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Archive for the ‘Geek Stuff’ Category

NASA’s Phoenix Lands On Mars. Kickass pictures returned.

In Geek Stuff, News on May 26, 2008 at 3:04 pm

pic source: BBC

The BBC reports:

A Nasa spacecraft has sent back historic first pictures of an unexplored region of Mars.

The Mars Phoenix lander touched down in the far north of the Red Planet, after a 680 million-km (423 million-mile) journey from Earth.

The probe is equipped with a robotic arm to dig for water-ice thought to be buried beneath the surface.

The Nasa team monitored each stage of the descent and landing process through radio messages relayed to Earth via the Odyssey satellite in orbit around Mars.

“In my dreams, it couldn’t have gone as perfectly as it did tonight,” said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at JPL.

Nasa found out more about the landing when pictures from the probe reached the Earth.

The first images showed the “Arctic plain” where Phoenix came to rest – a region of Mars that has never been seen up close before.

Other shots confirmed that the probe’s solar arrays had unfurled successfully, and that it had landed safely on its legs.

The pictures returned are truly awe inspiring. Thank you NASA.

click for full size.

Additional pictures of Mars and the Phoenix Lander.

Microsoft Photosynth: Making You Go WTF?!

In Geek Stuff, News, Videos on May 20, 2008 at 9:34 am

It’s an old video taken from the TED conference last year, but for some reason, this presentation by Blaise Aguera y Arcas on Photosynth resurfaced on the Digg site today. Not many people knew about it obviously, including myself. But the demo here on how networked images can be viewed is mind-blowing: it’s hard to imagine technology like this exists, and hopefully Microsoft can roll it out in the right way.

Having been in development over the past year, the demo you see is already up and running at Microsoft’s Live Labs for a preview, so you can try it out yourself. It runs on Active X though, which isn’t great if you’re paranoid on security issues.

Somehow, this reminded me of Microsoft Surface that was supposed to come out last year. Where the hell is it? Microsoft, don’t botch up cool tech like this.

Here’s a little bio on the creator:

Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ background is as multidimensional as the visions he helps create. In the 1990s, he authored patents on both video compression and 3D visualization techniques, and in 2001, he made an influential computational discovery that cast doubt on Gutenberg’s role as the father of movable type.

He also created Seadragon (acquired by Microsoft in 2006), the visualization technology that gives Photosynth its amazingly smooth digital rendering and zoom capabilities. Photosynth itself is a vastly powerful piece of software capable of taking a wide variety of images, analyzing them for similarities, and grafting them together into an interactive three-dimensional space. This seamless patchwork of images can be viewed via multiple angles and magnifications, allowing us to look around corners or “fly” in for a (much) closer look.

Simply put, it could utterly transform the way we experience digital images.

Women 4 times more likely than men to give passwords for chocolate

In Geek Stuff, Security and Privacy on April 17, 2008 at 3:28 pm

pic courtesy:abc.net.au

No offense ladies. I’m just a humble messenger. Maybe this only applies to London females? Anyways this is based off a press release from Infosecurity Europe.

A survey by Infosecurity Europe (www.infosec.co.uk) of 576 office workers have found that women far more likely to give away their passwords to total strangers than their male counterparts, with 45% of women versus 10% of men prepared to give away their password, to strangers masquerading as market researches with the lure of a chocolate bar as an incentive for filling in the survey. The survey was actually part of a social engineering exercise to raise awareness about information security. The survey was conducted outside Liverpool Street Station in the City of London.

This year’s survey results were significantly better than previous years. In 2007 64% of people were prepared to give away their passwords for a chocolate bar, this year it had dropped to just 21% so at last the message is getting through to be more infosecurity savvy. The researchers also asked the office workers for their dates of birth to validate that they had carried out the survey here the workers were very naïve with 61% revealing their date of birth. Another slightly worrying fact discovered by researchers is that over half of people questioned use the same password for everything (e.g. work, banking, web, etc.)

Gender biased jokes aside, the larger issue here is a lack of awareness regarding the importance of protecting the privacy of one’s personal information. The information revolution has reduced the need for face-to-face transactions. Whether we realise this or not, this has been an implicit control factor in reducing the risk of fraud since it reduces the number of possible identity thieves to those who share our basic characteristics such as skin tone, age bracket, language, gender etc.

With technology, this is no longer relevant, and this information about ourselves somehow needs to be communicated the person at the other end to convince them that we are who we claim we are – hence the importance of keeping our personal information private. Anyone who has used the telephone to query credit cards or handphone related matters will be familiar with the list of questions we are asked to authenticate themsleves – IC number, Date of birth, Mum’s name etc etc.

“Our researchers also asked for workers names and telephone numbers so that they could be entered into a draw to go to Paris, with this incentive 60% of men and 62% of women gave us their contact information”, said Claire Sellick, Event Director, Infosecurity Europe.

As she revealed her details to our researchers one woman said, “even though I have just been to Paris for the weekend I would love to go again.”

Sellick continued, “that promise of a trip could cost you dear, as once a criminal has your date of birth, name and phone number they are well on the way to carrying out more sophisticated social engineering attacks on you, such as pretending to be from your bank or phone company and extracting more valuable information that can be used in ID theft or fraud.”

Just consider these issues the next time you sign up for a contest, survey or even loyalty membership when deciding which bits of personal info you wish to reveal about yourself.

Because Veronica Belmont Is A Song?

In Celebrity, Geek Stuff on April 7, 2008 at 3:33 pm

(Photo from lanbui’s flickr)

Ah, the weirdness of the internet. It’s strange how you can be an online star so easily these days. But then again, it’s Veronica, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before someone takes his crush on her and makes it into a song.

From her blog:

A few weeks ago I received an email from the girlfriend of a member of the band, The Carps. In the letter, she told me that they had written a song called “Veronica Belmont,” and that it was based on Internet culture and feeling like you know the people you meet online. She linked me to their MySpace page, and there it was! It’s a fun song, and some of the lyrics definitely made me chuckle:

Dark light as we expire,
But go ahead, just dance, dance, dance

He pwned in that disco,
When they played chocolate rain, rain, rain.

You can download the track from RCRD LBL here. PS: Not exactly Top Ten material.

Because Veronica Belmont is Leaving Mahalo. Rock On!

In Geek Stuff, Online on April 3, 2008 at 3:02 pm

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(Pic from Veronica Belmont’s Flickr stream)

And I’ve always wanted a reason to post something about geek-heartthrob Veronica Belmont. *sigh*. Oh, anyways, the point is, her high-geek-hotness VB will be leaving Mahalo Daily, a daily how-to web show that’s a side project from Mahalo.com, a people-powered (dare I say it? “Folksonomised”?) web search engine. All the better for her that she’s leaving Jason Calacanis all alone with his show. I guess being the producer/host of your own webshow must take a toll on you after a while.

This from her blog:

Hard to believe the time has already come, but soon enough I’ll be moving on from Mahalo to embark on some exciting new projects! Mahalo Daily has been a really amazing experience (and not just because I get to do things like fly a plane), and I’ll still be producing episodes for the next couple of weeks as host, and then eventually reporting as correspondent.

It’s impressive how far the show has come since we started; at first I was a little apprehensive about the idea of doing episodes 5 days a week while building it from the ground up (as I imagine anyone would be). But with time we’ve assembled a really great, motivated team that makes the whole thing look effortless. Of course, there’s no shortage of solid talent at Mahalo, and they’ll be working with more people in the future too.

It’s all very PC, and she publicly announced her departure on today’s Crankygeeks, giving ol’ coot Dvorak some time to grill her about where she’s going to next. Bets are she’ll probably head to Revision 3–all the tech geeks seem to be heading for that cash cow. It’ll be more awesome if she bucks the trend and joins Leo Laporte’s TWiT channel. Read the rest of this entry »

iPhone sdk restrictions bypassed – iPhone malware on the way?

In Geek Stuff on March 15, 2008 at 5:37 am
toxic-iphone.jpg
pic courtesy maccomplainer.com

Cnet reports that the iPhone software development kit (“SDK”) restrictions have been bypassed. The original intent for Apple was that all software develped by third parties for the iPhone had to be certified by Apple and made available only via the iTunes store. This crack bypasses the need to check if the app is certified before it is run.

The iPhone Dev Team said yesterday (thanks, Gizmodo) it has figured out a way to hack into the iPhone’s bootloader by taking advantage of the way the iPhone authorizes code that can be written to memory. After some modifications, this apparently allows any code to be written to the iPhone, such as applications that haven’t been authorized by Apple, and it should work with any new software version Apple releases, according to the team.

Unlike previous hacks, this one isn’t specific to the latest firmware version, it exploits the way that Apple designed the iPhone’s main bootloader. According to the iPhone Dev Team, the iPhone verifies whether or not firmware code has been signed with an RSA certificate before allowing it to be written to memory. The team has apparently figured out a way to disable that check and allow unsigned code to be written to memory. A detailed explanation of the exploit can be found here.

Apple’s desire to control the apps that run probably stems from the fact that a misbehaving app potentially ruins the overall user experience of the product – Apple’s chief differentiator. Imagine an app that doesn’t fade into the background obediently when an incoming call comes in – mighty frustrating for iPhone users. With a platform as powerful as the iPhone, this also opens the way for the malicious spammer types to now write code that could suck out contact and other personal data off the phone and send it back home for their own nefarious purposes.

The hacking community believes this jailbreaking method (which will also let you unlock your iPhone) can’t be fixed by Apple in a production version of the 2.0 software. Even though Apple has released the SDK, it seems pretty likely that hacking will continue as long as the company maintains its one-carrier, one-country policy and if Apple chooses to exclude lots of third-party applications that conflict with its goals.

Apple are used to having complete control over the entire user experience in their entire history. The fanboys don’t complain and since they’ve always had tiny market shares, it wasn’t deemed anti competitive. With the advent of the popularity of the iPod and arguably, the iPhone, this desire to maintain a homogeneous environment can’t realistically be expected without drawing some legal repercussions. Like Microsoft, though, at that point, the legal fines may just be a cost of doing business for Apple. Whatever the case, attempting to impose strict controls over any platform is next to impossible – as already demonstrated in so many tech examples. The hacks will always catch up. What this possibly means is that like any other user, the Apple-lites will now need to start thinking about security issues as well.

Will Lenovo X300 kick Air?

In Geek Stuff, News on February 14, 2008 at 3:36 am

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(Pic from Gizmodo, link below)

WSJ’s Walt Mossberg, whom I’ve always regarded as an Apple Fanboy, has recently leaked out pictures of the upcoming ultraportable from Lenovo to Gizmodo. Placed cheekily enough on top of a manila envelope, the X300 is rumoured to trounce the MacBook Air in many ways if all the specs are true: floating around is news of “the inclusion of a removable battery, three USB ports, WiFi, an integrated Ethernet jack and optional GPS / WWAN to boot. Heck, users will even be able to order this 3.12-pound critter with Windows XP if they so choose.”

Furthermore, looking at the comments section, it’s going to be just 0.2-inch thicker, but what you could get is “WWAN and WiMAX connectivity, GPS and an expansion bay, which will accept either a DVD drive, secondary battery or ExpressCard slot,” according to trustedreviews.com

Of course, no way is it as sexy as the MacBook Air–you don’t buy ThinkPads for the way it looks, but for its functionality. It’s less of a rich-boy’s plaything and more for biz-on-the-go.

Nerdgasm Alert: This is what they mean by Pure Black Plasma TV

In Geek Stuff on January 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

kurodeepblack600.jpg

(Pic from Gizmodo, link below)

Despite the rather lukewarm reception to the CES 2008 show, one piece of interesting news came up about the new Pioneer Plasma screens in the latest TWiT podcast, where the blacks were so black, that you couldn’t spot it in a room with the lights off. A great statement to make, except that in an audio podcast talking about TV’s, it’s kinda hard to feel the full impact of such a device.

Voila! Gizmodo took a picture of the new Pioneer Kuro Extreme Contrast (“Kuro” means “black” in Japanese”), and there you have it–Robert Heron’s wet dream come alive. And that’s not all–the Plasma TV is just 9mm thin. That’s fucking crazy, man. Imagine a 50-inch screen, with this sorta contrast, and less than 1cm thick. Crap. I want one.

Pioneer execs shuffle us into a dark room, reveal the most critically acclaimed TV made, and then unveil a TV that can kick its ass on contrast. Yes, Pioneer’s current Kuro—the “best flat-panel ever”—was shedding light like a sumbitch next to Pioneer’s concept Kuro, whose black literally emits no light. So here it is, a strange Battlemodo pitting the super-hot 8th-gen Pioneer plasma against its own future self.

And in case there are any girls out there who can’t understand what this whole nerdgasmic rant is all about, here’s a little video explaining why this plasma screen is so brilliant (or rather, just the complete opposite).

Bionic Eyesight: Coming Soon in a Future Near You

In Geek Stuff on January 21, 2008 at 12:42 pm

bionicwoman1.jpg

I haven’t seen the latest re-incarnation of the Bionic Woman yet, but hell, from the way things are going in our science labs, the Bionic Woman may be soon be considered out of date, thanks to the good engineering folks at the University of Washington. Word is that they’ve developed a rabbit-tested contact lens that has embedded electronic circuits and lights, enabling us to browse the web in the future through our contact lenses.

This, however, fails desperately in comparison to good-ol’ beer goggles. Here’s an excerpt:

Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes – visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go.

The device to make this happen may be familiar. Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

“Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” said Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. “This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it’s extremely promising.”

The results were presented today at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz’s now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. Other co-authors are Ehsan Saeedi and Samuel Kim in the UW’s electrical engineering department and Tueng Shen in the UW Medical Center’s ophthalmology department.

The MacBook Air: What’s Your Take?

In Geek Stuff on January 21, 2008 at 12:06 pm

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(Pic from Joyoftech)

So now that the MacBook Air’s out, what’s the reaction after the reality-field has died down? I won’t go into a long rant about it, but I think it’s safe to say that,at USD1799, the MacBook Air is clearly a supplemental laptop for those who can afford the cool factor–given its specs, it’s clearly not going to be your primary computer, so it’s really a really cool-looking luxury item for the rich. The only question here is not whether you want it, or need it, but whether you can afford it.

Here’s a rundown of stories where you can find more opinions on the MacBook Air: Arstechnica, and MacBreak Weekly Podcast both give it a rather “meh” conclusion, while Gizmodo gives a decent rundown on where the MacBook Air lies against its competition.

Plaything for the rich or innovation that will change the way we work? There’s more than enough voices out there to make your own conclusions, but one thing’s for sure: not everyone’s drinking the kool-aid.

PS: I can’t afford it.

Opera Mini Users Alert: theres a proxy server in your ssl connection

In Geek Stuff on January 17, 2008 at 2:34 pm
opera

From the Opera Mini FAQ:

Is there any end-to-end security between my handset and — for example — paypal.com or my bank?

No. If you need full end-to-end encryption, you should use a full web browser such as Opera Mobile.
Opera Mini uses a transcoder server to translate HTML/CSS/JavaScript into a more compact format. It will also shrink any images to fit the screen of your handset. This translation step makes Opera Mini fast, small, and also very cheap to use. To be able to do this translation, the Opera Mini server needs to have access to the unencrypted version of the web page. Therefore no end-to-end encryption between the client and the remote web server is possible.

To the non geeks, what this means is that if you are using the Opera Mini (NOT the regular Opera) browser on your mobile phone to browse the Internet, all connections are actually being passed through servers within Opera rather than going directly to the web site.

This is done so that Opera can optimise and customise the web page so that it displays in a clean and neat format on your tiny mobile phone screens. A very nice feature. Except that for SSL (the secure connections) this is a HUGE BIG FAT NO. If you’re doing Internet banking or trading or buying something with a credit card, your so called secure connection is actually being intercepted by Opera and is being decrypted for you before being re-encrypted using their own encryption implementation. All your bank/credit card/personal data *can* be seen in plain text by Opera or rather the folks who work in Opera.

WTF! They shouldve left SSL connections alone. I don’t think this is very responsible of them. If you have to use Opera Mini as the alternative to the piss poor BlackBerry browser, just make sure that you don’t submit any confidential or sensitive information using any forms. Or just don’t bother with Opera at all.

This Is How I Think The Public Views The Issue Of Privacy

In Geek Stuff on January 13, 2008 at 2:57 pm

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Picked this up from the hilarious Joyoftech. Admit it: It’s funny because it’s true.

Because Crazy Ads Like These Just Don’t Happen Anymore.

In Geek Stuff, Pictures on January 11, 2008 at 11:40 am

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Like, seriously. This oozes so much macho-ism it makes me wanna light up just so I can blow smoke at a woman–and considering that I haven’t smoked in a while, I gotta say that this is a damn good advert. Here’s nine more awesome adverts from 2spare.com

I can’t get hip with the Web2.0 peeps, yo.

In Geek Stuff, Online on January 9, 2008 at 9:16 am

i can see you

This story and the earlier mess that was beacon is really beginning to become scary.

Facebook has blocked the “Secret Crush” widget for violation of its terms of service, following a row about the use of the application to dupe users into downloading adware onto their PCs.

Users tempted into installing the application were told they need to invite at least five friends. However, no secret crush is ever revealed. Instead users are directed to an external website which invites Facebook users to download potentially unwanted applications that display pop-up advertising software from Zango.

“Facebook is committed to user safety and security and, to that end, its Terms of Service for developers explicitly state that applications should not use adware and spyware. Users should employ the same precautions while downloading software from Facebook applications that they use when downloading software on their desktop. We have contacted the developers and have disabled the Secret Crush application for violating Facebook Platform Terms of Service,” it said.

Fortinet claimed that four per cent of Facebook’s users had installed the Secret Crush application by the time it was disabled.

As it is, I am already super averse to freely giving information about myself to shadowy companies and agencies who can then profile me and send me targeted adverts etc.

The thought of being profiled on some database someplace freaks me out. For no particular reason besides the fact that it is information about me and I did not knowingly agree to it being stored indefinitely and shared without further approval.

Alas, such views are generally incompatible with the current trends and social networking going on in the Internet. I have a minuscule amount of Facebook apps installed on my profile and am actually toying with the idea of quitting it altogether.

The thing isn’t so much that I don’t trust Facebook. I signed up for the account and I put all that info up there myself. However there are now literally hundreds, if not thousands, of 3rd parties that publish applications for Facebook that require access to all your personal info (for no obvious reason) along with information regarding who you’re friends with.

It’s a veritable treasure trove for advertising marketeering types. Also, even if you trust the publishers of these apps, what about 3rd parties that they (the publishers) make deals with? What happens when someone else buys the publisher up? Who owns your personal data now?

LG’s Phone Watch: Ridiculous To Use, Ultra Cool For Geeks

In Geek Stuff, News on January 6, 2008 at 4:22 pm

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(Pic from Engadget, link below)

The buzz from this year’s CES isn’t coming from the giant TV screens or pumped-up audio equipment, but this little gadget caught by engadget: The LG Phone Watch. Yup, it’s a phone shaped like a watch. It’s true–in the future, you too can be Michael Knight and talk to your watch. It’s the stuff of every geek’s wet dream–well, this, and seeing Jessica Biel using this watch. To call me. MMMMMM…. random fantasies.

Oh, did I mention it’s absolutely ridiculously hard to use? Dialling a number takes 3 times longer than a normal mobile, with a rubbish clicking sound everytime you scroll for the numbers. Imagine texting on this thing–it’s a nightmare. But not, of course, if Jessica Biel’s texting. MMMMM…

On to the video: