TechByter Worldwide for 2008
More recent programs are at the top and older programs are further down. That is to say that we use an inverse chronological ordering. Click the program date to visit the summary for that program. The audio for each program will be near the bottom of the page.
Happy New Year! This is the week during which I put the final touches on the new design for 2009. It's also the week that I spent a lot of time taking cat naps with the cats. TechByter Worldwide resumes next week with lots of new information, a new look, and a different sound.
December 21, 2008 (Final program of the year)
Programming Note: There is one more week in the calendar year, but I get lazy this time of year. I'll tell you that I'm working on the annual site redesign, but really I'm just sleeping late, playing with the cats, and watching old movies. Still, if you visit the site to read the first program of 2009, you'll notice that the walls are a different color, the furniture has been moved around, and some new cat toys are scattered on the floor. See you next year!
Ubuntu Linux 8.10: Free, Easy, Imperfect: When it comes to Linux, I'm a bit less ambivalent than I was about Vista. In the 2 years Vista was on my computer, I could never quite decide whether I liked it or disliked it. Ubuntu is easier. I know that I like it, but the question is whether I'll still respect it in the morning. Linux has advantages, and the cost (free) is certainly one of them. Enough applications exist these days for many users. But hardware support is still a bit iffy in some areas and if you depend on applications from some of the big software developers, Linux still isn't for you.
Time Flies When You're Having Fun: I forget things. Birthdays. Anniversaries. The cat's name. This does not endear me with wives and daughters. Or cats. And make that "wife and daughters", not wives. So I drop reminders into calendars. I may forget, but calendars don't. They remind me and it appears to all and sundry that I've actually remembered. But I missed an event. It's probably not a very important event as events go, but it's was a milestone for me. So I thought I'd mention it now: TechByter Worldwide has been a podcast for 126 episodes (as of the week before Thanksgiving 2008). I suppose I should have made a big deal out of episode 100, which occurred on May 17, but I was too busy talking about the new version of Carbonite, the dangers of Skype, a Yoda-speaking spammer, and the CBS acquisition of CNet.
It's Time for the Annual Brief Break: As I mentioned earlier, there will be no program next week, December 28, because I'll be working to finish the website redesign that I try to have ready in time for the first program of the new year. Most of the design is complete, but some of the smaller pieces are still in development and a few decisions remain about colors and what links should look like.
Nerdly News: Macworld Without the Big Mac: Remember PC Expo? The show once known for commandeering every available taxi in New York City hit a zenith in about 1999 or 2000. After that came the Internet crash, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and increasingly difficult air travel. PC Expo once filled nearly the entire Javits Convention Center on Eleventh Avenue, but it passed out of existence following the 2003 show. Macworld has continued, even though it's a smaller show. Now it is threatened as Adobe announces it will not be part of the 2009 show and Apple says it won't be there in 2010.
CDs are Dead for Smashing Pumpkins: Smashing Pumpkins is a rock band. They say that they will no longer release CDs. Instead, they will rely entirely on Itunes for distribution. This decision might have had more impact if the band had much of a following these days. Still, it's good to see that more artists realize that physical products are not the future. For many, they're not the present or even the recent past.
Goodbye Vista. Hello Performance. I've just made a nearly 3-year-old computer feel brand new. Since the beginning, my relationship with Vista had been severely bifurcated. I liked some of the new security features (even the ones that garnered the most complaints) and I liked the overall appearance of the operating system. But I detested the sluggish performance, the long boot and shutdown times, and the fact that two years down the road some programs still don't work properly with Vista. I had been thinking about formatting the drive and reinstalling Windows XP, but decided it would be too much work and take time I didn't have. I'd wait until next year's Windows 7, I thought. Then a helpful disaster stepped in.
Free Credit Report? Not from FreeCreditReport.com. I noticed a spam in my slop bucket. It claimed to be from "FreeCreditReport.com" and the return address was FreeCreditReport.com@UntieGrain.com", so the first thing that I wondered about was UntieGrain. I found that this is actually Elite Suppression Concepts, a company that (in its own words) is "the leading provider of direct marketing solutions and database management that enables marketers to maximize and manage the value of their permission-based subscriber lists." I haven't given Elite Suppression Concepts or UntieGrain permission to mail to me, so clearly this is just an ordinary spam. But if you receive a message such as this on a day when you're thinking about asking for your free credit report, following the link in this spam could cost you nearly $200 per year. That doesn't fit my definition of "free".
Amazon Kills Donations Service with 3 Days' Notice: Until December 11, Amazon.com offered a "donations" service that was used by many websites, including this one, to collect donations from users. On December 8, the company sent a notice to all users: "Beginning December 11, 2008, the Amazon Honor System will be discontinued. This means that PayBoxes on member websites and PayPages on Amazon.com will no longer function."
Nerdly News: The Browser Moving Target Keeps Moving: Firefox 3.1 is on the way. Beta 2 has been released and the folks at Mozilla are talking about improved performance and compatibility as being major enhancements in the version. If Firefox is your primary browser and you use a lot of plug-ins, you may want to delay a bit because new versions invariably break a lot of the add-ons.
Yahoo Continues to Slide: Yahoo is cutting another 1500 jobs as the one high-flying company continues to slip. And the company has amended a "poison-pill" employee severance agreement that it put in place when Microsoft was trying to acquire Yahoo. The changed caused a rebound in Yahoo shares on Wall Street. But the price is still less than half of what Microsoft had offered and Yahoo deemed "insufficient".
"Good Enough" Photography: Long ago, I was a professional photographer. Until last summer, I hadn't photographed a wedding for at least 15 years, but my older daughter's oldest friend asked if I would photograph her wedding. How could I refuse? Things have changed. Digital photography makes it possible to produce a better product. Professional photographers help you remember important events such as weddings and I certainly recommend hiring a professional. But when it comes to the day-to-day pictures that will mean so much to your children 30 or 50 years from now are your responsibility. Sometimes we don't need perfection; sometimes all we need is good enough.
Adobe Photoshop CS4: 11th Time is the Charm: Photoshop CS4 is the 11th iteration of Photoshop and the application just keeps getting better. This time around, Adobe spent more time on stability, reliability, ease of use, and the user interface than on developing new features. Even so, there's no shortage of new features.
Nerdly News: Vista Turns 2—Did You Send a Card? I gave Vista a present this year: I removed it from my computer. After two years of wishing and hoping that Microsoft would make Vista work, I have officially given up on it. I once said that Vista was inevitable. That was wrong. If someone like me—someone who wants to make it work and someone who likes large parts of it—has given up on Vista, what can the future be for what increasing numbers of people are referring to as "Me II"?
EWeek Calls Ubuntu the "Best Linux Distribution for Desktops": In an EWeek report, Jason Brooks writes "The latest version of Canonical’s Linux distribution, Ubuntu 8.10, still outshines the Linux desktop offerings from Red Hat and Novell, and is the best open-source alternative to Microsoft and Apple operating systems." The report goes on to say that Ubuntu is behind the pack when it comes to running servers. I'm more interested in what happens on the desktop and I had just set up my desktop computer as a dual-boot system with Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux.
No program this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Adobe CS4: The Preview: The Adobe juggernaut continues. I'll have to check, but I'm fairly certain that "juggernaut" is not a term that I have ever used in the 15+ year history of this program. That alone may say something about what will follow. Adobe has recently released Creative Suite 4 and, for the past couple of weeks I've been trying to devise an analysis and review process that will do justice to a series of applications that range from publication design (InDesign and Acrobat) and photo editing (Photoshop) to sound editing (Soundbooth) and video editing (Premier and After Effects). I'll also want to examine what's new in the vector graphic program (Illustrator) and the website development tools (Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks) as well as various other components that are included in the package.
Did You Get Your Stimulus Check? With the economy in shambles, every crook and his brother seems to be running a phishing scam. This week I received one from the "IRS" telling me about an economic stimulus check that I had to register for. The first clue I had that this might be bogus, other than knowing that the IRS isn't sending out any economic stimulus payments at the moment, was the fact that the e-mail came from a domain in Canada and the IRS is located in Washington, DC.
An Uncommonly Stupid Phish: Sometimes I receive a phish that is so astonishingly stupid that all I can do is stare at it in disbelief. That happened on Thursday of this week when a spam-phish arrived from the "United Postal Service", a company that does not exist.
Nerdly News: Feeling Sorry for Jerry Yang (Almost): Just a few months ago, Jerry Yang could have said "OK" and sold Yahoo to Microsoft. Most of the stockholders seemed to want the deal to go through, but Yang didn't. He refused Microsoft's offers and then, with Yahoo's share price around 1/3 of what Microsoft offered, he said that the best deal for Microsoft would be to buy Yahoo. That deep rumbling chuckle you heard from the northwest was Microsoft. No deal. No way. Then Yang announced that he would step down as CEO.
For Paper, Ink, Press, and the USPS, The End Approaches: Well, maybe not exactly the end. But if you're selling paper, ink, or presses to newspaper and magazine publishers, you're in about the same position as the manufacturer of harness manufacturers in the early 1900s. If you were paying attention, you could see your business had a limited future. The Christian Science Monitor will lead the way among newspapers in dropping its print version. For magazines, the high-profile leader (to nobody's great surprise) will be PC Magazine. For several years, the magazine has made most of its profits from Web operations and the magazine has been largely an afterthought. The January issue will be the last PC Magazine will print.
End of the Road for Transmeta: Chip maker Transmeta was one of the promising stories that I followed for several years. The company was always at PC Expo in New York City with its low-energy PCs that could run significantly longer than Intel or AMD processors on a single battery charge and its server blades that were far more power efficient than those from the big guys. But the CPU never caught on and now Novafora will buy Transmeta for $256 million.
Programming Note: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, TechByter Worldwide will take a break next week, thereby giving you something else to be thankful for.
Open Office 3: Real Competition for Microsoft? In olden days (alternate opening: "Once upon a time") there were word processors, spreadsheets, and database programs. Each was a separate application and users could select the "best of breed". Then came the suites and, when you bought a word processor, you got a spreadsheet program, maybe a database program, and possibly a presentation program. Microsoft gained dominance even though Wordperfect and Lotus managed to maintain a small market share. The latest version of Open Office may modify the equation.
Thanks for the Memories: Does anyone not own a USB thumb drive today? In 2001 I wrote about being introduced to the "Disk on Key" at PC Expo in New York City. The drive stored an astonishing 16MB of data and cost "only" $70. A smaller 8MB drive was available for $50. The company that made Disk on Key is no longer in business and PC Expo expired following the Internet commerce meltdown of 2000 and the terrorist attacks of 2001, but today you can buy a 16GB drive for about $20. In fact, I did.
Election 2008 (And I'll Keep it Non-Political): You probably know that I've been a poll worker for several years. The 2008 general election was unusual by anyone’s standards because so many people voted absentee or at early polling locations. Most of those who voted on election day came to the polls early in the morning and many polling places were empty during the afternoon and evening. For the first time in years, all polling places in Ohio closed at or shortly after the expected closing time. I can't tell you about all precincts, but I can tell you about one 3-precinct location in central Ohio. And that’s as close as I'm going to come to telling you the location.
Nerdly News: Notice a Big Drop in Spam This Week? It was like somebody flipped a switch and turned off all the spam on Tuesday of last week. Where I might expect to see hundreds of spams, there were 4 or 5. Sometimes I would go for an hour or more without seeing any spam. I was beginning to think nobody loved me, but then I found the truth.
Did You Send Microsoft a Birthday Card? Windows is 25. It was November 1983 when Bill Gates announced Windows 1.0 in New York City. It would give PCs a new easy-to-use face, said Gates, and would allows PCs to run more than one application at a single time. Remember the days of DOS? If you didn't use a special utility such as QEMM, you could run just one program at a time.
Spam: Like it? Chances are, you don't much care for spam. Neither do I and the defense mechanisms I have in place mean that I have to see spam only when I want to review what has landed in the slop bucket. That doesn't make it any less annoying because I know that some of what I spend every year with my Internet service provider and some of what I spend ever year with my Internet presence provider goes to pay for transmission, retention, and delivery of spam.
Collecting Information: "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one." By today's standards, that's a sexist comment, but it was understandable when A.J. Liebling, an American journalist who lived from 1904 until 1963 and who was closely associated with The New Yorker from 1935 until his death, uttered the comment. The times, as Bob Dylan once said, they are a'changing.
Nerdly News: Not Much Up for Patch Tuesday: This coming Tuesday (the 11th) Microsoft will push only 2 security updates to computers. Of those, only one is rated as "critical" because it responds to a remote code execution vulnerability that affects Microsoft XML Code Services versions 3, 4, and 6 on most versions of Windows.
Microsoft Won't Try Again to Acquire Yahoo: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer could probably buy all existing Yahoo shares with his pocket change, but he says that the company will make no more bids for Yahoo. Yahoo shares are currently valued at less than half of what Microsoft offered for them several months ago. Ballmer said, at a technology conference in Australia, that Microsoft made two specific offers for Yahoo and Yahoo's management didn't want to sell the company. End of story.
Looking for Spectrum in All the White Spaces: In every part of the country, large parts of the television spectrum are unused. These "white spaces" may be used to develop new versions of WiFi for computer communications. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that have been pushing the idea of allowing use of these parts of the spectrum by unlicensed devices and now the FCC has approved the idea.
They Want Your Money: The creeps who want your money keep an eye on the news. They know which banks are in trouble and which banks have acquired failing banks. So they blast out spams telling you have you have only 48 hours to confirm your identity. After that, what are they going to do—confiscate your money? Needless to say, I received one of these bogus messages and, needless to say, I didn't bite. But I did look around. What I found was a lot of bad news.
Election News (Relax; It's Not Political) This is mainly a tip of the hat to the Franklin County Board of Elections. (Truth in reporting: I work for the Board of Elections one day per year every 2 years.) On Tuesday, those who haven't yet voted at Vets or who haven't voted an absentee ballot will have the opportunity to vote in one of 854 precincts at 534 polling locations. I'll be the location manager at one of them.
Windows 7 is Still More than a Year in the Future: I'm finding it increasingly hard to wait. Vista is pretty and I really like some of the features, but Vista turns even a fast computer into a bowl of half-frozen bacon grease. After more than a year of working with Vista, I would seriously consider ripping it off the machine and going back to XP if the process wouldn't take so long. So I'm already ready for Windows 7 even though Microsoft is still working on milestone releases. No sign yet of even an early release candidate.
Nerdly News: Which Newspaper Will First Go Internet Only? That's a question that's been rolling around in my head for a long time. Now we know. It's the Christian Science Monitor. As of April 2009, the paper will halt its print edition, except for a once-weekly paper. Daily content will appear only on the paper's website, CSMonitor.com.
R U Patched? A week ago, Microsoft released an emergency out-of-cycle patch (MS08-067) to protect users from a Trojan horse. Your computer probably has been updated; if not, you need to make sure that you've applied patch 958644.
Microsoft's Emergency Patch: By now, your computer has probably already downloaded and installed an emergency out-of-cycle patch from Microsoft. On Thursday, the company released a patch on an emergency basis, the first time Microsoft has done this in more than 18 months. When Microsoft takes this step, you know something serious is afoot. Windows Secrets has an article that includes links to the download site at Microsoft. Patches are available for all versions of Windows from Win 2000 through Win 2008 Server. The download is relatively small (633K for XP) and installation should not be delayed.
The Absence of Chrome in Chrome: In browsers, "chrome" is the stuff that surrounds the main window. Some browsers have a lot (Firefox is a good example), most have some (such as Internet Explorer), and a few have just a little (Safari). Now Google's Chrome has taken chrome to a new minimalist height. Or should that be "depth"? There is virtually no chrome on Chrome, which makes the name ironic. Without setting Chrome to be my primary browser, I used Chrome almost exclusively for a week. And I like it. Chrome may not be ready for prime time just yet, but it's an amazingly good start. And, at the end of a one-week trial run, I did tentatively set Chrome as my default browser.
WinZip is Twelve: WinZip has been around for a long time and it continues to evolve. The latest version is 12 and there are new features for image compression and management, support for new compression methods, improved compression performance, and support for additional archive formats. The new version also doesn't work with older versions of Windows, but just with Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. Sorry, but time marches on. If you have an older operating system (Windows 9x, Windows NT, or Windows Me, for example) you can continue to use the version of WinZip you have installed.
Nerdly News: Streaming Hot: A while ago (December 23, 2007, to be exact) I wrote about the Netflix "Watch Now" service. I didn't think much of it. "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." At that time, the service wasn't very reliable. But I tried it again this month. Much has changed in 11 months.)
Yahoo! becomes "Yoo-Hoo?" Yahoo will lay off at least 10% of its worldwide workforce in an effort to get expenses under control. That's about 1500 people. Yahoo's income dropped more than 60% in the third quarter after Yahoo shrugged off a proposal to be acquired by Microsoft and the company's stock price is about one third of the $33 per share that Microsoft had offered.
Olympics. Beijing. Big News. Sometimes people miss things. More than a decade ago, on a Sunday night, I was in in New York City, wandering around Midtown Manhattan and there was a distinct odor of burning wood. No sign of a fire. Just the smell. "What's burning?" I asked a cop. He told me that the problem was a fire in a switching station at 125th Street. That's the station in Harlem where Metro North trains make the first of two stops in Manhattan. The second stop is at Grand Central Terminal. A lot of people get off the Metro North trains at the 125th Street station and transfer to the subways. I expected a gigantic mess on Monday morning. Instead, I found a perceived mess. The news segments on WCBS and WINS suggested transit gridlock on the subways and trains, but when it was time for the traffic reports, the news was maximum 15-minute delays at 125th. The news and traffic people apparently didn't talk to each other because the reports continued like that all morning. The same kind of event happened at the Beijing Olympics.
Why Do Movies Always Get Technology Wrong? I know that you have to advance the plot and that sometimes the only way out is a deus ex machina, but it really shouldn't be that hard for movie makers to get at least the basic technology right. Getting it wrong breaks the suspension of disbelief that is essential for enjoyment of a movie. Take Die Hard 4 for example. It's an air-head plot with the typical blow-em-up scenes typical to the property. Overall, it was a fun movie because of the heroic Bruce Willis (John McClane), the evil Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), and the constantly amazed Justin Long (Matt Farrell). (I wonder if anyone will complain about my wandering into movie critic territory here.) Let's take a look at some things the movie got wrong and how they might have gotten them right. I'll even try to do it without giving away the plot, such as it exists.
Nerdly News — Clickjacking: How Big a Threat? In the current issue of the Windows Secrets newsletter, Stuart Johnston writes about the relatively new threat of "clickjacking" and says that all browsers are vulnerable to this threat. A simple click can result in your computer being infected with all sorts of nasties. Johnson suggests some things you can do to make your browser safer.
Mac Notebooks for $999: OK, so that's really $1000. I wish marketers would simply tell the truth. Instead of shaving $1 off the price, so it can be a 3-digit number, just leave the nice round $1000 out there. Are 9's really all that more attractive than 0's? The good news is that Apple will sell you a notebook computer for $1000. The bad news is that you won't like it unless you spend more money.
Passwords to Keep Your Data Secure: Passwords are what protect your data, so I was interested when a discussion recently turned to secure passwords that are easy to remember. Those are 2 key considerations: The password must be difficult to guess but easy to remember. If it's not easy to remember, you'll write it down. That makes it easy to find and that is, of course, exactly what you don't want. One of the participants in the discussion had a simple, elegant solution that I'd like to share with you.
Oh, No! They're Suspending My Internet! That's what the notice said. It had been trapped in my spam slop bucket and I was about to delete it because it had sailed into my harbor waving several red flags. Then I decided to take a closer look at it because I wanted to see what the spammer was up to. No good, clearly. I'll dissect it on this week's program.
Political Comments and TechByter Worldwide: Last week I mentioned in passing that I would address the topic of politics this week. By way of background, I received two gently worded complaints about my discussion of the break in at Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account. As part of that account, I mentioned that the use of such an account for conducting state business is illegal. Two people felt strongly enough about that to suggest political motivations for the story. It's really simpler than that, but also more complicated.
Nerdly News: If You're Thinking About a New Mac Powerbook ... You might want to wait just a bit. Like maybe until next Tuesday. I hereby predict that Apple will have some news that will interest you then. And, no, I'm not psychic. Or psycho.
Piracy Really Hurts People ... Doesn't It? Well, actually, no. Early on, I bought the entire argument that sharing songs was illegal, immoral, unethical, nasty, and one sure path to hell. Now I'm not so sure, and I haven't been for a long time. Yes, I have downloaded some content of questionable origin, but when I find something that I really like, I buy it. Research suggests that I'm not alone.
Adobe Lightroom Lightens Your Load: Shooting in your digital camera's raw format, if the camera has one, is usually the best choice because it gives you the largest number of options and the greatest amount of control when you get the images onto your computer. The computer has replaced the darkroom, the place where a talented photographic technician could turn a sub-par exposure into an attractive image. The computer has also replaced the negative and photo retoucher, the airbrush artist, and everyone else who once had a hand in the making of images. One of the stand-outs in this arena is Adobe Lightroom (clever play on "darkroom"). I've been working with the latest version of Lightroom for a few weeks and I'm more impressed every time I use it.
More Fear and Paranoia For Sale: TV stations are spreading more fear and paranoia. They're repeating claims by a new group that says Google's Street View is a threat to children. The group, Stop Child Predators, operates a website, "Stop Internet Predators" that was "launched to educate parents and communities on emerging online child safety issues and empower them to protect their children’s privacy and safety. Stop Internet Predators has a special focus on new internet technologies that pose a risk to their children’s safety, such as Google’s Street View." Is this a serious issue? Hardly.
Nerdly News: What the Stock Market Crash Left, the Phishers Want: So your bank has merged, acquired another bank, been acquired, or seems risky and you receive an e-mail from the bank telling you about a new security system, but that you need to confirm your identity. Should you? If you've been reading or listening to TechByter Worldwide for more than a week, you already know the answer to that, but the crooks are hoping that you don't know or that, in a weak moment, you forget.
High-Tech, Low Intelligence Cause of Los Angeles Train Crash: Remember the train crash in Los Angeles that killed 25 people when a MetroLink commuter train ran into a freight train? In addition, more than 100 were injured. The cause of the crash: A stupid engineer who was using his cell phone to send text messages instead of driving the train.
September 28, 2008—We have power again!
Were You Powerless for a While? So was my family. It was a minor inconvenience. I'm writing this in past tense even though I'm writing on Friday after the Sunday storm and the house is still without power. But if the situation in Houston would be compared to a broken arm, this is equivalent to a scratch from a month-old kitten. First of all, we had little or no rain before or after the wind storm. For the entire week, the weather was gorgeous. There was no need to deal with heat, cold, rain, snow, or flood waters. Yes, it was an inconvenience. But let's keep it in perspective. Today's report is only partially about technology and I hope you'll forgive me for the lapse.
Nerdly News: You Missed the Iphone, so How About a Google Phone? No, thanks. I'll wait for the next version. Google's phone will cost $179 and you can buy one starting on October 22. The G1 is purported to be cheaper and more flexible than Apple's phone. It's the first phone with the "Android" operating system, but it looks a lot like T-Mobile's existing Sidekick phone. And who sells it? Oh, that's right. T-Mobile.
Gov.Palin@yahoo.com No Longer Exists: Who's dumber—the kid who may have been involved in a hack of Sarah Palin's Alaska state governor Yahoo e-mail account or the governor who thought it would be a good idea to use a Yahoo account for state business in violation of the law? It's probably a wash. The 20-year-old son of Tennessee Democratic state representative Mike Kernell was one of the prime suspects in hacking the governor's Yahoo e-mail account, but a federal grand jury in Chattanooga refused to return an indictment against the University of Tennessee student, David Kernell. But what about the governor who broke the law?
September 21, 2008—Canceled by Ike's week-long power outage.
Microsoft in the Cloud: Question: "There has been a lot of traffic on whether MS is going to abandon Windows and move on with cloud computing & the Midori concept. Do you have any inside info on this and if it is going to be the direction you see MS going? Would appreciate your ideas!" Wow, is that ever a great question. But it's going to make me think. I've been trying to avoid that because it always gets me in trouble with organizations such as the FBI. But, what the heck. Let me put on my thinking bonnet.
Carbonite: You'll Hear More Soon: I've told you about Carbonite previously. For less than $60 per year, Carbonite makes backup copies of the critical files in my computer. I've talked to Carbonite CEO David Friend a couple of times. He likes to talk about disasters that have been averted: A disk crash wipes someone's digital photos, but the Carbonite subscriber recover them quickly, for example. I could be the poster child for someone who has damaged an existing file and who got the original back from Carbonite. It appears that Carbonite will be a bit more ubiquitous in coming months.
Nerdly News: Throw Away the Key: With servers in the US, Latvia, and Ukraine, Damon Patrick Toey and his gang stole tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers and sold them to other thieves. The other thieves used them to order merchandise. Now Toey has pleaded guilty to 4 felony charges that include aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, and credit card fraud. He'll be sentenced on December 10 and could face a prison term of 5 years on each count, plus fines of $250,000 for each count.
Online Deals on Digital Televisions: A co-worker purchased puffickly huh-yooge (apologies to Stephen King) LCD television screen with a built-in digital tuner, so I guess he's all set for when the FCC yanks the analog rug out from under our feet. What impressed me was the size of the screen and the price. LCD screens that used to sell for $2000 or more are now under $1000 and often well under that. In this case, the price was around $600.
Google's "Mistake"? As the story goes, "somebody" at Google made a mistake and sent out a message about the company's new browser. It wasn't really ready yet, the story went, but Google would release what they had, a browser called "Chrome" in beta form. And that could be exactly what happened, except that I have to be a bit suspicious when something like this happens on what would otherwise be a very slow day for technology news. If you make a mistake on a slow day, the media folks who are looking for a new story will be all over it. You'll get a lot of free publicity. Google has shown that it's quite adept at getting new publicity.
Memories ... Every few weeks, I clean up my e-mail folders. The amount of space freed depends largely on the number and size of large attachments I've sent or received. It never fails to amaze me when the volume of messages deleted approaches 1 GB, which is 63 times the size of my original hard drive and 90 times the size of the original IBM XT hard drive.
Stupid Spam of the Week: There's not much to this week's stupid spam, but it's the kind of message that somebody who's just a little too curious might fall for. I received a message from Russia about a transaction that had been halted by Russian security. The message wasn't addressed to me, but it claimed to include a PDF document with information about the transaction. So the victim (aka "sucker") might be just curious enough to open the "PDF". That would be a very bad idea.
Nerdly News: Rearranging the Deck Chairs at Yahoo: As of late this past week, Yahoo's stock price had dropped to a 5-year old with no sign of decelrating. The company refused Microsoft's (overly generous) offer of a $47.5 billion and is now resting at a level that's more than $13 billion below what shareholders would received if the company had accepted the May offer of $33 per share.
SanDisk May Become SamDisk: Samsung Electronics is already the world's largest maker of memory chips. Now it may buy flash memory maker SanDisk. A recent regulatory filing notes that Samsung is considering acquisition of the $3.2 billion company. According to a company news release, Samsung is considering various opportunities concerning SanDisk.
Don't Waste My Time! As much as I like the way AVG Antivirus works, I was about to replace it in early August. And if one of the company's "upgrades" wastes another hour, AVG will be gone from my machine. What's more than a little disheartening is that I reported the problem to the company's support operation, which used to be one of the best in the business. In this case, there was absolutely no reply. None. No explanation. No apology. No indication that the company plans to do anything to resolve the problem. Just silence. But make sure you check out the entire account because there's a happy ending.
Safeguard (or Move) Your Firefox Settings: I've never had it happen, but I've heard that Firefox occasionally trips over its tail and forgets all of its stored settings. If that ever happens to you have you've used MozBackup, you'll not feel so bad about it. Or if you have a home computer, an office computer, and a laptop computer that you'd like to have the same Firefox settings and extensions, you'll find that MozBackup is the easiest way to accomplish the deed.
Will You Love Me When I'm 64? "I'm twenty-six, and I'm single and a schoolteacher and that's the bottom of the pit. And the only excitement I've known is here with me now. So I'll go with you and I won't whine. And I'll sew your socks and I'll stitch you when you're wounded, and I'll do anything you ask of me, except one thing: I won't watch you die. I'll miss that scene if you don't mind." (Etta in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) I'm quoting this because I wonder if there's much future in this "high tech, plain English" biz. I doubt that there is.
Nerdly News: Put a Lid on It: Starting in October, Comcast will limit monthly data transfers to 250 gigabytes. At first glance, that seems like a lot, but maybe it isn't. According to Comcast, 250GB is "an extremely large amount of data, much more than a typical residential customer uses on a monthly basis." Yeah, for feeble providers in the United States, that's true. In the real world (Europe and Asia) 250GB is a day's worth of downloads.
Replacing a Cell Phone: My elder daughter washed her cell phone the other day. The phone was in a pocket when she dropped her clothes into the washer. By the time she realized what had happened, the phone had gone though the wash cycle and most of the rinse cycle. When she brought it to me, it was vibrating. I removed the battery and packed it into a container of rice for a couple of days. That didn't make it work again.
Do You Need to Pay $400 for an Audio Editor? The obvious answer is no, but the right answer isn't always obvious. Sony SoundForge 9 is a $400 application and maybe can could get by with the less expensive Sound Forge Audio Studio ($70). For audio professionals, there's no choice: The full version is all there is. But if you're on a budget and all you need to do is basic audio editing, the basic version may be sufficient.
Nerdly News: The Beginning of the End for DRM: A year ago, Sony Ericsson started talking about a download music store that would offer music tracks not encumbered by digital rights management. On Monday, the store goes live with 1 million DRM-free tracks. It will be called PlayNow Arena, which you could probably find on your own, even if I didn't tell you the URL. But I will.
Line Up for Your Iphone: In the bad old days, in the Soviet Bloc countries, people carried cloth bags with them wherever they went. If they spotted a line, they stood there and hoped to get whatever it was at the front of the line. It might have been shoes. It might have been toilet paper. Today, it might be an Iphone. Apparently marketers in Poland are hoping that old memories and old habits die hard.
On the Trail of the Malevolent Redirect: Listener Jack Flynn had a question for me. "How do you disclose all of those redirects when you track down spammers?" Good question. In fact, it's not something that requires much know-how, just enough patience to perform a series of mind-numbing steps over and over. Prepare to have your mind numbed because this week I'll show you how it's done.
UltraEdit: Champion, but Sometimes Annoying: "A new version of Ultra Edit is available," the message said. I downloaded it. I installed it. The next time I started my favorite text editor, I was told that it was now unregistered and that I had 45 days to register it. A flurry of messages between me and IDM revealed that: (1)The "step" upgrade from 14.0 to 14.1 was considered a "major" upgrade, (2)Some 14.0 users were eligible for a free upgrade to 14.1, but I wasn't one of them, (3)IDM provides no-cost upgrades for 1 year, regardless of version numbers, and (4)they were really sorry about the misunderstanding and hoped to find a better way to do things. As annoying as that event was, I'm still absolutely sold on UltraEdit.
Nerdly News: Another Netflix Oops: I knew something was amiss when Netflix acknowledged 2 of the 3 DVDs I shipped back on the same day. Usually, the confirmations arrive like clockwork, early in the morning. Three "we've received" messages followed by three "we've shipped" messages later in the day. The third "received" message never arrived and there were no "shipped" messages. Then, a day later, "We're Sorry DVD Shipments Are Delayed: Our shipping system is unexpectedly down. We received a DVD back from you and should have shipped you a DVD, but we likely have not. Our goal is to ship DVDs as soon as possible, and we will keep you posted on the status of your DVD shipments." Three days later, Netflix was back.
R U a Moron? Here is a law that should never need to exist: According to the New York Times, a city council member wants to ban sending and receiving text messages while driving. The common-sense response to that would have to be to ask what kind of idiot would try to send a text message while driving. But having noticed "drivers" with televisions on the dash and other "drivers" who are reading books or newspapers, I have to admit that councilman David Weprin is right.
I Can Has "£12,000,000.00 Pounds Sterling"? The numeric part of the spam was redundant with both the pound sign and the words "pounds sterling". There were dozens of other clear indications that the message wasn't legitimate, but I thought I'd play along so I became Zacharias (Zeke) Nugudnik Yeshallfind (yes, that really is "Zeke N. Yeshallfind"), a fellow with a rather complicated history. I wondered what I could find out about the creeps who were trying to con me.
A Random Thought: "Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination."
— Albert Einstein
The Cost of Duplicity (That's a Pun, Son.) When my younger daughter asked me to order some CD blanks for her to use in sending files to her clients, I selected the RIDATA brand based in large part on cost. Oddly, it's less expensive to buy many brands of DVD blanks than CD blanks these days. Because I was nearly out of CD blanks, I ordered some for me, too. RIDATA (Ritek) has a decent reputation and I was a bit surprised when the CD blanks arrived in wrappers that indicated they had been manufactured in Viet Nam. When it comes to DVDs, the best quality blanks come from Japan. CDs are a bit less touchy than DVDs. So far, I've burned only a few CDs, but they seem to be OK. Longevity might still be a question, though.
How Long Must We Wait? Any time spent waiting for a computer is wasted. Windows in general and Vista in particular waste a lot of my time as I wait for the machine to become ready. Apple's OSX takes a little less time, but the real winner (if I want to limit the amount of time I have to wait) is Linux.
Nerdly News: AMD: Maybe no More Fab: Fab is short for "fabrication" and it wasn't that many years ago that Advanced Micro Devices described grand plans to open new fabs (plants) with ever-smaller tolerances to produce ever smaller and more powerful processors. Now it seems that AMD is about to scrap the plants and outsource manufacturing. Wow! What a change.
Do You Have 3.7 Million Credit Cards? Each of 11 people did. Well, not actually 3.7 million cards each. But federal prosecutors say 11 people stole more than 41 million credit card and debit card numbers. One of them could be spending a great deal of time in prison. So now I know what that letter I received from American Express a week or so ago was all about.
Data in One Location Does Not Exist: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All? (Firesign Theater, 1969) In an online discussion, I said, "Any data that is in just one location doesn't exist." There were questions asked, off list, politely. (In English, "data" has come to be a singular/plural like "deer" or "fish". But that's not the point. Nobody questioned the singular data. Consider it a red herring.) The question was, "Why?" And the answer is that bad things can happen to good data. That was a plural "data", by the way.
Well, Isn't that Cuil? I'm still trying to figure out how this could happen: A bunch of guys ("guys" is a generic term that includes women) leave uber-search-engine Google and setup their own search engine. They call it "cuil" (pronounced "cool") and they say that this is an old Irish word for knowledge. Not being an old Irish guy, I wouldn't know. But I wonder how Google could let some of its top talent walk out the door and set up a competing service. I mean, haven't these guys heard of non-compete clauses? Or do they take that "not evil" thing seriously?
Is the FBI Watching You? Probably. And I can say that as one who has obtained his FBI jacket by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request back in the day when the government actually considered complying with the Freedom of Information Act. What I received was a highly redacted (a/k/a "blacked out") copy of the FBI file that detailed the bureau's activities. ("Talked to XXXXXX who said "XXXXXX." Real useful stuff. All places, dates, and names had been removed.) The final analysis was about all that remained. In a single sentence, the FBI had concluded that I was not a treat to national security. I haven't bothered to apply for a copy of the file recently, but given my opinion of the current administration, it's probably not very flattering. Hang in there, because this is technology related.
Nerdly News: A Guy Named "Sue": Maybe you've heard of Scrabulous, or maybe not. I know that a lot of people enjoyed the Scrabble-like game that was a part of Facebook until Hasbro filed suit and Facebook caved. No matter that the "knock-off" Indian version was far better than Habro's lame online version of the game. I'm one of those people who feels that it's worthwhile to protect intellectual property, but this case is enough to make me reconsider that.
What's Down at Apple? John Boudreau of the San Jose Mercury News (the closest thing Apple has to a hometown newspaper) says that he sees signs that Apple will introduce some surprising new technologies in the coming year. " When Apple announced last week that it anticipated higher development costs in coming months, analysts cringed and the stock dropped. But tech heads rejoiced. Such a message often means new products are coming from the company."
SnagIt 9: After a few Problems, WOW (More or Less): When TechSmith released SnagIt 7, I said "You won't find a better screen capture program anywhere, at least until TechSmith develops SnagIt 8." When version 8 arrived, I said, "How does TechSmith keep making this product better?" Now I have SnagIt 9 and, once I got past some initial problems, it was clear that TechSmith continues to develop an application that has no rival. And someday there may be a Mac version!
Skype Security and Support Problems: In May, I wrote about "hidden dangers in Skype". At the time, I wrote to Skype's public relations department to report my concerns and to ask if I had missed anything in my negative assessment. When I sent a follow-up request in July, I finally received an answer. A canned answer. The response revealed on additional setting that I could change, one that isn't covered in the documentation and one that is set incorrectly for anyone who has any concerns about security. In my opinion, Skype is an unacceptable security risk unless the user changes the default settings.
No More Dirty Words: I doubt that it will make much of an improvement in the way I write or the number of typos per article, but my keyboard is a lot cleaner now. It was so dirty that I had a choice: Clean it or plant potatoes between the keys. I could have just bought a new keyboard, but I don't use those $3 keyboard that come with most computers. I prefer the Microsoft Natural Keyboard (the one that bends). I'd been putting it off for months, thinking that it would be a difficult process. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.
A Random Thought: Where all think alike, no one thinks very much. (Walter Lippmann)
Nerdly News: Great Idea, Guys, But it Failed: This week, the folks at PC Magazine ran an article on 21 Great Technologies that Failed. Whether you agree with their list or not, it's an interesting topic. Take a look at the PC Magazine article and let's ponder it.
Samsung Does it Again: If you still think a 400:1 or 1000:1 contrast ratio is impressive, you're in for a surprise. Samsung says it has some new HDTV models with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio! According to a news release from the company, the new 950 display line combines improved LED backlighting with "improvements to the panel and image processing" and the result it the high contrast ratio. Oh, and by the way, this thing also has a 120Hz refresh rate.
Nero: Fiddling While ROM Burns: With a pun like that embedded in the name of the application, I should probably call the current version "Nero Ate", but I would never do that. A new interface that works well with Vista makes some of the tools in the suite easier to find, but there are so many features that new users and even veterans can be confused. This is not a complaint about too many features; it's just an observation. Work with Nero for a while and you'll comprehend.
A Random Thought: HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another—the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.
— Ambrose Bierce (American writer, journalist and editor, 1842-1914)
"Praiseworthy" would seem to apply to homicides involving spammers and the creators of viruses and worms.
Spam: Spam can be laughable, stupid, demeaning, amusing, threatening. I have to wonder if some of the people who write spam subject lines (think of them as headlines on ads) might not make more money in a legitimate advertising business. In some cases, they have mastered the discipline of headline writing. Some of the messages are compellingly well titled. In most cases, though, there's more stupidity than cleverness.
Visual Fuzziness: Four years ago, I had a cataract removed from my right eye. That's much better than having one removed from the wrong eye. On Tuesday of this week, I had a cataract removed from my left eye, which was the right eye for the surgery. In case you're thinking about having this done someday, the procedure has advanced a lot since the 1960s when my grandmother had similar surgery that required a week in the hospital, head immobilized by sand bags, followed by a couple of weeks at home, confined to a darkened room.
Nerdly News: Apple: Profitability by Filing Suit: Apple developed a personal computer based on proprietary hardware and software, then maintained control over peripherals that would work with the system. IBM developed a personal computer based on commonly available hardware (and freely published specifications) and allowed anyone to make peripherals. The result has been more chaotic on the IBM side and quality control is sometimes an issue, but the market share (90-plus percent for the IBM and Windows market) tells the story. Now Apple has filed suit against a company that had the temerity to build a "universal" computer.
Hey! Wanna Buy an AOL Cheap? Microsoft wants Yahoo. Yahoo doesn't want Microsoft. Time Warner has finally figured out that AOL isn't worth very much and keeps trying to find a buyer. C'mon, won't somebody take the girl with the skinny legs? (Sorry, to Joe Tex for borrowing your lyric.) Time Warner continues to pitch AOL to Microsoft and Yahoo, but nobody's catching.
Miscellaneous Musings of a Misdirected Mind: Sometimes I think, or at least I've been accused of doing that. Sometimes I think too much or too weirdly or just about things nobody else cares about. I've definitely been accused of that. This week, it's a series of shorts. No, not like in "underwear". And not like in "circuit", either. It's just a collection of thoughts that have occurred to me between mid June and today. The topics include open source software, Linux on the desktop, driving your Model-T on the freeway, the lion in my house, and how you can use Gmail as your e-mail archive.
Nerdly News: When It's Illegal to Hold a Phone and Drive ... A law went into effect on July 1 that requires motorists who must talk and drive to at least have a hands-free phone. Since then, the California Highway Patrol has issued about 150 citations per day. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind how large California is, how many motorists there are, and how many of them have cell phones. The number is really quite small. The CHP says that it issues about 3300 speeding tickets every day.
Bigger Littler Drives: Seagate would like to put a terabyte and a half on your desktop. Not all that long ago, a terabyte and a half would have been the size of your desk. And just a few years before that, a terabyte and a half would have filled your office. Now it's about the size of a small sandwich on thin bread.
The Latest Antivirus from Grisoft is a Winner: When it comes to antivirus programs, Grisoft's AVG Antivirus has been my favorite for several years. Unlike some of its competitors, AVG is a relatively light user of system resources. Version 8 brings a new interface and some new features that make it an even better protector. Grisoft still offers a free version, but it's increasingly hard to find (I'll tell you how to find it). The free version offers the same basic protection provided by the paid version, but with fewer management resources and without the extra features the full version provides. I use the paid version of AVG on my desktop, we use the server version at the office, and I run the free version on my notebook.
I've Won $2,968,797.93!!!!! That's right, I received another message telling me that I've won a huge amount of money. Actually, I didn't receive it; the message was hung up in my spam catcher. I noticed it, freed it, and decided that I could have some fun with it. The fun involved my becoming Lord Ian Percival Snodfeathers, a nearly-broke San Jose builder of luxury homes. Lord Ian (or LIPS, as I came to know him) had some pretty serious problems.
Nerdly News: Firefox Sets a New World 24-Hour Download Record: The message from the Mozilla folks told me, "We set a Guinness World Record for the most software downloads in 24 hours. With your help we reached 8,002,530 downloads. You are now part of a World Record and the proud owner of the best version of Firefox yet! Don't forget to download your very own certificate for helping set a Guinness World Record." Sounds impressive, doesn't it? As much as I like Firefox, I am compelled to tell you the rest of the story.
The Shape of Things to Come: Amazon in Japan says that sales of Blu-ray discs are exceeding sales of standard-definition DVDs for some consumers. As HD television makes its way to the United States, similar results are likely.
Forget about BlockCity or CircuitBuster: Blockbuster decided this week that it really doesn't want to buy Circuit City. In April, Blockbuster had bid more than $1 billion for Circuit City, but now Blockbuster's CEO, James W. Keyes, says that acquiring Circuit City is not in the best interest of Blockbuster shareholders.
Spam that Comes from Legitimate Companies: Lately I've noticed a disturbing trend in spam. Or maybe I should say a "more disturbing trend". Some of the spams look like they've been sent by legitimate companies. Most of them say that I'm receiving the message because I registered with them or with a partner, but that lie is revealed immediately when I examine the address the message was sent to and determine that it's an address I would never use to register with any site. But are companies such as Sears climbing into bed with spammers or is something else going on?
Could You Live without Microsoft? This is something I think about from time to time because I like the idea of open source software, but so far it's not been possible for me to move from Microsoft to open source. Linux and open source applications largely have failed to catch on because the people who would be most able to use them haven't started using them.
Nerdly News: Palm Posts a Loss and is Anyone Surprised? Palm, the maker of the Treo smart phone posted a loss in its fiscal fourth quarter. Revenue declined sharply and was below Wall Streets expectations. That will make the situation even worse. Who uses Palm devices these days? Sony selected Palm as its platform for the Clié devices. Sony no longer is in that business. The Palm device I owned stopped recognizing stylus input, which made it a high-priced paperweight. I paid $175 to have the problem repaired only to have it recur less than 6 months later. Palm wanted another $175. I bought an HP device that runs a palm-top version of Windows. I suspect that my experience is not unique.
Rubbing the RIAA's Nose in its Own **** You already know that I'm no fan of the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA's greed kept it from negotiating reasonable rights payments with the file sharing services. Instead, the RIAA seems to think that physical media (records, CDs, and DVDs) are the only viable way to distribute music and the organization has been filing suit against anyone who dares to suggest otherwise. In some cases, the RIAA has filed suit against dead people and children. Some courts give the RIAA a taste of its own medicine.
Windows XP SP3: The Third Huge Update: Ubuntu 8.04 was my first big update in the past 30 days, followed closely by Windows Vista SP1 (which I'm still evaluating), and now by Windows XP SP3 (claimed to be the final service pack for XP). Before you start downloading it, understand that it's big. At 316MB, it will take you at least 30 minutes to download if you have a decent connection. Far longer if you're still on dial-up. In fact, if you're on dial-up, just order the CD. It will arrive before your download finishes. If you use Windows Update to install SP3, it will download only the pieces you need. I like having the full service pack available, though. If I need to reinstall the operating system, I'll already have all the pieces I need to rebuild the kit. You might be wondering what's in SP3. So was I and now I can tell you what I found.
Stupid Spam of the Week: I've Been Approved, But I Still Must Apply: I'm so excited! Vision Visa has approved me for a card. All I have to do is apply for it. Hmmm. Wait. I've been approved but I have to apply. Something sounds a bit fishy here. And when I looked at the link the "approved" card provided, it didn't engender a lot of confidence. The link wanted to send me to:"http://heartstelline.com/test.php?32=10ilnkimpvision.o85GM.R40.14a93"
which didn't look much like a bank or credit card link. That "test.php" really gave me second thoughts. "heartstelline.com" is registered to a Texas company, but I'll trust is about as far as I could throw George W. Bush uphill in a downdraft from an oil well fire. Which is to say not very far.
No, That Spam Wasn't from Me! A funny thing happened to my office e-mail account this week: In two days I received more than 900 bounced and rejected messages that I didn't send. It's always a bit disconcerting when this happens, but it's an easy problem to deal with. The rejections generally include the message that caused the rejection in the first place, so spam filters on my end identify the messages as spam and quarantine them. All I have to do is delete them. Maybe this has happened to you. Maybe you thought that somebody had hijacked your machine. That's probably not what happened to you and I know it's not what happened to me.
Nerdly News: Firefox 3 Takes Down the Mozilla Web Server: What happens when you announce to the world that you want to set a new download record on June 17? If you're the Mozilla folks, makers of Firefox, you'll have a lot of people buy into the idea and then your server will go belly up part way through the day.
You Look Really Stupid, (INSERT NAME HERE): I haven't mentioned these spams because you undoubtedly know better than to open one. The only way you'll really look stupid is if you do open one. The “stupid-face” spams come with an attachment called video.exe. The spammer claims that it's a video clip in which you look stupid. Instead, it installs malware that will enroll your computer in a spam botnet.
Pictures From a (Botnet) Exhibition: If you watched the Alias television series, you may recall a scene in which Sydney Bristow, who had volunteered to help the CIA bring down SD-6, told her handler (Michael Vaughn) that they should be able to finish the job in a few weeks. As proof, she sketched a diagram of the organization. Vaughn countered by unrolling an enormous sheet of paper that shows the known components of SD-6. It was that kind of moment for me when I happened upon a sketch of a botnet. Botnets are collections of software robots that run systems automatically. They can be used for good purposes, but most of the ones we hear about are used by spammers and other criminals. Researcher David Vorel mapped IP addresses of computers controlled by a botnet and created an intricate geometric representation of the system. The images are frightening, but also remarkably interesting. Even beautiful. This week I'll show you some diagrams.
Remember the Excel 65535 Problem? Last October, I wrote about a display problem exhibited by Microsoft Excel 2007 involving math functions on the number 65,535 (and, as it turned out, some nearby neighbors.) Here's what had happened: Some math functions that resulted in 65,535 (for example, multiplying 850 by 77.1) would produce a displayed answer of 100,000 instead of 65,535. In most cases, using the result in further calculations produced correct answers, but a few instances used the displayed value instead of the calculated value in memory and cascaded the error. The problem has been fixed, quietly.
Nonsense From Apple: Every Sunday for the past couple of months, Apple has wanted to install something on my Windows computer. The nonfiction doesn't say what it wants to install, but I presume that it's the useless (for Windows) Safari. I use Safari sometimes on my Apple computer, but I don't want it on my Windows computer. It used to be that Apple told me what it wanted to install, but now it's a deep dark secret. Well, sorry Steve, but I won't install something if your company won't tell me what it is.
Nerdly News: Yet Another Firefox Release Candidate: Will Mozilla ever release Firefox version 3? I waited until Firefox beta 5 was released before downloading it and liked what I saw (at least generally, because some of my favorite add-ons haven't been updated to work with version 3). Then came release candidate 1. After a few weeks, release candidate 2. And now release candidate 3.
AC/DC: A Wal-Mart exclusive: Somehow it seems that something is wrong with this picture: AC/DC has signed an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to sell the band's new CD in Wal-Mart stores and only in Wal-Mart stores. You won't be able to get the CD from Itunes. You won't find it at Target or Meijer. No chance at Circuit City or Amazon. Apple's online music store may be the largest music retailer in the country, but Wal-Mart is the store that sells more CDs than anyone else.
TV on My Computer: I've probably mentioned a time or two that I don't spend much time watching television, but as I'm writing this a notebook computer is playing a high-def signal from WOSU. The picture ranges from remarkably good to unwatchable. When it's good, it's very very good because HD television offers both improved resolution and a higher contrast ratio. When the signal is less than perfect, though, the image becomes pixilated and the audio can drop out. What this means is that for digital over-the-air reception, you're going to need an outside antenna.
Thou Shalt Say None But Good about AOL: I'm the co-owner of a discussion list. ("Owner" might be a bit misleading. There's no revenue stream and there's nothing to own; the owners are more like custodians.) When a spammer started forging the list's e-mail address, we started having a problem with AOL. Most ISPs are smart enough to block based on IP addresses, not on the easily-forged from address. Not AOL, though. The ISP blocked list mail to all of the list's AOL subscribers. Later, I mentioned the problem on-line, thinking that I was doing a good deed for the AOL subscribers. Instead I was attacked. Told that I was "dissing" their service.
The Tale of Two Spams: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." (Or maybe "It was the best of spams, it was the worst of spams.") To keep up with the theme established by the title of this piece, I have to include the comma splice as written by Charles Dickens. He probably flunked freshman English. In looking at the spam slop-bucket this week I spotted a couple of spams that have absolutely nothing in common, but I thought they were worth commenting about.
Nerdly News: Linux Has an Acer in the Hole: PC and component maker Acer says Linux is in your future. The company will start marketing Linux on its laptops and notebooks, in part because of the lower total cost of ownership. Linux is the operating system Acer selected for is line of low-cost, small, portable notebooks that are currently in development. But Linux will be the operating system choice (or at least an option) for higher-end machines.
Chomp! Verizon Plans to Buy Alltel: Verizon Communications says it plans to buy Alltel for more than $28 billion. Part of that is Verizon's assumption of Alltel's debt. The acquisition will create the nation's largest cellular telephone provider. Hurrah. Hurrah.
Corel Graphics Suite X4 Makes Design Easy (But ....): When I talk about Corel Draw, I always think about a trip to New York City in the 1980s. I was thinking about asking my manager to buy a Mac because the Mac handled graphics better than PCs did. At the Folio:Show (in the 6th Ave Hilton) I saw Corel Draw. The only drawing mode was "wire frame" but the F9 key showed a full-resolution example of the output. I was sold. Before I left New York, I ordered a copy of Corel Draw. In the following decade, I regularly upgraded Corel Draw. I attended Corel World and became an instructor there. We rejoiced in some updates (usually odd numbered); we persevered through buggy updates (mostly even numbered). Corel Draw, after all these years, is still the application I'm most likely to reach for first when I need to do any task involving graphic design.
Vista Service Pack 1: The first service pack for Vista became available late in April and I finally downloaded it in early May. If you have Vista on a computer, you'll want SP1. If you buy a new computer, it will probably come with Vista (although you should be able to find XP systems at least through the end of the year.) If you have an older computer that's been happily running XP, my recommendation is that you NOT upgrade it to Vista unless you are absolutely certain that the hardware you have will be compatible not just with the low-end Vista Home (without Aero) but also with versions that include Aero. After installing SP1, you will not be amazed by the performance increase, but you will be pleasantly surprised.
Was $95; Now Far Less than One Cent! No, this isn't one of those If it Sounds Too Good to be True stories. It's real. Near the end of May, I received an e-mail from a company that I regularly buy from. They were offering Seagate Barracuda SATA hard drives (the OEM version, which means the drives would be without cables and such)—750GB drives for $120. Yes, that's 16 cents per gigabyte. If you've been around computers for long enough, you may remember thinking what a great deal you got on a $500 1GB hard drive. And I've mentioned a time or two my first external shoebox-size hard drive that carried a price north of $1500 for 16MB. So the cost of storage has dropped from $94 per MB to $0.00016 per MB. That's close to a 100% reduction in price.
Nerdly News: This Isn't News, But ... I was talking with some geeky folks recently. Being the oldest of the group, I remembered 80-column punch cards, 40MB disk drives that sat on the floor, and computers that took up more space than a FEMA trailer. That's because the computer (in this case a Honeywell 200) had no disk drives, 5 (or more) tape drives, and true core memory (with 64KB in a cabinet about 6" wide, 12" deep, and 18" tall.) Today you'll find 2GB of memory in something about the size of your thumbnail. WOW! What a trip.
Hacketa. Hacketa. Hack. More than 14 million Comcast subscribers lost access to their ISP's Web portal for several hours this week, so they were unable to request support, check their e-mail, or use newsgroups. About 11 pm Eastern time on Wednesday Comcast's site was replaced by a note that claimed hackers had RoXed Comcast. I'm sure they're quite proud of themselves.
Linux: Those Who Could Benefit Most, Fear It: Ubuntu Linux is one of the easiest Linux distributions to install and maintain. It will run on most most hardware and the built-in free applications handle e-mail, Web browsing, other Internet functions, and all the standard office needs for word and number crunching. But it still hasn't been accepted widely. Why? It might have something to do with Microsoft FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) which, ironically, is the same delaying tactic IBM used to fight Microsoft in the 1980s. It didn't work then and it won't work now. FUD delays acceptance, but can't halt it. The new version of Ubuntu Linux, released in late April, pushes the operating system closer to the point where the average computer user will no longer be able to ignore it.
The Case for Electronic Publishing: When I needed to buy a reference manual for a new online application I'm using for a client, I was dismayed to find that the book cost more than $50. That's not an unreasonable price and I know it because I have some understanding of how the publishing industry works. But this is a book that will have a limited life span—maybe 2 or 3 years—and then I'll need to buy a new book for the latest version of the application. This is a dumb way to sell information. Reference manuals should be provided electronically.
More Spams I Won't Be Opening: My monthly spam count is now up to nearly 9000 for the previous 30 days. I see very little of the slop, but I do look through the list once every week or so to see what the current trends are (lots of people are being "caught naked" now) and to identify messages that I can make fun of. In one case, I looked just at subject lines from the perspective of identifying which messages I wouldn't open even if the spam catcher had missed it and put the message in my in box. Some of them may amuse you.
Nerdly News: Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1 is Out: Ready, Set, Firefox! My favorite browser continues to be Firefox because it makes possible the development of plug-ins or add-ons (depending on whether you want to use the traditional term or the new dumbed-down term). Microsoft's browser offers plug-ins, too, but most of them aren't free. One of the Windows-centric magazines recently did an article called Ten IE PlugIns that Don't Suck. They ruled out useless plug-ins and ones that users have to pay for, and they came up with 10 that might be worth installing. Firefox has hundreds of plug-ins and I would be ill-at-ease if I had to give up some of them. When Firefox 3 Beta 5 became available, I loaded it. On Thursday, May 22, Firefox 3 RC1 became available. Only a few reasons remain not to upgrade.
Forward This Message to 10,000 People ... and Bill Gates will pay you 45 cents. Or something like that. I couldn't get that out of my mind when I read the latest Microsoft ploy to bribe users. Microsoft says that it can offer rebates to people who use its search application to find and buy some products. In other words, Microsoft, with less than 10% of the search engine market share, hopes to beat Google by buying customers.
Backup: Easy. Secure. Inexpensive. Pick Any Three. The joke is "good, fast, or cheap—choose any two" and for most things that is true. Carbonite, an online backup service breaks the rule by providing a service that's easy to use, secure, fast (depending on your Internet connection), and inexpensive. In 2006, an insert in an office supply mailing told me about Carbonite. I signed up for the free trial, expecting to drop it at the end of the trial period. Instead, I paid up and have continued to pay up. Carbonite is the future of backups, but you can have it today for less than $50 per year. Recent system upgrades to Carbonite's service make it an even better value.
Hidden Dangers in Skype: I recently installed Skype to use for conducting recorded interviews. The quality isn't necessarily better or worse than a standard telephone—the frequency response is better, but the echo is worse. I hadn't spent much time setting up Skype and several days later I found a hidden danger that Skype installs by default.
Stupid Spam of the Week: At least the writer of the spam used "lose" (as in the present tense of "lose, lost, lost") and not "loose" (as in the opposite of "tight") when writing this spam. I really don't understand how people confuse "loose" (not tight) and "lose" (missing) but spammers aren't the brightest bulbs in the package. Congratulations to this one for mastering the simple difference between "lose" and "loose". This spam suggested that I probably didn't want to lose my girlfriend. (Does my wife know about this girlfriend?) and offered a LICENSED drugstore. Would you do business with this company?
Nerdly News: Blu-ray Won the War, Now Loses Battles: With the economy approaching, near, or in a recession, sales of Blu-ray players and discs are off. HD DVD is gone and Blu-ray has the market to itself, but Screen Digest media analyst Richard Cooper says it'll be slow going for a while. "A while" would be at least until the end of this year. Once the format war ended, sales of Blu-ray players nose-dived and now sales still haven't managed to climb back to January levels.
The C in CNet Appears to Stand for CBS: The old media continue to gobble up the new media in an effort to stay alive. CBS says it will spend $1.8 billion to buy CNet Networks, which owns CNet (well, d'oh!), business site BNet, GameSpot, TV.com, and the food site CHOW. In case you hadn't noticed, CBS also acquired the music website Last.fm and financial parody site Wallstrip. Oh—and celebrity gossip site DotSpotter. That last one probably has Edward R. Murrow spinning at about 78rpm.
Is Microsoft on the Wrong Side of the Tipping Point? Some things are inevitable. Cars. Radio. Television. PCs. Cell phones. CDs. DVDs. Open source operating systems and applications. Microsoft is OK with the most of those items, but not so OK with the last one. About 25 years ago, Microsoft came from nowhere and eventually knocked IBM out of the its controlling position. Today it's Microsoft that has the controlling position and the open-source movement is itching to watch history repeat itself. And it will. Microsoft can use delaying tactics, but it has already lost the war. So, to answer my own question: Yes, Microsoft is on the wrong side of the tipping point.
Outlook Express to Vista Mail: The Bridge is Out: Converting an Outlook Express 6 account to a Vista Mail account should be easy. Should be. If you try it, you'll run into what appears to be an insurmountable problem. It's only an annoyance that can be corrected easily if you know where to look and which chickens to wave in the air while chanting in Old Church Slavonic.
Wanna Buy a DDOS Attack? I received a message in Russian recently. No big surprise there because a lot of spam goes out in Russian. The ruble, euro, and yen are worth more than the dollar these days. This offer in Russian suggested that I could buy a 1-hour attack for 20 WMZ (WebMoneys). WebMoney is an electronic money and online payment system; transactions are conducted through WebMoney Transfer. WM Transfer Ltd, the owner and administrator of WebMoney Transfer Online Payment System, was founded in 1998 and is a legal corporate entity of Belize, Central America. Originally targeted mainly at Russian clients, it is now used world-wide. The company claims to have more than 4.5 million users. (Source: Wikipedia)
Nerdly News: Faith-Based Science, Anyone? Lately I've been seeing a lot of spams that promise 70% savings on fuel costs by converting your car to burn water. If you paid attention in high school science class, you already know it's a fraud. But the way some folks want to teach science comes down to "If I believe that this is the way something works, this must be the way something works." So the creeps who explain that water contains 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen per molecule can easily convince the gullible that all you need to do is liberate the hydrogen and then use that as fuel. Only a fool would believe it, but P. T. Barnum said that there's one born every minute. And he may have underestimated the situation.
You Always Have Other Options (Yahoo): Jerry Yang is elated, but many of his stockholders are disgusted. Yahoo "defeated" Microsoft's takeover bid but I wonder if the company snatched destruction instead. Yahoo's fortunes have been fading and most outside analysts felt that the Microsoft takeover bid was good new for Yahoo. There were questions about regulatory approval, particularly from the European Community, but Yahoo stockholders were counting their gains. Yahoo held out for more than Microsoft was willing to spend, Microsoft withdrew its offer, and Yahoo's share price dropped. This is victory?
Three Degrees in an Hour While Drinking Beer: Undergraduates spend a lot of time drinking beer, or so I'm told. Not that I ever did that while I was an undergrad. No. Not a chance. I think about that every day when I receive a pile of spams offering to sell me a degree from a "prestigious non-accredited university" based on my "life experiences". These are phony degrees. Fakes. Forgeries. Bogus. Lies. I know it and the people who offer these "degrees" know it even if some of them protest on their websites that the degrees are for "entertainment" only. Some of them also offer fake transcripts. Also for "entertainment" only, I presume. I know that I would certainly be entertained if my doctor happened to have a phony degree.
Another View of Vista: You've heard my opinion of Vista. I've said that it's good (because parts of it are good). I've said that it's bad (because some parts are bad). I've even compared it to Windows Millennium Edition. In short: If you're trying to decide whether to upgrade to Vista, I probably haven't been much help. Recently, I received a note from Marshall Thompson and his views are about as conflicted as mine. Marshall is the owner of TCR Computers in Pickerington and Lancaster. I asked if I could use his commentary, and he granted permission. For many people Vista continues to be a puzzle.
May Fourth 1970: This is a day that is both meaningless and meaningful. I have the opportunity to say "May the fourth be with you," as a silly reference to Star Wars, but this is also the day in 1970 when 4 students at Kent State University were killed by the Ohio National Guard. Many websites deal with the event. I remember going to work that day at a small radio station in eastern Ohio. The station's talk show host's opinion was that it "served them right" to be killed. Until that day, I felt that support for free speech was universal and that firing guns at unarmed students was something that happened only in other countries. Those were strange and difficult times. Soldiers, many about the same age as the students they shot, were killing and wounding Americans in my state. On the other side, some misguided individuals were bombing ROTC buildings and killing people in the name of peace. It was as if the entire nation had gone mad. In these difficult times, it's worth remembering those difficult times.
Nerdly News: Have an XP Machine? SP3 is Coming. Microsoft that XP is dead meat after June 30, but "white box" builders say they've been given a pass to the end of the year and both Dell and Lenovo say that they will be able to provide new XP systems after June 30. But that's another story. This one is about service pack 3, which will appear on your XP system soon. I still haven't installed Vista service pack 1 because of known problems. Should you allow XP service pack 3 to be installed now or wait? Good question.
Another Judge Slaps the RIAA: It's yet another setback for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Some recording industry executives have finally discovered (belatedly) that online music sharing might have economic benefits that the industry could use profitably, but the RIAA continues to insist that such acts as storing files legally converter from a CD become illegal the instant the file is stored in a "shared folder". US District Judge Neil Wake disagrees. Bravo for common sense.
The Monthly Spam Report: I have a Google Mail account that receives all messages send to my (several dozen) e-mail accounts. The Google spam folder retains messages for 30 days and then automatically deletes them. Google recognizes at least 90% of the spams I receive as spams, so it seemed to me that this would be a good way to keep a running account of how many spams I've received in the past 30 days. In the past 30 days, the count is up nearly 1000 from the previous month: more than 7000 spams.
Firefox 3: Don't Ask for Help: "Firefox: The Browser 4 Out of 5 Geeks Recommend to Their Friends." Imagine that as the headline for an ad. It's probably true, except that the numbers would more likely be 9 out of 10. Firefox continues to gain on Internet Explorer and will probably surpass IE's numbers about the time Beelzebub begins to feel the need for a heavy winter coat, so don't hold your breath. Yet for many of us Firefox is a better browser, despite its flaws. That's why I've been anxiously awaiting the release of Firefox 3, which has been in development for about 3 years and it now in its fifth beta release. Although I try to avoid beta applications, I downloaded Firefox 3 for the Mac and installed it. I like what the developers have created, but I learned the hard way not to ask for help.
The Spam that Got Away: Truth be told, I open very few spams accidentally and only when one fools me into thinking it's a legitimate message (about 1 time per month or 1 in 6000 spams). The rest are so blatantly obvious that they're deleted before they can even get to my computer; I terminate them with extreme prejudice on the server. I also open spams when I think that they might lead to an interesting phishing account or provide a bit of entertainment in taking them apart. For a couple of days recently I paid closer attention to the subject lines and noted some that are particularly laughable.
Apple Tries to Sneak Safari onto My Computer: I'm not sure whether Bill Gates or Steve Jobs has the larger ego, but I do know that it's Jobs's ego that grates more. He calls Itunes the best Windows application ever written and seems to think that I want a security-challenged copy of Safari on my computer. Recent Itunes updates have included Safari (selected by default). I always de-select it, but it wouldn't matter if I left it selected because Apple's software engineers seem not to understand how to write and installer that works with Vista.
Nerdly News: Samsung's Latest LCD Will Be Something to See: Samsung it about to release LCD screens with a contrast ratio of 20,000:1. Contrast ratio is defined as the ratio of the luminance of the brightest white to the darkest black that the system is capable of producing. The higher the contrast, the more "snap" a monitor has. By comparison, a well-run movie theater with a brand new film print will have an on-screen contrast ratio of about 500:1. Early LCD screens had maybe half that.
Seagate Hits One Billion: Don't expect any Billions and Billions Sold signs out front of Seagate's headquarters anytime soon, but the company says that it has shipped its one billionth hard drive. The company's first drive was 1979's ST506. For $1500, the buyer got a 5MB hard drive ($300/MB) and I thought that I got a real deal a few years later with a 16MB drive for around $1200 ($75/MB). Now you can find a 100GB drive for less than $100 ($0.001/MB).
Software You Don't Have to Pay For: Shareware is software that you can try for free, but you're expected to pay for it when the free trial period (usually 15 or 30 days) ends and some features may be disabled in the shareware version. Adware is software that you can use for free, but you agree to allow the application to show you advertisements when you're using it. Freeware is software that's completely free—no strings attached. Use it for as long as you want and you'll never have to pay. A variant of freeware is donationware, which is free but you're encouraged to make a donation. Some free applications rival or exceed their paid counterparts. I'll look at a few of the ones I consider essential.
Installing AT&T DSL Service: I have to admit that until March of 2008 I had never installed DSL service. I've had high-speed Internet service at the office (multiple T1 lines and now something much faster) and cable service (3 Gbps+) at home. But when a friend needed to replace his slow dial-up service with something faster, I recommended AT&T's DSL service because the basic service is less than $20 per month and would be at least 10 times faster than his anemic Earthlink service. After 3 hours over the course of 2 days, it still wasn't installed. Could it be that all the horror stories I've heard about DSL are true?
Nerdly News: No, the Feds Don't Send Subpoenas by E-mail: You'd think that the people who run big companies—the same people who are sometimes paid 250 times what their average workers make (or more)—would be smart enough to spot a dead phish in their inbox. But a surprising number of them, when presented with an e-mail that claims to be a federal subpoena, not only open the message but click on the link that says it will display the entire subpoena.
Apple vs. The Big Apple: This is silly. Everyone knows New York City is "The Big Apple" and that is has been for decades. Long before Apple was formed. Long before the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) were born. New York has used the apple as a symbol for decades. Now Apple (the company) has a different idea: Apple wants the Big Apple to stop using the apple because this will confuse Apple's customers. Even an Apple corporate attorney can probably tell the difference between a large city on the east coast and a large computer company on the west coast. No, this isn't silly. I take that back. This is idiocy.
Miscellaneous Cool Things: It seems to me that I sometimes spend too much time grumbling about things that don't work or don't work the way I think they should, but sometimes I encounter some real winners. I've been tossing some of those into a directory and this week I thought I'd share them with you.
What's in a Word 2007 File? Matthew Stevens, a friend in Australia reported reported that a colleague had set Word 2007 to save files by default in doc (Word 2003) format. She then zips the doc file and e-mails that to Matthew. When he unzips the file, he receives several additional pieces that appear to be part of the Word 2007 (docx) file format. I thought he needed a tinfoil hat, but it turned out that extra pieces are there and that they're visible only if you use an unzip program that doesn't know about docx files. Oh—and you have to do it on a Mac, too. So maybe it's me who needs the tinfoil hat.
Nerdly News: What Happens if You Steal a Police Car? Depending on what jurisdiction you're in, what radio system the police have, and how the radio systems are wired into the cruisers, maybe something. Maybe nothing. So you could hop into a cruiser, hit the lights and siren, and go for a little ride. It wouldn't be a good idea, but you could do it. In another jurisdiction, you could hop into a cruiser, hit the lights and siren, and find that your little ride stops after a few seconds because headquarters sent a kill message through the radio to the cruiser's ignition. Theoretically, you could set the system up to lock the doors, too, but that probably introduces enough liability issues that no city attorney would approve it. Cruisers are sometimes stolen. So are notebook computers, including those owned by the FBI, ATF, military, and probably even the CIA. Intel is working on a way to make notebook computers safer.
Ubuntu 8 (Hardy Heron) Is Ready to Fly: Within 2 weeks, the next version of the Ubuntu Linux operating system will be released. Hardy Heron takes over from Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) and I haven't yet finished reading the manual for 7.10. If you're fed up with Windows but you don't want a Mac, maybe a free operating system is for you. My usual warning still applies: If there are Windows applications that you must have, you probably need a Windows machine; if there are Mac applications that you must have, you probably need a Mac. There are ways to run multiple operating systems on a single machine, but it's challenging. Still, for many people Hardy Heron may be what's needed.
"PayPal" Seems to Want My Attention Again: If people didn't lose money to phishing attempts, they would be funny. PayPal continues to be one of the top targets of spammer scammers. The crooks get a bit more sophisticated every day, but I haven't yet seen a phishing attempt that isn't obvious within the first 5 seconds. I have another example to deconstruct today.
Identifying Tampered Images: It's easy to think that an organization that's ignorant about one aspect of digital image processing is ignorant about other aspects, too. A friend received a series of absurd requests from a publishing company that clearly illustrated they have a serious lack of understanding of digital images. They wanted him to provide an image that was 600 pixels wide at 72dpi and they also wanted him to provide an image at 300dpi that would be suitable for printing. In the first case, 600 pixels wide is 600 pixels wide and dpi doesn't matter. In the second case, they specified 300 dpi, but didn't bother to state how wide the printed output would be. Without that, it's impossible to provide what they want. They also warned that tampering with the original image wasn't permitted and that they would know about it if my friend did. Because they were so clueless about the first two points, it was easy to assume that they wouldn't be able to spot image manipulation, either. Betting on that would be unwise.
Nerdly News: Google, Motorola, and Dell Sing the Blues: You don't find the words "Google" and "layoffs" in the same sentence very often, but you will today. Also, Dell is cutting more jobs and so is Motorola. The term "tip of the iceberg" is becoming more relevant as we seem to be finding out that the economy can't take the repeated abuse of tax cuts, war costs, cheating mortgage financiers, and offshoring jobs indefinitely without stumbling.
File Sharing May be Good for the Music Industry: The Guardian (England) quotes EMI Music executive Glenn Merrill as saying that music downloads are "not necessarily bad". What!? Someone in the music industry has finally figured this out! Merrill came to EMI from Google, where he was the chief information officer. At EMI he's working to develop the company's digital strategy, innovation, business development, supply chain and global technology activities. Better late than never.
Leapin' Leopards! Even though Little Orphan Annie used the term "Leapin' Lizards", there's about a 99.8% chance that somebody else has already used that title in reviewing Apple's OS X 10.5 operating system. I would have used it earlier, but I wanted to wait until the .2 step release was out. One thing that Leopard has proven is that Mac owners, although fiercely loyal, aren't shy about trashing Apple when something doesn't work the way they think it should. Based on some of the letters to Macworld and Mac Life, one might think that this is the worst operating system ever. It's even been compared to Vista. Well!
Cons for the Weak Minded: Occasionally I think of a teacher I had in high school. He taught freshman biology and I recall doing the usual things that freshman biology classes had students do (collecting butterflies, writing reports, and the like). But the class also had a component that dealt with critical thinking. It wasn't presented as that, of course, and you couldn't do anything like that today because you wouldn't be teaching students what they need to pass "the test", but I remember the class 45 years later. It gave me skills that are useful in debunking urban legends (or at least having the common sense to check when something doesn't seem quite right) and for deconstructing spams that play on some people's unwillingness to think. Unfortunately, many schools no longer bother with critical thinking and, in the long term, that's going to make life a lot easier for spammers and demagogues, people H. L. Mencken defined as those who will preach doctrines they know to be untrue to men they know to be idiots. Mencken didn't mince words, but he was correct. The volume of spam and the "quality" of spam illustrates the point.
Stupid Spam of the Week: Shooting fish in a barrel comes to mind when I look at this week's stupid spam of the week. The sender seems to have, at best, a tenuous understanding of commerce as it relates to scams. It depends on the potential victim's having recently signed up for Google's AdWords service. If you haven't done that, you'll recognize in an instant that it's somebody trying to make a fast buck (or Euro) at your expense.
Nerdly News: A Netflix Oops: "We're sorry," the message from Netflix began. "As you may have heard, our shipping system was unexpectedly down for most of Monday. We should have shipped your DVDs but were unable to. Your DVDs were shipped today, Tuesday, March 25th, instead. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused."
The Two Halves of Motorola: Motorola has been under pressure from investors and is now giving in. The company will split into two divisions: One for handsets and accessories, the other for wireless broadband networks and enterprise communications services. Why is this happening? The Mobile Devices division generated a lot of sales in 2007, but it also lost $1.2 billion and lost market share. The Mobile Devices loss nearly wiped out profits by the company's other divisions.
Podcasting for Everyone: I presented a program on podcasting for the Columbus Computer Society in March 2006 and I thought it would be a worthwhile topic for the program. In Columbus, I can hear a couple of dozen radio stations and several of them have the same programs. If I choose Clear Channel, I can hear Rush Limbaugh all across the dial. We used to have classical music available on WOSU all day, but recently WOSU-FM started broadcasting the same NPR morning and afternoon programs that are on WOSU-AM on WCBE-FM. Broadcast, whether commercial or noncommercial, seems to be committed to suicide. Today we have more choices than we’ve ever had. I can take a CD with me to work or in the car; I can use an Ipod at home, at work, or in the car; I can listen to any of XM Radio’s 100+ signals and I can record them for later listening; or I can listen to podcasts “live” or copy them to a disk for later. No longer must I listen to what my favorite radio station is providing at the time.
Nerdly News: Book Publishers: Smarter than CD Publishers? Some book publishers are making full-text versions of some or all of their books available on-line and for free. There is, of course, a fundamental difference between CDs and books in that it's possible to duplicate a complete CD for about 30 cents and duplicating a 300-page book will cost at least several dollars and the result won't be as good as having the real book. But still, it looks as if publishers understand that making content available for free might lead to more sales. Take Harper Collins for example.
We All Happy Here; Shut Down Internet Please: That bastion of personal liberties and free speech, our great ally, China says that Internet service providers must eliminate dozens of video-sharing websites or they will be punished. The stated reason is that the sites carry content that is pornographic, violent, or a threat to national security. The sites in question have all provided videos showing protests and anti-government demonstrations in Tibet.
UltraEdit: Both Parts of the Name Still Ring True: UltraEdit has been my favorite text editor and binary editor since sometime in the 1980s. Back then I used it to make changes to binary files; changes that couldn't be made with any other editor. That's when the application was in early single digits. Now it's at version 14 and use it to touch up HTML documents, to write TechByter Worldwide articles, and to make text obtained from Word files safe for applications such as Dreamweaver. That's just the beginning.
Toshiba's HD-DVD Fiasco (Or Was It?) Andy Marken is a PR guy, but not a hack. He works closely with the DVD industry and, following Toshiba's decision to scrap HD-DVD and accept that Sony's Blu-ray has won the high-def prize, he wrote to say that he has stepped away from the normal "let's beat up on Toshiba" approach to take a more realistic assessment what this means. "Settling on one standard really hasn't changed the total picture that much. The difference is now the Blu-ray folks won't be able to blame Toshiba for holding back the success of high-def disc sales. Now they have to really get their hands dirty and work. There's a lot of work to be done." Let's consider what Andy has to say.
Stupid Spam of the Week: This week we have a stupid come-on that leads to a click-fraud scheme. "Every year, millions of rebates are handed out to customers, and companies are in desperate need of people to process them." The message goes on to explain how you could take home $225 per hour for a few clicks of the mouse and it directs you to a website where you can learn more about this "limit-less" opportunity. Before looking at the bogus part, I'd like to address the "business proposition" the scam is based on.
Nerdly News: Apple Invented the MP3 Player, Right? In a word, no. The MP3 player was invented 10 years ago this month by a small Korean engineering firm that was acquired by Diamond Multimedia. Diamond used the MPMan as the basis for its Rio PMP300. Before being acquired by Diamond, the MPMan was marketed, but not very well, by SaeHan Information Systems, another Korean company. Or may be the lack of sales had something to do with the price. The MPMan held no more than 10 files in its 32MB of flash memory and cost $250 in 1998 dollars. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a small (256MB) MP3 player for taking to the gym. It cost $10.
Sync Those Calendars: How many people use an Outlook calendar at the office, but keep family members' information on the Web-based Google Calendar because users may share what's on their calendars? Probably a lot. And how many carry around a Pocket PC (or whatever they're called these days) that synchronizes, but only with Outlook? If you want to synchronize all those calendars, Google has a solution.
Vista: The New Me? Remember Microsoft Me? It was promoted heavily when introduced, but today Microsoft admits it was a bad operating system. "The worst operating system we ever developed," was the way one Microsoft employee explained it to me. I'm still waiting for the full version of service pack 1 to make a final decision on Vista, but this is beginning to feel like a bad case of deja vu. As much as I like Vista's Aero interface and some of the operational features of the operating system, Vista's sharp edges continue to cut. You know I've been undecided about Vista for months, hot one week and cold the next, and I've felt bad about that. It turns out that I wasn't alone. A class-action suit has brought to light nearly 200 pages worth of internal Microsoft e-mails in which even company insiders can't make up their minds. Maybe I should feel vindicated.
Stupid Spam of the Week: "Let us buy you a Vizio 52 Inch Plasma HDTV" Why do I have trouble believing that this is a valid offer? The first clue is the address that it claims to come from (PTP <PTP@xxhgh.palankakalvin.com>) and the second is that it tells me the offer isn't valid in Ohio. It gets better.
Nerdly News: Dumb and Dumber: RIAA and the MPAA: Both the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have done their best to demonize on-line sharing of music and video, but the simple fact remains that the free advertising provided by peer-to-peer networking continues to do more good than harm.
Wrong Choice? Circuit City Gives You an Out. Blu-ray won the HD format war for DVDs, but what if you made the wrong choice and bought an HD-DVD player? If you bought your HD-DVD unit from Circuit City, I have good news. You can return HD-DVD players for full credit for 90 days from the date you purchased it. Circuit City says it wants to take care of its customers. Watch for other big box stores to follow.
Zoho for Your SOHO: You're probably familiar with Google Documents (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations). This is an application that raises blood pressure at Microsoft because it competes with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. You may not have heard of Zoho, which also competes with Microsoft, but on a broader front. Zoho adds project management, customer relations management, a wiki application, and more. Zoho has been around since 2005 and it a subsidiary of AdventNet, which was founded in 1996 to create "affordable software for businesses". For a company such as this to challenge Microsoft is ironic.
Stupid Spam of the Week: The message in my in box at the office was promising. "As requested," it said, "Nikon D40 Camera". But I hadn't requested a Nikon D40 camera because I already own a Nikon D200. What's this all about? Oh ... it's another stupid spam.
It's Time to Vote Again: In a couple of days, I'll spend another day working for the Franklin County Board of Elections. Technology continues to change and will change more by November. After last November's election, I wrote about security at the polling places and said that I felt security was good. But I also raised the question of vote tampering as the results move upstream. No system is perfect and vote rigging is as old as voting, but the vast majority of elections officials are probably interested in accurate, fair elections. Certainly that's the case with everyone I've encountered from the board of elections here. But that doesn't mean the results are safe.
Nerdly News: We Live in an Asylum Run by the Inmates: This week, Pakistan (our great ally) demanded that Internet service providers block YouTube, which they did. The problem was content that the government found insulting. When people complained to their ISPs, they were told that they should complain to YouTube and demand that the service remove the insulting content. You may be wondering if they were told what that insulting content might be. They were not. But now YouTube is back in Pakistan (our great ally).
Speaking of Inmates Running the Asylum ... According to Wired, "The US Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer." That's old news, though, from last year. It might be reasonable to place restrictions on what soldiers can post from a war zone. During World War II, even mail was censored. But now the Air Force takes it a step further by limiting what members of the service can read.
HD Radio: Is This the Salvation AM and FM Need? HD ("hybrid digital", not "high-definition") digital radio promises better sounding signals and more of them, but will that save radio as we know it (or knew it)? I've mentioned previously that commercial broadcast seems to be doing a pretty good job of committing suicide. Slowly. For someone who spent a lot of years in and around commercial radio, it's painful to watch. HD radio may provide more signals, but if those signals contain nothing more than the slop that passes for broadcast on many stations these days, why bother?
Stupid Spam of the Week: In cryptography, a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) is a ruse in which the attacker is able to read, insert, and modify messages between two parties without either party knowing that the link between them has been compromised. The attacker must be able to observe and intercept messages going between the two victims. The MITM attack can work against public-key cryptography and is also particularly applicable to the original Diffie-Hellman key exchange protocol, when used without authentication. (Source: Wikipedia) This is the latest approach being taken in phishing attempts. Let's look at how it works.
Which Computer Should I Buy? I recently responded to a question about buying a computer to be used by someone who works for a trust company in Los Angeles. There were several requirements, which made the process interesting:
1 No proprietary components.
2 Store and play music.
3 Work with photographs.
4 Be in the $1500 to $2000 price range.
5 Ability to exchange Word and Excel files with the office system (Windows).
6 External hard drive for backups (grab and go in an emergency).
7 Tech help available for several years.
Nerdly News: Goodbye HD-DVD: When I said last week "There are 2 high-definition formats for DVDs, HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Or, were. Blu-ray has won the battle. Wal-Mart has announced that it will drop HD-DVD gear in favor of Blu-ray. End of story," I wasn't expecting to be able to follow up this soon with a story that says "there is 1 high-definition format for DVDs." If you've been waiting for the final shot, it has been fired. Instead of a bang, though, it was more of a whimper. Toshiba was outflanked by Sony.
Phishing and Smaller Banks: When you think about phishing, you probably think about Chase, CitiBank, American Express, Ebay, and the like. But the creeps who run these scams aren't stupid. They know the areas served by local banks and for at least the past year, they've mixed fraudulent messages that claim to come from smaller banks in with those from the giants. In many cases, they can also identify where the potential victims live, so those are the people who receive phishing messages that mention banks in their area. These messages can be most effective for the crooks.
Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2: Easier and Less Expensive: If you're a graphics or design professional, you probably use Adobe Photoshop when you need to modify photographic images, whether they originated in a film camera or a digital camera. Those who don't have the budget to buy the full version of Photoshop often buy Photoshop Elements, but there are good reasons for choosing Corel's Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 instead.
Expired Domains as a Profit Center: TechByter.com is a domain name that is registered to me. I don't own it, but I do lease the name and pay an annual fee. If I would forget to renew it, I wouldn't be happy about what would happen next: Within hours somebody else would register the name and within a day visitors to TechByter.com would be served nothing but ads. This is known as drop-catching and domain tasting. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, although a more apt acronym would be "ICAN'T") all but encourages this practice and other abuses known as domain kiting and typo-squatting. If you have registered a domain name and you want to keep it, you need to protect it.
The Bat 4: A First Look: The Bat has been my favorite e-mail application for years. I'd tell you how many, but I don't remember. I can tell you that I used PINE in the early days, and ELM. After that, it was Eudora until I discovered The Bat. This is not the right e-mail program for everyone, but it's been right for me for a long time because it's quick, it's adaptable, and it's secure. I may have to use Outlook (aka "LookOut!") at the office, but I wouldn't consider anything but The Bat at home. That's why I was more than a little nervous when RIT Labs (Moldova) released version 4 of the application.
Nerdly News: End of the Road for HD-DVD: There are 2 high-definition formats for DVDs, HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Or, were. Blu-ray has won the battle. Wal-Mart has announced that it will drop HD-DVD gear in favor of Blu-ray. End of story.
Creeps in Your Computer: The San Jose Mercury News has a worthwhile report on cybercrooks. They are out there and they're looking for information that's on your computer. " Somewhere in St. Petersburg, Russia's second city, a tiny start-up has struck Internet gold. Its dozen-odd employees are barely old enough to recall the demise of the Soviet Union, but industry analysts believe they're raking in well over $100 million a year from the world's largest banks, including Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual." If that frightens you, it should.
Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! THANKS (AND APOLOGIES) TO MONTY PYTHON FOR THE IDEA! This is an experiment. It may turn out to be the most astonishingly stupid thing I've ever done, or it might be the template for the occasional program in the future. It seems that a lot of people enjoy seeing spam deconstructed while the spammer is being ridiculed. So here's an entire program (except for a bit of news at the end) all about spam.
Nerdly News: The Bat Version 4 is Out: No time this week even for a first look, but at first glance The Bat version 4 looks to be a winner. The new version resolves some of the problems that have kept me from recommending it to some people and it seems not to break the power-user features that have made The Bat my favorite e-mail program ever.
Billions and Billions Served: No, it's not McDonald's; it's Internet video. Research by ComScore says that Internet users in the US watched more than 10 billion videos online during December 2007. That's the most videos viewed in any month since ComScore started tracking use. Who's on top? Google, which accounts for about 30% of all videos viewed. The jump in December may have been powered by the TV writers strike because some new content was available on the Web.
Digital TV Converters at Best Buy by Month's End: Best Buy says it will begin selling DTV converters before the end of February and that it has a large stock of converters that qualify for the US government's rebate program for the boxes. You might think of this as a government-funded corporate welfare program, but the government and the broadcast industry would prefer that you didn't.
Belts, Suspenders, and Duct Tape (Again) OR, IF YOU PREFER, "DUCK TAPE": Occasionally I’m asked what the best backup system is. The simple answer is easy: The one that you’ll use. But of course there’s more to it than that. The system I use may not be the best for you, but it works for me. Instead of keeping everything in a single backup, I have multiple overlapping backups. I’ll describe the system I use and maybe you’ll find some information that will help you plan a failure-resistant system that’s also easy to use.
Beware All Predictions, Including This One: As I've mentioned a time or two, I don't watch much television—at least not "live". Since the arrival of my Netflix gift certificate, I've watched recent movies, old movies, and sometime entire series of old TV programs. An interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Victor Garber, the actor who plays Jack Bristow in Alias, convinced me to watch that series on DVD. I mention that because the central theme of the program is Milo Rambaldi, an inventor-prophet based on conflating Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus. Prophecies can be dangerous things, as those in the series learned. That thought occurred to me on New Year's Eve when I found myself knee deep in a Technology Corner program from June 1998. New Year's Eve is always an exciting time around the house. In lieu of dusting the cat, I'd decided to rearrange some of the older Web files for programs to get rid of clutter in the webroot. Words that I had written 10 years earlier stopped me abruptly.
Is Windows 7 for You? There's been no small amount of chatter recently about Windows 7 (that would be the version that follows Vista) because of rumors that it will be released in 2009. Microsoft typically gets things right on the 3rd iteration of a project and this would be the second iteration of Vista. Currently, a lot of us are just waiting and hoping that SP1 for Vista will solve some of the worst problems.
Nerdly News: Microhoo Anyone? Recently, Bill Gates talked about Google as being its "most interesting" competitor, not that the two giants compete in a lot of the same market areas. But Gates talked about Microsoft's getting better at search and about surprising Google. Well, surprise! Microsoft, after talks with Google broke off, has now announced plans for a hostile takeover and is willing to pay a hefty premium for Yahoo stock to get it.
The RIAA Legal System: It's probably a good thing that the Recording Industry Association of America doesn't yet write all of the nation's laws. If it did, the penalty for jaywalking would probably be amputation of a foot on first offense, amputation of a leg on second offense, and death for a third infraction. Does that seem a bit extreme to you? How about proposing a fine of $1.5 million for copying a CD with 10 songs on it? That's $150,000 per selection.
Beyond Compare: Its Name and a Good Description: Scooter Software describes Beyond Compare as "a powerful time-saving utility for comparing files and folders on your Windows system." Yeah, and you can user your Lamborghini (my spelling checker says "Lamborghini" isn't a word and suggests "Lamebrain") LP640 for the daily commute, too. If you mirror files to a backup drive, Beyond Compare is a tool you'll appreciate. Or if you ever need to compare an application's output with a previous session's output. Or make sure that files haven't been added to or removed from a directory. And that's just the beginning.
Coping with Itunes Disasters Goodbye, Itunes! Every time Itunes reports that the Itunes library file is "damaged", I like Itunes less and less. This has happened 8 times in about a week and a half. Itunes can reconstruct the ITL file from an XML file that it writes on exiting, but the problem with allowing that to happen seems to be that all previous podcasts (although the files are still on the disk) are no longer in the library. The only solution is to download them all again. This is not an intelligent solution, so I end up deleting both the damaged ITL file and the XML file, then re-importing all 20,000+ files. As you might suspect, this takes more than a few minutes to accomplish. It also sets the load date for all files to the current data and loses any playlists that I've created. So after several years of enjoying Itunes on a Windows machine, I've dumped it in favor of an application that was built for Windows machines: Winamp.
The Phoney Report: Sprint Tanks: In my opinion, Sprint is the Poster Child for Poor Customer Service. I was a Sprint customer for several years. The company had good hardware, signals where I needed them, and customer service that made Attila the Hun look like the Singing Nun. Since I left Sprint for another provider, the company has merged with Nextel, but now Sprintel (Nexint?) says it will cut 4000 jobs and close 125 retail locations because subscriber growth isn't what was expected. It will also close 4000 of its 20,000 third-party distribution points. For example, you won't see Sprint Nextel in as many consumer electronics retailers.
- Blu-Ray or HD-DVD? I don't know about you, but I'm sitting on the sidelines. Warner Brothers now says that it plans to go with Blu-Ray camp and that seems to have put a hold on sales of HD-DVD devices. Market research firm NPD says consumers bought 1758 HD-DVD players the week of January 12. That's down from nearly 15,000 a week earlier. Sales of Blu-Ray players the same week reached nearly 22,000, up from 15,000 the week before.
- Let the Throwing of Money Begin: Bidding for pieces of the RF spectrum that will be vacated by analog television in 2009 began this week. The players include Verizon and AT&T, of course, but Google is there, too. Whether Google wins any licenses or not, and the experts say it's unlikely, Google has at least pushed the process forward in a way that could help consumers. It was pressure from Google that forced the the Federal Communications Commission to force the big telephone companies to open wireless networks to equipment that's not controlled and priced by the telephone companies.
- JC Oops: Personal information about more than half a million JC Penney customers (and maybe another 100 retailers) may have been compromised last October, but announced only this week, when a computer tape "went missing". GE Money handles credit card operations for Penney and others said that the missing information includes Social Security numbers for about 150,000 people.
Vista Annoyances: I really like Vista. I really dislike Vista. And I suspect that most Vista users are in about this same frame of mind. Vista looks great. It features long overdue security improvements. But it's almost always doing something to the disk drives and it's making me crazy for two reasons: First, I can't seem to get a definitive answer from anyone about what Vista is doing. Second, all this disk activity makes audio playback about as enjoyable as listening to a scratched record on a bad turntable. Skips, pops, and jumps are common. Despite Vista's better appearance and enhanced security, I'm not certain that I'll still be using Vista at this time next year. But I'm making some headway on the constant disk thrashing. (That's what I wrote in late December, as I started working on this article; the problems have been largely solved, but only by using a gigantic hammer.)
When Updates Go Goofy: Sometimes I'm amazed by the tasks that I can accomplish with a computer and the right software. Recently I needed to eliminate the backgrounds from some photos. In some cases, the process was easy because the background was a single shade and the foreground object was sharply delineated. In other cases, the background was more complicated or the foreground differed only slightly from the background. Adobe Photoshop's new tools made the process far easier than it would have been just a year or two ago. If I'd been forced to use physical prints and an X-acto knife, the work would have taken far longer and the results would have been much worse. I'm equally amazed when something as simple as a basic upgrade goes completely bonkers.
The Day of the Killer Apple: Continuing the theme of goofy updates, I have to thank Apple for an odd series of events that happened shortly after Steve Jobs' keynote address at Macworld on Tuesday: The Windows desktop system told me that it needed to install the Quicktime update (which also included an Itunes update) and my Apple Powerbook told me that it needed to install updates for OS X 10.5 Leopard. The Windows update killed Winamp and the Powerbook update killed the entire computer. Some days I wish that Apple would think a little less "different". Be sure to read this segment all the way to the end to get the entire story.
Wowie! Zowie! The IRS has my Refund Ready: This is efficient. The IRS wants to send me my refund even though I haven't yet filed the return or even filled out any tax forms. Dead giveaways? You bet.
A Subject! A Subject! My Kingdom for a Subject! The other day, when I glanced into the pile of suspected spam messages to confirm that no valid messages had accidentally been classified as spam, my job was easier than normal. Usually I scan the senders and the subject lines. I can do 100 messages or more in less than a minute. On that day, I scanned more than 100 messages in less than 10 seconds.
Where Do You Want to Go Today? With apologies to Microsoft and the world's airlines, I have to say that Google Earth can take me just about anywhere I want to go. Virtually, anyway. I hadn't gotten around to installing the latest version of Google Earth but when I received a note from a New Zealand listener in December, a man who just happens to have the same surname as my paternal grandmother, I decided to see if Google Earth could show me where he lived. I downloaded the new version, installed it, and in less than 5 minutes found myself hovering over his house. Google Earth can be an enormous time waster, but it can also be a lot of fun.
An Overload of Stuff: About once a quarter, I go through my e-mail files to purge files that I know I'll never need again. The most recent purge (late December) deleted just under 800MB of e-mail, but that left nearly 18,000 messages in my live e-mail file. In Itunes I now have more than 20,000 selections, some just 2 or 3 minutes long. But others, such as NYFD transmissions from September 11, 2001, run for hours. This is possible because I have nearly a terrabyte of data storage capacity. That's a number that was unimaginable when I purchased my first hard drive back in the 1980s—16 megabytes for about $1200. To put 800MB of discarded e-mail in perspective: That's about 80 times the size of the original IBM PC hard drive.
Nerdly News: Odds and ends from the Consumer Electronics Show (and beyond)
- It's time again for the insanity known as CES in Las Vegas. The Consumer Electronics Show. Bill Gates was the keynote speaker.
- Will Microsoft build an M-Phone? No. Bill Gates says Microsoft's role in the mobile phone arena will be limited to software.
- Having seen an election up close and personal, I'm troubled by reports of vote fraud from New Hampshire. Granted that any system can be gamed, I increasingly wonder if voting machines are the best choice.
- It seems that hundreds of FBI wiretaps have been shut down by phone companies because the FBI pays its bills late. And a federal audit says one agent managed to steal $25,000 that was intended to pay for wiretaps.
- If you haven't yet downloaded service pack 3 for Microsoft Office 2003, you may want to wait because SP3 makes it nearly impossible for you to open some older files.
TechByter's New Look: Wider and Without Tables: Each year in January, I revise the look of the website. This year's revision is wider, reflecting the continuing trend toward higher screen resolution. Not long ago, we were pushing the envelope to create a website that required a monitor with a width of at least 800 pixels. Today nearly everyone has a screen that displays at least 1024 pixels (wide) and 1600 pixel widths, which were once territories occupied only by Sun workstations and other high-end gear, are increasingly common. In 2007, I expanded TechByter Worldwide's screen to 650 pixels. This year, it's 800. But that's just the beginning.
Plug and What? When version 1.0 of the USB specification was shown at PC Expo in New York City sometime in the '90s, there was a clear promise that peripherals would be easy to attach and detach from a computer. Version 1.0 was never released to the public, but version 1.1 was. "Plug-and-Pray" is what a lot of people called USB in those days. People who I considered smarter than me openly derided the USB spec and said it would never work. It seems that, for the most part, I called that one right.
Spoiling your Fun: Recently, I received a link to a "guess your number" site with a question about how it works. Visitors are shown the numbers 1 through 25 in a 5x5 matrix. Each of the numbers is displayed in one of 5 colors. I'm asked to click the color of my number. A couple of steps later, the same 25 numbers are repeated using the same colors, but now they're grouped into "houses". I'm supposed to click the house my number lives in. And a couple of steps later, I'm shown 3 doors and told to click one to see my number. And it always works! Imagine that. There is, of course, no magic involved.
Stupid Spam of the Week: Spammers clearly think that the people they send messages to are none too bright and in some cases they're probably right. Take this week's example as a case in point. According to the timestamp in the message, I received it well over an hour before it was sent. But that's just the the start.
Netscape Sails off the Edge: Netscape was the first commercially successful browser. It wasn't the first browser, though. It was begat from Mosaic, which was the first popular World Wide Web browser and Gopher client. (Remember Gopher?) Mosaic was the first to allow images to be embedded in text instead of shown in a new window. Mosaic was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in 1992 and it was released in 1993. Mosaic was discontinued in early 1997 and now, 11 years later, the Netscape era comes to a close.
RIAA Plans to Make it Illegal to Use Music You've Bought: Let's say you've purchased a CD. You take the CD home, pop it into the disc reader on your computer and put a copy of the music on your computer's hard drive so that you can download it to an Ipod, a Zune, or some other device. The Recording Industry Association of America seems to want to make that illegal. The RIAA is the trade association that has filed suit against children as young as 7, grandmothers, and even dead people. I don't know about you, but I have a little trouble following the logic.
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