Category Archives: Software

(Inadvertently and almost) cutting the cord

ervice and getting their entertainment exclusively thru the internet. I almost loved television too muh for that — the news is interesting, and there are so many great shows — but I recently realized my weekly “TV” viewing time was probably down to 2 or 3 hours per week.

The reason wasn’t austerity or puritanism. Rather, there are so many on demand options on my Xbox One it’s hard to justify cable as a separate purchases.

Youtube on Xbox One has many great news channels that my wife and I “subscribe” to for free, such as Vice News, New York Times, CNN, and The Verge. From the same source there are entertainment sources such as Jimmy Kimmel, College Humor, GoPro, and Cyanide or Happiness which provide a pleasant welcome to each new day.

vice news

We are living in a golden age of television, however, so it’s great so much of it is available without cable tv. Most every show are available for purchase from either Xbox Video or Amazon Video. Similarly, movies can be purchased from Xbox or Amazon, or watched from either the Amazon or Netflix streaming services.

Even sports is moving to a cable-also format, with great apps from the NFL and Major League Baseball. There’s also the woman’s football (which streams live games) and computer games on watch Twitch.

As of now, there are only two things absolutely missing. There’s no easily watchable 24 hours streaming news channel, and HBO shows aren’t available for either download or purchase without a traditional cable tv plan. Hopefully, HBO’s eroding market share will make them reconsider this move.

We’re not in a post-cable-tv world yet, but that world is rapidly coming. It’s harder and harder to justify having a cable TV plan at all,.

Watching Twitch

$GOOG paid a billion dollars for twitch, a video streaming service. Unlike Youtube (which focuses on general audiences and miscellaneous niches), vimeo (which focuse on gorgeous cinematographic videos), or Daily motion (which focuses on being second place to Youtube), Twitch’s niche is gamers.

twitch_logo

Twitch is focused around games (live events) and channels (feeds of live events by specific gamers or groups). Yesterday, my wife and I watched navigated Twitch on Xbox One. Broadly, the two main types of games & channels appear to be competitive games and social games. Exmaples of competitive games include League of Legends (the most popular game in the world) and Starcraft II, while an example of a social game is Grand Theft Auto V.

twitch gsl announcers

Competitive games are organized like minor sports, such as women’s football, women’s basketball, or mixed martial arts. Not only are many of the trappings of major spots there (commentators, slick graphics, various functionaries) but minor spots have two elements major sports can lack: a sense of exclusivity and a proof of passion. Unlike major sports, identifying with a minor sport means identifying with a subculture to which you belong. And unlike major sports, few millionaires are made in minor sports, so a player is more likely to be following a calling as opposed to buying a beach house.

twitch xmoonliterose

My wife and I, however. enjoyed watching social games more. Many of these players/hosts were female, and combined competent gameplay with the personality of an effective radio disk jockey. Any flirting was PG, and you quickly felt that you were in the company of friends. For a fantasy game like Grand Theft Auto V, where play is self-directed and often absurd, watching someone play with friends can be even more relaxing than playing yourself (where the question of “what is to be done?” looms as large as in real life).

twitch creature talk

Twitch is a community — a billion dollar community — I was largely ignorant of a few days ago.

The world is vast, and there are such people in it…

Firefox Drops to 3rd Place

I remember driving to the mall with my dad, to buy a copy of Netscape Navigator 1.2 on floppy disks. Since that time I’ve had a soft spot for Netscape and its successors, including Firebird and the increasingly irrelevant Firefox.

firefox_third_place

This month comes the news that Firefox has fallen to 3rd place, with more users on both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Life’s too short to waste time on a third place browser.  I am writing this on Google Chrome, and regularly use Internet Explorer.  But I’ve uninstalled Firefox.

How to Scan Multi-Page Documents in Windows 8.1 Preview

I just set this up for my mom, so I thought it might be interesting for others too.

My employer recently released the Windows 8.1 PreviewModern Scan app. I’ve been a fan of the possibilities of Modern since I heard early rumors of it. The original “manifesto” just looks cool :-)

Microsoft-METRO-UI-Description_svg

Anyway, here’s the process of scanning multiple page documents in Windows 8.1 Preview.

Once the scanner’s driver is installed and the Scan app is present, simply click on it in the Start Screen. When it opens the UI should look something like this:

scan_1

You can click ‘preview’ and the scanner will send you an image of what the document will look like.

scan_preview

But you can select other options, like XPS for file format (which will create a multi-page document), Greyscale (appropriate if you’re working with text, and other options)

scan_2

And then it will save in your Documents folder! Voila!

Review of “Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker,” by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon

Several weeks ago Kevin Mitnick spoke at the research arm of my employer. He is a funny guy, knowledgeable, a great public speaker. He was also hawking his book. During the Q&A Kevin was asked what the most realistic movie about computer hackers was. He replied, “Sneakers,” a 1992 film starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, and Sidney Poitier, which I had remembered watching as a teenager. This answer seemed so bizarre it made me want to know more — hence several hundred pages later, I’ve read Mitnick’s book.

After re-watching Sneakers, I was struck that it did not use the Hollywood trope of a computer whiz sitting down on a keyboard, hitting random buttons, and getting into the system. Or Mission: Impossible high tech wizardly or suspension cables. Instead, in Sneakers access is gained by talking to people, calmly and persuasively lying to them, and getting them to do what you want. This was Mitnick’s method. That was why he liked the film.

Kevin’s story begins as a boy “hacking” the L.A. mass transit system to get free rides, thru getting his mom free long distance, to finally an increasingly complicated web of compromised systems to evade the growing number of enemies who was looking for him. Mitnick’s adventures take him from California to Las Vegas, Seattle, South Dakota, and North Carolina, before finally being arrested.

Kevin’s spoken a lot about his former life. Here’s a 60 minutes report:

And an hour-long talk he gave at Google

Shortly after his release his prison, he was called to testify before a Senate committee headed by Joe Lieberman and Fred Thompson.

If technology, “social engineering” (which Mitnick calls “lying on the telephone”), and security interest you, I strongly recommend Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker. I read Mitnick’s book in the Nook edition. It is also available for Kindle.

Review of “The Difference Engine,” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

The Difference Engine is a hard book to review. On one hand it is technothriller that asks, “What if Charles Babbage had succeeded in building his programmable computer in the 19th century?” On another it is literary science fiction, with a depth comparable to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. On the third it’s a rumination on word processing.

Charles Babbage and Charles Darwin were contemporaries in early 19th century Britain. Both men made great discoveries, and both were perfectionists. Famously, Darwin only published his theories when he heard that Wallace had independently discovered natural selection and was going to release his own version of the theory. Less famously, Babbage designed the Difference Engine (which has successfully been constructed from his plans in our down day), a mechanical computer, but abandoned work finishing it to attempt the Analytical Engine, a computer that was as advanced as the electronic ENIAC that was finally built more than a century later.

No men, if their careers could have been more successful, might have changed our world more than Archimedes and Charles Babbage.

But what would such a world have looked like? Could an information revolution occur at the same time as an industrial revolution? Who would benefit from such a world? Who would oppose it?

The Difference Engine is composed of several “Iterations” and a final “Modus.” Many characters appear again and again, though often the reader’s view of them differ – a character might simply be standing near an event in one iteration, an antagonist in a second, a helper in a third, and the protagonist in the fourth.

The meaning of the ending of The Difference Engine is disputed, and (in the finest literary tradition) there is no need to take the authors’ remarks as the last word. I’m still unsure what finally happens.

I read The Difference Engine on my Kindle.