Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So now even DNA evidence is suspect.

Although I'm a bit of a skeptic overall, I'm comfortable with fingerprint evidence being used in court. That given, I think we all know that it's possible for a clean fingerprint to be lifted off one source and conveniently planted somewhere else.

Guess what? Something much more convincing is now possible. It involves DNA evidence. Of course, you could always find DNA in somebody's home and plant it in a crime scene, but in this case scientists can remove the DNA that currently resides in blood or saliva and replace it with a match to other DNA that was taken from, say, a drinking glass or a cigarette butt. Same blood sample, different DNA. How are we supposed to build a justice system around that?

The article points out that this evidence won't hold up to any scrutiny deeper than simply checking for markers, however there are workarounds to that as well. However, most labs won't look any deeper than they need to to confirm a match. The researchers that announced this exploit sent results of this technique to various independent labs, and they were fooled.

There is good news. There is a relatively an easy way to determine whether or not this process has been done to forge a sample. The question is, will crime labs start testing all samples for such tampering? Not until scientists have been caught in the act numerous times, I fear.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Slimmer PS3, Slimmer Price

So the Playstation 3's price has dropped $100 (to $299), and they're releasing a 120GB new slim-design in September. You can get the current 80GB model for $299 on and places like Gamestop, though I think Sony will soon stop producing those.

As for the new slim design, I see what others mean when they call it ugly, but I can't say that I care. For $300 you get a next generation console with 120GB of space, a built-in Blu-Ray player, AND it plays xvid and h264 files off of a USB drive. My old roommates PS3 provides some of the best DVD to HD up-conversion I've ever seen--a big bonus if you have a HDTV and a large DVD collection.

In the video above, SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton explains (as I already knew) that the PS3 is on a 10-year plan, of which they're on year 3. In three years they've cut the price in half, though they have dropped Playstation 2 compatibility along the way, as well as reduced the number of USB ports from 4 to 2.

I wonder what other changes will occur over the next 7 years. I see something akin to a laptop--no, something that actually is a laptop, with it's own screen for personal playing on the go plus HDMI. Much easier for LAN parties and system links. Of course, that's how I play most of my games now--on a laptop, with the option of using HDMI out.

I wonder how many more generations of consoles we will have. Actually, I don't even know why we still have consoles. Why isn't everyone PC gamers? PC gaming has all the benefits of console gaming and more. My laptop can plug into a tv via S-Video or HDMI, I can use a Xbox 360 controller if I wanted to, I can play online, I have a fully-capable browser, and when not gaming I can play every audio and video codec I can think of, unlike with the 360 and PS3. I can take my laptop anywhere--from my room to the living room couch or with me on vacation. Possible with a console, I suppose, but not as practical. I do understand why everyone doesn't game on PCs. My laptop was expensive, computers are sometimes fussy and when a game won't play sometimes it requires hours of searching online to find out why. But that's a rarity. Ever since I've gotten Windows 7 running properly, I haven't had a problem gaming on it.

That said, a lot of games that are PS3 exclusive do make it tempting--that's right, despite being a PS3 cheerleader I don't own one. Like I said my old roommate had one. I've only been in a PS3-less house for a couple months, and part of the reason I haven't bought one yet it because I heard a lot of people at E3 predicting an impending price drop. Now I will buy one--and yes, one of the new slim ones. But if I have a choice between buying a game on PC or PS3, I'll buy it for PC. Obviously.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The game I was playing that prompted the last few posts about Steam was the Batman: Arkham Asylum demo. I started downloading it last night, it finished after lunch today. I played halfway through it, then exited out because of a video problem, restarted the computer, and Steam made me wait 15-20 more minutes to download an update. I'd just finished downloading the game less than an hour ago! I wrote that first blog post while I was waiting for the update to finish downloading.

Anyway, my video problem was this: Batman was surrounded by darkness. Things in the distance were clear, but as Batman got closer, everything went dark, except Batman himself and other characters. I thought maybe it was a stealth thing, Batman perpetually in a pool of dark or something, but no, it was a video error. Maybe the restart fixed it, maybe the update Steam downloaded fixed it, but all was as it should be in the 2nd play.

Mini review: It has promise. Paul Dini wrote it, they got a lot of voices from the original Fox animated series, the controls and Detective Mode are cool. The demo was too short to call, really, and I was hoping to at least play that boss fight they hinted at. I'll wait for the reviews, maybe rent it and play it on a friend's console, and if it's good I'll buy it on Steam. I'm hopeful, though.


Steam Updates

Okay, I was just looking around in Steam for something to update programs, so I could let them update now when I'm working. I did see that I can disable automatic updates, but I can't schedule it to check for updates. I also can't seem to tell it to check for updates right now, which is too bad, because I know I won't be playing any games for at least a few days. I'll bet Team Fortress 2 and other similar online multiplayer games require you to be fully updated to even connect to their servers, which is best.


More thoughts on Steam

Steam is a program/network started by game developer Valve, wherein PC gamers can buy PC games, downloading them instead of getting a disk. It's not just limited to Valve games. The greatest thing about Steam is that you can download any of the games you own to any of your computers, or even to a friends computer, if say you're visiting for a few weeks. The games are tied to your login name and password, if you're not logged in on the computer, those games can't be played. It's a straight forward DRM--you can only be logged in on one computer at one time, so instead of limiting the total number of computers you can install on, they let you install these games as many times as desired.

I'm a big fan of Steam, to the point where, if a game isn't available on it, I may not buy it. In fact, I'm shying away from consoles for the most part. I'd rather spend money on games I can take with me and play on my laptop. Not like I'm playing games in restaurants or anything, but it's nice for long trips and vacations.

There are some problems with Steam. I've written previously that my internet is slow, so downloading 8GB per game takes time. That's a problem for downloading to install in the first place, and also a problem for when I want to play the game, and it automatically checks to see if the game needs to be updated, then starts updating. No, stupid! I want to play the game, not install updates! Why not download updates and install them once I'm done? Why not constantly check for updates, or set up a schedule, check for and install updates between 2am-8am? There are also issues with automatic updating in general. What if an update breaks something? Can I undo it? Probably not. Although I haven't had that problem yet, it's possible.

Once I switch to a much faster broadband carrier, it'll be better, but even if it downloads lightening fast, I still have to wait for the updates to install. It is a good service, but I'm curious to see how it'll improve or depreciate over time. And I'm also curious to see if the whole Kindle 1984 scandal will cause people to start looking at services like Steam and Zune Pass with a lot more skepticism.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dropbox versus Spideroak

I've been messing around a bit more with Linux lately, Arch Linux to be exact, and I'm getting ready to set up Ubuntu on my primary desktop (Blender+audio keeps crashing in Windows), in a dual-boot setup.

I have many computers that I use near-simultaneously. The first problem with this kind of setup is bookmarks. When I stop to look something up, I usually end up bookmarking a link. Unfortunately, that bookmark is only on one of my many PCs, so when I want to find something I saved I have to search multiple PCs. I finally looked around and found an online service that syncs bookmarks. FoxMarks is the one I ended up using. It's now called Xmarks, by the way.

I had been working on the same set of documents on all these computers, keeping them on a USB thumb drive. It occurred to me that there must be some service that syncs files automatically online (just a few word processing files and tools) like Xmarks syncs bookmarks. I searched and found a few.

I first used BeInSync, which seems to have disappeared. Or it was bought out, closed down, and I wasn't notified. That's a bit disconcerting because I paid for a year of it's service less than a year ago. The reason I didn't notice when it happened was because I had already switched to Dropbox for all my file syncing needs. BeInSync was okay, it did what it said it would, but it didn't have any Linux compatibility, and it didn't save older revisions of files. Dropbox excels at both.

Once I started using Arch Linux, I read a few tutorials on getting Dropbox working in Xfce with Thunar (instead of Nautilus) and it was beyond my Linux capabilities. I looked at Spideroak, and got it running immediately, all I had to do was build the package and install it. No messing, no scripts.

XP nLited boots faster than Arch, if you can believe it, and I decided that proper GUIs for CPU stepping and hotkeys were also fairly important. It's a a bit of a pain to have to play with command lines in order to get the Super Hybrid Engine on the setting I want. These are all reasons why I'm back to XP on my 901, and therefore also back to Dropbox. I liked Spideroak, I just liked Dropbox better. The things I liked about Dropbox, though, might be things that make others prefer Spideroak.

Both are free for syncing 2GB's worth of files--2GB total size, not 2GB data transfer. Both have options to pay for a larger size, both save revisions (I think), both sync pretty well.

Linux setup aside, Dropbox is less hassle. On installed it configures itself to start up when Windows does, Spideroak doesn't. Dropbox seems to notice immediately when a file is altered and starts syncing immediately, Spideroak scans the preset directories every X minutes (5 minutes being the shortest time). Everything you sync with Dropbox is also available by logging in through your browser, with Spideroak you set up online backups separately from syncing. Spideroak seems to be for the more security-minded. Everything is encrypted. They don't even have your password on file, it's your own private encryption key.

I only set up Spideroak's sync features, I didn't try backing files up or sharing them online. The syncing worked good, although I did thinkg it was working when it wasn't even running, right after turning on my computer. That's a quick fix, though. The actual syncing seems to take longer than Dropbox, because they encrypt everything before it's sent to their servers.

Spideroak also seems to hang on step 3 of it's first run setup. I don't know if I'm just impatient or if there was a problem with the way I set things up, but it really took a long time on all three PCs I tried it on.

I will be keeping my eye on Spideroak in the future. It is a good service, the price is right, and it's easier to set up than Dropbox on Linux, but as long as I'm on Windows only I'll be sticking with the click-and-forget ease of Dropbox.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Google and Privacy

It's no secret I'm a fan of Google and the services they provide. I don't even mind that they use my information serve me better ads--I've actually started coming across more and more ads that help me find things I've been looking for. However, there are lines that need to be drawn. The more and more services Google provides, the more important it is that we ensure that Google protects our privacy.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has an interesting article about this, with a form you should fill out to let Google know how they need to handle your private information. The EFF writes:

You shouldn't be forced to pay for digital books with your privacy. Tell Google it needs to develop a robust privacy policy that gives you at least as much privacy in books online as you have in your neighborhood library or bookstore.

Security used to mean keeping your important personal documents in a safe. Now all our personal information is sent through emails, internet voice services, or to online backup utilities. All this redundancy is great--if you're careful, a fire doesn't mean you lose copies of documents, or photos, or music. And it's a lot easier to search files on a computer than files in a cabinet. However, digital information is exponentially harder to keep track of. As more of our information becomes digital, it becomes increasingly important that we have more effective privacy policies.

Google is collecting such information. We need to make sure this information is safe. Go to the website. Fill out the form.