30 May, 2008

How fragile is the Internet?

Update June 3, 2008
Jim Louderback, Revision3 CEO, joined the TWiT podcast on Sunday (posted June 2nd) and talked about the DoS attach quite extensively. Jim's a real class guy; check out what he had to say about the DoS attach, BitTorrent, and MediaDefender.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Internet TV company Revision3 suffered Denial of Service (DoS) attacks from MediaDefender. What specifically did MediaDefender do to Revision3 servers? MediaDefender flooded the Revision3 servers with 8,000 requests per second. With that type of volume, the Revision3 servers couldn't keep of with those requests, let alone legitimate requests for Revision3 content. Revision3 has posted an article with the details.

From the MediaDefender website,
MediaDefender, Inc. is the leading provider of anti-piracy solutions in the emerging Internet-Piracy-Prevention (IPP) industry. We provide services that stop the spread of illegally traded copyrighted material over the Internet and Peer-to-Peer networks.
MediaDefender clients include industry giants such as Sony and Universal Music. MediaDefender disguises themselves as a legitimate company stopping illegal distribution of media through brute-force techniques. But in this case, whether purposeful or accidentally, MediaDefender attacked a very legitimate media distribution business.

Revision3 was started and operated by long-time computer and Internet geeks and reports such as Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson, and David Prager that are very well respected in the industry. Revision3 uses peer-to-peer (P2P) media distribution to help manage costs of distributing their free media products.

Companies and groups trying to shut down illegal file distribution often attack P2P networks. This is the same protocol that Comcast was caught blocking a few months back (see SavetheInternet.com). In my opinion, this is just another example of companies and groups thinking they're above the law by hiding behind the guise that all P2P activity is illegal. This is just one more example of companies trying to hang-on to old business, cash cows, instead of adjusting to the opportunities of new technology.

To conclude, this is an example of how fragile the Internet can be when a company or group thinks their purpose is more important than the impact it causes to legitimate and lawful people and businesses.

28 May, 2008

Follow Roz Savage as she rows across the Pacific

Not many folks try to row across an ocean; Roz Savage has already rowed across the Atlantic, and Sunday morning she left from the San Fransisco Bay to row across the Pacific. You might ask, "What does this have to do with technology?" Well, Roz is keeping us all informed of her progress using technology.

If you visit Roz's website, you can follower her through a tracking console that shows her current location and where she's been. This includes a date-time stamp of her last report, her speed and course, and her latitude and longitude. Perhaps that's not for you... also on her site is daily blog posts.
For others, well you can track her Twitter feed, subscribe to text alerts on your phone, or listen to her podcasts (look for it to show on TWiT.TV -- the first recording happened today).

Now you know why I posted this on a tech blog. And if that's not enough, get a look at her boat, it looks pretty hi-tech too.

Get a glimse of Windows 7 and the multi-touch UI

Ballmer and Gates promise a late 2009 release of Windows 7 (and not a minute too soon). Here's a brief look at the UI.

Video: Multi-Touch in Windows 7

I think it looks good, but I don't like the idea of reaching over my keyboard to the screen -- I think it needs to be a tablet PC to really enjoy the multi-touch screen, not unlike the Microsoft Surface product. (Of course it works well on the iPhone, too.) I also wonder how it'll work for handicapped people -- those missing fingers, hands, or even just tremors.

22 May, 2008

Firefox issue? Create a new Profile

At work I was having trouble with any Google web property not displaying images when I used Firefox. I tried everything I could think of from changing Options to clearing cache to searching for a solution. I finally decided that setting everything back to "new install" state would have to be the way to correct it.

Of course I searched Google, and I found an answer on the Mozilla site that told me that by deleting the Profile file, Firefox would create a new one and I'd be good to go. Sure enough, it worked. I did lose most (maybe all) of my Extension configurations.

Deleting your Profile (manually):
  1. Close Firefox
  2. Enter %APPDATA%\Mozilla\ Firefox\Profiles\ into Run...
  3. Open the folder of the Profile you want to delete (the folder name will end with .ProfileName)
  4. Delete prefs.js
  5. Start Firefox

Well in researching this tonight to post, I discovered that I could have just created a new Profile - giving me the opportunity to see if that fixed the problem. If it did (which in this case, it did), then you can delete the old Profile. One advantage to this approach is that you can migrate over bookmarks (which I didn't lose when I deleted my profile) and other data to the newly created Profile.

Here's how you create a new Profile (in Windows XP):
  1. Close Firefox
  2. Enter Firefox -P into Run... (it must be a capital P)
  3. This launches the Profile Manager, where you can select the option to Create [new] Profile...
  4. Give your new Profile a name, accept the defaults, and now you have a new Profile

There's a bit more you will want to know. For example, how do you select which Profile to launch. Take for example you have created multiple Profiles because multiple people use the same computer. Well, you have some choices:

Option 1: If your Profile is not the default Profile, then use the Run... command (Firefox -P) each time you start Firefox and select your Profile and click the Start Firefox button.

Option 2: Following the same idea as Option 1, update your Firefox Shortcut and add -P to the target.
  1. Right-click on the Firefox Shortcut icon
  2. When the menu opens, click on Properties (a dialog box opens to the Shortcut tab)
  3. In the box marked Target replace "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" with "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -P
  4. Click OK
Option 3: Create Shortcuts for each of the Profiles by adding -P "name of your profile here"
  1. Make copies of your existing Firefox Shortcut. You need one copy for each Profile
  2. Right-click on one of the Firefox Shortcut icon
  3. When the menu opens, click on Properties (a dialog box opens to the Shortcut tab)
  4. In the box marked Target replace "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" with "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -P "name of your profile here"
  5. Click on the General tab
  6. Change the name (next to the Firefox icon) to the name of your Profile or another meaningful name
  7. Click OK
  8. Repeat for each Profile using a different copy of the original Firefox Shortcut icon.
In wrapping up, if you are having problems with Firefox and you believe it is related to the configuration, you just want to go back to all the defaults, or you want multiple profiles then create a new Profile.
  1. Create a new Profile
  2. Validate it works as you expected
  3. Import any data from the old Profile
  4. Delete the old Profile
Happy surfing!

20 May, 2008

Mini-blog post stream -- in real time

I just discovered this new web service, Cover It Live, that enables bloggers to post short commentary instantly onto a website. If you're familiar with Twitter, it is similar, but with a feed for a single event. As you can see on my right-nav column, I have added my own live Twitter feed; with Cover It Live, you can add a feed for a single event as a replacement or addition to a blog article.

The first example I saw was from Rafe Needleman, on his WebWare site. Rafe was blogging live (streaming) using Cover It Live while at the Google Factor Tour for Search event on Monday. I missed the live posting, but I was able to follow the commentary that he posted. I was also able to see the questions posted by those who were following Rafe. I found another example being used by a Yahoo! blog, Ball Don't Lie, where four bloggers posted commentary during the NBA Draft Lottery, followed by Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (Celtic and Pistons).

I haven't posted myself, but I did watch the video in the Features section of Cover It Live's website. The interface looks simple and easy to use, with your recent posts and a simple editor in the middle of the screen. In the right column is a list of reader comments, with editing function -- you have to click the (+) to publish a comment, so you can control what comments are viewed by your readers. On the left you have controls to add media, polls, and other functions. You can create polls ahead of time or on-the-fly. If you're showing media, it appears on the screen over the posts as long as you keep it there (a good way to have an introductory image before you actually start posting). Using the search feature, you can search Google or YouTube and drag specific results into the live blog window.

If you have tried real time blogging or considered it, Cover It Live seems to be a great solution. The posting side looks easy to use, and as a reader, I really liked it. Cover It Live is currently free; it's from a company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and has been available since late 2007.

15 May, 2008

Look up values in Excel

Formula explanation clarified 22-May-08.

I recently had the need to compare a long list of values with another list, and for the matches get a value from the same row. For example, if you have a long list of phone numbers and you want to find who they belong to, you could compare the phone numbers to a contact list, and for every match pull out the name. Oh, and if there is no match, you don't want to get an error message, but rather something more intelligent.

It takes 4 Excel functions to do this:
  1. IF(logical_test,value_if_true,value_if_false)
  2. ISERROR: Value refers to any error value (#N/A, #VALUE!, #REF!, #DIV/0!, #NUM!, #NAME?, or #NULL!)
  3. INDEX(array,row_num,column_num)
  4. MATCH(lookup_value,lookup_array,match_type)
Here's how to do it:
(I used carriage returns for display, this should be one continuous string)
  • phone!$A$1:$A$25 refers to the list of Phone numbers in my contact list (the tab name in my spreadsheet with this data is named "phone").
  • A8 is the particular cell that I am trying to match against the data in phone!$A$1:$A$25 -- When I start the formula, I am in B2, so this would be A2.
  • phone!$B$1:$B$25 refers to the list of Names in my contact list. When I find a match in phone!$A$1:$A$25, it takes the corresponding cell from phone!$B$1:$B$25 and puts the value in the cell of the formula.
I use the IF statement to check for no matches using ISERROR and the first use of the INDEX function. If there is an error, then the cell gets populated with NA. If there is no error, then the second INDEX function is used. With the second INDEX function, it calls the range to match against with phone!$A$1:$A$25; it uses the MATCH function then to populate row_num, col_num arguments.

Buy GM and Ford for less than Yahoo!

John C. Dvorak posted a great opinion piece in his PC Mag column on Microsoft buying Yahoo!. He reminds us that for the same $44 billion we could by GM and Ford and have enough left to have a great party too.
You could buy General Motors lock, stock, and barrel for $14 billion, name all the cars "Google Sucks," and get more bang for the buck. Heck, you'd have enough left over to buy Ford for around $16 billion, and you could name all those cars "Google Sucks More" and still have $14 billion left over for a big party.
He also points out Microsoft's (lack of) success with prior mergers. Give this one a read for yourself.

13 May, 2008

SnagIt for professional looking screen captures

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you have likely noticed the images and photos have a nice shadow and sometimes torn edges. These are two of the many features available from SnagIt -- a screen capture and editing program from TechSmith.

SnagIt screen capture of a long (scroll) list

SnagIt's screen capture options are pretty powerful. For example, you can use it to scroll a window to get the entire contents. And if the scroll is part of a drop-down box, SnagIt can capture that as well. It can even do short video captures of your screen.

In addition to the screen capture features, the latest version of the editing functions is better than ever. TechSmith has made it easy to add objects such as call-outs and arrows, with the ability to move them after placing them without having to understand layers or other more complex editing techniques.

From the TechSmith website, here are the system requirements:
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, XP x64, Vista 32-bit, or Vista 64-bit installed and configured on your system.
  • Internet Explorer 5.5 or later required.
  • Windows 2000 users require Windows Installer 2.0.
  • 90 MHz processor (400 MHz recommended)
  • 16 MB of RAM (64 MB recommended)
  • 20 MB of free hard disk space (30 MB for CDROM installations due to video tutorials)
I have been using SnagIt for 3 years, and with recently starting a new job, that was the one software package that was a must for me. TechSmith offers a 30 day trial, and you can buy it for $39.95; I also found a promotion code (SNUG) that will give you $10 off - that makes it only $29.95.

08 May, 2008

Net Neutrality or no tax breaks

As reported by Ars Technica, Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) let tech executives in Washington know that if ISPs move away from a neutral web then the government will move away from the tax breaks and other freedoms they have been benefiting from for the last 15 years as part of the Internet Tax Freedom Act.
Wyden delivered his ultimatum at a Computer & Communications Industry Association conference in DC, where he cast the entire network neutrality debate in terms of a legislative compromise.
The story goes on as Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) hosts a net neutrality meeting on Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008.
To establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summits to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes.
The premise is to prevent ISPs from put unfair constraints on its customers. For example, if content providers needed to pay extra for faster connections to its customers, then new players would have difficulty gaining traction if they do not have the financial backing to pay the blackmail delivery fee. I thought extortion has been illegal for years; but our ISPs would like to change that.

We're really fighting two different fights with net neutrality. In addition to the ISPs trying to added money to their pockets, the RIAA is trying to put more constraints to reduce piracy. My fear is that the two differing issues will prohibit our tech challenged government from making decisions in favor of the people. Remember to visit Save the Internet and use their services to help you contact your representative and tell them how you feel.

06 May, 2008

Legal new movie releases on your computer

Friday may 2nd, Apple announced a partnership with the 4 major Hollywood studios where they will make movies released to DVD available through the iTunes store on the same day they are released on the shelves of your favorite store. You can buy the movie in electronic format, with Apples proprietary DRM for $15 or rent it for $3.99.When was the last time you bought a new release for under $20? Never.

Of course watching it from your computer is not as comfortable as from your easy-chair. And, you need to wait for it to download into iTunes... unless you have Apple TV. With the release of Apple TV 2.0 in February, after a short buffer time, you can begin watching your new movie immediately while it finishes downloading in the background.

With Apple already being the leading provider of music in the U.S., I'm sure this move has gotten he attention of retailers Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and of course Netflix and Blockbuster. Apple continues to make it easier and easier to avoid the cost of gas to go to the retailers and the hassle of mailing (or returning) each DVD.

We still need to see some work to help consumers manage storage space and get more than just what Apple TV has to view Internet content on your TV, but it gets better all the time.

Want to read more about this? Check out the NY Times and Yahoo News.

04 May, 2008

Track LinkedIn with RSS

LinkedIn is a social website that is used to manage professional connections. Take for example the guy you worked with 3 years ago. Perhaps you're looking for a new job, and you remember he started his own company. Through LinkedIn you can find out if he has any job openings or perhaps one of his clients or friends does. Or, perhaps there's another colleague or former colleague that you though was just great to work with. You can write a recommendation for them on LinkedIn, to help them out the next time they're looking for new employment.

With LinkedIn's new RSS feature, you no longer have to login to the site to see what's new with your colleagues. Just add it to your RSS Reader, and you can view a headline of all their activity. Perhaps a current contact that you have in LinkedIn connects with a former colleague. Now that you see the former colleague has a LinkedIn account, you can send them a request to add them to your list of connections.

If you want to enable an RSS feed for yourself, go to the Accounts & Settings section -- the link is on the upper-right. Then scroll down to the bottom of the page, on the left side you will have an option to enable (or disable) your RSS feed and get the RSS feed URL.

Here is a link to my public LinkedIn profile. As of this post, I have 122 connections and 15 recommendations.
View Chris Todd's profile on LinkedIn

How does your brain stack up?

The BBC has a great site about the Human Body & Mind. I found it a lot of fun to complete two different tests: (1) Brain Sex and (2) Face Memory. As you likely know, both men and women are considered to be intelligent, yet they think differently. "The reasons for these brain sex differences, if they exist, are not known, though there are a number of theories that offer possible explanations." The Brain Sex test will score you against the average men and women and relate it to generalities about each sex.

The Face Memory test is part of information on Sleep. "Are you too tired to remember? 'Executive skills' such as memory are the first to go when you're tired. See how you score." Also included is a sleep quiz on"the top ten most fascinating and weird sleep facts."

I found each of the tests to be easy to complete and without much surprise. For example my right-side of the brain is more dominant. "Some studies theorise that as a right brain dominant person, you may excel in visual, spatial and intuitive processes." I also confirmed that I have a more difficulty expressing myself, and I speak less than my female friends.

03 May, 2008

Firefox - Safe For Work Web Pages and Referral Control

I found a couple of new Firefox extensions; the first is used to indicate whether a link on a web page is safe for work (SFW) or no (NSFW). You simple hover over a link on a web page and in the lower-right of your browser you will see SFW, NSFW, or Unrated. If you're on an existing web page, you can send your own rating; the extension uses user votes to determine SFW or NSFW. Go to No-NSFW to get this extension for yourself.

I found another, not so useful Firefox extension, RefControl. With RefControl you can change the referral page in your browser. As you may or may not know, when you visit a web page, it gets various information from your browser, including the page you were on previously. With refControl, you can change this to be what ever page you want it to be. In fact there are multiple options:
  • Normal - send the referrer as it would normally be sent without interference from RefControl.
  • Block - send no referrer to this site.
  • Forge - send the root of the site as the referrer. In the above screenshot, all pages from www.example.net will use http://www.example.net/ as the referrer.
  • Custom - type in any string and RefControl will use that as the referrer. You can use variables in this string (see the RefControl website).

Is your wireless network secure?

Living in an apartment, I found that many of my neighbors have not secured their wireless network. For example, one neighbor has a nice music collection.

I think this is a clear indication of how the computing environment is still too difficult for the average user. With that in mind, I recently ran across an article on Ars Technica, The ABCs of securing your wireless network, that helps explain the differences between the various networking options. The short answer is use WPA protocol to ensure adequate security.

For that matter, I recently threw away a wireless print server because it didn't support WPA. So, if you're running a wireless network, be sure to change the default password on your router and use WPA communication protocol.

Vista's failures and it should be a Mac

Industry pundit John C. Dvorak recently release an article on Vista's 11 Pillars of Failure. John makes some good points including the code bloat, missing drivers, and the confusion around the number of versions. On the other hand, Robert Strohmeyer of PC World in his article 18 Features Windows Should Have (but Doesn't), covers items as if the shortcomings are because it's not a Mac. Where John points out valid issues, Mr. Strohmeyer uses the Mac as an example instead of identifying real issues.

So if you you want a refresher on why you should stick with XP until Microsoft releases the next Windows version, read John C. Dvorak's article; If you want to see what features you're missing by not having a Mac, read the article by Robert Strohmeyer.