30 December 2007

#51. A Giant Step Backward for Computer Art, and Comodo Revisited

So I’m sitting behind the counter in my Tool Bar & Grill a couple of weeks ago, nursing a Diet Coke and my disappointment with the new Commodo firewall (see post #47). Then the mail arrives, and my eyes are pulled to the one from Comodo. Here’s a new version, and it fixes the bugs, Comodo said. Try it, you’ll like it, they said.

But first, special guest blogger Mark Lautman takes digital art boldly back to the 1960s.

Art for the 8-Bit Crowd

by Mark Lautman

It's the waste that gets to me. The unthinking, selfish, indiscriminate use of resources that humanity exhibits in the pursuit of its own self-glorification. You see it everywhere: the large cars, the private swimming pools, the mansions. Who needs a Hummer when a Hyundai will do the same job at one-tenth the price?

You get the same thing in fine art. Below is a painting I drew of a woman with a killer smile on her face. Compare it with that over-rated da Vinci rendition. Can you really see any real difference between the two?

This brings me to the point of this week's column. For quite some time telecom companies have been investing billions in fiber-optic cabling so people can shove their “media” around the Internet. Is it really necessary? Instead of high-resolution graphics, we can move our visual images across the Web using low-bandwidth ASCII art. To this end, there are plenty of Web sites and utilities that make this possible.

One fabulous page that converts text into ASCII art is ASCII Generator. You type in a short text, select a font, and you get a very impressive rendition:

Another Web-based option is to convert a picture into ASCII art. Glass Giant offers this very impressive service, as does Photo2Text. Here is what Photo2Text did with the Mona Lisa:

If you're artistically inclined, you can use the fabulous utility Java ASCII Versatile Editor (JAVE), a drawing program for creating ASCII art. It includes everything a standard drawing program has, such as lines, fills, arcs, text, and even a variety of “patterns” you can use that are built from ASCII characters. Below are the first few strokes of my own Mona Lisa:

Go ahead. Renounce the world of 256-gazillion bit graphics, and join the ASCII commune closest to your place of residence. —Mark Lautman

Ah yes, ASCII art invokes my less-than-fond memories of undergraduate evenings in the computer room, back in the punch-card days. If the sites Mark cites don’t work for you, others that turn art into plain characters include Make ASCII and PageCurve. And if you want this so-last-century capability on your own computer, download the open-source ASCII Generator dotNet.

Exit the Dragon

I’ve been recommending the Comodo firewall (version 2) for a long time, and it always excels in independent tests. So I eagerly awaited Comodo Firewall Pro version 3, with its HIPS features and Vista compatibility, which was released in late November. So eagerly, in fact, that I discovered and announced its availability even before Comodo did (see my PC World blog).

Alas, my first installation didn’t go well, as described in post #47. So when the mail brought news of the bug-fix version two weeks later, I hastened to try it out. It installed just fine and seemed to work, with its new and improved interface and, better yet, without the problem I previously encountered. That is, until it hit fatal errors and crashed several times, each time leaving my computer defenseless until I noticed the problem and restarted.

The Comodo firewall also is slow to load, so after a reboot, my computer was on line well before it was protected. And I felt my computer ran sluggishly with Comodo, though I didn’t benchmark it with a stopwatch.

Comodo claims to recognize most applications, which should reduce its need to ask annoying questions about every program action. However, I found myself constantly clicking on pop-up questions, even for common programs that I expect the firewall to know about, and it didn’t recognize updates from Microsoft after Patch Tuesday.

Heaving a sigh of disappointment, I disabled Comodo again. I have seen the new Comodo highly recommended by some usually authoritative bloggers, so perhaps I am the only one having problems with it. But I have returned to the free ZoneAlarm 7 firewall (I’ve got it bundled with ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware), which has been performing unobtrusively and apparently reliably, and that’s what I now recommend.

We always appreciate your patronage at the Tool Bar & Grill, and we hope you’ll come back for more great utility reviews every week. Don’t forget to tell all your friends about us, too! Please feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below or writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. To get the latest on software firewalls for Windows check out Matousec at http://www.matousec.com/ If you read through this site I think you will be surprised at the lack of security provided by the free Zone Alarm you are using. I know Comodo came out with another update yesterday, you might want to give it another try. Also, did you try with HIPS turned off? For many users HIPS will cause issues unless you understand the inner workings of your computer. Anyway good luck with Comodo.