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Browsing posts in: Gadgets and gizmos

Prize model used for good and evil

I’m a big fan of prizes as a way to incentivize research and development.  Not only is money a big reward, but there’s also prestige, something not found with your basic paycheck.  From the X-Prize to Netflix’s recommendation software, prizes are proving to be a growing model.  I didn’t expect, however, spammers to use a prize model to improve CAPTCHA cracking software.

CAPTCHAs are those random letters you often have to type on online forms.  These prevent automatic bots from overloading systems.  But for every CAPTCHA created, someone eventually cracks its, leading to a constant arms race between spammers and security professionals.

Spammers are reportedly offering rewards up to $500,000 to anyone who can develop a way to crack reCAPTCHA, one of the leading CAPTCHA systems (used by Facebook and Craigslist).  Luis von Ahn, the co-creator of CAPTCHAs, said “If [the spammers] are really able to write a program to read distorted text, great – they have solved an AI problem.”  New Scientist notes this technology could be revolutionary optical character recognition software.

While I’m not trying to encourage more spammers (I already hate CAPTCHA which, if Google has its way, could get even more complicated), the prize model itself is still a great idea I hope to see more of in many different areas.

The future is now, with holodecks

I have two dreams in life – fly a starship and play in a holodeck.  The best part is, if the holodeck gets invented first, who needs the starship. A company called Eon Reality has developed at pretty early holodeck-like environment.  The Eon ICube is basically a high-tech PC with 3-6 wall-sized monitors projecting everything from fully immersive 3D environments to the coolest spreadsheets you’ve ever seen.  The user wears glasses and various peripherals for force feedback and a wireless want for control (you can only walk so far, the walls don’t move).  What kind of games/software do you want to play first in the ICube? Just give me my starship…

[Via GameSetWatch]

Skyfire full service mobile browsing

I just joined Skyfire’s private beta and my response is wow. Skyfire crams a full desktop experience into the tiny mobile screen for Windows Mobile with impressive speed and sleek design.  This includes full Flash support, putting all of YouTube and Hulu on your phone. Even Ajax and Java heavy sites like Google Reader run smoothly.  Many options are lacking in this early version, but the browsing experience is an impressive sign of browsing to come.

Skyfire’s compatibility works better than the iPhone Safari but lacks features needed to be the best.  You can’t change your start page (though the Skyfire homepage conveniently includes your bookmarks and history). There’s no tabbing or fit-to-screen zoom like on Opera meaning I’ll keep Opera around for text heavy sites.  The touch controls take some getting used to – the iPhone still wins on easy-of-use with multi-touch zoom. Most frustrating is the free browser needs to authenticate and closes if you loose your connection.

Unfortunately, Skyfire remains in private beta with no invites, so a lot of this is just me showing off. These many frustrations prevent Skyfire from becoming my default browser, but showing off YouTube and Hulu to my iPhone wielding friends makes it a must have application.  See screenshots after the jump.

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Sony wants solutions for homebrew

Sony is polling PSP users why they hack their powerful handheld opening the system to a variety of homebrew software.  Sony is likely concerned about widespread homebrew which enables piracy of games.  Sales of PSP software has been disappointing, with no PSP game selling in the top 100 of games from 2007.

Disappointing software sales likely has Sony worried.  Piracy is the common scapegoat, but that line is getting old.  NeoGAF posted the number of downloads of PSP torrent files in a flawed attempt to show widespread piracy.  There are over 30 million PSPs, but Sony is scared of 100,000 downloads of God of War. 

Paranoia over piracy only hampers the PSP, hurting Sony and users.  Sony expends so much time and money to fight homebrew when homebrew only helps increase the value of the system at no cost to Sony.  No matter what Sony other tech companies do, some geeks will pry the secrets from the system.  The iPhone, MP3 players, and every video game system ever (with one exception) have been hacked.

The reasons aren’t because people want to stick it to Sony, but because hacking these systems often makes them better.  iPhone users love adding function expanding software for free while Apple stumbles to release a helpful developer kit (still waiting) to even offer a paid option.

Sony isn’t offering any option.  Sony’s PS3 has managed to rein in hackers by building in an easy Linux install, the staple of homebrew achievements (they’ve even got it running on the Wii).  So why not build in some option on the PSP.  Don’t build in piracy obviously, make the hackers work for it.  But by embracing homebrew, Sony increases the value of the PSP with no effort and lessens the incentive to hack the system for bonus software. 

There nothing to study, Sony.  People love to make stuff better.  We want our purchases to be valuable, expansive, and customizable.  Don’t fight it. Embrace it.

Geek Chic: Geekiest things to do with your iPod

Linux_On_Ipod1 Sure the iPod is great for listening to music and watching movies on a really tiny screen, but why limit yourself.  The iPod is a powerful tiny computer and you might try using it as such.  Most of these tricks take some advanced computer skills, so if your iPod explodes, blame Microsoft like everybody else.

Install Linux

What free games and programs for your iPod?  The open-source miracle worker Linux has been developed specifically for the iPod and its handy click-wheel.  iPodLinux allows you to play more media files and you can still load the regular Apple firmware.  Unfortunately the newest iPods and some older ones are not supported.

Wikipedia on your iPod

If you get into a lot of discussions about the House of Burgundy but can’t remember the order of the monarchs, try carrying Wikipedia with you.  With no need for the internet, you can install almost 2 gigs of Wikipedia goodness onto your iPod for anytime viewing.  Now you always have something interesting to read on the train.

Change the iPod theme

For very advanced users (Windows only), use the iPodWizard to change the visuals of your iPod OS.  Tweak the colors, fonts, and maybe make your music sound better as a result.

Read a book

With a slight of hand, you can upload ebooks to your iPod.  Simply paste any text into a simple text file (.txt) and load it into Notes or Contacts on your iPod.  Files must be less than 4kb so novels need to be broken up between several files  Programs Text2iPod X and iPoDoc can help simplify the process.

You can even buy software

I know, who buys software these days.  Depending on if you want to learn a language, create flash cards, or listen to some female robot read your notes, you can find software for your iPod.  We are not here to judge.

Geek Chic: Geekiest ways to show your holiday spirit

Holiday clothing more often then not looks tacky rather than festive, but with some advice from you Geek Chic guru, you can put your show Santa just how much you love this holiday.

Geek holiday shirts – Available in a variety of shapes and colors, from white t-shirts to polos and turtlenecks, you can pick from some of these flattering and at the same time hilarious holiday shirts. Whether you enjoy from programing humor or just want some nice ASCII art (well, binary, but only real geeks will know), these are the shirts for you. Available at CafePress.

Geek LED belt buckle – You can wear this belt buckle all year long. Just change the LED letters to customize your own message specific to the event, whether it’s Happy Holidays or I<3 LARP. How you wear this belt buckle is up to you and isn’t that kind of control what the holidays are really about. Find it at ThinkGeek.

Quality holiday music – You’ve heard the best, now try the rest. Why settle for Gene Autry when you can have Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. Yes, this pop culture icon from the wholesome family show South Park has his own collection of classic holiday songs including “The Lonely Jew On Christmas” to “What The Hell Child Is This?” and the all-time favorite “The Most Offensive Song Ever.” Remember your holiday memories with this unforgettable treasure. Available at Amazon. Parental advisory recommended (that’s a sales pitch, actually).

Geek Chic: Best ways to set up video game emulators

Emulators have a special place in a geeks hard drive – in a secret folder in between the illegal movies and porn. You may have those hundreds of old school games locked on your desktop hard drive, but that limits your enjoyment of many classic video games. There are other ways to enjoy your games, freed from the confines of your bulky desktop.

Yellow Dog Linux for the PS3 PS3 Linux – Yes, the PS3 makes it very easy to set-up Linux right on the system. So with this open source operating system, why not throw some of the excellent Linux emulators on the system for the N64, PSX, and SNES.

Media center PC – For those with an extra couple of bucks, trying buying a small PC hooked up to your big screen TV. Not only can you surf the internet and boring stuff like that, but you can keep all the top Windows emulators. Plus your moving watching gets a lot easy, assuming you have the same ethics with movie files as video games.

PSP – Emulate wherever your heart desires. You will have to hack your PSP (naughty, naughty), but once you do, you can unlock the PSP’s built-in Playstation emulator as well as install some quality SNES and Genesis emulators.

Xbox Media Center – Yup, it’s a very complicated procedure, but with a built-in hard drive and some kick-ass hardware, you can have some excellent MAME and SNES games on your TV all the time (and it gives you some reason to keep your Xbox around).

Every Thursday, Prodigeek tries to help geeks live a more fulfilling, geek-life, complete with video games and social skills. But mostly video games.

Action figures aren’t as much fun

Years of withdrawal after my parents threw out my action figures inspired me, after I ran away from home (to college), to begin collecting again. I started collecting at the early stages of Toy Biz’s Marvel Legends and the already churning DC Direct line. Every few months, about a dozen new and awesome figures earned a place on my shelves (yes, I open them…and play with them). And this went on for a few years until now I have a modest 300 or so figures.

But recently, the wind has left my plastic shell. DC Direct has shrunk their action figure lines to four characters instead of the previous five. When one or two of these figures is Superman and/or Batman, it doesn’t leave room for much variety. And Marvel Legends now under Hasbro have plummeted in quality, loosing most of their articulation and featuring cheap looking sculpts with plain paint jobs.

DC Direct Trinity line, from DC Direct

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7 reasons I prefer my PSP to my iPod

PSP, from Sony Everyone needs one portable gadget to carry all their music and movies. And I must go against popular opinion and say I love my PSP more than my iPod.

7. Multimedia

The PSP provides MP3, video, and image viewing with built-in speakers and a radiant 480p screen, far bigger than any iPod screen. I can then plug in my PSP to watch videos, either UMDs or MPEG-4s (just like your iPod), on my television. The larger screen even works better for reading comic books and websites. And if you’re ever bored, you can keep many flash games you find online to play on your PSP.

6. Wireless and web browsing: no extra charge

It only took six years and six generations of iPods before Wi-Fi and web browsing finally came built into the MP3 player. The PSP has had an impressive web browser for years with wireless networking to play games. The PSP had an RSS reader built-in.

5. Expandable memory

Want an more TV episodes for that long plane ride? Just have too much music for one iPod Nano. Well for the PSP, you can buy one, two, four, or eight gig memory cards giving you unlimited space for all your media. You can buy three four gig memory cards (about $40 each) and a PSP ($169) and spend less than the $299 iPod touch with eight gigs.

4. Easily replaceable batteries

So did that battery in your iPod crap out? Now you have to replace your whole iPod. Or worse, were you watching a video in the car ride to grandma’s when your battery dies? If you had a PSP, you could just switch out a new battery. Keep two around. Or three. And never worry about being without your precious music, movies and games. And you never have to wait for those annoying appointments to have college student do what you can do yourself.

iPod Nano, from Gizmodo 3. Homebrew and accessories

While both Apple and Sony aren’t happy about random people making random stuff for their hardware, PSP has a much larger and successful homebrew community, creating eReaders, ISO loaders, original games, and GPS services with maps. One downside are the current best accessories, like the video camera and official GPS have yet to be imported to the U.S. Europe also will be getting live TV, instant messaging, and a video download service, many of which are soon to be coming to the U.S. And until that happens, I can always use Remote Play with my PS3. I might be across the country, but give me a wireless connection and I can be enjoying all the games and movies on the attached 500 gig hard drive.

2. Games

Pretty obvious, the PSP plays games. This handheld is a power house almost rivaling the home console PS2. While the console has had more misses than hits, there’s far more quality games for the system then the iPod which has, well, none. From an original Grand Theft Auto game to classic remakes of Final Fantasy and Mega Man, the PSP offers a nice assortment of value-adding games. And if those games aren’t enough, try out flash games from the web (which you can save onto your memory card) or play some free homebrew games. All the features of an iPod and a game machine. All for a …

1. Lower price

You get more features than the $300 iPod Touch for the price of an iPod Nano. And a lot more features than the iPod Nano…for the same price.

And no I did not forget the UMD movie format. UMD is a waste. But the PSP can play all your digital movie files just as well, on a wider, bigger screen than any iPod. Just wanted to remind you of that.

Every Monday, I force my opinion on you, my fearless readers, ranking the seven of something geeky.

iPhone downgrade arrives faster than surcharges on your phone bill

So all that talk about Apple beating the iPhone hackers. Well, that didn’t last long. Already a method for downgrading the new firmware has been released, showing users a way to return their iPhone to the original firmware. Now it’s not perfect since you can’t use the iPhone as a phone, but come on, one step at a time. It might be harder to get phone functions back for a while, but Wi-Fi still works as well as all the third-party apps.

Though this would all be easier if Apple just let third-party companies easily create applications for the iPhone. People are doing it for free already. Why fight something that only makes your product worth more.