Sunday, February 24, 2008

SSC #55 General News

Mozilla Firefox hits 500,000,000 downloads

    Yep, thats right, 500 million downloads.  Half a billion users.  And thats not counting those who's operating system already uses Firefox who therefore do not need to download it.  Mozilla firefox is fast becoming the standard web browser due to its versatile plug-in system that lets you add functions such as weather monitors, sports and stock market tickers and amazing looking skins quickly and easily while still managing to have better security than Internet Explorer.
    The fact that it is available on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh doesn't hurt either.   If you would like to make it half a billion +1,  drop on by and see how good it can really be.

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron getting closer
    This next version of Ubuntu is shaping up to be a real blockbuster.
Due out sometime in April, the new and improved Linux-based operating system from Canonical will encompass lots of new features.

Plug and Print for supported USB printers will allow you to quickly and easily get printing

The Wubi Windows Installer will allow you to set up a dual-boot system with both Ubuntu and Windows side by side quickly and easily just by putting the Ubuntu disk in while you are running Windows.

Improved drivers for ATI graphics cards will enable you to show off to your friends the amazing Compiz Fusion desktop special effects on a wider range of video cards.

Other new features are mostly related to changing the selection of default applications that are initially installed.

    Due to its increasing usability and its low low cost of zero dollars, Ubuntu is fast becoming a popular replacement for new computer buyers who are less than happy with Microsoft's latest piece of bloatware, Windows Vista.  
    Hardy Heron will also be an LTS (Long Term Support) release, meaning simply that users will continue to receive support in the form of updates and patches for the next three years. 
    I know one of my readers in particular who is looking forward to the release with crossed fingers due to the buggy wireless support in the previous incarnation.  Rumor has it that there is something in the works for how wireless networking cards are recognized, but there's nothing officially being said on the Alpha release webpage.  Hang in there John, hopefully they will get you taken care of this time around.

More on the death of HD-DVD
    It appears that Microsoft is jumping on the bandwagon in ditching support for the failing HD-DVD format.   They are discontinuing manufacture of the HD-DVD addon for the Xbox 360.  Apparently they plan to continue to fix the devices that break under warranty, but they won't be making any more.
    A this format war between HD-DVD and BluRay has hit a lot of retailers hard as they now have to figure out what to do with their inventory of HD-DVD players and movies.  It is not often that something becomes instantly obsolete while sittting on the store shelves, but that seems to be the case.
    If you were one of the unlucky souls who ran out and bought an HD-DVD player, what do you plan to do with yours?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

SSC #54 Farewell to HD-DVD

Toshiba says goodbye to HD-DVD

    Toshiba has announced that they have ceased manufacture of HD-DVD related equipment, which many think spells eventual doom for the format, coming as it does only a couple days after Wal-mart has announced that they will stop carrying HD-DVD movies on their shelves.
    HD-DVD and rival disc format Blu-Ray have been going at eachother's throats since the Christmas season of 2006 when Sony began pushing their Blu-Ray standard along with the PS3 gaming console.

    While there are still other companies that manufacture HD-DVD equipment, most analysts seem to think that with Toshiba, its heaviest proponent, dropping the format, that HD-DVD is likely to go the way of Betamax and the dodo bird.

    Owners of HD-DVD players are now looking at the choice of either switching to a Blu-Ray player early before having invested too much into HD-DVD movie titles, or else continuing to purchase movies from what promises to be an ever dwindling selection.

    Generally, in format contests like this, the market will usually favor one format over another, but it is hard to say early on which one will be the winner.  This is the risk one takes when being an early adopter.

    No word has been forthcoming from Microsoft, whose XBOX 360 gaming system which plays movies using the HD-DVD standard, as well as using the HD-DVD for its game discs.

    For those of you with more patience than money, who have been waiting quietly for one format to stand out before entering into the next generation of home entertainment, it appears we have a winner.  You can safely buy a Blu-Ray player.

    No comment has been heard from Sony as to how they feel about this, but one can only assume that they are very very happy.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

SSC # 53 The Creed of Freedom

Hi folks, I don't have a good topic picked out this week due to spending the whole week in the hospital with my son.  Some of you may be familiar with RSV, if so, you know what the poor tyke is dealing with.  If you're not familiar with RSV, think of it like a head and chest cold that lasts longer than mono.

In light of that, instead of writing an article off the top of my head without proper researching, I would like to take this time to share with you something that I found on the net.

by G. Edward Griffin
     I believe that only individuals have rights, not the collective group; that these rights are intrinsic to each individual, not granted by the state; for if the state has the power to grant them, it also has the power to deny them, and that is incompatible with personal liberty.
     I believe that a just government derives its power solely from the governed. Therefore, the state must never presume to do anything beyond what individual citizens also have the right to do. Otherwise, the state is a power unto itself and becomes the master instead of the servant of society.
     I believe that one of the greatest threats to freedom is to allow any group, no matter its numeric superiority, to deny the rights of the minority; and that one of the primary functions of just government is to protect each individual from the greed and passion of the majority.
     I believe that desirable social and economic objectives are better achieved by voluntary action than by coercion of law. I believe that social tranquility and brotherhood are better achieved by tolerance, persuasion, and the power of good example than by coercion of law. I believe that those in need are better served by charity, which is the giving of one's own money, than by welfare, which is the giving of other people's money through coercion of law.
     I believe that all citizens should be equal under law, regardless of their national origin, race, religion, gender, education, economic status, life style, or political opinion. Likewise, no class should be given preferential treatment, regardless of the merit or popularity of its cause. To favor one class over another is not equality under law.
     I believe that the proper role of government is negative, not positive; defensive, not aggressive. It is to protect, not to provide; for if the state is granted the power to provide for some, it must also be able to take from others, and once that power is granted, there are those who will seek it for their advantage. It always leads to legalized plunder and loss of freedom. If government is powerful enough to give us everything we want, it is also powerful enough to take from us everything we have. Therefore, the proper function of government is to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens; nothing more. That government is best which governs least.

Pretty powerful stuff, without a doubt.  I am still digesting it myself.

Hope you have a great week, and I'll be back next week with something a little closer to my normal fare.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

SSC #52 Think you deleted it? Think again!

So you received a hot stock tip that you really weren't supposed to get.  Or perhaps it was a quick note from a forbidden sweetheart.  Or maybe you've just been going to places on the internet that you really shouldn't.  You may think you covered your tracks.  You might believe that you have deleted all the evidence.  You might be sitting there feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that no one will ever be able to retrieve those files from your computer because you know you deleted them. 

And you are so totally wrong.

When people complain about Microsoft Windows, most complaints are about how buggy it is.  How often it locks up.  How easy it is for it to be compromised by malicious entities.  When most people complain about Microsoft Windows, they don't complain about how it is slowly collecting and storing hidden traces of your deleted emails, surfing history, and supposedly deleted files.  Thats because "Most People" don't know about it.

What's more, if you have a computer that was owned and used by someone else before you, theres no telling what could be on it.  You could have a life sentence worth of child porn hidden on your harddrive and you would never even know.  Thats a very drastic example, but it is entirely within the realm of possibility.

If you buy a used computer, it is important to have the harddrive completely wiped.  It doesn't have to be professionally done, you CAN do it yourself.  But it does need to be thorough.  Once that is done, you can install an operating system of your choosing.

It isn't a new thing with Microsoft that they do this, practically every version of Windows has had some sort of privacy compromising feature or another.  With Windows 98 it was the Find Fast file indexing feature.  With Windows XP it is the hidden MFT area and the supposed NSA backdoor key that lets Uncle Sam look into your computer any time they please.  Windows Vista isn't looking to be any different from this trend.

There's even a security encryption algorith that was created by NIST (U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology) in conjunction with the  NSA, which apparently seems to have a set of magical numbers that bypasses  it as though it wasn't there at all.  Basically a backdoor.

As of right now, privacy advocates and experts can't figure out what those numbers are, but they all seem to agree that they exist.

So perhaps the idea that the goverment can see your files doesn't bother you.  Perhaps you are that trusting, that patriotic.  What about a couple years down the road when those magic numbers leak out into the wild wild net?  What about those magic numbers letting just any snot-nosed teenage geek with authority issues rifle through your files with impunity?

Strangers rifling through your family photos? 

Placing a high value on privacy does not immediately insinuate that you have something to hide.  It only shows that you have respect for yourself and for others.

Right now the warrantless wiretapping scandal between the Executive branch and the Telecoms is slowly being forgotten while we're wrapped up in the latest horrific thing to hit the news.  Whether that horrific thing that distracts you is Bush's new signing statements, the Tax Stimulus check you may be getting later on in the year, or how big Britney Spears' thighs have gotten.

Protecting your privacy can be hard.  It can be complex.  It does take some effort.  You cannot just throw some money at it and make it go away when some of the very same high rated security programs you can buy use encryption that has a built in back door.  You have to be vigilant and you have to keep track of what is happening in the world at large.

Failing that, you could get an operating system that is completely open to scrutiny from privacy groups.  I know it seems counterintuitive, but it is really true.  The more people you have looking at the programming code, the more sure you can be that if there was something bad, a whistleblower would have found it.  Thats why I am a big advocate of Ubuntu Linux.  It is completely open source.  People are watching what goes into my operating system.  And if I really wanted to, I could watch too.

Or you can always just use your computer as though you are living in a goldfish bowl and that everything you do could possibly be watched by someone else.  Either now, or at some time in the future.

We as citizens of this age are bombarded with so much that it is really hard to prioritize what we are most angry about.  But there always seems to be something else to make us forget.  It works by either lulling us to sleep, mesmerizing us with flashing lights and sounds, or making us so angry that we forget what we were originally angry before we get a chance to do anything about it.

Maybe we should start making a list?

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Do you think it would be a great idea to have a specific version of Ubuntu designed for kids and parents? Filled with fun games and parental control features to keep your little ones safe? Join Ubuntu Brainstorm and vote!