Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From XP to 7: Using the new features part 1

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I went to a conference in the city and they demonstrated the new features of Windows 7.  This got me thinking that I should start using the new features.  Since I skipped Vista as an operating system, some of the things I am learning were new in Vista, and some are new in 7.

Here are some new features I am going to use:
  • Flip 3D: Since the old days, holding down the ALT key and hitting TAB was the way I switch between open programs.  Windows 7 has a new feature called Flip 3D that is similar.  If you hold down the WINDOWS key and hit TAB, you can switch between programs, except with a 3D effect.  This is a very neat little feature that I will add to my bag o' tricks.
  • Windows+Arrow: I have two monitors at home.  I have times where I want to switch things over to other windows, and I have thus far been dragging things from one monitor to another.  Who knew I could simply hold WINDOWS and hit the RIGHT ARROW to move it to the screen on the right, and WINDOWS and LEFT ARROW to move back to the left screen.  This is a pretty neat little feature that saves me some mouse clicks.
  • Problem Steps Recorder: There are times where I want to show people problems I am having, and I end up taking screen shots (using print screen).  The problem is I then have to type up the steps and do work to show this.  This tool will let me simply record step by step what I am doing, so I can create a report and just mail that with very little effort.  I can imagine this is going to be a great tool for technical support professionals in the future as well.  Link to more information

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Interesting Computer Stuff Wayback Machine: 4/17/2010

Trent at The Simple Dollar does this thing where he looks back and says "what was I doing at this time last year".  I thought I might check it out for my blog and see what happens.

Wayback to one year ago (April 2009):
Just because security is an illusion doesn't mean you can't be safer
How readable is your Word document?
Nissan vs. Nissan
I discussed how motivated hackers can get in to most any system, and how your goal should be to not be the weakest link.  I also discussed "readability statistics" in Word (which I recently demonstrated in my CIS 125 classes).  I also discussed the case of Uzi Nissan, who owns Nissan.com and is constantly sued by Nissan, the car maker.

Wayback to two years ago (April 2008):
Secure, Random Passwords
What not to do in PowerPoint
People want passwords that are easy to remember.  Sometimes, for security's sake, it is worth it to memorize a difficult password.  PC Tools has a link that will create a difficult to hack, random password.  And when I say "memorize", I don't mean "write it on a sticky note and put it on your monitor".  I also had found a PowerPoint video that I still use today: "Life After Death by PowerPoint".  This is a comedy routine that a comedian does to show common presentation mistakes.

Wayback to three years ago (April 2007):
Massacre of Virginia Tech
Wow.  The College was in the middle of closings due to the flooding of downtown Paterson (sound familiar?), and the Virginia Tech shootings had just happened.

Wayback to four years ago (April 2006):
Hello World
The blog had not been created yet, but it was close.  I started the blog on May 6, 2006 after attending a conference at NJCU.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Learning Technology

One of the problems with teaching technology is that everything changes.  Many times, people just sort of stick with the features they know and just look for the spot where that same feature is, rather than learning the new features of a program.

The most recent example I can come up with is Office 2007.  People got very frustrated with a new interface, even if it is a simpler interface.  One company even created a program to make Office 2007 look like Office 2003, and charges $30 for it.  People will pay $30 to stick with the old interface!  (To be fair, businesses don't like dealing with retraining, because it costs money).

This does go beyond new versions of software.  I remember when I was in college, we were being taught the C programming language (something we computer people use to actually create computer programs).  The college upgraded to a newer version of the language called C++, and I did not bother to take advantage of the new features.  For those who know programming, C is designed to be procedure-oriented, while C++ is designed to be object-oriented.  It took me years to gradually accept the object-oriented programming method.

The reason this is on my mind is because I went to a conference in the city last week, and they included a demonstration of Windows 7.  I have had Windows 7 for a while at home as my primary operating system.  I didn't realize how many features I haven't been using, because much like the programming days in college, I have been using Windows 7 like it was still Windows XP.  I am planning on spending some time playing around with the new features this weekend and re-learning my behaviors a bit, because that's what a technology person should be doing, right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hacking Facial Recognition Software

One thing that I see often in TV is facial recognition software.  For example, in the current season of "24", Chloe O'Brien is able to very easily figure out who someone in based on the digital image of their face.  The way these software programs work is similar (though not as advanced as in "24").  They take a facial image and scan it to determine what the features of the person are, and then compare that to a database of people's characteristics.

Of course, the easy way to beat this would be to wear a ski mask or something, but it would be way too obvious if you were walking around in public with one on.  I often wondered if some sort of plastic surgery would make you harder or impossible to detect, and that certainly is an option.

However, a computer programmer was able to reverse engineer this software to find ways to beat it, in theory by using makeup patterns.  He had three sets of images.  The first set were basic images with no makeup, the second set was images with random patterns, and the third set were images that exploited what he considered potential weaknesses in the facial recognition software.  His conclusions?  The patterns he created all fooled the system, while the random patterns and the blank patterns did not fool the system.

His conclusion?  The images represent potential anti-surveillance makeup.

Now, if someone was walking around with the makeup you see in the images, it might look weird still...but the potential is there.  If someone can wear a weird makeup pattern and throw off these systems - well, these systems need to be more mature and figure these things out.  I am sure the companies will say "well, no one is going to walk around with that makeup" publicly, while privately scrambling to find a fix.

Needless to say, if a graduate student came up with an idea like this...imagine what terrorists who do not want to be found will come up with.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Probably Bad News

If there is one thing I like, it is looking at the world around me and being amused by it.

Probably Bad News is a site that accepts user submission of bizarre and poorly worded newspaper, online, and television news reports.  It's definitely worth a click, though it may not be safe for work!