Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wannabe Bond Villains' Last Line Of Defense

By David Hambling

Youonlylivetwice27c0d When security in your underground base has been breached and you are about to be overrun, what's the last line of defense? It's a device called a Fast-Rising B Plug. And wannabe Bond villains inspired by the new movie should take note.

We know about the Plug because Boeing has just received a $10 million contract to improve security at the 450 Minuteman III missile installations operated by the U.S. Air Force. According to their press release:

"The mission of the Fast Rising B-Plug Kit program is to design, qualify and field a robust security system. The system provides an active delay device that allows personnel in the Minuteman Launch Facility to rapidly secure the facility from any of multiple locations. "

But what is it? This handy photo tour of a Minuteman silo by Captain Swoop gives some idea. To get into the silo, you first need to open an "A Circuit" lock, which secures the 2,000-pound access hatch. This leads to a ladder going down a circular shaft into the silo. But inside the shaft is the B-Plug, a 14,000-pound chunk of steel blocking the way (arrowed in the cutaway diagram, right). It only withdraws once the correct codes have been dialed in.

Bplug2Normally the B-plug is raised, and the silo is secure. But if a maintenance crew is inside, the B-Plug is lowered and — in theory — the bad guys could seize the opportunity and swarm in. This is why you need the fast-rising kit.

Instead of moving at the sluggish speed provided by the 1960's builders, the plug moves swiftly and "enables security forces to rapidly close an open missile silo in the case of an impending security breach."

It's only one of a range of new security measures being implemented, including more security cameras and "beefed up rapid response teams." The most concrete measure is — more concrete. Silo walls have been made thicker and stronger. The Minuteman III missile carries a warhead of around 400 kilotons; you wouldn't want falling into the wrong hands, and the security upgrades are more likely to be driven by the threat from terrorists than Russian commandos. There is something ironic about a system which was made to ensure national security itself becoming a potential security hazard.

So, when you're building your secret underground base to conquer the world from, don’t forget to specify that, as well as obvious defenses like a the shark-filled moat and piranha pool, it must have a Fast-Rising B-Plug — or you could be in all sorts of trouble.

[Illo: U.S. Air Force]

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Inside Windows 7's new desktop

Posted by Ina Fried

LOS ANGELES--The differences between Vista and Windows 7 are subtle--sometimes so subtle that they can go unnoticed.

This point was exacerbated by the fact that the build that developers were given a chance to take home last week doesn't have the new taskbar that represents the most visual difference between Windows 7 and today's Vista desktop.

Microsoft went to the trouble of shifting all the computer kiosks at the Professional Developers Conference over to Windows 7 on Tuesday. But because the version lacked some of the key visual features, some attendees didn't even notice they were running the newer Windows.

But Microsoft felt that keeping the user interface features out of the developer build was critical to keeping the features a surprise at the conference. The company's earlier M1, M2, and M3 builds all leaked out, said Chaitanya Sareen, a program manager in the Windows unit.

As the conference was winding down on Thursday, Sareen and another program manager--Rebecca Deutsch--offered an in-depth look at the changes Microsoft made to the desktop as well as the rationale for them. To get the best understanding of the changes, check out the two embedded videos (apologies for the lack of tripod).

The new taskbar is, in many ways, more akin to Mac OS X's dock than it is to what most Windows users have seen at the bottom of their screens for years.

With Vista and all its recent predecessors, there are a host of different icons at the bottom of the screen, with one group representing favorite items, another representing open program windows and a third representing notifications and items that launch at start-up.

Window 7 aims to do away with most of that redundancy in favor of one collection of large icons that live at the bottom of the screen. The icons represent applications chosen by the user and live there whether an application is running or not.

The large icons serve several purposes. The icon can, of course, be used simply to switch to or launch an application. It is also home to what is known as a "jumplist," sort of like a mini start menu for each program that can contain a series of actions, a link to recent documents, or even a series of controls that let a user take an action without switching to the program itself.

"This is the one button to rule them all," Sareen said. A left click opens the windows while a right click or the swipe of a finger on a touch-sensitive machine brings up the jumplist.

When a program is open, the icon also allows a user to preview that application's open windows. Clicking on a thumbnail naturally brings that window to the front. Hovering over the preview, though, temporarily previews that window as if it were in front, but doesn't actually complete the change--a feature Microsoft is calling "Aero Peek."

The idea came as the company tried to solve a riddle: what was the perfect size for a thumbnail window? For things like graphical Web pages or a pair of photos, a small representation might do the trick. But when one is trying to, say, flip between two similar Word documents or e-mails, it gets harder.

"The perfect size of the thumbnail is the actual size of the window," Sareen said. And that's how Aero Peek was born.

The goal with that feature and others, Sareen said, is to find ways to remove some of the things that make computing harder, what he calls "paper cuts." They aren't bugs, so much as things that are needlessly complicated or nonintuitive.

"We kind of went on a war against paper cuts," he said.

The company is also trying to reduce all of those annoying notifications that pop up along the right hand side of the computer. Developers can still write code that makes them appear, Deutsch said, but with each one that pops up, users have the option of disabling all such warnings from that program. The idea is to use social engineering to convince developers to bother the user far less often.

During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

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TimeVault simplifies data backup for Ubuntu users

By Kurt Edelbrock

Backing up data can be difficult, especially when you only want to copy files that changed since the last backup. It can be even more troublesome when you have to remember to start the process manually,or you have to delete old backups to make room for new ones. Because of these difficulties, some people decide not to back up data at all, and feel the pain when they accidentally delete the wrong file or their system crashes. TimeVault is a backup utility for Ubuntu that addresses these problems.

TimeVault makes saving and recovering data easy through an automatic process. You define directories to include or exclude from the process, and TimeVault takes care of the rest by creating snapshots of your data. A snapshot is a clone of a directory at a point in time. Files are copied if they've changed since the last snapshot. If a file hasn't changed, it is simply referenced to an older snapshot and no space is used for backing it up. Snapshots are read-only, so they are protected from accidental deletion or modification. If you are the root user, you can delete intermediate snapshots without harming the rest of them. Because of that, you can still restore to a point before or after the deleted snapshot. When you pick what files to exclude, you can specify either a path or a pattern to identify files, which is especially handy if you want to exclude large media files or music directories.

The Pending Snapshots dialog displays a list of the current backup tasks being performed by TimeVault. Click to enlarge.

TimeVault can make backups even easier by automating them. It can be set to take a daily snapshot of included directories without you having to do anything, and will let you know when the automatic snapshot is finished with a notification in the system tray. Automatic snapshots are optional, and can be enabled in the preferences dialog by checking the "Enable automated snapshots" option on the General tab.

Snapshots expire when certain conditions are met, such as after a defined number of days, when enough snapshots have been taken for a single file, or when too much space is used for a file. You can edit and adjust these settings in the Expire tab of the preferences dialog.

It's simple to restore data with the Snapshot browser. It displays a timeline of all the snapshots taken, the data included, and the size and the number of files in any given snapshot. You can also search the snapshots to find one with a specific file, which is useful if you want to restore a deleted document. You can also delete backups from the Snapshot browser without having to go through the filesystem manually. Also, TimeVault can revert all of the monitored directories back to a certain snapshot. You just select the snapshot and click the Revert button in the bottom right corner.

The Snapshot Browser is the main interface for restoring data to a previous snapshot. Click to enlarge.

TimeVault's restoration features are integrated into Nautilus, the GNOME filesystem browser. By right-clicking on a file and selecting the Properties option in the context menu, and selecting the Previous Versions tab (indicated by the TimeVault icon), you can see how many previous versions of the file are stored in snapshots, as well as other basic information. At the bottom of the dialog there are buttons to launch the Snapshot Browser to restore previous versions of files.

Installing TimeVault

TimeVault is not yet part of the Ubuntu repositories. Because of that, you have to download and install a .deb package from the Launchpad project site.

The preferences dialog allows users to turn on automatic backups and adjust the included and excluded data. Click to enlarge.

After the .deb package is installed, you can start TimeVault Notifier manually from Applications -> System Tools -> TimeVault in the GNOME menu panel. The Notifier consists of the system tray icon and notifications for completed snapshots, and has convenient access to preferences and the Snapshot Browser. The TimeVault back end will run all the time. For most people, it is easier if the TimeVault Notifier begins at startup. To do this, open the Session configuration panel from System -> Preferences -> Sessions in the GNOME panel. Click on the Add button, type "TimeVault Notifier" in the name box, and "/usr/bin/timevault-notifier" in the path box. Click OK when finished. Next, you should specify a directory to store TimeVault snapshots with a command like sudo mkdir /home/timevault/ . If you skip this, the snapshots will go into the root directory, and that can make things messy.

Tell TimeVault to use that directory by selecting it in the Snapshots Root Directory option under the General tab of the preferences dialog. Lastly, be sure to visit the Include and the Exclude tabs of the preferences dialog to tell TimeVault which files to put in the snapshot. As soon as you finish that, the application will make its first backup.

Kurt Edelbrock is a technology journalist, blogger, and university student. He writes for a variety of open source publications, and serves as a technical consultant for a large public university.

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Internetting every thing, everywhere, all the time

By Cherise Fong

(CNN) -- It's called "The Internet of Things" -- at least for now. It refers to an imminent world where physical objects and beings, as well as virtual data and environments, all live and interact with each other in the same space and time. In short, everything is interconnected.

Violet's Mir:ror reads information and instructions stored on Nano:ztags containing RFID chips.

Violet's Mir:ror reads information and instructions stored on Nano:ztags containing RFID chips.

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"If we can imagine it, there's a good chance it can be programmed," wrote Vint Cerf, the original Internet evangelist, on the official Google blog.

"The Internet of the future will be suffused with software, information, data archives, and populated with devices, appliances, and people who are interacting with and through this rich fabric."

At the nodes of this all-encompassing web of objects is RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) technology, which allows things to be "read" by an NFC (Near Field Communication) scanner, bar-code-style, as well as to store information about themselves and their relationship with their environment, over time.

The reason why RFID is often called next-generation bar code is that the technology is more accurate, scanners can read more objects with less directional contact, and smaller chips can contain a larger quantity of information.

Bruce Sterling, one of the pioneers of cyberpunk literature in the 1980s and an active sci-fi guru, neologized the term "spime" in 2004 to refer to any object that can define itself in terms of both space and time, i.e. using GPS to locate itself and RFID to trace its own history.

"Whatever a Web page can do, so can a pair of shoes," says rafi Haladjian, the visionary co-founder of Violet.

So, in this case, can a rabbit.

In 2005, Violet launched the best-selling Nabaztag, a screenless, WiFi-enabled bunny, born again with voice-recognition and RFID-awareness in 2007. Interfacing the node between virtual data and the sensory world, Nabaztag fetches information from the Internet, flashes lights on its nose and tummy, rotates its ears, sniffs RFID chips, speaks 36 languages and understands five.

Last but not least, all the Nabaztag rabbits are interconnected, so you can even send one an e-mail.

In a similar but less eccentric initiative to bring the wonder of the Web out of the PC, the California-based start-up Chumby Industries launched the soft leather-cased Chumby, an alarm-clock-inspired device equipped with a motion sensor and dominated by a touch screen, in February 2008.

Based on the concept of customizable, automated, streaming widgets, Chumby partners with media services and social networks, as well as allowing user-created applications.

"Toys for hackers or a real business opportunity?"

Taking the interconnection of things outside the home and into the urban environment, Pachube functions like a virtual switchboard using EEML (Extended Environments Markup Language) to link buildings to architecture software to installations to artists' laptops to weather sensors to Second Life and beyond, all in real time.

"The distinction between 'real' and 'virtual' is becoming as quaint as the 19th century distinction between 'mind' and 'body,'" says Usman Haque, Pachube's creative director. "We want to bring about a connectivity between the physical world, its objects and spaces, and the virtual world of Web sites and environments."

Still in beta-testing, Pachube currently connects some 150 input and output feeds, including a Geiger counter measuring radiation in Japan, a ship in the Pacific, air quality in Beijing, Tower Bridge in London, and the location of an iPhone as it moves around the world.

Such is the novelty of these tangible nodes that the 2008 Picnic conference, which took place in Amsterdam on September 28, subtitled its topic on the Internet of Things: "Toys for hackers or a real business opportunity?"

At least 27 companies (including Cisco, Ericsson and Sun Microsystems) who in September 2008 founded the IPSO Alliance to promote the use of Internet Protocol for Smart Objects, seem to think it's the latter.

The Alliance will perform interoperability tests, document the use of new IP-based technologies, conduct marketing activities and advocate how networks of objects of all types have the potential to be converged onto IP.

Meanwhile, everyday applications of RFID are hardly lacking.

Transport passes are the most common, as a quick and coinless way to turn the stiles: London's Oyster card lets holders whiz through the tube; Hong Kong's Octopus card can be used for admission on anything from the tram to the fast-food restaurant to the swimming pool and horse-racing track; Japan's Suica card has since been adapted for mobile phones, so that commuters can simply swipe their handsets.

RFID tagging has also been widely used for such commodities as passports, access control, luggage tracking, store inventory, pets -- and yes, even people.

Just as a precious piece of artwork might be RFID-tagged to track its progress through a traveling auction, a hospital patient with Alzheimer's disease might have a microchip embedded under his skin so that he can be located and identified in case he gets lost. This method has also been used to keep tabs on inmates and individuals under house arrest.

Of course, the controversial issue of privacy already looms heavily over the potential mass proliferation of RFID tags in consumer goods, let alone under human skin.

But with every power comes responsibility. Perhaps one way of winning over the skeptics is to empower them with the tools to embrace the technology on an individual, highly personalized level.

"He who connects an egg, connects a cow"

"The Internet of Things begins with small things," advances Violet's Haladjian, "things that are fun, simple, accessible, and that people want to have at home because they are just as fun as they are practical.

"Little by little, they get used to this kind of object, learn how to use it, discover their limits as well as new opportunities. I really don't think the Internet of Things could have started with the smart refrigerator."

Shortly after Tikitag launched the first do-it-yourself RFID kit (consisting of a plastic plug-and-play NFC reader and a pack of 10 RFID sticker tags for $49.95) in October 2008, Violet announced Mir:ror, its own RFID starter package, made of mnemnotechnically metaphoric elements.

While Nabaztag pulled the white rabbits out of the holes, Mir:ror absorbs tagged objects through the looking glass and into the ever-expanding Internet of Things. Violet's RFID stickers are called ztamps and are supplemented by Nano:ztag mini-rabbits, which function as discrete programmable objects that trigger the action when they hop over the magic disk.

Telling these RFID devices what to do is child's play through user-friendly interfaces on the makers' respective Web sites. However both Tikitag and Violet have opened their sources to invite developers to contribute their own applications to the candy store. Meanwhile, ideas are brewing in the forums.

Conversely, as a growing number of mobile phones are equipped with NFC readers, people just may get into the habit of scanning every smart object out there.

For example, online versions of print magazines on newsstands could be called up for browsing, the legend for an artwork in a museum could give background and context, a poster for a concert could link to online ticket sales, a tactical interface could give oral directions to a blind person, an entire city could be tagged for an animated guided tour.

"We are still living in a world where information is trapped in a few of our objects," says Haladjian. "We stare into our screens, which are like goldfish bowls full of information swimming around, but unable to escape.

"At Violet, we dream of a world where information would be a butterfly, flitting freely all over the place, and occasionally landing on any of the objects we touch to give them life and enrich them."

After all, one of the most fascinating pre-incarnations of the Internet of Things is Boredomresearch's RealSnailMail, in which e-mail messages interrupt their regularly scheduled path at the speed of fiber optics to be delivered across a 50-centimeter enclosure via RFID-equipped carrier snails.

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Outrage over 'chastity belt' lingerie fitted with GPS tracking system

By Daily Mail Reporter

Enlarge underwear featuring a tracking system

Controversial: Critics have said underwear featuring a tracking system is the high-tech equivalent of a chastity belt

Feminists around the world have reacted with horror to a new line of lingerie that comes equipped with a GPS tracking system.

The 'find me if you can' range of underwear has been described as a modern-day, high-tech chastity belt.

'It is outrageous to think that men can buy this, programme it and give it to their partners and then monitor them,' said Claudia Burghart, leader of a Berlin feminist group.

'It is nothing more than a chastity belt for insecure men.'

Lingerie maker Lucia Lorio of Brazil says her design targets the 'modern, techno-savvy woman'.

The lingerie combination set consists of lace bodice, bikini bottom and faux pearl collar, with the GPS device nestled in the see-through part of the bodice next to the waist.

'This collection... is a wink to women and a challenge to men because, even if she gives him the password to her GPS, she can always turn it off,' Lorio said.

'It's not a modern chastity belt. Some men think they can keep tabs on their girlfriends with it, but they're wrong,' she added.

Unconcerned with the controversy her collection has raised, Lorio is also dismissive of the global financial crisis and its adverse impact on luxury items sales.

The GPS lingerie sells from a cool £500, complete with a standard Global Positioning System, to £700 with a more advanced model.

'Some women are now interested in buying it for protection,' she said, programming it for partners themselves so they are safe on a night out alone.

'In London, New York, Rio de Janiero - wherever there is danger, the underwear may prove to be a lifesaver,' she added.

But feminists in her homeland have called her a modern-day slaver and urged women to boycott the GPS underwear.

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How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?

Jeff Bertolucci, PC World

You've probably had this experience: Your printer tells you it's time to change the cartridge, but you dismiss the message and keep printing. Days or weeks later, you're still using the same cartridge and thinking to yourself that rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated.

Or perhaps your printer simply shuts down when it decides you've gone deep enough into its ink well, refusing to operate until you replace the cartridge, though you suspect there's plenty of ink left.

PC World decided to do some real lab testing on this issue; and the results confirm what you may have suspected: Many manufacturer-branded (OEM) and third-party (aftermarket) vendor cartridges leave a startling amount of ink unused when they read empty. In fact, some inkjet printers force users to replace black ink cartridges when the cartridge is nearly half full, PC World has found.


We tested using multifunction printers from four major manufacturers: Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Kodak. (For the top-rated models, see our chart of top-rated multifunction printers.) PC World Test Center results show that models from Canon, Epson, and Kodak reported ink cartridges as being empty when in some cases the tanks had 40 percent of their black ink remaining.

The quantity of unused ink ranged from about 8 percent in an Epson-brand cartridge to a whopping 45 percent in an aftermarket cartridge for a Canon printer. After posting low-ink warnings, those printers wouldn't let us resume printing until we inserted a new cartridge.

Our test printers typically left more unused ink--in some cases significantly more--when using third-party or aftermarket print cartridges than when using the printer manufacturer's own cartridges.

When using ink their own manufacturer's cartridges, the printers displayed several low-ink warning messages before finally shutting down due to low ink. Our HP printer, the Photosmart C5280, was the only one that continued to print even after displaying several low-ink messages, and those messages appeared only when we used an HP print cartridge. When we paired the C5280 with an aftermarket cartridge from LD Products, the printer provided no low-ink warning at all.

It's important to note that our results show the performance of a clutch of single printers, each paired with just one cartridge. Since OEMs and their aftermarket competitors sell dozens of ink cartridges for a wide variety of printer models, you should consider our results as a kind of snapshot of the way each particular unit deals with "remaining ink."

Why So Much Leftover Ink?

There are valid reasons for not draining an ink cartridge completely, printing experts say. "Many inks, if they run dry, can cause significant damage to the printer," says Brian Hilton, a senior staff engineer at the Rochester Institute of Technology who holds 29 inkjet patents. "You always want to leave a buffer in the tank so that the printer never runs dry. There should always be a factor of safety included."

Other observers point out that the quantity of leftover ink is often only a few milliliters. "Printers have generally become more efficient over the years," says Andy Lippman, a printing analyst with Lyra Research. "In the past, you might have seen 40 milliliters of ink in the black cartridge. Today you're going to get the same amount of pages out of 7 or 8 milliliters."

Other people, however--both journalists and independent researchers--have reported very different experiences with ink cartridges. Judging from these findings, printer owners are probably throwing away a lot of usable ink. And that's a problem, when you consider how expensive the precious fluid is. An average black-ink cartridge contains 8 milliliters of ink and costs about $10 which translates into a cost of $1.25 per milliliter (or more horrifyingly, $1250 per liter).

Liquid Gold?

If you bought a gallon of the stuff over the life of your printer, you'd have paid about $4731 for a liquid that one aftermarket vendor told us was "cheap" to make. For some perspective, gasoline costs about $3 per gallon (at the moment), while a gallon of Beluga caviar (imagined as a liquid) costs about $18,000--surprisingly, only about four times as expensive as good old printer ink.

"I personally think that consumers are getting ripped off," says Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute in Washington, D.C. Pociask recently coauthored a 50-page study on the ink jet printer and cartridge market. "In some cases, we found that [the price of] the printer could be 1/8 of the total cost of printing," says Pociask. "Over the life of the printer--and by that I mean three years--you can easily spend $800 for the printer and ink."

How We Tested

We researched both online and brick-and-mortar tech outlets to find printers that are being used now by high numbers of consumers. We didn't test color inks because that would have introduced too many variables that might skew the results. For instance, some printers use separate cartridges for each ink, while others use single, tricolor cartridges. A standardized test might not drain the colors evenly, which might give one printer an unfair advantage.

Tony Leung, Senior Data Analyst in the PC World Test Center, weighed each black ink cartridge (to an accuracy of 0.001 gram) to determine the cartridge's initial weight. We then printed pages until the printer, in response to the low level of ink in the cartridge, prevented us from continuing.

When each printer stopped printing, we removed and weighed its black ink cartridge to determine the cartridge's out-of-ink weight. Then we removed all of the remaining ink from the cartridge (including the small sponges found in some cartridges), put the cartridge on the scale again, and measured it's true-empty weight.

This method allowed us to identify the weight of the ink when the cartridge was full, when the printer announced that it was empty, and when it truly was empty.

Using this method, here's what we found...


We tested Canon's Pixma MP610 multifunction printer with black ink cartridges from Canon and from G&G, an aftermarket brand owned by Ninestar Image. The differences in performance between the OEM ink and the aftermarket ink were striking. With the Canon cartridge installed, the printer stopped printing when 24 percent of the ink remained in the tank. Specifically, the full tank of ink weighed 27.333 grams, and the unused ink in the tank at nominal empty weighed 6.459 grams.

Canon didn't dispute our results, but the company pointed out that its printers do allow users to print after the initial low-ink warning. "There are typically a series of warnings before the ink is out, alerting users to ink status," spokesperson Kevin McCarthy wrote in an e-mail message. (We calculated the remaining ink weight at the point when the printer actually shut down, which was after the preliminary warnings appeared.)

When equipped with the aftermarket G&G cartridge, the Canon printer shut down with nearly 45 percent of the ink left. The full tank of ink weighed 27.320 grams, and its remaining ink weighed 12.277 grams.

G&G responded by running its own tests with a different Canon printer, the Pixma iX4000. (The vendor says the model that the PC World Test Center used wasn't available in its workshop at the time of testing.)

G&G told us that it tested three of its color cartridges--magenta, blue, and yellow--and found that the amount of residual ink ranged from 5.5 percent (for yellow) to 17 percent (for magenta). (Again, PC World limited its testing to black ink cartridges only.) Canon declined to comment on our test findings with the G&G print cartridge.


With an Epson black-ink cartridge installed, the Epson RX680 printer shut down with just over 8 percent of its ink remaining. The weight of the ink in the full cartridge was 11.700 grams; the weight of the residual ink at printer shutdown was 0.969 gram. In an e-mail response to PC World, an Epson spokesperson wrote: "Eight percent remaining ink measured in your testing is a normal amount. This reserve assures print quality and printer reliability."

But the story was quite different when we printed pages on the RX680 using an aftermarket cartridge from LD Products. This time the printer shut down with a whopping 41 percent of the ink still in the tank. The full quantity of ink weighed 12.293 grams; the unused ink weighed 5.0005 grams.

Why the huge gap between OEM and aftermarket? "Epson cartridges have an ink-level sensor to more accurately report ink levels, and to reduce the amount of ink in the safety reserve," the company spokesperson wrote. Third-party products don't have these sensors, according to Epson, and the printer manufacturer "cannot guarantee the performance, quality or longevity of these cartridges."

LD Products has a different theory. "The ink itself is cheap, so we refill to more than the original level," says Ben Chafetz, vice president of marketing for LD Products. The Epson printer bases its low-ink message on the printing capacity of the OEM cartridge, but since the LD cartridge contains considerably more ink than the OEM version, it is bound to have more ink remaining when the printer shuts down, according to Chafetz. In other words, if Epson supplies enough ink in its cartridge for 120 pages plus a margin of error, say, while LD adds enough ink to print 200 pages, and if the Epson printer shuts off at 120 pages anyway, the percentage of leftover ink in the LD cartridge will be considerably higher than in the Epson cartridge.

Chafetz points out that regardless of the percentage of unused (and unusable) ink in the nominally empty cartridges, the page yields of the LD Products cartridges and the high-capacity Epson cartridges should be the same. (Note: PC World didn't test page yields in this study.)


Testing the HP printer was difficult because HP takes an unusual approach toward diminishing ink supplies in its cartridges: The HP Photosmart C5280 multifunction printer we tested didn't shut down as ink levels approached exhaustion. With an OEM cartridge installed, the printer displayed warning messages as the ink level dropped, but it never forced us to replace the cartridge.

As a result, we continued printing until the pages began showing telltale signs of low ink, such as banded text. The HP printer will continue to print until the cartridge is completely dry--but since the print heads are part of the cartridge in HP's design, running out of ink does not damage other parts of the printer.

When using an aftermarket cartridge from LD Products, the C5280 failed to post any low-ink warnings--either on our test computer or on the printer console. Does that mean HP's warning system works only with house-brand cartridges? Not necessarily, but HP suggests that you are better off with its OEM cartridges. "Most aftermarket cartridges do not signal 'low-on-ink' alerts, giving customers no advance warning that ink is running low," wrote HP spokesperson Katie Neal in an e-mail message.

LD Products' Chafetz disagrees. He says that LD's Photosmart C5280-compatible products are actually refurbished and refilled HP cartridges. One possible explanation for the lack of a low-ink warning is that the printer wasn't reading the refurbished cartridge's chip code correctly, he says.

Chafetz says that the results from PC World's tests mark the first time that LD Products' technicians have heard of their cartridges' not posting a low-ink warning.


The Kodak EasyShare 5300 was the only printer that lasted longer with an aftermarket cartridge than it did with the manufacturer's cartridge. Equipped with a Kodak cartridge, this printer shut down with 43 percent of the ink remaining. Its full quantity of ink weighed 16.857 grams, and its unused ink after shutdown weighed 7.272 grams.

Kodak doesn't dispute our findings, but the company argues that our results don't tell the whole story. Roderick Eslinger, Kodak technical marketing manager, says that Kodak's in-house tests in 2007 indicated that 65 percent of its cartridge ink was used for consumer printing, while 35 percent was used to "protect/maintain optimal Kodak printer performance and document quality." Eslinger says that the remaining ink is "already factored into our industry advertising claims for consumers, and that Kodak cartridges offer "low costs and high quality yields as compared to competitors."

With a G&G cartridge, the Kodak printer shut down with 36 percent of the ink remaining in the tank. The leftover ink weighed 5.360 grams. Kodak chose not to comment on the aftermarket results.

Watch the Page Yield

Some vendors and analysts advise consumers to make sure that they get the correct page yield (the total number of pages produced with a single cartridge), rather than focusing on the amount of ink left unused in a cartridge that must be discarded. "This is the most reliable way to understand the life of a cartridge, rather than the amount of ink, or what might be left over," says Lippman.

But vendor page-yield estimates don't always match reality, as we discovered when testing printers for another PC World article, "Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?" Using a different set of OEM cartridges and printers, we found that one HP black cartridge exceed its projected page yield (810 printed vs. 660 projected), while page yields from Epson and Kodak cartridges fell short of expectations. Specifically, Epson printed just 209 pages, far less than the 335 pages the company estimated it would produce; and Kodak generated 480 pages versus a projected page count of 540. (For a slide show comparing the quality of prints made with the two kinds of ink, see "Head-to-Head: Printer Manufacturers' Ink vs. Cheap Third-Party Ink.")

Page yields aside, we have yet to hear a satisfactory and persuasive explanation from a vendor as to why so many printer cartridges leave so much ink behind. Even if the waste amount is only a few milliliters, that unused liquid could have printed a lot of pages.

PC World's Tips for Saving Money on Printing

For additional advice on reducing the cost of running your inkjet printer, see "The Cheapskate's Guide to Printing," "Save Money on Inkjet Printer Ink," and "How to Spend Less on Printing and Get Better Results."

An earlier three-part PC World series on the subjects of counterfeit name-brand inks ("Bogus Ink Stink"), third-party ink quality ("Cheap Ink Probed"), and high ink-cartridge prices ("Why Do Ink Cartridges Cost So Much?") provides valuable historical background and additional test results for various ink cartridges.

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40 Beautiful Free Icon Sets

by Jacob Gube

Some of the best things in life are free. When it comes to icons and icon sets, there are many talented designers and artists that choose to provide beautiful and useful icon sets for commercial and/or personal usage.

In this collection, you’ll see 40 beautiful, free icon sets that you can use in a variety of ways (websites and/or your desktop). In total, you’ll find close to 3000 invidual icons showcased in this article.

Note: It’s important to read the fine-print before using any icon sets; some may have restrictions for commercial use (or require that you give credit to the designer).

Yoritsuki icons

Yoritsuki icons screen shot
35 icons – Download (PNG and ICO)

Hand Drawn Doodle Icon Set

Hand Drawn Doodle Icon Set - screen shot.
14 icons - Download (PNG and JPG)


rounder_png - screen shot.
43 icons – Download (PNG)

eico 1 year

eico 1 year screen shot.
17 icons – Download (PNG, ICO, and ICNS)

Wifun Icons

Wifun Icons screen shot.
6 icons - Download (PNG and ICO)

3D Cartoon Icons Pack

3D Cartoons screen shot.
111 icons – Download (PNG, ICO, and ICNS)

3D Cartoon Icons Pack III

3D Cartoon Icons Pack III - screen shot.
205 icons – Download (PNG, ICO, and ICNS)

De Freu

De Freu screen shot.
41 icons – Download (PNG)


Practika screen shot.
11 icons - Download (PNG)

Dellipack 2

Dellipack 2 screen shot.
15 icons - Download (PNG)

Finance and Applications

Finance and Applications screen shot.
29 icons –Download 1 (PNG and ICO) | Download 2 (EPS vectors)


Heart screen shot
22 icons –Download (PNG)

The Leaves Fall

The Leaves Fall
11 icons -Download (PNG and PSD)

Icon Set

Icon Set screen shot
27 icons – Download (PNG and ICO)

DeskMundo Live Icons

DeskMundo Live Icons screen shot
8 icons – Download (PNG)

FRESH Add-on

FRESH Add-on screen shot
59 icons - Download (PNG, TIFF, ICN, ICO)


Milky screen shot
131 icons – Download (PNG)


Bright! screen shot
148 icons – Download


Sweetie screen shot
182 icons - Download (PNG and PSD)

Social Web Buttons

Social Web Buttons screen shot
20 icons – Download (PNG)

Social Bookmark Iconset

Social Bookmark Iconset screen shot
12 icons - Download (PNG)

ecqlipse 2

ecqlipse 2 screen shot
123 icons – Download (PNG)


HydroPRO screen shot
23 icons – Download (PNG)

Circular Icons

Circular Icons screen shot
100+ icons - Download (PNG)

Shopping Cart Icon

Shopping Cart Icon screen shot
1 icon – Download (PNG)

Paper Clip

Paper Clip screen shot
1 icon – Download (PNG)


iConPack screen shot
18 icons – Download (PNG)

V!Va Icons

V!Va Icons screen shot
9 icons – Download (PNG)

Scrap Icons

Scrap Icons screen shot
18 icons – Download (PNG)

Blueset icons

Blueset icons screen shot
8 icons – Download (PNG)

UMI Icons

UMI Icons screen shot
10 icons – Download (PNG)

Black Neon Agua

Black Neon Agua screen shot
270+ icons – Download (various formats)

openPhone Icon Pack

openPhone Icon Pack screen shot
12 icons – Download (PNG and ICO)

Free RSS Feed Icons

Free RSS Feed Icons screen shot
6 icons – Download (PNG)


Feedicons2 screen shot
33 icons - Download (PNG)

credit cards pixel icon

credit cards pixel icon screen shot
5 icons - Download (PNG)

Function Icon Set

Function Icon Set screen shot
128 icons – Download (PNG)

Mini Pixel Icons

Mini Pixel Icons screen shot
320 icons – Download (GIF)

Silk Icons

Silk Icons screen shot
700 icons – Download (PNG)

Web Application Icons Set

Web Application Icons Set screen shot
20 icons – Download (PNG)

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