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Asus ROG GM703 – Two year review

Asus gaming machine. It turned out to be pretty good, but two years later, I'm looking for something new.
(See online!)

At the time I bought this, ASUS and MSI were the two top contenders. Both were solid brands with good history and all the features I wanted, but MSI has a weird obsession with making the keyboard perfectly rectangular at the expense of shoving all the keys together. As soon as I noticed the ASUS had a more spaced out keyboard and even a few media keys, the choice was obvious. In practice the keyboard is easy and natural to type on, though for some unknowable reason, there's no light indicating Num Lock status and no easily accessed END key which is REALLY annoying.

That aside, the coloration and controls are good, the performance is good, it's much thinner and lighter than my Qosmio and, most importantly, there's an empty RAM slot so I could upgrade from 16GB to 32 very easily (which I did).

The screen is crazy bright and I don't think I've used it on even 50% brightness yet because I'd likely get a burn from the glare. I think the macho ROG symbol is a bit childish but I wouldn't mind it too much if I could at least customize the color of the glowing ROG eye on the back of my screen.

Grr. So manly! Chest thump! WOOO. Look at my menacing laptop!

At the one year mark, I noticed two other problems. The function keys are shifted slightly further right than they should be making it too easy to hit the wrong one or the delete key when you mean F12. Additionally the fun keyboard color feature is less so when the color is weak and without definition. Either it's weakened considerably over the year or it was never as bright to begin with. Either way, the advertised color and reality are starkly different.

It's a shame. It's not an important feature, but I thought the lighted keyboard would be cool; not dim.

Second: I noticed this problem early, but didn't want to deal with it because I waited so long to buy the laptop that I just couldn't bring myself to return it. Every now and then it has problems with the disk hanging. I can move around, click windows, and so on, but disk-heavy programs (in particular VMware which I use for virtual machines) seem to lock hard. After that, the computer becomes incredibly slow in all programs (particularly any that would use the disk). If I try to shut it down, it hangs for so long that I usually just force power it down and when I restart, my login screen is wrong and I have to reset it.

I'm still not entirely sure if it's Windows 10 problem, a VMware problem, or an ASUS problem, but I figured it was better to point it out in case others had a similar issue.

In the end, it's a good laptop that did what I wanted it to. It has a few downsides that aren't critical enough that I wouldn't choose Asus again; but it wasn't great enough that it's my top choice for the next laptop either.
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Razer DeathAdder Chroma Review – Should have been great but wasn’t

Razer, a name that you should be able to trust.
(See online!)

I've used a Microsoft Intellimouse for about 10 years but it finally gave up the ghost. I researched and posted in various forums to determine some good mice that were simple, comfortable, had good performance, and weren't LOUD. The Razer DeathAdder Chroma fits all those requirements well. It's good performance, has a smooth scrollwheel, fairly quiet operation, and a thumb button for going back in my browser. I also like the LED color option because, hey, pretty glowy yay!

I guess I can forgive that you need custom drivers to control the color options, but why do I have to SIGN UP FOR AN ONLINE ACCOUNT to download and use the drivers!? Let me say that again in case you missed it: you can't even CHANGE the settings later if you don't log in first.

It's bad enough that they forced me into a relationship with them to download drivers, but to block my access and force me to ask for permission to change from blue to cyan is just creepy. I didn't ask for this. I don't want it. Get out of my life.

I expected better from a company with such a solid reputation. I was able to make it work by using a fake email and information, but I won't be able to change my settings unless I remember my login information later. Good luck if you want to change a setting when you're not in an area with free wifi.

Bottom line, spruce up the guest bedroom because Razer is moving in.

EDIT: I should also point out that the right-click button was broken when it arrived. I gave it a chance because it seemed to resolve itself (still wasn't perfect, but enough that I didn't want to bother sending it back). When I tried playing a game where stealth needed me to hold the right mouse button, it clearly wasn't going to work. I discovered this outside the 30 day window so had to go to Razer for warranty. Luckily they didn't fight me, but add a sour note to an already abusive experience.

Edit 2: I realize I've had this mouse for two years now, but I still have PS2-port mice with balls that work just fine from the 90s. One without moving parts shouldn't have parts falling off of it this soon. All in all, I am more disappointed than I can say and definitely won't be buying from them again if they don't raise their standards significantly.

Razer - 2 years later, and stuff is falling right off

Windows XP Users Beware – Small Update Window

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Researchers have determined that if you were to install Windows XP and connect it to the Internet to download the security updates, your chances of getting the updates before being hacked are slim to none.

If you want to use XP (as I and other computer security experts often recommend), use the following best practices:

  1. Don't install with the network cable attached. At least one commentor on the article cites a time when his windows 2000 (the basis of XP) was hacked during installation.
  2. Get Windows Service Pack 3 which contains a cumulative patch of years worth of security updates. Download SP3 onto a second computer, move it to the new one, and install it offline [download here].
  3. Install a virus scanner and a firewall prior to connecting the cable.
  4. Download (on second computer) updates to Internet software such as Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. While you can (and should) use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, IE is integrated with the operating system so it's a good idea to keep it updated anyway.

You can also download incremental security patches from the Microsoft Download Center, but I couldn't tell you which ones are relevant and which aren't. I believe that Microsoft removes all security patches that are bundled into service packs already so, in theory, you should just download any security patch listed for XP on their site. If you can confirm this, please post it in comments.

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Support Firefox, Help them Break a Record

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Download a copy of Firefox 3 this Tuesday the 17th. Send a message that we're tired of big-company products that aren't stable, aren't standard, aren't secure, and can't be customized.

Update

It looks like they managed to get about 8 million downloads in 24 hours.
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Spotting Fake Photos

Don't worry, it's not real
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I haven't gotten around to making a module on digital imaging, but when I do, I'll definitely be covering the issue of fake photos and how to spot them. For now, here's a link with some tips.

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Presidential Campaign Reps at CFP 2008

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Today at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference, we opened with statements from representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns (Clinton declined to attend).

Obama

Daniel Weitzner from MIT represented Obama's campaign. He opened by talking about Obama's major views as they relate to privacy and technology. Obama believes in:
  • Greater accountability in government
  • Keeping government information and operations open and transparent
  • Citizen participation in decision making
  • The appointment of a government Chief Technology Officer to oversee these types of issues

McCain

Chuck Fish, a Patent Lawyer and part of McCain's legal team came to represent his campaign. McCain believes in:
  • Promoting American innovation
  • Taxing the rich is a popular idea, but it's the pursuit of riches that drives innovation
  • The system should reward the behaviors that we want to reward
  • We need to develop a skilled workforce
  • We should very lightly regulate the market and let it take care of itself until such point as they fail
  • Market regulation should focus on anti-competitive behavior

Open Questions

Next were questions asked by the moderators of the panel:

Q: "What do you see as the role of government in providing access to our basic communications infrastructure (the Internet)"

(McCain) Chuck – Can't understand his answer. Very politicalese. I'm fairly certain that he didn't answer the question, but it's hard to tell.

(Obama) Dan – Rather than focus on the infrastructure, it's important to protect the openness of the Internet. Even if we were to stay on dial-up or were years behind other countries on bringing broadband to our people, that's really secondary to protecting the nature of the Internet. He also noted that McCain's view of a self-regulating market will maintain open Internet (and I agree).

Q: "NSA Wiretapping – what would their position be on liability of carriers. What changes to Fisa"

(McCain) Chuck – "Immunity is a tough question because there's competing values. We're not talking about granting indulgences…" Again, hard to follow. Many words come out, but not much is said. The only thing he said of substance in his several minute non-answer to the question was "There needs to be hearings to find out what actually happened and what harm was actually done" which is to say that he will "look into it".

(Obama) Daniel – Obama's history and future view is to strengthen judicial review of administrative subpeonas, National Security Letters and the gag orders that accompany them. When surveillance is used, there must be real, meaningful oversight. Obama voted AGAINST retroactive immunity. McCain did not vote against them (which Dan feels is tacit approval).

Obama realizes that advanced surveillance and data mining can be important tools for national security, and they should be available, but with appropriate oversight. It's important to guard against mission creep! Woo! Someone gets it!

Q: "American companies are assisting China in censoring it's citizens. What would a given candiate do about that?"

(Obama) Dan – No official position, but if Dan had to offer advice to the campain, it would be that the lesson of the efforts in the US in the mid-90's to persuade countries to adopt an open Internet should be continued. We should open a dialogue and encourage and persuade countries to realize the benefits while using our influence to lead them towards more openness.

(McCain) Chuck – No explicit policy either. But the values that the campaign holds that would apply is to go slowly and carefully. It's always wrong to believe that you can legislate the behavior of people in other countries. Show the repressive regimes the benefits that openness provides, we will lead by example.

Open Questions

Next were open questions from the audience.

Q: "Email use by President – Will your candidate use e-mail. Does McCain know how? Will they avoid requirements to save e-mails by using other services outside of the Whitehouse?"

(McCain) Chuck – McCain does know how to use e-mail. As for avoiding requirements, you can tell from the tenor of his career that any perceived impropriety is anathema. Very little is more important for himself and country than acting honorably and keeping himself clean.

(Obama) Dan – There's a real commitment in Obama tech policy to keep government open and keep the flow of information open. Hiding e-mail wouldn't meet his commitment to open government.

Q: "Bush doesn't want to use e-mail because it becomes public record, but both of these candidates have records of believing in open government. But what will they do to keep government open?"

(McCain) Chuck – Answered by listing the example of require reporting of all data about sex offenders. He seems to have misunderstood that open government is about reporting what the GOVERNMENT is doing, not citizens.

(Obama) Dan – Bush administration has gone way overboard in classifying information. Obama called for national declassification center.

Q: "Clinton administration mandate cell companies to track users for 911. Companies are tracking all the time when powered. No legal limitations for what use can be made. Should this be protected by judicial oversight?"

(Obama) Dan – No position on that, but clear position of looking at tech capabilities that are not being addressed from a privacy perspective.

(McCain) Chuck – First ask, is there a problem and does the law already deal with it? If there was a possibility of current harm or future harm, then perhaps regulation would be appropriate, but otherwise, just trust but verify.

Q: "Net Nuetrality – How far would either of you go to live up to the view that the Internet is a tool for Democracy?"

(Obama) Dan – Obama wants to maintain openness of the Internet. Before we fight what the Internet may become, we should ask if we want to go where it's going. Do we like what it's evolving too. Either way, currently the regulatory agencies lack the power to get involved.

(McCain) Chuck – Understand Internet is important. But adverse to regulation, must have real evidence of harm. Don't want to stifle innovation.

Q: "Where do you think the burden lies for protecting information. American's must show harm? Or burden on Government that there's a justification for accessing my private information"

(McCain) Chuck – Companies always have known more about us than the government. We shouldn't have solutions seeking problems, but the opposite. Show the problem before acting.

(Obama) Dan – Increase FTC enforcement authority and budget. Too much burden on individuals to negotiate their privacy rights with whoever they deal with. Though our privacy laws are more modest than others, we've seen progress in our regulation. It's not up to normal people to protect their personal security. That's unreasonable. We don't have the time, energy, or (sometimes) capability.

Q: [my question] "Does your candidate realize the problem of Congress creating laws that over-rule stronger state laws that protect our privacy and freedom and would they have the balls to veto such a law?"

(McCain) Chuck – Clearly recognizes the importance of federalism. Always the rub whether what you have is well intentioned preemption or something else. Not the campaign's policy to over-turn what approaches of 3 centuries of preemption law. In other words, leave it to congress to make the determination of what is an appropriate level of preemption.

(Obama) Dan – No general position on preemption, but it's a right thing to keep an eye on. In other areas the benefit of some mount of federalism, but preemptive will come up. Depends on context.

Summary

This affirms in my mind that Obama is far beyond McCain in understanding privacy and technology issues. Obama wants to undo some of the damage Bush has done to us in recent years and is aware that regulatory agencies are valuable. He even believes in passing laws BEFORE there's a critical breakdown.

McCain is a fool that believes the market can regulate itself.

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Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference of 2008 – Coming Soon!

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I'm really jazzed about going to this conference. They've got some really cool events lined up like:

Hate Speech and Oppression in Cyberspace
Kids taunting classmates (with resulting emotional scars and even suicide); harassment, stalking, and death threats; and organized and race-, gender-, religion-based hate groups; prominent bloggers like Kathy Sierra and Blackamazon have take their blogs down after death threats or attacks ... along with all its promise and power of cyberspace, the Internet also distributes words and images of hate that often lead to real-world violence.

And

Activism and Education Using Social Network

We plan on examining several different types of social networks. Some of these networks are geared toward sending out 'news blasts' to your network of friends, while others support having a much deeper conversation about the topic at hand. Protest groups on Facebook can quickly grow to over a million people– and lead to millions demonstrating in the real world. New technology such as "causes," now available both on Facebook and MySpace, allows for fundraising and eases recruiting. Easy sharing can increase the viral spread of videos and web pages. Innovative mashups like those promoted by Netsquared with their Mashup Challenge make information and calls to action more easily available to more people. We'll survey the available functionality and describe how to use the different variants for education and activism activities, as well as giving tips on how to become part of the particlar social network community that the participant is interested in.

The program is here, but you only have a few more days to sign up so get on it!

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Wikileaks Retaliates Against Scientology Threats

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Wikinews has learned that The Church of Scientology has warned the documents leaking site Wikileaks.org that they are in violation of United States copyright laws after they published several documents related to the Church. Wikileaks has no intentions of complying, and states that in response, they intend to publish thousands of Scientology documents next week.

Good for them! It's heartening to see that now that one well publicized organization has stood up to their bully tactics, others are following.

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Unintended Dangers of Vista

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What can happen when you become numbed to the security alerts.

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“Upgrading” To XP From Vista

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A good story about a man who had terrible problems with a slow Vista computer that became so fast after downgrading to XP that it was more accurate to call it an upgrade.

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