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Saturday, July 21, 2007

"A robot in every home by 2013"

That is the ambition of South Korea according to this very informative and interesting article appearing in today's Globe and Mail. The article is a look into the current state of robotics and the trend, of today's robot manufacturers and researchers, towards building devices that will aid an aging population. From self driving cars to companions for the elderly and robotic care givers, the possibilities are mounting and the technology is ready. It appears as though we humans are struggling more with the thought of robots caring for us than we are with actually creating the devices. Of course it seems like the lawyers are at the forefront of the debate... be careful little roomba!

Get noticed!

The Globe and Mail has this article and this short clip online that describes having success by posting short videos online... enough said!

Friday, July 20, 2007

How about a nice game of chess?

Well it's no WOPR (showing my age here a little) but it plays a mean game of checkers! A researcher at the University of Alberta and his team have created Chinook, a checker-playing computer program, that will never lose. Jonathan Schaeffer, chairman of the department of computing science at the University says "The program can achieve at least a draw against any opponent, playing either the black or white pieces,". Traditionally game playing programs employ heuristics, a rules of thumb approach, that make them right most of the time but Schaeffer explains "What we've done is show that you can take nontrivial problems, very large problems, and you can do the same kind of reasoning with perfection. There is no error in the Chinook result. ... Every decision point is 100 percent." I worked on a chess playing program once and can appreciate the difficulty the researchers had, considering the number of pieces and possible moves... I wish I could have received some of that government funding to work out the solution! Not that there is no value in this type of research, I truly wish I could get paid to work on projects such as Mr. Schaeffer's, they are extraordinary. Even though it took them 18 years to complete, I'm sure it was a lot of fun and a labor of love. Now Professor Falken, how about a nice game of chess? Wired has more details here.

Potter finale leaked online, pirate not too bright

The news world has been having fun chasing this one. Someone apparently, in a process which must have been brutal, photographed every page (784) of the yet to be released US version of the J.K. Rowling title "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". One slashdotter posted that the quality leaves little to be desired, apparently he's viewed the results. The story was covered in the latest CommandN (episode 97) and on Buzz Out Load (episode 520) and it appears that the perpetrator didn't realize that digital cameras embed meta data into their files which may help authorities round up the culprit. Ever upload pictures to flickr? that's how the site knows the type of camera you shot the picture with... He/she better not have registered their camera or take it in for repair! I wouldn't rush to bid on that Canon Rebel 350 just posted on e-bay either!

Putting my space travel plans on hold, for now

The sliding US dollar means that travel plans for about a dozen would be International Space Station tourists may have to change. The trip cost $25 million earlier this year but has jumped to $30 million due to exchange rates vs. the Russian ruble, if that's not bad enough space travelers will likely have to pony up $40 million in 2008/2009. After that you might just be out of luck for a few years as NASA plans to retire the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010 and the 3 person Russian Soyuz vehicles will be in greater demand for space station missions, seats will be scarce! Somebody call Sir Richard!

CBC news article.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Comic strips blind sided

In 1947 Life Magazine asked famous comic strip artists to to draw their characters while wearing a blindfold, the results were varied but most of them recognizable. I'm not quite sure why I find this little experiment (scanned images included) fascinating, but I do. I guess it reminds me of exercises I was once subjected to in a traditional graphics class. We were not blindfolded but rather asked to draw with our "wrong" hand, or draw the subject upside down, it really made you look at the small details... the lines. I'll bet these guys could draw their characters in their sleep! Thanks for sharing this Johnny C.

Google reports 2nd quarter results

Google reported revenues of $3.87 billion for the quarter ended June 30, 2007, an increase of 58% compared to the second quarter of 2006 and 35% of all revenues were generated through the AdSense network. That's $1.35 billion dollars in 3 months... doesn't sound like the botnets are hurting Google too much!

Click fraud on the raise, botnets said to be the cause

Warning: Although I did not intend for it to happen, this post has turned into a bit of a rant.

Acknowledgment: I acknowledge that the blogosphere has differing opinions regarding advertising and blogs, you have your beliefs and I have mine. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, they are just different.

And now for the post...

Cnet is reporting on one of their news blogs that statistics are showing a rise in the number of fraudulent clicks on advertising networks such as Google's AdSense. The overall industry fraud rate is estimated at 15.8% for the second quarter of this year, up from 14.1% a year ago, and the numbers are worse for the big advertising networks like AdSense and Yahoo! Publisher Network, where their rate is estimated at 25.6 percent, up from 21.9 percent for the previous quarter. The increase is being blamed on the rise in the number of botnets which are designed to take over unsuspecting PCs for nefarious reasons, in this case systematically clicking repetitively on ads on websites. The botnet developer either benefits from the revenue generated by the clicks or in many cases, the attack is meant to burn through the advertising budgets of the advertiser without producing any results.

As a blogger who, obviously, is a member of such an advertising network, this is not good news! By no means am I getting rich from the revenue generated by this, in fact it falls somewhere in the "beer money" category, covering the cost of domain registration, and I shutter to think what the remainder translates to on an hourly basis. I'm obviously not in this purely for the money, but it would be great if there was some sort of compensation that fairly rewarded me and the throngs of other bloggers for our time and effort. The ad networks provide some monetary promise and as they say "the cream will raise to the top", meaning those who do a good job of attracting visitors may find themselves in the enviable position of making decent coin from writing about their passions, being comical, insightful, or whatever it is that makes their blog an interesting read. The numbers above are staggering and one would assume that advertisers must be seriously considering whether or not the conversion rate is worth the extra expense brought on by these fraudulent clicks. We all consume advertisements throughout our day via radio, television, print media, and telemarketing, and whether we chose to believe it or not it does have an affect on our purchasing decisions. I'd like to encourage readers of this or any blog to consider having a glance at the ads, don't just dismiss them as noise pollution. If something catches your eye click on it, and read the advertiser's message. With this small gesture you will be compensating the author of the site and creating more meaningful click through rates, maintaining the viability of these services. It only works however if you consume the message of the advertiser, randomly clicking just to serve the interest of the writer further dilutes the value of the click and jeopardizes the system. Advertisers are not expecting that every click results in an immediate sale, although they might like that, they just want to be considered when you make your purchase decision. Likewise I am not expecting that every visit results in an AdSense click, I would like to think that if you visit the site and like what you see both in terms of content and occasionally advertising, that you would click through and read an ad from time to time. In this way all parties benefit. Oh, and keep your security software up to date! If these botnets have no place to reside the process works better anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New CD format from Disney - CDVU+

Battling declining CD sales, Walt Disney Co. music label Hollywood Records is launching a new CD format known as CD View Plus (CDVU+). The new format will offer CD buyers additional content similar to that found on DVDs, in this case song lyrics, photos and other extras aimed at encouraging fans to give up their downloading ways. The Globe and Mail has this story. I think it's a last ditch effort that might be a little too late for the music industry, the youngsters are all about the downloading! I personally think that the Amie Street model is the way to go, it rewards artists for producing good music and encourages music lovers to visit often, not to mention its DRM free! But then again the model rewards the artist and that's not what the big labels are all about. Wake up music industry, your shiny new trinkets will not entice anyone... just what everybody needs another new format, lame! The only good news in this is that the format will be offered in a more earth friendly packaging.

China's online gaming crackdown

The Globe and Mail has this story of a new Chinese Government campaign to limit the number of hours teenagers spend online playing games. The government requires Internet gaming companies to install a program that requires users to enter their ID card numbers. Players under 18 years of age are prompted to stop and "do suitable physical exercise." after 3 hours of gaming, if they ignore the directive they will lose half of their accumulated game points, and after 5 hours all of the their points are lost. I had to chuckle a little bit when I read this article having just watched a Simpsons re-run where Marge's sister (Selma, I think) is attempting to adopt a child from China, the government liaison assigned to her case had some great lines that sounded a lot like these quotes:

"promote civilized Internet use,", "measured gaming is good for the brain, but gaming addiction hurts the body." and my favorite "will develop in a healthy, harmonious direction".

FBI turns to spyware to trace bomb threat

According to this CNET post the FBI remotely installed spyware on a MySpace account suspected of being used by a bomb threat hoaxster. The software was designed to phone home with the IP address of the suspects computer and other information garnered from the PC. The suspect was a former student of the High School that was subject of the threats. The FBI had reported in 2001 that it was working on such software, a virus called Magic Lantern, but hasn't said much about it since. I wonder if MySpace cooperated in this case or if it was done totally cloak and dagger?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

AT&T scores another mobile device

The dual-mode BlackBerry 8820 was announced Tuesday by Research In Motion Ltd. Named "dual-mode" because it works with both the EDGE/GPRS/GSM cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity for data access and voice support. The Wi-Fi connectivity will allow users to connect off of the cellular network, at home through 802.11 a/b/g wireless networks, and through Wi-Fi hotspots. The 8820 is RIM's first dual-mode BlackBerry, and it's said to be the slimmest Blackberry to date. "The BlackBerry 8820 is an extraordinary business phone for people who really care about mobile communications and productivity. It features all the renowned power and usability of the BlackBerry platform with executive class styling and unprecedented connectivity features, including cellular, Wi-Fi and built-in GPS," said Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at RIM.The phone will be available in the US through AT&T, a Canadian carry is yet to be announced. As the news broke RIM shares climbed $4.19 to $240.29 on the TSX.

Not everyone happy about community Wi-Fi

In this post I discussed the opening of city Wi-Fi networks sponsored by the Government of Saskatchewan, and at the time I thought that the residents must be thrilled. It never dawned on me that those who already have their own wireless networks might suffer from the data crowding that would ensue. I know that it is increasingly becoming a problem in my neighborhood as my own incidents of dropped connections is becoming more and more prevalent. There are usually a couple of 'default' SSIDs, a 'linksys' or two and a few other networks that actually show up as secured, or at least the owner has taken the time to change the out of the box setting. This Wired article discusses the onslaught that open community Wi-Fi's bring to the residents and also provides a couple of useful tips that may help alleviate the issue.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What's in a name... $100 million apparently

Answers Corporation, the company that owns has just announced the purchase of Lexico Publishing Group, the owners of,, and for $100 million. The deal is said to be contingent on the raising of funds and since Answers is said to have had $4.2 million in cash as of March 31, it may take a while. Still the sum is reminiscent of the bubble days of the late 90's. What does that kind of money buy you? About 11 million users a month.

Drobo is on my wish list

I've been contemplating buying some extra drive space and have been weighing internal versus external drives for a little while now. Cost, speed, capacity, and dependability are all considerations. I've not taken a good inventory, but I know that we are guilty of having many copies of files over our small home network. I'd like to say that this was planned for redundancy, but I'd be lying. Part of the reason I've been thinking about hard disk space is that some of our older machines are starting to cough a bit, and I thought it would be a good time to create a file share, move some files off of the older / smaller primary drives, and consolidate our media collection. RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) is a great option but it can be costly. Drobo however is a new product by Data Robotics Inc. that offers small business and home users the same type of redundancy in a USB device. Drives continue to get larger but space is not the only consideration, a single large drive puts you in a potentially vulnerable situation should that drive fail. Data Robotics calls Drobo "the first fully-automated storage robot" and "Fully automated storage you don't have to manage". You have to watch this demo video to truly appreciate the value of Drobo! I'm a little bummed that it's not available in Canada yet, but I think I'll be stocking up on 3.5" SATA drives for now, in anticipation. If this little guy performs as well as it does in the video, it is (in my humble opinion) the ideal way to manage your precious data at home or in a small office setting. Drobo doesn't care that drives aren't the same size, it gladly accepts new ones and manges data on the fly. This allows you to buy drives over time, as requirements grow or money is available. It's still a little expensive, $499 US before drives are added, but that's a steal compared to RAID arrays. If Jim Shaw is reading, I'd love to get my hands on one for a proper review ;-)

Breaking up is hard to do

"... in theory it's better than XP." and "frustrating...", these are the words of long time tech personality Chris Pirillo describing his 6 month Windows Vista experience on a 51 minute YouTube video. Pirillo goes on to say that there are a lot of things that he likes about Vista but that the lack of driver support, among other things, is causing him productivity issues and forcing him to "upgrade to XP". If you've been a fan of TechTV's Call for Help or you've had occasion to visit Gnomedex, his personal blog, or Lockergnome, you'll recognize the admitted shameless self promoter. It's worth watching if you are still on the fence about Vista.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Veronica Belmont leaving CNet's Buzz Out Loud

One of the podcasts that I try to listen to on a regular basis is CNet's Buzz Out Loud. I've been tuning in to BOL for more than a year and one of the reasons I continue to listen is the on air personalities. In episode 514 the BOL crew announced that rumors of Veronica Belmont's departure were true. I am not however saddened by the departure, not that I don't enjoy Veronica's commentary! On the contrary, I was actually pleased to hear Veronica say she is starting a new video podcast for, Jason Calacanis' human-powered search engine that I discussed in a previous post. The only difficulty will be in finding the time to catch all of the shows. Good luck Veronica, we'll miss you on BOL but look forward to the new show!

Google's "Guge" too close for comfort for Chinese company

Google is being sued by a Chinese company over the name it is operating under in China. Beijing Guge Science and Technology Ltd is claiming that Google's Chinese operation known as Guge is causing confusion and costing it money. Apparently the company is receiving many inquires about the search engine giant because Google is not listed in the telephone directory and calls are being routed them by operators. Google opened Guge in 2005. BBC Story Here.

There's nothing like a good marathon game of risk

While I do enjoy video games of all genres I also love to play board games, though I don't play nearly as often as I would like. Here is a site that I heard of while listening to commandN and I thought it was worth visiting, and now sharing. BoardGameGeek is an online community for those who love board games. There are reviews, articles, discussions and a marketplace for buying, selling and trading those hard to find or out of print games. Games are sorted by type and if you are looking for something other than monopoly you've come to the right place, not that there is anything wrong with monopoly! You won't find Doom or Gears of War but with the massive growing database of games and recommendations you are bound to find something to suit your gaming taste.

Another How-To Site

The How-To Geek is a site full of geeky how-to tips. It's goal is "To be the best source of How-To articles anywhere, with content easy enough for beginners but useful enough for geeks as well." You won't find any street fighting lessons here but if your interest is in computers, programming, or the Internet, you are likely to find something that interests you at The How-To Geek. The sites navigation makes it fairly easy to go to your area of interest and there is a search to make finding the appropriate How-To a little easier. From one geek to another, well done How-To!

In 5 minutes the answer to your most pressing questions

5min is a site that I became aware of through a TechCrunch post, and I find it interesting for a number of reasons. Calling itself the first communal Life Videopedia, 5min is user generated instructional video content. The site developers believe "any solution can be visually explained in no more than 5 minutes" and members are encouraged to upload their videos on any number of topics from tech to food, how to score a free beer to belly dancing, it's all covered. What sets this site apart from other user generated video sites, like YouTube, is that it is purely instructional... no skateboarding dogs here unless it's a how to teach your dog to skateboard, but I didn't find that one. The embedded player is also very unique, it has a lot of really useful functionality. The smart player allows you to play the video in slow motion, advance frame by frame, zoom in on content, display subtitles in a variety of languages, and view the content in storyboard format.

Here is a how to install PC memory clip. As always with user generated content you have to be careful who's advise you choose to listen to.