Have you ever suspected that your uber-tech friends and loved ones were speaking a whole different language? You were right. It’s called Binary and it’s the universal machine-level language of programming and network operations.

Now, you can amaze your tech friends (and confound innocent bystanders) by addressing them in their native tongue, thanks to the convenient online Binary-to-Text converter.

Typical message from you to your geek:

Um, Mike, honey, you haven’t eaten or showered in three days…

Imagine the reaction you’ll get when you deliver it in genuine Binary:

010101010110110100101100001000000100110101101001011010110110010100101
100001000000110100001101111011011100110010101111001001011000010000001
111001011011110111010100100000011010000110000101110110011001010110111
000100111011101000010000001100101011000010111010001100101011011100010
000001101111011100100010000001110011011010000110111101110111011001010
111001001100101011001000010000001101001011011100010000001110100011010
000111001001100101011001010010000001100100011000010111100101110011001
011100010111000101110

Bookmark the Binary-to-Text converter right beside the English-toTexter translator.

Wealth may mean power in some spheres, but it can’t protect you from identify theft.

Take the recent case of Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim Helu, who temporarily lost his persponal domain name ‘carlosslimhelu.com’ to a cybersquatter who tried to hold it for ransom.

A shadowy Net denizen identified in domain registrartion records as Ahmad Rusli of Jakarta, Indonesia, allegedly sent the billionaire an e-mail asking (US)$55 billion — or Rusli would link it to a porn site. When contacted by the UN copyright agancy, WIPO, Rusli told them he registered the domain name to protect it for Slim and the threat was simply designed to get the busy billionaire’s attention.

WIPO didn’t take long to decide that Rushli had acted in bad faith and ruled that the disputed domian be returned to Slim.

Like many immensely wealthy people, Slim is also a noted philanthropist. Forbes magazine last year ranked him the world’s second richest person (after Microsoft’s Bill Gates) with an estimated net worth of (US)$68 billion.

Many of our readers will have seen the viral video that circulated wide last ear which supposedly caught, on a surveillance camera, a lone office worker slaving late in his cubicle going off the deep end in a fit of tech rage. While experts contend that the video was probably apocryphal, anyone who works with a computer can probably identify with the feelings expressed in it.

Now, there’s a way to vent that frustration safely and — if you choose — privately. Enter, Cubicle Freakout, a new online game designed to both de-stress you and measure how stressed you are:

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Cubicle Freakout takes only a few moments of your precious work time but can pay major personal dividends.

And it may be the only game out there where the lowest score is the winner…

From: Macworld.com

The first Apple computer to carry the ‘Macintosh’ nameplate rolled off the assembly line 25 years ago this week… The Mac has seen may changes since then, some revolutionary, others merely evolutionary. And Apple, today, is about a lot more than computers. In fact, industry observers agree that its the iPod and iPhone that are now the company’s most important products. Coincidentally, it’s also the anniversary of the first issue of Macworld magazine.

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A young Steve Jobs and a flock of original Macs, from the first issue
of Macworld magazine (Photo: Macworld)

As Macworld’s Jason Snell reports, “With the iPhone, especially, we see the company changing the way people use cell phones and other handheld devices. And here, 25 years later, the Mac is more successful than it has ever been. Apple sold more Macs in the last year than it has in a single year ever before, and sales are accelerating.”

That statement, while true, doesn’t take into account the overall growth in the personal computer market, in which Apple remains a niche player based on unit sales.

But Snell remains as optimistic as any lifelong Mac fan can be:

“As for where Apple goes next, I think we all have a pretty good idea. Apple is going to continue going by the playbook that has served it in good stead since the day it was founded: combining innovative hardware and software in a seamless package. The truth of the matter is, Apple has succeeded by realizing that technology companies fail when they specialize on hardware or software to the exclusion of the other.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in 25 years is the single-button Mac mouse. But, as was recently reported by a number of media outlets, Apple has recently files a patent for a new input device designed to replace the mouse altogether, based on the Touch screen technology it originally developed for its iPod and iPhone and recently ploughshared to its new unibody Macbook portables.

Industry observers predict that Mac fans will love the new pointing device, as a novelty, but suspect that the idea won’t ultimately be any more popular than the standard touchpad controllers used on most of the world’s current-model portable PCs — for which many users buy add-on conventional mice to avoid using the inefficient — to some, downright annoying — touchpad.

Nevertheless… Happy birthday, Mac!

A European businessman has stepped in to save at least one facet of the Polaroid legacy from the jaws of bankruptcy.

Florian Kaps, a 39-year-old Austrian described in some media reports as an “eccentric artist”, has purchased the Polaroid film plant in Enschede, Netherlands, and plans to keep it open — a development that will no doubt be hailed by artistic photographers worldwide who cling to traditional (non-digital) photographic processes.

“The project is more than a business plan. It’s a fight against the idea that everything has to die when it doesn’t create turnover,” Kaps told reporters.

He plans to develop and produce a new brand of instant film for Polaroid cameras with the help of former Polaroid plant staff and technical assistance from Manchester, UK, photo products maker Ilford. The new film will be marketed under Kaps’ own “Impossible” brand and will initially be available in two exposure ranges. Kaps says he also plans to market colour film eventually. The first Impossible black and white film is expected to reach store shelves by this coming December, just as existing stocks of genuine Polaroid film are expected to run out.

Kaps has been at the forefront of a number of other Polaroid-related initiatives in the past five years including founding Polaroid.net, billed as the largest instant photography gallery on the Web, and the first Polaroid-only art gallery, Polanoir in Vienna.

Polaroid Corp announced late last year that it was seeking Chapter 11 proptection from tis creditors while restructuring in an atttempt to avoid closing its door completely.

Reuters news agency reports that the Chinese government has extended its recent Web crackdown on “pornography and vulgarity” which resulted in the closing of 19 major Web sites and more than 1,200 smaller ones, is expanding to the cell phone system.

“We will incorporate ‘lewd’ messages spread via mobile phones into the crackdown,” the official Chinese news agency Xinhua quotes a statement from a coalition of seven government ministries as saying.

Google China, Baidu (the leading Chinese language search engine) and other online services have been criticised by the Chinese government for not being quick enough to take down “prohibited” content and dissident blogs.

The Internet crackdown has been characterized by observers as just one move in a master plan by the Chinese government to stiffle public dissent during a year of politically-sensitive anniversaries, not the least of which is the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square student protests.

High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) techniques can be used to create spectacular photos.  However it can also be complicated and frustrating for the newcomer to the field.

Practical HDRI by Jack Howard is a wonderful guide to the world of HDRI.  The 168 page soft-cover book beings with a discussion of equipment, ranging from what you have to, as Howard writes, “some serious gear envy.” Then it reviews composition, framing and exposure basics before moving into capturing images for HDRI.

Capturing images is, of course, only a starting point.  The book covers the entire HDRI process, including HDR generation, advanced merging techniques and tone mapping.  Rather than focusing on one a single application, Howard provides practical and detailed instructions using Photomatrix Pro 3.0, FDRTools Advanced 2.2, Dynamic Photo HDR 3, and Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended.

I’ve been curious about HDRI for a while. Howard’s book not only answered all my questions, but it also dispelled some of the misconceptions I had about HDRI.  If you’re interested in learning HDRI or you’ve been experimenting and need some expert advice, look no further.

Practical HDRI by Jack Howard is published by Rocky Nook and distributed by O’Reilly Media.  It retails for $32.95.

U.S. credit card payment clearance house Heartland Payment systems reported today that its data banks were hacked sometime in the past year by cyber crooks who may have gained access to millions of credit card numbers.

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The breach reportedly affects transactions within calendar year 2008, within the U.S. but foreign visitors who used their VISA or MasterCard cards while in the U.S. at that time may also be at risk.

Robert H.B. Baldwin Jr., President and CFO of Heartland told CNet News, he had no hard information on how many credit and debit cards may have had their information exposed. Rather, he says, “The question is what percentage of transactions did the malware capture and what percentage got out to the bad guys?”

Baldwin also said that Heartland isn’t sure when the cyber attack took place, but did confirm that it was discovered last week. He added that he believes the intrusion has now been contained. Baldwin also offered the opinion, shared by Heartland’s IT experts and a team of IT auditors who discovered the intrusion, that the breach was perpetrated by sophisticated international organized cyber criminals.

On the bright side, Heartland says no merchant data, cardholder Social Security or SIN numbers, unencrypted PINs, addresses or telephone numbers were exposed — only card numbers.

Even more importantly, Baldwin confirmed that innocent cardholders whose card numbers were stolen won’t be held responsible for for fraudulent charges.

The parliament of the Chinese province of Jiangsu has approved a law making it illegal for people in the city of Xuzhou to publish ‘private information’ on the Internet, the China Daily newspaper reports.

It seems that the Communist Party powers that be in eastern China, as elsewhere in the country, have been paying closer attention to bloggers and social networking sites.

And no wonder.

Just last month, bloggers in Xuzhou reportedly posted photos of a public housing official wearing an expensive wristwatch and smoking exotic cigarettes — luxuries deemed beyond the means of a low-level civil servant’s salary. The official was subsequently dismissed

Observers say that the man was fired largely because so much public attention had been focused on him — call it the harsh light of the Internet — not because of his corrupt behaviour.

And, now, the provincial government there has made it illegal to post ‘personal information’ — widely seen as a euphemism for ‘embarrassing facts’ — on pain of penalties including a fine of up to 5,000 yuan and a six-month loss of Internet access.

But Chinese legal experts say the new Jiangsu province law my be unconstitutional. Beijing lawyer Dong Zhengwei told the China Daily that under Chinese law, publishing information about people is legal as long as it is accurate. “It’s fair for members of the public to monitor public officials but … if they publish things about them that are not true they will be breaking the law.”

Doctor, I just can’t seem to remember things as well as I did, and I’ve been getting terrible headaches…

Let’s review your medical history… Uh huh… I see you were treated for a problem with your hippocampus after an accident? You had a prosthesis installed?

Yes… I think so…  About ten years ago… It’s under the skin just behind my left ear...

Let me run some diagnostics… yes, it seems you’ve picked up a virus. MEMSUR-34. I’ll just de-activate the chip and we’ll get you to an outpatient department as soon as we can. They’ll wipe out the malware and reprogram, and you’ll be right as rain. You might consider getting a later model installed though. These old ones only use 1024 bit encryption…

***

Peering into the tealeaves today, it appears that some of the work in the last 5-10 years on direct biological-electronic interfaces will be ready for Prime Time around 2050. Actually, a lot earlier. But U.S. FDA approval could easily take decades in such a controversial area.

It was back in 1999 that a research team first managed to replace part of a spiny lobster’s brain with ‘$7.50 worth of Radio Shack parts’. Spiny lobsters are not exactly giants of intellect but progress was rapid. It was in 2003 that an artificial hippocampus was first mooted and tests began on animals in 2006. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps transfer short-term memories into long-term ones. We still don’t know how it works, exactly. But, by measuring inputs and resultant electrical activity, we are able to emulate it without exact understanding. One area we have a far better understanding of is in the visual cortex, and prostheses to help the vision-impaired will likely be the first to hit the market.

So what does this mean for us in the future? Those victims of Alzheimers will have the progress of their disease slowed or even halted. Many brain injuries will now be, if not curable, treatable with ‘prosthetic brain segments’ that will restore the cognitive deficits. Blindness may become extinct as artificial eyes coupled with artificial visual cortices will give sight to even the worst cases.

The Military will have access to WiFi networks via direct implants but the trouble with this is that the hacker may become the hacked. Taking over someone’s mind will be impossible but incapacitating them will not — if they too have implants. Research on this is already progressing, but details are, of course, not public.

One problem that will occur though: in order to reprogram these devices with updates, it will be necessary to have some non-invasive programming mechanism — possibly an inductor, usually in contact with the skin above the implant. And that means that they will get spammed and hacked, and there will be worms and viruses that will disable their functionality. They’ll all be fail-safe, so the worst symptom will be headache and a loss of function. But anyone who’s had a virus of the usual biological kind knows just how miserable that can make you feel!

Jingles and ear-worms are bad enough. But directly implanted simple false memories may victimise some in a similar but far worse way. So it’s likely that these prosthetic devices will be confined to therapeutic use — at least, until the penalty for spamming is increased to a one-way trip to the organ banks.

***

Futurist Zoe Brain really is a rocket scientist! She shares her visions of our collective near-future in this space every second Wednesday…

A few weeks about I wrote about the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder, along with some new products from Philips Home Healthcare Solutions (formerly Apollo Health). One of the products they were kind enough to send me to try out is the Daybreak Duo, an clock radio that features a sunrise and sunset simulator.

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The Daybreak Duo uses your existing bedside lamp as a light source. I unplugged my lamp, plugged the Daybreak Duo into the wall and then plugged the lamp into the socket on the back of the Daybreak Duo.

At first look, the product seems to have an unusually large display, but that’s because it also functions as a touch-screen for some functions. It has a plastic body, but it is heavy enough to give it a solid feel and keep it in place on the beside table. It also has a number of great features, including two independent wake-up time, alarm, AM/FM radio with three presets and adjustable sunrise/sunset lengths. It took me a few minutes to it up, including switching it to 24-hour mode and setting one of the alarms to wake me up the following morning.

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The Daybreak Duo can be set to wake with light, light and alarm, or light and radio by pushing a button to cycle through the options. There are two buttons, one for each of the wake times, making it great for couples or those who rise later on the weekends. The sunrise simulation starts a pre-set period of time before the wake time, so you set it for the time you wish to wake like you would set any other clock.

To keep my experience in context, it’s important to understand that I sleep like a log. I’m a night owl, and have never in my life been described even remotely as a “morning person.” I’ve been known to sleep through radios and even turn them off without fully waking up. So it is no surprise that I didn’t wake up that Friday morning until the radio came on.  However, I did notice that my eyes were already accustomed to the light, and that walking into our brightly lit bathroom didn’t result in the customary squinting.

My wife, on the other hand, informed me that she woke up within minutes of the start of the sunrise simulation.  Unfortunately that was about 15 minutes before she wished to wake up.  It was suggested that if I continued this experiment into the weekend that I too would wake up as soon as the simulated sunrise began –one way or another.

The default sunrise length is 30 minutes, and if I could, I’d probably set it to an hour for our northern climate.  However, to prevent it from prematurely waking my wife, I shortened it to 15 minutes to synchronize the start of the sunrise simulation with her clock radio (which is almost never loud enough to wake me up).

So what’s the bottom line a few weeks later?  Sometimes the light wakes me up and sometimes it doesn’t.  Some days I reach for the snooze button and some days I don’t. I’m certainly not a morning person yet. But I do seem to wake up more gently, and the light in the bathroom isn’t quite as blinding, so the Daybreak Duo has earned a permanent spot on my beside table.

Next, I’ll be testing out another product from the same vendor, the goLITE BLU. Check back in about two weeks to see how it went!

Internet security leader McAfee Inc. has released its 2009 Threat Predictions Report and the prognostications, on the whole, are pessimistic.

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“Computer users face a dangerous one-two punch today,” said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs, McAfee’s research group. “The current economic crisis is delivering a blow to our financial well-being, while malware authors are taking advantage of our distraction to deliver a roundhouse strike.”

Among the highlights of the Report:

  • Cyber crooks will invade the Cloud (Web-based applications and services) sector.
  • Phishing and other targeted attacks will become even more personalized and will be delivered in more languages than ever before, as appropriate to the international markets in which the attacks are launched.
  • There will be an increase in malware and other attacks on mobile devices.
  • There will be an increase in sales of fraudulent or misleading software and services.

And finally,

  • The takedown of McColo, a major spam hosting organization, last fall will raise public awareness and lead to a continued shift in organizations, from passive support of law enforcement to an active role of working collaboratively with ISPs and global Internet entities. Together, these organizations will shine the public light on malicious actors and shut down their access to network and systems infrastructure.

The full text of the 2009 Treat Predictions Report is available at the McAfee Web site.