The best geek hotels in the world

By Mark O’Neill

I don’t like to go on holiday much these days for a variety of reasons, one of them being that if I am offline for more than a hour I break out in a cold sweat. So an article on the best geek hotels in the world caught my eye because they are all fitted out with wi-fi internet access (among other things).

Candidates range from the hotel within a stone’s throw of the Googleplex to the hotel where the Matrix movie was filmed (the Deja Vu scene).

But the weirdest candidate has to be the Pod Hotel in New York, nicknamed the “Facebook Hotel”. It’s supposed to be for the social media junkies and the hotel has its own social networking site where you can leave messages for people to meet up with you for drinks, dinner, shopping and so on.

As I was reading this, I thought to myself – why are all these unique hotels in the US and not in continental Europe? The last time I stayed in a German hotel room, I almost had to declare war to get some hot water to make a cup of tea.   But US hotels?   “You’d like a social network user ID?  No problem sir!”



AIR + AOL = One nice little desktop music widget

By Mark O’Neill

AOL Desktop Music Widget

I am normally rather wary of anything coming from AOL, but I have to admit that their free little music desktop widget, which runs on Adobe AIR, has impressed the hell out of me. It’s a nice little program to have running while you’re surfing away on the net.

If you download it,  it will also download the latest version of Adobe AIR (if you don’t already have it).   AIR is rapidly becoming THE application to have on your computer right now as more and more apps are being made for it, the best one in my opinion being Google Analytics.

This music widget, upon opening, asks you what music genre you want, and when you’ve chosen your genre, gives you the top 100 music videos on AOL Music. You can then listen to them immediately inside the application.  Some of the videos are apparently not available, which must mean that the player is not updated as fast as the site.

You can keep the app on top of all browser windows, create custom playlists and share videos with other people by emailing them the links.

Along with the fact that AOL has opened up their AIM chat platform to developers this week, I am starting to develop a new respect for AOL in general.   Long may it continue.

Silver TAG $100,000 Shower will wipe your butt clean in no time

Silver TAG Shower

If you think that your “working-class” shower isn’t quite as effective as you’d like it to be, then you’ll want to have a look at the $100,000 Silver TAG Shower. This baby comes equipped with 18 computer-controlled showerheads, including one that looks to be specially made to clean dirty derrières, and features six zones, which can be individually customized for temperature and water pressure. The whole thing is controlled via a touch screen that is located right outside the shower. Come on, you know you want it! Having the world’s cleanest butt is definitely worth $100,000!



LifeGem: From Cremation to Diamond

It’s a fact: Nobody likes to think of death. Whether we’re talking about ourselves, our loved ones or our favorite pet, most people prefer to avoid talking about the subject. And when death comes knocking upon our door, decisions have to be taken.

How do you want your body to end up? Eaten away by Mother Nature under 6 feet of soil or reduced to a pile of ashes? If neither interests you, a new alternative exists: The LifeGem.

The LifeGem is a small diamond that is made with the carbon that is extracted out of a cremated body’s ashes. Once the carbon particles have been collected, they are purified and put inside a high temperature carbon press. The result? A small “real” diamond of the weight and color of your choice.

The price? Expensive. A basic LifeGem will cost you approximately $2700, and if you want something that weights over 1 carat, you’ll have to shell out over $25000.

A bit pricey, but hey, spending eternity trapped inside a diamond has to be expensive!

LifeGem’s official website

World’s Most Powerful Air Vortex Cannon Will Blow you Away

To celebrate their twentieth anniversary of sandwich making, the folks from Erbert & Gerbert built what they call “the world’s most powerful air vortex cannon”. Enjoy!

No idea on how large this thing really is, but according to the cannon’s official website, it’s about as big as the Appolo space capsule, and a little bit smaller than three ninjas.


Bill Gates Dethroned As World’s Richest Man

After 15 years in a row of being the world’s richest man, Bill Gates finally had to step down from the podium and take the 3rd place. But please, don’t start sending donations to Mr. Gates yet, his fortune is still evaluated at over $58 billion.

The new world’s richest man is Gates’ friend and investment mogul Warren Buffett, according to Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of the world’s wealthiest people, which was released Wednesday. The magazine estimated Buffett’s worth at $62 billion, and Gates’ fortune not too far behind at $58 billion. But that doesn’t mean he only slipped one notch: Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecoms tycoon, came in second with an estimated worth of $60 billion.

Gates dethroned as world’s richest man (News.com)

Defeating Hard Drive Encryption Using Ice

Horror stories about how corporations get their important data stolen from mobile devices have been plentiful in the past few years. To fight the problem, most companies now require that hard drives inside their mobile fleet get encrypted before leaving in the hands of employees. Normally, such a means would be more than enough to ensure data privacy in case of theft, but according to a group of researchers from Princeton University, it isn’t the case anymore.

Like most people, I always thought that RAM modules couldn’t retain their information after being powered off, but guess what? We’re wrong! DRAM chips can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to lose their stored content, which incidentally can include a drive’s encryption key. Now extracting this key in just a few seconds makes the task downright impossible, but by putting a computer’s memory modules on ice (Yes, ICE!), you can extend their memory retention capability by a few times.

Using this technique, the researchers from Princeton were able to decrypt drives protected by three of the most popular encryption software out there: Linux’s TrueCrypt, Vista’s BitLocker and OS X’s FileVault.

Obviously, protecting yourself against “memory chilling” is very easy. All you have to do is to never leave your computer in sleep or hibernation mode, and to ensure that you power it off a few minutes before leaving it alone.

The following video explains the technique in much more details.

How to prevent docs with hidden data from leaving your outbox

By Patrick Biz
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Not only could this be very embarrassing, it could also hurt your reputation and even expose you to legal actions. Before exchanging documents with tracked changes, you should always make sure the final copy is sanitized and cleared of any sort of hidden data. Take your data security and integrity to the next level by installing SendShield, a first line of defense against hidden data in incoming and outgoing documents.

A Worst case scenario

A finance department assistant prepares a document showing the projected sales for the year to come. Once a first draft is completed, the document is sent to the finance director.

The director turns on Track Changes in Excel and increases some projected sales values thinking employees would be delighted by the goals for the upcoming year. On the cell showing off the estimated revenues, he adds a comment aimed at the vice president:

“Hey Bob, I think we should revise these numbers up. Even if we don’t reach them by the end of the year, it might prevent some departures in the next few months as we expect a decrease in sales.”

Bob gets the spreadsheet, looks at the numbers, and adds his comment:

“Good idea, these kids in IT would surely jump on the occasion to leave the company. Let’s keep ’em in the dark.”

Bob hides the changes to see how the spreadsheet looks, gets a call, and makes a careless mistake while talking on the phone: He approves the document and sends it back to the assistant.

The assistant looks at the spreadsheet, and since everything looks fine, emails it to all employees. Ouch!

Unfortunately, situations such as this one are happening regularly. Check out this page to read a few nightmare stories that got media attention.

How can IT prevent this?

I recently stumbled on SendShield, a free software that installs itself as an Outlook plugin and scans attached office documents for hidden data. The application works at the client level, so it should not be seen as a server application.

Precisely, SendShield searches for the following items:

  • Tracked Changes
  • Comments
  • Hidden rows, columns and sheets (Excel)
  • Formulas

System requirements & download

  • Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows Server 2003
  • Office 2007 or Office 2003 (coming soon: Office XP/2000)
  • Microsoft .NET 1.1
  • 15 MB disk space
  • 512 MB RAM

You can download SendShield for free without the need to go through a lengthy registration process. Before running the installation, make sure all Office programs are closed (including Outlook.)

How it works

SendShield kicks in as soon as you attach a Microsoft Office document into an Outlook email. It scans the file and displays a warning that you can’t really miss.

If you don’t take action at this point, you’ll be prompted once again when sending your email. This time, SendShield pops up an Unclean Attachments warning box requesting an action:

  • Either you let SendShield clean the attachment(s) (I gave this option a few try and it makes a perfect job.)
  • Or you can decide to leave the file(s) intact

SendShield has another interesting feature: it scans Office documents received by email. This could allow you to view hidden data you shouldn’t have been exposed to.

Summary

Just as a precaution, I strongly recommend Outlook users, especially those in the corporate world, to deploy SendShield. Give it a try with a few test users, and if you get good results, push it to everyone. Who knows how many embarrassing situations this could save you? Have you ever been exposed to hidden data in Office apps?

Magnetic Levitation Haptic Control Technology

Researchers at Carnegie mellon University’s Robotics Institute are currently developing a magnetic levitation system that they claim provides the most realistic sense of touch yet to be seen on similar devices. Possible applications include microsurgery, computer-augmented design, robot control, and even data visualization.

Haptics is the study of touching, and haptic technology refers to that which applies force feedback, texture and other physical sensations when the user manipulates virtual objects. Healthy virtual tissue would feel soft; a tumor, hard. Models created by supercomputers could be manipulated without creating expensive physical artifacts.

[Via Wired]

Change your IM audio to something more geekish

By Mark O’Neill

dockingbay94starwars.jpgThe thing about instant messaging programs such as Pidgin and Skype is that their sounds suck. Their chat services may be the best thing since pop-tarts but it doesn’t take long for their sound effects to grate on your nerves. You know, the audio notifications that you’ve got a new message, that people have logged on, that sort of thing.

The good news is that you can change the sound to whatever you want and in true geek style, I changed it to Han Solo’s blaster. So now whenever I get an instant message coming in, my office sounds like Docking Bay 94.

“wav” audio files abound on the internet. Some sites try to charge for wav files but you don’t have to pay for them as there are countless sites giving these audio files away for free. Just decide what you want and google it, along with a “.wav” at the end. So to get the blaster file, I put “blaster.wav” into Google and I also considered “lightsaber.wav“, “phaser.wav” and so on. Just try different variations of the type of file you’re looking for and you should get quite a few download links.

Just remember though to choose a sound that isn’t going to irritate you. If you get quite a few messages each day, you’re going to hear that sound over and over. So choose very carefully.

Then head over to the sounds and notifications section of your instant messaging program and upload your wav file :

soundsnotssettings.gif

I know for a fact that Pidgin and Skype allows uploading of audio files. I can’t speak for the others. Maybe users of other IM programs can let us know in the comments if their preferred IM programs allow this too.