Saturday, February 23, 2008

Vista SP1 Hoses Some Applications

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article #935796 tells us that some applications will either experience degraded performance or not run at all after Service Pack 1 (SP1) is installed. You can find it at the link above.

This kind of thing seems to happen to one degree or another with every Windows Service Pack. To be honest, I am not sure whether to be concerned that this time so many security applications are affected or not. Right now, I think the best position to take is to simply stay informed and make plans according to how things look as we get closer to the actual release of the Service Pack.

More than anything, we need clarification of existing information and the results of more testing. I'm sure that will be done, both by Microsoft and their testers.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Disk encryption may not be secure enough, new research finds

It's a huge flaw in the way encryption is executed and there are ways to work around it. Good practice can mitigate some of the risk. The rest may have to be tolerated until the devices we use change in the normal course of things or are changed to eliminate this risk.

The problems is that the encryption keys can be recovered from the computers RAM, even after the computer is shut off! Contrary, though there is some reduction in retention, RAM does not lose all the data stored in it immediately upon shutting down the device. And in hibernation/sleep or suspend states may not lose it at all. The encryption keys can be recovered by astute researchers in many cases.

It's an interesting subject and the methods used to slow degradation of bits stored in RAM were so simple and inexpensive that their elegance will astound.


Intel pushes Raytracing again

I've been interested in ray tracing for over a year now. Apparently the developers concerned with our next generation of video hardware (or the one after that) have settled upon this as the way to do things. This short article will tell you what things.

Ray tracing is orders of magnitude more efficient at yielding "full reality" high definition content. In some ways it takes an awful lot more doing than rasterized images we are drawing now. The processor horsepower needs for ray tracing are staggering, even today. But, as everyone knows; Moore's Law just keeps chugging along and we will easily have that horsepower available to us before all that much more time has passed. And as this article tells us, the economy is to the programmer. She or he gets to write a lot less code to get a lot more effect out of it all. That is the difference. (Ray tracing will also lend itself to more automated ways of tweaking programmed images than we have now. Fill out a form about surface textures, degrees of reflectivity, etc; and the development environment does the rest. The programmers will have a field day.)

It's coming.


Microsoft launches new open standards, interoperability push

This is huge!

Apparently Microsoft has seen which way the wind blows and had a genuine "come to Jesus" moment. In addition to the European Union's efforts to push MS into true interoperability, something fundamental has changed within the company.

I suppose this could be more smoke and mirrors than reality, but I don't think so. They seem really, really serious about it all. The company's press release/announcement is here. and there doesn't seem to be any funny business going on at all. I believe them.

Their covenant not to sue seems all on the up and up and offers rather generous terms to open source companies. Individuals and small organizations fly free.

Lastly; There is a certain smugness at Red Hat, Canonical/Ubuntu and some other Linux organizations. Their refusal to sign patent pledges with Microsoft is now completely vindicated. A short commentary on that can be found here.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trend Micro 2008 forecast for cybercrime.

Needless to say, the forecast is grim.

Even so, I wanted to post this because it seems to agree with what the members of our OnComputers community are reporting and expecting. In a way, this is a sort of kudo to all of you who have contacted us on security matters because it confirms that the things you are seeing are indeed part of the big picture and that you see them correctly.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lamp lit by gravity wins Greener Gadget award

Sometimes I just fall in love with something I find on the web. This is definitely one of those things. It's a lamp powered by gravity. You lift some weight up and as it comes down, it powers the lamp for a half-hour or something like that.

Obviously efficient, it is also just a cool looking device and an obviously cool hack.


The internet as a platform? Not as ISP bloodbath looms

It all boils down to who is going to pay for the bandwidth?

We think we are paying for bandwidth, but the truth is that our "broadband" has been severely oversold by the ISP. They simply cannot deliver the volume of data nor the speeds they have promised to all their customers. The infrastructure is not there. This applies to the US, Canada and a host of other nations besides Britain, which is the actual subject of this article.

As more and more content is available in bandwidth-intensive formats, this is going to be more and more of a problem and we all know that sooner or later, we (the users) are going to end up paying for it in one form or another.


Don't Give Me That Vista Thing!

(Written for another site in January, I thought you might wish to see it here, as they did not use it.)

Bad reputations can be incredibly difficult to overcome and Microsoft's Vista operating system has enough of a bad rep that no one is going to let it date their sister, if you know what I mean.

That's too bad. Not that I'm a Vista booster. I'm not. But Vista is not all bad, by any means, my objections notwithstanding. It will serve a lot of users very well. Probably the vast majority of users, when you get right down to it.

A few days ago, I got a call from a friend. His aunt needed to buy a new computer. The old one died. We chatted for a while about just how to recover her address book and data (something my friend is quite capable of doing but he wanted confirmation of his plan's utility and efficacy). Then we talked about just what she needs from a computer.

She is a heavy email user, participates almost continuously in several IRC chat rooms centered on her various interests, surfs a lot, prints a lot of color photos along with black and white documents in volume. For this she has two printers. A color ink jet and a monochrome laser, along with a standalone scanner. She uses Vonage for most of her phone calls and she plays Sudoku on the machine.

A quick check showed Vista drivers for both printers and the scanner were available. Her display was also supported. As she was already using a simple memory card reader for transferring her photos from her camera to the computer, that was no problem at all. A quick proposal was put together centering on an HP computer equipped with Vista.

Her reaction was swift and definitive; "Don't give me that Vista thing!".

A bit of discussion revealed that she has both read and been told about just how bad Vista is. She had a lot of objections at hand, ready to go. She had been told that Vista was going to prevent her copying images, regardless of their origin. And that Vista would not support her games, scanner or printers. Plus, she had been informed that she would have to learn everything about using her computer all over again.

With such ingrained opposition, the easy course would be to simply purchase a computer equipped with Windows XP, or transfer her to a Mac. (There is no way she would go with Linux.) Instead, her nephew, my friend, simply lent her a laptop with Vista installed. We set her up a user account, installed her games and the appropriate drivers. Only the scanner required a download. The rest were already part of Vista. And we put all her data on it, as well.

A few days use turned her into a Vista enthusiast. The clincher was probably something others won't experience in comparison to their XP machines; greater stability. Her XP computer was never all that stable and would crash on occasion. (My friend and I worked on this and in the end attributed the problems to hardware, rather than the operating system or software. The machine would crash occasionally running a Linux live CD, too.) The Vista laptop, and indeed her new computer, both with Home Premium installed, are more stable than her XP machine was.

So she was converted. The new machine was duly installed and she is very, very happy with it. And features we never thought to point out to her because we take them for granted, like the USB and audio ports on the front of the machine, delight her, as well. It really is a nice computer with it's Core Duo processor and plenty of system memory (2 GB).

But Vista labors under it's bad reputation, partly undeserved though it is, and will for all it's life. For some users, Vista really is not a good thing. For others, meaning almost all users, it is completely adequate and, indeed, just what is needed. I think this applies to it's heightened security functions, more than anything else. One can argue just how secure Vista is, but there is no doubt at all it is more secure than it's predecessor.

Writers and other commentators still pile it on, though. Not just in the tech press, either. The criticism makes it into mainstream news, too. Vista is bad in this way. Vista is bad in some other way. It seems to never end. Frankly, I don't think Vista can recover. Given that, I wonder if the best thing Microsoft can do is to simply move on and bring out a demonstrably new operating system as soon as humanly possible. One with a new and clean reputation.


Faxing in

After having questions in chat about Faxing from OpenOffice, I found this article, thought I should pass it along.

Intel's Silverthorne Unveiled: Detailing Baby Centrino

We have mentioned Intel's "Silverthorne" platform (chipset and processor together) in connection with a couple products in the last two shows. Here, in all it's radiant glory is AnandTech's take on how it works and what it means. A somewhat geeky article, but it's important to wade through this one. That's because Silverthorne is as likely to be the next Centrino as not and, frankly, it raises the bar for low-power consumption platforms intended for devices larger than phones and smaller than notebook computers.

Frankly, I think this one is very cool and would fit right into my life as the heart of a UMPC or similar device.


Our Seti@home team

We are down to four active members. We can do better that that I hope.

AMD opens sources performance library

I had 9 emails waiting in my inbox about this one when I got to the computer this morning.

One and all pointed out to me that this is the sort of thing that has to happen for software developers to take adequate advantage of concurrency in modern processors. (For those of you who aren't keeping up with the jargon, 'concurrencey', or 'concurrence' is the new term for multi-threading in such a way as to utilize all the different processor cores available in today's multi-core, multi-chip machines.)

It's true. And a LOT more will have to happen before the state of the art advances. The cool thing about it is that the necessary pieces are being put into place.


Mozilla Messenging

It's an additional function for Thunderbird.

I'm not sure the world is in dire need of another messenging protocol, but here it is. I'll hold off until they add it to Pidgin, thank you. I'm not using Thunderbird. There ARE a LOT of T-Bird users, though, and for all I know they are clamoring to have this. It's from the Mozilla folks, so perhaps there is less worry about security and privacy than there might be with other vendors. And the price is right.

Check it out.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Microsoft To Announce WorldWide Telescope On February 27

TechCrunch has what looks like a scoop on a new Microsoft feature that will allow one to view many portions of the Universe, as seen by the Hubble and ground-based telescopes. This is slated to be better and more comprehensive than Google Sky, though of course meaningful comparison will have to wait for the release.

Anyway; this is the kind of application for which it seems the Internet was made, despite what the porn dealers say .


DVD Jon Strikes Again!

"DVD Jon" Lech Johansen's company, doubleTwist, has released their new application, the "doubleTwist desktop", which allows users to convert their legally purchased (and even copy-protected) media files from one device's format to another, seamlessly and easily. It's Windows only and free. Click the link above for more information and the download.

Supports a very long list of devices, but iPhone support is still in the future.


Enclosed, but not encrypted

Here's the deal; Just because the box says the device encrypts the data doesn't really mean anything. Flaws in hardware capabilities, execution and algorithms render the encryption almost meaningless. Anyone who wants to study a bit can beat it. Anyone!

The article linked to at Heise shows how badly the makers and sellers of the device mislead the public. They say it is for "general purpose" users but the truth is that the encryption is no more than a speed bump on the way to reading the data. Better to use GnuPG, PGP or TrueCrypt on a regular drive in a regular enclosure. There are a lot of ways to accomplish what this device fails so spectacularly at; both free and proprietary.

Personally, I recommend TrueCrypt, though I use GnuPG, as well.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Hardware companies can’t write software

It's a rant about the crappy software hardware companies saddle us with when we buy their hardware. Good reading and I fully agree. I'm taking this as a warning about which brands to stay away from. Of course, I already knew about Sony.



I would like to apologize to anyone offended by my experiment with Amazon, it won't happen again.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

OnComputers Radio show Podcast 02-17-08

This is the On Computers Radio show podcast for 02-17-08. You can listen live every Sunday from 10AM to 1PM Pacific thats 1PM to 4PM Eastern. Join us for the live show and chat. If you prefer, you can download the same MP3 file here via ftp.

For a special 10% discount on Skylook 2.0 or Skylook 2.0 Elite just use BEESKNEES as your coupon code. Thank you Jeremy Hague from SkyLook
For help on how to use this coupon, see

Links from the Gregg Zone!

1) Let us begin the week with the good stuff, first up how to create plasma with a beer bottle and a microwave oven. How is that for shaking up the house hold, you will need a microwave oven preferably one that is not regularly used to cook your dinner, I cannot believe this is a good thing to do to one of your regular appliances. In addition to the oven you will need a blowtorch, is this getting good or what. Oh and a beer bottle, an empty one, wow a home run, you start it off by emptying the beer bottle. For me that would not bring the kitchen sink to mind, but I will leave it up to you. Here is a link to a video demonstration.

2) Now if that just gets your juices flowing, let’s kick it up a notch. Here is a whole lot more of cool things to do with that microwave you picked up at the garage sale to do the beer bottle. Among the unwise things to do with your microwave include titles like; “Lightning Storm”, “Ball Lightning”, “Plasma Pool”, “Tesla Coil”, “Vaporized Aluminum”, just to name a few. You may need another oven, thankfully garage sales, and thrift stores are everywhere. Anyway, if the mad scientist in you is screaming to get out here is the link P.S. There are lots more interesting things to do in the garage at this site. Especially if you enjoy freaking out your neighbors, my former disclaimers apply here.

3) One more microwave site to consider this one sent to me by Joe who found it while looking for info on his home unit. It is a little tamer if those other sites seemed a little over the top you may want to start here. The only problem I had with this one is the choice of color, one of those hard to read due to lack of contrast.

4) Enough with the microwaves, I was looking into T.V. on the net again. I cannot seem to get this off my brain, I started out with a site called hula supposed to give a schedule of internet T.V. shows available on the net. I signed up for the beta last week still no answer. However linking on to other sites landed me at this one, but it sounds too good to be true as usual. What they are offering for a one time download, in addition to the 4000 world wide television stations is, free unlimited MP3 music over 90 million songs, free movie downloads over 80 million movies, free unlimited downloads TV shows full episodes, free CD/DVD copy soft ware, and much more, whatever that means. Granted some is most likely already available, but it has me asking why am I paying cable, and Netflix if it is real. Any feed back would be welcome, anyway here is the link I was referring to package B, A is cheaper but not as featured. By the way the site has a thing I have never seen before when you leave.

5) Last a little anti vista quickie video