30 July, 2008

How safe is your laptop?

Dell recently release a report (30-Jun-08) on loss of laptops at airports, and a whopping 12,000 are lost every week. For class B airports such as LAX, JFK, Dulles, the average is 286 laptops per week per airport. In addition, over 50% of those surveyed said their laptop contained sensitive information. Sixty-five percent of the same survey group said they do not take any special precautions to protect their data. In addition, 42% of the respondents do not have their data backed up. What are you doing to protect your laptop and its data when you travel?

Of course if you are a Dell customer, the now have some offerings to help address this problem. About.com offers 8 tips for travelers with laptops.

The rules for inspecting your laptop when coming in and out of the country has recently changed too. Did you know that your laptop can be seized at the border for inspection for no reason at all?
International travelers entering the United States face potential inspection and seizure of their laptops and other electronic devices, and copying of the electronic files they contain as part of the country's border security.
-- The Transnational
This is a fight that is just beginning. Congress heard from advocacy groups and others recently on this subject, though the Department of Homeland Security (who has control of this process) failed to participate.
Upheld in April by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit federal appeals court decision, such activity by border patrol agents has drawn criticism--especially as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not complied with requests to provide information--and was the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing last month.
-- The Transnational
So in addition to potentially losing your laptop when going through security domestically, you can potentially lose your laptop to the Feds when entering or leaving the country. I have heard some industry experts suggest that before traveling out of the country, you should back up all your data through a web service, delete it from your laptop, and then restore it once you arrive at your destination. The delete and restore may be a bit much, but having access to your files over the web could be a good backup plan if your laptop is seized, lost, or even if it breaks down.

Be careful out there.

How much energy and money are you wasting while not using your electronic gear?

I recently found a chart that lists common electronic gear and the power and money spent while they sit idle. For plasma TV owners, you far outpace anything else at $160 / 1452.4 kwh annually ($0.11 p/ kilowatt hour). Many of these devices can be plugged into a power brick, and when not in use the brick can be turned off, therefore not consuming any power.

29 July, 2008

Cell phone induced cancer

The Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, released an advisory on Thursday July 24, 2008, encouraging people to change the way they use cell phones as a precaution against cancer (PDF).
Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer.
Dr. Herberman in particular cites concerns over children using cell phones, "Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies." This was the first item of 10 precautionary guidelines to help you reduce the possibility of cell phone induced cancer. Other guidelines include using a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone over putting the phone up to your ear.

Also worth noting, as mentioned as guideline 10, different phones have varying power levels that affect how much radiation is absorbed by the body (SAR). Guideline 10 encourages users to use the lowest possible SAR rated phone you can. Fortunate for us, CNet has a list of cell phone SAR ratings. Don't be surprised that in getting a lower SAR rated phone, you have a harder time making calls in outlying areas, as the SAR rating has to be related to your phones transmission strength. The better your transmission strength, the greater the SAR.

Oh, the unintended consequences of technology...

28 July, 2008

Convert Date/Time Format With MS Access

I haven't had to use MS Access in 7 or 8 years, so recently when I had to do some simple data conversion, it took me longer than it should to figure out how to best accomplish the task. I needed to run some reports against some Salesforce.com data, and the data set was too large for the built-in report tool to handle, so I decided to import the data into Access to perform the reporting.

I quickly learned that the date/time format from Salesforce.com is not in the same format as Access. The solution is actually quite easy... transform the data when you import it. I began with my Salesforce.com data in the form of a CSV file (too big for Excel). Here are the steps I used:
  1. Link to the CSV data source
  2. Create a Make Table Query against the CSV datasource, selecting all data columns -- of course you only need to select the columns that you want to import
  3. Replace every date/time field with a forumla that parses the format and writes it in the format Access will accept.
    • Salesforce.com format: 2008-03-09T19:04:02.000Z
    • Access format: 2008-03-09 19:04:02
    • Formula: NEW_COLUMN_NAME: CDate(Left$([CREATEDDATE],10) & " " & Mid$([CREATEDDATE],12,7))
      NEW_COLUMN_NAME is the name of the column you want in your imported data
      CREATEDDATE is the name of the column of the data you are parsing
      CDate converts the string to a date
      Left$ and Mid$ are standard string parsing functions
      & " " & joins the string functions with a space in between
That's it. Now I have a table in Access with the correct date/time format so I can run my reports.

20 July, 2008

Keyboard shortcut for cycling through Firefox 3 tabs

Here's a quick tip for cycling through Firefox 3 tabs using the keyboard:
Hold the CTRL key and press Page Up (left) or Page Down (right)

Put your idle computer and games machine to work

When you are not using your computer or game machine, what are they doing? Just for the cost of electricity, you can contribute to worthy causes such as protein folding or searching for ET. Organizations from Stanford (Folding@home) and Berkley (SETI@home) have small programs that you can download for your computer, that will only run when your computer is idle. Folding@home and SETI@home are able to do this through using Grid Computing technology.

The Folding@home project started in 2000 with assistance from Intel, Google, and others.
What is protein folding and how is folding linked to disease?
Proteins are biology's workhorses -- its "nanomachines." Before proteins can carry out these important functions, they assemble themselves, or "fold." The process of protein folding, while critical and fundamental to virtually all of biology, in many ways remains a mystery.
So with the help of the Folding@home project, researchers are able to process data faster than ever before, in an effort to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington's, Parkinson's disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes. The Folding@home website has more information to help us understand the science behind folding.

Oh, and I had mentioned game machines too. Well using your PS3, you can also help with the Folding@home project. It's time we see the Xbox 360 on this list -- perhaps our old friend Bill can look into this.

The SETI@home project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been around since May of 1999, leveraging unused computing cycles to process data.
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.
Finally, both of these projects also monitor your stats and have various communities centered around them. For example, the DL.TV podcast provides a weekly update of their team rankings, and encourages their users to participate to help out-do other groups.
Okay, so what does you computer or game machine do when you're not using it?

10 July, 2008

Who has the best gas prices?

As we have all been struggling to keep up with the rising gas prices, one service Internet service has been developed to help you find the lowest price in your area. That would be GasBuddy.com. GasBuddy has any easy interface (despite the busy distractions): click your state and enter your zip code - that's it.

You can also find the average price for gas in each state plus Washington DC. Here in Oregon, we're currently averaging $4.268, 45th of 51. The lowest average goes to Missouri at $3.854 and the highest goes to Hawaii at $4.552.
With the gas temperature map, you can see the range of gas prices within your state (or for the country). And finally, you can view the trend of gas prices for up to 3 cities over the last 6 years.

Microsoft Update + ZoneAlarm = No Internet Access

With the last Microsoft patch this past Tuesday, if you were a user of ZoneAlarm, you were no longer able to access the Internet. I happen to be one of those users. I could get to my router, but not the Internet. Other devices on my network, of course, also were able to access the Internet. When I finally discovered that ZoneAlarm was the problem, I found a reference on the ZoneAlarm site. Apparently the patch was fixing quite a serious flaw in Internet addressing.
"You'd have the Internet, but it wouldn't be the Internet you expect. (Hackers) would control everything."
- Securosis analyst Rich Mogul
I find it funny that fixing the flaw caused ZoneAlarm problems. Anyway, if you're finding this post, then you were not affected or you have solved the problem.

08 July, 2008

Dell sucumbs to the pressure from the RIAA -- Hmm, one more reason to buy a Mac

First it's Microsoft that bloats Vista with MPAA DRM protection software, and now PC manufacturers such as Dell are bowing down to the RIAA. These manufacturers seem to forget who their customers are, and are ripping off unsuspecting buyers. Can you imagine spending $1000 of your hard earned dollars on a laptop to find out later that you cannot record audio -- even though the sound card supports it?

Of course teech savvy people like Chad are going to find a solution; and the real copyright violatetrs are going to as well. But the average consumer who wants to dabble in a little audio and video, perhaps for their church or their son's or daughter's sports team, are left with a bag of bolts.

So next time you need a new computer, start with your objectives -- what do you want to use it for -- and then do your homework before you buy to make sure the hardware will support it. If you're thinking about audio, photos, and video, you might give Macs a hard look. Using their iLife products, that may even come bundled, are supposed to be real easy. Further, if you do have a need for an occassional Windows program, the Mac support Windows within the Mac OS using software such as Parallels.

03 July, 2008

Bill Gates and Microsoft stories on TWiT

Just one more of many tributes to Bill Gates, TWiT (This Week in Tech) this week, episode 149, spent significant time talking about Bill Gates and the history of Microsoft. Leo Laporte had on old time industry followers John C. Dvorak, Jerry Pournelle, and Bill Machrone. If you have any interest in personal computer history, this is a great podcast to catch. You can download it on the TWiT site or subscribe through your podcatcher.