2007 TechByter Worldwide Programs
More recent programs are at the top and older programs are further down. That is to say that we use an inverse chronological ordering.
December 23, 2007 (final program of the year)
It will never crash!
Which of the following operating systems is guaranteed never to crash? (Pick one answer only.)
• Windows Vista
• DEC RSTS/E
• Apple OS X 10.5 (Leopard)
• Free BSD
• IBM OS/2
• Microsoft DOS 6.11
• Ubuntu Linux 7.10
• None of the above
The answer, of course, is "none of the above" and it's one of the reasons that I'm so annoyed by OS evangelists who proclaim that all operating systems but the one they like crash every 2 or 3 minutes while the operating system of their choice will run for years with nary a problem.
Still having trouble picking an operating system?
You're certainly not alone. Some people who have used Windows since the beginning are thinking about defecting because of what they've heard about Vista. Some Apple users threatened to leave when Apple migrated from OS 9 to OS X (and again when Apple dumped Motorola processors in favor of Intel) but most seem to have stayed. There are more valid choices today than there were even in the early days of personal computers. Choose Windows if you dislike Steve Jobs and can't trust community-written software. Choose OS X if you dislike Bill Gates and can't trust community-written software. Choose Linux if you dislike Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and you can't trust proprietary software.
Last year, some friends gave me a gift subscription to Netflix. I've enjoyed seeing a collection of movies from long ago, more recent movies that I've missed, and some old TV shows (Twilight Zone, Mission Impossible [everybody smokes!], The Outer Limits, The Avengers, and such). Recently Netflix added a Watch Instantly feature that allows me to watch a certain number of hours worth of movies every month on my computer. I can now say that I've done it once. That was enough.
It's the last show of the year: Happy Holidays
I mean that sincerely no matter what holiday you celebrate. For some reason, this is considered by some (mainly fueled by Fox and its so-called news operation) to be anti-Christmas or anti-Christian. It's not. It's also intended not to be exclusive because many people and many religions have holidays around this time of the year. Fox raised a big fuss a few years ago about the use of "Happy Holidays", but had to back off a bit when someone brought it to their attention that cards from George and Laura Bush said "Happy Holidays". So if the term "Happy Holidays" offends you, I'm sorry; but I don't plan to change anything.
Nerdly News: No News is Good News
Instead of Nerdly News this week, spam. Some laughable. Some dangerous. The Storm Worm continues to mutate in ways that make it dangerous if you don't practice careful clicking. But really, nobody should ever fall for this. There's also an increase in Russian spam. Perhaps Russian spammers don't comprehend that most people in the United States don't speak Russian even though many people in Russia speak excellent English.
December 16, 2007
Working when the power goes out
Recently, a subscriber to a list I'm associated with asked about how to deal with power outages. "All along, we've had a generator in place to run the well pump, furnace, refrigerator, and a few lights, which has worked fine during the outages. We can run the computers off the generator. However, the power fluctuations make it too dangerous, so we only boot up for 5-10 minutes once a day for e-mail and weather updates. I've heard about line conditioners without knowing exactly what they are, how they work, or what to get, how much. I've also heard about mini generators that serve household electronic use. I'm also thinking about getting a laptop with a really good battery. But how good are good batteries? Which option, which expense, makes the most sense?" I had an answer, but it wasn't the best answer.
Questions and Answers (well, 1 question & 1 answer)
We're going to be
migrating soon from Comcast for our ISP (at home) to Verizon. Our
problem is what to do with e-mails we want to save or port over
to the Verizon server. We're going to have some overlap in service
until we're sure everything is OK with the new system. The answer and a continuing discussion are on this week's program.
Applications for Windows, OS X, and Linux
Continuing the look at operating systems, this week we'll consider office applications, website editing applications, browsers, antivirus programs, photo editing, and other applications for each of the platforms. What begins to emerge is a picture that appears to have more points in common than differences across the platforms.
If you haven't visited a library recently, now's the time to go: An article in the Washington Post this week described some changes at the Loudoun County library, which began offering online books to its patrons in 2000 and put audio books online for downloading onto an Ipod in 2005. "It reached another digital milestone this week," wrote journalist Tracy Woodward, by becoming the first library system in Northern Virginia to offer MyLibraryDV, a video-on-demand service that allows library card holders to download hundreds of hours of video.
Opening another front in the battle against Microsoft: Top execs at Microsoft could be forgiven for developing a bunker mentality these days. They've been battered by the European Union. Vista hasn't been adopted as quickly as they had hoped. Google and others have free on-line programs that compete with office. And now Opera is trying to get Microsoft to include more than just Internet Explorer with Windows.
December 9, 2007
Ubuntu Linux continues to surprise
It could easily and successfully be argued that the best time to set up a new operating system and install applications is not on the day when the doctor has prescribed regular doses of post-operative happy pills. Despite the apparent futility of such an exercise, that's exactly what I attempted in mid November following foot surgery. Besides being directed to consume the happy pills every few hours, I was told to sit with my feet elevated. That meant using the desktop computer was out and the notebook computer was loaded with a disk drive that contained Ubuntu Linux. So I sat in an office chair, propped my feet up, and started working on software setup. What happened next surprised even me.
Windows Vista security
Windows XP has only 2 kinds of user account: Administrators (who can do everything) and everybody else (who can do nothing). Because the non-administrator accounts are so limited, everyone gets an administrator account. This is a lot like allowing all Unix/Linux users to run as root. Dumb. Windows Vista adds a layer and provides the oft-maligned user account control (UAC).
Stupid spam of the week and one that's not so stupid
"JustInTime" wrote to me from "Adu1tFriendFinder" to say that my bank account would be charged $287.64 for a "year subscription". Yes, that's a "1" in place of the letter "l" in the name. And I have enough adult friends, so I probably don't need any more. (Oh, that kind of adult!) Well, I don't need that, either. My two options were Proceed to confirm and Proceed to cancel. Both of the links went to the same location, not too surprisingly it was an IP address instead of a domain name. I didn't visit to see what the site had in store for me, but I did wonder. Later, I received yet another offer from yet another barrister who wanted to make me very rich. The presentation is improving.
A slap in the old Facebook: If you are a relic like me, you may not know much about Facebook. It's a social networking site that lets you share information about yourself with friends and acquaintances. That's neat, but there's a darker side. How much information do you want other people to have about you? Do you want them to know what you've been buying recently? Users can share that kind of information with their friends and it turns out not always to be a good thing. Let's say you've bought something big for a special friend's birthday. That person is in your Facebook network and, depending on how you've set the thing up, might be able to see exactly what you've purchased with just a click or two. Bad karma. Oh—and Facebook can share that information with advertisers who pay the site. Worse karma.
Let the punishment fit the crime: Let's say you're a spammer and let's say that you're making a lot of money with spam. Now let's say you get caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced. What should the sentence be? A court in Colorado seems to think that maximum sentences are a good idea. Starting on January 7, Min Kim will begin serving 30 months in prison.
How fast can you spell "class action lawsuit"? A lot of EVE Online players who use Windows XP and updated the game this week are more than a little annoyed because the update converted their computers into high-priced doorstops. A programming error by EVE Online, coupled with lax security settings under Windows XP, allowed the patch to overwrite boot.ini. When that happens, the computer will not boot.
December 2, 2007
A Corel Draw fan casts an eye on Adobe Illustrator CS3
Let's take care of some caveats at the start: First, I'm a big fan of Corel Draw and I have been since it first appeared sometime in the early 1980s. I've considered Corel's "sparse tool set" that combines related tools under a single icon to be the best way to keep on-screen clutter down. And I've always felt that Adobe applications didn't make good use of screen real estate, dropping tools all over the place. Then CS3 came along. Every application in the suite has been subjected to major interface tuning and it shows. Overall, and as a non-designer, I'm still more comfortable with the Corel product, but this version of Illustrator is enough to make me sit up and pay attention.
“I want an operating system”
If anything, it’s getting more difficult to pick an operating system. Buy a new Intel-based Mac and you can install Apple’s OS X, Microsoft’s Vista (4 versions) or XP, and Linux (dozens of variants). On a standard (that is, non-Apple) machine, you still can choose to mix and match the Microsoft operating systems and one or more versions of Linux. Linux is by far the most difficult decision to make because even if you limit the distributions you’ll consider to just those available in English, aimed at the general public for use on Intel-based machines, and maintained by the developer, you’ll have more than 50 choices. Widen the scope a bit and you could easily come up with a list of more than 200 Linux distributions. Which is right for you?
Keep that foot elevated
"You can go back to work, but keep the foot elevated as much as you can." That's the instruction I got following foot surgery. As I type this, my foot is elevated and bandaged. There is a shiny little pin sticking out of the fourth toe of my left foot and the pin extends the length of the toe and into the foot. Walking is a bit of a challenge, but working isn't.
Thoughts of a first-time poll worker
This isn't specifically a technology report, but technology is a part of it. It's about voting, which has become increasingly technological. This year, I worked as the presiding judge in an Upper Arlington precinct. The presiding judge is required to be from the party that prevailed in the most recent gubernatorial election. The precinct I served in had helped to elect Ted Strickland governor. Yes, I'm a Democrat. The Republicans and independent I worked with on election day all wanted the same thing: An honest election. This is an important topic that transcends technology. That's why the account is part of this week's program.
Searching safely: When you use a search engine to look for something, you'd like to think that the search engine will return only clean sites, but you really can't count on that. Sunbelt Software has been investigating search engine optimization (SEO) "poisoning" for months and released a lot of information on the topic this past Monday. By Wednesday, Google had purged thousands of sites that served malware to unwary searchers. The only problem is that Google won't admit that it did the right thing.
They're not doing nothing: But the FBI has been going after creeps who run "botnets" and has just managed to get eight people indicted. Yes, eight. That's great, but at this rate it will be sometime after 2372 that they'll all be caught. And chances are that they'll die of old age long before 2100. The eight are thought to have been responsible for infecting one million computers and running scams that cost victims more than $20 million.
November 25, 2007: TechByter Worldwide takes the week off for Thanksgiving.
November 18, 2007
It's November, so it must be time to like Vista again
You know that when I describe my experience with an application, that's what it is: My experience with the application. I make every effort to be truthful about what I report, but the reports are still subjective rather than objective. The results I see are based on a small sample (one, two, or three machines, typically). You've noticed that I've wavered a bit more than usual when talking about Vista. Earlier, I described a "disk thrashing" problem, which is something that has been documented. I described stuttering playback from Itunes, which has also been documented. But now it appears that the problems I observed were primarily hardware problems.
Stupid spam of the week killer
In place of the stupid spam of the week, thanks to PayPal. I received a message from PayPal this week (yes, it was from PayPal) inviting me to take a phishing challenge. It was an easy 5-question quiz aimed at helping everyone understand how phishing works and how to avoid being victimized. Because this is more like a practice test than the final exam, I’ll share my answers with you.
What's worse than a failing Seagate drive? An operational Maxtor drive. You've heard about my problems with a Seagate Free Agent disk drive. (The replacement has arrived and so far is operating properly.) Seagate now owns Maxtor, a company with a considerably less sterling reputation. Now Eweek magazine is reporting that an "undisclosed number" of Maxtor Basics Personal Storage 3200 units were sent to stores and customers with something extra: A virus that steals passwords.
Fans of some musicians may have gotten more than they wanted from MySpace: If you've visited the MySpace page for some musicians recently, your computer may now be ill. Pages for several artists had been hacked and contained links to malware sites. Visiting one of the infected sites would take your browser to a site in China where attempts would be made to load malware onto your system by telling you that you needed to load a new codec to view a video. (If this sounds familiar, its the same ploy that was recently used on porn sites.)
Because Thanksviging is this week, TechByter Worldwide will take the week off next week. "See" you in two weeks.
November 11, 2007
Ubuntu: Linux for the rest of us
It's pronounced oo-BOON-too and the word expresses a south African concept that roughly translates to "humanity toward others". It's a Linux distribution that's based on Debian GNU/Linux, but it has a strong emphasis on ease of installation. Installation has always been a challenge for Linux users. The average computer geek can install it, but the average person cannot. Mark Shuttleworth, who is an extremely wealthy resident of South Africa felt that a free desktop operating system that comes with a variety of open-source applications would be worthwhile. I have to agree.
Storm continues to mutate and annoy
The worm known as "Storm" continues to evolve and each new generation is worse than the one before. Storm is spread by a botnet of infected computer. A "botnet" is a group of software robots that run automatically on groups of computers that have been turned into "zombies" so that they may be controlled remotely by crackers. A new variant of Storm runs what's essentially a hot-fix on antivirus programs; the process doesn't remove the antivirus program but effectively turns off the application.
Stupid spam of the week
Those wild and crazy Viagra guys are at it again. This time they want to sell me Viagra (from the "Official Site" for 70% off. Or maybe 73% off. Wait! Make that 74% off. Or 79% off. Within a few days, I received all of those "October Special" offers. Within 60 seconds, 4 offers came in with "discounts" ranging from 71% to 79%. This raises a question, but one thing is certain. They're not selling Viagra.
Europeans can now join the scramble for Iphones: Apple's Iphone went on sale in Germany and Britain toward the end of the week. The Internet-enabled cell phone includes an Ipod media player. People lined up for the devices in the US and about one and one half million have been sold since the end of June. Apple dropped the price of the 8GB Iphone $600 to $400 and discontinued the $500 4GB version. The company then had to apologize to those who paid full price and offer $100 credits to them.
Help! I'm in Nigeria and I need money! If you receive a message from a friend who claims to be stuck in Nigeria and out of money, you should ask yourself a couple of questions before sending cash: First, has your friend ever expressed a desire to visit Nigeria? Second, does the message sound at all like something your friend might have written? The response to both questions will likely be no.
November 4, 2007
Update the changes to your modifications
Does it seem to you that updates have gotten out of control? I use Pidgin for instant messaging; recently it notified me that a new version was available and asked if I wanted to download it. I did, so I clicked the appropriate link and Firefox tried to open. There was a message about an update for one of the add-ins, so I allowed that to happen, but then Firefox noticed that it was due for an update, too. Finally, I reached the Pidgin site, downloaded the update, and installed it. Then I started my e-mail program, which notified me that I needed to download an update and, while that was happening, the Windows Update notifier let me know that Windows wanted to download and install a new file. Before that process finished, a Tray pop-up from Adobe told me about tens of megabytes of downloads for Creative Suite 3. And, of course, some of the updates required restarting the computer.
The Maxtoring of Seagate (an incomplete story in 1 act)
A few weeks ago, I had some nice things to say about a Seagate FreeAgent disk drive. I liked the
looks of the drive. I liked the packaging. I liked the elimination of complicated instructions. My opinion hasn't
changed with regard to those features. But I would like the drive a lot more if it was reliable. Over the past
20-some years, I have come to consider Seagate disk drives the most reliable consumer drives on the market. When
Seagate acquired Maxtor, I wondered if that acquisition would bring Maxtor's quality up or drag Seagate's quality
down. Based on my limited experience and a significant amount of Internet chatter, I'm concerned that the latter is
what happened. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Remember to vote on Tuesday
A few years ago, I was summoned to be a juror for the Franklin County Municipal Court (Columbus and Franklin County) and I was impressed by the people who ran the system. They were passionate about having jurors available, as required by law, even though something like 99% of all muni court cases are settled without going to trial. This year, I volunteered to be a poll worker for the November election. On Tuesday, I'll be a "presiding judge", which means that I'm the "manager" of 5 other judges at one of the county's 750+ precincts. I'm not going to tell you which one.
Mac security firm warns of OS X Trojan: Intego, a company that develops and sells desktop Internet security and privacy software for Macintosh, is warning of a new threat that —unlike most threats—is targeting Macs. According to the company, a malicious Trojan Horse has been found on several pornography websites. The Trojan claims to install a video codec required to view free videos. Instead of installing a new codec, the website installs applications designed to steal information from your computer.
Going .... Going .... GOS: You say you don't like Microsoft? You say you want a computer that doesn't use any Microsoft applications, but you're too cheap to buy an Apple and not nerdy enough to roll your own Linux machine—even with Ubuntu? What if somebody made a computer that ran a version of Linux, came with Open Office already set up, and was optimized to work with Google's on-line applications? And what if it cost just $200? (Truth in advertising: Plan on spending at least $350 to $400 because you'll need a few extras (a monitor, for example, and more memory.)
October 28, 2007
An unplanned holiday
TechByter Worldwide takes an unplanned holiday, the result of election planning and unexpected hardware problems.
October 21. 2007
A belt, suspenders, and duc(k/t) tape
I mentioned in last week's program that I'd recorded the podcast on Thursday. That's because I was out of town during the weekend—in Pittsburgh to photograph the wedding of my older daughter's best friend. Knowing that if anything can possibly go wrong, it will, and that if nothing can possibly go wrong, it still will, I did everything I could to safeguard the images. I shot all of the images in raw mode to get the best possible quality for each image, but that meant that every image was 6 to 10 MB in size. After the reception, I copied all of the images to my notebook computer's hard disk. Then I burned two DVDs as a backup and to backup the backup, I copied all of the pictures onto thumb drives.
The leopard prepares to spring
The next version of Apple's operating system (OS X 10.5, also known as Leopard) will be available later this week. Although this version is more evolutionary than revolutionary, Apple's marketing honchos still point to 300 enhancements that will accompany the cat.
Greenpeace bites the Apple Iphone
Greenpeace says scientific tests show that Apple's Iphone contains hazardous chemicals, some of which are no longer used by other mobile phone makers. This despite a claim by Steve Jobs that Apple is "ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" on environmental issues. The environmental action group bought a phone and sent it to a research laboratory in the UK. The results weren't good.
Stupid spam of the week
Two for the price of one this week. Within minutes of each other, I received two spams that encouraged me to apply for "honest work" with a "real company" and promised that "no investment" was required. Both of these firms wanted to pay me a lot of money for doing very little. You'll probably question my intelligence, but I passed up both offers.
The pump-and-dump MP3 trick: Creeps who buy penny stocks and then send official-looking tips aimed at convincing suckers to buy the stocks based on the assumption that the price will go up have a new trick. Instead of sending their spams in plain text, or as attached GIFs, or as attached PDFs, now they're using attached MP3 files. You may think someone has sent you a music track, but it's really a spam that uses a computer generated voice (usually not well recorded) to pump a stock.
If only I'd bought Google when it was under $100 per share: Or maybe not. I've learned that the best way to kill a stock is to buy some of it. Twenty years ago this week I was midway through a 2-week stay in Manhattan. Black Monday was the result. The stock market crashed. So far I haven't bought any Google stock and the company continues to fly high. Very high.
October 14, 2007
Answers that sometimes go with the questions
It's time for another Q&A session. Keep those questions coming and one of these days I might accidentally provide an answer that makes sense, works, and is in some small way related to the question at hand. The questions (and their related answers) deal with various topics ...
- A listener who installed a backup program several months ago then discovered that the backup application hadn't been working wondered where to go from there.
- And a listener who craves a clean machine wonders what can be done to clean up the Registry, remove unnecessary programs and duplicate files, and keep the machine running well.
- What if you have your own domain, but your Internet service provider blocks your access to sending mail through your own domain? This is an increasingly common problem with an easy solution.
- If you have a notebook computer that's mainly operated on AC, should you leave the battery in or take it out? I've gone to the experts for a comment on that.
- Or what if you have a old notebook computer but no power supply? Can you just pick something that's close and hope for the best?
- One listener has a computer that shuts down only after being told a second time. Some of the causes of this behavior are ominous, but others aren't.
An IE7 free for all: If you have a less-than-legal copy of Windows, you haven't been able to upgrade to Microsoft Internet Explorer version 7 because the IE download triggers a Microsoft Genuine Advantage interrogation. If your machine fails, the download doesn't happen. Last week, that all changed.
Holding an expensive brick, Timothy Smith sues Apple: Attorney Damian Fernandez filed the suit on behalf of Smith, who owns an Iphone that, having been unlocked so that it would work with a carrier other than AT&T, became useless when updated by Apple. The suit claims that Apple violated the Cartwright Act because Apple prohibits iPhone consumers from using and purchasing a cell phone service other than through AT&T.
October 7, 2007
Ever wonder what's going on when the disk drive is running but you're not doing anything? It could be a hostile application using your computer to send spam or a worm damaging your file. It's probably not either one of those, of course, but a background indexing process or some other application that's doing what it's supposed to be doing and minding its own business. But how do you know? Last week, I described a utility called The Ultimate Troubleshooter, which includes a lot of useful information and advice. This week, we'll look at a program that is both more robust and more spartan.
Excel's 65535 problem
Here's a little math test. There's just one question and all you need is a pocket calculator (or a small sheet of paper and a pencil). Multiply 850 by 77.1 (or 77.1 by 850, if you prefer). What answer did you get? Chances are, you got 65,535. Try that in Excel 2007 and the result will be 100,000. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. I can show you 10,023 number pairs that produce the same incorrect answer. Microsoft is working to fix the problem in an upcoming patch.
Stupid spam of the week
This week's spam of the week has a companion fax. Although the fax isn't part of the same scam, it's cut from the same cloth. It's more than a little amusing to see that some of these scams that started as occasional goofy postal letters decades ago and then were converted to faxes and finally to e-mails are once again occasionally being faxed.
Dept of Homeland Security shoots self in foot: The gang that can't shoot straight has done it again, effectively sending itself a mini-distributed-denial-of-service attack and at the same time unwittingly revealing the names and e-mail addresses of hundreds of security professionals. Nice going. They accomplished this by sending an e-mail newsletter that allowed recipients to use the "reply-all" feature. Apparently a lot of them did and the resulting flurry of messages topped the 2 million mark, effectively shutting down the DHS mail server.
Crows develop tools; can computers be far behind? Maybe you heard this on NPR's Morning Edition on Friday. Or maybe you read about it elsewhere. Some scientists attached tiny cameras to crows and, when they watched the resulting video, they were a bit surprised to find that crows are smart enough to use hand-made (claw-and-beak-made?) tools.
September 30, 2007
Revisiting King TUT: The Ultimate Troubleshooter
Start your computer and you'll find that several additional processes (maybe dozens of them) also start. You can see these if you press Ctrl-Alt-Del and use the Task Manager to examine the Processes tab. You'll figure out what some of the processes are by their names, but some will have names that not even a mother could love.
Revisiting COTA's website: Not as bad as it seemed
Not too long ago, I wrote about the Central Ohio Transit Authority's website. On the day I visited the site, few features worked. On the assumption that the problem was a temporary one, I stopped by again. There are still some rough edges, but the site offers a lot of useful information about the bus system. If COTA would take care of some serious usability problems, the site might be helpful instead of frustrating.
Revisiting Microsoft Windows Vista
A few weeks ago, I grumbled that Vista isn't all it's cracked up to be. That was after I said that I generally liked what I was seeing. Now I'm back to generally liking what I'm seeing, but with a few concerns. If you've been following the recent saga, you know that the computer has been in the shop several times. It spent several days there this week. It's back now and it seems to be performing well. The problems that acted like hardware problems may have been device drivers that Microsoft installed to "help" me.
Stupid spam(mer) of the week
(Imagine your name wherever you see "#YOUR NAME#" in this paragraph.) When marketers discovered mail merge and it became possible to include #YOUR NAME# in several locations throughout a direct mail letter, they overdid it, didn't they, #YOUR NAME#? Because, #YOUR NAME#, you knew that instead of making the letter appear more personal, all of this personalization was a clear tip-off that the letter was computer generated, #YOUR NAME# probably just pitched it into the trash. Now spammers have tumbled to the trick, but sometimes they're not quite bright enough to make the technology work for them.
Verizon decides to allow people who want messages to receive them: Verizon refused to allow NARAL (an abortion rights group) to send text messages to people who had requested them, but now the company has reversed itself. Regardless of your view of abortion, right to life, or anything else dealing with the debate, you might question the decision of a "common carrier" to refuse to allow the transmission of messages to people who have requested those messages.
Mircoogle? Microsoft has more than quadrupled the amount of material it searches on the Web ("Four times nothing is still nothing." Ah, just kidding, Bill.) Microsoft, worried about what Google has up its sleeve, says that it now better understands what people want when they conduct Internet searches and now they can deliver better and more relevant responses.
September 23, 2007
To go forward, remember to back up;
and choose your hardware vendor with care
This could have been a bad week. A very bad week. A horrible week. On Saturday, September 15, my computer crashed. After about an hour's worth of tinkering to see if the problem was something I could fix, I decided it wasn't. I then got out the notebook computer, plugged in a new backup drive, and continued working. I tend to preach (to the choir, perhaps) about the importance of backup but backup has literally saved entire projects for me more than once. I've also said several times that it's a good idea to buy a computer from a local assembler. This story justifies both of those positions.
This is one powerful toy
Another hero of the story is Microsoft's Sync Toy. After installing the application, you tell it which directories you want it to back up and where you want it to put the files. You can also specify whether files move one way or both ways and whether actions that rename or delete files are mirrored on the copy. Because I had just started using this application, I was literally able to plug the backup drive into my notebook computer and go back to work less than 10 minutes after I decided it was pointless to continue trying to resuscitate the desktop machine. And, when the desktop computer came back, Sync Toy made the job of moving new and changed files from the backup drive into their proper locations on the desktop.
Insuring your data for 29¢ per gigabyte
Earlier in today's report I talked about on-line backup (I use Carbonite, which I reviewed last year) but I also mentioned that I keep a local hard-disk backup using Sync Toy from Microsoft. I had just added a new 500GB external USB hard drive that I bought for $145, including shipping. That comes out to a little more than a quarter per gigabyte. Seagate's Free Agent drives reveal a lot about how we deal with storage these days and the instructions that came with the drive reveal how far manufacturers have come in making these devices something the average computer user can actually use.
Times Select is dead: "Effective September 19, 2007, Times Select has ended. Content previously published for Times Select is available free to all NYTimes.com visitors." That's the explanation visitors to the New York Times website received this week. Large commercial sites such as that operated by the New York Times can make more money from ads placed on a free site than they can make from charging visitors to read the site.
An open office from one of the pioneers in closed systems: IBM. Open Office. Hmmm. IBM worked with Microsoft of the OS/2 project, got burned, and has been unhappy with Microsoft ever since. Now IBM plans to take on Microsoft Office with a retread of Open Office. The company says its programs promote an open-source document format.
September 16, 2007
Stripping, panoramas, & weather repair with Photoshop CS3
As with other applications in the Adobe CS3 suites, deciding where to start with Photoshop was a challenge. With new features and improvements in productivity, image editing, compositing, and 3D and motion, I knew that I couldn't tell a comprehensive story about Photoshop, so I picked a few of the new features to talk about: Stripping, panoramas, and weather fixers.
How long does it take to find a bus?
Last weekend I thought I'd take the bus downtown. It's easy enough because I live near High Street and can easily find a stop for the High/Main #2 line. Unlike when I had a job downtown and rode the bus to work, the bus doesn't stop every couple of blocks once it's south of Fifth Avenue. Or maybe the local bus does and only the express bus doesn't. I thought I'd get a quick, accurate answer from the Central Ohio Transit Authority's website. Forty minutes later, I still didn't have a reliable answer.
Tech support: Please read first, then answer
Occasionally I have to deal with tech support. Not every day, but often enough and with enough companies that I see similarities and differences. Some support operations are excellent, but not very polite. Others are unfailingly polite but utterly useless. Most probably fall somewhere in the middle on both scales, but some are both surly and useless while the rare operation politely provides excellent service. One thing I've learned over the years is that if you have two questions, even numbering them won't work; submit two reports. Virtually all support operations read enough of your message to form an opinion about what the problem is, then they fire back a response. Frequently it's the wrong response and if you asked more than one question, you'll almost certainly receive only one answer.
Pssst! T-Mobile users can now have Iphones: The Iphone was locked in exclusively to AT&T, but an enterprising college freshman with a soldering iron and some programming smarts unlocked the phone now the secretive "iPhone Dev Team" has released a software hack that unlocks the phone. Those who waited not only save $200 on the cost of the Iphone, but they also will be able to use it on either AT&T's network (as Apple intended) or on T-Mobile's network. Sprint users and those with other services need not apply. The Iphone uses technology that's available only to AT&T and T-Mobile users.
From the folks who brought us Homeland Security ... According to the General Accounting Office, FBI agents lose computers (and guns), so it probably shouldn't come as a great surprise to find that the State Department can't protect its computers from Russian hackers. Sophos says the website of the US Consulate General in St. Petersburg, Russia, was loaded with malicious code as part of an IFRAME exploit that installed malware on visitors' systems. The infected pages have since been cleaned up.
September 9, 2007
Fear and loathing in Denver as InDesign CS3 roars in Seattle
Once upon a time, there were two programs designed for typesetting and layout "on the desktop": Aldus Pagemaker and Ventura Publisher. Pagemaker spoke Mac and PC, but Publisher spoke only PC. Eventually Pagemaker was acquired by Adobe, makers of the mythical Postscript language, while Publisher was acquired by Xerox, who had nary a clue about typesetting, and then sold to an even more clueless Novell. Eventually Publisher came to be owned by Corel, whose marketing team thought it was a lot like Wordperfect or maybe something like Draw. Publisher languished. Meanwhile, Adobe acquired Frame and renamed it Framemaker. In the desert, Quark had caught the attention of ad agencies with Xpress, but Adobe had a vision. That vision was called InDesign and the first version did little more than set type beautifully. It was followed by InDesign 2, Creative Suite, Creative Suite 2, and now Creative Suite 3. InDesign is where publishing is going.
Questions and answers
- How do I know if I have the "Storm Worm"? I use a firewall and also have Norton Antivirus. Is there something else I need to have or do?
- I received a message from some sort of networking site called Quechup. I've never heard of it and the person whose name was on the invitation to join the site says that he never intended to send an invitation. What's up?
The answers are on this week's program.
Stoopid spam of the weak
What do Rocco J. Humphrey, Alphonse D. Shepard, Trudy J. Trotter, Steve V. Young, Ahmad Q. Sykes, Andrew M. Moseley, Adela P. Burnette, and Marion D. Mcghee all have in common? It seems that they were all victims of substandard physical proportions that caused others to "whizgiggle" at them. But that's all in the past now because they have acquired and consumes a miracle substance for 3, 4, 6, or 7 months. They all want me to visit a website where I can obtain this miracle substance. Each of them offers a different Web address, but (surprise!) each of the addresses eventually leads to a site in Russia.
Apple drops Iphone price $200, "graciously" gives early adopters $100 back: There was angst in Apple land this week. In announcing other new products, Steve Jobs announced a $200 price drop for the Iphone. Those who paid full price when the phone came out were none too happy about it. Nice way to reward your most loyal customers, the ones who stayed up late to be the first to have an Iphone.
September 2, 2007
Vista after 90 days
I promised a report on Vista after I'd been using it for a while. The shortest summary is that Microsoft hasn't struck out with Vista, but they haven't hit a home run, either. Your next computer will probably come with Vista, but you probably don't want to upgrade your current computer to Vista. Some days I love Vista and some days I loathe it.
Outlook 2007: A new face and some new features
Microsoft Outlook 2007 is a lot like previous versions. It has an e-mail application, a calendar, a task list, and a contact manager. An integrated search feature makes finding what you're looking for easier and can even search inside e-mail attachments. The interface has been redesigned but not entirely remade. In other words, you'll recognize it for what it is and you won't have to relearn how to use it.
The deluge of crap continues
The criminals are getting smarter and that means the potential victims (you and me) have to get smarter. Did you do something that might embarrass you if the video of the event showed up on YouTube? That's apparently the premise of some recent spams.
Stupid spam of the week
Where to start? Is it the spelling? The hideous colors? The inane message? The "from" address? The punctuation? The URL? This one needs no pointers. No explanations. No arrows. It's just plain stupid. But you'll have to visit the show synopsis page to see it.
Surly to bed (in place of Nerdly News this week)
Having spent more than a few years in marketing communications, advertising, and public relations, I have some amount of empathy for those who are involved in marcom, advertising, and pr. But not when they do stupid things. You might wonder what I consider a stupid thing. Or not. If not, just skip the section at the end of the show..
999.999.9999: Unlike a lot of people, I still have a land line at the house, but I use my cell phone for most of my calls. It's always nearby, which is good and it offers caller ID, which is even better because if I see a call from 999.999.9999, I know I don't want to take it.
When I use your use of my video, I'm violating your copyright? John Murrell of the San Jose Mercury News, in an article called "So By Terms Of Service, You Mean Like A Bull Services A Cow?" described the odd case of Christopher Knight who ran for the Rockingham County (North Carolina) Board of Education last fall. It seems that Knight produced three local commercials. In one the Death Star destroyed a schoolhouse while Knight appeared as a Jedi knight (Knight = knight; get it?)
XM: The trouble is not in your set: I received a question about satellite radio this week. I have an XM unit that records. I can use it at home (with an antenna that sits in a window that faces the southern sky) or in the car. Typically I record the Bob Edwards Show in the morning and listen to it when I'm in the gym. The service is OK, but customer support is horrid.
August 26, 2007
A valiant attempt by a spammer
Just last week I started a new feature called Stupid Spam of the Week. This one doesn't fit there. The spammer who created this one deserves a prize: Something like 10 years in prison. The premise is so simple that one has to wonder why nobody did it before. The premise of the spam is that most people have subscribed to an on-line service before and have seen messages from the server with an explanation that they must do something to complete the registration.
Converting a PDF to editable text
Adobe's PDF (portable document format) files are ubiquitous. You'll find them on websites. You'll find them in offices. You'll find them used extensively in the printing industry, both for pre-press work and as files that are used to create plates that are used to print newspapers, magazines, brochures, and more. The primary shortcoming to a PDF document, if you don't have the full version of Adobe Acrobat, is that it's hard to extract the text. Sometimes you need to do that.
Stupid spam of the week
Here's the next in the series of stupid spams of the week. Despite being creeps, some spammers are relatively clever. "Stupid spam of the week" is designed to highlight the spammers who are a few cans short of a six-pack, a few clowns shy of a circus, a few clues short of an idea.
Attacking a monster: Personal data belonging to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of users has been stolen from Monster.com. According to Symantec, user names, e-mail addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers were uploaded to a remote Web server.
Iphone says "bye bye" to AT&T: A New Jersey teen with a soldering has unlocked his Iphone so that it will work with carriers other than AT&T. By the time you read this, he will probably have heard from Ma Bell's attorneys. So far, neither Apple nor AT&T has any comment. The good news is that there is apparently no US law that prohibits cell phones. The Library of Congress in 2006 excluded cell-phone unlocking from coverage under the asinine Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has been used to prosecute (some would say "persecute") people who modify game consoles to play a wider variety of games.
Is Netflix the Blockbuster buster? Netflix and Blockbuster are engaged in a battle to the death. Both have cut prices and modified offerings recently, but Netflix seems, in my opinion, to have the edge. This week, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings talked with the San Jose Mercury News and suggested that Netflix would win the battle.
August 19, 2007
Mister Bear Squash You All Google
Back in the 1950s, I enjoyed reading Mister Bear Squash You All Flat. It's still available today; I should say that it's available once again today because it wasn't on shelves for a while. Mr. Bear was the neighborhood nuisance who enjoyed sitting on everyone's house and squashing it flat. For some reason, I thought of Mister Bear recently when Google's name came up. Google, the company with the Don't be Evil motto isn't evil, but its extreme focus on having more money than 90% of the world's nations combined is pushing it to be less than entirely good. Mister Bear found out that he couldn't squash everyone's home and get away with it. Maybe Google will learn a similar lesson one day.
Stupid spam of the week
Here's something new that I'll do from now on or until enough people complain about how stupid it is or until I get tired of doing it, whichever comes first. I don't have to look at spams any more, so now they're no longer annoying. Now I can look at the occasional spam whenever I feel like it and marvel at the stupidity of the spam designer or the stupidity of anyone who might fall for the spam. This week I'll start with a phishing spam and the 7 clear giveaways that it's a fake.
In an ideal world ...
You'd report a problem and the problem would be fixed. End of story. This is not an ideal world and it seems to be getting worse. "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?" occurs to me more and more frequently as I deal with "corporate America." As you may know if you've been following the ongoing saga, I've been complaining about Wide Open West's service nearly from the time I signed up with Wide Open West several years ago. It got so bad that, when this program was Technology Corner on WTVN Radio, Wide Open West pulled its advertising from WTVN and the WTVN's management tried to convince me to lie about the situation. I refused. Technology Corner is no longer on WTVN Radio. Is this a coincidence? I report; you decide; it's the fair and balanced way to do things. Much to my surprise, there has been a remarkable change in the past few weeks.
Will the US survive this century?
We like to look at India and laugh. In the 1960s, we looked at Japan and laughed. We said the cars they made were constructed from used beer cans. Dealers held "bash a Toyota" parties. Those same dealers are now selling Toyotas and Toyota is the largest American auto manufacturer. The "big 3" are no longer so big. But we don't learn from history. Now we're laughing at India. We never learn.
Nokia burning-man battery recall: Nokia says it has no reports of "serious injuries or property damage", but still has offered to replace some 46 million batteries in its mobile phones. Think about that number: 46,000,000. If every battery costs Nokia just $1 (and you can be sure the cost of replacing the batteries will be far more than $1 each) that's a direct bottom-line hit of $46 million. The problems affect only BL-5C batteries made by Matsushita between December 2005 and November 2006. Fortunately, 250 million other batteries made for Nokia aren't affected.
Tenth anniversary: Machine over man: It's been 10 years since chess master Garry Kasparov lost to Deep Blue. The common perception is that man was beaten by machine even though that clearly isn't the case. Yes, Deep Blue won the game. But Deep Blue was a computer that was simply running a program that was developed by humans. So a gang of humans who wrote a chess-playing program defeated chess master Garry Kasparov. Doesn't sound quite so radical when I put it that way, does it?
The pipes are nearly full: After more than 3 years of fighting with Wide Open West over what I said was substandard service and they said was working as intended, the cable company finally admitted the problem and fixed it. Just in time for bandwidth problems to start affecting my service.
August 12, 2007
Screen captures: How much do you need?
A picture may not be worth 1000 words, but it certainly can help illustrate a point sometimes. That's why I use so many screen shots when I write TechByter Worldwide articles. I can show you exactly what I'm talking about on the screen when I'm illustrating a technique with Photoshop or explaining what the new version of Microsoft Word looks like. I use SnagIt by TechSmith and wouldn't seriously consider any other application, in part because of the powerful built-in annotation tools. But what if you need just a screen shot and none of SnagIt's powerful features? In that case, do I have a deal for you!
The battle to be your browser
In the Web's early days, lots of companies created browsers. The landscape was as cluttered with browsers as it was with word processors in the mid 1980s. Then there were just 2 that had any significant market share and it looked like Microsoft would sweep away all other browsers. But Microsoft stopped developing a browser for Macs and Netscape spawned the Mozilla project. Apple has just lobbed its first beta browser into the Windows market, Firefox has a small but loyal (and growing) following, and Opera continues to hold on as a major independent. Instead of singing, the fat lady sat down, started looking bored, and appears ready to head out the back door. Now Safari wants to join the party.
How can people be stupid enough to fall for this crap?
Sorry to be less than entirely polite about this, but spammers would stop sending their dreck if morons stopped responding to it. "Morons?" Yes, that's what I'd have to call people who respond to a message full of grammatical errors and other clear tip-offs that it's not to be trusted.
Video everywhere: Movie monger Blockbuster says it has acquired the Internet movie monger Movielink and will now be able to offer video downloading services to customers. Netflix has been offered streaming video for a few months. Blockbuster also picks up the rights to show the films owned by Movielink's owners—Warner Brothers Studios, MGM, and Paramount.
Universal to sell music without copy protection, but not through Itunes: The Universal Music Group says it will pull digital right management from some of its music during testing that will be conducted over the next several months. This is significant because Universal is the biggest music company on the planet. It's also significant because Universal says the DRM-free music will be offered through RealNetworks, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Google, and even websites operated by some artists. You may have noticed the Itunes wasn't in the list.
A trio of pirates go down with the ship: Two California men have been sentenced to 3 years in prison for CD and DVD piracy. Ye Teng Wen and Hao He, who both live in Union City, California, will call prison home for the next 37 months, then be on parole for 3 years. Wen and He will be fined $125,000. A third pirate, Yaobin Zhai, received the same sentence earlier, but he was also ordered to pay $6.9 million in restitution.
August 5, 2007
Putting some Zip in your files
There's no question that WinZip (which now seems to be owned by the Corel Corporation) is the best Zip utility on the market, but you may not need all the bells and whistles. Or you may have a budget (or a boss) that won't allow you to spend even the small amount WinZip costs. If so, there are some free options. Lots, actually.
Keyboard shortcut to reboot Windows?
Here's an interesting question: Is there a keyboard shortcut in Win2000 that makes the computer restart? (The question was asked by someone who was having a problem with the computer rebooting. In the Windows world, this would be the blue screen of death. In the Mac world, it's called a kernel panic.) The person who asked thought that the problem was being caused by some hidden key sequence. That wasn't the case, of course, but that got me thinking about how to shut down a system quickly.
Why can't I hear the BBC?
It used to be that listening to the BBC required a shortwave radio, but then the service became available full time or part time on some US radio stations. (WCBE runs the BBC from midnight until 5am.) And the service is available on the Internet. "I'd like to listen to the BBC on Itunes as one of the radio station entries," the question started, "but when I add the link, it doesn't play. What am I doing wrong?"
Keeping a notebook secure (and cool) when traveling
We're in the midst of the travel season and a listener who was about to leave on a vacation trip asked, "I am wondering if there is any way to provide password security for the laptop in case it is stolen. Yes, I know, preventing theft is better, so the next question is how is the best way to secure it when not in the hotel room? Are hotel rooms basically okay to leave stuff and do they have any insurance for theft?" Not too long after that, an acquaintance asked if it would be OK to leave his notebook computer in the car while the family was at the beach. I think those questions go together nicely.
Illegal Internet "pharmacy" operator gets 30 years: This week a federal judge told Christopher William Smith that he'll spend the next 30 years in prison because he operated a pharmacy that illegally distributed drugs sold by spam. In all, the 27-year-old Smith sold some $24 million worth of prescription drugs. The long prison term was in part a response to Smith's continued defiance of judicial orders to shut down the operation and his propensity to make death threats against witnesses.
A free office suite from Microsoft? Microsoft plans to install free versions of Works on some manufacturers' PCs starting later this year. These probably won't be top-of-the-line models and the special versions of Works will be adware, supported by embedded advertisements. This will begin with Works version 9.0, scheduled to launch before the end of the year. Works includes a word processor and a spreadsheet.
Don't shoot the movie, fire the manager: A girl and her boyfriend went to a movie. They had a camcorder with them because the girl was celebrating her birthday. She has a younger brother and wanted to show him a few seconds of the movie they were watching ("Transformers") so that he would go to see it, too. The theater manager called the police and now she faces a $2500 fine and up to a year in jail. Once again "zero tolerance" equates to "zero common sense".
July 29, 2007
Seagate abandons IDE, concentrates on SATA
This isn't a big surprise, but Seagate will halt production of IDE hard drives by the end of this year. Remember when IDE drives were the hottest storage on the market? Instead of IDE, Seagate will manufacture serial ATA (SATA) drives. Seagate has become the first major hard drive manufacturer to abandon IDE, but IDE has been dying for years. SATA drives now account for nearly 2/3rds of desktop disk sales and just under half of notebook disk sales.
Yet another Windows Vista report
So howzzit going? If a tree fails to fall over in a forest when people are standing by, listening for the sound of a tree falling over, did the tree not fall over?* Vista differs from Windows XP (gasp!) but so far I haven't encountered any insurmountable problems and overall I like the way that Vista works.
*Yes, I know that the philosophical question (or maybe it's a physics question) is: If a tree falls over and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? And I suppose the answer depends on whether you include the listener in the definition of sound.
Netflix or Blockbuster — who wins?
Blockbuster looks like it's on the ropes as Netflix continues to gain ground. I should explain right now that I was given a one-year gift subscription to Netflix by a friend and, although I'm enjoying it and although the price has dropped, it's far from certain that I'll continue when the gift subscription expires. Meanwhile, Blockbuster (having watched Netflix eat its lunch) is keeping a close eye on dinner. This might be a very good time to be renting videos.
Stupid Stuff (in place of Nerdly News this week)
Stupid roadblocks: Occasionally I hear from Chuck Adkins, who is blind. I mention that because it's an important part of the story. Chuck is annoyed by the increasing number of roadblocks that keep him from being able to use the Internet as fully as he would like to.
Stupid spam: If you're going to send a spam that claims to have certain medical abilities designed to enhance, it might be a good idea to find someone who has heard English spoken once or twice. Occasionally I dip down into the dreck of the slop bucket to see what's there. And I usually spend some time wondering what kind of person might actually be fooled into buying something advertised by someone who doesn't know even the most basic rules of spelling and grammar.
Stupid Mozilla mistakes: We like to think that the folks at Mozilla are smarter and better and more resourceful than the corporate drones at Microsoft, but that might not be the case. The latest security release for Firefox (22.214.171.124) has no shortage of security problems. If you think you're safe because you use Firefox, think again.
July 22, 2007
The year of living digitally
This week we'll have one in a continuing series of programs on digital photography, along with some how-tos that will chase you off to the website. The topic seemed appropriate because if you have a camera, there's a good chance that it's a digital camera. The editor of Shutterbug magazine, in the July issue (which I received in May) described this as "the year digital took over." By that he means it's the first year that more prints will be made from digital images than from film. The information is from the Photo Marketing Association, a group that has an interest in how many prints we make. I suspect that these numbers don't mean that more than half of us now use digital cameras because I'm certain that point was reached several years ago, as is indicated by the sharp drop in film sales. And, to a great extent, a similar drop in photo paper sales.
Using bulk e-mail (NOT spam) to keep in touch
If you have a mailing list you use to keep in touch. Services for bulk mailings can range from free services such as Topica to services that are included with a web hosting contract to Internet-based services that may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per month. I was delighted to find a feature-rich yet inexpensive service that's based in The Netherlands. Your Mailing List Provider has become my mailing list provider. You might like it, too.
Non-friends of the RIAA will enjoy this: More than a few people view the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as a bully, and not without certain justification. If you're in that camp you'll be amused to know that the RIAA has been ordered to pay about $70,000 worth of legal fees. It's the first time a judge has ever ordered the syndicate to pay a defendant's legal costs even though other defendants have tried to recover the fees.
Whole Foods in the hole over dumb actions by CEO on the Internet: Whole Foods Market this week admitted that federal regulators and its own board have launched investigations into online postings by chief executive, John P. Mackey, under a fake name. Mackey has apologized for his actions. Mackey, writing under the name “Rahodeb”, wrote glowingly about Whole Foods and attacked rival Wild Oats Markets on Internet sites. Whole Foods is trying to acquire Wile Oats.
A small chink in Google's fiscal armor: It wasn't quite terror on Wall Street, but Google missed its quarterly earnings guidance for the second quarter and its shared fell this week. Poor google made only $925 million in profit for the second quarter—$2.93 per share instead of the expected $3.03. Google has something in common with oil companies when it comes to making money.
July 15, 2007
Office 2007 changes the look and feel of Excel
What can you do to change a spreadsheet? You have cells with numbers or words. If the cells have numbers, you can sum them. If they have dates, you can calculate the number of days between two dates. You can calculate percentages, internal rates of return, gross profits. You can use the spreadsheet for flat files such as an address book. Those are the kinds of things that made Visicalc popular on early Apple computers in the 1970s. It's what Excel 2007 does today. What's the big deal? Well, as it turns out, so much is new that it's hard to decide where to start. I've said that before about Office 2007 applications. I'll start with a little show-and-tell about Excel.
Archiving old applications
I'm a pack rat. I keep old applications. I even have a copy of Microsoft Bob somewhere. Why? I certainly don't plan to re-install Bob anytime soon, but throwing it away would be like discarding an artifact from the Pleistocene epoch. In computer terms, 1995 is about as distant from today as is the Pleistocene epoch, about 1.8 million years ago. Microsoft Bob was intended to be a user-friendly interface to replace the Program Manager. It was a project managed by Melinda French, who later became Melinda Gates. Although Bob was a failure, some of Bob's components were later added to the Windows interface. So I can't just drop Bob into the trash.
Reports of the death of Net Radio are exaggerated
People who run Internet "radio stations" that play music thought that this weekend would be their last, but that's not going to be the case. Sound Exchange has agreed to continue negotiating with those who operate these streaming music services. Many of the "stations" have just a few hundred listeners, yet Sound Exchange wanted a minimum of $6000 per year from them. If you're playing music as a hobby for a few hundred people, should you be subject to an annual fee starting at $6000?
Who would believe this? Sadly, somebody probably did. Most of the fake fraud alert messages I've seen recently are better than those sent in the past, but one that arrived this week might as well have come with flashing red lights, a siren, and a loudspeaker announcing "This is a fake and if you click the link you will be sorry!" A clicked a quick screen shot of it before deleting it. Then I started marking the errors. The writer would earn an F-minus in 7th grade English class. It's really that bad and I didn't even mark all of the errors.
A very merry un-launch-day to you: Remember Alice in Wonderland? At one point, Alice came upon the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and a door mouse. They were celebrating unbirthdays. "A very merry unbirthday to you, to you / A very merry unbirthday to you, to you / It's great to drink to someone / And I guess that you will do / A very merry unbirthday to you!" For Microsoft 2007 will be the year of the un-lauch of Windows Server 2008. So it's a good thing that they elected to use the number 2008 instead of 2007 in the product's name. They might make it by the end of next year.
July 8, 2007
Don't skin that alien, hand me the palette knife!*
Any company with the motto "We will never wear suits" must be my kind of company, and so it is with Alien Skin Software. The company's plug-ins for Photoshop and other applications that accept Photoshop plug ins (which is most image editing programs) are well known for their versatility and imagination. The latest offering from Alien Skin is called Snap Art. A copy sailed onto my hard drive this week.
*Apologies to the Firesign Theater.
No, AOL didn't exactly invent instant messaging
"E-mail is the IM for old folks," I've heard from the youngsters who mistakenly believe that they invented typing without pressing the shift key and that shortspeak writing is an invention of the current century. United Press International's bureau staffers were legendary for their abbreviations in buro-2-buro communications; before them, there were amateur radio operators; earlier still were the telegraphers and their special codes. And there's always Variety.
No matter who invented what first, instant messaging has certain advantages. An IM can often get through when a person is on the phone or otherwise occupied. It's a step or two above e-mail on the urgency scale. And because you have a connection open the instant you receive an IM, replies are quick and easy. The hardest part may be deciding which IM application to use.
Adobe Acrobat performs on a Bridge
Creative Suite 3 is the latest version of Adobe's increasingly sophisticated collection of applications designed to work across many platforms, from the Internet's Web to web presses. With the acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe has strengthened its product line with the addition of Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Flash, but long-time users of GoLive will probably be disappointed that further development of that product seems to have halted. Likewise for users of Macromedia's vector-based design application, Freehand. The older applications are still being offered for sale, along with other applications that have been essentially frozen in time. CS3 is far too large to examine in a single edition of TechByter Worldwide, so this time I'll take a look at Acrobat and Bridge.
AllOfMP3 is dead. Short live AllTunes: You've known it was coming, but the Russian government has finally shut down AllOfMP3.com. That's the music downloading service that claimed to operate under Russian broadcasting rules. The recording industry has been calling for its abolition for years. Now the site is closed. AllOfMP3 allowed users to download music on a bulk basis — 2 cents per megabyte in some cases — so an entire CD's worth of music might cost $2 to $5. If you had money in an account at AllOfMP3, it's not gone but you'll need to act fast.
Dell puts the brakes on Vista: After being at the front of the Vista parade, Dell is now warning businesses that there are challenges involved in implementing the new operating system company-wide. This is something IT professionals already know and it's why some companies are still operating on Windows 2000 machines. Vista offers some real advantages, particularly in terms of security and for those who work with graphics. The interface of the new operating system is both attractive and utilitarian, but the differences between Vista and earlier operating systems will slow users until they get the hang of things.
Oh, yeah. Apple's Iphone went on sale this week: Finally! Now maybe the technobabblers can talk about something else. The Iphone is cool, granted, but it's just a phone (and an organizer and music player). I don't have one and I don't want one. It's a tiny box filled with lots of things that can wear out, break, or go bad. It's a first-generation device. It ties users to AT&T. But this week it generated a lot of buzz.
July 1, 2007
Fraudsters continue to innovate
You have money, a computer, a credit card, a bank account, and more. Somebody on the Internet wants these and is willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get them. The techniques these creeps are using continue to improve, but there's almost always a clear indication that fraud is afoot. Let's take a look at a few examples that I've seen in the past week.
Vista: Why did they do it that way?
Vista is the most secure Windows ever. At long last, Windows has the equivalent of the root user (well, more or less, anyway) and nobody runs as root. Even those who are considered administrators have to invoke supervisor status to do some things. That's good because it's another roadblock to malware and it's a way to ensure that less competent users aren't able to touch critical components. But sometimes this can get in the way and then it becomes necessary to outsmart the operating system.
Laptop computer: $250: No, this isn't some fraudulent loss-leader. Intel plans to work with Asustek Computers, a large manufacturer of motherboards, to develop a notebook computer that could be sold for about $250. The target market would be developing countries. Does this sound at all like the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, an organization whose name describes its mission?
Blockbuster nixes Netflix's attempt to block, buster: OK, that was pretty weak. So, apparently, was Netflix's suit against Blockbuster. Blockbuster announced this week that the suit had been settled. Netflix wasn't talking. Blockbuster, mainly a video rental store, has been moving in on Netflix territory.
Electric problems at the National Security Agency: The Baltimore Sun is reporting that "a year after the National Security Agency nearly maxed out its electrical capacity, some offices are experiencing significant power disruptions as the agency confronts the increasingly urgent problem of an infrastructure stretched to its limits."
June 24, 2007
More than just a word processor
What could be more mundane, more pedestrian, than a plain old word processor? If that's what you think, then you haven't yet seen Microsoft Word 2007. This version of Word is a sharp break from the past. It has features that many will delight many users, confuse some users, and dismay a few.
Vista: Now or later (more first impressions)
Two kinds of users have Vista these days: Those who bought new computers and got Vista because it's what the computer came with and people like me who knowingly upgraded to a new and largely untested operating system. Should you join the party? It depends on your tolerance for pain. When I installed Vista, I knew there would be problems. If you choose to make the transition with your eyes fully open, fine. But if you don't like solving leading-edge problems, wait a bit. (Speaking of leading-edge problems, check out the item that follows this one.)
Installing Vista the PEBKAC way
Installing Vista the second time was supposed to be easy. The Titanic was supposed to sail into New York Harbor. The Hindenberg was expected to land at Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Apollo 13 should have delivered astronauts Lovell, Swigert, and Haise to lunar orbit. And I should have been finished with the installation well before noon on Saturday. In fact, last week's podcast (recorded on the previous Thursday) predicted that everything would probably be running well by Sunday morning. That wasn't quite what happened. Sometimes I'm few clowns short of a circus.
$1000 worth of memory for $20: I keep an eye on Woot.com as much for the writing as for the stuff they sell. What they have is often outdated but, depending on what you need, it might be something you can use. I've bought some things from Woot, but I didn't buy the item they called "Compact Flash In The Pan" despite the clever writing that began this way: "Remember 2003? George W. Bush sat in the White House, the San Antonio Spurs were storming through the NBA Finals, our young men and women in uniform were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and new albums by Linkin Park and R. Kelly captured the ears of a nation. Yes, 2003 was pretty much exactly the same as 2007."
OCLC is a great place to work according to Computerworld: I don't hear a lot from the Online Computer Library Center, even though the OCLC campus is no more than 5 miles from where I live. This week, I received two reports from OCLC: It's a good place to work if you're an IT person and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have noticed it.
June 17, 2007
Should you open Pandora's box?
The disc jockey is dead. I'm old enough to remember when one of the reasons to listen to radio included the DJ. He (almost always a he in those days) was the one who tied the music together, wove in the commercials, talked long or short enough to make a clean network join, took requests, and probably kept an eye on the transmitter readings. With the Clear Channelization of radio, many DJs are just voice tracks recorded days before the program airs and often they're not even in the town where the radio station is. Independent stations such as CD101 (WWCD) and WCBE have local DJs, but they're a dying breed. Pandora is another nail in the coffin.
Ruin this picture
Occasionally I hear from someone who has ruined a digital photo. The usual request is to identify a way to fix the image. Unfortunately, there isn't one. That's why there are two ironclad rules for working with digital images and a couple of suggestions for doing things in a way that you won't have to hope for a magic fix.
The Vista update update: A couple of weeks ago, I did an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista. At the time, I said that I did an in-place upgrade in hopes that I wouldn't have to format the drive and reinstall all of the software. After two weeks, I've decided that I need to do what I assumed that I would eventually have to do: Format the drive and reinstall everything. It was a worthwhile experiment and I know that many people will successfully upgrade a computer from XP to Vista. I'm not surprised that this is the way things worked out because a lot of software comes to this machine, stays for a while, and then goes away.
Thanks, Adobe: When Adobe's CS2 suite arrived, I'd been running the beta version for a few months and the beta version left some junk in the Registry. Getting CS2 installed took a lot of effort on my part as well as by Adobe's support team. I was concerned that might be the problem this time around, too, because the applications are crashing and I can't run the "transfer license" procedure. Not to fear, says Adobe.
Do not put your keyboard in the dishwasher: I suppose manufacturers will have to start putting that warning on keyboards. I would equate that warning with these:
- Warning - Contents may be hot. (McDonald's coffee)
- Warning: Do not attempt to remove blade while lawnmower is running or plugged into an outlet. (Craftsman electric lawn mower)
- This broom does not actually fly. (Harry Potter toy broom)
- Warning: Do not reuse the bottle to store beverages. (Liquid Plummer)
Why do I feel a need at this point to suggest that you should not place your keyboard in the dishwasher? To answer that question, visit Google and perform a search with these words: keyboard dishwasher.
June 10, 2007
Is this a magnificent Vista?
A copy of Windows Vista has been sitting beside my computer for several weeks. I wanted to have a 2-day period free before I started the installation. That finally happened on June 2. I could set aside most of the weekend. I planned to try upgrading from Windows XP in place, but wanted the extra day in case I had to format the drive and do a clean install. Now I have enough information to describe the installation process and discuss first impressions of what Microsoft has created.
New York City with the digital equivalent of an Instamatic
Long ago and possibly in a different universe, I owned and operated a photo studio and camera store. One day a customer brought me an "in-STOM-a-tick" camera that wasn't working properly. All he wanted me to do was extricate the film and process it. He wasn't interested in getting the camera back. As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with the camera and I returned it with the processed pictures and with a processed roll of pictures I had taken with the camera. Kodak Instamatic (in-stuh-MAT-ic) cameras were point-and-shoot devices that gave the user no opportunity to change any of the settings. Recently, I visited New York City with the digital equivalent of an Instamatic and I proved that the resulting image has more to do with the photographer's vision than with the camera's capabilities. That's still true.
Around the end of May, I reported the results of a spam survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project; the survey contained encouraging news about the ways that we deal with spam. For most people, spam is now either irrelevant or a minor annoyance. For 15 days, I kept the spams that landed in my Gmail account's spam box—155 messages in all. Of those, only 1 message was a false positive. The Gmail account receives about 10 spams per day compared to some of my more public accounts that can easily receive 100 or more spams per account per day. Spam filters eliminate the need to examine all messages as they arrive and identifying the one good message in a batch of 154 takes only a few seconds.
Apple TV a flop: San Jose Mercury News: The hometown newspaper trashes Apple TV. The San Jose Mercury News says "Apple TV has been in stores for just two months, but there are already signs it may join the Lisa and the G4 Cube on the computer maker's list of flops."
Amazon wants NetFlix: Is AmaFlix on the horizon? There are rumors that Amazon wants to buy NetFlix.
Changes at TechByter Worldwide: This week I'm bidding a fond farewell (and I mean that sincerely) to Adobe InDesign CS2, Photoshop CS2, and the rest of the CS2 suite. I'm also saying farewell to Macromedia Dreamweaver 8. These applications will all be replaced by CS3 versions from Adobe.
June 3, 2007
It's 2007; do you know where your office apps are?
Microsoft lobbed a copy of Vista over my transom (does anyone have a transom these days?) along with a copy of Office 2007. I've previously seen some of the 2007 office components, so what I saw when I installed Office 2007 wasn't exactly a surprise. But then again—it was. Many things have changed between 2003 and 2007. Microsoft's office applications certainly have. But for better or worse?
A visit to the Big Apple Apple Store
On a recent trip to New York City, I made a point of stopping by the Apple Store, which I believe occupies space formerly occupied by FAO Schwartz. The famous toy store is still there, but no longer in the storefront space at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Instead, there's a large glass structure that extends about 2 stories upward, but contains no commercial space. All of the Apple Store is subterranean.
Miscellaneous NYC Notes
There's still no question that the most cost-effective places to stay in New York City are located in Harlem. Hotels, particularly those in Midtown Manhattan, are all expensive or small. Or both. $150 per night will buy the use of a room that's about the size of a walk-in closet for one person. If you're traveling with 2 other people, you'll want something larger. For a room with any amenities at all, expect to pay more than $300 per night, plus tax.
That was the week that was: Was it the week in which we made enormous strides in the fight against spam or was it just another false start in the feeble attempts to stop the slop? Only time will tell, but the reputed "biggest spammer in the world" was arrested and charged. Robert Alan Soloway will be tried and probably convicted on numerous fraud charges. He will probably lose most of his toys, including what one pundit described as an "expensive Mercedes car" (is there any other kind?) Maybe spam will slack off for a while, but as long as people are stupid enough to fall for the fakery, there's about as much chance of that as there is for drug runners to stop smuggling drugs.
The predicted fireworks didn't ensue: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were on the same stage for the first time in eons (OK, that's an exaggeration) this week. Some predictions before the event suggested bombastic comments, but that didn't happen. The story is not that the meeting was peaceful, but why some pundits thought it would be otherwise. It's true that Jobs and Gates are competitors, but it's also true that both are shrewd business owners who have worked well together when it was to their advantage to do so.
May 27, 2007
The Bat continues to fly high
I've been using an e-mail program called The Bat since 2002, if not before. In 2003, I wrote "I'm a fan of The Bat and ... Version 2 has been in development for at least 2 years." Now RIT Labs (Moldova) is heading for version 4, having just released version 3.99. In 2003, I said "[v]ersion 2.0 looks and feels a lot like the version 1.6 . I can see some new features and some improvements, but overall the program hasn't been upgraded beyond all recognition. This is good." More than a dozen releases of version 3 have continued along improvement path, slow and steady. I suspect and hope that version 4, whenever it's released will be evolutionary instead of revolutionary.
Late last week, I sat in the Jet Blue terminal at JFK airport in New York City. When I tried to connect to the free WiFi hotspot that Jet Blue provides, the result was a connection but no ability to reach any e-mail or website services. A quick analysis of the situation revealed that the problem was not with my Apple Powerbook. All around me, I saw people with Mac and Windows machines trying to connect and failing; some of them were more persistent than I was, but nobody was successful. In another part of the terminal, the WiFi system was operating properly. It would have been helpful if JetBlue personnel had let people know about the problem. The most frustrated users seemed to be those with Windows machines, but it wasn't a Windows problem. Networking can be frustrating.
Apple's anti-theft patent approved: Apple filed a patent application in 2004 for an anti-theft system that the company says will protect mobile devices. Laptop computers, Ipods, mobile phones, and other small but valuable devices are common targets of theft. Apple's idea is for the mobile device to track its own motions and to watch for unusual motions.
Spam increases, but we're dealing with it: A comprehensive survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project says we're getting more spam than ever, but we're less concerned about it because we're getting smarter about controlling the spew. The survey reports that 71% of e-mail users use filters offered by their e-mail provider or employer to block spam. Several years ago, I said that unchecked spam could effectively kill the Internet. The useless CAN-SPAM act has had little effect, but users themselves have adapted. Even so, 55% of e-mail users say they have lost trust in e-mail because of spam. That's sad because spam is so easily recognized that it need not be a source of confusion or lost trust.
May 20, 2007 (from New York City)
Making repetitive tasks more tolerable
If only somebody would make a Macro Express for mowing the lawn, washing dishes, or doing the laundry! I can't help you with any of those tasks, but if you have some computer-based tasks that you have to repeat and repeat and repeat, you're going to like Macro Express. It's a $40 program that you can teach to perform complex tasks, even when you're sleeping.
Creative Zen Stone is pebble size
This news won't have Apple shaking in its boots (this would, of course, assume that Apple wears boots and I'm fairly certain that as a corporation it doesn't wear boots, but it's just a metaphor). Creative's new tiny Zen Stone beats Apple's offerings in battery life (10 hours) but small size also translates to small memory (only 1GB). If you have a lot of Apple-specific AAC files (also known as MP4), you won't be able to play them in the Zen Stone, which plays only MP3 and WMA (Windows media) files. List is $70 (Singapore dollars), which makes US list about $46. You'll find it at $40 at most resellers.
Happy Birthday to TechByter Worldwide
One year ago, on May 21, I wrote "Until such time (if ever) that Technology Corner returns to the air* we'll give podcasting a try. Joe and I probably won't be able to schedule time during the week to record the show, so for now it'll be just me. I'm learning the procedure for creating a podcast as I write this article, which will give you the information you'll need to listen." During the past year, Technology Corner changed its name to TechByter Worldwide and expanded its viewpoint from central Ohio to the entire planet. Most of the listeners previously listened to the program on WTVN, but many are new listeners who are far beyond the range of WTVN's 5000-watt signal. Radio continues to change.
*Sound familiar? Watch the final scene of The Wizard of Oz.
I won the Lotto! Again! The crooks who run Internet scams aren't very bright, but they keep doing it so somebody must be falling for some of these messages. By my count, this message earns a negative 125 points on the believability scale and it wasn't a question of even having to study the message for more than a few seconds. No studying was needed, really. Just a quick glance.
AOL passwords: Easier to crack than you thought: AOL says it allow 16-character passwords and when you type the password, it accepts 16 characters. Trouble is, only the first 8 count. So let's say you have a really cool, really secure password "armrestsnugonhat". That's 16 characters and you can remember it because it says "arm rest snug on hat"—doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's something that can be remembered. Because it consists of 5 English words, it's not as secure a password as something like "Armr357snug0n#at" but because it's 16 characters long, it would be considered highly secure. But because AOL pays attention only to the first 8 characters, the real password is "armrests". Not so secure is it? Now it's just one ordinary English word.
May 13, 2007
One year down and still counting
Last week at the beginning of the TechByter Worldwide podcast, I said that it's probably time to drop the "formerly Technology Corner" piece, so that's not a part of this week's podcast. While doing that, I noticed that we're passing a milestone. This is the end of year one as a podcast. Next week I'll share some information about the first year as a podcast.
Getting ready for Windows Vista
You don't just stroll down to the computer store, pick up a box of Vista, come home, and install it on your computer. First, you have do decide which of the 4 Vista products is right for you. Then you need to find out if your computer is Vista-ready. On second thought, those steps should be reversed. There's no point in buying a box of Vista if it won't run on your computer. If you buy Vista and take it home, one of the first steps the installer will suggest is that you follow a link to the Microsoft website to confirm your system's compatibility. You might find the process I went through interesting.
Exaggerations on the Internet
Who would have ever expected more or less than the exact truth on the Internet? This is a battle between irony and sarcasm, and I'm not sure which is winning. When my car was in the shop, I needed a rental for just a single day; I went to the Internet to see what I could find. The best I could do without having to go to Port Columbus to get the car was about $35 per day. If I'd been willing to go to the airport, I could have saved $10 or so. So when my continuing search suggested I could obtain a car for less than $15 per day, I took a look.
Could I interest you in an Internet Explorer beta?
Recently I found in my spam inbox a message that called on me to download the latest Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 beta 2. Because Internet Explorer 7 has been available for several months, it seemed illogical that Microsoft would be promoting "beta 2". Indeed it was illogical.
Worthington to Paris without an airplane: I can't take credit for discovering this route. The suggestion was one that I saw on-line. If you visit Google maps and ask for directions from Worthington to Paris, you may get a surprise.
Suing spammers for $1,000,000,000: Yes, one billion dollars is what Unspam Technologies is asking on behalf of members of Project Honey Pot, a group of users who have been collecting spam over the past 2 years. The suit seeks damages for users of more than two and a half million IP addresses from thousands of "John Doe" defendants. The suit was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia.
This has nothing to do with technology, but it's fun: The Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is finishing its 128th year of operation. Saturday graduation included one Katherine (Kaydee) Blinn, BFA, who graduated summa cum laude. Here website, which is quite a bit more fun to look at than this one, is at www.Blinnks.com, complete with an explanation of why "Blinnks".
May 6, 2007
Keeping your disks in shape with Diskeeper
If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone ask about, or complain about, the built-in disk defragmenter that comes with Windows, I would have at least enough to buy some froo-froo Frappuccino blended concoction from Starbucks—probably enough for several, if I liked froo-froo Frappuccino blended concoctions, which I don't. The problem with the built-in defragmenter is that it's clunky, slow, and a resource hog. That's why I've used and recommended Diskeeper for many years. The tradition continues with Diskeeper 2007.
Spam protection that doesn't work
People used to include "nospam" in their e-mail addresses, thinking that it would fool spammers' collection tools. You'd see addresses such as "dummyNOSPAM@notbright.net". The trouble with that is that it's trivial for a spammer to write a routine that examines all the addresses harvested and eliminates "nospam" or any of the other words people used. The only people it caused problems for is those who tried to reply to a message, failed to notice and remove "nospam", and then had to re-send their message when the original bounced. That kind of silliness still exists.
Bargains from Woot
Woot (www.woot.com) has an interesting business model based on the premise that you can sell anything as long as you tell people quantities are limited. With Woot, selection is limited, too. Most days they offer one item. You can buy no more than 3 of them and there are no rain checks; when they're out, they're out. The ad copy is written with humor and it usually obfuscates the shortcomings of whatever it is they're selling. There's a specifications section that gives the awful (ugly) truth, though, so consumers know what they're buying. Occasionally I pick something up from Woot and most of the time it's a decent bargain. Sometimes it's just interesting to see what they're selling because it provides insight into the high-tech marketplace. I'll show you one of the recent bargains.
Kill the messenger; ignore the problem: Sometimes I think that institutions of higher learning are managed by morons. Why? Here's an example: The University of Portland suspended an engineering major and Air Force ROTC member for one year after he wrote a computer program designed to improve Cisco's Clean Access (CCA), which he says is flawed. So much for speaking truth to power.
Microhoo or Yasoft? There have been rumors of a plan by Microsoft to acquire Yahoo for quite a while, but the deal seems to be on the front burner for both companies these days. At least according to the New York Post. Yahoo has fallen far behind rival Google, but Microsoft probably sees value in entering Google's market area as Google edges into Microsoft's market area.
Office 2003 to get Office 2007 security features? I've been looking at the Microsoft Office Suite 2007 for the past couple of weeks. A full review of the applications is still in the future. I rather like the way the ribbon changes depending on what I'm doing so that the commands I need are there and the ones I don't need aren't. That's not an endorsement of Office 2007, but from the gloom and doom I've been hearing from the "we don't want no change nohow" folks, I was expecting something far, far worse. Those who choose to stick with Office 2003 for a while may be in for a security upgrade.
April 29, 2007
Apple's security may be a bit overrated
REmember when everyone seemed to think Apple's computers were secure? I said that there weren't as many exploits against Apple's OS X because it is inherently more secure than Windows because OS X is based on Unix, which had security built in from the beginning, and Windows is based on DOS, which had security added on. That's the part of my comment that Apple users like to hear. What they didn't like was the part when I continued to say that another reason for the lack of exploits was a smaller user base. And, I said, any operating system has some vulnerabilities. OS X is still more secure than Windows, but the severity and the number of "issues" is increasing.
Would you open these spams?
“There’s a sucker born every minute.” Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum is reputed to have said that. Irving Wallace, in his book about Barnum, The Fabulous Showman The Life and Times of P.T.Barnum, recounted how Barnum manipulated a gullible public:
“One day a plump beggar came by for a handout. Instead, Barnum offered him a job at a dollar and a half a day. He handed the puzzled beggar five ordinary bricks. ‘Now,’ said Barnum, ‘go and lay a brick on the sidewalk at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street; another close by the Museum; a third diagonally across the way… put down the fourth on the sidewalk in front of St. Paul’s Church, opposite; then, with the fifth brick in hand, take up a rapid march from one point to the other, making the circuit, exchanging your brick at every point, and say nothing to anyone.… [A]t the end of every hour by St. Paul’s clock show this ticket at the Museum door; enter, walking solemnly through every hall in the building; pass out, and resume your work.’
The beggar moved off with his five bricks, and began his idiot’s play. Within half an hour, more than five hundred curious people were following him. In an hour, the crowd had doubled. When the brick-toting pied piper entered the museum, dozens bought tickets to follow him. This continued throughout the day for several days, and Barnum’s business showed a satisfying increase.”
To a great extent, spam works that way.
Wal-Mart and the elusive HD DVD: For the past week or two, there have been rumors that Wal-Mart will have cheap HD DVD players in time for Christmas this year. If Wal-Mart goes for HD DVD, the rumor suggested, then Blu-ray is doomed. Maybe. If Wal-Mart does that, but the company says that's not happening.
Microsoft Windows for $3? No, this isn't one of those idiotic spams claiming "OEM software". It's more like what some drug companies do in providing drugs that are hundred of dollars per dose in developed countries for pennies in the developing world. Microsoft will offer a limited versions of Windows, Office, and other applications to those in developing countries.
April 22, 2007
Security that's not secure
I ran across a report in Tweakers.net about a "secure" USB drive that isn't very secure. Losing a thumb drive with 2GB or more of personal or business data on it can be a huge problem. Those devices are small and easy to lose, so it's no surprise that a lot of them have been lost. Sipal International released a thumb drive called Secustick, claiming that it would "self-destruct" if the user entered a password more than a set number of times. The stick was commissioned by the French government (I'm thinking Maginot Line here) and a 1GB thumb drive ($175, compared to standard 1GB thumb drives at $10 or so) turned out not to be very secure. Read the entire report at http://tweakers.net/reviews/683/.
Odds and ends
This is the NEC section of TechByter Worldwide—the "not elsewhere classified" section. You've heard from me about TCR, the computer seller on the east side of the metro area previously. This time, you'll hear from a listener. The message is the same. If you'd like to get rid of some of Windows XP's annoying "bubble messages", I have the answer. And I'm thinking about Vista.
This message was not set wirelessly from my Blackberry: Research in Motion (RIM), the Blackberry guys, at first didn't admit that there was a problem. Maybe they were thinking "If we don't mention it, nobody will notice." Given the large number of Blackberry users, that's unlikely. Public relations professionals are supposed to communicate with their various publics when things go wrong and that didn't happen in a timely manner with RIM.
AMD reports losses higher than expected: I've been a fan of AMD for a long time. Always the underdog, AMD was considered the "value leader" in CPUs for years, regularly providing CPUs almost as fast as Intel's, but at a lower price. AMD beat Intel briefly in the speed wars and still makes worthy products, but price cuts by Intel have forced AMD to cut prices and have created large losses.
April 15, 2007 Happy almost tax day!
Coming soon ... Adobe Creative Suite 3
Occasionally I've said that Linux stands a good chance of eventually winning the operating system wars because it's good enough for many people and because it's free. I've usually tempered that statement by saying that some people can't switch to Linux because programs they depend on won't run under Linux. Examples include Microsoft Office (Open Office is a worthy competitor, but comes up short in some areas), applications such as Intuit's Quicken (yes, you can run an emulator or WINE, which claims not to be an emulator; but if you're going to run a Windows emulator on Linux, what's the point of running Linux?) and Adobe Creative Suite applications (having caught a glimpse of what's coming from Adobe in a couple of weeks, CS3 alone might maintain the viability of Windows and OS X well into the next decade.)
Affordable 3D printing
The term "affordable" is a bit slippery. The first "affordable" CD burners were about $30,000. The first "affordable" digital cameras were about $30,000. The first "affordable" 3D printer is (have you detected a pattern here?) about $40,000. You probably won't buy one for your home, but if your business depends on creating prototypes, this might be an affordable addition to your tools.
Why two missing programs in a single month?
I've come close to explaining the missing programs a couple of times, but I've always decided at the last moment not to include the explanation. But some of the people who listen to (or read) what I write have been doing so for nearly 20 years. It seems to me that I owe them an explanation, and this is that explanation. As you probably know, I have a "day job". Recently, there were some changes. (This topic will not be part of the podcast, but will be only on the website.)
Questions and Answers (instead of Nerdly News)
Getting rid of spam: I received two questions this week regarding spam. One asked, "What do you consider the best at controlling repetitive spam? I try blocking the old quarantine way, but unsuccessfully." The other was more concerned about a specific source, "I found and read your write up about Canadian Pharmacy. I receive 10-15 a day from this company. How do I stop their spam?" There is a way and the answer is part of this week's program.
Looking for the wrong problem: "I am experiencing problems in copying large (more than 30 MB or so) TIFF files from my hard disk to a new 2 GB thumb drive. I use Windows XP. I am able to copy small files very quickly, but with the above said large files, Windows tries for a minute or two before it sends the message "Cannot copy <file name>: The path is too deep". There are a couple of large files that I have managed to copy successfully, though." In this case Microsoft's error message was exactly right.
April 8, 2007
Those nasty hackers (crackers?) aren't the real problem
Just about everybody, including me, seems to think that hackers (or, more accurately in my estimation, "crackers") are responsible for most of the data loss. Well, that may not be the case—at least according to research from the University of Washington. That's the school that's a few miles south on I-5 from Microsoft.
The Internet Past, Present, and Future
"The Internet wasn’t developed to be a dangerous place." Andy Marken, a west coast public relations guy said that during an online conversation. I asked for permission to quote him. The Internet was once an innocent place. If you doubt that, take a look at the program logic of SENDMAIL when you have time. The application that handled the Internet's e-mail when it was still ARPA-NET still handles most of today's e-mail, but SENDMAIL has no security. None. That's one of the reasons spam continues to be a huge problem, but the developers of SENDMAIL were working on a closed network and they assumed senders would be honorable. The Internet was not developed with today's users in mind.
Maybe they waited a day
because if they'd announced it on April 1,
nobody would have believed it: Apple and EMI announced this week that EMI will begin selling all of its music through the Itunes Store without digital rights management (DRM) code. All of the unprotected tracks will be available starting in May. Instead of 99 cents, the tracks will sell for $1.29 and customers who purchased DRM-protected tracks will be able to upgrade those tracks by paying an additional 30 cents.
ICANN: .xxx porn top-level domain still dead: ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is again refusing to establish an "xxx" top-level domain to be used for pornography. Porn merchants and porn fighters are on the same side. Porn merchants don't want it because it would segregate their businesses to what would essentially be a red-light district. Anti-porn forces don't want it because it would "send the wrong message". What's more important, action or symbolism? Talk about being "symbol minded"!
April 1, 2007 • TechByter Worldwide will return next week.
March 25, 2007
A look at Open Office 2.1
Microsoft Office 2003, Wordperfect Office X3, Microsoft Office 2007, and Open Office 2. Those are your choices if you're looking for a suite that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, and a database application. If you need an integrated e-mail program, calendar, and task manager, you have to leave out Open Office. But do you need an integrated e-mail program, calendar, and task manager?
RIAA sues the young, the poor, the dead
The Recording Industry Association of America is trying to drop a hot potato. The association filed suit against a divorced mother, accusing her of being a pirate. Now the RIAA wants to drop the case, but the judge now says the organization has two options and just dropping the case isn't one of them. The RIAA can proceed with a jury trial against Patty Santangelo or ask to have the suit dismissed with prejudice.
Competition for YouTube: From the not-exactly-surprising-news department, News Corp and NBC have announced plans to distribute episodes of 24, The Office, and other programs on AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and MySpace. They'll use an embedded media player on those sites and will set up their own YouTube-like video site that will be free and supported by advertising.
No "fair use" of DVDs: You buy a DVD and you'd like to run it through a program that lets you watch it on a hand-held device. Question: Is this legal? Common sense would, of course, suggest that it is. But not according to Hollywood. If you want a DVD and you also want to be able to watch the video on any other device, you have to buy a second copy.
March 18, 2007
IBM, Microsoft, and Open Source
Twenty-some years ago, IBM was the unquestioned leader in "big iron", the mainframe computers that ran businesses. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was the big dog in the little computer market. Microsoft had begun operating on the assumption that desktop computers could do many jobs faster, better, and cheaper than mainframes and minicomputers. Today DEC is dead and IBM has revived, but Microsoft is the current king of the hill. But for how long?
ICANN says RegsterFly.com CAN NOT
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) may have some teeth after all. It has ordered RegisterFly.com to terminate operations and allow those who registered domain names through the registrar to remove those domains by the end of March.
WebEx is now part of Cisco Systems: Cisco will pay about $3.2 billion in cash to acquire WebEx Communications, the on-line meeting company. That's $57 per share, more than 20% above the closing price on Wednesday, the day before Cisco made its announcement. The deal should close in this year's 4th quarter.
Cell phones in hospitals: True or false: If you're visiting someone in a hospital, you should turn off your cell phone because leaving it on might wreak havoc with medical devices and kill your friend. Some medical personnel, often the same people who use other radio-based communications devices that emit far more power than a cell phone, want you to believe that this is true. It's not.
March 11, 2007 - No program (sorry)
March 4, 2007
Shrinking audio files
Last week I recounted how listener Gary Freeland suggested a program on file sizes. "With the proliferation of digital audio and digital video files," Gary wrote, "perhaps you could address the subject of compressing these files so they can be sent via email or IM messages." A few weeks ago, I talked about some of the applications you might consider for digital pictures. This week, it's sound files.
Black folks aren't black and White folks aren't white
This isn't about technology; mainly it's just some rambling thoughts and a bit of travel advice based on recent trips to New York City. When I mentioned to a guy from Cincinnati who was attending the same Direct Marketing Association conference I was that I was staying at a bed and breakfast in Harlem, his response was, "That wouldn't have been my first choice." When I mentioned that the place I was staying had cats, he wondered if they were there to give people something to kick at night. We didn't talk a lot after that.
Spam Control: I used GoodbyeSpam and have written about it. Recently I received a question about the application and I had to recommend using something other than GoodbyeSpam.
Microsoft rivals continue to attack through the European front: Microsoft has 4 weeks to respond to a threat from the European Commission to fine the company millions of euros because the company demands unreasonable royalties from rivals who request information from Microsoft about how to make their software function with Windows. The commission has already fined Microsoft $655.3 million in 2004 and $370.4 million last year for failure to comply. Microsoft has appealed both fines.
February 25, 2007
Questions and answers
Questions and comments are always welcome. When time permits, I answer personally. If the question seems to have general interest, it eventually makes it onto the program. That's the case with a question this week about how to obtain the MP3 file of the week's program without using any software from Apple. There's also some feedback about my decision not to upgrade to Vista for a few months and questions about using WiFi and dial-up together.
He finally did it!
If you're one of those people who first heard TechByter Worldwide (formerly Technology Corner) on WTVN Radio, you probably heard Joe Bradley talk about buying a new computer. He talked about it a lot, but he just couldn't bear to part with that Sinclair Z80. (I'm being [slightly] facetious.) Well, he finally did it. His computer is now a product of the current century.
Jet Blue (This section has nothing to do with technology)
I'd planned to fly Jet Blue from Columbus to JFK on Monday (February 19), but on Sunday morning I received a call from Jet Blue telling me that the flight was being canceled because of ice storms in the East. That wasn't good news, but it's better than showing up at the airport only to be told that the flight has been canceled or that the equipment isn't available and you'll be bussed to another airport. (Been there. Done that. Have more than one T-shirt.) I ended up rebooking on Delta, but I'm still impressed by Jet Blue.
Is bigger better or just bigger? XM (the one I selected because it offers Bob Edwards) and Sirius (with Howard Stern) seem to be on the verge of a merge. If it happens, the Stern fans will be able to hear Edwards and the Edwards fans will be able to hear Stern, but what about the hardware. Sirius and XM use different satellites in different orbits to provide programming to mutually incompatible hardware. At least when the Pennsylvania Railroad merged with New York Central to form Penn Central, both companies were running railroads. And we all know how successful that merger was.
Apple and Cisco make nice, but can they make phones? This week the companies settled their lawsuit over the Iphone (which they style as "iPhone") trademark. Cisco had sued Apple, claiming to have previously trademarked the name in 2000 (true) and that it had been using the name for its line of Internet telephones (somewhat questionable).
February 18, 2007
Vista? If not now, when?
I've received a lot of questions about Vista. "Should I upgrade now or later?" is the primary question. In reviewing the question, I suggest leaving out the "now or later" part—at least for the immediate future. The primary question is whether you should upgrade. For me, the current answer is no, but that's subject to change.
Fix your Ipod's battery
Several months ago, I mentioned that I had replaced the battery in my 3rd generation Ipod. Until a recent trip to New York City, I hadn't used the Ipod for extended play. When I bought the $40 replacement battery from IpodJuice.com, the existing battery gave me about 30 minutes of play time. The replacement runs for nearly 5 hours at full volume. I think this was a well-spent $40.
Paul Harvey would call this a "potpourri"
TechByter Worldwide has been a podcast since May of 2006. What I thought was a step down was really a step up because the program now has listeners worldwide, not just in Ohio and the 6 states that surround Ohio. That rates a "WOW" in my book. And Apple's Itunes has recognized the trend. Podcasts are available when YOU want them to be, not when somebody schedules them. If you listen, it's because you're interested and not because it's what's on the air at the time. I didn't understand that until mid 2006 when WTVN canceled Joe Bradley's Sunday morning program.
Memory prices: Great for consumers, but there's a downside—The SanDisk Corporation is laying off 10% of its work force and cutting the salaries of executive because memory chip prices are down sharply. Down by how much? Last week, Micron Technology announced that prices for memory chips used in consumer electronics would drop 30% to 40% this quarter. SanDisk and Micron are direct competitors. They both manufacture memory chips for media players, digital cameras, and the like.
How big will Vista be? Microsoft has bet its future on an operating system that it's not sure anyone really wants. The launch was decidedly a lower key event than certain other launches. Sales have been lower than expected, at least by Wall Street, and Microsoft has launched a major campaign to lower expectations.
February 11, 2007
Snapshots—better than ever
Most of the time I use a Nikon digital camera, but sometimes I don't want all the stuff that comes with a single-lens-reflex (SLR) digital camera. If I take the SLR with me, I will take extra lenses. The camera is large enough that it will require an extra bag (carry-on) and it's just more stuff to schlep around the city. What we need is a camera with a 3x (or more) zoom lens, sufficient quality for snapshots, and enough memory for a vacation or business trip. The images it creates must be—if not superb—at least sufficient not to be something I would object to. Oh, and it has to fit in a pocket. Easy?
Does anyone still use film?
On June 29, 2003, I said "This is the year you'll buy a digital camera if you don't already own one. Trust me. It's time. If you're a 'snapshot' photographer who never has a print enlarged beyond the 4x6 that you get from the grocery store, you can have a digital camera that suits your need for less than $200. And if you're a 35mm SLR maven, you can now sell your digital soul for 'just' $2000." Now, a little less than 4 years later, digital SLRs are available for less than $1000 and cameras that are far better than the $200 cameras of 2003 are priced at $100. What has this meant for film?
Apple sees the future as the RIAA clings to the past: Digital rights management (DRM) gets in the way of those who purchase music from sites such as Apple's Itunes Music Store, but DRM does noting to deter high-volume pirates. As I've said before, the business model that inconveniences your customers while having no effect on your enemies is not a viable long-term business model. Treating your customers as if they are enemies rarely builds loyalty.
Samsung may beat Apple to market: Apple is still tied up in trademark talks about its "iPhone" but Samsung has a new mobile phone with many of the same features and no trademark problems. Samsung will exhibit the Ultra Smart F700 at next week's 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona. Apple hopes to have its phone available for purchase by June.
February 4, 2007
How much do your eyeballs cost?
Spammers get them for free, but a company in San Francisco is betting that you'll be willing to set up a new e-mail address and accept commercial messages if you get paid for looking at them while being shielded from pump-and-dump stock scam spams and other standard spam. OK. They have my attention.
An update on Corel Graphics Suite X3
In the old days, Corel was more interested in stuffing each new release with features, some of which failed to operate as advertised. Today's Corel is more interested in performance, reliability, and stability–a point that I mentioned when I spoke with Gerard Metrailler, Director for the Corel Draw Graphics Suite.
The end of Googlebombing? Michael Quinion, who writes about international English from a British viewpoint, asks this week if Googlebombing is dead.
Google Server Error: If a Google server crashes and nobody writes about it, did it really happen? Those who use Google's e-mail product occasionally see messages about the service not being available. Usually it returns within a few minutes. Google also serves news and late one night recently, the service began reporting "Google Error. Server Error. The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request. Please try again in 30 seconds."
January 28, 2007
Fraudsters keep trying to "give" me money
Moneybookers.com is a legitimate payment service along the lines of PayPal. Recently I received what purported to be a message from the service. They had $290.56 for me, they said. There were two immediate giveaways that this was just a run-of-the-mill hoax: First, the message came to an address I would never use to register for anything. Second, I'm smart enough to know better than to play poker on-line (or at all, for that matter.) So I thought I'd look a bit deeper.
Publish or perish
Scribus is an open source publishing program. If you're a PageMaker user, this might be something you'll want to consider. But if you're still using Ventura Publisher or if you have modern versions of InDesign or even Quark Xpress, you'll probably want to keep using them. Publishing programs are particularly complicated bits of programming and the open source community hasn't yet shown that its capable of doing a credible job in this area. At least so far.
Shopping on the Internet
I received a message from SuperMediaStore on December 22nd. This is an on-line store that I've used to acquire CDs, DVDs, laser toner cartridges, and such. The e-mail was the usual last-minute specials leading up to Christmas, but it took a different tack – a clever approach.
Come fly with me
This has nothing to do with technology other than how the company in question uses the technology, but I sometimes wander far afield. This is one of those times. I spent the week in New York City and stayed, as I have on most trips since the late 1990s, in Harlem. One difference this time was the airline that took me there. I flew Jet Blue for the first time and it won't be the last time.
Becoming larger by becoming smaller: Intel seems to be in the process of breaking the law. Moore's Law, that is. It the rule handed down by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that computer power doubles about every 12 months (later amended to 18 months). The law has held since 1965.
Ethics sometimes a mystery to Microsoft: For a company as large as Microsoft is, I sometimes have to wonder if anyone is in charge of examining projects for inherent stupidity. Apparently there is no such person at Microsoft judging from its plans to pay "independent" bloggers to "correct" Wikipedia articles and its plans to give expensive laptop computers to bloggers. Somebody at Microsoft should look up the meaning of a few words, starting with "independent" and "ethical".
January 21, 2007
Count your blessings
I've been known to grumble about less than stellar service from Wide Open West and, given what I pay every month for service, I think that I'm justified in grumbling. Still, I have what passes for high-speed access on a more or less regular basis. I don't have to use a phone line to connect to my ISP and put up with a 24Kbps connect speed as do some people I know who live on top of a hill in Harrison County. Their one local ISP was sold to a corporation that seems intent on driving away all current customers and the telephone company's lines to the rural area aren't adequate for even 56K connections.
Big monitor or two monitors?
Personal computers used to have 12" monitors. The background was black. The test was white, amber, or green. But then Windows arrived and larger screens turned out to be better. Higher resolution turned out to be better, too. The best of all worlds might be two (or three) monitors, each with a different function. The primary application you're working with could be in the middle and the menus for that application could be on one of the side monitors. The other side monitor could be for e-mail or Web browsing. Or maybe you could do the same thing with a really huge monitor – particularly if it's a widescreen model.
Who owns Iphone? Cisco Systems claims to own the Iphone trademark via its Linksys (Infogear) division, but now it appears that Cisco/Infogear/Linksys used open source software improperly. This would be a major "oops" and a significant impediment to Cisco's attempt to hold up the release of Apple's Iphone.
When will they ever learn? Copy protection on DVDs makes it difficult for people who buy the DVDs to make copies and give them to their friends. Copy protection on DVDs makes it difficult for people why buy the DVDs to make copies they can take with them on business trips, meaning they risk losing or damaging the original. Copy protection on DVDs does absolutely nothing to discourage the pirates who make illegal duplicates by the thousands. And still manufacturers use copy protection.
January 14, 2007
There's something I thought I would never say because ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs (now a CheckPoint company) has been the only firewall I would use or recommend since sometime in the mid 1990s. A series of ongoing frustrations with the program caused in part by the company's expansion into providing other services finally led me to remove Zone Alarm and replace it with the free Comodo firewall that's been on my notebook computer.
Just count the votes
I'm sometimes accused of being a whiny liberal pinko when I suggest that it's a good idea for boards of elections to accurately count all the votes cast in an election. I don't understand that. Why should this be a partisan issue? Shouldn't Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, voters and politicians ALL want votes to be counted completely and accurately? Voting machines may be counting votes accurately, but we don't know for sure. That's not just a guess. It's a fact. The United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (these are the people we trust to run the atomic clock) says that there is no way to ensure accuracy with the current crop of paperless electronic voting machines. Shouldn't we insist that boards of election adopt only those systems that are reliable and auditable? Shouldn't everyone be in favor of this? If not, please explain why not. This week's program looks at the report.
Will Ipods be with us for long?
The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article about dying (or murdered) Ipods. Battery problems, cracked screens, and crashed hard drives are among the problems users report. Most Ipods have hard drives that are used to store music (pictures and video) and hard drives don't like to be moved when they're running. I exercise most days at the Worthington Community Center and I see a lot of Ipods. When I'm there, I usually have my XM radio which is tuned to the Bob Edwards show delayed from 8am that morning. My XM stores programs on solid-state media, so there's no fear of motion. But anything with a hard drive will eventually fail.
Iphone: Not so fast, Apple! "This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained." That's the tiny text at the bottom of Apple's website. The FCC hasn't yet approved it (but undoubtedly will) and Cisco Systems has filed a lawsuit against Apple over the use of the Iphone name.
New spam tricks: "House passes stem-cell bill," "U.S.: Iranians held in Iraq," "Suzanne Sommers Loses Malibu Home To Fire." What do all these headlines have in common? They're all current as of January 11, 2007, and they're all being used as subject lines on spams that claim to come from news sources. They don't come from news sources, of course.
January 7, 2007
The first show of the new year and a new look for the site
Every year, or at least those years when I have enough time to do it, I give Technology Corner a face-lift in December to get it ready for the new year. In some ways, this year's changes are more significant than in many previous years, but in some ways they represent minor evolution (assuming you believe that evolution is the best current theory) from previous versions.
The big record labels and the RIAA are dead
They just don't know it yet. Independent artists and small labels are using the Internet to go around the big labels that used to control music. The RIAA continues to fight, but the cause is already lost. Groups such as Chumbawamba openly thumb their collective noses at the old system and new artists such as Vienna Teng (a former Cisco Systems programmer) use the Web to spread the word about her CDs.
Annoyances solved by Internet access
The Internet is a bit like air. Sometimes we barely notice that it's there, but we surely miss when it's not available – even for just a few hours. When used carefully, the Internet can be a valuable research tool even though much of what is there is unedited and unvetted. Every conspiracy nut on the planet seems to have a website that promotes one little delusion or another, so caution is required. Where the Internet really shines, though, is in its ability to quickly solve technical problems.
Merry Whatever and Happy Something or Other
Shortly before Christmas 2006, I sent a greeting to friends who accepted it in the manner it was intended. I sent the same greeting to the Technology Corner mailing list. The greeting could be considered "secular" (which seems to be a bad word these days*) because it mentioned holidays other than Christmas that occur at this time of the year. According to some, that was a very bad thing.
Baby, it's cold outside: It's easy to forget that that your Ipod or other music or game device has a hard drive in it. It's also easy to forget that your car's engine needs an occasional oil change. Forgetting about either of these is liable to produce results that will not please you. If you have a car, change the oil regularly. If you have a device with a hard drive in it, pay attention to the usage specifications.
This is a good time not to be in IT security: Eweek magazine, shortly before the end of 2006, ran an article called "10 Gifts IT Doesn't Want to See on the Network". It reminded me to be happy that I'm not involved in IT security because the security folks are clearly at the mercy of anyone who wants access to the company's data. Let's take a look at a few of them.
December 31, 2006
It's not 2007 yet, but I'm looking forward to the new mailing list provider, the website's new look, the expanded podcast, and the newsletter's new look.