Friday, May 30, 2008

SysInternals Live

Tired of constantly downloading the latest version of the SysInternals tools (ProcMon, Process Explorer etc.)?

Maybe your IT manager does not allow you to "install" them (despite the fact non of these require installation)?

Well, here's a way for you to use all their tools, without "downloading" them. Introducing SysInternals Live:

All you have to do is open your "Run.." command (or hit Windows key + R), and type \\\tools\<tool name> to run any of their tools (full list here).

Technically, it'll still download to your temp directory, run from there and remove itself when closed. Cool.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let Bygones be Bygones

It's true what they say: some things are better left in the past. This post contains 2 un-recommendations. And could contain more, but hopefully I'll learn my lesson.

The main motif? Trying to recreate the past. Case in point: the new Indiana Jones movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I loved the first 3 movies. But after watching the fourth today, I regret it. It has sullied the memory of those 3 great movies. This movie takes the formula of the first 3 (paranormal artifact, plenty of bad guys, chases, traps, wry humor, whip action, fist fights... did I forget anything) and empties it from tongue-in-cheek humor, suspense, excitement and lets admit it, plot.

The latest film looks like it was written by someone (anyone) who saw the first 3 movies and said "hey, I can write one too!". Even taking into account that this is a fantasy movie, some of the things that happen here (don't worry, no spoilers here) are beyond imagination.

Harrison Ford, at 73, jumps and runs like a 17 years-old. He lacks enthusiasm when delivering his lines. Seriously, at one point in the film he looked bored. In another, his moth was delivering his one-liner, but his eyes were saying "the things I do for money..."

Shia LeBouf comes across as too snarky and one dimensional. Kate Blanchett, as the antagonist, is even less than one dimensional, if possible. And the plot... suffice it to say, I now feel I should have left in the middle.

But the waste of time and money is not the issue here. It's the memory that has been sullied.
Some movies don't need sequels. Not because they were bad - but because they were too good.

Case 2: MacGyver.

As a kid, I adored this show. The smart agent who solves every case without weapons, with just a gum wrapper, a banana and some detergent excited me to no end. I used to escape school to watch the episodes (which were shown on the Lebanese channel in English only - no subtitles, thus forcing me to master English faster).

Having missed it so much, I got the first season to re-watch it. I stopped after 3-4 episodes. I just couldn't believe the low-grade acting, the zero-grade "special effects" and the non-existing plot lines.

I got an even worse shock when I tried to watch old episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man. Lee Majors couldn't act even to save his life. And the corny slow-mo sequences are.. well... corny.

Bottom line: if you remember something as being good as a kid - cherish the memory, but don't act on it. Chances are it's not as good as you remember it was...

Monday, May 26, 2008


After listening to so many people who use it, I decided to join Twitter.

Twitter is a mini-blog site. It allows you to post short 140 character (maximum length of an SMS message) posts - to be shared with a group of your friends, or "followers" as they're called. You can follow anyone around and get his/her thoughts and experiences live into your phone, or IM client (all supported).

As a poster, you are encouraged to answer the question: "What are you doing?" as many times as you'd like. It has become a tremendous success within the tech savvy crowd. People started using it to coordinate group efforts (all your followers get your "twit" at the same time), share their current experience or opinion, or reach large crowds with a key click.

Witness the success of Barack Obama (who's currently "In Las Cruces, NM, honoring the generations of American patriots this Memorial Day at a Veterans Town Hall with Gov. Bill Richardson"), or Robert Scoble - with tens of thousands of followers.

Twitter raised $15M in VC money last week and opened its web API to the public. Many Twitter clients became available, along with widgets, gadgets etc. and I'm sure many would follow.

Since I don't want dozens of SMS mesages, nor would I like to post using SMS I use TwitterBerry - the Twitter Blackberry client - both to post and to follow.

If you look at the lower left corner of my blog, you'll be able to see my last 5 twitter posts. And if you want to follow me in real time, and get my thoughts more frequently, just hit this link, or go to and start following TTGuy.

Memorial Day at Lake Tahoe

Memorial Day took me by surprise this year. I was so busy with personal and professional stuff, that Friday arrived and I had no plans for the long weekend (in the US, Memorial Day - usually a somber and sad day in every other country - is celebrated with barbecues, trips and a long weekend).

I opened Google Maps and looked for a large green or blue spot within driving distance (Yosemite on my last trip smile).

I heard about Lake Tahoe before, and decided to pay it a visit. The lake stretches along the border of Nevada and California - which meant I was to Nevada twice in a week, having visited Vegas not 2 days before (for business - no gambling for me, unless we're talking about stocks wink).

I went online and reserved a room in Reno, Nevada. That was on Friday evening. This might explain the 2 errors I made in hastily preparing for this trip:
  1. I did not check the weather forecast. It was a ghastly, cloudy weather throughout the weekend, with infrequent cold showers. Dashed were my plans to swim in the lake.
  2. Reno is not a great choice if you're interested in Lake Tahoe. Reno itself is a drab, gray city, trying to be Las Vegas (casinos, shows etc.) but (in my humble opinion) failing miserably.
I started my long drive (237 miles) on Saturday morning. My path took me toward Sacramento, and then up to the Sierras - where it was still lightly snowing (in the end of May!) and down to Reno on the other side. The trip takes you through wonderful vistas (not the operating system) of mountains, plains and desert.

The trip from Reno to Lake Tahoe will take you through Carson City (where you can see the governor's house, if you're so inclined), up the mountains, and down towards the lake.

The trip through the cloudy, snowy peaks and down to the lake reminded me first of my trip to Switzerland and then, for some reason, of driving down to the Kineret in Israel (also known as Sea of Galilee) - and indeed, within 5 minutes I saw a road sign pointing to Galilee - guess I wasn't the first with that thought.

I stopped on the shore of the lake and tried taking some pictures. But due to the clouds, they all came out gray, showing the same empty lake, with cloud-covered mountains in the background.

The town to stay in is South Lake Tahoe. It's right after the state line, so I guess it's considered California. It looks nice and touristy, with access to both the lake and a ski site (if you're into hurtling yourself down a snowy mountain smile). I'll try to stay there for my next Lake Tahoe trip - and there will be another one.

On the way back I did try to take the Reno River Walk - but was not too impressed. Well, you can't have all your trips be amazing, otherwise, how would you appreciate the truly exceptional ones?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Technological Digest XIV

Short, sweet and coming to you from Las Vegas:
  1. Safeguard your privacy - following the item in the last digest, suggesting that border control can search your laptop to their heart's content, based on a precedence - here's the EFF's (Electronic Frontier Foundation) set of recommendations on how to protect your data and privacy when entering the US. The main theme: DO NOT LIE.

  2. Fight fire with fire - in an intriguing and controversial piece in the Armed Forces Journal, Colonel Charles Williamson suggets that the army construct a military botnet - a collection of old computers filled with viruses, spyware and other malware, to be used in case of an online war.

    Botnets have been used extensively and exclusively by spammers, hijackers and terrorists around the world for a while now. Last year, a vicious chain of attacks had been carried this way against the country of Estonia (read more here).

    Of course, once you have such a weapon, you could use it to attack (cause Denial of Service for example), as well as protect. However, the idea has merit and is easy to implement. I like the idea of finally moving the military into the 21st century.

  3. Garmin coming to Blackberry - Garmin will start offering its excellent GPS services to Blackberry owners. For a flat fee of $100 (no subscription needed), you'll be able to use the software Garmin uses on its dedicated GPS devices. If your Blackberry does not contain a built-in GPS (i.e. it's model 87xx or below), you can get a Garmin GPS device for an extra $100. Read more here.

  4. Be polite over the phone - on June 17th, the first ever telephone directory, printed at 1878 in New Haven, CT, will go on sale at Christie's auction house in New York. It's expected to fetch $30-40,000. The directory contains only 20 pages - half of them of instructions on how to use this "telephone" thing. What I like about it is the request to report any and all profanities and improper language used over the phone to the authorities smile.

  5. Put your health in Google's hands - Google launched a new service last week called "Google Health". You, the user, will upload all your personal health care data: accounts, prescriptions, appointments etc. Google, in turn, will aggregate and mine the data for its own uses (one can only assume targeted advertising is involved). read more about it in the privacy statement.

    My opinion? If you were comfortable enough to hand them your genetic data and you feel comfortable enough sharing your health data, wait awhile for "Google Money" to come out and send them your financial data as well - passwords and all. Might as well hand them your family jewels while you're at it.

    Make no mistake: I use many Google services (such as Blogger - where this blog is hosted), but their shady privacy policies scare me enough to not email or share certain information through their services. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the new service.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My HD DVD... Lives?

Like all HD DVD users, I've grudgingly admitted defeat (see my official surrender here) to BluRay.

But my HD DVD drive still works well, and I was wondering what to do with it and the 5 discs I managed to buy before the hammer fell.

And then it hit me: Combo discs!

You see, some of the studios use the same disc to distribute both DVD and HD DVD (each media type on a different side of a physical disc). Since HD DVD fell from grace, entire stocks of HD DVDs became heavily discounted - including those combo discs.

I just managed to score 3 or 4 of them from Amazon - and for less than what a regular DVD costs (so it's a bargain for DVD collectors as well). If ever my HD DVD drive dies - I'd still be able to view the movie on a regular DVD. Of my 8 HD DVDs, 6 are combos. And I intend to get some more (for $10-15 a pop - almost as much as it costs to watch the movie in a theater). The easiest way to get them is to search for the string "hd dvd combo" on Amazon, eBay etc.

Another thing I figured out, is that I can use my Xbox HD DVD drive with a PC. It connects through USB, and many guides exist over the net on where to get appropriate drivers (see this one for example).

All in all, I think I'll keep enjoying my drive and high definition movies for awhile longer - at least until BluRay drives prices drop below $100.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Download This! - WorldWide Telescope

Yes, Google may have Google Sky to look at the heavens, but the latest astronomy software from Microsoft Research, Worldwide Telescope, blew my mind.

In a nice and easy interface you can navigate between the heavenly bodies, look at collections of images (such as Hubble or Chandra images), and take guided tours between the stars (I especially liked the Mars Rover tour).

MS is positioning this software as an education platform. You (or conceivably a science teacher or professor) can construct his own tour or gallery. Those can be shared with communities.

By installing an additional software called ASCOM (Astronomy Common Object Model), you can actually control your telescope and stream images into the app and to the communities.

The navigation tools are easy to handle. Extra content is downloaded on demand (with full control over the rate of download and the cache). And the Search function will allow you to locate any named star, planet or constellation you like.

One important fact: this software is still in beta (and what isn't nowadays? smile). You can assist by reporting bugs or misbehaviors from within the software. Beta or not - this is my (current) new toy.

Download it here (the site uses SilverLight).

Monday, May 12, 2008

By the Way, We Lost

Remember my desperate call to Google shareholders to vote against censorship?

Well, it didn't work. Last Thursday, the annual shareholders meeting was held here in Mountain View. The board, through its speaker, explained that removing censorship would harm the business relations with China, and would cause to shutdown.

I would have put it this way: terminating censorship might cause the Chinese government to close down Why speak in passive tense? It's like saying: there was a gunfight and someone was shot, rather than saying person A shot person B. I guess if you keep to passive, there are no bad guys here.

Anyway, both resolutions (censorship termination and human rights) were repelled. The final word is:
...Google is working with human-rights groups, socially responsible investors, and others to come up with guidelines for operating in such countries, but that “applying a rigid set of rules here is not always going to get us to the right outcome.”
You understand? Abolishing censorship is "applying a rigid set of rules". Doublespeak at its best. George Orwell should have called his book 2008 rather than 1984.

The good news? Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, abstained on both votes. I guess someone there still retains his conscience.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gadget Digest II

Some gadgets that grabbed my attention lately:
  1. Scramble any GPS - do you drive a company or service car, with a GPS system allowing your boss to monitor your moves on a map in his lair? Well worry no longer. This $300 gadget can attach itself to the car lighter and scramble any GPS signals around it. The question is: is hiding from your boss woirth $300?

  2. Watch your movie files in HD - this 500Gb external hard disk from Iomega packs a twist: the Screenplay can connect directly to your TV and play all known formats, video and audio. It comes with a remote and does not require a computer. It has an HDMI output, so you can enjoy full 1080i video. And it'll only set you back $200 - very reasonable for its capacity.

  3. Read, Write, Talk? - the last gadget has to be seen to be believed. The Pulse smart pen (link works better in IE than FF) allows you to write and record at the same time. It also has a tiny video camera, allowing it to read what you wrote, and put it together with the sound.

    You could use this to gather your written and spoken notes, or to run applications on the platform (2 examples provided with the pen: draw numbers on the paper, put an operator like + between them, and the small screen would show the result; draw a piano keyboard, tap the pen on the "keys" and it'll start playing.

    What I like about it is that you can dump everything you've written or recorded to your computer, or the web. And, of course, the fact that it's an open platform, so you can start develop apps for it.

    Watch David Pogue demo it here. This will set you back $149 (1GB of memory) or $199 (2GB). I'm seriously considering getting one and starting to play with the SDK.

Technological Digest XIII

After a long delay, here's the digest. Bear in mind, some items may be a bit stale - I just keep collecting them.
  1. Data Recovery - probably the most extreme case of data recovery has been demonstrated this week when NASA managed to recover 99% of the data from a shuttle Columbia hard disk that fell to Earth in 2003. The entire contents of the tests on the HD were recovered. It's a Seagate drive, if you care to know, and the details, as well as some gory HD images can be found here.

  2. Would you like some Mesh with that? - while Mesh, the new Microsoft initiative to consolidate data got its share of headlines (read this and this for a good summary of the technology), and got me to join the beta, Joel's take on the technology, it's predecessors and it's inventors (or should I say "re-inventors"?) put it all in focus for me.
    Apparently, the same idea makes the same rounds every 3-4 years. Recommended reading for anyone who'll ever manage a software project, with genius developers.

  3. Ubuntu 8 is out - as you could probably tell by the banner on the right, unless you read my posts on an RSS reader. Looks Ok so far - nothing to write home about. Except for a new feature called Wubi, that allows you to test and play with Ubuntu from within Windows. That's right, no need to install, use a VM or even reboot. Play with it and see if you like it, or as they say "try before you get it for free".

  4. Sad day for democracy - the Us appeals court, in a 3-0 decision, allows border control agents to search laptops' contents without cause or warrant. Yep, it appears that providing democracy is a zero-sum game: to "provide" it abroad, Americans have to give it up at home. What it means is that if you have any private, corporate, or sensitive data on your laptop - get it off there before entering the US, unless your fine with sharing your girlfriends pics with the nice guys at border control. Read more here.

  5. News Corp hires a hacker to sabotage its competitor, DISH networks - in a very strange development during the trial, a hacker admitted he was hired by NC to develop a device that will crack DISH's algorithms, and flood the market with it. The effort to close the gap was supposed to have cost DISH close to $1 billion. Is this the future of corporate war, or the present? Read more here

  6. Online fraud reached 20% a year - according to the FBI, 1 in 5 transactions occuring over the web is fraudulent. Scary. Read more here.

Montreal, Again

I've been doing a lot of traveling over the last 5 weeks: Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, New York (see my Central Park in the Spring album), Nashville (see album - all taken INSIDE a building), San Diego and last week Montreal.

I've been to Montreal many times before and believed I've seen every corner worth touring there. I was wrong.

I met my parents after not seeing them for months. They asked me to arrange "an interesting" daily trip. We've been to downtown and the Old City several times before. We've seen the waterfront. We've been to Mont. Tremblant. We've spent a couple of days touring Quebec City last time we met. But I had to find something "new" this time.

If I haven't said so before, Montreal and Quebec are the closest you'll get to a European city without crossing the ocean. The ambiance is a mazing. The architecture is varied. And the coffee is good (sorry - couldn't find a good espresso anywhere in the US - if you know of one, leave me a comment).

I started my search by putting up the map of Montreal on the screen and diving into the green areas. The mont. Royal park is amazing - and crowded (similar to Central Park). The Angrinon park is nice, but empty - just a big green space. Then I saw Parc Jean-Drapeau. It's spread over 2 islands in the St. Laurent river - Ile Ste. Helene and Ile de Notre Dame. The islands are connected by 2 bridges, that also connect them to Montreal itself on both sides.

Ste. Helene island is amazing - a green lung in the middle of the river. You can hike, bike, visit the old fort, or the Biosphere (the site of the Montreal Expo 67). We just walked around and had a picnic in one of the deserted areas. I even saw some beavers (sadly, they wouldn't wait for me to focus my camera before escaping - pretty fast for their size).

From the island we continued to the Biodome, right next to the Montreal Olympic Stadium.

The Biodome is a unique natural environment. It's divided into 4 climate zones, separated by airtight double doors. Each zone contains the flora and fauna unique to it. You can see birds, monkeys, a gator and plenty of fish.

All in all, it was a great day and a recommended tour. See the rest of the photos here.

The Future is Here

I'm about to finish Michael Crichton's latest book Next. The book covers genetic advances that may, at first, seem futuristic, but the scientific basis to achieve them exists today.

It covers corporations taking out patents on individual genes (and by extension owning part of you). Crossbreeds - animals with human genes, able to achieve higher intelligence (these actually do exist today). The effects of triggering or suppressing certain behavior-influencing genes in humans (turning them more docile, or more mature). And of course, cloning - a favorite genetic subject (again, this has been achieved numerous times already with animals)

And like every other Michael Crichton novel, he provides the underlying scientific facts, both in the text and in an extensive bibliography (should you be tempted to research on your own).

I read it as a sort of a precautionary horror story. Yes, the technology exists - but you don't necessarily have to use it. Of course, when BIG money is at stake, everyone loses their conscience and pursue the next big genetic breakthrough.

But writing this book review wasn't high on my list of posts. I intended to write a Montreal trip report, followed by some technical digests. And then I ran across a YouTube movie that proved to me that the future is here.

In one of the scenes in the book, a major advertising company manager discusses his plans to start altering animals to have company logos on them. A shark with an "HSBC" logo; a rhino with "Land Rover" naturally stenciled on his side; fish swimming in a riff, each type carrying its own little ad.

He plans to market it this way: each company will "sponsor" its own animal and contribute to preserving it - thus appeasing those "green guys". In the meantime, the branded species will take over and replace the original species (by being altered, they'll be placed higher in the evolution ladder), so in a few generations, every animal on Earth will be sponsored.

Again, sounds a little far-fetched, until you see how these guys decided to advertise "ZOO York" shoes.

Caution: for the squeamish in the crowd, this involves a lot of logo-tagged cockroaches. And it has a gross finale.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Create Your South Park Character

Just a short and fun post:
This site will allow you to create your very own South Park, Lego or Sonic character.

You can then use your character as an avatar in your messaging software, or include it in your blog, forum etc. Here's what I managed to come up with in 3 minutes (and remember: my artistic sense is close to NULL, as I have demonstrated many times before razz):

And a lot of thanks to Ariel for pointing me to this site. You should see his avatar smile.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Send Your Name to the Moon!

A certain gum company (Bazooka) promised me that by the age of 21, I'll reach the moon (part of the product included a portion that "foretold your future"). Since 21 is sadly well behind me, I'm currently suing them for false advertisement (just kidding razz).

But I just stumbled upon the following site, that will at least let me get my name to the moon. NASA is sending an LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) to the moon, and if you submit your name by 6/27/08, it will be included in a list that will be left there.

Go to this site to read more about the initiative, and here to add your name. You'll end up with this certificate:

Just don't come to me when aliens find your name on the moon and come looking for you by name razz.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Matzliach Method

Rememebr my Avis post, about hidden and preposterous fuel charges?
Turns out Hertz doesn't want to be left behind in this game.

For several rentals now, fuel charges have been creeping into my final account (at $7.28/gallon - cool price that I'm sure OPEC would approve of), even when I returned the car full.

Too late to do anything about old bills now, but this Sunday, I returned a car with a full tank to Hertz at SFO, took my bill and made my merry way to the sky train. Luckily, I looked at the bill before boarding and rushed back.

The bill showed the car was returned with a full tank and a $30 charge for fuel service!

When I went back to the counter, the girl didn't even argue, she just took the charge off the bill and didn't even bother apologizing.

In Israel there's a term called "The Matzliach Method" (a play on the Hebrew word for "successful"). Simply put, it works like this: I'll try to screw you. If you didn't catch me, I'm successful; if you caught me, I'm not successful - but I haven't lost anything for trying.
In other words, under certain conditions it's always worth trying to screw the other guy. (And I invite the Game Theorists in the crowd to quote a theorem saying the same thing).

Seems like rental car companies are starting to incorporate shady management techniques... :)
Don't give in to these tactics - check your bills thoroughly and argue for every cent.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Night at the Movies

I try to never recommend movies. They are too contemporary when compared to books. Not every summer blockbuster can be enjoyed several years later, and the contemporary jokes and culture references lose context and turn blank with time.

I don't really like going to the movies anymore. I have more control when watching a film on my home theater system, or my laptop; no one talks on the phone next to me; and I can stop and continue watching next week (just like books, I'm currently in the midst of at least 3 films).

But some films deserve/demand a wide screen and a good sound system
Also, my non-linear film habits tend to take the edge out of every film (you can't be scared if you just pause in the middle of the action). Plus, crowd responses can sometimes be fun (who are they clapping to at the end of the film?)

Yesterday, I've decided to watch Iron Man on its opening night. If I do go to see a movie, it's at the AMC Mercado in Santa Clara (near Yahoo, right by EMC - these guys can just watch one during their lunch break razz).

I planned to take a late show (11:20pm on a Friday) to avoid the crowds, but completely forgot I live in Silicon Valley ( == geeksville). All shows - and it was showing on 5 screens at same time - were sold out. Still, by a stroke of luck, I got a parking spot right in the front, and a ticket.

The theater was full to the brim with the usual Valley sci-fi movie goers: programmers, Indians, Israelis, Chinese etc. All the preview trailers were for other sci-fi movies coming this summer (The Hulk, Indiana Jones, Narnia, The Spirit etc.). No mushy dramas or chick-flicks here.

And then, all of a sudden, the trailer to Mike Mayers' Love Guru. At first, I was afraid it would offend some of the crowd, but the Indian guys started laughing out loud. It was followed by the trailer to Adam Sandler's "You don't mess with the Zohan" - and now it was the Israelis' turn to bust a gut laughing.

I do recommend Iron Man as a good way to pass the time. It has the perfect mix of good adaptation, good acting (except for the done-before-tired bad guy) and great effects. As a comic-book-based movie, it's certainly one of the better ones. Here's a link to the trailers.

If (and only if) you are a comic book geek (like me), stick around. After all the end titles, there's a 30-seconds sequence bringing back a familiar character.