Monday, July 31, 2006

Reality and Wikiality

I'd be lying if I said I didn't love The Colbert Report. It's become a nightly ritual at my house to watch it ... that and The Daily Show, of course. Tonight was especially hilarious because Stephen Colbert discussed Wikiality as "The W├śRD" tonight.

Basically, he said that if someone wrote about something in Wikipedia, and enough people believed it, it would become reality. Thus, he said that we should go into the article on elephants and say that the number of elephants has tripled in the last six months.

I also noticed that the section on Wikiality in the Wikipedia article changed several times as I wrote this. The article on elephants didn't seem to change, meaning they are, unfortunately, still endangered.

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My DVR ... Do I Watch More or Less TV?

An article today in the New York Times (registration required, but don't forget BugMeNot) says that a study by Mediamark Research shows that households that have DVRs watch less TV than those without. The study was the result of 26,000 interviews with people between 3/2005 and 5/2006. 'Course, this flies in the face of a study from last year that stated DVR owners watched more TV.

Here's what I would say: I know when I am interviewed about viewing habits, or Internet surfing habits, I tend to understate. Some of that is because I'm a bit embarassed about my habits, but some of it is unintentional. I think this is probably true here as well.

I know several people who own DVRs and while we watch less live TV and less ads than before, I have somewhere around 25 Season Passes (this despite only have DirecTivo for about 2 months). I, and the people I know who have DVRs, all watch at least the same amount of TV or ... in my case, more.

Technically, you could say that realistically, there's less surfing involved, so you're cutting down all that extra non-real-viewing time ... but in reality, I watch more of the TV I really want, and less of the junk I don't.

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.Mac Users Say "Everything Does NOT Just Work"

You may recall my earlier post about Apple and it's "It just works" slogan. Obviously my cable modem installer didn't believe that slogan. Well, apparently .Mac users are having the same issues with the slogan, as .Mac appears to just NOT work right now.

"(I) had no issues with any .Mac service before now...I am now suffering from post-traumatic-Windows-type stress symptoms, i.e. nail biting and hair pulling," a user named Allan Bell wrote on the discussion board. "And those new Apple adverts are now starting to irritate me lol. Yes, 'it just works' is looking funnier by the minute...'occasionally' would be more apt lol." Source:

Once again, as before, I have to laugh.

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Don't Forget to BugMeNot

In writing my last post, about the 4-year lifespan of the iPod, I wanted to check out the Chicago Tribune article. Lo and behold, I needed to register for the site, and although I've registered for a lot of news sites, I hadn't registered for this one. It's not really that big a deal, since I use Roboform and it allows me to enter my default information and login easily, but ... even though I could opt-0ut of partner emails, the Tribune would still have the right to email me. Uh, uh.

Some advertisers may prefer to contact you directly. Please check this box if you do not wish to be contacted directly by a non-affiliated advertiser. If you have checked this box, we will not share personally identifiable information provided on this form with non-affiliated advertisers for such purposes. However, we will continue to include you in our e-mail announcements, as explained above. Information is used as described in our privacy policy. Source: Chicago Tribune Registration Page

Nope, I wasn't going to subject myself to more spam. So, I remembered my old favorite ... BugMeNot.

For those that don't know, " was created as a mechanism to quickly bypass the login of web sites that require compulsory registration and/or the collection of personal/demographic information (such as the New York Times)." All you have to do is enter the URL of the site in question ... if someone has generously set up an account and "donated" it to BugMeNot, you don't have to take the time to set up one ... or lose your privacy.

I used a login from the site, and it worked. Of course, many sites actually take the time to "weed out" old accounts they figure out are supplied by BugMeNot, so not all will work. But if you want to get to a site, and you don't want to register ... take a look at BugMeNot.Ads by

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Start Getting Your Money Ready: iPods Only Designed for 4-Year Lives

Makes me wonder if this is "planned obsolescence" or what. Yes, I realize that even if the iPod was designed for a longer life, it will most likely be technologically obsolete long before then, and most people will want to update. I was reading a Chicago Tribune article, which was brought to my attention by a follow-up Macworld UK article. The original article was about the problems that people seem to have with iPods, in terms of reliability. You might remember, for example, the article I wrote at RealTechNews about the nano's seemingly fragile screen. From either of the linked articles:

An Apple spokeswoman, Natalie Kerris, said iPods have a failure rate of less than 5 percent, which she said is "fairly low" compared with other consumer electronics. "The vast majority of our customers are extremely happy with their iPods," she said, adding that an iPod is designed to last four years.

My wife is really against change … if it works, don’t fix (or change) it. So despite any technical obsolescence she won’t change a gadget or electronic device she uses. Thus, the only way to get her iPod updated would most likely be this 4-year life (or me buying her a new iPod as a present).

My problem with short lifespans like this is that you used to be able to buy something, even electronics, and have it last a lot longer than 4 years. Nowadays things are so cheap, also, that it's cheaper to buy a new one than to repair it. For example, I had a VCR fail (despite my PVR I still have uses for a VCR) and it was cheaper to just buy a new one.

People are even throwing away PCs, if they become filled with viruses or spyware or can't boot for some reason (NY Times article, registration required). Do we really want all this stuff in our landfills, with all the toxic chemicals in them? I think things should be built to last, not so you have to replace them (or upgrade, as more likely the manufacturer would like you to do).

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Adventures in PC Rescue: Saved by a Lot of Luck and Lotsa Tools

Remember how difficult it was for me to settle on an imaging tool? I finally settled on Acronis True Image Home, but what saved me Saturday was not an image but other tools I have in my repertoire.

Here's the deal. I needed a larger HD for my work laptop. Well, they asked me if I wanted to image the new HD myself or if they should do it. I was impressed they asked me; like most people I have personal stuff on my HD. So I said, I'd take the new HD and install it myself.

First, I tried to image the old HD. Well, True Image told me there was an error reading part of the HD. I then ran System Mechanic. It said it found and error and scheduled a repair on reboot.

Rebooted. Oh, oh. Black screen. No Windows logo. Big trouble. Panic. AND I had not imaged it yet so if it failed the drive was hosed. I tried Safe Mode. Nope. Then I tried reinstalling Windows XP, but using the "Repair" option when it found the old install. Nope, when it tried to do the first boot after copying files, I got the same black screen.

I tried BartPE, the CD I created to use with True Image. I managed to use CHKDSK and it fixed the MFT ... but still, I couldn't boot. Next I pulled out the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. I tried a ton of stuff on the CD. Nothing. Finally I, in desperation, hoped I could do something with the registry and I tried RegResWiz. I selected the registry version saved on 7/28 (Friday). Crossing my fingers, I booted ... and voila, Windows XP logo.

I thought I was good to go, but when I came back after walking out ... it said it couldn't validate the license. Crud. It was because I had partially started a reinstallation of Windows (remember earlier?). Would continuing (or rather, starting again) the installation work? Crossing my fingers (and my toes this time), I started the repair again.

This time after the file copying part, it booted and started part 2 of the install. Finally, it finished installing. I was concerned things like wi-fi wouldn't work but all the drivers seemed fine.

Of course, running Windows update showed 45 updates to install. Which I did. So I had burned up about 4 hours and STILL hadn't imaged the drive.

I imaged the drive, inserted the new drive (let's not get into how I had to look on the 'net to find instructions for the laptop), imaged the new drive (let's not get into how hard that was), reinserted the old drive, and ran UBCD4Win again to erase the old drive (several times).

Whew. After all that, I updated my UBCD4Win version to 3.0 (I had abandoned it because of how hard the driver installs had become, but the new version fixes all that by putting everything into one install). And, what did I learn?

Every PC, even your work PC, deserves imaging. If I'd had an image I wouldn't have wound up wasting about 6 hours on this process. Hmmm ... it's about time to image my gaming laptop.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

So Why DO I Use a Female Avatar?

Reuters had an article yesterday that I didn't understand. Well, I did understand it, but it really didn't make sense to me. The title of it was "Gamers bend gender for a winning edge." It said that male players choose female avatars because they get more free stuff and help when they play. Huh? One thing I would certainly agree with is that it has nothing to do with transexuality or gender bending.

Kathryn Wright,'s consulting psychologist, earlier this decade found that 60 percent of male players who don female avatars, or on-screen personas, do it to gain an advantage in game play.

Gamers, both male and female, say female avatars confirm what they already knew: Being a pretty girl has its perks. Female avatars are often the center of attention and showered with gifts such as swords or armor by other characters. Source: Reuters

It's gotta be the game I play, because I don't get anything. That's my avatar up there in City of Heroes. Of course, City of Heroes and City of Villains are different types of MMORPGs. Many, if not most, of the players solo in the game. And there's not much to give anyone anyway. No "Swords of Revealing Light" or whatever. I think I've been hit on a couple of times, though.

Anyway, I echoed the sentiments of Jackpot649 from the article. I'm looking at a third-person view of my avatar in City of Heroes. I've tried playing a male character, really. But looking at a muscular butt ... just doesn't do it for me. If I'm going to stare at an avatar's rear for hours, it's gonna be a female one.

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Online Banking Importance Shown as Washington Mutual Site Issues Continue

I've banked at Washington Mutual for over 10 years ... if you include the time that I started with Home Savings and Loan (Washington Mutual purchased them). This isn't the first time Washington Mutual has had a glitch in their online banking system ... for some reason this time I haven't noticed it. I think the reason is previously I was paying many of my monthly bills through their online banking system manually ... many bills like PG&E and other utility bills you can't schedule automatically through the banking website as the amounts change month to month.

However, nowadays most of those recurring bills are paid by having the biller pull the money directly from my banking account (so the setup is made at the biller and not the bank) or by credit card (so I can get my 1 - 1 1/2 cash rebate on my credit card)

Still, this glitch has made me think about how critical online banking and online bill pay is. I haven't written a check for ... I don't know how long. Even when I buy from retailers nowadays I charge almost everything. Unless the store does not accept credit cards I always use one.

Still, the site has been down for 6 days apparently ... for many, it means breaking out the checkbook. I tried logging in and using the Bill Pay system to see, and I was taken to a temporary page. Seems like the workaround should be good enough for most, but the level of complaints goes to show how much online banking, despite protestations to the contrary, has grown.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Cingular IPv6 Issue Resolved

Earlier I wrote about Cingular's issues with IPv6. Well, they have since resolved those issues. This means you are free to inundate your local Cingular stores with your requests for updating your SIMs. Based on speaking to reps I know they will appreciate all the long lines.
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Thursday, July 27, 2006

China Uses Text-Messaging Alerts to Warn Millions About Typhoon

While U.S. government officials debate using cell phone text messaging to replace television and radio as the primary means of emergency alerts, China has leaped ahead of us in this area. As Typhoon Kaemi moved toward China, residents were warned with SMS messages.

In Fujian, authorities have sent 18 million messages known as SMS, for short message service with storm information during five typhoons this year, according to the provincial government. Source: ABC News

Personally, the disasters most likely to hit my area aren't going to have a warning ... earthquakes ... nor do I expect cell towers to be working after a major quake. But in places where tornadoes, storms, tsunamis affect people, I think this might be a great idea. Cell phones are so prevalent that they are affecting pay phone use, and if someone doesn't have a cell phone so many others do that they would most likely get the message anyway.

I think the WARN (Warning, Alert and Response Network) act should get some real attention in Congress.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Watch Tivo, Tivo Watches Me

I love PVRs. I started with a Dish Network PVR and eventually I switched to DirecTV to get the DirecTivo. I loved them both, though I definitely love the more advanced features on the Tivo (like WishLists, Suggestions).

In the time since I've had some sort of PVR, I basically have watched ... probably less than 20% of the commercials I could have watched. Why even that high? I'm probably being generous. There are times when I'm watching live TV (such as sports, or when I really want to watch something live). Other than that I usually only watch when I see a commercial that I'm skipping that catches my interest.

We know that Nielsen is releasing PVR-based ratings. Now Tivo is starting a research division to monitor us commercial-skippers.

The service is based on an analysis of the second-by-second viewing patterns of a nightly sample of 20,000 TiVo users, whose recorders report back to TiVo on
what was watched and when.

On average, TiVo has found that its users spend nearly half of their television time watching programs recorded earlier. And viewers of those recorded shows skip about 70 percent of the commercials, said Todd Juenger, TiVo's vice president for audience research. Source: IHT

So ... I'd like to know a) who these 20,000 are (if they're randomly selected every night), b) if I'm in that list, since there are over 4 million Tivo users. 70% is probably about right since I was thinking I skipped about 80%. I can see why this type of data would be really handy for networks, as most advertisers assume people skip everything in playback mode. If Tivo can provide enough data to the contrary, it would really be a boon to networks trying to sell ads in the PVR era.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Monopoly to Ditch Play Money for Credit Cards

Blasphemy! Instead of faux paper money, new Monopoly games are going to use faux credit cards and an electronic banking system.

Parker Brothers is phasing out the cash-based version's funmoney and replacing it with an "Electronic Banking" flavor that could leave Mr. Moneybags turning his pockets inside out as his stash is replaced by a magnetic strip. New kits are completely devoid of the famous multi-colored bills; instead, you'll find phoney Visa debit cards and a calculator / reader which keeps a running tabulation of your riches -- or lack thereof. Source: enGadget
What's next? Are they going to get rid of the race car and the little dog? Actually, it's a sweet deal for Visa as they created the fake credit cards and the reader ... and you can see the Visa branding on the reader.

The real reason for this is probably that people can't do any math without a calculator any longer. When I was in middle school my math teacher would let anyone out early for recess if they could do a complex ... and I mean complex ... math problem in their head. And now I can do 4 x 4 digit multiplication in my head. Ask a middle school student nowadays to multiply 2 x 2 digits and you'll probably get a blank stare.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Antivirus Protection? For Your Best Protection, Buy a Little Known Product

ZDNet Au has an interesting article called "Why popular antivirus apps 'do not work'". The article posits that apps like Symantec, McAfee, TrendMicro ... the big 3 ... do the worst job of protecting you because virus writers, knowing they are the big sellers, target their malware to bypass these AV products.

"The most popular brands of antivirus on the market… have an 80 percent miss rate… So if you are running these pieces of software, eight out of 10 pieces of malicious code are going to get in," said (Graham) Ingram (the general manager of Australia's Computer Emergency Response Team (AusCERT)).

I'm not sure about that 80% miss rate. I usually watch sites like or Virus Bulletin to check on results of comparisons between products. Nowhere do I see that level of miss rate.

I will admit I have changed from Symantec to McAfee (once Symantec started their activation program, as I won't buy activated software ... except Windows) to NOD32 (when I decided that I didn't like the ActiveX part of McAfee ... plus both Symantec and McAfee are bloated and slow down PCs a lot. As a gamer I want the best performance I can get. NOD32 has a small market share, but it has a very good reputation among its users, almost a cult following. It has a small footprint, very good heuristics and very good scanning speed.

Also, I run BOClean, an anti-Trojan scanner; once again by another small company. Both BOClean and NOD32 have caught malware before it reached my system.

This is the setup I would recommend. A virus scanner, whether a small company or big company ... at least get something. And an anti-Trojan scanner (besides BOClean there is a-squared and TrojanHunter, among others). You can't be too careful.Ads by AdGenta.comTags: , , , ,

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Yahoo Messenger Down ... What an Effect!

It appears Yahoo! Messenger is currently down. I was asking a question at Yahoo! Answers and I saw tons of questions there about ... "I can't connect to Yahoo! Messenger, why?" ... "I can't login", etc. etc.

First, it amazes me that people don't read the other questions! They could have easily seen that the servers were down.

Secondly, it also amazes me how much something like this is affecting people. It's Saturday night guys! Get out and do something! I would except the SF Bay Area is so frigging hot it's ridiculous. The only comfortable place right now is my car with the A/C on ... and I don't want to go to a movie just to get cool.

The PC Industry is Really Hot ... Temperature-wise ...

There's a heatwave going on in the SF Bay Area and right now it's 107 outside. In my office, the only room in the house with A/C, when I came home (I left the A/C on in the office for my dogs to, if they were smart enough, cool off in), it was 85. I decided to turn on the PC and do some game playing. That meant turning on my gaming PC, which is 3 years old and not state of the art. Yet it puts out tons of heat. I can feel the heat rising from it as I type.

So, we came home at 2:30 PM. It's now 6 and it's 91.4 in this room. How could it go up 6 degrees? Well, outside it's gone up from 104 to 107, but it's the PC that's been doing it.

When I turn on my PC, I also turn on a router, a cable modem, a printer, 5 external hard drives, a print server / switch, a Linksys NAS file server, and speakers. And that's just one PC; I have 3 in that room. Just the external drives alone put out tons of heat ... I put my hand on a 250 GB Lacie drive ... I didn't realize how hot the darn thing gets.

So, I turned off the file server, the 5 external drives ... that's really about all I can turn off ... yeah, I guess I could turn off the printer.

Honestly, I was going to get a more state of the art PC but I'm worried about even more heat in this room. And it's so hot right now I'm seriously considering powering down the gaming PC and turning on my really, really old Dell Dimension 8100. And my next gaming PC may in fact be a gaming laptop. No way they put out as much heat as a desktop PC. I'm even thinking of rewiring the house to allow more portable A/C units or maybe getting central A/C.

Finally, don't anyone get me started on global warming. This area was nowhere near this hot when I moved into it 5 years ago. When it starts to affect my gaming, you've hit a nerve. Ads by
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Friday, July 21, 2006

Microsoft Confirms Zune; Watch Out (?) Apple

I've been writing about the Zune both here and at RealTechNews for some time now. Today Microsoft caved in and admitted it exists ... though at their blog they were a bit coy about what it was. "Microsoft’s new, holistic approach to music and entertainment."

After months of speculation, this might qualify as anticlimactic, but Microsoft confirmed today that it plans to come out with a portable media player and related software under the name Zune. The company announced the project through an article in Billboard magazine, an abbreviated version of which is here. Source:

So here's the deal. This is exciting, because it's new. But is it really a threat to Apple? Anything Microsoft does is a threat, but with Apple's large market share and almost cult-like following ... this is more likely to hurt second-tier companies like Creative Labs, at least at first.

Also, is it only me, or does every 1.0 release of anything Microsoft does seem ... well, less than optimal? It usually takes them a while to get it right.

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Online Maps Still Failing Sometimes, Part 2

I wrote earlier about how online mapping services still fail to meet my needs sometimes. Today I thought of a great feature, at least IMHO, that's still missing.

They are doing construction on Interstate 880 in the SF Bay Area right now. It's caused incredible tie-ups. Normally, there's heavy traffic, but right now, it's horrible. I know of an alternate route, but I'm pretty sure it's further distance-wise ... I'd like to see just how much further. Of course, if I try to use a mapping service to get directions, it tells me the most direct route ... the one I want to avoid.

So (are you listening, Google?), what I'd like is a way to draw my own route on a map, and have it tell me the distance. Now that would be a cool feature. That way I could see, is this alternative 10 miles longer, 5 miles, what? Which is why I asked if Google is listening; sounds like something they would latch onto sooner than the others. Ads by

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Cingular Orange Network Does Not Support IPv6

For those who don't know, Cingular Blue is the old AT&T wireless network, and Cingular Orange is the ... well, Cingular Network. The problem is, the Orange network does not support IPv6. And, if you also don't know, Cingular is telling customers with older SIMs to come and and (for free) get a new SIM ... which will use the Orange network. So what's the big deal?

Well, Windows Mobile 2005 devices use IPv6. If a device tries to do a DNS lookup using IPv6 on Cingular Orange, the request will be rejected. There appears to be a 1 - 2 minute delay for this. This hasn't really been noticed before since the push to move to Cingular Orange is just now taking place.

What does this mean? Keep your old Cingular Blue SIMs if you are using Windows Mobile 2005, at least for now.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

No DRM in the Future @ Yahoo! Music?

It's just an experiment, but it's an exciting one. You can buy a personalized version of the new Jessica Simpson song "A Public Affair" at Yahoo! Music. So what? Well, besides the personalization, which means it'll insert your name, the tracks are MP3s ... no DRM. And, as blogged at the Yahoo! Music blog, this is something Yahoo! would love to extend to ... well, everything.

As you know, we’ve been publicly trying to convince record labels that they should be selling MP3s for a while now. Our position is simple: DRM doesn’t add any value for the artist, label (who are selling DRM-free music every day — the Compact Disc), or consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology platform. Source: Y!Music Blog

They go on to say how DRM is costly to implement, etc. etc. And here's something I love to hear: they state how much more valuable un-DRMed content is for consumers.

And it's great to hear that Yahoo! is actively trying to convince music labels to sign on to this concept. It sounds like the idea is to charge more than the going rate for un-DRMed music (99 cents or so) ... "And on the consumer end there is certainly some discount built into that $0.99 download for the fact that you can burn a limited number of times, can’t play it on your Squeezebox, can’t DJ it with your DJ software, and can’t make a movie out of it with iMovie?"

I, for one, would be extremely willing to pay more for music that's un-DRMed. I'd even be willing to pay more for a subscription service, if one of them offered such a thing. And ... this would break me out of my MP3 Player malaise. My wife has an iPod, but as you know she uses it as much for her patients as for her music. Me, I've not wanted to get locked into any particular DRM ... so I've stayed on the sidelines (plus I kinda like listening to NPR rather than music on the way to work). Something like this ... sign me up.Ads by

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Too Many iPod Accessories for Words?

My wife has an iPod, but she has a real use for it. She also has a clever way of telling me she wants something. I had spoken to her about getting an iPod before, but she didn't want it. Then she saw one at school. She mentioned it to me, which I tend to recognize as a hint to me ... Since she needed a recorder to use in her psychology sessions (where's she's the therapist, not the patient, BTW) at school, I used that reason to justify buying one for her.

Her accessories to date include a) a case, b) a voice recorder attachment. That's it, done. I was thinking about this as I read a Newsfactor story about how big the accessory market is. My wife's pretty practical, and she hasn't gone crazy over her iPod.

I did some research, and found some wacky accessories.

Examples: an iPod toilet paper dispenser; the iBuzz music activated sex toy; the black thong case for the iPod nano ... and yes, it's a case, not anything else. Though with the iBuzz around, I have to say I'm glad my wife is practical.
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Swapping "Real" DVDs for Pirated Ones ... What's the Point?

I guess I don't see the point of this. A company based in the eastern city of Nanjing, with the support of the city government, will swap one "real" movie DVD for every three pirated copies that are brought in.

One former seller of pirated products had handed over more than 20,000 discs, the newspaper said. Source: Reuters

So, what is the point of this? Those who don't participate in the program will still be selling their wares at $1 per DVD or less, so anyone participating in this program, I would think, would stand to lose sales unless they continue to sell at that price. I doubt anyone in China really cares if their money buys them a pirated copy or a real one.

In my cynical mindset, I see the point to this as being a way for China to soothe the ruffled feathers of American companies who are upset at all the piracy. "Look at what we're doing!" In reality I just don't see it working.

Of course, this doesn't bother me anywhere near as much as the story I wrote on RealTechNews in April. Warner Home Video has just launched that program in China. I mean, as I said then ... if they can offer it priced that low in China, they can do so here ... they don't because they can get away with it. How fair is that?

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Tags: , , Under Fire for Cockfighting Magazines

Wow, I can't believe Amazon is doing this. I hope the magazines will be removed soon, but right you can you subscribe to cockfighting magazines at The Humane Society has threatened a lawsuit because they say it violates federal law.
The group cited the Animal Welfare Act, which says it is unlawful to use the "mail service or the U.S. Postal Service" to promote "an animal-fighting venture except as performed outside the States of the United States." Source: AP via ABC News
On the other hand, in the same story, Amazon says,
"That's their claim, and we don't agree with their claim, so we're going to continue to make these titles available," spokeswoman Patty Smith said Tuesday. "It's up to the customer to determine what they feel is appropriate for them to purchase."
Hmmm ... last month Amazon pulled a DVD featuring violent pit bull fights after there was a huge public outcry. I'm not sure this won't end up the same way.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

More Zune Info Comes to Light ... Including Pricing

The question is, am I tired of writing about Zune? As you know it's the rumored Microsoft MP3 / gaming / Swiss Army knife of gadgets. Yes, I'm a little tired because every day there's new info, and it's hard to sift through it all. Also, I'm a little worried ... if this doesn't pan out am I going to be embarassed!

More news today ... Digital Music News has a bunch of info, including that "Microsoft is aggressively aiming to capture '20 percent' of the iPod market", "18-28 demographic", and 30GB of storage for $399. They also indicate a November U.S. launch, a Super Bowl ad spot, and a global launch early next year. Cross your fingers.Ads by

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Money for Monitoring Veterans' IDs Withdrawn

If you haven't been in a hole, I'm sure you heard about the theft of a laptop which held the data of 26 million veterans, and its subsequent recovery. The government says that it can tell ... somehow ... that the data was not accessed. Thus, the money that was originally allocated to purchase credit monitoring services for the vets has been withdrawn by the White House.

Rod Portman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), canceled the June request in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon.

The money isn't needed, Portman told the Speaker, because the laptop has been recovered and the FBI has concluded that there was little chance the data on it had been accessed. Source: TechWeb

Of course, "little chance" is not the same as NO chance. As someone who has had his ID stolen twice and a credit card number separately once, I can tell you ... I wouldn't forego credit monitoring, and my info wasn't on that laptop. I personally pay for monitoring for myself and my wife. I could rely on the free yearly report I can get, but I prefer to have constant monitoring, where I am emailed if anything on my credit report changes.

I'm sorry, you (the government) blew it by a) letting that laptop get out of the building with all that info on it, b) not encrypting the data, c) letting it get stolen. You need to take responsibility and pay for protecting the credit of our vets.

It's the Most Secure OS Ever ... This Time for Sure!

That's what Microsoft said its operating system. But it wasn't it's upcoming OS, Vista, but XP ... and we know how well that worked out.

Sidebar: for those who criticize Microsoft OSes for their lack of stability and security ... one thing it has going against it that the MacOS does not is support for an incredible amount of hardware. I don't mean add-on devices like Firewire or USB devices ... I mean add-in cards, motherboards, etc. etc. All this support ... there's plenty of chance for instability.

Security-wise, it's not that OS X does not have its own set of vulnerabilities ... it does ... but if you were targeting a group for malware, would you choose the teeny-tiny market share of OS X or Windows? 'Nuff said.

We now return to the original article ...

Microsoft has said Vista will be its most secure OS ever ... today Symantec expressed some, shall we say, doubt about that statement?

"Microsoft has removed a large body of tried and tested code and replaced it with freshly written code, complete with new corner cases and defects," the researchers wrote in the report, scheduled for publication Tuesday. "This may provide for a more stable networking stack in the long term, but stability will suffer in the short term."

Microsoft commented that Vista is still beta, so the report is at best, premature. Which I would tend to agree with. New code is apt to have new errors, so this isn't really news. It is, however, kinda funny based on Microsoft's multiple assertions about its OSes over the years!

nVidia Graphics on the Next-Gen Video iPod

EETimes is reporting that nVidia has made a big win for itself. It's won a design bid to supply video for the next-generation video iPods, or vPods, due out in the first half of 2007.

"Based on our analysis, we believe Nvidia is designed into the next-generation vPod socket at the expense of Broadcom," said Satya Chillara, author of the report. "We believe the Nvidia chip adds 3D graphics functionality in addition to all of the existing features (such as H.264) that Broadcom supported with the existing vPod."

For that reason and others, the analyst has upgraded Nvidia's shares to a "buy" from a "hold" rating. Source: EETimes

Don't worry, this isn't turning into a stock-market blog. Based on the rumors about Zune, that device is going to be a portable gaming system as well as an MP3 player. Is this an attempt by Apple to add gaming to the iPod? Now that would be sweet.

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Microsoft Buys Winternals, Sysinternals ... There Goes Mark Russinovich as Well ... Noooo!

You may recall that it was Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals who broke the whole Sony DRM story last year. His website, Sysinternals, also publishes a host of freeware, such as Autoruns, Process Explorer, Rootkit Revealer, and a lot more. This software has become a major part of my downloaded freeware, and I even have a separate folder on my backup HD for it!

Well, good news or bad news, Mark is now a technical fellow at Microsoft as MS has purchased both Sysinternals and Winternals. I hope this doesn't mean a) no more Sysinternals freeware, b) that Mark will no longer be able to discover all these holes and issues for us, the user community. On his blog at Sysinternals, he says he will continue to blog, but no comment on the freeware question.

At any rate, I wish him all the best. Microsoft has gotten a great guy!Ads by

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Online Maps Still Failing Sometimes

I haven't used them all, but I've used a lot of them. Mapquest (since it started), MapBlast (now defunct; it takes you to Windows Live Local), Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, etc. etc. When I first started using them, they would be right much of the time, but not all the time. Sometimes you'd end up someplace like across a divided highway with no way to get across the street (and this still happens to me ... it happened in February). But what online maps and directions still can't do ... although they allow you to make a number of optional selections ... is selection the easiest way to get somewhere. For example, getting to work. Since I started at my new job, I've been going one way ... the way Mapquest, Google Maps AND Yahoo! told me to go.

Recently, I found out from a friend who works with me that there's an easier way ... perhaps not as short, but only by a mile or so. Not only is it easier, it gets me there in a way that, during commute hours, has less traffic. So I get there faster as well. I tried it this morning and it was much more convenient. This is something that still doesn't exist ... a checkbox that says "easiest" route. And a way to skew the data to give you info that differs from one time to another time. Now that's what I want to see!Ads by

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Why Does the Zune Need Such a Hefty CPU?

I've been posting about the rumored Microsoft iPod-killer, Zune, quite a bit at RealTechNews. New info from ThinkSecret via 1Up is that the Zune will have a 400-Mhz processor. Now, why would an MP3 player need something that powerful? Previously Wired had posted comments about the Zune (then the Argo) being a portable gaming system. With the Seattle Times previously indicating that the Argo was coming out of the Xbox group, it all starts to fall into place. Still, it's too early to do anything but be tantalized, for now. Ads by
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Gamer Detox Center Opens in Amsterdam

I wrote about this previously at RealTechNews, and now it's open. A detox center for gamers. It's not cheap, at 500 euros (or $640) a day, but it's serious business. People have died from overplaying ... an example is a South Korean who died last year after reportedly playing StarCraft at an Internet cafe for 50 hours. And he was 28 ... can you imagine what it would do to me (and no, I'm not telling my age!).
Addiction expert Keith Bakker hopes the serenity of a 16th century townhouse on one of Amsterdam's canals will coax those snared in the fantasy world of online games back to reality.

It is run by addiction consultants Smith & Jones, who felt there was a need for treatment even though experts are still debating whether excessive game playing is an addiction. Source: Washington Post
If people are dying, yeah, I think it's serious enough to warrant treatment. Personally, my favorite game is City of Heroes, but I have it under control. Yeah, yeah ... hey, did I tell you this weekend there is a double XP event going on!? Heh.
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Verizon Unleashes 50Mbps FIOS Internet

I'm happy enough with my cable modem service, despite some of the problems with the install, but it's nothing compared to this! FiOS Internet customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut can get up to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 10 Mbps upstream. And that's for $89.95. I pay $52.95 for my measly 6Mbps downstream service (since I don't have Comcast cable TV). Heavy sigh.
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Ted Stevens and the Story That Won't Die

I watched the story on The Daily Show last week, and I should have blogged about it then. Good thing, for me, it's the story that won't die. The thing is, if you watch the clip from The Daily Show, you've got to think ... "We elected this guy?".

Fortunately for me, I wasn't one of the ones who elected him. Ted Stevens is a Senator from Alaska, and unfortunately for us, he is chairman of a Senate committee that has jurisdiction over online communications. He's not the only elected official that Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert have shown in a light which makes you wonder if they are senile.

"The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes."


"An Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday; I just got it yesterday."

Aaagh! Want some real fun, check out the video here.

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There's Still Good Stuff in That Command Prompt!

I was looking to do a binary comparison between two files ... I used Beyond Compare to start a comparison, then looked back later and realized it still wasn't done after 30 minutes. Why? It had crashed. The files were big (GBs!), and I figured BC just couldn't handle it. Rather than find a program online I could use as a substitute, I decided to look into CMD ... the command prompt you can still use in Windows XP. I knew there was a file comparison command, FC, that you could use for binary comparisons. I'm from the DOS-age, and I still remember a lot of the older commands. They worked then, and this worked now.

So, don't forget, you can always run CMD (Start, Run, CMD ) and then type HELP ... take a look at all the commands. You might still find something useful there.
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Creating PDF Files without Acrobat

The Tech Report posted an article on 7/13/2006 on how to create PDF files without Acrobat. It's detailed, but I have to wonder why they make you jump through so many hoops, when you can simply download free software at which will do everything The Tech Report wants you to do, but without all the manual labor. Interestingly, The Tech Report wants you to use GhostScript, and a partial version of that is used in PDF995's software. What's the drawback of PDF995's software? You are "subjected" to an ad in your web browser each time you run the programs. That's little to "pay" for such a useful suite, though.Ads by

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cable Modem Install ... Yep, Forgot Something

As you may recall, Comcast installed my cable modem service on 7/10 (switched from DSL). It took me until yesterday to realize that I had a) forgotten to get my default email address and password, and b) forgotten to get instructions on newsgroup usage.

Now, I was able to figure out the newsgroup server name, simply by Googling for it ... but that's when the email address / password was necessary. I needed them to login to the newsgroup server.

So, I tried online tech support @ their support chat site only to find they couldn't give me that information without the order number ... and of course I had already thrown away that paperwork. I had to call 1-800-COMCAST, which I did.

Thirty minutes later I had straightened it out (note that after calling the main Comcast number I had to be transferred to the High-Speed Internet division ... which sounded suspiciously like India, while the main number sounded U.S. ... I had to a) verify the address, b) verify the MAC address on the cable modem (not easy considering where I put it). What a hassle. At least I was able to setup logins at both and

The moral is: don't get excited (like I did) just 'cuz it works. Make a list of everything you need to check and make sure you run through it with the installer ... cuz he probably wants to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Get Your Name on the Firefox Friends Wall

Do you love Firefox? Have you made it your default browser? Then maybe you want to have your name on the Firefox Friends Wall, and displayed in Firefox 2.

The idea is to celebrate World Firefox Day ... you nominate a friend at, and if they download (not install) the software before September 15, 2006, you will both have your names posted on the digital Firefox Friends Wall at Mozilla headquarters (and the FAQ says the wall will also be taken to events). As far as displaying the names within Firefox 2, the exact method hasn't been determined yet.

To nominate a friend, as I said above, go to, fill out the form. You will be sent a confirmation email, and once you click on the link in the email, your friend will be sent an email with a download link. Once they download, there you go. Both your names will appear on the wall and in the software.

If your friend won't download Firefox, you have to go back to the World Firefox Day site and click on the "Remove Your Name" link. Then you can submit another name.

Good luck!

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

IBM Accused of Hacking ...

I saw this story and said ... "Huh?" Legal firm Butera and Andrews filed suit in US District Court against IBM, seeking damages of more than US$60,000. And for what? Bad software? Nope, for hacking into their email system.

The investigation turned up more than 42,000 attempts from over 80 different Internet protocol addresses owned by IBM to acces (sic) the Butera & Andrews e-mail system last year, the complaint said. Source: Security Blog (

For the most part, I find this laughable and wonder why this law firm would bother with this suit. First, IP addresses are spoofed all the time. I think there is a good chance this is what happened.

Alternatively, IF IBM were guilty of corporate espionage, I'd say getting caught, besides the legal implications, would really be negative for their reputation in the tech industry. You would think a technology giant like IBM could do a better job of covering their tracks (heh).

Finally, there is the option that someone at IBM is doing this. The first thought I had was why a person in their employ would do this ... what would he hope to gain? Of course, then I came to my senses. However, I also wondered what responsibility IBM would shoulder if that were the case. Ars Technica has some interesting ideas about this.

In any event, a problem arises if IBM ends up being held legally accountable for the actions of one of its associates. Should that turn out to be the case, a precedent may be set that would open the door for a wide variety of litigation. For instance, what happens if an employee uses company resources to run a spam operation, or access child pornography? What happens if someone does so while connected to the Internet through another network, like AOL or the free wireless at Panera Bread? Source: Ars Technica

I have said before (though not on this blog) that I think our society is far too litigious. IBM has filed for dismissal, but if the judge thinks this case should continue, we might be in for a landmark decision.Ads by

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Microsoft BackPedals on Private Folders

It didn't take Microsoft long to backpedal. You may recall my story earlier in the week about Microsoft's Private Folder freeware ... and how IT administrators were (understandably) up-in-arms about it. Many complaints ensued, and Microsoft has pulled the software.

"Private Folder 1.0 was designed as a benefit for customers running genuine Windows," Microsoft said in a statement to CNET on Friday. "However, we received feedback about concerns around manageability, data recovery and encryption, and based on that feedback, we are removing the application today. This change will take effect shortly." Source:

Interestingly, the retraction above came out yesterday, but I was still able to grab the software this morning. I guess everyone's definitely of "shortly" differs.

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No More Standby Mode for TVs, etc. in the UK?

I saw this story this week, about the U.K. outlawing the use of standby buttons on devices like TVs, DVD players, VCRS, and I thought it was great. However, there have been a few negative postings and it took me a while to figure out why.

The negative postings I've seen about this idea are a bit confused. First, they confuse standby mode on PCs ... which is a lot better than leaving the PC on, really, with standby mode on devices like TVs which, even though you think they're off, aren't really because they have to be "on" in order to respond to a remote control.

Other postings, including comments to the RTN article above (and yes, dear readers, I do post there myself), state that the amount saved is small. Yes, it is ... but think about how much you could save across the world or even across the U.K.

Finally, I doubt they could completely outlaw standby mode. Why? Because remotes would no longer work. At least, the power-on part would no longer work. And how many of us want to get up to turn the TV or whatever on?

I think what they will really end up doing is minimizing the power usage in standby ... for example, this article states most electronics uses 10-15 watts while in standby.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Everything Just Kind of Works With a Mac ... Right

You may recall the current Apple ad campaign, which compares a dweeby-looking guy representing a PC to a hip-looking guy representing a Mac. In one of them, "Network", "that new digital camera from Japan" is represented by a Japanese woman in a minidress. While the PC has trouble talking with the woman, the Mac speaks Japanese because "everything just kind of works with a Mac."

I had an interesting talk with the installer who put in my cable modem service. He looked at my PCs (and let me tell you, I have a lot of them) and asked about them. He had to get a PC, because his digital camera, that used to work with his G4, would not work with his G5 no matter what. He called tech support for both the camera and Apple and got nowhere.

I had to laugh.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Text Message Spam ... As Fast As I Can Activate

My current job requires me to work with a lot of PDA Phones. As such, I'm frequently activating / deactivating them. Sometimes I keep the devices for a while ... other times they are just test accounts. I've noticed two annoying things lately ... getting telemarketing calls right after I activated the phones ... and also text message spam, once again right after activating.

Look at the bitmap above. This phone was full of text message spam the day after I activated it. I hadn't even had a chance to use it for anything! In fact, the phone was being used for battery testing, so I wasn't even actively using it.

It's ridiculous. Thankfully, these aren't being used for anything critical, but I can't believe spammer are getting these numbers (or more likely, randomly generating them) ... I mean, the messages came in right after activation, so they must have been trying them even when the accounts didn't exist. Ugh.
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