Wi-Fi is Radiation Too

Wi-Fi is Radiation Too | 40Tech

According to a Dutch study, our beloved Wi-Fi — the stuff that large populations of the planet now use in their homes, their workplaces, where they shop, where they drink coffee, and pretty much everywhere else they go — may be killing our trees. Or at least contributing to it. The researchers of Wageningen University say that more analysis is required to reach a solid conclusion on the matter, but so far, it looks like the particular radiation that is Wi-Fi is not at all interested in becoming a tree-hugger.

The tests were done in urban areas, where the high Wi-Fi and mobile phone network concentrations battle it out with other not-so-nice-for-trees elements such as fuel and other particle emissions. This leads to an obvious question about whether the trees’ sickness is more a result of other side-effects of urban sprawl, but the researchers feel they have a pretty good case against Wi-Fi. This is unfortunate, as Wi-Fi has become more and more a part of our daily necessities. Either way, something that is in the air in areas of major and connected human cities is causing the upper and lower layers of leaves to die, leaving behind a “lead-like shine” — and apparently inhibiting the growth of corn cobs.

This news, while not entirely proven true, may mark down one more in an ever-growing list of our human comforts and advancements that may actually be harmful to our immediate environment.

What do you think?

Study: Wi-Fi Makes Our Trees Sick [Read Write Web (via PC World)]

Meet Rockmelt, Your New Social Browser

RockMelt | Social Browser for Google Chrome

Okay, so hands up if you’ve heard of RockMelt.

If you are one of the people who put up your hand — stop that. This is text and I can’t see you. Know, however, that you are quite possibly more connected and in tune with the techieverse than your now shame-faced tech-writer. Somehow, for reasons unknown to all but the almighty Goog itself, my keenly developed tech senses missed this wonder entirely! But, that’s all behind me, now. I’ve seen the light, got an invite, and have been playing with the world’s latest, greatest — and Google Chrome based — social browser for several days now.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

RockMelt does for Chrome what Flock did for Firefox, but where I found Flock a bit overwhelming in its attempt to integrate social elements into the browser, RockMelt has what feels like it might be just the right mix. One almost has to wonder why Google didn’t think to do this in the first place. If they had integrated Sidewiki and Google Buzz in with the configurable social elements that RockMelt has brought into play, making them a part of the Chrome browser (and by extension, the OS) itself, both of those tools might have seen a much stronger and longer term user base.

In any case, RockMelt, which is still in beta, has a lot of good going for it. There are still a few hiccups, as is to be expected, but even so, the social Chrome is pretty appealing. This is a good thing — it means that Netscape founder Marc Andreesen’s money has been well spent.


Key Features of RockMelt

Collapsible Sidebars

Rockmelt Chrome-Based Social Browser | 40Tech

The primary difference between RockMelt and Chrome, aside from the fact that you have to log into Facebook to use the browser, is the left and right sidebars. Both are collapsible, about a centimetre in width and contain pretty buttons, often full of people’s faces. On the left, is the Facebook chat column, which shows you which of your Facebook friends are online, allows you to view their latest activity with a hover or a click, chat with them, send them a message, or post on their wall. You can also set up a favourites list in this column, and switch between it and the general tab with a single click.

All of this Facebooking takes place just below a miniature of your own profile picture (top left), which, when clicked, allows you to toggle your Facebook Chat availability, as well as update your social network status — including multiple Twitter accounts, if you decide to add them.

On the right edge of the page, you really get to dig in and configure RockMelt to suit both your browsing and social networking needs. Facebook and Twitter buttons give you access to both of those services, showing your feeds in real time. You can interact with items in the feeds as you would expect to be able to, liking, commenting, retweeting, etc. In Twitter, you can access all of your lists and your @messages, but I didn’t see anything for saved searches or DM’s. Also, if you have a lot of lists, you currently are not able to scroll to the ones that get cut off at the bottom of the page. The Facebook button gives access to people in both your main and custom profile lists, and your profile button right below it gives access to your notifications, photos and wall. I found the limited nature of the Facebook access — no pages, message centre, groups, or places — a bit surprising, but it will likely improve as the browser gets closer to official launch.

RockMelt Facebook Integration in Google Chrome | 40Tech

The right sidebar also serves two other important functions, it has a few other already integrated networks, like YouTube, and it allows you to add custom feeds so you can keep track of your favourite websites — it even makes suggestions based on the sites you visit most — and it is the home of your Chrome extensions. I like the way RockMelt handles extensions much better than the way Google does it. For one, I can decide on optimal placement of my extensions — and they will stay that way. Google’s insistence in making things rearrange themselves based on their perceptions of my usage has always driven me crazy. I also like the fact that the sidebar is collapsible, and it doesn’t shrink the size of the URL bar. Finally, If I am not using an extension that often, but don’t want to uninstall or disable it, it is simple to just remove it from the column/dock.

The main problem with RockMelt at the moment, especially if you have a lot of Facebook friends in your favourites, or a lot of extensions, is that the sidebars don’t scroll. Any more than 15 items, total, in either sidebar, and the ones furthest down can not be accessed. Also, the floating window that appears when most extension buttons are clicked is a fixed width element. This causes a problem with some extensions that are too wide for RockMelt. Hopefully these are things that will be rectified in a near-future update.

RockMelt also shares most other major features of Google Chrome, such as the new web apps area and browser synchronization. The apps are not as thoroughly integrated as they are with Chrome, being little more than just shortcuts, and browser sync is only available between other RockMelt implementations. It was a little bit annoying having to search out and re-add all of my apps and extensions, but wasn’t that difficult.

Social Sharing

Sharing what you find while surfing in RockMelt is an extremely easy process. There is a giant button to the immediate right of the URL bar, and it allows for Facebook and Twitter sharing with ridiculous ease. I wish there were a send by email button, though, then I could drop the Shareaholic extension; free up some space. Speaking of email, there is what looks like an email button on the top right of the browser. Don’t be fooled. It is not for your email at all. It is really just a suggestion list of who to send your invites to. I find this choice on RockMelt’s part to be kind of confusing.

Conclusions

RockMelt is a fantastic spin on the Google Chrome browser, packing in most of Chrome’s features and all of its speed. The collapsible social features are a fantastic addition, considering you spend most of your internet time in the browser, and most people spend most browser time on a social network or two. It just makes sense, you know? There are still a few odd issues like the lack of sidebar scrolling, and the fact that, at least for me, embedded flash videos show up as blank spaces, but these issues are the sort of thing you expect in a beta test. RockMelt still has time to make things perfect, and I think it very likely that I will keep using it as it matures.

YouTube Preview Image

Tell us what you think of RockMelt.

How to Find Out if Your Account Was Hacked at a Gawker Site (Lifehacker, Gizmodo, etc.)

gawker accounts hacked

One of the big news stories last week was the hacking of Gawker Media’s servers. As part of the attack, user accounts were compromised on Gawker sites, including Lifehacker and Gizmodo. More than 500,000 user emails and 185,000 decrypted passwords were posted online.  If you’re not sure which account you used on a Gawker site, and want to determine if your account might have been compromised, there’s a tool for that.

Slate has created a widget that lets you input your username or email address to see if your account was hacked.  All that you need to do is input your username or email address that you used on a Gawker site, and hit the “Check” button.  You’ll get one of two messages back:

1. “Your account data has been released. If your account had a password, it has also been released in an encrypted form. Change it.”

2. “The e-mail account or user name does not appear to be in the released database.”

If you get the first message, you should not only change your Gawker password, but if you used that email/password combination on any other sites, you should change your password on those sites, too.

To avoid a problem like this in the future, make sure that you use unique passwords on all sites.  Check out one of our favorite tools, LastPass, for an easy way to generate and remember all of those passwords.

Does a hack like this make you trust Gawker sites less?  Or trust the Internet less? Our take: this could happen to any site out there. Protect yourself by using unique passwords on all sites.

Gawker Media account check widget [Slate]

The Cloud Explained — by Kids

The Cloud Explained -- by Kids | 40Tech

photo by zakwitnij

It was my birthday the other day. I turned 35. Yep, 35, and I write for a blog called 40Tech. I’m mature for my age, ok? Either way, I was feeling pretty good about myself that day. 35 years old is young, right? Well, that’s what I thought until I saw this video by Accenture that has little kids explaining cloud computing.

I now feel positively ancient.

The video, called “Cloud Computing Here and Now — Our Youngest Experts Explain the Cloud,” features a whole bunch of cute, smarty-pants little rug rats that make websites and are working on video games that feature super-spies with heads made out of cheese puffs. They were born with the internet — broadband, even — and it’s as second nature to them as hair bands are to the rest of us. I mean the music variety, by the way, not the hold up your hair type — but I digress.

Watch this video. It may make you feel like somebody’s grandparent, or even great grandparent — but it is a very clear look into the future of tech. Well, the future from the point of view of a high-end consulting company that is obviously convinced of the impending takeover of cloud computing — and trying to sell people on it — but that’s not saying they’re wrong.

Watch the video below — What do you think?

YouTube Preview Image


How 10 Year Olds Explain Cloud Computing [ReadWriteWeb]

5 Methods (and 12 Tools) for Making Websites More Readable

squint at monitor 576

Whether due to failing eyesight or website clutter, some websites can be difficult to read.  If you find yourself in that situation, here are some tools and methods for making a site easier to read.  Some of these tools work by stripping away extraneous material, others make the text of a site larger, and some do a combination of the two.


1. Magnify the Text, With Either Your Hardware or a Browser Extension

The most obvious way to make a site easier to read is to magnify the text on the site.  One way to do this in Windows is by holding down the CTRL keying, and then rotating your mouse wheel.  You need to do this for any site where you want a larger font.  For a more permanent solution, across all sites, you can try a browser extension, like No Squint for Firefox, or Zoomy for Chrome.

Tools:


2.  Reformat the Page with a Bookmarklet

A bookmarklet is a bookmark that, instead of loading a web site, runs some javascript.  A few competing services offer bookmarklets that will reformat pages for you.  Place the bookmarklet on your bookmarks bar, click on it, and a site will be reformatted, with ads and extraneous text removed, margins altered, and fonts made more readable.  We love Readability, which we use to send formatted pages right into Evernote with one click, but there are a few other choices out there.

Tools:


3. Reformat the Page With a Browser Extension

If you don’t want to mess with a javascript bookmarklet, you can achieve the same results by using one of a few browser extensions.  We’ve previously professed our love for iReader, an extension for Firefox and Chrome. iReader installs a button in your browser’s address bar that appears when you are on an article-style page of a website.  When you click this button, iReader strips out all of the ads and other extraneous layout elements of the web page, re-displaying it in a lightbox-style overlay that is incredibly easy to read.  iReader also presents additional interaction buttons in the overlay.  These buttons give you the option to tweet about the page, send it to Facebook, remove images completely, change the background opacity, and more.

If you’re a Readability or TidyRead fan, and don’t want to install one of the bookmarklets mentioned above, you can install a browser extension instead.

Tool:


4. Selectively Remove Objects or Selections from a Page

There are some situations where you don’t want to reformat an entire page, but only hide objects that are interfering with your ability to enjoy the page.  Nuke Everything Enhanced is a Firefox add-on that allows you hide almost anything on a page via a context menu that allows you to select “Remove Object” or “Remove Selection.”  You also can select text or an object, and choose “Remove everything else” from the context menu.  This leaves behind only your selection.  This is especially handy when you only want to print part of a page.

Tool


5. Use Safari Reader

If you like using Safari, Apple’s web browser, then you don’t need to bother with any of the above-mentioned tools.  As of Safari 5, Safari comes with the built-in ability to make sites more readable.  This works much the same way that a tool like Readability works.  After a page loads, click the “Reader” button in the address bar, and the page will be formatted and displayed in a lightbox-style overlay.

Tool:


Do you have any tools to suggest, that you use to make sites easier to read?

Are the Days of Remote Access Software Numbered?

cloud killing remote access software

Are we approaching the day where remote access software will be meeting its grim reaper – the cloud?  A few months ago, we compared LogMeIn and Teamviewer, two popular choices for accessing your PC when away from home or the office.  How often do you need to access your PC remotely, though?  Futurelawyer discussed this recently, pointing out that we now live in a cloud-based world, where we let third parties manage our data.

That got me to thinking about my usage of remote access software.  While I’ve never been a heavy user, there once was a time where I would connect to my home PC about once a week, often to retrieve a file.  Aside from playing with different remote access options, though, I can’t remember the last time I connected remotely.  Thanks to my comprehensive backup solution, my documents get synced to Google Docs, and my files are backed up online to Carbonite.  I can always reach them.  Both my work and personal email are accessible via web apps.

Some people worry about the security and reliability of their information in the cloud.  We’ve previously addressed these concerns as well.  The bottom line – if you use a service that makes sure that you have local copies, your information will always be available to you.  And, no offense, but if you’re not dedicated to keeping your system secure, your data is more secure in the hands of many online services than it is on your PC.

How has your usage of remote access tools changed over time?

Will Cloud Computing Make Remote Access Software Obsolete? [Futurelawyer]

Internet Explorer is Now Losing the Browser Wars? Magic 8-Ball Says: Doubtful

Internet Explorer is Now Losing the Browser Wars? Magic 8-Ball Says: Doubtful

Internet Explorer has been slowly but steadily losing ground in the “browser wars” since the invention of that little hot little vulpine browser, Firefox. Google Chrome shook up the market even more and is continuing what’s considered to be a fast upward climb. Safari is Safari, and Opera is largely underestimated.

In the article I read about IE’s plummet, on Mashable, the tone was very much in the negative for Internet Explorer, citing phrases such as “to little, to late” and “Hail Mary” in reference to the coming improvements of IE9. Now, I am no fan of Internet Explorer (my web-designer-self hates it with a furious feral fire), and no disrespect intended to the knowledgeable minds over at Mashable, but I think a little bit of perspective may be called for.

Yes, IE has finally hit a downward slide (thank you, powers that be!) — but even with the European ruling that dropped IE from Microsoft Windows installations, and the rise of Google Chrome, Internet Explorer still holds 49.87% of the browser market (as stated in the Mashable article). Another unfortunate truth is that a good percentage of that percentage still uses IE6. The fact that anyone is still using that piece of crap is proof positive that people aren’t as far advanced into the world of technology as we might have hoped. But I digress…

Browser Market Share Chart | Mashable

The point I am making here is that 49.87%, while still a hefty drop for IE when compared to the gains of other browsers, is still the largest segment of the market by nearly 20%. Internet Explorer 9 may be a bit late, but it is still going to compete soundly with the other browsers out there. IE9 may not win back Microsoft’s haters (count me in that batch), but it will win back some people — and it will keep even more. If Internet Explorer is going anywhere, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

What do you think?

With Less than 50% Market Share, IE Is Now Losing the Browser Wars [Mashable]

3 Pseudo-Monopolies That are Killing Tech

monopolies killing tech

Does your blood boil when you see a company gouge its consumers?  In a world with competition, that wouldn’t be such a big deal.  The free market would rule, and consumers could just move on to a competitor.

That isn’t always possible, though, in a world where, for a variety of reasons, monopolies or pseudo-monopolies exist.  In some situations, you have to suck it up and accept a company’s onerous terms, or not play ball at all.  Here are three markets desperately in need of more competition.


1.  Wired Broadband

When it comes to wired Internet access in the home, many people have only one choice.  If you’re lucky, you have two choices (typically, cable and DSL).  You’re blessed if you have three or more.

The biggest player in the market is Comcast.  That’s a problem, since Comcast already has 25% of the U.S. television market as well (and sure to be more now that a federal appeals court has thrown out a rule preventing a cable company from controlling more than 30 percent of the U.S. market).

Why is that a problem?  It is a problem because Comcast can use your lack of real choice in the broadband market to prop up what otherwise might become an outdated television business model.  Do you want to get all of your video consumption over the Internet, instead of via cable television?  Be careful that you don’t run into Comcast’s 250 GB bandwidth cap.  That might not be a huge problem now, but it will be in the future, as we consume more and more online video and use other bandwidth-intensive apps.

And what is to stop your cable provider from throttling services that compete with its video offerings? Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacked the authority to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating based on the type of content.

So, hold your breath and hope that services like Hulu continue to thrive.  We won’t depress you further by pointing out that Comcast’s purchase of NBC should be approved soon, leading to speculation about the availability of that network’s programming on other platforms.

The U.S. also lags behind many other countries in Internet speed.  South Korea is top dog, with speeds average 20 mbps, while the U.S average is 5.1 mbps.

U.S Internet speed vs the rest of the world

Image from Communications Workers of America.

Now that Verizon’s FIOS rollout has petered out, what incentive does a cable giant like Comcast have to invest in its infrastructure?  Can we hope that DOCSIS 3.0, and the humiliation of seeing Google roll out gigabit internet, are the impetus that we need?  Or is our future one of caps and metered usage?



2. Wireless Carriers

In a report earlier this year, the FCC, for the first time in years, did not find the wireless market to have “effective competition.”  You already know that from personal experience, though.  Can you think of another market where a handful of providers can differ so little in what they offer?

In the report, the FCC took note of the fact that carriers seemed to follow one another in jacking up early termination fees.  In addition, last year the U.S. government looked into whether wireless providers were making it impossible for competitors to enter the market, by locking up exclusivity deals with handset manufacturers.

That lack of competition has allowed wireless carriers some leeway in what they allow you to do with your phone.  If you have a snazzy new Samsung Android phone, for example, forget about using Skype over WiFi.  Verizon and Skype have a deal in place that prevents you from using Skype over anything but 3G.  The app uses your Verizon minutes, defeating part of the reason you’d use Skype in the first place.  We also previously wrote about the unavailability, since changed, of certain video streaming apps over AT&T’s 3G network.

Apps that you can’t get rid of of are a big problem, too.  Earlier this month, we discussed the problems facing Android users, who are faced with bloatware that they can’t remove. If you want a “pure” smartphone that can do everything that the manufacturer intended, your choices are limited.

Are you happy with your wireless provider?  Or do you see a world of increased restrictions, crippled hardware, and tiered pricing plans?



3. Social Networking

When it comes to social networking, Facebook is the only game in town.  Yes, there is Twitter, but Twitter really serves a different purpose than Facebook.  How many of you use Twitter just for keeping up with friends?  If Facebook went away, could Twitter fill the same niche?

Facebook is almost a social networking necessity, even among the tech crowd.  Leo Laporte quit Facebook amid some fanfare a few months ago, only to return recently.  On his radio show, he has cited his need to serve his audience (by being familiar with a service that his listeners might use), but also has pointed out that quitting Facebook really isn’t an option when all of your friends are there.

We’ve previously written about our concern over Facebook’s ever-changing, hard to understand privacy settings, and pondered what it would take to get people to leave Facebook.  Many people have branded Facebook as evil, and The Social Network movie isn’t going to help this perception.  Right now, though, there is nothing comparable.  You either use Facebook, or leave your friends behind.

Is a monopoly a necessity when it comes to a social network like Facebook?  A compelling argument can be made that the social experience would be worse, if all of your friends were spread out among different networks.  Should we just grin and accept Facebook’s position of power, in the interest of a more unified social experience?

Of the three pseudo-monopolies discussed here, FB is in the most precarious position.  A social network is, by its nature, a fickle place.  And Facebook itself could provide the mechanism to spread the “buzz” surrounding a shinier and better social tool, if one ever emerges.


In almost all situations, monopolies and near-monopolies are bad.  They stifle innovation, and customer choice.  We’re seeing this in wired and wireless broadband, and with Facebook’s cavalier attitude towards consumer privacy once it gained a dominant share of the market.

I’m not a fan of government regulation, but are there other options out there, to return competiveness to these markets?  Or am I getting all worked up for no reason?

U.S. Plots Bill to Make the Wiretapping of Internet Communications Easier

US government internet wiretapping

The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration plans to submit a bill next year that would require all online communication services to be “technically capable of complying” if served with a wiretap order.  According to the Times, this includes “encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype.”  The mandate “would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.”

Photo by jeffschuler.

The Times highlighted three requirements:

  • Communication services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
  • Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
  • Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

Putting aside the political issues involved with such legislation, I see two big issues on the technology side of things:

  • This could be really onerous for tech startups, who will have one more concern to worry about when creating software;
  • This is only going to help the government catch stupid criminals.  Tech savvy criminals will turn to other services that aren’t monitored.  Couldn’t the bad guys just drop encrypted text files into a service like DropBox?

What do you think?  Is the U.S. government going too far?  Is all of this just wasted effort?

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet [New York Times]

Relive Your Childhood With YouTube Time Machine

youtube time machine

Hot tubs aren’t the only things that can double as time machines.  Your computer can, too, with a bit of help.  YouTube Time Machine is a website that allows you to pick a year, and watch video content from that year.

The site is pretty simple.  A slider across the top allows you to pick a year (currently from 1860 through 2010).  The content is pre-selected by the folks who run the site, and is fed to you randomly for the year that you select.  You can filter content by type, allowing or disallowing certain categories of content.  The current categories are Video Games, Television, Commercials, Current Events, Sports, Movies, and Music.

youtube time machine full screen

As an example of what you might get, when I selected 1986, I was presented with a video montage of television commercials that aired in 1986, the music video for Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On a Prayer, a trailer for Short Circuit 1, a montage of television show openings, and Marv Albert’s best sports bloopers of 1986.

The site isn’t perfect, but it is still in alpha status.  Often, videos that I skipped kept returning as I skipped through content, and there is no way to list all of the selected videos for a year.  Still, YouTube Time Machine offers a nice journey down memory lane.  Does it bring back memories for you like it does for me?

YouTube Time Machine