Archive for the 'Hardware' Category

The Commodore 64 turns 25 and CNN notices

Friday, December 7th, 2007

The Commodore 64 turns 25 this year, and amazingly, CNN seems to deem it important enough to merit a front page story. Obviously they have some nerds on staff, because this is far better than their usual sensationalist fare. I’m too young to have grown up with a Commodore, but I do envy everyone who had the experience of using one. From all I’ve read and heard, it sounds like a great system. It was also the best-selling personal computer model of all time, selling 30 million units over its lifespan of twelve years. I can’t even imagine a computer model lasting more than two years these days.

The great thing about the Commodore 64 is that it was affordable (at $600, it was cheaper than a lot of personal computers on the market these days, even adjusting for inflation) and it was hackable. You could get really close to the machine and write all sorts of neat programs out of the box. It turned a generation of kids onto programming. Personal computers these days don’t come with development environments and compilers. If you want to program, you have to go out and download the tools (and many people don’t even realize you can). The way the Commodore 64 did it was much better.

I think it’d be really neat to buy a Commodore 64 and experiment with it to see what the generation of nerds before me was using. It’s not too expensive (going for less than $100 on eBay, and certainly less in local used computer/electronic stores). I already have a bunch of older computers, including some SPARC stations, at my house, so why not add to the collection?

Commodore 64 on CNN front page

NewEgg pulls a Double Satan

Friday, June 15th, 2007

There’s not much to say about this picture other than to point out that NewEgg is pulling what I call a “Double Satan”. Look at how many product reviews they’re advertising as having. Hey, I want a CPU heatsink/fan combo cooler that uses demonic power to suck excess heat into the depths of Hell.

A Satanic NewEgg picture

Credit card blues

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

I just got a new credit card today and it came equipped with a feature that I didn’t ask for: a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip. Basically, RFID can be used so that you can just wave your card at a scanner rather than swiping it through (such a convenience). Also, since it works at a range of up to several meters, it means anyone with a scanner can scarf your information and possibly use your card. With the traditional swipe method, I can be assured that there won’t be any unauthorized charges, because I have to physically take it out of my wallet and swipe it through a reader. RFID, by contrast, could just be charged anytime, anywhere, without me realizing it at all. It wouldn’t even have to be a thief; it could just be some accidental charge at a checkout line.

I got this potentially very insecure feature without even asking for it. Luckily I know enough about this technology to know that I don’t want it, but 90% of the populace probably isn’t. Most people who get this credit card aren’t aware of this feature, which is hidden behind the cute name “blink”. So I called up and asked for a non-RFID replacement card (which will take 7-10 business days), and the drone on the telephone line tried to convince me not to, because they have a “0% fraud liability”. That’s right, apparently because I theoretically ultimately wouldn’t pay for charges when people snarfed my credit card info, I should totally be okay with people stealing through me.

In reality, of course, getting stolen from is a huge hassle to go through with the credit card company. You have to convince them it wasn’t you who bought the goods; since whoever snarfed your information had to be in close physical proximity, when they buy using your account it will also likely be in the same area, and so it won’t look nearly as much like theft as the stereotypical story of “Maryland woman’s credit card number used to buy two surfboards in Hawai’i.” And once your info is stolen, you have to get a new credit card number, which is also a hassle. Plus, I’m not totally selfish. Even if I ultimately don’t end up paying for it, I still don’t want to be benefiting thieves. The credit card company really needs to modify the script that they’re giving to their drones.

EFF cracks the tracking code in Xerox printers

Friday, February 9th, 2007

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has decoded the secret tracking dots that are automatically printed onto color documents by new Xerox color laser printers. The technology works by printing an 8×15 grid of nearly invisible yellow dots on every single page. These dots reveal the time and date of when the page was printed as well as the printer’s serial number. It even includes a row and column of parity data that allows correction of a single dot read error and validates a successful read. Somewhere in the NSA or FBI they probably have modified scanners designed just to read these dots at high speed, thus vacuuming up tracking data from whole stacks of papers in short order.

The big question, though, is how the serial number is implemented. Does Xerox keep a database of these tracking numbers and cross-reference them with the shipping addresses that the printers were sent to? This would allow active forensics, i.e. the FBI analyzes a printed ransom note, looks up the code in Xerox’s database, and finds the identity of the kidnapper. Or is the serial number not tracked by Xerox? This would only allow passive forensics, e.g. the FBI has found a credible suspect in a kidnapping through other means, confiscates his printer, reads its serial number, and determines that it was the same printer that was used to print the ransom note.

The main application of this technology seems to be taking down currency counterfeiters. The dots are printed in small grids that are repeated across the page, so even when the page is cut up into dollar bill-sized pieces, it’s likely an entire tracking grid would still be intact. Of course, this is only speculative; there’s no way to know if the government didn’t have more sinister purposes in requesting this feature. Also, does anyone else find it unethical that Xerox started inserting this into their printers without informing customers? They’re required to accurately represent all of the specifications of their products, so how could this not be mentionable? The vast majority of Xerox printer buyers aren’t counterfeiters and probably don’t appreciate being considered potential criminals, so why should they have to put up with all sorts of tracking data on all of their documents? If I print a piece of paper and hand it to someone else, I don’t want them to be able to recover information like my printer’s serial number!

The jubilations of a new computer

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

My new computer parts came in yesterday from NewEgg. I got an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 processor, an nVidia GeForce 7950GT graphics card, 2x1GB Corsair PC800 DDR2 RAM, a 965P chipset mobo, modular ATX12V power supply, Audigy 2 ZS Platinum sound card, and all of it goes into a sweet new whisper-quiet Antec case, which exclusively uses 120mm fans. Anyway, now that I’ve spent over $1,000 on a new computer, I’m definitely going to be spending some time getting my money’s worth.

I did run into one minor snafu. This Antec case has a separate heat isolation zone at the bottom of the case for the power supply, and the auxiliary 12V 2×2 power connection on the mobo is all the way at the top above the CPU. The cord wasn’t long enough, so I haven’t been able to start gaming on my new rig just yet. I’ve just returned from CompUSA and Hytec Exchange. CompUSA didn’t have what I needed (damn chain stores), but Hytec, a local hobby-ish computer store, had the appropriate cable.

Gaming goodness, here I come!

Monitors inhabited by the devil

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Earlier today I went to a local business to conduct a financial transaction. I gave the man my account information and he entered it into his computer. He was typing it into some sort of a secure web connection to the main servers back at their server farm. The connection must’ve been lagging or something, because it was taking the page several seconds to load. What happened next shocked me with such disbelief that I didn’t even register a visible response, much less say anything.

This man, in professional business attire, started smacking the hell out of his monitor, mumbling something about, “C’mon, hurry up.” His monitor! What was he thinking? Does he even know how computers work? For one, you shouldn’t ever be smacking around computers anyway, but theoretically if smacking them around did help (like it maybe does with some electric devices), you’d have to, you know, smack the actual computer, not the monitor. The lag that was going on was clearly a network issue, it wasn’t a video issue. Him smacking around the monitor made absolutely no sense.

I started thinking to myself, “Wow, this isn’t a person I should be giving my money to, is it.” But it was too late. He already had my check, and he was slapping that monitor like a fundamentalist Salem preacher smacking around a person inhabited by the devil. I just sat back, watching the spectacle, until the transaction finally went through, and I left the place in stunned silence.