Computer Troubles

Written by rob on May 30, 2006 – 9:58 pm -

I am currently in the process of building a new computer. The process, however, has been replete with many issues. From the second I started, things were not right. Once I finally finished building it and went to turn it on, the computer shut off almost immediately after turning on. I eventually sort of fixed that, and the computer remained on; however, nothing appeared on the monitor. A lot of troubleshooting and hours later, I replaced the power supply. That seemed to be the root of most of the issues, as the computer now went on with no fiddling and stayed on. Also, the motherboard logo displayed on the screen, so I got excited.

However, the motherboard logo that is now embedded into my dreams is about all the computer does. Once it shows that, it just freezes there and does nothing more. And that is the current status. I have messed with almost every component, but to no avail. It is seriously looking like a bad motherboard. Having a bad Power supply and bad motherboard in the same order, especially from a reputable company (NewEgg.com), is rare. In fact, it is just plain bad luck to get two bad components. I am currently waiting for a response from their tech support for RMA info.  They are supposed to have good support, but its been three days without a response (I guess I won’t be hard on them… it was a holiday weekend). I just hope there aren’t ridiculous restocking fees or shipping charges…

Yeah, well that is the reason why I haven’t posted anything new on the site lately. I really have a couple things planned, but right now I’m just focusing on getting my new computer up and running.


Posted in General Stuff | 2 Comments »

Howto: Secure a Web Browser over WiFi

Written by rob on May 22, 2006 – 11:12 pm -

The following link points to a simple and easy-to-follow guide on how to secure your web browsing experience over WiFi, using SSH encrypted tunnels. Keep in mind that whenever you use your laptop computer to connect to a WiFi network that you don’t own (Starbucks, McDonald’s, random unprotected access point, etc.), there is a possibility that someone on the network is running a network sniffer. Doing something as simple as opening your e-mail client can give them access to your passwords (POP3 has always been notorious for sending plain text passwords over a network).

While you may be thinking your e-mail password isn’t that important, think of how many private e-mails you receive, or how many times you type your credit card number online. While it is a bad idea to be shopping online via an untrusted Wireless hotspot in any situation, the following guide makes it a LOT safer, to the point where the most skilled network crackers won’t be able to get your data.

Click here to read the full guide. The guide is geared towards Windows users running Firefox and GAIM. The technique used will also work for Internet Explorer and regular AOL Instant Messenger. In the comments section, someone describes how to do the same thing on Mac OSX or Linux.

Do yourself a favor and keep this guide in mind any time you have to make a last-minute online purchase while using an untrusted access point (when I’m down the shore, I use an unprotected hotspot to trade stocks. While E*Trade has the standard web RC4 encryption which has never actually been broken, cracking into my e-mail would pretty much lead an attacker to discover the answers to my Forgotten password question, and then let them reset my password and retrieve it since they have access to the e-mail. I will be using this from now on!)


Posted in Howto's, Tech | Comments Off

Apple Announced MacBook; Skype offers Free SkypeOut

Written by rob on May 16, 2006 – 3:36 pm -

Apple announced the MacBook Pro a few weeks back, as the Intel replacement for their Powerbook product. Their iBook line of laptops, however, went unupgraded… until now. Today, Apple showed off the new MacBook. MacMinute summarizes its features:

Apple today unveiled the newly designed MacBook with a new 13-inch glossy widescreen display, which the company says is up to five times faster than the iBook and up to four times faster than the 12-inch PowerBook. Together with the 15-and 17-inch MacBook Pros, the new MacBook completes Apple’s Intel-based portables lineup and replaces both the iBook and the 12-inch PowerBook. Apple’s entire portables lineup now offers Intel Core Duo processors; a built-in iSight video camera for video conferencing on-the-go; its Front Row media experience with Apple Remote; and several advanced features including DVI with dual display support, optical digital audio input and output, Gigabit Ethernet, Sudden Motion Sensor, Scrolling TrackPad and MagSafe Power Adapter. Pricing starts at US$1,099.

I am extremely excited about this. Not all of us can afford a MacBook Pro, but, more importantly, not all of us want a MacBook Pro. I use my 700mhz iBook G3 very happily, with no complaints whatsoever. The only reason I want to upgrade, however, is because the ability to tri boot Windows, Linux and Mac OS X natively would be unbelievable. There are some applications that only run on Windows, and Virtual PC (the PC version is fine, but the one for Mac is horrendous) just doesn’t cut it. I would love the ability to use Parallels to quickly switch for simple tasks, or just to reboot into Windows or Linux for some dedicated tasks that they perform better (Windows for games, and many proprietary apps; Linux for war driving and general programming).

Also announced today was the increase of MacBook Pro speeds to make the gap between them and the new MacBooks enough to warrant the extra money. MacMinute covers this as well:

Apple today also increased processor speeds on both models of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The $2,499 model now includes a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, up from 2.0 GHz, and the $1,999 model now includes a 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, up from 1.83 GHz. Beginning today, the MacBook Pro also offers the new glossy widescreen display as a CTO option on both the 15-and 17-inch models at no additional cost.

This was to be expected, given the introduction of a lower end that may attract the attention of would-be MacBook Pro purchasers. The news that was not present, however, that many rumor sites expected, was new iPod Nanos. In the same way the upgraded MacBook Pros will create a bigger gap between the low and high ends, justifying the huge price difference, larger iPod Nanos need to be introduced to lessen the gap between the iPod Video and Nano lines. They are 26GB apart, yet only with a $50 difference. That obviously is bad for the Nano line, as most people just spend the extra fifty for the much larger capacity.

In completely separate news, Skype announced yesterday that their SkypeOut service would now be provided for free for U.S. and Canada calls until the end of the year. While not many people understand why it will be ending at the end of the year, it doesn’t change the fact that it is an unbelievable thing! For those readers who aren’t aware, Skype is the leading provider of Voice over IP (VoIP); that is, transporting telephone voice data over the Internet. Before this recent announcement, you could use Skype to talk to your other friends who had Skype over the Internet. However, now, for free, you can use Skype to call a real telephone. So, if you have a microphone for your computer, you can call someone anywhere in the U.S. or Canada for free! This unmistakable deal is made even better when you consider that Skype is cross-platform. It can work on Windows, Linux, Mac, and also some Mobile platforms. Hopefully Skype will decide to extend this service beyond the end of the year, but all we can do now is enjoy it while it lasts. Also, for those interested, there is an article about making your own portable phone for Skype out of an old cordless set.


Posted in Tech | 3 Comments »

PlayStation 3: The Real Deal

Written by rob on May 8, 2006 – 10:31 pm -

The Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California kicked off today. The show floor doesn’t actually open until Wednesday, so the only thing really shaking today was some announcements from a few developers…… and of course the official Sony Press Conference. The wait is over, and the exposé on the future of Playstation is, too. Oh, and the price is in green near the end of the article if that is all you care about.

There will undoubtedly be dozens on articles out tomorrow that will be infinitely more extensive than this, but I just wanted to give a brief look into exactly what was shown off, and cut right into the details that people actually care about. I got all the following info from watching the video feed on IGN Insider’s Livewire, so thanks to them for that. Made me feel like I was really there ;)

Anyway, the demo started off with a lot of boring charts and statistics on PS2 and PSP sales. I guess Sony is really happy about them, and I guess they have the right to be proud. 103 million PS2′s, and 17 million PSP’s as of March 31. They went on to say that there will be PS2 support for years to come, and then reiterated a bunch of PSP stuff we already knew (future firmware updates to add GPS, video camera, etc. updates), but also mentioned something called Memory Stick Boot, which I’m pretty sure is what they use later in the show to boot PS1 games from the memory card, though it may be something entirely different that they didn’t go into detail on. Also, PSP will get a Greatest Hits program, which was inevitable.

Now on to the PS3, what everyone actually wants to hear. It will support 1080p HDTV, despite what so many online articles were rumoring. It will also still support gigabit ethernet, bluetooth, as well as have SD and Memory Stick flash card functionality. Every PS3 will ship with a hard drive, the size of which depends on which model you get (see very bottom of this article for more on the two models). Blah, blah.

Then the tech demos started. There was a couple clips from Gran Turismo 4, except instead of being the PS2 version, it had updated graphics to support high-definition. I thought it looked pretty neat, but hardly anything special. However, then came the real wow!, for me at least. There is this card game that reminded me of Yu-Gi-Oh! that works along with the Eye Toy and actual real cards. In the demo, some cards were placed on a table, and then the digital representations of them appeared in the game, and monsters started to be summoned. It appears as if you move your cards in order to interact with the game. VERY COOL. Then there was just more games… all the same stuff we’ve already seen.

Then it got to the game we actually care about: Metal Gear Solid 4. The following is a quote from GameSpot’s summary of the teaser that is probably better than anything I can come up with:

“It’s in Japanese. Snake is sitting down, he’s still old. “War has changed,” he says. Talk about nanomachines, soldiers getting cut down in the streets by that crazy walking mech. Ther’es a ninja… is it the ninja? His mask looked different. Naomi Hunter. Col. Campbell says “you’re the world’s only hope!” Meryl says that we’re the new Foxhound. Otcan claims the Onus is ours! The ninja is Raiden! Liquid Ocelot! This is rad! Back to Snake, sitting down, smoking, holding a pistol. Oops, he just put it in his mouth! Is he taking the coward’s way out? “This is my final mission.” Gun shot, cut to black. Coming 2007.”

Definitely going to be interesting! I am hoping there will be a nicer view of this teaser tomorrow, as an isolated download that I can hopefully link to. I actually didn’t even get to see the whole thing… my stupid feed died out on me in the middle of it and I missed the second half :( I’d love to see the whole thing in better quality soon.

Then they get on to the actual hardware stuff. Ken Kutaragi and Phil Harrison show up on stage to demonstrate the new controller which looks a lot like the current PS2 controller. The only difference is that the L2/R2 buttons are a little bigger and it has a button right in the middle… kind of like the middle button on the 360 controller. No, actually… exactly like the 360′s button. Anyone want to wager what that button’s going to do? Maybe bring out the dashboard interface from the side of the screen? And then Dylan Jobe, producer of Warhawk (jet plane fighter game) demonstrates the ability of the controller to track motion, which Sony calls “six degress of freedom”, whatever that is supposed to mean. In all reality, it is motion sensoring in the controller, just like Nintendo Wii’s controller. The only thing is that it only really senses tilts in directions, but not actual relative motion. That is, the game will know you went right, but not how far right you went, which is necessary to let you control a 3D sword or whatever. So, it still seems that the Wii will be the only system to get light saber games :(

Then Ken Kutaragi comes out for the big announcement, the one that everyone was waiting for. Pricing and release details, and here is the skinny. The PS3 will have two separate packages (sound familiar?), one with a 20GB hard drive and one with a 60GB drive. The 20GB one will be $499, while the 60GB one will be $599. And it looks like a November 17, 2006 release date for North America. Let’s just say I’m going to reserve mine this weekend.

 

EDIT (05-09-06): News has come in that the $499 and $599 versions are quite different. Aside from the aforementioned hard drive size differences, the $499 will not include Wi-Fi capabilities, the memory card (SD/Memory Stick) reader, or… and this is the big one… HDMI output.

The price is a little higher than I expected, but I am definitely still getting it the first day it comes out. I’m probably going to reserve it this weekend at Toys ‘R Us. I will never reserve at Gamestop considering what they did to all those people that reserved 360′s… and I don’t think anywhere else is even taking reservations yet.

On a very quick side note, Square Enix also had their conference today, and they announced a few notable things. There will be three new games coming out under the title of Final Fantasy XIII (yeah, I know… they’re getting carried away with this stuff). There will be a prequel RPG for cell phones. Then there will be the main FF13 RPG for PS3, in addition to an action game for PS3 called FF Versus 13. They also confirmed Final Fantasy III for Gameboy Advance, which was pretty much a known fact now anyway. Also there will be a game called Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the PSP. It will be interesting to see how that news shakes out.

All in all, it was an interesting day with a lot of cool stuff. I look forward to seeing the whole MGS4 teaser video downloadable tomorrow, as well as the Nintendo Wii news!


Posted in Gaming | 1 Comment »

A Look Into the Future: Apple > Microsoft

Written by rob on May 2, 2006 – 8:06 pm -

I am going to begin by saying I use Microsoft Windows. In fact, I use it as my main operating system on my main computer, and I enjoy it. I have been running it for as long as I can remember, and aside from some issues that were Dell’s fault a few years back, the OS has never failed on me. There are occasional (once a year or so) issues: most recently, my Windows XP user profile became corrupted. My files were all fine, but logging in took five to eight minutes, literally, which was completely unbearable. I followed the tedious, yet working fix on the Microsoft Knowledge Base, and it was soon resolved. I haven’t had a problem since then, which was like six months ago.

Despite my successes with Microsoft Windows, I am well aware that most users are not in my shoes. Not taking proper precautions (like, for example, opening an unknown e-mail attachment or not running anti-virus software) can yield extremely bad results, like your entire computer not booting anymore. It just seems that, generally speaking, Windows is a high maintenance operating system, when it definitely shouldn’t be. Undoubtedly, Windows’s largest user base is home users, who are, on average, not technically proficient enough to assess the authenticity of phished e-mails, etc. That being said, the focus of the operating system should be ease-of-use, above all else, but that is really where it falls short. If you put a person who has never touched a computer in their life in front of a Windows computer with no direction whatsoever, it is extremely likely they will have no idea what to do or how to operate anything, especially transferring pictures from a camera or other day-to-day tasks that are made difficult due to the shortcoming of the Windows operating system.

Simply put, Windows is a flawed operating system compared to its current peers of today. It has not evolved in any large way since Windows 95. I use it because I have no problems with it given my ability to navigate the system, and also because I have to. Being a fan of computer games, I am virtually locked in to Windows. Mac gets games years after they are released on Windows, and Linux only gets certain games from certain developers (namely Unreal Tournament, Quake, etc.).

Now is when I introduce the “other side”. Mac is really Windows’s complement. It is ease-of-use and UI perfection translated into an operating system. The underlying interface paradigms of the operating system make more sense to the average person. More importantly, some things “just work”. Someone once described it to me by saying Macs are smarter than PCs, which I think is true. Plugging in a digital camera launches iPhoto, which, with one click of the mouse, will transfer all the photos to your hard drive. The same functionality could be configured on a Windows PC, but it requires user intervention. And that is the whole point… it shouldn’t have to. Computers aren’t meant to make things difficult, and it just seems like Windows introduces too many hurdles that the average user needs to overcome.

This was just supposed to be a brief comparison, and it is getting a little too verbose for my liking, so I’m just going to dive right into the point of this article.

Apple, now using Intel processors, is getting huge press with the ability to run Windows and Linux on their hardware, previously a difficult proposition. The fact that they use similar hardware to Windows, and the rumors that their next OS update (10.5 Leopard) will be able to run Windows apps, will bridge the gap between platforms. When both Windows and Mac can run the same applications, then what would everyone choose? Whatever interface is better. Apple needs to deal with the fact that they are the only ones making computers that can run Mac (in other words, let OSX install on any x86 platform). What is all comes down to is that Apple is as innovative as always and moving forward.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is just trying to keep up. Beating Apple to the punch, they had a head start, which made them lazy. But much like in the tortoise and the hare tale, you should never take a rest, even when your winning the race. In Microsoft’s case, they can’t stop innovating just because they’re making a lot of money today. Who knows what tomorrow brings? And with Apple growing every day, the tortoise is getting closer and closer to the finish line.

The bottom line is this. Microsoft has a great product, but its once-awesome features are quickly beginning to show their age, and it has usability issues that need to be resolved (see Spyware article for one of the biggest issues Microsoft needs to combat). All the while, Apple develops newer features that keep everything feeling fresh. I use both Windows and Mac on a daily basis, and wouldn’t give up either. The day will come, though, when Windows is no longer my main operating system, and by the looks of things, that is going to be a lot sooner than I had imagined.

I am going to close with links to two articles.

John Gruber, on his blog site, Daring Fireball, rebuts the media’s recent attacks on the security of Mac OS X.

Gartner, over at Reuters.com, theorizes about another possible delay in the Windows Vista operating system.

The themes of these two articles reverberates what I am saying. Microsoft Windows is lagging behind while Apple Mac OS X is keeping its status as fresh and secure while growing quickly.


Posted in Tech | 8 Comments »