Thursday, January 31, 2008

The art of poetry

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... To feel that waking is another dream that dreams of not dreaming and that the death we fear in our bones is the death that every night we call a dream. ... To gaze at a river made of time and water And remember Time is another river. To know we stray like a river and our faces vanish like water. To feel that waking is another dream that dreams of not dreaming and that the death we fear in our bones is the death that every night we call a dream. To see in every day and year a symbol of all the days of man and his years, and convert the outrage of the years into a music, a sound, and a symbol. To see in death a dream, in the sunset a golden sadness--such is poetry, humble and immortal, poetry, returning, like dawn and the sunset. Sometimes at evening there's a face that sees us from the deeps of a mirror. Art must be that sort of mirror, disclosing to each of us his face. They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders, wept with love on seeing Ithaca, humble and green. Art is that Ithaca, a green eternity, not wonders. Art is endless like a river flowing, passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same and yet another, like the river flowing. [by Jorge Luis Borges. Here's the source.]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

3-year-old found frozen to death in Saskatchewan

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It's precisely the kind of news you don't want to see. A three-year-old girl has been found frozen to death on the Yellowquill First Nation east of Saskatoon, the Globe and Mail just reported. Her one-year-old sister is still missing, and her fatherA three-year-old girl has been found frozen to death on the Yellowquill First Nation east of Saskatoon, the Globe and Mail just reported. Her one-year-old sister is still missing, and her father, who is suffering from frostbite and hypothermia, was rescued.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Changes to come: if Obama wins

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Something I got from a forwarded email :)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Miscellaneous security software (part 2)

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This is part 10 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 2 of my reviews of miscellaneous security software. Covers firewalls and Windows updates, and wraps up this segment.[If you just landed here: this is part of a series. Click here for a table of contents]

Firewall reviews
I'll try to keep this one short. I had a real hard time choosing my firewall, and had to try all the available options (I've never used one I had to pay for). The reasons for having a firewall is obvious: the one that comes built-in with Windows isn't competent, and according to a study, someone tries to hack your computer within 7 seconds of online time (I can't remember the sources, but it was possibly a UK security firm that conducted the research). I've used Comodo,
Kerio and ZoneAlarm; I've also used the firewalls that come as part of the security suites every antivirus company has to offer (except NOD32 and BitDefender).

Among the latter category, Kaspersky's firewall is perhaps best, although my conclusion is you do need a third-party firewall. In that case, you don't really need an antivirus security suite, just the antivirus would do. This narrows down my picks to Comodo, Kerio and ZoneAlarm.
Comodo Firewall Pro (v3.0) is, despite the misleading title, free. And it's a pretty good firewall. Comodo is great for advanced users, but should be okay with normal joes too. There's an new intrusion detection system that should detect unknown threats, but unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to test this feature. It's not too heavy on RAM and crashed on one occasion.

ZoneAlarm is a longtime champ, but isn't dominating the firewall market as it used to (with all the new firewalls popping up). ZoneAlarm (v7.0.362) has a new 'game mode' (that makes sure you aren't bothered with alerts when you're busy playing video games on your PC). The interface needs a facelift; I'm tired of seeing the almost-same thing for years. It's also getting RAM intensive day by day. However, ZoneAlarm is still incredibly user-friendly.

Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall (v4.40) is pretty famous these days, mostly due to its configuration options. It's easy on system resources, but gave me nightmares: Kerio crashed far too often and seemed to ask far too many questions. Need I say more?

Symantec has recently acquired Sygate Personal Firewall, so now it's part of Norton Internet Security 2007. I've used Sygate before and found it a strong contender to ZoneAlarm. But Sygate had configuration hassles, now that it's part of the Symantec camp I'm probably never going to use it again. My experience: anything from Norton is a no-no.

Okay, so which firewall do you go for? If you've never used anything else from the one in Windows, I suggest you try out Comodo and ZoneAlarm. Stick to the one that you feel most comfortable with, for firewalls, like registry cleaners, are long-term investments. I personally prefer ZoneAlarm because: 1. it's incredibly simple; 2. I've got used to it; 3. it doesn't bother you with too many prompts.

Your call.

Updating Windows
Let's face it: Windows' update mechanism isn't perfect, and the auto-update feature has often caused annoyances. Frustrated,
for a long time I had (foolishly) decided to not be bothered with the latest Windows updates altogether -- heck, why did I have to be care when I had a rock-steady firewall, antivirus and all other security software necessary installed? I subsequently discovered that I couldn't, for example, access my Wi-Fi network from my laptop without updating Windows. But I still didn't want to turn automatic updates on, and ultimately found salvation in Autopatcher XP.

I now have some bad news. Microsoft has very recently engaged in a tussle with Autopatcher, and the end result is Autopatcher is history. Still, if you haven't updated your XP in a long while, and want a top-notch updating experience (that you can customize too), hunt for the latest version you can find online. It's made lots of folks happy (myself included, Microsoft excluded) and you're just unlucky you reached the bandwagon when it stopped moving.

Conclusion
If you've picked your arsenal from the categories mentioned in this post and have an antivirus installed (see my antivirus reviews), your PC should be a fortress. Software junkies have a very hard time restraining themselves from checking out new software, but when it comes to security, it's best to stick to the options that are working for you. So how does this all contribute to optimizing your broadband|Windows|Firefox experience? Well, if your PC is secure and running smoothly, there's a much better chance that your online experience won't suffer from problems stemming from your home front (i.e. from within your computer). And you have that feeling of digital invincibility. God mode!

Next: soon!

US spy satellite dies, will crash to earth

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[Updated] A large US spy satellite has lost power and is headed for a crash in late February or March.Update: They're planning to shoot down the 5,000-pound satellite from a Navy ship, according to Bloomberg. The shoot-down has been delayed due to poor weather.

A large US spy satellite has lost power and is headed for a crash in late February or March, government officials requesting anonymity revealed to the Washington Post. The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it's unknown where on the planet it might come down, they said. The information is reportedly classified as secret.

Mad girl's love song

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I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my lids and all is born again. (I think I made you up inside my head.)I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my lids and all is born again. (I think I made you up inside my head.) The stars go waltzing out in blue and red, And arbitrary blackness gallops in: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead. I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane. (I think I made you up inside my head.) God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade: Exit seraphim and Satan's men: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead. I fancied you'd return the way you said, But I grow old and I forget your name. (I think I made you up inside my head.) I should have loved a thunderbird instead; At least when spring comes they roar back again. I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead. (I think I made you up inside my head.) by Sylvia Plath [source: PDF]

Friday, January 25, 2008

World's weirdest week?

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This really must be the weirdest week ever! I'm a longtime fan of the 'odd news' columns on websites, and swear I haven't seen such an outburst of craziness ever, ranging from Canada to Australia. Laughs guaranteed.This really must be the weirdest week ever! I'm a longtime fan of the 'odd news' columns on websites, and swear I haven't seen such an outburst of craziness ever. Here's the summary:
  • The Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation is in a mess due to a self-redemption casino kiosk in Regina mistakenly giving out $20 bills instead of $5s. The company is now trying to track down the lucky folks by examining security camera footage.
  • There's (yet again) a new Mars photo released by NASA that features a statue-like figure. There's a hi-res version of the image (24 megs, TIF format) available so check it out.
  • A man in Australia first got bit by a crocodile, then got shot by a friend who was trying to help him. The doctor has no doubt in mind that the gunshot saved his life (I think the guy might not agree).
  • Two Oklahoma City cinemas are warning moviegoers that the latest horror flick 'Cloverfield' could cause nausea akin to a rollercoaster effect. The film, however, broke a January box office record.
  • A British Columbia court has ruled that the city of Penticton must pay an artist for a statue of a naked man whose genitals keep getting vandalized repeatedly.
  • There's actually an internet privacy law in effect in Greece that allows pedophiles to roam at large, even if the police manage to track them down. Not funny.
  • Canadian and US experts have concluded that weird names are replacing the classic name choices for babies, such as Matthew and Olivia. Parents seem to consciously avoid the top 20 baby names these days, and the result isn't always sensible. There's actually a little girl living in Connecticut whose named Asshole. In a separate turn of events, NZ authorities have denied a couple from naming their kid 4real, so they've decided to call him Superman.
  • A criminal group was uncovered in Algeria that made porn DVDs and put well-known Islamic preachers on the covers to disguise them. The police said that many customers bought the DVDs in good faith.
  • Russian scientists have discovered that cockroaches conceived in outer space grow faster than their earthly counterparts, and run faster and are hardier.
  • A Chinese boy trying to evade piano lessons called up the police and said his dad was trying to sell him.
  • The heads of the Al-Arab and Fallaheen families of Qena, Egypt have signed a pact that will end a troublesome 'mustache war'. The families had previously abducted each others' leaders and shaved off their mustaches, beards, hair and eyebrows, which sparked off a series of violent clashes in which the two parties fought each other with clubs and sticks.
Okay, I might be infrequent in blogging for the next couple of weeks. Not kidding. Work, work.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fighting with your partner improves longevity, study says

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It's official: fighting with your spouse actually helps you live longer, according to a new study.It's official: fighting with your spouse actually helps you live longer (why am I grinning? :D) Researchers at the University of Michigan recently released findings gathered over 17 years and across 192 couples, according to Reuters. The study found that people who keep their anger in are twice more likely to die early than those who speak their mind. Apparently, it's the resentment generated by suppressed anger that mingles with any medical vulnerabilities a person might have, and eventually aggravates the problem. Conclusion? It's healthy to recognize that you're being attacked unfairly and it's even more healthy to speak up and to talk about it and try to resolve the problem if you want to live longer, the lead author of the study said.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top 7 reasons why Blogger+Adsense+Analytics sucks

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My angry compilation of reasons that make a Blogger experience drudgery.My angry compilation of reasons that make a Blogger experience drudgery.
  1. Blogger has only 16 templates you can choose from. That's poor. Plus, you don't really have stretched 3-column templates.
  2. Custom templates and widgets aren't really much help either. Blogger's R&D department (if there really is one) is slow when it comes to upgrading, and when it does, it makes sure all your stuff is screwed.
  3. If you've signed up for Adsense, brace yourself. You'll wake up on mornings where you'll discover Google ads splashed in places you never put them. If you plan to continue using Adsense, get used to it, and see a shrink if necessary. If you haven't seen your Adsense messing up your day yet, you're either blessed or need a shrink already.
  4. Bloggers are stats-needy. Google is sympathetic and has Google Analytics. Unfortunately, it often analyzes your traffic horribly wrong. Example: right now it's telling me nobody's visited this blog in the last three days. Yeah, right.
  5. Templates are supposed to be pure simple darn code. Not on Blogger: your widgets contort at times, and often your whole blog turns Firefox only. Now, whoever said Google isn't planning to be the next Microsoft?
  6. You have images on your blog? Wow. I hope they all load. The ones on my blog don't, more often than not, and you get to say an ugly CSS blob. Refreshing the page doesn't help most of the time either. Categories? Meta tags? Let's not even get into that.
  7. Adsense should be pretty normal too. Like you can filter your ads and stuff. Doesn't work: I've mailed Adsense a couple of times, and gave up on removing the kissing tutorials I have for YouTube referrals. Same thing happened for text ads, and I couldn't stop Google from promoting gay dating sites on my blog (I'm not racist or sexist or anything of the sort, btw).
Result: I've opted out of Adsense, have Sitemeter on my blog and am considering a switch to WordPress. The only thing about Blogger that keeps my nerves right is it's simple to get published. Right now I don't have any time to spend on template hacking or figuring out how Adsense can be put on a leash. When I'm better off there's a good chance I will be saying tataz to Blogger for good. I might or might not fool around with code then.

Update: I'm sticking to Blogger for the time being (plus because if I migrate to WordPress or elsewhere I'll have to edit all my posts). I'm giving Google Adsense another shot (let's see how well it performs this time around); and Sitemeter will have to do.

Google search share drops, Yahoo! rises

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Latest results from Comscore reveal a drop in Google's share in the search engine market. Yahoo! is enjoying a popularity boost.

SVW reports:

Latest results from Comscore show a slight drop of 0.2 percentage points in Google's share of search in December 2007 compared with November 2007 to 58.4 percent. Second place Yahoo gained 0.5 percentage points to 22.9 per cent over the same period. The reason?

According to Comscore, Americans conducted 9.6 billion searches at the core search engines, representing a 3.9-percent decline versus November. With many Americans traveling and spending time away from home during the holidays, search activity typically experiences a seasonal decline during December. Google Sites saw 5.6 billion core searches during the month, while Yahoo! Sites recorded 2.2 billion. Here's what I think: The holiday season just might be the reason Google lost some share in the search engine market (for Google, 0.2 percent would be thousands and thousands of users). However -- Yahoo! has made tremendous progress in recent times (although it's in a financially tight spot). I'm not saying that there's any chance Yahoo! will beat Google, but right now Yahoo! is a much more worthier opponent than it used to be. Plus, Google's spot-free reputation seems to be facing scrutiny: not all of its services did well in 2007, and I'm even wondering whether they'll dump Notebook (read more here). Blogger seems to have lost out permanently to Wordrpress too, and I recently had a pretty hard time on Blogger myself (here).

The Telegraph's 100 must-read books for children

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The Telegraph has come up with a list of 100 books that 'every child should read', in order to, of course, make sure they remain readers for life. I think it's poorly compiled. The Telegraph has come up with a list of 100 books that 'every child should read', in order to, of course, make sure they remain readers for life. The list features an introduction by Michael Morpurgo and is divided into three parts: the early years, the middle years and the early teens. I checked out the list: most of the titles are popular stuff, including Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, Mark Twain, Philip Pullman, and CS Lewis.

The whole thing seems to be bordering on fantastic literature, but surprisingly, the Arabian Nights or Hans Christian Andersen aren't on the list. Huckleberry Finn or Oliver Twist isn't there either (although you have Tom Sawyer and Great Expectations); and only one title from the Harry Potter series makes the list (honestly, haven't kids grown up with Harry Potter throughout all three aforementioned stages of childhood?). I was almost hurt to find out Jules Verne or Bram Stoker don't even feature, while Morpurgo himself pops up a couple of times. Do we smell a controversy here? All in all, this pretty much shows how poorly we estimate children's reading. Scrolling through the whole list feels like moving through snapshots of just another boring feel-good movie with little variations in theme. If I were a kid I'd feel cheated.

JK Rowling hit the right chord with kids with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was a children's book that combined horror, Bildungsroman and mystery elements -- and still went on to become massively popular. In other words, kids do think a lot like us adults. Let's hope all those listers and writers learn from this. [image: Telegraph]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Miscellaneous security software (part 1)

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This is part 9 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 1 of my reviews of miscellaneous security software. Covers anti-spyware, anti-adware, registry cleaners, junk file cleaners, and install monitors.The following aren't really reviews, but should provide you with everything you need to know.

Anti-spyware and anti-adware reviews
Most antivirus applications today come with built-in anti-spywares, so unless you're suspicious something is wrong with your PC you don't need to worry. However, it would be a good idea to install a third-party anti-spyware and anti-adware once in a while to make sure everything's under control. The chief anti-spyware and anti-adware brands are Windows Defender (from Microsoft), Ad-Aware 2007 Free (Lavasoft), AVG Anti-Spyware Free Edition (Grisoft) and Spybot S&D (Safer Networking). Note that I haven't mentioned any paid software, such as the popular Spy Sweeper (Webroot Software). It hardly makes any sense to spend money on something your antivirus is already partially taking care of (the free antiviruses are lagging in this department).

So which one should you use? No single program can detect all spyware/adware, so one isn't enough. What I do is I spring clean my computer once a month or so -- I install at least two anti-spyware/adware programs and do a thorough check (I like Ad-Aware and Spybot, although Windows Defender is, surprisingly, pretty good; AVG has failed to impress, especially in the definition updates department). Once I'm done I uninstall them -- and that takes us to the issue of registry cleaners.

Registry cleaner/fixer reviews
Whatever you call them, if you own a Windows you should have at least one, if not two. There are loads of registry cleaners out there, and buying one (or two) isn't probably a bad idea; like anti-spyware/adware, no two registry cleaners scan for the same items. Eusing Free Registry Cleaner (v1.6), Abexo Free Registry Cleaner (v1) and the little-mentioned RegSeeker (v1.51) are (you guessed) three of the best free ones out there; I also liked TweakNow RegCleaner Standard (v3.0.1). On the shareware front, Registry Mechanic (v7.0; $39.95) is probably the biggest name out there. My favourite, however, is RegVac (v5.01; $29.95; don't be deceived by the sloppy looks) -- it did a superb job cleaning up my registry. Expert users might fall in love with jv16 PowerTools (v2007; $29.95; v2008 coming up soon) -- a fantastic, fantastic piece of software.

By the way, I feel Registry Mechanic is highly overrated (and aggressively marketed by PC Tools), and so is Ashampoo WinOptimizer (v4.41; $49.99). You can't really forgive a registry cleaner if it cleans only a select number of errors in the trial version, or if the company keeps emailing you about the latest offers till kingdom come. Plus, none of these could really match the performance of RegVac or jv16 either.

I use RegVac alongside RegSeeker, and I'm happy with them. I also fiddle with Abexo at times. The golden rule of registry cleaning: if it's not broke, don't fix it. In other words stay happy if your current registry cleaner does the job well for you. If you're looking for a registry cleaner, make sure it has a backup/restore feature. Your registry isn't something you'd want to mess around with. If you're not really familiar with your Windows' registry, always go with the default settings of your cleaner. Every registry cleaner will also optimize/defrag the registry, which really boosts computer performance; and these days they also include tools to fine-tune or clean up your PC (cache cleaner, etc).

Junk file cleaner reviews
I don't really know what else to call them, but 'privacy software' would probably be more appropriate. The stuff they do is clean up all the accumulated junk files on your computer, and hence they're indispensable. Since CCleaner (latest: v2.40.543) debuted, there aren't really many candidates to pick from in this category. CCleaner is free and cleans up your computer really well; in addition, it also cleans up your registry a bit.

The one I use is paid software: Tracks Eraser Pro (latest is v7.0; $29.95; I have a much older version) has an intuitive interface and cleans up your PC fast. Plus, it has some additional features, such as stealth mode, the ability to shred recycle bin files (a must if you deal with sensitive information) and a boss key. My bet: go with Tracks Eraser, or combine CCleaner with Eraser (v5.7; completely shreds sensitive files), to make sure your PC is clean of trash.

Monitor changes to your computer
One of my favourite software is WinPatrol from BillP Studios. It's free, but there's a paid version as well. What it basically does is it monitors any changes to your system upon a software installation. In other words, you get to choose what an installed software gets to do on your computer. This is a really, really useful tool that goes a long way in keeping your PC healthy. Other software, such as some antiviruses and some firewalls, often perform this function, but never as well as WinPatrol does. I've never seen it giving false alarms, and it doesn't consume much RAM either. A must have.

Next: picking a firewall and updating Windows

Antivirus reviews 2008 (part 3)

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This is part 8 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 3 of my review of this year's antivirus software. Concluding episode covering free antivirus apps.[Antivirus software reviews: jump to avast! Antivirus 4.7.1098 Home Edition review | Avira Antivir 7.06.00.268 Personal Edition Classic review | AVG Anti-Virus 7.5.516 Free Edition review | Conclusion | part 1 | part 2 | Anti-spyware reviews | Firewall reviews | this is part of a series on optimizing broadband, Windows and Firefox: here's the intro page with the table of contents.]
Note: I no longer update this page. For an updated and easily navigable version, check out AV Scan.


Free antivirus software have certainly come a long way, and can no longer be ignored on grounds of incompetence. I've had free antivirus succeeding in situations where the big names all gave way. Here are the top 3 antivirus software:


avast! Home Edition

Alwil product page | top

The latest version of avast (v4.7.1098) is reportedly very good. I have friends who are long time users of avast, and they're happy with it. I myself used it for a couple of weeks. It's good: it has a good boot-time scanner, and it's much better catching viruses and malware now.
It's light on system resources, too. avast is clearly the best free antivirus out there, although I can't really say it's as good as a decent paid antivirus (it did, however, catch worms that Norton and an older version of McAfee missed). avast's download servers aren't the best (or at least the ones they have in Asia aren't); like all free antivirus software, their real-time scanner needs improvement; and once it's running on your PC you'll get lots of false alerts (mostly update-related). I had a very weird problem with a previous version of avast (v4.6; I forgot to test it on the latest one): I use a DD-MM-YY date format on my computer, but avast seems to recognize only MM-DD-YY. As a result I couldn't use the software after a point; avast kept reminding me that my license had expired. I wrote to Alwil (the company) about it more than once, but didn't get a reply. The problem wasn't fixed in the upcoming weeks, so I decided I had had enough. The avast icons, spinning on their own (one of them) in the system tray, is a sight that I can't stand (why do you need to have spinning, bloated-looking icons?). And although avast has many skins available, the interface needs to be much more intuitive.
Summary: decent detection rate, light on system resources; poor interface, support is poor
Price: free


Avira AntiVir PE Classic

Avira product page | top

Let me put it this way: AntiVir is a good free antivirus, but it suffers from some issues avast doesn't. (I felt) AntiVir had a better detection rate than avast (contrary to the reviews you'll read), or is just as good. The interface is nice, the red umbrella icon is pleasing, and the real-time scan is definitely better than avast. The latest version (v7.06.00.268) is, unfortunately, buggier than the previous one. My MSN Messenger refused to run anymore once I installed AntiVir; the website is agonizingly non-intuitive; it takes ages to run the complete scan, and worse, it alerts you when it finds a virus and refuses to move on until you've specified an action. The last feature alone is enough to turn off many users.
Summary: good/decent detection engine, nice interface; buggy, slow scan speed, have to treat infections one at a time
Price: free


AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

AVG Technologies product page | top

AVG is, quite frankly, the most popular free antivirus out there. According to reviews, it has a good detection rate and offers solid protection. From my experience, it's horrible, and its popularity and critical acclaim (5 stars by CNet and a VB100% award) is one of my great software junkie mysteries. It can't catch viruses, and seems to avoid malware altogether. It's not really RAM intensive, but definitely is heavier on system resources compared to AntiVir or even avast. AVG Technologies (formerly Grisoft) isn't really responsive to virus outbreaks, and the updates dealing with a particular situation often appear too late. Last but not the least, the interface gets the job done, but seriously, seriously needs cosmetic surgery.
Summary: poor detection rate, updates aren't up-to-date, ugly interface
Price: free


Conclusion | top
It's clear that the bigshots in the game are rapidly losing ground. McAfee and Norton users are already switching to newbies like Kaspersky. Kaspersky, NOD32, F-Secure and BitDefender are all excellent software, although excessive RAM consumption seems to be an incurable trait of antivirus applications themselves. It's also interesting to note that it's getting harder to pinpoint a clear winner anymore -- the distinction between a good and great antivirus is not so distinct. I'm especially surprised at McAfee's situation: in recent times they've come up with a great Site Adviser tool that enjoyed tremendous popularity, but the company simply hasn't managed to cash on it.

All the big names in the antivirus arena have flopped big time. McAfee still suffers from a stupid interface and RAM consumption issues, Norton has its bugs and uninstallation problems and Trend Micro's track record is so bad of late that nobody's even bothered to give it a try. Some antivirus software that have been around for a while, such as Panda, are yet to hit the mark. Kaspersky is clearly poised to become the next major antivirus brand. It's received excellent reviews and users are rarely unhappy with it. The only competitor that can really be a threat to Kaspersky is NOD32, which has perhaps already surpassed Kaspersky's virtues. BitDefender has suddenly raised the bar for all antivirus software by offering a substantially cheaper price tag. You can almost be sure there'll be a trend of all major brands being forced to lower prices as well, which is a good thing for us users. Kaspersky needs to lower its price if it wants to hold on to its ambitions, and F-Secure will remain as underrated if it doesn't come cheaper.

On the free front, my advice: don't use free antivirus software unless you absolutely have to. Despite what you might have heard or read, they're not as good as their paid counterparts. Real-time scanning is an area they need to concentrate on, and the lack of finesse they all seem to suffer from is something that should have been solved a long time ago. If you're absolutely cash-strapped, tryout avast and AVG to find out which best suits you.

I missed out on some brands: CA (formerly eTrust EZ Antivirus), Comodo and BitDefender Free. I haven't tried any of them, although it's worth pointing out that Comodo is still in beta and BitDefender Free is only an on-demand scanner. You can also scan your computer for viruses free online from Trend Micro, Panda, and BitDefender websites; I tried Trend Micro and BitDefender's online scans but they always terminated prematurely due to one issue or another.

All that being said, it really depends on what antivirus best suits your computer. Read the reviews and decide for yourself. If I were you, I'd go for NOD32. I currently use Kaspersky but am planning not to renew my subscription, due to the problems I mentioned. If you're on a budget, go for BitDefender.

Next: anti-spyware, adware, registry cleaners and such

Monday, January 21, 2008

Antivirus reviews 2008 (part 2)

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This is part 7 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 2 of my take on this year's antivirus software. Covers NAV, McAfee and Trend Micro.[Antivirus software reviews: jump to Norton Antivirus 2008 review | McAfee VirusScan Plus with SiteAdvisor 2008 review |
Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware review
| part 1 | part 3 | Anti-spyware reviews | Firewall reviews | this is part of a series on optimizing broadband, Windows and Firefox: here's
the intro page with the table of contents.]

Note: I no longer update this page. For an updated and easily navigable version, check out AV Scan.

This brings us to the biggies, and Norton is probably the biggest antivirus brand that's out there, so let's start with that.

Norton Antivirus
Symantec product page | top

Symantec has this habit of coming up with minor variations of Norton every year: they're more or less the same, or only rarely significantly improved (some say v2007 was a leap ahead). Norton can be a real pain at times: some of its updates have reportedly been chaotic (a bit like Windows in that department, eh), and from my experience, it's poor at catching viruses; the excellent/good reviews it keeps getting every year is perhaps due to Symantec's aggressive marketing policies than anything else. I've used Norton longer than any other software (yes, any kind of software). The current version is 2008, but its update servers are, still, slow; and since its the bestselling antivirus in the world, all the hackers seem to be intent on exploiting its weaknesses. Moreover, its uninstallation process is (and has always been) terrible: it just won't remove all the files, so you have to do that manually. And, it's more RAM-hungry than many of the newbies that do the job much better.
Summary: grossly overrated antivirus, poor detection rate, uninstallation process doesn't remove files.
Price: $39.99 (1 user)


McAfee VirusScan Plus

McAfee product page | top

McAfee could certainly have boasted at one point of time for having bested Norton in popularity rankings. We used to think it was the most 'solid' antivirus program out there, and we were right back then. But excessive RAM congestion has always been McAfee's prime dislikeable feature. Even today if you're running McAfee on an average PC, you'll surely notice an overall performance drop in your desktop experience. Most other antivirus software have improved greatly, and McAfee can't really claim it's the best or hardest on viruses anymore -- probably in any department. The interface badly needs a sensibility implant (you'll get cautioned if you don't have McAfee Internet Security or Parental Control on). Perhaps the company needs such an implant too: how else would you explain failing to cash on the very useful and popular SiteAdvisor tool? And of course, SiteAdvisor alone can't be enough to hope users will stick around with the antivirus. Among the improvements, McAfee scans links while you're chatting away on AOL or Yahoo IM (though it doesn't support the latest versions till date). Funny: McAfee won't scan your computer upon installation, but once installed will proclaim you're protected.
Summary: good detection rate, can scan links within some IMs; the big daddy of RAM hogs, clumsy interface.
Price: $39.99 (1 user)


Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware

Trend Micro product page | top

You might not think of PC-Cillin as one of the antivirus superweights, but a few years back TrendMicro had certainly won the hearts of many with its flagship product. Today the name has changed (it's ugly and longish), but it's still fast, and installs like a breeze. Updating is easy -- but the update server seemed slow. I remember trying everything I could sometime last year to clean my PC of a worm infection. PC-Cillin found it, but couldn't fix or delete it. In other words, the virus seemed to take over PC-Cillin in a snap, because after that PC-Cillin couldn't even find it! I didn't have the same virus on my computer, so I couldn't check how v2008 fared against it. In general, Trend Micro products have a history of failing to detect old viruses; even macro and boot viruses. The latest version has got a facelift, can scan links while chatting within AOL and Yahoo IMs (supports latest versions), seems faster, and certainly nails malware better. Independent reviewers haven't really shown much interest in reviewing Trend Micro yet, so you can't find any data on the internet. In other words, there's no statistical evidence that this antivirus performs better than another. From my experience, it feels like a much-improved piece of software.
Summary: good detection rate, can scan links within some IMs, good interface, fast; lack of performance data
Price: $39.95 (1 user)

Next: what's the best antivirus out there? (part 3: freebies and conclusion)

Antivirus reviews 2008 (part 1)

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This is part 6 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series -- and is part 1 of my take on this year's antivirus software. Non-geeky and honest.
[Antivirus software reviews: jump to BitDefender Antivirus 2008 review | Kaspersky Anti-virus 7.0 review | ESET NOD32 Antivirus 3.0 review | ZoneAlarm Antivirus review | Panda Antivirus 2008 review | F-Secure Anti-Virus 2008 review | part 2 | part 3 | Anti-spyware reviews | Firewall reviews | this is part of a series on optimizing broadband, Windows and Firefox: here's the intro page with the table of contents.]

Note: I no longer update this page. For an updated and easily navigable version, check out AV Scan.

Intro

Linux users are lucky: there aren't really many viruses that target them. Even Mac folks don't have to lose sleep over virus attacks too often. But life for us Windows people is different. Much of our digital worries hover about the possibility that a single malicious program could turn the world upside down.

To make sure I'm insured for the next digital doomsday, over the past few weeks I've checked out all the major brands of antivirus software, including free antivirus software (all latest versions till date). My poor PC had to go through a horrible degree of abomination, but in the end my finds were sure worth it. First of all, you should know that
  • this isn't a data-centric report. I neither have the intention nor the resources to come up with that kind of thing (you can check out Download.com, About.com, Consumer Search, PC Magazine and PC World for stats; amazingly, the test results differ across these reviews even when they're using the same parameters. Also, google to look up a particular antivirus version review).
  • what I've come up with is a plain-talk user account. However, I've tested (read 'applied') different home user versions of standalone antivirus software on my PC under the same conditions (courtesy of Acronis TrueImage; OS: Windows XP).
  • all prices mentioned are in US$ and generally include a 1-year virus definitions subscription.
All the major reviews this year seem to be bent on hailing BitDefender or Kaspersky. You should know that each year it's different; a few years back the tussle was between Norton and McAfee, and after that PC-Cillin and Kaspersky broke in. There always seems to be a general drift towards celebrating a particular antivirus brand. But trust me: they're almost always wrong. Or they do all their testing on alien PCs (no pun intended).


BitDefender
BitDefender product page | top



This year's champ won many hearts with its price tag: a one year subscription for 3 users (yes, that wasn't a typo) costs only $23.96. BitDefender is a vastly improved product in its current incarnation (the current version is 2008), although version 9 (the last one I used) was good too. BitDefender did a good job cleaning up my PC; it looks sleek these days, and scan speed seems to have slightly improved. However, my chief complaint against BitDefender is it eats up a lot of your RAM. And a hell lot: in fact, if you're using an older machine you might even think your PC has crashed for good (I tested it on a 2.0 -something GHz Celeron, and it's going to curse me for the rest of its days).
Summary: good detection rate, great price tag, improved interface; slow scan speed, RAM hog.
Price: $23.96 (for 3 users)


Kaspersky

Kaspersky Labs product page | top


I've used Kaspersky since its infancy, and the thing I like about it is the way it updates its database. Kaspersky responds to security threats fast, and scans all Internet traffic in real time to block viruses before they are saved to disk. Kaspersky isn't impenetrable, as its fans (including myself) used to believe. But then again that faith stems from the fact that it's so good at catching viruses -- if not the best. It scans well and fast (unless you're using the highest settings), and one might argue that the relatively high $59.95 price tag for a single user license is worth it. The interface is better than before, but could be better; it seems to eat up more RAM than its previous versions. The problem with Kaspersky is an almost silly one: its update mechanism often fails, leaving you in minutes of sluggish online experience; worse, it will then keep nagging you even if your virus database is only a few days old, making the situation seem much worse than it really is (many users, especially people who use dial-up, rely completely on weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly virus definitions downloads). The situation really gets on your nerves when you discover that Kaspersky is downloading all the files it needs, but somehow can't update its database. While you can adjust the way Kaspersky updates, it's worth pointing out that the auto-update is perhaps its prime feature. You get the idea. The latest version is 7.0.
Summary: good detection rate, quick to respond to virus outbreaks; update mechanism acts weird at times, eats more RAM than previous versions, interface could be better.
Price: $59.95 (1 user)


NOD32

ESET product page | top


You might have heard a lot of praise for NOD32: professional virus testers use NOD32, and its virus detection engine is considered the industry benchmark. It really is that good. It's not heavy on RAM, and the updating process works like a charm. Most review magazines have long blamed NOD32 for its unintuitive interface, but version 3 and over fare better in that department. I feel NOD32's interface shortcomings was (and continues to be) much exaggerated. Eset (the makers of NOD32) recommend Eset Smart Security for home users, which includes a firewall and costs $59.99 for a one-year single user license. I'd suggest you go ahead with just the NOD32 Antivirus (v3.0), which costs $39.99, and use it alongside a stand-alone firewall.
Summary: great detection rate, good update mechanism, latest interface is much more intuitive, light on system resources.
Price: $39.99 (1 user)


ZoneAlarm Antivirus

Check Point product page (antivirus) (security suite) | top


ZoneAlarm is perhaps best known as a great firewall, but these days the company (Check Point) has started offering an antivirus as well. It's essentially a variant of Kaspersky (version 6.0?), but it's not as good. It scanned really, really slowly; it doesn't have enough options for scans; it fared poorly in cleaning up registry entries generated by malware; it came up with false alerts (an area where other antivirus programs have improved greatly); and I really can't trust Check Point on effective user support or disaster management, because they're into firewalls, not antivirus software (and, the antivirus they made sucks). The only reason I'm discussing ZoneAlarm Antivirus at all is it's part of the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite (v7.1) -- and the bundle comes pretty cheap at $49.95.
Summary: good detection rate, not heavy on the wallet (as part of the ZA Security Suite); slow scan speed, can't clean up leftover registry entries, lacks scanning options, Vista support issues.
Price: $29.95 (1 user); $49.95 for ZA Security Suite (1 user)


Panda

Panda Software product page | top


I liked the looks of Panda Antivirus: any antivirus software that's called 'panda' deserves praise :D Panda Antivirus (v 2008) installs quickly, and its real-time scanner is good and even underrated. But the good part stops there. Panda doesn't seem to respond to new threats quickly enough, and once installed, your PC takes an annoying while to boot (not to mention the panda head icon that appears on the bottom-right corner of your screen and gets on your nerves soon enough. You might even end up appreciating pandas less). Independent reviewers seem to be uninterested in Panda as well, which makes it hardly a popular choice. Worst part: Panda eats up a lot of your RAM.
Summary: good detection rate, affordable; slow scan speed, RAM hog extraordinaire.
Price: $39.95 (for 3 users, 1 year)


F-Secure

F-Secure product page | top



I ended up using F-Secure for almost the entire trial period. The new version is massively improved and it detects viruses fairly well (reviews have traditionally underrated F-Secure's engine). It updates quickly and frequently (in small files, a lot like Kaspersky) too. The reason I gave up on it is it eats up a lot of RAM. In that respect, it shares the same curse as BitDefender. It's also pricey.
Summary: good detection rate, good update mechanism; pricey, RAM-intensive.
Price: $97 (for 3 users; the price is actually €65.90 on the company website)

Next: (part 2: the biggies)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blogger woes (read this blog in Firefox)

bored_product_guy
New feature: please sign up for my posts, by subscribing via email or feeds (click on a post or this article header if you can't see it). It's pretty simple, and you get all the stuff downloaded right into your inbox or feed reader.

I'm really getting put off by Blogger. Ever since I've started this blog, I noticed that you often have to hit the refresh button several times to display images properly (you can only see the CSS border but not the image itself). But what's happening right now takes the cake.
Update (January 20, 10.54 pm PST): All thanks to Tom from the Blogger Help group for the steps I needed to fix this blog. Hopefully it should look okay now.

New feature: please sign up for my posts, by subscribing via email or feeds (click on a post or this article header if you can't see it). It's pretty simple, and you get all the stuff downloaded right into your inbox or feed reader.

I'm really getting put off by Blogger. Ever since I've started this blog, I noticed that you often have to hit the refresh button several times to display images properly (you can only see the CSS border but not the image itself).

What's happening right now takes the cake: you can't see the sidebar on the right of this blog in Internet Explorer or Opera (it reappears when you click on a post). I haven't made any major changes in the sidebar of late except adding widgets (which I've now removed), so any reasoning escapes me. I'm completely befuddled. If you're reading this, please view in Mozilla Firefox.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Non-tech ways to improve your Net speed

bored_product_guy

Without your realizing it, your broadband quality could be compromised by the most everyday factors. Did you know that the presence of ground heaters affect your internet connection? Well, I didn't. Here are some tips to make sure appliances and the sort don't bog you down.

  • Keep telephone wires away from power lines. It's recommended not to use a telephone extension cable; most of the time it distorts the signal and cuts down on connection speed.
  • Don't have more than 3 ADSL filters at home.
  • Ground heaters, halogen lamps and vacuum cleaners are power hungry, and the magnetic fields they generate play a role in the alternation of the signal. Don't place your modem or telephone wires near such appliances, unless you want to see a connection drop.
  • Make sure the lead from your modem to the phone socket is as short as possible. If possible, don't overlay the telephone socket. Each additional phone or appliance you plug in affects the signal.
  • Make sure the wires aren't defective. You might be surprised by how easily they wear out.
  • The modems/wireless routers supplied by ISPs are frequently horrible. Use your own modem/router if possible: I'd suggest D-Link. I've heard that using a modem other than the one supplied drastically improves Telus Wi-Fi performance.
For dial-up users:
  • Make sure your phone line doesn't have restricted access (read: is barred from making nation-wide calls).
  • Upgrade to a USB modem.
  • Make sure the wires aren't defective, on the PC or modem or phone slot end.

Until next time, happy surfing!

Why a 56K dial-up will never be even close to 56K

bored_product_guy
This is part 4 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and points out the factors that restrain dial-up connections. Tips to improve speed included.[If you just landed here: this is part of a series. Click here for a table of contents. This article was last updated on: February 05 2008] And it never will be (sorry if this broke your heart). Yes, your dial-up might not be as fast as your ISP is advertising it to be, but make no mistake that you'll never reach your modem-capacity mileage. Reasons (source): 1. Static electricity caused by radio signals, power lines and other sources interfere with your modems signals. This results in the 56K to fall back to 42-50Kbps. 2. 56K modems also require a clean, straight through telephone connection to the telephone company's central office switching center. Phone company line amplifiers that boost a telephone signal over a long distance, PBX switchboard systems, and other phone equipment alter the phone signal and force 56K modems to fall back to speeds of 33.6Kbps and lower. 3. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and such don't allow 56K modems to use the full range of signals that phone company equipment can generate, fearing it'll cause static interference to other phone lines. Therefore, no modem ever connects at 56K. Most 56K modem users seem to connect at speeds of 44-48Kbps, at most. In general it's around 33 Kbps. If you're connecting at very low speeds, you ought to: * Check whether you're dialing the right number * Make sure you've got the basics right (click here for related article) * Check whether your PC is infected with viruses (click here for my antivirus reviews) or anything that's eating up your bandwidth * Update your modem driver (your modem should come with a driver CD/diskette) * Remove any junk files accumulated on your PC (click here for related article) * Look up whether any application you've installed is trying to access the internet by itself (iTunes, Windows Update, Zone Alarm, etc) In addition, * Pop-ups and ads of any sort will eat up your bandwidth * Sometimes flashing your modem's firmware helps boost speed (beware: this is risky business, and often causes far more problems than it's worth ever worth trying. Consult your modem company's website, and if you can't find anything there, try googling) * There are services available that will boost dial-up speeds to near-broadband capacities (3-7 times faster from your usual speed) for a monthly or annual fee. Check out an About.com review. I've used Propel Accelerator and almost cried when my free trial expired (didn't have a credit card). Next: non-tech ways to improve your Net speed

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Art preceding science (again)?

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Among many other things, it points out that Niels Bohr was inspired by Cubism while devising his famous model of atomic structure, and that science actually needs artists to paint pictures inspired by String Theory. I'm still sitting dumbfounded; it's been quite a while since I last read a sensible discourse on the science vs art issue.I just read an article in Seed magazine by Jonah Lehrer titled "The future of science... is art?" Among many other things, it points out that Niels Bohr was inspired by Cubism while devising his famous model of atomic structure, and that science actually needs artists to paint pictures inspired by String Theory. I'm still sitting dumbfounded; it's been quite a while since I last read a sensible discourse on the science vs art issue. At nine pages, Lehrer's article is testing, but it's still definitely a must-read for anyone with a science-aware knack of mind. Reasons for the title to this post: check out this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

'My Net's slow, do I dump my ISP?'

bored_product_guy
This is part 3 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and deals with how to measure your broadband speed. Discusses factors that cut down on your bandwidth.[If you just landed here: this is part of a series. Click here for a table of contents]

Short answer: no. Read on first.

By now I've given you the web addresses you need to determine your internet connection speed. But, if you've tried it out already, you know by now that your speed seems to differ by the hour, and even across speed calculators. Why does that happen?

The primary reason is, your internet speed isn't fixed, and does differ by the hour. You might feel like your ISP is pulling your leg at certain hours when lots of people are logged on to the internet at the same time (this article claims the dreaded hours are 4-6 pm in the UK; by rule of thumb it's the peak office hours, as well as after hours when all the Net freak in the world are busy socializing. Here's a Yahoo! Answers page on that issue, and the responses are almost hilarious at times).

Secondly, different speed tests have different parameters. In case you're aiming to track your internet speed, it's advisable that you stick to any one method. Remember that upload speeds are generally waaaaay slower than download speeds (that's because people upload files much less frequently than they download 'em).

Thirdly, if your PC is attached to a network and someone else is working online, your bandwidth is shared among users. You might be in for some seriously sluggish online moments if the other user(s) are doing download-intensive stuff, such as downloading MP3s or video files.

Hence in case you're up to suing your ISP for not delivering (or deciding to opt for a different ISP, to be more realistic), you should measure your internet speed across different times of the day, and on different days. Compare your average findings to the speed your ISP is advertising. If they're close, be happy and bury the hatchet. Switch to another ISP only if the disparity is alarming. My experience: major ISPs from the same city, despite their claims to offering the best packages, don't really differ in terms of service quality. And, in case you've been using your email accounts provided by your ISP (example: mywoefulemail@telus.com), switching would mean you have to go through the hassle of moving all your data to your new account, which, more often than not, isn't easy. Here's my take on using Telus Wi-Fi.

Advice: ask people around when you're in an internet speed dilemma. Ask a friend who's using a different connection to measure his/her internet speed (or better, check it out yourself when you're visiting, since friends are by default as lazy as ourselves); compare the results to your own findings and ponder.

If you're using a good dial-up connection, there's a chance it might still best the newbie broadband in your locale, so you should always check; but if you have a T-1 or better option available in your area and you're willing to dish out the bill each month, hesitate no further. An average ADSL will always be better than a dial-up, and a T-1 will almost certainly beat an ADSL. Here's some background reading if you're interested in the specs: ADSL vs T-1 (you have to scroll down a bit).

Next:
dial-up secrets

non-tech ways to improve your Net speed

Food hits for 2008

bored_product_guy
Catherine Jheon came up with an interesting list of food stuff that will make it big in 2008. The sources she cites are azcentral, npr's radio show and GlobeLife. The list with my ideas included.Catherine Jheon came up with an interesting list of food stuff that will make it big in 2008. The sources she cites are azcentral, npr's radio show and GlobeLife; here's her picks:
  • We will continue to push aside big plates and chose small, tapas-style entrees. This trend will continue for desserts.
  • Bottle water is out, to be replaced flavoured tap water.
  • Exotic grains such as amaranth and quinoa are in.
  • Gojiberry and pomegranate will step out of the spotlight as blood orange takes centre stage as the new super fruit.
  • Artificial is out and authentic is in. That means goodbye aspartame, hello date sugar.
  • Cupcakes are out.
  • We’ll see a rise of bold flavours specifically from Brazil, Peru, Korea and Africa.
  • Comfort food will continue to get a makeover with dishes such as braised veal-cheek burgers topped with Berkshire pork belly. Call it comfort chic.
  • 2008 will be the year of the pork.
Jheon believes that this will be the "year of ethical eating", and it will see "a rise of vegetarianism, locally-produced food and sustainable seafood as well as organic wines and local breweries". I personally believe the azcentral picks are more sensible (and the slideshow looks great too!). I have a gut feeling Thai food is going to be 'in' (or perhaps this is just my subconscious gastronomically fuelled by WhiteSpot?); blood orange is possibly already the next superfruit, and I don't think "2008 will be the year of the pork" (reason: everything around is trying to go green, as in 'green tech', 'ecofriendly policies' etc. I'm not suggesting we're all going to start munching vegetables en masse, but with so much ethical-eating-and-living philosophies blowing about, there should be an increased general appreciation of fish. Thai/Vietnamese food here again.)

How well do you know your dog?

bored_product_guy
A recent paper published in Animal Cognition journal this week implies that you really don't know your dog as well as you've been used to thinking. A new piece of software is able to classify dog barks according to different situations as well as identify barks from individual dogs.A recent paper published in Animal Cognition journal this week implies that you really don't know your dog as well as you've been used to thinking. Csaba Molnár from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and his research team published a paper in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition, which shows that a new piece of software is able to classify dog barks according to different situations. The software can even identify barks from individual dogs, which is something, well, we can't do. According to ScienceBlog: The aim of Molnár and colleagues’ experiments was to test a computer algorithm’s ability to identify and differentiate the acoustic features of dog barks, and classify them according to different contexts and individual dogs. The software analyzed more than 6000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs (Mudi breed) in six different situations: ‘stranger’, ‘fight’, ‘walk’, ‘alone’, ‘ball’ and ‘play’. The barks were recorded with a tape recorder before being transferred to the computer, where they were digitalized and individual bark sounds were coded, classified and evaluated. In the first experiment looking at classification of barks into different situations, the software correctly classified the barks in 43 percent of cases. The best recognition rates were achieved for ‘fight’ and ‘stranger’ contexts, and the poorest rate was achieved when categorizing ‘play’ barks. These findings suggest that the different motivational states of dogs in aggressive, friendly or submissive contexts may result in acoustically different barks. Allow me to break in at this point: so this means my dog has different 'happy' barks? In the second experiment looking at the recognition of individual dogs, the algorithm correctly classified the barks in 52 percent of cases. The software could reliably discriminate among individual dogs while humans can not, which suggests that there are individual differences in barks of dogs even though humans are not able to recognise them. Okay, that confirms it. The authors conclude by highlighting the value of their new methodology: “The use of advanced machine learning algorithms to classify and analyze animal sounds opens new perspectives for the understanding of animal communication… The promising results obtained strongly suggest that advanced machine learning approaches deserve to be considered as a new relevant tool for ethology.” which is the study of animal behavior, with a focus on behavioral patterns in natural environments. That does it: now they're telling me my computer, if it has the software installed, could 'understand' my dog better than I do? While this is promising tech news (seems like all those animal speech translation machines from science fiction could possibly be built within our lifetime), I can hardly be enthusiastic. After all these years of devoted friendship I get beat by a machine. What, Timmy, now you want to go online?