Thursday, March 27, 2008

An interesting problem: part 2

So, did you think about an answer for the problem I suggested earlier?

To recap: Imagine you're on a game show and you are asked to choose from one of three doors. In one door, there's a prize (a beautiful car) and on the other two doors, there is a goat on each door. After you choose the door, the game show host will show where one of the goats is from the remaining two doors (remember there are two goats to start with, which means that no matter which door you choose, there will always be at least another goat on the doors that you didn't choose). In addition to showing you where one of the goats is, the game show host gives you the opportunity to swap between the original door that you chose and the remaining door.

So, faced with this decision what would you do? Would you stick with your initial decision? Or would you swap doors? At first, this seems to be an irrelevant choice, right? Well, think again...

By the way, this is called the Monty Hall Problem.

Watch this video of the popular television show Numb3rs to help you with the answer:

If you still need a clearer explanation, check out the following video:

And if you're still not convinced, then use the following programs that I created (in Java) to test this theory:

Monty Hall Problem (No Swapping) - Source
Monty Hall Problem (Swapping) - Source

These programs perform this test 100 million times each, where the first option doesn't swap the initial choice and the second does.

Surprise, surprise, here are the results that I obtained:

  • No Swapping: The program got it right 33% of the time.
  • Swapping: The program got it right 66% of the time.
Usually, the Random generator of a computer is not really a reliable random generator, but even if you try this test yourself (with cards or some other objects) you'll obtain similar results.

So, always remember to swap your choices :-)

Skynet may actually be real

Doesn't this sound too familiar to Skynet? (If you don't know what Skynet is then maybe you should have a look at this, this, this and more recently at this).

My research revolves around artificial intelligence, but even this scares the hell out of me:

"Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics also known as SyNAPSE is the US military's attempt at creating an artificial intelligence, presumably to take over the function of human operators for unmanned land/aerial vehicles and to possibly be used to pilot future bombs (smart bombs on steroids)." (Source)
Yaicks! We're doomed! Sarah Connor was right after all :-)

Windows vs. Mac: a picture that says it all

I've just stumbled upon this picture, which made me laugh inside and think: "This is so true!"

The picture actually says it all, and I know what I'm talking about. I've been a Windows user for many years until I recently decided to switch to a Mac. And due to the Apple philosophy of "things just work", the switching process was pretty peaceful.

But getting back to the picture, it really represents my state of mind towards the two operating systems. On Mac OS X, things are made simple and for most of them to work you just have to find the on/off button, which most of the times it is as easy to find as that big yellow button on the picture. It's really that simple and intuitive. Whereas in Windows, things are by nature complicated and most of them don't even work properly. And if you decide to pop up the hood and fiddle around with the settings, you may end up with a busted machine.

And while the picture may seem to favor the Mac way, it actually also reveals the dark side of Apple. Ok, things are simple, intuitive and they work. But what if you would like to change something? For example, what if instead of having the big yellow button on the engine of the car on the picture, you would like to see that button on the dashboard of the car? That's where things can go wrong.

Apple designs things to work in a specific way and they do it very well. But they do it by controlling what the user has access to. By limiting the user experience to the known-to-work-without-any-problems features, they avoid any "bad press" about their products.

Don't get me wrong, as I said above I love the Apple philosophy since it is the way to go with unexperienced users. But sometimes, when my nostalgic college Linux-geek part of the brain kicks in, I wish I could change some of the settings of Mac OS X. And to do so, you have to be an experienced user because if you take a wrong turn somewhere, you may end up like the guy in the picture. But not the one with the smiley face...I'm talking about the frustrated one next to the broken car.

Source: The Mac Newbie

Classic video games in animated stop-motion video

If the nostalgic feeling isn't good enough, the amazing work they did to produce this wonderful stop-motion animated video of classic video games will blow you away:

Source: College Humor

How to remove the Blogger Bar from your blog's header

If you have a blog on Blogger/Blogspot, you probably have noticed that there's a Blogger Bar on top of your blog. I actually like the Blogger Bar on my blog, for several reasons:

  • It is a complete search engine for my blog only. It's kind of like having Google on my blog
  • It has some nice shortcut buttons that always comes in handy when you want to make a new post ("New Post") or change something on the blog's layout ("Customize") - otherwise I would have to specifically navigate to and then access these options
  • It allows me to check exactly what's the account I'm currently signed in on Blogger (in case you have multiple accounts) and quick navigation out ("Sign out")
  • It has this nice "Next Blog" button that works kind of like StumbleUpon, where every time you click it, you are taken to a different (and potentially interesting) blog
  • It blends in quite nicely and does not stand out making the blog design look ugly
What I don't like is the fact that they force users to host this Bar on their blog. And while this works out fine for me for the reasons that I pointed out above, for other users this is a real hassle that ruins a blog's design or layout.

Since there's no real option available on Blogger's blogs preferences to change this, you have to do some coding yourself. So, go to the "Layout" setting of your blog and on the "Edit HTML" section, add the following code:

#navbar-iframe {

"Where?" - you ask. Well, good question. Check this image that shows where to put it:

Source: MuioMuio.Net (in Portuguese)

An interesting problem: part 1

Imagine you're on a game show and you are asked to choose from one of three doors. In one door, there's a prize (a beautiful car) and on the other two doors, there is a goat on each door.

After you choose the door, the game show host will show where one of the goats is from the remaining two doors (remember there are two goats to start with, which means that no matter which door you choose, there will always be at least another goat on the doors that you didn't choose). In addition to showing you where one of the goats is, the game show host gives you the opportunity to swap between the original door that you chose and the remaining door.

So, faced with this decision what would you do? Would you stick with your initial decision? Or would you swap doors?

Think about it for a while. I will post the solution (UPDATE: check here) and hopefully some interesting results from a simulation soon :-)

Now, the real on-line Photoshop...or is it?

Just the other day, I was posting about Splashup, a kind of web-based Photoshop wannabe. And now, the REAL web-based Photoshop comes to the spotlight. Adobe Systems has rolled out Photoshop Express, a web-based application for editing, organizing, and sharing images. The application, which runs in Flash-enabled browsers, is free and an account includes 2GB of storage.

At first, the idea of having a real (and free) Photoshop application sounded to good to be true. And as soon as I checked it out, I was able to verify that indeed it was (to good to be true, that is). I was amazed to see that the previously referred Splashup is more of a Photoshop-like application than this web-based application will ever be.

The image that you see here is a sample of the functionalities that are available in Photoshop Express. As you can see, this web-application is more of a wizard-like kind of application where you can only apply a few limited basic effects like adjusting the exposure of some photo, remove red-eyes or crop/rotate pictures.

In fact, it does make sense, you cannot ask Adobe to give away for free the only thing that they have for sale. So, even though this web-based Photoshop Express application is not for the Photoshop pros out there, it is still quite a good alternative to those photo-sharing websites where you can do some basic image editing.

But if you want a full-fleshed Photoshop web application, with such complex functionalities as layers and brushes (and especially if you already are a Flickr user), go for Splashup.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How to play (almost) all video codecs in QuickTime (on Mac OS X)

If you have ever used the combination FrontRow + Apple Remote on your Mac, you know what an amazing feature this is. It allows you to easily navigate through all of your music, photos and movies stored in your computer.

Well, not exactly "all movies" since it is only able to play the videos encoded in a QuickTime-supported codec. If you have any AVI or MPEG video files encoded with DivX or XviD (or any other video codec), they won't play on Front Row (or QuickTime for that matter). In order for them to play, you have to encode them into a QuickTime-supported format, which can be done using applications such as iSquint.

iSquint is mainly an iPod converter application, which is able to convert almost all kinds of multimedia files into a QuickTime/iPod acceptable format. However, you can also use it for converting to the Apple TV format, which in turn is accepted in Front Row.

Even though this application is a lot faster than QuickTime Pro (and free), it is still quite a time-consuming task to convert a whole bunch of videos to that format. It would be a lot easier to just use the files directly in QuickTime/Front Row.

Luckily, there are some amazing applications that allow you to do just that. Perian, as stated in its website, is the swiss-army knife for QuickTime.

Perian is a free, open source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats. It enables QuickTime application support for the following Media Types:

  • AVI, FLV, and MKV file formats
  • MS-MPEG4 v1 & v2, DivX, 3ivX, H.264, FLV1, FSV1, VP6, H263I, VP3, HuffYUV, FFVHuff, MPEG1 & MPEG2 Video, Fraps, Windows Media Audio v1 & v2, Flash ADPCM, Xiph Vorbis (in Matroska), MPEG Layer II Audio
  • AVI support for: AAC, AC3 Audio, H.264, MPEG4, and VBR MP3
  • It even supports SSA and SRT subtitles
Once installed, as you can see, Perian will allow QuickTime to play all these formats natively, which means that you don't need to do anything different to play them on QuickTime or Front Row.

The only common format that Perian does not support is WMV. That's where Flip4Mac comes in handy. It does exactly what Perian does in QuickTime for all those formats but only for the WMV format.

To sum up, all you need to play all video codecs on QuickTime (at least, the most common ones) is to install Perian and Flip4Mac. Guaranteed success :-)

Source: The Mac Newbie

Monday, March 24, 2008

Splashup: the on-line photoshop

If you need to quickly edit some photo or image and you're in a computer that doesn't have any image editor available, then you can use Splashup.

Splashup is a powerful editing tool and photo manager that has almost all the features that professional applications (like Photoshop) have. It's easy to use, works in real-time and allows you to edit many images at once.

Splashup runs in all browsers, integrates seamlessly with top photo-sharing websites (Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, etc...) allowing you to open images directly from these repositories and then save directly back to them.

The war of the "thin" laptops

The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 laptop may never be as cute and appealing as the MacBook Air, but you have to admit that this ad does bring the MacBook Air down:

I especially like the "no-compromise" and "everything else is just hot air" statements :-)
The war for the "ultimate ultralight thin" title in the world of laptops has begun! And right now, it seems that the Lenovo is ahead of its competition.

Source: Engadget

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke is dead...for now!

Arthur C. Clarke, author of one of the most prominent science fiction stories of all time (2001: a Space Odissey), has recently died but the efforts to revive him have already start :-)

Enjoy one of his great works, the Three Laws of Predictions:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This is so true :-)

It's not easy being an extreme computer gamer


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to ping servers from Firefox Address Bar

Opening a terminal or system prompt to just ping a server can be a time-waster, especially if you already have Firefox opened. Here's a quick tip on how to use Firefox's Address Bar to quickly ping a server:

  • Add a new bookmark with the following information:
    • Name: Whatever you want to name it
    • Location:
    • Keyword: ping
    • Description: Whatever description you want to give it
  • That's it. Now write "ping " + the server address or IP on the Adress Bar and soon you'll get the ping information
Here's an example of what you might see if you write "ping":

Source: Lifehacker

Technology that works too well

This is the first time I hear about something that is going to be shut down because it works too well. The story is simple: In Dallas, the second largest city in the US state of Texas, the City Hall has decided to put up some cameras to capture images of drivers that would go though the red lights. The setup and maintenance of such system was quite expensive but the City Hall officials' idea was to fund the project with the fines that would be payed by drivers that were caught.

However, since the cameras work so well, every infraction was caught and soon drivers were no longer going through red lights, which in turn, undermined the funding of the project. So now the City Hall is considering stopping its planned rollout of more cameras, or shutting down the cameras on a rotating basis so as at least catch some infractions that could "save" the system.

The system that is meant to stop crime needs people to actually perform the infraction. Ironic, isn't it?

Source: Engadget

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How to convert HTML to PDF

If you ever need to convert a whole webpage or a piece of HTML into a PDF, here's your solution: htm2pdf. HTM2PDF is an online service that allows you to convert a webpage (by providing a valid URL) or some HTML code (by using the built-in editor) into a PDF document.

Using Windows sounds to make a music

There are a lot of things that you can do if you have some free time. And then, there are some things that you can do if you really have a LOT of free time. Like this:

Source: Digg

Geek's Last Supper

This is what you get when geek fans also like Da Vinci's paintings:

Star Wars (source):

House (source):

Battlestar Galactica (source):

Friday, March 07, 2008

Chess Table for 3 players??

If you think Chess is challenging, then what do you think of this?

In case you're wondering how a Chess match is played on a table like this, check out the rules here.

What if you asked a 3-year old to explain Star Wars?

Source: Winkk

ATM + Microsoft Windows = Security Problem

I already suspected that using Windows on an ATM machine was not a good idea. But recent security tests proved that Windows-based cash machines are easily hacked.

Security experts have hacked ATMs to show how easy it is to steal money and bank account details from modern cash machines.

Network Box illustrated this threat by showing that only the personal identification number was encrypted when information was sent from a U.S. ATM to networked bank computers. The card numbers, card expiration dates, transaction amounts, and account balances were clearly readable in plain text to anybody intercepting the data as it traveled through the network.

Since ATM Machines are basically equivalent to desktop PCs (they usually are based on Intel hardware and Windows operating systems), they have the same vulnerabilities as a normal house computer. That is, an exploit that works on a home or office computer, will also work on these ATMs. In fact, the risk may even be greater as the update process of such machines may not be as frequent as in a normal user's computer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Don't throw away your broken gadgets

Remember when I posted about using your broken iPods to earn some money? All you had to do was sell your broken iPod to the guys at Since they make use of the individual internal components, even if your iPod had a broken screen, it still would be worth some money. Basically they're able to make money by taking the working parts from some devices and using them to fix others.

Well, it seems that business is going well for them and now they've expanded their business from iPods to other broken and used electronics. They accept over 1000 gadgets, including cellphones, multimedia players (like the Zune) and gaming consoles (from Nintendo Wii to the original Playstation).

Since they no longer accept only iPods, a change in the name (and URL) was needed. The new website is at So, go look for that old cellphone or MP3 player because it may still worth some good bucks.

Image Source: cult of mac

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dear Windows, it's over

This has got to be the most genius goodbye letter anybody has ever written to an operating system :-) Ubuntu's fans are going to love it.

Retro-blogging: best posts of March 2007

Previously on the Tech In Me: