Monday, June 21, 2010

Dolby Axon Will Change the Way We Yell at Gamers Online

Dolby Axon Voice ChatXbox Live may have brought in–game voice communication to the masses but voice chatting with your friends and opponents during a deathmatch or raid isn't anything new for PC Gamers. Some of the most popular VOIP solutions for PC gamers are Ventrilo and Teamspeak, programs you've undoubtedly heard of if you've ever needed to speak with a fellow gamer online while using a computer. Other lesser known options are Skype, which is popular for smaller and more personal discussions, and Mumble, which uses a more up-to-date codec and minimizes latency. Both of which have been steadily gaining headway in the VOIP scene. However, a few people are catching on to this new kid on the block known as Dolby Axon, which promises to revolutionize the way we talk to and interact with each other in-game.

With this new technology your voice is intended to be integrated into the game itself rather than being simply played over the top of it like with most contemporary voice communication software. For example, as your teammates move around you so will the direction their voices come from. If there is a teammate directly to your right calling out enemy fire ahead, you will hear your teammates voice to your right without any distortion to the in-game gunfire coming directly in front of you. In addition, in-game obstacles like walls and buildings will muffle and drown out the voices of your teammates. Dolby also has some innovative ideas with the technology including spy microphones, the ability to hear through walls, throwing your voice, and more.

Right now the technology is confirmed to ship with Jumpgate Evolution, an online space combat simulator, and Mission Against Terror, an online FPS title. Dolby is also hoping that console game developers will embrace the technology, which would allow console gamers to have their voices mapped to the game environment in the same ways its currently being used on the PC. The ability to keenly flow through conversation in a group and knowing where people are by the sound of their voice, coupled with direct sound to game interactions should add much to the game experience. In addition Dolby assures us that any headset and microphone combination will work perfectly with the technology and lower level system owners can breathe a sigh of relief, Dolby has considered you as well.

Read all about Dolby Axon on their site.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

If Google told you to walk into traffic, would you do it?

Look Mom! No sidewalks.Do you ever wonder why absolutely everything has warning labels and liability clauses attached to them? Warnings like "Do not use while sleeping" on hair dryers are absolutely needed because many people today exhibit an exuberant lack of common sense.

Take Lauren Rosenberg for example, who innocently enough used Google Maps on her Blackberry to get walking directions from one part of her Utah town to another. Google provided these, telling her as part of the route to walk for about 2 miles along the serenely-named “Deer Valley Drive.” However, that is simply an alternate name for the short section of road which is actually Utah State Route 224, which as you can imagine, isn't a place for people to be taking a daytime stroll. Instead of finding an alternate route or walking safely back to her home, Rosenberg decided that Google knows best and meandered onto the highway which had no sidewalk or pedestrian paths.

Surprise! She was hit by a vehicle and is now suing Google for her medical expenses ($100,000), as well as punitive damages. She is also suing the driver who struck her, Patrick Harwood of Park City, Utah. Here's an excerpt from Rosenburg's complaint filing.

"As a direct and proximate cause of Defendant Google’s careless, reckless and negligent providing of unsafe directions, Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg was led onto a dangerous highway, and was thereby stricken by a motor vehicle, causing her to suffer sever permanent physical, emotional, and mental injuries, including pain and suffering."

If you do a walking directions search from a laptop or computer on Google, you get one of those hair dryer warnings:

"Walking directions are in beta. Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths."

Even Microsoft's Bing has a similar warning when using their walking directions:

"Caution, this route may be missing sidewalks or other pedestrian paths."

The problem with Rosenburg was that she was using a blackberry screen which only has a limited amount of space. If Google were to put any kind of warning on her screen, where would there be room for a map and directions? It seems Google has learned its lesson not to put faith in the common sense of the people. Not walking out into a busy street was a skill I learned in Pre-School.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Video Gamers aka Dream Controlling Masters

Video Gamer and his DreamsA study suggests that playing video games before bedtime may give gamers a higher level of awareness and control in their dreams giving them a better chance to have a lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is simply being aware you are dreaming, while dreaming, and being able to influence that dream in one way or another. Lucid dreams usually occur while a person is in the middle of a regular dream and suddenly realizes that he or she is asleep and must be dreaming. The person is then said to become "lucid", and may enter one of many different levels of lucidity. At the lowest level, the dreamer may be dimly aware that he or she is dreaming, but not rationally enough so as to realize that all events, people, or actions in the dream are not real. At the highest level, the dreamer is fully aware that she or he is asleep, and can have complete control over all aspects of the dream.

Gamers and Dreams

While gaming at night might not give you the ability to alternate the reality of your dream worlds in the same fashion as "The Matrix", it could however give your mind an edge when facing nightmares and other mental trauma in the every day world. According to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, dreams and video games both represent alternate realities which are commonly used by the mind to mimic threatening situations in a safe environment. In fact, several intriguing parallels between lucid dreamers and video gamers have emerged since Gackenbach began her research on video games and how they affect dreams.

The two groups are both capable of demonstrating high levels of focus and concentration, whether that be through lucid-training activities such as meditation and reality checks, or through hours spent mastering virtual worlds and combating countless enemies. In addition both lucid dreamers and gamers seemed to have better spatial skills and were less prone to motion sickness. These findings encouraged Gackenbach to survey the dreams of both non-gamers and hardcore gamers, beginning with two separate studies published in 2006.

The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams and dream control, or the ability to directly influence their dream environment. A second study attempted to narrow down several uncertainties of the first experiment by examining dreams that participants experienced from the night before and by focusing more intently on the dreams of gamers.

This study found that lucid dreams were common among gamers, but that they never had dream control over anything beyond their dream selves. In other words gamers are greatly capable of controlling their own actions in dreams, but are not very capable of altering their dream environments. The gamers also frequently flipped between a first person view from within their body and a third person view of themselves from the outside. This third person perspective was very rarely described as a calm detachment of somebody simply watching. These are very peculiar qualities in dreams which may stem from constantly watching and controlling the actions of a video-game character.

Viewing the Nightmare World in the Eyes of a Gamer

As mentioned before, dreams mimic threatening situations from real life in the safe environment of the dream world. Such nightmares would help organisms hone their survival skills in a protective environment. To test this theory, Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, and assessed the threat levels experienced by the dreamers in their sleeping world. She found that gamers experienced less or even a reversed threat simulation in which the dreamer themselves had become the threatening presence. She also noted less aggression overall towards the dreamer, yet aggression in the gamer towards the dream often culminated in violence not unlike that seen in mature rated video games. In other words, a scary nightmare scenario turned into something fun for a gamer.

"What happens with gamers is something inexplicable," Gackenbach explained. "They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms. If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams, but when they are aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top."

It appears indeed that video gamers are the undisputed masters of their dreams.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Palm webOS Design Director Jumps Ship to Google

This news doesn't bode well for Palm and their new owner HP, which recently declared their plan to double down on webOS and take the smartphone market by storm. The now former senior director of human interface and user experience for Palm, Matias Duarte, who was the genius behind webOS's user interface, has confirmed that he will be joining Google and the Android team as their User Experience Director.

While its a shame Duarte isn't sticking around to see things through with Palm, this is a major blow for HP and paints a brighter future for Android. Duarte has worked in the past with members of the current Android team when he was the director of design for the phone maker Danger, which like webOS provided a slick user interface for their phone called the Sidekick. In an odd turn of events, Danger was co-founded by Andy Rubin, who coincidentally left Danger to start Android Inc. in 2003. Since then Android was sold to Google, Rubin became Vice President of engineering, and Duarte rejoined his former colleagues at Android.

Currently Android phones are known for sacrificing aesthetic design and a pretty UI for more functionality and improved customization features. Gingerbread, the next version of Android, is already in the works and expected to release at the end of the year. While Duarte may not have much of an influence in steering Gingerbread, expect to see his full visual influence come into play on the following versions of Android.

Monday, May 24, 2010

5 Ways to Stay Safe Online

Online Criminal Spreading MalwareThe web is a fountain of information, a busy marketplace, and thriving social scene for those of who choose it to be so. While online criminals are nothing new, their methods and tendencies to undertake stealthy attacks on ordinary Web users are evolving in ways that can be hard to stop without the correct knowledge. In today's online world, hackers are lacing Web sites, sometimes even legitimate ones, with malware designed to secretly and silently infiltrate our PCs to steal sensitive personal information and also turn our the computers into tools that can be used to send more spam and malware onto the Internet. So without further ado, here are some basic tips for protecting yourself online from these faceless criminals.

1. Protect Your Web Browser

The most direct line of attack between the internet and your computer is the browser installed on the PC. Flaws found in browsers are one of the oldest techniques that online criminals have been using. These browser vulnerabilities download malware onto computers using hidden download methods that users will never notice and can't possibly know exist. Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox are the most targeted browsers due to the fact that they have been the most widely available and consequently are the most popular among users. Be sure to download updates for your browser regularly and you can be relatively sure that you are surfing safely.

However, your computer can still be exposed to malware in the time between a discovered vulnerability and the implemented security fix. In cases such as these, it is recommended that you use security software in conjunction with regular browser updates, especially if you are a Windows XP user. It would also help to use a more obscure browser such as opera or chrome, both of which are newer browsers on the market and don't have the same popularity as Firefox and IE.

2. Get Adobe Updates

Most consumers are familiar with Adobe Reader, which opens and reads PDF files, and Adobe’s Flash Player for its prominence in online web games. In recent years, a virtual epidemic of attacks has flooded Adobe attempting to exploit their security flaws. Nearly half of these attacks today come hidden in PDF files which will infect a computer as soon as its opened. The beauty of this kind of infection method is that no matter what kind of browser you might be using, its almost a sure thing that you're using Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash Player. The good news is that the majority of people getting infected via Adobe are running old, non-updated versions of their software, much of which has glaring security holes. Nowadays Adobe attempts to update automatically and it is as simple as following a few simple steps. If you would like to make sure your software is up to date, all you have to do is manually update Adobe.

To update Reader, open the application and then select the “Help” tab and click “Check for Updates” from the menu bar. After a few moments Adobe will determine if your software is up to date and if not it will prompt you to download the latest version. Since April 2010, Windows users have been able to choose to get future updates automatically without additional prompts by clicking “Edit”, then “Preferences”, then selecting “Updater” from the list and checking “Automatically install updates.” Mac users have a similar option available to them but Apple will require that they enter their password each time an update is installed. Adobe has elected not to allow silent and automatic updates due to many people being adverse to them.

3. Beware Malicious Ads

An increasingly popular way to get attacks onto trusted websites is to slip them directly into advertisements, usually by tricking smaller advertising networks. This practice has come to be known as Malvertising, which typically exploits software vulnerabilities or sends deceptive and harmful pop-up messages to the user. The most well known version of Malvertising, and one you've probably personally encountered, involves an alert that a malicious virus has been found on the computer, followed by urgent messages to buy the necessary software to remove it. Of course, there really is no harmful virus and the security software, called scareware, is nothing more than fake. This method is simply a ploy to get credit card numbers and a few quick bucks at the expense of a gullible person who believes the message they are seeing is a genuine notification from their system. Currently scareware accounts for half of all malware delivered in advertisements which has increased five times since last year.

Closing the pop-up or killing the browser will usually end the episode, but if you encounter this scam, be sure to check your PC with trusted security software or with Microsoft’s Security Essentials. If you are unlucky enough to have picked up a nasty virus, don't sweat it. Microsoft cleaned scareware from 7.8 million PCs in the second half of 2009, up 47 percent from the 5.3 million in the first half, the company said. My personal favorite for eliminating threats garnered from the web is called Malware Bytes.

4. Poisoned Search Results

There is an online phenomenon on the web called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which is a technique that raises websites to the top of search engines based on keywords alone. Online criminals are also using this technique to manipulate search engines results into placing malicious sites toward the top of results pages for popular keywords. Typically these malicious sites embed popular keyword to try to distribute scareware to those unlucky enough to visit. Luckily search engines like Google and Microsoft’s Bing are doing their best to detect malicious sites and remove them entirely from their indexes. There are free tools available online such as McAfee’s SiteAdvisor and the Firefox add-on called Web of Trust which can warn you about potentially dangerous links.

5. Antisocial Media

Attackers also use e-mail, instant messaging, blog comments and social networks like Facebook and Twitter to trick people into visiting their websites or downloading malware. It's always better to be safe rather than sorry when dealing with suspicious messages or friend requests, especially in today's day and age. Phishers are trying to steal your login information so they can infiltrate other accounts, impersonate you to try to scam others out of money, and of course gather personal information about you and your friends.

One of the most rampant variants of these AntiSocial Media attacks have come from the Koobface worm and its cousins which have been taking aim at users of Facebook and other social sites for more than a year. The attack usually begins with the promise of a hilarious and never before seen video which prompts you to download a fake multimedia-player codec which is required to view the video. If you do happen to download this codec, your PC will become infected with malware and assuredly become part of a botnet which spews spam and malware across the four corners of the Internet.

Despite all these great tips for keeping you safe on the net, the most important aspect involved in keeping your computer safe from malware is to have a healthy dose of suspicion when browsing. Online criminals are using increasingly sophisticated methods to prey on the unsuspecting and your best defense on the web may just be your gut instinct.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Improve Your Day by Darkening Your Screen at Night

F.lux Screen Brightness AdjusterIf you're like me and find yourself staring into the burning chasm of your monitor during the day as well as nighttime, have I got a program for you. Its called F.lux and it automatically adjusts your computer’s monitor brightness according to the time of day and lighting conditions in the room. Best of all, its completely free.

Most screens look fine during the morning hours and day because they’re made to be BRIGHT like the outside sun. However, during the evenings at 10PM, or even 4AM for that matter, you definitely shouldn't be looking at anything that resembles the sun. Ever notice that when you come back to your monitor after dark, or even just as dusk is falling, they tend to blind your eyes and make you reach for the brightness controls? F.lux fixes all this by adjusting your computer's display to adapt to the time of day. It will become warm colored at night and during the day take on the color of sunlight. As someone who has battled with insomnia on more than one occasion, it's definitely nice to know I won't turn on my monitor only to have my retinas seared.

The basic principles behind the F.lux program involve adjusting your monitor based on color temperatures. The term color temperature is a way to numerically describe how much red or blue light is illuminating a room. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins and is used to describe every kind of light you use and buy. Warm colored light sources are described in lower degrees kelving while cool light is higher up the spectrum. A candle which gives off a red-orange light has a color temperature of approximately 1800K while a bright sunny day may be around 6000K. A cloudy day will cause the sunlight that penetrates to have a more blue color and may have a color temperature around 7000K. If you're wondering what the color temperature of your monitor is, consider that most LCD's are defaulted to 6500K while CRT's may have an even higher color temperature.

Keep in mind that this program is not designed for use during advanced color work such as graphical design but it will be perfectly fine for regular use. I personally don't have a problem at all with the color when I play video games at night. If you have a problem with your screen looking much too yellow at night, try adjusting the color temperature sliders under the settings tab. I personally have the Daytime setting cranked all the way up with my night temperature sitting at 4200K near the Flourescent setting. What I like best about F.lux is that once you set it up you will never have to think about it again. Its all automatic.

For more information about display technology visit A Monitor Blog

Monday, May 17, 2010

How to Calibrate your High Definition TV

High Definition TVYou may have just spent thousands of dollars on that brand new 52" HD TV but unless you calibrate it you may never even know what you're missing. Shopping for an HD TV right now is like stepping into a swirling miasma of contrast levels, back lighting, processing power, widgets, gray scale, ambient lighting, resolution, output format, I could go on. The point is that everything is advertised as HD ready which deludes you into thinking your TV has already been optimized when that couldn't be further from the truth. The problem lies with the manufacturers' default settings which usually pump up the color settings and contrast to make them stand out better under the thousands of watts of light shining down on you in the middle of Best Buy. Put simply your HD TV is almost guaranteed to be nowhere near the home viewing experience you could be getting.

A properly calibrated television could end up looking better than a factory defaulted TV of nearly twice the price. Blu-ray content especially is sensitive to calibration and you will be absolutely surprised at the differences. My friend had just bought a High Definition LCD TV Monitor and we decided to test out the waters by watching Pan's Labyrinth on Blu Ray. I thought the picture quality was superb and was congratulating him on purchasing such a sweet TV. That's when he decided to open up all the settings on his TV and he actually sat down to calibrate the TV while I watched. He asked my opinion on a few setting since he is partially colorblind but it was easy enough to get through. We tossed in The Dark Night on Blu Ray immediately after and my jaw dropped at how much better the picture looked. I was truly stunned at the image quality. I could count the hairs on Christian Bales five o clock shadow and was almost blinded when the picture would switch from dark scenes to brighter ones. I felt for the first time that I had seen what the Blu Ray technology could actually do and it sent chills down my spine.

So how exactly do you go about calibrating a High Definition TV? The process is quite simple and is often ignored in the manufacturers instruction manual. The first and most important step you should take when calibrating your TV is to mimic the ambient lighting in the room that you normally watch your movies in. For example, if you find yourself watching your TV mostly in the middle of the day open the curtains and let in some light. Otherwise, if you watch a lot of movies in the late evenings, try dimming the lights and closing the curtains.

Brightness or black level is one of the most important settings on your TV. Your goal when calibrating this setting is to try and lower the brightness right down until blacks look deep on all levels of darkness. If there is a loss in detail when viewing varying levels of dark you don't have your setting correct. When tweaking this setting its a good idea to find an image or movie with a great dynamic range. Something that displays both dark shadows with clean and bright scenes such as The Dark Night.

Once you are done with your black levels the next setting you will be moving onto will be your television's contrast settings which may also be called white level. Basically you want to raise the contrast until whites get as bright as possible while still being crisp and not blurred in any way. A poor contrast ratio will have a negative effect on the color quality which may cause your picture to look washed out or like there's a transparent black sheet draped over the TV. Adjusting contrast ratios can prove difficult as any changes you make will affect the brightness levels previously mentioned.

Next up is sharpness. Sharpness could more accurately be called "artificial edge enhancement" and generally only improves the aesthetics of lower-quality signals like standard cable and satellite programs. Increasing the sharpness may give you the illusion that you're getting more detail, but the end result is definitely not a more accurate picture. Too high of a sharpness setting will often creates halos around the edges of objects onscreen and create hard looking edges. Take into consideration that most movies already have this edge-enhancement filter applied during mastering so as a general rule you can leave sharpness very low or even at zero as sharpness is not needed for HD sources.

Color levels are perhaps the most difficult and subjective setting you will need to tweak on your TV as these color changes will affect your previously tweaked settings. The best thing to do with colour levels is essentially do it by eye. Fortunately, factory settings for color are usually close to where they should be. You want to avoid a picture where it looks like everyone is sunburned or some of the colors have been amplified to an extreme. Some of these color level settings are called tint, hue, and color temperature. Remember, you simply want to try and balance out the colors as best as you can without negatively affecting your previous adjustments. If you're used to watching TV with a high contrast and brightness setting you may find that your picture seems a bit dull. If so, try living with the new settings for a few days before changing them back. Your eyes may not have gotten used to a more naturally balanced picture and we as humans typically avoid change.

If you want to take much of the guesswork out of manually adjusting your TV's settings and get great results at the same time, you may consider purchasing a calibration DVD. These discs include test patterns and specifically created videos and scenes that make it easy to match your TV's settings to broadcasting standards. If you want to be 100% sure you're getting the best possible picture your TV can deliver, consider hiring a certified professional to calibrate your HDTV. These experts will be armed with specialized test equipment and an extended knowledge of the inside of your TV and more advanced settings which should definitely be left up to the experts.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Verizon and Google Team Up for Android Tablet

Verizon and Google Partner on TabletIn a bid to catch up with rival AT&T Mobility and compete on the tablet front against the iPad, Verizon Wireless has announced plans to launch a tablet based on Google's Android platform as well as a host of other connected devices. While neither Verizon nor Google would confirm the hardware partnership, Verizon CEO McAdam mentioned Google in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"What do we think the next big wave of opportunities are?" Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said in the interview. "We're working on tablets together, for example. We're looking at all the things Google has in its archives that we could put on a tablet to make it a great experience."

The move certainly strengthens the relationship between Verizon and Google which was forged last fall when the two announced a multi-year collaboration on devices and services. However, it remains to be seen how Apple will respond to the news of a new tablet powered by Google, which already competes with Apple in wireless software and mobile advertising. Odds are Apple is a little less than pleased and it will be interesting to see how they respond to Verizon's request to carry the iPhone on their network. Perhaps this announcement is merely a ploy to give Verizon more leverage in negotiations with Apple or perhaps Apple has already denied Verizon access to their iPhone.

Regardless, an Android tablet on Verizon's network is not entirely surprising. At the Consumer Electronics Show last January Motorola demonstrated a prototype Android tablet running on Verizon's upcoming LTE network. It was also noted in the demonstration that if the tablet was commercialized and produced, the device could be released for sale as early as fall of this year. Verizon has already admitted to being “handicapped” by its CDMA network but McAdam promised that the new devices would be available on the company’s new LTE 4G network, which arrives early next year.

As of right now, Verizon and Google are in it together for the long haul and it looks like Apple will be facing much stiffer competition with the tablet than it ever saw in the iPhone and iPod markets. Now that Android tablets have been confirmed and an HP/Palm tablet all but unannounced, there will undoubtedly be an all-out tablet war. Right now Apple has the very distinct advantage seeing as they have already released a matured iPad and analysts estimate that it will take one to two years for competitors to reach the same functionality. Lets just hope that we as consumers see some benefit from this tablet war.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dude, You're Gettin' a Palm

HP Buys PalmIn case you're not up to date with the latest tech happenings, HP has acquired Palm for $1.2 billion. If you're saying to yourself "Big Whoopty Doo", there's really not much needed to know. The biggest factors involving this merger is the future of webOS, the evolution of the smartphone, and of course the fact that this is HP's big attempt to jump into the smartphone market.

If you examine the evolution of the smartphone—particularly after the release of the first iPhone which paved the way for the smartphone industry—it becomes clear that the devices are really just small PCs. They require processors, ram, and other hardware just like a PC and at the same time they require operating system to bring all that hardware together for a smooth platform. Dell was perhaps one of the first to notice this PC "trend" and now the company is coming out with Dell-branded smartphones.

HP, on the other hand, allowed its Windows Mobile-powered iPaq line to stagnate while they waited for Microsoft to roll out a new version of its mobile OS. As HP continued to wait for Microsoft and the iPaq line further deteriorated, Apple, Google, RIM, and many others have bulked up their rosters of smartphones leaving HP trailing in the dust still waiting on Microsoft. It's important to note that Apple and Google (Android) aren't just offering great smartphones, but rather an all-in-one phone solution including hardware, software, and services.

Clearly HP was missing something despite their ability to produce great hardware and provided great services. So far HP has been forced to use currently available operating systems which has effectively tied HP's future to whoevers' operation system they used. Whether it was Windows Phone 7 or Android, Microsoft or Google would have controlled their destiny.

With the Palm acquisition, HP is finally in a position to control its own mobile destiny. With webOS, HP gets an operating system that fully spans mobile communication and the Web while no longer having to rely on Microsoft or Google to provide the OS. This merger successfully puts HP's foot in the door for smartphones, tablets, and netbooks. HP currently plans to invest well over $200 million into Palm R&D while also investing heavily in third-party software development for the webOS platform. Palm's OS gives HP the ability to unite Web apps with mobile apps in real-time on mobile platforms just like the iPhone.

However there is a chance that HP's plan will be nothing more than a huge flop. Simply put, HP wants what Apple has. A single operating system, which it completely controls, at the heart of all of its consumer electronics -- phones, tablets, netbooks, lightweight PCs, digital cameras, televisions, etc. The problem lies with the fact that WebOS is already considered a failed platform. Despite its nice user interface and a few technical qualities, consumers haven't found any justification to buy Palm devices instead of Apple, Android, or even Microsoft devices. And, more importantly, developers haven't found any incentive to develop applications for WebOS.

Without any unique apps there would be absolutely no reason to have a unique platform. All the while, Android and Apple continue to fade away into the distance with crowds of people behind them while HP is still trying to get their game straight.
Hopefully this merger will become a success with HP becoming a mobile powerhouse over the next few years but only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If You Get This E-Mail Delete It Immediately

Paypal Email Phishing ScamThe latest attempt to steal your credit card number and personal information comes from a new technique that security experts are labeling "vishing", shorthand for "voice phishing". These con artists are using a combination of telephone and e-mail tricks which are designed to mimic the well known e-commerce business PayPal, and of course, relieve you of your hard earned money.

These e-mails utilize a slick come-on warning you that there is a problem with your PayPal account. However, there is no mysterious link to click which usually raises all kinds of warning flags for regular internet users. Instead, you will be asked to call a phone number where an automated answering machine will ask you for specific account information. This method truly mimics the legitimate way that customers interact with PayPal today. I myself have activated a PayPal credit card through their voice service and never had to talk to a real live person.

Other times the vishing will begin with the scammer calling you. Many people have fallen victim to this type of vishing which can be quite believable. The caller already knows your credit card number which gives the illusion they are a legitimate vendor. The only thing you are asked to provide is the three-digit security code found on the back of the card to confirm whatever it is their clever minds can come up with. "It is becoming more difficult to distinguish phishing attempts from actual attempts to contact customers," Ron O'Brien, a security analyst with Sophos PLC.

Your best bet, should you ever get one of these telephone calls, is to immediately hang up and call your financial institution with the number on the back of your card. If there is a real issue, they will know how to handle it. Remember, in this day and age you can never be to careful with your financial information. Never give anyone your credit card number or even the three-digit security code on the back of the card unless you have initiated the call. However, if you're calling in response to an e-mail that definitely doesn't count as initiating the call!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

IBM Creates Nanoscale Replica of World Map

IBM researchers in Switzerland have developed a patterning technique that lets them create structures as small as 15 nanometers. Using this nano patterning technique, the IBM researchers have created a three-dimensional replica of the Matterhorn, a famous mountain in the Swiss Alps, that's a little more than 25 nanometers high and a scale of 1 to 5 billion. For reference, a single nanometer is one millionth the length of a millimeter and a single human hair is on average 40,000 times wider than that of a nanometer. These researchers have also created a 3-D replica of the world that measures 22 by 11 micrometers which works out to a scale of about 1:11 billion. At this size, 1000 world maps could fit on a grain of salt.

How it Works

Atomic force microscopy is an extremely high-resolution type of scanning microscopy that is used to image, measure, and manipulate matter at nanoscale sizes. This scanning uses a physical probe to make master scans of specimens line by line. The nanopatterning technique used by IBM borrows the nanoscale tip from atomic force microscopy which is 500 nanometers in length and only a few nanometers wide at the tip. The surface of the material is scanned to a precision of a single nanometer and the nanoscale tip is superheated and will chisel out a predefined pattern. The map of the world created by the IBM researchers was carved out in 2 minutes and 23 seconds flat.

IBM hopes that one day nanopatterning will be used in the electronics, opto-electronics, medicine and life sciences industries. As a proof of concept the IBM researchers created a nanoscale pattern in silicone, which is the material used to make chips today. Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group, sees the many possibilities of using nanopatterning technology in this industry.

"The size of chips is defined by how finely we can make structures on them, and IBM's showing that they can make these structures very fine and in 3-D at very small scales. We're building up more and more layers on a chip to make more and more transistors, so it's not only how wide and tall you can go but how thick you can make a chip,"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Opera Becomes #1 Mobile App Download

Opera Mini Mobile AppToday was the first day that Opera Mini became available for download on the iTunes store and has since received astonishing attention from consumers and has been downloaded over a million times. Earlier this morning Opera Mini reigned king by holding the number one iPhone app spot in the 22 featured Apple App Stores and continues to do so on many of the charts.

Opera Mini is one of the world’s most popular browsers and is capable of bringing the web to nearly any mobile phone. Opera submitted its browser to Apple on March 23 and much to the shock of everyone Apple decided to allow their competition into their app store and be free to download. Many initial reviews of the browser rave about the speed, ease of use, and multitouch features with the consensus being "it kicks Safari out of the water". While some users have small complaints, most are looking forward to the future updates Opera has planned for the app.

“Today iPhone users have a choice, and, as the numbers show, they are eager to explore new and faster ways to surf the Web on the iPhone - especially during heavy Web traffic,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software. “With any widely available and frequently downloaded Opera product, we are appreciative of all the feedback we are getting, as it helps us to continually improve our product and better meet the needs of our users.”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Live Action Video Game Trailers are Awesome

Earlier today I witnessed what I thought was an amazing preview for a futuristic war movie destined for the big screen. I called my brother over to check the trailer out and he immediately quipped "What movie is this and when is it coming out?". My thoughts exactly until my jaw dropped at the end of the trailer when its revealed that its actually for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier. A video game.

As an exercise in game promotion the only comparable trailer is from Halo ODST which utilizes the same live action filming techniques. I was definitely impressed by Halo's promotional movie but the Future Soldier trailer may just be the single best video game trailer I've ever seen. It does a fantastic job of creating a tense atmosphere in a war-torn city and pulls you right in with an explosive firefight. The trailer also hints at what kind of weapons and tech to expect on the battlefield and it even gives a reassuring nudge that the game mechanics will be grounded in reality despite being a futuristic shooter.

I realize that some people believe trailers like these are simply the result of slick corporate marketing designed to hype up a game while deftly concealing actual gameplay mechanics, and I believe its good to be skeptical. However, remember that Halo ODST aired their advertisement over Monday Night Football and its a safe bet that the Future Soldier trailer will also see time on prime-time television. These trailers aren't created to put one over on the consumer. Rather, they are made to appeal to a more mainstream audience and they even signal a more wide-spread acceptance of "hardcore" gamers. Judging from the success of Halo ODST and the recent movement of creating short films to accompany video games, expect this particular marketing trend to only get bigger.

Live Action Video Game Trailers

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FBI's Most Dangerous Internet Scams

Online scams continue to be a disparaging bane of the Internet and there seems to be no end in sight. As part of its annual wide-ranging look at Internet crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken a look at the top Internet scams of 2009 and the numbers aren't pretty. Online crime is indeed paying off for criminals to the tune of $559.7 million, up from $265 million in 2008. Furthermore, the agency's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a total of 336,655 complaints about online problems and scams, a 22.3% increase over 2008.

“The figures contained in [the FBI's] report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet. They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn’t have imagined just five years ago,” said National White Collar Crime Center Director Donald Brackman in the report. Annual crime complaints reported to Internet Crime Complaint Center have increased 667.8% between 2001 and 2009.

From the report, here’s a look at the top Internet scams of 2009:

Fake Pop-up Ads for Anti-Virus Software

One truly notorious technique for getting people to download malicious files is through the use of fake pop-ups which entice users to click them and follow through with the instructions. One nasty version of this scam involves pop-up ads for rogue anti-virus software. Victims receive pop-ups warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and harmful programs that have been found activated on the victim’s computer. When victims click these fake pop-ups they are directed to purchase anti-virus software in order to repair their computers. However, often times this simply results in downloading actual malicious code such as viruses, Trojans, or key loggers directly onto their computers. Any attempts to contact these "anti-virus" software companies have proven unsuccessful. The IC3 advises users who see these unexpected antivirus pop-up warnings to shut down their browsers or their computers immediately and then run an antivirus scan as soon as possible. The FBI said that scammers have made more than $150 million in the past year alone using this method.


The online “hitman” scam is also a tried and true favorite for the dredge of the internet. These scammers threaten to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender. There are many indications that thousands of internet users are continuing to receive these emails. According to the FBI, two new versions of this scheme began appearing in Summer 2008. One version instructs the recipient to contact a telephone number contained in the e-mail and the second claims that the recipient or a loved one will be kidnapped unless a specified ransom is paid. Many recipients of the kidnapping threat were told to respond via e-mail within 48 hours and the scammer was to provide the location of the wire transfer five minutes before the deadline. If payment was not received within a 30 minute time frame bodily harm was threatened. What makes this scam truly believable is that often times the recipients personally identifiable information will be included in these hitman e-mails. Names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers and are all used to make this scam appear more authentic giving the illusion that the sender has prior knowledge about the recipients location and personal life. Victims of these e-mails are typically instructed to send the money via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver in the United Kingdom.

Economic Stimulus

A down economy creates the perfect opportunity for fraud and criminals waste no time in exploiting unknowing persons. This particular scam involves unsolicited calls regarding fraudulent “government stimulus money” for citizens who qualify. IC3 received numerous complaints from victims receiving unsolicited telephone calls with a recorded message about government stimulus money. The recorded voice message sounds akin to President Barrack Obama discussing government funds available for those who apply. Victims are warned that the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit the web sites or to receive their money. These sites require victims to enter personal information, after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility. Upon completion of an online application and the payment of a $28 fee, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but of course they never do.

Job Site

Going hand-in-hand with the economic scams are the at-home and survey scams related to online job sites. Regarding work-at-home scams, victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions ranging from personnel managers to government positions and even secret shoppers. Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job and sometimes even go as far as purchasing the needed equipment from their "job prospects". These sites can be so convincing that victims are even scammed into cashing checks or money orders that they receive. In survey scams, fraudsters post ads for participation in a survey regarding employee/employer relationships during the current economic crisis. Those who apply are required to send a copy of their payroll check as proof of employment. After sending the copy, the victim never hears from the fraudster again. However, the employer’s account is drained of thousands of dollars by way of fraudulent checks.

Astrological Reading

A tried and true favorite. This familiar scam, which involves the victim receiving spam e-mails or pop-up message offering free astrological readings, has seen a recent resurgence due to the down economy and typically goes as follows. The victim is enticed into receiving a free astrological reading for simply providing their birth date and birth location. After receiving the reading, which is always incomplete, the victim is advised to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favorable is on the verge of happening. The victim pays for the full reading but never receives it, and all subsequent attempts to contact the astrologer turns up empty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Possible Console Killer Arriving Mid June

OnLive Gaming Entertainment
Traditional console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo could be endangered by an up and coming online videogame service called OnLive, which promises to shake up the contemporary business model. OnLive, which was started by WebTV founder Steve Perlman and former Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey, aims to launch a system over eight years in the works that will digitally distribute AAA games from publishers like Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Ubisoft, and Atari, at virtually the same time as those titles are released into retail. The system is designed to allow players to stream on-demand games at high frame rates and experience zero lag while on any Mac or PC regardless of how powerful, as long as they have the needed internet connection speed.

Rather than having consumers download the games directly, OnLive will host them all and stream them from a series of the high-end servers across the United States. Users will only need to download a 1 MB plug-in to have access. "The really hard problem," said Perlman "is how to get this to work reliably over consumer connections. [There are] packet drops, packets reordered, and other people using the connection." So, he explained, OnLive solves this issue by building error correction and error concealment directly into the data compression. "We don't have time to ask for a new packet, if the packet is lost or corrupted...We have to deal with what's coming in right then."

However, many have already criticized whether such a system can successfully operate under real-life conditions. The most obvious issue at hand is what if users are too far away from OnLive's servers? There would be no possible way that the performance would be as good as advertised. Perlman countered stating that the service is intended to work at full capacity as long as the customer is no more than 1,000 miles from a data center. And with data centers located in the San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Dallas, OnLive hopes to alleviate that particular problem. In addition the company will need to have a significant budget for infrastructure upgrades if OnLive hopes to keep its servers up to the task of handling an increasing amount of subscribers as well next generation games.

Of course, if performance degrades due to distance, incoming traffic, or hardware, OnLive's potential user base will be much smaller than what is needed to seriously challenge the console maker giants, or any other company that looks to deliver quality games over the internet. The upside of this infrastructure model, Perlman said, is that OnLive is somewhat future-proof, meaning that players won't have to upgrade anything. Instead, the upgrades will happen on their end, with the company regularly boosting the performance of their servers it uses to host and stream these games. This means that users will be able keep on playing games on their system years into the future.

OnLive is expected to launch June 17, 2010 with partners like EA, Ubisoft, and 2K Games but is quite tentative about which games ill be available. OnLive said that they will officially announce the list of launch titles before E3, but also let leak that "anticipated" games include Borderlands, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed II, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and Metro 2033. The company also said that for their $14.95 a month fee, users will get a constantly expanding library of games and, in addition, the first 25,000 "qualified" gamers to sign up for the service will have this fee waived for the first three months. Right now, eyes are on OnLive to see if they will revolutionize the game industry.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Driver Cleaner Professional

As the name indicates, this simple and easy-to-use program allows you to eliminate all traces of previously installed and no longer needed drivers from your computer. An important fact to remember is as time passes by, your operating system will get cluttered with more and more garbage. Some of this garbage includes files remaining somewhere in your System folder which belong to drivers that are no longer used. In most cases these files will also have traces into your system's registry and initialization files and can affect stability and performance. I happened to come across this program when trying to solve a driver problem of my own.

I had just reformatted my computer after several years which called for the installation of brand new drivers the likes of which my system had not seen before. The problem arose while playing Call of Duty for the first time on my just-formatted-and-updated PC. Not 5 minutes into playing my frames per second dropped from a constant 125 to sub 20 causing horrendous and completely unplayable video lag. After 20 seconds of watching my screen stutter the problem would abruptly stop and return to normal, only to begin lagging again a few minutes later. This video lag would only occur while running graphically intensive programs (read video games) and needless to say, I had to fix this problem.

My first instinct was to re-install the same brand-new video driver again in case of an original bad install. This time I decided to test things out by playing Counter Strike 1.6, a very old game that my system should have no problems with. Unfortunately the exact same problem and symptoms returned. I then decided to download older drivers that I knew were compatible with my system. No luck, the problem returned. While searching for a solution I came across Driver Cleaner Professional and decided to give it a shot and try to save myself some formatting time. I removed all traces of my video drivers from my computer using DCP and proceeded to install my previously proven drivers. Success! I didn't even have to buy another video card!

Like I mentioned before, the interface of this program is extremely easy to use especially when you consider the one main task associated with this program: cleaning drivers. Driver Cleaner Pro is intended to deal with drivers revolving around sound cards, motherboards, and graphics cards from manufacturers such as ATI, Creative, Realtek, Nvidia, Logitech, SIS, 3Dfx, S3, as well as many others. The program is also compatible with Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Where all the magic happens is in the Cleaning Selection of the program which is mostly a drop down menu for the user to select the proper cleaning filter. After the selection has been made you can simply click the Start button to begin cleaning. If you would like to clean more than one item you can check the "Select multiple cleaning filters" button and then continue to add from the drop down menu for a one time go. The cleaning process takes around 30 seconds to 1 minute and depending on the complexity of the driver being cleaned, your computer may require a reboot in safe-mode. If this is the case, on-screen instructions are provided to help you along the way.

Remember, when working with programs like this backup should always be on your mind. Computer repair that goes wrong can certainly give new meaning to the words "better safe than sorry" and you'll be thanking yourself for taking those few minutes out of your time should the worst arise.