The Blog of Tom Webster

Chronic Ranter, Reviewer, and Developer. I speak only for myself, opinions are my own.

Ghost in the Wires - A book by Kevin Mitnick

  2011-09-27 14:30:00 PDT

Just finished reading a wonderful book by Kevin Mitnick, hacker extraordinaire! As some of you may know, Kevin Mitnick was a fugitive hacker who ran for years and taught us all about social engineering, how to effectively use zero-day exploits, but most of all, how hackers need to target people first, computers second. In this book, Kevin is finally able to write about his firsthand experiences running from the law, compromising administrators and systems, and going into some great technical detail at the same time. The very first thing you’ll notice about this book is that it reads like a spy novel. Twists and turns! Backstabbing! RHosts files! Its all in here. The book contains technical bits for those who ‘get them’ (I do! I do!), but the story is completely comprehensible to anyone without any technical experience whatsoever, thanks to Mitnick’s brilliant writing style. If you’ve read any other books concerning this tale, you’ll get the other perspective, straight from the source. It isn’t a very deep book and should be looked upon as a spy-novel dealing with computer hackers. Its fun, its a ride, its about 400 pages, but it is a popcorn-style book. Have fun and run through this, I enjoyed it.

Chromebooks: A Disappointing Price Point

  2011-09-14 21:45:00 PDT

I LOVE Google’s Chrome OS. I love Chromebooks. So much so, that I regularly build and release USB live images of Chromium OS on this very site. I love the idea of a fire-and-forget web-based computer that people don’t have to maintain or take care of. Computer explodes? Grab a new one. Your data is just fine in the cloud. No worrying about viruses, backups, theft (thanks to the miracles of encryption). The Chromebook is the embodiment of the modern dumb-terminal. Like I said, I really love everything about Chromebooks…. except the price.

When rumors were flying to and fro about Google’s new operating system, the guess was that these machines would be mass produced with cheap hardware and would run a customer anywhere from $100 to $200 a pop. Writers and business managers were swooning over the day when they could walk into a big box consumer electronics store, throw down $500 on the table and walk out with 5 brand-new, shiny computers. Cheap, replaceable, cloud-based. Chromebooks were supposed to do away with “The Digital Divide” and put everyone on a level playing field.

So far, this hasn’t been the case. At all. The cheapest Chromebook is $350 for an Acer build with wifi-only. For $400, a person could buy a ‘normal’ laptop (granted, a really really low-quality laptop) and get more out of the hardware. Its really killing me. For a quality Chromebook (currently, the Samsung Series 5), you’re looking to spend about $400 for the wifi-only model, and $470 for the 3G model. Ridiculous.

Chromebooks offer the promise of being the ‘refrigerator’ of computers: A true appliance that you can treat as such. But at this price, only cloud-junkies are going to be willing to shell out premium dollars for less hardware. Maybe the idea is to make them expensive so they acquire a certain demographic (read: become trendy), but I seriously doubt this is the case.

Here’s a tip, if you’re looking for a Chromebook, look no further than eBay. For about $350-$360, you can play an auction for a little bit and end up with a brand-new Samsung 3G Chromebook. I believe manufacturers should set the price to $350 maximum. Yes, I realize that the hardware and R&D that goes into this project costs money, but if Google wants Chromebooks to become a lasting success and staple of computing, rather than a small distraction and all-around nice idea that fades into the past, they need to change the pricing structure now and/or start subsidizing manufacturer costs.

I absolutely love my CR48, but I would never pay more than $300 for it.

Windows 8 Developer Preview

  2011-09-14 10:33:00 PDT

As some of you may know, Microsoft has released a Windows 8 Developer Preview for bug testing and information gathering. Just like it happened with Windows 7, this developer preview is getting everyone excited for the next Windows release, me included. I am a bit skeptical, however. It seems to me like Microsoft is concentrating more on the tablet aspect of Windows 8 and almost completely ignoring its desktop PC roots. I’ll take you on a screenshot tour of sorts through a PicasaWeb album and offer some commentary along the way. While it is a bit buggy right now, you should give it a shot, its free after all.

Click on the Windows logo to start the screenshot tour.

Currently, my favorite feature is the built-in re-imaging and wipe functionality in Control Panel. Windows 8 lets you re-format your system with a button, but it does a Windows Easy Transfer type process in the background, letting you keep all of your user data and settings. This is HUGELY helpful for anyone who has ever had to format their machine (pretty much everyone). The wipe feature is beneficial to those of us who sell off or give away our old systems: The wipe feature formats and re-installs Windows 8 without keeping user data, allowing you to give your system away with peace of mind. I don’t know if this does a security wipe before re-installing Windows, if it doesn’t, it would make for a prime target of nefarious data-recovery specialists everywhere.

Brands and Businesses are Coming to Google+

  2011-09-13 21:46:00 PDT

And soon!

Click for full size.

I just went to add ‘Freelance Tech Guy’ to my list of employers on my Google+ profile, and I was surprised to find that Google not only lists potential business, but lists their pictures/logos as well. Is this part of the brand rollout we’ve been hearing so much about? It seems rather apparent to me that brands and companies will be added soon.

Again, I have no insider information on this, just a guess based on my experience with this unannounced ‘feature’.

Edit: Also, notice how some ‘non-companies’ will show up in this list, things like Pokemon show up in the list if you try it out. In the next screenshot, I search for ‘mario’, and ‘Nintendo’ pops up in the list. Check the screenshot for a peak.

Google+ Games

  2011-08-15 13:45:00 PDT

Just spent a bit of time playing around with Google+ games, and I have to say, I’m really enjoying them! I don’t ever see any game status updates, I don’t get notifications about games, I don’t get spammed about games, UNLESS I’m in the “Games” tab. I love gaming, I really do, but I don’t use the Google+ Social Network to play games, I use social networks to socialize, the games are a nice bonus, but I don’t want them to be the main feature. The Games Tab makes this simple and elegant. One of the main reasons I’m loving Google+ right now. And beyond that, the games are actually pretty good! More to come later!

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