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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Video game fever

The BBC has an interesting article about researchers in the UK that have developed a video game that sends shocks into volunteers players who are being studied in an attempt to understand how the brain reacts to fear. "The forebrain is active during periods of anxiety, and helps coordinate escape strategies to avoid the threat.. .But when the computer game predator moved nearer, blood flow switched to the midbrain. The midbrain is a primitive area of the brain, and it controls gut-level reflexes such as the decision to fight or flee" said Dr Dean Mobbs of University College London. An MRI machine is used to follow the flow of blood in the brain as it reacts to danger and the prospect of getting shocked! I don't know why but I kept hearing "Pac-Man Fever" in my head while I was reading this article!

1.3 Million users have personal data stolen

In this CBC article is said to have confirmed that 1.3 million users had their personal information stolen in the attack reported by Symantec Corp. last week. A security notice published on the site says "Fortunately, we have been able to identify and shut down the source of the software. By gaining unauthorized access to employer accounts, the software was obtaining job seeker contact information. The information obtained was limited to the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of job seekers primarily located in the United States. The purpose of gathering this information appears to be sending email disguised as Monster in order to gain recipients' trust, and then attempting to convince users to engage in financial transactions, or lure them into downloading malicious software." They further go on to encourage you to be careful about e-mails that appear to be from the company and ask you to download software or update account information... good advise any time.

I have an iPod Shuffle to give away

One of you could be the proud owner of a new 1GB iPod Shuffle. It’s easy, send an e-mail to 7 friends, co-workers, and/or relatives telling them how much you enjoy reading Great Big Geek, include a link and encourage them to subscribe to my feed (The orange button on the right). Copy me on the e-mail (, and your name goes in the hat. 1 iPod Shuffle to be given away at random on September 22nd, 2007. I’ll even pay the shipping! Don’t cheat, each e-mail must have seven recipients, eight if you count me… you can’t send individual e-mails. It may sound dumb but I’ve been reading “The Tipping Point” and it’s an experiment, so help a geek out and spread the word.

Friday, August 24, 2007

iPhone untethered

A teen from New Jersey and a software company hoping to cash in, both claim to have come up with methods of undoing the ties that bind the iPhone to AT&T. 17 year old George Hotz's solution is not for the faint of heart, especially when you consider how much the hot little device sells for (it involves a soldering gun). claims to have a software only solution that it has released to the media before making it available for sale to the general public. Globe and Mail story here.

The sky is no longer the limit for Google Earth

I guess that I'm officially becoming a Google fan boy, I realize that not everyone loves everything that Google does but I've yet to be disappointed. This week Google announced an upgrade to Google Earth called "Sky" that enables users to view the sky as seen from planet Earth. With Sky comes seven informative layers that illustrate various celestial bodies and events: Constellations; Backyard Astronomy; Hubble Space Telescope Imagery; Moon; Planets; Users Guide to Galaxies; and Life of a Star. "We're excited to provide users with rich astronomical imagery and enhanced content that enables them to both learn about what they're seeing above and tell their own stories," said Lior Ron, Google Product Manager. "By working with some of the industry's leading experts, we've been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope.

A look deep inside Penny Arcade

If you are a gamer or are into comic strips then you've probably read an episode or two of Penny Arcade, the web comic about all things geeky, or perhaps dorky! Penny Arcade has been around the Internet for 8 years now and it's creators still pump out 3 episodes weekly, it's a huge success and Wired has an in depth article / interview with the brains behind the operation, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. It's a fun read.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sony PS3 to have PVR add-on

At an industry show in Germany on Wednesday, Sony announced a TV-tuner add-on that will turn the Playstation 3 game console into a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) giving owners the ability to pause and record live TV using the console's hard-drive. A price was not announced and according to this CBC article, there are no immediate plans to roll-out the device in North America.

When Bots Attack - from the pages of Wired

Wired magazine walks us through an interesting denial of service scenario in their article "When Bots Attack". The hypothetical scenario sets up how a country's information infrastructure could be brought to it's knees for hours or even days through a distributed denial of service attack. "Using rented botnets, you can launch hundreds of thousands — even millions — of infobombs at a target, all while maintaining total deniability." It's a short read but an interesting one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Animated search engine from Microsoft

Microsoft has launched a new search engine to showcase it's, flash competitor, Silverlight animation and video player. tafiti, which means "do research" in Swahili, is a slick application that puts some fun back in searching. The animated interface allows you to quickly flip from results of web searches, news, rss feeds, images, or even searches within books (if the publisher has agreed to allow it). The "shelf" function lets you to drag and drop search results to shelves, stack results, and place labels upon them. There is also an interesting tree view that presents your search results as leaves on a tree, you can spin the tree 360 degrees around it's trunk or prune the branches, a neat interface but maybe not so practical. There are some nice features, I particularly like the collaborative tools, but I'll have to play with it a bit more before I pass judgment on the quality of its search results. Cool just the same.

Business Week reviews the new Roomba

I couldn't resist a new robot story... While I don't own a Roomba, I've been obsessing about them ever since their release 4 years ago. With a new version of Roomba (500 Series) hitting floors everywhere today, Business Week has prepared a review. Four out of five stars from the reviewer, you can't please all of the people all of the time! I'll still dream about you Roomba, probably even more!

Online games new tool in epidemic research?

The CBC is reporting that researchers at Tufts University are considering online gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft (WOW) and Second Life as a means of studying social interaction and the spread of disease. "By using these games as an untapped experimental framework, we may be able to gain deeper insight into the incredible complexity of infectious disease epidemiology in social groups." The researchers cite a case two years ago where a programming error caused an outbreak of a highly contagious disease within WOW which left thousands of characters dead. See, there are lessons to be learned from game playing!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Endeavor touches down

Congratulations to those on board and on the ground!

HD-DVD gets some life

CBC is reporting that Paramount Pictures Corp. and DreamWorks Animation SKG have thrown their hats in to the HD-DVD ring, saying that all future movie releases will be solely on the format, thus giving HD-DVD a much needed boost in the format war with Blu-ray. The studios bring with them some of the summer's hottest titles in Blades of Glory, Transformers and Shrek the Third. Blu-ray had recently pulled ahead in the race with news that Blockbuster Inc., the worlds largest rental chain was getting behind that format by only offering Blu-ray. The Paramount / DreamWorks announcement is good for me... we've got the XBox 360, a decision made partially because I was hedging my bets at the time on HD-DVD... who knew?

Monster of a hack

The BBC is running a story regarding an alleged hack of that has resulted in the theft of hundreds of thousands of users data. Citing Symantec as the source of the article, BBC says that a computer program was used to hack the employer side of the job search site and to harvest data pertaining to user names, e-mail addresses, home addresses and phone numbers. There have apparently been reports of phishing e-mails sent out to users, the e-mail encourages users to download a "Monster Job Seeker Tool", which in fact is a program that encrypts files on the victims computer and leaves a ransom note demanding money for their decryption. Be careful of those unsolicited e-mails, no matter how legitimate they sound!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Skype pointing finger at Microsoft and me?

While the folks at Skype do admit to finding a previously unknown bug in their software as the result of last weeks outage, the bulk of the blame seems to be pointed directly at Microsoft and Windows users. In their Skype blog post, What happened on August 16, the company states "On Thursday, 16th August 2007, the Skype peer-to-peer network became unstable and suffered a critical disruption. The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update." Shame on us all for wanting to apply those critical updates!

Online retailers benefit from bad weather

Record rainfall has resulted in record breaking sales for online retailers in Britain. The BBC is reporting that online sales for July nearly doubled the mark set last year, up from £2.34bn to £4.2bn. According to the Interactive Media in Retail Group sales gains can also be attributed to improve websites, and faster Internet connections.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Robocop on it's way?

Wired's Danger Room blog is reporting that armed robots similar to those deployed in Iraq will soon be hitting the streets home side. "Other than some R&D with the shotgun mount, we haven't used it operationally," Massachusetts State Police Trooper Mike Rogowski tells Danger Room. "But they're on the way. They're coming,". Cool!

Google educating advertisers

Google is trying to keep it's AdWords customers informed about click-fraud a practice that involves fraudulent clicks on Google's AdSense network aimed at increasing revenues for a site or costing competitors money by clicking on their ads. Google's "Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center" contains content meant to educate advertisers and keep them up to date on fraud detection and fraudulent practices. Google does not pay sites to display their ads, but rather site owners are paid for clicks on the ad and some have resorted to creating software agents that automate these clicks, either on their sites or on ads of competitors, for the reasons mentioned above. Inforworld story here.

Hurricane shortens shuttle mission

Fearing that Hurricane Dean might disrupt operations, NASA has ordered Space Shuttle Endeavor to depart the International Space Station today and is scheduling landing for Tuesday. NASA is concerned that the hurricane might make course for Houston, Mission Control, which would necessitate a relocation of flight controllers to Cape Canaveral the back up control center which is not considered as good a location. Boy, never a dull day for this mission! CNN story here.