Category: reviews

Sneakers – Why can’t there be more movies like this?  This has to be the most mainstream hacker movie of all time.  There are a couple of big name actors like Robert Redford and Dan Aykroyd.  As old as this movie is now, the concepts(if not the hairstyles) have stood the test of time.  Marty, the main character, is a penetration tester of sorts who gets hired by a three-lettered agency to steal a black box in order to clear his name.  If you are reading this web page and you have not seen this movie, go check it out.

Pirates of Silicon Valley – In my opinion this is much more of a movie than a documentary.  When I think of a documentary, I think of some low budget movie that you really can only watch once that was shot with a handy cam by amateurs.  Pirates of Silicon Valley is VERY entertaining, extremely well done and above all, has excellent replay value.  Yes, I realize that many of the events portrayed in this movie were taken out of context and blown slightly out of proportion but I certainly don’t think you get dumber by watching this movie.  They did get most of the big facts correct.  Best of all, my wife actually enjoyed this movie and she is not a techie at all.  Can’t say that about all the movies on this list.

Tron – Unrealistic as it may be, this should definitely still be classified as a hacker movie since the whole point of the movie is Flynn hacking back into his former employer’s computer system in order to find the proof that he was the author of several successful(fictional) video games of the era.  The premise of the movie is pretty cool.  Computer programs are depicted as real living entities who, in some cases, are not aware of their “users” or programmers.  From this movie spawned one of my favorite arcade games of all time, Discs of Tron.

The Matrix – The Matrix is more of an action/thriller movie with computers but the main character, Neo, is certainly a programmer/hacker therefore I’m adding it to this list.  The premise of The Matrix is that the whole world is depicted by lines of ever changing code.  That is because most of the human race is enslaved in a virtual reality simulation that continually plays out society in 1999.  The first Matrix is probably my favorite but I would not ignore the rest of the trilogy.

Hackers –  Laugh as you will but I think this movie has more merit than it is given credit for.  Yes, the hardware and software they have in the movie is totally absurd, but would the movie have been better if everyone was sitting in front of Unix terminals doing their “hacking”?  I certainly don’t think so.  I think the movie is very creative and entertaining.  If you look past the 3D command line text popping out of the screens and the over-stylized hacker culture, there is plenty of realism and decent storyline to be had in this movie.  That being said, if you want realism, this isn’t your movie.  If you have an open mind and want entertainment, check this one out.

War Games – A really young Matthew Broderick stars in this old school hacker movie.  David accidentally hacks into a backdoor of a military computer and thinks that it’s some new video game.  In the process of “playing” the game, he triggers a chain of events that could lead to WWIII.  This movie demonstrates why EVERYTHING should not be connected directly to the net.  This movie is really old but still a classic with plenty of entertainment value and other merits.

Antitrust – Antitrust is a bold jab a Microsoft right down to the pseudo Bill Gates who is the sinister mastermind behind the evil plot to eliminate the competition.  There is even a minor character named “Redmond”.  Ryan Phillippe plays Milo, a talented programmer who lands a dream job at a prosperous software company who is bent on world domination.  This movie is actually pretty decent and often absent from lists of hacker movies such as this one.

Johnny Mnemonic – I’m not sure why this movie isn’t mentioned more often.  It clearly belongs in the “hacker movie” category.  This movie has some classic Keanu Reeves moments.  There is a particular monologue that makes me laugh ever time, “Listen. You listen to me. You see that city over there? THAT’S where I’m supposed to be! Not down here with the dogs and the garbage and the fuckin’ last months newspaper blowing back and forth. I’ve had it with them, I’ve had it with you, I’ve had it with all this! I want ROOM SERVICE! I want the club sandwich. I want the cold Mexican beer. I want a ten-thousand dollar-a-night hooker!! I want my shirts laundered like they do at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.”

Swordfish – This movie has such a cliche plot line that you will probably think you have already seen it even if you haven’t.  A reformed hacker gets pulled in by super criminal Gabriel(John Travolta) to help him steal gobs of money from the US Government.  A lot of this movie is forgettable but it’s still great mindless entertainment for the computer nerd in all of us.  After you’ve seen the Matrix, pick up Swordfish for another machine gun and computer crossover movie.

The Lawnmower Man – The original(and best?) virtual reality thriller.  A scientist decides to experiment on his mentally handicapped gardener.  With a mixture of drugs and computers, it turns out that his garden is not only way smarter than him but he’s damned evil and pissed off.  Pierce Brosnan of James Bond fame stars in this classic sci-fi hacker flick.  If you are in the mode for some low-budget early 1990’s era CGI, this is definitely your movie.  Don’t bother with the sequel.

Track Down – This movie is based on the Kevin Mitnick story.  Skeet Ulrich plays Kevin Mitnick.  This movie is a little slow at times and shows a lot more social engineering ploys than actual computer hacking but I think it still has a place in any collection of hacker movies.  Honestly this movie would have benefited from Hollywood digging their mitts into it a bit further.

Brainscan – This movie SCREAMS low budget but if you can get past that part, there is actually an interesting story line here.  It was made in 1994 but seems far more dated.  The premise of the movie is that this gamer kid(played by Edward Furlong of T2 fame) is tired of all the same old boring video games.  In his quest to find something more interesting, he stumbles on this ad in the back of a magazine for this game called “Brainscan” that promises to be unlike anything he has ever played before.  This is a bit of a virtual reality/psychedelic experience but certainly worth a watch if you are in the mood for something even cheesier than hackers.

Brainstorm – This movie is brutally old but interesting none-the-less.  Christopher Walken stars as a scientist who has discovered how to record people’s thoughts and experiences and play them back to other people.  It’s really, really dated but there is some cool retro computer hardware and sweet rainbow-colored ribbon cables that tie it altogether.  It’s not as slow and boring as most other sci-fi movies of the era.  This one isn’t quite a hacker movie in the traditional sense but probably interesting to most computer nerds just the same.  Maybe wife friendly, YMMV.

If you’ve made it through this list and don’t see one of YOUR favorites, please post in the comments below.  I would love to hear about it.  If you would like to support my site, please buy the movies via the links above or buy anything that you like on via the link down below.  This helps keep me motivated to post more articles and information on my blog here.

Feeling brave today, I decided to click the “upgrade” button this time when I started up Haiku.  I’m running VMWare 3.1.0 so I’m referring to when I start up VMWare and it asks me if I want to upgrade the VM to use newer features of 3.1.0.  The warning is that it will no longer work in older versions of Fusion once I push this button.  This is an acceptable risk to me since I don’t have any older versions.

When I first pushed the button, it was very uneventful and the dialog simply disappeared.  Maybe 15 seconds later, another one appeared asking if I’d like to replace my serial output file “serial-port.txt” since one already existed.  Sure why not?

After that, it took about 30 seconds and booted right up like nothing happened.  That’s a win in my book.  Time to break stuff…

First I’ll take a snapshot.  WOW!  By far the quickest snapshot I’ve ever taken of anything!  This only took all of 5 seconds.  On windows, I’ll get up and take a coffee break while I’m waiting for snapshots to finish and when I want to rollback I’ll stick that on before I go to bed(j/k, it’s not quite THAT bad).  A snapshot is no good of course if it can’t be restored sooooo let me test that out right now….twenty seconds later, it’s restored.  Oddly, it did ask me again if I wanted to replace the serial-port.txt file again.  Oh well, I don’t really care at this point.

Let’s try some peripherals.  A serial port oddly comes to mind.  The one I tried has a prolific chipset in it so nothing too exotic.  When I hooked it in via the VM, nothing happened.  No error, no message, no noise…nothing.   Doing a quick browser of the applications that come pre installed, I didn’t see anything resembling hyper terminal and from the command line, no minicom either.  Oh well, no huge surprises here.

While browsing for a program that could communicate with the serial port, I DID come across the activity monitor.  This thing is very impressive.  It refreshes several times per second and is very responsive.  On my system, it averages about 9% CPU usage and pegs at 64.2MB of ram.  That is LOW comparing to OS X that hogs up well over 512MB right on boot up.  Opening a terminal in Haiku brings the memory usage up to a whopping 72MB of ram in use.  8MB of ram for a terminal?  I can accept that.  OS X takes 10MB or so for me.  Bash is a bit of a pig from what I understand though so this can probably be optimized by using a different shell.

Next I noticed the “find” option in the menu.  In the couple of years I’ve had my Mac, I’ve become completely spoiled by the spotlight tool I have to admit.  I love having the results to my search show up as I find them.  But on the same note, I couldn’t POSSIBLY expect that kind of behavior out of an OS that will run on super light weight hardware.  That being said, I found the search to be really snappy.  I searched for “terminal” and had the results in less than 2 seconds.  I’d have to fill my poor system with a LOT of junk to really put this feature through it’s paces but I like what I see so far.

Haiku Terminal

Lastly, I want to create a WebPositive icon on my desktop.  As I mentioned in another post, I tried right clicking the icon in the Tracker and tried dragging the icon from the Tracker as well and that didn’t do the trick.  Next thing I did was to click “applications” in the tracker.  This gave me a directory listing so I dragged the icon out of there but then it was gone from that menu.  Hmmm…  I dragged it back and now tried to right click on it in the directory listing.  Voila!  That seems to have worked but it presents me with a somewhat overwhelming list of options that sound like they would do the job.  There is “copy to” which I probably don’t want to use since I’m assuming it would copy the entire application.  Then there is “duplicate” which made a copy of the entire application(or shortcut in this case) in the same directory.  Finally there is the “create link” which opens a sub menu allowing the link to be sent directly to a myriad of locations including the trashcan!?!  Why would you want to create a link in the trashcan?

Now that I have my WebPositive icon, I want to see how much ram Haiku’s web browser takes.  Keep in mind this browser does not support Flash and presumably a couple of other features but I DID jump into Google Docs and saw no problems at first glance and it seemed very responsive.  I did notice something else cool about Haiku in the course of this.  I opened up the ActivityMonitor and at first the ram was sitting at 122MB but as I’m typing this, I’m watching the ram usage count down and the cache usage count up.  It’s actively moving active ram into cache as I’m allowing it to idle.  Less than 2 minutes after I’ve stopped using the program, the active ram is down to 95MB of usage.  To me these is really nice and a refreshing change from Windows where applications tend to continually eat more memory.  When I click on WebPositive again, all the cache pops back into memory instantly and the usages goes back up to 120MB.  If I open up another program instead, the ram is free for that new program to use.  Everything in the background seems to get counted off into cache.

This second look at Haiku has given me far more appreciation for the effort the developers have gone through to make a compact and efficient, yet modern operating system.  I wish the other vendors would take a few hints to see how it’s done.

Trying out Haiku OS on old hardware

I tried out the new Haiku OS VMWare image the other day to see what it was like.  I was fairly impressed and everything worked smoothly and quickly running under VMWare Fusion on my MacBook Pro.  Today, I wanted to try Haiku OS out on some REALLY old hardware.  I have a little shoebox computer based on an Asus MES-N motherboard.

This system came out long before Shuttle was a household name and was pretty early for a compact desktop system.  This thing is so old that it has not one but TWO on-board serial ports.  It does have an on-board 10/100 network adapter which was innovative for the time.  It’s based on a Celeron 466Mhz, has 128mb of ram and a 30gb Seagate Barracuda I picked up at a local computer recycler in Redmond.

Alas, all of the build-up and pretty pictures is for nothing because it didn’t work.  I’m not sure if it is choking on the on-board video card or if there is some other hardware conflict but on this system, after it reads the Haiku CD, I only get a blinking cursor.  I tried to disable the on-board VGA and popped in a couple of different ISA video cards from another project but neither of those would boot in that system.  Unfortunately I don’t have any PCI video cards on hand.  Luckily I did have an entire other old desktop system though.  This time, a 700MHz Athlon-based system that had a hard drive puke a while back.  It’s darned ugly but it did the trick.

This system has 256mb of ram and I tossed a 20gb Seagate Barracuda that I also obtained from that computer surplus store in Redmond(if they fix their website I might link to them someday).  I popped the Haiku disk I burned in and booted it up.  I was greeted with more icon candy while waiting for the desktop to load.  Once it popped up, it asked me if I wanted to install or run it as a live CD.  This system is for fun stuff so I decided to try the install out.  I was warned profusely to do the partitioning myself and not trust their tool since it is an alpha release.  I decided to live dangerously and use their partitioning tool.  It worked quick and well.  After I was down partitioning, I finally figured out that I had to close the window that the partition manager had popped up in since there was no next button or anything similar.  Once back at the one and only install dialog, I chose the source disk(the CD), the target disk(my new partition) and hit install.

About 5 minutes later, it was done.  Once again, I was left with no real options besides “install”(again?!?) and “quit” so I chose the third option which was to close the window of the installer program.  Miraculously, the Haiku installer knew my intentions and it rebooted the computer.  It even popped the CD tray for me so I could snag that CD out of there.

When it restarted, I was greeted with more icon eye candy but not for long.  I only got to stare at those for 10-15 seconds.  Then the desktop appeared and maybe 10 seconds later, it was ready to roll and looking great.  I sat down and dove into some fractals for a minute and then spun a teapot or two before I powered down for now.  I was a little skeptical that the power down would trigger the soft power function but to my joy and disbelief, the system powered down barely 5 seconds after I sent the kill command.

If it’s one thing Haiku has right, it’s the boot up and boot down sequences.  Those are incredibly slick.  I hope to put it through it’s paces a bit further in the coming months.  When I do, I’ll post my findings here.

Ada's Technical Books on Capitol Hill in Seattle

I went to Portland a month ago or so and went to the best bookstore I’ve ever been to.  It’s called Powell’s Technical Books.  If you ever go to Portland, don’t miss Powell’s Books.  It’s absolutely gigantic!  One of the largest book stores I’ve ever seen.  It’s very overwhelming in Powell’s but when I was there, I didn’t end up staying very long.  I came to find that as large as the store is, they required a whole separate building just for computer and technical books.  We were on our way out of town but still needed to eat.  Lucky for me, the place we ate just happened to be 1/2 a block from the Powell’s Technical Books location.  We went in for a little bit and I was pleasantly surprised.  The store is the size of a Trader Joes and it’s all Computer, Engineering and other technical books.  In the back corner was a real treat though.  They have a bunch of vintage computer hardware and vintage computer books for sale which is something I’m currently interested in.  Some of the prices were fairly steep and many of the items weren’t priced at all but it was fun to see this hardware on display at the very least.  I ended up leaving Portland wishing and wondering if there would ever be anything like this in Seattle…

Today I was reading the DC206 mailing list and noticed someone mention a hacker space on Capitol Hill.  They went on to add at the bottom that it is across from a great bookstore, Ada’s Books.  I had not heard of this store before so I clicked the link and found that Ada’s Technical Books just opened to the public on June 11th, 2010.  Hoping that it has any resemblance to Powell’s Technical Books I found myself jumping in my car instantly to go see it for myself.

When I arrived I was a little surprised that it was smaller than it looked in the pictures.  I decided not to let the size cloud my judgment however.  When I walked in, I was greeted by a Zenith portable lunchbox computer that was in excellent condition.

Upon further investigation, I found a couple of books to buy.  One was Programming the IBM Personal Computer: Assembly Language by Chao Chien.  I felt the price was very fair at $4.50.  After browsing through the rest of the computer books, I found the electronics book section.  I was pleasantly surprised by the selection available in that section.  Ada’s has one of the best selections of electronics books that I’ve seen in any local bookstores.  I picked up a new copy of Getting Started with Arduino by Massimo Banzi out of that section.

When I went to check out, I learned more about the store.  The owner of the store is actually one of the folks that runs Toorcon.  Him and his wife were inspired to start this bookstore after visiting Powell’s in Portland.  They felt that Seattle needed a technical book store and I tend to agree with them.  I eagerly await to see what gems turn up on their shelves in the coming months.  I would hope for some more historical computer books and any books on 1980’s computers such as the C64, Atari computers, etc.  Those books are hard to find, especially at reasonable prices.

Ada’s Technical Books is located at 713 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102 on Capitol Hill.  I encourage anyone local to the area to go take a peek and buy some computer books from Ada’s.

Does the world need another operating system?  That seemed to be the question that was asked when BeOS was first unleashed on the world in 1995.  When BeOS was ported to the x86 platform in 1998, I got a copy and gave it a try.  It was awesome!  I remember it having forward-looking features that the Mac platform only recently has added and stability that none of the current operating systems(at the time) could claim.  The problem was software however…  I had all but forgotten about BeOS as soon as I had discovered it since it didn’t have nearly enough applications for me to practically consider switching to it as a primary desktop platform.  From my understanding it did gain a small following in the pro audio world.  There were a few commercial audio applications that were released for it including one that I used to own, T-racks.

Fast forwarding to present day, what have the former BeOS developers been up to?  In a word, Haiku.  This new system continues in the spirit of BeOS in the sense that it has been designed from the ground up to be an efficient, integrated & complete “single vendor” open source system.  It’s not based on a Linux Kernel but instead has a Kernel written from scratch to integrate with the rest of the OS specifically.  This is a stark contrast to Linux where thousands of developers have written code in the Kernel and many more thousands have ported countless core applications over to the Linux platform which results in a mish mash of incompatibilities and less than ideal subtleties.  A better explanation of Haiku is available on their FAQ.

Haiku is distributed in several different formats.  There is a live CD version, a regular install CD and a VMWare image.  First I’m going to try out the VMWare image on my MacBook Pro…  I have VMWare Fusion 3.1.0 currently and I’m trying out the R1/alpha2 version of Haiku.  When I first try to open the VMWare image, it asks me if I want to upgrade the VM for better 3D performance, etc.  At this point, I’m going to decline and continue.  Upon boot up I’m presented with some eye candy icons and in less than 45 seconds, the machine is booted and ready to operate.  It is no surprise that VMWare tools is NOT installed and presumably does not exist so I’m keeping my fingers near the control-command keys for now.

After the machine is booted, the desktop comes up with the tracker and a few desktop icons as seen in the screen shot above.  Clicking on the “Haiku” icon, I’m greeted with a pop up window showing the eight items present at the bottom level of the hard drive.  Honestly it reminds me a bit of the older Macintosh System operating system.  On a side note, I recently read a very interesting article by Tom Pittman that describes a blueprint for a 21st century operating system and for some reason, Haiku made me think of that.  Anyhow, back to the 2nd icon now which is “Welcome”.  After clicking that icon, the dream fades back into reality and I end up waiting 15-20 seconds for a web browser to finally pop up with the welcome document in it.  I am drawn back in however when I type into the web browser and find that not only does the network link work but Google pops up pretty darned fast.  I should mention that upon launching the web browser, the tracker application added a button, icon or whatnot to it with the name of the browser “WebPositve” in it.  I closed and relaunched the web browser and this time it popped up on the screen nearly instantaneously so I will excuse the slow initial start up.

Next I tried to pop up a terminal.  It loaded very quickly.  I wanted to add the terminal as an icon on my desktop but right clicking or dragging it from the tracker menu are not doing the trick.  Those are two of the most intuitive ways I could think of to accomplish the task but I’m probably missing something.  Whatever the case, ls works, top works and uname -a reveals:

Haiku shredder 1 r36769 May 8 2010 20:58:31 BePC Haiku

With that, I’m going to sign off for now and move on with some other tasks but so far my first taste of the Haiku OS is just as pleasant as I remember BeOS being.  It’s very easy to use, quite responsive and seems to have a lot of potential.  I sincerely wish the development team luck with this project.  The copyright shows that Haiku has been in development since 2001.  Wow!

What is the use of this new operating system?  What niche does it fill that hasn’t already been filled by Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, Android, etc?  First off, older hardware.  The system requirements of Haiku are incredibly low for a modern OS.  Apparently you can run it on something as poky as a Pentium II.  Second, it may be even easier to use than Mac OSX and to reiterate, it certainly has lighter hardware than Mac OSX.  Beyond that, I’m really not sure.  Reading the Haiku website, I cannot find any indication of where this operating system fits into the pecking order with the others.  It might be a good server platform since it appears to have some level of POSIX compliance and the kernel could be extremely secure since the development team is relatively small and because there are simply no exploits or vulnerabilities available for it.  It could also make a good platform for 2nd hand computers since it’s WAY easier than Linux and has light system requirements.  Only time will tell if Haiku is just another solution without a problem.

I’ve owned and iPod Touch for several months now.  I spent the first couple of weeks I owned it searching for the perfect case for it.  I saw the thin skins that ripple every time you touch them and I saw the clunky hard sided plastic cases.  The whole appeal to the iPod Touch for me was the fact that it is so small and sleek.  Yes, I want to protect it but no, I don’t want it to feel twice as bulky as it really is.  Then I found the Tech21 iBand.  At first, it looks like just a rubber ring.  It’s not the cheapest case at $25 but I have to say it’s well worth the price.  When you put this on your iPod touch 2nd or 3rd gen, it feels well protected.  It’s molded perfectly to the dimensions of the iPod Touch so it fits well and does not feel like it will ever come loose on it’s own.  If you set it on the table facing up or down, the iPod itself doesn’t touch the table.  If you happen to drop it on a flat surface, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be protected.

The case itself doesn’t add much weight to the ipod.  It only weighs 15.5 grams which is nearly nothing considering the iPod itself weighs 108 grams.  Over the time I’ve had the case, I have found it to be very durable.  It has one edge that has a bit of wear on it but that wear hasn’t spread or spiraled out of control like it would with other materials.

While I can’t think of any ways to improve the case, I do have a couple of gripes about it.  First off, it makes the power and volume buttons fairly hard to use.  The converse of that is that you won’t be pressing them by accident any time soon.  Secondly, some headphones may not fit through the hole as it sits.  The Apple ones work flawlessly though so it’s not a big deal to me.  Third, when I plug in my sync cable, a small part of the front rubber near the brand name sometimes catches on the connector.  Again, not really a big deal to me.  Last one that might be a deal killer for many folks…  It won’t dock while in the case with ANY docks that I have seen available.  This has been a little disappointing to me but I’ve learned to live with it.  If you were REALLY concerned, you could always roll your own cheaptastic iPod Touch dock.  The bottom line is that the Tech21 iBand is the best iPod case I could find.

Late 2009 I started becoming interested in security podcasts.  In general, security podcasters put out a lot of excellent information in an entertaining format.  I’ve come to find that many of them follow the same format to the point of being a bit cliche.  Things like crazy sound boards, beer de jour, etc.  ISD has a couple of these formula elements but they also have their own unique angles that give them value and make them entertaining.

ISD is the first podcast I ever listened to so I didn’t really have anything to judge it against.  I’ve listened to a lot more podcasts since then however and I still find that ISD stands out as one of the better ones.  I find Matthew and Rick very entertaining since the dynamic they share reminds me of the way myself and a former co-worker used to banter about and finally solve our heated discussions with Google.  I also applaud Rick and Matthew’s dedication.  These guys podcast EVERY WEEKDAY.  Wow!!  Most podcasters would(and do) run out of steam but these guys have put out more content already than 95% of the other podcasters out there ever will.

One of the best things about ISD is Thursdays where they bring on Adrian Crenshaw, the Irongeek for a weekly technical segment.  Adrian must clone himself or something because I hear him calling in and talking on all the other podcasts, I see that he goes to a zillion cons, holds a day job and tweaks with hardware hacks as a hobby.  Incredible.  He’s very interesting to listen to and is always working on a fascinating project.

Overall, the ISD guys are obviously dedicated to providing good content.  They haven’t even been around for a year yet (as of 5/7/10) but they have brought on plenty of interesting guests to interview and spewed off a lot of well-thought out content so far.  I think these guys are definitely worth a listen even if you aren’t directly in the computer security field yourself.

One last thing to keep in mind is that the ISD guys are VERY slanted towards security and local events in the southeast since they are based in Georgia.  They proudly pimp all of their hometown security conferences, events and training.  If you don’t live in the southeast, you’ll probably have to find information about local events from another source.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s just an observation.

Keep up the great work guys!

My favorite iPod apps

I’ve owned an iPod touch for about four months now.  Already it is an indispensable piece of equipment that I use many, many times every day.  For years I resisted the lure of an iPod because I thought of it as a glorified mp3 player.  100% not true.  In fact I don’t have any mp3’s on mine at all.  Just some podcasts and a few awesome apps.  I have not bothered to jailbreak my device because I don’t think it is necessary.  I plan to get an Android phone this summer when the Supersonic comes out and I plan to root that for my extra-functional fix.  Here are a few of the apps that I use all the time and couldn’t live without now:

Logmein Ignition – The ultimate app for the iPhone/iPod.  This allows you to remotely log in to your desktop or laptop computer and control anything on the screen possible.  If you have multiple monitors, shake it to switch screens.  Your mouse pointer stays in the middle of the screen and you move your desktop behind it.  Use gestures to zoom in, zoom out, scroll and more.  Best part is that it caches your login and password so you can jump right into your desktop quickly.  Control your Mac or Windows machine with this app.  It’s $30 but worth every penny and it works with the free version of logmein.

WordPress – This app allows you to blog right from your iPhone or iPod.  It ties straight into your admin panel and lets you skip the login if you like.  Great for when an idea strikes you and you are nowhere near your computer.  You have to toggle a setting in the admin panel to set it up but that’s easy.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars –  This game is a surprisingly good milepost in the series.  For a long time I judged it by the screen shots but it actually plays much better than you would think.  It has a good story and is well tweaked for the mobile platform.  Autosaves occur after every mission and you can put your iDevice to sleep in the middle of anything and when you come back, things will be as you left them.  It’s not nearly as involved as a ps2 or ps3 version but it’s a good little time killer when you have a few minutes.

Katamari Damacy – This game seems like a natural for this platform.  If you haven’t played it before, I strongly urge you to try it out.  If you have a ps2, do yourself a favor and grab the very first version of Katamari Damacy.  This game is simple in concept.  You roll a ball around an area and it gets larger as you roll over things.  The cubist art style makes the game more interesting and amusing.  I do wish you could switch between tilt controls and on-screen but other than that, this is one of my favorite console games so it’s nice to have it on the go.

O’Reilly books – The same O’Reilly books that are down at the bookstore for $20-$60/ea are available from the app store for $3-$5/ea.  I think that’s fair.  I’ve bought 3 of them so far and they are great.  For something like a programming language reference book these are especially nice since they are searchable and bookmarkable.  My only complaint is that in some of the books, the comments in the code samples get cut off for some reason.  Still, for $5 I’m not complaining at all.  It’s also nice to be able to fit a respectable O’Reilly library right in your pocket and always have it at your fingertips.

Speed Test – I use this app all the time.  It allows you to see how good (or bad) your internet connection is.  It also logs it along with a GPS coordinate.

FlowChat – IRC in my pocket.  If you thought IRC was dead and that twitter has taken it’s place, think again.  It’s live and kicking.  Most of the IRC networks I used to use in the 90’s are still there but irrelevant now in my opinion.  The server that seems to have the topics most interesting to me is Freenode.  If you jump on there, you’ll probably find me in #zipit.  I have not tried the competitor to Flowchat, Colloquy but I use Colloquy on my MacBook Pro and it works well on there so that might also be worth a look.

This list is by no means exhaustive but those are my top choices.  Honorable mentions go out to Twitteriffic, Kindle, Amazon, RingCentral, pTerm & Skype.  Please post in the comments if you have any cool apps that you can’t live without.

I’ve owned a Mac now since late 2008.  Soon after I bought it, I discovered how cool multi-monitor support is.  Oddly, this discovery didn’t quench more thirst for more screen real estate, it simply made me want more and more.  On my MacBook Pro, there is only one monitor output.  I would have assumed that was that and there would be no way to add more screens but then I found the Sewell Minideck SW-22857.

This ingenious device allows you to hook up to 5 extra monitors to a computer even as underpowered as a Atom-based netbook.  That is a testament to the fact that it doesn’t consume a lot of overhead.  On my system which is a 2.53GHz dual core, it seems to only take 1.2-2.2% of one of the CPU’s at idle and it spikes to 2.6% when I’m pushing it with window scrolling, etc. Works for me.

Now personally I would have assumed that a USB-based graphics card would be kind of a gimmick.  Surprisingly enough though, I think this adapter will work well enough to be useful.  I did try full motion video on it and it sucks.  Totally useless and choppy.  I would estimate I’m getting 15-20fps on it.  To me, this is pretty much unacceptable, YMMV.

I did a lot of research before I bought this device.  One thing surprised me.  It’s smaller than it looks in the picture.  Probably half the size of a standard external 2.5″ drive but a touch thicker.  Another thing worth mentioning is that you should just go to the website to get the latest driver.  From my understanding, the bundled one doesn’t work too well.

Supposedly this is one of the only USB-VGA/DVI/HDMI adapters that actually works properly with the Mac.  I’d believe that.  The bummer is that they know it and charge dearly for it.  I tried and tried to wait them out but the price never dropped.  I could not find this device ANYWHERE legitimately cheaper than $100.

The only problem I could find with the whole setup is that my monitor does not seem to properly sleep with this adapter.  The screen goes black but the back light stays on.  If I figure out what is going on with this, I’ll post an update.

Update 6/30/2010 – Still haven’t figured out the sleep mode on the screen but I have found that you cannot take a screenshot of anything running on USB-connected screen under Mac OS X

iTouched an iPad

I was out shopping with the family at the mall today and quickly ducked into the Mac Store (not the same as the Apple Store). There were only three people in the whole store and they were all clustered at the three iPads that were displayed in the middle of the store. There was an older woman, a store employee and an off-duty cop. About as diverse as it gets. The employee backed off and I picked up the one in the middle.

I was surprised at how heavy it was. I was expecting it to be much lighter. I noticed they were set atop these custom stands. My first act with the iPad was to set it flat on the table. To my surprise, the wifi signal didn’t even flinch. From all I’ve heard, I expected just looking at it to kill the signal strength. I’m guessing this is another over-sensationalized problem that isn’t quite as bad as it was made out to be.

Next I picked it back up and started thumbing around with the apps. I don’t care for how much space is wasted by the icons on the screen. It seems that you have the same amount of icon space as you would for an iPod Touch. I’m not sure if this is a setting or if there is some other reason but my initial though is that it looks stupid to have tiny little icons with tons of space around them.

After the initial shock of the tiny icons, I decided to press one of them. To my surprise a tiny-sized app popped up. Don’t ask me what I was expecting for apps that have not been updated for the iPad but this was certainly not it. I’ll be damned if I’m going to run around with a gigantic iPod Touch with a beautiful screen that can only display most of the apps I care about at the same size as my current iPod Touch. What about the 2x button you say? What a joke. I haven’t seen pixelation that bad since my Atari 2600. Sorry, until all the app providers are on board, that’s a major show stopper for me. I’m really surprised that so many people can overlook this issue.

When the iPad was first announced, I was ready to buy it immediately. It looked like the perfect little computer to have around the living room and kitchen. Now that I have seen it however, I still think it has a lot of potential but more so as a niche device. Maybe it would be perfect for a professional photographer proofing with his clients or for an elderly person who’s eyesight isn’t good enough for an iPod Touch. It will be interesting to see what niches the iPad carves for itself but at the current price, it’s going to be a hard sell for a lot of potential buyers. The bottom model is more expensive than most netbooks and the top model is nearly $1,000 if you have to pay tax or shipping.

When the price drops and Tech21 releases an iBand shock absorbing frame for it, I’ll take another look at it.

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