Essential networking tips

for small business

Android KitKat Unveiled

Suprising move by Google

Windows 8

Nine unanswered questions about the new OS

Pioneer 15x Blu-ray burner

coming soon for under $100

Monday, April 7, 2014

Replace Windows 8 with Windows 7 or a look-alike

Cheryle Fields’ husband hates his new Windows 8 PC. Cheryle asked me if she can replace the operating system with Windows 7.

You may or may not be able to install Windows 7 on your particular Windows 8 PC. A lot of that depends on the hardware. And, of course, you’ll have to buy a new copy of Windows 7.

But if you or a close family member hates Windows 8 that much (and I’m in complete sympathy), there are better options than paying for two versions of Windows and only using one of them.

First, see if you can return the computer. The retailer or manufacturer may have a 15- or 30-day return policy. If you bought the PC recently enough, you can probably get your money back--minus a restocking fee.

And then, you can buy a Windows 7 PC. Yes, they’re still available, although your choice of models will be considerably smaller. The major manufacturers all have search tools on their websites, where you can select criteria for your preferred computer. Check the operating system option to see if it includes Windows 7.

While writing this article, I found three Lenovo laptops, four HP laptops, and a whole lot of Dell laptops and desktops available with Windows 7. Senior editor Brad Chacos has further advice on how to get a Windows 7 PC.
0407 classic shell
If your PC can’t be returned for a reasonable price, you can make Windows 8 behave very much like Windows 7. With far less work than it takes to reinstall an alternate operating system, you can create a reasonable facsimile of Microsoft’s best user interface.

First, you need a third-party Start Menu program. There are many out there, but my favorite is the free Classic Shell. It creates a very close approximation of the Windows 7 Start Menu, with all of the features in the right places.

When you set up Classic Shell, go to the Start Menu Settings tab and select Windows 7 style. Near the bottom of the Basic Settings tab, be sure to check Skip Metro screen. You’ll never have to see that dumb home screen again.

Classic Shell includes more than just a Start Menu replacement. It can also return Internet Explorer and File Explorer (the Windows 8 equivalent to Windows Explorer) to their old selves.

What Classic Shell can’t do is turn off the charms that appear when you mouse too closely to the corners of your screen. Fortunately, there are other ways to do this.

0407 navigation properties croppedOne such solution is built into Windows 8.1. Unfortunately, this solution doesn't disable the bottom-right corner.

If that’s alright by you, right-click the taskbar and select Properties. Click the Navigation tab.
Uncheck both When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms and When I click the upper-left corner, switch between my recent apps.

0407 winaeroTo disable all of these corners, forget the instructions above and use the Winaero Charms Bar Killer. When you launch this free program, it goes directly to the notification area. Right-click the icon for options.

Source - PC World

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sitedrop Turns A Dropbox Folder Into A Visual Workspace Where You Can Collaborate With Others

Getting everyone to use the same project management software is a challenge, but everyone seems to have a Dropbox account. Hoping to build on top of the consumer-friendly service’s popularity, a new startup called Sitedrop allows you quickly turn any Dropbox folder into a website where you can visually showcase your work and collaborate with others.

Sitedrop users are able to view, comment, favorite and even upload files to the online workspace just by dragging a file or link to a Dropbox folder.

The startup is currently being incubated by betaworks in New York, and has been slowly growing its user base since its private beta debut last fall. Today, the service, which has grown to some 3,000 beta users, is opening up more broadly.


The idea for the company, built by betaworks Hacker-in-Residence Jessey White-Cinis and designed by his old business partner, Thomas Brodahl, grew out of frustrations they faced at the design agency they owned for ten years.

“We had constantly run into issues with project management at the design company, and this was our answer to it,” says White-Cinis. “Keeping [users] in Basecamp and making sure that all communication happens in one place is almost impossible,” he explains. “But we realized that the one thing that always stayed constant was that everyone always had a shared Dropbox folder.”

With Sitedrop, the idea is to try make that shared folder more useful, by allowing you to quickly turn it into a lightweight collaboration tool instead, while also filling in some of the holes Dropbox has today.

After signing up for Sitedrop and authenticating with Dropbox, the files in your shared folder are visible online through a custom subdomain, where they can be displayed in lists or in a more visual format, like slideshows. The service also supports previews for files created by Photoshop (which Dropbox does not), making Sitedrop popular among the creative set, including photographers and designers.


Everything in Sitedrop is folder-based, so you can manage these workspaces the same way you manage your files on your desktop, and you can control whether or not others can upload files to your site, or only view those you’ve already shared. The sites can also be password-protected for privacy purposes, and once logged in, users can collaborate on the content via additional tools for favoriting items and commenting. You can even drag links to webpages into your Dropbox, which Sitedrop will then render online.

In a future version, the plan is to support more robust revisioning, so you can “time travel” back through the various changes made to your shared content.

White-Cinis says that while the service appeals to creatives, its Swiss Army-like nature has seen people adopting it for other uses, too. ”People are using it for scrapbooking, as a wiki for documentation…and I’ve seen a few portfolios,” he says.


Currently, Sitedrop is free and offers users up to 5 online workspaces. At a later point, the company will begin to charge for additional sites, as well as for premium features, like support for sharing video files, for example. However, today, there’s no limit on the workspace size, and there’s no other requirement for use beyond having a Dropbox account.

You can see a few examples of how it works here: Xtrapop (iOS app), The Life Aesthetic (creative startup), Ian Brewer (photography), or just sign up here to check it out.

Source - TechCrunch

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Microsoft scam man is sentenced in 'landmark' case

Scam graphicA man who ran a Microsoft computer scam tricking people into paying for free anti-virus software has received a suspended four-month jail sentence.

Mohammed Khalid Jamil, 34, from Luton, hired people at an Indian call centre to falsely tell victims their computers had a serious problem.

The targets would be charged between £35 and £150 for software Microsoft made available for free.

As well as the suspended sentence, Jamil was ordered to pay a £5,000 fine.
He must also pay £5,665 compensation and £13,929 in prosecution costs.
The decision has been hailed as a "landmark" case by Trading Standards.

"We believe it may be the first ever successful prosecution of someone involved in the Microsoft scam in the UK," said Lord Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, which oversees the work of the National Trading Standards e-crime team.

"It's an important turning point for UK consumers who have been plagued by this scam, or variants of it, for several years.

"Many have succumbed to it, parting with significant sums of money, their computers have been compromised and their personal details have been put at risk.

"Now that one of the many individuals who've been operating this scam has been brought to justice, it's a stark warning to anyone else still doing it that they can be caught and will be prosecuted."

Remote access 
Jamil had set up Luton-based company Smart Support Guys, which employed people based in India to cold-call Britons and claim to be working for Microsoft.

The victims, unaware of the scam, would offer remote access to the fraudsters - meaning their computers could be controlled from a different location.

Once given this access, targets' computers would be made less secure, at which point the scammers would offer, in return for a fee, to install software to fix the problem.

The software installed was available for free on Microsoft's website.

In court, Jamil admitted to unfair trading by allowing his staff to make false claims regarding computer support services.

He claimed he had tried but failed to control call centre staff and not adequately supervised them.
His jail term is suspended for 12 months.

Source - BBC News

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Apple retires Snow Leopard from support, leaves 1 in 5 Macs vulnerable to attacks

OS X Life support plansComputerworld - Apple on Tuesday made it clear that it will no longer patch OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, when it again declined to offer a security update for the four-and-a-half-year-old operating system.

As Apple issued an update for Mavericks, or OS X 10.9, as well as for its two predecessors, Mountain Lion (10.8) and Lion (10.7), Apple had nothing for Snow Leopard or its owners yesterday.

Apple provided Snow Leopard security updates for slightly more than four years, just four months shy of the record set by Tiger (OS X 10.4), which received its final fixes in September 2009.
Snow Leopard was also ignored in December, when Apple patched Safari 6 and 7 for newer editions of OS X, but did not update Safari 5.1.10, the most-current Apple browser for the OS.

Apple delivered the final security update for Snow Leopard in September 2013.

Traditionally, Apple has patched only the OS X editions designated as "n" and "n-1" -- where "n" is the newest -- and discarded support for "n-2" either before the launch of "n" or immediately after. Under that plan, Snow Leopard was "n-2" when Mountain Lion shipped in mid-2012, and by rights should have been retired around then.

But it wasn't. Instead, Apple continued to ship security updates for Snow Leopard, and with Tuesday's patches of Mountain Lion and Lion Tuesday, it now seems plain that Apple has shifted to supporting "n-2" as well as "n" and "n-1."

(In that scenario, Mavericks is now "n," Mountain Lion is "n-1" and Lion is "n-2.")

The change was probably due to Apple's accelerated development and release schedule for OS X, which now promises annual upgrades. The shorter span between editions meant that unless Apple extended its support lifecycle, Lion would have fallen off the list about two years after its July 2011 launch.

None of this would be noteworthy if Apple, like Microsoft and a host of other major software vendors, clearly spelled out its support policies. But Apple doesn't, leaving users to guess about when their operating systems will fall off support.

"Let's face it, Apple doesn't go out of their way to ensure users are aware when products are going end of life," said Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at security company CloudPassage, in a December interview.

To Apple, Snow Leopard increasingly looks like Windows XP does to Microsoft: an operating system that refuses to roll over and die. At the end of January, 19% of all Macs were running Snow Leopard, slightly more, in fact, than ran its successor, Lion, which accounted for 16%, and almost as much as Mountain Lion, whose user share plummeted once Mavericks arrived, according to Web analytics firm Net Applications.

With Snow Leopard's retirement, 1 in 5 Macs are running an operating system that could be compromised because of unpatched vulnerabilities.

Snow Leopard users have given many reasons for hanging on, including some identical to those expressed by Windows XP customers: The OS still works fine for them; their Macs, while old, show no sign of quitting; and they dislike the path that Apple's taken with OS X's user interface (UI).

Also in play is the fact that Snow Leopard was the last version of OS X able to run applications designed for the PowerPC processor, the Apple/IBM/Motorola-crafted CPU used by Apple before it switched to Intel in 2006. Snow Leopard, while requiring a Mac with an Intel processor, was the latest edition able to run the Rosetta translation utility, and thus launch PowerPC software.

The one comfort in Tuesday's updates was that it looked like Apple will continue to support Lion and Mountain Lion a while longer, even though it has offered those users a free upgrade to Mavericks. Yesterday's security updates patched 21 vulnerabilities in Lion, 26 in Mountain Lion.

In December, Storms bet that Lion and Mountain Lion had been retired when Apple did not issue security updates for those two editions, even as it fixed a handful of flaws in Mavericks. But he gave himself an out at the time, noting that Apple's silence -- it has long declined to comment on almost any question related to security -- on those editions may be temporary.

For parts of Apple's customer base, the free-OS X strategy seems to be working: By Net Applications' tally, Mavericks accounted for 42% of all versions of OS X used in January. Mavericks' continued gains, however, have come mostly at the expense of Mountain Lion -- which lost 6 percentage points in the last two months -- and Lion, which dropped by 2 points in the same period. Yet Snow Leopard has been largely unaffected. Since October, when Mavericks appeared, OS X 10.6 has dropped less each month than either its 6- or 12-month average.

Source - Computerworld Gregg Keizer

Thursday, February 6, 2014

PNG Image Metadata Leading to iFrame Injections

Researchers have discovered a relatively new way to distribute malware that relies on reading  JavaScript code stored in an obfuscated PNG file’s metadata to trigger iFrame injections.

The technique makes it highly unlikely a virus scanner would catch it because the injection method is so deeply engrained in the image’s metadata.
Peter Gramantik, a malware researcher at Securi, described his findings in a blog post Monday.
This particular iFrame calls upon a simple JavaScript file, jquery.js (below) that loads a PNG file, dron.png. Gramantik notes that while there was nothing overly odd with the file – it was a basic image file – what did catch him off guard was stumbling upon a decoding loop in the JavaScript. It’s in this code, in this case the strData variable, that he found the meat and potatoes of the attack.

The iFrame calls upon the image’s metadata to do its dirty work, placing it outside of the browser’s normal viewing area, off the screen entirely, -1000px, according to Gramantik. While users can’t see the iFrame, “the browser itself sees it and so does Google,” something that if exploited could potentially lead to either a drive-by download attack or a search engine poisoning attack.


The payload can be seen in the elm.src part (above) of the data: A suspicious-looking, Russian website that according to a Google Safe Browsing advisory is hosting two Trojans and has infected 1,000-plus domains over the last 90 days.

The strategy isn’t exactly new; Mario Heiderich, a researcher and pen tester at the German firm Cure 53 warned that image binaries in Javascript could be used to hide malicious payloads in his “JavaScript from Hell” con talk back in 2009.

Similarly, Saumil Shah, the CEO at Net-Square described how to embed exploits in grayscale images by inserting code into pixel data in his talk, “Deadly Pixels” at NoSuchCon in Paris last year and at DeepSec in Vienna the year before that.

Still though, it appears Gramantik’s research might be the most thought out example of the exploit to date using this kind of attack vector.

Regardless of how new or old the concept is, Gramantik stresses that it could still be refined and extended to other image files. Because of that the researcher recommends that going forward, IT administrators better understand what files are and aren’t being added and modified on their server.
“Most scanners today will not decode the meta in the image, they would stop at the JavaScript that is being loaded, but they won’t follow the cookie trail,” Gramantik warns in the blog.

Steganography, the science of hiding messages, oftentimes by concealing them in image and media files has been used in several high profile attacks in the past. The actors behind the MiniDuke campaign in 2013 used it to hide custom backdoor code while Shady Rat was found encoding encrypted HTML commands into images to obscure their activity in 2011 .

Source -

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NASA unveils 6-foot 'superhero robot' Valkyrie

Valkyrie robot

Valkyrie has 44 axes of movement and interchangeable arms.
(Credit: IEEE Spectrum )
Designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, this "female" robot could be the precursor to robo-astronauts that will help colonize Mars.

What if NASA's Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a "superhero robot."

Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what's shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel.

In an interesting twist, Valkyrie seems to be a girl. While officially genderless, "Valkyrie" (a nickname, since the official designation is R5) evokes the goddess-like females of Norse myth.
Its Iron Man-style glowing chest ring nestles in a pronounced bosom that contains linear actuators for waist rotation.

"We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it (you'd say) 'Wow. That's awesome,'" Nicolaus Radford of the NASA JSC Dextrous Robotics Lab says in the video below by IEEE Spectrum.

"When we were designing the robot, we were thinking about the competition from day one, and we wanted a very modular system. Specifically with the arm, we can yank one bolt and one connector, and we can take the arm off. It happens in a matter of minutes."

Valkyrie has 44 degrees of freedom, or axes of rotation in its joints, meaning it's a relatively flexible machine in terms of movement. Its power source is a battery stored in a backpack that can provide it with about an hour of juice.

Its sensors include sonar and LIDAR, as well as head, arm, abdomen, and leg cameras so operators can see whatever the robot is doing from multiple viewpoints.

Developed with the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, Valkyrie can walk around untethered, and pick up and manipulate objects, which are essential skills for the DARPA challenge.
The DRC is designed to help evolve machines that can cope with disasters and hazardous environments like nuclear power plant accidents. Participants will be presented with tasks such as driving a utility vehicle, walking over uneven terrain, clearing debris, breaking through a wall, closing a valve, and connecting a fire hose.

NASA, however, sees the DRC as part of its mission to explore space.

"NASA saw a considerable overlap between what the DRC was trying to accomplish and NASA's goals as an agency," says Radford. "We want to get to Mars. Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers, and when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together."

The DARPA challenge gets going this month with a preliminary competition. Check out more details on Valkyrie in the vid below.

Source - CNET -

Thursday, October 17, 2013

PSA: Windows 8.1 update is now available to download

PSA: Windows 8.1 update is now available to download

Today's the day: October 17th, the day Microsoft starts rolling out Windows 8.1. And right now, the minute this post first went live, is 7AM ET, the exact minute the OS update will start appearing in the Windows Store as a free download. Don't have a Windows 8 device? You can still install 8.1 on a Win 7 machine; you just won't get the update for free. For folks using Windows 7, you'll pay the same price Microsoft was already charging for Windows 8: $120 for the standard version, and $200 for Windows 8.1 Pro.

Additionally, Microsoft will also be selling so-called full-version software, allowing you to install the OS on a machine that isn't already running Windows. At any rate, if you've already got a Windows 8 device in hand, we suggest you hit up the source link below to take advantage of the free download. Or, if you're a weirdo, you can also buy a boxed copy in a retail store. We won't judge. Either way, you're going to want to revisit our epic preview breaking down everything you need to know about the new features and apps that come with 8.1.

Source - Engadget

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Android KitKat unveiled in Google surprise move

KitKat with AndroidGoogle is calling the next version of its mobile operating system Android KitKat.

The news comes as a surprise as the firm had previously indicated version 4.4 of the OS would be Key Lime Pie.

The decision to brand the software with the name of Nestle's chocolate bar is likely to be seen as a marketing coup for the Swiss food and beverage maker.

However, Google told the BBC that it had come up with the idea and that neither side was paying the other.

"This is not a money-changing-hands kind of deal," John Lagerling, director of Android global partnerships, told the BBC.

Instead, he said, the idea was to do something "fun and unexpected".

However, one branding expert warned there were potential pitfalls to such a deal.

"If your brand is hooked up with another, you inevitably become associated with that other brand, for good or ill," said Simon Myers, a partner at the consultancy Prophet.

"If that brand or business has some reputational issues that emerge, it would be naive to think as a brand owner that your good name, your brand equity, would not be affected."

Nestle has faced criticism in the past for the way it promoted powdered baby milk in the developing world. It has also had to recall numerous products, most recently bags of dog food following a salmonella scare in the US.

Google has also attracted controversy of its own, including a recent report from the US government suggesting that Android attracts more malware attacks than any other mobile OS.

Google also announced that it has now recorded the system being activated on a smartphone or other device more than one billion times.

Cold call
Android KitKat mascotSince 2009, Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance have codenamed each Android release after a type of treat, with major updates progressing a letter along the alphabet.

Previous versions have been called Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo (short for frozen yoghurt), Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.

Although the developers had referred to the forthcoming version as KLP in internal documents, Mr Lagerling said the team decided late last year to opt instead for the chocolate bar.

"We realised that very few people actually know the taste of a key lime pie," he explained.

"One of the snacks that we keep in our kitchen for late-night coding are KitKats. And someone said: 'Hey, why don't we call the release KitKat?'

"We didn't even know which company controlled the name, and we thought that [the choice] would be difficult. But then we thought well why not, and we decided to reach out to the Nestle folks."

Mr Lagerling said he had made a "cold call" to the switchboard of Nestle's UK advertising agency at the end of November to propose the tie-up.
The next day, the Swiss firm invited him to take part in a conference call. Nestle confirmed the deal just 24 hours later.

"Very frankly, we decided within an hour to say let's do it," Patrice Bula, Nestle's marketing chief told the BBC.

Mr Bula acknowledges there were risks involved - for example, if the new OS proved to be crash-prone or particularly vulnerable to malware it could cause collateral damage to KitKat's brand.
"Maybe I'll be fired," he joked.

"When you try to lead a new way of communicating and profiling a brand you always have a higher risk than doing something much more traditional.

"You can go round the swimming pool 10 times wondering if the water is cold or hot or you say: 'Let's jump.'"

Secret story
Google Jelly BeanExecutives from the two firms met face to face at a secret event held at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February to finalise the details.

To promote the alliance, Nestle now plans to deliver more than 50 million chocolate bars featuring the Android mascot to shops in 19 markets, including the UK, US, Brazil, India, Japan and Russia.

The packaging had to be produced in advance over the past two months. But despite the scale of the operation, the two firms managed to keep the story a secret,

"Keeping it confidential was paramount to Google's strategy," acknowledges Mr Bula. "Absolutely nothing leaked."
The Android team also took steps to preserve the element of surprise, notifying only a "tight team" about the decision.

"We kept calling the name Key Lime Pie internally and even when we referred to it with partners," revealed Mr Lagerling.

"If we had said, 'The K release is, by the way, secret', then people would have racked their minds trying to work out what it was going to be."

Most Google employees will have learned of the news only when a statue of the Android mascot made out of KitKats was unveiled at the firm's Mountain View, California, campus.

"A lot of things, especially in tech nowadays, become public before they are officially supposed to be," said Mr Lagerling.

"I think it's going to a big surprise for a lot of people, including Googlers."


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Essential networking tips for small business

So you’ve seen the light and turned your sluggish PC into a productivity powerhouse with better, faster gear. That’s a great first step. But putting together a state-of-the-art PC workstation without having a fast, reliable network to help it run at its best is like leaving your souped-up new ride on blocks in your garage.

Check out the tips below for ways to upgrade your network and storage, and take your productivity to the next level.

Embrace the flexibility of wireless

Though its speed and reliability make ethernet a must-have for optimal PC performance, Wi-Fi has its place, too. Without it, you’d never enjoy the work-anywhere flexibility of your laptop or mobile devices.
Like other dual-band routers, this Linksys EA6200 lets you use the 2.4GHz band for most data and the less-crowded 5GHz band for heavier loads such as streaming.
Instead of choosing a run-of-the-mill router, go for something with a little more oomph. A simultaneous dual-band router offers twice the bandwidth—2.4GHz and 5GHz—essentially giving you two independent networks. Connect frequently used devices such as your smartphone or tablet to the 2.4GHz band, and reserve the less crowded 5GHz band for high-quality voice and video streaming.
In addition, if your router offers either a guest mode or a second SSID, you can provide a wireless network for people who are visiting you. Setting a simple, memorable password can save you from having to repeat your 20-character passphrase for the umpteenth time.

Streamline your network

A cutting-edge router isn’t worth much if the ethernet switch that links all your networked devices isn’t equal to the job. Make sure the switching capacity offers adequate bandwidth. As a general guide, an eight-port gigabit ethernet switch should have 16 gigabits per second of switching capacity (8 ports x 1 gbps x 2 bands) for full duplex. Anything less than 18 gbps would render the switch incapable of operating at full capacity on all ports simultaneously.
On a good router switch, you should be able to find the switching capacity listed in the device’s specifications. However, many lower-end switches omit this information, which is why picking up a cheap one from the discount section is a bad idea. Similarly, chaining multiple small network switches to work in tandem is a recipe for hard-to-diagnose problems and performance bottlenecks. Instead, look for a single switch that has enough network ports to meet your needs.

Double down on Internet access

Your Internet connection is crucial for communicating with clients and customers and for accessing your company’s website. Unfortunately, if your ISP goes down—for any reason—so does your business. To reduce the risk of suffering downtime, sign up with two different Internet providers.
A multi-WAN router like the Peplink Balance lets you manage your primary ISP and your backup ISP from one device.
Dual Internet access doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. One strategy is to sign up for a lower-tier plan, and apply the resulting savings to a second provider. If the technological challenge of managing multiple Internet connections seems daunting, consider investing in an easy-to-use multi-WAN router such as the Peplink Balance.

Create your own cloud

Cloud storage is a great way to access frequently used spreadsheets and presentations, but it’s not optimal for storing large video files or data backups. And trying to rebuild a PC or server from backups stored in the cloud can be a trying experience, to say the least.
Network-attached storage (NAS) offers a more flexible approach. The perfect small-business replacement for the cumbersome file servers of yesteryear, a typical NAS—such as Synology’s DS413j—can accommodate two to eight hard drives. For even speedier file access, get a NAS equipped with dual-gigabit ethernet ports and link aggregation support.
Network-attached devices like the Synology DS413j provide spacious and flexible onsite storage.

Automate for peace of mind

An automated temperature sensor like this one from Ubiquiti can monitor your equipment's environment while you're away.
When you’re out of town, you don’t want to worry about what’s going on back at your office. Introducing a little automation—such as installing a switch to power off your multiple-monitor rig automatically at the end of the workday or adding a smart device to prevent your server from overheating—can go a long way toward easing your mind.

For the former, you can combine three components from Ubiquiti: an mPower power strip and an mPort controller with a Wall Mount Motion Sensor. For the latter, grab Ubiquiti’s Temperature Sensor.

You can soup up your system with everything under the sun, but it won’t get you far without a strong, capable network. Build out your office with good storage and fast, versatile networking equipment, and you’ll be well equipped for the everyday and the unexpected.

By Paul Mah

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Google Fiber spawns startup renaissance in Kansas City

Google's superfast Internet service launched a year ago in Kansas City. CNET's Marguerite Reardon takes a look at the impact it has on the local startup scene.

Ben Barreth liquidated his retirement account to buy the Homes for Hackers house to encourage startups to move to Kansas City for Google Fiber.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The modest two-story bungalow on State Line Road looks like the typical twenty something, post-college "share house."

The house is old; the decor is very basic. Like most homes to post-college grads, it's furnished with second-hand furniture. Several fake leather recliners line the walls in the living room and a big oversized sectional couch sits in the corner, offering plenty of room for geeks with laptops to comfortably park themselves while writing code. A big white board on the wall displays the email addresses and Twitter handles of the many hackers who have stayed at the house or just passed through.

In the adjacent room, which looks like it once served as a dining room, desks set up as work stations with Ethernet cables connected directly to Google Fiber line the walls. While there is a definite odor of mustiness from the aging and worn carpet throughout the house, it's not the same spilled beer and stale cigarette smell you might expect in a house where up to five guys live at a time. There are no pizza boxes strewn around. The common areas are tidy, as per the "house rules."

It's true you won't find any raging parties here. Rather, the house is crammed with entrepreneurs working on their own projects, part of a growing local startup scene sparked by Google's superfast Internet service.

The house is the pet project of Web designer and Kansas City local Ben Barreth, who did the insane last fall and cashed in his savings and liquidated his retirement account to put a down payment on a $48,000 house in the city's Startup Village. Why? Barreth, a husband and father of two small children, wanted to be among the first to buy a house in a Google Fiber neighborhood. His plan: to offer rent-free accommodations and access to Google's superfast 1Gbps service to entrepreneurs for a three-month period.

Google Fiber has been creating quite a buzz throughout the country since Google announced its intentions to build an all-fiber network that would deliver super high-speed broadband and TV services to people at affordable prices. Kansas City was one of more than a thousand cities vying for consideration as Google's first fiber city. Google finished construction of the backbone portion of its network last summer and began holding neighborhood "rallies" to determine which communities would get Google Fiber first.

Originally, Barreth's Homes for Hackers project was supposed to match startup entrepreneurs with local people already signed up for Google Fiber. The idea was that the Google Fiber households would act as host families for the out-of-town entrepreneurs, providing them free lodging and access to Google Fiber. But when the results of the first fiber rallies were released, none of the homes that had volunteered as hacker hosts were on the initial list to get fiber. So Barreth formulated a Plan B, and decided to go where the fiber was.

While Barreth's idea of giving entrepreneurs a chance to get their ideas off the ground might be a noble one, he currently makes no money from Homes for Hackers, and he said he never expects to. He sees the program as a way to give back to his city and to help stimulate what is becoming a growing startup community in Kansas City.

"I consider myself a devout Christian," he explained. "And this is one of the ways I see that I can show God's love. I can't offer full funding or mentorship to these folks. But what I can offer is accommodations."

The startup community

The Homes for Hackers house sits on State Line Road, a busy street separating Kansas City, Missouri from its sister city Kansas City, Kansas. Inside, white boards line the walls and work stations with Ethernet jacks connecting to the Google Fiber network stand ready for use. In total, there are 18 Ethernet jacks in seven different rooms in the house providing a hard line connection to the Google Fiber network.

There's a shared kitchen and two shared bathrooms. A life-sized poster of Barreth looks down on the living room. The house sleeps up to five people, typically four startup entrepreneurs and the last spot in the house is reserved for "fiber" tourists -- people who want to visit Kansas City to check out Google Fiber and the startup scene. The room is rented for $39 a night through AirBnB.

Barreth has a very simple application process for the program. There are really only two main criteria he considers for selection. First, the entrepreneur must be serious about his or her business. Secondly, he or she must abide by the house rules, which includes not doing anything illegal in the house, being courteous to others staying in the house, no sex in the house, cleaning up after yourself, and turning the coffee pot off when you're finished with it.

Mike Demarais, 21, a native of the Boston, Mass., area, was the first resident of the Homes for Hackers program back in October. He moved back to Kansas City in January with three of his buddies to form the 3D printing software company Handprint.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
Mike Demarais, 21, a native of the Boston, Mass., area, was the first resident of the Homes for Hackers program back in October. Demarais, who had considered moving to Detroit to start his company, was impressed with the ultra high-speed broadband service from Google. But he feels that the community that has formed around the Google Fiber network in Kansas City is the most compelling reason to be working on his company from Kansas City.

"We could have gone to any number of cities, but we came to Kansas City because people here will talk to us and answer our questions," he said. "If you go anywhere else, you're just hustling and hoping to be heard, instead of building your product."

At the end of his three-month stay, he went home to Boston, gathered his things and brought the rest of his team -- Alexa Nguyen, Jack Franzen, and Derek Caneja-- back with him. The four started Handprint, a software startup focused on making 3D home-printing easy.

Using all their savings, as well as money from parents and revenue from some freelance programming gigs, the Handprint group was able to cobble together enough money for a few a months rent in Kansas City. In April, the foursome won a competition offering a year's rent in a Google Fiber house sponsored by Brad Feld, a Boulder, Colo., based venture capitalist. Like Barreth, Feld bought a house in the first Google "fiberhood" in the hopes of encouraging tech entrepreneurs to build apps that use gigabit speed networks.

It takes a village

The Homes for Hackers house sits right in the middle of what has become known as the Kansas City Startup Village. This grass roots initiative sprang to life after Google selected the neighborhood, Hanover Heights, as the first community to get Google Fiber service.

Even though the 1Gbps service is designed and marketed toward residential customers. Startups in the area, many of which were already based out of people's homes, saw the value in super-high speeds. And they quickly began buying and renting houses in the neighborhood.

Leap2, a mobile search company, was among the first companies to put roots down in Hanover Heights. Tyler Van Winkle, director of product development and marketing for Leap2, said his company already had office space in a nearby neighborhood, but the company really wanted access to the cheap ultra high-speed broadband Google was offering. So they rented a house on State Line Road.

Since there was still plenty of room in the house and plenty of bandwidth to go around, Leap2 invited other startups to join them. The company's house on State Line Road is now home to three other startups: Local Ruckus, Form Zapper, and Rivet Creative.

Since then, others have also joined the community. And today, there are nearly two dozen startups within walking distance of each other. Startups have also begun flocking to other parts of the city where Google Fiber is being deployed.

Barreth says that the hackers in his house typically experience upload and download speeds between 800 and 900 Mbps when connected to the network via Ethernet. And when using the in-home Wi-Fi network, they can get upload and download speeds around 150Mbps.

The advantages of superfast broadband for technology startups are many. They can share big files over the network, upload large chunks of data in seconds, and collaborate with remote workers or partners via video conference seamlessly.

But Barreth and others in the Startup Village will admit that Google's gigabit speed network is overkill. Leap2's Van Winkle said that he'd still be able develop his company's app using far slower speeds than what Google is offering. But he said, having nearly a Gigabit worth of capacity makes some aspects of the job easier and faster. And the $70 price tag simply can't be beat.

"We have between five and 15 people on one Google Fiber connection at any one time," Van Winkle said. "And we don't even make a dent in the connection. So even though all that capacity isn't necessary, we never have to worry about how much bandwidth we are using, no matter what what we're doing."

Chris Baran, who currently lives in the Homes for Hackers house, said what he likes best about Google's service is its upload speeds, which are the same as its superfast download speeds. Most other broadband services from a cable operator or phone company might offer decent download speeds, but the service is not symmetrical meaning that the upload speeds are typically only a fraction of the download speed.

But Van Winkle said the real value of Google Fiber is that it's not only attracted a new group of entrepreneurs to Kansas City, but it has also brought the existing community together in closer proximity.

"Access to the gigabit network is nice," he said. "But it's more about the community that has grown up around the network. It's really helpful to be around a lot of like minded people who support each other."

A speed test of the 1Gbps Google Fiber service in Kansas City shows blindingly fast uploads and downloads.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon)

Van Winkle said it's common for a programmer to walk down the dirt path behind the house, which leads to several other hacker houses to collaborate with someone from a different company to hash out technical problems. The companies and entrepreneurs also share other pointers, such as how to negotiate investment terms with interested VCs.

Kansas City, a hot bed for entrepreneurship?

Kansas City may not have the same cachet in the startup community as Silicon Valley or Boston, but the city has been fostering local entrepreneurs for years. And several technology companies have come up through the ranks there, including wireless operator Sprint Nextel, healthcare technology company Cerner, and GPS navigation provider Garmin.

Not only is the city home to the Silicon Prairie Technology Association, which was started in the early 1990s, but it's also home to the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit foundation started nearly 50 years ago with an asset base of $2 billion that is focused on fostering entrepreneurship.

The Kauffman Foundation provides grants and mentorship opportunities to entrepreneurs as well as hosts several programs, including the weekly networking event 1 Million Cups. It is also a strong supporter of the Kansas City Startup Village and Barreth's Homes for Hackers.

Tyler Van Winkle, director of product development and marketing for Leap2, says that the 1Gbps service is a nice perk, but the real value in Google Fiber is the fact that it's brought local startups together.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
Van Winkle, 31, who has spent his whole life in Kansas City, said the city's startup scene was growing even before Google arrived with its fiber service, but he admits that Google has likely accelerated growth in the community.

"Google Fiber was definitely a catalyst to spur more interest," he said. "But there was already a lot going on here, even before Google."

Indeed, Google Fiber has gotten a lot of buzz, but it's still too early to say if the new network will have a lasting effect on local economy.

Unlike startup havens, such as Boston and New York on the East coast and Silicon Valley on the West Coast, there aren't a lot of venture investors in Kansas City -- or the Midwest, for that matter. That's not to say that there isn't any venture investing going on. Leap2 recently announced a $1.3 million round of funding. But so far none of the startups in the area have made it big.

"What we really need now is for some of the startups to have really big exits," Van Winkle said. "That establishes credibility in the market. And that's what we really need right now to attract more investors."

Still, even if Kansas City doesn't become the next Silicon Valley, it could prove a valuable playground, especially for young entrepreneurs like Handprint's Mike Demarais.

For him and other young startup founders, Kansas City offers a perfect opportunity to learn and actually try to build a business. And because of the low cost of living, it's a slightly more forgiving place in which to fail.

"I can't imagine trying to compete for any attention in the Valley or Boston right now," Demarais said. "I mean every kid at MIT and Stanford is building a startup out of their dorm room. It's hard to get anyone's attention. But here, it's still a tight-knit group, and people will talk to you and offer advice."

It's that sense of community and the super-high broadband speeds that will likely give Kansas City a leg up over other communities struggling to revitalize their economies. But as Google moves onto other cities such as Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas, it will be interesting to see whether Google Fiber has the same effect on the startup scenes in those cities.

"The best asset that Kansas City has are its people," Barreth said. "But we need more tech talent and new people with good ideas in the local scene. The expectation is that the people who come through the Homes for Hackers program end up staying here for a long time."


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mozilla Readies Major Firefox Redesign As It Ponders What The Browser Of The Future Should Look Like

firefox_aurora“Maybe we shouldn’t even call it a browser anymore,” Mozilla’s VP of Firefox engineering Jonathan Nightingale told me a few days ago. “‘Browser’ is really an antiquated word. People don’t really browse all that much anymore.” Instead, he argues, we now mostly use our browsers to access sophisticated web apps, web-based productivity tools and social networks.
For browser developers, this means they have to start to rethink what their browsers should look like now that usage patterns have changed and that the majority of users have become pretty experienced Internet (and browser) users.

Australis: Simplicity Through Curvy Tabs

The project that has been guiding Mozilla’s exploration of what a modern browser should look like is Australis (because Mozilla apparently likes to name projects after star systems) and the fruits of this project will soon find their way into the Firefox release channels, starting with Nightly once it hits version 25 soon. After that, it will make its way through the usual release channels, though Nightingale told me that the team may hold it back from the stable channel a bit longer to ensure that everything works smoothly.

If you feel really adventurous, you can already install a version of Firefox from Mozilla’s relatively obscure UX branch and test it in its current state (but don’t blame us if it crashes a lot or shreds your hard drive).


So what’s Australis all about? At first glance, it looks a bit more like Chrome than the Firefox we know today. In its current iteration, the Australis theme features rounded corners for tabs and the same three-bar icon to the right of the URL and search boxes to bring up a drop-down customization and settings menu.

As Nightingale told me, the idea behind Australis was to design a browser that was just as capable as today, but simpler to use. The team was also tasked to look closely at how people actually use their browsers and then design the user experience around this. The new design, he believes, is cleaner and more intuitive. One example he cited is that in the current iteration of the design, unselected tabs basically blend into the background and don’t even have the usual tab borders around them. Instead of just shrinking tabs as you open more of them, even though you can’t even see the individual tabs’ icons anymore (the way Chrome does), the Firefox team has also decided to set a minimum width for tabs and then move to a scrolling tab bar once the maximum number of tabs has been reached.

australis_menuWhile the main Australis theme won’t land in the stable channel before October, Nightingale did stress that even today’s version of Firefox was already influenced by the results of the project. The combined stop/load/reload button in Firefox, for example, came out of this group. So did the new download manager and the fact that Firefox now doesn’t show the forward button anymore when there is no page to go forward to. The customization and tools menu now also uses icons in a three-by-three arrangement and dedicated buttons for copy, select and paste, as well as for increasing font sizes instead of just using a regular drop-down text menu.
Quite a bit of this, of course, is already visible in the Firefox for Android app, too, which in Nightingale’s words had a bit of a “rebirth over the last year.” It’s getting close to 40 million downloads now, however, and this success means a larger user base and the need to slow down radical changes that could confuse users on Android. (And just in case you are wondering, Mozilla still regularly looks at iOS and its opportunities there, but Apple’s current rules still don’t work for Mozilla. The team is, however, looking at “other things” Mozilla could do on iOS.)


Australis is not just about the design, though. One area that’s also changing with Australis is how you customize the look and feel of your browser. Mozilla currently offers quite a few tools for this, but the team believes they are hard to find and not “fun” enough to use. As Mozilla’s Gavin Sharp told me, the idea here was to get users to enjoy customizing their browsers for the way they use it. Unless users can find these features, though, they could just as well be left out, so the team is working on ways to make it a bit more obvious that users can rearrange and remove virtually all the parts of the Firefox interface to suit their needs.


Now that Firefox is on a rapid-release schedule, the team obviously can’t change the user interface with every update, so the current thinking is to roll some things out together once they are ready and, where it makes sense, roll others out individually. This means that while we’ll see Australis and its curvy tabs in the nightlies of Firefox 25 very soon, it may not actually land in the stable version of Firefox 25.

Building the browser of the future, of course, is not just about design. Mozilla is also trying to adjust to how its users now use their browser through tools like its Social API, as well as more perfomance-oriented initiatives like OdinMonkey and asm.js.

Still, the first thing users will notice once Australis rolls out is the new design. It’ll be hard not to look at it and think that it looks a bit like Chrome – and that will surely stir up a bit of controversy.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Google Glass rooted and hacked to run Ubuntu live at Google I/O

Google Glass rooted and hacked to run Ubuntu live at Google IO

Today at Google I/O the company held a session entitled "Voiding your Warranty" where employees demonstrated how to root Google Glass and install Ubuntu on it. What you're seeing above is a screenshot from a laptop running a terminal window on top and showing the screencast output from Glass on the bottom -- here running the standard Android launcher instead of the familiar cards interface. The steps involve pushing some APKs (Launcher, Settings and Notepad) to the device using adb, then pairing Glass with a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad. After this, it's possible to unlock the bootloader with fastboot and flash a new boot image to gain root access. From there you have full access to Glass -- just like that! Running Ubuntu requires a couple more apps to be installed, namely Android Terminal Emulator and Complete Linux Installer. The latter lets you download and boot your favorite linux distro (Ubuntu, in this case). You're then able to use SSH or VNC to access Ubuntu running right on Glass. We captured a few screenshots of the process in our gallery. Follow the links below for more info -- just be careful not to brick your Glass okay?

Source - Engadget