By and large, steam engines have had their day. Slowly and steadily they've been replaced by diesel power and other more efficient mechanisms. There may be some mythical island where steam engines can live out their days being really useful, but unless you're a die-hard train enthusiast, it's pretty rare to see one running full tilt today. So it's really impressive to see a couple British chaps not only getting an old steam engine running, but (with an iMac added in) hooked up to the Internet.
Image source: Guardian Unlimited.
It's called the Steam Powered Internet Machine and is the brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller and his collaborator Alan Kane.
"We were thinking about something that connects the industrial revolution and the digital revolution," said Deller. Kane added: "They are worlds apart but there's also a proximity. The steam age and the digital age are not so far apart."
The steam engine sits in a field providing power to the iMac. Amusingly, this is probably the first time that a Mac has been aesthetically upstaged by its power brick. The engine boiler, which one lived life as part of a fire engine, features brass taps, teak cladding, and a whistle. The creators sum up the whole experience rather simply. "This is a very uneconomic way of having a portable computer."
Being an art piece, technical details are scant. Is an Airport connected to it for Internet access or is there a really long LAN cable attached? How long does the computer run for? Why are they keeping the whole thing in the middle of a field? What do they do when it rains? The Steam Powered Internet Machine will do a bit of touring, hitting Kent and Margate within the next month. If you're lucky enough to be in the area, feel free to check out the exhibit and find out the answers to these burning questions.
It's unclear what will ultimately become of the Steam Powered Internet Machine, but I have heard Sir Topham Hatt made an inquiry. Apparently he's considering upgrading the controls on his rail line and has found just the engine for the job!
Shaw Wu, American Technology Research analyst, speculates that the next iPod nano will be introduced no earlier than late autumn due to changes in compoments.
We continue to believe that the new iPod nano (aka mini
vPod) refreshes are facing transition issues due to an architecture
move to an SoC vs. its present 3-chip solution.
Whether this is the cause of the delay, or whether or not a September/October release is a delay at all, is debatable. However, Wu also reveals another possible cause of delay.
An interesting data point we have picked up on the new
Nanos is a new magnesium-based casing," the analyst wrote. "We believe
this new casing will improve scratch-resistance, durability, and help
lower Apple's support and warranty costs."
AppleInsider picks up on this and runs with it.
According to sources, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company
is so far believed to have committed to the transition away from the
nano's polycarbonate-coated shell and towards aluminum enclosures. The
new enclosures are expected to debut in color variations similar to
those used with the iPod mini, these sources added.
Those "sources" also claim the new iPod nanos will be similar in form to the current generation. Storage capacity will reach 8GB, double the current maximum of 4GB. Pricing is unknown.
This seems like a no-brainer for Apple. Not only would this solve problems associated with the poly-carbonate and lawsuits by using a proven casing, who didn't like the iPod Mini? Let's just hope Apple doesn't get greedy and bump the price for Christmas.
I look at this page and I see the end of intelligent posts in gaming forums. While no one really knows where the information on this site is coming from (it seems to be updating in real-time), the page is simply a tool to show who the webmaster thinks is the winner in terms of sales. This is probably a throwaway site that someone made to get all the game sites talking (ahem) and generate some traffic. However, I'm thinking that if it's still around in November we're going to see a lot of linkage from whatever camp is winning for sales that week, based on these nebulous "estimates."
Right now it's just a matter of seeing how much of a head start the 360 has, but with the PS3 furor starting up you just know that people are going to be hanging on every sales report they can get their hands on. Of course a lot of people have renewed faith in the Wii to kick everyone's butt in terms of sales, so Nintendo fans—tired of hearing GameCube jokes—will be also harping on the sales figures. Everyone, it would seem, has a stake in this and this newest version of the console wars has been interesting because it doesn't seem like there's a single player who you can rule out.
Are sales numbers really that important to people? Everyone wants to know how well their console is doing on the charts, and the DS vs. PSP fight has people posting every time the top seller changes position in either Japan or America. For many gamers, especially the vocal ones on the forums, it's not enough to have fun. You have to be playing number one to feel good about it. I'm glad to report that there are sites like these to give the fanboys their ammo. By glad I mean, of course, terrified of what we'll have to put up with down the road.
The overwhelming success of Red Octane's Guitar Hero was bound to lead to competitors. The only surprising facet is that it's taken Konami this long to mount a response. Konami's Guitar Freaks games have been around long before Guitar Hero was even a sparkle in someone's eye, however Konami hasn't really seemed motivated to try and bring the Bemani game to the United States. Hell, we've only just recently gotten a US version of Beatmania so we can see what all the fuss is about. Now that Konami has trademarked the name Guitar Revolution, we're assuming they mean to bring out a console version for the US.
Even though Guitar Freaks came first, in the US Guitar Hero has a huge head start in terms of mindshare. Guitar Hero also sports five buttons on their controller, up from Guitar Freaks' three. Do people want to take a step down in complexity? Guitar Hero also has a great selection of licensed music, one of the main reasons people enjoy the game so much. Guitar Freaks, like most Bemani games, relies on a lot of J-Pop to round out their catalog. If they want to compete, they're going to need to add more recognizable songs.
I played the arcade version of Guitar Freaks for the first time at E3 and had a great time—if you put a guitar controller in my hand I'm going to rock out—but it seems as if they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to try to take down Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero makes it feel like you're playing in a grungy club or huge arena while Guitar Freaks looks like DDR with a guitar. I'm looking forward to seeing whether or not Konami will try to make Freaks a little different than their other brightly colored Bemani games in response to Guitar Hero's more realistic feel.
This is what happens when Microsoft is careless with their dates. A press release that was scheduled to be released tomorrow has already been sent out, and now the information is all sorts of out in the wild. To sum it up: the wait for more Xbox Live Arcade titles is over. Starting tomorrow Microsoft will release a new game on to Live Arcade every Wednesday. Even better? Tomorrow they'll kick this weekly event off with an updated version of Frogger. I've complained about them being stingy with their releases, and this has pretty efficiently shut me up in that regard. Here's what we can expect in the near future. These are the dates given in the press release:
July 12 – Frogger
July 19 – Cloning Clyde
July 26 – Galaga
August 2 – Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting
August 9 – Pac-Man
If this doesn't make your hump day a little bit brighter, I don't know what will. This is a pretty impressive list of games, and the weekly releases seem to be a good balance between spreading the games out and making sure we'llsomething newto play on a regular basis. Each of these games will have afree demo, so the fun is there even if you're stingy with your money. To get you excited enough to stay up until midnight to see if you can grab it early, here are some of the new features you'll get with your Frogger download:
Xbox Live Arcade's 'Frogger' has been enhanced and reinvigorated for the Xbox 360 and features new, enhanced artwork that matches and compliments the original style. In addition the game's audio, including sound effects and music ditties, has been modernized to sound crisp and clear on today's high performance sound systems. New features include:
Enhanced artwork and backdrops; players can now choose to play the original arcade classic graphics or the new enhanced graphics
Fresh soundtrack and upgraded sounds effects
New Xbox Live Arcade split screen multiplayer modes
Addictive new Co-op vs Speed, and Head-to-Head Modes
Let me wipe the drool off my lip before continuing. There's no price on these games yet, but you can be sure I'll post again tomorrow with a review of the new Frogger. Microsoft looks like they're getting serious with providing new content, and it's about time.
One of the problems with passwords is that they can be compromised relatively easily. While brute-force cracks are possible, it is much easier to convince users to willingly part with their passwords using social engineering. That’s how phishers operate, by tricking users into entering their passwords—along with other personal information—on convincing-looking but spoofed web pages. Once they have that information, bank balances shrink while credit card balances grow.
Two-factor authentication has been touted as a solution to the problem of users giving up their passwords too easily. One group of phishers is determined to prove otherwise, as a recent attack demonstrates.
On the surface, two-factor authentication is a relatively simple solution. In order to log in to a protected site, users must enter a password as well as a second bit of information. In the case of Citibank and a handful of other financial institutions, users are given a USB dongle which displays a passphrase or string of numbers that updates every 60 seconds. It is only when the correct password is paired with a valid passphrase generated by the token that the user is granted access to their account information.
A group of phishers operating out of a Russian website attempted to trick Citibank customers in the customary manner, by directing them to a lookalike website and asking for the usual personal information. As an added bonus, the phishers also asked for the passphrase generated by the token. Once they had both pieces of the authentication information, they would presumably then transmit it onto Citibank within a 60-second time period and go about their nefarious business. It’s a simple adaptation of existing methods: just add an additional field to existing forms and they are all set.
The phishing attacks demonstrates one of the weaknesses of two-factor authentication: it’s still quite vulnerable to "middleman" attacks. If a malicious site is able to pose as the genuine article, collect the necessary authentication from the unsuspecting user, and act on it quickly enough, it is not much safer than traditional password-only attacks.
Some banks and other institutions have already made substantial investments in developing and deploying two-factor authentication systems. The central theme in marketing the systems to customers is added security. Microsoft had even planned to natively support it in Vista, although that ultimately met the same fate as other features originally planned for its new OS. However, as the latest bit of phishing demonstrates, it’s not a cure-all. When used in conjunction with other antiphishing tools, it can be more effective. But as long as there are gullible users, no combination of security measures will be completely foolproof.
Sports fans always think they know more than the coach. Being one myself, I can vow for that. But what if I had the chance to run a professional team? Well, MSN wants to give me, and every other baseball fan, a chance with the launch of "Fan Club: Reality Baseball."
No, fans won't be giving take signs from the third base coach's box and kicking dirt on the umpire. Instead, they will be remotely running a Chicago-based, second year minor league baseball team known as the Schaumburg Flyers. Decisions that the fans will be able to make include selecting the roster, creating the daily lineup, making the pitching rotation, and handling some of the off-the-field duties such as trades and free agent signings. Tell me why the Flyers have a manager again?
The final decisions will be determined through a fan voting process. For instance, if Flyers' pitcher Dave Dobosz receives the most votes for being the team's go-to guy on the hill, then Dobosz it is. On the other hand, if Dobosz criticizes his "
fantasy reality fan club", the fans could vote to cut him from the team. That's kind of scary for the players, isn't it?
Since this is already the second half of the Flyers' season, Microsoft has posted a ton of information from the first half of the season as well as other personal data about the players on the Fan Club site. The kicker here is that players, players' family members, and even coaches will blog about the experience through the rest of the season using MSN Spaces.
Overall, I'm excited to see how this works out. It's an excellent chance for fans to once and for all show that they know more than the coaching staff. The biggest problem is that the fans can't make any mid-game decisions. Maybe next year Microsoft can add some in-game management features. Imagine not wanting the other team to steal your signs, hence the signals are sent from third using AES encryption.
A few months ago I tried out an up and coming open source operating system called ReactOS. At the time, I hadn't heard of the project but I thought it was worth checking out because it was said to be compatible with Windows XP. After playing with the Alpha release for a few hours and coming across several bugs, I gave up on it. Then today, as I'm reading through some of my e-mails, I find that the group has just released a new version of the OS, titled 0.3.0 RC1. After installing it, what I found was a project with promise, but still in desperate need of work.
I began by downloading the install image. The 14MB zip file unpacked to roughly 257MB. After that, the boot process took about 7 seconds and I was dropped straight into a desktop with an icon to a command prompt and another icon to My Computer. One nice built-in feature that I noticed right away was the multi-desktop capability, which is something that doesn't natively exist in Windows XP. The operating system also comes with a Windows Explorer of its own fittingly called ReactOS Explorer. Looking at ReactOS' screenshot gallery, I figured I could get some sort of Windows application installed. As it turns out, the only thing that I could get to successfully work was Firefox. Every time I tried to download an application from the 'Net, the OS would completely bomb. Nevertheless, Solitaire worked just fine, and I enjoyed a few games before scrapping the system.
While the Administrative Tools folder was empty, the Control Panel had a plethora of options. Things like Accessibility, Mouse, Add/Remove Programs, Display, and System were all there. Network Properties was also included, but it wasn't working. To my dismay, key items like Search and network browsing were not yet implemented in this release, but like I said before, Solitaire worked.
Even though I couldn't get ReactOS to do anything worthwhile except run Solitaire and Firefox, I still salute the project. Since ReactOS' developers are working closely with the Wine project, I could see it blossoming at some point. A lightweight, Windows-compatible operating system is a wonderful thing, and demand for such a project would be high if it ran smoothly. Right now, the project is only in Alpha, but it's reassuring to know that there are people out there working on this. Keep an eye on this operating system for the future.
As a final note, the source code for ReactOS consists solely of GNU GPL and GPL compatible code. You can download it in several different formats including Live CD, Install CD, Preloaded with Qemu, VMWare Image, and just the source.
As long ago as 1920 it was recognized that optical storage would potentially give the highest possible storage density. However, the realization of reliable optical storage systems had to wait for the development of the laser. Even then, it was not until the development of the compact disc that optical storage really penetrated the consumer market. Now technology has moved on and we are currently awaiting news of the split points decision in the fight between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Even as that fight rages on, researchers have been looking ahead and we are right there looking over their shoulders.
First, let's look at some of the basic, underlying information. For a single layer disc, the information capacity is limited by diffraction. This law governs how small a spot light can be focused to. Diffraction is governed by three factors; wavelength, numerical aperture, and the refractive index of the medium the lens is in. Blue light focuses tighter than red, thus, Blu-ray and HD DVD have benefited from the transition from red to blue lasers. However, going to shorter wavelengths means ultraviolet light and good bye to cheap optics. The numerical aperture can be thought of as a measure of the light-gathering power of a lens. Unfortunately, technology has run headlong into physics, making further improvements in the numerical aperture difficult. and this is also at the maximum physically possible in current systems.
Thus the question is "What next?" Part of the answer may lie in the medium between the lens and the disc. When lithography needed higher resolution, researchers effectively increased the numerical aperture of their lenses by putting them in liquid. However, placing a liquid between the disc and the lens is problematic, since no one wants their removable storage coming out of the player damp. The answer may lay in putting a solid between between the lens and the disc, as long as the solid can be placed to within a small fraction of a wavelength of the disc. This presents some mechanical engineering problems but nothing fundamental and could boost the single layer storage density up to 125GB.
At this point, resolution can take you no further, but encoding more than a single bit per location can. This has been tried with limited success before, but, technology has finally caught up with ideas and this may now be feasible. Instead of simply putting islands on the disc track, the information is encoded in a spiral staircase, which has the strange effect of adding angular momentum to the light, which can be detected by looking at the polarization. Thus the direction and step size of the staircase can change the information encoded, which means that somewhere between two and eight bits can be encoded per location. The initial demonstrations showed that the techniques for encoding multiple bits in the angular momentum of light are promising, though understandably noisy given the low numerical aperture used to collect the signal.
The paper presents a fascinating review of the past and an intriguing insight into the very next steps in optical data storage. Although they briefly mention more far-off possibilities, such as holographic storage, they have deliberately limited themselves to those techniques for which current mass production techniques will provide high volume content distribution.
As expected, the European Commission has decided to fine Microsoft for not fully complying with the 2004 finding that the company abused its monopoly position in the EU. It’s a big one, too: €280.5 million (roughly US$357.3 million at current exchange rates). In addition, the company will be fined an additional €3 million per day beginning on July 31 if it is not in full compliance by then.
In a statement, EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that "The EU Commission cannot allow such illegal conduct to continue indefinitely. No company is above the law."
Despite the amount of the fine, Microsoft may have gotten off a bit light, as the EC had previously threatened it with a €2 million per day penalty back in mid-December. Instead, the Commission decided to fine the software giant €1.5 million per day for the period covering December 16, 2005 to June 20.
At issue is the state of Microsoft’s documentation and licensing terms for its workgroup servers. One of the stipulations of the original antitrust ruling in 2004 was that Microsoft had to open up the inner workings of its server software and allow competitors to license it so they could ship products that could fully interoperate with Microsoft’s lineup. Open source groups have criticized the company’s licensing terms while EU regulators and others who have worked on the case have said Microsoft’s documentation is abysmal.
"Microsoft did not even come close to providing adequate information," Kroes said.
Microsoft offered to license the source code in January, despite being explicitly told by the EC that it was not interested in the source code, just adequate documentation. In a statement of objections, the EC described the problems, including several hundred pages detailing how to handle errors, while failing to document how the errors happen. Another consultant spent 42 hours trying to perform relatively simple programming tasks using Microsoft-supplied tools and documentation, to no avail.
Faced with a new compliance deadline of July 18, Microsoft now has an army of 300 sweating over the details in an attempt to fully comply by then. The company alleges that it only received a "clear definition" of the documentation requirements in April and that it has hit the milestones on time. Therefore, it believes the fine is unjust. "We have great respect for the Commission and this process, but we do not believe any fine, let alone a fine of this magnitude, is appropriate given the lack of clarity in the Commission’s original decision and our good-faith efforts over the past two years. We will ask the European courts to determine whether our compliance efforts have been sufficient and whether the Commission’s unprecedented fine is justified."
Microsoft will appeal the ruling, while continuing its efforts to come into full compliance. With total fines in the case over €775 million at this point, the company has a powerful incentive to give the EC exactly what it wants.