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October 15, 2008  9:00 AM

What is Blog Action Day? A chance to help fight global poverty.

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Blog Action Day is, according to its founders, “an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day.”

In 2007, the issue was the environment. In 2008, the theme is poverty.

By coordinating the efforts of many bloggers (more than 10,000 different sites, as of this morning), the organizers hope to galvanize improvement in the lots of the world’s poor. As measured by the World Bank, substantial improvements have been made since the 1980s.

Even so, one quarter of the world continues to subsist on less than $1.25/day.

Here’s what you can do to help:

Spread the word!

October 9, 2008  5:14 AM

Overheard and overseen: Is your webcam spying on you?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore
jeremiah_grossman.jpg “Web pages know what websites you’ve been to (without JS), where you’re logged-in, what you watch on YouTube, and now they can literally “see” and “hear” you (via Clickjacking + Adobe Flash). Separate from the several technical details on how to accomplish this feat, that’s the big secret Robert “RSnake” Hansen and myself weren’t able to reveal at the OWASP conference at Adobe’s request. So if you’ve noticed a curious post-it note over a few of the WhiteHat employee machines, that’s why.”

Jeremiah Grossman, of WhiteHat Security: Web pages can see you and hear you.


September 22, 2008  9:10 AM

Video: Windows 7 start button and improved calculator

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

What’s new in Windows 7? We’re still learning. Not the guts of the OS, anyway. Microsoft will be keeping the Vista kernel in Windows 7.

Thanks to a couple of videos posted on YouTube (found via thinknext via Gizmodo) we also know that there’s a cool hover effect over the new Start button:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/nkeWFSkRVGQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

And a substantially upgraded integrated calculator.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ubxErqnQ5R8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The date-to-date measurement feature really is pretty nifty.


September 22, 2008  8:57 AM

I AM a PC — and my ads finally capture the breadth of human experience

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

 After two commercials with Jerry Seinfeld that left many tech pundits scratching their heads, Microsoft has finally found a sweet spot with the next two ads: the massive userbase of the world’s most common operating system. Do these ads make you want to switch over from a Mac? Or upgrade to Vista? The jury may remain out on that for a bit, especially given the current macroeconomic conditions in the US, but these ads will likely make you smile. These days, that’s definitely a win for the folks from Redmond. Make sure to scroll to the end to catch Steve Ballmer making his position on the matter crystal clear. Just turn your volume down a bit first.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/oWk8ouioXgE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Plenty of chuckles in the comment section on the YouTube page for the ad noting that the agency that made the spot uses only Macs. Gizmodo found that ironic, of course.
Good follow up that riffs on the stereotype meme, too:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/10mbTUQFVUI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Here’s Ballmer. As Gizmodo notes with characteristic snark, “we’re convinced to run out and buy a few copies of Windows Vista (to distract The Ballmer should he charge us on the open plain).”

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/lVMy0PFr8no" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]


September 5, 2008  7:19 AM

Rapping about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider? Not the end of the world as we know it.

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Need a breath of fresh air and humor heading into the weekend? Check out this hilarious video of the Large Hadron Rap on YouTube. Hat tip to Cosmos Magazine for the discovery. This leads up to the highly anticipated moment next Wednesday when CERN turns on the Large Hadron Collider over in Geneva, Switzerland. Combining humor, science and music, this video brings some geeky fun to the exploration of the fundamental particles of matter, including our understanding of antimatter, dark matter and the elusive Higgs Boson.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/j50ZssEojtM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
According to the YouTube shownotes:

  • Kate McAlpine, aka DJ AlpineKat, is the rapper. She works as a science writer for CERN.
  • Will Barras, a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh, is responsible for the thumpin’ beats.
  • The images used came from particlephysics.ac.uk, space.com, the Institute of Physics, NASA, Symmetry, and Marvel
  • The dancers doubled as camera people, with some work by Neil Dixon. Stock footage is CERN’s.
  • The original mp3, lyrics, and vocals can be sampled and remixed from McAlpine’s directory on MSU.edu.

Those lyrics are easily several orders of magnitude more complex than the average gangsta rap. Babes, bling and bluster is replaced by the Big Bang, dark matter and bosons. I posted them below for your enjoyment:

The Large Hadron Rap

Twenty-seven kilometers of tunnel under ground
Designed with mind to send protons around
A circle that crosses through Switzerland and France
Sixty nations contribute to scientific advance
Two beams of protons swing round, through the ring they ride
‘Til in the hearts of the detectors, they’re made to collide
And all that energy packed in such a tiny bit of room
Becomes mass, particles created from the vacuum
And then…

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head.

We see asteroids and planets, stars galore
We know a black hole resides at each galaxy’s core
But even all that matter cannot explain
What holds all these stars together – something else remains
This dark matter interacts only through gravity
And how do you catch a particle there’s no way to see
Take it back to the conservation of energy
And the particles appear, clear as can be

You see particles flying, in jets they spray
But you notice there ain’t nothin’, goin’ the other way
You say, “My law has just been violated – it don’t make sense!
There’s gotta be another particle to make this balance.”
And it might be dark matter, and for first
Time we catch a glimpse of what must fill most of the known ‘Verse.
Because…

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.

Antimatter is sort of like matter’s evil twin
Because except for charge and handedness of spin
They’re the same for a particle and its anti-self
But you can’t store an antiparticle on any shelf
Cuz when it meets its normal twin, they both annihilate
Matter turns to energy and then it dissipates

When matter is created from energy
Which is exactly what they’ll do in the LHC
You get matter and antimatter in equal parts
And they try to take that back to when the universe starts
The Big Bang – back when the matter all exploded
But the amount of antimatter was somehow eroded
Because when we look around we see that matter abounds
But antimatter’s nowhere to be found.
That’s why…

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head.

The Higgs Boson – that’s the one that everybody talks about.
And it’s the one sure thing that this machine will sort out
If the Higgs exists, they ought to see it right away
And if it doesn’t, then the scientists will finally say
“There is no Higgs! We need new physics to account for why
Things have mass. Something in our Standard Model went awry.”

But the Higgs – I still haven’t said just what it does
They suppose that particles have mass because
There is this Higgs field that extends through all space
And some particles slow down while other particles race
Straight through like the photon – it has no mass
But something heavy like the top quark, it’s draggin’ its ***
And the Higgs is a boson that carries a force
And makes particles take orders from the field that is its source.
They’ll detect it….

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.

Now some of you may think that gravity is strong
Cuz when you fall off your bicycle it don’t take long
Until you hit the earth, and you say, “Dang, that hurt!”
But if you think that force is powerful, you’re wrong.
You see, gravity – it’s weaker than Weak
And the reason why is something many scientists seek
They think about dimensions – we just live in three
But maybe there are some others that are too small to see
It’s into these dimensions that gravity extends
Which makes it seem weaker, here on our end.
And these dimensions are “rolled up” – curled so tight
That they don’t affect you in your day to day life
But if you were as tiny as a graviton
You could enter these dimensions and go wandering on
And they’d find you…

When LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head.


September 2, 2008  5:21 PM

Chrome: A shiny Web browser from Google may just be the next global platform for running Web applications

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Chrome logoTechies and geeks returned from one last weekend of sun, sand and summer to find news of a disruptive change sweeping the online business world. Meet Chrome, Google’s new Web browser.

News of the announcement was leaked yesterday when Philipp Lenssen, an avid blogger of all-things-Google, received the comic book Google put together for the release and posted it, along with his first impressions. My director, ahead of the curve as usual , picked up on it right away and added it to WhatIs.com’s Buzzword Alert.

Google has since put up a high resolution of the Google Chrome comic book. I highly recommend going over and reading through the comic. Google put considerable time into clearly explaining the challenges faced by the designers of modern Web browsers with respect to memory bloat, rendering engines, Javascript threading errors and much more.

Since Lenssen broke the news, the tech blogosphere has of course been awash with reviews, opinions and speculation about what, exactly, Chrome will mean. Walt Mossberg posted a comprehensive review of Chrome in the Wall Street Journal, including speed and feature comparisons with Safari, IE 8 and Firefox. Rafe Needleman liveblogged the press conference introducing Chrome over at Webware. John Furrier colorfully blogged that the search wars just turned into the operating system wars. That’s true — except (as he notes) that Chrome goes far beyond search. SEO/SEM hounds and search engine watchers, however, will find Danny Sullivan’s thorough evaluation of Chrome’s search functionality quite useful.

Following below is own my two cents, both with respect to the browser itself and the significance of its introduction. First, however, I’ll let the video embedded below provide a quick introduction:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iRqmfCFU_AI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Obviously, Chrome has a lean, clean interface. This is Google, after all. Menus, dropdowns, extra bars and dialogs are largely stripped away. So what’s left?

The Web pages themselves. What a concept! I downloaded and installed the browser this afternoon without a hitch, imported my bookmarks and search history from Firefox and was off to the races. Chrome is quite speedy.

The address bar has been merged with the search field you’d see on the right in IE or FF. Firefox 3 includes a predictive search in this field already, so this isn’t ground breaking, but it is a clear recognitiion that search has become the default navigation method for most Web users. Enter your desired search terms and away you go.

Google is calling the new address field the “Omnibox,” a nod to its ability to incorporate “everything” you might need to explore. The Omnibox’s utility is another sample of Google’s secret sauce, in this case combining a record of your search and browsing history with Google’s own PageRank for given terms. The Omnibox is eerily good. With only a little use, it could predict precisely which page I was looking for after only a few characters were entered.

Chrome also features tabbed browsing, a key improvement introduced by iBrowse in ’99 and then popularized by Opera in 2000. Once Mozilla included it in Firefox, the feature took off and is now a default feature in Internet Explorer and Safari. Chrome expands the tabbed interface in a number of innovative ways, including grouping related tabs and designing each tab so that it acts as an independent browser. Bookmarks, the Omnibox, menubar icons and menus are all inside of the browser, which again frees up more space for displaying rendering Web pages.

The pop-up blocker and phishing or malware alerts also included in Chrome may not be innovative at this point but they’re certainly effective and useful. The private browsing mode, aptly called “Incognito.” (This clever feature name was perhaps made in hopes that it will avoid the “Porn Mode” moniker that has dogged a similar feature of IE 8, InPrivate.)

There’s another key development: Chrome may not be the fastest Web browser currently available but Google hopes that it will be the most stable for pages loaded with Javascript. In a Web 2.0 world ruled by AJAX, that’s no small thing. And anyone that’s used one of Google’s many online applications knows that a stable, reliable environment for this kind of scripting is crucial.

This hints at perhaps the most important detail of all, and one that I tipped my hat to in the title of this post. Microsoft made an early bid for Internet dominance in the infamous browser wars of the 1990s by including Internet Explorer in each copy of Windows. Despite the Justice Department’s successful antitrust suit, IE continues to have upwards of 75% of the world’s browser share. Firefox has made inroads on this market share, to be sure, and the most recent version of Mozilla’s browser has been the best option around for speed, privacy, safety and usability since its introduction this summer, following close upon the success of Firefox 2.

Now it’s Google’s turn.

Google’s introduction of its own browser has the potential to upset the market in a way that no other company can, simply because of Google’s ability to promote the download and use through its various Web properties. As Google’s various Web applications and cloud computing architecture continue to mature, the Web itself can develop into an operating system. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Sun’s vision of network computing in the 90s using Java popularized such a concept long ago. Vastly improved broadband connectivity, viable Web-based apps and an Internet technology giant flush with revenue from the world’s best advertising platform change the dynamic a bit, of course. Google built its own Javascript engine to improve performance and, crucially, integrated Google Gears with Chrome to allow true offline access to its various Web applications. That adds up to something that distinctly resembles a fully-fledged desktop operating system and productivity suite.

While it’s true that consumer and enterprises haven’t been making a run on thin clients running on Linux quite yet, the potential to further erode Microsoft’s dominance of the operating and desktop productivity software markets is embedded within Chrome. I’m far from the only writer prognosticating on this count, of course. Michael Arrington thinks Chrome is Google’s Windows Killer. As Michael points out, this clears the way for “millions of web devices, even desktop web devices, in the coming years that completely strip out the Windows layer and use the browser as the only operating system the user needs.” Given that both the enterprise and consumer markets haven’t exactly been hot about Vista, I suspect Microsoft may be somewhat concerned about this development. Henry Blodgett over at the Silicon Valley Insider sees the development from precisely this angle, blogging that Google has launched a cloud operating system and called it a ‘browser.’

Who else should be concerned? Maybe Mozilla, though judging by this interview with its CEO, they’re putting a good face on the development for the moment. What’s next? Harry McCracken asked 10 questions about Google Chrome over at Technologizer that address Mozilla’s future relationship (and relevance). Jeremiah Owyang has added a few more questions in thinking about what Chrome could mean long term. Both ask for response and speculation in their comment sections, so have at ‘em.

Microsoft hasn’t been standing still, of course. They’ve been chasing search revenue for years, as evidenced by the failed Yahoo! acquisition. As the folks over at the Google Subnet blog at NetworkWorld point out, IE 8′s InPrivate mode thwarts Google’s targeted advertising. Unless the world upgrades to IE 8 and begins to browse InPrivate en masse, however, I’m guessing that GOOG’s 3+ billion of revenue per quarter is gonna be safe for the moment.

That’s especially true when you consider another critical element of Chrome: its future relevance to mobile search. Google’s Eric Schmidt has been quite bullish in this area, estimating that mobile search revenue will likely surpass desktop search in the not-so-distant future. The iPhone has shown what a data connection and full Web browser can do to mobile search (Try 50 times as many searches originating from iPhones vs. a normal cellphone). Here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: Just as the iPhone features a stripped down version of Safari, Google’s Android OS will have a similarly light version of Chrome optimized for a mobile device and poised to fully take advantage of the possibilities for geotargeted advertising based upon a user’s demographics, Web history and location.

Louis Gray is dead-on when he points out that Web browsers are now about the hooks. Apple’s Safari will be increasingly optimized for the iPhone and working with the private cloud that is MobileMe. Microsoft has built IE to be integrated with Windows and Office, though because of the bundling issues presented by antitrust has always had to walk a fine line. Flock, the social media-optimized version of Firefox, carves out a niche because of its tie-ins with the various networks and services. Chrome is no different, as I pointed out above. If you are already a power user of Gmail, gDocs, gTalk, gReader or g-Anything, Chrome may make more sense. Chrome is, I should note, only available for Windows Vista or XP at the moment. Guess they figure Safari will do the trick for a Webkit-based browser for Mac users and that the Linux crowd will be satisfied with Firefox and Opera for the moment.

To poorly paraphrase Lando Calrissian, Google’s Chrome is likely to allow all mobile users to truly surf with them amongst the clouds.


August 22, 2008  5:54 AM

XNA Game Studio offers opportunities for developers — what about the gamers?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

pong.jpg Ah, Pong. I pretty much understood that game. You may gather I’m not up to speed on the whole area. When it comes to gaming, I feel like Marge Simpson, asked what music she likes: Gaming is none of my business. Still, I think Microsoft’s move towards end-user programming is interesting. I’ll just leave it to wiser minds to evaluate the situation.

On Let’s Kill Dave, Dave Weller discusses what’s good and bad about Microsoft’s approach with XNA Game Studio:

Being an ex-XNA member, I can still say, without a shadow of doubt, that Microsoft is offering a groundbreaking game channel, and that some people stand a chance to make great money from the system. It’s an exciting opportunity, but the danger for consumers lies in Microsoft’s deliberate steps to avoid discussions regarding game quality, even during peer review. I firmly believe that avoiding commentary/ratings on game quality will result in frustrated consumers, who will have no way to discern the quality of a game among (ultimately) thousands.


August 20, 2008  6:58 PM

Video: MIT’s OpenCourseWare — Introduction to Algorithms (Lesson 1 and 2)

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Thanks to a friendly Creative Commons license, these introductory lectures could be uploaded to Google Video by Peteris Krumins from the host on MIT’s OpenCourseWare website. In his post about them on his blog at catonmat.net, Peter also has posted his notes on each lecture. As he notes, the first lecture is given by MIT professor Charles E. Leiserson, the “L” in the authors of the seminal book, Introduction to Algorithms. In other words, if you’re looking for an entrance point to understanding algorithms, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better authority or context.

Here’s Lesson 1:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-2333306016564732003" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

And here’s Lesson 2:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=6724701313234177393" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Thanks, Peter, and enjoy!


August 20, 2008  5:48 PM

Would you click a link offering to infect your computer? 409 people did.

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Security researcher Didier Stevens conducted a test last year to see what kind of a clickthrough rate you might get from an ad offering drive-by downloads. .16%, as it turns out…

Here’s an excerpt from his blog post about the test, “Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here!”

Would you click on this Google ad?

drivebydownload1.png

No? Sure? Because 409 persons did!

How do I know? Because I’ve been running this Google Adwords campaign for 6 months now.

.16% clickthrough. On an ad that was unabashedly offering to infect your computer. At a cost of $23. If Stevens had actually been phishing, he could have made some money.

You’d have to think that an ad that made some attempt at subterfuge would do considerably better. And most people looking to give you a virus or recruit you for their zombie army  at least offer you something you want. Steven’s ad didn’t even say the service was free.

I think I’ve been underestimating how lucrative this whole malware thing is.

~ Ivy Wigmore


August 19, 2008  5:57 PM

The floppy hasn’t died — it’s just become virtual

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

floppy-disks.jpg

On Of Zen and Computing, Tom Harrison writes about the virtual floppy disk:

Floppy disks have been obsolete for a long time now, but I can see this utility coming in very handy for someone who wants to work with a set of antiquated device drivers, or perhaps relive the good ‘ol days of Commander Keen and The Oregon Trail.

I haven’t missed floppies too badly. Of the three computers in our house, only one has a floppy drive. Still we do have an antique with that capacity. Should we ever need a virtual floppy, I guess we can use it to create one.  And, what with so many manufacturers omitting the drives from computers and so many retailers no longer selling diskettes (did anyone ever call them that?), you’d have to agree that at least the physical floppy is heading for extinction.

Elsewhere on the blog, Harrison explains why the floppy deserves to be dead. Well, for starters:

Floppy Disk capacity is virtually useless

So why do away with floppies? Simply put, their capacity is a joke compared to the size of today’s files and storage mediums. A floppy disk can hold up to 1.44 megabytes of data. Just how small is that?

* The capacity of an 80 minute CD-R is 486 times larger than a floppy disk.
* The capacity of a DVD is over 5000 times larger than a floppy disk.
* The capacity of a 512mb USB drive is over 350 times larger than a floppy disk.
* The capacity of a computer with a 150 gig hard drive is over 100,000 times larger than a floppy disk.

As you can see, you’d need volumes upon volumes of floppy disks to get the same capacity as modern storage devices.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I used a floppy disk. Give me another decade and I’ll probably have gotten rid of the piles of them on my office shelves…
~ Ivy Wigmore

(Photo credit: steffenz, republished under a Creative Commons Attribution license.)


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