Monday, November 30, 2009

Anti-Social Networking - Part 2

In the previous time I wrote about this topic, the main issue was people using social networks and how little they really know about their "friends". This time I want to argue something a bit more extreme: people are knowingly becoming more distant when choosing such network as a way of communication, rather than becoming closer.

I'll explain.

In my last birthday I was a little insulted by friends not calling to wish me a happy birthday. It's not that such people are not my friends anymore, it's just that they offloaded some of their knowledge about their friends to some on-line database, so it's a little bit easier on their heads. The same thing happened when we stopped memorizing phone numbers of our dearest, simply because it is stored on a SIM card, and it's easier that way. The problem here was that only people which are members at the same database (e.g facebook) could one keep information about. So people forget birthday dates.

I thought "oh, OK, I don't have a facebook account, so people forget about me". Just this week I considered opening an account, and the strangest thing happened: a friend who's active on facebook had a birthday and told me how insulted he was that most of his friends didn't bother calling him and wish him a happy birthday. It's not that they forget, It's just that they preferred leaving him a short message on facebook: "happy birthday". Being easier than sending an SMS message, leaving a message on facebook seems to be even more insulting.

So instead of enriching this friend's social life, he feels facebook has degraded those. His main dilemma right after seeing all those messages was whether to reply to each and every one, or not. And what to do with those written on the wall?

Is this the case for everybody on social networks? I don't know.
Is there a reason people leave such messages and don't do real social activity (such as calling)? I believe that yes, there is. It is faster, cheaper and doesn't require any human interaction.

I'm still pessimistic thing will get any better before they'll get worse.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

ChromeOS first impression

Since this is the hot topic of the day, and I too was curious about this OS, I decided to give it a shot.
So I downloaded that torrent that everyone seems to download, and attached the virtual disk to a VM under VirtualBox.

My feelings about this OS are mixed. It seems to accomplish its main goal: an OS which is capable of running a browser, and nothing but the browser. The browser is good (Chrome), and renders sites with flash and other complexities correctly. But Hebrew isn't rendered well, or even not at all. This would become a major drawback if I want to further test it, because I read mail and RSS feeds in Hebrew, and without those, the OS isn't useful at all.

The jail-ing mechanism of the OS works as expected. Although I did only a very short test, it seems to be impossible to break the jail. This is great in terms of security. But then again, if I had root access to the OS, I could've installed Hebrew support...
My bet is that soon more security researchers will dig for Chrome (the browser) bugs, and utilize it to gain local access (for whatever it's worth, as the OS isn't intended to run from a HDD).

While I agree that some netbooks users are using netbooks purely for browsing the web, I don't think Google has any advantage over the competitors. It is possible to create a stripped down disto of Linux that does just that (hey, that's what ChromeOS is all about), and I bet someone at Microsoft is playing with creating a stripped down version of Windows that does exactly the same. Boot time in both cases can be reduced considerably, and a security jail can be created as well. The advantage of such solution will be the support for a wider range of hardware and maybe even local storage, should it be necessary.

Finally, with the iPhone OS, maemo, Android, ChromeOS and the other new OSes from the past 3 years, it seems we're entering the age of ad-hoc OSes. I wonder how good the communication between those will be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Using Wubi without torrent

Wubi is a great way to test Linux (any Ubuntu variant) without having to mess with partitioning the disk or changing the boot loader. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to take the first steps into Linux, and afraid to jump to the deep water.

Other than that, Wubi is also perfect for people who cannot repartition their HDD for whatever reason it may be. Also, since it adds an entry to the "add/remove programs" control panel, it is easy to get rid of the installation if one finds it disappointing or want to proceed to the next level of installing Linux on a real partition.

When using Wubi, the installer will attempt to download the installation media using the bittorrent protocol. This might be a problem if you're using a network which doesn't allow torrents to be downloaded. This is the case with some corporate networks and with ISPs that block torrent traffic. In these cases, it is still possible to use Wubi, without having to download a torrent.

To do this, one needs to download the Ubuntu (again, any variant would do) installation media, or rip it from a CD/DVD, and have the ISO file in the same folder as the Wubi executable. Now, when running Wubi, it would recognize the ISO file, and skip the download all together. Since it is possible to download or rip the ISO without the bittorrent protocol, the problem is solved.

Enjoy your new Linux installation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Media Streaming

As I might have mentioned before, I'm the proud owner of a PopcornHour A110. Having such a device in the living room reminds me of the excitement of the first portable MP3 player I had.

Besides the awesomeness of being able to stream everything to my TV, it is possible to configure the A110 to do other cool stuff. Here's a list of my recommendation:

1. Using the Community Software Installer for NMT, it is possible to install additional software on the A110. Since the OS is NMT (which is Unix-like) and it runs a PHP-enabled web server, almost everyone can write additional software for the A110. I recommend adding a SSH-server and the transmission bittorrent client. The torrent client can be managed remotely via port 9091. This means that once these services are installed, the A110 becomes a full fledged downloading machine, and not just a mere streamer.

2. Using a media jukebox software, such as YAMJ, gives the second power-boost to the device. It adds amazingly looking menus with movie posters, plot summaries and other information. Also, if configured correctly, it'll pull Hebrew subtitles automatically (!!!), which is a great bonus.

3. The A110 has a service which makes it a UPnP server. This means it can stream media to other devices at home, such as a gaming console or a laptop. So the streaming works both ways.

The setup in my house didn't give me the option of having an Ethernet cable between my router (which is in a different room, along with the PC) and the A110. Drilling or passing thru tunnels in the walls wasn't an option either. Since using the Wifi dongle isn't very much recommended, I decided to put a 802.11n access point in the living room. This tiny device does a great job, even when streaming HD content, and the A110 believes it is connected to a wired network, which is easier to manage. Initial configuration of the AP was a little annoying, though.

Should any of the reader be interested in further information of my setup, I'll be glad to share it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

OS updates

This weekend I finally found the time to upgrade one of my Ubuntu machines to 9.10. The upgrade went perfectly well, and the system indeed seem to boot way faster. Also, the enhanced look is great. Finally, this is the first release not giving me hard time with the 64bit flash player and Firefox. This means that sound can be played back simultaneously inside the browser and by external app without any issues.

Edit: while writing this post I noticed that the new version is way faster when it comes to filesystems and opening files. My pictures on an NTFS partition load considerably faster.

Windows 7
Things with 64bit Windows 7 are a little less stable. My HP DeskJet driver completely crashes the printer spooler whenever printed to. Disabling the spooler causes the entire desktop (explorer) to crash (!!!).
So to avoid replacing my printer just to use Windows, I thought I should give a shot to "XP Mode". Surprsingly - it worked. The funny thing is the "XP Mode" installation screen, which includes a funny typo (see below). For the English speakers, it says "The installation program will reduce Windows XP mode on your computer". Well, typos happen. Even for those with gigantic QA departments...