hp_logoIt seems the governors of some states in the U.S.A. have been receiving mysterious laptops, and no one is quite sure who is sending them, or what they may contain.

According to Computerworld, West Virginia Governor Joe Mahchin received a mysterious shipment of 5 HP laptops a few weeks ago that no one is quite sure where they came from.  Seeing as the incident was just too odd, his office reported it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and they looked into it.  It seems his office wasn’t the first to get such a shipment, nor was he to be last.

In total, four states received such shipments, and six more were scheduled, but those have since been held up from being delivered.

The belief is that these laptops may be true “trojan horses” with some sort of nasty surprise hidden inside of them to compromise security in the offices of these governors.  Luckily the West Virginia governor’s office had the right mind set to report this and did not attach the suspicious computers to the network.

This is a great object lesson about never trusting any strange computer equipment.  If someone hands you a USB thumb drive, and you aren’t 100% sure what’s on it, don’t use it.  Same with laptops, desktops, PDA devices etc.  Always be careful with unkown computer items.

Categories: News, Security   
 

audiomicroAudioMicro has added 55,000 new sound effects to its already massive catalog of music and sounds, but this new batch has an added edge in that they are all ones you’ve probably heard before.

Up until now AudioMicro has had only a smattering of professional music and sound effects, but with the announcement of a new partnership with The Hollywood Edge sound library, users now have access to over 55,000 sound effects from movies such as Kill Bill, Braveheart and Fast and Furious to name just a few.

These new, professionally created, sounds have the same pricing as any other clip on the site, and they also have the standard royalty-free licensing that all of the other clips on the site have.

In the day and age where videos are getting pulled off of sites like YouTube at an ever increasing rate due to copyright issues, royalty free is the way to go for your music and sound effects.  Who wants to pour all that work in to a video just to have it pulled down over a five second sound of a sword whipping through the air?

Categories: News, Video   
 

google chrome logoAfter years of speculation, it has finally happened: Google is launching its own operating system.

Late last night on the Official Google Blog, the company announced that the Google Chrome name will no longer apply to just its web browser, but to an upcoming operaring system (OS) that will be directed primairly at the netbook computer market.  That isn’t to say that it couldn’t later expand out to other markets, but that is where it is going to begin.

For now the goal of the new OS is run on top of a Linux kernel (i.e. Linux will be like its heart), and that it will be quick to power up and get you going.  It will of course have a heavy emphasis on doing work online as it is made by Google and is built for computers that cater to that activitiy primarily.

Google had a pretty good quote about what exactly they are looking for from this project:

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

The Chrome OS is due to be available as an open source project that anyone can work on by the end of this year, and availability on certain models of low end computers in the later half of 2010.

This is going to be certainly interesting to watch develop, and to see how traditional software companies react.

Categories: Google, News   
 

audiomicroAudioMicro, the leading marketplace for royalty free stock music ad sound effects, has relaunched with a new interface, and a partnership with SlideRocket, a presentation production company.

AudioMicro has completely updated their site with new features such as embeddable tracks that you can share on sites such as MySpace or blogs, new search features and an API that will allow designers to work with their extensive library of royalty free music and sound effects.

The first company to take advantage of the new API is SlideRocket, a site focused on helping you build presentations for school or work.  With the addition of the AudioMicro catalog, you will now have an extensive selection of music and sound effects you can add to your presentation to make the most lasting impression possible.

To help celebrate the launch of their redesigned site, AudioMicro has graciously given StarterTech a treat today: the first 10 readers to sign up for the service using the promotion code “STARTERTECH2” get access to 2 free downloads credits (an $8.99 value).  Just go to the site, click the sign up button and enter the code in the promo code box.

Categories: News   
 

StopThere is stupidity, and then there is STUPIDITY, and the concept that someone could sue you for removing images from your own site surely falls under the latter.

According to TechDirt, a man deleted his website and removed all of his images.  He received an email shortly after this from a man who had been using his images on his own site and he was demanding that the man who had deleted the images put them back up immediately or face legal action.  If you aren’t 100% sure what is hotlinking and what isn’t, here is what I said in a previous post:

…if you embed an image, say on MySpace, that you did not upload yourself to a server, than you are hotlinking that person’s file.  While this may not sound like a big deal, every time that file, usually an image, is displayed somewhere, that uses up a portion of that person’s bandwidth.  As bandwidth is not free, you could potentially be costing that person money by using their image without their permission.

This is considered one of the worst practices on the Internet, but it is something that goes on daily still.  Now, the person who posted the image has the right to do whatever they want with it, and for someone to say they don’t have that right is a whole new level in hotlinking scumminess that I never even dreamed possible.  If you go over to ShapelessMass.com you can see the original emails that were exchanged, and that he did finally convince the indivirual hotlinking him that he would not win in court, and the person finally dropped the whole situation and apologized.

Now, what really amazed me about this whole thing is that the guy who was doing the hotlinking the images said they were important to his business, and he needed those images to help promote himself.  I demonstrated in another post about hotlinking how the practice leaves you with no control over the image.  As I have done on occassions where people hotlinked me, the person who controls the image can replace that image with something completely unrelated, and so long as the files have the same name, the image you use for the replacement will be displayed.  To be blunt, I once changed a picture on my personal website of an Xbox video game system to a picture of a sex toy after a guy in Mexico kept hotlinking me for months.  So whenever someone came in to his auctions they were greeted by this image of a well known sex toy with the words “Wouldn’t you enjoy this more than an Xbox?” written on it.  Childish of me?  Yes.  Considering the amount of bandwidth the man was stealing from me, I didn’t care.

I have seen people try to defend hotlinking as nothing bad, and that it isn’t stealing, but I’m afraid that it actually is.  When I owned my retail store, we had a dumpster out in the back alley that people constantly would throw their garbage in.  One day, after I couldn’t put my trash in it due to other people using it, I put on gloves and dug through it for a name and address so I could yell at someone.  I found a name and called the police to see if there was anything that could be done about it, and they sent an officer over immediately because it turns out there actually IS a problem with it.  I was informed that this qualified as “theft of services”.  The concept is that if you pay for a service, and someone else uses that service without asking your permission, or paying for the right, that they are stealing the service from you.

Guess what, folks… using another person’s bandwidth is stealing a service from them no matter how you slice it.

In short, don’t do it, and if you insist on doing it, don’t yell at the person who owns the image if they should happen to change it!

Thanks to Steven Hodson for pointing this story out to me.

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

Iran flagIf the contested election in Iran has taught us anything it’s that no matter how much any government thinks they may have cut off their people from accessing the outside world, they will always find a way around it.

While there is really not much a technology blog can say about the actual election, we can certainly say it was interesting that even though the country was supposedly blacked out communications wise, all sorts of Internet communication was still getting out.  The most amusing part of the weekend was the constantly circulating list of IP proxy addresses on Twitter that people inside of the country could use to do an end run around the blocking the country was attempting.  (although I will say if the person was already blocked, how would they see the list of proxies?)

While you can never be sure how honest the reports reportedly coming out of the country are, it was still a fascinating look in to technology rising to the occasion of attempting to help a people who belieed they had been wronged.  And kudos to Twitter who had an announced down time for Monday night/Tuesday morning for opting to cancel it to leave the lines of communication open for those who are using their serice during this event.

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

facebook logoDid you remember to get your Facebook vanity URL last night?

In case you missed it, Facebook is finally issuing usernames, something they should have done since day one, but if you weren’t around last night when the flood gates opened, you may have missed out.  According to Bloomberg, user names were being issued at the rate of 550 a second when the race began.

If you haven’t gotten over there yet, it’s still worth a shot, but don’t hold your breath for getting the exact perfect name you may want.  If you do head over to http://www.facebook.com/username/, the site will first suggest some names, some of them rather awkward in my experience, but if you click on the “More” button it will show you some more plus allow you to try to come up with your own.  Luckily I have an odd name, so even though I waited a while to head over there, I still got my name as I wanted it to be.  I wouldn’t give up all hope yet, but I wouldn’t put it off any longer than you need to.

One caveat however before you race to grab your own name, you may want to read Steven Hodson’s excellent piece over at The Inquisitr about why this may end up benefiting Facebook more than any one else.

Categories: Facebook, News   
 

WordPress, the software that powers the vast majority of blogs in the world, has released version 2.8 of its software.

While we don’t normally cover WordPress updates here, this one was a bit different for us as it was the first time we could use the automatic upgrade that they built in to version 2.7.  I have personally been using the software since around version 1.5 or so, and I have always dreaded upgrade time because it was tedious and nerve racking to do it by hand.  It was never a good time and one I would put off as long as possible.

Well, it was do or die time with the new version, so I clicked on the banner at the top of my blog admin section that took me to the update section, told it to go ahead and start, and… that’s it?  It was over so fast that I was shocked.  It was painless, fast and over before I could even blink.  This of course doesn’t mean it would always be painless, but boy was this ever a lot more pleasant.

Categories: Blogging, News   
 

Web 2.0It seems some people believe that the term/word “Web 2.0″ is the one millionth word to enter the English language.

The Global Language Monitor has used a method of their own devising to monitor the usage of a word.  According to them Web 2.0 has officially, at least by their standards, become the one millionth word in the English language.  However, according to Reuters, Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has called the entire thing “nonsense”, and I have to say I agree with him.

The definition that the Global Language Monitor gave to the term is:

The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you.

Well, seeing as most people in the tech field feel that Web 2.0 is over and is trying to figure out the next generation already, I would say the “coming soon” part is definitely incorrect.  Web 2.0 was indeed a time period in the development of the Internet, but it has already ended and we are on to things such as “the real-time web”, Web 3.0, the semantic Web and so on.

According to the same Reuters story, other linguists think this was a publicity stunt, and I would have to say I agree again.  This made a nice “hip” headline, but it is disingenuous at best.  So I hope the term enjoyed its day in the spotlight, but it will be forgotten by tomorrow.

Categories: News   
 

facebook logoFinally, I will no longer be known as http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502499893

In a move that ultra-popular social network Facebook has needed to do since day one, they will be introducing “vanity URLs” at the end of this week.  If you go to http://www.facebook.com/username/ you will see a countdown clock for your local time as to when you will finally be able to choose to choose a username for the service so the address for your profile will look like http://www.facebook.com/yourname.

Up until now you have had an address that was impossible to tell to someone you met at a meeting, in a bar, a professional event or basically anywhere else.  It also was not exactly the most appealing thing to have printed on your business card.  Why they didn’t go this route originally is a mystery, but at least they are correcting their mistake now.

The only flaw with this entire plan is the land rush mentality it is going to inspire.  People are going to have to race to grab their own names when the timer counts down to zero.  If your name is ‘John Smith’, I wouldn’t hold your breath on getting your own name as your URL, but if your name is something more Englebert Humperdink, I would say your odds are a bit higher…

Categories: Facebook, News   
 
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