Sunday, September 30, 2007

GPS for the Blackberry

I've already covered the Telenav and Google Maps GPS applications for the Blackberry.
The main problem with Telenav is that it only has maps of US and Canada. GMaps has maps of all the world available, but does not have voice directions and does not follow your location automatically.

Damian constantly updates me with new applications for the Blackberry. He has found 2 new applications that may address those issues:
  1. Nav4All - Not only does it have European maps, it also supports voice directions in many languages. It's geared towards phones mostly, so instead of maps you'd get direction arrows. But that, coupled with voice instructions will get you to your destinations.
  2. amAze - Not as friendly as Telenav, but covers most of Europe and Australia (in addition to Canada and US) and supports voice directions. According to Damian, Their OTA (Over The Air) install doesn't work so download the zip file, unzip and install via the Desktop Manager.
And the best news? Both softwares are free. And both will work on any phone that supports Java.
I'm still hoping Google will release a version with voice directions - especially since they now have the technology in-house.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

How Stupid is Sony?

Apparently, Sony hasn't heard yet that changes made to Wikipedia articles can be traced back to the corporation's IP address. Otherwise, it's hard to explain how they went ahead and edited the Halo 3 Wikipedia article, claiming the graphics are not so hot. Halo 3, from Microsoft and Bungie Studios is the (current) killer game for the Xbox 360, competing with Sony's PS3.

Hey Sony:
  1. Buy a clue. If you're about to play dirty, the very least you can do is step out of the office to an internet cafe :)
  2. Next time, make my blog mandatory reading for your marketing people :)

AT&T and the Freedom of Speech

Just read this and it pissed me off to no end:
According the AT&T Legal Terms of Service, posted on their site, AT&T is allowed to suspend or terminate your service, if they "believe" that you've caused "damage their name". Look at (c):
5.1 Suspension/Termination.Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.

Apparently, this is measure is there to prevent public criticism, or just to plainly harass complainers.
I'm probably taking quite a risk just for posting this, since according to this contract, AT&T can terminate my service, if they feel I've damaged their name...

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Most Beautiful PC You Can Buy

Up until a couple of years ago, it wasn't common finding the words "beautiful" and "PC" in the same sentence. PCs were usually gray, boring boxes. When Dell decided to ship computers with black chassis, it was heralded as a major design decision.

Then along came Apple and shipped the original iMac (worked on this one at my first startup), and suddenly "design" stopped being a dirty word, in reference to PCs and technology in general. I'm sure you all remember that period, at the beginning of this millennium, where everything, from a computer to a utensil, was coated in transparent plastic.

Apple continued shipping computers that looked great (including my Mac Mini - the nicest piece of technology in my living room) and various other gadgets (like the latest batch of iPods, the iPhone and the AppleTV) that look like they belong in a museum. The iMac evolved, and the latest titanium-encased model looks like this:


So, imagine my surprise when I came across this PC from Gateway (yes, the "Cow" company), called Gateway One:

Not only does this PC looks gorgeous, but it actually contains some very nice features:
  1. Embedded web cam.
  2. Transparent keyboard (well, not necessary, but nice).
  3. TV Tuner.
  4. Remote control.
  5. And guess where all the ports (USB, sound,ethernet, etc.) are located? On the power brick!
    Only one wire needs to be connected to the actual computer. How's that for smart design?


There are 3 models, ranging from $1300 to $1800 (for different hd, memory and video card configurations). See the full spec here.

Enable More Than 2 Downloads in IE

One of the most annoying behaviors of IE (5/6/7) is its limiting downloads to 2 at a time.
Once you've started downloading 2 files, the next one would be stuck in limbo, until one of the first 2 finishes, etc.
There have been many registry hacks to solve this situation, but I recommend this one, directly from Microsoft, who finally realized people want to download more than 2 files at a time.

As for me, I'm mainly a Firefox user. But rather than use the limited Firefox Download Manager,
I use the Download Statusbar add-on. Much more robust, usable and with plenty of options.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Google Adds Presenation to Docs


I have Google Apps for my domain. One of the capabilities is called Docs, which so far contained a Word-like and an Excel-like web applications. As predicted, Google just (the email just eneterd my mailbox) added a Powerpoint-like app called Presentation.
Together with GMail, they now have a full suite with which to compete with MS Office.

Windows 2008 Server RC0 is Out

I've heard of RC1 (Release Candidate) before, not of RC0. But apparently, when you're late, you start releasing earlier. This version is more robust than the beta and finally has HyperVisor (the server virtualization infrastructure) included. Sadly, I couldn't test it, but the latest version is running nicely on my VMWare (with minor creaks: no driver support for sound and network is going in and out - probably will be fixed by VMWare Tools relase later on).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Halo 3 Goes to Harvard

Like any gamer worth his title I waited till yesterday to gaze at Halo 3 - arguably the game of the year. I enjoyed Halo and Halo 2 and was eagerly anticipating the third (and last?) installment in the trilogy, following the Master-Chief as he singlehandedly saves the human race.

Well, apparently I'm not a serious gamer. At least not as serious as these Harvard students, who turned the statue of John P. Harvard into a tribute to the Master-Chief. Clearly, their instructors are not assigning enough homework...

Amazon vs. iTunes

I've been using iTunes for over a year and own over a 100 songs. Their price point is great - $0.99 per song is affordable and the quality of the music is assured. I'm a great believer in getting people of piracy by offering the right price point.

The problem is, Apple still considers me a pirate, despite me paying. Every song is protected with a complex DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme that allows playing the song on 5 registered computers only and one iPod. Despite the fact I bought a song, I can't give it to anyone (so my property rights are violated). Lately, Steve Jobs announced that Apple will switch to DRM-less music, at a $1.29 per free song. Good, but a bit late (and pricey).

Enter Amazon, who this week launched a new MP3 store. Their price point is $0.89 per song, $4.99 per album (compared to Apple's $9.99). And all the songs are DRM-less!
They currently have a million songs available and they'll keep on adding.

I still have 65 pre-paid songs in my Apple account that I have to purchase by Nov. 30. But after that, I'm definitely checking out Amazon's store.

PS: for my international readers, another reason to check the Amazon store is the fact that it sells (most) songs worldwide, as opposed to iTunes that sells in the US, UK and parts of western Europe only.

Backup Your Blogger Blog

Since I'm close to 150 posts on this blog alone, it dawned on me that I'm heading for a disaster if I don't backup my posts.
After searching for a solution on Blogger help and coming up with this article (that contains 10 steps, including changing the blog's layout template, along with some other potentially destructive steps) I found a nice tool called simply Blogger Backup by Greg Duncan.

This open source tool, written in .Net 2.0, utilizes GData - the Google API to access any data exposed by Google - to harvest all the feeds from the blog and save them to distinct files.
Reviewing the code can serve as a good example of using GData in .Net and some other neat pieces of code. The project is hosted on CodePlex - Microsoft's open source project hosting web site - another great site for some .Net code.

One comment: if your blog utilizes FeedBurner to manage the RSS feeds, you won't be able to use the default feed link of your blog. Instead use the following format:
http://www.blogger.com/feeds/your blog number/posts/default
(you can find your blog number by viewing the source of the blog and looking for the string rel="service.post"

The Excel Bug


A very interesting bug was found in Excel 2007: apparently, if you multiply 850 by 77.1 the result you get is 100,000 (rather than 65,535). Above, you can see my verification of this.

Of course, now you wonder what other errors are hiding inside. "Can we trust the numerical output of Excel?" you ask.

This bug reminded me of the big Pentium Floating Point debacle of 1994. Unlike Intel, Microsoft is not denying the existence of the bug, and unlike a hardware company, they can issue a patch (soon hopefully).

Joel attempts to explain this bug. His explanation is very interesting, involving binary and string representations and showing a pattern of similar cases that will crop up. I will not bore you with the full drill-down, but here's Joel's parting shot:
And let's face it -- do you really want the bright sparks who work there now, and manage to break lots of perfectly good working code -- rewriting the core calculating engine in Excel? Better keep them busy adding and removing dancing paper clips all day long.

How to Sabotage Google

No, I don't wish to sabotage Google. I'm living well off the free services they offer: my blogs are running on Blogger, my mail on GMail, Google Apps for my domain and RSS feeds are being served by Feedburner.

The title of my post is the title of John C. Dvorak's latest article. In it he discusses how a potential... let's say "competitor"... might use Google's Achilles heel - it's reliance on keywords -against it.
I found his article, and discussion of American capitalism, fascinating.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Google Landing in My Backyard

I live far enough from the SJC airport to not be disturbed by airplanes, yet close enough to get there fast (7 minutes on the 101). But no one told me when I rented the place I'd hear the traffic from Moffet Field.
Moffet Field belonged to the US Navy and is now owned by NASA. Once in a while odd planes fly over my house to land in the field. By odd I mean: experimental fighters, World War II bombers, helicopters and I even saw a Comanche (no, not a flying Indian - it's an experimental attack helicopter - see image below).

And now, I just heard that Sergey Brin and Larry Page - the Google founders -
have negotiated with NASA to let them land their 767 Googlejet at Moffet Field (which is close to the Googleplex).


Why?! Why do I need a landing flying over me every time Larry feels like a Philly Cheesestake (in Philly)????

Too Soon to Celabrate?

While I really liked the fact the iPhone was finally hacked, it seems celebrations started too soon.
Today Apple announced that their next iPhone update would brick (a term used to describe a gadget that can only be used as a brick) any hacked device.
Oh well, we'll just have to wait for a better hack, I guess...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Test Your Speed

Speedtest.net is another in a list of sites to measure your upload/download speed.
The difference is: it looks beautiful. With car-like gauges, it's fun to measure your speed. It also encourages you to post your results and/or compare them to other people around the world (if you don't want to cry, don't compare your US results with Sweden - ~15Mbit download :( ).

I clocked a nice 3.5Mbit download rate - as advertised for my network. But I'd have to repeat this test in the middle of the day, on the weekend etc.

Feel free to test your speed and post your results - make me cry, why don't you :)

Steal from Microsoft

A new Office 2007 promotion campaign from Microsoft is called "The Ultimate Steal".
It allows you to purchase the Office 2007 suite for $60 (yep, you read it right - the suite usually retails for around $680).

To be eligible, you have to have a .edu email address and be an actively enrolled student.
While I can see how Microsoft can verify the first, I think the second is quite hard to verify (so, if you still have your old college address, or know someone who's still in college - get them to register for you :)).

Why does Microsoft drop 90% of the price of its leading product? Microsoft's philanthropy is usually displayed elsewhere, and huge discounts are not their forte.
What it is, according to some experts, is Microsoft fearing that students will either pirate their software, or even worse realize that there are alternatives out there (like Open Office, Zoho, Google Docs - to name a few) that provide the same features as MS Office and are (gasp) free to boot. And one day, these students will graduate into the business force, with the "wrong" idea that you can edit your documents with no Microsoft software around. Nope - better hook them up while they're in college...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Challenge Yourself

Even if you didn't buy the book "How Would You Move Mount Fuji?", you may still feel you're up to challenging yourself with some puzzles, brain teasers and quizzles (quiz + puzzle) that appear from time to time on job interviews.

Look no further than this site, that treats this book as it's bible. It has many such quizzles, along with solutions and a forum where people try to solve the puzzle, before a solution is posted.
Here's one to whet your appetite:

The Rope Bridge

Four people need to cross a rickety rope bridge to get back to their camp at night. Unfortunately, they only have one flashlight and it only has enough light left for seventeen minutes. The bridge is too dangerous to cross without a flashlight, and it’s only strong enough to support two people at any given time.

Each of the campers walks at a different speed. One can cross the bridge in 1 minute, another in 2 minutes, the third in 5 minutes, and the slow poke takes 10 minutes to cross. How do the campers make it across in 17 minutes?


So far I'm 3 from 5...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In Search of Stupidity


In case you're wondering what am I reading today, I've taken some interest in marketing.
The name of the book is "In Search of Stupidity - Over 20 Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters" by Rick Chapman.
I think the title says it all. It's all about how marketing people, product managers, CEOs and sometimes R&D people stared success in the face, turned around and marched in the other direction.
So if you want to know more about the wars between "geeks" and "suites", what did IBM do wrong, what did Microsoft do right, and how to alienate a community of 3rd party developers (until they think you're worse than Satan), read this book.

Results are In

Here are the results of the poll that ran for a month. I didn't want to touch the actual data, so here's a screen shot:

Our team is currently digesting the results. Stay tuned.

Voyage to Quebec - Summary

First, I'd like to apologize to whoever looked at the last 3 posts and wondered where the images have disappeared to. I've been experimenting with the latest version of Live Writer - which promised it now knows how to upload images into Blogger automatically. And now we can all see how well that works :)

So, in a nutshell, there are 3 posts, each detailing one day of our 3-days trip to Quebec city: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3
And the corresponding images: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Now, I hope you enjoy the pictures, but I know of at least one reader cringing as he sees the quality of the pictures (you know who you are). Just remember I was using a point-and-shoot digital camera (although I like mine a lot - a Casio Exilim 8.1 MPixels).

Enjoy and let me know whether you'd like to see similar travel-related posts in the future.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Voyage to Quebec - Part Trois (Sept. 19)

We started the day by visiting the Parliament. The building is impressive from the outside, detailing various eras and figures from Quebec's rich past.

Everything in the building reflects the 3 main periods in Quebec's history: the French dominion, the British occupation and government (the parliament is styled after the British model) and finally, the Corporation of Canada period (they are still a part of the commonwealth, with Elizabeth as their queen. She actually has a representative in Ottawa, the Governor-General).

Interesting tour, during which we've learned that the major problem of the province right now is population, or lack thereof. Not enough children are being born and immigration is checked by the government trying to keep the province French-oriented. Therefore, whatever immigrants do choose Quebec over Ontario, British Columbia and the other English-speaking provinces, make it as far as Montreal - a very language-tolerant city (compared to the rest of the province, that is). In the main assembly room they were debating a law that will encourage people to immigrate to Quebec, while still maintaining their unique culture. We therefore had to skip that room in the tour.

From there, a short ride from Quebec would get you to a wonderful hanging bridge over the St. Laurent river that will take you to Iles de Orleans (Orleans Island). This Island measures 75km (40 miles) in circumference. All of it is made of farms set in a picturesque background, with the river and the mountains as a backdrop. There are several vineyards and plenty of places to pick apples, raspberries, strawberries and pumpkins. At the far end of the island there's a tower, allowing for an undisturbed view of the island, the river and the St. Anne Mountain.

We finished our visit with a nice lunch at one of the abundant picnic locations and headed back to Montreal.

Tips:

  1. Do not return to Montreal between 4-6pm, unless you like being stuck in traffic.
  2. Just one tiny sample on how today's travel restrictions ruin all fun: you taste a great local wine. You want to buy a bottle or two. You remember that you'll now have to check in your luggage (unless you want someone from the TSA to drink your wine for dinner tomorrow). You also remember that your flight back has a short connection - virtually guaranteeing your luggage will not meet you at the end point.
    End result: you give up on the wine.

Voyage to Quebec - Part Deux (Sept. 18)


Today went great. We started by driving out of the city towards route 138. We got to "Chutes de Montmorency" (Montmorency Falls) a minute later - you can clearly see it from the highway. Amazing falls in a beautiful canyon, once owned by one of the British governors of Quebec. And you can see why he built his summer house there. With 83 meters drop, this fall is higher than the Niagra Falls (though it's smaller in capacity). You can walk over it,

climb stairs down to its base (and yes, you then have to climb all those stairs up again, as my poor aching feet can attest - damn, I have to get into shape... sometime in the future) , or take a cable car down. With the great weather and visibility we had we could see all the way down to the St. Laurent, where all the water go to. [insert picture]

From there, along route 138 to St. Anne Mountain and St. Anne Canyon. This, again has a huge fall, this time with 3 hanging bridges criss-crossing it. With each bridge, the level of scariness grows. You can zip-line from one side to the other if you're extra brave. As for me, the swinging bridge was enough. (And yes, more stairs to climb back up...).











On the way back, we stopped at the St. Anne Church - a huge cathedral, with its own Michelangelo original. We heard a sermon (in French) and some psalms sung by the choir (also in French).Back to QC, for an evening stroll in the old city again. A French onion soup au gartin and back to the hotel to plan tomorrow - the last day of the trip.

Tips:

  1. In Quebec, French is the first language. They consider themselves Nouvelle Francaise ("New French") and although they can tell you're a tourist, they'll start with French and switch to English only if they have to... that is, if you're not foolish enough to brandish your limited mastery of their language by replying with a "bonjour" - and before you know it they're 3 sentences ahead, in rapid French. So, unless French is a favorite second language, reply in English.
  2. Do not go into a fancy French restaurant and order just soup - you get the dirtiest looks possible from the maître d' :)
  3. Music for the road: XM 80s for the highways, XM Pops (classic music) for the rural byways.
  • Favorite highway song:
    "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochran.
  • Best classical piece when descending a mountain road towards a lake:
    "The Pines of Rome" by Rasphigi (fourth movement).
  • Best classical piece when driving by a river:
    "The Blue Danube Waltz" by Johann Strauss

Voyage to Quebec - Part Un (Sept. 17)

My family had a reunion of sorts in Montreal, Canada. Since I had some time off, and we've all seen Montreal dozens of times (highly recommended, btw - maybe I'll cover it in a future post), my parents and I have decided to go to Quebec City - the capital of Quebec province.

So, a short call to Avis and Hilton Diamond Desk later and the technicalities of the trip have been ironed out.

The trip from Montreal to QC takes about 3 hours along a portion of the TransCanada highway. We made it in almost 5 (with a few stops along the way to "smell the flowers" and have lunch, accompanied by wild bees). Quebec is amazing: rural areas, green from one side of the horizon to the other, leafs changing their color, and water - so much water. I read somewhere Quebec has more than a million lakes, rivers, and bodies of water. I can now say I believe it.
This, in my opinion, is the closest you can get to Europe without crossing the Atlantic.

The QC Hilton is amazing. Nice and VERY well located. I got a room at the 17th floor with a panoramic window overlooking the parliament building the old city.

We then took a walking tour of the old city ("Vieux Quebec"), the fortifications and the Chateau Frontenac (a huge castle, also serving as a Fairmont hotel), which, sadly, is undergoing some re-construction.


The old city is full of galleries, restaurants, arts and antics shops and some shops that defy description (a shop specializing in middle-age customs and gear, for example). It's all surrounded by the St. Laurent river.
After that, it was back to the maps and Internet, to plan the next day.




Tips:

  1. The one car upgrade you should care for (because I could care less what car am I driving and I pack my own GPS) is a satellite radio (XM, Sirius). Nothing is more fun then listening to what you like when you'd like to - without the need to fuss with station buttons.
  2. The GPS software in my Blackberry (Telenav) has no idea hou to pronounce French names - so it says nothing! For example, a highway is Autoroute in French. You'd here "go 0.1 miles turn left and enter..." (add Autoroute 20" in your head).
  3. In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, speed is measured in kilometers/hour and not miles. So wipe that smile of your face when you see a sign saying "100 Maximum", unless you'd like to explain yourself to a nice highway officer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Consultant

While I'm working on my posts, detailing my vacation in Quebec, here's something I saw that made me smile (albeit a bitter smile):

Now, I'll just arrange the pictures, spell check the articles and hopefully be able to upload the posts tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Domestic Transportation

I think everyone reading this would identify with the poor penguin. I especially like the flight attendants reply to whether he has an option :)
(click picture to see full size)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eye in the Sky

DigitalGlobe, provider of imagery for Google's interactive mapping program Google Earth, said a new high-resolution satellite will boost the accuracy of its satellite images and flesh out its archive.

The new satellite, WorldView I, will be launched on Tuesday 9/18 (follow its launch and progress on the Boeing Missions site). It will offer half-meter resolution (almost military grade!) and will be able to collect over 600,000 square kilometers of imagery each day.

So download the software, and pretty soon, you too, like the NSA, would be able to read car license plates in Afghanistan from the safety of your home.
I hope to one day use this software to get the $25M prize money on Bin Laden's head :)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Who's Behind MiiVi?

In February 2007, another in a list of new video hosting sites (a-la YouTube, MetaCafe etc.) came live. Its name was MiiVi. The big difference, was that MiiVi was erected by an anti-piracy company called MediaDefender Inc, from L.A. It was meant to serve as a honeypot - when someone would upload a copyrighted material, he'd be slapped with a law suite, courtesy of the MPAA.
It took hackers several hours to realize that the IP of the new site belongs to MediaDefender and blow up the story. MediaDefender's CEO went on a circle of interviews denying the "conspiracy" concocted by rights-violating hackers. But the site went off the air immediately.

Jump to yesterday, September 14th 2007. A (disgruntled?) employee of MediaDefender leaks an entire mailbox (600MB) full of corporate emails, showing clearly how MiiVii was planned, designed and released; the tactics behind it and how pissed off were the CEO and VPs when their scheme was blown; How they intended to re-release the site (this time calling it "Viide.com") on an IP that can not be traced back to the company.
But most importantly, how they operate and entrap people in the service of their masters - the MPAA and the movie studios.

Since MediaDefender were actually involved in altering the original Wikipedia article on the subject, read this summary quickly before it changes. If you want the full story, including all the leaked emails, go here.

Conclusions:
  1. Do not submit anything to new sites - unless you're 100% sure who's behind them. Feel free to google them first.
  2. When writing a corporate email, think well before committing something to writing. What would happen if someone (competitor, general public) got hold of that email?

Friday, September 14, 2007

1-800-BIG-SCAM

My friend Gil received a call from 1-800-298-1834. Someone identified himself as a "Bank of America" employee and needed him to verify some account details. Gil went to 800notes.com - a site that lets the community collect and document calls from shoddy numbers, and mark them as "scam", "telemarketer", and a few other annoying categories.
Searching for that number in the site yielded reports of a scam attempt from that number.

I've been meaning to write a post about this ever since Gil told me about his experience, but what prompted me to do it today was a voice message on my cell phone from "Joe Catalone from Microsoft" at 1-800-215-0948 ext. 4392, asking me to call him back. My company deals with Microsoft (MSDN, licenses and such), but I never personally contacted anyone there (except to report issues). So, I went to the site, and guess what? Different people with different names trying to sell you Microsoft software - from that number.

Conclusions:
  1. If someone leaves an 800 callback number, validate it before you call back.
  2. NEVER give personal info over the phone, unless you've initiated the call.
Update 2/12/08
Based on comments patterns, here and on other similar sites, it looks like those phone spammers work harder on certain dates. I'd be very interested to know if anyone ever talked to those bogus "Microsoft employees"? It seems like they only reach voice mails.
And where's Microsoft itself in this story? Why don't they denounce/sue those impostors?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Unplug and Save

Have you noticed how your cellphone/Blackberry charger stays warm, even though it's not connected to any device? Recent studies show that 95% (!) of electricity consumption by mobile devices occur when a device is not connected to a charger.




Recommendations?
  1. Disconnect your charger when not charging a phone.
  2. Connect all chargers to a power strip and turn it to "off" when not in use.
  3. Wait for this technology to reach fruition.

Recommendations

I just realized that anyone who's accessing the blog through RSS or Email, can't see the Amazon, or other links added to articles containing recommendations. This is due to the fact that they're presented in iframes, which are usually blocked by mail and feed clients.

So, I've added a new label ("Recommendation"), that will be attached only to articles that contain links to the recommended product in them. If you see this label, and you'd like to purchase the product, please click on the link and browse to the site.

To see ALL recommendations made so far (or will be made in the future), go to http://www.guyvider.com/search/label/Recommendation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

AT Your Service

Many of us who experienced UNIX/Linux, miss a simple command line to allow us to schedule tasks (like cron).
Yes, we have that annoying "Windows Scheduler" console. But it's hard to navigate and harder to debug ("what? The backup process didn't run the last 30 nights???").
The little known command AT allows you to schdule any process, batch or script from the command line. You can find all the instructions here, or you can type AT /? at a command prompt.
This can also allow you to programmatically schedule tasks from within other applictons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Know Where You're From! (Sort Of)

A couple of posts back, I was discussing getting your physical location from your IP number. Well, I decided to try: if you look right below the blog's header, you'll see a line, guessing the country and city you're browsing from. This has been provided by IP2Location (discussed in that post). Already I can report a 50/50 success rate: it picked up my San Francisco airport location immediately, but switching to another network got me identified elsewhere. But it showed me being in the US.

Don't worry - no data is collected on any visitor to the blog. This is just a harmless exercise in reverse search. If you want to protect yourself from sites that really mine your data, refer to this post.

Read This Freakin' Book

A book I now re-read twice and holds a prominent place on my shelf, is Freakonomics, a book that has turned into a runaway phenomenon.

It all started with economist Steven Levitt being bored at looking at graphs and statistics all day long. He decided to turn his knowledge and economic analysis tools on real world problems: Do realtors get you the best price on your house? If drug dealers are so successful, how come most of them still leave with their mom? Why is the crime rate really dropping? What do teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? What makes a perfect parent?

All this, and more are covered in this fascinating book, co-authored with reporter Stephen Dubner. The book was so successful, that it now turned into a blog, where more and more issues are discussed and uncovered.

What I like the most about this book, is its authors "audacity" in turning the tools from one practice onto another (in this case, using economics to look at sociology). I hope my computer-related skills would one day be useful in other fields.

Get the book here (this link will take you to the new, expanded version).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Vivo

Looks like Microsoft coveted their neighbor's translation service.
After Babel Fish and Google Translate (beta, of course - because no Google service is complete without the word "beta" in its name), Microsoft today launched Live Translator (also "beta").

These sites allow you to translate words, sentences or even full web pages from or to English. The Microsoft site attempts to yield better translation for computer-related content.

The title of this post means "Live" in Spanish - which I can't really say for the Microsoft site - as of 10:30 PM PST, it returns a "500 Server Error" for every request. Oh well, guess sometimes the "beta" tag is justified :).

Download This! - Startup Control Panel

Want to see what processes are loading when your OS boots? What new application added itself to the load list? Is there any spyware pushing itself on your computer?
Use the easy, lightweight Startup Control Panel. Sure, there are many apps that will get you the same results (my second favorite is Autoruns by SysInternals), but SCP is small, easy to use and can be installed as a cpl (Windows Control Panel).

Every time I install iTunes, Adobe Acrobat, or Microsoft Office, I use it to trim out those useless , memory-hogging processes.

Get it here.

Service With a (Healthy) Smile

While at first look, it might seem this post has no technical context, I still think you'd find it useful.
I moved into my apartment a little over a year ago. Finding a dentist is never an easy task, let alone in a new area, or a new country. To my help came Yelp - a review site for reviews written by "real people". Through it, I got to the clinic of Doctor Kris Hamamoto. And I have nothing but praises - a professional and personal service - with a smile.
The focus of Dr. Kris and everyone on her staff is not just on fixing your problems, but on educating you to avoid those problems in the future. Because to her, I stopped drinking sodas (a big issue for a Diet Coke addict like me), started brushing for 2 minutes and most important, according to Dr. Kris, started using a mouth guard to combat my teeth grinding).
(check the link - you might be suffering from this as wellAnd rather than charge $500 for a "special mouth guard", the good doctor told me to just go and get any guard I'd like. I got this one off Amazon for $13.

In short: if you're looking for a dentist in the Valley - look no further than here.

Just 7 Days Left to Vote!

So far, it seems .Net + Security are the least favorite topics on this blog (well, to the 8 people who voted). I guess people want me to focus on travel/technology parts of my life. I have plenty of travel related idea I'm considering (but they lack a tech connection). We'll see...

I may do one of the following: either move those posts to another blog, or get them off the main feed. Of course, .Net lovers, you are free to vote otherwise. You have 7 days to be heard.

Download This! - Foxit PDF Reader

Why install a 100MB program that consumes tons of memory, has resident services running, and leaves tracks behind - just to read a PDF file, when you can use a 1.3Mb executable that requires no installation and comes up immediately?
Foxit PDF Reader does (almost) everything Adobe Acrobat Reader does. It supports internal scripts and embedded objects. It can be downloaded as a single executable - allowing you to run it of a USB Flash Drive. (I carry it with me and occasionally, when I need to print my boarding pass on a hotel computer that never heard of the PDF extension before, it allows me to browse and print the document).

Download it here. Get the ZIP format for the standalone app, or the EXE for an installed application.

IE Problem Solved!

The site looks Ok on IE now.
After long research and some template changes - none of that helped, I read on this blog something which put me on the road to the solution.
Apparently, the width of a post (essentially a DIV element) is quite limited (in order to fit the template). But whereas FireFox deals with it gracefully, forcing a limit, breaking sentences automatically and adjusting image width to avoid width issues, IE just takes it as it comes and if it can't fit an image in a DIV's width, it breaks the next DIV.

I would have liked to say that what followed was a long binary search to see which post broke the template, but actually I guessed right away it was the birthday post withe the embedded Flash movie. All that was needed was reducing it's width and the IE problem was gone.

And I still remember the early days where IE's D/HTML was handling stuff better then Netscape (way before FireFox).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Who Needs CAPS Lock?

Once, when people were using mechanical typewriters (ask your mom if you don't know what I'm talking about). The Caps Lock key would mechanically elevate the row of little hammers, in charge of printing capital characters. When the modern keyboard was designed, the Caps lock was carried over. What do I have against this "innocent" key?
  1. No one needs to print in all-caps anymore. On the internet it's even considered rude.
  2. The shift key is fine for the single cap we need in a sentence.
  3. It's right below the tab key and above the shift, meaning you can hit it by mistake.
  4. If you're typing in a different language, typing the Caps lock in Windows reverts you to English (or the original installation language).
Luckily, this can be hacked. Here's a link to a zip file containing 2 registry files.
The first will eliminate the Caps lock - just double-click it, accept and restart your machine. When you return, the Caps lock will not function anymore.
Had a change of heart? Double-click the second reg file and restart (or restore to an earlier Restore Point).

Hebrew Calendar

I don't know if you're aware of it, but in 3 days is the Jewish New Year's (or Rosh Ha'Shanah - literally "the head of the year" in Hebrew).

Well, whether you need it or not, here's a link to the Interactive Hebrew Calendar, allowing you to see the Jewish holidays (major and minor) overlaid on a regular calendar.

And to all my Jewish readers: Shanah Tova!

Blog Problems - We'll be Right Back

I'm experiencing some problems with my template. The problem is only evident when browsing with IE (the blog looks fine on FireFox). In IE, the right column is broken and pushed down.
It does not prevent you from reading the posts (and anyone subscribed to the blog doesn't suffer at all). This is probably due to the changes and additions I'm working on.
I spent the last 2 hours trying to get to the bottom of this. Since it's 3:30am, I figure I'll get some sleep and hit it again in the morning.
In my experience, it's probably a sneaky DIV somewhere...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Find a Location by IP (100th Post)

Ohad is the first person to submit a request for a post. He'd like to know how he can get a location (country/state/city) from an IP.
There are several easy (and free) ways to achieve that and plenty of sites that provide this lookup as a service. One of them is IP2Location. This service was used by Virgil to locate the organizations that tempered with Wikipedia entries. Try it now:


You can find plenty of other such services using this Google search. I tried several and they get my IP right, but one claims I'm in Hartford, Connecticut. Another claims I'm in Oklahoma. The closest they get is San Jose, CA (about 10 miles away). It's important to remember that these services rely on reverse tables of IP ranges and as such, may not be accurate. But they will identify the correct country 99% of the time.
My last recommendation is a tool called Visual WhoIs 2004 that shows the entire route from your computer to the requested IP, on a map.

Rememebr you can use TOR to escape such services, if you don't want your real IP traced.
And keep those suggestions coming at [email protected]

Is Apple the New Microsoft?

Apple dropped the price of the iPhone by $200, thereby offending every fan who stood in long lines on June 29th and paid $600, to be the first to be screwed by Cingula... oops, I meant to be the first to have the iPhone in their office.
[And believe me, I could add here literally hundreds of links to news and technology sites, blogs and consumer lists - everyone this week had an opinion and the space to voice it - gotta love the internet :)].

This was followed by an "apology" letter that Steve Jobs issued (first time he has ever shown any interest in his customers), giving the early adopters $100 back in Apple Store credit (i.e. getting the money he gave back, and making some more on top, as you'd be hard pressed to find anything that costs just $100 in an Apple store).

All these and some of the other Apple monopolistic strategies, led this PC World reporter to post the question that is this post's title.

My opinion? As an Apple fan for 22 years (got my first Apple IIc in 1985), I've seen some very bad consumer behavior and tactics from this company.
The core fans of Apple like it because it poses as an alternative to the big, evil monopole. But the way they market and lock their operating system, music devices and now phone, suggests that maybe Steve borrowed a page from Bill's book...

Don't Butter the Message!

Want to leave your wife a message she can't ignore (like "don't forget to pick up the kids today") or the shopping list for your kid? Why not burn in into their toast?
Introducing Toast Messenger. Write your message with a stylus and it'll be burned into a slice of toast.
Why was this invented? I have no idea. I just see the future of Commercials-on-Toast in restaurants and hotels...
Read more about it on Engadget.

Flight Tips from Joel

We, who fly for a living, all have some good flight tips. Mine usually involve unplanned upgrades and sneaking into lounges. While compiling my master list of tips-n-tricks, I ran into Joel's article. I bring some of his tips, good for North American domestic flights:
  1. The ideal time to fly is around 10 am. Usually delays pile up throughout the day, so the earlier you fly, the less likely you are to suffer delays. The very early flights are popular with people who want to get a full day in, so the midmorning flights tend to be the most civilized.
  2. Always check the OAG before booking to see what flights are available. The OAG includes JetBlue and Southwest flights which the online travel agencies can't show you.
  3. Make sure you're never on the last flight of the day if you really need to get somewhere on schedule. If something happens to the last flight, you're in trouble. As a general principle, while planning for this trip, I always checked that there was at least one alternative flight that would get me to my next destination on time. Since we fly first class at Fog Creek, if one of our flights got cancelled, the airline will work hard to reaccomodate us while the coach passengers might have to wait forever for a rebooking.
  4. Fly out of smaller airports whenever possible. My favorite alternative airports: John Wayne or Burbank instead of LAX, Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami, Love instead of DFW.
  5. If the flight you're booked on is cancelled, don't wait in line with the crowds for the single, overworked airline representative. Get on the phone to your airline's frequent flyer priority number. They can rebook you just as well.
  6. The American Express Platinum card pays for itself just from the free membership in Continental, Northwest, and Delta's lounges... not only because the lounges are quiet and pleasant, but because the lounges have unharried and experienced airline agents who are happy to help you with complicated problems, rebookings, and upgrades.
  7. Final trick: never schedule an important flight during the last few days of the month, especially on Northwest. Pilots are only allowed to fly a certain number of hours per calendar month and by the end of the month they're running out of hours, especially on the more awfully-managed airlines like Northwest, so flights galore get cancelled in the last few days of every calendar month.

The original can be found here. Joel's on a coast-to-coast trip to demo the new release of his software and I actually registered to see his demo in Mountain View, CA on Oct. 4th.

Laugh Out Loud with the IT Crowd

I don't usually recommend TV shows, but if you're a techie who's craving a laugh, The IT Crowd by the British Channel 4 is for you.

2 IT guys, shut in a basement, trying to survive in a big corporation. They answer every phone with "Is it plugged in? Try turning it Off and On". Their reluctant manager does her best to advance in the company and get out of that basement. And a bunch of strange characters and situations complete this show.

So far there have been a season (called "series" in the UK) of 6 episodes, and the second series just started. Download, either from that site of using BitTorrent - I think the creators don't mind.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Happy Birthday to... Me!

Just got this sent this to me on my birthday, by Eitan (thanks man!).
Listen to the words :)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Username and Password? Who needs them?

How many times have you browsed to a web site, just to read something, or do just that one thing, and were required to create a user, providing name, password (4 letters, 3 digits and no repetition), and an actual email address?

I used to do the Bob thing in the past. You know:
Username: bob
Password: bob123
Email: [email protected] (and may the real Bob forgive me - he probably got tons of spam...).

But now they got smarter: you can only log in after clicking a link sent to your email. Yes, you can create thousands of fictional emails on GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc. But it's a hassle managing them.
So, here's a better solution: go to www.bugmenot.com, where nice users went through a registration process on many such sites and submitted their username/password for general use.

Once in a while the sites will expire that username, so what? There are plenty more.
Submit some of your own, or rate the existing ones. Oh, and no user/pass required to use the site :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Download This! - Process Explorer

Task Manager? bah! Not only doesn't it show enough information, it doesn't show the right information. Why not switch to Sysinternals' Process Explorer? Not only does it provide the basic information you can find in TM, it also shows you the list of modules loaded with any process, list of open handles, permissions, threads, command line... so much more. It actually deserves several posts.
At Tech Ed '06, I spent a full day listening to Mark Russinovich (Sysinternals founder, recently joined Microsoft - a link to his blog) showing what more you can do with Process Explorer. I was sold (very easy to do when the product is great and the price is 0).
Few capabilities in this multi-featured application that I like the most:
  1. The ability to see which service is responsible for an executable.
  2. The ability to see which process is holding your file and being able to close the handle (no more "file is in use, cannot delete" error).
  3. The ability to suspend and resume a process. Too much resources consumed by an app and you need your CPU now? Suspend it and resume later on. Most applications won't be aware of that (unless they rely on clock synchronization).
  4. See the command line that started your application.
  5. Find out who's the parent process of the process you're interested in.
  6. And finally, replace your Task Manager with PE, so when you click ctrl + shift + esc you'd see PE.
Now is a great time to download this great application, as version 11.0 was released today.
Download it here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Download This! - Notepad++


One of the best Notepad replacements I've ever used. What can I say?
  1. Multiple documents in a tabbed view.
  2. Multiple languages support (and you can add more).
  3. Function recognition.
  4. Plenty of add-ons (such as a Hex Viewer, Text effects etc.).
  5. Very easy to extend with more plugins.
  6. Free!
Download it here.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Google Apps - Resolved?

I promised an update if a reply came from Google, regarding my blog's outage and I just got this cryptic email:
Hello Guy,

Thanks for your message.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. The issue you’ve described should now be resolved.

Sincerely,
-name redacted-
The Google Apps Team

Well, I've already "fixed" it myself, by removing and inserting my domain name to Blogger. How exactly was did Google "resolve" it? I expected at least some kind of explanation...
I think for now I'll avoid activating the Pages option in my Google Apps.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

If you haven't visited the blog site (www.guyvider.com) in a while, now is the time to do so.
I've just completed a weekend of massive changes:
  • I now have 3 columns instead of 2.
  • Plenty of little improvements.
  • All icons will be loaded from a single location (speed improvement).
Still to come:
  • List of favorite posts.
  • Post briefs.
  • Calendar.
  • Tag cloud instead of archive.
Tools of the trade:
  • Notepad++ - the best free text editor with XHTML capabilities out there.
    (A separate "Download This!" post coming soon).
  • XML Notepad by Microsoft.
  • SourceSafe 2005, so I can keep versions of the templates and revert back.
  • FireFox and IE to verify the blog looks well in both.
  • WinMerge , to compare versions and schemas.
I'd like to thank the following bloggers for their suggestions, hacks and code:

Rate This Post

As promised, here's the next template change: ratings. Look for the stars at the footer of every post. Similar to Amazon (or almost every content-driven site), you can now rate each post, based on how much you liked it, based on the following scale:

Here's how the widget works:
  • By default, it shows the current rating of the post.
  • Hover over it, to submit your own rating (by dragging your mouse from left to the right, the star count increases).
  • Click the tiny i icon that appears, to get a summary of how many people rated the post and the average rating.
You can now go back and rate posts you've liked, or found useful - rating is now available for ALL posts. Please rate as much as you can. Once enough ratings are in, I'll add a box showcasing the current top 5 rated posts.

Post rating is provided by JS-Kit and Blogger integration is covered by this nice blogger.

Google Flight Simulator

As this blogger found out, the new Google Earth now contains a hidden flight simulator!
Click ctrl+alt+A (if you're running OS X it's command+option+A) and the following dialog pops up and asks you whether you want to fly an F-16 or an SR-72, which airport would you like to start in, and whether you'd like to use a joystick. And off you go!
Since they have the real satellite pictures, this, by far, beats the flight simulator in Excel.