Sunday, August 31, 2008

PAX Post Tomorrow

The Penny Arcade Expo was a ton of fun! You can check my Twitter for the live micro-blogging I did, but I will be going into more details in my post tomorrow. Until then, I thought I'd help kick off the Sunday Stealing meme since I haven't participated in a meme in a while.

1. My uncle once MCed my brother's wedding reception.

2. Never in my life have I tried marijuana.

3. When I was five my parents did things I can't remember because I was 5 =P

4. High school was long, hard, and painful.

5. I will never forget to take my credit card back when I pay with it (I keep my wallet open in my hand).

6. Once I met Alex Albrecht (see tomorrow's post) =D

7. There’s this boy I know who has an obsession with fans.

8. Once, at a bar, I saw a bride-to-be dance on the bar for a free shot.

9. By noon, I’m awake and probably eating lunch (if it's a weekday).

10. Last night I went to sleep way too late.

11. If only I had my girl here with me.

12. Next time I go to church I will stay awake during the homily because I will not have had Theraflu.

13. What worries me most is that I will never make friends in Seattle nearly as awesome as the friends I had at UT.

14. When I turn my head left I see my dining room.

15. When I turn my head right I see the blinds covering my balcony door and corner window.

16. You know I’m lying when I can't look you in the eye.

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is the terribly tacky music.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be Hamlet? It's been like 4 years since I've read a Shakespearean play, give me a break here ;)

19. By this time next year I will have more vacation time! Wohoo!

20. A better name for me would be Victor. I really prefer Elton though, it's my friends who liked Victor.

21. I have a hard time understanding

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll

23. You know I like you if I clutter a lot and look at you a lot.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be my parents, for helping me get to where I am today.

25. Take my advice, never take your blessings for granted.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers

Opening Notes

I just wanted to mention a couple of things before I get started here. I got my Garmin nuvi 660 last week, and I'm pretty impressed with it. Other than the fact that it has troubles connecting to my crappy Treo 650 and there's a patch in Downtown that screws up where it thinks I am, it makes driving so much less stressful. If you've considered getting one, I highly recommend it. It will likely make you a better driver. I also picked up Veronica Mars Season 3, which makes it the only show I have all the episodes of (there are 68 of them). It got me in the mood for some web surfing and I found out that Kristen Bell spoke to Rob Thomas last week more seriously than at the end of the series about a Veronica Mars movie! Apparently, it's halfway to getting greenlit so that's very exciting news (so much so as to precede my main topic for today).

Stealing an Identity

I think that most people don't understand how identity theft works, but are probably aware of it thanks to movies and TV shows and, probably more notably, commercials. It's in the news, too, but I get the feeling that people don't read as much news anymore as they used to. Anyhow, the point I'm driving at is that it is pretty useful to understand how it can happen in protecting yourself. I really like Scientific America's article about a professor who decided to try stealing the identities of his friends, with their permission, and how easy it was. The article covers one case where he aims for a bank password, and the steps he takes aren't surprising or difficult, they just took him a little bit of creativity. With the rise of social networking in the past few years it's not hard to imagine a lot of people being susceptible to these sorts of attacks, but there are other ways to steal an identity, of course.

I think that what it really boils down to, in essence, is that you take a few minutes to think about your most important accounts (e-mail, bank, credit card, stock trader, etc.) and how easy it would be for someone to get access to that account whether by guessing your password, or tricking you into giving them access (aka "social engineering"), or by a "Forgot your Password?" screen, or by you simply making public more information than you desired. I challenge you to allocate an hour one lazy, Sunday afternoon towards this problem. I know, we're all busy, but you really don't want to deal with the consequences of someone stealing all your money right from under you.

Towards this end, the Internet Explorer team is venturing to do the smartest thing I've heard of them doing in a while and adding a "Privacy Mode" in the next version of IE that will allow you to browse more anonymously. This would protect you against more advanced identity theft attacks, but I'd call it a welcome new feature nonetheless.


Did I just make up that word? Probably, but I think it fits with this next article: CNN reports that "experts" say that the U.S. is at risk of cyberattacks. I don't think you need an expert to tell you that, but I guess it sounds good for a title. To be fair, I don't imagine many countries with a technological infrastructure that's not at risk of an attack, so don't hold it against U.S. officials. In case you didn't hear about this: Russia mounted an attack on Georgian government websites before mounting a ground assault in the first example of an Internet security breach starting a battle that we know of. The online assailants used what's known as a botnet, a network of zombie machines that do whatever a remote master commands them to (usually via encrypted messages), to launch the attack. The zombies were probably victims of a worm.

The article poses some interesting questions: the openness and pervasiveness of the Internet in this country that makes it so great is what also makes it dangerous. It wouldn't take very many people at all to put together a devastating virus or Denial of Service attack to do something like cripple our technological financial infrastructure or even big American websites. I could go on, but the point is that how far would one have to go to start a war with the us? How do you demarcate something like that? I'm not saying that such an attack would be easy or necessarily possible, but if it's one thing that I've learned about technology is that there's always a way to break it, now matter how foolproof you may believe it to be. That's what really worries me. Is that kind of a threat worth the conveniences we get in modern society as a result of these technological advancements?

The HTC Dream Becoming a Reality

The FCC has approved the first phone using Google's Android open mobile platform: the HTC Dream. In case you haven't heard of it: Android was Google's answer to the iPhone Operating System (OS) very early on. It had no hardware (read: no phones) behind it, but Google promised some great features including SQLite (a great database), an optimized virtual machine, customized graphics libraries, an iPhone-like web browser experience using the open source browsing platform WebKit, a supposedly great development environment (including lots of prize money for the first great applications development for it), and support for more things than you can shake a stick at (several video and still image formats, EDGE, 3G, GSM, Bluetooth, WiFi, a camera, GPS, accelerometer, compass, etc.). Basically, it's supposed to be a magical OS. Some developers have been stubbed more recently regarding updated SDKs (given to only the privileged, apparently). In my opinion, the most exciting thing about this early on was that it would be easier to develop for more and more robust the existing mobile platforms, and unlike with the iPhone you woldn't have to have Steve Jobs approve your application you could just make it and post it on your website, if you wanted to.

Naturally, all these things are meaningless without an actual phone. In comes the HTC Dream, which supports the things all smartphones do nowadays (making calls, texting, e-mail, taking/displaying pictures, video playback) in addition to having a touch screen, supporting 3G and WiFi networks, memory card expansion, Google Street View (with a compass, because of the accelerometer), integrated access to pretty much all the Google services (Gmail, Google Talk, search, YouTube, etc.), and more. The speculation is that the phone is likely to be released as early as October, but almost certainly by Black Friday (or, if you buy into the confidentiality request on the FCC filings as being an accurate indicator, by November 10). I have to admit that this looks like a much more able competitor to the iPhone than the Samsung Instinct was. There are actually a couple of phones besides the iPhone that people seem to swear by, like the Blackberry Curve (or the Instinct, which has gotten decent reviews), but the Dream has more features than any other smartphone seems to have individually. Of course, it will never have the tight-knight iTunes integration and iPod-like interface that the iPhone has, but that could be a plus or a minus.

I think that a lot of people are downplaying the importance of the Dream when it's really quite important for HTC (whose Sprint phone was not well-received) and Google as a test for the Android platform. It wouldn't necessarily doom Android if the phone was seriously flawed, but it would definitely make the battle for Google steeper and give Apple more fodder in comparing the iPhone to rivals (God knows they do too much of that with Vista, leading to them hire Jerry Seinfeld to run defense in one of Microsoft's largest marketing campaigns). Apple fans are probably rolling their eyes that a phone could possibly come close to inspiring the kind of joy that the iPhone has a record of causing, but I definitely hear a lot of discontent about it since the iPhone 3G was released. In fact, some people are filing a class action lawsuit regarding the 3G flakiness. It's not so crazy to think that it could be dethroned in its popularity, even if not by the Dream. I really want the Dream to be a worthy competitor, and I guess that we'll hear more about it in due time.

3-D Panoramas

I love photography, and I'm a super-amateur photographer on my own (I don't think I'll ever be amazing at it, but I have a lot of fun with it as a hobby) so this NY Times article about Microsoft technology to construct 3-D panoramas easily piqued my interest. It's called Photosynth, a project of Microsoft Research, and it's totally free. One of the hardest things about being in Europe and taking pictures of some of the most amazing things I've seen in my life was figuring out how to share the views with others and hold on to the memories in a tangible way. I did my best to take pictures and even create panoramas, but this would've been even cooler. All you do is take a ton of pictures in a given area (it can be at different angles and you can move around, no problem), and it synthesizes them together into a 3-D environment! It's definitely not perfect, and has some UI kinks (plus, supposedly you don't know how good your synth is until you've uploaded all your photos), but it's free (unlike Quicktime VR) and offers as much zoom as the resolution you've uploaded for the pictures you take, which allows for incredible detail. I wonder if video games will ever take advantage of this technology? It could make real world settings look even more real and maybe your house in the Sims could really be your own house. I'm tempted to try it out on my own apartment, but I'm a bit too tired today to do it right now.


Get your mind out of the gutter, I have a few items I wanted to touch on briefly before I wrap this puppy up. Lifehacker always plugs great little hacks to make your life easier and I almost skipped over their top YouTube hacks until I started trying them and realizing how awesome they were. It's definitely worth checking out (especially the Better YouTube plug-in).

I really wanted to talk more about this but I just had too much news to cover this time around and not enough time: Read Write Web has a great list of the top 10 web platforms to keep your eye on. So if you want to know what's hot in web development, you should definitely explore Weave, Android, Live Mesh, and the others on their list.

Do you hate captchas (the pictures you have decipher to prove that you're not a computer)? If so, then you're definitely not alone: check out some of the worst around. I love the ones that seem like brain teasers your elementary school teacher would give you as busy work "for fun".

I usually don't pay much attention to Photoshop articles, but I could not pass up this one detailing the nicest effects you can do with Photoshop. It covers some elements that I always love seeing in pictures so I was amazed to learn how easily someone could do them with the magic of Photoshop.

I like Gmail a lot and this list sums up some of the things I like most about it. It's worth a read if you're skeptical about switching.

PAX This Weekend!

The increasingly awesome Penny Arcade Expo is this weekend and I'm even more pumped for it than before after catching wind of the schedule. I will probably be glued to PAX from opening to close with all the great panels, concerts, and game-playing events planned! If you want to get the live skinny on PAX, I'll be twittering things as they happen (I have a Twitter widget somewhere on the right here). I'm sure that awesome things will be announced, like at Leipzig where cross-compatible of equipment was announced for the PS3 between Rock Band 2 and the next Guitar Hero and Rock Revolution. I will also be blogging after the convention is over, but I'm not sure how I'll handle this week's tech news. I'll highlight the top items somehow, rest assured of that. Until then, enjoy your week! I have to get some work done before hitting the sack.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Security Bytes Galore

I think that like half the news I found most interesting last week is security related, so let's get down to it!

Defcon Tidbits

Last weekend was Defcon, the Las Vegas convention where hackers and security experts gather to learn from one another and have some fun. One of the things in the latter category was that a couple of hackers were beaten by a relatively simple man-in-the-middle attack (sitting between you and the network and giving you bad packets). One of the former items was an anticipated lecture on a huge DNS security hole. A Domain Name System (DNS) server is what the URLs you write in your address bar get sent to so that you can get an IP address instead. If someone were to compromise the DNS server that you use, they could send you to phishing sites (i.e. fake bank sites and such). The particular exploit he's describing is the fact that if the DNS server you're querying doesn't have an answer, they refer you to other servers based on their response to a query for something called a Transaction ID - a number between 0 and 2^16. Of course, if a bad guy can guess this number then he can pretend to be a DNS server, and he can re-try multiple times so his odds aren't as bad as you'd think. The fix is to increase the range of this ID and not be so lenient about a bad transaction ID, but if your DNS servers (usually defaulted by your ISP) don't have the patch, then you're kind of screwed. The fix is to use OpenDNS, and they have directions for how to switch to them.

One last thing from Defcon: it's not as hard as you make think for someone to get into your Gmail account if you didn't choose the option to always use https. I was fooled, too: just because you type in does not mean that the secure cookie (i.e. your authentication token) you have can't get stolen by someone listening in on your requests to http:///, so make sure you go to your settings and look at the bottom of the general tab for that https option.

Facebook Phishing and Identity Theft

With popularity comes the privilege of being targeted by the sleazebags of the computer underworld. One such Chinese sleazebag has somehow managed to send out messages that look like they're from a friend of yours that ends up at the Facebook login page, but it's really, and it takes your login information. Why would this be a problem? Because people use the same passwords on many sites, and it could be enough to steal someone's identity. These Chinese hackers do not mess around, so be wary of this. I always wondered at what point these sites would be big enough to be serious security risks (the MySpace stuff was small fry stuff), so I wonder if this is the start of something big.

Back to the bigger issue though: identity theft. Consumer Reports has a pretty good list of things you may screw up online that threaten your identity, of which the above is actually one. My favorite one is to not assume your Mac is a secure because it's a Mac. It astounds me how defensive some Mac users get when I tell them that Safari is a terrible piece of software and they should be using Firefox. As for the online shopping thing: Amazon has a lot of people dedicated to detecting and preventing fraud, so you can shop assured that there are people who have your back.

Privacy Breaches?

Several Internet firms have admitted to using tracing cookies to help drive some targeted advertising without explicitly mentioning it, but I was honestly not all that shocked. For one thing, you should be using SpyBot so these cookies shouldn't stay on your machine for long, but I also don't think that there's necessarily anything wrong with these cookies. I think people should be informed that they're taking on these cookies, but I don't think they compromise anyone's privacy. That's just me though, I can understand people getting offended and I think they should be allowed to opt-out.

You should be more concerned about using torrents without getting shut down, even if it's for legal purposes. there's now a program called TorrentPrivacy that creates a secure connection between your machine and a server that downloads the torrent on your behalf and sends the data to you securely (read: encrypted) so that an ISP can't block your download or throttle it. Pretty nifty, huh? I don't know if the ISPs can ever detect this, but maybe if they figure out what servers are doing this they can just block connections to them without discrimination? Of course, with the FCC's recent actions against Comcast (see my last post), they'd be stupid to do so without making it public. Wouldn't that be an interesting PR conference? That they're blocking out an Internet server for trying to give people data that outsiders can't look in on? That would be mutiny for VPN, which is how big companies allow their employees to work remotely, so I think that TorrentPrivacy is a pretty solid solution.

More Apple News

No matter how I try to avoid it, Apple seems to work its way into the limelight week after week. The first thing is real quick: Steve Jobs has admitted to the kill switch that I admitted to last week (to delete any of your iPhone apps). And what's his reasoning? In case they accidentally approve a malicious application. Am I the only person who thinks this is stupid? Also, it's a lie: Apple doesn't care about you past your wallets, the real reason for this kill switch is if their approval people let in an application that displeases AT&T or something in their terms of service. So the what the Hell is the point of their approval process? They're basically telling us that these guys are so incompetent that they had to build in a kill switch. By the way, if they really cared about security they would include a garbage collector in their platform to plug up the buffer overflow exploits that are likely already in the works.

I used to love iTunes, but with each new version they added stuff I didn't want and made it slower. PCWorld is running an article about what they hate from iTunes, and I agree with pretty much all of their points. The most annoying things are the update pushes that they shove down your throat for other Apple products and the fact that it won't monitor folders because it assumes that you only use the iTunes music store. I think that Media Monkey is much better, easier to use, and lighter on memory usage. I have to admit that I did like cover flow though and it has a great CD ripper.

Now for some good Apple news: they're worth more than Google. As you can imagine, this has drummed up quite a bit of controversy, but it's not that extreme when you consider the monumental success of even the newest iPhone and their surging sales in laptops and even iMacs. What has Google done that's so great lately? That being said, investors are irrational and their stock worth doesn't mean that they're necessarily a better company, but I personally believed that they're more focused and will do better in the long run as a result if they can just groom someone to be as resilient a leader as Steve Jobs (but preferable not as scary).

Final Tidbits

It's getting late so let me wrap things up. There's a new P2P game in town called Playlouder that allows you to pay a subscription fee each month to pirate as much as you want and then they pay the copyright holders the appropriate royalties, but TorrentFreak is not impressed. I agree with TorrentFreak: it's not feasible and is going to fall apart quickly.

Intel has announced that their new chip will be called the Core i7, and all will be explained later on as the first of these energy efficient chips will be due Q4 this year. I'm hoping for a bigger L1 cache and more of those architecture features that will make multiprocessors more usable.

Lastly, NBC's olympic site is pretty much only guaranteed to work for Windows users, which leaves some Apple users and all Linux users out in the cold. Given the worldwide importance of the olympics, this is just terribly ignorant. Then again, these are the companies that hate DVRs and online TV because they detract from their antiquated business model, so I guess it's too much to ask that they not exclude valuable customers.

Hack Day

That's it for my real post, but I just wanted to briefly mention that Amazon had a Hack Day last week and it was great. Needless to say, I won't be revealing anything that was created during the event, but it was a really humbling experience. I didn't manage to finish what I was working on, but I was just amazed by what some people were managed to accomplish in a 24 hour time period. It really gave me something to aspire to, and I really took a lot away from it. The main thing I learned is to never underestimate the importance of research and design in any project, no matter how easy or small it seems. Also, never underestimate a team of really bright programmers. Amazon truly has some of the best talent around, and I'm very grateful to get to work with some of them. Today's company picnic was more fun than I thought, and we ever got goodies from Amazon Fresh!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

iPhone Disappointments

Before I get started, I just want to say how shocked and sad I am about the death of Bernie Mac. It's one thing when comedians like Rodney Dangerfield die who hit their prime before your time, but Bernie Mac has been getting better and better in recent years (especially loved him in Ocean's Thirteen). I know there's no chance his family reads by small-time blog, but my condolences still go out to them.

Apple's Secret URL

Apple always encourages so much positive buzz for the iPhone and enough people like it that I feel it's my duty to do my duty to help Apple down a notch. The most alarming thing I came across is that a developer (and book writer) discovered a URL built into the iPhone OS that lets Apple see what apps are installed on your phone and delete them, if they're on a blacklist. This is probably for security reasons (Apple claims that it's to protect your privacy), but this is kind of a privacy breach, I think. Plus, it's kind of shady that they weren't upfront about it. Their model of tight control doesn't translate well to phones, where smartphone users are not so used to having all these restrictions imposed on them. My Treo 650 may suck, but at least I can install what I want on it without it going through some approval process and I know that no one but me can get delete it. I wonder if they'd refund you the money for an application you bought and was subsequently deleted by them.

Apple's NDA

That's not the other iPhone 3G disappointment, there's also the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that is tying developers' hands behind their backs. Basically, developers of the iPhone applications are not allowed to get help from one another and, as with any new platform, they're running into plenty of issues that they're not allowed to tell anyone about or get help with. There's even a website dedicated to the frustration. I can't even begin to say how terrible a move this is. If you do this to the people the help make your phone a success, they're not going to do as well for your platform. The software quality will be degraded and they'll probably put more effort and churn out better products for competing platforms. The Blackberry OS really isn't that bed, and the Android is still on its way (though its relationship with developers also needs to improve), so Apple should really watch out.

PCs Get Even Cheaper Than Macs

While I'm taking pot shots at apple, how about one more? When I got this computer, it was my first (and still my only) Vista machine, and the more I used it the more I realized that you can do everyone on a PC that you can on a Mac (I played around with Macs a lot in the Spring when doing my Net Neutrality movie). The biggest difference between a Mac and a PC, besides the interface style, is the price, and that difference has gotten even bigger. You can get an Inspiron with comparable hardware to an iMac for more than $400 less. Apple brings in the big bucks with high profit margins on their hardware, especially with absurd margins on RAM. So think twice the next time you shop for a Mac.

Laptop Searches

I keep meaning to mention that the Department of Homeland Security has decided that it can conduct searches of laptops at borders without probable cause. As you can guess, I'm appalled by this. Think Progress articulates things better than I can, but the bottom line is that the difference between them searching your bags and searching your laptop is extremely sensitive data. For example, if they wanted to search my laptop then I'd either be sued for resisting or sued for letting them and giving free access to non-public data. Also, would your luggage contain your financial records or your personal photos? All it takes is one corrupt officer for people to get their identities stolen under the veil of a legal search without probable cause. If you're similarly appalled, then get involved.

Metered Broadband

I'm not sold on metering the Internet, which would be you paying for bandwidth based on how much content you download. You know how you have to pay for the minutes you use on your cell phone? Imagine having to do that for your Internet. Don't you hate shopping for cell phone plans that all seem like a rip off? I worry that it won't be as simple as a 5 GB limit per month, but rather would get more complicated like your phone bill is. Theoretically, it could be cheaper for most people because they don't use the Internet a whole lot, but if more people use less of the Internet then they'd probably end up paying the same as they do right now (due to the greed of the ISPs) while the rest of us would have to pay exorbitant rates. A lot of dorms have stuff like this and if you ask the students they'll tell you how much they hate it. As an example of the problem already starting, the NBC Olympics site warns you of consuming their content too much if your broadband is metered. Can you imagine monitoring how much video you watch on sites like YouTube or television networks so that you don't go over? I'm pretty surprised the Vint Cerf, the Father of the Internet, supports broadband caps.

Why would ISPs want to do this? Because all these years they've been making money by adding people to the same infrastructure, but now that people are starting to use the Internet more they didn't have the foresight to use their massive profits to improve their network and are trying to squeeze more money out of us. Frankly, I'm not biting on their whining that they need the money to boost innovation and crap like that, and I don't know why Cerf is either.


Google's offices in Mountain View have become the stuff of legend now for a lot of developers. The employees take a salary hit for the perks, but the principle is that it leads to higher productivity because the employees are happier and want to stay at work longer. Personally, I think it's a noble idea that Google has become a little too arrogant about, and staying at work for more than 40 hours a week isn't necessarily a good thing. Regardless, I can't argue that their campuses are pretty cool. I think if Amazon dropped that kind of cash on its campus the customers would feel like they weren't getting the best prices on products and a competitor would cut corners to drop their prices even lower, but Google has no such problem with plenty of eyes (for now, at least) on their search engine.

The point of all this is really just a pictorial of their offices around their world, which I had no idea there were so many of (I don't know how they operate with so many offices like that, but I'm sure they're good at it). They've definitely got some style, and I think my favorite office is in Zurich:

Most Bank Sites Insecure

A study from the University of Michigan has revealed something that most security experts probably already knew: the majority of websites for banks are not quite secure. A shocking half of the banks observed did not transmit login information over SSL, which means that an eavesdropper could see what you were sending to your bank and while you probably weren't transmitting your user name and password in plaintext it would probably leave you vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack or a similar attack since the "bank" doesn't have to verify its identity to you. Another big no-no is redirecting users to outside sites without warning. If you get redirected somewhere while banking online, be very afraid and call your bank's support immediately. Anyway, the study is an interesting read and will probably make you pretty paranoid about checking your bank statements for strange activity. I don't know what a better alternative would be since it seems like no matter how you bank you're susceptible to fraud and identity theft (eavesdropping at a branch, mail tampering, phone taps, etc), but hopefully more banks will ramp up their online security.

Final Notes

Just a couple of quick things before I sign off here. Facebook has re-designed their site and I actually like it. I'm usually pretty hard on them, but this actually shows some understanding of the clutter that the site has been accumulating and takes a stab at organizing things intuitively.

The other thing is that Olympus and Panasonic are working on developing smaller SLRs (the big, high-end cameras that produce excellent quality pictures and are designed for pros) so that more people can use them. I would personally love an SLR, but I'm too used to the convenience of an ultracompact (my PowerShot Digital ELPH).

I'm going to finish watching Black Snake Moan (an excellent movie so far) and hit the sack (I finally got a bedding set!). Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Comcast's Day of Reckoning is Here


I just wanted to start off the post with some great news: I received by badge for PAX! So it's now a sealed deal. I'll be twittering updates directly from the exhibit hall and I'll probably blog at the end of it about the things I saw that I'm most excited about. I've always wanted to go to E3 so to finally be able to go to what's probably now the largest gaming convention in North America is pretty cool. I really love putting up original content so this will be a fun learning experience for me, too, on that front.

In other slightly notable news, I bought Devil May Cry 4 on Friday and it's definitely like Devil May Cry 3 but much prettier. It may end up being easier, too, we'll see. I'm going to probably be more focused on Metal Gear Solid 4.

One last personal note: I finished reading 'Salem's Lot and I was really impressed by it. I feel like every Stephen King book I read is my favorite King book, but this one really is ;) If you're interested in vampires or horror, this is a must-read. It's actually less about mayhem and more about the characters and how the town copes with the anomalies that start to occur.

A Red Letter Day

If you don't know what Net Neutrality is, I urge you to watch my short film explaining it in laymen terms.

And now for my headline story: August 1, 2008 was a red letter day for the fight over net neutrality. In a shocking ruling, the Kevin Martin's FCC ordered Comcast to stop blocking content (they were blocking P2P connections quite regularly in some areas) and publicly disclose how it handles Internet traffic. It's shocking because it's the government telling the people that they're right, and Kevin Martin isn't necessarily known for standing against the industry but I think that Congress was suspicious of this so I guess he's changed his ways. Also, this ruling sets a precedent against blocking Internet traffic and support the FCC's so-called four freedoms.

As you can imagine, some people are excited and some people are really pissed. Comcast and other ISPs have already begun rattling their sabers and are considering litigation. I imagine that they'll question the FCC's authority to pass such a ruling, but they having stated publicly (yet) what legal recourse they have. Time Warner has gone so far though as to say that the ruling will have a "chilling effect" on investors and innovation (funny, they haven't had problem with either before restricting content). Anyway, I'm pretty excited about the decision and look forward to this being the start of a bright future for the Internet, if this trend continues.

One more thing on the FCC: they're proposing a nationwide wireless Internet service with the pornography filtered out. This makes sense coming from a typically conservative FCC, but it definitely steps on the fingers of the first amendment, as some advocacy groups are fighting for. It must be rough fighting for the rights of people who film sex, but any censorship on the Internet could lead to a slippery slope and such access control should be left to parents. I mean what problem would doing this solve? There's Internet not controlled by the government that's not censored, so there's always a way for determined minors to get around it. Also, why are we wasting money on a national broadband service? Why not just promote more competition in ISPs?

Apple Update

Apple has been having some trouble with its MobileMe service. I don't use it myself but users have been abuzz with near daily outages for some users. It's at the point that Jobs is personally overseeing the fixes, probably with a long whip. It amazes me that they would release this sort of service without stress testing it more thoroughly. My guess is that it was triggered by 1G iPhone users upgrading to 2.0, because my brother's update was taking forever. I guess it runs on the same hardware as MobileMe? By the way, if you want your own iPhone but don't want to go to AT&T, then you'll have to wait until at least 2010.

One last bit of Apple news, and this one has been everywhere: they're telling retailers to stock up on their MacBooks and iPods, theoretically in preparation for fresh merchandise. This would mean some sort of drastic change on both lines, but why would it be drastic enough for consumers to not want it? They are expecting lower profits next quarter, so maybe they're just being bear-ish about it? Also, if they expect demand to be so high for the existing lines, why not keep this a secret from the retailers (i.e. the public) and just stock up in their own warehouses? Something is fishy about this...could it be a smoke screen?

Firefox's Market Share Grows

Firefox is going strong with its market share exceeding 20% while Internet Explorer shrinks to below 70%. This is pretty impressive considering that they were under 10% just a few years ago. The Firefox team is also gearing up for version 3.1, which includes visual tab switching (kind of Aero-like) and wildcard searching in your address bar for past URLs. They're minor adjustments, but I'm really looking forward to the latter.


Microsoft has been working on a project called Midori that is supposedly an alternate OS to Windows. The speculation is that it'll be an Internet-based OS as Microsoft observes the growing trend of virtualization, and if that's true then this is probably the first time in a long time that Microsoft is really thinking ahead of the curve. If we could sell thin clients then even more households could have computers and laptops for less.

Adsense for Games

Google is looking into how to put advertising into games, something that I thought would've already been implemented by now by somebody. They've already developed a technology to insert video ads (probably in "beta", knowing Google), but I personally think that video ads will just alienate customers frustrated with it and wishing they could pay to just get rid of them. Why not do things like product placement, billboards, and other forms of more subtle advertising without having the game characters cop out and say "and now a word from our sponsors!" I could get behind something like that if it significantly reduced the price of a video game or if it made the game free with a paid, ad-free version, but I can't find any more details so hopefully we'll learn more soon.

In other Google News, their Street View (in Google Maps) has been approved for the UK, which isn't too surprising given that the government there already has cameras everywhere to monitor the people, but people have been suing Google in the U.S. without much success. I don't think Street View is all that bad, unless it's regularly updated. One more thing from Google: they've been investing in eco-friendly vehicles, including the awesome 300 MPG Aptera. I think this is kind of straying from their core business a bit much, but I guess diversification isn't a bad thing.

Quick Notes

There's just two more things I wanted to mention. The first is Gizmodo's explanation of every cable you'll probably encounter right now. It has a lot of information you never know you wanted to know, so it's at least worth a glance. The other thing is the best primer to the Linux command line that I've ever seen. If you're scared to touch a Linux machine, then read it and don't be afraid anymore!