Archive for ManTech Papers

Battle of the Brands : iPod Shuffle 2nd Generation vs. Creative Zen Stone

The technology today made it possible to store music, in very small volume as compared with the Walkmans and CD players before. When mp3 players were initially introduced to the market, it couldn’t store more than a normal CD but they were smaller and more portable unlike the latter music players. But today, the advancements in technology made it possible for mp3’s to store thousands of songs, play various music formats, and do more than just play music.

Mp3 players come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and of course, price. For those people who want to have a branded mp3 player that is of good quality that won’t burn your pocket, iPod Shuffle 2nd Generation and Creative Zen Stone are two products that are perfect to choose from.

If you are one of the people in the market who haven’t bought an iPod family member yet for whatever reason, you may want to look at this product first. Creative Zen Stone was named after its curved pebble-like design. Well, obviously, it’s not the coolest looking device to hit the market but for minimalists and tech noobs as they say, it will do wonders. The Zen Stone only weighs around 18g and it measures 53.7mm x 35.3mm x 12.8mm. It has a 1 GB capacity meaning, it could store up to 500 wma’s or 250 mp3’s. Its battery could last for 10 hours for continuous audio playback and could be charged using the syncing cable.

The Zen Stone is coated with hard but smooth plastic which gives it the feel of a polished river rock. It’s also scratch resistant like its sister, the Zen V Plus. Zen Stone comes in 6 different colors, black, white, blue, pink, red, and yellow. I personally recommend the color black, even though it could be mistaken for a car alarm control.

Zen Stone comes with standard earbuds and a syncing cable which lets you store your music from your pc. It supports MP3, WMA and Audible files which could be synced via drag-and-drop in Windows Explorer or through Windows Media Player. Zen Stone is MSC (UMS) meaning, it will work with any modern operating system without installing software, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. And since it’s MSC, the music player could also double as a flash drive, which you could use to store documents, photos and other file types. As for other features, it has a playback switch found on the bottom edge which could let you switch between shuffle and repeat modes. It also includes a function called folder skip. This function enables you to shuffle between folders which make it easier to access playlists and the artist that you want, for example, depending on how you organize things. It also has an LED found on the left face which indicates the status of the player and the battery level with various flashing sequences and LED colors. Although not included in the package, Creative Media Lite, a free integrated software, could be downloaded for free on Creative’s website to enhance the performance of the player. One cool feature of this software is the volume limit feature that allows you to set the maximum volume limit and password protects the ability to change it. I think this is very helpful for parents who want to protect their children’s ears.

Apple’s 1st generation Shuffle became popular because of its small size, its pristine white color, feather-light weight, ease of use and its price compared to other iPod family members. If you loved that model, then for sure you’ll be impressed by the 2nd Generation Shuffle. This stunner is one of the newest additions to the iPod family. This baby is impressively small. It measures only about 41.2 mm x 27.3 mm x 10.5 mm and weighs 15.6 g which makes it smaller and lighter than Creative Zen Stone. It also has a 1 GB capacity and could store around 250 songs. It also has a built-in lithium polymer battery which could last for 12 hours and could be charged using the USB dock included in the package.

Unlike its predecessor, the 2nd generation shuffle comes in a variety of yummy metallic colors to choose from. The 2nd generation shuffle comes with sleek new earphones, a dock which enables you to charge and transfer music from your pc, and a quick start manual for your how to’s and troubleshooting. As with all iPods, it supports MP3, WAV, AIFF, Audible, and both protected and unprotected AAC files. For music management, you still need to download the latest version of iTunes from the Apple website. Just like the Zen Stone, Shuffle could also double as a flash drive which could be used to store pictures, documents, and other file types.

Like Creative Zen Stone and the 1st generation Shuffle, the 2nd generation iPod Shuffle has no screen for navigating through music. Instead, you get a simple circular control pad on the face of the player. There’s no way to navigate among specific songs or artists. Fortunately, you can click play or pause 3x fast to skip through playlists. You could also find two switches on the bottom edge of the player, the power switch and the switch for changing between shuffle and repeat modes which is similar to the playback switch of the Zen Stone. A headphone jack, which doubles as the Shuffle’s USB syncing port could be found on the top side of the device. There’s also a tiny LED indicator that lights up different color combos depending on the status of the player. As for other features, it also has an integrated belt clip which provides a handy way to keep track of the player.

In a world dominated by iPods, you can’t really blame competitors for taking ideas from the mp3 player giant. Such as the case of the Creative Zen Stone that basically shares the same features as the 2nd generation Shuffle. Though Zen Stone has taken its design from the oh-so-popular iPod, it outshines the latter in sound quality and costs only half the price. The 1 GB Zen Stone only costs roughly about PHP 2,000 unlike Shuffle which costs about PHP 5,000. All in all, for PHP 2,000, the Creative Zen Stone is such a steal. For a device that costs about 50% less than Apple’s Shuffle, it’s definitely a great bargain. It’s inexpensive yet the features and the quality are not sacrificed. So if you are looking for an inexpensive branded music player, I’d say go for the Stone.


Law and Order : Access Nation

The story started with the murder of a psychologist. Evidences have shown that the killer had access to private information owned by the victim. This led the investigators to the company Access Nation, which apparently sold the information to the killer. Access Nation is a company that sells information about its clients. High-tech spies to make it simpler. The prosecutors should prove to the court that the company Access Nation is just as liable for the psychologist’s death as the killer.

Well, the film had some situations which, in my point of view, are really plausible. There was this part wherein the investigators consulted a techie girl-slash-hacker who easily cracked the password of the password-protected MS Word document. She even said that she can easily crack anything. Yes, cracking a password is plausible. There are even different ways to do it. Social engineering, wiretapping, keystroke logging, login spoofing, dumpster diving, phishing, shoulder surfing, timing attack, acoustic cryptanalysis, guessing, dictionary attack, brute force attack and using a Trojan Horse or virus are some of them. I also did a little research on this, specifically on cracking MS Word documents that are password protected. I found out that there are a lot, I mean A LOT of Word password recovery tools available over the net. You just have use Google or your favorite search engine and type something like ‘download word file password crack’ or something similar to that and you’ll have access to the various cracking tools, which most of them, by the way, are for free. It’s just so funny that the investigators were so amazed with what the girl did. If only they knew how easy it was.

Another part of the film, which I think was plausible, was the issue about the chat room postings that were monitored and collected. Chatting on the internet or posting stuff in forums is a public activity. These are archived and readily searchable by the public, especially UseNet users. According to the article that I have read, a knowledgeable information collector can identify a great deal of information from these.

I also found the part of the story wherein the computer activities of the victim were monitored plausible. There are a lot of computer monitoring programs that are available which could record practically every activity on a computer. Chat and IM conversations, pictures, visited websites, even keystrokes! The records of which could be stored locally, in the computer that is being monitored, or it could be transmitted elsewhere. I’m just not sure if a worm could do that. Probably a trackware? Or a spyware perhaps?

Indeed, the internet is really vulnerable to malicious snoopies and information diggers. Privacy in the physical world should also apply in the cyber world, but apparently, it’s still a far cry from reality. Who wants to have their life digitally tracked anyway? No one. No one wants their privacy to be invaded because it’s their right as a person. According to the film, information obtained through companies such as Access Nation could be helpful in chasing drug deals and other crime related stuff. But are we 100% sure that it is only used for those things? No. Some people abuse it. Going back to the film, private information fell into the hands of the criminal, which caused the psychologist’s death. To end this, let me quote something that I read in an article about online privacy. “A lot of people think about privacy but don’t really care until something happens to them personally. It’s like freedom. You don’t appreciate it until it’s gone.”


Software Piracy in the Philippines

 Software piracy is one of the prevalent problems of the IT industry today. Unsurprisingly, Philippines wasn’t spared from it. We, Filipinos are huge fans of cheap products. The piracy craze started with bags. You can see LV’s everywhere, even market vendors have Vuittons. Then came the illegally reproduced DVD’s, and of course, software.

Software piracy does exist in different forms. Yes, software piracy is not just about illegally reproduced applications that come in CDs. Basically, there are five types of software piracy, the end-user piracy, client-server overuse, internet piracy, hard disk loading, and software counterfeiting. The end-user piracy, which is also known as the “corporate end-user” piracy occurs when schools, businesses, government institutions, and other organizations make additional copies of software without authorization. On the other hand, client-server overuse is when too many employees on a network use a central copy of a program at the same time. Another type of piracy is the internet piracy which includes internet auction sites that offer counterfeit software, pirate websites that make software available for free download, and peer-to-peer (p2p) networks that allows unauthorized transfer of programs. Hard disk loading is another type of piracy wherein computer merchandisers load illegal copies of software to a new computer to make it more attractive and expensive to potential buyers. Software counterfeiting is the most common type of piracy. This occurs when software are illegally reproduced and the packaging of the original product are imitated.

According to the latest IDC Global Software Piracy Study, the software piracy rate in the Philippines remained at 71% during the last two years (2004 and 2005) while software piracy losses increased from US$69M to US$76M. Based on our international standing, we are the 24th of the countries with high software piracy rate. Vietnam and China tops the list which tied with a 92% piracy rate. With these figures, we could say that software piracy remains rampant in our country.

A lot of efforts have been made to abolish software piracy. Government organizations such as PAPT, or the Pilipinas Anti-Piracy team, which is a collaborative effort of Optical Media Board (OMB), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and Philippine National Police (PNP) leads the fight against this issue. The Business Software Alliance on the other hand serves as the voice of the commercial software industry to the governments and the international market scene. We also have laws such as the IP Code of the Philippines and the Optical Media Act which gives the power to these organizations to do what they have to do, and that is to get rid of piracy. Those who will go against the law will be penalized. First offense: imprisonment of 1 to 3 years plus a fine ranging from P50,000 to P150,000. Second offense: imprisonment of 3 years and 1 day to 6 years plus a fine ranging from P150,000 to P500,000. Third offense: imprisonment of 6 years and 1 day to 9 years plus a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1.5M.

Despite all the efforts of the government and all, I think software piracy can’t be completely abolished. As long as people buy pirated software, the “pirates” would still continue to produce these illegal goods. With this situation going on, the IT industry is the one that suffers the most. Billions of pesos of revenue was lost and lots of IT workers have lost their jobs. In the long run, it would be the consumers who will suffer because these software companies would no longer make software that consumers use. So let’s put a stop to this while we can.


How Were PC’s Mass Marketed?

The first computers were called mainframes. They were big. Very big. They were big as a classroom, or even bigger, just to give you an idea. These primitive machines have lots of gizmos in it which made it very bulky. It had vacuum tubes, valves, transistors and a lot more. After numerous studies and further experiments later, the microprocessor was born. Then came Altair 8800 which according to the article that I’ve read was the “first personal computer”, then came Paul Allen and Bill Gates’ BASIC, which was basically a computer language which made Altair a lot more interesting because it made Altair more productive. Two years later, Apple I was developed. It was developed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Then came Apple II, which was the “new and improved” version of Apple I. Apple II was a big hit indeed. Then came IBM. IBM was the company that developed the bulky mainframes. The IBM people were astonished with Apple II’s success and so, they developed their own personal computer. According to the article that I’ve read, instead of creating a computer out of scratch, IBM bought components off the shelf and assembled them. Naturally, their personal computer will be useless if there’s no operating system. And so, when they were done assembling the parts, they approached Bill Gates and Garry Kildal to develop an operating system for their newly built personal computer. For some reason IBM settled with Bill Gates. This operating system was called the PCDOS. If Apple II had Visicalc, IBM had Lotus 1-2-3. IBM’s personal computer was such a big hit. Other companies were very overwhelmed with IBM’s success. They also want to be successful like IBM, and so, they started to develop their own personal computers. These companies didn’t have a hard time developing their own personal computers because, they used reverse engineering. Based on our discussion in our SoftMet class, reverse engineering is figuring out how something work based on an existing model or framework. With the use of reverse engineering, they copied the architecture of IBM’s personal computer and since IBM’s softwares could run on non-IBM machines, these companies also adapted these softwares. Just like what I’ve said a while ago, the physical components of IBM’s personal computer were just bought over the shelf, meaning, everyone can buy those parts easily and can practically assemble it the way IBM did. And so, these envious companies didn’t have a hard time developing their own because they already had an existing “model” to copy. Companies such as Dell, Compaq, and Northgate emerged. After some time, Hewlett Packard, Acer, Toshiba, Fujitsu and the others eventually followed. As a result, IBM was faced with tough competition. Because of this, IBM developed their own operating system, the OS/2. Meanwhile, on the other side of the valley, Bill Gates was developing Windows and Apple launched Macintosh, its very first user-friendly personal computer which paved the way for desktop publishing. After some time Windows 1.0 came out to the market, then came Windows version 3, Windows 95, 98 and so on.      At present, computers can now be found in almost every household. It became a powerful tool that created such an impact to the society. Back then computers were sold for business purposes only, maybe this explains IBM chose International Business Machines as their company name. But now, computers encompass almost every aspect of life. Undoubtedly, this will never be possible if not for IBM. They created the mass market for personal computers. If not for IBM’s “copy prone” architecture, probably, we’re still far from the technology that we are enjoying now.