Category Archives: Computing

Cyber War: Social Sites

Google Plus IconsThere is a lot at stake with Google’s beta release of Google +. The reports and reviews so far are glowing and the select few that have access all seem excited about the new product.  For the first time Facebook may be dealing with competition from a superior product.

There is a Chrome Facebook Friend Exporter plugin that Facebook has blocked. There is a lot at stake and niether side is expected to play nice. Google is poised to steal away a sizable portion of Facebook’s clients and if successful they may destroy Facebook.

Facebook is actively trying to block Facebook Friend Exporter, a Google Chrome extension that lets you export the list and contact info of your Facebook friends for use in other services, the extension developer Mohamed Mansour claims.

“Facebook is trying so hard to not allow you to export your friends. They started to remove emails of your friends from your profile by today July 5th 2011. (The extension) will no longer work for many people,” Mansour wrote on the extension’s homepage.

The Facebook Friend Exporter is a simple tool that lets you grab phone numbers, e-mails and other data from your Facebook friends, and directly import them into Google Contacts. The current version doesn’t work anymore, but the author promises to build and maintain new version that uses a different design.

Facebook clients seem to ready to bolt, and American subscribers were  already showing signs of boredom with the product.

A 15 Pound Breakthrough in Computers



The Rasberry
Raspberry Pi device with attached 12MPixel camera module

That £15 as in English money or $25 American.   The computer looks to be around one ounce. Developed by David Braben for the nonprofit Raspberry Pi Foundation The Computer is about the size of a thumbdrive and is intended to be used by grade school children to get introduced to the ideas of computer structure and programming.  Today computer classes are mostly about typing papers, building a spreadsheet, and creating presentatations.   Braben’s vision is to have students learn programming and be able to have their own machines to explore and really learn.

Braben argues that education since we entered the 2000s has turned towards ICT which teaches useful skills such as writing documents in a word processor, how to create presentations, and basic computer use skills. But that has replaced more computer science-like skills such as basic programming and understanding the architecture and hardware contained in a computer.

His solution is not to create his own course, but instead to manufacture a very low cost PC that can be given to kids for free and courses built up around their use. When we say low cost, we mean so low even the OLPC would be impressed.

Braben has developed a tiny USB stick PC that has a HDMI port in one end and a USB port on the other. You plug it into a HDMI socket and then connect a keyboard via the USB port giving you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux. The cost? $25.

The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. Storage is catered for by an SD card slot. It also looks as though modules can be attached such as the 12MP camera seen in the image above.

The provisional specifications are pretty impressive:

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • General-purpose I/O
  • Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)

Note this is a fully functional system capable of surfing the web programming and running typical office programs.

Storms in the Clouds.

The Cloud is a concept of moving data and computing off our local machines, and onto servers, usually somewhere on the internet.  The cloud concept is one of the major factors of the success of smartphones and touchpad devices. The storage capacity and computing power is moved off line. gaming is made even more exciting by interactive play between users. The linkage and technical bookkeeping  done in “the clouds”

The past few days though have exposed the potential issues of computing in the clouds. Amazon had a huge crash that took down a bunch of sites and lost data for many businesses

There’s no doubt that the recent “partial failure” of the Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform is giving enterprises, service providers, and developers pause–and will continue to do so for months to come. Amazon called the outage “partial” and a “degradation,” but it was a very big deal. A significant part of Amazon’s flagship EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) was offline for a day, as were the related EBS (Elastic Block Store) and RDS(Relational Database Service) offerings. The failure affected only the northern Virginia data center (“US-East”), and the majority of AWS services continued to run just fine. But for the customers whose hosted IT was down, there was nothing partial about it; their sites and applications were substantially or completely offline. These included marquee Web properties like Foursquare, Formspring, HootSuite, and Reddit, among hundreds of others.

Upping the ante, the failure propagated across multiple “availability zones,” which are supposed to use physically distinct, independent infrastructure with no shared components–precisely to make such failure propagation impossible. Ooops! and OOOPS!! Even worse, it turns out that Amazon permanently lost some customer data. There probably is no greater sin in information technology than losing a customer’s data.

Sony also had to shut down its PlayStation Network, the private information including Credit card information of 77 million users are now owned by unscrupulous hackers.  Sony who is no stranger to hacking has shut  down the system for over a week now.  Perhaps people don’t understand how disreputable Sony has behaved in the past about hacking, and stealing gnu code,  while they participate in pursuing downloaders, It is curious that so many  would give Sony credit card information over the internet with their reputation for technological thuggery and heavy handedness.  Be careful with whom you do business.

The lesson learned thought is twofold.

  1. Some of these cloud functions and services are experimental. Google still calls many of its older services ‘beta’ Amazon has what they thought was a bulletproof system. Like they say “Shit happens”  a series of events that weren’t understood beforehand is what caused their catastrophe.  The end result will very likely a better more powerful Borg system.
  2. Be careful with whom you do business.  A company that hacks its customers computers, shouldn’t be trusted, and will attract other hackers and other disreputable types.  I might be Ludite, but maybe we would be just a little more circumspect about putting our credit card information out. There are other game platforms out there that haven’t actively hacked its customers computers.

 

Remembering the Osborne

This is the 3oth anniversary of the Osborne 1 the first portable computer. The Z80 machine had 64k of memory and 2 floppys, a 5 inch amber display. and came with CPM and a decent office suite. At a Price  of about $1,8000 it was concidered a pretty good deal.

At first, they seem to belong in completely different weight categories. Osborne 1 is just under 11 kg, enough to pull your arm out of the socket, if you’re a skinny geek. That’s roughly 20 times more than an iPad, or about the same as whole suitcase of them.

But what about the processing power? Osbourne 1 was sporting a Z80 CPU, running at a stunning frequency of 4.0 MHz. You cannot compare the different architectures directly, but iPad’s CPU is a dual core A5, clocked at up to 1 GHz. That’s approximately three hundred times more, not counting in the vastly superior architecture.

Z80 CPU was supported by whopping 64KB of system memory. Surprisingly, it was enough to run databases, word processors and complex, professional software. Today’s iPad is equipped with 512MB of RAM (roughly eight thousand times more), and some reviewers complain it’s a bit on the low side.

Although it may be worth noting that the the Osborne 1 allowed removable storage and that you could actually connect it dirrectly to a printer. The Osborne didn’t support Flash either.

Now let’s compare storage. iPad offers you 16GB of flash memory in basic configuration. Osborne 1 doesn’t have anything to write home about, even though it was a well specced machine in its days. It has a dual 5.25 inch floppy disk drive, each disk holding 110KB of data. An upgrade was possible to more modern, “dual density” drive with 360KB floppies. Even with the maximum theoretical storage of 720KB, Osborne had 20,000 times less disk space than iPad. Well, it was never meant to hold music videos and MP3’s. Each disk was enough for 1600 pages of text, and it was thought to be an impressive feat.

It’s not only about power and storage, though. It’s about what a device can actually DO with the resources, as without good software all those MHz’s ad KB’s are for nothing. Osborne was particularly well equipped for its time, it came with a self-configuring CP/M 2.2 OS (which would launch a program automatically after inserting a disk – a novelty for the time). It had a WordStarword processor, SuperCalc spreadsheet, BASIC programming language, and a dBASE II database. You could work on it from day one – and it was a huge leap in terms of user friendliness. In early 80’s most machines were sold without any software. Sometimes there was no software at all, and the user was supposed to write all the necessary programs himself (take Altair for example). Be as it may, Osborne’s three apps pale in comparison to iPad’s array of pre-installed stuff, and hundreds of thousands of programs in App Store.

 

Apple Censorship

When is burning books or  censorship a good idea?

When the ideas being promoted contradict you you own.

Apple is under pressure to delist an an app that promises to cure homosexuality.

The free app is provided by Exodus International, a ministry group that “cites homosexual tendencies as one of many conditions that beset fallen humanity,” according to its website. The app includes updates from the group, as well as a schedule of upcoming events at which pastors, counselors and others can be trained. Exodus also includes stories from people who write that the service freed them “of the bondage of unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Gay rights groups such as Truth Wins Out have organized an online petition calling for Apple to remove the app from its store; as of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 100,000 signatures. The petition says the app is “hateful and bigoted,” and the message that homosexuality is something to overcome could be particularly damaging to young people. “It creates, legitimizes, and fuels the ostracism of LGBT youth by their families,” Truth Wins Out says.

Apple has a policy that allow them discretion on ruling against offencive apps. By offirg to be a gate keeper of whats decent and proper they expose themselves to this type controversy. They become the censors.

The guidelines put Apple in the position of judging what is offensive — a precarious spot when sensitive issues like gay rights and religion are involved. In the past, Apple has removed other apps when many people complained about their content; the Guardian points out that an app called Manhattan Declaration that opposed gay rights and gay marriage was withdrawn from the store last year.

Facebook too has come under fire over content and offensiveness. But Facebook generally has come down on the side of promoting speech, and Exodus International maintains a page on the social-networking site, apparently without incident.

Apple likely wouldn’t face such questions about apps in its store if it took a stance similar to Google’s or Facebook’s, but that’s the price Apple pays for curating products for customers.

Apples position of deciding what content is best for us,  whether their decision is  based on business compatibility as in their boycott of Flash or intellectual.  The decision is best  left with the consumer. We don’t need Big brother or My 2 Mommies dictating what is proper.

Daylight Savings

It is all based on a lie.  The government figures it can give people more daylight by time shifting our clocks.   This all sounds good, but we all know that in any given day there is 24 hours. and the proportion of it is determined by the laws of science, geometry, and God. Washington has nothing to do with it.  What daylight savings time really does is give us one more hour at night and one less in the morning.  Apparently our government in its wisdom has determined for all of us that evening daylight in the summer has more value than evening daylight.

it has the a negative effect of extending the rising sun for morning commuters to drive into the sun. In fact changing of the clocks kills a few people every year. Although the Washington Times tends to blame the loss of sleep.

There have likewise been oft-repeated claims that DST saves lives by cutting traffic accidents. After all, we all know that driving in the dark is more dangerous, so it stands to reason that pushing sunset back an hour should cut crashes.

But while some studies found no meaningful overall effect, and some slight benefit, at least a few studies found that traffic accidents climbed as much as 7 percent in the days immediately after switching to DST – because drivers are more tired from losing the hour of sleep. And these studies found that accidents didn’t go down nearly as much after the clocks fall back.

I do know we are all better off when the Government just leaves us and our clocks alone.

Browser Wars

In the browser wars for market share . Microsoft Internet Explorer still commands the lead but market share is fading, While the new kid on the block Google’s “Chrome” breaks the 10% barrier and Opera barely exist anymore.   Chrome gains popularity because of its light use of the the deskspace fas loading and aggressive stance on HTML5 while Firefox is has high hopes in the promised 4.0 release. Internet Explore continues to fade away in popularity because the newest versions will not run on other operating systems or even on older Microsoft operating Systems.

Firefox seems unable to be able to capture the lost IE share, probably because its gaining a reputation of being bloated and slow. Firefox and Chrome run on most versions of Apple, Windows and Linux. There is a lot of competition and investment for software that no-one will ever pay for.

The Borg Wiki

I have been playing with a new installation on my in home server, and installed a full blown wiki.  Its pretty good software, but I’m not sure just how I want to use it.  Its just internal now, but it wouldn’t be a difficult to get a domain name for it and go public with it.  Mostly though I’m thinking it would make a great database.

It can be found here for now, but Comcast is likely to the IP address before too long.

Update: 1/15/2012:  Changed IP Address to a URL which should have more perminance.

 

Chrome in the Clouds

Google is Beta testing its new Operating System, Chrome and getting lots of press for it. To get the OS tested by as many different people, Google is giving away netbooks with the Chrome OS installed. They are giving away thousands of these things, which by all reports are pretty nice little machines.

The whole notebook has a high-quality soft touch feel (it reminds me of the G1 or the back of the EVO) which doesn’t attract fingerprints and wipes of nicely. The touchpad is huge and flush. The display is matte and pretty high-res for its size, its hinge is extremely sturdy, and the lack of branding anywhere on the notebook is absolutely beautiful. Physically, this is a high-end notebook.

Inside it’s a bit more modest a 1.6 Gig Atom Single Core processer. with a 16 Gig Flash drive. Google is giving away 60,ooo of these puppys, this not only gives them a great opportunity to test the OS, but it also gives them a lot of internet chatter and publicity. Continue reading Chrome in the Clouds