Thursday, March 29, 2007

Costco Fuel Locations

If, like us, you buy most of your fuel at Costco locations (which consistently have lowest fuel costs), you may have wanted to refuel at Costcos while traveling. Unfortunately, not all Costco stores have fuel.

I've found a website (apparently owned by Costco) which lists locations with fuel. The current date on the bottom of the page is "April 2006" - this may or may not reflect the currency of the data. If you wish to print all five pages, click the "Print" button in the upper-right, then select the range of pages you wish to print.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Try a Podcast!

What are podcasts? They're audio (and sometimes video) programs created by people looking for an audience in any and every discipline. There are millions of podcasts, and almost all are free (in fact, very few generate revenue directly). Even *you* could be producing and distributing a podcast - without spending a dime.

You can play podcasts on your home computer, some TiVos, a portable music player (even iPods!), on some cell phones, and even on some GPS navigation devices - pretty much anything that plays audio files.

A defining characteristic of podcasts is that are they they are distributed via subscriptions. You subscribe to podcasts using a piece of software called a podcasting client. Whenever a new episode of the podcast is available, it automatically downloads to your computer, and (if you have one) to your portable media player. The most popular podcasting client is Apple's free iTunes software, available for Windows and Macintosh. iTunes also has a simple interface for browsing through available podcasts - though the offerings listed are not comprehensive.

Your favorite radio program may be available as a free podcast - try searching online for "showname podcast." Many programs on public radio are available as podcasts.

The podcasts I listen to the most are from fantastic technology journalist Leo Laporte. He's a remarkable combination of professional on-air talent and hands-on geek. Here are some of my other current subscriptions:
  • Leo Laporte the Tech Guy - formerly a Los Angeles AM radio call-in show (2 hours every Sat-Sun), Leo recently got this syndicated
  • This Week in Tech (TWiT) - friends of Leo's from the tech reporting business, and guests from the tech world do a virtual "round table" about whatever is hot this week in technology
  • Security Now - an often very technical show about computer and online security, Leo's friend Steve Gibson is the best example of a Software Engineer/Public Presenter that's probably possible, and Leo additionally moderates for the layperson
  • For a change of pace, I enjoy listening to Science Friday Now! - a podcast excerpted from Ira Flatow's NPR show. There are hundreds of episodes available on many topics, with great guests from the sciences.
Listening to podcasts has been life-changing for me. It makes heretofore irritatingly mindless tasks (like washing the dishes, or driving around L.A.) opportunities for feeding one's brain. You don't have to have a portable music player, but being mobile while listening makes a difference. For example, here's a $32 player at CompUSA with 512MB capacity, which would hold about 17 hours of typical podcasts (at 64kbps). Add a $10 cassette adapter for your car, and you're stylin'. (I recommend that you get a player with a display to manage podcast listening - unlike listening to music, you'll often need to know what episode number you're about to play.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shield Your Family from Undesired Web Content

The Internet brings a wealth of information into your home. But this same mechanism presents a minefield of content which may be inappropriate to users of any age. This device/service may help to prevent more sensitive Internet users from being exposed to this content.

iBoss Pro ($109.95) is a device and a subscription service ($14.95/mo or $119.95/yr) which connects between your broadband connection and your home's or business' computers. All requests from those computers are first passed through the servers of Phantom Technologies (iBoss Pro's manufacturer), where the requests are compared to both customer-configured preferences and Phantom Technologies' databases of suspicious or inappropriate sites. Designed for non-technical users, a web-based interface allows a user with administrator privileges to configure the iBoss Pro to control:
  • Blocking of Websites by Category (the service continually updates a database of sites with questionable content)
  • Application Blocking (controlling which online programs are allowed to connect to the Internet, such as chat clients, games and file sharing services)
  • Scheduled Internet Access (at what times of day any given computer on the local network can connect to the Internet, even what applications can run at certain times of day)
  • Access to sites which may present security risks due to scams or which host malicious software worms and viruses
iBoss Pro can apply these filtering concepts all your computers, or custom filtering on a computer-by-computer basis (this configuration requires an inexpensive network router, not included). You could, for instance, allow your kids to use their video chatting client between 8pm and 9pm. iBoss Pro can also record logs of inbound and outbound activity, and even email reports of both to the administrator. (Note that the iBoss Pro can be circumvented by simply removing it from the network's path, so total security would involve putting in a physically inaccessible location under lock and key.)

Phantom Technologies also offers the original iBoss ($89.95; $7.95/mo or $59.95/yr), which performs similar tasks to iBoss Pro, but does not offer scheduled access features.

Phantom's original product, iPhantom, creates an enterprise-level secure encrypted connection between you and the Internet. iPhantom promises security against someone monitoring your online activity, while also giving you complete anonymity while online (ordinarily, your activities online could identify your home or business network and even which computer from the information which travels all the way to the website's server and back). iPhantom is portable, and can provide a very secure method for connecting through wired access point over which the user has no administrative control. iPhantom can be used concurrently with iBoss and iBoss Pro.

The excellent technology journalist Leo Laporte is an iBoss user (he as an 11 year old son and 14 year old daughter) - he mentions iBoss operation in Episode 282 of his KFI Tech Guy radio show, which you can download here. This is a 90 minute show, and if you listen 42 minutes, 57 seconds into the show, you'll hear him talking to caller "Carlos" about using iBoss.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sony PlayStation 3 Supercompting

Today (3/25/07) Engadget reports that a group of 35,000 PS3 users who are participating in Stanford University's folding@home distributed computing project (where anyone can contribute idle time on their personal computer to participate in complex research into "protein folding" - which may eventually lead to cures for serious diseases) have rapidly jumped to the top of the folding@home leaderboard. Playstation 3s are currently contributing nearly 75 per cent of the 990 teraflops (nearly a petaflop) of what folding@home processes at peak.

Given the poor market performance of the PS3 to date, I wonder whether this would be a reasonable publicity stunt for Sony? It certainly has generated some front-page tech-ink this week. How hard would it be to get 30K+ PS3s (or perhaps even devices that *reported* to be PS3s) on the 'net? I guess it just doesn't jive for me that PS3 sales have been disappointing and somehow 35,000 owners decided to participate in folding@home (here's folding@home's FAQ for PS3 users). Nonetheless, we may all benefit as this sudden surge in massed computing power gets applied against some of our most reviled medical challenges, including cancer and Alheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases.

If you wish to participate in a distributed computing by contributing a minor amount of electricity to run your Linux, Mac, Windows or PS3, here are some projects that might inspire you:
  • folding@home - protein research
  • SETI@home - help analyze radio telescope data to look for intelligent signals from extraterrestrial sources
  • - an early distributed computing project, this project primarily focuses on development of cryptographic tools
  • - weather forecasting
  • - attempting to understand and control this disease which kills over a million humans a year and affects hundreds of millions
  • The University of California at Berkeley's BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) project allows users to choose from many projects and run them on their personal computers (and Sony PlayStation 3s).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Better Display Hardware Coming to Entry-level Macs?

The video display chips that drive the displays of Intel-powered Mac minis, MacBooks, and the entry-level iMac are Intel's GMA950 "integrated graphics processor." Video performance of these Macs has proven to be quite poor, particularly doing 3-D graphics-intensive gaming. Some reports suggest that even 2-D video playback performance is affected on these models. I myself would have purchased two of these models by now had their 3-D performance not been so poor.

Peter Cohen of wrote on March 8, 2007 that Intel's GMA965 chip, currently shipping in Windows-based computers, has built-in "transform and lighting" hardware, though it has not yet been enabled for Windows (software drivers are apparently in the works). In a recent demo held by Intel, the GMA965 demonstrated respectable gaming performance with contemporary games.

Apple has made no announcement that they will use GMA965 chips. If they do, Apple's entry-level models will be even better values.

Update August 2007: Alas, the recent new models of MacBooks and Mac minis continue to use the GMA950. On a positive note, I've discovered that the GMA950-powered video of the first-gen Mac mini actually produces reasonable gaming performance for the less-demanding titles.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Mobile Mapping and Info from Google

If you've got a smartphone running Java, Palm OS 5.x, or Windows Mobile or a color Blackberry device, you might be able to run Google's slick Google Maps Mobile application.

I've actually been running it on my Palm T5, connecting either via WiFi or through my Motorola v170 cell phone via Bluetooth (as one of the few crazies in the world proving that you can do Internet access via BT on a Verizon phone).

I think this will prove to be a useful tool when out and about, though I still find that doing Google SMS is a really quick way to find an address from any phone when on the road.