Archive for December, 2008

The Aspiring Acer Aspire One

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Stolen from Wikipedia, A netbook is a light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient, highly portable laptop suitable for web browsing, email and general purpose applications. This holiday season, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Aspire One of my very own. This thing comes fully loaded; a gigabyte of RAM, 1.6ghz Intel Atom processor, 160GB hard drive, three usb ports, card slots, built in web cam and mic, audio ports, wifi, the list goes on. The model I got came with a 6-cell battery for over 5 hours of use, as well as Windows XP Home. I figured that I’d go XP over getting a prepackaged Linux install because hey, I can always install Linux for free later anyway.

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So, upon first boot-up and registration, I notice there’s a load of bloatware, including some DVD app which is strange because these things lack a disc drive. After uninstalling, the Aspire One boots up in seconds, perfect for use just about anywhere and fast. Want to check my email, BAM, I’m up and running.

The two biggest complaints I’ve heard about the Aspire One were that the wifi card gives out at strange times, and the internal fan is very loud for such a small machine. After searching around I found out that the problems with the Atheros card can be easily stopped by turning off sleep mode in device properties, so I did just that as a preventative measure. Also, I don’t know if they improved anything when updating the Aspire Ones to make use of the new Intel processors, but I barely hear a fan, and thing thing hardly ever feels warm.

One qualm I do have is the built in speakers. From the first boot up when the Windows start up music chimed in, it was scratchy and underwhelming. I can say however, the HD sound achieved with headphones is a magical experience. Music sounds better on this than on my iPod. The internal microphone also proved a little soggy with its test, though I do believe the quality on that can be fine tuned if I put in enough effort.

For a web cam, this one works very well. Its spec’d at 1.3 megapixel, which blows other netbooks out of the water. The frame rate isn’t the best in the world, but its not like I’m making a movie on it, it gets the job done. On the performance side of things, with a 1.6Ghz processor, nobody is gonna be playing the newest and greatest games. The video playback seems to be very nice though. 720p  HD video plays smoothly and with no distortion. Even though the display is small, the video is crisp and detailed, as well as with no audio lag.

On the physical side of things, the Aspire One is very lite, and small enough to take just about anywhere. The 6-cell battery adds a load of weight, though and does stick out the back a bit. The keyboard is a little cramped but easily usable. The placement of the mouse buttons beside the touch pad are a bit awkward; needing two hands to comfortable operate.

In all, I can say I’m happy with it. I can easily boot up into Windows, or use a USB insallation of a Linux live cd (Backtrack 3 anyone?) and go take on the town. It also appears they have included a one year warrenty incase something breaks down, which is nice considering how paranoid I can become.

Binaural Beats

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

So recently with doing some audio experimenting, I was introduced to the concept of binaural beats. The idea is that a listener uses a pair of stereo headphones to listen to two differen frequencies, one in each ear. The result is the perception of a beating tone as if it was produced by the brain itself. This causes brainwave synchronization with desired frequencies from outside stimuli.

So why would anyone want to do this? The practical side of this is use with learning, health, and meditation. In studies, binaural beats have been seen to increase information retention as well as the amount assimilated. Binaural beats have also been see to act as pain relief, and even help with addiction rehabilitation. Some also believe when targeting specific types of brainwaves, meditation can be enhanced as well as attribute to out of body experience and lucid dreaming.

On the other end of the spectrum, binaural beats are used as entertainment. How effectively they are used in this sense is debatable. The thought is that by manipulating brainwaves, you can temporarily change perception.  So basically, binaural beats give people the ability to create audio that mimics the effects of chemical substances that alter normal body function. Enter I-Doser, probably the leading name in brainwave entertainment. Their shtick is offering up “doses” in the form of audio files that give the same effects as legal/illegal substances. However, there is much question about if they actually work or not. Many claim they do though it takes a while (which may coincide with how binaural beats are used with meditation) however a large majority of people who have had experience with I-Doser claim that either nothing happens or many people suffer the placebo effect. If you want to see for yourself, you can obtain some demos at the I-Doser website.

So of course after hearing of the concept of binaural beats, I wanted to hear binaural beats. I found an interesting program by the name of Gnaural which acts a a binaural beat generator. Its open-source and thus free, so you can try it at your liesure. Gnaural seems to be a fully functional generator with the ability to control pink noise, frequencies, etc. I tried it out and I can say it was an interesting experience, theres definately a weird feeling achieved through the sound.

So in closing, give it a whirl if you’re interested. Who knows, you may be one step closer to controlling your own dreams.

Wizzywig Volume Two

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Ever since January of this year, I have been waiting for the second book in the Wizzywig series to be ready for distribution. The first volume, subtitled “Phreak” follows a young kid named Kevin Phenicle who goes by the handle Boingthump. Let me say, this isn’t some drab piece of writing you would find in the discount bin at your local book outlet. These are graphic novels, containing anything but a boring story about some kiddie hacker acting out a stereotype. This first book I read about Boingthump was a definite, and somewhat unexpected, treat. The bulk of the story was composed of little snippets of this character’s doings. From his first experience with blueboxing to social engineering pizza, the story is rife with creative scenarios that paint a vivid picture of an anykid in the golden age of phreaking. Suffice it to say I was impressed by just how much fact went into the story, and was curious to see where it would go… or where it would take me.

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Fast forward to November. I stumbled across Ed Piskor’s website after forgetting about it for a little while. I found out that the second book had been completed and was ready for purchase, so I quickly snagged myself a copy, which arrived in the mail quickly after my purchase. Upon reading the book, I was happy to see much of the same structure as was present in the first. The story bounced back and forth between present day (Kevin has been incarcerated) and his younger days when he started experimenting with computers, and became immersed in a new, exciting, and scary world found through his phone lines.

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The story found in these books is not your cookie cutter hacker epic. Take your Hackers, your Die Hard 4, your Swordfish, and throw them out the window. Ed takes careful attention to detail, nothing here is a stretch of the imagination and you can see he has done his homework in the creation of these novels. Reading along, you’ll be able to see all he has done simply by what is alluded to. No Hollywood garbage trying to make hacking seem glamorous or news stories spewing out tales that this underground world is full of all kinds of dangerous people who can make a computer explode. Ed gives the honest, gritty perspective the genre has hardly ever been represented by.

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Summing things up, I don’t know anyone who is showing the world of phreak/hack culture in this fashion. Ed has truely honed his craft, and the fact that he himself is only an admirer of this culture, and not a participant only ampliphies his qualities. If you liked the first one, you probably already have the second, and are waiting patiently for the third and fourth. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the wagon yet, you can purchase both books directly from Ed at his website. There are also previews of both of the books, so you can read a few panels before deciding.

Also, I happen to be “in” the second installment as an angry fellow on page 10.

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