Welcome to our Computers page, with articles on computer hardware and software, networking, programming, digital music technology, and more.
There’s a dirty little secret in programming: generating truly random numbers is tough. When are random numbers really random?
Nearly everybody plays a computer game such as Solitaire from time to time. Have you ever had this deja vu feeling you’ve played this same game before? Did that initial “deal” look unsettlingly familiar?
Have you ever yelled at a computer game, “who shuffled this?”
My irritation with this led to remembering all the nasty little complications we’ll “overview” in this article.
There’s a reason for “bad shuffles.” To make each game unique, computers depend on random numbers.
If you don’t play computer games, you still probably realize security passwords are also just random numbers and letters. There’s a more serious side to this discussion. Random numbers are essential to secure password generation, encryption, and even national security.
The core idea to a series of random numbers is unpredictability. Knowing what one number is, should give us no clue what the next number will be.
I read a proposal today that essentially suggests taking expensive patent trials (a la Apple-Samsung) out of the jury system, putting these disputes into the loving hands of an “expert tribunal” instead.
Readers are free to check their own resources and form their own conclusions. Below is my own comment, which I posted to GigaOM.com today. It is still in the moderation queue – a necessary evil these days – but I felt it worth repeating.
I think the proposal to replace juries with a tribunal of experts in patent disputes is more dangerous than the ills it proposes to remedy. (1) the patent system is itself a legal process, and to exclude plaintiffs from due process would be wrong. (2) Empaneling a jury free of bias and susceptibility to being swayed is the job of the trial attorneys; (3) ”Experts” can be biased too, but there is no appeal from that, and (4) a panel of programmers would look at the code, determine that different subroutines and methods had been called, and conclude that therefore it is impossible that a look and feel issue could have been copied.”
– Alex Forbes
Litigation over who can own and patent design concepts, even when centuries old, is completely out of control.
It’s instructive to glance at a quick Google search for “slide lock patent” — you’ll get over 4 million hits.
Almost every “object” in our modern software graphic user interfaces has an exact analog in the old-fashioned mechanical world of cabinets, drawers, handles, pulls, latches, catches, files, folders, desktops, and locks.
From today’s SlashDot:
“In a move that is likely to have wide-ranging implications for patent rulings around the world, a High Court Judge in the UK has ruled that HTC did not infringe on a number if Apple’s patents. ‘He said Apple’s slide-to-unlock feature was an “obvious” development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset.’ Two other patents that Apple had claimed were infringed were ruled invalid, while a third was found not to apply to HTC. A statement from the Taiwanese firm said: ‘HTC is pleased with the ruling, which provides further confirmation that Apple’s claims against HTC are without merit. We remain disappointed that Apple continues to favour competition in the courtroom over competition in the marketplace.’ Apple declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Instead it re-issued an earlier statement, saying: ‘We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.’”
I’m not taking sides here, partly because Asia is notorious for disrespecting American software copyrights and patents. Mostly, on a deeper level, something is horribly out of control across both oceans. We’re all trying to patent drawer pull analogs and the “look and feel” of natural woodgrain laminates.
The evolution of the software slide lock has been long in coming. Its design purpose was to provide a protective control someplace in between completely open access and a compete userid/password lockdown. The idea is to prevent the user from accidentally triggering an action or changing a setting they didn’t intend to, without being overly intrusive.
- DOS and Linux users will remember the ubiquitous command-line question “Are you sure (Y/N)?”
- Mac and Windows users will remember the old two-button “dialog boxes” that used to pop up, asking us, “You are about to permanently change your Administrator Password,” presenting the iconic “OK” and Cancel buttons.
- Since Snow Leopard or somewhat before, Apple had adopted a graphic symbol of a tiny padlock. You had to click that symbol before you could change a user setting or preference. You could click the symbol again to re-lock.
- Currently I see the new “slide locks”in the Apple Store, and on my iPad. Its larger size facilitates “gesture” inputs on touch-screens. The requirement that we intentionally slide a slider to unlock, further safeguards against unintentional unlocks on either smart devices or older Mac and PC mouse-click technologies.
There are many ways to write a better or faster algorithm, app or entire operating system. I strongly support copyrights and patents for original software code. I’ll grant there are few things more discouraging than writing a snazzy new software slide lock, only to see it go viral a few months later. We also saw these same issues back in the 1950′s as car manufacturers shamelessly copied styles from others, but we never saw Buick suing Lincoln or Packard because of the occasional, more-than-passing resemblances of their chromed front grilles.
Making litigation even more fractious is the fact that patent systems differ worldwide. The same infringement lawsuits must often be filed in China, Holland, the UK, Belgium, and the USA.
I suspect a solution will need an international consortium of legal and industrial cooperation. It may require complete removal of protection for purely cosmetic enhancements which intentionally mimic older mechanical hardware analogs. Or, it may evolve a new limited-term patent category for intangible puffery, say, for one year. That would allow some design exclusivity without stymieing creative design.
Let’s think one last time about the cabinet and furniture hardware industry. For “pulls” – handles to open drawers, cabinet doors and the like – we can think of the hundreds and hundreds of available designs we’ve seen. Chromed. Brass. Round. Square Ornate old English, Scandinavian minimalist, and on and on. The older we are, the more designs we can remember. And then there are the matching hinges – concealed, ornate, heavy-duty, and so forth. How far should laws allow the patent system to go?
The basic design process was all the same: start with a mechanical drawing or wax sculpture. Make a die or investment casting. Stamp or cast them out by the hundreds of thousands, in catalogs featuring thousands of different designs. If we’d opened all those designs up to the patent and litigation process, would we ever have made it into the 21st century? Whether fabricated by investment casting or software subroutines, They’re all just handles, latches, pulls, and locks.
We need to clean up our byzantine, gone-amok legal systems that determine what can be patented, not to mention freeing up choked worldwide legal systems which really should be deploying their resources on much more pressing concerns.
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As you can see, most of these bogus posts aren’t even scripted in the United States. They are inanely and generically friendly without saying anything about the article to which they might appear to be responding. That’s because they’re mass-mailed to blog-land, and linked to sleazy websites, some porno, some for trash products and services. If you click one, someone gets paid a fraction of a rupee or a yuan. It’s all a parasitical numbers game, fleas on the back of the great lumbering internet.
They also appear to be able to defeat or otherwise circumvent CAPTCHA, but I have a couple of other mechanisms that ensure they never get posted. I delete them periodically like a gardener pulling weeds.
This is for Mac people who want to play those .wmv files we receive … I’m mostly on a Mac platform now, so I didn’t have a way to view Microsoft .wmv movie files on my Mac. Apple uses QuickTime. I had to port the movie over to my PC.
There is a $29 conversion utility by Flip4Mac for Mac QuickTime, but I never edit movie files. I found a free player-only version at Microsoft (embedded below), and it worked seamlessly for me. (Reboot your Mac after installation):
We keep seeing articles about the new proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. I’ve long been opposed on principle to copyright piracy. As an author, webmaster and occasional utility software programmer, I have no sympathy for content pirates of any age or motivation. I agree that software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft are a serious worldwide problem. On the other hand, previous industry efforts to combat piracy have been anally self-serving at the expense of end users. They penalized legitimate consumers and distributors,. They were flagrantly draconian. So, now that Congress is trying to get into the act again, I finally decided to read up on SOPA.
This bill would allow copyright holders or the U.S. Justice Department to seek a court order which goes against internet providers (instead of just against individual offenders) when websites are accused of “enabling” copyright violations or counterfeited goods.
The bill does require a court order before enforcement of its provisions. But by all accounts the bill is poorly written and vaguely worded. So it should not be too hard to find sympathetic judges to issue those orders based on personal interpretations of loosely worded law.
One of my questions was: what would prevent copyright holders from seeking redress now? The Millennium Digital Copyright Act currently allows copyright holders to ask internet providers to take down specific content that’s in obvious violation of copyright law. In fairness, many providers view this as infringement of First Amendment rights, or an impossibly onerous burden of policing and adjudication, or both. Most would not be expected to be too cooperative with efforts to involve them in efforts to censor their subscribers’ content in any way. And they have a point. This kind of censorship, so prevalent in the far east and parts of the middle east, is used to strengthen totalitarian regimes and neutralize or eliminate dissent. It appears SOPA would partially dismantle protections for websites that act in good faith.
We should not miss noticing this is just a new example of one segment of our “free enterprise system” trying to legally ensnare another segment into doing its bidding.
SOPA advocates claim the bill is not aimed at sites like YouTube which host all manner of content (usually excerpted snippets) uploaded by the public. But, SOPA does not appear to have any protections that would prevent action against a site on the YouTube model if a plaintiff felt like it.
So it is strange indeed that the SOPA bill was introduced by Lamar S. Smith, Republican U.S. Representative from Texas. Smith’s own website prominently banners his aim of “lifting the burden of regulations that is strangling small businesses.”
The “counterfeited goods” provision is also interesting. It has nothing to do with online piracy as the public understands it; it has to do with the intellectual property of the pharmaceutical industry (drug patents), such as Pfizer, which is involved in committee hearings. SOPA could completely block U.S. citizens from gaining online access to Canadian and other international pharmaceutical sites. It is currently already illegal to ship prescription drugs from outside the U.S. whether or not a legitimate doctor’s prescription is supplied. SOPA could prevent you from even viewing those sites:
SOPA would allow judges to order internet service providers to block access to certain websites to customers located in the United States by checking those customers’ IP address, a method known as IP blocking. There have been concerns that such an order would require those providers to engage in “deep packet inspection”, which involves analyzing all of the content being transmitted to and from the user, and which could lead to an invasion of those customers’ privacy. — Wikipedia
When Congress placed new restrictions on fees banks could charge retailers for debit card usage, a Bank of America spokesman howled this was “unwarranted interference” with the bank’s ability to conduct its business. BofA then announced its intent to impose a $5 monthly “swipe fee” on its customers, but backed in face of a howl of public protest and boycotts.
The Republican Party, the party of favor for corporations and big business, has long charged moderates and liberals with exactly this kind of “unwarranted interference,” going so far as to claim Big Government is destroying America. Yet, where their own business and lobbying interests are concerned, conservatives and their sponsoring corporations are capable of being even more interventionist than their more moderate political opponents. SOPA isn’t just bad law. SOPA doesn’t actually accomplish what it claims to do. What it instead accomplishes is disturbing. It’s a stealth attack on freedom – a very dangerous thing for business, the country, and informed citizens of any political persuasion.
Outlook cannot find the server. Verify the server information is entered correctly in the Account Settings, and that your DNS settings in the Network pane of System Preferences are correct. Error Code -3176”
In researching this error I noted quite a bit of chatter from other Office for Mac users. Microsoft’s own support page for this issue was unhelpful. Google’s Help forum listed a similar issue but my problem was with my POP accounts, not with Google’s IMAP account. Solutions seemed in short supply. I had this problem on my MacBook Pro running Lion 10.7.2 – but not on my Mac Pro desktop with the same app, OS and settings.
Microsoft suggests checking to see you have an internet connection. If you are reading their web support page, they helpfully point out that you already do. They suggest checking your DNS setting in Networking, and rechecking your server and port settings in Outlook “Accounts.” All of mine were correct and agreed 100% with the Outlook for Mac 2011 settings on my Mac Pro.
My Apple MAIL works fine with the same settings. My settings also worked fine for years under Office 2007 and Windows 7.
Remember, this is Microsoft, not Apple. Others had tried all this without getting any closer to the problem.
I resolved my issue with what I call the “Dave Anguay Method.” Dave taught me this trick many years ago. He was setting up new networked workplace printers on our corporate PC laptops on a Windows server. If you can’t get the setting to work, don’t waste time asking your Administrator to “fix” it. Delete the bad account or connection, and re-add it.
I deleted my 3 inoperative POP mail accounts and re-added them manually. Everything works fine. Thanks again, Dave.
Evernote is “a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving.” The corporation is described as a “Creator of a multi platform note taking application for mobile devices. The site include product information, a company blog, and support services.”
I am a great note–taker: to-do notes, checklists, reminders, dashed-out thoughts and drafts for that Great American Novel. As I use different machines for different locations and tasks, finding where I put that note is not always that easy. Yes, I do file syncs, but not every day. I also use (and thoroughly recommend) the indispensable Dropbox for Cloud file syncs across multiple devices and locations.
But I’ve wanted to get away from that text file syndrome for a long time. Individual text file notes are under-the-hood equivalents of Post-It Notes on the refrigerator. Notepads and note organizers have long been a dime a dozen. I even wrote a crude one in C once. Apps come and go so fast I went back to huge folders of text files back in the 1990′s.
I hope Evernote sticks around. I found it by accident in the Apple App Store, while looking for something compatible with the Notes app that comes on the iPad. I found Evernote instead, which is much, much more robust. It’s available for Mac, PC and mobile devices: iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and DROID. I now have it on all my computers. Best of all, they all talk to one another via the Cloud. No more file syncs, no more lost notes. This isn’t a full review, but …
As I wrote a nephew,
This app is VERY cool. Free. Check it out!
I have it installed on iMac, Mac, PC, and iPad. Everything autosyncs on their private Cloud. You can also access your notes on a secure web page. No more file transfers. Notes, pictures, even audio I think. Creditable text editor. Reminders, lists, Great American Novel. Not recommended for bank and credit account numbers Organize by multiple Notebooks.
And I hope you’ll check it out too. Below is a screen shot of my app (Grabbed on the iMac) with my starter set of my own notes. A place for everything at last, and everything in its place. You can subcategorize your notes by Notebooks, and you can create as many of then as you want. You can access the same notes in the same format anywhere on any machine or platform, and you can also access your notes on the Web. You can export backups of your notebooks to the local hard drive.
Users are even assigned a free individual email address which will post directly to your free Evernote account. And so you will still find it on any one of your Evernote machine or device installations next time you open Evernote. Not bad for a free app. This app (and the services behind it) are certainly worth a bona fide retail price. I can’t even find where I might send a PayPal donation. I think the implementation of this idea is pure genius. Cheers!
I ordered my own iPad2 on Wednesday October 5. I only found out later in the day that Steve Jobs had just died.
We’ve all had a chance to review his life on TV newscasts, TV specials, online articles and analyses, and tributes. The number of tributes exceeded anything I hoped for or expected. Even at news sources I normally distrust, coverage was positive yet balanced and told a remarkable story that will be retold many more times in coming decades. I think iPad2 turned out to be a brilliantly fitting way to launch the post-Jobs era. It embodies all the design elegance, under-the-hood power and user-friendly simplicity he devoted his life to.
Too few of us read and enjoy The New Yorker perhaps, but as one dedicated fan of that magazine, I can recommend their October 17, 2011 online article “How Steve Jobs Changed,” by James Surowiecki. Surowiecki is an accomplished writer and financial analyst who writes the magazine’s The Financial Page. Read Surowiecki article
But this post is about my first impressions of my iPad, even though its rationale is for me closely connected to reading my weekly The New Yorker on iPad and, eventually, all my other periodicals.
I was introduced to my first hands-on iPad experience by a friend whose eyesight issues may be worse than my own. He bought iPad to help rectify that. I find myself limiting reading sessions with print periodicals, either because of poor-quality newsprint, or lighting and glare issues with high-quality glossy magazine pages such as are mailed to me by The New Yorker and National Geographic. My friend says he can’t read a regular newspaper at all any more. I get all my in-depth news online, and for free, at sources such as BBC, Huffington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, PolitiFact and MarketWatch.
I’m fine with reading news on computer flat-screen panels. But I never cared for being chained to a computer chair to read books or magazines at length. I’ve already started downloading my The New Yorker issues to iPad, and find them eminently easier to read and navigate than those paper editions. This is a vast improvement over early industry efforts to find a suitable ebook format for periodicals.
I ordered the basic 16GB Wi-Fi model iPad. I don’t have 3G on my Verizon account and I’m unwilling to pay the monthly charges for it. 3G is great for iPhone, perhaps, and for people always on the go. Even if 3G was free, my lifestyle is such that I’d seldom be in a location where I’d have any need for it. Obviously, if you are “mobile” – move around a lot away from home and take your devices with you – the Wi-Fi + 3G model would be best for you. Continue reading
In my Wednesday October 5th memorial article I said a few words for Steve Jobs:
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought personal computing out of the science labs and back offices and into average American homes in the 1970′s. The Macintosh, a brilliant synergy of great hardware and a user-friendly software interface, created a sea change in home computing which still raises our expectations today.
As I predicted in that article, only days after the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, even hardball political commentary broadcasts like Inside Washington were rediscovering how many ways Steve Jobs will continue to influence how we conduct our daily lives. One commentator said that people who used to read real newspapers and real magazines now read the online edition on their iPad. I’d like to take that a step further and say I know people who never used to read real newspapers or real magazines, who’ve started devouring serious professional news resources on their laptops and iPads.
It really doesn’t matter if one does or doesn’t “like” Apple. Some of us have a contrarian distrust of anything that becomes too iconic, too popular, or attracts anything that smells like a cult. Some people may feel all the credit given to Jobs somehow diminishes the real innovations of the many others in other competitive industries. And of course most homes, and the entire business community, still run on the Windows platform. Continue reading