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Chris O.

6 Level 6 Contributor
  • 654 Reviews
  • 3,310 Helpful Votes
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Experience: Computers & Technology, Clothing & Fashion, Entertainment

Member since August 2009

  • Reviews

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About Me

I last made serious contributions here in 2010 - please note the dates before commenting on anything I wrote back then.

654 Reviews by Chris

2/27/11
Home of the most famous Moldovan portable music player - perhaps the only Moldovan portable music player, come to think of it - Prism DuroSport is continuing to lead the world in the development of ever-larger and heavier portable devices, while other, less advanced companies continue in the belief that smaller is better. Is this a fundamental dichotomy between the thinking of this small but innovative Eastern European culture and the rest of the world? I have no idea.

But you have to give them credit for selling more music players in Second Life than Apple, which is quite an achievement. Well actually you don't and it isn't, but there again, perhaps that's only due to the outdated Western belief that reality is somehow more real than the virtual world. Fiction is stranger than truth, as they say, and I challenge anyone to doubt that after visiting this site.
Airjordan-2010.com
2/27/11
Occasionally I come across a piece of writing to which it will be impossible to do justice. Such is the following, found in the blog at this site, and I quote:

"What more do you need to know"
"August 20th, 2010

"We ShelleyTheRepublican said: it is completely anti-American, it is harmful, met is we social security, which mes basically the Russian spy! Not really what Americans would consider it a good old-fashioned windows!

"i recently discovered that in fact is an evil version of the game called: 'tell the truth Ubuntu'.

"In the video.

"I would like to download and install the game on my Windows Vista is also not working. My junkware 4.3GB download.

"Although not revealing the swece said that the goal is to kill Christians in the 10.

"This has to stop. As I really hate my former employees Shuddery> (Maybe he Tristan rest in peace), he was right threatous.

"Posted in air jordan 2010 | No Comments »"

James Joyce? Shakespeare? Pah. Give me a Chinese blog anyday. Just don't buy any of their phony sneakers, OK?

(http://www.airjordan-2010.com/blog/)
2/26/11
Hmm. According to this, if you want your boss to bring you coffee, all you need is $179 and the willingness to agree to a blood sacrifice. Seems a bit over the top to me, but then, I prefer tea myself.

Anyhow, my crystal ball tells me that this one is also associated with sites such as "rituelsvaudoushaitiens.com", which amongst other things offers to perform a voodoo ritual to remove the effects of a curse, such as the boss constantly bringing you coffee instead of leaving you well alone so that you can get on with updating your Facebook account.

The site also has $120 spells that help you win the jackpot of your dreams in your favorite lottery, and it further demonstrates its amazing powers by appearing to use a cheap web host and domain registrar when of course, we all know that's just a magical illusion and in fact the site owners are fabulously rich and don't need to engage in penny-pinching practices.

Stroking the oracle once more, I see the names "sagittariusfreehoroscope.com" and "scorpiofreehoroscope.com" and lo, many more. Well, ten more, anyway. And in the distance, I think I also see... no, my mistake, that was just a stock photo.

For a moment there, it seemed that I could just make out a great host of occult websites all emanating from the same servers - sorry, I mean magical dimensions. But things are going vague and misty, for further information you'll need to cross my palm with silver. Visa also accepted.
2/26/11
Fairly typical fake Tiffany jewelry site, the server is in Canada but this is clearly a Chinese operation. It shares some content with another faker, ChristianlouboutinLondon.com, which sells fake shoes to the UK. The usual examples of phony badges and bad English are represented, though I must say "Caredit Card" is unusually bad even for one of these. Payments are through an SSL gateway with an apparently phony McAffee badge, and that site is allegedly owned by a company called K10 Ltd which is otherwise invisible, though it appears to be owned by someone who works for an entirely different company in Cyprus which sells software nobody's ever heard of. Or something like that, I lost track down the line there somewhere.

Anyway, the highlight of this one is the Testimonials section, which features some of the following entirely unconnected and unsolicited comments:

"i lke the style of this item very much, and i will order in this site futher more!"

"i love the item that sold in this site, and i have purchase many times here!"

"i love this site for its faster shipping and belivable quality! And i want to buy one this site more!"

"is a wonderful site to purchase the item i intersted in, and i plan to buy another item today!"

"it is a truely site to purchase the items you intersted, and i want to purchase more on this site!"

And another few hundred variants on the theme, including the memorable:

"i like this site very much because of its wonderful quality of the items and the friendless service!"

And for those not realizing just how large a selection of products Tiffany offers:

"Thanks for the help! I just got the shoes today from the post office! They are exactly the shoes I like. Thanks!"

Now the rabbit hole goes deeper, because the same person who bought the Tiffany shoes apparently also bought a pair of shoes at a site called "traditionjvicy.com" which sells phony Juicy Couture products. Only on that occasion, this person confused shoes with handbags, at least according to the testimonials pages there. So watch out for a person wearing bags on their feet and shoes on their fingers, they shouldn't be too hard to spot. Oh and last year, they bought a pair of iffy hair straighteners as a present for their sister, from a site which sells phony GHD stuff called "ghdchi2010.com". So the person with the bags and the shoes might be accompanied by a bald lady.

I was also interested in some of the contributors' names, especially such as "ebtialove you", "sandialbe ilsue", "werir oriwer" and the slightly surreal "brain leaves". Sandwiched in amongst these, though, I discovered Samantha Tarrant-Willis, an oddly normal - for the English - name that I felt warranted a bit more research. Is there such a person? Yes, indeed there is. Does she wear bags on her feet? It's possible, but I have no way to know and I sure don't intend to ask. More importantly, does she recall leaving the following testimonial for casualtiffany.com?

"i ordered this site for many times, and it gives me a good expression each time for its faster shipping, higher quality, and i have introduced to all of my friends!"

Not something you'd easily forget, you would think, but wait, according to Google, Samantha has also found time to buy vast masses of Tiffany jewelry, Moncler jackets, GHD hair straighteners and even Coach handbags from many sites, and she's been unimaginative to leave the very same testimonial at them all. Go Google, if you don't believe it. This girl is knee-deep in Tiffany handbags and Moncler hair-straighteners, or whatever.

The point of all this is, of course, that all these sites are Chinese scams and most likely all the same business. I didn't even look far, so you may be sure there are many more in the same bunch, selling other kinds of fake designer products. These goods are amongst the most counterfeited on the web, and if you go looking for discounts and don't know how to tell a Chinese faker from the real deal, you will lose your money.

The plus side is that some of these sellers just rely on you being too stupid to notice the fake testimonials, fake badges, terrible English and so forth. But you're not that stupid, are you?
2/24/11
I discovered 365black.com in the small print of a large poster that went up in the local McDonald's the other day. It wasn't clear that the poster was celebrating Black History Month, mainly I suppose because I didn't know it was happening and also because the poster didn't mention it. I got interested only because I thought the poster art was a bit odd and there was no explanation for either that or the poster itself. Hence my visit to 365black.com, which is McDonalds' salute to the black contribution to society and reminding us that:

"Like the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit, McDonald's has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities."

And doubtless, that's true. McDonald's is well known for advertising its outreach to the communities in many respects.

However, I must admit to a little surprise on clicking through the links here. I followed the one to Employment, and found zero images of black people; the company's gallery of press images includes zero images of black people, and even the international restaurants section has zero shots of restaurants in predominantly black countries; I followed another link, to their Corporate Responsibility section, in which I found that they'd been recognized by Black Enterprise Magazine, but also found that the images of their staff contained zero black people. I flicked through several pages which contained images of white and Hispanic people, and did find one image of a child who might have been of mixed race or from light-black parentage. Aside from that, nothing.

This experience was off the main 365black site, but it all links together and visitors to the first site, which is promotional, are encouraged to visit the main corporate and customer site. So I think it's all fair game for comment.

Only a MEH from me, regardless of their good intent, because it would have taken little to no effort to insert some images of black employees, black customers, black store managers and franchisees, and of course, the many black staff who must be back there in the kitchens and doing the cooking, themselves. Just for a month.

They have another chance in October, which is Black History Month in the UK. Let's see how that one works out.
2/23/11
The Europeans, and most particularly the Austrians, are famous for having magnificent balls. And as any lady of a certain class and experience will tell you, being invited to one of these grand affairs requires a thorough familiarity and understanding of the dress codes involved. A careless guest who shows insufficient appreciation of someone's balls by breaching one of the many codes of correctness may not get a further invitation, leading to deep social embarrassment.

Although it should be assumed that the aristocracy will need no coaching in how to handle even the more challenging balls, having long experience in such matters, there exist a number of social and financial classes for whom a first experience of the complexities of these events will be cause for stress. Hence the magazine provided by this website, as the Editorial states, not only offers listings of all the dress codes for the various events of the 2011 season, but also adds "exciting new topics about everything to do with balls" and provides details of Austria's "most beautiful balls" in a printed guide.

Now let's be clear, this is a serious matter. According to the magazine, failure to adopt the correct attire for the chosen events may no longer result in duels at dawn but even so, "inevitably leads to disconcertment, undervaluation, and sometimes even expulsion". This is particularly the case with the young, whose limited experience of balls leaves them ill-informed, according to one of the consultants here. And having planned and prepared for that special first experience, no young person wants to face premature expulsion or worse, be refused entry.

This is an unimaginably fascinating subject and the magazine offered by the website is packed with detailed and frequently graphical information that pokes into every nook of the various dress codes, male and female, for every event. There are even clear, step-by-step instructions on how to tie ties and fold handkerchiefs, which would also come in useful in other and less prestigious contexts. Overall this is a fine piece of work and invaluable to anyone suddenly faced with problematic balls but lacking in experience.

Ample photographs accompany and enrich the text, featuring both fashion models and genuine ball attendees. In my opinion the latter are a far more interesting and varied bunch, sometimes looking startled as rabbits in headlights and perhaps somewhat the worse for wear. Or worse for what they're wearing. But assuming you can direct your interest toward the clothes rather than the clothed, you'll be able to see how the rules laid out in theory here have been interpreted in real life. Or what passes for it, in these lofty strata of society.

After the ball, we're told, the attendees are expected to eat a yummy after-ball meal such as 'Salonbeuscherl' - a creamy ragout of baby calf's lungs. Alternatively, a strong goulash soup served with beer is traditional and the claim that it will "sort out your stomach" is one I can well believe.

Challenging as all this may be, one is assured that careful study will reward with a most enjoyable evening and, perhaps, the bolstering of one's self-worth to the point that more of the same may be anticipated as one's due. And wending one's weary way home, or at least staggering down the steps to the limo with one's stomach responding to the uncertain delights of goulash and beer, one will reflect, as a ball organizer here does, that "first and foremost, balls should bring joy". And who could argue with that.

(This review is of the English-language "Dresscode" magazine at this site. Click the "Dresscode" link and select the English Version. It's also available directly at Issuu, http://www.ballguide.at/dresscode-ball/english)
2/20/11
Having just spent some time reading a white supremacist site in the USA (see http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.stormfront.org#1) I moved across the Atlantic to England and across some political and intellectual divides to visit spittoon.org, a vulgar name for a more than usually intellectual social democratic political blog, currently tackling the issues of Islamic extremism and relationships between the muslim world and the UK.

Visiting readers from elsewhere may not recognize the names of major political players, and may be coming fresh to British multicultural tensions and political manoeuvrings, but it doesn't take long to get a feel for what the blog writers represent and how these issues are playing out.

I was prompted to write about this one by a comment made to me today over a coffee with an American who, although very widely traveled in the world, had never made it to England. His imagination of a country that didn't experience politicized racial and religious extremism was well wide of the mark, as most Americans seem to be when the subject of western Europe in general comes around, and I think this would be as good a place as any to point him to, to correct the misconception.

Take the time to read around a few of the major categories here, and you'll come away feeling like you've been in a war zone. An intellectual one, to be sure, no blood spilled, but the tensions are no less real for that. It's a narrow and highly focused viewpoint too, so you might want to seek a more balanced opinion elsewhere. But the conclusion that England faces turbulent times in its urban communities is inevitable, and the participants are already choosing sides. Those who don't, like the politician who cited the right to free speech as a reason to avoid taking any position at all, are going to run the risk of being swept away.
2/19/11
It has long been difficult for the broadly-liberal west to decide how to deal with racism; freedom of speech dictates that all viewpoints ought to share the right of free public expression, though a peaceful society must, by definition, prevent the incitement of hatred and violence that would inevitably result in destabilizing society itself. Thus it becomes possible for a venue such as this to exist, even though its active membership would never be allowed to march in the streets of any western city. And given that it has a legal right to be here, however distasteful the majority of the internet community might find it, we may as well acknowledge its presence rather than look the other way and pretend such things don't exist.

This is an open online community, perhaps *the* community, of and for white supremacists. These range from self-appointed rednecks, whose interests probably lie mainly in the defense of their Tennessee backwoods communities from bands of roaming blacks set on raping their daughters, to neo-Nazis who quote the Fuhrer and extend their hatred and contempt to all the traditional enemies of the Aryan brotherhood.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as senseless extremism, undeserving of our attentions or concern. I happen to believe that it would be foolish to do that, or to pretend that we're looking at only a small, isolated band of lunatics with delusions of building, or re-establishing, a master race. We've made that mistake before.

There may be no real power here, no prospect of these words of hate rising beyond the level of background noise; the political and legal power in the world rests in the hands of those who will keep these voices no more than whispers in the dark, for now. And I know there will be many who feel that even drawing attention to these people gives them a credibility that they can't earn successfully for themselves.

Nevertheless, I'd urge you to take at least a short time to visit this forum, and touch the real hatred that emanates from these pages. It may be - most probably will be, extremely uncomfortable and even perhaps scary to know that these may be the voices of your neighbors, your workmates, maybe your community leaders. In places, it's disturbing and very much so. But you know, it's fine to tell kids that there are no monsters out there, but as adults, we ought to know better. We owe it to ourselves to be better educated than that.

This is not, of course, the real face of the movement; that's likely to be known only to those already deeply involved, and those whose job is to infiltrate them. This is a public venue and as such, it's a somewhat diluted version that may instruct people not to marry outside of their own race, but not discuss the actions to be taken against anyone breaking that rule. Some things are best left to the imagination.

I can't accurately rate and review this, because the normal categories don't apply here. I can give it a MEH because I can't recommend it, but as I said at the start, there's a free speech issue which means I can't entirely condemn it either. I think you need to know it's out there, and not forget, and I think I'll leave it at that.
2/15/11
This site gives you the chance to tell the world, anonymously, how much you love or hate your job, your manager, your salary and your co-workers; to recommend it or otherwise, and to describe how difficult your interview was. It also features a very large number of job recruitment ads and overall it can be a fascinating, if not necessarily entirely reliable, inside look into the world of work in the USA.

You'll need to use some judgment in deciding which comments are honest and which aren't, from the brown-nosing to the downright bitter, but especially where a large number of employees have reviewed their company there does seem to be a general consensus suggesting most people are reasonably truthful.

You'll be expected to sign up for a free site membership once you've looked through a number of comments and reviews, which is probably worth doing if you're in the job market. There is undoubtedly some very useful inside information to be had here, about general working conditions in various fields and the kinds of things you should know if you want to become a successful interviewee.
2/15/11
The Voice of America sets out to be exactly that, and although it's government-funded and wholly American in thought and deed, it is at least chartered to deliver the news reliably and objectively. And as a radio station it has been reaching out to the international listening community since long before I was born, sharing a similar venerable respectibility with the BBC World Service.

Aside from reporting the news and what its charter describes as "significant" American thoughts and opinions, the VOA also has a mission to spread wider understanding of American English as a language, and this is reflected by the considerable space on its website which is given over to presenting the news for learners and providing many resources for both students and teachers.

Being a web presence now, it can and does spread into the areas of individual blogs. Videos and podcasts, though you can also listen to live radio streams.

It's a conservative presentation, unexpectedly so for an American media site, but somehow more reassuring that way. If anything, I find it oddly un-American, delivering the world news in an unadorned style that makes the BBC look positively outlandish. And it has considerable depth, though I suspect the name alone will have discouraged many readers outside of the States from including it amongst their regular news providers. If you're one of those, you might like to check it out.

American readers used to plenty of froth in their daily news may be disappointed, however; a site search for "jennifer aniston" returned "US Businesses Challenged to Cut Energy Waste" and "British Soldiers Train for Deployment in Mock-Afghan Village" in the top six results, suggesting that light entertainment may be a bit thin on the ground around here. Well, you can't have everything.
Hostizzle.com
2/13/11
Aside from the more obvious reasons here in the west, there are other and more serious reasons for making yourself anonymous online. Countries that prevent access to certain sites or types of material, for example, or individual service providers who do so.

One way to add a layer of deception to your connection is to use a proxy server, which sits between you and the rest of the internet, and acts as a go-between. The main points in favor of this are that it can be cheap, or even free, and protects you from being detected by your IP address and traced from there onwards to your computer. But there are some significant downsides, too, aside from the need to install software on your own computer.

Proxy servers are well known, and in many cases, their own IP addresses are on file and can be accessed by the public. That means that anyone trying to prevent their use can also find them, and block those addresses along with the addresses of sites they don't want you to visit.

Further, the free proxy servers are also extremely slow, and may have other restrictions such as preventing file transfers. You may be able to use one for basic web surfing, if your service provider allows it, but it's still going to be so slow, it may not be worth your trouble.

Even if you're using your own laptop computer in a store or restaurant, the service providers for many "hotspots", even those used by adults, will impose some degree of censorship and that can be pretty random, too. SiteJabber, for example, has been banned from a network for 'unspecified' reasons, leaving everyone wondering where and what the naughty bits are. But also banned, are so-called "anonymous gateways" which are web pages allowing direct access to proxies without the need to download software.

Lastly, although there are some "highly anonymous" proxies that aren't on any or many lists, they're expensive to use and harder to find.

One alternative is to use a VPN, or "virtual private network" system. These were originally used for businesses, allowing their remote operatives to connect to company networks using encrypted "tunnels" to prevent the public collecting private data that would otherwise be floating around in the ether. They were expensive and exclusive, but very safe. It was and still is common for a corporate VPN user to carry a physical digital "key" with a long number that changes in value every day, and which, along with a private password, makes the system about as secure as it can get.

Now, that technology is available to consumers, too. You aren't likely to have a huge corporate network that you want to connect to from afar, but you might have a home network, or want to operate one computer from the safety of another. And in the case I'm about to describe here, you can use the encryption plus a VPN server to get around all sorts of national and international restrictions with a considerable degree of safety.

So, sorry for the long preamble, but on to hostizzle.com and an explanation of this relatively new start-up and its services.

Hostizzle, despite the name, has serious applications. It's a VPN server in the USA, and it uses (or as we say these days, "leverages the power of") a free VPN client called OpenVPN. It will utilize any other client, but OpenVPN is free and easy to install so let's stay with that.

By downloading the OpenVPN client and installing it, you create one end of the tunnel but you still need a certificate which opens up the tunnel at the server end. This comes from the hostizzle site, and it's free, and needs only to be renewed every 30 days. The only information hostizzle asks for, is an email address, and it also collects the IP address you connect from. So with only a little thought, you can arrange to be entirely anonymous at this stage. Your current IP doesn't have to be one you regularly use, or it could be something like a hotspot that several people use. You get the idea.

Once you have your certificate package, which you can also download as a self-installing application, you should be able to fire up the OpenVPN application and watch as it creates an encrypted connection to the web. If it works first time, you may then go to an IP checking site such as whatismyip.com and find out whether your IP address has changed. Then you can do a "reverse IP lookup" and you should find that wherever you really are, the internet is showing you as being in the USA. And since the connection is encrypted all the way from your computer to the server, nobody can know what you are uploading or downloading.

The service should allow you to access sites previously barred to you because your IP address can be traced back to a particular country or establishment. To the sites you are visiting, you are entirely transparent and the only object they will see is another server in the USA.

You'll already know if you have a need to try this out, so all that remains are the details. Firstly, the basic package is free, and allows you a substantial 100 Gigabytes of traffic per month. If you need more, a touch over $2 gets you 350 Gigabytes and for five bucks, you can put your name on a terabyte of data, which should keep even the busiest downloader happy. Why so cheap, when average prices are around ten times this? According to the site owner, the price of bandwidth has dropped so much that a terabyte is only going to cost him a dollar. And that means lower prices to customers too.

There are just a couple of cautions to mention. Firstly, you'll have to consider the potential risk of dealing with someone you don't know, and trust that the terms of service are honest, i. E. your data is not being tracked secretly. Obviously such a revelation would kill the business, so the chances are slim, but if you're a conspiracy theorist you'll already have worked out that this is a secret government-run project. Not an American secret, there aren't any of those left, but someone else's.

Secondly, the business might not last for one reason or another, so you might want to use it for free at least initially. Though frankly, a couple of bucks a month seems worth the risk and that, of course, is why it's priced so low.

I set this up myself on a couple of machines and it's running fine, as far as I can tell, right now. My "location" has moved about 3000 miles from where I was earlier in the day. I did have some problems getting OpenVPN up and running with the configuration file that hostizzle provided, but there's a lot of information around about the program and it didn't take too long to get right. Whilst I don't have the time to set myself up as tech support in general, if you do want to give this a go and can't seem to get it going, drop me a message and I'll see if I can help.
2/11/11
Given the amount of power the USA has, you probably should be interested in American politics wherever you live. But you also know that the mainstream media, web included, is only serving up mainstream ideas, carefully tailored to suit the needs of the publishers as much as or more than the needs of the readers. Where do you find the real voices of the people?

The massive, long-running and still highly successful blogging site, at blogspot.com, has been overlooked by many as a serious venue. True, it has had a long history of being a venue for spammers and porno sites that goes back many years, long before its acquisition by Google. And there's still a percentage of the site that does deal in such subjects, and Google does permit adult material without interference except for a prefacing warning notice. But you'll also find much political activism and opinion here, on all sides, and in all degrees. In other words, left- and right-wing nuts are just as likely to be pressing their cases as are the voices of reason, and with more venom.

One way into what is a very crowded field is here at the Read My Lipstick Network blog, unsurprisingly a conservative voice with Palinesque leanings. In the sidebar you will find a great number of other right-wing and Republican blog links, and these in turn lead to more material on both the far left and right of the political spectrum. Once into the melee, you may find it hard to extricate yourself if you have any strong feelings about where the country is going, and easy to become caught up in the often intense campaigning and rhetoric here.

I have to rate this particular site as mediocre because that's my personal opinion, and I can't rate it any higher. But many readers will want to do so, and that's fine, and I'm not bringing any personal political bias into this. There are other ways into the vast network of personal political opinion on blogspot.com, this just happens to be a convenient one and a fair starting point to either love or hate.

Next year sees not only the end of the world as we know it, according to some pundits, but the next Presidential election, too. As long as they don't arrive in that order, expect the political blogs here to get more frantic and perhaps, more inspiring, as the time draws near.
The Vault Of Horror
2/11/11
If the only thing going bump in the night at your house is the dog rolling off the bed, the Vault Of Horror may not be a site you'd choose to bookmark; but for those of you who lie in delicious sleeplessness after watching yet another late-night zombie flick, it could be just what the mad doctor ordered. It's widely considered one of the best horror-themed blogs and noted for its movie reviews and features.

When the real world gets too scary, which seems to be happening much more frequently these days, you might want to take your mind off the current crisis in the Middle East or the thought of Sarah Palin becoming President, and relax with some tale of an imaginary horror that you know won't really happen. This is a good place to catch up on what's new and rotten in the world of horror movies and fandom, and you can even buy a site T-shirt to pull over your head in those sudden terrifying moments when something in the shadows really does go bump.
2/11/11
Geeks only and possibly old geeks at that, and a visual feast for anyone who remembers computing in the 1970s and 1980s and ever had to study a CPU at the basic machine language level.

This is the home of a simulation of the 6502 microprocessor in action, lovingly reproduced in multicolor graphics and animated by the power of HTML5 and javascript. Even in 'basic' mode, you can manually step through a short assembler program and watch the processor's various nodes and paths respond, and if you've got a fast enough machine and lots of memory, you can zoom in, pan around and watch the chip processing froma truly up close and personal distance.

At the very least and knowing nothing about what you're seeing, this may appeal to you on an artistic level; there's a certain logical, almost architectural beauty in the patterns formed by the program passing through the transistors on this classic piece of computer history.

If you're up to tackling the Advanced level, you can modify the programming of the 'chip' and play with various parameters to your geek heart's content. There's documentation aplenty and an FAQ that won't help unless you're at least half a geek already, but you might get the drift of the project anyway.

Other chips are also being simulated or in the pipeline as the project attempts to recreate the classic chips of the period from computers and video games. Why? Well, why not?

It will warm the hearts of folks like myself, who were handed these processors on simple boards in our college class and obliged to spend the rest of the hour attempting to get them to add two and six and multiply by five. The answer, as we discovered, could be anywhere from about 12 to 76 depending on how many steps we screwed up along the way, but it was one of those subjects that the teachers felt would stimulate our young minds and encourage us to love computer programming. I can't say it entirely worked for me, but others went on to spend the rest of their adult lives in windowless rooms, slaved to huge machines and living in constant fear of being out-evolved by the next generation of geeks. And it all started with one of these humble little chips. Ahh, the good old days.
2/10/11
Imgur is pronounced "imager" or, as the site helpfully explains, "image - er". So, nothing like Flickr, then. But very much web 2.0 all the same. So, that's the daft name out of the way, what's the rest of it like?

The basic concept is nothing new. It's a simple photo sharing site which accepts your images in unlimited numbers and stores them in albums, and allows you to pass the address links on to your friends and family. It also encourages you to post on social services such as Reddit and Stumble Upon, Twitter and of course Facebook.

Additionally it provides extra tools in the form of stand-alone apps and services and browser plugins, so that you can add pictures as you find them on the web, and copy them from other social sites and blogs, and upload them direct from your screen with a simple right-click.

The interface is black and the controls are unintrusive, perhaps too much so. Initially I spent a long time looking for the "delete" option only to find a tiny trash bin icon that I'd previously missed, and it's not immediately clear whether "gallery" refers to your personal gallery or the site gallery, or whether "tools" refers to your own tools or the external tools. It's not hard to figure out, but it's not entirely intuitive the first time around either.

Functionally it's simple. There are many ways to upload, and storing images in albums is just a matter of selection and of naming the albums. Each picture is offered to you with a selection of links all ready for use in email, or in web pages, or forums and blogs. Buttons for the social sites are provided.

On uploading you may choose to re-size your original images to fit a range of standard screen sizes, and the site automatically reduces the file size of overly large files for you rather than rejecting them. At this stage, you can find that little icon and delete an image too. Beware, though, because once an image is accepted and filed, you can't delete it yourself but have to send a request for the site to do so and explain why. So if you aren't sure, don't, and make sure that you become sure before you move off the Upload screen and your last chance at self-deletion. In a way it's not really too important, since uploads are infinite anyway and mistakes may be kept private.

The gimmick is this: make a photo public and post it everywhere you can, and if it becomes popular enough it makes the site's Gallery and front page and the whole world, or at least that part which is aware of the site, will see it. This is optional, as you may choose to keep a photo private and only share the link with friends, instead, but the temptation to get an image that goes viral is pretty strong, even if you do have to "borrow" it from elsewhere.

All uploads are anonymous, and the site collects no personal data other than your IP address. You choose whether to make it apparent that it's your image or not, when you post it elsewhere or tell your friends. There's no nod to copyrights as far as I saw, so you can take whatever you like from anywhere on the web and copy it here.

The basic account is free and no registration is needed; a registration gets you the chance to add captions and do some other more advanced stuff, and there's a $24 per year Pro account that you'll need to read about, to see if that's more suited to your needs. The basic account will satisfy many, though, and it's a simple way to upload images for free and remain anonymous.

I knocked a couple of points off for the slightly baffling interface and the encouragement to copy other people's work, but added one back because it let me upload one of my own in the hopes that virality, if not virility, will at last be mine.

http://i.imgur.com/z1g3z.jpg if you're interested.
2/6/11
This is a known seller of counterfeit goods out of China, which has already been deleted off Sitejabber once for active spamming of the listings here.

Unfortunately, there's no way to ban a site from these listings at the moment, as far as I know, so although this is a known crook and spammer the owner can still review it again, under a different user name.

So I thought I'd get in first, and make sure the truth gets posted before any further lies. Avoid this one.
2/6/11
A self-editable guide to everyday life - and the not so everyday - Wikihow's current iteration is attractively designed, pretty easy to navigate and full of information of both the useful and useless kind. As with any user-centered site, quality is variable. But then, so is real life and if everything here was always reliable and uncontroversial I'd assume at least half the correspondents were making it up.

Controversial opinions will be challenged in the comments, though I don't know to what extent the chooses to censor what it regards inappropriate. I've seen heated debates going on and they seem to pass without undue editing.

The most fascinating aspect for a passer-by is the list of the most popular pages, or at least, the most viewed, which is not quite the same but does imply that these are topics that people want to read about.

Curiously, up there at the four-and-a-half million view mark or thereabouts, pages on how to get girls or boys to like you, or know whether or not they already do, share popularity with the page on how to take a screenshot in Microsoft Windows. The thought that these all have equal significance in modern life is one to ponder, and I'll leave you to do that, now.
2/5/11
An under-promoted open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator, lacking some of the power tools, but being open source, it's entirely free. Perfect for learning how to use vector graphics, and easily capable of producing professional work if you are, so don't overlook it just because you don't have to spend $400 on it.

All the basics are here, including bezier curve drawing, manipulating shapes and colors, freehand line drawing and painting and all the basic vector graphic tools. If you've done even the smallest amount of drawing with a vector art application, or even just toyed with the pen tool in Photoshop or similar bitmap art and photo apps, there's not much of a learning curve here and you can pretty much dive in and play with it straight away. So don't be put off by the masses of menus and buttons, start drawing basic shapes and just mess around for a while until you're hooked enough on the vector graphic style to want to learn more.

It's a constant amazement to see what spare-time coders and designers give away for free, and a privilege to be able to use apps like this without having to install bloatware and be charged over the top for it. Thanks, guys.

BTW this is a format which is now read natively by all the major web browsers except (of course) Internet Explorer, but there's a plug-in for that now, too. And it's not hard to convert vector graphics into bitmaps, though after that, they become just as inflexible as bitmap files too.

If you're curious about vector graphics, this is probably not the place for a long explanation but the short one goes like this: bitmap graphics such as JPG and BMP files are made up of numbers that represent a pattern of dots, or pixels. The size of this pattern is fixed, with a set number of dots, or pixels, occupying a set space and relationship to the rest. Blow it up, and the quality gets far worse, because the dots get bigger too. Shrink it down enough, and the fine details get lost. Blow it up again after shrinking it down, and it looks like a Lego toy, because once you've lost detail, you can't get it back.

A vector graphic, though, isn't graphical at all - it's mathematical, and it's not even in color. In fact, it's not even an image, it's a text file, written in a code called XML, which describes the relationships of all the objects in the design to each other.

When you draw your vector art on the computer screen, what's stored is the math behind the drawing, not the drawing itself. Everything needed to reproduce the design is there, but at no specific size. Think of it not as a photo or a painting, but as a set of instructions.

The design can be any size, as big or as small as you like, and the quality stays the same regardless. As you scale it up, the computer does the math and draws everything bigger, but not fuzzier, because there are no dots. Just math, telling the computer application how the bits all relate to each other. Darn clever stuff.

You've probably seen vector graphics without even realizing it: Adobe Flash, the most common way to show animations in a web browser, uses them. If you've played Flash games on a website, you've seen vector graphics in action, and you might have already discovered that you can make downloaded Flash games bigger.

Hopefully that's tempted you to download this application and play with it. The price is right, and it's fun. There's also a lot of help and a thriving community online, if you get hooked and want to know more.
2/3/11
MarkMonitor is a company which should be of interest to many SJ readers, since it operates on behalf of trademark owners in enforcing their rights and ultimately shutting down sites and sellers that trade illegally in counterfeits or unauthorized products.

Obviously the methods employed to achieve these ends aren't going to be explained in great detail on the website. However, they will tell us that they use an automated monitoring system involving proprietary algorithms and analysis techniques to identify the culprits, followed by more automated enforcement procedures that can lead to shutting these people down. And hooray for that.

One of their highest profile customers is Deckers Outdoor Corporation, owners of, amongst other things, the Ugg Australia brand - one of the most counterfeited brands in the world. Results, according to the published case study, are pretty impressive, with $4.35 million in illegally advertised goods taken offline in a 90-day period.

Although the site is squarely aimed at commercial brand-owners, there's useful information for general readers here too, if you nose around a bit. For example, according to a press release from just a couple of days ago, a study on sports clothing by the company

"... identified more than 1,300 e-commerce Web sites selling questionable jerseys featuring one or more of the five brands in the study. The sites attracted more than 56 million annual visits and sell an estimated 800,000 units annually. The vast majority of these sites were linked to Chinese domain name registrants or registrars.

"The study also discovered more than 4,000 individual, unauthorized suppliers that appear to be offering phony merchandise on twelve B2B exchange sites. This supply chain consists of suppliers who are based predominantly in Asia and are estimated to sell 300,000 jerseys annually.

"Along with their distribution prowess, these fraudsters display a high level of sophistication in promoting their sites and attracting traffic. During the study period, we examined almost 480,000 paid search ads, triggered by more than 280 keyword combinations and found almost 28% of these ads promoted suspicious goods, driving an estimated 11 million annual visits."

Possibly no surprises there, if you're already aware of the counterfeit sports jersey trade, but maybe a useful wake-up call to those who still think those bargains out there really are bargains.

This company also recently acquired another, DtecNet, who are specialists in detecting piracy and the weapon of choice of the RIAA, the music industry's guard dog and bane of the torrent websites.

Even if you aren't a corporation and don't own a brand, you're likely to be a buyer sooner or later. This site gives you an insight into the dangers out there, and some of the behind-the-scenes players who are in the business of meeting those dangers and neutralizing them.
2/3/11
The US Government has been trying to introduce clear language into its documents since the early '90s and is still at it, introducing further legislation and admonishing its departments to stop confusing us with labyrinthine jargon-filled sentences. The concept was introduced in the UK at around the same time, and as I remember, it had marked success in improving leaflets and forms. I get the feeling that the US is struggling with this one, still.

Look for example at the blurb advertising the next monthly meeting of the committee which runs this outfit, and which states "People should understand what we write the first time they read it".

The subject is "Teaching Plain Language to People who Must Interpret Events for Others"

And the description is:

"How to use verbs, nouns, patterns, tense, and bottom line up front to convey to your reader what happened, who made it happen, why it is significant, and where it occurred on the timeline."

Now I researched "bottom line up front" and found no single, clear definition of either the first or second part of the phrase, which I don't understand in this context, myself. Yet one of the root concepts of plain language is that a phrase must be unambiguous and understandable on the first reading.

Moving along, another root concept and instruction to departments is that they should never use several words in a complicated phrase, when less words, put more simply, are better. For example, "when it happened" is probably better than "where it occurred on the timeline."

The subsequent directions to the meeting include "Follow the sign saying public inspection to enter the lobby", which I agree, is simple language. But... oh, well, maybe I just learned to write so long ago, that people don't do it that way any more.

This is a site aimed not at the public, but at the writers and editors of governmental material, so it really should be a showcase for the ideas it's selling. But it's not well designed for reading, it uses a system of fixed-size popup windows that isn't suited to the content, and not all of the content is even there. The text is generally too small and the whole thing feels dull, dated and uncared-for.

External agencies seem to do a lot better, with some states and counties really working hard at this one. The County of Los Angeles, for example, has an excellent ten-point guide that's printed in large, easy-to-read type, covers all the main points and only takes up one page.

This is a worthy cause, but it's also a complex and sensitive one, and it involves federal, state and county governments which all have their own financial and resource issues and agendas. And although I didn't see it mentioned, because officially "plain language" and "plain English" are synonymous, the USA is faced with Spanish becoming a more widespread second language and in many places, a first language in the next few years.

By the turn of the half-century, it's expected that Spanish speakers will equal or outnumber English speakers, and that's a situation that none of these "plain English" schemes can handle. Demasiado pequeño, demasiado tarde, as I think they say in Mexico. And California, Texas, Arizona, Florida...

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