Looking for aliens, but found only a stolen laptop

Plotline: a laptop is stolen from this Minnesota software programmer’s wife. This guy had previously installed SETI@Home in his wife’s laptop. Using the logs on SETI@Home servers, this guy was able to detect where the thief was located, thus alerting the police, which in turn capture the thief and recovered the stolen laptop.

Now for the details:
SETI@Home uses volunteers’ computers when they go into screen-saver mode to crunch data from the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico in an attempt to try and spot signals in the radio noise from space, hoping it comes from little green men.

James Melin, a software programmer in Minnesota, runs SETI@home on his seven home computers, which periodically check in with University of California servers. Whenever that happens, the servers record the remote computer’s Internet Protocol address and file it in a database that people running the SETI software can view. One of those seven computers on which Melin installed SETI@home was his wife’s laptop, which was stolen from the couple’s Minneapolis home Jan. 1.

In an attempt to recover the stolen laptop, Melin monitored the SETI@home database to see if the stolen laptop would “talk” to the Berkeley servers. Indeed, the laptop checked in three times within a week, and Melin sent the IP addresses to the Minneapolis Police Department. The police was then able to determine the real-world address where the stolen laptop was logging on and within days, they seized the computer and returned it to the rightful owners.

While no pertinent documents were deleted or tampered with, Mrs. Melin noted that the perpetrator (or the eventual underground buyer’s) taste in music was among the worst she’s ever heard of judging by the foreign tracks that were gifted to her when the laptop returned.

Source: News Journal Online, Engadget

The Scandinavian China?

Apparently, Norway is in process of creating an Internet censorship plan similar to the one that currently exists in China.

ISPs would be responsible for blocking various sites that the government didn’t like — including foreign gambling sites (government monopoly on gambling would be protected), any sites that offer unauthorized downloads, sites that are seen as “desecrating the Flag or Coat of Arms of a foreign nation,” sites “promoting hatred towards public authorities, racism and hate speech” and “Sites offering pornography that may cause offence.”

This raises quite a lot of questions: are political blogs seen as promoting hatred towards public authorities? Do all pornography websites offend everybody or just a few people? Aren’t people entitled to have access to all the information that they desire?

Luckily for the Norwegian, this law proposal doesn’t seem to be supported by the majority of the government, so it probably won’t be accepted.

From: Techdirt

For the Hello Kitty fans out there

The Hello Kitty USB gadgets mania is here to stay. If you think the pink foot warmers draw the limit, what to think about the Hello Kitty USB lap warmer?

I guess these items are hard to resist if you’re really a fan of the fury pink feline gadgets. Anyway, with the way these things are coming to the market, Hello Kitty hard core fans will also have to get a 128 USB Port Hub :-)

Source: Hello Kitty Hell

Water-proof MP3 Players

Who said you can’t use your MP3 player on the bath or when you go out for a swim? SwimMan’s new version of the iPod Shuffle (image on the left) allows you to use it anywhere in the water up to 10 feet (more or less 3 meters). You can even wear it in the shower, assuming you can find something to clip it to.

But if you’re more of a swimmer and you don’t like to have things clipped somewhere, you can always try to use the Century’s Dolphin water-proof MP3 Player (image on the right).

Inside, the Dolphin packs 1GB of flash, USB 2.0, and support for MP3/WMA playback off 8-hour battery. Looks aside, at ¥12,800 (about $107 or 81€) — which includes a pair of unusually decent looking waterproof headphones — it’ll save you a healthy chunk-o-change compared to the $250 (190€) SwimMan’s iPod Shuffle.

Source and photos: Engadget

Control the Earth with some lights

When João Bordalo gave the tip, I decided to try Atlas Gloves myself and discovered that it’s really fun to have this “Minority Report”-like interfaces where you can control the computer with just a pair of custom lights and a webcam.

For sometime now, I was curious on this kind of technology related to Image Segmentation and this Atlas Gloves idea was just the kick I needed to start doing my own research on the subject. Amazingly, the technology is really simple and obeys some very simple principles that anyone with little computation skills can develop.

So, with a lot of “Googling” I found the basic tools to work with the technology and decided to implement my very own Google Earth controller, which I named GELToC (which stands for Google Earth Led Torch Controller).

By using two led torches like the ones in the figure on the left (but it also worked with flashlights and even with my iPod nano screen) and a webcam, I was able to create an application that processes the light sources (from a dark background) and maps them into mouse control movements, which in turn are converted into Google Earth control movements, giving the illusion that you are controlling the World map with just a pair of tiny lights.

GELToC was developed using the Java Programming Language. It uses the JMF (Java Media Framework) API to access images from the webcam and it uses the java.awt.Robot Class to control the mouse.

Check out the demo video below:

GELToC is an open source application and you can obtain more information on it here.
Future steps of this technology include improving the application in order to use the led torches to control the all computer environment and not only specific applications such as Google Earth.

I need some “beta testers” for the application, so give it a try and then let me know of your experience :-)

USB Gadgets for workaholics

Are you hooked up on coffee but you don’t have enough space on your desk for the coffee mug and your mouse? All of your problems have been solved.

Here’s a new gadget, the MugMouse, which holds coffee and has an optical mouse on the bottom. Pretty handy, isn’t it?

But if you think this a strange USB gadget, check out this one. In line with the Hello Kitty warm USB slippers, the USB heating blanket helps you stay warm during your work hours. And all through your USB ports :-)

Source and Images: Everything USB

Vista’s successor already??

According to Steve Balmer (Microsoft’s CEO) and Ben Fathi (executive in charge of the Vista’s core components), Windows Vista already has a successor planned for late 2009. Speaking to PC World, Ben Fathi, made it clear that he was referring to a whole new OS, which will be known by the codename “Vienna”.

Full virtualization and a radical new user interface will be the aim of this new version, according to Fathi.

Source and Image: Engadget

How to “really” diagnose and optimize your Windows XP?

You see a all lot of tips around promising the miraculous ultimate performance enhancer for your Windows XP, right? However, some of those “fixs” and “registry editors” not only do not improve the performance of your computer, they can really decrease the overall performance of Windows.
So, tired of testing some (unsuccessful) hacking on my Windows XP, I decided to do some real searching on the fundamentals behind some of these tips.

On my search I came across this website, which seems very complete and provides some good justifications for all of the proposed hackings. I tried out some of the advices and, for the first time ever, I really noticed a difference in my computer.

Not only it provides good information on some hacking that you can do on Windows, it also gives you some useful tips on free protection software, XP Myths and even cheats for the Windows games :-)