Xi3 Low Power PCs

Xi3 Corporation LogoDavid shows off Xi3‘s latest developments including the X7A modular computer and the Z3RO Pro. If you haven’t seen Xi3’s offerings before, you need to check them out – they’re small cube-like units totally unlike your normal case.

The X7A is aimed at the power user with a quad core AMD Trinity processor, Radeon graphics, 8 GB RAM, SSD (up to 1 TB) and more ports than you can shake a stick at. The modular part means that in future you’ll be able to upgrade components without replacing the whole unit. Prices start at $1099.

The Z3RO Pro is more budget friendly, starting at $549. With only a dual core processor and 4 GB RAM, it’s more suited to general office activities, but it will run two monitors. The killer feature here is that it consumes only 15W of power.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Philips Hue and IFTTT

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address – geeknews at gmail.com – and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

Posting a Negative Review Could Harm You

b1keyboard02What happens when you receive bad customer service? For many people, the answer to that question is that they go online and post a negative review of the company that treated them badly. It turns out that, in at least some cases, doing so can result in harm to the person who posted the negative review.

KUTV.com and CNN both have written about a situation where a woman was fined by a company that she wrote a negative review about. One might consider it a cautionary tale about what can happen if you don’t read the fine print (or if you end up dealing with a less than honest company).

John Palmer bought his wife a Christmas gift from a particular website. The gift never arrived. The company sent the money back to John Palmer’s Paypal account. His wife, Jen Palmer, wrote a negative review of the company on Ripoffreport.com.

Three years later, the company sent an email to the couple that stated that they would be fined $3,500 if their negative review was not taken down within 72 hours. Long story short, the Palmers could not simply take down the review themselves (because it wasn’t posted on a website that they owned or had control of).

The couple refused to pay the fine. The company sent it to collections agents. The Palmer’s have now had their credit score damaged as a result of the situation. There may or may not be legal battles regarding what happened, but I will not speculate about that.

This holiday season, make sure you take a close look at the fine print before you make an online purchase. Some companies are including a “non-disparagement clause” in customer agreements. It is this clause that is being used by some companies to silence negative reviews.

Image computer keys keyboard enter shift by Imageafter.

GoDaddy first to launch new vanity domains

GoDaddy logo

GoDaddy logo

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has been opening the playing field recently, allowing for more top-level domain names. The days of the simple .com, .net. info and the rest are becoming a thing of the past. Replacing, well complimenting, then is a whole new breed that opens the floodgates to your wildest imagination.

At the forefront of this new wave is GoDaddy who today announced “today begins a new chapter in the expansion of the Internet, with the introduction of new Internet domain names.  GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar, is the first registrar to sell pre-registrations on the new, ICANN-approved domain name extensions, as part of a new program designed to expand the inventory of Internet website addresses”.

What’s included in this big update? According to the company, customers can now get ” .UNO, .MENU, .BUILD and .LUXURY, and more than 700 additional domain names are expected to launch over the next 24 months”.

There are some things to be considered before jumping feet first into this fire — “Each of the new domain extensions launching today for pre-registration have unique attributes. .UNO is a place online dedicated to Spanish speakers. .MENU gives restaurants a relevant name for their businesses. Contractors, designers, builders and more can use .BUILD. Those looking to appeal to a more affluent clientele, .LUXURY is available”.

Prices and exact rollout plans were not announced as part of this news,

20 Percent of Adult Americans Don’t Use the Internet

internet_mapI have a friend that hates the Internet. She cringes when the words “Facebook” or “Google” even come up. She’s been on only a couple of times – but otherwise I’ll get a call asking to print off some document she needs.

Even though more homes are investing in broadband Internet, the New York Times reports roughly 20 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at home, work or via mobile. Some are by choice, yet others do not have the money for this amenity.

76% of white American households and 57% of African-American households use the Internet. Approximately 50% of people 65 and older go online, while 75% under 65 use the Internet.

Average home Internet costs are around $30 a month.

Could You Live Without Internet for a Day? A Year, Perhaps?

Back in April, one man decided to go off-line for one year to see how he would fair. Paul Miller chronicled his life for the 365 days without an Internet connection. A very eye-opening article that makes you think about how different you might live.

Of course, that is Internet and not technology in general. It sounded like Paul still had a cell phone and used other technology to commute, eat, drink and get by.

I think back to around 1994, when I didn’t have a cell phone and I was on the Internet ever so sparsely. I had a university email address at that time and the University library was where I connected up. I spent more time building other things – I was a music major, so I also practiced a lot.

If that was to go away, I believe I could survive. I definitely would have to figure out a new path in life from podcaster/blogger.

What would you do if you went off-line for a year? Read more? Build projects? Let us know!

Google wants to give you internet from a balloon

When I read the most recent news from Google I had to check my calendar — sure enough it is not April 1st. However, what the search giant announced sounds fantastical. What more can you say about getting internet from a high altitude balloon? Well, that is the dream the company has announced.

“But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem”.

Google talks of the serious challenges facing the internet connectivity for large portions of the world. The company aims to solve this with high-altitude balloons in stratospheric orbit. “Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles. So today we’re unveiling our latest moonshot from Google[x]: balloon-powered Internet access”.

The company thinks it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below.

“It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it”.

This week Google started a pilot program in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers trying to connect to the balloons. This is the first time Google has launched this many balloons (30 this week, in fact) and tried to connect to this many receivers on the ground, and promises to learn a lot that will help the company improve its technology and balloon design.

Has DNSChanger Infected Your Computer

Back in November 2011 a group of Estonian and Russian hackers were arrested for creating and running a botnet called DNSChanger. DNSChanger was true to its name, it changed the DNS address of the computer it controlled and directed it to  rogue DNS servers. These rogue DNS servers were shut down by the FBI and the Internet Systems Consortium, a nonprofit company was assigned to run the replacement DNS servers so those who had effected machines wouldn’t lose their connection to the Internet. That was over eight months ago and the time that the court assigned the Internet Systems Consortium to run the replacement DNS servers has run out. So on Monday, July 9, these replacement DNS servers will be shut down. The computers that are still connected to these DNS servers will no longer be able to connect to the Internet. There are an estimate 300,000 computers that are still effected. These are not only personal computers, but also computers run by Fortune 500 companies.

The FBI has set up a site where you can check to see if your system has been effected and what to do if it has been. Most likely if you have kept your computer updated and have run your anti-malware and virus programs you will be ok. However we all know someone who never updates their system either because they are too lazy or for some reason believe they are invulnerable. If you know someone like that, suggest they go to the site the FBI set up. If they decide not too, you may get a call Monday morning if you are the computer “expert” of the family, with them screaming they can’t connect to the Google.

The most interest part of this story of course was not the DNSChanger bot, itself, but how the FBI and the court handled it. They could have shut it down immediate and the results would have been the same for those 300,000 plus 270,00 more. By delaying the shut down they did allow those 270,000 to recover. However it seems to me they dropped the ball in getting the word out. This didn’t become big news until the past week. I am not sure if the court and the FBI is to be blamed for this, or is it the media’s fault for not getting the word out. Whose ever fault it is, communication was lacking.

Tech Writer Prepping For One Year of Internet Abstinence

Goodbye Internet....for a year anyway.

Tech writer Paul Miller (most recently writing for The Verge) – is leaving the Internet for a year  starting tonight at midnight. One of his final indulgences is a Reddit IAmA session (the comments, as usual when you expose yourself to Redditors, are a mixture of hilarious and tauntingly offensive).

Aside from the novelty of a tech writer giving up the Internet for a year – there doesn’t seem to be much substance behind this…uhhh, experiment? Life without the Internet is neat, but a giant chunk of Planet Earth goes without the Internet everyday. With the cultural saturation of challenge-style reality shows on TV, some dude forgoing the Internet for a year doesn’t really deliver much pop anymore. It’s kind of like a really rich person giving up dollar bills for a year. There’s something latently offensive about it.

It’s not so much the experiment itself, but the misplaced gumption Miller wields in his explanation about why he’s doing this and what he hopes to learn or find (see video on link above). For example, here’s a little nugget of daringness – “At midnight tonight I will leave the internet. I’m abandoning one of my “top 5″ technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. If I can survive the separation, I’m going to do this for a year. Yeah, I’m serious.”

The tension – it’s palpable.

What Miller is doing is neither interesting nor unique. Modern day Luddites – by either design or chance – would scoff at Miller’s experimental abstinence (assuming they stole a glance at someone’s laptop or phone long enough to read his parting words). Heck, I quit Facebook four months ago and not only did I not really care, but I betcha Facebook is somehow carrying on without me. I can sum up my learnings from quitting Facebook in one sentence – I am 30% less annoyed/disappointed by humanity. (Full Disclosure – I have supplanted Facebook use with a minor, and already faltering, addiction to Reddit.)

To Paul Miller – explorer and risk-taker that he is – I offer the following: Godspeed. And good luck being a reporter without using e-mail. Oh, and good luck finding a new gig sans Internet should The Verge crumble from the Internet whilst your gone.

On a serious note – the meaning of the Internet in modern day life and its effect on humanity is an important concept that should be studied and learned from. I just don’t think a dramatic, announced exit from the medium is the way to do it. Thoreau didn’t trudge over to Walden Pond with a brass band on his heels. Miller should have just disappeared the Internet from his life without a word to anyone but his editors; kept records of his experience along the way; and reappeared one year later to tell his tale.

Image: Bad Day At The Office from BigStockPhoto.com

Mind the Gap – Your Site May Have a Secret Ad

Let’s say that you have a website that is entirely your own. Maybe it is your blog where you write about your favorite video game. Or, it could be the website where people can stream or download episodes of your podcast, check out your show notes, and leave you comments. One way to make money from your work is to connect with a company that wants to place ads on your website.

This doesn’t magically happen all by itself. Instead, content creators have to take the time to figure out which companies will pay to have their ads placed in a banner across the top of your page. Next, they have to contact someone from one of those companies, and negotiate a deal. It takes work to make this happen.

So, let’s say you went ahead and put in the effort, and the hours. You found a company that wanted to place ads on your website, you worked out a deal with the company that you both find acceptable, you spent time to get their ads to appear in the correct places on your website.

Now, imagine that some other company, one that you have never made any contact with yourself, came to your website and removed the ads that you worked so hard to put there. In their place, this other company put completely different ads. They didn’t ask your permission to do it, and they are now gaining revenue from your website, (instead of you), off of the ads they stuck in there. How would that make you feel?

Unfortunately, this scenario is actually happening. The New York Times has a frightening article that describes how a web engineer name Justin Watt noticed what was going on. He was in his room at the Courtyard Marriott, in Midtown Manhattan, and browsing the web through the hotel’s internet. When he visited his own website, he noticed a strange gap at the top of the page that he did not put there.

There is a company called RG Nets, Inc. that is behind this nefarious, and sneaky, placement of ads. They sell a service to companies that offers “pervasive web page advertising injection through HTML payload rewriting”. In other words, RG Nets, Inc., goes onto websites that it doesn’t own, without permission, and rewrites the HTML code, in a way that generates revenue for whomever their client is, (and therefore, for themselves as well). I’m not a lawyer, but something about this seems less than legal to me.

UPDATE: Marriott has now told RG Nets, Inc., to cease and desist. You can use the internet at the hotel now without accidentally allowing RG Nets, Inc., to secretly make money from the website you visit.

GNC-2012-04-09 #756 Best Tech Show on Earth!

Back in Hawaii for two shows, headed to the NAB Show this coming Friday will likely be a crazy schedule once the show starts. Lots of moving parts, but as always great tech coming your way from the best tech show on earth. ;)

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Links to all the articles talked about in this Podcast are on the Show Notes Page [Click Here]