Mac Trojan horse in the wild, Front Row clones, the demise of the Sony Bean, full motion stamps from the Netherlands, Picasa coming to Linux, Apple ships faster than expected processors, movie review of Red Eye, enhancement to google images, and a Samsung update.
Listen to the Podcast – Time: 30 minutes 8 seconds
I have to apologize for a major screwup on my podcast last week. I didn’t even know I botched up until my husband told me yesterday! I tried to get tricky and cut in audio of the Swedish Chef, only I slid things around after I did the splice, and I didn’t move it right! smack dab in the middle of me talking, the Swedish chef breaks in for no apparent reason, and then where he was SUPPOSED to cut in, I botched the cut and there was a shift that made no sense whatsoever! I’m still figuring out this whole audio thing, I’ll get it right!
So last week I bragged about how sunny and warm it was in Southern California and now the tide has turned on me! Yesterday I went out for my usual 4 mile run down on the beach (not on the sand, that’s too hard, I actually run on the strand which is a concrete pathway by the beach), and it was threatening to rain. 48 degrees Fahrenheit out there, so a bit chilly for me, but not that bad once I got going. Of course I listened to a podcast while I ran – my preference for running is Adam Christianson’s The MacCast available at maccast.com. anyway, I escaped the rain, but when I got back home, it started HAILING! It went for about 15 minutes, enough to cover my picnic table with little white ice cubes. I wish I could say something dramatic like “they were as big as golf balls!” but they weren’t, just little bitty bee-bee sized hailstones. Pretty cool for us, since we never have any weather to speak of.
This Wednesday I’m doing a speech for a local user group and I’m really excited about it. For some reason I keep procrastinating though, I sat down to start writing it up, and decided that doing it in Powerpoint would just be wrong, so maybe I should use Keynote. Oops, not loaded on this machine, so of course I had to dig out the disk and install it. And then of course the version I’m running, 1.0 is so old it won’t work under Tiger, so off to the Apple support pages for an update. So there I was 15 minutes later not having started but having installed more apps! that’s where I’m happiest after all.
I’m planning some website upgrades, one of the things I’d like to do is to make a directory of all the tools I’ve reviewed. A cool thing about having this site for me is that I can always look there for tools I like when i can’t remember the url where I got them. I’m thinking about how to do a listing, it’s kind of weird with this content management stuff – it’s highly tailored for the blog side of it, content that changes all the time, but making static pages is a bit more clumsy. If you have any advice on how you’d like to see it laid out leave a comment on the website or drop me an email at email@example.com. Advice is definitely welcome!
Mac Trojan Horse
Well, it had to happen some day, we all knew it was coming. There’s a trojan horse for the Mac out in the wild. [play audio clips here] All you Windows users can wipe the smug look off all your Mac friends’ faces. We had a full five years without a single virus or spyware or trojan horse, but our free ride has come to an end.
Don’t panic though, it takes an active participation on the part of the user to get infected. The way it travels is through iChat on the AOL Instant Messenger protocol. You’ll get a message with an attachment called latestpics.tgz, you have to agree to download it, and since .tgz means it’s a compressed file you have to actively double click it to expand it, but of course Mac OSX insists on your approval to unzip because it is suspicious of all compressed files as they can contain applications. Then Mac OSX requires your administrator password. It doesn’t use any kind of security flaw in OSX, it uses security flaws in users brains!
If you want to read more about it, go to symantec.com and do a search on latestpics.tgz, they’ve got screen snapshots and a full description of what you have to do to get it, and how easy it is to get rid of.
So, if you really want this trojan horse on your system and are willing to do all that stuff to install in on your machine, you’ll begin to send this file to everyone on your buddy list. But technically, it IS a Trojan Horse for the Mac.
I just found a free program for the BB or Palm OS that will sync RSS feeds into your handheld! On the LiteFeeds website you create a free account, then subscribe to the blogs, etc. that you’re interested in, create categories, etc. then if you point your hand held browser to http://litefeeds.com/m you can download and it self installs.
I set it up on my BB and it works pretty well (of course I started with the NosillaCast feed). It gives you the first couple of lines ok, then you have to tell it you want the full text (like a normal rss reader would) but it gets an error that says “The application bblf (blackberry litefeed) has attempted to open a connection to a location inside the firewall and outside the firewall which is not allowed by your IT department.”
Unfortunately it won’t work for me unless I can convince the IT guys to help me (fat chance) but I thought it was cool and you might like to check it out!
Front Row Imitators
The new Macs come with an application called Front Row – it’s sort of a media center thingy, lets you see your iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie and iDVD files on nice screen interface together, accessible from a remote control, and of course makes a nice whooshing sound when the different icons whirl around the screen. People swear by it, drool over it, I’m not sure what the excitement is. you can only get Front Row by buying a new Mac, unless you try one of the tools I’ll describe now. All three are Mac only solutions. I did find a Windows Front Row imitator called BackRow at brains-n-brawn.com but the narrative you have to walk through to get to the download was tiresome, it sounded like a developer rambling after too many Red Bulls to me. i didn’t test it out, but if someone wants to give it a whirl and write a review I’ll post it here.
Back to the 3 alternatives I did try on the Mac – one was to install the hacked version of Front Row. with instructions from Andrew Escobar at andrewescobar.com/frontrow. I walked you through that whole thing on show number 21 (December 11, 2005) and it was a bit of a hack and didn’t run all that well.
Research Department Niraj found me another application called iTheater which is an Open Source media center project for the Mac from itheaterproject.com, and it’s clearly still in early phases of development. on the website they say that they promised this release on a specific date, and they delivered, even though it’s clearly not a stable release yet. It’s also a Universal Binary (meaning it will run under the PowerPC and the Intel-based Macs, so you gotta love that! with that big caveat in mind, I of course loaded it right away because I love nothing better than bleeding on the edge!
iTheater wasn’t at all difficult to install, no hacking involved at all, but it’s definitely not Front Row. the graphics aren’t as snazzy (Front Row shows the icons for the different apps whirling around on your screen as you advance with the arrow keys), but it has a pleasing look in it’s own right. The screen has 4 choices, video, DVD, weather, and music. Note that there’s no photos in that list. oh well, I clicked on video and it said I didn’t have any. there doesn’t appear to be any kind of preference menu where I could point it at my video library. To be fair, my video library isn’t in the normal place, because as you may recall I had to move it or Garageband 3 wouldn’t launch!
I skipped over DVD because I was too lazy to get up and put a DVD in, moved on to weather. I moved the arrow keys down to weather and hit a carriage return and up popped the 5 day forecast for my area. very nice. the problems began when i went to Music. I’m on a 15″ Powerbook, and evidently the listings that it put up were WAY taller than my screen! As I moved the up/down arrows nothing on the visible list was highlighted, so I tried clicking the down arrow a zillion times, and sure enough it finally crawled onto the scene. Definitely a bug.
Another annoyance was that the interface seemed to change depending on what I clicked on, sometimes a carriage return would advance to the next menu, but sometimes it required hitting the right arrow. I finally got one song to play with a bunch of fiddling around, but it sure wasn’t obvious how I got it to go. The other thing is that hitting the back arrow doesn’t go back a menu, it takes you all the way back to the beginning of the music menu, so if you were buried in a playlist and just wanted to go up one level you’re out of luck. this might be more of a preference than a bug.
I checked out the forums at itheater.com and I found both my problems listed there – inconsistent menu pick requirements, and the list being too long were listed as bugs as of a few weeks ago, and the fix is pending. This could be a lot of fun given more time to mature.
the third Front Row imitator I tried is a freeware application called MediaCentral 1.2 from equinux.com. MediaCentral is a very polished product with some impressive capability. When launched, it plays some dramatic opening music while showing the logo for equinux.com. [PLAY INTRO MUSIC] Nicely done, doesn’t last too long, and definitely helps their branding. Sound is a big part of the MediaCentral experience – they use whooshes, dings and other pleasing noises whenever you move the cursor around or click on field. I’ll walk through each feature to give you a sense of the experience:
Like Front Row, the main menu choices are DVD, Movies, Music, Photos but MediaCentral also has TV. Let’s start with Movies. Hitting the right arrow brings up Movies folder, and Movie Trailer. right arrow on Movies Folder, and it finds any movies resident in the Movies folder of the user directory. The first thing I noticed about MediaCentral is how much faster it is than the hacked Front Row or iTheater. When i went into the movies folder I was able to flick up and down through the movies I had made and instantly launch them. This was actually much faster than launching them from the finder it seemed. an interesting feature when a movie is playing is that the right and left arrow keys control fast forward and fast rewind. I stumbled across it because I keep forgetting that to get out of a movie you hit the escape key instead of the left arrow. At least this is consistent throughout the application.
[play somee dings and whooshes]
The Movies Trailers are plentiful, and come up quickly, unless you accidentally choose one of the HD files. Those take FOREVER, even if you pick the small one. I waited over 5 minutes for a small HD trailer to come in on 3megabit download and it was only about 15% done! Luckily they include the Mac spinning gear with the percentage download showing so you know whether to waste your time. I don’t know where they get the trailers, but they work really well.
Choosing Music brought up my iTunes library and also my iPod that happened to be connected. of course I had to to try the iPod first, and it actually accessed it perfectly! there was a very slight hesitation before it started playing the chosen song, but not long at all considering it was pulling it over USB. The choices within iTunes were all the usuals, by Playlist, Artist, Album, or Genre. Very quick navigation that worked flawlessly. Once a song started playing, the escape key again was the way to get back to the menus
Photos takes you into the iPhoto library, and you’re shown all of the folders you’ve created including Last 12 Months and Last Roll. The performance here was really impressive, once a folder is chosen, it brings up a grid 6 across and 3 high of thumbnails, and a disappearing 4th row so you know there’s more rows below. The arrows allow you to navigate to a specific photo and scroll to the lower rows, and hitting the carriage return brings up the selected photo and goes into a slide show starting there. while in the slide show, hitting the right/left arrow keys quickly advances through the photos. the only downside I noticed at this point was that the background “music” of the equinux intro was going over and over and over. while reasonably pleasant once, it really started to get on my nerves. No sound would have been better than this stuff grinding away. Oh, and photos are a little snottier if you accidentally hit the left arrow to get out instead of escape – it kind of honks at you! Music just didn’t do anything, wasn’t so rude!
TV is the last category, and selecting it gives one choice of WebTV, then allows you to select language and country. I chose English, then it brought up a bunch of TV shows, such as several BBC shows and C-Span. Unfortunately it said that I needed to “install Real Player and the according browser plugin” (their typo, not mine!) I switched to a computer that had Real Player loaded, and sure enough, up came a british news channel. not sure if this is live or pre-recorded but pretty cool either way.
overall I’d give MediaCentral a big thumbs up – nice interface, works really really fast, and gives access to all of your multi-media files plus the online TV shows, and it’s FREE! of the three I tried this is definitely the cleanest and best interfaces. Check it out and the other applications at Equinux.com.
interesting Engadget stories
I ran across a couple of interesting stories on Engadget this week. The first one was about Sony’s attempt to take on the iPod, and it’s miserable failure to do so. Evidently they came out with a product called the Walkman Bean about six months ago. I’m not certain if you tried you could come up with a less attractive name and industrial design than the bean. it looks just like you’re worried it does – it’s a big kidney bean! Engadget readers nominated it for the worst device of the year. the article goes on to say that beyond it’s unattractive look, it also has bad software and clunky controls. In addition to all these obvious design flaws, they didn’t design it to work with Apple’s DRM or Microsofts, instead, shockingly they picked a proprietary format of their own! When are they going to learn to stop doing this? check out the entire article at
The second Engadget article is about a stamp being introduced in the Netherlands that will have 12 frame moving images on them. This is achieved using lenticular technology, which you’ve probably seen before, but only in 2 frames. Lenticular technology is used in the little plastic cards that if you tilt one way it shows one picture and if you tilt it the other way a second picture shows up. the technology was invented in the 1940s but has been developed into more motion and increased depth in recent years. From wikipedia, “the key that makes lenticular work is the plastic sheet that overlays the printed image. the sheet is modled to have the form of dozens of tiny lenses or prisms per inch.” The clever folks from the Netherlands will issue two stamps showing winning olympic speed skaters coming across the finish line. I’ve put a link in the shownotes to the engadget article as well as a link to a little movie showing what the stamps will actually look like.
Engadget article on full motion stamps
movie of the stamps
Picasa 2 coming to linux
Back on show #24 on January 2nd I reviewed a great Windows-only photo management tool that is free from Google called Picasa. If you’re running Windows and haven’t checked out Picasa, definitely give it a try. the cool announcement this week is that Google is bringin Picasa over to linux. desktoplinux.com reports “Google and CodeWeavers Inc. are working together to bring Google’s popular Windows Picasa photo editing and sharing program to Linux. The program is now in a limited beta test. If this program is successful, other Google applications will be following it to the Linux desktop, sources say.” Picasa won’t actually be ported to Linux, they’ll be running it under Wine, which is a technology that allows the running of Windows APIs (or programs) under a different operating system, but it won’t require any recompiling by the linux user, and it isn’t slow like emulation. the trick to this is that they’ll be using CodeWeaver’s Crossover Office Wine emulation. check out the article at desktoplinux.com.
apple shipping faster than expected processors
As you all know, I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new MacBook Pro. I had ordered the higher end version, which sports a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo chip, and out of the blue Apple announces that they’re upgrading the chips before they even start shipping! They’re changing the top of the line to a 2GHz dual core, and the 1.83GHz moves into the lower end version, all for no price increase. If you want to throw an extra $300 onto the $2000 top end you can push it to 2.16GHz, but that seems like low payoff for cost in my opinion. This did cause the ship dates to move out a couple of weeks, but it was still a welcome move on Apple’s part. Check out the article at Macworld online.
Red Eye movie review
I haven’t done a movie review in quite a while, we got out of our regular schedule over the last couple months, but we’re back on track now. Last week we saw a movie called Red Eye starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. McAdams plays a high powered manager of a luxury hotel, and she’s kidnapped by an evil guy played by Murphy. McAdams is very attractive and fresh-faced, with a determination in her character that makes her irresistible. Murphy’s character has the highest pain threshold I’ve ever seen on TV, as McAdams does all kinds of physical damage to him in her attempts to get away from him. The movie is predictable in it’s eventual outcome, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Remember that I do like a good fight where the woman is strong and not simpering, and I like to see the bad guy get his in the end. If you don’t like a little blood and violence in your movies skip this one, because it’s certainly not a chick flick, and not one for the kiddies.
Google Images tip
Are you ever looking for an image in Google Images, and you really want a high resolution image, but you have to crawl through all the low res ones looking at the sizes to find the one you want? Google Images now has a lovely little pulldown that allows you to filter your search to low, medium or high resolution images. This will be a huge timesaver for me!
Weird and Wacky Websites
Time for another weird and wacky website – you may have seen this one because it’s been around for ages, but I absolutely never get tired of it. It’s the Numa Numa guy. He’s a 19 year old American named Gary Brolsma who is lip-synching the Moldovan Romanian pop song Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone. Gary is the epitome of a geek, a bit pudgy, pale, glasses, but his energetic rendition of this for his webcam is absolutely hysterical. You can find it lots of places (just type in Numa Numa Guy into Google) or check it out at guzer.com/videos/numa_numa.php
If you’ve been listening for a while, you know that I have had a certain “issue” with Samsung. If you didn’t hear my rant episode, I’ll give you a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version. In May of 2005, I bought a 19″ LCD flatpanel from Samsung, and they shipped me a broken one. No big deal, they shipped me a second one, which was also broken. I’m a patient person (ok, so I’m not patient, but I was in this case) and I tried to get them to send me a third one. I’ll fast forward to what I thought was the end of the story. Five months after I purchased the monitor, 14 phone calls and 2 letters (7 pages long) to the president of Samsung outlining every trouble ticket and each person’s name I talked to, and it COST me $50 in taxes and shipping to never get a monitor from them. I’m not kidding, they sent me a check for $332.99 when I paid over $380.
Ok, gotta stop myself from getting too crazed again. So in October I had to come to peace with the fact that I wasn’t going ever going to get the money, but I could dedicate my every effort in technology discussions to talk people out of buying Samsung products. I’m not bragging but probably two whole people haven’t bought Samsung products because of me.
so get this. Thursday I got a check in the mail from Samsung. For another $332.99. Yes, they refunded the total cost (less the $50 in tax/shipping of course) TWICE. This proves that they’re not mean or bad spirited, they are completely and inconceivably incompetent. Now, of course, I have a moral dilemma, don’t I? Do I cash the check? Here’s what I’ve decided to do. I’ve deposited the check (which I fully expect will bounce), but just in case it clears I have a plan. I’m going to subtract the cost of tax and shipping, and the cost of the stamps to send the letter to the president. then I’ll take maybe minimum wage times the number of hours I was on the phone and packaging up and driving two monitors back to the post office for shipping, subtract that from the $332.99. If it’s more than that, I’ll dial it back so there’s still a balance to pay back to them. then I’ll write a check and staple it to another copy of the documentation and send it again to the president (perhaps with an update). the best part of this is that they will NEVER be able to figure out how to deposit the check, based on their utter incompetence. I haven’t been this happy in ages. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Samsung Debacle!
Drop me a line at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or put a comment on the website if you have ideas for tools you’re seeking or tools you’d like me to review, I’d like to get some more ideas than just my own on this!