21 July, 2014

A Plan to Start Computing's Next Era

D-Wave Orion
D-Wave Orion (Photo credit: jurvetson)
This is me, I am very curious to keep track of the developments in the computing world, and having to post this article a year after its publication would give me more insights on what happened afterwards. Did it click? Or did it bomb out? We can all know the answer, a glimpse if not the totality, from other publications. Read on...

by Quentin Hardy

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Our digital age is all about bits, those precise ones and zeros that are the stuff of modern computer code.

But a powerful new type of computer that is about to be commercially deployed by a major American military contractor is taking computing into the strange, subatomic realm of quantum mechanics. In that infinitesimal neighborhood, common sense logic no longer seems to apply. A one can be a one, or it can be a one and a zero and everything in between -- all at the same time.

It sounds preposterous. But academic researchers and scientists have been working to develop quantum computers.

Now, Lockheed Martin -- which bought an early version of such a computer from the Canadian company D-Wave Systems two years ago -- is confident enough in the technology to upgrade it to commercial scale, becoming the first company to use quantum computing as part of its business.

If it performs as Lockheed and D-Wave expect, the design could be used to supercharge even the most powerful systems, solving some science and business problems millions of times faster than can be done today.

Ra Johnson, Lockheed's chief technical officer, said his company would use the quantum computer to create and test complex radar, space and aircraft systems. It could be possible, for example, to tell instantly how the millions of lines of software running a network of satellites would react to a solar burst or a pulse from a nuclear explosion -- something that can now take weeks, if ever, to determine.

"This is a revolution not unlike the early days of computing," he said. "It is a transformation in the way computers are thought about."

Many others could find applications for D-Wave's computers. Cancer researchers see a potential to move rapidly through vast amounts of genetic data. The technology could also be used to determine the behavior of proteins encoded by the human genome. Researchers at Google have worked with D-Wave on using quantum computers to recognize cars and landmarks, a critical step in managing self-driving vehicles.

Quantum computing is so much faster than traditional computing because of the unusual properties of particles at the smallest level. Instead of the precision of ones and zeros that have been used to represent data since the earliest days of computers, quantum computing relies on the fact that subatomic particles inhabit a range of states. Those states can be narrowed to determine an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities, which allows certain types of problems to be solved rapidly.

"What we're doing is a parallel development to the kind of computing we've had for the past 70 years," said Vern Brownell, chief executive of D-Wave, a 12-year-old company based in Vancouver.

D-Wave, and the broader vision of quantum-supercharged computing, are not without their critics. Much of the criticism stems from D-Wave's own claims in 2007, later withdrawn, that it would produce a commercial quantum computer within a year.

D-Wave "has said things in the past that were just ridiculous, things that give you very little confidence," said Scott Aaronson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But others say people working in quantum computing are generally optimistic about breakthroughs to come. Quantum researchers "are taking a step out of the theoretical domain and into the applied," said Peter Lee, the head of Microsoft's research arm. "There is a sense among top researchers that we're all in a race."

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, April 06, 2013

20 July, 2014

Privacy Decisions Examined

facebook (Photo credit: dkalo)

by Somini Sengupta

In a series of provocative experiments, a researcher has shown that despite how much people say they value their privacy, they tend to act inconsistently.

Alessandro Acquisti, 40, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has shown that, over all, when it comes to privacy, people don't always act in their own best interest. They can be easily manipulated by how they are asked for information.

"The technologist in me loves the amazing things the Internet is allowing us to do," said Mr. Acquisti, who noted that he is an early adopter of technology himself. "The individual who cares about freedom is concerned about the  technology being hijacked, from a technology of freedom into a technology of surveillance."

In 2003, Mr. Acquisti started tracking more than 5,000 Facebook users, most of them undergraduates. He noticed that although the users revealed more and more of their personal history -- responding to Facebook's prompts about whether, say, they had just had a baby or had voted -- they were also restricting who could see it. Over time, they were, on the whole, less likely to let "everyone" see their date of birth, for instance, and what high school they had attended.

The study suggested at least that some people valued their privacy enough to seek out the social network's evolving settings and to block strangers from seeing what they had posted.

To learn how consumers determine the value of their privacy, Mr. Acquisti dispatched a set of graduate students to a mall. To some shoppers, the students offered a $10 discount card, plus an extra $2 discount in exchange for their shopping data. Half declined the extra offer -- they weren't willing to reveal the contents of their cart for a mere $2.

To other shoppers, however, the students offered a different choice: a $12 discount card and the option of trading it in for $10 if they wished to keep their shopping record private. This time, 90 percent of shoppers chose to keep the higher-value coupon -- even if it meant revealing what they had bought.

The results offered a window into the tricks minds can play. If we have something, we are more likely to value it. If we don't have it at the outset, we aren't likely to pay extra to acquire it.

In one of Mr. Acquisti's most intriguing experiments, he summoned student volunteers to take an anonymous survey on vice.

The participants were asked whether they had ever stolen anything, lied or taken drugs. Some were told that their answers would be published in a research bulletin, others were asked for explicit permission to publish those answers, and still others were asked for permission to publish the answers as well as their age, sex and country of birth.

Those who were offered the least control over who would see their answers seemed most reluctant to reveal themselves: among them, only 15 percent answered all questions. Those who were asked for consent were nearly twice as likely to answer all questions. And among those who were asked for demographic information, every single person gave permission to disclose the data, even though those details could have allowed a complete stranger a greater chance of identifying the participant.

Mr. Acquisti took note of the paradox: fine-grained controls had led people to "share more sensitive information with larger, and possibly riskier, audiences."

"What worries me," he said, "is that transparency and control are empty words that are used to push responsibility to the user for problems that are being created by others."

That sense of control can be undermined in other ways, too, principally by distractions.

In a study called "Sleights of Privacy," Mr. Acquisti's subjects were divided into two sets of two groups. Each group was asked to evaluate professors and was given questions about cheating. In the first set, half were told that only other students could see their answers; the others were told that faculty members, as well as students, could see the responses. As one might expect, the group with student-only viewers was more forthcoming than the group with student and faculty viewers.

With the other set of students, Mr. Acquisti offered the same questionnaire -- but played a little trick. After again explaining the rules and procedures, he asked an unrelated question: Would they like to sign up to receive information from a college network? That little distraction had an impact: This time, the tow subgroups were almost equally forthcoming in their answers.

Had the distraction made them forget? No. In exit interviews, they remembered the rules, but they behaved as though they didn't. "You remember somewhere in your brain," is how Mr. Acquisti put it, "but you kind of pay less attention to it."

A host of distractions -- e-mails, tweets, test messages -- can hinder our sense of self-protection when it comes to privacy.

Those who follow Mr. Acquisti's work say it has important policy implications as regulators in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere scrutinize the ways that companies leverage the personal data they collect from users.

The Federal Trade Commission in the United States last year settled with Facebook, resolving charges that it had deceived users with changes to its privacy settings. American state regulators recently fined Google for harvesting e-mails and passwords of unsuspecting users during its Street View mapping project.

Mr. Acquisti has been at the forefront, testifying in the United States Congress and conferring with F.T.C..

"His work has gone a long way in trying to help us figure out how irrational we are in privacy-related decisions," says Woodrow Hartzog, an assistant professor of law who studies digital privacy at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. "We have too much confidence in our ability to make decisions."

In 2011, Mr. Acquisti took snapshots with a webcam of nearly 100 students on campus. Within minutes, he had identified about one-third of them using facial recognition software. In addition, for about a fourth of the subjects whom he could identify, he found out enough about them on Facebook to guess at least a portion of their Social Security numbers.

Facebook can be especially valuable for identity thieves, particularly when a user's birth date is visible to the public.

"I reveal my date of birth and hometown on my Facebook profile and an identity thief can reconstruct my Social Security number and steal my identity," Mr. Acquisti said, "or someone can send me 'happy birthday' messages on the day of my birthday, which makes me feel good."

Facebook, for its part, has said that users can control who sees their information on the network.

Mr. Acquisti is on Facebook. He is photographed wearing a motorcycle helmet, which makes him a bit harder to identify.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, April 06, 2013

14 July, 2014

Day, Date and Time in Taskbar - Skinny Clock solves that!

Nearly forgot ;) - July 26, 07
Nearly forgot ;) - July 26, 07 (Photo credit: ThrasherDave)

A couple of weeks ago, I started working (again). And the box that I was given was running Windows XP. Yes, XP, as in XP. And the consolation was, the HDD size was considerable. I mean, compared to my previous company, whose old XP  machines came with a measly 40GB, the old machines in my new company, as I also heard from fellow newcomers, was generous: 250GB.

We all know what XP is, at least compared to Windows 7 and Windows 8. And since I am so used to being 'free' when it comes to computing, I find myself suddenly choked and restricted by the limits set to a normal user.

Nonetheless, I still was able to do some workaround, at least with the date on the PC. I was already getting used to the Linux interface, which I also see in Mac computers, so I was looking for the Day-Date-Time display on the taskbar.

Now, I checked this small requirement of mine, actually, a personal requirement, and of course, there are some answers. And some answers I find quite st**id. As I read it, the one who asked the question already mentioned that his/her taskbar is in the normal one-line mode, and they still would say, "What day-date-time?" And they continue saying '"f you just make your taskbar two lines, then you will see the 'day-date-time' info that you are looking for." I'd like to strangle that person!

I guess if you don't know the answer, then just keep quiet. Please!

Now, some guys know the real answer, and here it is. Use Skinny Clock.

Make it replace the system clock, and you can easily format the Day-Date-Time display to your liking. And as I mentioned, for one like me who has limited access privilege, there is the binary version, which you can download and extract to a folder of your choice, then run it from there. No installation required. And, it works!

Try it. I'm sure you will like it.

Till then!

Code 13EC - error installing VS2010 SP1 Update

Visual Studio
Visual Studio (Photo credit: Jonathan Caves)

For a time and a season, I struggled with this error code, Code 13EC, which is related to the installation of Visual Studio 2010 SP1 Update.

Not that it happens to all computers that carries Visual Studio 2010, but to one, or two.

So it beats me to some confusion, what's wrong?

Try as I will, whenever I have time, the result is the same: Code 13EC, error installing Visual Studio 2010 SP1 Update.

The Best System Optimize Software

If I am not mistaken, whenever there is some update for Windows, this KB is included, and every time, it would fail. What's wrong?

I searched, and found some articles, but none helped. It helped others, but not me.

Then while doing some other updates, which was not coursed through Windows Update, I just thought of 'hitching' this particular update to the batch, which is using MS Web Platform Installer. My guess and trial was backed by my finding the same update when I searched for updates using that particular application.

And... voila!

It worked!

And did I try it on the other computers? You betcha! And it worked also!

So if you are getting Code 13EC, error installing Visual Studio 2010 SP1 Update, try MS Web Platform Installer. It just might be the answer to your problem.

Who knows?

Till then!


Windows 8.1 2
Windows 8.1 2 (Photo credit: vernieman)

The other utility that helped me in my recovery process was RWEverything. None other utility is able to read from the BIOS the much-required serial #, or the Windows 8.1 OEM key.

While the key wasn't accepted, I was able to retrieve it, and had it recorded.

In case...

Till then!

TestDisk - a utility not for the faint-hearted

testdisk_Linux (Photo credit: ignace72)

A couple of months back, I made the mistake of installing Ubuntu Linux 14.04 over my Windows OS, and I lost a lot of files! Included in the list are my codes, my life's work of 15 years!

I was frantic to say the least, and I scampered to find the perfect utility that will help me in the file recovery. As suggested, I minimized booting into Ubuntu Linux, so the amount of probably unrecoverable files will be minimized. I understood that, and I heeded that suggestion.

Now, there were several that surfaced, but after trying those that I deemed useful, I ended up with TestDisk. As I found, it is not for the fainthearted. I had to run 3-4x before I finally got the hang of it. And yes, there is a GUI version, but I got  more comfortable with the text-based version. Of course, since what I have as a surviving OS is Linux, it is the Linux version that I was able to run.

Here's a list of what I have noted down, in case somebody would need them, intentionally or not. Some of these are listed as part of the help/instruction list. At any rate, here goes:

Press the corresponding keys, and what happens/effect
P - list files in directory
: - to make a selection
c - current file copy
C - copy selected files/directories
Left arrow key - to go back
Right arrow key - to change directory
. - (select single dot) go to parent directory
.. - (select double dot) move down (right arrow key?)
Shift + C - select device

Where are the copied files?
They are in /dev
Directory structure is retained (if that is ever a bonus!)

Linux Live has a limitation on file size, so copy by folder with about 4GB total size, or less. You may become too excited and just select all directories. Well, the copy function will (seem to) work, but it won't be able to go past the file size limit.

To remove copied files, and prepare for the next batch, type:
rm -rf [xxxxxx]
where [xxxxxx] is your filename (wildcards accepted)
Warning: rm -rf is quite powerful, so use with caution.

To list devices attached to computer, type:
ls -l /media

To copy (from /dev to your removable media/portable HDD), type:
cp -ar /dev/xxx /media/xxx/yyy/zzz

To remove temporary files, type:
1. cd /dev
2. rm -rf xxx

If you encounter input/output error, try below:
1. Exit Terminal where error occurred
2. Unmount affected destination drive (USB, HDD, etc); wait for unmount to properly complete
3. Unplug, then wait for 10 seconds or more
4. Plug back in
5. Reduce copied files

C'est t'out!