Friday, March 31, 2006

'Kosher' Phone

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The Washington Post reports that Mirs, an Israeli cell phone company, is selling a "kosher phone". This is a cell phone where most modern features (like cameras and text messaging) is disabled, and where immoral phone numbers (like sex lines) are blocked. The communities in Israel that this is being marketed towards see this as a good thing - allowing the convenience of cell phone usage without inviting the commercial world into the community.

In some respects, they are right, but I ultimately see this as a bad move.

The way I see it (and I have been a cell phone user for years) is that the phones don't bring anything into your life that you don't explicitly go looking for in the first place. I have never received a call from a sex service or from any other immoral business. The only way these phones can be used for immoral activity is if the owner goes looking for it (for example, by dialing the number of a phone-sex service.)

I would like to believe that the people buying the kosher phones could be trusted to not go looking for immorality without requiring a board of rabbis to tell them what numbers can and can not be dialed. And if a person considers himself unable to avoid this kind of immorality, why would he buy the kosher phone in the first place? To show off to the neighbors? (Actually, maybe there is some truth to that...)

Now, it might make sense of these families are buying the phones for their children. Kids sometimes go looking for immoral content, either out of curiosity or as a form of rebellion against their parents. In my opinion, however, blocking systems like this are a meaningless façade. Sure, a kid with a kosher phone won't be able to dial a sex line. But if he is rebellious, he will simply find a different avenue for his rebellion - like buying pornographic magazines, or getting his own phone that his parents don't know about. Technology may be able to make immorality inconvenient, but it can not do a thing about what's in a person's head.

A better concept

All this being said, I think there is a place for a "kosher phone", but not the device Mirs is selling today.

My kosher phone would be based on a modern cell phone, with all the bells and whistles. It would have a camera, text messaging, video service, etc. It would also come with an array of Jewish features to make use of this technology. For instance:

  • An address book pre-loaded with "dial-a-shiur" services, so you can learn Torah from anywhere at any time.
  • A similar feature using text messages - a daily mini-drash that can be delivered automatically into the phone (or e-mail box) every morning.
  • Torah-study chat-rooms, where Torah is discussed 24 hours a day by whoever wants to connect. (Moderated by rabbis, of course, to prevent the discussions from straying too far off-topic.) This could be text, voice or video.
  • A calendar pre-loaded with the Jewish holidays, yahrtzeit-tracking capability, and software to compute the times for prayer, fasts, etc.

Note that none of this involves blocking anything. It trusts the owners to actually practice the morality they preach if they want to keep objectionable content off of the phone. I think that most people can be trusted with this responsibility, and those that can't be trusted have problems that a restricted phone won't cure.

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said on many occasions, technology is not something that should be avoided or banned. It is something that should be made holy by using it for kosher purposes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Windows Vista - train wreck on ice

1 comment:
A disgruntled Microsoft employee calls for the termination of Microsoft's top brass, due to Vista's repeated schedule slippage.

More interesting are the numerous comments (hundreds) that follow. Many of them are from Microsoft engineers complaining about all kinds of horrible things. Microsoft is clearly a Dilbert company. And I now feel a lot better about my company (which isn't even close to this disaster.)

And I'm very happy I didn't accept Microsoft's job offer back in 1998!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New toys

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I got several new geek toys this week.

First and foremost is a new monitor. I bought a Dell 2405FPW. This is a 24" widescreen LCD monitor. It has dual inputs and seems to play nice with KVM switches. It is attached to my Mac G4, Mac Quadra, Windows PC and Linux PC. It also has a built-in USB hub and memory card reader. Native resolution is 1920x1200. See the photo (to the right) for an image of it hooked up to everything.

I am very pleased with Dell here. I placed my order on Tuesday. The charge went through that night. I received it Friday afternoon. This is with the free UPS-ground shipping. The monitor includes both VGA and DVI cables, so I didn't have to buy either - which is great, since I'm using both inputs. The total cost, with tax and a 5-year warranty came to $880.

The second new toy is a PlayStation 2. Once I learned that the PS3 will be delayed at least until November, I decided to go and buy a PS2. I don't want to wait over 8 months to play Katamari Damacy in my living room!

The new PS2 consoles are small!. (See the image to the right. Note the size of the DVD in the drive and the controller.) Sony isn't kidding when they say it is 75% smaller than the original PS2 console. When I took it out of the box, my first impression was "this is it?". Significant changes from the original PS2 are:

  • Different DVD drive. This one is top-loading instead of tray-loading
  • No mechanical power switch. Only the electronic power switch.
  • No expansion bay. So the hard drive add-on doesn't work
  • No network expansion port. Instead, Ethernet is built-in. According to Sony, the North American models also include a modem, but mine didn't. So they must be shipping two different models to the US. (Or Sony's web site is wrong, which is also possible.)
  • If you use a multi-tap, you need a new model. Previous ones are incompatible.
  • The vertical stand is different, because of the new case-shape.
I still have to buy the Component video cable and an optical audio cable, to make the system complete, but it seems to work well. I played Katamari Damacy for many hours tonight (from about 7:00 until 3:00am, so I'm just a bit wired right now. )

And now it's time for bed. Tomorrow's a day with nothing to do but laundry, so I've got plenty of time to play with my new toys.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"Indy 4" Script Ready

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In an interview with a German magazine, Harrison Ford says that the script for the fourth Indiana Jones movie is finally ready to go.

I hope this means they can start shooting soon. I really want to see this one on the silver screen

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rats. No PS3 until November

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Until today, Sony had been telling the world that the PlayStation 3 would ship this spring - meaning any time between now and June. The rumor mill, however, was saying that there's no way they can meet this date.

Well, Sony now agrees. The official word is now "November". We hope.

Apparently, the console itself is ready to go, but the PS3 is supposed to double-up as a player for Blu-Ray Disc movies (Blu-Ray Disc, or BD, is a high-definition successor to DVD). Unfortunately, the BD standards body hasn't yet nailed down all the specifics of the copy protection tech that BD will use. Sony can't ship a BD drive without the final protection code, or the drive won't be able to play BD movies (expected to ship soon after BD is officially released to the world.)

Personally, I think this is a cop-out. If they have the BD drive working for data discs and are waiting on copy protection schemes, they should be able to ship it now and release a firmware update later on. I don't think it would be that terrible for them to ship a PS3 that can't play BD movies without a firmware update that they can release when BD movies actually become available.

I was going to wait for the PS3 in order to have a console to play Katamari Damacy on, but I'm not going to wait until November, and maybe later if the BD people create even more delays. So, it's time for me to go get a PS2 now, and that PS3 purchase will be delayed indefinitely (until some must-have game comes out for it.)

Oh well. Such is life.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to set up a new broadband connection

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Moving from dial-up to broadband is a great thing. You can do things that would be impossible on dial-up connections, like video conferencing, movie downloading, and a great many other things. But if you're not careful, it can also be a nightmare. Being connected to the internet at high speed 24 hours a day makes it an attractive target for hackers and the malware they use.

But with a little bit of precaution, these problems don't have to happen. Here are a few tips for making the transition to broadband quick and painless.

  1. Get a router. A consumer-grade gateway router doesn't cost much (often under $100). A router provides several features that help enormously.
    • NAT. Short for Network Address Translation. A broadband service provider typically provides only one IP address, which will only allow one computer to connect to the internet. NAT is a facility that allows multiple computers to share that one address. You can have an entire network of PCs all connected to the router (either directly or with a hub). The router will assign a private IP address to each computer and will translate all their addresses to the one address assigned by your ISP. It also tracks connections and remembers which computer created each one, allowing them all to access the internet at the same time. If you have more than one computer, this feature is an absolute necessity.
    • Firewall. When NAT is being used, a packet coming in from the internet could be sent to any one of your computers. If the packet is part of a connection that one of your computers initiated, the router will know which one to send it to. If the packet is not part of an established connection, however, it won't know where to send it, and the packet will be dropped. In other words, computers on the internet can not create connections to your computers. Although this can not prevent all hacking attempts, it will block a very large percentage of them.

      Because of the firewall benefits, I recommend that you NEVER attempt to connect to the internet without a router. Without a firewall (hardware or software-based), a Windows PC can be hacked in as little as four minutes.

  2. Make sure your operating system software is up to date. On Windows XP, this means you must install Service Pack 2, and apply any high-priority updates that have come out since. (And there are a lot.) You should apply these as soon as possible, if they're not already installed. If you can't take the time to download Service Pack 2 (it is a very large download), you can order it on a CD for free. For the rest, you can visit with Internet Explorer to install the updates.
  3. Make sure you have an anti-virus package installed and kept up to date.
  4. A software-based firewall, like the one that comes built-in to Windows XP Service Pack 2, is a good idea in addition to the firewall features you get from a router.
  5. If you plan on setting up a wireless network, make sure your hardware (router and interface cards) support WPA2 encryption. Older encryption standards (like WEP and the original WPA) are much less secure. As a matter of fact, WEP security is so insecure that a hacker can crack it in only an hour or two.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Jerry Falwell comes to his senses? Maybe?

Jerry Falwell, Baptist preacher and political lobbyist, seems to have changed his mind about trying to convert Jews to Christianity, and is now against the practice.

Assuming this isn't some trick or political double-speak, then it is a good sign, since Falwell is well respected in the Evangelical Christian world.

Let's hope this is indeed a sincere change of heart.