Get Ready for Confetti – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The Daily News has a guide on how to survive Times Square tonight (aside from avoiding it).

Tips include the obvious: get there early, don’t bring drugs, bring your cell phone – as well as a handy subway tip: “Beginning at 7 p.m., some subway stations around Times Square will be closed. Southbound and northbound N/R/W lines will skip the 49th St. station from 7 p.m. until 12:15 a.m. The northbound IRT 1 train will skip the 50th St. station from 7 p.m. until 12:15 a.m.”

If you go, be sure to contribute your photos to us and be sure to get a shot when that 7,000 lbs of confetti falls. If Times Square isn’t your thing, here are some other events you may want to try out tonight.


Check out a panorama of what the ball looked like when they tested it. Later 2006!

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What’s a troll to do now? Yahoo! News Message Boards taken offline

Yahoo! NewsOne aspect of the Yahoo! experience that always left me shaking my head is the News Message Boards. Easily accessible from a “Discuss” link at the bottom of news stories, it was the stomping grounds of trolls and other hate mongers with little to no social value, unless of course you are a troll.

But now I say, “Hallelujah!” Break out the bubbly and do a little jig on the table because the powers that be at Yahoo! News have shut down the News Message Boards. The “Discuss” link has been replaced with a link labeled, “What happened to the “Discuss” option?” The message at the other end of that link takes you to a short explanation of how the boards were dominated by a few, links were difficult to embed and something bigger and better is soon to replace the old board system: “Over the next few months, we plan to offer new discussion forums based on topics in the news and incorporating the latest features to foster a better discussion for all of our readers.

Will it be an implementation of the new Yahoo! Message Board system or something digg/Netscape-like? Will it combine Yahoo! 360 blogging platform to be more like Newsvine? We’ll have to wait and see.

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Top 10 Gadgets for the Filthy Rich


Image by Matt Krueger

Do you travel in private jets? Decorate your foyer with real Renoirs? Use the word “foyer”? Then there’s no way you’re going to get your gadget fix from anything you can get at Best Buy. You crave the most exclusive, the top of the line, the most unusual, and the most attention-grabbing technology, and price is no object. But there are expensive gadgets, and then there are expensive gadgets. We aren’t talking PlayStation 3 expensive — we’re talking gear so expensive you’ll have your butlers pick them up in your gold-plated helicopter. There are plenty of cool toys out there for you and your mansion, and we’ve compiled a list — the list — of the 10 best tech toys for the überdiscriminating connoisseur. And if you’re still working on that Park Avenue address, don’t fret; drop by tomorrow for our Top 10 Gadgets You Can Actually Afford. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with ogling. So click on the jump, enjoy the list, and to you millionaires out there: don’t listen to those people laughing at you for wasting your money. They’re just jealous.


10. LG 71-inch plasma TV
Sure, you could get a 50-inch TV. That’d be nice, I guess… but any rube can waltz into Circuit City and pick one up, which makes it lose its charm. Plus, only 50 inches? You’re loaded; you can do better than that. The 71-inch LG MW-71PY10 plasma TV should satisfy your big-screen desires nicely. This thing is a behemoth, so you’ll need a gigantic wall and a couple of hired goons to install it, but once it’s up on your wall you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a movie theater. Come to think of it, you’ll need a room about as big as a movie theater to put it in, but if you can afford a $70,000 TV, that’s likely not a problem.


9. Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 5 speakers
No matter how good big, rectangular speakers sound, they definitely do not have style. For a pair of great-sounding speakers that also scream chic, cast your eyes on these Bang & Olufsen babies, the BeoLab 5. They look like UFOs docked to big cones, and reviewers say they sound like audiophile heaven. With each speaker running on 2,500 watts of power, they can go loud — very loud — while retaining a clean, crisp sound. B&O also boasts that the speakers sound great no matter where you stand, bringing you stereo sound even if you’re standing right in front of just one of them. Speakers of such beauty and power of course have a price to match, and a pair of BeoLab 5’s will set you back about $16,000.


8. Voodoo Elemental Omen PC
If you’re a serious gamer you can easily justify spending three or four thousand bucks on a gaming PC. After all, there’s a serious difference between 128-MB and 512-MB graphics cards, performance-wise. But what about $24,000? Could you justify that? Voodoo hopes so, as that’s the price tag on the company’s Elemental Omen PC. While the gold case qualifies as perhaps the dorkiest piece of bling ever, it’s what’s inside the case that counts. Featuring two 512-MB ATI Radeon X1900XTX graphics cards, 4 gigs of RAM, and 2 terabytes of hard-drive space spread across four 500-GB drives, this thing screams “overkill.” But don’t forget a monitor: the Omen comes with a 46-inch Samsung “gaming LCD,” but let’s be honest, at 46 inches it’s not a monitor — it’s a big-screen TV. It’s a pretty impressive package, but don’t worry about shipping; the magnanimous folks at Voodoo will hook you up with that for free.


7. Denon super receiver
This here is the mother of all recievers. The Denon AVR-5805MK2 is a 1,700-watt-pushing, multi-room-serving, $7,000 powerhouse that’s designed to control whatever home theater components and speakers you throw at it. Ready and able to handle multiple streams of high-def video, the latest tech (including Blu-ray or HD DVD), it also comes with an Ethernet port to stream music from computers around the house. We could go on for pages and still not even scratch the surface of the spec sheet, but suffice it to say if you can think of something you want from your home theater, this bad boy can provide it. Just try to resist the urge to run it at full tilt — it might reach escape velocity.


6. Sony high-def camcorder
Kids grow up so fast, and before you know it you’ll have nothing to remember their adorable younger years except the acne-marked, angst-ridden teenager fighting with you over whatever body part is hip to get pierced these days. You’re going to want those memories to be extra clear to keep you balanced, so why scrimp on a video camera? The $3,700 HDR-FX1 HDV Handycam from Sony gives you the crispest HD shooting you can get in a consumer camcorder with all the bells and whistles you could ask for. Featuring a giant 3.5-inch LCD screen, a 12X optical zoom lens, and 3-chip CCD imaging for crisp, clean shots, you’ll be able to relive those first steps like you’re really there. Which you may wish you were, but sadly a camera can only do so much.


5. Triode-tube iPod speakers
If you thought the Bose Sound Dock, costing as much as an iPod itself, was an overpriced iPod accessory, check out these guys. The Triode-tube iPod speakers will set you back a cool $4,000, enough for you to buy ten 60-GB video iPods. What makes this speaker set worth so much? Vacuum tubes. Tube amplifiers are loved by audiophiles everywhere for their warm, organic sound, and these speakers claim to “soften” the digital distortion you sometimes hear with compressed music formats like MP3 and AAC. Of course, if you love warm analog sound you could always spend that $4,000 on a whole lot of records, or if you don’t like digital distortion you could encode your music to a lossless format such as FLAC, but then again why rock the boat when you can pay the waves to go away?


4. Kaleidescape movie server
If you’re sick of all the clutter from your huge DVD collection, maybe it’s time to convert all those discs to nice, space-saving digital form. The Kaleidescape system, starting at about $27,000, is a multimedia server that stores all of your movies (music too!), letting you to access them from any number of players that you can set up around your house. All you need to do is get a base server or two (depending on the size of your collection), a loader to digitize all your flicks, and however many players you want to scatter about your connected mansion. Even if you don’t have a huge DVD collection, Kaleidescape’s got you covered: you can order your server preloaded with select collections of movies. Humble little sets, like all 278 films from the Criterion Collection, or the 470 films mentioned in The New York Times Best DVDs You’ve Never Seen, Just Missed or Almost Forgotten book are available for a not-so-small fee.


3. Pioneer digital sound projector
Most surround sound speaker systems have five to seven speakers scattered throughout the room. There are a few cheap single-speaker options out there, but for people willing to pay, surely there’s some way to get home theater sound from a single spot without compromising on performance — or appearance? Mr. Rockefeller, Pioneer’s got your number: 254, which is the number of speaker drivers in its PDSP-1 Digital Sound Projector, a 500-watt panel that can fill your entire living room with crisp, clear surround sound. The PDSP-1 is the shape and size of a flat-panel TV, so you just hang the it underneath your (presumably 71-inch) plasma screen, and the speakers will bounce sound off the walls and ceiling, creating a surround sound environment without cluttering up your Greco-Roman décor with a bunch of speakers and wires. The price of paneled convenience? $40,000 — but the satisfaction of knowing that you have 50 times the number of speakers hooked up to your TV as anyone else is totally worth it.


2. Armedchair
The Armedchair looks like a regular recliner, but under its plush and unassuming surface rests enough horsepower to give you whiplash. Designed to move in sync with specially made DVDs, the Armedchair acts like a theme-park ride, moving up to 600 pounds at 2 Gs — enough to make even Stealth seem like a good action movie. Of course, sticking an engine into a recliner is going to boost the cost from your average Barcalounger, so be prepared to shell out at least $12,000 for one of these things, plus a few thousand more for the motion controller, which seems pretty necessary if you want to use the Armedchair to it’s fullest potential. They’re also kind enough to offer to bring it in and install it for you, but that’ll add about $1,300 to the tab, so think long and hard about how lazy you are before checking that box on the order form.


1. GoldVish cell phone
Nobody’s impressed that you have a RAZR anymore. What used to be an exclusive and expensive gadget has become as ubiquitous as the iPod, so what’s a status-conscious oil baron to do? The GoldVish “Le Million de la Nuit” is without a doubt the most exclusive cell phone ever made, as there’s only one in existence. There may be only one, but that still might be one more than there are people willing to pay, since it has a million dollar price tag. Encrusted with tiny diamonds and featuring a secret compartment, the phone comes equipped with 2 GB of memory, Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB connection to hook it up to your computer. It does not, however, do your taxes or give backrubs, so the price tag seems a little steep.

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Process Scanner from Process Library

Process ScannerIt’s happened to all of us at some time or another; our computer starts to act up, operate slowly, or exhibit some other sort of suspicious behavior. Since we’re all chronic downloaders, we know there’s a very good chance that some nefarious process is running on our machine that we’d rather wasn’t.

In the past, this meant using a process explorer like the built-in Windows Task Manager or a better 3rd party option, and ferreting out process names that we don’t recognize. Personally, I’d then simply punch the process name into Google, and check out the first few sites that came up – usually this would be enough to give me a good idea of what I was dealing with. But thankfully, I won’t have to do that manual process any longer.

Probably the best known site for doing Windows process name lookups is Process Library. Thankfully, Process Library now offers a little utility called Process Scanner that you can download to your machine, run, and get a report back on all of the processes that are currently active on your system, and their likely security threat level and performance impact level.

It took me literally less than 2 minutes to download, install and scan my system with Process Scanner. Thankfully, I didn’t find anything to be worried about. But I’ll keep it in my hip pocket as yet another great free security tool.

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Apple faked files in Steve Jobs stock options scandal

It seems that the scandal related to Apple backdating stock options has gotten a little more serious. According to the Financial Times, in 2001 Steve Jobs was granted 7.5 million stock options without the proper authorization of Apple’s board of directors, and it now appears that someone falsified board meeting records to make it look as if Jobs had received authorization for the grant. The Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing whether to take action against Apple and/or any of the individuals involved, though whether Jobs himself might potentially be in any legal hot water is unclear. Jobs returned all granted options to Apple before exercising them, which perhaps explains why the company issued a statement in October saying that an internal investigation had cleared him of any wrongdoing (the company did force a former CFO from its board). Whether the SEC decides to go after Apple, Jobs or anyone else at the company remains to be seen, but the FT notes that plenty of other CEOs have resigned in the wake of similar backdating scandals. You could argue that given how well Apple’s stock has done over the past year that even shareholders who feel cheated by what happened would rather own stock in a company helmed by Jobs than one without him, but rules are rules and if turns out that anyone at Apple broke the law it’s unlikely that the Feds will go easy on them.

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Wikipedia founder turns to search

Wales looks to fix ‘broken’ Internet search offerings

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is developing a wiki-based search engine to compete with existing commercial search engines such as Google.

He announced plans to develop the search engine, to be named “Wikiasari,” or “Wikia,” for short, in a posting on the Wikia website.

Wales said that current search engine technology, using complex algorithms to complete searches, is “broken.”

He went on to say: “It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability (and) lack of transparency. Here, we will change all that.”

Wales promotes Wikia as “a new kind of search engine, which relies on human intelligence to do what algorithms cannot.” He invited members of the Wiki community to help design the Wikia search engine, which he described as “an open-source alternative for Web search.”

He cited open source search projects as Nutch and Lucene as related efforts that can help in the development of Wikia.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which manages, emphasised that the search engine project was not associated with the foundation.

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Apple in trouble as stock scandal deepens

U.S. federal investigators are “looking closely” at stock-option documents that former Apple officials allegedly falsified to boost their own profits, The Recorder legal newspaper has claimed.

Citing “people with knowledge of Apple’s situation” and “individuals with knowledge of the probe,” The Recorder said that the two are Nancy Heinen, former senior vice president and general counsel, and Fred Anderson, former chief financial officer.

Revelations regarding past stock-options practices are expected in Apple’s delayed annual report due out Friday. CEO Steve Jobs, who publicly apologised for his actions in an October statement, has hired outside counsel separate from the company’s, the newspaper also reported.

When its three-month-long internal investigation ended in October, Apple said that it “raised serious concerns” about the actions of two former executives related to accounting, recording and reporting stock-option grants.

Anderson resigned in October as the company announced the internal investigation’s end. He said then he believed it was in Apple’s best interest for him to resign. Heinen left the company, quietly and without comment, in May. At the time, a company spokesman confirmed she had left, but couldn’t say why.

Tuesday’s news report sent Apple’s share price tumbling Wednesday morning, but as the East Coast midday approached, ground was regained. Even so, the trading price of $78.19 per share remained just over 4 percent below Tuesday’s close.

Apple is among almost 200 companies that have disclosed internal investigations as well as federal probes by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or the U.S. Department of Justice, or both, related to stock-options practices, including backdating of options.

No one at Apple, in Cupertino, California, could be reached to comment Wednesday morning. The Recorder quoted a spokesman declining to comment beyond what Apple says in public filings on the matter.

Vista crippled by content protection

Collateral damage from Vista suicide note.

PC users around the globe may find driver software is stopped from working by Vista if it detects unauthorised content access. Peter Guttman, a security engineering researcher at New Zealand’s university of Auckland, has written A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. He reckons Vista is trying to achieve the impossible by protecting access to premium content. Users will find their PCs’ compromised by the persistent and continuous content access checks carried out by Vista.

Gutman thinks these checks and the associated increased in multimedia card hardware costs make Vista’s content protection specification ‘the longest suicide note in history.’

The core elements in Vista have been designed to protect access to premium content. The design requires changes in multimedia cards before Microsoft will support them for Vista use.

Content that is protected by digital rights management (DRM) must be sent across protected interfaces. This means cards using non-protected interfaces can’t be used by Vista PCs.

Disabling and degrading

Vista is disadvantaging high-end audio and video systems by openly disabling devices. The most common high-end audio output interface is S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) which doesn’t have any content protection. It must be disabled in a Vista system when DRM-protected content is being played. Equally a high-end component video interface (YPbPr) also has no content protection and must be disabled when protected video is being played.

– Vista covertly degrades playback quality. PC voice communications rely on automatic echo cancellation (AEC) in order to provide acceptable voice quality. This requires feeding back a sample of the audio mix into the echo cancellation subsystem, which isn’t permitted by Vista’s content protection scheme. This lowers PC voice communication quality because echo affects will still be present.

– This overt and covert degrading of quality is dynamic, not consistent. Whenever any audio derived from premium content is played on a Vista PC, the disabling of output devices and downgrading of signal quality takes place. If the premium content then fades away the outputs are re-enabled and signal quality climbs back up. Such system behaviour today indicates a driver error. With Vista it will be normal behaviour.

– Vista has another playback quality reduction measure. It requires that ‘any interface that provides high-quality output degrade the signal quality that passes through it if premium content is present. This is done through a “constrictor” that downgrades the signal to a much lower-quality one, then up-scales it again back to the original spec, but with a significant loss in quality.’ If this happens with a medical imaging application then artifacts introduced by the constrictor can ’cause mis-diagnoses and in extreme cases even become life-threatening.’

CPU cycle guzzling

The O/S will use much more of a PC’s CPU resource because ‘Vista’s content protection requires that devices (hardware and software drivers) set so-called “tilt bits” if they detect anything unusual … Vista polls video devices on each video frame displayed in order to check that all of the grenade pins (tilt bits) are still as they should be.’

Also ‘In order to prevent tampering with in-system communications, all communication flows have to be encrypted and/or authenticated. For example content sent to video devices has to be encrypted with AES-128.’ Encryption/decryption is known to be CPU-intensive

Device drivers in Vista are required to poll their underlying hardware every 30ms – thirty times a second – to ensure that everything appears correct.

It is apparent that Vista is going to use very much more of a PC’s resources than previous versions of Windows and degrade multi-media playback quality unless the user has purchased premium content from a Microsoft-approved resource.

Such over-reaching by Microsoft could prove to be the catalyst needed to spur increased takeup of Linux desktop operating software, or of Apple’s Mac OS.

Quake hits Asia with huge internet blackouts

If you’ve been wondering what’s up with your Asia-based guild members on WoW, here’s what: a nasty earthquake near Taiwan disrupted all six major undersea fiber optic cables on Wednesday, and knocked out internet for nearly all of Asia, with victims including China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Australia. Luckily, most services were restored quickly to backup systems, but exclusive business lines are still out, and could be hurting for weeks. According to Chunghwa Telecom of Taiwan, Taiwan’s internet capacity is at “about 40 percent now,” and the resultant loss of bandwidth is creating traffic jams aplenty in that series of tubes we know as the internet. Phone service, especially to the US, has also been disrupted, but luckily stock trading volumes were low over the holidays, so the financial impact of the outage shouldn’t be too terrible. The damage to last night’s 40-player raid, however, could prove irreparable.

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