Saturday, March 18, 2006

On Computers Server Downtime - Reminder

I have been notified that our hosting center will be shutting down our server on Sunday, March 19, 2006 from Midnight CST to 6:00AM CST to perform some power upgrades.

Please be aware that during this time all services that are housed on this server will be unavailable during this time. This includes the chat server, the newsgroups, On Computers Show Archives, email, and web pages that are hosted on this server.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me.



Anyone want to play a super game of Quake III?

Here's a writeup of a Linux lab where they hacked together a game of Quake III played on 24 monitors connected to a cluster of 12 Linux boxen running two monitors each, in a giant eight-by-three grid.
Thanks Terry B

Volkswagen and Google develop revolutionary navigation system -

Hmmm a VW and Google Earth! Works for me! :)

Windows XP-on-Mac contest declares winner | CNET

A Macintosh enthusiast has managed to load Windows XP on an Intel Mac, nabbing a nearly $14,000 prize.
Thanks to Terry B

Samsung sees $370 million for Vista upgrades - Engadget

The first estimate, that I've seen, of the cost to upgrade to Vista.
From a reuter's article
Samsung estimates it will cost businesses and consumers to upgrade their computers in order to make them Vista-ready. The number is something of a back-of-the-envelope estimate, based on the idea that there were 37 million PCs sold in the US in the last three years, and that 10% of those will be "upgrade candidates," with each upgrade averaging out to about $100 (we assume the other 90% will be tossed into landfills by owners who want brand-new PCs for Vista). To make sure they get a piece of this booty, Samsung plans to offer bundles that will provide both RAM and video upgrades for about $250. If all of this has you thinking there's some kind of conspiracy between Microsoft and its hardware partners to get you to part with your hard-earned cash every few years, banish that notion! If Microsoft really felt that way, they would have released Vista on time, instead of struggling for years to get it out the door.

Samsung sees $370 million for Vista upgrades - Engadget

MP3 Insider: The truth about your battery life

Is this why your battery last so little time?

Thanks brockj49464 in our chat.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Vendors flunk wireless security test

Had to post this one.
By Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service
March 16, 2006

More than half of the wireless networks deployed at the Cebit technology show in Hanover, Germany, last week had no encryption enabled, making the systems behind them prime targets, according to Kaspersky Lab, a security vendor.

New denial-of-service threat emerges

This is a pretty scary variation on the run of the mill DoS attack by bots. It is harder to block and doing so risks blocking legitimate traffic to a degree companies and other organizations might find unacceptable.


Warner HD-DVD titles: April 18th 2006 - HD Beat

There's an official release date! More info at the link in the title.
Are you going to wait or have you already re-submitted your pre-order? Will Toshiba still release the players on March 28th without the movies?

Answer in comments, please.
Warner HD-DVD titles: April 18th 2006 - HD Beat

Making Your Terminal into a Desktop

Subtitled "The Value of Screen", this is a brief Linux tutorial on why one might wish to make the CLI (Command Line Interface) your default desktop. It is quite possible to do this in Linux, and even to view graphics without starting X at all.

I get a fair amount of "stuff" from Joe about my use of the command line. I don't do it anywhere near as much as some folks I know, but I do make good use of it, fairly frequently. There are reasons. If I'm using my laptop, it makes the battery last a lot longer. (I haven't measured, but my best estimate is that the battery lasts well over 50% longer in CLI than with the graphic interface running!) The command line is often faster than performing the same tasks in the graphic environment.

Even Microsoft has admitted that a command line shell is THE place to work at times and will be including a very, very powerful shell (code named "Monad") in at least some versions of Vista and upcoming server releases. After years of trying to eliminate as much of the command line shell as possible, Microsoft listened to their users and will give them this tool, which they need very much.

Read this one, over at Linux Planet and see why I, and many others, use the CLI as much as we do. I still have machines (yes, plural) without any type of graphic capability at all and, frankly, love them as text entry devices.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reply to Ken's Comment On the Verbatim Store 'n' Go

After Ken's comment on my (and Verbatim's) claim that a work session on a PC involving the Verbatim Store "n" Go device left behind no trace, I did a little investigating.

Using a virtual installation of Windows XP, I took both software and and data off the Verbatim device, edited 3 images, generated one word processor document and edited several text files. I then closed the session and went looking. There is indeed a trace or three left behind. I found 9 registry keys and several files in swap with no header information (as is the case in regular deletions).

So there is a trace left behind, though I will not say Verbatim's claim is false. There is no obvious indication a user has been on the PC. A forensic examination will indeed reveal the session has taken place and might even allow recovery of some files from the swap area, though I was not able to recover any, using a simple software approach.

I think Verbatim's claim is based on the idea that the next user or regular user of the machine will not notice anything left behind, which is entirely true. That is their goal and they have met it.

In conclusion; if one is working on highly sensitive materials, it might be a better idea to wait until you got to a PC you control to do it. But if one simply needs to catch up on mail and some work, the Store 'N' Go device is perfect, with only that caveat.


Latest update to Google's refusal to submit to a fishing expedition.

Judge to Order Google to Turn Over Some Records
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Google Inc.'s legal showdown with the Bush administration over the right to protect the privacy of its audience and trade secrets appears to be tilting in the Internet search engine's favor, even though a federal judge has signaled he will order the company to turn over some records to the government.

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware repeatedly emphasized his sensitivity to Google's concerns during a Tuesday court hearing. It concluded with Ware saying he intends to give the U.S. Justice Department a peek at a sliver of the online search engine leader's vast database.

T. Barton Carter, a communications and law professor at Boston University, said the concerns raised by Ware should be heartening to privacy rights advocates, but cautioned against reading too much into the judge's comments until he releases his order.

''What's going to be important is whether he limits the information (given to the government) and whether he explains why he drew the line where he did,'' Carter said.

I was pleased to see the update, and thought that you would wanna know.
Judge to Order Google to Turn Over Records - New York Times
Hat tip to Sue.

Wired News:'Free IPod' Takes Privacy Toll

Apparently Gratis Networks, who were doing gobs of Free "pretty much whatever you might want" I saw the ipods, of course, and there were xbox360s, I kinda ignored any other "free" offers , after a while...oops, I got distracted.
Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, "announced Monday that e-mail marketing giant Datran Media had agreed to a $1.1 million fine for knowingly buying marketing lists from companies with privacy policies that promised not to sell or transfer the lists to a third party."

The thing that struck me immediately, was that Datran Media got fined for purchasing a list. Gratis internet didn't get punished (yet, we can hope?) for renting lists.... I just read the article, haven't clicked on any of the more in-depth links. But, that puzzled me. Any enlightenment, please post in the comments.

Wired News:'Free IPod' Takes Privacy Toll

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jack Eats Humble Pie re; Virtualization on Desktop

It hasn't been all that long since I poured verbal cold water on the idea of virtualization on the desktop becoming common. I've been studying virtualization both as a technology and as a market force now for several weeks and I find I must admit I was wrong and just how wrong I was.

What convinced me I was wrong was not my reading, but rather a device Andy Markham sent the cast members after he was on the show. It's called the "Verbatim Store 'n' Go". Basically, it's a one gigabyte flash memory stick with a twist; You can take enough of your home Windows desktop, including settings, software and data, with you to work in your chosen environment and with your choice of tools on any other Windows PC. And when you leave that PC, none of your data or settings stay behind. You leave no footprint at all! Not a trace of your presence remains. All this is due to some clever software, including a sort of micro operating system. It's a very cool tool and priced very affordably.

Extend that idea just a little bit, as will undoubtedly happen in the normal course of events. Imagine that when you buy or build a PC, there is no operating system as we know it installed. Instead, there will be a "hypervisor", which is the current buzz-word for the host OS in a virtualization scheme. And we can carry a device very much like the Verbatim one, only larger, which contains our chosen operating environment, data and whatever software we choose, making it possible to work on our own PC without our own PC! Plug in your USB device, give it a minute (probably a lot less than a minute) to boot up and you're ready to go. Anything too large to be carried with you on the device would be available over the Internet using a built-in VPN setup to access your home machine.

If the hypervisor is well implemented, any user could use literally any work environment they chose on any PC. Like Linux? How about the Mac OS X? You could run them all on the same hardware. No problem at all. Companies like Microsoft will jump at the chance to implement this. Why? Well, because the OS and software are not tied to any hardware, they can be made to expire. You pay by the year and the software publishers get a very much evened-out revenue stream. And rolling out a new OS every few years might also become a thing of the past. Instead, new features will be added yearly, or even quarterly, in a gradual way, so as not to rock the user's or the IT department's collective boats.

A company could standardize file formats and write applications in "OS neutral" languages like Java, RealBASIC, Python and C# and even workers using the company's hardware would be free to use whichever environment they chose, without affecting the company at all. Just load the appropriate runtime environment and get to it.

The PC makers will like it, as well. They only have to cater to a hypervisor, instead of an operating system with a user interface. The hypervisor is much cheaper to develop or buy and, given decent standards are adopted, the PC maker can capitalize on that. There is so little profit margin in PC manufacture that I should think the companies would welcome not having to bundle any software at all. They can make a further profit on selling the devices that hold the OS, etc. to the users and if they wish to bundle software, that is where it will be done. (Though I suspect that this setup will be the end of bundling, simply because it is such a pain for the companies involved.)

From my small experience with virtualization, I can imagine that if a virtualization setup is well written and implemented, it will be almost impossible for the "guest" OS and it's software to bring down or lock up the machine, too. You might have to issue a command to force quit an application once in a while, but the underlying hardware and software will hum happily along. True crashes will be very nearly a thing of the past. And if trouble does happen in that scenario, a very rapid reboot is possible because the hypervisor is still going strong and it's connection to the hardware is unbroken, so nothing needs to be initialized again. Only the guest environment and software need restarting.

Changes or upgrades in hardware will require modification to the hypervisor, but that probably will entail no more work or bother than a change in drivers does now. No changes to the "guest" device would be necessary as the hypervisor handles all interaction with the hardware.

I do believe I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out. And if I'm wrong, you listeners are allowed to laugh.


Talking Computers Just Around the Corner

Elizabeth Millard has written a very nice piece about speech recognition for and I recommend it highly.

It's rather obvious that speech recognition is advancing faster than handwriting recognition is. That's a shame because I can easily imagine the tablet PC with good handwriting and speech recognition as THE machine for the road warrior to have. (This even though that person is going to be the absolute least desired seat-mate on the airplane, unless they start letting folks use their cell phones during flights.)

There has been a lot of steady progress made since I was fooling with Via Voice in SuSE Linux 6.2. I'm half tempted to get one of the companies mentioned in the article to cough up a sample so I can see just how far things have come.



Just in case you don't have enough feeds to fill your waking hours with podcasts, Todd Cochrane of GeekNewsCentral has released this new website with up to 2 minute podcast promos. Another use, might be by the person who "engineers" our audio to download and play some of these during the half hour breaks (hint, hint). But they'd have to read the blog. *snark* I put this at the end so you have to read the whole post to get it ;)

PodcastPromos - Welcome

Analyzing the Crossover Virus

Subtitled "The First PC to Windows Handheld Cross-infector", this multi-page article covers much more ground than the title implies.

The author is a principal of MARA (Mobile Anti-virus Research Assn.), which has come under some criticism recently for not sharing some bits of malicious code with other researchers unless they joined MARA. Membership in MARA is free, though it is my understanding that the agreement you must sign to join places burdensome restrictions on some researchers.

Aside from that, the article tells some of the "nuts and bolts" details of recent mobile infectious code. It's worth the read, and enduring the author's defensive tone regarding MARA. If you read it closely, as I did, you will in all liklihood find it scary. These threats are the coming thing and will require quite a bit of vigilance and some crafty software tools to keep us safe. Do not be led to complacency by the relative crudeness of the code in this example. This type of malware is growing in both sophistication and in numbers of attacks, very rapidly.


Beyond Silicon: Intel is Exploring New Semiconducter Materials

The link is to an article on the MIT Technology Review site. In it, there is a lightweight treatise on how silicon has it's limitations as a material for computer chips and just a bit of the how and why Intel is looking at new materials for this use.

This is hardly the kind of article you and I can use, but it does tell you a bit about research now going on which may affect the computers we use in a few years. If you have an interest in that, check this one out.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Everybody's Doing It! A Backup Story

We're always harping on backup, so I thought I'd point out this story of an HP executive who does a weekly backup for his whole family. It's a short and pleasant read.


Tyan brings supercomputing to the desktop

Alright; Jane, Joe, Pete, Gail, Riley and Aaron, here's what I want for my birthday. Get them now, while demand has yet to build.

It's a whole 'nother class of machine, as The Inquirer points out in the short article linked to above. The small form factor means I could put it into the space under my desk now occupied by two PCs and have quite a bit more power than all our computers combined to bark my shins on when I roll up in the chair.

Up to 16 cores, oodles of memory and all sorts of cooling capacity in a package most of us could find room for anywhere, even in the smallest cubicle. The Inquirer bit points out a few rough edges in this implementation, but they are liveable and will probably vanish before the rest of the cast has to start shopping for my present.

Expect to see more of these sorts of machines soon. I suspect we should call them "super workstations" or some other such moniker that affirms their use in the office, rather than the data center.


HD-DVD might not be ready, but Netflix is - HD Beat

I mentioned in the chat Sunday, how disappointed I was in SD (480i/Standard Definition (I think)) DVDs on an HDTV. I guess the HD TV signals I've been watching have spoiled me. To point out that I am doing this for more than selfish reasons. ;) I know at least of couple of our listeners/chatters use netflix, and I know at least a couple of our listeners/chatters have HDTVs, so in what I hope is a happy nirvana for several? of our participants, Netflix now has an option for HD DVDs.
From the accounts page under "Formats" you can configure your HD DVD options , such as if you have a HD DVD player and if you always want a HD DVD instead of DVD when available. There is now even a format column on your queue so you can see which HD DVD's are in your queue.

They say that HD DVD will be an option in March, but will there be players for them by then?
As a commenter pondered, will this increase wait times for the DVD arrival?
I'm curious about the same thing.
Does this mean a vote against Blu-Ray?
Does this mean I don't get to watch Sony DVDs? Is this a loss? :)
3/28/2006 is the first of Warner Home Video HD DVD launches.
Universal says March, 2006.
May 2006 is about when the first Blu Ray movies are gonna come out.
And more, more, more info at Wikipedia HD-DVD.
Please post corrections and opinions in the comments.
HD-DVD might not be ready, but Netflix is - HD Beat
UPDATE: reports HD-DVD movies: not coming soon.
Warner Home Video -- the only studio that had set a firm date for a rollout of HD-DVD movies -- has now backed off and won't commit to a specific timetable.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Demo XGL Today With the Kororaa LiveCD!

When Microsoft said there would be no support for OpenGL in Vista, one had to wonder if cards for the Mac OS X (which uses OpenGL natively) and Linux were going to become niche items, destined to second class citizenship or premium prices, or both. This new XGL (stands for eXtended OpenGL) puts a fair amount of pressure on graphics adapter companies to get (or stay) on the GL bandwagon.

I've seen it. It's spectacular, to say the least. And it offloads more of the video from the cpu than any other scheme, meaning there will be a significant performance boost to the system, even as it delivers what may well be the richest 3D display around. XGL is definitely on a par with, or ahead of, the display used in the Mac OS X. That means there is pressure on MS to deliver an even better desktop, yet they are sticking with a scheme for graphics that demands a much higher performance graphics adapter.


Watercooled XBox360 Shuttles onto mortal coil

While there are a lot of interesting things being pushed at CeBIT, this year, I really don't figure it's our job to point you to very many of them, as there are loads of sites doing nothing but that. This one has to be an exception, though.

It's a self-contained watercooling unit. It's shown fitted into a PC and an XBox 360. Not only does it have no tubing, but the article suggests it will be even smaller than shown by the time it is in it's final shape.

I've worked with unitized cooling rigs in other fields and, frankly, have long wondered why they were not an option in computers. Evidently there were some challenges posed by the size, which is about an order of magnitude smaller than anything I have worked with previously. Still, they're here and I'll bet we will be seeing a lot of them as time goes on.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

OnComputers Radio show Podcast 03-12-06

This is the On Computers Radio show podcast for 03-12-06. If you prefer, you can download the same file here via ftp.

Bad Astronomy Blog:NASA gone open source?

Wow, this is pretty nifty: NASA is looking into going open source for a lot of their software. Of particular interest is their World Wind software, which is a "Google Earth"-type app, and is very cool. I love things like this: a highly-skilled and well-funded group can put together an amazing engine for software, and by making it open source they can have legions of people adding their own stuff to it. Google Earth has lots of add-ons (or plugins or whatever you want to call them) which make it an extremely versatile and fun piece of software. I expect NASA can do pretty well here too!

I thought this would be of interest to several here.

Bad Astronomy Blog : Blog Archive : NASA gone open source?