Archive for the ‘good uses of technology’ Category

South Korean Scientists Create Glowing Dogs

July 27, 2011

The only reason I’m posting a link to this article is because I’ve covered similar stuff before. And, just as I wrote before, this is about a lot more than glowing in the dark — it has practical value in genetic modifications relating to human illnesses. Plus it’s freaking cool.

My favorite is still the glowing pigs in Taiwan.

Cloned Cats Glow in the Dark

December 13, 2007

This is about a lot more than glowing cats. This should help in development of stemcell treatments and to help clone endangered animals.

SKoreans clone cats that glow in the dark: officials – Yahoo! News:

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korean scientists have cloned cats by manipulating a fluorescent protein gene, a procedure which could help develop treatments for human genetic diseases, officials said Wednesday.

In a side-effect, the cloned cats glow in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet beams.

Gmail Gets Colored Labels — Coming Soon: “Folder-y-ish Functionality”

December 4, 2007

Gmail Adds Colored Labels (Without Greasemonkey):

Colored labels do more than look pretty, of course—a well-arranged variety enables your eye to jump quickly to important emails and know when certain types of messages are becoming clutter. The web interface has also been updated with “x” buttons available to quickly remove labels from individual messages. Finally, the Official Gmail Blog notes that the development team is working to add “folder-y-ish functionality.” Time will tell how labels, folders and filters will mesh together.

Forrester Surveys Find Momentum for Green Computing

December 4, 2007

In Search Of Green Technology Consumers by Christopher Mines – Forrester Research:

A distinct segment of green technology consumers ready to put their dollars behind eco-friendly product choices is becoming visible. Forrester’s Technographics® surveys reveal that consumers who care about the environment and the environmental impacts of their technology purchases and usage tend to be female, older, and somewhat less well-off than those who are not sensitive to environmental issues. With 12% of US adults already “bright green,” and another 41% poised to join them, marketers and designers of consumer technology products and services must change product marketing and product design to embrace green principles like lower-impact manufacturing, longer product life cycles, and recycleability.

Extending hardware lifecycles should be paramount. I have a Mac that’s fully functional but abandoned by Apple. I have computers that can’t run XP or higher, abandoned by Microsoft. The latter are still useful thanks to Damn Small Linux and FreeBSD.

The Mac is a dead end product and a testament to Apple’s non-green approach. Apple’s quirky and non-standard configuration, from NuBus slot to their funky connections, may have been targeted at consumer-friendliness but insured that customers were locked into Apple-centric computing. I can’t update the hardware (very much), and OSX won’t run on early PowerPCs. Unfortunately, the quirkiness of the component selection also means there’s not much in the way of support with NetBSD or Linux, either.

Standardization in the PC market, though, assures me of a steady supply of parts for most of my old computers. And constant development of DSL assures that my old computers can benefit from a modern OS with a small footprint suitable for those older machines. That keeps them out of the landfill. The one drawback is they’re not as energy efficient as some of the new computers, especially ITX-based boxes with lower power demands.

Another shameless plug for the Damn Small Machine: fanless, low power demand, portable, and it can run off a USB stick so there’s no moving parts or sound from it. Cool.

Markey’s Bill Won’t Fix Comcast/BitTorrent

December 3, 2007

Net neutrality may not resolve Comcast vs. BitTorrent:

…[E]ven some supporters of new laws–which would enact antidiscrimination regulations aimed at broadband providers–are now reluctantly conceding that the proposals that have been circulating in Congress for more than a year may not do much to stop Comcast…. When asked whether Comcast’s conduct toward BitTorrent would be prohibited under [Congressman Ed Markey’s] original bill, the [unnamed staff] aide said the clearest answer is “maybe.” In any case, the bill’s authors want to leave it up to an “expert agency,” presumably the FCC, to decide whether a company’s conduct in a particular situation was both “reasonable” and “nondiscriminatory,” the aide said.

The FCC presently allows providers to manage their networks with “reasonable and non-discriminatory measures,” which is what Comcast says they’re doing. “Comcast does not, has not, and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, and no one has demonstrated otherwise,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice told CNET “We engage in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy.”

November 6, 2007

Interview with gOS Founder: “Linux For Human Beings (Who Shop At WAL*MART)”:

At first look, the systems specifications seem pretty meager, until you have a gander at the list of applications. Instead of utilizing applications on the computer locally, the gPC leverages online applications that are delivered via web browser, such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This is an absolutely brilliant idea. All you need is a fast internet connection (and a monitor) to use the computer.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but this is too smart to pass up. You get a Mini-ITX computer running a derivative of Ubuntu that uses enlightenment window manager and is web-based (mostly Google). It also comes with Open Office, and the whole thing can use Ubuntu’s repositories. I’m going to be interested in finding out how well it sells at WalMart. I have a hunch gOS will outlast this Everex computer, even though it should be ideal for people looking for an entry-level box for their web lives they don’t intend to expand.

RF + Salt Water = Fuel?

September 11, 2007

Radio frequencies help burn salt water:

John Kanzius happened upon the discovery accidentally when he tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he developed to treat cancer. He discovered that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies, it would burn. The discovery has scientists excited by the prospect of using salt water, the most abundant resource on earth, as a fuel.

Conforming Sites to My Standards

July 28, 2007

I see that OS News is having some issues with their ads. This brings up a set of peeves I have about advertising on websites. I hate visiting websites that spawn popups, use Flash to serve ad content that slows down my computer, use animation where none is needed and where I don’t want any, and that otherwise reroute content in such a way that browsing on older computers is a chore.

Before I go further, please don’t tell me that I’m preventing someone from making a profit. That’s crap. The example I give below about popup workarounds involves the website of a service run by my ISP, which is also my cable provider. They’re still a very profitable company without the fractions of pennies I might deny them by keeping ads from their own sites out of my face. My service from them isn’t “free” at all and they shouldn’t expect users to both pay for service and experience the indignity of their popup ads, of their crazy flashing advertisements, or of anything else that detracts from finding news articles. I would go with one of the “free” dialups if I wanted to be bombarded with such advertising.

I’ve written previously about FlashBlock and NoScript for Firefox. These are excellent tools to help conform websites to a user’s standards. Sometimes, though, they’re not enough.

Most browsers now allow users to block popups universally. I have popups blocked universally. Always have since I’ve been able to do that (and haven’t given up using text browser yet because of that and similar issues). Some sites, though, resort to workarounds  that ignore what the user wants. An example of this is one of my local news sites, which is operated by my cable provider/ISP. Their news site — not the ISP’s, but their local news channel’s — spawns a popup from casalemedia on every fresh hit. I already blocked images from casalemedia. I still had the @*#$ popup every time I hit the news site, it only included scant text.

That isn’t acceptable. I should be able to control what I load even if I hit someone else’s website. I’d already done that with OS News because some of the ads served were a total abortion. I tried to do the same with the aforementioned news site. I also wanted to do more and conform websites more to my tastes than to someone else’s revenue streams.

I looked around and found another Firefox extension called Block Site. This one lets the user designate site blocking as the user sees fit. This is excellent for blocking sites that do nothing but serve ads for other sites. It also is able to block sites (like casalemedia) completely. It runs both whitelist/blacklist so a user can designate sites according to his or her desires. My blacklist is growing. I’ve blocked casalemedia, as well as the ads from yimg (Yahoo), and even Google Syndication.

Now I hit a site and I get more content than ads — I have more control over what loads and what doesn’t. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I know there are people, including the operators of my favorite sites, who think it’s not a good thing. Maybe if they’d exercise more control over what appears on their sites people wouldn’t take such actions.

Are there any drawbacks, aside from screwing a few websites out of a few cents? The download page for Block Site says there can be issues of speed if your sites list is large. I think, though, that’s a fair trade off. After all, it takes time to load and its ads from adservers like and then display them in Flash, popups, etc. I haven’t experienced any noticeable delays yet and my blacklist is getting quite large.

In Praise of “Obsolete” Computers

June 17, 2007

I came across an article comparing a MacPlus (circa 1986) and a brand new AMD DualCore. The benchmarks are timings focused on user experience — boot times, performing data manipulation in Excel, and performance running Word.

The two decade-old MacPlus — with its 8mhz chip and 4MB RAM (maxed out for this comparison) — performed admirably against the 2×2.4ghz (and 1GB RAM) computer:

For the functions that people use most often, the 1986 vintage Mac Plus beats the 2007 AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+: 9 tests to 8! Out of the 17 tests, the antique Mac won 53% of the time!

I’m not surprised since the “most common uses” are generally things that don’t require much in the way of resource. Cutting and pasting hasn’t changed significantly in 20 years, and you don’t need amounts of RAM we associated with supercomputing back then to enter text into a word processing or spreadsheet application and then manipulate it. I still use text-based applications (spreadsheet, text editing/word processing, etc.) on computers without GUIs or in situations where I need to conserve the battery on my laptop. I’m not missing anything when I do that, aside from “eye candy” that requires system resources many of my computers lack.

As far as living on the bleeding edge goes, I’ve taken a strong stand that there’s no such thing as an obsolete computer. A computer may be at a dead end with respect to upgrading, but it’s still useful as long as it can boot and the requisite I/O devices (monitors, keyboards, drives) work.

One of the reasons I’ve become such a fan of Damn Small Linux is because of its focus on legacy support and its small size. It’s a modern OS, it’s just spared of the bloat that comes with other distros. I can do everything with the computer I normally use (with a 400mhz Celeron with 128MB RAM) that I can do on this newer machine (Athlon 1.4Ghz with 1GB RAM). The older, under-equipped (by today’s standards anyway) computer boots faster, is more responsive when not overloaded (running Open Office on it is a pain in the neck — and forget about using audacity on it ever again), and gets everything done the same way this one does. The difference is in the bloat. The newer computer runs XP (it’s dual boot, but I seldom use anything else on here) which requires a significantly greater percentage of the available resources than Linux (X11, oroborus, rox, etc.) does on the older computer. That accounts for what Hal Licino found in his tests.

Sure, there are things that require a GB of RAM and the efficiency of a faster CPU. I have applications like audacity, GIMP, and imagemagick installed the two computers mentioned above. There’s no way in the world I’ll ever use audacity on the older computer again, unless I find more RAM for it (and the same goes for sox, a command line equivalent to edit audio files). There are also some image-related tasks I do in XP instead of the old box for the same reason. But for running standard applications, browsing, etc., the old box continues to prove itself very worthy and it admirably performs those kinds of things on par with this faster box.

The problem more often than not isn’t the hardware, it’s the software. Another reason I like DSL is that I don’t have to rush out to buy hardware (upgrades or new systems) just to bring my computer up to date. I can wait for DSL upgrades or do my own (and the latter is usually the case for me — my system is no longer DSL, DSL was just my starting point). My kernel can be upgraded by itself. X11 can be upgraded by itself. My window manager (oroborus is my window manager of choice) can be upgraded by itself. The kernel can support new hardware if I choose to buy some, it doesn’t force me to go out and buy new hardware to make an upgrade. And best of all, the only “bloat” is the crap I chose to install. It wasn’t set there by default.

That’s in stark contrast to what Apple and Microsoft have done. I can’t run OSX on my old Mac (but I can upgrade its case with a Mini-ITX and then run Linux on it — stay tuned for an upgrade page if I do that). I can’t run Vista on my NT box or my “usual” computer (really can’t even run XP on the former, though the latter could limp along with XP). I think this computer would marginally run Vista. And at the end of the day, all the extra resources required to run the upgraded OS don’t increase my typing speed or enhance the ability to cut and paste, copy, etc., the data I work with.

And to be fair, I can’t let a lot of Linux distros off the hook with respect to the above paragraph. They’ve jumped on the bandwagon that expects users to upgrade hardware when they upgrade software. They ignore those who use functional legacy hardware. They make releases with the assumption that everyone uses 512MB of RAM, which is barely adequate for running their default environments much less flashy, spinning windows of doom like Beryl. Their focus is no longer on function, it’s on aesthetics. And it’s at the expense of system resources.

That’s appealing to consumerism, without necessarily increasing function at the same time. It takes the same amount of time to type a document and edit it now as it did in 1986. Consumerism doesn’t change that — that’s a constant. Consumerism may make older hardware difficult to use, maintain, or even keep, but it doesn’t make it obsolete. It’s still usable and useful.

Clipperz: Your Browser As Security Tool

May 18, 2007

I’ve come across a web-based service called Clipperz that may at first glance seem just a password manager, but the service can be as broad as any user wants it to be.

First, some highlights. It’s platform (OS) neutral — it uses the browser’s javascript capabilities to encrypt information locally and upload it, in encrypted form, to their servers for storage. It works with Firefox, Opera, MSIE, etc. So you can use it on any operating system and continue to access service if you change temporarily (such as borrowing a friend’s computer). It’s completely portable so you can access it from any computer, any time, anywhere. It allows you to store your passwords, certificates, and any other online credentials. You can use it to manage and auto-log into your online accounts through one interface. It can also be used to encrypt and manage other text-based information like PINs, access codes, confidential notes, etc., so they can be accessed from anywhere.

Second, some technical information. They use standard 128-bit encryption (SRP, AES, SHA-2, ECC, Fortuna PRNG, SSSS) which all occurs on your own computer using javascript. You keep your own key (Clipperz doesn’t); you lose it, you’re screwed. All they get on the server-side is scrambled data. They don’t know what you’ve uploaded, they don’t even know who you are; your account isn’t tied to an e-mail account, but to your own registered account. They don’t install anything on your computer.

Third, some minor concerns. Encryption is only as strong as the protocols used: stronger passphrases are harder to break than weak ones. I’m also not keen on the idea of storing PINs, account passwords, and information best not shared with the world on someone else’s servers; Clipperz does have an offline copy, which basically dumps what they have in your account down to your computer. The offline copy can’t be modified; modifications are online. And since it’s encrypted, the offline copy is only accessible by passphrase.

This could be a solution for people who use multiple computers and are concerned about the security of data they need to access and store online.

Coming soon: a review of PassPack, a competing service to Clipperz.