Combs Spouts Off

"It's my opinion and it's very true."

Posts Tagged ‘computers’

Password humor

Posted by Richard on March 11, 2017

From this /. thread (much of which is worth reading), with a couple of errors in the original corrected:

WINDOWS: Please enter your new password.
USER: cabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must be more than 8 characters.
USER: boiledcabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must contain 1 numerical character.
USER: 1 boiledcabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot have blank spaces.
USER: 50fuckingboiledcabbages
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must contain at least one upper case character.
USER: 50FUCKINGboiledcabbages
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot use more than one upper case character consecutively.
USER: 50FuckingBoiledCabbagesShovedUpYourAssIfYouDon’tGiveMeAccessNow!
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot contain punctuation.
USER: ReallyPissedOff50FuckingBoiledCabbagesShovedUpYourAssIfYouDontGiveMeAccessNow
WINDOWS: Sorry, that password is already used.

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Been down so long…

Posted by Richard on September 17, 2014

Pro Tip: If you haven’t posted anything to your blog in a long time, it might be a while before you or anybody else notices that it’s down.

Several days ago, after hearing about yet another big data breach, I went through a “damn, I haven’t changed passwords in quite a while” fret and started changing a bunch of them. Including the one for the MySQL database user associated with this blog.

Which leads to another Pro Tip: If you change the database user password, you’d better change the password in your wp-config.php file to match, or WordPress won’t be able to connect to its database.

Sigh …

(HT to David Aitken for giving me the heads-up.)

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Gun control advocate throws in towel in face of advancing technology

Posted by Richard on August 1, 2012

Forbes contributor Mark Gibbs would prefer more gun control laws, but he’s a realist regarding technological progress, and that progress makes his dream an increasingly impossible fantasy:

I’m in favor of tighter gun control and a ban on weapons that are unnecessarily powerful but I’m afraid that technology will soon make any legislation that limits the availability of any kinds of guns ineffective.

The technology that’s shattering Gibbs’ dream is 3-D printing, which like everything computer-related is getting cheaper and more powerful all the time. Although most entry-level 3-D printers can only produce objects in plastics, higher-end printers can work with ceramics and metals.

And that means you can print a gun. And someone has.

Not an entire gun, mind you, but the lower receiver of an AR-15.

The receiver is, in effect, the framework of a gun and holds the barrel and all of the other parts in place. It’s also the part of the gun that is technically, according to US law, the actual gun and carries the serial number.

When the weapon was assembled with the printed receiver HaveBlue reported he fired 200 rounds and it operated perfectly.

I believe you can buy all the parts to build an AR-15 except the lower receiver without any background check or paperwork. So if you can make your own lower receiver on your very own 3-D printer, you’re in business.

Gibbs recognized the implications:

What’s particularly worrisome is that the capability to print metal and ceramic parts will appear in low end printers in the next few years making it feasible to print an entire gun and that will be when gun control becomes a totally different problem.

Will there be legislation designed to limit freedom of printing? The old NRA bumper sticker “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” will have to be changed to “If guns are outlawed, outlaws will have 3D printers.”

One of the mantras of the computer/information revolution is “Information wants to be free (as in speech, not as in beer).” We may be on the verge of a new revolution in which the self-defense rights movement, the open source hardware movement, and advances in 3-D printing converge to lead to a new slogan: “Firearms want to be free (as in speech, not as in beer).”

(HT: Glenn Reynolds via David Aitken)

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Going beyond search

Posted by Richard on May 15, 2009

Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica, is about to launch Wolfram Research's latest (and most ambitious) creation, Wolfram|Alpha. It will probably revolutionize how you find information on the Internet — and what kind of information you can find. Actually, "find" isn't the right term. It's far more than searching and finding, it's computing, categorizing, comparing, organizing …  

It's a bit hard to explain Wolfram|Alpha briefly. Wolfram calls it a "computational knowledge engine" and provided a pretty good description in a March blog post.

But seeing it demonstrated is the best way to understand what it does and how far beyond ordinary search tools it goes. If you have 13 minutes to spare (a high-speed connection helps), check out this introduction by Wolfram himself. I was blown away, and I can't wait to start using it.

UPDATE: Wolfram|Alpha is online! But it's pretty slow, and the "exceeded maximum test load" error messages are pretty frequent (and funny: "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"). I guess their 10,000 processor cores are getting hammered.

So it's not at the "blow you away" stage yet, but you can still have fun with it. Did you know that the mass of the sun is 42,947 times the mass of the planets?

UPDATE 2: I've already submitted my first bit of feedback (they solicit feedback on every query result page). If you query "colorado," it reports lots of interesting information about the state, including the population as of 2006 (4.753 million) and the population density as of 2000 (41.5 people per mi2). But it also reports the state's area (104,000 mi2), which I don't believe has changed since Colorado became a state in 1876, and certainly didn't change from 2000 to 2006. So it's trivially simple for Wolfram|Alpha to calculate the 2006 population density (population/area = 45.7) instead of reporting the out-of-date 2000 number it found by searching. Oops.

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A little-known advantage of Linux

Posted by Richard on April 11, 2009

From I Can Has Cheezburger?® comes this helpful suggestion for cat owners with computers:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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Free online tanning

Posted by Richard on February 5, 2009

I saw this gem at Counterknowledge. Most amusing — check it out.

(YouTube link)

Now, go visit ComputerTan.com for your free trial session.

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Killing the planet with your keyboard

Posted by Richard on January 12, 2009

The people who want us to give up meat, grow our own veggies, put on a sweater, and shiver in the dark in order to "save the planet" are now suggesting that we step away from the keyboard to counter global warming:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Wissner-Gross has also calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos.

The Times article mentioned that Wissner-Gross created a website called CO2Stats, but left the impression that it's just about his research. Actually, CO2Stats sells website owners environmental absolution in the form of carbon offsets and related nonsense. So Wissner-Gross makes money off the environmental guilt his "research" fosters. 

According to the Times, someone claims that a Second Life avatar uses nearly as much energy as the average Brazilian. That, of course, will lead to widespread disapproval — it's bad enough that you Second Lifers are warming the planet, but you're also consuming so much more than your "fair share" of the world's wealth (never mind that you're also producing more than your "fair share"). And just for your amusement — shame on you: 

“It’s not an unreasonable comparison,” said Liam Newcombe, an expert on data centres at the British Computer Society. “It tells us how much energy westerners use on entertainment versus the energy poverty in some countries.”

Though energy consumption by computers is growing – and the rate of growth is increasing – Newcombe argues that what matters most is the type of usage.

If your internet use is in place of more energy-intensive activities, such as driving your car to the shops, that’s good. But if it is adding activities and energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, that may pose problems.

Huh. I consider "adding activities and energy consumption" to be signs of progress and increasing wealth, and thus to be desirable. But to the radical environmentalists, human activity — especially material progress and wealth creation — is always a problem.

Maybe I'll join Second Life just to increase my carbon footprint. 

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Mouse turns 40

Posted by Richard on December 9, 2008

Forty years ago today, the first computer mouse was publicly demonstrated:

On 9 December 1968 hi-tech visionary Douglas Engelbart first used one to demonstrate novel ways of working with computers.

The first mouse that Dr Engelbart used in the demo at the Fall Joint Computer Conference (FJCC) was made of wood and had one button.

A day of celebration is planned in California to mark the 40th anniversary; with many of the researchers behind the original demo reunited to mark the event.

The mouse, which was built by Bill English, helped Dr Engelbart demonstrate how text files could be clipped, copied and pasted as well as showing ways of using computer networks to collaborate on projects or co-edit documents

Technically, Engelbart's mouse was born a couple of years earlier, but it's that first public demo that everyone remembers. In addition to debuting the mouse, Engelbart's demo also introduced the graphical user interface (GUI) and the first working hypertext system. It was revolutionary, to say the least:

In the 1968 demo Dr Rulifson was at the SRI Lab and appeared on screen in Brooks Hall auditorium while helping Dr Engelbart to show how co-workers could use NLS to collaborate.

The demo was so far ahead of other uses of computers at the time and the technology on show was so powerfully convincing that one attendee later likened Dr Engelbart's efforts to "dealing lightning with both hands".

The following year, Engelbart's NLS (oN Line System) became one node of the first full network connection on Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet.

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Happy birthday, transistor!

Posted by Richard on December 2, 2007

This month, the transistor turns 60. In a mere six decades, it's transformed the world, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. The Sydney Morning Herald has an excellent article by Beverly Head about the past and future of transistors:

IN DECEMBER 1947, Bells Labs scientists John Bardeen and Walter Brattain first revealed what would come to be known as the transistor.

They held the future in their hands – a device that would replace vacuum tubes in 10 years, and 60 years later has transformed electronics.

Inventions change things; great inventions change everything.

That first device was the size of a modern mobile phone. Right now, 2 million transistors could fit in the full stop at the end of this sentence. Intel has just released its new Penryn processors, which have up to 820 million transistors, and soon the standard inch-wide microprocessor will have 1 billion transistors.

At The Speculist, Stephen Gordon quoted from the above story regarding the continuing flood of innovation in computing, and then neatly captured how important and far-reaching this little electronics invention has been:

But here's the too obvious example of how transistors have changed things: I'm a guy sitting in Louisiana commenting on an article in The Sydney Morning Herald to a worldwide audience. And I'm not Walter Cronkite.

I pass it along to you, wherever you are (my last 10 visitors include Montreal, London, Cairo, and Kaoshiung, Taiwan) from a cluttered home office in Denver. And I'm not Eric Severeid.

Here's another mind-numbing factoid from the article: They're making a billion billion (1018) transistors a year now — 10 to 100 times the number of ants on Earth.

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Duct tape server

Posted by Richard on November 6, 2007

This is several months old, but I just recently learned of it, and it's too cool not to share:

Duct Tape Server was built entirely from four rolls of gray Nashua duct tape, a quarter roll of translucent 3M duct tape, and these computer components:

  • Pentium P4 2.4 GHz
  • Intel SFF Motherboard
  • 1GB twinned DDR RAM
  • 80GB SATA HDD
  • 350W PSU
  • CDROM
  • 2 80mm LED fans

Check out some of the photos of the PC and its construction (click a thumbnail to see larger images). The machine ran continuously for four days at MillionManLan 6 in June, hosting a 15-person Armagetron tournament. Worked like a champ.

There's not much you can't do if you have enough duct tape. 

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SharePoint Embraces Web 2.0

Posted by Richard on October 19, 2007

This news probably means nothing to you if you don't work in a corporate environment where people are struggling with (and sometimes arguing over) a multiplicity of tools for collecting and sharing information. But if you do, and especially if Microsoft's SharePoint figures into your workday, this news from yesterday might be of interest:

Today Microsoft is announcing two strategic partnerships, with enterprise software company Atlassian and RSS solutions vendor NewsGator. The partnerships link togther Microsoft's SharePoint product with Atlassian's wiki collaboration product Confluence and a new offering from Newsgator called 'NewsGator Social Sites', a collection of site templates, profiles, Web parts and middleware for SharePoint. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is a key product for Microsoft – it has collaboration, business intelligence, content management, search and "social computing" capabilities (Microsoft's term for 'web 2.0', according to this page on Microsoft's website).

The aim of the partnerships is to add more "social computing platform" capabilities to SharePoint, which up till now has mainly been promoted as an "enterprise productivity platform". In other words, Microsoft is adding more web 2.0 functionality (e.g. collaboration, personal publishing) to SharePoint, using best of breed web products from Atlassian and Newsgator.

I haven't used Confluence, but I'm familiar with several other wikis. The wiki concept is neat, and they're great for notes, informal documentation, or random nuggets of information linked loosely to each other. But unless someone with free time and organizational skills is managing them, they tend to become just big piles of stuff. SharePoint, OTOH, imposes structure and is good for managing more formal documents, especially MS Office files, but it's not exactly ideal as a low-overhead way of creating, sharing, and updating rapidly changing information.

Atlassian's SharePoint Connector plug-in for Confluence sounds pretty cool — linking and content-sharing between the two (so much integration that you can edit a Word doc in Confluence), a personal wiki and blog for every SharePoint user, and a single search mechanism for the whole mess. The latter, if it's a good search tool, is a big deal. One big headache with multiple information stores is finding things.

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Virtualization profits

Posted by Richard on August 14, 2007

VMWare shares rose 75% today, the biggest opening-day gain among this year's IPOs. The huge jump (from the $29 IPO price to a closing price of $51) gives the company a market capitalization greater than Ford's and just slightly behind software giant Adobe Systems. VMWare's surging sales and profits are due to the growing popularity of its ESX Server, a highly-specialized sort of operating system for running multiple instances of other operating systems. The Motley Fool explained VMWare's success reasonably well for the non-geek:

Back in the 1990s, a group of super-smart computer scientists from Stanford dusted off the concept of virtualization, which was once popular with mainframes during the 1970s. The technology made it possible to create more than one virtual machine on a single physical server.

It was a "eureka!" moment. With data-center space running about $1,000 per square foot, and power usage at about $560 per server, the cost savings of using virtualization can add up fairly quickly for customers. As a result, VMware has enjoyed crushing demand, roughly doubling its revenue every year since 1999.

Storage giant EMC bought VMWare in 2004 for $635 million, and still owns 87% of the shares (now worth north of $16 billion). So you'd think EMC shares would be through the roof today, too, right? Wrong — they were down 71 cents (3.7%). Go figure. 

I suppose the market's expectations for the VMWare IPO were already built into the EMC share price. It's up over 80% from when I bought it in July 2006. 

As for VMWare, there's one cloud on the horizon, and it's an Open Source cloud that may rain lawyers:

Bloomberg believe VMware’s IPO today may the largest technology offering since Google. But doubts have been cast over the company’s supposedly proprietary ESX product, which may be derived from Linux.

Christopher Helwig is the Linux SCSI storage maintainer, and one of the top 10 contributors to the Linux kernel. He has been pursuing VMware over the issue for a year.

Is Hellwig right, and is VMware a derived product of Linux? Unless vmkernel can be loaded without the Linux kernel, it would appear so. VMware was developed from another, long ago OS created as a research project, but it’s unclear whether vmkernel was ported from that OS or rewritten as the Linux-requiring binary blob.

What’s more of an issue is that VMware had these serious questions posed directly to them a year ago, repeated in a public forum many times since, but have yet to respond at all.

If you're interested in all the geeky details about the VMWare kernel, Linux kernel, bootloaders, and Linux kernel driver licensing, that VentureCake post will fix you right up. But note that Mike is an Open Source partisan, not a disinterested, objective observer.

In any case, if you're thinking this is another Google and wondering whether to jump aboard, you might want to factor in a litigation risk.  

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