Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games : A Must Read!!!

"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the other districts in line by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death on live TV. 

One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen are selected by lottery to play. The winner brings riches and favor to his or her district. But that is nothing compared to what the Capitol wins: one more year of fearful compliance with its rule. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her impoverished district in the Games. 

But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. 

Acclaimed writer Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles, delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this stunning novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present."

Before I started reading Hunger Games, I had read some reviews going gaga over the book, but I was still not ready for it. The basic story premise goes something like this:

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, America is now divided into 12 districts ruled with an iron hand by the Capitol. The 12 districts each supplies the Capitol with different products such as coal, agricultural goods, etc. Years ago, there had been a rebellion by the districts against the Capitol which had been quashed mercilessly and utterly by the Capitol. As a reminder of the power the Capitol holds over the destinies of the districts, every year the Capitol chooses 2 children from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight in the `Hunger Games', a fight to the death. The winner is treated as a hero uplifted from the poverty that hounds everyone else in the districts.

The event is of course televised, with compulsory viewing by the people in the districts. The inhumanity of this comes out when the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen's younger sister, with no survival skills is chosen for the Games. Long story short, Katniss volunteers to take her place and enters the Games.

The way in which Katniss and Peeta are readied for the Games, they seem like lambs being fattened before they are sacrificed at the altar. Though well-meaning, the team provided to them comes across as being immune to the horrors of the Games. They can only see the glory this could get them. Not to be overly critical, they do help both Katniss and Peeta get into a position to win the Games.

Each character has been perfectly created and moulded. Katniss comes across as a hugely determined girl, who is extremely competent for the task for which she has been chosen. Her training in hunting and survival skills holds her in good stead during the Games. Her unwavering need to get back to her family, who she believes would not survive without her, keeps her focused on winning the Games. I found the moral tug-of-war going on in her head to have She does come across as brutal and manipulative in the way she uses Peeta's love for her to win support from sponsors during the games.

Peeta Mellark, who is the other contestant chosen for the Games from Katniss' district, has been in love with her throughout his life. This is initially used as a tactic to garner sponsors for them by their mentor, but it really comes across during the games, where he sacrifices himself on a number of occasions to save Katniss' life.

Katniss and Peeta seem to be on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Katniss is brutal while Peeta Is lovable, Katniss is competent, while Peeta seems to stumble along, Katniss is driven by the love for her family while Peeta is driven by her love for Katniss.

Haymitch is the team's mentor who initially comes across as a highly incompetent drunk. He however, has a big role to play in the team's winning the Games.

Gale is Katniss' best friend and hunting partner. They have a relationship where they can tell each other anything, and there seems to be a connection between him and Katniss. This gets sidelined due to the publicised love story of Peeta and Katniss.

This is a story that touches on so many of the social aspects that everyone seems to just glide over and brings them into the spotlight. Each part of the book is a subtle reference to the ills in our society today. The description of the districts gives us the stark difference between the haves and have-not in the world today. While people in the Capitol, without realising it, have too much of everything, those in the districts barely subsist from one day to the next. The broadcasting of the Games seems like a direct reference to the excess of reality shows on television today, and how they seem to pull in viewers and get them addicted to even the grossest and meanest of images. Katniss and her friend Gale are afraid of talking ill about the Capitol in their district and have to go into the jungle to vent their anger. This alludes to the growing Big Brother attitude of governments today, where everyone and everything seems to be tracked. There is a section of the story, where people in the Capitol regurgitate whatever they have eaten, so that they can stuff themselves some more. Not being satisfied ever, no matter what you have seems to be the mantra of today's materialistic world with no end to `the want for more' in sight.

Although the build up to the Games seems to stretch out a bit, the Games are fast paced with not a single dull moment. I found myself holding my breath on a number of occasions to see what would happen next. The killings are not unnecessarily brutal, and the blood and gore which is there in the book seems necessary to get the message across. The description of scenes is beautiful and left me imagining them as happening right before my eyes.

The book had a hold on me and I could not stop reading it, once the actual Games started. The story, though brutal left me rooting for the underdog and when, towards the end Katniss defies the Capitol, I was cheering for the humiliation this caused the Capitol. It has gotten me thinking of the direction our world is heading and whether it is something I endorse or oppose. For this I give the book 5 stars. 

If you enjoy dystopian books, mixed with a lot of un-put-down-able action, then this book is for you. The Hunger Games is a sure winner.  And this is just the first book read still two more to complete in my reading list. Will Keep you guys updated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Urban Legends : Remastered

As a horror fan, I thought I'd seen it all. However, in the near infinite myriad of programming vying for one's attention, Supernatural stands out as something both unique and refreshing. If I could sum up the show in one word, it would be: SPECTACULAR! The beauty of the show is it takes a simple premise: "the great American road trip" and it twists and turns it into a whole new entity and places it in the same category as some of the other great shows in the genre such as the 'X-Files' and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', yet it still retains its own identity.

First off, character development is outstanding. With only two primary cast members, this was a critical issue to deal with, but Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles deliver their roles perfectly, almost as if they were brothers in real life. The tension of the boys' relationship with their father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is also a noteworthy aspect of the show's excellent interpersonal dynamics, as it transcends the usual conventions and adds layer upon layer of love, hate, respect, and fear. In addition, throughout the first season each character evolves as their battle with evil (and good) intensifies. In the end everyone is stripped of their protective facades and are left vulnerable and exposed, with nothing but their true personas serving as a shield against an overwhelming enemy that seemingly can't be stopped. Not only does this add a boost of realism, but it also charts the character's growth throughout the season leaving us with complex individuals instead of stagnant cardboard cutouts reset back to their "same-old, same-old" status quos by the end of the episode.

Another refreshing aspect of the show, is, it doesn't insult the audience. Existing horror conventions are borrowed, but almost all of them are updated into something new, as it successfully blends the insider info found in cult shows with the broader appeal of horror and action for the more mainstream audience. What we get is a hybrid of the two. On one hand terms and names of creatures or books are mentioned without any further explanation alluding to the notion that the show expects you to have some prior knowledge of the subject matter (such as skinwalkers). Yet on the other hand it reassures you that if you don't know what they're talking about, you will by the end of the episode. But there is never needless exposition. Certainly you'll always get the crucial information at what's directly involved in the current plot, but the writers take the liberty of keeping some things a mystery, furthering the appeal of the show. We as the viewer are assumed to know about some stuff, but if not, we're guaranteed to eventually know if we hitch a ride with the Winchester brothers and tag along for the journey.

Stylistically, the show hits a home run by its deliberate use of a gritty and rural gothic look. Ingrained in the series is a blue collar feel, an organic "earthiness" that lowers our defenses and brings things closer to home. The Winchesters are not wealthy or flashy, nor are their friends or allies. And with the exception of the beautiful and elfish Meg (Nicki Lynn Aycox), most of the characters are designed as every men---the average Joes that could easily pass as our brothers, fathers, uncles, neighbors, or friends. These people live cluttered lives far from the unrealistically neat and pristine glamor found in other shows. Supernatural is not a trendy new pair of pants, it's the old pair of faded blue jeans with the holes in the knees that are the most comfortable to wear. This is also demonstrated by music. Gone is the high school Emo or current pop hit single, instead we get the Classic Rock that is so crucial for those long road trips when you need a good beat to keep you awake while driving the lonely highways at night.

The show also boasts some impressive production values. The film crew makes masterful use of lighting, and they're thankfully not afraid to film in the dark or to use heavy shadows. I'm also repeatedly impressed with the excellent sound effects done by the Foley artists and sound designers.

So why should you see this? Supernatural is a crescendo of characterization, horror, action, twists, and sheer ingenuity that comes to a shocking season finale. It's grounded in the notion that in our normal, everyday lives, something evil lurks just out of sight ready to strike, and odds are you won't be able to handle it without the help of two men in a black '67 Impala.

If you're a fan of horror, urban legends, or just in the mood to watch something new, you owe it to yourself to check this show out. It's well worth your time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How To : 1.Recovering Your Pictures After Accidental Deletion

        Have you ever accidentally deleted a photo on your camera, computer, USB drive, or anywhere else? What you might not know is that you can usually restore those pictures—even from your camera’s memory stick. Windows tries to prevent you from making a big mistake by providing the Recycle Bin, where deleted files hang around for a while—but unfortunately it doesn’t work for external USB drives, USB flash drives, memory sticks, or mapped drives. Luckily there’s another way to recover deleted files.

The first piece of software that you’ll want to try is called Recuva, and it’s extremely easy to use—just make sure when you are installing it, that you don’t accidentally install that stupid Yahoo! toolbar that nobody wants.

Now that you’ve installed the software, and avoided an awful toolbar installation, launch the Recuva wizard and let’s start through the process of recovering those pictures you shouldn’t have deleted.

The first step on the wizard page will let you tell Recuva to only search for a specific type of file, which can save a lot of time while searching, and make it easier to find what you are looking for.

Next you’ll need to specify where the file was, which will obviously be up to wherever you deleted it from. Since I deleted mine from my camera’s SD card, that’s where I’m looking for it.

The next page will ask you whether you want to do a Deep Scan. My recommendation is to not select this for the first scan, because usually the quick scan can find it. You can always go back and run a deep scan a second time.

And now, you’ll see all of the pictures deleted from your drive, memory stick, SD card, or wherever you searched. Looks like what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas after all…

If there are a really large number of results, and you know exactly when the file was created or modified, you can switch to the advanced view, where you can sort by the last modified time. This can help speed up the process quite a bit, so you don’t have to look through quite as many files.

At this point, you can right-click on any filename, and choose to Recover it, and then save the files elsewhere on your drive. Awesome!

And the same is the process for recovering any file type from computer drives and USB drives.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Harry Potter : A Global Phenomenon

"I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future - there will be books written about Harry - every child in our world will know his name."

Professor McGonagall, in the first chapter titled "The Boy Who Lived" By now there's not much that can be said about the Harry Potter phenomenon  that hasn't been said already. Worshiped by kids, enjoyed by adults, this modern myth has become an accepted classic worldwide. Pull any copy of the series off a shelf anywhere in the world and you're holding magic. This magical phenomenon has left us all awe'd and stunned.

Foray Into The Magical World Of Harry Potter : The Philosopher Stone

With this introductory novel was published in 1997, few would have predicted the unprecedented success this series would produce. And everything that made Harry Potter so successful is all first shown, though hardly fully explained, in this book, HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE.

The novel opens with Harry living under the cupboard with his abusive aunt and uncle. He has had a mean, depressed life, and though an active boy, the sheer amount of trauma he must have endured would scar any child. But the door opens out of this lifestyle.

He gets a letter (actually, hundreds) saying he is in fact a wizard. So he is enrolled the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Him, along with his new friend the giant Hagrid, go to Diagon Alley, a magical bazaar, and thus he is thrust into the magical universe so captured the imagination of millions. We soon learn Harry is world famous among wizards for conquering an evil Wizard named Vo - um - He Who Must Not Be Named. Sorry `bout that slip. =). Along the way, we learn that Voldemort is after a magical artifiact called the Philosopher's Stone (which was, unfortunately, changed from the UK original title to "Sorcerer's Stone" in all other regions). So much of the novel is driven by the three main characters defending this stone from Voldemort.

In this novel we get the first ever glimpses of Hogwarts, Voldemort, Quidditch, Dumbledore, Severus Snape, muggles, the Forbidden Forest, the Invisibility Cloak, and any other number of thins Rowling's magical confectionary of an imagination has cooked up for us.

One of the best things about this book, and indeed about the whole series, is how Rowling plants details which, when reading, you may not necessarily pick up on, but are later rather important in later volumes. Who would think Griphook and Hagrid's admonition no one breaks into Gringotts would have such prominence in Book 7? Or the importance of Harry being able to talk to the boa constrictor, something which is not referenced again until Book 2 and then not fully explained until Book 7? Or the Invisibility Cloak, a device first introduced in this novel, but you have no idea of its importance, or even that it has real significance, until Book 7.

Another great example of this planting of clues is Neville Longbottom, who, but by fate, could easily have been the main star of the series, though you don't find out that information until much later in Book 5.

The book also introduces the relationship dynamics that would continue throughout the entire series, from the interplay between the three main kids (Harry, Ron, and Hermione), to the ambiguous Severus Snape, the wise mentor figure of Albus Dumbledore, bumbling Hagrid with his love of nasty creatures, prim and reserved Professor McGonagall, evil incarnate Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, etc.

Overall, there are numerous memorable scenes in this novel. As the novels progressed, the children aged and the target audience would have aged as well. In this novel, they are still very young and immature, but already at this early point in their career, there are seeds of greatness for Harry, Ron, and Hermione. 

Solid Second One As Good As First : The Chamber Of Secrets 

Rowling wastes no time further developing the world she introduced first in PHILOSOPHER'S STONE. While the first book got us acclimated to her magical world, it is here, in the CHAMBER OF SECRETS, she really begins expanding the vocabulary of that universe.

Apparently, Potter, at this early stage in the story, is already in grave danger. He has a house elf named Dobby appear to him in his uncle's house, warning him he must not go back to Hogwarts. Dobby even gets Harry in trouble with the Ministry For Magic (thus reads the unaltered UK edition, rather than the Americanized "Ministry of Magic"). When Harry and Ron try to get onto Platform 9 and ¾ they find the way blocked, an so have to (illegally) take a flying car Arthur Weasley, Ron's father, had enchanted. Once they land, Severus Snape reads them the riot act, for they have been spotted by muggles. And that's just the opening section. Danger doesn't stop there.

Murders and attacks begin to occur within the school, and whispers of a dark area known as the Chamber of Secrets somewhere in the castle, where the Heir of Slytherin has bred a monster, is beginning to circulate. Apparently this Chamber has been opened before, and the last time it was opened, someone was murdered.

It is here, in the second novel, we are first introduced to Potter's ability to speak Parseltongue, though we were told of this ability in the first book. Here this ability takes ominous overtones, for it is thought the Heir of Slytherin, the one who can open the Chamber of Secrets and command Slytherin's monster, would also be able to speak parseltongue, and so Potter must endure persecution on that front as well.

A funny character in this one is Gildery Lockhart, that fraud of a teacher who is world famous and takes credit for work that is no this.. His fate is well deserved.

Eventually, Harry finds his way into the Chamber of Secrets, and through the aid of Fawkes the Phoneix, fights off the magical beast of Slytherin and learns more about Tom Riddle, the boy who would become Voldemort.

Ultimately, All of these mysteries are unraveled, and Potter and the gang are safe again. However, in typical Rowling fashion, there are some central facts regarding the storyline that would not emerge until much later in the series. It is not until Book 6 we learn the importance of Tom Riddle's diary, and that it in fact a Horcrux.

Rowling introduces some new features and characters in her universe. It is here in CHAMBER OF SECRETS we first really get to meet Ginny Weasely (though she appears briefly in Book 1), who at this early stage has a crush on Harry though Harry does not return this crush. We are shown the Whomping Willow, Aragog the giant spider, and are given more backstory on Hagrid. We are shown Polyjuice Potion, and learn about Moaning Myrtle, the ghost in the third floor lavatory. We see that Hogwarts is not as safe as you may suppose (though the school was never THAT safe to begin with). Probably one of the most important additions to Rowling's cast of characters is Dobby, the house elf who would became a major character throughout the remainder of the series.

CHAMBER OF SECRETS shows, more than anything, that the success of PHILOSPHER'S STONE was not a fluke accident, and it is with this novel we get the first real rumblings of the Pottermania that was about to take over the globe. This book is easily as readable as the first, and most readers will fly through this novel.
One Of My Favorite Books : The Prisoner Of Azkaban

For my money, though I like the first two Potter books, this is where Rowling struck gold. I started reading the series well before GOBLET came out, and when I finished the three books that at that time were out, I thought AZKABAN was not only easily the best of three, but one of the best books I had read in a long time. The storyline is easily the strongest of the first three installments, and for once Voldemort is not the main villain driving the plot, but, so it is thought, a renegade supporter of his who murdered 13 people with a single curse.

In AZKABAN, we learn an escaped criminal from the wizard prison Azkaban by the name of Sirius Black is out on the lam looking for Potter. Black was once a vehement supporter for Voldemort, and now Black is gunning to finish off the job by murdering Potter, a task he had tried to do several years ago. Not only that, Potter learns during the course of the plot that Black was James' best friend, along with the new defense against the dark arts teacher, Remus Lupin. We get to learn who Scabbers really is (another instant of an character mentioned in passing on the first two novels who is hugely important here). Black is Potter's godfather, and yet he betrayed the Potters!

What makes Azkaban so interesting is you really get to learn about the relationships between James Potter, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Severus Snape. These five characters, and their relationships with one another, are huge portions of the foundation on which Rowling built her series. You need a clear understanding of these characters to fully experience Rowling's series, and it is thru these characters that this book, and the series itself, is as rich as it is. The fact no one knew that the three characters were unregistered animagus to help Remus cope with his condition was pretty cool.

For once, Rowling introduces a new magical artifact called the Marauder's Map, which she uncharacteristically fully explains by the end of the novel. It was made by Padfoot, Moony, Wormtail, and Prongs, which are the nicknames of James and his crew. The map shows you the location of every one on the Hogwarts grounds, a tremendously useful item, supplied, appropriately enough, by those masters of mischief, Fred and George.

Another great new bit of magic in the book is the Patronus, a magical spell that will help fight back the dementors and fear, a very advanced piece of magic for third years. It is also very touching to know why Harry's patronus is a stag, as that is what his father transformed into.

There are also other memorable scenes and events. You get Hermione and the Time Turners, Buckbeak the Hippogriff, Professor Trelawney, the Dementors, the Maurader's Map, etc. The climax of the novel is great, but for me, it's that time when Remus, Sirus, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Snape are all in that Shreiking Shack, and you finally get to learn a lot of key information about Harry's past.

Ironically enough, though I have long held the opinion this is the best Potter book of them all (not including Book 7), this book has the worst movie adaptation, BECAUSE they don't fully establish all the different relationships between the four, or even explain the Marauder's Map.

For myself, this is easily my favorite of the Potter novels, or was until DEATHLY HALLOWS came out. Still, I have had a great history with this book, and probably reread this more than all the other Potter books. This is the second best Potter book.

I Love Magic : The Goblet Of Fire

Harry wakes one night with a searing pain in the scar on his forehead; his dream, about the supposedly abandoned Riddle Family's House, rattles him and he quickly writes a letter to Sirius. The next morning, the Weasleys write an embarrassing letter to Harry's Uncle Vernon asking permission to take Harry to the Quidditch World Cup and stay with them for the rest of summer. Uncle Vernon agrees and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire takes off and never slows down!

The next morning, the family, Harry, and Hermione leave for the World Cup via portkey: an old, discarded shoe. At the World Cup, Mr. Crouch shows up, makes a bet with the Weasley twins about which team is going to win, and then drops the hint that something amazing is going to happen this year at Hogwarts. After giving this hint some thought, Harry, Ron, and Hermione go but souvenirs and start heading to their seats before the game starts, on their way up, they meet Mr. Crouch's house elf, Winky. Once the game ends and all the witches and wizards head back to the tent for the night, mayhem breaks loose and Death Eaters (Voldemort's followers) begin terrorizing Muggles. In the commotion, Harry drops his wand and, a short time later, someone shoots the Dark Mark into the sky.

Once Harry, Ron, and Hermione return to Hogwarts, Dumbledore announces that the Triwizard Tournament will be hosted a Hogwarts; the Goblet of Fire will choose three students who will participate in the dangerous competition. He then introduces the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor: Mad-Eye Moody. In October, representatives arrive from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrive to participate and watch the Triwizard Tournament. On Halloween, the Goblet releases the three chosen students from the three schools: Cedric Diggory, Fleur Delacour, and Viktor Krum. The goblet then spits out a fourth name: Harry Potter. As Harry works his way through the tournament, he must face deadly monsters as well as endure endless amounts of insults from the entire school.

This action-packed book ranks my second favorite in the entire series. J.K. Rowling never writes a dull moment and continues to baffle readers as they try and discover just who Mad-Eye Moody really is, what happened to Peter Pettigrew and where is Voldemort now? Don't let the size of this book scare you because you'll fly through the pages at record speed just to find out what's going to happen next! 

Easily The Most Complex But Most Satisfying Of All The Potter Novels : The Order Of The Phoenix

ORDER OF THE PHOENIX could well be my favorite book of them all, if Azkaban and Deathly Hallows weren't as good as they were. For all the talk about GOBLET being the one where Rowling really hikes up the intensity and the complexity in the series, it is here, in PHOENIX, she gives us Potter's darkest, and most complex, adventure of all.

The second most complex novel in the entire Potter sequence (the first being Book 7), this book is probably the second best one, though I still like Azkaban better. This novel introduces the Order of the Phoenix, a whole litany of new characters and a more in depth look at the Ministry For Magic.

Potter has been having bad dreams about a locked door. So he must find out what to do about that. While at home with the Dursleys, he and Dudley are attacked by dementors, and so he stands trial before the Ministry for the inappropriate use of underage magic. He ultimately must appear before the Ministry, and it is only by Dumbledore's appearance he is saved.

But the Ministry is not finished yet. Still under staunch denial that Voldemort is back, Cornelius Fudge sends a new teacher, Dolores Umbridge, to bring Hogwarts under the Ministry's control. Much of the storyline revolves around Umbridge as she takes over Hogwarts, eventually ousting Dumbledore, who goes on the run. Her end is very well justified.

I remember when I read the book back when it initially came out being rather disappointed. I wasn't a big fan of GOBLET, and I couldn't way to spend more time in Harry's universe, being back at Hogwarts with characters I know and love. But when I read PHOENIX, though, I felt even more lost and rather alienated. Hogwarts was being taken over. Hagrid was missing for half the book. Dumbledore is extremely distant (for reasons explained at the end of the novel). The Ministry is taken over, and it's run by a man who doesn't know what the hell is going on. There was a lot going on in this novel, and it was all rather depressing. Harry became angry and had severe mood swings, and was always snapping at the people around him. On the positive note he did get some romance,but ultimately even that frizzled out. Harry even had to take "Defense Against the Dark Arts" underground, as Umbridge refuses to even acknowledge Voldemort at all, as per Ministry order.

When I reread it in 2007 in prepration for DEATHLY HALLOWS, my stocks in this book absolutely soared. This is a dark, dark book, and while I still felt rather alienated and cut off from Rowling's magical world and the Ministry Interference, this time around I realised how masterfully crafted this novel truly is.

ORDER, as far as I'm concerned, is where Rowling truly stopped writing children's fiction, but crafting a dark, bitter book about dark, bitter times in her character's lives. 

Umbridge is easily one of her best characters she ever wrote, and one of the most despicable characters in all of fiction. It is people like Umbridge that brought Hitler to power in the early 1930s, and who would enable him to commit the many atrocities that he did during WWII (and I thought that for a long time before HALLOWS came out, in which Umbridge has turned into a type of Nazi who fully subscribes to Voldemort's racial genocide).

It is here, with ORDER, in which Rowling shows us the evil of bureaucracy, of how Voldemort isn't the only person in which massive evil lurks.

I also love how Rowling greatly expands her environment from the previous novels. We see for the first time St. Mungo's (and have a rather morose encounter with Gilderoy Lockheart from Book 2). We get to go inside the Ministry For Magic, and a very impressive place it is. Grimmauld Place, along with Sirius, is also very entertaining.

And we get some great new characters. Thestrals. The beautifully bizaare Luna Lovegood. Gwarp. Kingsley Shacklebolt. And a personal favorite, Nymphadora Tonks.

The series also has one of my favorite scenes in all of literature: when Dumbledore brings Firenze on during the rainstorm as the new divination teacher (a scene I was so disappointed they cut on the movie. The seeds were they but they cut it damn it.).

The climax of the book is great, with Dumbledore's Army truly coming into their own as they fight against the Death Eaters, who are trying to take the Prophecy from the Hall of Prophecy in the Ministry For Magic. I love that whole end sequence. And the death Rowling includes is just brutal, not really how she kills off the character but the fact she killed him off at all. Interestingly enough, Arthur Weasley, who survives an attack in this novel, was originally slated to die, but Rowling could not bear to kill him off. He was also supposed to die in Book 7, but she couldn't kill him then either, and he was the only real normal father figure in the series, and a good father at that.

And naturally, we get to learn some vastly important information about Neville Longbottom. Following the trend of other installments in the series in regards to introducing apparently non-essential characters and information,, he turns out to much more important than you would suppose. We also begin to learn Dumbledore isn't as flawless as you would like to think.

Another thing I really like about the book is you really do feel like the stakes are really high, which you should as we're only two books away from the end. In fact, HALF-BLOOD PRINCE seemed almost a step back in terms of complexity and highs takes atmosphere from this one.

One thing that should be noted is this is a real doorstop of a book. At a quarter of a million worlds (half as long as Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS), this is easily one of the longest children's books ever published. Rowling has even said she wish she could go back and edit this book down, as she feels it is too long. But what would she cut? Great stuff, but very long for kids. Speaks to the amazing appeal these books have that children have read something as long as this.

Overall, one of my favorite Potter books. I think it's even better than AZKABAN on a literary level, but I still prefer Azkaban to this as a personal preference. Still, this is one of Potter's best. Don't go in thinking you'll have as much fun at Hogwarts. These are dark times, and the war really is beginning.

Darker Than The Last But Not Upto The Level : The Half Blood Prince

Half-Blood Prince is easily one of the better books in the Harry Potter series, though each is a masterpiece. But the 6th installment of a 7-part series is bound to be full of great moments in the story. There remains a great deal unanswered in this book, however, and the 7th will surely need to be no smaller than an average encyclopedia. Somehow as I was reading this book, I felt that I was learning more and at a quicker rate than in Order of the Phoenix, but so many of Harry's problems and questions took so long to reach any sort of answer or resolution that I still ended up not knowing many of the secrets I expected to be revealed in this book. It must be that Rowling, in her grand scheme, is saving much for the last book. One thing seems to be for certain, though, and that is that Rowling will never lose that special touch, that supreme and genuine interest in the story and its characters that makes the writing so engrossing. After completing this book, I was in a state of total shock and to this moment I wish only to read the seventh book.

Half-Blood Prince is dark; I mean far darker than the last. This is the time I have always known was inevitable in the Harry Potter world, at last we are seeing chaos and war and battles break out within the walls of Hogwarts itself. Several of the chapters are particularly well-written, with great suspense and imagery; an example would be the time Harry and Dumbledore spent in the cave. Relationships blossom in this book at last, including Harry suddenly falling in `love' with Ginny Weasley, Ron dating Lavender Brown, Pansy and Draco clearly going out, and some serious hinting at a possible romance between Ron and Hermione when he gets rid of Lavender. Some of the focus on their teenage jealousies and squabbles, and their new found interest in dating and `snogging,' was a cute touch, but admittedly not what I was exactly looking for. After all, it was more fluff than anything else, and certainly none of it was real love. Then, the useless couple of Tonks and Lupin was introduced in the end; all well and good, I suppose, but again not something that overjoyed me. The end of the book is very sad indeed, yet, I was not crying--I was merely shocked, flabbergasted at the circumstances. A Snapeless, Dumbledoreless Hogwarts that Harry Potter is not intending to return to next year? Yes, you heard right. Harry wants to go off and find all of Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes and face the final battle on his own.

Much of the book is devoted to Harry witnessing important memories in the Pensieve with Dumbledore so that he can gain a greater understanding of his enemy, the Dark Lord. Now, am not a big fan of Severus Snape. And what we do now know is shocking. To begin with, we learn the names of his parents, muggle Tobias Snape and witch Eileen Prince (yes, Snape is the Half-Blood Prince.) It is also known that Snape overheard the prophecy regarding Harry & Voldemort and told the Dark Lord about it; however, supposedly he showed enough remorse after Voldemort used the information to kill Harry's parents that Dumbledore forgave and entrusted him. I was expecting a surprising reason for Dumbledore to trust Snape, not a simple apology. There must still be more to this than meets the eye.

Before I explain my case about Snape, I'll mention some of the things that remain a mystery after this book. Snape's patronus and greatest fear don't come up (in fact, while Tonks' patronus is revealed, Boggarts don't receive any mention.) Some interesting information is supposedly going to be divulged regarding both Lily and Petunia, but neither of them played much of a role in book 6.

Now, before reading this book, if I had to make a list of impossible things that could never happen...Snape killing the Headmaster and fleeing the school with a bunch of Death Eaters, would have been right at the top of the list. But, I'd have been wrong. I had a very strong feeling that Dumbledore would be the one to die in this book. But I never saw the way it happened coming. In the beginning of the story, Snape came in rather quickly. Once Harry was at school, Snape finally got the Defense Against the Dark Arts post he'd longed for. I was cheering. (Yes, he is no longer Potions Master.) But it turned out not to matter. In the second chapter, Narcissa Malfoy and her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange, visit the home of Snape and he makes with Narcissa (possibly out of love) an Unbreakable Vow--that Snape will help her son Draco carry out a task ordered of him by Voldemort, and will complete it himself should Draco prove unable. The task, it seems in the end, was to kill Dumbledore. Draco does prove unable, and Snape carries it out. Yet, it cannot be this simple. Dumbledore may have been aware of the task, and the Vow. From the moment Dumbledore returns from the cave, weakened, having drunk an unknown potion set by Voldemort to guard a Horcrux, he says he needs Severus. He never says what for, never asks to be healed. When Snape arrives Dumbledore calls his name and says 'please' (pleading for his life, as everyone assumes, or something else?) before Snape aims the curse at him that kills him.

This seems twisted, monstrous, unforgivable, no? Exactly: No. Not in my opinion, at least. I do not think it was Snape's choice to kill Dumbledore, but that the Headmaster had at least one reason for telling him that he must do this horrible deed. Of course from Harry's perspective (Harry, who has inherited, as Lupin says, a prejudice against Snape) it was cold-blooded murder and betrayal and he now wants to destroy Snape as much as Voldemort. But this too is far too simple; clearly, as the book ends on this note, there are things Harry does not understand about what has happened.

He has forgotten, for instance, about the argument overheard by Hagrid, between Snape and Dumbledore. This point never was addressed again, yet amidst all the turmoil, who can blame it for being overlooked? Consider it. Dumbledore telling Snape he must do something that Snape does not wish to do. For several reasons I can think of (mainly involving the Death Eaters and the Malfoys), this argument connects directly to the death of Albus. And what of the mysterious order given Snape at the end of "Goblet of Fire," at which he turned pale? Clearly he is being asked to do things most difficult, to make great sacrifices; how can the most enigmatic person turn out to be clear-cut evil?

Read carefully and you'll see that Snape has hatred and revulsion etched into his face when he performs the fatal Avada Kedavra. I see these emotions not as directed at his target, which Harry naturally assumes, but stemming from the act he is about to commit. It never really occurs to Harry that Sev may have been feeling the same things he'd been feeling when he was bound by his promise to force-feed the convulsing Dumbledore, does it? Probably far worse.

Snape acts rather outrageously for the remainder of his time in the story, not shockingly, yet he refuses to allow any harm to come to Harry (clearly Dumbledore would've wanted that). He seems to be in pain and becomes furious at the mere suggestion that he is a coward--because he has just done the most difficult and least cowardly thing ever asked of him. Dumbledore has repeatedly stated that Harry's life is more important than his own, and that Harry understands less than he. And the facts remain that he has in the past done much good despite his suspicious nature, & that not everything he told Bellatrix about staying loyal to Voldemort can be true. My final point has to do with the words Dumbledore cried while drinking the potion in the cave. I don't know why, but I feel these words are important, and that after the escapade Dumbledore may have known the end was near.

A Stunning And Thoroughly Satisfying Conclusion : The Deathly Hallows

This is arguably the most "hyped" book in history, and if J.K. Rowling had to sneak down to the kitchen for a glass of red wine to calm her nerves while writing The Goblet of Fire (as she said she did), one wonders what assuaged her while writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The collective breath of tens of millions of readers has been held for two years...and now...was it worth the wait? Did Ms. Rowling live up to the hype? (For that, amongst hundreds of questions, is really the only question that matters.)

The answer, most assuredly, is YES.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is told in a strikingly different style than the previous six books - even different from The Half Blood Prince, and, I daresay, it's a better written, better edited, tighter narrative. And while the action is lively and well paced throughout, Rowling found a way to answer most of our questions while introducing new and complex ideas. What fascinated me was this: Some people were right, with regard to who is good, who is bad, who will live, who will die - but almost nobody got the "why" part correct. I truthfully expected an exciting but rather predictable ending, but instead was thrown for a loop. We've known that Rowling is fiendishly clever for years - but I didn't think she was *this* clever.

Not since turning the final page of The Return of the King have I felt such a keen sense of loss. My love affair (indeed, everyone's love affair, I imagine) with all things Harry began somewhere in the first three chapters of The Sorcerer's Stone, and has lasted, on this side of the Atlantic, three months shy of nine years. For all that time we have waited and wondered - was Dumbledore right to trust Snape? Will Ron and Hermione get together? What's to become of Ginny and Harry? What really happened on that tower, when Dumbledore was blasted backwards, that "blast" atypical of the Avada Kedavra curse as we've seen it when used throughout the series. So many more questions than those listed here, and so many devilishly well-hidden hints. The answers, as I hinted above, will shock and awe you.

When first we met Harry Potter, he was "The Boy Who Lived", with an address of "The Cupboard Under the Stairs". Who could help but bleed sympathy for Harry, treated abysmally - abused, really - by the only blood relatives he had, and forced to live under said stairs by those awful Muggles, the Dursleys? It was a sensationally brilliant introduction, one that ensured that our heartstrings would be plucked and enchanted to sing. He was The Boy Who Lived.

Since reading that first book, we have enjoyed Rowling's spry sense of humor - portraits that spoke, stairways that moved at any given moment, Hagrid jinxing Dudley so that a pigs tail grew from his behind, Fred and George's fantastic creations, etc, etc., etc., and more etc's. There was a sense of wonder and magic in Rowling's writing, so thoroughly captivating that the recommended age group of 9-12 in no way resembled the book's actual audience. It was common to see adults walking about with hardcover copies of the latest book, sans dust jacket (to hide the fact that they were reading a "kids" book, I suppose). It was also common to hear of eight year olds sitting down with a seven-hundred-plus page book! By themselves! If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.

As for Harry, we admired him. He wasn't afraid to stand up for what he felt was right, even if he found himself in detention for it. He was brutally honest, and immensely courageous and loyal. Harry came to embody, at times, who we would like to be. He wasn't perfect, of course. He suspected Snape of being the one who was after the Sorcerer's Stone, and in The Chamber of Secrets, he thought that Malfoy was the heir of Slytherin. This didn't diminish Harry in our eyes - it made him more human, more real, and even, perhaps, more enviable.

Endless fan sites have been erected. For an adult to go to any of them, and find that thirteen year olds are having an easier time parsing out the books plots, subplots, and mysteries, was (for me at least) humbling, but yet also a testament to Rowling herself, and her remarkable creation. She encouraged an entire generation of young readers to read and to think for themselves.

But the time has come to say good-bye, for this is truly the end.

So good-bye, Harry. Good-bye Hermione, Ron, Professor Dumbledore, *Professor* Snape, Professor McGonagall, Professor Hagrid, Ginny, Fred, George, Neville, Dobby (and all the house elves), even Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. We will miss all of you, every character we encountered, from Muggle to Mudblood to hippogriff and owl, and everything about the world you all so vibrantly inhabit. And to Ms. Rowling: know that you have brought immeasurable joy to millions and millions of Muggles worldwide, and know that we cannot possibly thank you enough. What a tremendous gift you were given. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Best Elder Scrolls Sequel So Far

       The story of Skyrim is one of fantasy and mystery, much like that of Oblivion. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything here – I’ll steer clear of anything story-related beyond the premise. With another game, that would be tricky. With Skyrim, the stories that come from how the game works are often the best ones. 

       Skyrim is a game that's easy to completely lose yourself in. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the game's production values work hard to immerse the player in Bethesda's sword and sorcery world. For a game of this size the quality of the graphics and the attention to detail is awe-inspiring. As the player travels through Skyrim, they'll encounter dense woodlands, snow-capped mountains, majestic cities and crystal clear rivers that run throughout the map. They'll run into an assortment of interesting characters and battle myriad monsters.  They'll have to plough through blizzards, find shelter from thunderstorms and, on a clear night, they can gaze up at the sky and see auroras bleeding through the darkened heavens above them. The visual and sonic features of the game completely obliterate any traces of the outside world. 

      The second part of this enchantment is wrapped up in the number of ways Bethesda allows the players to interact with the world it has created. Players can while away hours upon hours creating weapons at a forge, mixing potions at an alchemy table, enchanting weapons, chopping wood, practicing archery, investigating subterranean caverns or simply pointing their character at the horizon and heading over the nearest hill. They can buy a house, join a guild, marry an NPC or read every book contained in the library at a college for mages. Around every corner and at every new town they wander into, there's a monster to fight, a character to talk to and some new discovery to be made. The amount of things to do in Skyrim makes the player feel like they're a living, breathing part of its world. In short, you need time by the bucketload to get to grips with Skyrim, because once you enter its world, it becomes your world.
     Another thing that hasn’t changed is Bethesda’s apparent joy at kicking the player’s ass at every turn. Between trolls, Spriggons, bandits and sabrecats, walking a trail to pretty much anywhere means taking your life in your own hands. It’s a brutal world out there. Also, the 7000 steps to High Hrothgar…They ain’t kiddin’. What a climb! 
      From the time you kill your first dragon, fairly early in the arc, things unfold and shape and turn in a very captivating way. I’m very happy with that. You’ll have the ability to buy a home, gain titles and live whatever kind of life you’d like. If you want to spend hundreds of hours collecting flowers and berries, working on your alchemy skill? Go for it. Want to go out and get in bar brawls for cash? Go for it. Want to play the role of Dragonborn and put the smack down on some overgrown wing-ey lizards? Have at it! That’s something that really amazes me about this series…The fact that you can just do whatever you want. There is nothing pushing you along. Nothing that makes you follow the progression of the story. There’s no time, there’s no major sense of urgency to get things done, you can just do whatever you want. This has been a bit of a downfall for me, personally, because I often find myself spend much more time than I should off in the woods collecting flowers and catching bees. Suddenly I’ll remember that I’m on a quest and will set off toward my goal, only to get caught up in collecting flowers and catching bugs again.

    Magic, meanwhile, has been given an incredible crackle of raw power. Emperor Palpatine would be a level one mage in Skyrim – unleashing two torrents of thrashing electrical arcs is literally the first trick you learn, and it doesn’t even get you tossed into a reactor shaft.

    The Dragon Shouts, gained by exploration and killing dragons, are like a manlier version of conventional magic. One can send even a Giant flying, one lets you breathe fire, another makes you completely invincible for a few seconds. Even the one for befriending furry animals is macho: it can turn four bears and a wolf pack into obedient pets with one angry roar.

     In case I’m not getting it across because of my rambling, this is a thumbs-up. So gotto go now i still have side missions to complete. Ciao!!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

He Ain't The Potter Boy No More!!!

                   It takes quite a time before the pieces of a poisonous puzzle appear, and when they do, they don't always fall into place with clarity. Brace yourself for shocks and scares as doors slam shut of their own accord, an empty rocking horse tips furiously back and forth on its own, and a ghostly hand print appears and disappears on a windowpane. This movie understands fear. Radcliffe proves that he can stand alone as a brilliant actor. This movie is so good at inspiring moments of pure terror as Radcliffe paces down the hall and the camera zooms in all too perfectly. Dread and anticipation and horror are all present in this classic horror movie. It ends very abruptly but the movie remains charming. I have yet to come across a horror movie that I will remember and be afraid of years later. Daniel Radcliffe is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric who lived in a spooky old mansion. There, he sees a whole lotta dead people, but not the helpful kind that haunt Hogwarts. 

                The Woman in Black has a slow and steady build-up so don't go looking for a pacy thriller. Watkins establishes the haunting mood of the story perfectly. You keep witnessing doors slamming, shadows playing hide and seek as the protagonist sweats over unraveling the abnormal occurrences. The process does seem a bit repetitive and elongated but it serves better impact for the climax.

                Radcliffe is no more the Harry Potter! and he continues to dodge 'dark forces' even in this one! It is the film's Gothic setting that gets to you even before the protagonist comes to picture. The Woman in Black is a must watch if you like horror. If you are the curious kinds, you'll have fun chasing the dark shadows This supernatural thriller has plenty scares and creepy atmosphere, but the plot could have used more surprises. Based on Susan Hill's novel, Black follows the beats of a traditional ghost story: the remote Victorian setting, the mystery surrounding the undead, and a protagonist that lacks the common sense to leave a haunted house. The script by Jane Goldman does make it clear that Arthur needs the money, but after he's seen a third spirit, it's time to find employment elsewhere.

                 Once the Woman in Black shows up, the fear factor goes way up. At first, she's seen obscured. Then her black shadowed image fills the frame—impossible to ignore. It totally works.

                   If you like psychological horror, The Woman in Black is a film not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Secret Of The Stonehenge

           Stonehenge is surely Britain's greatest national icon, symbolizing mystery, power and endurance. Its original purpose is unclear to us, but some have speculated that it was a temple made for the worship of ancient earth deities. It has been called an astronomical observatory for marking significant events on the prehistoric calendar. Others claim that it was a sacred site for the burial of high-ranking citizens from the societies of long ago. While we can't say with any degree of certainty what it was for, we can say that it wasn't constructed for any casual purpose. Only something very important to the ancients would have been worth the effort and investment that it took to construct Stonehenge.
                   The stones we see today represent Stonehenge in ruin. Many of the original stones have fallen or been removed by previous generations for home construction or road repair. There has been serious damage to some of the smaller bluestones resulting from close visitor contact (prohibited since 1978) and the prehistoric carvings on the larger sarsen stones show signs of significant wear.  

               The question of who built Stonehenge is largely unanswered, even today. The monument's construction has been attributed to many ancient peoples throughout the years, but the most captivating and enduring attribution has been to the Druids. This erroneous connection was first made around 3 centuries ago by the antiquary, John Aubrey. Julius Caesar and other Roman writers told of a Celtic priesthood who flourished around the time of their first conquest (55 BC). By this time, though, the stones had been standing for 2,000 years, and were, perhaps, already in a ruined condition. Besides, the Druids worshiped in forest temples and had no need for stone structures. 

                       The legend of King Arthur provides another story of the construction of Stonehenge. It is told by the twelfth century writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his History of the Kings of Britain that Merlin brought the stones to the Salisbury Plain from Ireland. Sometime in the fifth century, there had been a massacre of 300 British noblemen by the treacherous Saxon leader, Hengest. Geoffrey tells us that the high king, Aurelius Ambrosius, wanted to create a fitting memorial to the slain men. Merlin suggested an expedition to Ireland for the purpose of transplanting the Giant's Ring stone circle to Britain. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the stones of the Giant's Ring were originally brought from Africa to Ireland by giants (who else but giants could handle the job?). The stones were located on "Mount Killaraus" and were used as a site for performing rituals and for healing. Led by King Uther and Merlin, the expedition arrived at the spot in Ireland. The Britons, none of whom were giants, apparently, were unsuccessful in their attempts to move the great stones. At this point, Merlin realized that only his magic arts would turn the trick. So, they were dismantled and shipped back to Britain where they were set up (see illus. at right) as they had been before, in a great circle, around the mass grave of the murdered noblemen. The story goes on to tell that Aurelius, Uther and Arthur's successor, Constantine were also buried there in their time.

         In the 1960's astronomer Gerald Hawkins used a computer to provide the first concrete evidence that Stonehenge was used as a device for observing the heavens. He found that the placement of key stones lined up precisely with certain events such as the Solstices and Equinoxes. He claimed that Stonehenge could even be used as a type of computer to predict eclipses and track heavenly bodies across the sky. The numerous alignments are clearly no accident, but whether this was the monuments true purpose, however, is still far from being agreed on. The monument seems too grand to be a simple calendar and many of the alignments touted would not even be visible due to the stone's great height. 

             In the 18th century the British antiquarian William Stukeley had noticed that the horseshoe of great trilithons and the horseshoe of 19 bluestones at Stonehenge opened up in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. It was quickly surmised that the monument must have been deliberately oriented and planned so that on midsummer's morning the sun rose directly over the Heel Stone and the first rays shone into the centre of the monument between the open arms of the horseshoe arrangement. This discovery has had tremendous impact on how Stonehenge has been interpreted. For Stukeley in the 18th century and Sir Norman Lockyer in the first years of the 20th century, this alignment implied a ritualistic connection with sun worship and it was generally concluded that Stonehenge was constructed as a temple to the sun. More recently, though, the astronomer Gerald Hawkins has argued that Stonehenge is not merely aligned with solar and lunar astronomical events, but can be used to predict other events such as eclipses. In other words, Stonehenge was more than a temple, it was an astronomical calculator. 

         It was argued that the summer solstice alignment cannot be accidental. The sun rises in different directions in different geographical latitudes. For the alignment to be correct, it must have been calculated precisely for Stonehenge's latitude of 51° 11'. The alignment, therefore, must have been fundamental to the design and placement of Stonehenge. As if corroborating the claims made by Hawkins for Stonehenge, Alexander Thom, a professor of engineering and a mathematician, has shown that many other megalithic sites throughout Britain are also oriented towards the sun and the moon. 

            The alignment also made it clear that whoever built Stonehenge had precise astronomical knowledge of the path of the sun and, moreover, must have known before construction began precisely where the sun rose at dawn on midsummer's morning while standing on the future site of the monument. This point needs to be made because, as I suspect, with Stonehenge and many other such monuments, it was the site, a particular place within the landscape, that was important; only later were these sites marked in some more permanent manner by the digging of ditches and banks and (or instead) the erection of wood or stone structures. For reasons we shall never know, this particular spot in the landscape was so important that not only were ditches and banks dug and, later, stone circles and horseshoe arrangements constructed to mark it, but that some of the stones were deliberately transported there with considerable effort from a great distance away.  

               There are many stone circles and standing stones in the British countryside. It is likely that they all had a similar purpose and as with other ancient sites it is not unusual to find alignments with major astronomical events. But Stonehenge is unique among all the other sites in England. Its sophistication goes beyond the simple stone circles found in other areas. It looms over the landscape, taunting us with its  mystery. One viewing this powerful structure gets the distinct impression that they are in the presence of something very important. Something with a purpose that perhaps has still, after all these centuries, not been utilized. For over 5000 years it has stood silent vigil over the earth. What will it do when it awakens?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hacking : 1. Basics

                            An intrusion can be defined as an attempt to break into or misuse a computer system. The word "misuse" is broad, and can mean something as severe as stealing confidential data, or something as minor as misusing your email system for spam. In any event, no intrusion is innocent and no intrusion is benign. There is no silver bullet available out there that will totally secure our networks and systems. The only thing we can do as IT professionals is to make sure that all of the doors are locked, that the alarm is turned on, and to educate ourselves on what to look for.

Attacker Profiles :
                     There are two words to describe people who are trying to get into systems and networks: hacker and attacker. A hacker is a generic term for a person who likes getting into things. The benign hacker is the person who likes to get into his/her own computer and understand how it works. The malicious hacker is the person who likes getting into other people's systems. The benign hackers wish that the media would stop bad-mouthing all hackers and use the term 'attacker' instead. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen. In any event, the word used to denote anybody trying to get into your system in this paper is 'attacker'. “Script Kiddie” is a term used to describe a class of attacker who does not have sophisticated technical knowledge, but rather simply has a collection of tools created by advanced hackers, and the basic knowledge to use these tools to perform an attack. 

Attackers can be classified into two categories :

Insiders – 
            These are attackers who have legitimate reasons to use/access your internal network. These include users who misuse privileges or who impersonate higher privileged users. According to a frequently quoted statistic, insiders commit 80% of security breaches. An insider is usually motivated by greed (cases of embezzlement or fraud) or revenge (disgruntled employees or former employees).

Outsiders – 
             These attackers from outside your network attempt to attack your external presence by defacing web servers, forwarding spam through e-mail servers, etc. They may also attempt to go around the firewall to attack machines on the internal network. Outside attackers may come from the Internet, wireless networks, dial-up lines, physical break-ins, or from a partner (vendor, customer, reseller, etc.) network that is linked to your corporate network. They may be advanced attackers specifically targeting your corporate network for various reasons such as greed (e.g. credit card theft, corporate espionage) or “hacktivism” (defacement of public websites due to perceived social / political issues); or (and far more commonly) they may be Script Kiddies randomly attacking your systems based on the latest vulnerabilities.

Prevention :
                So if these guys are this much good whats the way to stop them from attacking our system and stealing our data? why learning hacking of course. So in this post we are going to start with the basics now and then keep learning.

1. IP : IP stands for Internet Protocol and this is a very important thing when it comes to hacking because your IP is like your name and address combined into one. So the wise thing to do would be to hide it. You can't hide your IP literally instead you can try to change it just for time being the process is called as "Proxy". So alright we'll start from the beginning. How to find this IP of mine? Simple. Press Windows key + R. Run program would show up. In that type CMD and press enter. You'll be taken to the command prompt and in the command prompt type ipcofig and press enter. In the lines shown you would have a line saying IP Address : (This isnt my IP so dont even think about it) and Voila thats your IP. 

How to hide your IP : Simple really if you have Internet Explorer or Firefox just go to options and in the network panel you would have proxy basically it would be in No Proxy. All you have to do is type in a false IP in the manual proxy and your done. If you think this is way too tough to be done then those using Firefox you have a addon called "Proxy Tool" you can use it to change your proxy in the click of a button so surfing is the internet is safe and anonymous.

2. Robots.txt : No this isnt some giant cyborg robot its just a text file that is used for indexing purposes of search engines and other sites. The basic definition is Robots.txt is a file that is used to exclude content from the crawling process of search engine spiders / bots. Robots.txt is also called the Robots Exclusion Protocol.
Robots.txt file has some simple directives which manages the bots. These are:
  • User-agent: this parameter defines, for which bots the next parameters will be valid. * is a wildcard which means all bots or Googlebot for Google.
  • Disallow: defines which folders or files will be excluded. None means nothing will be excluded, / means everything will be excluded or /folder name/ or /file name can be used to specify the values to excluded. Folder name between slashes like /folder name/ means that only folder name/default.html will be excluded. Using 1 slash like /folder name means all content inside the folder name folder will be excluded.
An Example :
User-agent: *
Disallow: / 

The "User-agent: *" means this section applies to all robots. The "Disallow: /" tells the robot that it should not visit any pages on the site.

There are two important considerations when using /robots.txt:
  • robots can ignore your /robots.txt. Especially malware robots that scan the web for security vulnerabilities, and email address harvesters used by spammers will pay no attention.
  • the /robots.txt file is a publicly available file. Anyone can see what sections of your server you don't want robots to use.
So don't try to use /robots.txt to hide information.

3. Form modification :
                                  For every webpage there is a source code and this code must be viewed to see what is being done in the page. Most of the pages are written in HTML and JavaScript. Form modification is the process where this webpage source code could be modified to suit the users need. In Firefox the shortcut is Ctrl + U. And not only for modification the source code might contain something necessary for the page like login information or username something or the other that would help you to get into the page.

4. User Agent :
                        There are some websites that take note of your Operating System and your browser details for safety precautions. Now this User Agent is used just for this purpose it goes on creating another internet browser in the same system using your trusty web browser. The Add On "Proxy Tool" would also serve for this purpose, this Add On enables the users browser to show up as someone else browser on the internet. So use the user agent for being anonymous.

5. Reconnaissance :
                                 Yes, as in the spy movies you get to recon on the enemy before the attack. If you can get their IP you can use that to get their complete details right from location to what Operating system they use. Most of the sites use PHP pages so if you need to find what kind of version the website has try the following :

The procedure is called PHP Easter Eggs :

PHPE9568F36-D428-11d2-A769-00AA001ACF42 - Type this behind the website and you'll get a image.

PHP Version 4.0.0 - 4.2.3

BROWN DOG IN GRASS (Stig's dog, Nadia):
PHP Version 4.3.0 - 4.3.10

BLACK SCOTTISH TERRIER (Zeev's dog, Scotch):
PHP Versions 4.3.11 - 4.4.6; and 5.0.4 - 5.1.2

BUNNY (Sterling's rabbit, Carmella):
PHP Version 5.0.0 - 5.0.3

PHP Version 5.1.3 - 5.2.13

PHP Version 5.3.0 - current

6. Full Path Disclosure :
                                      "" if we have a site like this and we need to login the page but we don't know the username and password. So we need to know the full path of the site because that full path might contain important passwords or usernames. So for the above website try the following :[]=about. This would make the website to throw up errors regarding the absolute path. On the errors that pops out is the absolute path.

So there you go people, whatever i know till now i told you guys, still more to come. Will be updating this topic once a week at least. So keep checking in and have fun.

Note : Whatever i said here is on my own experience from Enigma Group and nothing else. The Rights go to the Enigma people for making such a great site.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Alternate Universes??? : Sci-Fi at its best

“There is much I need you to understand before I go.” - September from "The End of All Things" Fringe Season 4 : Episode-14. 

I wasn't a guy into TV series to be frank and two of my friends started talking to me about Fringe and 'lo here I am with all the 4 seasons in my laptop and a great fan of Peter Bishop. Hari and Sathya these two are the one's who told me about fringe and got my curiosity get the better of me. and so it started 

 To all those who haven't seen Fringe : Fringe is a television drama centered around a female FBI agent who is forced to work with an institutionalized scientist in order to rationalize a brewing storm of unexplained phenomena.  

To be honest my feelings about this show were very low after watching the pilot episode. Technically well done with good production values, but the story seemed drawn out and derivative and the characters didn't really grab me, especially the female lead (played by Anna Torv). But there was enough there that was intriguing to make me watch another episode, then another, then another. It took a while to get going, but a little over halfway through Season 1 I realized I was becoming eager to view each successive episode. Yes, at first there were many similarities to other genre shows (after all, they all draw water from the same well) but by the end of Season 1, Fringe was successfully carving out its place among the greats. It really hit its stride in Season 2 which picked up the pace with some very skillful and effective writing. There were still some momentum shifts while toggling between episodic and serialized storytelling, but the characters had come into their own and the intensity increased significantly. And Season 3? Absolutely Blew. My. Mind. So much so that I'm really stoked to see how they're going to top it.

The show has consistently delivered incredible production values, but it is the depth of the storytelling and the characters that are the meat and potatoes. There is real emotional resonance here with themes on trust, intimacy, sacrifice, and family. Something I find lacking in a lot television programs these days. And, yes, there is also plenty of mystery and suspense. The cast (and *guest* casting, good god!) is indescribably fantastic. And I've done a complete 180 on Anna Torv and the character she plays. The actress is phenomenal and there are reasons why her character is the way she is. I've grown to really love her.

This is long-view storytelling at its best and attentive viewing can be very rewarding. You get lots of breadcrumbs pertaining to the overarching "mythology" spread throughout the series, starting with the very first episode and the payoffs are huge. If you are a fan of intricate well told science fiction (with an emphasis on FICTION; some of the actual science can require fanwankery at times) or just a fan of really great character based drama and suspense, then you should definitely give this series a try. Be forewarned however that the series can get pretty bloody gruesome at times (if you care about that sort of thing).

All and all, I'm really glad I stuck with this one or I would definitely be missing out. It has turned into must-see TV for me and now am really mad at those two for introducing me to Fringe cause the last episode out was "The End of All Things" and there wont be another episode till March last week.