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The Snowden Effect

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The leaking of government and military material including the U.S. diplomatic cables by Bradley Manning deeply concerned me in 2010 as I assumed it can destabilize the relationships between the US and the rest of the world. It turned out everyone knew what Americans embassies and diplomats are and nobody really got upset. The US started using their embassies and consulates as spy outposts after 9/11. So far… so good. Obama and Clinton managed to keep the damage low.

The NSA material leak by Eward Snowden and the revelations that followed it are much more valuable than the Manning leaks and a true wake up call for ALL Internet users, engineers and the entire IT industry.

Let’s recap where privacy has been compromised so far:

  • US based Web Communication Services and Social Networks via PRISM (although most serious Internet companies check FISA requests and won’t give out information if not absolutely necessary)
  • Intercontinental traffic via NSA Upstream, GCHQ Tempora and most probably some Chinese program we don’t know the name of (there are indications for that)
  • Your PC Operating System like Windows (backdoors are known since 1999 and it can be infected by state-sponsored Trojans)
  • Your mobile Operating System may it be Android, iOS or BlackBerry OS (NSA thinks iPhone users with location services are zombies)
  • SSL certificates that are used on the web i.e. for online banking
  • Any hardware including routers going down to the PC BIOS and even CPU Microcode can be backdoored (Hauwei became famous for this)

The entire leak finally makes people understand that sending unencrypted Emails is like putting a letter in a plastic foil and sending it via post. Unencrypted Instant Messaging might be compared to writing your private messages on postcards. It makes governments around the world finally realize their information security has been compromised a long time ago and that they need to find new and safer methods of communicating. We now know that we live in an era of CYBER WAR after the COLD WAR ended.

Not only the US government betrayed the Internet but in large portions it has been them along with China, Russia, Israel, France and the UK. Read a great call to action to all engineers who helped creating the Internet to take it back:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/05/government-betrayed-internet-nsa-spying

The process has begun and there will be nothing that can stop it:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/12/ietf_floats_prismproof_plan_for_harder_internet/

Personally I started using OTR in Jabber and I support encrypted email projects like Mailpile:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mailpile-taking-e-mail-back

Eward Snowden destroyed his own life but for a very good cause. I’m confident we, the users and creators will take back the Internet. The absolutely crazy level of surveillance is an unjustified overreaction to the terror threat!

It couldn’t avoid the Boston Marathon bombing attacks although the older Tsarnaev brother even had a public YouTube channel with radical videos on it. It’s the proof this global surveillance system doesn’t work. It didn’t work before 9/11 and it doesn’t work today because the real bad guys don’t touch any device with internet access. This is why Americans had such a hard time finding Osama Bin Laden. In the end it was not torture nor any snooped email that lead to him. It was a clever woman in the CIA who connected the dots applying classic detective work.

Ubuntu Edge – It’s the future, today.

A mobile device as powerful as a PC connected to a screen, keyboard and mouse for office work and touch input for the usage on the go is a concept I would have rather expected  from Microsoft but those guys seem to be too busy with cleaning up the mess of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 that are not compatible among each other. Instead the idea comes from Canonical, the makers of the great Ubuntu Linux operating system.

To build this device Canonical will need $32M for that kind of hardware. Especially in times of absolute government surveillance it’s more important then ever to support open and trusted infrastructures.

Please join me in supporting the campaign for funding the Ubuntu Edge device (I went for the 20$ perk just to support it): http://igg.me/at/ubuntuedge/x/4043517

If you want to invest more and can afford to spend even 800$ for this device I would like to encourage everyone to do so.

Make it happen! It’s the future, today.

Edit: Too bad the crowdfunding campaign didn’t reach the goal. It seems it’s too early for this kind of technology.

Mozilla Firefox to block 3rd party cookies

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If you are an owner of a blog and you try to monetize it you won’t be happy about an upcoming feature of Firefox that Mozilla will introduce in version 22. Mozilla will block 3rd party cookies that are used by most banner ads. The Do-Not-Track signal will be also turned on by default. The IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has put up a petition against this. I encourage you to sign it!

http://www.iab.net/mozilla_petition/

TVPeCee HDMI-Stick MMS-874 Android Mini-Computer

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Downloading Xvid movies via Torrent or some other P2P network is out. Not even Peerblockers with blacklists of honeypots can protect users anymore (more: http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-blocklists-dont-keep-bittorrent-spies-out-120904/). Today you can “rent” movies online for a few Euro (or Dollar) on most platforms like consoles, video-on-demand boxes by your ISP or other vendors, Smart TVs, Notebooks, Tablets, Barebones, HTPCs and even mobile phones. You can also watch a wide range of movies via Web-Streaming i.e. from YouTube or other sites via Flash, HTML5 or native apps.

The problem with most platforms is that still most video streaming content on the web is Flash-based. That’s where most of the platforms fail… for instance the Internet Explorer for the Xbox 360 (that requires Gold membership BTW) doesn’t show Flash, Apple TV wouldn’t even dare to show Flash, ARM-based Raspberry Pi would be cool enough but there is no Flash player for the Linux and the browser running on it. So what to do if your TV is not “smart” (Internet connected) yet or Flash-enabled? Of course you can connect your Notebook or Tablet via HDMI to your TV, use some Air-Play service or buy a Barebone-PC or HTPC but I was looking for a cheap convenient and noiseless Always-On solution. What could be better for that than an Operating System and CPU (more a SoC) of a mobile phone? Android runs Flash too! Although any new updates or versions won’t be released for it the old version is good enough for most Flash video content on the web.

I decided to try out such a device that you connect via HDMI to your TV. First I ordered the MMS 864 TVPeCee that turned out to be a total disaster. It has a slow single-core ARM, runs Android 4.0 with an ugly custom UI, doesn’t play Flash in full screen and has black screens from time to time. The successor model the MMS 874 with Android 4.1 cures all those weaknesses though!

The MMS 874 has a fast dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU that is on the level of the Galaxy Nexus performance wise (more: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Rockchip+MMS-874.dualcore), runs the vanilla Android UI, shows Flash in full screen and has better passive cooling. See full specs here: http://www.pearl.de/a-ZX1005-1602.shtml (German). I extended the device with  a 16 GB microSDHC memory card, an USB hub, a wireless keyboard and a gamepad. This way the device becomes a console too as many games support a gamepad on Android (more: http://www.jayceooi.com/2012/09/11/android-games-with-native-gamepad-support/).

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For about 150 Euro (including all peripherals) you get a nice Android Mini-Computer that can be used to stream videos, play games, check social networks etc. on your TV screen . It’s noiseless compared to some fan-equipped PC-Barebones, not bound to any video platform like the Apple TV with iTunes Store or any ISP video-on-demand box and relatively cheap compared to consoles, PC-Barebones or HTPCs. Forget about Google TV or this Air-Play black ball device (Nexus Q) they tried to release… Vanilla Android is more than enough to make your TV “smart” and connected.

The future of the PC

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The machine on the photo above is my current PC. An AMD FX-6300@4,5GHz with 16GB RAM, Radeon HD 6870, Samsung 128GB 840 SSD, 1TB HDD and a case with 5x 120mm fans… but this desktop computer running Windows 7, built for optimal gaming performance and value, is a dinosaur. The desktop PC era is coming to an end and the big players in the PC world understood it. The Home Personal Computer that had a specific immobile place in your apartment or house is dead. Most people use notebooks, tablets, smart phones or video game consoles for media and content consumption as well as social actives. Microsoft made the bold move with Windows 8 and hardware makers along with chip makers like Intel and AMD try to adapt to the new situation. CPUs tend to become System-On-Chips integrating  GPUs even in the x86 world as they would try to copy ARM, the dominant architecture for mobile chips. For home consumers I think the Windows x86 PC will survive as a hybrid tablet and Microsoft did a good job so far in initiating this transition. They killed the desktop user interface along with the task bar and the start button and adapted Windows to work with a touch interface. Not many people know but Microsoft was behind the design of most first generation Windows 8 Tablet hardware along with releasing their own reference device, the Surface RT and Surface Pro (more info: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561849-75/how-microsoft-became-a-control-freak-with-tablet-makers/).

The big question is if corporations will adapt to Windows 8. I talked with the IT support folks in my company and none of them can imagine using Windows 8 in the corporate environment. There is also a funny video about an admin reacting to Windows 8 on YouTube:

Everyone who is into content creation, will it be image or video/audio editing, print layout (aka DTP), web design or programming, won’t give up a mouse and a desktop user interface designed for it. No matter if on a Windows 7 PC, Linux PC, or Mac Pro or even a Notebook/Ultrabook or MacBook Pro/iMac/Mac mini. All of them are designed to be used with a track-pad or mouse. OK, it’s possible to do some nice content creation with touch and there are some cool Apps but I feel they are still toys compared to the mature software packages used on desktop machines. Also the classic office application suite is difficult to use on touch and you need also a wireless printer even though I reckon Microsoft did a good job with Office 2013. For typing a physical keyboard is a must but most Windows 8 tablets are hybrids anyway. It’s understandable why Microsoft want’s to keep this exclusive to Windows 8 and is not releasing an iOS Office version (more: http://www.zdnet.com/why-ballmer-doesnt-want-office-on-the-ipad-7000010566/). So the problem of Windows 8 is the hardware but it’s about innovative corporate hardware!

The following article by a professional analyst comes to the same conclusion more or less: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9236658/If_the_PC_dies_Windows_8_will_be_its_killer_says_analyst

So far I didn’t see many corporate hardware concepts for Windows 8 that are compelling enough but the ones that are our there come surprisingly from Dell (yes, the company that went private lately). It seems that most hardware makers like Lenovo with the Yoga 13 forgot to release a docking station. In my option an essential piece of hardware making life easier in a corporate environment is a docking station (or do you want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, wired network and monitor each time?). Windows 8 has multi-monitor support so such a configuration can work pretty well in my option (more: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/05/21/enhancing-windows-8-for-multiple-monitors.aspx).

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Another concept that makes sense is a kind of stand for the tablet that connects keyboard and mouse wireless.

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Of course you could tilt a touch PC like this Dell and use it in a kind of Star Trek Geordi La Forge manner by typing and touching the interface.

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My advice to Microsoft would be to release a set of Windows 8 (or Windows Blue by that time) reference devices similar to the Surface Pro especially optimized for the office corporate environment and content creation. The Surface Pro is a good start but more has to follow and most importantly those devices have to prove they improve efficiency similar to what is shown on the video below.

Another amazingly bad console game PC port

The Amazing Spider-Man game is absoutely great … but someone didn’t spend enough time on the quality assurance after the game has been released it seems. It stutters on AMD graphic cards with recent drivers. I’m not entiery sure if it’s maybe not the fault of AMD who didn’t add an optimzed profile for the game but you can easliy fix it by fooling the game in thinking you have an Nvidia graphics card! Check out a detailed instruction here: http://steamcommunity.com/app/212580/discussions/0/828925849355197850/#c828925849477117777

The problem with this workaround is that you have to delete the fake dll file each time and add it after running the launcher in the folder so I hope AMD or Beenox is going to fix it in a driver update of patch!

Also the developers didn’t add any proper anti-alias or it simply fails to work especially on indoor parts of the game. On a console it’s not that importat as you sit far away from your TV set but PC monitors are usually relatively close to your eyes. Turning on morphological anti-alias (http://sites.amd.com/us/game/technology/Pages/morphological-aa.aspx) helps a bit but not much. I guess you can really fix that it by using down-sampling anti-alias tools like this SSAA-Tool: http://www.tommti-systems.de/start.html

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