TechByter Worldwide for 2009

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.

December 27, 2009 (No program this week.)

Preparing for the New Year: This is the week during which I put the final touches on the modifications for 2010. TechByter Worldwide returns on January 3, 2010.

December 20, 2009

Fixing Exposure Problems with Creative Layers and Masking: Sometimes the images you see on your screen when you download them to your computer don't look like what you saw in real life. It's not your photographic ability. It's not your camera. It's physics that gets in the way and, to some extent, perception. When we look at a scene in real time, our eyes move and adjust so that we perceive detail in both dark areas and light areas. Cameras aren't like that. They make one exposure that sees everything at once. Adobe's Michael Ninnes helped me understand how to fix this kind of problem with Photoshop and I'd like to share the technique with you.

Happy New Year from Windows 7: I installed the Windows 7 release candidate back in May and the release-to-manufacturing version in September, so I've been running some version of the latest Microsoft operating system for 7 months. Seven months into my Vista experience, I'd already seen major problems. Even so, it was more than a year later when I finally removed Vista and upgraded to Windows XP. Thus far in the Windows 7 experience, I've seen virtually nothing to complain about. But that doesn't mean it's perfect.

A Despicable Practice by a Company I Like and Respect: Adobe is, in my estimation, one of the best and most reliable software companies in the galaxy. It's a company that has good ideas, listens to its customers, and generally does the right thing. Nobody can be perfect all the time and this week I found that this maxim also applies to Adobe. The company installed an application on my computer without my permission.

Short Circuits: Does "It's About Time" Ring True? The FTC says that chip maker Intel has engaged in anti-competitive practices. Intel, of course, disagrees. But computer makers say that Intel's "discount" structure is designed to punish those who buy too many CPUs from competitors such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). "Too many" might be as little as 1.

Google. Phone? Maybe. Google says it won't be manufacturing its own phone. Rumor mongers disagree. Google is already a thorn in the side of the industry but few people see that as a bad thing because cellular service providers rank a few points below used car sales people and legislators. And understandably so. Google could shake up the smart-phone industry if it wanted to.

December 13, 2009

Safari is Great (if You Own a Mac): Apple's Web browser, Safari, works well on Apple computers. On Windows machines, it continues not to be even a contender for third or fourth place. On a Mac, Safari is fast; on a PC, it plods. On a Mac, Safari's display is accurate; on a PC it can be made to be more or less accurate, but only with work. I can think of no good reason to install Safari when it's handily beaten by Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Opera, just to name 4. But when the latest version was released, I gave it another chance.

Another Ubuntu Winner: Karmic Koala: On Thanksgiving Day, I sat down in front of the notebook computer with a plan to see what had been ailing Ubuntu 9.10. Most of the difficulties were probably the result of my errors or oversights, but the bottom line is that they've been resolved and I'm once again happy with Ubuntu.

After 7-Zip, is WinZip Still an Essential Application? For more than a decade, WinZip has been a must-have application. When I set up a computer, my process has been to install an antivirus application, an e-mail application, Firefox to replace Internet Explorer, and WinZip. Under Windows 7, and even for Windows XP or Vista, that may no longer be necessary.

Short Circuits: The Case of the Astonishingly Poor Fraud: Most spams, including the ones that promise millions of dollars from a bankrupt oil firm or from the survivors of a deposed leader of an African country or from a dishonest banker who found some drug money or from the dying billionaire, are unremarkable. They're usually obvious frauds, but occasionally one is so well done that it deserves special mention. On the other hand, sometimes one is prepared by someone who is so utterly inept that it deserves special mention. This is one of the latter type.

You Sue Me; I Sue You (or should this be "A Boy Named Sue"?): Nokia filed suit against Apple, claiming that the computer maker had stolen 10 of the phone maker's technologies. Now Apple has filed a counter-suit that claims Nokia has used a baker's dozen of Apple technologies without permission. And Apple's suit isn't short on content when it comes to insult and abuse.

December 6, 2009

Get Organized with One Note: Computers are supposed to help us become more organized and they do. Database applications such as MySQL or Access, flat file programs such as Excel, word processor programs such as Word, and e-mail/calendar/task applications such as Outlook all do their part to help. But there's another tool, one you may never have heard of. A tool that brings new organizational methods to your desktop. A tool that, once you try it, you probably will want to make part of your daily life.

Helpful Web Designer Tools (Even if You're Not a Web Designer): My preferred Web browser continues to be Firefox in part because of the thousands of add-ons that are available to extend the browser. Some of those add-ons have been designed for programmers and developers, but they can also be useful for the rest of us.

Icon Junkies Unite and Combine Your Icons

When I mentioned last week the ability to change the icon that a Windows application displays, I heard from the self-proclaimed (or self-admitted, if you wish) "icon junkie" who mentioned a compulsion to collect icons -- not so much to use them, but just to collect them. Some people collect coins or stamps, others collect salt shakers or match books, and a few collect icons.

Short Circuits: "Oops!" –Avast Antivirus: I've been looking at Avast Antivirus for several weeks as a possible replacement for AVG Antivirus. I'll tell you more about it in January when I've decided whether it makes the cut or not. For some people, this week was enough to make them reconsider Avast as a viable alternative: Wednesday evening the software publisher distributed an update that mistakenly identified hundreds of files as being infected with a Trojan horse.

Notebook Computers: Handy, but Failure Prone: Who makes the most reliable notebook computers? You're probably thinking "Apple", right? If so, you're wrong. According to research by SquareTrade, the third-party warranty provider that works with many retailers, Apple notebook computers are about mid-range when it comes to reliability. If you buy a notebook computer this year, you have about a 31% chance that it will fail within the next 3 years. Your odds will be better with some brands, worse with others.

November 29, 2009

If Icon Do It, So Can You: Icons in the Task Bar have always been helpful in providing visual cues to let users know what programs are running and they're even more important with Windows 7 because of the ability to pin applications to the task bar. Unlike in previous versions of Windows, there is no Quick Launch area, but pinning an icon has advantages that go beyond providing a one-click option for starting an application: Because the icon is pinned to the Task Bar, it stays in one location. But sometimes two applications have distressingly similar icons. Do you ever wish you could change them? Well, you can and I'll explain how.

Be Careful What You Click: Some search results lead to toxic sites. In the week before the latest Twilight movie opened, searches sometimes turned up links to rogue sites, sites that make every effort to take over your computer. This threat is aimed at fans of the new movie, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The same kind of fraud can be perpetrated on fan of anything else, so this is important even if you've never heard of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Even the US Postal Service Has Spam: I received a post card from "Express Package Delivery" of Tyler, Texas. The company paid to print the card and paid 28 cents postage to send it to me. It was an obvious fraud.

Slight Variation on an Old Trojan Theme: As with most Trojan horse attacks, this one attempted to convince me to open an e-mail attachment and run it. But instead of offering me a movie file or music, this one claimed to be from a financial clearing house. It was confirming my payment ($3654.38) to a company I had never heard of. If I wanted to decline the charge, it said, I should open the attached file and run it. For starters, no clearing house would ever do business like this, so it was clearly an attack. But there were lots of other clues, too.

Short Circuits: Just in Time for the Holidays: Techno Shopping Help: Looking for just the right digital point-and-shoot camera or SLR? How about the HDTV that suits you best? Or a netbook computer? A new website may have the answer for you.

Incredible Shrinking AOL Continues to Shrink: Remember when AOL was so powerful that its merger with Time Inc. was essentially an acquisition of Time Inc? Since then, things have changed a lot. Most former AOL users have concluded that there are better ways to connect to the Internet and now Time Warner says that it plans to spin off AOL on December 9.

November 22, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving! If you're a resident of Canada, I'm a month late with that. Harvest Festivals are celebrated worldwide in the fall, and you may not call it "Thanksgiving". In the Southern Hemisphere, I'm 6 months early or 6 months late; for those in the United States, my message is timely. Please click the link above to see my holiday card.

November 15, 2009

Bidding AVG Antivirus a (Not So Fond) Farewell: The TechByter Worldwide search function tells me that I have written about AVG Antivirus 42 times starting in 2002. Back then I wrote about the excessive use of system resources by Norton Antivirus. On November first, when I sent a message to AVG asking for a refund for the 2-year license I had renewed in October, I said that AVG "now uses so many system resources that I cannot use the computer. I have followed the instructions from your support staff and the problem has only become worse." In other words, it had become the problem it replaced. You'll want to know the entire story behind that.

Carbonite: The Easy Way to Secure Your Data: Your computer is worthless. It's the data on the computer that has value. (See "Choir, preaching to the".) Losing data is like a collision at sea; it can ruin your whole day. I've lost data and I didn't like it. In the 1980s, I was working on a new desktop computer with two (count 'em, two) floppy disk drives. I was writing a program in a database language and I wanted to make sure I had a backup copy. So I copied the file from one floppy disk to another. The result was 2 corrupt floppies and no backup. It's easy to have data destroyed by a rogue program, hardware failure, or user error. That's what backup applications are for.

Recording Industry Association of America: Over the years, I have been less than complementary about the RIAA. In fact, I think the final "A", rather than standing for "America" might better be represented by the name of an animal that is sometimes considered to be synonymous with "mule" or "burro". But then I'm not a musician. However, it seems that some musicians that I respect have the same opinion of the RIAA. Janis Ian is one of them.

Short Circuits: Intel Sends Advanced Micro Devices $1.25 Billion to Settle Antitrust Suit: Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Intel continues to maintain that it never used improper actions in competing with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Still, Intel has agreed to pay AMD $1.25 billion to settle antitrust and patent suits. Intel has about 80% of the CPU market for microprocessors. The much smaller AMD will withdraw a suit, filed in 2005, and several regulatory complaints filed in Europe. The European Union has already fined Intel $1.5 billion.

Beware the Phone Scam: My cell phone rang. I was expecting a call, so I didn't glance at the caller ID. "This is a notice from your credit card," the message said. "There is no problem with your account, but you could qualify for a low interest rate, as low as 4.5%. But you must apply today. For more information, press 9 to talk with an operator." I was annoyed. I don't like phone spam and all of my numbers are listed on the federal Do Not Call list. So I pressed 9 to advise the caller of that fact. What happened next surprised me.

November 8, 2009

Don't Bokeh that Joint!: "Bokeh" is a term that's used to refer to an out-of-focus area in the foreground or background of a photograph. It comes from the Japanese word boke (暈け or ボケ), which means "blur" or "haze", or boke-aji (ボケ味), the "blur quality". (Source: Wikipedia.) Bokeh is an important aesthetic quality because it separates the subject of a photograph from the background. Bokeh is produced by a lens with a large aperture, but lenses with large apertures cost a lot of money. You can pay thousands of dollars for a lens that does great Bokeh or you can spend $200 for Alien Skin's Bokeh and keep the lenses you already own.

Questions and Answers: Sometimes people send questions. Sometimes I have answers. Occasionally the answers even have something to do with the questions. And once it a while the answer is actually right. Let's see if I get any right this week.

Ubuntu Karmic Koala: Think "Ubuntu Vista": Despite many improvements in version 9.10 of Ubuntu Linux (Karmic Koala), I can't recommend downloading it or installing it. Features that worked in the previous version (9.04, Jaunty Jackalope) no longer work. In addition, some applications are missing and restoring them will require downloading and installing individual packages because they seem to no longer be available via the Synaptic Package Manager or from Ubuntu's new Software Center. What a disappointment!

Short Circuits: Google Lets Users See What It Knows: As much as I like Google and as many Google products as I use, there are times when I wonder just how much Google knows about me. My latest internal conversation began when I started using Google Voice. Voice gave me a phone number that I tell other people about. When someone calls that number, I can have the call redirected to my home phone, my cell phone, both phones, or neither phone. Voice mail messages are recorded, transcribed, and sent to my e-mail address. I can record any inbound call. Add this to Google Mail, Calendar, Reader, and all of the other services I use and you'll begin to understand my concern. Now Google has a response.

Integrating PayPal into Third-Party Applications: PayPal has been working on a new service that will allow developers to use the service in their applications without having to do so much work. If you've ever tried to integrate PayPal into a shopping cart, you know how much effort it can take, so this is a welcome change.

November 1, 2009

Finding the Registered Site Owner: Last week, I wrote "Needless to say '' is not owned by Microsoft. Instead, it's registered as being owned by 'Patrica Laycok, 12 low eggborough road, nr goole, DN14 0PJ United Kingdom'." That attracted a question: "In one of your future casts, will you explain how you found the actual owner?" Yes, I will.

Drag Race! Windows 7 versus Ubuntu Linux 9.04: I've said that Windows 7 is fast, but that Ubuntu Linux is faster. I've also said how slow Vista was. During the 2 years I used Vista, start-up could take 5 minutes or more and sometimes the shutdown process ran for more than 15 minutes. Normal was more like 2 or 3 minutes for startup and 5 minutes for shutdown. The 2 operating systems I use regularly now are Windows 7 and Ubuntu, so I decided to stage a little drag race.

How's Windows 7 Working for You? Most of the people I have heard from who are using Windows 7 like it, particularly those who have upgraded from Vista. But not everyone. It's not uncommon for savvy users to wait for SP1 to show up when Microsoft rolls out a new operating system, but this time that's probably not the best course of action.

Witch Oit Fir Typos! My favorite keyboard, a Microsoft Natural Media keyboard, was wearing out. The arrow keys were sticking and no matter how much I cleaned the mechanical parts of the assembly, I couldn't get any improvement. I even tried a judicious application of WD40. No change. So I bought a similar keyboard, Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard. It's slightly different from the old keyboard, but that slight difference is enough to toss my fingers into a tizzy.

Short Circuits: Ubuntu 9.10 Slips onto My Notebook Computer: Last week, I mentioned Ubuntu 9.10, which was to become available late last week. It's now on my notebook computer and it appears to have brought some worthwhile improvements. I would be able to tell you more if the download had gone faster. Those who download new versions of Ubuntu during the first few days of a new release will often have to put up with modem-like download speeds. In this case, the result was worth the delay.

Spam King Sanford Wallace Ordered to Pay $711 Million to Facebook: Sanford Wallace is accused of massive spamming and hit with huge fines. He goes to court and promises to reform. Then he walks out of court and continues to earn the title "spam king". What does it take to put someone like this in a place where he cannot continue to flout the law? Can he come up with $711 million to pay Facebook?

October 25, 2009

Eliminating the Bad Taste Left by Vista: This is the week that Microsoft begins to wipe Vista from our collective memories. I have grumbled about the price (more than once) and about the confusing array of versions (more than once), particularly in comparison to Apple's single-version $30 upgrade to OS X. But I haven't grumbled about the functionality of Windows 7 (at least the Ultimate version) and that's because it's a remarkably clean initial release.

Preview: Adobe Lightroom 3: Having been lulled into complacency by the initial release of Adobe Lightroom, when I reviewed Adobe Lightroom 2 in October 2008, I didn't expect much. I wrote "The interface is clean and logical, but hardly what I would call intuitive, simply because Lightroom can do so much. When I first started looking at Lightroom (version 1), I didn't think much of it because it seemed not to do very much." Lightroom 2, however, turned out to be one of my favorite applications. I mention that now because Adobe is working on the next version and has just made a beta available.

Something I've Never Done Before: This week I did something I've never done before. Two things, actually. First, I went to a computer store on the day a new operating system was released (even though I've been using it for months). Second, I bought a bottom-of-the-line notebook computer. Maybe you'll enjoy the story. If not, just skip this part.

Watch Out for Window 7 & Outlook Update Scams: Starting earlier this week, I began to notice a lot of "Microsoft Update" messages. Needless to say, any such message is fraudulent because Microsoft never sends messages with attachments to users and Microsoft never sends announcements of updates or security patches by e-mail. So if you receive one, discard it.

Short Circuits: No, It's Not All Windows All the Time: On the same day that Microsoft started officially selling Windows 7, Canonical released the Ubuntu 9.10 release candidate. Ubuntu's numbering system is odd. The first part of the number indicates the year and the second part of the number indicates the month. Canonical also gives each version a name. This one is called Karmic Koala. The new version will be released this coming week, on October 29.

Windows 7: From Now Until January: What now? Windows 7 is officially on the market. With few exceptions, any computer you buy that runs Windows will be running some version of Windows 7. Sales of Windows machines have been off for the past couple of years--partly because of Vista and partly because of the economy. With economists saying the economy is improving and a much better of Windows now available, computer resellers are hoping for a turnaround.

The Federal Communications Commission on the Internet: The FCC is preparing to hold hearings on "draft rules to preserve the free and open Internet." The agency has issued a call for interested parties to file comments. If you would like to file a comment, visit the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System to do so before January 14, 2010. Replies to comments must be registered on or before March 5, 2010.

October 18, 2009

Adding an Artistic Touch to Your Photos: As an artist, I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. My circles aren't circular. My sketches are decidedly childish and unrealistic. But SnapArt 2 from Alien Skin Software allows me to create appealing images from digital photographs. Starting with an acceptable, but ordinary, image with several obvious flaws I was able to turn it into something I like. I'll show you the entire process here, from the original image as it came from the camera to the finished work.

Preparing for 2010: A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I've started working on the website redesign for 2010. This is something that I do every year to keep the site up to date. Following a marathon session the weekend of 10-11 Oct 2009, I have most of the changes in place on my test page. There are still bugs to be squished, designs to be improved, and colors to match, but I'm happy with where things are this early in October. You may be wondering what will change and what will be the same.

Short Circuits: Whole Lotta Patchin' Goin' On: I quote Wikipedia: Patch Tuesday is the second Tuesday of each month, the day on which Microsoft releases security patches. Starting with Windows 98, Microsoft included a "Windows Update" system, that would check for patches to Windows and its components which Microsoft would release intermittently. With the release of Microsoft Update, this system also checks for updates to other Microsoft products, including Office, Visual Studio, SQL Server, and others. This month, Patch Tuesday (which reached most of my computers on Thursday or Friday) was enormous.

It's Cyber Security Month: This week I stopped by a clinic for a flu shot. When I have the opportunity, I'll get an H1N1 flu shot. These vaccinations may prevent me from contracting seasonal or H1N1 flu, but the more important point is that my action will help protect society as a whole. Vaccination is less about the individual than about "the herd". The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the threat to society at large from whatever threat they've been vaccinated against. And so it is with computer security.

October 11, 2009

High Dynamic Range Photos the Easy Way: I'll bet you've done this. In fact, I think everyone has done this. You're walking in a park, by the ocean, or in some other visually attractive place. The scene is so beautiful that you have to take a picture of it. When you get home and look at the image, it doesn't look anything like what you remember. Much of the image is pure white. Other large areas are pure black. In between, there are bits of the scene that remind you of what you saw, but overall the image is disappointing. It's not your fault. I'll explain why and how you can fix it.

Google Voice: You Can Call WHERE for HOW MUCH? I'm old enough to remember when even well-heeled news organizations didn't make a lot of calls to foreign countries. In some cases, the setup fee could be several hundred dollars, timing was tricky, and your call might cost many dollars per minute. It wasn't something you did on a whim. If you wanted to call someone in Europe, the call would need to be approved not just by the news director, but probably by the station's general manager. Today, you can call most countries for less than 10 cents per minute and the most expensive locations are North Korea (who knew you could even call there!) and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Windows 7 from Walt Mossberg's Perspective: When I used to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg's column on technology was one that I never missed. He leans toward Macs (as does David Pogue at the crosstown rival New York Times), but I always found his comments worthwhile. What Mossberg has to say about Windows 7 is shocking.

Short Circuits: Apple and the Chamber of Commerce: The US Chamber of Commerce has characterized global warming as "junk science" despite the fact that an overwhelming number of scientists agree that the threat is real. The organization uses members' dues to fight against measures aimed at mitigating the effects of global warming. Apple Computer is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce. Correction: Apple Computer was a member of the US Chamber of Commerce. There's a story behind that.

What Else You'll Need for Windows 7: Eweek magazine (or eWeek, as they like to style the name) had an article titled "10 Must-Have Applications on Windows 7 Launch Day". Ten X You Must Y is a common theme to hang an article on, but I wondered if the writers had come up with 10 really essential apps for Windows 7. We'll take a look at their list and then I have a list of my own. But the most important list for you is the one you make up.

October 4, 2009

Windows 7: Getting There from Where You Are: Unless you're a Mac or Linux user, the next desktop computer you buy will have Windows 7 on it. And maybe you'd like to upgrade your current computer to Windows 7. As I've mentioned a time or ten, I consider this upgrade mandatory for Vista users, but less so for XP users. If you're thinking about upgrading an existing computer, I have some suggestions for things you should do or think about doing before you start the process.

Buying a Car in the Internet Age: Buying a new car is always fraught with peril because misinformation and disinformation abound. The Internet makes the process of buying a car both easier and harder. It's easier because so much information is available. It's harder for exactly the same reason. For the past 13 years I've been driving a Ford Explorer that I purchased after it had been returned at the end of a 2-year lease. I presume that it provided the original driver good service and for 13 years it has provided good service for me. But concerns about the price of fuel and the effects of burning gasoline on global warming caused me to look for something more fuel efficient. The federal government's "Cash For Clunkers" (CARS) program was also a factor. Overall, the Internet helped considerably. I'll explain how.

Short Circuits: The Significance of Insignificance: These days we give hardly a second thought to a system that allows me to buy a lens from a camera store in Manhattan on a long weekend during the time they're closed (Friday afternoon until Tuesday morning for Yom Kippur), allow them to ship it, and allow me to receive it on Thursday. But if you stop to think about it, the changes that are the result of computers and the Internet are little short of life-changing.

Catch A (Google) Wave: Google Wave (part e-mail, part instant messaging, part social networking) is now available to about 100,000 developers and users. Wave tries to be everything to everyone by combining e-mail, video, maps, photos, text messages, and audio. Chances are, it'll take you a while to wrap your mind around the concept.

Now Available: Microsoft Office Web: Microsoft calls it a "limited technical preview", but the Web-based version of the office suite is now in use by a limited number of people. It's available through the Windows Live SkyDrive storage portal. Taking a page from Google's playbook, Microsoft makes the suite available by invitation only. Microsoft Office Web apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) are part of Office 2010.

September 27, 2009

The More Spam Changes, The Less Spam Changes: A lot of people seem to be trying to give me millions of dollars. Meanwhile the IRS wants me to visit their website and read about my "underreported income". One change I've noticed in the past few months is that more of the "take my money, please" messages purport to have been written by a woman. Most of the time the pitches are so clearly fraudulent that one need not read more than the first dozen words or so. Sometimes not even that.

Windows 7 Hits and Misses: Windows 7 has a lot more hits than misses. It has impressed me because it almost always does what I hope it would do. I've encountered a few rough edges that Microsoft will need to grind away, but I've found more things that just simply work. As it did with Windows Me (Millennium Edition), Microsoft has generally admitted that Vista was seriously flawed. Nobody will have to make that admission with Windows 7.

Short Circuits: TechByter Worldwide 2010: If you've visited the TechByter Worldwide website over the past few years, or in the dozen or so years that it was Technology Corner, you probably know that the new year often brings a site design update. Sometimes the changes are fairly dramatic and sometimes they're barely visible. If there's something about the site that annoys you, now would be a very good time to let me know about it.

Giving Voice to Google: I've started experimenting a bit with Google Voice, the service that gives you a new phone number and then allows you to control what happens with calls to that number. You can have the calls ring one phone or multiple phones. It provides voice mail that you can listen to by phone or on-line. It transcribes messages and can send the resulting text to you. Callers can be sent individually to one phone, all phones, or voice mail. And you can use it to make inexpensive international calls, too.

Here Comes USB 3.0: If somebody tells you about their old USB 1.0 device, the speaker is either lying or has a bad memory. The commercial USB standard began at 1.1 because 1.0 devices never got out of the lab. USB 2.0 has been the standard for the better part of a decade (although the occasional USB device is still released with a "Full Speed" USB 1.1 interface). In this case "Full Speed" was a canard by the USB industry's trade association to make USB 1.1 devices, which run at 1/40th the speed of "High Speed" USB 2.0 devices, seem fast. USB 3.0 will be called "Super Speed" and will have a sustained throughput of about 4 gigabits per second, which compares to about 0.480 gigabits per second for USB 2.0.

September 20, 2009

They Shoot Film, Don't They? Digital photography has been around long enough that you might think everyone has converted, but that's not quite the case. When video cameras appeared on the scene 8mm movie gear immediately became worthless. That hasn't been quite the case with film cameras, although I sold some old film gear a year ago and received less than a third of what I would have received if I'd sold it the same year I stopped using it. Film has a look that some people prefer, while others just don't trust digital storage. Eastman Kodak has a new Ektar film that I'm sure I would have loved. But since the only film camera I still own is an antique point-and-shoot, it's not too likely that I'll be loading it up with Kodak's latest professional film.

Can Digital Photography be "Art"? One of digital photography's most significant advantages is the ability to modify the resulting images in a program such as Adobe Photoshop. The available controls are nearly limitless in their ability to boost or retard all colors, some colors, or an individual color, to increase or decrease contrast, to modify the color balance, to sharpen or soften detail, and more. Lots more. You can make multiple copies of an image and try various effects to find the one that matches what you saw when you made the exposure or that looks like nothing that can be seen on this planet. The choice is yours. I've been experimenting with OnOne Software's Photo Tools 2, plug-ins for Photoshop and other applications that use the Photoshop standard. Having thought that I knew a little bit about creative effects, I have discovered the depths of my ignorance.

Short Circuits: Making Microsoft (and the IT Security Guy) Nervous: Microsoft Office is king of the desk, but Google is king of the cloud. And the cloud is challenging the desk. About 20% of companies in a recent survey said that they use Google Docs in their offices. Many use these applications in conjunction with Office applications on desktop computers and most of the companies that rely heavily on Google are still smaller companies, but the trend is toward net-based computing.

Let's Find Something to Sell to Adobe: Analysts are saying that Adobe overpaid by about double its worth to buy Omniture for about $1.8 billion. Adobe is a company that has made a name for itself by developing top graphics applications, but also by acquiring other companies that offer features Adobe should be core to its business. The best known example of this is the Macromedia acquisition, but there have been many others.

Speaking of Finance and Acquisitions ... Quicken has announced plans to acquire and expects the deal to close by the end of the year. is a provider of online personal finance solutions that is used by about 1.5 million people. Intuit's Quicken already has an on-line presence, but Intuit says that offers a fresh, new approach.

September 13, 2009

This Is Your Computer on Windows 7: After explaining last week that I planned to install Windows 7 on my primary desktop computer, I thought you would expect to hear more about it this week. Differences exist, some small and some large, between the release candidate and the version that will be in new computers and on store shelves starting October 22nd. When the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version was released to Microsoft TechNet subscribers, I downloaded it, created an installation DVD, and took aim at my foot. What are holiday weekends for if not for installing new versions of operating systems? I had been running release candidate 1 on the notebook for several months and upgraded it first to the RTM code. The notebook update went so well that I decided to proceed with the desktop system. And as for my foot — the bullet missed.

Windows 7: Why Does Microsoft Do This? As much as I like the way Windows 7 works, I'm really annoyed by Microsoft's decision to release multiple versions of the operating system and to withhold features that I consider to be essential from all but the high-end versions of the OS. If Microsoft sold automobiles, engines would be available only with the Home Premium Automobile and, if you wanted tires and brakes, you would need to upgrade to the Ultimate Automobile.

Short Circuits: Apple Has a New Operating System, Too: Apple calls Snow Leopard the world's most advanced operating system and it's available for just $29. Or, if you have more than one Mac that can run Snow Leopard, $49 for the family pack. That's compared to a minimum of $120 for a Windows upgrade. Yep, Macs sure are more expensive, aren't they? But Apple has kicked the door shut in the faces of people who own "antique" Macs, those without Intel processors. Sorry, but Snow Leopard is not for you. This is the kind of thing Microsoft rarely does, and that's too bad. I'll explain why it's too bad and for whom in this week's program.

I'm Worth $32 to a Cyber Criminal: Symantec has an online tool that's designed to do two things: Help people assess their risk of becoming a victim of online crime and sell Symantec Norton protective programs. It's a worthwhile tool that may help you to think about risks that arise from being on the Internet.


September 6, 2009

Xara Xtreme Pro: When Too Much is Just Enough: As seems to be standard operating procedure for Xara, the company has brought yet another high-end graphics feature to a modestly priced product. Content-aware scaling is available in Xara Xtreme, a $90 application that handles both photographs and vector art. Xara Xtreme's content-aware scaling falls a bit short of what can be done in Adobe Photoshop, but Photoshop sells for $700, more than 7 times the price of Xara Xtreme. The Adobe application can do things that the Xara program can't, of course, but Xara Xtreme can do a few things that Photoshop can't, too.

Cracking Forgotten or Lost Passwords: Microsoft offers the ability to password protect Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, and other such files. If you forget your password, don't mind spending $40, and have several hours, days, or weeks to wait, recovery is easy enough. Just use a program such as Passware's VBA Key to conduct a brute force attack. I tried out the demo version of the application, which is limited to revealing passwords of up to 3 letters. The more you know about the password, the faster you'll crack it.

Short Circuits: Windows 7 is Here: If you're a Microsoft TechNet subscriber (I am), you might already have the RTM version of Windows 7 on one or more of your computers (I do). Earlier this week I installed the RTM ("release to manufacturing") version of Windows 7 Ultimate on my notebook computer. Because this is a holiday weekend and I cherish nothing more than spending all 3 days of a holiday weekend in front of my computer, I'll be installing Windows 7 on the desktop system. The excitement just never ends.

The European Union May Block Oracle's Bid to Take Over Sun Microsystems: The US has already approved plans by Oracle to acquire Sun Microsystems, but the EU hasn't yet weighed in on the matter and it appears that there's concern in Europe that allowing the takeover would be a bad thing. That's a valid concern. Sun Microsystems is responsible for MySQL, the open-source database application. Oracle is the developer of its own closed-source, expensive database application. The concern is that Oracle will acquire Sun and kill MySQL.

August 30, 2009

Windows 7: Right Operating System, Wrong Price: I'm one of those kooks who think that anyone who bought any version of Vista and lived with it for the past couple of years should get an automatic and free upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate. I also think that Microsoft should offer only one version for workstations (Ultimate) and one version for servers. Instead, Windows 7 will be available in 6 editions, although only Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate will be available for retail sale in most countries. But regardless of the price, Windows 7 is the right operating system if you're a Windows user. The code has been released to OEMs and boxes will be on store shelves in a little less than 2 months.

How About Another Media Player for Your Computer? "Timing," a friend likes to remind me, "is everything." For the past 6 months or more, I've been working on a report about the VLC Media Player. The product kept changing though. Finally, it reached version 0.9.9 and I concluded that version 1.0 would be along soon. It's here. VLC joins a bunch of other media players and they all want to be your best friend. Should you invite VLC inside to play?

Say Goodbye to Spam from Web Forms: A Perl script called formmail is responsible for sending the output from a lot of Web-based forms to website owners. Unfortunately, though, the original is still in use on many websites. Having been written more than a decade ago by a high school student who was learning Perl, the original formmail omitted even the most basic security measures. NMS, a British group reworked the scripts early this decade, but stopped work on the project by about 2004. If configured properly, the new version cannot be used to send spam through your website to hundreds or thousands of victims. But the form can be compromised by spambots that fill out the form and submit it. I countered that weakness by installing a CAPTCHA (completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart) device, but spambot operators have found a way to get around that, too. Now I've shut them down.

Short Circuits: Reports from Our Correspondents: I've received message from readers who let me know about some questionable business practices. We'll take a look at another attempt by Microsoft to install an add-on in Firefox and at Symantec's automatic renewal policies.

A Free Copy of Apple's Snow Leopard? Not Too Likely. Unlike Microsoft, Apple is pricing the latest version of its operating system competitively, but that doesn't stop people from responding to offers of a free stolen version of the operating system. What do you get instead? You get a Trojan that changes your DNS server to something that will send your computer to Very Bad Places. Intelligent? Not exactly.

Free Computers for Governors: When several state governors received shipments of unordered laptops, the assumption was that they weren't being sent by anonymous benefactors hoping to improve governance. The FBI is investigating the mystery shipments. West Virginia, Wyoming, and Vermont officials acknowledge the shipments. Clearly the orders are fraudulent, but what's behind them?

August 23, 2009

Music from my Thumb: Thanks to the "Cash for Clunkers" program, I bought a new car a few weeks ago. I'd been planning to buy a used car sometime this year and had some money set aside for the down payment. The current vehicle had been paid off for a decade and would have fetched maybe $1500 if I'd sold it on my own (and if I had found someone gullible enough to pay $1500 for a vehicle that was seriously in need of some expensive work). The CARS program essentially doubled my down payment, so I was able to set up an affordable 4-year payment plan that I hope to pay off in 2 years. What's the technology angle, you might ask. Good question. The new car has a USB port that allows me to plug in an Ipod. But it also allows me to plug in a thumb drive. And I just happened to have 3 2GB thumb drives sitting on my desk. But that's just the start of what you can do with some available thumb drives.

Is That an Iphone in Your Pocket or Are Your Pants on Fire? Apple says they are "isolated incidents" and reports from Europe suggest that when Iphones burst into flame Apple is quick to reach a settlement with the victim in a way that forces the victim to remain silent. The Apple Iphone 3GS apparently has an overheating problem. But the devices may also catch your pants, your purse, or your jacket on fire.

The Way Customer Support Should Work: Several years ago, I criticized Wide Open West (WOW) on WTVN's Technology Corner for poor customer support. In an astonishingly short-sighted move, the advertising manager for the company pulled its ads from WTVN. The ad manager has probably moved on to some other company where she's making equally inept decisions, but Wide Open West's support has improved quite a bit over the intervening years. One thing that support personnel understand (and ad managers generally don't) is that a customer who takes the time to complain is a gift. Listen and you'll find out what's going wrong. Respond and you'll provide a better service.

Podcasting Year Four: Last week's podcast was number 156 and, assuming 52 programs per year, that means that this week's podcast is the start of year 4. More or less. In the past 3 years, I've taken a few weeks off for holidays, so year 4 probably started somewhere around podcast 150. I continue to be surprised and gratified by the acceptance of the non-broadcast version of what used to be Technology Corner.

Short Circuits: Ohio Midwest Regional APCUG Comes to Newark: From genealogy to Linux, from identity theft to a 3-OS Mac with an identity crisis, from Windows 7 to hard disk destruction. Those are some of the topics at next weekend's Midwest Regional Association of Personal Computer User Groups conference in Newark. On-line registration is now closed, but you can still register on-site starting on Friday, August 28. The programs at the Cherry Valley Lodge are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

How Much E-mail is Spam? Would you believe 100%? How about 97%? Depending on who's doing the defining, it could be as low at 80% or as high as 97%. In 2004, Bill Gates said that there would be no more spam by 2006. That seems to have been a bit optimistic. In the past month, I've spent far more time trying to eliminate spam and "scareware" than I've spent with any other task.

Get Ready for Gwitter: Google is reported to be planning to acquire Twitter, the micro-blogging service that's popular with the older crowd. Twitter's tweets can up no more than 140 characters in length, but the service has caught on with corporations and with people age 35 and above. For younger users, not so much.

August 16, 2009

Tiffen's digital filters can turn an OK image into a WOW image: If you're a photographer who's been involved with cameras as a hobby or professionally for long enough, the name "Tiffen" will be one that you know. Tiffen has manufactured filters for cameras, from the ubiquitous "skylight" and UV filters to warming and cooling filters, filters to balance tungsten film to daylight or daylight film to tungsten, polarizing filters, fog filters, star filters, and that's just scratching the surface (which is something you should never do with filters.) With the advent of digital photography, some of the filters (warming, cooling, and color matching) are no longer necessary. Those settings can be controlled in the camera or in Photoshop or other applications if you start with a raw image. What's a company like Tiffen to do? They've developed a $100 application that takes the place of several thousand dollars worth of glass filters and does things no glass filter ever could do.

Stupid Spam of the Week: I haven't dissected a stupid spam of the week for a while, so this seemed to be a good time to cast a jaundiced eye on a message from the "United Parcel Service of America", which appears to be a conflation of "United Parcel Service" and the "United States Postal Service". The instant I saw the message in my spam catcher, I knew it was a fraud for several reasons: I hadn't sent any UPS packages recently, the message's claimed return address was "" instead of either (the postal service) or (United Parcel Service), and the "tracking number" began with a "V" when everyone knows that all UPS tracking numbers begin with "Z". C'mon guys, try to make it a little more challenging than this!

Cats and Brains: This week one of our cats died. Actually, he was euthanized. He had been diagnosed, a couple of weeks ago, with FIP (feline infectious peritonitis). Thin before, now he was clearly failing. One eye had filled with blood and the other was starting to. He ate a little and slept a lot. So it was time. Hermes was one of my older daughter's 4 cats who are currently living here with our 3 cats. He had adopted my wife and was her constant companion. But now we could give him only one thing, a good death. The technological link is a bit weak, but I think this is something you'll find interesting.

Short Circuits: Microsoft Office for the Mac will have Outlook: If you have a Mac and you use all of Microsoft Office 2008's components, your e-mail application is called Entourage. In the next version of Office for the Mac, Entourage will be gone. In its place will be a mac version of Outlook. The advantage of the change, according to Microsoft, is that the same e-mail and orgainization application will run on both platforms.

Texas Judge Orders Microsoft to Stop Selling Word: Why Texas? Microsoft is, of course, a Redmond, Washington, company. The Canadian company that filed suit against Microsoft, claiming patent infringement, is headquartered in Toronto. The suit might have been filed in Michigan or Ohio district court (close to Toronto) or in Washington (Microsoft's home state). Instead I4i selected the federal district court at 211 W. Ferguson Street in Tyler, Texas. Tyler, a bustling metropolis of about 85,000 people, is 100 miles southeast of Dallas. Maybe I4i selected the venue because of the pleasant east Texas summer climate. Or maybe there was another reason.

August 9, 2009

Is Thunderbird Right for You? The open-source Mozilla e-mail program Thunderbird doesn't offer all the flexibility of my favorite e-mail program (The Bat), but it is a full-featured e-mail application that should be a contender if you're thinking about migrating from older applications. Eudora, for example, hasn't released a new version since shortly after the most recent Ice Age and, despite claims to have version 8 "in beta" doesn't appear to be anywhere near launch. That's too bad because Eudora was my favorite e-mail program until shortly before 2000. If you're looking for something a bit more up to date, Thunderbird might be it.

75% of Computer Users Spurn Protection: Maybe "spurn" is too strong a word. Most people probably don't reject computer backup with contempt. But most people don't backup their systems or back them up so infrequently that they might as well not be backing them up. The Diffusion Group (TDG), a research organization, says that more than 16% of computer users never back up their computers. About 38% do a backup once or twice per year and just under 21% perform a monthly backup. Would it bother you if you lost all of the files you have created or changed in the past month, six months, or year? Would it bother you to lose everything that's on your computer?

Windows 7 Packages and Prices: Windows 7's release date is approaching and Microsoft has announced the final packaging and pricing schemes. There are still too many choices and the price is still too high, particularly in light of Apple's sub-$50 upcoming new version and the even lower price ($0) of Linux distributions. Microsoft has announced a Windows 7 "Family Pack" that will allow the Home Premium version of the operating system to be installed on 3 home computers for $150. What if you want the Professional or Ultimate version? And that special price will be available only "while supplies last". As if Microsoft is going to make only a limited number of copies of the software.

Short Circuits: Twitter and Facebook Were Briefly Silenced This Week: Some technology-unaware reports said that Twitter had been "hacked", but that wasn't even close. Instead, a denial-of-service (DOS) attack made Twitter inaccessible for several hours. The attack appears to have originated in Russia or Georgia. Facebook had problems, also, but it was less clear what caused those.

No Apples for Google CEO Eric Schmidt: With competition heating up between Google and Apple, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has resigned from Apple's board of directors. The two companies are each in the mobile phone market. Both are in (or soon will be) in the operating system market. Schmidt and Apple CEO Steve Jobs are friends, but Schmidt said that he found that was increasingly having to recuse himself from votes on corporate issues.

August 2, 2009

UltraEdit for Linux: You may already know that I'm a big fan of UltraEdit, the text editor for Windows. I have long bemoaned the fact that UltraEdit is available only for Windows. Mac users have the equally robust BBEdit (and the free yet surprisingly robust Text Wrangler) while Linux users have a variety of open-source editors. But not UltraEdit. Not yet, anyway. But soon. The Linux version currently is in beta and it is available for just a few Linux distributions. Fortunately, Ubuntu is one of them. And UltraEdit will soon be available for the Mac, too.

The Trouble Was Not in Your Set: On Sunday, July 5, you may have noticed that the TechByter Worldwide website was unavailable for a while and because the interruption was so brief, I delayed an account of the problem until now. This was the result of some maintenance work that, while not an emergency, needed to be taken care of promptly. Maybe "high-priority semi-planned maintenance" would describe it. We had to destroy the site in order to save it, so Sunday morning, I gave BlueHost approval to "nuke the domain." I'll explain how I restored the site in just a few minutes and why that was the best solution.

It's Time to Dig Out the Old Microhoo Jokes Again: Microsoft and Yahoo have finally made it official. Microsoft bid $45 billion for Yahoo. Yahoo's resident geniuses decided that wasn't enough and rejected the offer only to see the value of the company shrink to that of a pack of gum. Now Microsoft and Yahoo have a a 10-year deal that moves Microsoft from a distant third to a solid second in the search engine category. Google is still in first place by a considerable margin. And by announcing its own operating system, Google has put itself squarely in the cross-hairs of Microsoft's big guns.

Short Circuits: Amazingly Cheap Memory: I remember the first 8MB thumb drives that sold for $50. This week, offered a drive that was 500 times larger than the original for 20% of the price. If auto manufacturers could do that, I would have paid about $2 for my new Honda Fit.

Spatio-temporal Network-level Automatic Reputation Engine kills Spam: SNARE (Spatio-temporal Network-level Automatic Reputation Engine), developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology is the latest (probably vain) hope to kill spam. SNARE scores each incoming e-mail on criteria that can be determined by examining just one data packet. If this works in the real world, BRAVO!

Totally Unrelated to Technology: A week ago, my wife and I and our younger daughter (age 25 in October) visited Amish country in Eastern Ohio and toured an Amish farm. Along the way, we were able to view 2 Amish homes (no longer occupied) and take a ride in an Amish buggy (the horse was not happy with my weight). Amish families do not use electricity delivered by power line or gasoline engines. This makes the homes quiet and peaceful. They do, however, use batteries that are recharged by solar panels to run power inverters so some electronic devices are available. No computers, though, and no Internet.

July 26, 2009

The Cost of Free Software: Instead of Microsoft's Office suite, you could use Open Office. Instead of Photoshop, you could use GIMP. Instead of Windows, you could use Ubuntu Linux. The difference is that you would pay for Office, Photoshop, and Windows. Open Office, GIMP, and Ubuntu Linux are free. That doesn't mean they're the best choice for your needs, even in a tight economy. But they might be. Depending on what you need to do, the free applications might succeed beyond your expectations, perform adequately, or fail miserably. Think of software the way you might think of a car: Whether you buy the 2-seater sports model or the 9-seat van depends on your needs; or maybe the best decision is just to keep your 15-year-old sedan.

Your Browser on Acid 3: We've had Web browsers for 15 years now. In the early days, they all displayed pages about the same. But then the various browser companies (particularly Netscape and, later, Microsoft) implemented non-standard functions. A website that looked great in one browser would fail miserably in others. Designers were forced to develop multiple versions of sites, one for each major browser, if they wanted to take advantage of the advanced functions. Things are better now. More browsers comply with the standards. Acid 3 is one test that shows how well (or poorly) browsers comply with the set of standards that Acid tests.

Short Circuits: Two E-mail Addresses: In the old days, some ISPs gave you one e-mail account. If you wanted more, you had to pay extra. But for the past decade or more every ISP I can think of provides at least 3 e-mail accounts. Many offer 5 and some will give you as many as you want. So I find myself wondering why people maintain a single e-mail account for both spouses or even for the whole family. I simply can't imagine doing things this way. And it goes deeper than that.

Will Windows 7 Pull Microsoft Back from the Brink? Back in the days when I thought about investing in stock, Microsoft seemed like a good deal. Microsoft owned the desktop. Microsoft would always be there. Microsoft would always be profitable. Yeah, like the New York Central Railroad, Penn Central, and National Cash Register. Microsoft's stock is down and the prospects are none too bright. They bet the company on Vista, which was not exactly the best received operating system Microsoft has ever released. (Millennium Edition and Microsoft Bob were worse, but Vista is often mentioned in series with Bob and Me.) Will Windows 7 restore the luster?

Intel's "Human Rights" Violated? US law allows a corporation to be a "person". Yes, I know that's nonsense, but that's the law. And now Intel says that the European Commission has violated its "human rights". Excuse me? It was Intel that engaged in crooked activities that caught the attention of the EU's Commission. Even so, Intel has filed a 300-page appeal that claims it was the victim.

July 19, 2009

A Bat Delayed, Filetered, and Still Not Shaken: Have you dashed off a quick e-mail, sent it, and immediately: (a)Realized that you left out something important, (b)Wished that you hadn't sent the message, or (c)Noticed a misspelled word as the application was closing the message and queueing it for delivery? The Bat comes to the rescue with a "delayed send" option and you get to choose the delay: 1 minute, 5 minutes, 23 minutes, 2 hours, 1 day. Whatever. It's your choice. And that's just one small reason why my favorite e-mail program has been The Bat for more than a decade.

If You Call It "Think Free", Shouldn't It Be Free? I'm a bit confused, but this is my normal state. A service called Think Free says that it's better than Google Documents and better than Zoho. It calls itself "free", but then it asks for $40. Or maybe $25. "Free" seems not to equate to $40 or even to $25. Free, at least to my mind, would equate to $0. Maybe I don't quite comprehend the meaning of "free", but if that's the case, the American Heritage Dictionary seems not to grasp the meaning, either, considering "free" to mean "Costing nothing; gratuitous: a free meal". What am I missing?

Two Reasons Chrome Will Be a Winner. Or Maybe a Loser. Ever since Google announced its long-anticipated operating system will be available sometime next year, all the pundits who have been saving up their "10 reasons why Chrome will succeed beyond Google's wildest dreams" stories have started running them. And those who had stories titled "10 reasons why Chrome will fail beyond Microsoft's greatest hopes" have started running them, too. In the past week, I've seen at least a dozen of these stories, including some that come down on both sides of the fence.

Short Circuits: A Twitter, Stolen: Twitter is becoming the poster child for poor security. If something can go wrong at Twitter it will. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the latest problem at Twitter involved the theft of confidential business documents. For example the financial forecast that suggested Twitter's revenues would increase from zero (now) to $140 million by the end of 2010 and to $1.54 billion by 2013. The company also predicted 1 billion users by then.

Apple Tweaks the Palm Pre: Apple is a really nice company that's always going out of its way to help the people who use its products, right? Right, maybe, if you never stray too far from the tree. Apple has just updated Itunes so that the music manager turns a deaf ear to the Palm Pre. Palm designers, apparently thinking that people who owned one of their devices might want to download some of their Itunes music to the device, designed the Pre to work with Itunes. Apple didn't like that.

Netflix Continues to Sail: Most of the rest of the economy remains in the tank, but Netflix is doing OK. Growth is down, but at a time when stability is considered to be growth, real growth is unusual. But should this surprise anyone? When the economy tanks, people stop going to restaurants as much so grocery store sales rise. They stop going to movies as much, so operations such as Netflix increase. That's just the way things work. So at a time when rival Blockbuster is closing stores, Netflix is expanding.

July 12, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Novel: You've decided to write the Great American Novel, but what tool should you use? Some authors swear by a box of #2 pencils and a stack of legal pads. Others use Word or Open Office Writer. And then there's Simon Haynes. When he set out to write the Great American Novel, he knew that it was impossible. For one thing, he's Australian. But beyond that, he didn't like any of the available tools. Because Simon is also a programmer, he wrote his own novel-writing program. And then he did the unthinkable: He started giving it away to anyone who would take it.

Fulfilling "the Internet's unfulfilled promise": That's how Lawrence Eng, a product analyst for Opera Software, describes Opera Unite. What the statement lacks in modesty it makes up in excitement. Unite is the next version of the Opera browser and the browser incorporates file sharing, a chat service, photo and audio sharing, and even a Web server inside the browser. As much as I like the goals set for Unite, though, I'm a bit concerned by some of the security implications.

Registry Mechanic: A Cautionary Tale: Registry Mechanic, as the name implies, is a tool that's used to clean, repair, and compact the Windows Registry. It has a decent reputation and no small number of people who recommend it. But, in part, Registry Mechanic was responsible for turning one of my computers into a temporary doorstop. It's all better now that I've reinstalled the operating system and restored both the applications and the data, but this is a good reminder that even well recommended tools can't always save the day.

Short Circuits: The Google Operating System: Google finally made it official this week. There have been rumors for the better part of a year that Google would release its own operating system. The company now admits that it's working on just such a product and I suspect that this has not been accepted with equanimity in Redmond. Microsoft knows what to fear and "what to fear" is not Apple. Apple's hardware and operating system are demonstrably different from Microsoft's. Some would say "better". I might say "better", but only if I would be allowed to qualify the statement. Google's operating system won't necessarily be better, but it sure sounds like Linux.

Why Can't the Cost of Cars Do This? Every time I buy a hard drive, I do the math. I'm always amazed. The first hard drive I bought was a 5-inch, full-height drive that held 16 MB of data. It was in a separate box the size of a shoe box and a thick cable connected it to the computer. This would have been about 1983 or 1984. The hard drive cost around $1200. $100 in those days had the buying power of nearly $300 today, so in today's dollars, that disk drive would be valued at $3600. A couple of weeks ago, I bought an extra 1.5 TB hard drive for the computer. It cost $120.

Too Many Drive Letters: My desktop computer has 3 internal drives and 2 external drives. I know that the Carbonite backup service won't see the USB drives, but after I installed a 3rd internal hard drive and partitioned it so that the drive would appear as drives M and N, Carbonite didn't see those drives, either. When I asked Carbonite's tech support staff about the problem, the responses indicated that they didn't comprehend the problem, so I contacted Carbonite's CEO, David Friend, who probably is beginning to wish that he had never given me his e-mail address.

July 5, 2009

Firefox's Most Powerful Feature: Thousands of Add-ons: Occasionally I bemoan the fact that Firefox loads at about the same speed that 10W50 motor oil pours when it's 40 degrees below zero. Much of the fault is mine, not Firefox's though, because of the number of add-ons that load with Firefox and the fact that I have turned on update checking. So what makes Firefox slow is also one of the browser's most powerful features. Browsers are changing so fast that it's hard to keep up with the latest features. Mozilla added so many features to the latest version of Firefox (available 30 June 2009) that the version number increased from 3.0 to 3.5 instead of to 3.1, which was the original plan. Internet Explorer 8 is out and is well regarded. Opera 10 is coming soon. Chrome had a recent upgrade. Safari 4 offers major improvements. In my book, Firefox is still the winner.

More New Faces of Fraud: The letter looked legitimate. Granted, it hadn't arrived in a US Postal Service envelope, but it looked like USPS letterhead. And it had been sent presorted first class, not standard mail (the new name for third class). It invited me to become a confidential volunteer to study postal performance. The letter directed me to a website ( and told me that I would earn points that could be redeemed for prizes at over 300 retailers nationwide. I could understand how the USPS might want to know how it's doing, but somehow the letter just didn't seem to ring true.

I've probably received at least 5000 bank fraud notices from the Bank of America, but I don't have a Bank of America account. I do, however, have a Chase account and this week I finally received a phishing spam for Chase.

Short Circuits: Is Twitter the New UPI? Despite every effort, internal and external, to kill it, United Press International (UPI) continues to exist. Those who worked for UPI refer to themselves as "unipressers". UPI was always a scrappy competitor for the Associated Press (AP) and managed to beat the larger AP* with embarrassing regularity. At this point, you may be asking what this has to do with technology. After finishing last week's account of social networking in general and Twitter in particular, it occurred to me that tweets (Twitter posts) can look a lot like unipresser chatter between bureaus (buros).

The RIAA: Still Dead (A Story for Independence Day) In January 2007, I said "The big record labels and the RIAA are dead. They just don't know it yet. Independent artists and small labels are using the Internet to go around the big labels that used to control music. The RIAA continues to fight, but the cause is already lost. Groups such as Chumbawamba openly thumb their collective noses at the old system and new artists such as Vienna Teng (a former Cisco Systems programmer) use the Web to spread the word about her CDs." Since then the Recording Industry Association of America has lost some suits and won others. Suits notwithstanding, the trend continues and long-term it's not good for the RIAA.

June 28, 2009

Tweet! I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat! Do you tweet on Twitter? Is Apple planning to buy Twitter? Why do so many people who sign up for Twitter stop using it after just a few days? Is this just another silly toy for kids? I don't know the answer to the first question. There's a lot of talk about the second, but nothing definitive. For the third question, I have to admit that I have no clue. That leaves number 4 and the answer is a resounding No. Old folks (those above 40) are surprisingly the primary users of Twitter. Hw mch cn u say n 140 chr?

Adding a Hard Drive: Easier Done than Said: It's been a while since I added a hard drive to a computer, but two events conspired recently to convince me that it was time to open the case and install a drive. One of two external Seagate USB hard drives was beginning to show signs of age. This is a 200 GB drive that holds all of my music files and some generic photos and clip art. The second factor was an ad from Micro Center offering a 1.5 TB drive for $120. I spent more time driving to the Micro Center store (about 5 miles from home), buying the drive, and returning to the house than I did installing the drive.

Short Circuits: Beware the "Microsoft" Fraud: What do you do if you receive an official-looking message from Microsoft ( The message tells you that an update has been released for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. It cites a Knowledgebase incident number. It contains a link that says it goes to Microsoft. Click it and you'll be asked if you want to run a program. Run the program and you'll install a backdoor banking Trojan that allows a remote user to access and steal sensitive data. It also gives an intruder remote access to your computer.

Windows 7 for $50 or $100: Pay Now & Receive Later: Microsoft has a deal for you. Buy Windows 7 now and they'll ship it to you in October. They're offering only two versions, $50 Home Premium (not recommended) or $100 Professional (not "Ultimate", but acceptable.) If you have Windows XP and you're satisfied with it, you might be wise to avoid the urge to send Microsoft money. For one thing, you'll have to format the drive, install the operating system, and then reinstall all of your applications. Naturally, you'll need to have all your data backed up, too, but you should be doing that anyway.

Wolfram Alpha, Yet Another Search Engine of Sorts: The folks at Wolfram Alpha say it's not a search engine and they're right. Instead, it's described as an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that will be developed over the coming decades. Currently, it contains more than 10 trillion pieces of data, more than 50,000 types of algorithms and models, and some surprising linguistic capabilities. If you try to use it as a search engine, you'll be disappointed; but if you use it as intended, you'll find information that would be difficult to obtain otherwise.

Thinking About a Job in Bozeman, Montana? Bozeman, about halfway between Billings and Butte probably is not the place most rising stars in municipal governance aspire to work. But Bozeman's city leaders decided that to ensure candidates considered for positions of "public trust" should be subject to a thorough background check. Fair enough. Check the references. Have your police department run a wants and warrants check. Maybe specify a drug test. That should be sufficient. Not for Bozeman, Montana.

June 21, 2009

A Frustrating Variety of Instant Messaging Clients: Some people wouldn't touch instant messaging with a detached keyboard, while others use it almost constantly. In the office, IM can be a quick way to communicate with co-workers or with family members at home or elsewhere. IM fits well into the mix of available means of communication and there's no shortage of IM clients to choose from. Mac users have the widest choice of powerful applications, but there's a powerful IM client that will be right for you regardless of the type of computer you use. But there's also a bit of frustration involved. These days I couldn't get along without it, but I won't use AOL's IM client.

Windows 7 Features: Odds and Ends: Features and bugs. That's what I'll focus on this week. Sometimes one person's feature is another person's bug. That's why programs and operating systems should allow the user to make as many configuration changes as possible. Wordperfect and Corel were early leaders in this regard, but Microsoft caught on and now most features of Microsoft applications and operating systems can be modified. This can make the task of supporting computers difficult because you first need to determine which settings the user has changed. That may at least partially explain a problem I've encountered with UltraEdit, my favorite text editor, and Windows 7.

Microsoft Takes Aim at Google, Hits Yahoo: After just a few weeks of operation, Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, occasionally surpasses Yahoo in daily use. Google is to search as Microsoft is to desktop computers, but Bing could provide strong competition for Google. Together, they might leave Yahoo in the dust. But what about I might use that search engine occasionally, too, but I can never remember its name. Bing is promising, but I'll probably continue to use Google as my default search engine, just as I continued to use AltaVista as my default search engine for a while after Google was released.

Short Circuits: Setting Up a Wireless Router: I've just replaced a $150 wireless router that had previously replaced a $300 wireless router. The $150 replacement for the $300 device improved the speed. The $100 replacement for the $150 router significantly improved the speed. Now my wireless devices are able to keep up with the Internet instead of lagging behind it. So it looks like I should be able to wait a couple of years, buy a $50 device, and get even faster service.

Some Mac Users Continue to Sail on an Egyptian River: Denial is a powerful thing ("The Nile", get it? Wink. Nod. OK, sorry. I'll wipe the smirk off my face now.) Granted that by the nature of the Unix operating system, the Mac's OS X is somewhat more secure than Windows. Granted, too, that profit-minded crooks won't hack the platform with 10 to 15 percent of the market when they can just as easily chase the platform with 80% of the market. But some Mac users seem intent on denying any threat to their computers. And sometimes that attitude seems to stretch all the way to Cupertino. I'll explain why I say that in this week's column and podcast.

June 14, 2009

The Linux in Your Mirror May Be Closer than it Appears: You could be forgiven if you started thinking I've turned into one of those Linux crazies. You've probably encountered them. They're the ones who seem to think that there is only one true operating system and that every other operating system is inefficient, insufficient, inelegant, infantile, indefensible, inert, immaterial, and indolent, that it is inexplicably used only by ignoramuses with infinitesimal brains. In other words, they're insufferable. But sometimes I think they have a point.

Taking Control: Windows 7 Control Panel Functions: The Control Panel is the section of Windows where you can modify the way the computer works. From indexing to security, default applications to fonts, personalization to user access control, and sound to hardware settings, this is the place to go when you want to change something system-wide. The Windows 7 Control Panel has some rough edges (notably, it's sometimes impossible to navigate back to an earlier section after you drill down), but the new arrangement makes it possible to get to a given area by more than one route. This means that the Control Panel has more choices than it needs to have, but it also means that two people who think about a particular control in different ways will each be able to find it without too much trouble.

Short CircuitsL Spammers Canned: If you've noticed a sharp drop in spam starting about a week ago, I may know why. For the past week or so, I've been receiving about 100 spams in my spam filter, which is at least a 90% drop in spam volume. The drop was so large and so fast that I thought something was wrong with the filtering service. As it turns out, the US Federal Trade Commission shut down Pricewert, a big spam operation with ties to organized crime in Eastern Europe.

Burn, Baby, Burn! What happens when a DVD doesn't burn properly? It isn't pretty. And it's not good for the DVD in the tray. I was burning a DVD when the system seemed to be a bit unresponsive. After waiting far too long, I killed the process. When I looked at the DVD, the problem was obvious.

How Many Versions of Windows 7? A few weeks ago, I made a case for 2 versions of Windows 7 instead of the 5 or 6 or 7 versions that Microsoft plans to release. Then I ran across an article by Jason Hiner, editor in chief of Tech Republic. He blew my argument away. Actually, it seems that I didn't go quite far enough. Hiner says Microsoft should offer just one version of Windows. Why didn't I think of that!

Is Your Television Still Working? The switch to digital has finally happened and the converter box coupon program is back in operation. Some people applied for coupons earlier, received them, and then couldn't find converter boxes for sale. The coupons expired. Then they were no longer available. To view television now, you need a digital television set, a converter box and an analog television, or paid service that is delivered by cable or satellite. If you still need a coupon, you can order one or two on line. But you must have the coupon in hand to use it, so you might have to wait a few days.

June 7, 2009

Neat Windows 7 Features: Some of the new Windows 7 features will be dismissed as nothing more than "eye candy" or "attempts to copy the Mac interface". One of the nation's film giants, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) used the slogan "Ars gratia artis", Latin for "art for art's sake". It served them fairly well for decades. Something may be both pretty and useful. As for copying the Mac interface, yes, Microsoft sometimes does that. I wish that Apple had the good sense to copy some of Microsoft's choices, occasionally. Some of the Windows 7 features I'll describe represent art for its own sake. But that doesn't make them useless.

Digital photography costing more? The subject of the question on a discussion list ("Digital photography costing more?") caught my attention. "It started with a trip to the local copy shop. [I]in the corner, unpacked but not operational: a high quality wide bed ink jet printer. It prints up to 72" wide, but the owner said she was only going to 36" wide at first. And the pricing list wasn't ready." That was the background. The question was involved whether this printer would make a mess of images taken by a mere 4 Mpxl camera. This is a complicated question.

Why Won't They EVER Learn? (Microsoft, that is.) A week or so ago, when I was adding a new function to Firefox, I noticed an add-on that I hadn't selected. The Microsoft Net Framework Assistant was enabled and I saw immediately that I could disable it, but I couldn't remove it. Why? How did it get there? What was its purpose? What I found is yet another example of Microsoft's seeming indifference to the fact that I (not Microsoft) own the computer. If they want to install an application on my computer, it seems reasonable for them to ask permission first. But they didn't. They just installed it. And they didn't even bother to tell me what they had done.

Short Circuits: Pre Mature: The Palm Pre goes on sale this week. Some see it as competition for Apple's Iphone. Others see it as competition for Google's G1 phone. In a bet-the-company move, Palm has abandoned its own fading platform to chase Windows applications. The Pre will work only with Sprint, a company I opted out of several years ago because of the horrid customer service. Having said that, I must also admit that everything I've heard about the Pre so far has been positive.

Gates: "Give Away Your Riches": As much as I sometimes criticize Microsoft, I have to credit Bill Gates with the kind of spirit that is missing among so many of the world's richest people. This week, Gates said that billionaires should give away most of their wealth to charitable causes. He says that most would even find they enjoyed the process. Does this make Gates a commie? A socialist? Or just a responsible citizen?

May 31, 2009

Windows 7, A First Look: All the pundits and geeks have started writing about Windows 7, so I decided that I'd better catch up with the pack or risk losing my Geeky Pundit membership card. Shortly before Memorial Day, I had both the time I needed and an available computer, so I installed Windows 7 on a machine that dual-boots Ubuntu Linux. So far, I like the combination. Windows 7 is the easiest version of Windows ever and Ubuntu is one of the easiest Linux distributions. That doesn't mean that Windows 7 is without challenges and annoyances. And the annoyances begin during the process of deciding which version to buy. (The new operating system is expected to be available for sale this fall.) This week I'll start a series of reports to tell you what there is to like and what there is to loathe.

High-End Video for Everyone: I've been putting off a review of Adobe's video applications for several reasons. The most critical of these is that I don't know much about video. I've spent some time in control rooms. I've written a couple of industrial video scripts, shot the video, and then supervised the editing; but that was back in the day when you took the video to a studio and handed it over to the professionals. These days that professional editing suite might be on a PC or a Mac and, instead of costing a quarter of a million dollars, it might set you back no more than $6000 (including the computer). In other words, desktop video production makes it possible for anyone to create high-quality video as long as that person is willing to take the time to learn how to use the tools.

Short Circuits: The Federal Government Finally Takes Cyber Security Seriously: It's relatively easy for someone to gain access to your computer if what you have on your computer is worth the trouble. Stealing your financial information and your identity is fine for the common criminals who run organized crime's bot-nets, but breaking in to corporate or government systems is where it begins to become interesting. So it's good to see that the feds will have a cyber tsar.

AOL To Be Set Adrift from Time Warner: Remember when it seemed that everybody thought the combination of AOL and Time Warner was a good thing? How AOL (who many mistakenly seem to think invented the Internet) would transfigure stodgy old Time Inc. AOL was even listed first on the company's nameplate. But then people wised up and realized that AOL wasn't really the Internet and that the Internet had a lot more to offer than AOL. So now Time Warner has decided to "spin off" (could this be a synonym for "flush"?) AOL. In my opinion, this is an action that is long overdue.

Do You Bing? Well, not yet anyway. Bing ( is Microsoft's new search tool and it's aimed at Google. Do you remember ""? Cuil now indexes 124,426,951,803 web pages (including but it hasn't made a dent in Google's market share. Microsoft's Live Search will be replaced by Bing, but Microsoft is speaking very softly about the new service. Microsoft has not fared so well in battles so far with Google. Google is so ubiquitous that Microsoft’s biggest challenge would seem to be just finding a way to get people to try the new service.

May 24, 2009

Xara Web Designer: Speedy Design with Flair: Since 1981, Xara has been developing groundbreaking graphics applications. The company is located in the UK, but was acquired by Magix AG of Germany in 2007. For $50, you won't find a more powerful, faster, or more versatile web page designer than Xara Web Designer. This isn't the right tool to use for a site with hundreds of pages, but if your goal is to create a high-style site without spending a lot of money, don't overlook Xara Web Designer.

Finding WiFi: Do you have WiFi? If you have a notebook computer, you undoubtedly do. WiFi allows you to use the notebook computer throughout the house. Or in the back yard. But it also makes it possible for you to use the computer when you're in a hotel in New York City, Omaha, or Fargo. That's the thing about WiFi--it's everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere, but a lot of wheres. JiWire graphically displays WiFi locations on a map and differentiates between free locations (libraries, for example) and paid sites (McDonalds's, Starbucks, and such). If you'll be traveling with your notebook computer, check JiWire before you leave.

Neat Utility: Unlocker: Have you ever tried to delete a file only to be told that Windows won't allow you to? The dialog box may tell you that the file is in use, but it probably won't tell you what application is using the file. This is more than a trivial annoyance and Windows 7 will finally resolve the problem. Windows 7 will display a "File in use" dialog if you try to delete a file that's still open in some process, but it will also name the process that has locked the file. In many cases today, you can't find that information and the only solution may be to restart the computer to release all the file locks. There's a better way, and it's free.

Short Circuits: Windows 7 Arrives on My Notebook Computer: I wanted to wait until after a Columbus Computer Society event where I needed a fully operational notebook computer with Adobe and Microsoft applications on it to install Windows 7. From what I had read, I understood that the release candidate version of Windows 7 would not be able to update an existing Windows installation, so I was prepared to format the drive and reinstall everything. When I booted to the installation DVD, the procedure told me that updating Windows XP was available only if the installer was started while Windows was running. I started Windows, then started the installer. It certainly suggested that upgrading would be possible. It wasn't. But I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to live with Windows 7 and maybe even come to like it.

Broadband "Above Average" in the United States: The New York Times carried a report on broadband coverage around the world this week. The report itself was an effort by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and it took into account the number of broadband subscribers per 100 residents (Denmark was at the top with about 37, Mexico was at the bottom with about 7, and the US was a little above average with 36) and price (highest cost is in the Slovak Republic, lowest is in Sweden, and those in the US pay higher than average prices).

May 17, 2009

Macro Express: Lather, Rinse, Repeat: In the 2 years since I first wrote about the magic of Macro Express, Insight Software has been working hard to improve the product. Now that version 4 (also known as Macro Express Pro) has been released, Insight is still selling version 3 in addition to the newer product. In fact, Insight has 2 other applications that also automate tasks. The biggest problem might be figuring out which one is right for you.

Time to Upgrade Your Microsoft Office 2007: At the end of April, Microsoft released service pack 2 for Office 2007. The size of the service pack may suggest the number of changes, improvements, tweaks, and modifications in the package: It's 30 times the size of the original IBM hard drive. That's right, the update is nearly 300MB. If you have anything but a fast connection, the download will take a while. Installation takes 10 minutes or so and requires a reboot. What's in there? In two words, a lot.

Google: Earth, Below, and Beyond: One of the more amazing applications you can install on your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer is Google Earth, and the latest version is even better. Google Earth began life as "Keyhole". The name reminds us of the original military spy satellites from the late 1970s. KH devices. Keyhole came to be in 2001 and Google acquired it 3 years later. Initially, the company was funded in part by Intrinsic Graphics and Sony, in part by the CIA, and in part by venture capitalists. The original Earth Viewer became Google Earth and now Google Earth can take us quickly and silently below oceans or into space.

Short Circuits: Google Goes Missing (But Not Really): I normally maintain several Google sessions in Firefox: The search engine and portal page (with Einstein, quotations, cats, and other features that amuse me); one of my G-mail accounts; and Google Calendar (with links to my calendar, my wife's calendar, both daughters' calendars, a corporate calendar, and a US holidays calendar). On Tuesday, they were all missing, but the problem wasn't Google.

US Businesses Being Forced to Play Fair in Europe: The European Commission, finding that Intel used illegal tactics to shut out Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and keep prices artificially high in Europe, has fined the chip maker nearly $1.5 billion. In addition to paying the fine, the EU says that Intel must halt sales tactics that are illegal.

Talking About Adobe at the Columbus Computer Society: I'll have the opportunity to show some of the features that I've talked about on TechByter Worldwide. In the interest of allowing everyone to get home well before midnight, I'll have to seriously limit the number of features I can show, but I'll try to use your time wisely. There's no admission charge and the program starts at 7pm on May 20th at the Columbus Computer Society, which meets at OCLC, Kilgour Building, 6565 Kilgour Place, Dublin, Ohio.

May 10, 2009

The Tale of Two Linux Upgrades: When you install Linux on your Windows computer, you have several options. The most popular 3 options are: Use WUBI to install Linux in a Windows directory and enable GRUB so that you can select the operating system at boot time, create a new partition and use the GRUB boot loader to pick Windows or Linux when you start the computer, or format the drive and replace Windows with Linux. The first option isn't very threatening because it doesn't make any low-level disk modifications, except for installing GRUB. The second option is considerably more frightening because changing partition sizes on the hard drive is the kind of operation that can fail spectacularly. The third option is downright terrifying because you'll be blowing away the operating system you've come to know, if not love, over the past several years. I use the first method on a notebook computer and the second on the desktop. When it was time to upgrade Ubuntu from 8.10 to 9.04, I thought the notebook computer would be easier. Was I ever wrong!

Internet Explorer 8: Last week Microsoft added Internet Explorer 8 as a "critical" update. It is a critical update, of course, but the question is "Critical to whom?" A case could be made that it's more critical to Microsoft than to you, but I'll leave that up to you to ponder. If you don't want IE8, you can still deselect it from the list of updates to be installed. That's assuming you don't have updates set to be fully automatic. At some point, Microsoft will force the issue. So do you download it now or download it later?

The Most Important Utility You'll Never Pay For: When I had a problem convincing Windows and Ubuntu to cooperate with each other, I ended up reinstalling Ubuntu on a computer where it had previously been installed in a Windows NTFS directory. I wanted the new installation to be placed in its own partition on the hard drive, which was no problem, but I committed an error in giving Ubuntu far too little disk space. By the time I realized what I had done, the partition containing Linux was full and the Linux partitioning application didn't have the space it needed to make modifications. It also couldn't remove the partition. Knowing that it would create a problem, I used the Windows disk manager to eliminate the Linux partitions, but then the computer would no longer boot. I needed to rewrite the disk's master boot record (MBR) and because I had the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, I was back in business about 10 minutes later. The Ultimate Boot CD for Windows is free. All it takes to create one is a bit of your time and careful adherence to the directions.

Short Circuits: World's Dumbest Phish: A Dayton listener named Fred, recently received a message that claimed to be from his Internet service provider. He was amused by the errors and thought I would be, too. Indeed, I am. The phisher wants to frighten the recipient into providing a user name and password for the account. Needless to say, no ISP would ever need to do this. Even if you didn't know that, the message has lots of clues that it's a fake.

Windows 7 Edges Closer to a Computer Near Me: Sometime in June or July, I'll start letting you know what I think of Windows 7. The release candidate is available now for anyone to download—free. It's a 2.5GB download that took about 30 minutes to download and I haven't yet bothered to burn it to a DVD because I'll have to format the drive of the computer I install it on and I can't spare an existing computer until late this month. Reading the warnings that Microsoft has put on the release candidate reminds me of ads for medical breakthroughs: "NoSnorz will eliminate snoring for most people in just 3 days. Possible side effects of NoSnorz include insomnia, increased blood pressure, and the possibility that your head will explode. Do not use NoSnorz while operating heavy machinery, driving, bicycling, walking, or sitting at a desk." So if you're thinking about installing the release candidate of Windows 7 on your primary home or office machine, think again.

May 3, 2009

"These Are the Times that Tax Men's Souls" —Thomas Paine (1773): No, Paine wasn't talking about tax time. He was writing about more serious matters. We're just half a month down the road from tax time and if you were one of the people who had to scramble during the first 3 months of the year just to put your hands on the records you needed to file your federal, state, and local tax returns, maybe you'd like a little help next year. Intuit has been in the business of providing that help for a lot of years. The company's offerings range from a free on-line service that offers a modest amount of control over your finances to more expensive (and expansive) applications that record home and small business finances. Today we have Jim Delfavero, group product manager for Intuit.

Do Your Now or Did You Ever Stac Your Disk? If you remember when hard drives were small and expensive, you may also remember Stac Electronics, a company that made it possible to effectively double the size of the drive. Stacker was available in two configurations, one that was software only and one that included a hardware component. A friend reminded me of Stacker recently, and I started wondering what had happened to the company.

Short Circuits: Google Can See You: Google Public Data is the latest offering from Google. So far, it doesn't amount to much, but there's a huge potential. In short, Google Public Data's goal is to accumulate public data from various government agencies and make it easy to use. When I say that it doesn't amount to much yet, I mean that the only information available is the unemployment rate and population, but you can compare any county in the country to any other county, to the state the county is in (or some other state), or to the nation.

Do You Want the Windows 7 Release Candidate? Everything I've heard tells me that Windows 7 will be a lot better than Vista. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't have a spare machine to load the operating system on. This time around, though, Microsoft is doing something that's highly unusual: The release candidate version (which should virtually identical to the final product) will continue to run until June 1, 2010. So if you install it now, you get to use Windows 7 for free for a year. This is a bit of a gamble on Microsoft's part, but a lot of users will be reluctant to pay for an update after their Vista experience. This may attract some early adopters.

Talking About Adobe at the Columbus Computer Society: I'll have the opportunity to show some of the features that I've talked about on TechByter Worldwide at the Columbus Computer Society's May meeting at OCLC, Kilgour Building, 6565 Kilgour Place, Dublin, Ohio. The meeting starts at 7pm on May 20 and the public is welcome.


April 26, 2009

Why Is the Internet So Slow? A recent story on the BBC reported that Virgin Media will beat British Telecom to the marketplace with 100Mbps broadband speeds. Virgin plans to start rolling out its fiber network next year and will complete the process by 2012. Until then, the Brits will just have to make do with a top speed of 50Mbps. Make do? Every time I begin to feel good about my 6Mbps download speed, I run across a story about a service that's more than 8 times faster than what I have. In Japan, 60Mbps service is available today. And it costs about what I pay for far slower service. Why?

Linux Might Win: If Linux is the Answer, What's the Question? I said last week that Linux won't win the fight for the desktop. I mentioned, among other things, a lack of Linux administrators in the corporate world, fear of the unknown, and a general inability to run Windows applications. During a week of vacation in March, I was able to work for long periods on several days with my primary computer running Linux. I still can't realistically see a time when Linux will be the king of the desktop, but I know for certain that Linux does most of the tasks needed by a large number of computer users. Maybe it's time to take a look at some of the Linux advantages.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing DVD Drives: Sometimes things aren't where you left them. If I leave a cat on the bed, there's a pretty good chance he'll still be there when I return unless he suspects that he might be able to obtain food or catnip. And even then, he'll probably return. I'm fairly good about remembering where I put my glasses or the car keys. Sometimes I do have to call the cell phone to find it. But DVD drives that are installed in a computer should always be there. One day, they weren't. Physically they were there. I could see them, but Windows couldn't. That made using them somewhat difficult.

Short Circuits: Sun Slides Behind an Oracle: Things haven't been so bright for Sun lately. The company that pioneered graphics-intensive terminals has seen basic desktop computers' power increase to the point that machines costing a small fraction of a Sun Workstation could perform virtually the same tasks. IBM considered acquiring Sun, but antitrust concerns got in the way. So now Sun will be acquired by Oracle. I'm still trying to figure out who wins and who loses, so any commentary will have to wait for a later time, but I can talk about the acquisition. Well, maybe just one comment. I'm sorry to see Scott McNealy's company by gobbled up by Larry Ellison's Oracle. Oracle will acquire Sun for $7.4 billion.

Bill Gates is Right! For years, Bill Gates said that Microsoft couldn't continue its record quarter-over-quarter growth. But for years (23 years, if you want to be exact) Microsoft recorded gains. For the first time, sales have dropped year-over-year.

Jaunty Jackalope Hops onto Computers Worldwide: If you're an Ubuntu Linux fan, you already know this. Version 9.04 of Ubuntu Linux was released this week as an update to version 8.10. Canonical released 9.04 on Thursday, April 23, and I'm writing this as the 618MB update is downloading. In all, 10 packages will be removed, 104 will be installed, and 993 will be upgraded. It's all automatic.

April 19, 2009

Talking About Adobe in Newark and Columbus: Although some have accused me of being a professional communicator, I have to plead "not guilty" to that charge. After all, a professional communicator would know enough to start announcing several weeks before hand that he would be speaking at the Licking County Computer Society (April 21) and at the Columbus Computer Society (May 20). The topic will be the same at both locations: Adobe and the Creative Suite 4 collection of applications.

That Was Some Patch Tuesday! The monthly patch Tuesday extended to Wednesday for some people and, in some cases, to Thursday. Fortunately, I got all of my patches in a batch on Wednesday, but I know some people who had to deal with system reboots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If you have automatic updates turned off, now would be a very good time to make your way to Microsoft's Windows Update site because several of the bugs that were squished this week were dangerous zero-day exploits.

Even a Lousy Economy Won't Allow Linux to Win: I'm writing this report in Gedit, an open source text editor, on Linux. The computer Gedit and Linux are running on is my primary production computer, which has both Linux and Windows XP installed. I've said many times that today's Linux (particularly the easy-to-install distributions such as those from Ubuntu) does everything that many users need. It's free. It's easy to install. It updates itself almost automatically. It's generally more secure than Windows. But Linux machines are still just a tiny fraction of desktop systems. Dell sells perhaps 20,000 Linux computers a year. Given today's economy, why aren't these machines flying out of warehouses? I think that I know why.

WiMax: High Speed for Rural Areas (and Cities, too) Occasionally I look back at some of the articles from a few years ago to see if any of my predictions have been accurate. In 2005, I wrote about WiMax. WiMax works somewhat like WiFi, except it covers a radius of several miles instead of just a few feet. Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote about people who must deal with slow, substandard modem service for reasons beyond their control. You might live in a Chicago or New York City apartment building with poor-quality telephone lines. Or you might have the same problem in a rural area.

Short Circuits: Who Has the Best Customer Service? According to Forrester Research, it's Apple. But in this case, "best" is an 80% approval rating. In school, that would be a weak B-minus. Maybe a C. Overall, computer manufactures get about as much respect as used-car salesmen and cell phone companies. No, wait. Cell phone companies figure they're winning if at least 1/3 of their customers wouldn't have them burned at the stake.

TV on Your Computer: Somebody sent me a link last week to a Johnny Carson's bit as the speaker at the funeral of a thesaurus editor. He repeated (reiterated, re-stated, said again) every word. Particularly words dealing with death (kicking the bucket, passing on, pushing up daisies). It was a funny bit and it was on YouTube. Then I noticed Carson's send-up of Walter Cronkite's final broadcast. That was fun, too. But then there was a link to Cronkite's broadcast on January 22, 1972, the day Lyndon B. Johnson died. YouTube could be more than just entertainment.

April 12, 2009

A Vault for Your Passwords: I once read a book on passwords and the author suggested that an astonishingly large number of people use "password" as their password. Some try to obfuscate it a bit with "p455w0rd" or "PaS5w0Rd", but an automated password cracking program will need only a few minutes to discover it. Secure passwords should have at least 16 characters and the characters should be random. The problem with something like "J]fpVfiEy{Muh7Nkz0=b", though is that nobody can remember a monstrosity like that, so it will be written down and taped to the side of the monitor. More security conscious folks might store the slip of paper in the top left drawer, under a notepad. Creating a good password isn't difficult, but no password should be used for more than one function. How many do you have? How can you keep them straight?

Should You Let TestMyPCSecurity Check out Your Computer? I received an offer from Comodo, the company that provides a free firewall that I used until is was improved so much that it became unusable. The offer was a free suite of test tools: "Do you know if your PC is well protected? can tell you. If you're connected to the Internet, it's like an open doorway for hackers to see your online activity. lets you know how secure your computer is." This is the kind of thing that I find intriguing and often useful. Not this time, though.

Short Circuits: America's Most Photo-Friendly Cities: Quick! What's the nation's most photo-friendly city? According to the current Popular Photography magazine, it's Denver. Yeah, that surprised me, too. But what was even more of a surprise is that Columbus, Ohio, is 19th on the list, beating out Houston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, among others.

Conficker: The Story That Won't Go Away: Your computer is most likely not infected with the Conficker worm, although 9 to 15 million computers probably are. Assuming your copy of Windows is legal, you install security updates as Microsoft makes them available, and you have up-to-date protective software, your risk is essentially zero. Still, Conficker has awakened, stretched, and started to see what it can do.

Vandalism Shuts Down Phone Service Near Silicon Valley: If you're looking for something frightening, here it is: Vandals cut 4 inch-thick cables this week south of Silicon Valley and brought portions of 3 counties to a virtual stand still. It took AT&T workers 17 hours to restore service after someone removed a manhole cover, climbed down into a cable vault, and cut the cables.

$388 Million Fine Ordered for Microsoft: Microsoft has lost a patent infringement case and has been ordered to pay anti-piracy software publisher Uniloc $388 million, but says it will appeal the verdict. The trial has been working its way through federal court in Rhode Island for 6 years.

April 5, 2009

Googling Security: What's the cost of using Google? Silly question, isn't it? The search engine is free. Google Earth is free. Gmail is free. Picasa is free. The Google Docs application is free. Google Calendar, Chrome, Blogger, and YouTube, all free. Or are they? Greg Conti, author of the book Googling Security suggest that each of these services has a real cost and that the cost is measured in personal information willingly handed over to Google. It's not that Conti, an assistant professor of computer science at West Point, is anti-Google. He isn't. He uses Google and likes the company, but he's concerned that so many people willingly hand over so much personal information to Google and other on-line services.

Three XP Annoyances Eliminated: The differences between Windows and Linux are stark. One Linux guru described the differences to me this way the other day: "Microsoft assumes users know nothing and binds their hands to keep them from hurting themselves. Linux assumes that users know everything and allows them to do anything." This is a reasonably accurate assessment. Microsoft is a Chevrolet Malibu and Linux is a Formula One race car. General Motors assumes that the user doesn't particularly want to know exactly how everything works and provides a car that insulates the driver. The Formula One race driver is assumed to know how things work, how to fix things when they don't work, and which controls should be left alone. Overall, Microsoft does a good job of placing computer power in the hands of the masses. But sometimes they go a bit too far toward protection. Whenever I set up a Windows computer, there are three actions I take immediately to remove Microsoft's paws from the computer.

One Pill Makes You Larger and One Pill Makes You Small: A few weeks ago, I described finding a video card with a non-functioning fan and two blown capacitors. As I was looking at the card, it occurred to me that capacitors are among the few electronic components that haven't gotten much smaller over the years. Had the problem been with a surface-mount-technology (SMT) resistor, I might not have seen it. And if the problem had been a malfunctioning processor I'm sure that I wouldn't have seen it unless the problem had been so severe that the processor had literally exploded. Capacitors, on the other hand, are large enough that some problems are immediately evident.

Short Circuits: Conficker! End of the (Something) as We Know It! The scares from the TV noise (news?) machine was relentless. We would all die in the cold and dark because of the conficker worm, or so it would seem. In the days after C-day, the noise machine has been remarkably quiet about the subject. The threat is real, but not as dramatic as the TV "journalists" would have you believe. Your computer probably isn't infected and probably was never at risk. But Conficker will be the cause of some problems. Fortunately, we're smart enough to find workarounds.

From Billions to a Few Million: Steve Johnson, writing in the San Jose Mercury News this week, said that Silicon Graphics, once a company valued at many billions of dollars, will be sold for just $25 million. This is the company that was a graphics star, a company that helped to create "Jurassic Park", "Terminator 2", and "Star Wars"; but it was also a company that was forced to seek bankruptcy protection twice in the past three years.

March 29, 2009

The Many Faces of Fraudulent Spam: My e-mail inbox leads a sheltered life. Because I use a challenge-response system that sits on a server in Seattle, it never receives any spam. None. But because I like to see what the fraudsters are up to, I use a couple of mechanisms that sequester all spam in a kind of litter box. Occasionally I'll take a look to see what's in the litter box and pull out some of the larger clumps to examine them. They range from sublime to absurd. Sometimes the spams suffer from thesaurusitis, the same thing that gets high school sophomores in trouble when they seek out elegant variations to common words, make the wrong choice, and write a sentence without sense.

Libraries: High Tech and High Touch: I’ve always liked libraries. From whenever it was that I discovered the boxy little library in Bellefontaine to today, when I’m surrounded by libraries that provide access to books, CDs, DVDs, electronic books, online databases, and more. It’s hard to imagine a world without libraries and I know that I wouldn’t want to live in such a world. This is mainly about central Ohio libraries, but what's true here is true for many libraries in most parts of the country.

A Protocol Languishes and Nobody Seems to Care: On Wednesday of this coming week, it will have been 19 years since RFC 1149 was proposed to ease network traffic and shamefully slow implementation has resulted in virtually no action being taken on what was viewed as an exciting new development in 1990. "RFC" is an initialism for "request for comments". RFCs are what provide guidance for the Internet. For example, RFC 821 describes SMTP, the simple mail transport protocol (67 pages that describe how e-mail should be transported) and RFC 2161, the hyper-text transfer protocol (176 pages that describe the basics of how the Web operates). By contrast, RFC 1149 is just 2 pages long and still it languishes. Why?

Nerdly News: Finding Security by Looking for Vulnerabilities: Find a browser bug and collect $5000. That's the basis of a contest held recently by CanSecWest in Vancouver. CanSecWest is a security conference in, well, the western part of Canada. This was the 10th annual conference and it's billed as "the world's most advanced conference focusing on applied digital security." The conference included a "Pwn2Own" contest. That would be leet-speak for "own to own": If you write an exploit that "owns" the machine, you earn $5000 and you own the laptop computer used for the contest.

Router Botnet: End of the World or No Big Deal? Based on what's been written on some blogs and in the "old media", too, a botnet that takes over some routers spells the end of the Internet as we know it. Drone Blacklist has been on the receiving end of distributed denial-of-service attacks from these corrupted routers and it's the company that announced the presence of the router-borne botnet. Drone isn't particularly concerned about the threat, though, and says that the botnet seems to have been taken out of service.

Podcast Audio Modifications: If you listen to the podcast, you may notice some changes this week. Earlier this year, I added some reverb to the signal. Subtlety has never been a strength for me and I've been told that the settings were too high. I have to agree with that assessment. Starting this week, I've dialed the reverb back considerably so that it will do what it's intended to do: Give some presence to the sound without making it appear that I've fallen down a well.

March 22, 2009

Nigerian Crooks Move South: The fraudsters seem to have moved (or pretended to have moved) to South Africa. But their e-mail comes from Mexico but carries an address in Venezuela. They send an attachment that you need Word to open and then use such garish colors that you'd swear the thing was written by a first grader. Seriously, does anyone fall for these things?

ThumbsPlus 8 Looks Like a Plum: ThumbsPlus is one of those applications that sees use every week as I work on accounts for TechByter Worldwide because it makes the process of creating the small images I use on the page and the larger images that pop up when you click the small image easy. But that's just the beginning. ThumbsPlus has continued to evolve with each new version and even though I usually avoid installing or reviewing beta applications, I'm breaking that rule for ThumbsPlus 8, but I installed it on a notebook computer.

Renaming Your Computer: A listener was having a problem with his computer: "I agree with backing up and purchased a Seagate external hard drive (you recommended). It works fine for the desktop. When I got my laptop, I used '&' in the name (when setting it up) and it will not work because of that. So I need to rename the laptop. But have not been able to find out how to do this. Can you lead me to a link that will explain how to do this." Indeed I can, and I will.

Funny Stuff from the Internet: When dealing with computers, a sense of humor his helpful. E-mail and websites can provide some unintended levity: Google browser + Google Mail = Google error. And an unfortunate ad placement in a story about fraud.

Nerdly News: Time to Visit Adobe's Website: If you have any version of Acrobat installed on your computer, now would be a very good time to visit Adobe's website to obtain an update that patches critical vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader 9, Acrobat 9, and earlier versions of those applications. Unless you have already installed version 9.1 of Acrobat or Reader, you should visit the Adobe website at your earliest opportunity.

April Fool from the Conficker Worm: On April Fools Day, the Conficker worm will do whatever it's supposed to do and several million people will discover what it's supposed to do at the same time. Estimates put the number of infected machines at 12 million. How many owners of those machines have removed the worm isn't known, though. The good news for users in the United States is that most of the infected machines are not located in the United States.

Microsoft Releases IE8: The latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer is now available. Having run the beta version of the browser on 3 computers and having removed it from 3 computers, I'll be waiting a while to install the new version. The problem has probably been fixed by now, but the last beta would routinely just stop responding. It didn't lock the entire computer, but the only way to get the browser to function was to use the Task Manager to kill it and start over.

March 15, 2009

Microsoft Remodels the Mac Office: You would be forgiven for thinking that Office 2008 was a step ahead of Office 2007, but you would be wrong. Office 2008 is essentially Office 2007, except it's the Mac version. I've been spending some time with Office 2008 recently and it's as much of an improvement for the Mac as Office 2007 was for Windows machines. Depending on your point of view, that might be a lot or a little.

The E-Mail Landscape Continues to Change: Recently I was talking about the increasing use of colors, backgrounds, and images in e-mail. This is done with HTML formatting and one of those involved in the discussion brought me up short with the admonition to remember that many people ("particularly geeks and those who have been on the net for a long time") tend to use text-only e-mail programs. So because of this, nobody should use HTML-based e-mail?

A Widget By Any Other Name: In 2005, Apple released the "Tiger" version of OS X introduced widgets, except that they didn't. Widgets were already available on PCs using an application called Konfabulator from Pixoria. Konfabulator also worked on Macs, including those running the antique System 9 software and the cost was just $20. (Keep this in mind the next time you hear a Mac fan complain about Microsoft "stealing" an idea.) In the intervening 4 years, Vista introduced widgets, but that Microsoft called them "gadgets". The "gadgets" were one of the things I liked about Vista and I missed them when I removed Vista and returned to XP. I tried another application that promised a Vista-like sidebar, but the widgets kept wandering around on the screen or disappearing. Then I found that Yahoo had acquired Konfabulator and makes it available for free.

Here's a Really HOT Video! Literally. It happens when you least expect it. You're just typing along, minding your own business, when suddenly, WHAM! The the computer reboots. Not even a blue screen. Black-screen crashes are often the most vexing kinds of problems to solve because they leave so few clues. Fortunately, only a few faults cause this kind of crash. Unfortunately, they're usually expensive to fix.

Nerdly News: Fast Batteries: Battery technology was nearly unchanged for most of a century, but now there's a huge interest in the subject. Phones and computers use lithium-ion batteries, but so do cars. Some manufacturers have batteries that charge in as little as 15 minutes, but these batteries will have shorter lives than batteries that are charged more slowly. What about a battery that charges in 6 seconds? Do you think computer and auto manufacturers would be interested?

Why Won't They Ever Learn? Hitachi has been fined $31 million for price fixing. It's the 4th company to admit fixing prices on LCD displays. The Department of Justice says many of the displays were sold to Dell. Hitachi says it will cooperate with investigators. The displays in question were sold between April Fool's Day in 2001 and the end of March 2004.

March 8, 2009

InDesign and InCopy Play Well Together: InDesign is now about 10 years old. It was a beautiful child, able to set lovely type. But that was about all. Around 2004, it had developed to the point that I was telling clients InDesign was the future. Around that time I met Wil Eisley, the product manager for InDesign, and he commented that the original release was a decent "proof of concept", but not particuarly useful in the real world. At 10, InDesign is still a beautiful child, but now capable of performing some impressive magic tricks.

No, I Would Not Like to Be a Mystery Shopper: The message claimed to be from Garnett Dalton, but the e-mail address was for a "ncertiorari", it was signed by "Michael Bernard", and he said his e-mail address was "friedman519". So before I'd read any of the message, I knew it was a fraud. Of course, the fact that Garnett or Michael was thanking me for my interest in "the Mystery Shopper position" was a pretty good clue, too. I do not like to shop, so it's unlikely that I would apply for a "Mystery Shopper" position. The message had also been marked as spam, but it was Sunday and I was playing in the trash.

Questions and Obfuscations: I receive questions and provide answers. Sometimes the answers actually have something to do with the question that was asked. Occasionally, the answer has the additional bonus of being correct.

Nerdly News: Trust Nothing: You're minding your own business on Facebook (as much as you can mind your own business on Facebook) when suddenly you receive a message. It's an invitation to watch a video. Or an invitation to dinner. Or a notice that one of your friends "has faced some errors when checking your profile." You click the link that's provided and you're told that you must load or update the Adobe Flash plug-in. You click the link to do that. You've just been had.

A is for Apple, and Also for Amazon: Where do you go if you want to buy an electronic book for your Iphone or your Ipod Touch? You could of course go to the Apple store and that is what Apple would like you to do. But as of Wednesday, another choice was available: Amazon. You'll need to download a free application from Amazon, Kindle for Iphone and Ipod Touch, but then you'll have access to 240,000 e-books that sells.

March 1, 2009

Is Your Network Magic? Many years ago, people started buying home computers. Then they bought modems that allowed them to connect to a computer at the office, to someone else's computer, or to a bulletin board system—all at 1200 baud. Then they may have dropped several hundred dollars on a modem that was far faster (2400 baud) and eventually a 9600 baud modem. Later modems were even faster, but by then cable modems were available and people wanted the extra speed so they could take advantage of the Web when it became widely available in the mid 1990s. Eventually people brought more than one computer home to live and they needed a router, maybe a switch or a hub, and possibly even a bridge. Then things started to get complicated: Security and firewalls had to be managed. Network devices had to be shared and protected. IP addresses needed to be assigned. Maybe your head is still spinning because of all this. If so, you need a little magic.

The Changing Landscape of Firewalls: If you're using Windows Vista, this discussion may not apply to you because the Vista firewall is actually a full-fledged firewall, unlike the one provided with Windows XP. Prior to XP, Microsoft did not include any firewall with the operating system. Those who use Vista don't necessarily need to replace the operating system's firewall, but those who want more features than the Vista firewall provides may want to consider one of the third-party free or paid firewalls. You may be surprised by the range of choices you have.

Tracking Down a Machine Killer: Sometimes I need to delete files. Temporary files, for example. I zap the little buggers every now and then because Windows and some Windows applications don't do a very good job of cleaning up after themselves. When I selected 50 or so small temporary files and pressed the Delete key, the Windows Explorer froze. To recover, I had to reboot the computer. Just a Windows anomaly, I thought, and tried the operation again. Windows Explorer froze again, so I knew there was a problem. Finding out what the problem was took nearly a dozen hours over the next several days and it ended up not being definitive.

Nerdly News: Flash Update Aims to Keep Out the Bad Guys: An update to Adobe Flash fixes 5 problems that affect Windows, OS X, and Linux platforms. One of the flaws could allow a PC to be compromised when the user views a Flash file (SWF). Flash is used on millions of Websites and most browsers have the Flash player installed, so it's an attractive target.

Even Old Folks Watch Web Videos: If you think YouTube and such are just for high school and college students, think again. TV ratings company Nielsen says that TV watching was up in the final quarter of 2008. That could be partially related to the economy; when people don't have money, they tend to stay home. But what's a bit surprising is where some of the video was coming from, and who was watching it.

February 22, 2009

Crimeware: Understanding New Attacks and Defenses: Viruses, worms, denial-of-service attacks, keyloggers, screen scrapers, rootkits, spam, phishing, pharming, identity theft, domain squatting, spyware — the list goes on and on. Nearly every week some new exploit, or a new twist on an old exploit seems to crop up. Keeping your information safe is a never ending task as new offenses are developed to keep up with each new defensive move. Crimeware: Understanding New Attacks and Defenses, a book by Markus Jakobsson and Zulfikar Ramzan, may frighten you, but it will also educate you.

I Think There's Something Sleeping in my refrigerator. I know that I should take a look, but I think I'll wait 'till later. Those words are, to the best of my memory, from a song by the Talon Brothers in the late 1960s. And so it is with computers. You might think there's something in there that shouldn't be, but you don't really want to look. Delay might only make things worse and some built-in Windows functions could help you determine if there's something inside the computer that needs your attention.

Nerdly News: Marketing Brilliance or an Absurd Waste of Money? My bet would be on the latter as Microsoft is once again copying Apple. Microsoft will soon open a chain of Microsoft Stores (compare, "Apple Stores"). There's one huge difference: Microsoft doesn't manufacture computers (Apple does) and Microsoft depends on 3rd-party manufacturers who buy the operating system to install on their computers (and who might decide that if Microsoft wants to compete at the retail level, Linux would be a better choice.)

For Mac Users, A New Version of Entourage: Microsoft has released the public beta of a modified version of Entourage. The release version is expected later this year. The changes are all below the surface and, unless you're using an Exchange Server to get your mail, non-existent. For this reason alone, most Microsoft Office 2008 users should not download the beta. I'll explain why.

February 15, 2009

Adobe Illustrates a Point: The CS4 version of Adobe Illustrator finally has what is probably the number one feature that designers have been asking for: The ability to create multiple pages, which Adobe calls "multiple artboards", in a single file. Every other competing program, from Corel Draw to Macromedia Freehand, had this feature years ago and Illustrator, in many ways, was an also-ran in the product category. No more. The Creative Suite 3 saw significant advances in Illustrator and in Creative Suite 4 Adobe turned on the afterburners.

Desperately Seeking Opera: Every time there's a new version of Opera, I download it, install it, marvel at its size, admire it, and then stop using it after a week or so. I always go back to Firefox. And it's not so much about how good Firefox is, but about how extensible it is. A dozen or so add-ons make Firefox exactly what I want it to be. Opera has add-ons, too, but its user base is so small that the number of add-ons is also quite small. Still, I keep Opera on my computer because it's free and because I like the browser's adherence to standards. When others were talking about standards, Opera was developing a browser that actually abided by the standards. Now the other browsers have caught up, but Opera still fills a space in a niche market.

Replacing a Notebook Computer: I have owned two Toshiba notebook computers and one each of several other brands. When it was time to think about replacing my 5-year-old Toshiba Tecra S1 (a loveable workhorse that has never given me any trouble, except for when I ran over it with the Ford Explorer and had to replace the DVD drive.) I had expected to replace this Toshiba with another Toshiba, despite the fact that Toshiba (and most other big-name manufacturers) load up their computers with crap-ware. Removing this stuff is easy enough: Format the drive and reinstall Windows. So that wasn't what stopped me. What stopped me was Windows Vista. I had just removed Vista from my desktop machine and didn't want it on a notebook computer. The big manufacturers have no choice. They must install Vista. Smaller custom builders such as TCR could still buy XP licenses (note the past tense) so I selected a JetBook from TCR.

Nerdly News: Crash! Collisions are a fact of life. Or death. According to Wikipedia, Louis IV of France died in 954 after falling from his horse. Irish scientist Mary Ward died on 31 August 1869 when she fell out of her cousin's steam car and was run over. She is believed to have been the world's first motor vehicle accident victim. History was made this week when the first known space collision was recorded.

Have Vista? Get Win 7 Free. (Maybe.) If you still have questions about the viability of Windows Vista, this should clear them up: If you own a copy of Vista, Microsoft will allow you to upgrade to Windows 7 for free. Windows 7 is scheduled for release in December. According to TechARP, Microsoft will give away Windows 7 to Vista users. That tells the whole story, doesn't it?

Google Earth (Glug, Glug) It used to be that Google Earth would let you fly from here to London, Paris, Beijing, Baghdad, Moscow, or Rio in seconds. If you had a robust computer with a good graphics system and a decent Internet connection, you could fly over the cities and zoom down to see the Kremlin, Tiananmen Square, Trafalgar Square, or the Eiffel Tower. Now Google Earth lets you travel back in time, take a look at planets other than earth, and dive down into the oceans.

February 8, 2009

Making Windows Faster: Vista is pretty, but it's slow unless you throw a lot of hardware at it or strip away all the pretty stuff. In fact, it's slow even after you throw a lot of hardware at it unless you turn off everything that makes Vista Vista. Given that, my recommendation for speeding Vista is to replace it with XP and hope that Microsoft gets Windows 7 right. Early indications are that Windows 7 is Vista Done Right. But even if you have an XP machine, there's probably a lot you can do to make the machine faster. This week, we'll take a look (such as one can take a "look" on a program without visuals.)

E-Mail: What Are Your Options Today? It seems like not long ago, we had a lot of choices for e-mail applications. The same was true for word processors. Now only a few remain. Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Thunderbird, and (for Mac users) Apple Mail. I didn't mention Eudora because it's all but dead. It's still supposed to be released someday as an open source application and a beta version (8.0.0b4) is currently available for download. And I haven't yet mentioned The Bat, which I discovered quite by accident in the 1990s and adopted as my permanent e-mail client in 2000.

The Remnant Bin: Some accounts are too small to stand on their own and not newsworthy enough to be added to Nerdly News. But they might interest you, so the question is what to do with them. I collect them, much like a ball of string or rubber bands. (Which raises the question: Does anyone collect string or rubber bands these days and, if so, why?) When I've collected enough of them, I roll them out for you to see. It's time for a little rolling out.

Nerdly News: Malware! Malware! Google Says It's Everywhere! Last Saturday, I was writing an article about the importance of keeping websites up to date and I wanted to refer to the song "Kansas City" from the musical Oklahoma. I asked Google for Oklahoma musical lyrics and, as expected, Google gave me a page full of references to sites that provide lyrics. But every single site on the first page was shown as being a dangerous place to go. So was every site on the second page. And the third. That was just the beginning.

A Speed Test You Wait Half an Hour For: Google and a couple of non-profit partners are working on a computer diagnostic program. GoogleMLab (Google Measurement Lab) currently offers a speed test, but you may have to wait a bit. Only 3 servers are available and when I tried them on a quiet Sunday morning, the results weren't too encouraging, but there's a good reason.

February 1, 2009

Making a Joyful Noise with Adobe Soundbooth and Adobe Audition: The target audience for Adobe Soundbooth is people who need to work with audio even if they are not audio professionals. For audio professionals, Adobe offers Audition, but Audition has features and functions that will do little more than confuse people who have a limited knowledge of how audio works. What's most surprising, though, is just how much Soundbooth allows an audio novice to accomplish. Be sure to visit the website this week or listen to the podcast, because there's a lot of audio to hear.

Photo Sharing Albums Anyone Can Make Easily: JAlbum has been around for a few years and I've mentioned it a time or two. It's a free download that makes it easy for anyone to create an online photo album they can share. JAlbum even give users a free account with enough storage for a few modest albums. You can rent more space or, if you have your own server, place the images there. And JAlbum will even help you publicize it.

Nerdly News: Did Flight Simulator Crash or Was It Shot Down? Flight Simulator goes back to the very beginning of the personal computer era. Computers were considered IBM PC compatible if they could run Flight Simulator. But now the flight appears to be ending. Microsoft plans to lay off 5000 employees and has already closed ACES Studios, the developer of the Flight Simulator series of games. Flight Simulator is Microsoft's oldest surviving product. The first version shipped in 1982.

Do You Want Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1? The latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer is at release candidate stage. In Microsoft's words, "Internet Explorer 8 RC1 is now platform and feature complete and this is your opportunity to be among the first to try out the new browser before its final release. Install it today and take it for a test drive. We think you'll agree that it's faster, safer, and easier to use than ever." So the question is whether you want to install it or not. This week, I'll have a first look that may help you decide.

January 25, 2009

Backup! Backup! Backup! Probably most computer owners still don't back up their data. But I wonder how many of these people would consider driving without insurance. Protection is important. Long ago, computers didn't need antivirus software, but now it would be foolish not to have it. The same holds true for a firewall and a UPS unit. It's not so much about protecting the hardware but about safeguarding the files you've stored on the machine. So why do many people just whistle in the dark, hope for the best, and forget about backing up? It can't be the cost. And with programs such as Acronis True Image Home and services such as Carbonite, it can't be the complexity. But which should you choose?

An Ode to Digital Photography (and the Personal Computer) One of the reasons backup is so important is that we do so much with computers today, actions that in an earlier time would have created a physical object. Now much of what we create is simply stored on the computer's hard drive. On the penultimate day of 2008, I had a good reason to think about digital photography and the personal computer. I visited the Columbus Zoo to view the holiday light show. We had tried before Christmas, but rain and digital SLR cameras don't mix well, so we went home. On December 30, the temperature was above 40 so shorts and a jacket were the appropriate attire. While at the zoo, I took more nearly 200 pictures and within an hour of arriving at home, I had a slide show on the website with the best 36 images. Try that with film or without a computer!

Nerdly News: Most (But Not All) High Tech Companies are Hurting: First the not hurting: Apple. Sales are up year over year. Apple stock was up more than 5% this week after the company released its sales figures: About 23 million Ipods, for one. And 2.5 million computers, an increase of nearly 10% from a year ago. The stock has been down (on rumors of Steve Jobs being ill) but is now up again as analysts have apparently decided that neither Jobs nor Apple is about to meet a swift demise.

Plasma HDTV is Like a Window: In a world where 1000:1 is a large contrast ratio and 100Hz is a fast refresh rate, LG is promising 2 new plasma HDTVs with astonishing characteristics. The larger of the two, the Xcanvas 50PQ60D, will have a contrast ratio of 1 billion:1 and a 600Hz refresh rate. Both models have built-in USB ports that allow users to play back many file types including WMV and DivX videos.

January 18, 2009

Still Fiddling while the ROM Burns: Now that it's after the first of the year, you may have some video that you'd like to edit or just burn to a ROM. Perhaps you scored a new video camera or maybe you've finally gotten around to starting the project you've been putting off for years: Converting all those VHS, Beta, Hi8, 8mm, and digital video tapes to a format that you'll be able to use in a few years when there are no longer players for those formats. Nero 9 claims to have all the tools you'll need.

Phish and Porn: The message claimed to be from the US Treasury and it wanted to warn me. "On On January 1, 2009 a large-scaled phishing attack started and has been still lasting. A great number of banks and credit unions is affected by this attack and quantity of illegal wire transfers has reached an extremely high level." Can you count the half dozen dead giveaways that this is a hoax?

The Internet Has Fallen and It Can't Get Up: What would happen if a major provider of Internet backbone services suddenly keeled over? Supposedly the Internet is robust and traffic routes its way around problems, but about mid day on Sunday, December 28, 2008, my connections to several websites dropped and could not be re-established. At first, I suspected a nameserver problem at my ISP and was about to call in a trouble report. Additional investigation showed that the problem was not with my ISP.

Nerdly News: Expensive Hard Drives Could Be a Hit: With 160GB laptop hard drives hovering around $100, who in his right mind would spend nearly $1000 to buy a 160GB laptop hard drive, particularly when the buyer must purchase 1000 of them at a time to qualify for that price! As it turns out, quite a few organizations will probably line up to buy these new hard drives from Intel. That's right. Intel. They're solid-state drives (SSD) and Intel is now shipping $950 160GB SSDs with a 2.5-inch form factor. In early 2009, the drives will shrink to 1.8 inches.

The FBI Director as a Spammer: From Clarksburg (which could be West Virginia, Maryland, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, or ...?), Jeff wrote with a copy of a spam that's somewhat similar to the one describe in "Phish and Porn", except this one claimed to be from the "FBI" warning about transactions with the Nigerian government. "I really loved the way they didn't capitalize Bureau or Investigation, their misspelling of government, and their adding a "s" to the word information throughout the e-mail. The topper though, was [FBI Director Robert] Mueller's e-mail address being at hotmail and not a govt. one." That pretty much says it all. But we'll take a look at and thoroughly dissect this piece of rubbish.

January 11, 2009

Dreamweaver CS4: Still the Best Way to Spin Your Web(site): Anyone who's serious about creating a website is probably already using Dreamweaver, whether it's an older version by Macromedia or one of the Creative Suite versions from Adobe. There are competing programs such as Microsoft's Front Page and Adobe's now discontinued GoLive, but there is simply nothing better than Dreamweaver if your intent is to produce a feature-rich, standards-compliant website. The CS4 version brings Dreamweaver users completely into the Adobe camp.

Organize Your Work with Multiple Desktops on a Single Screen: I'm inclined to run applications full screen because that way they have my full attention. I switch constantly from one application to another and a friend in California tells me I'm crazy. I'm beginning to think he's right. Not about the being crazy part, but about running applications at less than full screen. But only if I can have multiple virtual desktops. Microsoft makes a utility that allows users to create up to 4 virtual desktops, but I stopped using it within a few days because it's entirely incompatible with Excel. Programmers in Sweden saved the day, though, with a similar (free) program that allows up to 9 desktops. (And that's far too many.)

What Are They Smoking in Redmond? That's a question I sometimes ask myself when something as simple as a software update goes so miserably wrong that after installing an update more than a dozen times, I'm still being nagged by the operating system to install an update. You'd think that the smart guys and gals at Microsoft would be able to figure this out. You would be wrong.

Where is Your Software From? If you need proof that software development is international, just look at what's on your computer. Much of what's there is from American companies, of course, but you might be surprised to find out how much of the code is written elsewhere. And you probably have some applications on your computer that are products of distant countries.

Nerdly News: Macworld Faces Life After Apple: If you've always wanted to attend Macworld, you'd better act soon. It's too late for this year because the show was held January 4th through the 8th in San Francisco. The show was smaller this year than in the recent past and it's been only a West Coast show for several years. Adobe wasn't at the show this year. Apple won't be at the show next year. But it's been a good run and it outlasted shows such as PC Expo.

A Follow-up Report on TBWW Changes: This isn't exactly news, nerdly or otherwise, but there was enough feedback from the changes introduced last week, that it seemed wise to acknowledge them. Fortunately, most of the responses were positive and only a few pointed out omissions or errors.

January 4, 2009

Don't Lose that Syncing Feeling: No, it's not a blues song from the '60s. Yes, it could be spelled "synching", too; each is acceptable. Now that we have the important topics out of the way, let's take a look at a free application that can keep a safety copy of your most important files in a different directory or on another hard drive. This doesn't take the place of backup, but it's helpful when something unfortunate happens to an important file. Instead of having to restore from a backup drive that may be stored elsewhere, you may be able to retrieve the last known good version of the file from your sync directory.

What's Talking and to Whom? You might be surprised to find out how much chattering your computer does, both internally and with Internet services. According to the utility CurrPorts, AVG Antivirus was maintaining 14 connections on various ports when I checked, Firefox had 6 connections, and Pidgin had 15. And then you might wonder what's happening on all those connections.

Another Year, Another New Format: Every year starting in November, I put on my designer's cap and my graphic-design-professional daughter starts laughing. I doubt that I'll ever design anything as creative and compelling as she would, but I've managed to avoid creating too many designs that are unbearably ugly. So now that it's January, it's time to tell you about the new features and the new look.

Nerdly News: Surprise! Spam Levels Continue to be Depressed: In mid November last year, the upstream providers to a hosting operation called McColo shut off service and immediately cut Internet spam by about half. I had expected levels to bounce back within a week or two. It didn't and it still hasn't. This is definitely not a complaint.

Intel's Speedy New Processors are also Greener: If you have $600 to $1000 to drop on a new CPU (just the CPU; you'll still need a main board, memory, a power supply, one or more hard drives, and a box to put everything in) you'll want to know about Intel's new line of processors. The I7 (or as Intel likes to style it, the "i7") processors bring new speed, even though most people don't need more speed, and other features that people do really need.