David Snell

Where's Santa? NORAD Knows!

December 18th , 2007

Norad has been successfully tracking Santa for 51 years – with 2007 being 52.

First, it may help to know what NORAD stands for. NORAD is an abbreviation for the North American Air Defense Command, which was known as CONAD, or the Continental Air Defense Command, until the late 1950s. In 1958, the United States and Canada joined forces to form NORAD in order to warn and defend the continent more effectively in the case of an attack. The North American Air Defense Command watches the airways for intrusions such as planes or missiles and warns if any unrecognized object should enter protected airways and more recently, waterways as well. So, why does such an important entity like NORAD track Santa Claus?

That also started back in the 1950s and came about because of a simple mistake. In 1955, a Sears store, at the time known as Sears Roebuck and Company, placed Christmas advertising that included a phone number where children could call and reach Santa Claus. The only problem was that the phone number was printed incorrectly. As excited children began dialing on Christmas Eve, they reached CONAD, instead of Santa. The Colonel in charge recognized what had occurred, and in an act of kindness, had his team check the radar to see where Santa might be. Children were told of his speculated location when they called. Tracking Santa became a Christmas Eve custom after that. When CONAD became NORAD, the custom was passed along and is still in practice today. Information about Santa is now available in six different languages and children and their families can track Santa by calling or by viewing the NORAD website.

The NORAD site also has a countdown that shows exactly how long it will be until Santa leaves the North Pole which includes the days, the hours, the minutes, and even the seconds. Children can learn the very second Santa begins his journey, and track his progress toward their locations. For those “Grinch’ type folks who might be concerned about this use of taxpayer’s dollars, remember that much of this effort is simply an exercise in creativity and imagination. In addition, NORAD states that people from both the United States and Canada work voluntarily to help track Santa Claus. If you would like to learn more about this Christmas Eve tradition, or if you would like to follow Santa’s progress, please visit the NORAD website for more information. Last year (2007) 756 volunteers answered 65,355 phone calls between 2 a.m.Christmas Eve and 2 a.m. Christmas Day, reports Major Stacia Reddish, NORAD’s Track Santa project officer. NORAD volunteers received calls from every state in the U. S. , with the most callers phoning in from Texas , California and Florida .“All of those poor states with no snow,” Major Reddish said.Between Nov. 17 and Dec. 31, 2007 the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site, www.noradsanta.org, received 907,958,865 hits from 210 countries and territories around the world. Norad Santa Website:
New for 2008 check out the Official Santa Mail website for fun games and much more:

From the entire ACTSmart team, Merry Christmas to all and to Santa, good flight!


December 4, 2007
Decisions, Decisions, Decision

With the holidays coming up, way to quickly I might add, perhaps it’s time to investigate getting a new PC. Dell is selling its PCs in Staples office supply stores as evidenced by the Staples flyer in this past Sunday’s newspaper. The PC lineup includes Dell’s Inspiron 530 desktop PCs and two versions of Inspiron notebooks, as well as supplemental Dell products like all-in-one printers and flat-panel LCD monitors. These are consumer based PC’s with limited warranties and most likely off shore technical support. Buying through a retailer also limits the add-ons and bells and whistles available. These systems are pre-configured, cash and carry boxes with no customization is available.

Will this help Dell have a strong holiday sales push?
Dell’s deal with Wal-Mart was grand when it was announced, but since the company has given no specific performance figures on how well its retail effort in Wal-Mart has fared, it’s hard to gauge how customers will react to Dell’s brand in Staples. Does Staples even sell many PCs?Dell systems in Wal-Mart stores reflected an aura of older or overstocked parts assembled into PCs and dumped into Wal-Mart’s parking lot, rather than any specific computer build made for the retailer, and I’m not so sure customers have responded in droves to buy Dells inside those local Wal-Mart stores. Not enough time has gone by, though, so I could be jumping the gun here.

Last month, Wal-Mart started selling a $200 Linux-based machine
(the Everex TC2052 gPC) that we spoke of a few months ago. The initial run was around 10,000 units and now Wal-Mart is sold out. Perhaps Linux has found a niche. These PC’s don’t have what it takes to run Windows Vista, but they have enough power to do pretty much everything that users want from a PC.
Dell’s latest partnership with Staples will put its PCs and products into 1,400 more retail locations, which will instantly give it more exposure to the American buying public. Perhaps that is what Dell is going after here — mass exposure (which generates a certain amount of purchases) instead of strategic, slower partnerships. Dell is expected to strike more retail agreements in the next 12 to 18 months. Dell is now significantly behind competitor Hewlett-Packard in overall computer system sales, and these retail efforts are considered by many to be a desperate attempt to win back market share. Right now, it’s too early to attribute any success or failure in that effort.As the seasons roll around so do the quarterly PC sales numbers. It will be a chilly fall for Dell. In the third quarter, the Texas-based PC company shipped 9.8 million PCs. That was an increase of less than 4% over the same period last year, and gave the company 14% of the global market, according to The Wall Street Journal.By way of contrast, Hewlett-Packard shipped 12.8 million PCs world-wide, enough for 19% of the market and a 33% increase from the year earlier period.

Ouch…..It would appear that HP is going to report especially strong PC sales when it releases its third quarter earnings. Its shares are already at almost $53, near their 52-week high.

So, Santa… your choices are varied and numerous. Be sure to do your homework before plunking down your hard earned cash. Remember, extended warranties and effective technical support are worth a little extra money.

For Millions of Windows PC's, the Perfect Storm is Gathering

November 27th, 2007

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A spectre is haunting the net but, outside of techie circles, nobody seems to be talking about it. The threat it represents to our security and wellbeing may be less dramatic than anything posed by global terrorism, but it has the potential to wreak much more havoc. And so far, nobody has come up with a good idea on how to counter it.

It’s called the Storm worm. It first appeared at the beginning of the year, hidden in email attachments with the subject line: ‘230 dead as storm batters Europe ‘. The PC of anyone who opened the attachment became infected and was secretly enrolled in an ever-growing network of compromised machines called a ‘botnet’. The term ‘bot’ is a derivation of ‘software robot’, which is another way of saying that an infected machine effectively becomes the obedient slave of its – illicit – owner. If your PC is compromised in this way then, while you may own the machine, someone else controls it. And they can use it to send spam, to participate in distributed denial-of-service attacks on banks, e-commerce or government websites, or for other ‘even more sinister’ purposes.

Storm has been spreading steadily since last January, gradually constructing a huge botnet. It affects only computers running Microsoft Windows, but that means that more than 90 per cent of the world’s PCs are vulnerable. Nobody knows how big the Storm botnet has become, but reputable security professionals cite estimates of between one million and 50 million computers worldwide.

To date, the botnet has been used only intermittently, which is disquieting: what it means is that someone, somewhere, is quietly building a doomsday machine that can be rented out to the highest bidder, or used for purposes that we cannot yet predict.

Of course, computer worms are an old story, which may explain why the mainstream media has paid relatively little attention to what’s been happening.

Old-style worms – the ones with names like Sasser, Slammer and Nimda – were written by vandals or hackers and designed to spread as quickly as possible. Slammer, for example, infected 75,000 computers in 10 minutes, and therefore attracted a lot of attention. The vigour of the onslaught made it easier for anti-virus firms to detect the attack and come up with countermeasures. In that sense, old-style worms were like measles – an infectious disease that shows immediate symptoms.

Storm is different. It spreads quietly, without drawing attention to itself. Symptoms don’t appear immediately, and an infected computer can lie dormant for a long time. ‘If it were a disease,’ says one expert, Bruce Schneier, ‘it would be more like syphilis, whose symptoms may be mild or disappear altogether, but which will come back years later and eat your brain.’

Schneier thinks Storm represents ‘the future of malware’ because of the technical virtuosity of its design. For example, it works rather like an ant colony, with separation of duties. Only a small fraction of infected hosts spread the worm. A much smaller fraction are command-and-control servers; the rest stand by to receive orders. By only allowing a small number of hosts to propagate the virus and act as command-and-control servers, Storm is resilient against attack because even if those hosts shut down, the network remains largely intact and other hosts can take over their duties.

More fiendishly, Storm doesn’t have any noticeable performance impact on its hosts. Like a parasite, it needs the host to be intact and healthy for its own survival. This makes it harder to detect, because users and network administrators won’t notice any abnormal behavior most of the time.

And instead of having all hosts communicate with a central server or set of servers, Storm uses a peer-to-peer networking protocol for its command-and-control servers. This makes the botnet much harder to disable because there’s no centralised control point to be identified and shut down.

It gets worse. Storm’s delivery mechanism changes regularly. It began as PDF spam, then morphed into e-cards and YouTube invites. It then started posting blog-comment spam, again trying to trick viewers into clicking infected links. Similarly, the Storm email changes all the time, with new, topical subject lines and text. And last month Storm began attacking anti-spam sites focused on identifying it. It has also attacked the personal website of a malware expert who published an analysis of how it worked.

At the moment, nobody knows who’s behind this. Is it a Russian mafia operation? An al-Qaeda scheme? The really creepy thing is that, to date, the controllers of Storm have used it for such relatively trivial purposes. The suspicion is that they are biding their time, waiting for the moment when, say, 100 million naive Windows users have clicked on an infected link and unwittingly added their machines to the botnet. Only then will we know what a perfect storm in cyberspace is like.

Check the links below to read up on the Storm worm.

How Bad Is The Storm Worm?

The Storm Worm

About The Storm Worm

Snopes is our favorite site for verifying and/or debunking internet & email gossip

Storm Worm Rages Across The GlobeStorm Worm Adds Millions Of Computers To Botnet

10 Computer Components You Should Replace Rather Than Repair

November 20th, 2007

With all the reports of consumers being ripped off by unscrupulous computer repair people, I thought I’d share a little information to shed some light on repairing vs. replacing aging or failing components.Any time a computer component stops working, or just becomes unstable — as we all know will happen from time to time — we have to decide whether to replace it, have it repaired, or just get by as is with perhaps a temporary fix. Just getting by will nearly always be the cheapest solution, at least in the short run. Replacement, however, will usually provide a good opportunity to upgrade. In fact, given the rate at which the various technologies behind computer hardware are advancing, unless you replace something a week after you buy it, you may almost be forced to upgrade. The following are a few items which, if replaced (and generally upgraded), can provide excellent benefits, from an enhanced user experience to additional compatibility, greater longevity, and stability for the whole system.

#1: Power Supply
One of the most overlooked pieces of computer hardware is the power supply unit (PSU). Computer enthusiasts often brag about their blazing fast processors, top-of-the- line video cards, and gigs upon gigs of RAM, but rarely about their great PSUs.
The truth is, the power supply is the last thing we should skimp on when choosing components for our system. If a computer’s brain is its processor, its heart is the power supply. And having one that is worn out, underpowered, unstable, or just generally cheap can be a major cause of hardware failure. Every computer’s power requirements are different, but a good minimum for a modern PC is 450 watts. Some systems, especially those with multiple high-end video cards or lots of add-on cards and peripherals may require a PSU rated at 800 watts or more. Replacing a failing or inadequate power supply can make a previously unstable system stable. Aside from supplying enough power, that power must be supplied stably. A common cause of “unexplained” lockups and system crashes is a drop in voltage supplied to the system when under load, caused by a poorly manufactured PSU. The easiest way to find a quality PSU is to stick to the consistently top brands such as Antec, EnerMax, and PC Power & Cooling.

#2: Fans
As computers have gotten more powerful over the last decades, they have also gotten hotter. Gone are the days of a passively cooled Pentium 100; now we have fans on our massive CPU heatsinks, on our monster video cards, and on intake and outtake vents to our computer cases. All of these fans are playing important roles by keeping our computers safely cooled, and we should try to ensure that they continue doing so.
Fans are one of the few parts that when replaced will not usually be replaced with something better. But they deserve mention because: As one of the few moving parts in our system, they are one of the most likely to actually break. When they break, it’s likely to pass unnoticed or not cause much concern. Also, fans are cheap and easy to replace. It generally takes about 10 dollars, 15 minutes, and a screwdriver to install a new one, so there’s really no good excuse for not doing so.

#3: Surge Protector / UPS
This is another item that keeps our computers safe and should not be neglected. A surge protector can be a stand-alone power strip, but one is also built into virtually every uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The surge protector guards our devices against spikes in energy that occur in our circuits at the home or office, usually due to lightning or the powering up of high-powered devices, such as hair dryers or refrigerators. Repairing a surge protector would be difficult and expensive at best; replacement is almost always the best option.
It can be tricky to know when it’s time to replace a surge protector, because the component inside that diverts excess power from surges to the ground simply wears out with repeated use. However, there is often no interruption of power or other indication that it’s done. You may still have juice but not be protected. The cheapest protectors may wear out after fewer than 10 small surges, while the better ones can last through hundreds. The safest thing to do is to get higher quality protectors but still replace them occasionally.

#4: Video Card
The video card is one of the most important elements in the performance of your system and overall user experience. Even though it is also one of the priciest components, there are two good reasons to replace it should your old one bite the dust.
First, video cards are one of the components that are being improved upon seemingly every day. Just like with CPUs, a video card that’s two years old simply isn’t as fast as a current one and won’t have the newest features (such as support for DirectX 10). Also, the video card is the number one hardware stopgap as we migrate to Vista . Manufacturers just aren’t providing new Vista-compatible drivers for lots of their old video cards. This means that many of us will have to replace our video cards whether they are broken or not, if we plan to switch to Vista .

#5: Flash Media Reader
All kinds of devices use flash cards these days: cameras, MP3 players, even cell phones. These small devices let us take our data anywhere easily. Since it seems as if every device uses a different format of flash media, most of us have all-in-one type card readers. If the reader breaks or gets lost (which seems to happen a lot), there are two excellent reasons for upgrading to a newer model instead of trying to repair the old one.
First, many old card readers are USB 1.1. The newer ones use USB 2.0 instead, which is 40 times faster. This is more than enough reason to replace an old reader, even if it’s not broken. In addition, new formats are constantly coming out for flash cards, and when they do, you need a new reader to use them. For example, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and xD from Fujifilm are not supported by older readers.

#6: CD/DVD Drives
Considering that it has moving, spinning parts, the average CD/DVD drive is actually fairly robust. Because of that, however, many people are still using old read-only (or CD RW) drives instead of amazingly cheap (and handy) DVD writers. If you’re still using an old drive and it finally gives up the ghost, you’ll probably be glad it did when you replace it with a DVD/CD RW combo drive for less than 50 dollars.

#7: Hard Drives
The computer component we all least want to fail is the hard drive. It’s easier to cope with the loss of the much more expensive processor or video card as long as we still have our precious data, so your first instinct is to try to repair it. But if you’ve been practicing good backup habits, you can actually come out of the situation better off when you replace the old drive with something bigger and faster.
The “giant” 100-GB hard drive of a few years ago is no longer so large. Today, you can get 750 GB for less than 200 bucks. In addition to being much, much larger, newer hard drives will generally be Serial ATA II (SATA II), which has a maximum data transfer rate of about 300 MB/s as opposed to SATA I’s 150 MB/s and the older Parallel ATA (PATA) rate of 133 MB/s. SATA II is fairly new, so many motherboards don’t support it. But even if yours doesn’t, the SATA II drives generally have a jumper that can put them in SATA I mode.

TIP: Right now, most SATA II hard drives ship with this limiting jumper in place by default, so if your board does support SATA II, be sure to change the jumper before you install the drive.

#8: Monitor
With the exception of servers, a computer isn’t much good without a monitor. Monitors rarely make it all the way to the stage of completely not working, because we replace them when they start to fade. If you replace a monitor that’s more than a few years old, the new one will likely not much resemble the old.
Any reluctance you may have had to switch from the giant 50-pound cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor to a slim and featherweight liquid crystal display (LCD) should be gone by now. The gap in performance in terms of color rendering and refresh rates between CRTs and LCDs is very small. Unless you’re a graphics designer who needs a multi-thousand dollar large screen CRT, the benefits of size, weight, power consumption, and less eye fatigue that LCDs enjoy will far outweigh any small performance advantages of a CRT. With the exception of the extremely high and extremely low end markets, it’s quite hard to find a new CRT monitor anyway. If you were already using an LCD that’s a few years old, when you replace it you’ll enjoy those leaps in performance that the LCDs have made in the last few years.

#9: Keyboard
Since so many of us spend hours every day banging away at them, it’s important to have a keyboard that’s comfortable and efficient. And since we use them so much and often so brutally, it’s no wonder they break often. Keys come off, get stuck, or just get really dirty. When these things happen, you should usually go ahead and replace the keyboard rather than live with the hassle.
Today’s keyboards have new, handy features. Some have built in user-defined macro keys for often-repeated commands; some can fold up for easy transportability; some have built-in ports so they can double as USB hubs. There is a keyboard with some unique feature to suit nearly anyone’s needs.

#10: Motherboard and Processor
Replacing the motherboard is always the most involved upgrade. Since it usually means “starting over” with a clean installation of the operating system, lots of people are reluctant to change to a newer board even when the old one gives up the ghost, preferring instead to replace it with the exact same model, thus avoiding having to wipe the OS. However, since a motherboard upgrade is the most involved, it also can give the widest range of benefits.
First and foremost, replacing the motherboard usually gives us the chance to upgrade to the latest processor technology. Today, you can get the benefits of a dual or even quad CPU setup with only one processor, thanks to multi-core technology, in which more than one processing core is placed on a single wafer. In a multitasking or multithreaded environment, this effectively increases your computer’s performance by a factor of two or four. Additionally, upgrading the motherboard gives you access to new technologies for other components. PATA and SATA I hard drives (and optical drives) can be upgraded to SATA II. AGP video cards can be upgraded to PCI-E. USB 1.1 ports become USB 2.0. The list goes on for virtually every component and to complete this major upgrade you’ll need to replace the power supply and quite possibly the tower case itself. Sometimes, even though it can be a pain, starting over can be the best choice and the best bang for the buck. Article source TechRepublic/TechTips

Speed up Web Surfing with OpenDNS

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November 6th, 2007

OpenDNS is the cutting-edge Internet service by a San Francisco-based company. Simply put, with OpenDNS you are no longer tied to using your ISP’s slow and much overworked DNS servers.

What the heck is DNS?
Whenever you access a website your computer first contacts a domain name server (DNS) to find out what server IP address is paired with that particular domain name. By default without any configuration your computer automatically uses DNS servers provided by your ISP which are commonly overused and slow. You can experience anywhere from 50 milliseconds to a second or more when dealing with slow DNS’s before your computer can interact with the actual website.

Enter OpenDNS
By configuring your computer to use the domain name servers at OpenDNS you can benefit from more reliable and faster DNS servers and queries. But it doesn’t stop there – Block the bad sites and whitelist the good.

Phishing Protection

OpenDNS operates PhishTank.com, the world’s most trusted source of phishing data. They integrate that data into an intelligence feed on their DNS servers to keep everyone on your network safe from phony sites trying to steal personal information.

Domain Blocking

You want to secure your network and have control over what resolves. OpenDNS gives you that control by providing the tools to block any website or DNS zone on the Internet, all through an easy-to-use interface.

Adult Site Blocking

Safeguard your kids, protect your students, or limit your corporate liability by blocking adult websites. The OpenDNS adult site blocking solution can be deployed in minutes and provides granular levels of blocking. Did I mention it’s completely free?

Web Proxy Blocking
Prevent people on your network from bypassing the access restrictions you put in place. Blocking Web proxies helps ensure your network remains secure.

Domain Whitelisting
They also provide a (growing) list of Web content filtering categories to block, but sometimes there is a domain you want to make sure is never blocked, even if it’s listed in a feed. Have the final say with the Domain Whitelisting feature.

Got stats? Statistics
Understand your Web traffic with intutive stats about your network’s DNS. This is your data, and now you can view it like never before. And of course, if you don’t want stats, they won’t collect any DNS data from you, at all.

To the end user, the OpenDNS service is truly transparent. You won’t really notice that you’re using it with the exception of the speed and security improvements. It does nothing to hinder your browsing habits.

Okay so now that I’ve got your attention you’re probably wondering how you too can start browsing with OpenDNS. It’s rather simple, all you need to do is tell your computer (or router if you’re on a network) to use the OpenDNS servers whose IP’s can be found on their website. Fortunately, for those folks with no idea where to start, they offer comprehensive guides to setting it all up. Choose the brand and model router you own and follow the simple instructions.

What to do?
The best thing to do is sign up for an OPENDNS account. It’s absolutely FREE so make a positive move towards a faster, safer and more secure internet for your home, family or business.


auctionPAL: Selling Your Stuff Online Just Got A Little Easier.

October 30, 2007

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If you’ve ever tried to sell anything on Ebay or any other auction site, you’ve probably found that its simple to sign up but that’s where the “easy” stuff ends.

You have to take and upload good photos, write compelling descriptions, choose the correct bidding information, figure out the shipping costs and then if you item is bid on and won, you need to collect payment, package the item and ship it by whatever means to the winning bidder. Whew… that’s a lot of work.

Did You Know?
Waltham,MA. based auctionPAL, reports that 54% of all items listed on eBay never receive a single bid?

Now, how about a service that does all that and more, saving you from all the work? auctionPAL just might be the answer to your auction nightmares. They even have a price calculator – just type in the item you want to sell on auction and auctionPAL will calculate what you can expect to get for it.

So, How Does auctionPAL Work?
Here’s what you do to get started:

1: auctionPAL registers you
2: Helps you figure out what to sell
3: Takes the photos (you can upload or they’ll send an agent to you)
4: Ask’s you some questions

After these 4 steps are completed, auctionPAL takes it from here:

  • An auctionexpert is assigned to your item
  • Writes a description
  • Creates a selling strategy
  • Posts your item(s) online (they use Ebay and are expanding into other venues)
  • They manage the auction
  • A winning bid is placed
  • Buyer proceeds through the auctionPAL checkout
  • The money is placed in an account until buyer received your item
  • A box and packing materials are sent right to your house
  • You package the item up and call the 800 number provided
  • DHL swings by to collect the package from your doorstep
  • The buyer confirms receipt of the item
  • You get the check

So what’s the catch? There really isn’t a catch but for all this personalized service you should expect to pay the piper, so to speak. auctionPAL offers 3 levels of service and shown below is an excerpt from their pricing page:

Q: How does auctionPAL get paid?
A: It’s easy: We do the work and you get the cash! auctionPALcharges a commission based on the level of service we provide: Easy, Easier or Easiest.

Q: What are the commission rates?
A: auctionPAL commission rates are competitive with other selling services. Our commission fees range from our special introductory rate of 20% for self-service (Easy!) to 35% for agent visits to your home or workplace (Easiest!).

Q: How do I pay auctionPAL?
A: There are no upfront fees to use auctionPAL services! Our commission, which includes all selling fees, is deducted from the final selling price of the auction item. The balance is then promptly sent to you.

Is this a good deal?
If you really don’t know or care to learn anything about auctioning on your own, auctionPAL could be a valuable resource. You can opt for the lowest commission percentage and go self service or pay the full commission and let them do all the work.

auctionPAL also has a program that might be of interest to business owners wanting to give auctioning a try without investing a lot of time, effort and money upfront.

Check them out at:

Here’s a link to their webmercial

auctionPAL FAQ’s

Brit's are always on Candid Camera

October 23, 2007

“There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment…. You had to live-did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” –George Orwell, 1984

It used to be that troublemakers could lounge on the planters outside the McDonald’s there and pick apart the geraniums to their hearts’ content. A hamburger server or customer could complain, but these days, Big Brother does the job.The closed-circuit television camera lurking down the street from the fast-food restaurant bellows menacingly at the first sign of danger to the flora, or a cast-off cigarette butt or fast-food wrapper. “Pick it up,” commands a booming voice from . . . where, exactly?

The closed-circuit cameras in Gloucester and several other British towns now come equipped with speakers, meaning Big Brother is not only watching, he’s telling you what to do.

“When people hear that, they tend to react. They pick up the litter and put it in the bin,” said Mick Matthews, assistant chief police constable in this old cathedral city of 110,000 in the rolling Cotswold Hills .

For all the increased antiterrorism security measures in the United States , there is probably no society on Earth more watched than Britain . By some estimates, 4.2 million closed-circuit cameras, or one for every 14 people, quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, monitor the comings and goings of almost everyone – an average person is caught on camera up to 300 times a day.

Thanks in part to Britain ‘s history of terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army, some early, high-profile law enforcement successes helped imprint the potential benefits of closed-circuit television on the popular imagination.

With more than $200 million in funding since 1999, closed-circuit cameras were a fixture in British cities long before terrorist attacks began prompting other governments to step up surveillance of their populations.

Cameras are fixed on lampposts and on street corners, above sidewalks, in subways, on buses, in taxis, in stores, over the parking lots, in mobile police vans, and in some cities, even perched in the hats of police officers walking their beats.

Surprisingly clear images of Britons engaged in apparently nefarious activities have become a staple on the evening news there; few of the country’s many terrorism trials unfold without the jury being presented with multiple images of the defendants carrying alleged backpack bombs or driving up to a storehouse of explosives.

Pub patrons in one town last year had their fingerprints scanned as they walked in (bringing up their criminal records on a computer screen); some cities are talking of putting electronic chips in household trash cans to measure output; a toll-free “smoke-free compliance line” takes snitch reports on violators of the new national ban on smoking in public places.

The DNA profile of every person ever arrested – even those briefly detained for, say, loitering and released without charge – is on file in what is believed to be, per capita, the largest such database in the world, with 3.9 million samples. It includes the genetic markings of an estimated 40 percent of Britain ‘s black male population.

For the majority of Britons, polls indicate, there is nothing wrong with the monitoring.

Public acceptance of closed-circuit television skyrocketed after the murder of toddler James Bulger near Liverpool in 1993. In closed-circuit camera footage that shocked the country, the killers, a pair of 10-year-old boys, were shown leading the trusting boy away from a shopping center.

So, how do YOU feel about closed-circuit cameras? I’ve searched the web and cannot find even an estimate of how many cameras might be watching us in the USA .  Is it a good thing? Let me know your thoughts.

As reported in the Boston GLobe and many newspapers across the country.

Discovery Buys HowStuffWorks.com

October 16th, 2007

It’s Official. Discovery Communications said Monday that it has acquired HowStuffWorks, a how-to site. This site has been one of my personal favorites and we’ve talked about it many times in the past.

Founded by North Carolina State University Professor Marshall Brain in 1998, HowStuffWorks is the leading source of credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world and the things in it actually works. HowStuffWorks built its audience in part by focusing its content on topics that are often the subject of search queries on Google and other search engines.

It has won multiple Webby awards, was among Time magazine’s “25 Websites We Can’t Live Without” in 2006 and 2007, and was among PC Magazine’s “Top 100 Web Sites” four times including in 2007. HowStuffWorks is headquartered in Atlanta , GA , and has been a subsidiary of The Convex Group, a media and technology company, since 2003.

Discovery will add HowStuffWorks.com to its portfolio of properties, which includes Animal Planet and the Discovery channel. Discovery will also launch a new show based on the website.

According to a statement , HowStuffWorks has 11 million global monthly unique users, up 25 percent from a year ago. Discovery didn’t disclose the price tag for HowStuffWorks, but the Wall Street Journal put the price at about $250 million ( see Techmeme ).

Discovery said it will integrate its TV and video assets such as Mythbusters and How It’s Made with HowStuffWorks.com. Meanwhile, How Stuff Works will become a new show on the Discovery channel in the summer of 2008. Discovery has been making a series of moves to expand its online offerings. It also owns Petfinder.com to complement the Animal Planet channel and TreeHugger.com, which will go with Discovery’s Planet Green television network.

I like the Discovery channel for its desire to broadcast shows that may not be quite mainstream. How about Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe (the guy is whacked) or perhaps Deadliest Catch (fishing for Alaska King Crab – my mother-in-laws favorite meal)? Coming soon – Storm Chasers – the promo’s look very exciting, are they chasing twisters or is it the other way around?

I’m looking forward to seeing what Discovery does for HowStuffWorks. Hopefully they’ll continue to build the brand and keep the 160 existing HowStuffWorks employees working for many years to come.

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THe Flip

Listen To Recorded Audio:
[audio:ACT Smart 1002.mp3]

Video production is exploding and sites such as You Tube are driving the market.
Pure Digital Technologies CEO Jonathan Kaplan had a simple idea: Video cameras were too hard to use. Last year, this 6-year-old San Francisco-based company introduced a $129 point-and-shoot-style camcorder, initially sold just at Target stores. Recently, the company unveiled the revamped successor to its first video camera which has allowed Pure Digital to quietly snag major market share from rivals Sony, Panasonic and Canon.
Meet The Family – Life Now Has A Play Button
Pure Digital’s Flip Video is currently the No.1 best-selling video camera at Amazon and Target.com. Selling for $119 and $149, the new Flip Video Ultra touts improved video resolution, a better microphone and a slot for a tripod. The Flip comes in two flavors: 30-minute or 60-minute and it’s also available in five colors: orange, red, green, white and black.
Pure Digital has sold over 350,000 camcorders and predicts sales will top 1 million by early next year. It’s not just added distribution that will enable them to triple sales in just a few months, it’s also better exposure in stores as Wal-Mart and Costco have agreed to give Flip merchandising space. Pure Digital’s first product was a one-time-use digital still camera that you had drop off at a photo finisher (mostly drugstores) equipped to process the images. Many of those early customers requested a camera they could own — which led to the development of the Flip.Convenience Trumps Quality
Not that the Flip will appeal to your inner Spielberg. It shoots video the same way digital cameras do, using the image sensor to transform pictures into video. The quality is generally described as good, but not as good as a Mini-DV or a DVD camcorder.
At first glance, the new and old Flip look remarkably similar. Both are made of plastic, but the new version touts a higher-grade material and a sleeker, more contemporary feel. One noticeable improvement: a bigger and brighter LCD preview screen. On the earlier version, one of the complaints was that seeing anything on the screen in bright sunlight was virtually impossible.Pure Digital is having an easy time reaching low-end or entry level consumers, because most manufacturers don’t care about that market; companies like Panasonic emphasize high-definition and better video quality. Paul Ryder, vice president of consumer electronics for Amazon, says the Flip struck a chord with Amazon’s audience. “Online, the customers tell the story about how easy the camera is to use,” he says. “That really helps sell it.” In refreshing the camera, the engineers kept it simple. Most companies have a tendency to throw more and more into the product for new versions and then it gets more complicated to use. The Flip is still simple to use and the audio and video quality is improved. For everyday use, it’s a great camera at a reasonable price. Expect the price to come down as distribution goes up – this could be a great holiday gift this year.Check it out: The Flip

The Pudding

Company Will Monitor Phone Calls to Tailor Advertising
Big Brother Is Listening?
September 25th, 2007

Listen To Recorded Audio:
[audio:ACT Smart 0925.mp3]

This has to be one of the wackiest business ideas I’ve heard of in years (and there’s certainly been some doozies). Companies like Google scan their e-mail users’ in-boxes to deliver ads related to those messages. Will people be as willing to let a company listen in on their phone conversations to do the same?

The Company: Pudding Media
Pudding Media, a start-up based in San Jose , California , is introducing an Internet phone service today that will be supported by advertising related to what people are talking about on their calls. The Web-based phone service is similar to Skype’s online service — consumers plug a headset and a microphone into their computers, dial any phone number and chat away. But unlike Internet phone services that charge by the length of the calls, Pudding Media offers calling without any toll charges.

The trade-off is that Pudding Media is eavesdropping on phone calls in order to display ads on the screen that are related to the conversation. Voice recognition software monitors the calls, selects ads based on what it hears and pushes the ads to the subscriber’s computer screen while he or she is still talking.

A conversation about movies, for example, will elicit movie reviews and ads for new films that the caller will see during the conversation. Pudding Media is working on a way to e-mail the ads and other content to the person on the other end of the call, or to show it on that person’s cellphone screen.

What THEY say: “We saw that when people are speaking on the phone, typically they were doing something else,” said Ariel Maislos, chief executive of Pudding Media. “They had a lot of other action, either doodling or surfing or something else like that. So we said, ‘Let’s use that’ and actually present them with things that are relevant to the conversation while it’s happening.”

The company’s model, of course, raises questions about the line between target advertising and violation of privacy. Consumer-brand companies are increasingly trying to use data about people to deliver different ads to them based on their demographics and behavior online.

Why will Pudding Media flop?
Free or nearly free phone calls are already available from dozens of companies, including Skype. The difference between 2 cents a minute and 0 cents a minute (for SkypeOut users) is negligible.

Except for people trying the service to see how relevant the targeted ads are (of which there will be many, especially after the New York Times article), users will be absolutely freaked out by the idea that someone/something is listening to their phone calls.

I think it’s a safe bet that advertisers will be extremely cautious fearing potential consumer backlash
Want to give it a go? http://www.thepudding.com/

See the full New York Times article:
Company Will Monitor Phone Calls to Tailor Ads

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