Playboy Presents: M*sic To F*ck To

Upon returning from a long backpacking trip to India and South-East Asia, everyone keeps asking you ‘What did you do there for 8 months?’. There is no good answer to that because ‘doing’ is something you do when you visit London for a week, or travel to Italy for 10 days. If you are fortunate enough to take a few months off and go on that one big trip, you find that you don’t ‘do’ anything. You read a few books, visit a few places, meet a few people along the way. Doing stuff is not the purpose.

While staying in the city of Luang Prabang, Laos in 2002, I spent a couple of days reading a book in a little bookstore called L’Etranger – Books & Tea. The following photo was taken there in an attempt to capture the magical feeling of that place:
[singlepic id=180 w=525 h=357 float=center]
Don’t worry if you can’t see the magic – that is probably because you are looking at it with your eyes.

Sitting on the wooden floor reading a book, it took me a while before I asked what was this enchanting music playing in the background. I was then taken to a side room and shown a binder filled with CDs, and the nice Lao guy explained the specific instructions left by the Canadian owner: “Tosca, this is what we play in the afternoon.”

This is how I came to know the Austrian duo named Tosca, and how I came to love downtempo and lounge music. I actually refer to these electronic styles as ‘harmless music’ (Muzika lo mezika) which might sound like an insult. It is not. You see, I need different things from different styles of music, and downtempo is music that you can listen to while doing something else that needs your focus. Reading, writing, whatever.

Playboy, the men’s magazine that never ceases to surprise, has just released its first CD in a monthly series titled ‘M*sic To F*ck To‘ – and lo and behold, the very first CD is by Tosca and is described as “a super-sexy 60-minute sample of their lush bedroom-ready sound”.

Have a listen: Playboy link is now defunct.

You can buy Tosca’s latest album No Hassle here or download it here.

What Do You Get When You Mix a Brown Chicken and a Brown Cow?

Obama’s White House is really moving up the Web2.0 ladder. It started with the first presidential portrait taken with a digital camera, continued with changing the copyrights of released materials to a Creative Commons license, and now they started producing these cool video segments, edited for your short attention span and set to a funky Bow Chicka Bow Wow music. In this video, Van Jones, the White House Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, visits a local work site to get a glimpse at green roofing:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iYIY9XHOUg
Don’t cha wish your government was cool like this? Don’t cha?

You can get your White House dosage downloaded automatically to your PC or portable media player using Miro, a free and better way to watch TV.

Update: The White House just blogged about the subject on their own blog.

My Own Lil’ Privacy Crusade – Default Passwords

Do you have a cell phone?
Would you mind terribly if a stranger listens to your voicemail?
So why haven’t you changed the default ‘1234‘ password?
Do you have a wireless router?
Would you care if a stranger connects to your home network?
So why haven’t you changed the default ‘admin/admin‘ username/password combination?
Do you have a webcam system?
Would you mind terribly if a stranger watches your video feed?
So why haven’t you changed the default anonymous login?

People think of hacking as something done by Russian spies or by genius kids. No one thinks that most of the time the only thing you need is the default password. I honestly don’t get it – how difficult is it to change the initial password out of the box? Why live in the realm of uncertainty when peace of mind is just around the corner?
Here are a few examples to push you in the right direction:

Voicemail:
You would think that a 4-digit password combination allows for 10,000 possibilities, and since after 3 wrong tries the phone call is disconnected, then it would take too much time and too much money to crack the voicemail volt. That is only true in theory, since most people do not change the default 1234 or 1111, it would take exactly one phone call to get in.
Wanna bet? Can you wholeheartedly click this play button knowing there is zero chance of you hearing your own voicemail?

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Wireless router:
[singlepic id=177 w=320 h=240 float=right]Paying for your Internet service? Your neighbor used to do that but decided it would be wiser to use yours instead. Now, there might be legitimate reasons why you would not want your home network to use encryption, but can we agree on MAC address filtering as the bare minimum so that only the computers you know can use it? Even if you have a Jewish attitude of ‘All who are thirsty for bandwidth, let them come and drink my connection’ (a.k.a. ‘Kol dichfin’) – is it too much effort to change the default router password, so that no one will be able to configure it?
And don’t get me started on the legal ramifications of someone downloading copyrighted or illegal material using your bandwidth. Yes, I am sure after three years of trial you would probably be exonerated from any wrongdoing, but it sure would be a fun period until then. To quote Mister Rogers: ‘It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood’.

Webcams:
You have a small business and you want to keep an eye on it from home, so you hooked up a video surveillance system. You have an aging mother and you want to keep an eye on her caretaker. That is all fine, but why risk someone looking in through the Internet peephole? Let your imagination run wild with the kind of people that might want to watch these video feeds. No imagination? Here are some visual aids captured today:

[singlepic id=178 w=253 h=253] [singlepic id=179 w=253 h=253]

P.S.
Since my aim is to educate people about privacy and not to teach them how to hack, I did not go into further details. Suffice to say that any one of you can easily enter these systems using your banged up computer and without buying any hardware or software.

Design for Obama: The TASCHEN Book

Yesterday I received the following email:

Dear Design for Obama Contributor,
 
In 2008, hundreds of you submitted your poster art to Design for Obama, enabling thousands more to access and use your art in support of Barack Obama. And when we crossed the finish line it was that much more satisfying knowing that we had contributed. This year, we will commemorate the one-year anniversary of our victory by publishing the best posters from our collection in a book edited by DFO creator Aaron Perry-Zucker and filmmaker Spike Lee with TASCHEN Books, including introductory essays from Spike Lee and Steven Heller, a former art director at the New York Times.
 
We would like to invite you to include your submission to Design for Obama in this exciting book.
[…]

After jumping up and down for an hour, it only took me four more hours to complete all the required tasks. Today I got the following reply:

Greetings Shahar,
 
Thank you very much for submitting your Permissions form, survey questions, and artwork for the Design For Obama book. We have received everything we need at this point, and will contact you if any additional materials or information are needed.
 
We’re thrilled that you’ve agreed to contribute!
[…]

Yes, I suppose I could have played it cool, delaying my blogging about it until I got word that my artwork made the final cut, but I just had to share my excitement. For dramatization purposes I have created the following image, a close approximation of how my mind sees my own page in the finished book:
Dramatization of Future Obama Book by TASCHEN

Note: If you’re one of the other artists that got this email, please use the hashtag #TaschenObamaBook when you Twitter the subject.

Update: Thanks to Brian Fraser who graciously allowed me to quote his correspondence with Vikki Warner, Editorial Assistant for Design For Obama. For everyone who postponed their jumping with joy, please read the following and put your mind at ease:

On Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 1:51 PM, Design for Obama wrote:
Hi Brian,
 
If you’ve been contacted, you’re already in. The final selection process has already been completed by the editors.
 
So…Yay!
–Vikki

Update #2: This post has a follow-up here

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes

Just finished watching ‘Taking Chance‘, an HBO film based on the experiences of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl escorting the body of LCpl Chance Phelps back to his hometown from the Iraq War. The film chronicles one of the silent, virtually unseen journeys that takes place every day across America, bearing witness to the fallen and all those who, literally and figuratively, carry them home. A uniquely non-political film about the war in Iraq, the film pays tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in military service.

Here’s the trailer for the film:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYcmblhVEJM

 

This would be
as good a
time as any
to honor
fallen
heroes.
An uncle,
a stranger,
a friend.

 

Reading This Post Will Cost You $25

When you help others,
You can’t
Help
Helping yourself!
 
    – – From the Broadway musical ‘Avenue Q’

frgdr.com lender page on kiva.orgIn the past year I have loaned $25 to a woman from Pakistan so that she can expand her dry cleaning business, $25 to a woman from Peru to start a clothing business, and $25 to a woman from Tajikistan who wanted to increase the range of goods she sells in the local market. You see, I used to donate money to worthy causes, but after reading too many reports about managers using donations for their own lavish existence, I have grown quite cynical and gradually stopped donating money. Micro-financing is different, as you do not donate your money but lend it for a period of time to an entrepreneur in a developing country, and you get your money back after a couple of months. This helps a great deal as those entrepreneurs do not need to use loan sharks. Kiva.org is the world’s first person to person microlending website. The $25 from me joined others’ and the total amount of money loaned and repaid to this date is 31 million dollars with a default rate of 1.8%. Yes, that’s right, 98% of the money was paid back, allowing the microlenders to take it back, or lend it to someone else.

NBC Correspondent John Larson traveled to Africa to visit the Kiva Entrepreneurs he has loaned to:

Please spend 4 minutes of your time watching the video above. You can also check out additional Kiva coverage by ABC News, PBS Frontline, NBC’s Today Show, and a helpful how-to video.

Update: Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of Kiva is one of the finalists for Time Magazine’s 2009 Most Influential People in 2009. You can vote for her and push Kiva to the top 100 list.

Why Google Chrome is Full of Rust – and Why I Use it Anyway

First things first, let me get this off my chest: if you use Internet Explorer you’re a moron. No two ways about it. I am sorry if I offend you, but using IE is the cyber equivalent of driving a Hummer, as the amount of pollution you leave behind you (viruses, trojans etc.) makes you a menace to society. If you are one of the 45% of people for whom IE is the main or only browser of choice – then:
a. Yes, you are a moron.
b. Instead of reading this post, do yourself a favor and read my very short post titled ‘Basic Computer Hygiene‘. I wrote it with you in mind.

Okay, next:
If you do not use IE, then you are my friend. I have been using Opera for years, but if you are a Firefox person, a Safari person, whatever it is – as long as you are not a ‘default’ person, we’re cool.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:
When Google released their browser back in September 2008, I dismissed it at first as I just love my Opera browser. Then I had a chance to test it on a friend’s computer and it seemed nice enough for me to try it for a week. After a week I missed my old browser so much that I had to switch back. But the relationship had changed. No matter how much I tried, I could not ignore this painful truth: due to its better rendering engine, browsing with Google Chrome is much much faster. That, and that alone, is the reason why I switched again and now use Chrome as my main browser.

Opera, the only browser developed by people who really like to surf the web, has a killer interface, so while I do enjoy the browsing speed offered by Chrome, here is a list of options I miss everyday (in a descending order of importance):

  Google Chrome Browser Opera Browser
Browser Google Chrome Opera
Version 1.0.154.53 9.63
Mouse gestures No Yes
Ad blocking No Yes
Paste and go mouse only Yes
Cycle tabs by a single keystroke No Yes
Save session No Yes
Fixed speed dial No Yes
Ask before closing browser No Yes
Search results in a new tab No Yes
Zooming text only Yes
Image properties No Yes
Temporarily turn off Java or Flash No Yes

Update: Google Chrome v2 features full zooming (text and objects).
 
October, 2009: After giving Chrome a decent shot, I can wholeheartedly say that Opera is the only browser for me.

7 More Freewares I Swear By But You Have Never Heard Of

Digsby – one stop shop for all your instant messaging, email notification and social network needs. [singlepic id=176 w=360 h=360]
GreatNews – a portable RSS Feed Reader, for those that do not want Google Reader to know what they’ve been reading. [singlepic id=175 w=360 h=360]
Media Player Classic – a portable, tiny and unobtrusive player for all audio, video and streaming formats. [singlepic id=173 w=302 h=328]
Miro – offline television viewing, including video podcasts, YouTube HD and more. It’s the best thing after TiVo. [singlepic id=172 w=360 h=360]
POP Peeper – a Portable multi-account email notifier supporting POP3 / IMAP / Gmail / Yahoo / MSN and more. [singlepic id=171 w=360 h=360]
Screen Loupe 2000 – magnify a specified area of your computer screen up to 8 times larger. [singlepic id=174 w=360 h=360]
TeraCopy – transfer files/folders faster over LAN or between two physical hard drives. [singlepic id=170 w=360 h=360]

Comments:
1. Softwares listed in alphabetical order – each one tested under Windows XP.
2. The term ‘portable’ means the software can run from any USB flash drive / DiskOnKey / ThumbDrive.
3. Make sure you also check out my original 2008 post titled 10 Freewares I Swear By But You Have Never Heard Of.

Kosher for Passover Fried Calamari

No, calamari is not kosher, but now that you got your answer you might want to read this rather funny post:

Israel is a home for Jews in all their forms, but while Orthodox Jews adhere to every law of the faith, most Israelis consider themselves ‘Secular Jews’. Seemingly an oxymoron, a secular Jew would observe certain religious laws, while completely ignoring other laws. Most Israelis would get married by a rabbi, circumcise their sons, and when their time comes get buried in a religious ceremony – completing the cycle of life while ignoring pillars of the faith like Shabbat or atonement.

Kosher for Passover Fried Calamari: Fried squid, covered with Matzomeal and seasonings, served on a bed of green leaves with Cajun mayoMost Israelis do not eat Kosher and have no problem enjoying a pork meal or a seafood platter, but on Passover most of them do keep the holiday’s dietary laws and do not eat bread or foods made out of flour. This is the rational behind a Kosher for Passover fried Calamari offered by restaurants like the one I visited today. An Observant Jew wouldn’t be caught dead eating Calamari, as it is made out of squid which is utterly forbidden, but in the DIY-Judaism world in which most Israelis lead their lives they have no problem eating Calamari on Passover, just as long as it is not breaded – as that would be an abomination.

Happy Passover to all my Jewish readers!

 

P.S.
Yes, while blogging makes you do a lot of good things like read and learn, from time to time it does take you to the edge and makes you do strange things like stealing a menu from a restaurant.

My Own Lil’ Privacy Crusade – Case Study #1: Ruediger K.

When it comes to the right to privacy, most people I talk to just don’t get it. They do not understand it, do not know why it is needed, and do not seem to care much about it. I am not sure whether it is because they are ill-informed, or whether they genuinely do not care what information is known about them. As governments get more tracking tools, cell phone records, biometric data et cetera, it seems that the only people who care about this issue are either clinically paranoid – or accused of being paranoid. Most people just assume their information is safely secured and since they are not ‘bad people’ they have nothing to worry about.

I contend that it is not just ‘Big Brother’ we need to worry about – it’s the sheer unadulterated incompetence of people trusted with our information that really worries me. I have previously wrote about the Israeli Screen Actors Guild revealing private information about its members, like phone numbers, home addresses and social security numbers. A year has passed and nothing was done to rectify the situation.

At the risk of coming off as a stalker, I thought I may be able to promote the subject by publishing from time to time a case study of sorts and although I will redact any information that can uniquely identify the test subject, I hope that by just seeing what kind of information is out there, I would be able to knock some sense into people with regards to their own privacy and digital footprints.

Case Study #1: Ruediger K.

[singlepic id=169 w=525 h=267 float=center]
A tourist from Germany felt remorseful about taking a stone from a holy site in Israel, and sent it back in a parcel addressed to Israel’s Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, along with a letter explaining the situation and $200 for the trouble. The Parks Authority, for reasons beyond my understanding, contacted Maariv, Israel’s 2nd largest newspaper, who printed this story today, accompanied by a scanned image of the original letter. The image, albeit small, is clear enough to be read by anyone who cares to do so – turning this person’s private confession about stealing to public knowledge.

Information revealed:
Full name: Ruediger [redacted]
Home address: [redacted], Unterföhring, Germany
Email address: [redacted]@t-online.de
Sample of signature: [redacted]

Information deduced using Google:
Hobbies: Running

Information deduced using Facebook:
Current location: Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA
Family member: Rainer [redacted]