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Awesome 3D Video Capture with Kinect #hacking #video

I saw this video of scientist, Oliver Kreylos, a few days ago. It's amazing how with some cool software hacked together to work with Microsoft Kinect, Oliver and others may have opened up some interesting possibilities in 3D image production, computing and virtual reality.

Here's the video:

The Internet To The Rescue

The world watched in shock as Chile was hit by an earthquake 800 times stronger than the one in Haiti -- and it happened even before the sun went up. But while governments around the world scrambled to get moving, social media was already saving lives.

It's amazing what social media can do where traditional media and emergency methods often fall short. While we commend the Chilean people for building strong buildings and having solid disaster control methods in place, we can't help but notice how social media platforms such as Twitter quickly began putting things together again.

Case in point: Sheryl Breuker, who yesterday shared her personal story with Her sister-in-law was in Santiago, Chile when the earthquake struck, and there was no way of getting in touch with her. Most communication lines were cut. But a vital line to the Internet stayed on, so they began contacting locals via Twitter.

Sure enough, just a couple of hours later, a number of locals found Sheryl's sister-in-law, safe and sound. And I'm pretty sure she wasn't the only missing person that Twitter helped track down.

Similarly, Facebook users around the Pacific rim stayed up late that night, tracking the resulting tsunami threat and relaying information hours before their respective government agencies did. Google also launched their "Chile Earthquake Finder" service, allowing users to choose between "I'm looking for someone" and "I have information about someone."

There wasn't much damage caused by the tsunami, but seeing how coastal communities all over the Pacific rim responded by evacuating quickly and systematically made me feel like a proud father.

Social media's role doesn't stop there -- now that Chile is picking up the pieces, heroes all over the world are sending money, aid, and manpower. And I have little doubt that social media is going to play yet another big role when the next natural disaster rolls around.

And I'm also pretty sure that the conservatives will be sitting in their sofas bitching at their TV's every time they see their heads of state offer aid to Chile. They'll still be saying, "Why help Chile? Chile will never help us back! Stop sending aid!"

Oh, let them be idiots. In the meantime, the rest of us will continue using today's tools to help make the world a little better than yesterday -- as they were meant to.

YouTube Debuts 'Lite' Version

Image credit: Adapted image from YouTube's Feather beta signup page

I like YouTube for two different reasons -- one, it helps keep me up-to-date with the latest trends in film and media. (After all, watching videos can sometimes be easier than reading some bad article.) The other reason is, quite simply, it's a fun way to schmooze. I still haven't gotten tired of the "sneezing baby panda" video, for instance.

But YouTube does (or rather, DID -- more on that later) have its pitfalls. In Singapore and the surrounding region, ISP's are pretty slow in offering higher-bandwidth offerings owing to the relatively slim competition. So, yup, we deal with a quite a bit of buffer time and staring at that annoying "loading" wheel indicator.

Thankfully, Google does listen to its users, and has recently launched the beta version of YouTube Feather. This feature of YouTube strips down YouTube pages to the bare essentials -- minus ads, ratings, bells and whistles, and simply presents the video with as little latency and bandwidth-hogging as possible.

This means good news for casual viewers -- you can now spend more time watching and less time groaning while on YouTube. This is particularly important in bandwidth-starved areas of the world, such as Southeast Asia, where there are people who actually still use Dial-up (or broadband with Dial-up speeds).

But is it bad news for content creators? After all, content creators rely on ads and "subscribe" features on their videos to grow their businesses.

Thankfully, content creators don't have to worry -- when YouTube knows the video comes from a content creator, it reverts to the regular YouTube, complete with all its functions (including HD).

When YouTube Feather goes live, it should make it much easier for people to appreciate and enjoy the benefits that YouTube brings to the computing experience. You can activate and use YouTube Feather by clicking this link.

Yeah, it seems not a day passes by without an update from Google. One worth mentioning is probably Google's crusade to create a "new" Internet -- or at least a faster one. Google is still asking for more community feedback and participation in its development of SPDY -- if you haven't heard of it before, it's going to be the next big thing in the Internet. It'll replace HTML one day, already being at least 50% faster in development stages.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is scrambling to deal with report after report after report of the Black Screen of Death plaguing Windows 7 users. Kinda shows you what's up in the Microsoft vs Google wars.

Holiday Shopping?

Happy Thanksgiving. It's been a tough, tough year for most of us, which makes the pessimist wonder what's there to be thankful for. But I'm too cool to navel-gaze, so I'm kicking off the year with a few tech shopping tips. We don't really celebrate Thanksgiving in these parts, but hey, December is just around the corner.

#1 - Netbooks? I know it's a rising trend, but do you really want to get cramps working the tiny keyboard? (I don't.) If you're really fixed on getting a netbook, get one with the features that you need, as well as a full keyboard. Otherwise, I recommend getting a thin, light (and sleeker) notebook.

#2 - TV's? To enter the new year with a brighter perspective, I suggest you (finally) go flat-screen. LCD and Plasma TV's are all good, and they come in small enough sizes that fit your budget. For longevity, go at least 1080p.

#3 - DVD players? Whoops, hold on. We may not exactly have Netflix yet, but believe me when I say it's going to land in Southeast Asian shores in the next two years or less. Skip the one-trick DVD players and go Blu-Ray. Better yet, look for a device that can play Blu-Ray and DVD, in addition to streaming HD movies from the Internet.

#4 - iPod Touch? Definitely a must-buy -- Steve Jobs wasn't kidding when he said it was the "funnest" iPod ever. It's only a sidestep away from an iPhone, and with the App Store handy, it should give you thousands of hours of fun throughout its lifetime.

#5 - Windows 7? Also a good upgrade, although "good" is relative when it comes to Microsoft. While Microsoft finally got things right, going Mac might be the best "new beginning" you can have, especially with the robust Snow Leopard OS doing very well.

#6 - Printers? Don't make the mistake of buying a one-trick printer this year -- they're already overshadowed by printers that offer more features. Find out what your home office needs (Scanner? Fax machine? Photo printer? All of the above?) and find printer models that solve most, if not all, your deficiencies.

#7 - Gaming Consoles? The Wii is still tons of fun, but the Xbox 360 and slimmer, sexier PlayStation 3 are very quickly catching up. These consoles also have HD movie streaming offerings, which can do away with your DVD needs, as well. But if you're willing to wait another year for a gaming console, you might want to watch out for Microsoft's Project Natal.

#8 - E-book Readers? They're easy enough to get, but it's going to be tough getting books from e-libraries for a while. Singapore, for instance, still isn't on Kindle's global list, and there's no way of knowing when the mobile carriers will get their heads out of their behinds and comply with Amazon's requirements. Best put this off until next year.

What would YOU want for Christmas?

Newer, Deadlier Worm Hits Jailbroken iPhones

Image credit: Found on - Link -

Been hearing the buzz on this for the past 48 hours.
Recently, the first ever iPhone worm spread from Australia to the rest of the world. The worm, which only affected jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches, subjected users all over the world to the horror of looking into Rick Astley's cold, cold eyes. Other than that, the worm was mostly harmless.

The first worm was a far cry from the second one, which was only very recently discovered by iPhone watchdogs around the world. This new worm scours the jailbroken devices for bank account, credit card, and other private information, and routes the data back to an IP address that researchers have traced to Lithuania.

This newer, deadlier worm uses the same exploit that the Rick Astley worm used. Jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches have a security hole that lets hackers change the root password and create unique ID's for themselves, essentially accessing the devices remotely.

Several fixes have already been suggested on the Internet, so it's rather easy for stricken users to address the problem. But experts have predicted that the worm can do much more damage in the near future, and are keeping a close eye on developments.

What's worrying about this new worm is that, as of yet, there's still no way of knowing whether or not un-jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches can be affected by it. So far no legitimate user has reported an infection, but if that changes in the next few days, it's going to cause a ripple of panic among Apple users all over the world.

Apple's no doubt on the case, but it's likely they won't do much for users of jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches. Perhaps this is just another indication of a lesson that's never learned -- you shouldn't really tinker with other people's intellectual property and expect to go scot-free. Somehow, in some form, the bad juju manages to find its way back to you.

The same goes with pirated software, the use of which is still pretty rampant in this part of the world. Sure, you can get pirated Windows OS's almost free, but without the proper updates and protection, you leave yourself vulnerable to attacks -- and stand to lose much more over the long run. Frankly, if you're on Windows in the first place, you've probably already lost the war, but that's my humble opinion.

So, again and again, respect intellectual property -- only buy legitimate devices and software, and only use them according to the makers' specifications. At the very least, it's one less thing to worry about.

My (Rather Reluctant) Take On Chrome OS

Google released the Linux-based Chrome OS a few days ago, to a largely mixed reception. Many pundits were quick to dismiss it as "unimpressive" and "underwhelming." It this a bad thing? For Google, it doesn't really seem to matter.

The Chrome OS is a revolutionary new operating system that pretty much relies on cloud computing for 99% of its work1. A Chrome OS netbook doesn't have a hard drive -- it only has a non-volatile flash drive that processes data. All your documents, programs, and applications will be based on the cloud -- and this means a slew of pros and cons when compared to the way we currently do things.

Chrome OS Pros:

#1 - No hard drive.
That means you don't have to backup your files -- everything will be stored on secure servers on the cloud. That also means you won't have to worry about viruses and other malware infecting your system.

#2 - Speed, speed, speed.
Chrome OS netbooks can startup at a super-fast 7 seconds, which means you can start working in the amount of time it takes you to turn on the TV. The fastest Windows systems take at least a minute2.

#3 - It's open-source.
That also means it's (... well.. kinda') free.

Chrome OS Cons:

#1 - Needs an Internet connection to survive.
That means when the Net connection conks out (which happens more than you think in this part of the world), you'll be left in the dark.

#2 - No installing of third-party software.
You can't, for instance, install video games. There's enough entertainment on the Internet, you might argue, but this is still a pretty limiting feature for most of us.

Google doesn't seem to mind the mixed feedback -- it would seem that most pundits see Chrome OS as Google's attempt to take over the computing world3. That's actually missing the point -- Google isn't out to beat Windows. At Chrome's infancy, Google is very likely out to start by dominating the Netbook market4, since Chrome OS's features seem more geared towards portable computing than anything else.

The way I see it, as it stands, a Chrome OS netbook would make an OK second computer -- one you could bring on business trips and such. Chrome OS won't officially be out until next year, meaning Google's simply letting the community take a more active part in developing it.

But no matter what Google's intentions are, there's no doubt that Microsoft is on its toes right now. Google Apps has already scored a noticeable dent on Microsoft Office -- will the Windows OS line be next?

1 OK, I just picked that percentage figure out of the air.
2 OK, that's probably not true, but it sure feels like a full minute (sometimes two, even).
3 OK, who doesn't know that yet? Dumbass.
4 OK. OK. They're out to take down Windows. You happy now? Geez.

Microsoft Launches Free Anti-Virus Software Today

Microsoft has been getting better at revamping public perception about it over the past year. It's now operating a couple of retail stores (more to come) in an attempt to reach their customer base more readily, and everybody's excited about the release of Windows 7 in just over three weeks. And today, they just released their very first free anti-virus software package.

Dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), the free anti-virus is currently available for download in 19 countries, although only PC's with licensed versions of Windows XP, Vista, and 7 can accept it. It's Microsoft's comprehensive solution to many of the most common threats faced by the average PC user today.

It's not "comprehensive" per se, though. It's only protects against viruses and other malware, and doesn't have the other pieces of the puzzle necessary for complete protection, such as anti-spam and firewalls. This has been the main criticism of MSE, made none other than those who profit from the status quo.

Big names in the anti-virus industry (such as Symantec) have bitterly attacked Microsoft's move into their lucrative market, obviously fearing the computing giant's marketing prowess. If you aren't aware of it yet, free anti-virus software is the exception rather than the norm in the business -- if you want complete protection, you have to shell out some good money for it.

Microsoft has assured the public that MSE will still provide enough protection, especially when used on Windows systems. The more recent Windows operating systems have built-in firewalls (which get better with every incarnation), and Internet Explorer 8 can warn users of potentially dangerous sites.

MSE is a decent anti-virus program to try -- it hogs system resources much less than most other protection suites, and has generally received warm reviews from testers in three countries. Its arrival also spells the end of Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare protection suite, which didn't do very well on the sales end.

You can download Microsoft Security Essentials, absolutely free, here.

Microsoft Wins Stay In Word Injunction Case

A few weeks ago I wrote about an injunction case filed against Microsoft, where Canadian firm i4i sued against Microsoft Word's use of XML technology it says was covered by its patents. Incredibly, an East Texas court gave the case to i4i and ordered Microsoft to hold sales of Microsoft Word (versions 2003 and 2007) until the software was tweaked, plus pay i4i almost $300 million in damages.

Microsoft had 60 days to appeal the injunction, but it obviously didn't want to wait that long -- three weeks later they filed for and won a stay from the injunction. (The US Court of Appeals for the Federal District awarded the stay -- it wasn't a local court in East Texas.)

So for now, the lawyers of i4i will have to go back to the drawing board. The Canadian company raised eyebrows over the digital computing world when it chose to file their injunction case against Microsoft in East Texas, when Microsoft itself was based in Washington.

East Texas is a haven for patent law cases, and is notoriously litigation-friendly. This was why the injunction case last month was at the same time surprising -- and one second later made people think, "East Texas? Why am I NOT surprised?"

i4i lawyers insist that they didn't choose Texas because it increased their chances of success, but because the state was a "rocket docket," where cases were heard quickly (they claim they had a short time frame to file the case). They also insist that Judge Davis, who awarded the injunction case to i4i, was a programmer and systems analyst in his student days, and knew what he was doing.

Seriously, who the heck are they trying to fool? :)

In any case, Microsoft is expected to fully win the case in the long run, although it'll definitely take quite a bit of time and paperwork. Where does that leave i4i?

On the upside for the 'nadian firm, they're the poster boys for small companies who go against the Goliaths in the industry. Let's just hope similar cases in the future don't get filed under boneheaded circumstances like in this one.

Microsoft Banned From Selling Word!

In the latest bit of news about patent trolling, Microsoft has been ordered yesterday by a Texas federal court to stop selling Word 2003, 2007, and any other subsequent Word incarnations that can open files containing custom XML. The plaintiff was a small Canadian firm called i4i who claims they patented the technology.


I know patent laws can be pretty crazy in the United States, and some American patent lawyers are woefully clueless when it comes to emerging technologies. This development, however, takes the cake.

Microsoft is now set to pay up to $240 million ($200 million supposedly for the amount a similar product would fetch in today's market, $40 million for "willful infringement") for infinging on the patent, as well as nullify the technology in future software updates. But knowing Microsoft, which has done pretty well on legal cases like this one, they'll probably appeal the decision and win.

Now a lot of people are saying the judge was an idiot for ruling this way, but on the other hand, other people are saying this development was actually a good thing. It proved that even small businesses can successfully fight for their property rights, even if they stood up against giants like Microsoft.

(And then there are other people who say that the name "i4i" should raise eyebrows, and others who say that Microsoft should afterwards rename itself to "2th42th.")

I also laughed when I actually saw some bloggers call for Texas to leave the United States and make Puerto Rico the new 50th state. Texas is known to be a haven for patent law cases like this one, which gives it a fair share of infamy.

The permanent injunction will take effect in 60 days -- more than enough time, I think, for Microsoft to sort out this mess. Let's just hope they use Word 2000 to be on the safe side on this case.

Microsoft To Offer Its Own "Google Apps"

First, Microsoft gnawed into Google's market share in the search engine with the reasonably successful "Bing" search engine last May. Two months later, Google's reprisal came in the form of Chrome OS, a new operating system that's ultimately going to put most of a PC's functionality on cloud computing. Back then I had a feeling that it was only a matter of time before Microsoft counter-attacked with yet another Google-aimed venture.

I was right -- now Microsoft is out to challenge Google Apps by offering a free version of its Microsoft Office Suite on the cloud. That's right -- Microsoft is coming out with its own Google Apps, and it's a very risky move at that.

Everyone knows Microsoft earns billions of dollars each year with its Microsoft Office suite of programs, and there's no doubt that despite its hangups, it's still the office suite with the most bang for the buck. Google Apps is free and offers much of MS Office's functionality, but can't really cope with the kind of work that bigger players do.

Basically, I think Microsoft is walking a fine line between offering more functionality than Google Apps, but less than its standard offline Office suite. It will be interesting to see what happens if Microsoft can pull it off, but equally painful to see if the entire plan fails.

I'm personally not a fan of doing my work on the cloud -- with the Internet speeds I'm getting in Malaysia and Thailand, working with Google Apps is clunky at best. What's worse, broadband lines in this part of the world are prone to going down anytime -- what happens when I lose my connection in the middle of an important project? The mere thought of it is enough to keep most of my work offline.

I prefer working with open-source office suites like OpenOffice -- it's free, it's functional, and it feels like the real thing. Just tweak the default file types and you have every bit of MS Office XP's functionality.

But I'll have to admit that cloud computing really is the future of the way we work today -- gone is the monopoly that Microsoft once held over the industry. People are now looking for cheaper ways to do work, and Google Apps has largely filled that need -- there are about 15 million users of the online App right now.

"Microsoft Apps" is set to be released in 2010, so Google still has time to work on its next reprisal. But with its own Office suite in place and OS on the way, it's pretty much got Microsoft backed up against the wall.