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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Unclassified Pentagon email system hacked

The pentagon was forced to take down a portion of it's e-mail system yesterday as it was apparently penetrated by an unknown hacker. The Pentagon says that it fends off hundreds of threats on a daily basis and that this intrusion was on a portion of the system that does not have classified status. 1500 e-mail accounts were affected though. BBC News Story.

Brain-machine interface

If you are a child of the 80's like I am this story may remind you of the Clint Eastwood spy flick - Firefox! Not that it was a great movie, but the idea was that Clint was a U.S. military man who infiltrates a secret Russian air base to steel a mind controlled fighter jet. According to this MSNBC article, Hitachi Inc. has developed a device that analyzes slight changes in the brain's blood flow and translates brain motion into electric signals. The researchers have connected the device to a toy train rather than a fighter jet but they are exploring other commercial applications. In fact Honda is said to be working on similar technology with next generation automobiles in mind. Oh how the future looks bright for us geeks! By the way, Firefox was not one of Clint's better films.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ontario pouring millions into green energy promotion

The government of Ontario is following up it's ban on incandescent lights earlier this year with the announcement of a $610 million fund to develop a green technology industry aiming the money squarely at car makers and solar panel manufacturers. The move is in an attempt to eliminate green house gas emissions, produce badly needed energy output, and attract business to the Province which has seen manufacturing job losses of late, particularly in the auto industry. Kudos though, every effort to promote a greener society should be applauded. CNet story here.

Take-Two holds back controversial title (two posts in one)

After being banned in Britain and being given an adult only rating in the US, game maker Take-Two Interactive has decided to temporarily hold back it's 'Manhunt 2' title due to be released on July 10th. Saying "We continue to stand behind this extraordinary game. We believe in freedom of creative expression, as well as responsible marketing, both of which are essential to our business of making great entertainment," Take-Two is contemplating the future of the game which was to be released for the Sony Playstation 3, PSP, and Nintendo Wii platforms. CNet has the story here and while you are on their site check out the 'Hottest Story' navigation they have going on in the form of coloured blocks! The larger the block the hotter the story, it's a novel idea and one that I think I can really get into. I'm not sure if I would want to see anymore than the 15 or so stories they are currently displaying though.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Take-two, only don't take this one

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has banned 'Manhunt 2' a video game by publisher Take-Two Interactive Software and their label Rockstar Games, makers of other controversial titles like the 'Grand Theft Auto' series. The ban means that the game will not legally be available in Britain and is the first such ban since 1997 when a similar move was made against 'Carmagedon'. That ban was appealed in court and lifted. The BBFC director, David Cooke is quoted as saying "'Manhunt 2' is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game." While I've not seen the title, the premise is a little frightening and perhaps pushes the envelope. As a parent I'll not be encouraging my children to seek out this title but that's a personal choice that we all need to wrestler with based on our own situations. Censorship scares me a bit, but I also realize that not all families function well and some parents are more in tune with what their children are up to than others. I think an adult classification is probably more appropriate but that also assumes that we adults are all able to discern what is an appropriate action and what is not, the question is what in a free society is 'too far' and who has the right to label it so. Do games create killers or are these people inclined to kill anyway? This is a hot debate!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Threadless - perfectly viral!

Call it viral marketing, social networking, or perhaps social marketing, but there is no doubt it's profitable. Business 2.0 has written a great article about Threadless, an internet success story if I've ever heard one. This online business started by two Chicago teens now has 26 employees and had sales of $16 million last year. The idea is to get people to contribute to your product line by submitting t-shirt designs, host a contest so that your customers can vote on their favourite design, offer a prize so that the designers are driven to get their friends to visit the site to vote, then produce the products that received the most votes. It's ingenious and takes full advantage of the viral nature of the internet, I only wish I had thought of it!

Newspaper or online news?

A survey conducted by British news publishers asked readers of web sites run by traditional news media whether they also purchase hard copies of the paper. The good news for the newspaper publishers is that 80% of the online readers also bought their paper. It appears as though there is a fine line to walk with how much content from the more profitable print media goes into the publisher's web site. If the newspaper ignores the web they are missing out on the growing ad revenues online, but if they publish too much of the content they risk losing readers who pay for their paper to the free web site. See the story at The Register. For the record I usually purchase The Globe and Mail, which I read at the local coffee shop and leave for another patron to enjoy once I've finished... I usually write this sites URL on it next to articles I intend to blog about, shameless self promotion perhaps but it's only fair it was my dollar!

Mileage hackers going that extra mile

With the push towards being more eco-friendly and the increasing popularity of hybrid vehicles comes a new breed of drivers who are intent upon squeezing every last drop out of their gas tanks. The so called mileage hackers are resorting to all sorts of measure to take green to the extreme. The Globe and Mail has an interesting story about modifying hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and altering drivers mindsets, all measures that contribute to achieving amazing gas mileages of 70 to in excess of 700 miles per gallon. While I applaud the effort of these environmentally friendly evangelist, many of the measures are unrealistic for most of us. I personally considered the Prius in 2005 when I made my most recent new car decision but opted for the slightly less efficient Corolla, however I believe today's models are further apart in their fuel ratings. At the time I could not justify the cost of the vehicle vs. the gasoline savings over the life of the car. Yes, it would have been a small win for the planet but at least I didn't go for the Hummer. It is probably more realistic to think that we can all do the small things like checking tire pressure regularly and adjusting our speeds rather than paying $50,000 for a tricked out hybrid with solar panels. Unless there are a few sponsors out there willing to cough up some cash in return for splashing their logo on a pimped out green machine, I'll be working on easing the foot of the peddle in order to do my part. Kudos though to those who can afford to push their rides to the limit, perhaps some of these hacks will make it into future assembly line models.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Teddy bear medic being developed by US military

Another robot story... The Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) is a machine being developed by the US military to extract a wounded soldier from the battlefield to a place where it is safer for them to receive treatment. BEAR is designed to travel over rough terrain and it's teddy bear face is meant to put the wounded soldier at ease (I've already weighed in on my belief about human looking robots being creepy, teddy bears...not so much!). The machine is remotely controlled and depending on the terrain it runs on tracks or tires. The six foot saviour can also tackle stairs and is narrow enough to fit through doorways. The BBC has more details here.

iPhone battery praise

In a move to either promote the upcoming iPhone release, just ten days away, or to quell any questions about the highly anticipated device's battery life, Apple has released a statement on it's web site that boasts the longevity of the iPhone's battery charge. Apple's device, according to the manufacturer, outlasts it's competitors by 2 times. A chart on the site compares the iPhone to the Nokia N95, Samsung Blackjack, Blackberry Curve 8300, and Palm Treo 750. Besides battery life they compare screen size, display surface and Wi-Fi support. Some reports have stated that Apple has already received a million inquiries for the device and apparently one desperate consumer has offered $10,000 on Craigslist for the device. The iPhone hits the street in the U.S. on June 29th, no release date available for Canada yet.

Sicko leaked on Youtube

Michael Moore's latest controversial documentary 'Sicko' a reported scathing review of the state of the American health care system, was briefly leaked on YouTube this past weekend. The 124 minute movie was split into 14 clips and viewed between 500 and 600 times before being pulled by the website for copyright infringement. Apparently 2 users had each uploaded the film. In a twist of irony, Moore is a supporter of file sharing having said he agrees with it as long as the pirates don't profit from the stolen work.

Microsoft unveils mobile portal

Microsoft has taken the wraps of it's new portal geared towards cellphones and other Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) 1.2 enabled devices. For now the portal, aptly named MSN Mobile, is only accessible in the United States but CBC reports that it will be available in other markets within the next 12 months. With the move, Microsoft joins Google, Yahoo!, and Apple in the race to dominate our 3rd screen.

Monday, June 18, 2007

CBC unveils new site

I just surfed over to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) web site and was greeted with a brand new interface. It took me a moment, I double checked the address, and sure enough the site had undergone a radical redesign. In this letter to their audience, Executive Director Steve Billinger describes some of the changes and the reason behind them. Like anything that changes drastically, this will take me a little getting used to but the look is fresh and the promise of more tighter integration with other programming sounds great. I like it so far, now where did they hide the tech stories?

PC Health and Safety

If you are concerned about your hard drives health or want to know whether or not your system is exposed to Internet evil doers, then you should become familiar with Steve Gibson's While the popular SpinRite software is a commercial product for hard drive maintenance, Gibson also offers a number of free tools including ShieldsUp! a fantastic online tool that will identify open ports on your system in order to inform you of your PC's potential vulnerabilities. Steve is also co-host of the popular Security Now podcast with Leo LaPorte, while this show can often get a bit technical the duo does a great job of dumbing it down for general consumption. Everyone who has a PC connected to the Internet should give this site a visit.

Blockbuster leaning towards Blu-Ray

Blockbuster Inc. announced today that it is expanding its offering of Blu-Ray movie titles to over 1700 company stores. The news release states that it will continue to offer both Blu-Ray and HD DVD titles through its online store and through the initial 250 retail locations that carry both formats. While they are not ruling out carrying HD DVD titles, this is definitely a push in the Blu-Ray formats direction and an obvious win for Sony. The company says it will monitor customer demands and make decisions accordingly.

Going green at home

Wired, has pushed the electric mower to the limit in this comparrison of 4 models currently on the market. If you are in need of a new mower this summer, consider one of these efficient and clean machines. According to Wired your old gas mower can spew as much pollutants as 11 cars! A little late for Father's Day but dad is probably happier with that tie any way.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A good day in space

Russian cosmonauts were able to reboot 2 of the 3 downed computers that were putting their mission in jeopardy on the inside of the International Space Station, while NASA astronauts used surgical equipment meant to stitch wounds to repair the damaged shuttle thermal blanket. Good news on both fronts! CNN has some great video footage here.

Oh... and happy Father's Day!