Monday, February 26, 2007

Looking for aliens, but found only a stolen laptop

Plotline: a laptop is stolen from this Minnesota software programmer's wife. This guy had previously installed SETI@Home in his wife's laptop. Using the logs on SETI@Home servers, this guy was able to detect where the thief was located, thus alerting the police, which in turn capture the thief and recovered the stolen laptop.

Now for the details:
SETI@Home uses volunteers' computers when they go into screen-saver mode to crunch data from the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico in an attempt to try and spot signals in the radio noise from space, hoping it comes from little green men.

James Melin, a software programmer in Minnesota, runs SETI@home on his seven home computers, which periodically check in with University of California servers. Whenever that happens, the servers record the remote computer's Internet Protocol address and file it in a database that people running the SETI software can view. One of those seven computers on which Melin installed SETI@home was his wife's laptop, which was stolen from the couple's Minneapolis home Jan. 1.

In an attempt to recover the stolen laptop, Melin monitored the SETI@home database to see if the stolen laptop would "talk" to the Berkeley servers. Indeed, the laptop checked in three times within a week, and Melin sent the IP addresses to the Minneapolis Police Department. The police was then able to determine the real-world address where the stolen laptop was logging on and within days, they seized the computer and returned it to the rightful owners.

While no pertinent documents were deleted or tampered with, Mrs. Melin noted that the perpetrator (or the eventual underground buyer's) taste in music was among the worst she's ever heard of judging by the foreign tracks that were gifted to her when the laptop returned.

Source: News Journal Online, Engadget

The Scandinavian China?

Apparently, Norway is in process of creating an Internet censorship plan similar to the one that currently exists in China.

ISPs would be responsible for blocking various sites that the government didn't like -- including foreign gambling sites (government monopoly on gambling would be protected), any sites that offer unauthorized downloads, sites that are seen as "desecrating the Flag or Coat of Arms of a foreign nation," sites "promoting hatred towards public authorities, racism and hate speech" and "Sites offering pornography that may cause offence."

This raises quite a lot of questions: are political blogs seen as promoting hatred towards public authorities? Do all pornography websites offend everybody or just a few people? Aren't people entitled to have access to all the information that they desire?

Luckily for the Norwegian, this law proposal doesn't seem to be supported by the majority of the government, so it probably won't be accepted.

From: Techdirt

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

For the Hello Kitty fans out there

The Hello Kitty USB gadgets mania is here to stay. If you think the pink foot warmers draw the limit, what to think about the Hello Kitty USB lap warmer?

I guess these items are hard to resist if you're really a fan of the fury pink feline gadgets. Anyway, with the way these things are coming to the market, Hello Kitty hard core fans will also have to get a 128 USB Port Hub :-)

Source: Hello Kitty Hell

Water-proof MP3 Players

Who said you can't use your MP3 player on the bath or when you go out for a swim? SwimMan's new version of the iPod Shuffle (image on the left) allows you to use it anywhere in the water up to 10 feet (more or less 3 meters). You can even wear it in the shower, assuming you can find something to clip it to.

But if you're more of a swimmer and you don't like to have things clipped somewhere, you can always try to use the Century's Dolphin water-proof MP3 Player (image on the right).

Inside, the Dolphin packs 1GB of flash, USB 2.0, and support for MP3/WMA playback off 8-hour battery. Looks aside, at ¥12,800 (about $107 or 81€) -- which includes a pair of unusually decent looking waterproof headphones -- it'll save you a healthy chunk-o-change compared to the $250 (190€) SwimMan's iPod Shuffle.

Source and photos: Engadget

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Control the Earth with some lights

When João Bordalo gave the tip, I decided to try Atlas Gloves myself and discovered that it's really fun to have this "Minority Report"-like interfaces where you can control the computer with just a pair of custom lights and a webcam.

For sometime now, I was curious on this kind of technology related to Image Segmentation and this Atlas Gloves idea was just the kick I needed to start doing my own research on the subject. Amazingly, the technology is really simple and obeys some very simple principles that anyone with little computation skills can develop.

So, with a lot of "Googling" I found the basic tools to work with the technology and decided to implement my very own Google Earth controller, which I named GELToC (which stands for Google Earth Led Torch Controller).

By using two led torches like the ones in the figure on the left (but it also worked with flashlights and even with my iPod nano screen) and a webcam, I was able to create an application that processes the light sources (from a dark background) and maps them into mouse control movements, which in turn are converted into Google Earth control movements, giving the illusion that you are controlling the World map with just a pair of tiny lights.

GELToC was developed using the Java Programming Language. It uses the JMF (Java Media Framework) API to access images from the webcam and it uses the java.awt.Robot Class to control the mouse.

Check out the demo video below:

GELToC is an open source application and you can obtain more information on it here.
Future steps of this technology include improving the application in order to use the led torches to control the all computer environment and not only specific applications such as Google Earth.

I need some "beta testers" for the application, so give it a try and then let me know of your experience :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

USB Gadgets for workaholics

Are you hooked up on coffee but you don't have enough space on your desk for the coffee mug and your mouse? All of your problems have been solved.

Here's a new gadget, the MugMouse, which holds coffee and has an optical mouse on the bottom. Pretty handy, isn't it?

But if you think this a strange USB gadget, check out this one. In line with the Hello Kitty warm USB slippers, the USB heating blanket helps you stay warm during your work hours. And all through your USB ports :-)

Source and Images: Everything USB

USB Aroma gadgets to improve your environment

Smelly on your cubicle? Here's the solution...a USB Aroma stick with the following choice of scents: lavender, rose, and jasmine.

It has no memory, but it's good enough to improve your work or gaming environment :-)

Source and image: Engadget

I'm a Mac! And I'm a PC!

The new "I'm a Mac! And I'm a PC!" ads are just fabulous. Just a few comparisons between PC and Mac but it's enough to make a point, that Mac just might make your life easier.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Vista's successor already??

According to Steve Balmer (Microsoft's CEO) and Ben Fathi (executive in charge of the Vista's core components), Windows Vista already has a successor planned for late 2009. Speaking to PC World, Ben Fathi, made it clear that he was referring to a whole new OS, which will be known by the codename "Vienna".

Full virtualization and a radical new user interface will be the aim of this new version, according to Fathi.

Source and Image: Engadget

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How to "really" diagnose and optimize your Windows XP?

You see a all lot of tips around promising the miraculous ultimate performance enhancer for your Windows XP, right? However, some of those "fixs" and "registry editors" not only do not improve the performance of your computer, they can really decrease the overall performance of Windows.
So, tired of testing some (unsuccessful) hacking on my Windows XP, I decided to do some real searching on the fundamentals behind some of these tips.

On my search I came across this website, which seems very complete and provides some good justifications for all of the proposed hackings. I tried out some of the advices and, for the first time ever, I really noticed a difference in my computer.

Not only it provides good information on some hacking that you can do on Windows, it also gives you some useful tips on free protection software, XP Myths and even cheats for the Windows games :-)


Take you mail, calendar, internet, games, anti-virus, and much more in your pocket

This is the future of portability: the Portable Apps Suite.

On their own words: "Portable Apps Suite is a collection of portable apps including a web browser, email client, web editor, office suite, word processor, calendar/scheduler, instant messaging client and FTP client, all preconfigured to work portably and be easy to back up. Just drop it on your portable device and you're ready to go."

So, all of this in your USB stick or MP3 Player...easy and simple :-)

Tip from Lifehacker
Image from Portable Apps

Steve Jobs is saying what's on everybody's mind: no more DRM!

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, has recently "advised" the four major record companies to start selling songs online without copy protection software (also known as digital rights management - DRM) to avoid piracy.

Jobs said there appeared to be no benefit for the record companies in continuing to sell more than 90 percent of their music without DRM on compact discs, while selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system.

This is quite a huge position from the leader of the company that owns iTunes, the biggest music online service, and the iPod, the most successful MP3 player of the world. However, this turnover may have something to do with the problems that Apple has been facing in Europe regarding the pressure to make iTunes music compatible with players other than the iPod.

Source and Image: Washington Post I.T. Blog

Play more: it's good for your eyes

The video game addicts can now rejoice, since a team of researchers has found that playing is actually good for your eyes. A study by the University of Rochester showed that people who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved their vision by about 20 percent.

The team of researchers tested college students who had played very few, if any, video games in the last year. Test subjects were given an eye test similar to the one used at regular eye clinics and then divided into two groups -- one played shoot-em-up action games for an hour a day while the control group played a less visually complex game.

The vision capacity of the test subjects was tested after the study, with those who played the action game scoring better in the eye test.

These are excellent news for people with eye problems. It's the best prescription a doctor can give a patient: "Here, go play some Halo or Quake"

Source: Reuters Tech News
Image from

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hide data in pictures

UPDATE for Mac Users: looking for the same functionality on Mac OS X? Check this out.

Have you ever heard about steganography? Well, it's the equivalent to invisible ink in digital files. The idea is that you can hide data in digital images and still keep the normal appearance of the image.

For example, check out this picture:

Other than presenting a very strange cow, it appears to be a very normal picture. In fact, this picture hides a TXT file in it, where the location of the cow is revealed.

So, I got a challenge for you: using Hide in Picture (a steganography software that allows you to hide and retrieve files to and from pictures) try to retrieve the "location.txt" file from the picture. This way, you'll know where this picture was taken.

Two notes:
- use the original picture, not this small one (click this small picture to access the original picture european_cow.GIF)
- the password is the first word of this blog's URL

Source: Lifehacker's Geek to Live

TIP: remove objects with vanishing point in Photoshop

Have you ever wanted to do something like this: removing an object completely out of a picture?
Here's the tip from

Source: Lifehacker

Cracking Zunes?

There's a rumor around saying that the numerous reports that Microsoft Call Center has been receiving, regarding the Zune screen cracking for no apparent reason after being left charging overnight, have a good reason after all.

Apparently, the lithium ion battery -- which resides right behind the top half of the Zune's screen -- is expanding from overheating and putting too much pressure on the screen, causing it to crack.

Now, is this really true? Or is this just a story a few Zune-droppers conveniently made up to try and get a free repair? You all Zune owners be the judge...

Source: Engadget