Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Try our New DriverScan 2012!

Friday, July 1st, 2011

We’ve just finished our new DriverScan 2012 software and you can try it and see what driver updates we find for your computer.

Download DriverScan 2012 or get more info here!

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Guide to Making a Great Android Tablet Out of a $249 E-Reader

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

With all the new tablets on the market it’s very tempting to lay down the requisite $500-700 to own a good one, but what if I told you there was a way to convert a good $250 e-reader into a great little tablet?  The Barnes & Noble Color Nook e-reader runs a custom version of Google’s Android OS and that let developers and hackers find ways to unleash its real power, and that’s just what they’ve done.  This guide will walk you through installing and configuring your Nook Color as a true Android tablet.  And while others may disagree, the size, utility, and style of this tablet rivals in many ways the Apple iPads, the Motorola Xooms, and the Samsung Galaxy Tabs.  One thing we can all agree on, $250 is quite a bargain for a device that could literally revolutionize your interaction with the web, and in a way, the world.

All you have to do is follow the directions at this Guide to Installing, Configuring, and Overclocking Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) on a Nook Color.

^ Quinxy

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Running Google’s Android on Your PC in Less than 5 Minutes

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Ever wanted to play around with Google’s Android mobile OS but don’t have the right phone or tablet?  Tonight I discovered how to play with Android using the free Android x86 Live CD and the free VMware Player.  It took a bit of time for me to figure out, but now that I did I can tell you exactly how to set it up in under five minutes.

Click to view the Guide to Running Google’s Android on your PC.

^ Quinxy

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Migrate Your Old PC Easily for Free with a Virtual Machine!

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Buying a new computer should be a joyous event, whipping all the geeky portions of the brain into delighted merriment. But those geeky neurons can sometimes barely crack a smile, knowing what’s in store for them, days upon days of mental effort wasted on a dreaded migration of applications and data accumulated over many years. But, my friends, there is a new and wonderful way to migrate your PC! In less than a day you can shelve your old PC, having moved everything flawlessly to your new PC! The secret? The virtual machine!

Instead of the old methods of manually copying your data and reinstalling your old applications or using automated tools of varying (but always failing) quality to assist, this new approach converts your old system into a virtual machine that will run inside your new machine exactly as it had. All your data and all your applications will work just as they had because the old computer’s entire hard disk, operating system, applications, and data were moved. And because everything is by default encapsulated within this virtual machine, you won’t clutter up your beautiful new machine with old software meant for a now antiquated operating system, nor will you be forced to buy upgrades to that old software to get it to work in your new operating system. It is as flawless a migration solution as you can expect in the Windows world.

In this series of articles we cover how to do a migration with a virtual machine running under the free VMware Player or its more sophisticated VMware Workstation.

For the How To, read Our Quick Guide to Virtualizing Your Old Computer.

^ Quinxy

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The Privacy Dangers of Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc. and the Cloud

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Privacy erodes.  Just ten years ago most savvy internet users kept their own data on their own computers.  We did this partly because of privacy fears, but we did it mostly because it was technically advantageous and in truth was the only viable option.  The Windows users among us used offline POP/SMTP email clients Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, and when limited to a UN*X shell, we used readers like Elm and Pine.  But time moved on and the advantages of online services like Gmail became too hard to resist.  Vast storage, access from anywhere, ease of use, lack of maintenance, no need to backup (theoretically), etc.  I began using Gmail first as my online interface and a temporary holding place for my POP mail destined for Microsoft Outlook.  But after a few years I slowly stopped using Outlook.  And now as I look back I realize just how much privacy I’ve given up.  Let me be clear, I’m not particularly paranoid.  I don’t believe in a government so powerful that it can read every email flowing over the interwebs, nor a company so corrupt that it mines every ounce of the data it holds.  But, it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder just what could be made of your life if someone else had the occasion to examine it without context.  What might occasion that I’m not sure, we are not so important that someone would be likely to without some precipitating cause, real or imagined.  But with all the warrantless wiretaps going around, based on scant reason for suspicion, surely there miscarriages of justice are happening every day to some percentage of us, and we are effectively allowing someone else to sift through our lives.

And in the past we could expect some relative privacy by design.  A government which wanted to know what we were doing or thinking would need access to our homes, to the places we kept our data.  And that barrier has been a sufficient check to balance government curiosity.  Government is no different than the sum of the tendencies of its people.  We will all do what we can easily get away with, and warrantless wiretaps where government agencies can bypass a judge and send off a letter to request phone, email, etc. records from the companies you do business with are just one example.  While the invasion is effectively the same, they would concede to going before a judge if it required physically entering your home to retrieve the exact same data.  When all your data is housed outside of your home, you are vulnerable.

And there is little one can do if you choose to use online services for your mail.  If that service retains your email, it can certainly be accessed by those with the alleged authority to do so.  And there is no guarantee deleted email is really deleted from their system.  They may retain the data as a favor to you in case you change your mind,  they may retain the data on backups they have made, and the machines which handled your data will have remnants of your data until and unless it’s overwritten.  And of course anyone you’ve corresponded with could have their copy of your email similarly available.

I’m not suggesting everyone jump the Gmail ship and go back to the online stone age, but it is important that we all know what we’ve tacitly agreed to, and that we all encourage our government to acknowledge that our privacy extends beyond the borders of our domicile.  Until they do you can choose to use your own non-storing POP/SMTP mail system or switch to a secure online email system such as Hush Mail.

^Quinxy

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Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7: Admission of Failure

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Windows Phone 7 is now in the technical preview stage, and that means reviewers are getting their chance to just what it is, and what it’s not.  And I must confess I’m more than a little stunned by what Microsoft and the reviewers are saying.  Windows Phone 7 is a complete rewrite of the OS that Microsoft developed for the last decade and some as Pocket PC and then Windows Mobile.  And in completely rewriting the OS they have left out critical, previously available features such as copy/paste and multitasking and they provide no compatibility with the thousands and thousands of apps developers already produced for their previous mobile OS.  They are admitting their previous OS was a complete failure, and they undo the efforts of all those developers who wrote all the great apps that made the iPhone look elegantly stupid for its first three or more years of existence.  Microsoft’s mobile platform was seriously flawed, no doubt about it.  The paradigm they were using centered around the use of a stylus and this colored every aspect of OS and software design for the platform.  There was no elegance in Windows Mobile, it was all the ugliness of PC applications shoved into the discomfort of a small screen;  but it was powerful and flexible and unfettered by rules.   Perhaps the underpinnings of the OS were so badly written and so inappropriate to a mobile device that they had to be replaced, but even if that’s the case it’s ridiculous to try and out-Apple Apple while simultaneously removing the only good things that Windows Mobile had long represented.  With all their billions, surely Microsoft could have at least delivered a technical preview that assured the real thing was going to be at least as good as their old OS while making all the vital finger-focused improvements they desperately needed, and supporting the phenomenal feature-rich apps that developers had already invested all their energies and monies in creating (letting the user make the choice of whether to run these uglier UI apps while the developers have an opportunity to rewrite them).  No doubt Microsoft will find success with their copy-catting, I didn’t think the X-Box would stand the test of time when they first decided to get into that game, and they’ve managed it.  And while Zune is not succeeding, they’re at least rebranding things to make Zune not about a device but instead about accessing content (on a mobile device, on an X-Box, etc.).  Must be nice to have money enough to make people like you.

^Quinxy

 

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Review of the Viliv S10 Blade, the Windows iPad-ish Device

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Wanting the iPad form factor but not wanting the limitations an Apple product represents, I went with the Viliv S10 Blade, a Windows 7, Atom processor-based PC in a 10” screen tablet convertible form factor. It is roughly the same height and width as the iPad, but twice as thick, and 50% heavier. This is no iPad killer, but it’s not meant to be. It is instead a fully capable PC in a pleasingly iPad shape. I’ve been using it for three weeks now and I must say it’s a very good device, and if the right software were to come along to address its software-based shortcomings this could truly become great.

The machine I bought is the 2 GHz model, 60 GB SSD, no WWAN, with Windows 7 Home Premium for $1127 from Dynamism.


Hardware

I must confess my first impression of the computer at the time of unboxing was that the case felt a little cheap. The plastic they used, or perhaps its construction, feels a little unsatisfying. When you pick up the unit the case creaks like a floorboard in my dead grandmother’s house. It even creaks when your palms press against the top as you type. You just don’t expect that in a device which cost as much as this one did. I’ve been able to move past it and not let it get on my nerves, and in fact the longer I’ve had the S10 the better I’ve felt about its aesthetics and construction. It may make unnecessary creaking noises but otherwise feels solid.

Switching to and from tablet mode is a typical convertible tablet affair, and the screen hinge feels solid. Some people had written in reviews that the lack of a latch to secure the screen in place on the screen was a problem, but I’m pleased to say I’ve had no problems with it.

The keyboard is solid. I was struggling with my previous netbook’s keyboard, which had almost no action and routinely failed to register 20% of my keystrokes (the keys would bind if my fingers were a little off center). I can type on the Viliv’s keyboard for hours and hours and be quite happy.

The multi-touch supporting touch pad is good, but its buttons are lousy. The rocker design they use for the mouse buttons is unfortunate because it requires quite a lot of force to depress, and the force required depends on how far you are away from the fulcrum. And that wouldn’t be awful if there was some tactile indication that the click had been registered, but instead you just have to press until it seems like the button won’t go any further, which is a problem when the plastic they use is creaky. It’s not a fatal flaw, but you may find yourself using a bluetooth travel mouse more than you would if the buttons were more satisfying.

One of the truly most bizarrely confounding issues is that you can never leave the device in tablet mode between uses! No buttons, not even the power button, are accessible in tablet mode! You therefore need to lift the screen up almost all the way to expose the power switch located at the top of the keyboard just to turn the unit back on. This is a truly unfathomable decision. With this one simple design decision they guaranteed that no one would ever mistakenly compare this device to an iPad.

Read the rest of the review.

^Quinxy

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Stop waiting for yor computer! We review Process Lasso!

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

More important than how fast your computer is — is how fast your computer feels.  Responsiveness is critical.  You can have the latest and greatest processor but it all amounts to nothing when some background process decides to grab all the cycles it can.  Quite a lot of software isn’t written in such a way that it plays as nicely as it should with others; developers often don’t give much thought to how their software might slow you down when you’ve moved on to work on other tasks.  This is where Process Lasso comes in!  The core functionality of Process Lasso monitors all your computer’s running software and automatically adjusts the priority of any non-critical processes so that they will be less likely to interfere with you.  For example, let’s say you are writing a paper in Microsoft Word and you left Firefox in the background with Gmail and Facebook open.  You may be typing away in Word only to get irritated as your typing and/or mouse movements momentarily freeze as Firefox executes the JavaScript to update Gmail/Facebook.  Process Lasso would detect that that Firefox has begun monopolizing the CPU and would reduce its priority to the operating system.  A process with a lower priority still runs as it should, it simply gets less CPU time when other higher priority processes need the CPU.  The only difference you’ll notice is that Word will be more responsive.  Process Lasso works in the background automatically adjusting priorities to give you the most responsive experience possible.  In addition there are all sorts of other bells and whistles included, including the ability to permanently block some apps from running (like that Quick Time process Apple always re-adds to my registry!), the ability to suspend and restore processes, the ability to automatically restart processes which you always want (if they crash/die), and a great performance graph that shows you just what Process Lasso is doing and why.

And best yet, the developers over at Bitsum let home/personal users make the decision about whether they use the free version or upgrade to the slightly more advanced Pro version (you’ll get all the Pro features during a trial period). 

Process Lasso isn’t snake oil, it’s not overclocking your CPU or doing technical wizardry, it’s adding a much needed intelligence and configurabilty to the process prioritization mechanisms already built into the Windows operating system; and it’s adding some other useful features along the way.

I’ve been using Process Lasso off and on for about 3 years now and strongly recommend it, particularly if your PC is older and more likely to be momentarily overwhelmed by newer and more resource intensive background tasks.

^ Quinxy von Besiex

Go Download for Windows  or Download for Windows x64 now!

Or visit Bitsum (the publisher)’s Process Lasso description.

 

We don’t recommend software often, and when we do it’s because we truly believe in it and use it ourselves!  We do not receive any sort of compensation for these reviews.

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Free Windows 7 Starter Upgrade: Change Your Background!

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Windows 7 Starter is the OS found on most of the low-end PCs you can buy today, and while it includes all the core technical benefits of Windows 7, they have intentionally removed features in the hopes that you’ll pony up the dough for the $80 for an upgrade to Home 7 Premium; new computer buyers can take advantage of a limited time offer of a $50 upgrade

Some of the Starter limitations can be worked around through free thirdparty software, and we’ll be bringing you a collection of ways to do this.  We start with the most surprising limitation of Windows 7 Starter, they won’t let you change your desktop’s background image!  Not only do they not give you the option, if you’re technically saavy and change the bmp they’re using yourself, the OS will revert it back to their background!

Fortunately, there is the free Oceanis Background Changer for Starter!  Click that link, grab the download, and read the tutorial and within minutes you’ll get your custom background, and can even have your background be a slideshow.

- Quinxy

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Browsing Anonymously: They Know Where You’ve Been (Online)

Friday, March 19th, 2010

One of my favorite authors ever, in one of my favorite books ever, wrote:

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.
- Joseph Heller in Catch-22

And so to the paranoid among you, and those who should be, I present a quick lesson in how truly un-anonymous you are online, and how much more anonymous you can become.

The first thing everyone needs to know, but most people don’t full appreciate, is how your activity online is like your activity in real life, without unusual precautions you’ll leave your virtual DNA everywhere. For most of you a collective “so what” is a reasonable reaction. You’ve got lives to live, and you don’t anticipate anyone would likely be interested in where on the web you go. But anonymity (and the privacy it brings) can be important in many reasonable situations. And for some there is a general principle involved: the principle that we have a fundamental right to privacy, that should not be abridged (just because it is so easy to do and provides a thin veneer of national or regional security).

On that note! Let me share show you how, how much, and where you shed your virtual DNA…

Let’s examine the simplest thing you’re likely to do on the web. You just watched a Discovery channel show about pandas and find yourself curious about how pandas procreate. What happens when you do a quick Google search on “panda bear sex” and click the first result? Here’s what happens:

Your Action or its Result Who Sees Your Data? What Data do They See? Why do they want it? How long do they hold it?
You type your keywords “panda bear sex” in your browser’s search box and hit “enter”. Browser (it’s search form history)
  • search phrase
  • computer username
Your browser’s search form remembers this search phrase to make your life easier. Indefinite. Usually until you have so many phrases that it prunes the list. Even after that the data is still on your hard drive, recoverable until over-written.
Your browser plugins (also known as browser helper objects and add-ons) act on the URL, if applicable. Anti-virus / Browser Plugins
  • url
  • date/time
  • IP
  • city/state/country (from IP)
  • anything else they want
Most software firewall/anti-virus suites include a browser plugin that can check every site you want to visit against a list of potentially harmful sites. This can mean (depending on implementation) that they are passing information to their backend about every single browser request you make. It’s like you are cc:ing them on every URL you want. Plugins make the experience of the web much richer, but each one has access to the URLs you visit, the content of those URLs, and anything else it wants on your hard drive (files, data, webcam, microphone, gps, etc.). Indefinite. Could be anything.
Your web browser contacts Google search via your internet service provider (ISP) to get the Google search results. Your ISP (the government, etc.)
  • url
  • search terms
  • IP
  • date/time
  • city/state/country (from IP)
  • name
  • address
  • phone number
  • social security number
  • credit card number
  • and more…
Your ISP is the only one knows exactly what IP corresponds with exactly what household. And for that household they have a name, phone number, address, perhaps credit card and social secrity number, etc. In no way am I suggesting you should be afraid of your ISP, per se. They will not divulge your identity behind your IP to just anyone, but in this new age of loosely targetted government warrantless wiretaps, RIAA anti-piracy monitoring and lawsuits, etc. ISPs are giving up your identity with and without legal necessity. And ISPs have installed government packet sniffing NarusInsight nodes at their facilities which can analyze all network traffic passing by, looking for activity they deem “suspicious”. And suspicious likely includes the use of keywords, phrases, website urls, etc. that may have worrying or innocent uses.Also note, other ISPs are involved as your internet traffic travels crosses various networks. The ISPs in between can record the traffic they see. ISPs are legally required to retain information about you for 6 months to 2 years, specifically to help law enforcement. What they retain is left somewhat open-ended, but is at least the information about who had what IP when. ISPs have also in the past generated revenue by selling traffic information to thirdparty companies, helping search engines and advertisers know what web sites are popular; they would not directly include your IP, but poorly written sites can leak some data through URLs.
Google receives and responds to the request, via the ISP. Google
  • url
  • IP
  • search terms
  • date/time
  • city/state/country (from IP)
  • identity (possibly)
They record the URLs you visit to improve their search results, and also to provide you with features. If you have a gmail account, a Google account, a YouTube account, etc. and you have cookies enabled, Google knows specifically who you are with every search you do and can do things like show you (optionally) your search history. They say they keep data at least 9 months. (Presumably they keep the data indefinitely if they have your permission as part of a feature of theirs, or if they dis-associate it from your IP.)
Your browser receives the results from Google, but won’t show it to you quite yet. First your browser stores the file it received on the hard drive, adding it to your browser’s cache of the web page. Browser Cache
  • url
  • contents of web page
  • date / time
  • computer user name
What you see when you view a web page is a combination of many text, style, video, and audio assets all combined into one rendered document. Each asset is fetched seperately, and stored separately in the cache. Many of these assets are re-used between different pages on a site (for example the images in the header and footer of a page). It would be wasteful for the browser to request these re-used assets every time you visit another page on the same site. The cache saves the remote server work, saves your local browser work, and lets you click from one page to another more quickly (since it already has most of the assets you need). Indefinite.  Lifetime of the cache, then as long as it takes for the info on the disk to be over-written.
Your browser history records the url of your search results in your browser history. It still won’t show you the page yet, still a few steps away! Browser History
  • url
  • date/time
  • computer username
Your browser’s history can be your good friend or your worst enemy. Useful when you want to revisit a site whose name you can’t remember, but it can be an awful snitch if you plan to cheat on your wife or husband via an online dating site. Indefinite. You can modify the retention time in your browser settings, but keep in mind the data on a hard drive is not destroyed until it is over-written (and not even, always, then). A URL you visited 2 weeks ago may disappear from the list because you set a 2 week limit, but the url is still on the hard drive and can be recovered, until the disk happens to re-use that space.If you tell your browser you want NO history, this doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t recorded on the disk. Many browsers still record to disk and only delete the entries when you close the browser. But deleting is not destroying.
Your browser plugins act on the document of results from Google, if applicable. Nothing is shown yet, but we’re getting close! Anti-virus / Plugins See above on Anti-virus, plugins. See above on Anti-virus, plugins. See above on Anti-virus, plugins.
Next your browser sets cookies that Google requested. Almost there! Cookies
  • url
  • date / time
  • computer username
  • remote session ids
  • other data you gave the remote site
Cookies are vital for site personalization and authentication. They are benign except that they can contain data which could be found and used to tie you to sessions on other servers, topics you are interested in (based on searches, ads clicked, etc.). Indefinite.  Lifetime of the cookie, then as long as it takes for the info on the disk to be over-written.
Now you see Google results! None* n/a * In the case of Google where all the advertisements are Google’s this final step of viewing the page doesn’t open you up to any new privacy leakage… but see the next few steps which mention the anonymity risks regular ads, Java, Flash, and other things pose… n/a
You click on the first search result and your browser sends a request to Google via your ISP to redirect you to the first search result, “PandaLovingInfo.com”. Google, ISP See above on Google and ISP. Google wants to know which results people click on. See above on Google and ISP.
Your browser is redirected to PandaLovingInfo.com. Website, ISP
  • referring url
  • date/time
  • IP
  • city/state/country (from IP)
  • search keywords
  • ISP has access to your personal details (as mentioned above)
Websites want to know where their inbound traffic is, want to know how many users they have, what their users do, etc. They can collect this anonymously and then tie it to an account you create later.And see above on ISP. Indefinite.  No universal rule, they can keep the data as long as they like. And see above on ISP.
You now see the webpage on PandaLovingInfo.com, where all your questions will surely be answered! Cache, plugins, and cookies See above on cache, anti-virus, plugins, and cookies. See above on cache, anti-virus, plugins, and cookies. See above on cache, anti-virus, plugins, and cookies.
You are shown advertisements on PandaLovingInfo.com offering many wonderfully peculiar items. Advertisers on the website
  • url
  • date/time
  • IP
  • city/state/country (from IP)
  • search keywords (maybe)
  • referrer (maybe)
  • other information about your interests/identity (maybe)
Advertisers want to know where you live, what you’re interested in, and anything else they can. They can track you between sites, so they know you are the same person who was interested in zebra mating rituals last week. Indefinite. Whatever they want it to be.

The above is about as simple a web experience as you can get. You do one search and view one result, and see how many people are given access to what you’re searching for, and to varying degrees, who you are, what you like, etc. If you want to be truly anonymous, every single “leak” listed above must be plugged.

In the next installment I’ll talk about the dangers posed from these traces you leave, and in the final installment what you can do about it.

- Quinxy

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