Archive for June, 2005

Review of the Vosonic VP3320 – and my audio-storage woes

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Well I have dragged this thing with me all weekend, and I am not very happy with it.

The thing is this: it tries to be an mp3 player and a portable harddisk, which was the whole reason I bought it, but it ends up doing neither very well.

As a portable harddisk, it has the benifit of acting as a standard enclosure, so you can stick any laptop IDE hardrive in it. But on the downside, it needs the adapter to be plugged in, if you want to do actually connect it to a pc.
It also uses one of those mini-usb connectors on the device itself. Now that is not nessesarily a problem, but a normal usb connector is more standard, and would be handier.

As an mp3 player it basicly sucks. It has no playlist functionality at all, it cant pause any mp3 without turning the whole device off, it cant play directory trees, forcing me to manually select any mp3 I want to play, the volume is controlled by the main buttons, which I cant possibly reach while the device is in its hip-bag. Also the stereo plug sticks out of the bag at an impossibly ackward angle. All in all, it makes a very lousy mp3 player.

Now the whole reason I considdered bying the thing in the first place, is cause I needed a decent mp3 player that could store all my music, but I also needed a portable hard drive.  I didn’t see much sense in bying two seperate devices, like an ipod, and then another harddrive in a standard usb2 enclosure.

Up till now, I have been playing my mp3’s on my XDA, but this has two limitations that have started to grow into major fucking annoyances: 1. I will never have the storage I need for my daily dose of podcasts and some music on the side, and 2. The XDA doesnt have a standard 3.5mm stereo connector, it has a 2.5mm stereo/mic connector, for the handsfree set you got with it (the XDA is also my phone). Now I have long since wanted a decent headset or earbuds to listen to the podcasts/music with, and this has been problematic with the XDA.

On the upside, the XDA is a lot handier , if I only want to listen to podcasts, (my daily dose fits nicely on my 512 sd card), and only if I have the proper 2.5mm stereo/mic handsfree set, (but my current one, which is in fact the handfree set of the XDAII, is broken).
PocketPC 2002 Phone Edition deals with this nicely, as incoming calls mute the sound automaticly, and I dont have to switch headphones or anything.

In actuality, I would want a phone with a 3.5mm plug, and then a 3.5mm stereo harndfree set with an awnser button and volume control on the wire, but this is very very rare, or at least I have not been able to find this.

Or even better: how about a setup where I have no wires at all. Where I have a bluetooth headset that basicly does everything (stereo, microphone, awnser button, volume control), and where I can dynamicy switch between a blue-tooth enabled phone, and my bluetooth enabled portable harddrive. This must exist, now all I need to do is find it.
(To this end: I also need to get a new phone. I’m still kinda waiting for the MDA4 😀 )

Anyhow. I will be sending the VP3320 back. Shame. I dont send back things often.. in fact I dont think I ever have, my purchasing decisions are usually better informed than this.

Below pictures are thumbnailed
(harddrive was purchased seperately by me)

DSC00134 DSC00135 DSC00136 DSC00137 DSC00138 DSC00139 DSC00140 DSC00141 DSC00143 DSC00147 DSC00149

Jon Udell: Collaborative filtering with del.icio.us (and other ideas)

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Jon Udell: Collaborative filtering with del.icio.us

That coolness factor of browsing and finding other people’s del.icio.us pages because they seem to share a common interest, could be, in part, an automatic process. Here John introduces a way it could be done, very very cool!

I have been filling in key-words of my interests like, for-ever, in profile pages all over the internet. And I dont think that info has ever spawned an online relationship with anyone else..

With the approach John shows here, we can go beyond these superficial keywords, and drill down deeply into a persons interest space. The only downside to this is that where are still being rather virtical here, as in we must bear in mind that we are only looking at a persons bookmarking behaviour, which says nothing of his information-consumption behavior like what he browses, what feeds he aggregates.

Though of course the latter can be analyzed if one uses a service such as bloglines.

If you where to take my del.icio.us page, and compare it to my bloglines page, you get a far more nuanced view of what I do online, and where my interests lie. The next step thus, is to aggregate that information together, and there are many more sources that one could reference in this manner. My blog for instance. Or my personal website. And then there is other kind of meta-info on me, like my online reputation on sites like ebay, slashdot, tweakers.net, or how about online CV’s or forum activity, or comment activity?

What if one would create a crawler application that, using all of these sources, could compine a complete ‘view’ of my digital online self?

The problem though, is that ‘social’ internet tools, that effectively visualize this stuff, are not all that common yet. Bloglines, Del.icio.us, and Flickr, and a few others, are still few and far between.

And then there is privacy. Now personally, I have no problem sharing all this metadata about myself. I would not even mind my browsing habbits being monitored to service the ‘social’ metaspace like I do with the above-mentioned services, provided I had complete and transparent control over when what was monitored.

Wouldnt it be kinda creepy, once we indeed had a centralized match-and-compare system for all of this data, if you where to run into another person online that mirrored you and your interestes in every way? And online doppelganger, so to speak

Creating Podcasts on the fly with del.icio.us

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Oke.. this is damn cool.

http://del.icio.us/rss/jemimus/system:media:audio

del.icio.us has implemented a schema of system tags. if you post a link to a file of a certian filetype, del.icio.us will automaticly add a system tag, like the one featured above: system:media:audio

If the system tag is for an audio file, calling a url like the one above, results in an RSS feed that will add the linked-to mp3 or wav file as an enclosure in the rss feed.

This basicly means that by simply adding a link to an mp3 to your delicious account, you have an rss feed with enclosures automaticly: a podcast feed.

I was clued into this via this post:

http://blog.del.icio.us/blog/2005/06/casting_the_net.html

Security Park – It is the employer not the employee who is the weakest link in a companies IT security

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Security Park – It is the employer not the employee who is the weakest link in a company###s IT security

It is the employer not the employee who is the weakest link in a company’s IT security

SurfControl has today announced the results of a new UK survey that uncovers an alarming level of complacency by employers when it comes to combating spyware in the workplace. The poll found that 21.3 percent of all respondents’ employers did not prohibit the use of Instant Messaging to contact friends, Web-based email, recreational surfing, downloading free software, personal online banking, storing personal files, sharing free music/video files, playing online games, running CD-Rom/DVD media or the use of USB flash drives on work PCs.

Read more

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Well I agree with the sentiment.. well some of the sentiment, if not all of what they claim are ‘threats’.

One has to bare in mind who sponsored this report, and who is presenting the news: Surfcontrol; and they have a rather large stake in this kind of discussion.

Litterally anything can be a threat if you look hard enough. I would not call IM-ing friends a threat. I might call file-transfer via IM a threat, but not much of one…    Use of USB drives?  Well its the same issue: not being able to fully control what files pass in and out of your network.

At the moment, with the current state of affairs when it comes to files and file-systems, I would say its just about impossible to lock down your network to stop foreign files from entering your network. They trick is to mitigate what threat they do pose. AV on the desktop is one part of that, a strickt and enforced lockdown policy of the desktop enviroment is another..  and the same can be said for permiter defenses…

Its that old cost vs usability vs security arguement. You can have a little of all three, but not all at the max level. People use IM and play games to give themselves a little distraction, which I believe is a healthy thing, in moderation. Not to mention IM being the perfect productivity tools if used for work purposes.

USB sticks? Well they have taken the place of floppies. I often see people resulting to USB sticks if its the easiest alternative for getting to their data. Shutting off access to USB may mitigate some of the foreign-file threat, but I dont think it stands in relation to the added support costs you incurr, or the effect it has on worker morall. Instead, perhaps you should be focussing on giving your users what they need: Easy (and secure) access to their files; remove their reason for trying to work around the system.

And what the hell is wrong with ‘Web-based email’, ‘recreational surfing, personal online banking’. How is this a security threat? yah sure.. downloading trojans perhaps .. spyware? Mabe.. .  .. how about a software restriction policy then? If you run windows 2000 and up, you already have the mechnism to impliment it…  just a case of doing it.
How about locking down Internet Explorer? Turn of ActiveX via group policy.. its not perfect.. but its a start! Think about running Firefox on desktops yet…  might be worth considdering!

I am against the view that Surfcontrol seems to take, that any freedom you give employees, both online and off, is always a bad thing.  Try turning off all net access in your company, and lets see what it does for morale? Work should be a place you want to go to, or at the very least, not mind going to, so that means employees should be giving at least some thought to distraction and relaxation, finding that balance of productivity and fun. Blanket blocks on certain activities are not the awnser, a far more nuanced approach is needed that combines and weighs out those important ellements in the way that best suits your companies needs: cost vs usability vs security.

Blizzard vs BnetD Consumers’ Rights at Stake in Eighth Circuit Videogame Case

Monday, June 20th, 2005

[Via EFF: Breaking News]

St. Louis, MO – On Monday, June 20, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Blizzard v. BnetD, a case that could dramatically impact consumers’ ability to customize software and electronic devices and to obtain customized tools created by others.

Along with co-counsel Paul Grewal of Day Casebeer, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing three open source software engineers who reverse-engineered an aspect of Blizzard’s Battlenet game server in order to create a free software game server called BnetD that works with lawfully purchased Blizzard games. The BnetD server lets gamers have a wider range of options when playing online. The lower court held that the reverse-engineering of the games needed to create this new option for consumers was illegal.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether the three software programmers were in violation of the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Blizzard Games’ end user license agreement (EULA). EFF will argue that the DMCA expressly protects the programming and distributing of programs such as BnetD and this protection cannot be undercut by general state contract law as applied to EULAs.

EFF took the case to stand up for consumer choice in the marketplace. Reverse engineering is often the only way to craft a new product that works with older ones. Congress expressly recognized this when it created an exception to the DMCA for reverse engineering. Whether it’s allowing gamers to choose a better server for Internet play, or allowing a printer owner to purchase from a range of printer cartridge replacements, reverse engineering is a critical part of innovation in a world where more and more devices need to talk to each other in order to operate correctly.

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More on the background of Blizzard vs BnetD here.

I remember when waiting for Warcraft 3 to come out, a leaked beta was posted on the P2P networks, and you could play ‘online’ via a BnetD server. This in no way ditracted from the fact that I was gonna buy the game.. I mean.. there was simply no issue there, I had already ordered my Collectors Edition box.

I have absolutely no doubt that BnetD was and is used more with pirated versions of Blizzard games (patched versions of course), than to play legally purchased versions at a lan party with a local server, to name a example “legal” useage-case of BnetD.

So what? If people are gonna pirate the game, they are gonna pirate the game, there is in the end, very little Blizzard or anyone else can do about that. Does Bnetd contribute to the spread of illegal copies of Blizzard games? I am pretty sure it does, in a small amount. But I would expect it to be a small amount indeed.

And this is the thing that bugs me. On the scope of all Blizzard sales of all the games that work with Bnetd, what exactly has Bnetd detracted from those profits? What exactly is the damage it does or has done. As far as I know, it still an unproved point that pirating of games ditracts from sales , and if you considder the overwhealming success of Blizzard games, does it really matter in the end?

Of course it doesn’t. This entire case is based on a matter of principle.

One should weigh the potential benifits to legitimate users against the negative impact it might have to the business at large. Can anyone reasonably argue that Blizzard was damaged in any meaningfull way in this case?

Now take note of the fact that I am not weighing the negative impact agaisnt the positive impact of this tool itself. The sum total of that equation is I think obvious.. like I stated: I believe Bnetd is used more in the pirate sense, than it is in the legal sense.

But guess what, the same is true for every P2P network, Bittorrent, CD-Burners, .. to name a few examples. Could not BnetD as a tool fall under the same provisions? I am of course talking about the Betamax case, which I will not elaborate on here, but I can quote the crux of what I feel also encompases the use of a tool like BnetD: “Reasonable Possibility of Substantial Noninfringing Uses”

To name a few:

– The ability to play Battlenet games on a local lan where no Internet connection is present.
– The ability to play Battlenet games 50 years from now when Blizzards support for those games has long since evapporated
– The ablilty to play Battlenet games on a patch version that is no longer supported by Battlenet

I would be very dissapointed if Blizzard won out on this case. But more than that, the very arguement of reverse-engineering to motivate innovation is crucial to how we move forward.