Another cool Webcomic

World of Warcraft, Eh? is a weekly Web comic drawn by Kelly Aarons, a denizen of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (thus the “eh” in the title, eh?). Her style is rapidly evolving and it has been fun to watch her skills grow while her storyline gets fleshed out. The protagonists, Cadistra the Tauren Druid and Kissless the Blood Elf Paladin, are endearing (and Kissless is frequently infuriating at the same time, leaving the reader conflicted but drawn in).

Rather than elaborating on the site much more, I’d prefer that you go and take a gander for yourself. The first comic, from October 12th 2008, can be found at http://woweh.com/?p=3 and has nothing to do with Columbus Day.

How to uninstall Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant from Firefox

Microsoft is still up to their old tricks, installing unwanted software that’s bundled with other things you might need (or possibly even want – who knows). If you use Firefox, you not only don’t want the .NET Framework Assistant, you don’t need it (and it’s not compatible with the latest Firefox anyhow).

Rather than re-invent the wheel here, I’m going to send you over to Wyatt O’Day’s blog to get a simple step-by-step tutorial on how to remove this particular bit of bloat from your PC. If you aren’t comfortable editing the registry, get a geeky friend to do it for you; you can buy her a pizza or something as payment.

I have used this method for Windows Vista (64-bit), Windows 7 (both 32 and 64 bit versions) and Windows XP; it works. Which is more than can be said for the Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant.

Microsoft “explains” 18 month delay in patching major security hole

Mike Reavey has explained on his official Microsoft blog why it took Microsoft over a year to get around to disabling a major ActiveX security hole. Short version: (Paraphrased) “We wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t be a problem for anyone who was actually using this ActiveX control, which we’ve never documented for customers use.”

Yeah, right.

So you want to be a podcaster?

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, if you don’t care about growing a regular audience, don’t worry about publishing regular webisodes, and don’t have to worry about your Web hosting bandwidth, it can be. If any of those matter to you, however, it’s going to be serious work, no just fun and games.

To make it a lot less painful, let me recommend the single most important tool in a podcaster’s arsenal: the freeware audio editor called “Audacity.”

Audacity is an open-source multi-platform audio editor for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Development is supported by donations, and by purchases from the Audacity Store (and after all, who doesn’t have a use for another coffee mug, or a nice polo shirt?).

Some of the most important Audacity features for podcasters are:

  • Live recording from any source (mic, Skype, line in, etc.) that your computer supports.
  • Automated “noise removal.” I record in a room that has a lot of ventilator fan noise. Audacity removes all that noise with just a couple of clicks.
  • Clipping, splicing, and mixing of audio tracks.
  • Pitch and speed changes.
  • Special effects, such as flanging and phasing.

And if you’re smart enough to “save early and save often,” you can try things out and if you don’t like them, revert to the prior version almost instantly.

Finally, Audacity can export in a number of different file formats; MP3 is probably the most important for podcasters, of course.

Try it! If you don’t like it – well, it was free.

Run Adobe Photoshop Elements without Creating an Adobe ID

Adobe Photoshop (for Windows) is a huge, expensive, and extremely powerful photo editing package (mostly emulated by the free Paint.NET program, of course) with capabilities that are often far beyond the skills of its users (google for “BP cleanup command center photoshop” for a good example of a botched Photoshop image). The less-expensive “poor cousin” is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which meets almost all the needs of the average amateur or even semi-pro photo editor. Unfortunately, as it comes “out of the box” it requires the user to create an “Adobe ID” and log into Adobe’s servers for use. This is ostensibly to allow online backup of your work. I’m the suspicious, sort, however, and not only do I not need Adobe to back up my work for me (that’s why I have umpteen USB drives and a Home Server), I don’t trust them to keep my data safe from nosy people (including their own employees). So, I called to find out how to avoid the Adobe ID issue. I was told (after a long line of bull) that it was not possible. That was, in fact, a lie.

Of course, you still need the product key; this is NOT a guide to software piracy. If you want that, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

To run Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 without using an Adobe ID, all you need to do is create two new shortcuts with the following information:

  1. For the Organizer, the “target is “C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Elements Organizer 8.0\PhotoshopElementsOrganizer.exe” (including the quotes) and it starts in “C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Elements Organizer 8.0\”
  2. For the Editor, the target is “C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Photoshop Elements 8.0\PhotoshopElementsEditor.exe” which starts in “C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Photoshop Elements 8.0\”

And it really is that simple. Running without the Adobe ID is much quicker at program startup, as well as somewhat more secure. I would bury the “PSE” icon someplace so that you can still use it if you ever need to, but you won’t launch it by mistake.

Make your own Ringtones

Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder why a complete MP3 file costs 99 cents, but the 15-to-30-second ringtone clipped out of the middle of it costs $1.99 or more?

My advice is don’t buy ringtones. Period. Ever. That doesn’t mean you can’t have ringtones – just don’t buy them. You can make your own easily, and (if you have a method of connecting your phone to your PC or Mac, like Bluetooth or a USB cable) upload them straight to the phone (bypassing the extra charge for emailing them to your phone). You will need some free software tools, and a CD or MP3 or AAC file of the audio you want to make into a ringtone.

Here’s how:

  1. Use Audacity to make MP3 ringtones:  Follow the Mr. Bass guide
  2. or use Easy Ringtone Editor for Windows
  3. or Chop Shop for OSX
  4. and Pazera Converter Suite if you need iPhone-type files.

Note that the Pazera Suite is good for video conversion, too; I use it to make MP4 videos out of my AVI videos so I can watch them on my Roku box using MyMedia.

Once you’ve created your ringtone(s) use BitPim to get it onto your phone. This can be a fairly time-intensive part of the project, so if you plan to make several ringtones, I would make one, upload it to the phone to make sure the settings are right, then make all the rest and upload them all at once. So far I have about 97 custom ringtones on my LG VX8350R.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Yahoo Instant Messenger: The Virus du Jour?

The latest social-networking virus going around is being spread through Yahoo Instant Messenger. One of your contacts sends you an IM (“instant message”) asking “is this your pic” with a link which contains the string www.facebook.com – but if you actually read the link, it’s pointing to someplace in the .ly domain. That’s Libya – not exactly a friend to Western nations. Don’t expect the Libyan authorities to take any action against the person or persons behind this attack; that’s not going to happen.

McAfee fails to detect the virus (in my experience, this is not unusual. I would NEVER use McAfee or Norton security products. But that’s jsut me, the computer professional. Your mileage may vary.).

In order to get rid of it, follow these steps:

  1. Reboot your computer into “safe mode with networking.”
  2. Download and install Malwarebytes Antimalware (the free version will be fine for this purpose).
  3. Update MBAM and run a full scan of your system.
  4. Remove any malicious software found.

Optional (but recommended): If yo uare running Norton or McAfee security products, dump them. In my experience, while they will give you a “warm fuzzy” feeling that you are protected – you aren’t. After removing it, install instead Microsoft Security Essentials or Comodo Anti-Virus.

Afterwards, reboot into normal mode and immediately scan again. This step is essential.

Good luck – and may the Bytes be with you!

Example spam IM:

The Future Isn’t Here… Yet. Men on Mars and Teleportation

Men on Mars

A base on Mars is right behind a base on the moon in terms of space expectations. Despite that, the closest we’ve come is sending rovers to send back pictures and take samples. Sure, we’ve discovered water on the red planet, but we’re still a long way away from sending people to Mars. The Wikipedia page for Mars exploration is lacking in almost any detail about manned missions, as is NASA’s page. The “Mars to Stay” wikipedia entry and the page for Manned missions to Mars both feature a lot of good information about putting humans on Mars, however the fact remains that the earliest dates for launch are placed many years out- with NASA hinting that they might be ready by 2037. 27 years from now.

Teleportation

We can probably thank Star Trek for making teleportation something that we expect in the future. The technology has showed up in countless video games and films, being treated more like a given future tech than a barely plausible possibility for transportation. This article from IBM research is a good read, and has links to other articles, but makes the point that we are nowhere near being able to teleport objects, let alone people. Teleportation is an incredibly difficult concept, presented in an extremely simplistic way in pop culture. Consider that we aren’t close to sending people to Mars, and teleportation is- at it’s core- the disassembling and reassembling of atoms in the same way they were assembled before being transmitted. Imagine how difficult it would be to send something as simple as a die from one place to another, and then consider how complex humans are compared to dice. Any opinions?

Are Bloom Boxes our ‘Green Energy’ Solution?

Bloom Energy unveiled the “Bloom Box” last week, also called the Bloom Energy Server. The box is around the size of a parking space, and each one can power a 30,000 sq. foot office building, or 100 average US homes. Ebay and Google have already been using this technology to power some of their buildings and servers, and several other companies, such as Coca-Cola, Walmart, and Staples have also announced partnership with Bloom. At their press conference, Arnold Swarzenegger and Colin Powell spoke, as well as the CEO’s of several of the companies partnering with Bloom.

Bloom Energy's "How it works" graphic

The really cool thing about these boxes is that they don’t have to be so big. Their power comes from 25kw fuel cells, which are combined to form a 1kw stack. This stack can power a full house, and is smaller than a toaster. Stacks can be added together to form a 25kw module, and 4 of those can be added together to create 1 100kw energy server. Imagine paying a one-time fee for energy, and not ever having to worry about the grid going down. Currently the price is a little too high to be extremely attractive, with estimates for a Stack sitting around $3000, and a server at $700-800,000. Bloom says that after a 3-5 year period, the price will be paid back, assuming a fixed energy cost.

The CEO of Bloom Energy puts the life of the boxes at around 10 years, but the CEO of eBay has stated that since installing the boxes late last year, they have saved $100,000 in electricity bills. At this point that puts the boxes in a good position for large businesses, but the price is still high for everyone else. Like everything though, it can be expected to go down in the near future, as the power output goes up. Read more about the Server at its Wikipedia entry, and tell me what you think. Are Bloom Boxes going to be as big a deal as people think they’ll be?

Finally, the ultimate app for Windows Phones!

How did we ever get along without this? I refer, of course, to Screaming Bee LLC’s Pocket Fart! Yes, friends, for less than two measly US dollars, you can finally impress your friends and family with an amazing variety of farting sounds. PocketFartTM uses advanced flatulence simulator technology to produce custom audio events, anything from a short and sweet toot to an epic monster blast.

Screaming Bee claims that PocketFart is the best farting software for your Windows Mobile device. Actually, it may be the only farting software for your Windows Mobile device. We can only hope…

Anyhow, if you’ve always wanted to be able to create the sounds without the olfactory evidence, and if you have a Windows Mobile device, this software is for you – and the rest of your 9-year-old buddies (sober; 30-year-old drunks will probably like it, too). Enjoy!

Header image stolen gleefully from Scott Johnson and used without permission. I don’t know where he got it. I don’t really care, either.

The Future Isn’t Here… Yet. Ray Guns


Ray Guns

Weapon of choice of Aliens, Moon Men, and future humans. The problem with ray guns is that while they’re a great idea, no one ever really sat down and figured out how they would work. Because of that, (and probably other things), we’re still firing bullets at each other.

In addition, our ideas of future weapons have changed, perhaps to accommodate our realization that ray guns aren’t as simple as we had thought. Sure, Star Trek and Star Wars still utilize ray gun type weaponry, but the more recent additions to our ideas of the future still use bullets. Halo, Mass Effect, Avatar- humans travel around space in all of them, but despite that, still use bullets.

This video illustrates the sad excuse we have for a ray gun today; more a “hot tickle” gun than a red or green laser blast.

What do you think, are ray guns still the future of weapons? Personally I think that railguns, coilguns, and energy weapons are the new ray guns. Sure, there may be some point in the future when the typical soldier is issued an Lasgun or phaser, but I think those days are a very long way off.

The Future Isn’t Here… Yet. Robot Maids and Moon Bases

Robot Servants

Sure, you might consider a Roomba a robot maid, but while it may clean your floor, it’s no butler. If a massive amount of science fiction literature was to be believed, we should all have had android Alfreds by now. Japan is getting closer to this particular prediction, because for whatever reason they seem to like robots a whole lot more than we do. When Honda’s ASIMO grows about 2 feet taller, and can walk up stairs safely, we’ll at least get the drink serving robot. Then we just need to put vacuum cleaners in its feet and call it a day.

Moon Colonies

One of the quickest ways to tell if someone is a nerd is to ask how they feel about NASA having to scrap their plans for a moon base. Besides that however, moon colonies really felt (and feel) close to happening! After all, 41 years ago we managed to land on the rock, you would have thought that somewhere between 1969 and 2010 we would have set up some sort of permanent structure. At this point our best bet is probably a privately funded moon base, so Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Google, do the future a favor and help us start moving off this rock on to others.

The Future Isn’t Here… Yet. is a new weekly column that will look at predictions that science fiction and pop culture were sure we would have by now. To suggest anything, please comment!

How to get fired in one easy step

Lifehacker.com often presents useful and informative articles. This isn’t about those; it’s about the other articles they sometimes present, like this one:

Bypass Heavy-Handed Web Filters with Your Own Proxy Server

Your IT Department installs filters for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to):

  • The lawyers told them to.
  • HR told them to.
  • Your manager would rather that you work while you’re getting paid for it, and browse random Web sites on your own time.
  • Many thousands of Web sites contain malicious code that will silently install itself on your computer – and your employer’s network – simply by you visiting the wrong site (which could be the New York Times or Wall Street Journal – both have had third-party advertising banners that contained malicious code).

So, while it may be fun to think you’re “getting away with it,” you probably aren’t (the IT Department keeps logs, and the proxy won’t protect you from that), depending on your employer’s policies, you may be putting your job at serious risk by circumventing the filters IT put there.

Just do something smarter, OK? Like, maybe, work at work, and play at home.