Tag Archives: software

Farcical extremes

GREEN DAM: Latest Internet screening programme takes
its duties to farcical extremes – but China is adopting it

Green Dam uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

BEIJING — What do Johnny Depp, Garfield, Paris Hilton and roast pork have in common? In China, the answer is that a new government-mandated Internet filter rates some pictures of all four of them as bad for your moral health.

Beijing has ordered all personal computers sold in China since the beginning of July to be preinstalled with the Green Dam software, which it says is designed to block pornographic and violent images, and which critics fear will be used to extend censorship in the country.

But a trial of the programme, which is available online for free download at www.skycn.com/soft/46657.html, suggested its filters may be of limited use to worried parents.

When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-coloured cooked pork and, on one search engine, a close-up of Johnny Depp’s face.

With the image filter off, while searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft- and hardcore pornography sites, including one with a video of full penetrative sex on its front page.

Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

Programme settings allow users to choose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.

But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English news site.

The software also allows users to choose what they want to filter for, and besides adult websites and violence, categories include “gay” and “illegal activities”.

Another setting allows Green Dam to take regular snapshots of a user’s screen and store them for up to two weeks — ostensibly so parents can monitor computer use by minors.

But it could also potentially leave security officials a track of computer use by a suspected dissident, or be a gift to fraudsters who are on the hunt for online bank details and private information.

Western governments and trade groups have asked China to reconsi­der implementing Green Dam software based on concerns ranging from cyber-security and performance of the software to Internet freedoms.

— Sapa-AP

Related post: Porn to be a teen

Google sounds the bugle!

GOOGLE WAVE: The clash of the computer titans is on. Google has taken on Microsoft by announcing that it’s launching its own operating system — free of charge. The war between the two software giants is likely to change the world of the Internet forever

Alistair Fairweather

IF business is war then two of the world’s biggest companies have finally stopped skirmishing on their borders and brought out the heavy artillery. On July 7, Google fired the first shell by announcing that they will begin offering their own operating system in mid 2010.

Bling bling babyThe warhead — called Chrome OS  — is aimed straight at the heart of Microsoft who have built their entire business around operating systems since the 70s, first with MS DOS and then the globally-dominating Windows series.

But while Microsoft have always charged for their software, Google plan to give theirs away free of charge. What’s more, Google are starting from a completely fresh perspective — one with the potential to undermine Microsoft’s entire business model and loosen their foothold on the software market.

If the name “Chrome” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the name of Google’s web browser. And this isn’t just a case of lazy naming. By evolving Chrome into an operating system, Google are planning to turn the entire software world on its head and make browsing the centre of computing.

An Introduction to Google Wave
There is a full 1 hour 20min presentation on YouTube which Philc7753 has kindly and painstakingly edited down for our short attention spans  

Hang on, isn’t an operating system a lot more complicated that a browser? Doesn’t a browser need an operating system to, well, operate? That’s the whole genius of the plan. Google are betting that the centre of influence in computing is moving out of personal computers and into the massive computing power of the Internet, known as the “cloud”.

That means that in future, computers will be dumber and cheaper. They will rely on the enormous banks of computers that power the Internet to do much of their thinking for them.

This is already happening. One of the fastest growing sectors in computing is netbooks — smaller, cheaper, less powerful portable computers with speedy connections to the Internet that focus on tasks like e-mail and browsing the net.

The wave is coming...Currently, Microsoft is tussling with free operating systems such as Linux for ownership of this market, and Google wants its own share of the pie. So what? There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a free operating system. They have been around for longer than Microsoft have been in existence, let alone Google. And some of them are backed by huge companies such as IBM and SAP.

Yet none of those other companies is as heavily invested in cloud computing as Google. And it’s cloud computing that poses the greatest risk to Microsoft’s dominance.

Microsoft’s bread and butter has always been its desktop applications —  programs such as Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. Operating systems are like plumbing — expensive but necessary — and Microsoft have lost money on them for years. This was justified because they knew that by owning the platform they would be able earn it all back on desktop applications.

Google Docs, on the other hand, is nearly as good as Microsoft’s Office but is free and requires no hard-drive space and much less power (and therefore can run on a cheaper computer). It’s a true “cloud” application  — its platform is the Internet.

So Google have, in effect, pulled Microsoft’s own trick on them but in reverse, and for free. And given how quickly Microsoft are losing market share in the browser market (it’s now just above 50%), they have real cause for concern. If Chrome OS takes off, Google will start to hurt more than Microsoft’s pride.

That’s still a big “if” though. For all their mistakes Microsoft are still the top dog of software. Despite the current media hyperbole about Chrome OS, Windows still commands 90% of the market share in operating systems. Even if Chrome lives up to the hype, it will still take years to get a foothold. Only one thing is certain about this battle — peace talks are unlikely to begin anytime soon.

We’re in for a long slog and I don’t think anyone can accurately predict a winner. What we can be sure of is that the conflict will change software (and the Internet) forever.

– Alistair Fairweather writes for The Witness
newspaper in Kwa-Zula Natal, South Africa

First Android phone in SA

MTN has teamed up with HTC distributor Leaf International Communications to launch the HTC Dream mobile handset. This mobile device is the first in South Africa to make use of the new open source Android operating system, which is owned by one of the world’s best known brands, Google.

The HTC Dream gives users one-touch access to their favourite Google products such as Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube. Unlike other operating systems that treat search functionality as an “extra”, the entire Android operating system was moulded around the core of search functionality.

HTC Dream

The software is completely open source and allows users to download a host of free applications as well as customise every facet of the HTC Dream – from the dialler, browser and photo viewer, to the core applications normally locked into the operating system.

“MTN is proud to be the first operator in South Africa to offer its customers a revolutionary smartphone that will change the way we use mobile technology,” says Donovan Smith – General Manager of Consumer Segments at MTN SA

FEATURES
The HTC Dream features a large, sensationally crisp 3.2-inch (8.1 cm) display with a resolution of 320X480. The touch-sensitive screen navigation is finger-friendly and super intuitive. The display switches from portrait to landscape mode when the keyboard is opened. It has a sliding five-row QWERTY keyboard that comes with a set of six navigation buttons.

The HTC Dream includes a GPS receiver and a microSD card slot that supports storage capacities of up to 16GB. The device comes standard with a 1GB microSD card. A fast, full web browser brings the power of the web to your phone and displays up to eight web pages simultaneously to open networks.

All applications integrate seamlessly with one another, alert you to events occurring in other applications and allow you to switch in and out of functions while on a call.

“The HTC Dream with Android will cater for any type of user whether you are a university student or the CEO of a company. By giving our customers instant access to Google services, we are ensuring that MTN sets the pace with innovative and convenient product offerings in both the local and African telecoms market,” says Smith

In view of the advanced data capabilities and applications offered on the HTC Dream, MTN is offering it to customers on the MTN AnyTime 350 package for R529 per month, which includes R350 worth of airtime and 100MB worth of data per month. With MTN’s new broadband offer, once the inclusive 100MB is used up, customers can buy as many additional data bundles as they need.

Sweet!

The reality of the virtual – part II

You can read the first part of this series here.

Yesterweek I wrote a post about 3D glasses and all the joys they bring to the wealthiest 10% of the world. If that made you wet your pants with excitement, I thought it would be great to describe how they work in a little more detail.

Stereoscopic gaming
Stereoscopic gaming, for that matter, is basically gaming with the use of a 3D enhancing device such as 3D goggles. The stereoscopic experience is taken to greater heights with the combined use of surround sound and force feedback devices (or ‘haptics’ to be more technical).

With just the 3D specs and surround sound, entertainment junkies share a similar experience with avid IMAX (3D theatre) goers. Add gaming and a PC to the picture, and the result is superior immersion and an orgasmic experience.

Stereoscopic 3D hardware makes explosions fly out of the screen and adds depth that makes your computer screen look like a window rather than a flat projection, so say the manufactureres of 3D technology. Furthermore, nearly all gamers who have experienced this testify that their gaming performance is improved ten-fold. Here’s what one gamer had to say:

“The feeling of depth enhanced the visuals by a factor of ten. When I rolled in on my ground targets, I found that my aiming of rockets and bombs was actually a lot better in 3D than in 2D”
– Flightsim.com

Installation
Installing such devices appears to be a real cinch. A single video synchronisation adapter is used for most, and wireless devices require no serial ports or USB connection whatsoever. All that is required is to install the device’s software.

The wireless devices make use of an infrared transmitter to communicate with your PC and a dual-emitter transmitter to synchronise your monitor’s refresh rate with the glasses. Once set up, your specs activate automatically when viewing just about any PC game, photo or movie.

Battery life seems to be rather good too. Most 3D glasses use lithium cell batteries that provide 50-100 hours of usage. Retailers further promise that there’s no need to change your preferred video card drivers to utilise their stereoscopic software. Nice.

Where can I get a pair and for how much?
My spidey senses are telling me that the above question is probably on your mind right now. It’s a bit of a tough one to answer, as there is such a monumentous range of 3D glasses on the market with different levels of coolness.

However, the standard pair, which can do most of the things mentioned today (and is pictured in my last post) goes for around R1000, but you can shave R300 off of that if you don’t mind a pair with wires. Just don’t get carried away and leap across the room to avoid a virtual grenade exploding beneath you.

PS: There are several websites selling 3D goggles but note that there are some great deals on used pairs on sites such as e-bay.

PPS: I know I promised that I would write about haptics (or ‘force feedback devices’ to be less technical) this week, but I’ve decided to save that chapter for next time. (I also need to do some research and learn a bit more about them) 🙂

Related post:
The reality of the virtual – part I