Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Portable Anonymous Firefox + Tor

TorPark is a pre-packaged portable installation of the Firefox browser integrated with the Tor anonymizing onion router. You can download TorPark and extract it to a USB thumb drive. Just run the Torpark.exe file to start a new browser, and run Torkill.exe after you finish to end all associated processes. With this you can turn any computer into a secure connection, and will disguise your IP address by routing your request through the encrypted Tor network.

There is more information about Tor available in the TorFAQ. If you want to help provide anonymous web access you can run a Tor server. Help free the Chinese people from oppressive censorship.

Good news everyone!

Adult Swim announced last night that Futurama is coming back with 4 new direct to DVD movies. Hopefully strong sales will inspire a series renewal like the one seen by Family Guy. Futurama is one of the smartest shows on TV, and I would really like to see some new material. It is too bad that Fox originally attempted to air the last half of each new episode after a football game.

Futurama and Family Guy are both syndicated and appear almost every night on Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. Be sure to catch The Boondocks, Robot Chicken and Squidbillies as well. Comedy gold.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wireless USB Hub

Looks like one of my favorite manufacturers is about to release a cool new product. Slashdot has a story that Belkin is going to start selling a wireless USB hub early 2nd quarter 2006 for around $130. Belkin is on my short list of great companies due to their lifetime warranties and killer products. I have several of their TuneCast and TuneCast II FM Transmitters, as well as a wired USB hub, and two Nostromo Speedpads.

I hope the range on these things is good. I'd love to spread three or four of these around the house to connect webcams without having to attach directly to a computer. Too bad the press release doesn't give a range.

Finding Torrents

If you are new to BitTorrent one of the first things you need to know is where to find .torrent files. These files describe the file or files to be downloaded, including the size, filenames, number of peers and seeds, and locations. There are many standalone torrent hosts such as Mininova, as well as cross site search engines such as isoHunt and specialized sites like tvtorrent.

Many torrent hosting sites also produce RSS feeds, so you can be notified of new files being seeded. My Google Sidebar shows me new files as the .torrent files are posted to Mininova, which is my favorite torrent site.

BitTorrent with Azureus

There is a kick-ass free program called Azureus that is my favorite BitTorrent client. A client implements the BitTorrent protocol and provides additional features such as multiple downloads and a seeding wizard. Azureus was created in Java and is maintained and enhanced by a lively open-source community.

The Azureus wiki is a great source of information about how to set up and optimize Azureus on your computer. Make sure to read the section about good settings for high download speeds. You can also find information about various plug-ins that are available for Azureus, such as SafePeer and RSS Feed Scanner.

Once you have your client set up you can go hunting for Torrents.

PC Magazine also has a good comparison of BitTorrent clients on their website.

Protect Free Speech with P2P

BitTorrent is a protocol that eases the burden of distributing files to a large number of people. When each person is simultaneously uploading and downloading the file to many different people it removes the large bandwidth requirements that a single source would face.

With BitTorrent a single person can "seed" a large file and distribute it to millions of people for almost no cost. To post the same file to a website for download would consume huge amounts of bandwidth and cost the website operator a great deal of money. This allows an independent filmmaker of novelist to release their work to a wide audience without having to use a movie studio or publishing house.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is the most bandwidth intensive internet activity, with the BitTorrent protocol itself accounting for more than half of the traffic on the internet today.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Next Generation LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO is calling for developers to help with testing their next generation LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots. It looks like the new kits will be priced at $250, but 100 testers can get one at $150 5 months in advance of the August 2006 general release.

I have several of the first generation Mindstorms products, and they are a great introduction to robots and programming, as well as perfect sources of motors and automation supplies for your other LEGO projects. And, since it is LEGO, there is virtually no limit to what can be done.

Serious LEGO enthusiasts should check out LEGO's Digital Designer workshop, it's CAD for LEGOs.

Here is a video of a LEGO Mindstorms Robot playing Pong.

Wiki Cool

Wiki technology allows multiple authors to contribute to the same web page at the same time. Perhaps the best example of how wikis can be used is Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopedia. Topics cover all the standard encyclopedia items, and users can add new topics at will. Best of all almost anyone can edit any topic at any time.

This might lend itself to abuse, but in general the ad hoc authors clean up after vandalism pretty quickly. You can expand the knowledge base of the human race by creating an article about whatever you know best. Rocks and minerals, extruded plastic, Star Wars trivia or absolutely anything.

Since the stories can be edited so quickly Wikipedia is updated in almost real time in some cases.

105 inch screen from a distance of 12 feet

is 18 inches at arm's length.

eMagin has a new headset accessory in the works for Apple's Video iPod. It is a single eye version of their z800 3D Visor. I had one of the visors, but it proved to be a few generations too soon to really be useful. I have an 18 inch monitor, and it gets much better resolution than 800x600.

eMagin needs to go back to the drawing board and try to jump forward a few iterations. A single eye device for $200 more than the 60 GB iPod is not going to draw many takers. Judging by my experience with their visor it will be late and not so great as well.

Steer clear of this one.

The eMagin z800 3DVisor. For some reason I don't think we're in the Metaverse quite yet.

Better than a tinfoil hat

Here is a link to a site about an RFID deactivator decive from the 22nd Chaos Communications Congress. If you think the singularity may be driven by RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips, then this device should be good to have.

Keep up the good work guys!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Genetic-Programming Software

RML Technologies, Inc is offering a genetic programming regression and classification tool. Genetic programming is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) technique that involves evolving small pieces of code, functions and parameters to solve a particular task. Genetic Algorithms (GAs) are a broader grouping of software coding techniques that mimic the biological reproduction, mutation and survival of the fittest.

I'll try to remove the proprietary data from my Master's Thesis on Genetic Algorithms and post it to Archive.org.

CAPTCHAing Artificial Intelligences

Apparently I am posting often enough to trigger Blogger's CAPTCHA system.

CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. These tests are becoming more and more important as hordes of automated web robots threaten to disrupt legitimate internet commerce. These robots are programs or scripts that interact with websites far faster than humanly possible. These programs can be used to sign up for millions of free email accounts as a first step in sending spam, to purchase all the tickets to a concert for scalping and to flood web servers with requests in order to prevent access by others in a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. Many virus and worm programs seek to launch these programs on infected machines in order to perform distributed attacks and make detection and tracking more difficult.

Many web sites such as TicketMaster and Blogger require anyone buying a ticket or starting a blog to enter a string of letters or numbers that appear in a distorted fashion in a picture. The text is usually fuzzy and covered by a pattern overlaying the picture. This makes image recognition by a computer program much more difficult, but not impossible. In fact, over the last several years the test has evolved as the analysis algorithms and tools have improved. Early versions of the test did not include the pattern overlay. As computer programmers become more sophisticated and build better tools these types of tests will need to improved dramatically.
Alan Turing proposed a test that has evolved into what some people consider a holy grail of Artificial Intelligence. The Turing Test, as it is now known, was originally posed to see if a referee could distinguish a male from a female entirely by their written answers to his questions. The subjects were physically separated from the referee and only allowed to communicate through an anonymizing media such as typed cards or electronic text. The referee can ask any question he sees fit to try and determine which subject is male and which is female on the basis of their answers. The ref knows that there is one male and one female, and he "wins" if he correctly determines which is which. The male "wins" if he can convince the ref that he is the female. The test can also be reversed such that the female is attempting to convice the ref that she is the male. In one actual test the male gave himself away by naming the sizes of pantyhose as Small, Medium and Large, instead of Queen.

The Turing Test has been applied to computers and Artificial Intelligence as well. Turing theorized that if a computer's answers could not be distinguished from a human's in such a test that it could be considerd to be thinking. He predicted by the year 2000 that programs would exist that could pass the test. The Loebner Prize was established in 1990 with a $100,000 prize for the first program that can pass a version of the test. The full test has never been passed, but each year a $2000 prize is awarded to the year's best contender.

As the state of the art in Artificial Intelligence (which has image recognition as a sub-discipline) improves we can expect these public tests to get more extensive as well. Can you imagine having to explain a joke or draw a picture to order a concert ticket?

Find more info here:
Loebner Prize

I wonder if I could write a script to send these off to the Mechanical Turk?

Messaging with Chess

Shockwave.com has a freaking sweet email chess website. Move notifications are delivered by email with a link to a web page. The pages has a Flash chess board and a small message area to write notes. Move the pieces to take your turn and then hit submit to notify the other player. Quick and easy, and a good way to stay in touch with your friends and enemies.

The hardest part of the game is coming up with clever names, and not getting caught playing at work.

Find plans for making custom chess pieces from nuts and bolts and other hardware here.

Visual Feeds - TagCloud

TagCloud.com offers an interesting way to visualize the information in your favorite RSS feeds. You can create a TagCloud for any number of feeds of your choice, and the service will scan them and show a map of word frequencies. This makes a nice way to see what the buzz on the internet is.

The cloud for the singularity blog can now be found on the top left, or here.

RSS feeds in your email

Feedblitz offers a neat service if you prefer your email client as your RSS reader. They can email you the headlines of as many feeds as you desire. I find it handy when I am on the road and don't have access to my primary feed reader. Also, since it is email it makes it very easy to access on my Treo 650 smartphone.

My favorite email feed is Digg.com, a social bookmarking service.

They also let you set up email syndication for webpages and feeds. You can subscribe to singularity by email using the link below.

Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Artificial Artificial Intelligence

Amazon.com has an interesting new service called Mechanical Turk. You can do small tasks over the internet that earn a few cents apiece. Some of the tasks include naming the band from an album cover and checking that a website is relevant to a specific business. You might earn between 1 and 5 cents per tasks for these examples.

These are tasks that are easy for a human, but hard for a computer. Hopefully as the number of tasks grows there will be some that are worth larger rewards. There is a qualification system, so it is possible that lucrative tasks only appear to the people who are qualified.

My Monster.com agent feed for "Artificial Intelligence" jobs also informs me that Amazon.com is looking for a new manager for the project.

Rediscover the web with Firefox

The Mozilla Foundation Firefox browser is a perfect replacement for Microsoft Internet Explorer. Firefox features multiple web page tabs, user and community created functionality extensions such as ad blockers and more. Security in Firefox is a major improvement over IE. Best of all, the browser is free. Firefox also features RSS feeds delivered to your bookmarks, though I prefer a standalone reader.

The Google Toolbar makes a great first extension, then look at SessionSaver, UndoCloseTab and Duplicate Tab.

Run Linux the easy way - Knoppix

Knoppix is a version of the free Linux operating system. It runs entirely from a bootable CD or DVD, and requires no installation on your computer. It auto detects your hardware and is up and running in under five minutes. It can also be run as a virtual machine under Windows or another OS.

Knoppix works great as a backup environment if your Windows OS is ever compromised or disabled. Download a .iso disk image in either CD or DVD size. Then burn to a CD or DVD. Activate the BIOS setup while booting your computer and enable booting to the CD or DVD drive prior to the hard drive. When you boot with the disc in the drive you will boot to Knoppix and a Windows like interface without pressing any keys. When you boot without the disc you boot to Windows as normal.

You can find additional info on Knoppix here.

Google Sitemaps Beta

The Google Overlords have released a way for you to help keep them supplied with up to date information about your web site: Sitemaps. It does require that you be able to create a blank file at the root of your site, so it might not be that useful for blogs. It still provides some useful information in the form of pre-generated Google queries, such as the sites that link to your website.

Micro$oft (hopefully) patches 0-day flaw

Microsoft has hurried out the release and testing of a patch for the recent flaw found in their Windows operating system. Use Windows Update to get the patch, then set it to run automatically to stay up to date.

The flaw let hackers put code into images on the web that Microsoft Internet Explorer and other programs would run. The Mozilla Firefox browser doesn't execute the code without user authorization.

I bet some of the Microsoft code monkeys were working furiously over the last few days.

Google Pack

Get a bunch of bundled applications including all of the useful Google tools here. These are all free, and it includes a 6 month subscription to Norton Anti Virus. Google Earth, Deskbar, Talk and Picasa are all available in one unified installer, along with helper apps such as Adobe Acrobat 7 and LavaSoft AdAware.

I for one welcome another beta from our Google overlords.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Remote Control - Magic Wand

The Snapstream Firefly PC Remote is a great way to control your PC wirelessly from a distance of around 30-40 feet. You can control tons of applications right out of the box, such as Windows Media Player, various TV, DVD and CD applications and full mouse control. You can write you own controls scripts in XML, so you can customize the device to work with virtually any application with very little trouble. I've had one for a year now and it works great from one end of my house to the USB base unit in my computer on the other. For less the 50 bucks you can have a great remote with the ability to improve it with time. Very hack friendly.

Froogle has it cheapest at $45.95.

SD memory with built in USB interface

The SanDisk Ultra™ II SD™ Plus USB Card is wonderful for using with a smartphone such as my Treo 650 and a laptop and or desktop with or without a card reader. The card folds in half to provide a USB interface. Transfer time is very quick and a 1 GB card can hold several hours of digital books, music and video.

Circuit City seems to be the only place to find it, but you can order online here.

RSS Reader

A useful tool for keeping up with webpages that change frequently is an RSS reader or aggregator. A good free reader can be found here. Most major sites publish feeds that the RSS reader tracks for you at certain intervals. Blogs normally have an RSS feed, as do Monster.com agents (persistent job searches), News services such as CNet and the BBC, Flickr, mininova and many others. Google also offers a built in feed reader and finder in their Google Desktop app.

The RSS feed for the Singularity blog is http://techsingularity.blogspot.com/atom.xml.

Accelerando - Welcome to the Singularity

Charles Stross has a very powerful book that he has made available for free download. It follows a family through the technological singularity that takes place starting around 2015. I've heard a sequel is in the works, and I look forward to it. Stross has several other stories that are available on the internet and on dead trees.

A wiki dissecting and discussing Accelerando is here.

DivX Codec

Here is a link to download the DivX coder and decoder (CODEC). Use this to play a lot of those .AVI files you find on the web.

Merge all of your computers to one keyboard and mouse

Using Synergy you can connect several computers to the same mouse and keyboard. You can easily position the screens relative to one another and the mouse cursor will seamlessly switch between monitors and computers. The keyboard and clipboard are also shared between computers. Screen savers and their password protection are controlled simultaneously as well. A great little free application which is very useful if you have both a desktop and a laptop.

Here is a link to a tutorial to get it up and running with no sweat.

cnbc h4x0r3d

Just saw CNBC get hacked while glickman was talking about people being able to "copy willy nilly". The head of the MPAA was taken off the air while discussing Digital Rights by a hacker named lowboy. No mention of it on air, so this is just my opinion until verified.



PocketDivX is another free app that lets you resample and resize video for your mobile device. Works great in conjunction with TCPMP.

The Core Pocket Media Player

TCPMP is a great free video player for handheld devices. I use it on my Treo 650 to watch TV shows and other video that I have recorded on my PVR or picked up at the archive.