Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

WASTE network alternatives

In 2003, a program appeared that set up a secure network by which friends and small groups could exchange messages and data easily and securely.  While WASTE had a variety of advantages and disadvantages, it was shut down before it could mature.  Still, the software coined the term "friend-to-friend" (versus "peer-to-peer") file sharing and a long list of alternatives have appeared to try and take its place. 

Any program that takes its place should strive for the following:
  • Open source, cross-platform, and serverless (no one computer is necessary to maintain the group)
  • Secure, unlimited file sharing, and throttling so you don't choke your connection
  • Other useful tools for a small group like Individual and group chat options, bulletin boards, etc.
So far, the RetroShare program seems to be the best option but no Mac client is yet available.

Slowly looking into other alternatives and tools:
  • GNU Net - has some tools to increase the anonymity of users but initial tests last year weren't very promising
  • Weezo - uses centralized, private server
  • Opera Unite  - super easy, but requires computer to be always online.  Status of security unknown.
  • Hamachi (closed) and Wippien (open) - firewall-friendly simple virtual private network program (VPN), but requires that you run other server programs in addition.  Hamachi was tested 2 years ago and worked great but using basic Windows file sharing turned out to be more annoying than we expected.
  • Oneswarm - uses BitTorrent technology and provides some anonymity
  • Tunnelier - Can many internet services secure on your computer.  Maybe the easiest tool for SSH tunneling available for Windows.
More on this as it happens.

Millstone milestone

Finally, the Vatican prosecutor of clerical abuse says what the pope should have said over a year ago: the culprits are going to hell.  Whether or not you're Catholic, believe in hell, or believe abusive priests or those that covered up for them are going to hell, its nice to hear someone of Catholic faith underline one of the things that draws people to religion in the first place: a flawless celestial justice system.

In addition, "[The prosecutor] drew on a passage in St. Mark's Gospel saying those who harm children would be better off tying a millstone to their neck and throwing themselves into the sea." 

Although suicide may not be the best solution for sick people to solve their problems, it felt like someone found the right words to a bitter society.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Regis and Kelly admit to being useless

Although this was ostensibly to make fun of two television personalities, it also shows something essential about human nature: raw charisma that famous people use to sell themselves doesn't make them genuinely interesting.  (thanks firedancer)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Google Mail cleanup

If you're a Google Mail user, two tricks that can save you a lot of trouble are backing up and then cleaning out your inbox.  Although this can easily be done in reverse to make one's backup that much smaller, its always safer to backup before deleting.  In tests, this saved between 300 and 400 megs of space.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ask Justify: multiplayer computer games?

So videogames have become increasingly social among my friends for a while now.  I'm trying to expand that and wanted to poll my readers for your favorites.

Suggestions, ideas, or success stories?  If it has two or more players and high replay value I'm interested.

  1. Something that supports groups (4+)
  2. Games with low system requirements, if only because its usually cheaper
  3. Cooperative to competitive (tends to be more socially positive), but the option for competition is nice
  4. Something fairly easy to learn and not restricted to first person shooters
Past examples:
  • Modern Warfare 2 of course but not much beyond the hardcore gamer friends
  • Diablo 2 - was great for groups and a lot of fun but burned out on this
  • Gamecube is cheap, seats 4, and has some nice games
  • Modded old xbox also 4 player and can be outfitted with MAME for some nostalgic gaming nights
  • Wii Tennis entertained *really* well for like two weeks

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Notepad ++ Customizations

Absolutely love this program and developed some customizations to the program (all inside the program, no additional downloads).

MPEG-LA patent abuse and anti-trust

After reading about a consortium "MPEG-LA"s monopoly on digital video, I was pleased to hear a German company is filing an anti-trust complain about them.

Note: This is only from reading Slashdot -- a very intellectual property reform so the assumptions about mpeg-la as a patent-troll may be a bit one-sided.  As a result, two lawyer friends have been contacted comment on this story -- hopefully will have a deeper analysis soon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google Docs - Drawing

A new drawing program that rivals some commercial software is now available on Google Docs.  I'm very impressed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quote of the Month: May 2010

"You have to listen for the 'awwwrrrr'" - my friend Silver explaining how to tell if an enemy in Call of Duty has died or is just stunned.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Modern Christians

Some interesting criticism on recent American Christianity: Ten Ways Christians Tend to Fail at Being Christian.  While many of the concerns are left-leaning, it would be interesting to know what other Christians think of them. (thanks Silver)

Basic computer setup question

Question: I use Avast for my anti-virus software and it has always served me well.  Is there anything else I need to install on my new WinXP comp to protect it?  Just wondering what you think.

The question isn't is there any software, but how important is your computer?  If its mission critical that's a different question than if its a basic home computer.

For most, the best and easiest way is to keep a folder on your desktop with important stuff in it.  Once a week copy that folder on to an external USB (thumb) drive that you store somewhere away from your laptop.  If your laptop is in your backpack, leave the USB at home or visa versa.  That's a pretty good way to keep things safe.

Other than that, Avast is great, use Firefox for web browsing and make sure that your computer has all the latest updates.  If you're not sure if Windows is automatically updating (a little yellow shield icon in the taskbar), use Internet Explorer to go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com
 once a month or so.  That should take care of it.

If you just want to play around with something, you might like DropBox.  It will save stuff remotely and makes it real easy to share documents and files.  You can set it up to be that folder on your desktop mentioned above and its free up to 2 gigs.  Just watch the video tutorial on the site and if it looks cool give it a shot.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Recycle Bin? Add a Shredder (Windows program)

Many people have separate places for shredding documents and recycling them.  Now you can create similar settings for your computer with a few minor tweaks.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bad organizations

If you work for a company or run one that sounds like this, be wary.
  • The butts-in-seats method means that when a company starts like holding you strictly to time cards, they are demonstrating a powerlessness to determine your actual worth.  Bad indicators like this suggest an artificial organizational structure and definitely not a meritocracy.  Showing up on time in this organization is therefore far more important than providing value to the company.
  • Appearances are everything, which is similar to butts-in-seats, a dress code means appearing to be a good worker means you are a good worker.  A strict dress code is all the more painfully false.
  • Must use the "maybe" requirement means you're never allowed to say "no" or "I don't know" to your boss, which is considered defiance or stupidity.
  • Tacitly encouraged to slow innovation means make sure that breakthroughs are gradual and continuous -- you are not rewarded for one gigantic win and then 100 little ones.  Better to have 50 medium successes to illustrate yourself as a continuous producer.  This may be why diseases are no longer cured, only managed and why small out-of-someones-garage companies are so important.  Also the "what have you done for me lately" problem.
  • Power to the manager involves extremely relative metrics for success that empower managers to continue asking for more from their employees, without rewarding them for real work.
  • The police method means having impossible metrics available so you can always justify a firing.  Similar to how a good cop can always come up with a reason to arrest you.

Funny vids part XI

Leaving Facebook

After the most recent Facebook debacle in a long line of poor decisions, you might be getting fed up.

Fortunately, a call has been put out to a distributed, open alternative.  A centralized, closed service is clearly not the answer as service after service keeps screwing up the real hope of genuinely connecting people via social networking.

Update: 14 different privacy organizations filed complaints with the FTC against Facebook.  From a great Wired article that also suggests some possible solutions.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Unusual account activity

When I bought a $1,000 laptop online a few years ago, my bank called me.  Verizon and other companies should do the same, especially for an $18,000 bill.  Although the article and its wording is obvious flame-bait, I was amused that Verizon's defense was "we educate the customer." They provide 20 different ways to check and control your account but won't even send an email after the first $200?  The first $2,000?

Lesson learned is to contact any group you hold accounts with and find out what they have in place to catch unusual spending (mint.com provides a service for this).  To avoid accounts getting started in the first place (identity theft), there are ways to avoid that too.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Exercize your brain

A very fun and challenging puzzle site that lets you move gradually from easy to difficult on almost every game.  Requires Java to play directly or you can download the programs and run them on any Windows computer.

Related: more brain games

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Live Windows backup

Its something Linux has been able to do for over 10 years now and Mac in the last 5, but now Windows has added this capability.

Results in using the software have been mixed but when you need to backup a system without shutting it down, this is easy and free.  You can create them using freeware programs Disk2VHD and then open their files using PeaZip or 7-zip's latest beta.

Windows 7 users have quite a few options for working with these files.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Law within the law

Recent news about police abuse has not been positive.
  • Student brutally assaulted for no reason (video)
  • Sci-fi author beaten up, brutally jailed, and now trial for "felony resistance" when witnesses claim otherwise.
Obviously the very publicized examples can't be representative of all officers, but when police abuse their power, they shouldn't just be fired or suspended as in these cases -- they should be treated as criminals.  Backing the police and always giving them the benefit of the doubt is not the solution since bad cops don't just hurt their victims; when citizens feel they can't call the police, they call someone else instead.

"Organized crime most typically flourishes when a central government and civil society is disorganized, weak, absent or untrusted." (Wikipedia)

ACLU's Police information and methods for fighting abuse.  Plus, something to keep in your wallet.