’t read past the first eight characters.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said the company was looking into the matter, but didn’t have any comment beyond that.

Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer BT Counterpane, called the set-up “sloppy and stupid.” Source: Washington Post
Nice example given at the Washington Post article, on how this could be really bad (basically, use something easy that takes up 8 characters and add strong stuff after that … symbols and numbers mixed). At any rate … 8 as a limit went out with the 8-character filename limit on DOS. This is pretty bad stuff (though expect it to be fixed soon, since this has now been publicized).


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is IBM Planning Huge Layoffs? It'll be LEAN, and DEFINITELY Mean

It’s a rumor floating around the Internet … and it sounds outrageous … however, in this age of globalization and outsourcing, it wouldn’t surprise me. Although I’ve seen it in more than a few places, the start of the rumor was a Robert Cringley column at PBS.org. It certers around an IBM project called LEAN that, as the name sorta implies, is meant to turn the corporation into a lean, mean profit-making machine that will … short-term … be really good for the stock.

LEAN is about offshoring and outsourcing at a rate never seen before at IBM. For two years Big Blue has been ramping up its operations in India and China with what I have been told is the ultimate goal of laying off at least one American worker for every overseas hire. The BIG PLAN is to continue until at least half of Global Services, or about 150,000 workers, have been cut from the U.S. division.

The point of this has nothing to do with the work itself and everything to do with the price of IBM shares. Remove at least 100,000 heads, eliminate the long-term drag of a defined-benefit pension plan, and the price of IBM shares will soar. Source: I, Cringely

Like I said, this is all a rumor, but I would be remiss if I didn’t post about it … While I am no economist, I have strong feelings about offshoring / outsourcing. While it’s great for the corporation in the short-term, it disenfranchises the American worker and leads to a squeeze on the once-healthy middle class. You only need look at the manufacturing sector to see how a whole sector of jobs has left the country … and if, as some theorize, global warming and peak oil lead to a time where importing of virtually all our manufactured goods is no longer viable, we may regret having dismantled our manufacturing infrastructure.

Further, Cringely makes some good points in the article about how IBM and other tech companies are complaining about the lack of technical workers in the U.S., and thus how the H1B program needs expansion. Here’s your solution, 150K technical workers about the hit the streets! Additionally, as Cringely says, and I have spoken about privately for years, it’s not that technical workers are unavailable but that cheap technical workers are unavailable. As always with corporations, it’s all about the profit (don’t get me wrong, I understand that is what they are supposed to do … make money) … especially since greater profit means greater bonuses for the CEO, right?



Microsoft’s Split-Screen Software … Useful or Useless?

Split Screen


Microsoft’s India Research center has developed software that splits a screen in two, with each side having its own OS, keyboard, mouse, etc. With dual-core and even quad-core processors, there’s enough horsepower in new PCs to make this a viable option. The obvious target audience for this is developing countries, where hardware is at a premium.

“At the most basic level, we are allowing two users to work completely independently on the same machine, sharing both the processor and monitor,” said Udai Singh Pawar, assistant researcher and project leader. Source: Discovery News

All right, I can see myself being distracted by the other part of the screen … besides privacy issues. Plus you’d have to be pretty close to each other in order to see the screen effectively, so “personal space” would be a problem. On the other hand, as targeted, for developing countries, this might be useful. Since the OLPC project has clarified that there are no plans for Windows, is this Microsoft’s answer? :-)



Friday, May 04, 2007

Dell, Intel to Delay Internal Vista Deployment until SP1

My upgrade to Vista is pretty much complete, though I am still tweaking (finding and fixing issues like slow networking copying, etc.) and installing software. It’s interesting that I am upgrading a Dell laptop, and Dell and Intel have both told ZDNet UK that they would be delaying widespread deployment until SP1. In fact, with Intel, they indicate that part of the decision is that most of their employees use laptops, and “Centrino Pro is a far more capable platform [than the previous version of Centrino] based on the performance delivered by the Centrino core.” I haven’t been having any issues with my XPS M1710, but …
Mueller said that Service Pack 1 (SP1) of Vista would be “tied to the [Centrino Pro] platform” within Intel’s internal IT plan, but he suggested that Intel had delayed its Vista rollout in any case, in order to “make sure that all our internal applications operate with Office 2007 and Vista”.

Dell has also not yet rolled out Vista internally although its director of client marketing for EMEA, Eric Greffier, said it is “very close” to doing so. “We are pretty much in the same position as Intel within Dell,” he said on Thursday. Source: ZDNet UK

Well, as I’ve previously said, I don’t see any compelling reason to move to Vista if you are already using XP. Of course, this discussion for Dell and Intel centers around deployment of new HW, but it’s still interesting, nonetheless.

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