Unnecessary How To Articles

wikiHow is an interesting site with some pretty informative pages. However it also has some things that are just outright amusing, questionable, or potentially capable of giving you a nosebleed if you try to read them.

I’ve went through many of them and found some of the hidden gems. Here are some of my favorites along with some colorful commentary:

That concludes this tour of the Internet. I hope you had fun.

Google Pac-Man Hacking

Google Pac-man

Quick Hack

Here’s a literally 2 minute hack for the Google Pac-Man tribute on the homepage right now to put your own face on Pac-Man (pardon my poor photoshopping):

Pac-Man raccetturaized

To try it add the following bookmarklet to your browser by dragging the link below to your bookmark bar:
raccettura-ize pacman

Now go to Google and press “Insert Coin” to play the game. Once the game loads, run the bookmarklet by clicking on it.

Hack yourself into Pac-Man

Want to make your own? You likely have better photoshop skills than me. Download this image and replace the Pac-Man (and optionally Ms. Pac-Man) images with ones of your own keeping the position and sizes the same. Save as a PNG with transparency. Then upload somewhere. Now make a bookmarklet that looks like this (replacing URL_TO_YOUR_IMAGE with the url of your image):

javascript:(function(){document.getElementById('actor0').style['backgroundImage']="url('URL_TO_YOUR_IMAGE')";})()

Now share with your friends.

Permanent Home

Google has now removed Pac-Man from the homepage but it can still be found here.

Edit [5/24/2010 @ 8:45 PM EST]: Added “Permanent Home”.

From Blog Post To Dictionary

A 2008 blog post of mine with one of my favorite titles ever “Object Oriented Masturbation” has led to someone creating an Urban Dictionary entry. My official stance on this is that I find it amusing, and want to accelerate the adoption of this new term.

object-oriented masturbation
ob-jikt | o·ri·ent-ed | mas⋅tur⋅ba⋅tion

  1. the stimulation or manipulation of one’s own ego by way of using object-oriented code in places where it has no advantage instead resulting in unnecessary complication and bloat.

Spread the word and be sure to visit the Urban Dictionary term and give it the thumbs up. They sell merchandise with dictionary entries on it too if you want a mug.

WebM

In August 2009 after the On2 announcement, I suggested that Google might open source a codec in hopes of derailing OGG which it feels is inferior as well as h.264 which is patent-encumbered. Google took VP8, the successor to the popular VP7 codec and started The WebM Project. To quote the project page:

WebM is an open, royalty-free, media file format designed for the web.

WebM defines the file container structure, video and audio formats. WebM files consist of video streams compressed with the VP8 video codec and audio streams compressed with the Vorbis audio codec. The WebM file structure is based on the Matroska container.

Google describes the license as “BSD-style”. A very good move since it’s liberal enough to encourage widespread open and proprietary inclusion. GPL is to viral for some potential adopters.

Software Support

For the browser side, Chromium and Firefox Nightly builds support WebM starting today. Opera and Google Chrome to come shortly.

Google also created patches against FFmpeg for encode as well as decode and created DirectShow filters which are available for download. I suspect by way of libavcodec we’ll see support in lots of other products in the near future.

Microsoft will support VP8 in Internet Explorer 9 if you have the VP8 codec installed. Not quite “support”, but better than nothing.

Adobe is also supporting VP8 in Flash, which means content producers can eventually kill VP7 and VP6 encoding and use VP8 to reach most of their audience. This is very important as encoding videos into several formats is costly and time consuming (I know this very well).

Hardware Support

Google has already said they are working with video and silicon vendors to add VP8 hardware acceleration to their chipsets. I suspect newer phones in the near future will be supporting it. Especially if they run Android.

Content

Google is supporting WebM in the HTML5 test for YouTube which I mentioned a few months ago. I suspect we’ll see lots more support in the very near future.

Supporters

Even more telling of the potential than the above is the list of supporters which contains some big names who can put a lot of weight behind hardware/software/content support. AMD (who owns ATI), NVIDIA, Marvell (lots of mobile chipsets), Qualcomm (think mobile chipsets), TI, Broadcom, ARM on the hardware side alone is impressive. If the majority of them add hardware support to their upcoming offerings, that will be game changing. On the software side leaves 1.5 holdouts in the web video world: Apple (1) and Microsoft (0.5).

This is a game changer.

Bad Capacitors

A few weeks ago, one of my work PC’s decided to just died on me. It was able to reboot but crashed late in the boot process. Eventually it turned out that one of the video cards (NVIDIA Geforce4 MX4000) went bad. Pulled the card and I just threw it on a shelf. The other day I looked at it and noticed 4 of the 5 capacitors on it actually vented. I took a few quick pictures of the carnage. You’ll likely want to go to the real high resolution pics to see the detail.

The alarming thing about this is that capacitors are found in a very widespread range of products. That’s why backups are important when you have critical systems.

Continue reading

Facebook “Simplistic” Privacy Settings Coming Soon

I’d be nothing but a jerk if I didn’t post this considering I’ve spent a fair amount of time criticizing Facebook’s privacy policies. Facebook head of public policy Tim Sparapani as quoted in Wired:

“Now we’ve heard from our users that we have gotten a little bit complex,” Sparapani said in a radio interview Tuesday. “I think we are going to work on that. We are going to be providing options for users who want simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from and I think we will see that in the next couple of weeks.”

I can deal with public defaults provided it’s clear in the UI that the defaults are public and the user has an easy way to adjust privacy. What isn’t addressed is this policy of resetting things when changes are made. No comments on that as far as I can tell.

Victoria Secret – You Like This

Victoria Secret "Like" Limited EditionI couldn’t resist posting this one. Apparently Victoria Secret has a free “limited edition” (with store purchase of course) panty with “you like this” printed on the back with a thumbs up, an obvious homage to Facebook.

Countdown to sexual harassment for unwanted “clicking” or “liking”? I’m sure some genius will get into trouble for that.

We could of course get into a debate over if it’s objectifying women, or just make jokes about how it’s “social” and “viral”. The parallels to privacy debate, etc. But as Sigmund Freud allegedly said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”1.

Before someone email’s me: yes, I posted the image and yes you can click for a full-sized one (you’re welcome). For the person who questions my judgment: It’s really no more mature than anything you’d see at a pool or beach. Grow up. For the person who is guaranteed to email asking where the original coupon is: you can find it here or here. Lastly, no, this isn’t the first time a butt has graced this blog, it’s the second time just this year.

[Hat Tip: Center Networks]

1. It’s attributed to him, but there’s no evidence he actually said it as far as I’m aware.

Why “The Geeks” Are Upset About Privacy

Pete Warden on why everyone should pay attention to “the geeks”:

So why are the geeks so upset? They’re looking down the road and imagining all the things that the bad guys will be able to do once they figure out what a bonanza of information is being released. Do you remember in the 90’s when techies were hating on Windows for its poor security model? That seemed pretty esoteric for ordinary people because it didn’t cause many problems in their day-to-day usage. The next decade was when those bad decisions about the security architecture became important, as viruses and malware became far more common, and the measures to prevent them became a lot more burdensome.

I’d recommend reading the entire article.

That might be the best argument I’ve seen in a while for people who just don’t get it. When you spend enough time dealing with data you’re forced to understand the threat models that can impact your work. You become very tuned into what the potential exploits are and how it can be used to everyone’s advantage, and disadvantage. Despite surveys that show people are “concerned” about their privacy, and some “use privacy settings” I’d venture very few, likely less than 10% actually understand what harm any piece of data can have, and how exactly it’s being handled and shared.

There’s a reason the industry is so focused on this lately. There’s a reason why I’ve now dedicated a majority of recent blog posts to it.

Google Should Use Google Wave Against Facebook

Help me Google; you're my only hopeGoogle should use Google Wave against Facebook.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. I will be the first to say I was unimpressed by Google Wave from a user point of view. I should note Google Wave was pitched as an email alternative, and it’s not great at that job. The technical perspective was pretty impressive. It is however a potentially killer distributed social media network. It will take slight retooling to adjust it for the task, but it is already better suited to compete against Facebook than against email.

It’s actually a pretty good alternative if the UI were better tuned to the task. Allow me to explain:

It’s close feature wise

I won’t go into point after point, but Google Wave can carry out many of the same things that Facebook can. It’s a good way to communicate in an open or closed fashion and each wave can already be granular in terms of privacy. It can be used to share much more than text. It can be used for the purposes of photos or video. It can be extended by third parties utilizing its API. It already has chat support. It’s built on XMPP. It can easily parody Facebook in almost every way already. It can be extended to do what it can’t today. Profiles are the biggest thing it lacks. I suspect that wouldn’t take much to add in. I’m thinking an extendable XMPP vCard from the technical side.

It’s distributed

Google Wave is hosted by Google, but it’s also an open protocol and Google’s releasing chunks of their implementation. That means they can partner with other large companies (AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple etc.) who can federate and let their users all instantly be part of one huge social network. Users already have “friends” via their address books for email. Importing from other sources is easy, just look how Facebook did it. If Google got AOL, Yahoo, or Microsoft to partner join them they would overnight reach a huge chunk of the Internet population via their e-mail users.

For those who are going to try and argue that Facebook users don’t have email addresses, yes they do. It’s a primary method of notifying users of things other than SMS and is required to signup for an account.

This also means you can host yourself, or use the provider of your choice. Your not subject to Facebook deciding your fate, or any one company.

It would be more private

One of the primary gripes against Facebook is its privacy measures are inadequate. Facebook has motives to force people to be more public. There’s little incentive to help you stay private, since the alternatives are slim. With Google Wave being hosted by several providers they will need to give you more control, or you will just move to a provider that will give you the controls you want. Just like with email. By using your own domain to point to a provider you would have portability of your identity. Once again Google Wave by design is more granular than Facebook. It’s based already around the concept of sharing data. What Google Wave really needs is a robust profile implementation with granular permissions and the ability to bucket contacts to make permissions more manageable.

Despite its UI and marketing pitch, it’s a surprisingly close Facebook competitor.

It would be a healthier ecosystem

Like I mentioned before, Google Wave has a fairly decent API already. What is great about it is that providers would be pressured to provide a robust enough API so that the killer apps exist on their platform. Again, no more reliance on a single source. By standardizing at least a subset of the API developers can target multiple providers and implementors. It also means providers will need to allow for more granular controls over privacy settings for third-party apps or once again, people will be switching.

Google wins too – keeps them in the center of the universe

Google likes to be the center of things, especially information. By doing this Google would still be able to organize a users information in meaningful ways for them, which is really what Google Wave’s main goal for Google is. Google has a major win. Anyone a user trusts to index their information can do so. If the user is paranoid, they can keep totally private. If you really want to be private you could run it on your own private server. If you don’t trust Google, you can avoid them but still join the party.

It would be more permanent

Facebook is still not guaranteed to be around in 10 years. Email however is overwhelmingly likely to still be around. Just like newsgroups and IRC still have their place, even if they aren’t as mainstream anymore. Why? Because they are all open standards and not tied to one companies profitability. I can still find and read old newsgroup posts from over 20 years ago. Feel that confident about Twitter? Facebook? foursquare? How much time do you invest in them?

What about dispora or _______?

diaspora is a clever effort and a noble one getting a lot of press today. It really is. But I think it’s to complex for real widespread adoption, especially in the era of easy to use web apps. It’s true that users flocked to P2P apps despite complexity but that’s because of no alternatives with less overhead. I’d give most of these efforts a 5% chance of any real success.

StarWars is copyright Lucasfilm

Favorite Blogs – Edge Cases Of Intelligence

I decided I would periodically share a few blogs that I’ve found particularly interesting for various reasons. Some educational, some just comical and amusing. I’m not sure how often I’ll do one of these, but it’s unlikely more than quarterly. The particular theme for this edition is “edge cases of intelligence”. Read on and you’ll understand why.

Less Wrong

Less Wrong‘s title is a surprisingly good description of its contents. Its more verbose tagline “a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality” is even more so. Given it’s operated by Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University as you can expect, it’s slightly more intellectual. Anyone with an interest in cognitive science, decision-making, or just human psychology in general will likely find at least half of the posts mesmerizing.

Hot Chicks with Stormtroopers

Hot Chicks with Stormtroopers is also a blog with a very descriptive name. This is one of those websites that you didn’t know there was a need or market until you found it. Now I’m not sure what I would do without it. The mere fact that there is enough content that fits this specific niche to fill a regularly updated blog is in itself just amazing to me. The internet truly has everything for everyone.

Yahoo! Answer Fail

Yahoo! Answer Fail falls in the same family as the more popular FAIL blog but with a specific focus on Yahoo! Answers. I can’t help but read and fear for the future of humanity. I suspect at least half of Yahoo! Answers posters are just jokers, but I can’t help but think that some of these people are really out there. Be warned, if you visit this site you will spend no less than an hour, and likely more reading through some of the saddest examples of humanity out there.