Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vista Background Rejects; Wallpaper Cycler

I stumbled across; this is the website of the photographer hired by Microsoft to create all their pretty, pretty backgrounds in their newest operating system, Vista. Well, apparently a lot of his shots did not make the cut so he has kindly released them, in a very high resolution (1920x1200) format for our use and delight. And I must say, if these pictures are that great, how great are the ones going to be in Windows Vista? Or maybe Microsoft just doesn't know quality.

Anyways, I couldn't decide which one to set as my desktop background (there's a lot). And they're all very pretty. So I wondered, is there a program that allows me to cycle my wallpapers periodically, like a slideshow? And lo and behold, a Google search for "Wallpaper Cycler" yields this fruitful result: Cycler Lite) which does just the job.

So enjoy the combination of the two!

Friday, February 16, 2007

What about the little guys?

Even though the lastest high-tech developements are always interesting, the small advances in common technology are also important. With things like vista coming out, its easy to forget that the majority of people aren't up to that level yet.

So what about the common person, or even under-priveledged people? The One Laptop per Child program is interesting in its aim. Instead of trying to be the fastest and costing ridiculous sums, it provides an affordable option for kids to learn. "The OLPC Foundation mission is to stimulate local grassroots initiatives designed to enhance and sustain over time the effectiveness of XO laptops as learning tools for children living in lesser-developed countries."

What would be interesting is if this type of initiative could be taken for the lesser-developed in general. Instead of creating a computer with lots of options and features that people who can barely use a computer will not be able to operate, why not create a computer with only the essentials? This will create much more affordable prices for those who are having a hard time buying a new computer, yet the computer will still be able to perform needed actions.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

LHC: Why does it matter to us?

The entire physics community is pretty excited these days, but it just seems that this excitement is only prevalent in that community. I suppose that's to be expected -- after all, why does it matter to non-physicists?

What is this excitement all about, anyways? I speak of the near-completed Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. It is a monumental addition to the existing CERN particle collider that has served as the forefront of particle physics research for a good half century now. Places like CERN have produced an amazing amount of good experimental research that have propelled the frontier of physics ever forward. Experimental verification of quantum theory, the electroweak theory, and most impressively the Standard Model have all come out of particle colliders.

I suppose the question could be extended to all this: why do huge, multibillion dollar projects that do nothing but smash infinitesimally small particles matter to anybody? It seems like a very, very large and expensive toy for a physicist, doesn't it?

The core reason is because we have generally reached the upper limit with our current particle accelerators -- they can only accelerate particles to a certain energy level and the results we get cannot answer the burning questions of physics anymore. It seems like a paradox, that it takes higher and higher energy levels to probe deeper and deeper into the world of the small -- so small, in fact, that quantum mechanics is an inadequate description of this world.

The most intriguing area of physics, in my opinion (some physicists will disagree), is string theory. It is also the most tenuous area of physics -- because it is so theoretical (and in the words of my friend, Benedikt Riedel: so full of bullshit) and mathematical we do not know if any of it is "true" (in the sense of experimental evidence). The fact is, there is not a single piece of evidence supporting string theory -- and physicists have been working on modern string theory for the past twenty years. But what has been keeping them going is its sheer mathematical elegance. Can something be so elegant that it has to be true? Certainly, many physicists think so.

But the LHC is the reason why many physicists are starting to place bets now -- because they're hoping with the awesome level of energy that is attainable with this machine, it can start to shed some light on the most fundamental questions of physics today. For example, physicists are eagerly awaiting the experiment to test the existence of the fabled Higgs Boson. Of all the particles predicted by the Standard Model, the Higgs Boson is the only one that remains unidentified by experiments. The Standard Model has proved its success and versatility with everything else so far. The Higgs Boson is, simply, the particle hypothesized to give everything a property of mass (for everything that has mass, of course). That's pretty big stuff. Can you imagine that without this particle, nothing would have mass?

Hopefully, too, some aspects of string theory can be tested. That would re-instill a much needed sense of purpose, direction, and excitement in the field of high energy physics. And some deep, fundamental questions about the fabric of reality and its constituency could be answered.

YouTube Piracy Filter?

We all know about YouTube and have benefited from the hours of entertaining video selection on the site. Of course with an upload network such as YouTube's, it is only natural that people would post copyrighted material on the site. The fight against piracy has been ongoing for almost a century now. I still remember the day when Napster was brought down over the piracy issue. And now, it seems that YouTube is facing some of the same problems. YouTube was ordered to remove 100,000 illegal videos and asked to put up more stringent filtering system against copyrighted material.

The problem with piracy is that in the internet age of today, it is near impossible to stop the spread and open access of these information. However, due to the pressure of large corporations - i.e. Disney, Time Warner, Sony, NBC, etc. - YouTube is putting up an effort to stop the uploading of copyrighted material. Of course, YouTube says they don't have the necessary technology and the major corporations say YouTube isn't using the available technology. So the question in this epic battle is will copyright technology be able to keep up with the ever growing network of file sharing?

Thursday, February 8, 2007


More money than ever before is being spent on research. We have more resources to work with to due to better computing speeds and techniques. Yet why is it that the majority of new products coming out are just small improvements on past ideas? We see the fighting over HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray, both of which advertise better resolution, graphics, and data capacity, but not much else... Ever since the iPod made mp3 players popular, many companies have tried to duplicate that success with their own. Yet the iPod itself was not new, as mp3 players had been around for a while. Windows Vista has just come out, but for the most part, it has just improved on many of XP's functions. Of the newest games many are rehashes. So are the game systems. Many of the big companies are fine with just beating the dead horse.

However, there is still ground being made. Quantum Computing is making its debut. Artificial Intelligence is becoming more and more prominent (see previous post). Nanotechnology research is definitely progress. The wii shows some originality.

The question is whether our generation is for actual progress, or will the stagnation over come us? Join me in taking a brief outlook at different fields (coming soon).

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Launch of Vista

We've all heard about it on the news and we've all read about it on various forums and sites. Microsoft has taken 5 years to release their latest operating system - Vista.

As an employee of Best Buy, I am glad to say that we have had a glimpse of the many features included in the brand new package.

Major works have been done in turns of user interface, rendering the desktop much more aesthetically appealing to the average user. The new Aero interface generates a glass-like look which simulates depth and gives you a better idea of what's going on with your other windows. Another cool feature that has been implemented is that alt+tab provides live view of your applications, even the videos.

Browsing has been made a lot easier, search feature improved and some new features in terms of viewing options. Folders now give you a glimpse of the various files contained within for better browsing. Live icons give you an idea of the file content rather than generic icons. Start menu has been made to be more compact, no more annoying window sized "all programs" bars. I have to admit, I like the ease of browsing under the new windows.

Ready Boost is one of the cool features in addition. We've all had experience tweaking the settings of windows to boot faster for our needs. Who wants to wait 30 seconds for windows to boot up? Microsoft has designed Vista with ready boost buttons which will focus on certain programs when booting up and ignoring peripheral applications. for example, if you use ready boost to start up media center, it will load up media center before other programs, giving you much faster boot times.

Security underwent some changes. There's better control over program installation. For the price of windows asking you to confirm every action you take, you get the convenience of a spyware free computer. I suppose that the security of Vista will be tested in the upcoming months. I'll have my fingers crossed.

There has been a new feature in terms of Battery Management for laptop users.

Packaging has been changed up a little for better merchandising. Vista comes in four editions - Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate.

Home Basic - it's the skeleton of Windows Vista. It meets the basic needs of the average computer user, internet, email, etc. (lacks features such as Aero)

Home Premium - Home Basics with specialization in media center. Essentially it is for the younger generations. More dedicated towards videos, music, entertainment. One cool feature is the compatibility of Vista with TiVo for extra storage space.

Business - The name explains it all. Dedicated to small to medium sized business owners and has better security features. Other features that aid business owners are applications such as meeting place, think of it as skype.

Ultimate - The whole package. It has all the features listed above.


Much higher system requirements:

Premium package(minimum requirements):
1 GHz processor
128 MBs video card
40 GB harddrive with 15 GB free

This almost reminds me of the latest trend in video games, focus on graphic upgrades. Anyone heard of the move towards Counterstrike: Source? It has greater graphic demands so of course the big companies are going to be reeling in some more moolah. If you want Vista to run smoothly, I would recommend getting above those requirements.

Conclusion: I was fairly impressed with the changes Microsoft has done to their system. Definitely a viable upgrade in the future. I'm not quite ready to do major upgrades to my system yet. However, the required hardware are not so outlandish in today's computer industry, so it is definitely a consideration. There ARE some features which resemble OS X from Apple, but it wouldn't be the first time competing companies have imitated each other's products. But Vista includes features beyond those features and should be given consideration.