Archive for December, 2007

Who’s rummaging through your files?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

In a recent article posted on Ars Technica, Kenneth Sodomsky (oddly similar to sodomy if you know the story) was prosecuted for child pornography after some techs at Circuit City found child porn on his computer. No doubt he was wrong as could be. His computer was littered with video and pictures of 13 – 14 year old boys being “touched” (s0rry for the gory details).  His information was turned over to the police by Circuit City after a tech was supposed to be installing a DVD drive on the computer. It was deemed that in the normal process of installing the drive the tech didn’t violate his privacy because he needed to search through his files for videos.

This is an American tragedy. Not because of the fact that we have perverts in the world looking at under age children.  That’s the perfectly obvious part.  However, I am appalled that he was prosecuted and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld that the techs needed to search through his computer for videos.  When has it ever been necessary for a person to need the video files on the computer to install a DVD drive.

The issue at hand is your privacy.  If you send your computer into a shop they don’t have the right to rummage through your files.  Imagine if the tech went through the person’s database or accounting data. This is very sensitive information but if information is on my hard drive it’s all sensitive.  I don’t even send in error reports on anything because that developer may keep IP address information with the data sent back to him with any other data that could be sold. This data could be used to give a company a competitive advantage because they know something about me that their competitors could never know.

Imagine if you’re an avid Quicken user and you files are looked at.  You could be brought up on charges of tax evasion or money laundering because of your shoddy accounting techniques. Does the ends always justify the means?  In my book the answer is no.  In the case of the Kenneth Sodomsky he’s getting what he deserves however, I would have rather him get it from good investigative work that my false privacy beliefs from your local computer store.

It’s not easy being green

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

I’m going through a change in my way of thinking. I’m not the guy that you’d usually think of as a tree hugger but I’m really thinking about our environment and “Green” solutions for everything. Well, I’m really interested right now in trying to make what I do more Green. If you’re not familiar with the term, “Green” means environmentally friendly like: biofuels, recycled goods, etc.

kermit6.jpgHowever, like the old Kermit the Frog song “It’s not easy being green,” it’s harder than it seems. So, for this I implore you to help me. As an IT guy I’m trying to come up with ways to help others become more green. The problem with it is is that it seems to always cost more for everything environmentally friendly in the end. I guess the only exclusion I know of is using used vegetable oil for fuel (of which you’d still have to find a place to acquire huge amounts of it).

I’m sure someone will tell me, “Isn’t it worth the extra cost for the environment?” This is true but the same reasoning applies to sodas being sold more than juices. It’s better for you but the cost makes you revert to the cheaper solution in the long term. I want to help change this. I thought about Solar Panels on my roof but the upfront cost scared me away unless I build my next home (which I plan on).

With this in mind. I guess the way to be the most green in computing is in three areas: Power consumption, cooling, and recycling. I’m big on the recycling part of it because I try to teach people how to use machines that are old for new things. However, if someone could give me more ideas I’d highly value those.

Nokia vs. Ogg? Why?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

In a recent article on Ars Technica I read that Nokia was fighting the W3C inclusion of the media codec OGG in the new HTML standard. Now this may sound like gobbly-goop to some but let me break it down.

MP3 files are the common media type for music that most people know off (AAC is the one for iTunes). What people don’t really know is that MP3 is a filetype that has a copyright on it and is not free. I have to admit I was enlightened on this subject a couple years back when I met this guy name Christopher Montgomery. He wrote audio codec OGG Vorbis and the video codec OGG Theora. I was shocked to know that video game producers have to license MP3’s for use. I was working a a media company at the time and was totally shocked because I instantly realized that since my company helped make a large amount of the commercials on TV that any audio that we used in these commercial products was liable for MP3 fees. Now more than likely this would never be enforced but the reality does exist for game programmers who license the most.

Now back to Nokia. They were just getting my vote as one of my new favorite companies because of the Nokia N810. It’s a beautiful handheld computer that does everything under the sun AND runs Linux. So, why would they try to fight HTML 5 including OGG? It’s free AND it’s opensource. Reading through their points you’ll be even more confused. They are as follows:

The position paper that Nokia submitted to the W3C touches on a variety of topics and mentions Ogg only briefly. The paper’s arguments can be summarized as follows:

  1. W3C shouldn’t make any standards relating to codecs. Leave that to other standards bodies like ITU-T and ISO/IEC.
  2. There are over a billion PCs in the world today, many connected to the web, but these numbers are tiny compared to traditional video playback devices like DVD players.
  3. This industry is used to paying license fees and royalties for video codecs like MPEG-2.
  4. This industry is used to making money, and it doesn’t care about keeping things free.
  5. Web codec standards should be either free or low-cost to implement.
  6. Web codec standards should support DRM to placate Hollywood, but DRM implementations should be optional.
  7. H.264 for video and AAC for audio would be Nokia’s recommendations for codecs.

Can I start with a resounding WHAT!!!??? This has to be the most convoluted piece of crap I’ve ever read. I think they must have first watch the famous Youtube video of Ms. South Carolina answering a question in a beauty contest before typing this up (watch the video and you’ll understand).

W3C consortium: I hope you see the stupidity in this and run with OGG. It will hopefully pick up adoption of the format so I can listen to my OGG audio in my car.

Xiph and Chris “Monty” Montgomery: Keep up the good work and as I’ve told you before if there’s anything I can do let me know. I think this format is due to take over.

I liken OGG to a concept ahead of it’s time. It’s like Jimmy Carter standing in front of a bioenergy powered car in the 1970’s. Once gas prices went down everybody forgot about it but now it’s all the rage to use Ethanol because we’re conscious of the environment. This is the same situation with OGG. Maybe when media producers start to realize that MP3 is costing them unnecessary money for a lesser codec OGG will rise in usage.

Learn a little more about the format at Xiph.org.

Ultimate home support system

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

When I last blogged about the Ultimate USB drive toolkit I mentioned that I would go further into why you’d need WinSCP.

Let’s start with a word that all techy types should know well: Server. If you don’t have one at home then you should think about it. I have a couple. Media servers for the TV’s, FTP, SSH, mail, video streaming, DNS, DHCP, etc. (A lot of acronyms there but I’ll get into them). Think of a server just like a waiter. You request something and it gives it to you. However, to really visualize it you have to think about having multiple waitors and they only serve one thing and do it well. Like sitting at your table and you request water and a waitor brings water. You flag down a different waitor for main dishes and he delivers that.

So, how does all this server stuff help you when you’re at a client’s house? That’s the cool part. I can get to my tools from
anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. You just need 2 basic services. HTTP (web server) and FTP (file transfer). You can do these with Windows or Mac but I’d suggest getting an old useless computer that has a network card and installing Linux on it. Almost all come with Apache for a http server and whatever ftp software you can select with your Linux distribution. (more…)

The age of altruism or just business as usual

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

If anyone has been following the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) drama it really makes you think about perception.  Perception has always and will always be the key to marketing any company.  I’m finding that the newest drama is the competition from Intel and Microsoft over needy children.  The OLPC is supposed to bet the “$100 laptop.”  It is supposed to be a cheap way to get computers to deprived countries and children.  Their plan is to also offer it to the everyday person and when they buy it they a PC gets donated to a developing country.  A very altruistic goal to say the least.

Here’s where the sharks enter the pool because they realize there are a lot of guppies.  Microsoft starts talking about building a “Classmate PC.”

cmpc-3.jpg

The real problem in Microsoft’s view is the fact that the OLPC runs Linux.  Microsoft couldn’t fear the growth of Linux more.  I’m sure that a million Microsoft zealots would love to debate that point but nothing helps Linux more than the idea of community behind it. It’s dripping wet with the altruistic mentality.  Linux taking over the server market slowly is almost acceptable but the desktop?  They already have enough competition from Mac on the desktop. Vista’s huge failure with anyone that knows better is fueling Mac and Linux.

Microsoft is no dummy though.  What do they do?  Jump on the bandwagon of “Let’s help the children.”  It gives Microsoft zealots a flag to wave.  It gives Microsoft the illusion of caring more about the people.  It also,  a good way to get the best marketing their is: Free marketing from the news.

History tends to repeat itself.  Right now we are heading for a 70’s movement developing hippies and flower children out of business men. Everybody wants to go “Green” now.  Automobile makers are thinking about how to save the planet through alternative fuels in the same way.  Big business wants to jump on board quick.

Don’t be fooled people.  For the same reason electric cars were always the ugliest cars Microsoft isn’t truly jumping into the classmate PC.  To care more about community would make them open the source code to some of their products.  It couldn’t hurt much.  They own most of the market.  Here’s an idea for them. Open the source code to something very off-beat like Visio.  It’s not a product that really effects the bottom line too much but it really makes it look like a serious effort. The average person doesn’t use it but after it’s free and open more people may want to outside of the networking community.

Trust me, I understand all sides.  I don’t mind Microsoft making it’s money.  That’s what America is all about.  However, altruism, community, and green living should be what humans are all about and that’s what open source and Linux are.  My mother was an art teacher so I grew up art and the joys of it so I understand how Apple thinks: Design and user experience are the joys of computing.  I get it.  However, if you’re going to pretend like you care… Please!  Really care.