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Feed me… alphabetically!

Admittedly, things have been a bit slow at earthpages.org over the past few days. At least, they may have seemed slow.

Actually I’ve been putting in crazy hours learning how to get as many RSS news feeds as possible on my several devices. Some devices are older, some are newer. And each has its own unique ability or power to draw in something of interest.

Feed Icon Bl-Or

Feed Icon Bl-Or (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The older hardware and OS, for instance, can run RSS Reader, a program that I love. But so far I can only get some feeds to show up with that program using newer hardware and OS.

So to compensate, I’ve taken up with an online Feedreader that I tried out ages ago but only recently have come to like (pictured above).

Funny how the categories worked out, huh? To think that organized crime and Old Testament feeds turned up side by side… How utterly strange.

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The ‘internet of things’ is sending us back to the Middle Ages

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Is this our relationship to tech companies now?

Queen Mary Master

Joshua A.T. Fairfield, Washington and Lee University

Internet-enabled devices are so common, and so vulnerable, that hackers recently broke into a casino through its fish tank. The tank had internet-connected sensors measuring its temperature and cleanliness. The hackers got into the fish tank’s sensors and then to the computer used to control them, and from there to other parts of the casino’s network. The intruders were able to copy 10 gigabytes of data to somewhere in Finland.

By gazing into this fish tank, we can see the problem with “internet of things” devices: We don’t really control them. And it’s not always clear who does – though often software designers and advertisers are involved.

In my recent book, “Owned: Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom,” I discuss what it means that our environment is seeded with more sensors than ever before. Our fish tanks, smart televisions, internet-enabled home thermostats, Fitbits and smartphones constantly gather information about us and our environment. That information is valuable not just for us but for people who want to sell us things. They ensure that internet-enabled devices are programmed to be quite eager to share information.

Take, for example, Roomba, the adorable robotic vacuum cleaner. Since 2015, the high-end models have created maps of its users’ homes, to more efficiently navigate through them while cleaning. But as Reuters and Gizmodo reported recently, Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, may plan to share those maps of the layouts of people’s private homes with its commercial partners.

Security and privacy breaches are built in

Like the Roomba, other smart devices can be programmed to share our private information with advertisers over back-channels of which we are not aware. In a case even more intimate than the Roomba business plan, a smartphone-controllable erotic massage device, called WeVibe, gathered information about how often, with what settings and at what times of day it was used. The WeVibe app sent that data back to its manufacturer – which agreed to pay a multi-million-dollar legal settlement when customers found out and objected to the invasion of privacy.

Those back-channels are also a serious security weakness. The computer manufacturer Lenovo, for instance, used to sell its computers with a program called “Superfish” preinstalled. The program was intended to allow Lenovo – or companies that paid it – to secretly insert targeted advertisements into the results of users’ web searches. The way it did so was downright dangerous: It hijacked web browsers’ traffic without the user’s knowledge – including web communications users thought were securely encrypted, like connections to banks and online stores for financial transactions.

The underlying problem is ownership

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership. John Deere has already told farmers that they don’t really own their tractors but just license the software – so they can’t fix their own farm equipment or even take it to an independent repair shop. The farmers are objecting, but maybe some people are willing to let things slide when it comes to smartphones, which are often bought on a payment installment plan and traded in as soon as possible.

How long will it be before we realize they’re trying to apply the same rules to our smart homes, smart televisions in our living rooms and bedrooms, smart toilets and internet-enabled cars?

A return to feudalism?

The issue of who gets to control property has a long history. In the feudal system of medieval Europe, the king owned almost everything, and everyone else’s property rights depended on their relationship with the king. Peasants lived on land granted by the king to a local lord, and workers didn’t always even own the tools they used for farming or other trades like carpentry and blacksmithing.

Over the centuries, Western economies and legal systems evolved into our modern commercial arrangement: People and private companies often buy and sell items themselves and own land, tools and other objects outright. Apart from a few basic government rules like environmental protection and public health, ownership comes with no trailing strings attached.

This system means that a car company can’t stop me from painting my car a shocking shade of pink or from getting the oil changed at whatever repair shop I choose. I can even try to modify or fix my car myself. The same is true for my television, my farm equipment and my refrigerator.

Yet the expansion of the internet of things seems to be bringing us back to something like that old feudal model, where people didn’t own the items they used every day. In this 21st-century version, companies are using intellectual property law – intended to protect ideas – to control physical objects consumers think they own.

Intellectual property control

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy. Google controls the operating system and the Google Apps that make an Android smartphone work well. Google licenses them to Samsung, which makes its own modification to the Android interface, and sublicenses the right to use my own phone to me – or at least that is the argument that Google and Samsung make. Samsung cuts deals with lots of software providers which want to take my data for their own use.

But this model is flawed, in my view. We need the right to fix our own property. We need the right to kick invasive advertisers out of our devices. We need the ability to shut down the information back-channels to advertisers, not merely because we don’t love being spied on, but because those back doors are security risks, as the stories of Superfish and the hacked fish tank show. If we don’t have the right to control our own property, we don’t really own it. We are just digital peasants, using the things that we have bought and paid for at the whim of our digital lord.

Even though things look grim right now, there is hope. These problems quickly become public relations nightmares for the companies involved. And there is serious bipartisan support for right-to-repair bills that restore some powers of ownership to consumers.

The ConversationRecent years have seen progress in reclaiming ownership from would-be digital barons. What is important is that we recognize and reject what these companies are trying to do, buy accordingly, vigorously exercise our rights to use, repair and modify our smart property, and support efforts to strengthen those rights. The idea of property is still powerful in our cultural imagination, and it won’t die easily. That gives us a window of opportunity. I hope we will take it.

Joshua A.T. Fairfield, Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  Robot caregivers for the elderly could be just 10 years away (businessinsider.com)

  Your Roomba could be selling maps of your home to Google, Amazon, and Apple (mashable.com)

  Robot vacuum cleaner plans to sell maps of people’s homes (telegraph.co.uk)

  MIT team develops robot that might be a more socially aware pedestrian than some humans (neowin.net)


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Hacking the mind… without technology?

Vector drawing of the five kinds of Zener card...

Vector drawing of the five kinds of Zener cards used for parapsychology research. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Backstory

After finishing my doctorate on Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity at U Ottawa, I wasn’t overjoyed when the university library listed my thesis under the subject heading of parapsychology.

I was concerned that many years of serious study would be dismissed as fodder for fantasy fiction writers and sensational paranormal researchers.

Embed from Getty Images

Also, my thesis doesn’t defend nor debunk the alleged truth of synchronicity. Instead, it offers a postmodern analysis of how Jung advances and legitimizes this fringe topic within the larger scientific community. The library might equally have listed my thesis under sociology, psychology, philosophy and religion.

Despite my initial misgivings, I came to accept, almost embrace the library listing. I’ll be an expert on parapsychology, my young enthusiastic self thought. This could be my niche!

Today, I’m neither a zealot nor a hard-nosed skeptic about parapsychology. I just want to learn more and share any discoveries for the common good.

Mind Hacks? 

Over the years I’ve come to wonder if the mind might be hacked without any direct technological link. Could a person (or spiritual power associated with that person) influence another person at a distance?

I’m not talking about the art of persuasion. That involves words, maybe images and music; some kind of physical or symbolic contact. Nor am I thinking about those headline news pundits concerned about tech interface and implant abuse.

No, I’m talking about parapsychology, just as the library suggested.

Two examples

Usually when we’re fed up with something or someone, the Jungian shadow emerges.

For example, once on social media I made a comment that might have contained some truth but also wasn’t too polite.

More recently, just before the solar eclipse I posted a headline that wasn’t terribly positive.

In both instances it was like the shadow momentarily eclipsed my usual positive attitude—a kind of ‘eclipse’ of my normal way of doing things. Almost immediately after, my total self re-emerged and I began to make amends.

So what happened? Did my mind/brain short from stress overload and accumulated resentment? Or was I hacked by a disruptive spiritual power? To me, it felt like both.

And possibly both scenarios are right. Evil could seize upon opportunities of perceived weakness in our psychological armor. Like hacker bots sensing firewall vulnerabilities, the devil might watch, wait and pounce when ready and, oddly enough, when permitted by God.

This perspective probably wouldn’t fly with most psychiatrists. And that’s unfortunate because, in my opinion, psychology and spirituality demand better integration. Not just the hopeful ‘save the world’ stuff. But also the darker, less admirable elements.

Jung believes that ignoring the shadow prevents us from mastering its powerful, collective energy, which then erupts when we least expect it.

English: Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld ex...

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you think?

Spiritually speaking, is no woman or man an island? That is, are we all subtly linked? The light and the dark?

Or is humanity only connected through more verifiable factors like family, friends, society and the media?

I won’t say only the shadow knows but I suspect it has a pretty good idea.

 How to Live our Wildest Fantasies in the “Real World.” (elephantjournal.com)

 Embracing darkness and shadow that we might also be light and joy (beyondmeds.com)

 War games: South Korea undertakes anti-terror exercises, in pictures (telegraph.co.uk)

 Someone broke down the color psychology behind your favorite Disney characters (mashable.com)

 ‘MEET ITS TRAGIC DOOM’ NoKo says it’s ‘on standby to launch’ in new warning (foxnews.com)

 Psychological abusers don’t go for the weak – they choose strong people because they ‘like a challenge’ (businessinsider.com)


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Fabulous freeware – updated!

Earthpages.org is not affiliated with any the companies, organizations or projects mentioned in this blog entry. See also disclaimer at the end of this blog entry.

Gosh the web changes fast. I’ve deleted some links that don’t exist any more. Also, I’ve recently acquired an Android tablet, so want to add some of my fav android apps. Not the ones we all know, but the more techie ones. At least, those that make tech simple for the rest of us.

So my fav new Windows app is volumouse. It makes it easy to adjust volume while streaming media or music. It works well with my version of Windows 7. There’s another volume app out there that worked well with Windows 10  but not very well with Windows 7. I’ll give it honorable mention: X-Mouse Button Control.

More updates below (in purple).

Media Players

  • VideoLAN – VLC media player Ever wanted to capture a still image from a video? Most free media players can’t do it. After searching the web and reading all sorts of complicated do’s and don’ts, I stumbled upon this free program, which does it effortlessly. VLC also formats DVD playback in a variety of aspect ratios, which can be nice. And, it plays FLAC audio files. I found this waaaay before it became acceptable on the web. (pat on the back)

Video Search

  • Freemake – Jukebox that searches and organizes YouTube videos.
  • Blinkx Not really freeware because there’s nothing to download. But it’s free and a good alternative to YouTube and Google video searches.

Video Conversion

  • Freemake – Awesome and fast
  • Handbrake – Does some formats that Freemake can’t. But can be slow.
  • Bink Video (RAD Video Tools) Converts digital video files into different formats. Especially useful if your digital camera writes Quicktime .MOV files. Bink/RAD will convert them into .AVI files, which Windows Movie Maker can import!

Image Editing/Digital Painting

  • Paint.Net – A reader suggests this. I’ve tried it and it is good. See comments area for more info.
  • Krita – Someone just recently tipped me off about this. I don’t see any text function. But it might be in there somewhere. Digital artists should give this a try. I can’t draw my way out of a wet paper bag. So this one isn’t too useful for me.
  • Pixlr – This has three versions, each different. I like it way better than Instagram.
  • PhotoFiltre One of my favorite free photo editors with plug-ins, highlighting and “fade last effect” feature, much like Photoshop version 4. PF doesn’t handle multiple layers like the GIMP but it’s light and tasteful. Don’t confuse this with PhotoFiltre Studio, which is not freeware.
  • PhotoScape This is a fantastic program with some great filters, fun photo stuff and useful text effects. I use this to rotate/level photos as I find it’s faster, easier and does a better job than anything else I’ve tried.
  • The GIMP GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program.” The GIMP just keeps getting better and better; features include text, drop shadow, bevels, layers, color replacement and lots of fine filters.
  • Gimphelp.org Some cool filters for the Gimp. While Photoshop 8bf filters may still be the industry standard, I find that using freeware opens me up to different graphics and artistic approaches that I’d otherwise never try. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to install these filters. Just read the instructions and enjoy!
  • Virtual Photographer This is a great program for enhancing photos, compatible with the GIMP and other commercial software.
  • Picasa IMHO the strongest thing about this photo editor is the excellent color, lightness and contrast fixing. And it’s very user friendly. Photo rotation is a bit blurry. I use PhotoScape for that. Dead. Another example where good names don’t necessarily mean successful products.
  • Photo Pos Pro Visually nice to look at, has some good effects and handles layers.
  • Photobie I don’t use this one too much but it has some good filters and is under steady development. Like anything else, software preference is a pretty personal thing. Definitely worth a try.
  • LightBox Solid performer. Free version touches up pics nicely with minimum of effort.
  • UnFREEz Creates animated gifs almost effortlessly, preserves transparency, and does a much better job (in terms of image quality) than MS gif animator.
  • Easy Thumbnails This easily creates good, sharp thumbnails.
  • Vector Magic Not free but you can evaluate for free with saving disabled.
  • Inkscape Good for making banners, working with fonts and converting bitmap to vector graphics.

AntiVirus, Junk and Spyware Removal

  • AntiVir A nice antivirus program from Germany with frequent free updates.
  • AdAware A ‘too good to be true’ program for detecting and cleaning invasive ads and malware that can slow down your computer. With free updates and lots of options.
  • Advanced SystemCare This was recommended by a visitor and it seems very powerful. But some may find it too aggressive and Gizmo’s Freeware says some have reported errors after using. I’ve tested this out and so far have had no probs with WinXP. It gets stuff CCleaner doesn’t, and vice versa.
  • CCleaner Fantastic program for cleaning junk files from your hard drive with frequent updates. Also useful for fixing registry integrity and blocking unwanted Windows startup programs. Use with extreme caution and don’t even think about going past the default settings unless you know what you’re doing!
  • Glary Utilities Recommended by a visitor; still testing…
  • Malwarebytes This is handy if by chance the other stuff listed here can’t help you.
  • Panda Cloud Antivirus Antivirus is available in cloud format, so say goodbye to those irritating virus definition updates.
  • Revo Uninstaller Uninstalling programs with Windows uninstaller can be like having a traveling salesman or woman leave muddy footprints on your carpet. Meaning… all sorts of junk remains in your system. Revo seems to do a very good job at overcoming that. Scans deep to get the junk that normally is left behind.

FTP

  • FileZilla FTP freeware. This is another “too good to be true” program with frequent updates. It just seems to be getting better and better.

Making Web Pages

  • Free Gifs and Animations Lots of good stuff.
  • KomPozer Apparently some techies didn’t like the fact that the buggy but very promising Nvu went into stasis. So they continued where Nvu left off. Great job! From my preliminary test it seems this might be the best totally free WYSIWYG editor around.
  • Amaya A free WYSIWYG html editor. It’s a good, straightforward product that would probably fit the needs of basic to intermediate users. Also has some cool special characters.
  • Evrsoft First Page is a free WYSIWYG editor (with a 5 sec. nag screen). It has advanced features but, as others have said, the last version I tested was a touch slow and, on my computer, a bit buggy. Still, I’ve used it with great results. (And it might have been updated since I wrote this particular entry in May 2008).

Making Music / Audio Production

  • Kristal Audio Engine This is a great program for sound recording in a multi-track format. It’s like a software version of the old Fostex and Tascam cassette recorders. Handles up to 16 audio tracks with effects, copy/cut and paste, bouncing and room for expansion. Although Kristal has been criticized for tracks not being in sync, spending a bit of time at the friendly user forum solved the issue for me.
  • Audacity – This is THE program for freeware sound recording. Check it out.
  • Reaper Reaper isn’t free but is a 60 day demo. After that, a nagscreen reminds you that it’s not free. But it continues uncrippled because the developers believe that crippling their demo is not the best way to go. This is a great program for music producers if you are willing to look elsewhere for VST plugins (like KVR, Vst4Free or the very helpful Bedroom Producer’s Blog).
  • FL Studio Somewhat like Reaper, FL Studio isn’t free but some features continue to work in the demo version. The cool guitar plugin Slayer, for instance, seems to work without limitation in the free demo version. Other plugins cut in and out.
  • LMMS This seems really promising. It used to only work on Linux. But it’s now Windows-friendly. LMMS is mostly about midi, but you can import recorded audio files as samples. So vocalists might want to try Audacity first, or something like that. This program is fairly basic but has its own charm. I did a really quick, silly thing (posted here) while learning it. I never got much further than that!
  • Asio4All So you’re new to audio production and your tracks are out of sync, or there’s way too much delay between hitting your MIDI keyboard and hearing a sound (called “latency”). Enter Asio4All. The genuine Asio driver is made, I believe, by Steinberg and is copyright material. But many people seem to use Asio4All, which I guess is some kind of approximation of the real thing. Perhaps it’s like generic drugs vs. name brands. It comes bundled with the FL Studio demo and is at CNET, so it’s got to be okay.
  • Synthmaster Player I mention this by itself because it really stands out. It’s free, uncrippled, and great. You may not like my freaky music or limited ability. But I used this synth for the bubbly “Berlin Bass” in the tune On a Star.
  • VST Resources There are a lot of really good sites out there telling about great free VST plugins. If you really want to find them all, try Google.  But the three sites I use most are KVR, Vst4Free, and Bedroom Producer’s Blog. BPB narrows down many plugins to his favorites. And I usually agree with his point of view. He’s also open to new suggestions. So it’s a “must visit” site.

Music Listening / Audio Conversion

  • Songza There are lots of services out there. This one is my favorite. I like it so much, I made several playlists for all to enjoy! (shameless plug) 😉  Dead… and the company didn’t arrange with Google Play to migrate my many playlists. Total bummer. I worked hard on those. Gone.
  • iTunes You don’t have to purchase media with this software. iTunes comes with fantastic, free streaming radio and a 10-band equalizer and preamp with great presets. Travel the world through talk and music!
  • Winamp Music and video player with a 10-band equalizer and preamp to make music come alive. I don’t know what’s going on with Winamp these days. But I used to like it.
  • Live 365.com No download streaming radio portal. Impressive selection of genres.
  • RadioTime Provides links to many streaming radio stations.
  • AudioGrabber Handles WAV and MP3 formats. Audiophiles will probably know that WAV files sound better but are huge. MP3’s are “sonically acceptable” and take up less space for iPods, etc. There are several free grabbers out there but I find this one sounds bigger and fatter than the others I’ve tested. Some audiophiles may like that, others may not.
  • Xrecode This is great for converting to FLAC (a “lossless” format that sounds just as good as WAV with about 45% smaller file size) and many other formats, including Mp3.
  • Freemake – Nice user interface but flac to mp3 conversion test took 5 to 6 times longer than xrecode (which was listed here way before it caught on at CNET, etc).

Create RSS Feeds

  • FeedSpring Web publishers can use this to generate their own RSS feeds.

Get News with RSS

  • RSS Reader Get news stories from all over the web. This is a super program. But a while back I tested a beta version requiring net framework 2.0 and wasn’t impressed. About a third of my RSS feeds didn’t work. So I reverted to version 1.0.88.0 with net framework 1.1 and everything works great.
  • Feedreader Google Reader is no more. I never liked it much anyhow. Doing RSS online is too slow for me. But here’s a program that I use sometimes. It has a good “lookup” feature for specialized articles.

Bandwidth Monitoring

  • FreeMeter Since I’m a regular web cam user, I wanted to know which web cam software is most efficient. Enter FreeMeter.

Scanning, File Conversion, PDF

  • Bullzip This easily converts Windows documents to pdf. Lots of options. Fantastic.
  • Scan2PDF – scan documents to PDF format Scan anything and convert to .pdf (for Acrobat Reader). Also open image files from your hard drive and convert to .pdf. I found that it works best if in “options” you enable the scanner interface to be seen. That way you can adjust the resolution and get really good results.
  • Open Office I tested out the word processor on this suite in 2008 and found it satisfactory, although the English thesaurus was weak, and downloading/installing more dictionaries was a hassle. It was also a bit slow to load and felt heavier on my machine than commercial products. Open Office easily converts to pdf, however, and supports a wide number of languages. And I believe there’s a more recent version.
  • Primo PDF Primo converts Windows documents to pdf.

Multitasking

  • Always on Top I use this with WinXP to keep an application window visible while working with other applications. Examples could be keeping MS Word or maybe a Google chat contact visible while surfing or blogging. This program is very light and works great.

Web Browsing (new!)

  • I can’t believe I haven’t listed this one. I’m actually using it right now. It’s a very lightweight browser called K-Meleon. You can customize it and bring old computers back to life (because it is so light on resources). Just don’t shop with it or put any sensitive data thru it. It’s probably not nearly as secure as the big browsers.

iOS Related

  • Syncios Transfers media files (including video) directly from PC to iPad and other iOS devices—without having to jailbreak. I couldn’t get it to work on Windows 7 64 at first. But after following the help steps and my own good sense, it works fine. The joy of this is that you can transfer media to your iOS device without having to waste bandwidth (and time) thru iTunes (which was a hassle to instal on Windows 7 64) or dropbox.

Android Apps (new!)

  • I just discovered something really cool. You can use an old laptop keyboard as a dummy for your android phone or tablet. I’ve tested out two apps so far. They both work well. Depending on your needs, you may prefer one over the other. Right now my current favorite is WiFi Keyboard. You can navigate thru text with control > arrow.
  • My runner up here is Remote Keyboard. It has no lag whatsoever but I couldn’t get my control button to work.

So that’s a list for now. What apps do you like? Any hidden gems that you’d like to share? Drop us a line in the comments area. 🙂

By clicking on any of the links mentioned in this blog post and its comments, you agree that Earthpages.org | Earthpages.ca is not liable for any damages that may be incurred from visiting these links or downloading the software they point to.


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What is Big Brother Watching?


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Panpsychism – The Future Calls?

Does your toaster get tired of making toast for you every morning? Well, that might not quite be how it goes. But some believe that all things possess consciousness. What matters, they say, is how and how much a thing organizes energy.


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The sad raccoon stalker…