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.
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.