Two Computer Related Problems

Things are supposed to go smoothly, but they never do. I’ve just suffered through two computer related problems – one taking a full ten hours of time without a solution.

First things first. I notice earlier today that I had only received a few emails all day. Normally, I get 100-200 emails a day, the vast majority of which are spam.

I went to my webhost’s site (not Comcast, my ISP, but hostforweb.com who runs the server you’re getting geofffox.com on and also my mail server) and used their tech support chat. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Fred to tell me something had hung and all mail sent to me (or at least the vast majority of it) had be sent packing.

As best I can tell this had been going on for 24-36 hours. Oh well. There’s really nothing I can do. I’m not sure about he actual bounce message returned, so some might be re-queued and re-sent.

The second problem was much more time consuming and sinister. My friend John has an old Compaq Armada laptop and a pristine copy of Windows 98 from a desktop machine that’s no longer in service. All I had to do was load it up and he’d take it back. This is something I’m glad to do for a friend.

The Armada 1590 is a Pentium 166 laptop that was loaded with Windows 95 and originally came with 16 MB of RAM. Today, that’s a ridiculously small amount of memory. Windows 98 might have run, but it would have run ponderously slow.

I reformatted the hard drive, checked for and installed a BIOS update and then set out to load Windows 98. This is a task I’ve done dozens of times… and never with a problem.

Windows loaded fine, but as soon as I got to the first screen after the installation and the computer began to play it’s little “I’m Ready” music, it locked up tight as could be. It would neither respond to keystrokes or the mouse/touchpad. Rebooting brought me back to the same problem.

I went on Google’s Usenet site which often has great tech support ideas, only to read a series of unhappy Armada owners who tried and never quite got Windows 98 to work.

I reformatted and tried again from scratch. Each time you do that, figure an hour or so until you’re at the first workable screen. I loaded Windows 98 totally at least four times.

After a while, and after staring at those cryptic Microsoft error messages (never had so many words and numbers given so little insight into what’s going wrong), I decided the problem might be with the audio driver on the Windows 98 disk. For some reason it didn’t seem to get along with the hardware which was, after all, designed long before Windows 98. I turned off the audio hardware from the control panel and booted again.

Success – but not for long.

Even a freshly loaded Windows 98 (or XP for that matter) PC needs loads of updates, patches and fixes. The more I downloaded and fixed, the more unstable the laptop became. BSODs (“Blue Screen of Death”) came fast and furiously.

Finally, I got to load DirectX 9. I have no idea what DirectX does, other than to say loading this update into the laptop brought it to its knees! Not only did the laptop crash but the Registry (which tells the computer where and what all the programs on it’s drive are) was now corrupted. Windows 98 was more than glad to restore a prior version of the Registry, which of course brought me back to square one.

I played this game twice.

Finally I called John on the phone and said, “No mas.” OK, actually it was Roberto Duran who said that, and neither John nor I speak Spanish, but you get the point.

Can this laptop be made to play nicely with Windows 98? Maybe. But, is it worth it? Probably not – I’m not really sure – oh who knows. I’m just so frustrated at this point.

The few fleeting moments I did have it running, it seemed reasonably nimble with web browsing. And, in that there’s some Internet wisdom that needs to be shared. This computer is only a Pentium I at 166 MHz. Lots of people throw machines of that speed out as too slow. With enough RAM – and John had boosted the 16 to 82 MB – even a slower Pentium is plenty fast for working the web.

Would I play games with it or edit video or run Photoshop or other high end multimedia programs? Hell no. But, most of what everyone does on the web demands much less horsepower. The laptop I use most is a Pentium II 300 MHz and it kills.

As for John’s laptop, before I attempt any more software loading, I am going to bring it near the sink with the water running full blast and explain what we do to computers that don’t cooperate. That trick always works.

Cable Modem Speed Doubled!

My friend Peter, vacationing in Hawaii, has been bugging me for the past few weeks to test my cable modem speed. Comcast had recently announced speeds would double (back to where they were when @Home closed down – but that’s another story) on cable modem accounts like mine.

I’ve been testing every once in a while. Going to the sites that count bits and seeing that I was pretty much where I had been, about 1.5 mbps downloads. Don’t get me wrong, that’s 70 times faster than what I used to get with my dial-up modem.

Tonight I gave it one more try. First, I unplugged the cable modem and then plugged it back in. The front panel lights started to flash. Even the Test light, which I had never seen lit came to life. After a while the Cable and Test lights started going through some rapid fit-like spurt of activity… and then… back to normal.

I went to the speakeasy speedtest site and gave it a try. To quote Steffie, “Ohmygawd!” In an instant, my download speed had doubled. I now have more bandwidth coming into this house than my TV station has for the entire station.

Click here to take a look at speakeasy’s speed rundown and comparison. This much access. It just boggles the mind.

I Worry About the Internet

I’ve been on the Internet a while. The earliest post of mine that I can find on Usenet is from 1993. Before that I was on Compuserve and The Source (neither interconnected with anything else or each other at the time).

Even that’s not my beginning. In the Commodore 64 days I used to traipse around to BBS systems, downloading programs and trading messages locally.

Over time, I have seen the Internet change, drastically.

Some of those changes are very, very good. I love to read about what’s going on, and every newspaper is online, as is every magazine. A quick search on Google News for Rosie O’Donnell brought over 1,000 current citations. The amount of raw data here is astounding. And, with applications like Google to sort what we’ve got, you can actually find the worthwhile stuff you’re looking for.

Of course, not all that you find is good. I think I mentioned a few weeks back that Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy, said they can’t use the Internet as a source of answers/questions because so much of what’s here is incorrect. And there was Pierre Salinger’s Internet based theory on TWA Flight 800. Still, with a skeptical eye, it is possible to do your best in separating the wheat from the chaff.

The killer app on the Internet seemed to be email. But, I am afraid its effectiveness is rapidly diminishing.

Personally, the amount of spam I receive is astounding. I use an incredible (and totally free) program called Popfile to move my spam to a side directory so I only see it when I’m deleting it ‘en mass’.

Popfile works by actually watching what I do or don’t consider spam. Though spam is recent, the program is based on the work of Rev. Edward Bayes who lived in the 18th century.

It took a few weeks to teach Popfile what I want. Since then, the program has been pretty close to perfect (99.54% accuracy). Unfortunately, unless it is perfect, I still have to take a quick look, lest I allow a falsely categorized spam to be deleted – unread!

Since June 24, 2003, over 60% of my email has been spam.

Actually, it’s a lot worse than that! I have some filters at my server throwing away any messages that come addressed to a few addresses that I once used, but are now only spam magnets. And, since there’s a new method in spamming which includes using your name in the subject, anything that contains “me,” also gets dumped. Those messages never make it to my home computer and I can only guess that it’s throwing away dozens every day.

As unruly as spam is, it pales in comparison to the problems we face with no verification that email is coming from the account that claims to send it. I often send work related email, with my work email address through my geofffox.com mail server. It neither knows or cares. Helaine’s comcast.net mail goes the same way, because it’s easier when we’re on the road. Unfortunately, this is the same method spammers use when the forge the return address on the unsolicited ads you get.

In the past few weeks I have gotten a few ‘phishing’ emails, which look like official letters from PayPal or Comcast or one of any number of companies I do business with. I can recognize a ‘phishing’ email, but I’m never sure when a legit one is legit – and that’s real trouble.

We should be paying bills and ordering merchandise and conducting our affairs online. But even if we can to a limited extent now, how can we in the future? How can we be sure we’re sending mail to the right place or responding to the right website?

It’s time for people much wiser than I to figure out a new method of sending verifiable email. If we must throw out the method we use now – a method formulated by geeks who never thought the Internet would be populated by anyone other than trusted users.

As much as I hate to see this happen, we can no longer operate where mail goes anonymously. I’m not saying your mail should be readable by others, only that the recipient knows it’s from you.

And now there’s more!

Companies have started burying ‘malware’, ‘adware’, and ‘spyware’ in otherwise innocuous programs. Download a program to keep your passwords or set your computer’s clock or any one of a number of simple tasks, and you might have some program popping up ads and watching where you surf while stealing clock cycles from your computer and in some cases making it totally unstable or unusable.

I cleaned out a friend’s computer a few weeks ago and it was like the Black Hole of Calcutta in there. The computer was no longer usable because of all the unwanted operations going on.

This stuff is going to get worse before it gets better. There are two things I can guarantee will happen:

1) Some people will be driven from the Internet as their ability to use it in any meaningful way will be gone.

2) Companies will be forced to make our systems less versatile, more skeptical and closed, in order to keep this stuff of PCs. That will lead to less innovation.

Unless something is done very soon, con men, shysters and crooks will turn this wonderful idea into a cesspool. It’s already on the way.

Broadband – How Broad?

I read an article on c/net earlier today. It’s about broband ISP’s, like Comcast which I use, limiting bandwidth.

The article was interesting in that some customers had been kicked off line, unsubscribed to the service, for violating an unpublished limit which Comcast will not divulge. Just don’t go over it!

What seems to be missing from this article, and what worries me about broadband, is the people selling the service are selling it at their own peril.

Comcast and other cable companies make good money on pay-per-view and premium services. But, with a good broadband connection, there’s a case to be made for getting your premium entertainment directly off the net and eliiminating the middleman (Comcast). Comcast’s profit on PPV and premium channels comes from being the gatekeeper. If they’re bypassed, that’s gone.

A perfect example already exists in sports. Both MLB and the NFL sell Internet packages. Those packages compete with other premium channels available on some cable systems. Comcast gets nothing extra for providing the pipe that brings basbeball to my house. And, I don’t buy games on PPV.

Are the cable companies and/or phone companies the right companies to be our broadband gatekeeprs (After all, even phone companies are now seeing competition from VOIP carriers like Vonage)? Certainly, they have an advantage with much of the infrastructure already in place because of ther more mature businesses.

It’s going to be interesting to see this play out over time. At this point the FCC is not exactly pro-consumer, so I don’t expect outside pressure, yet.

(As part of my retirement portfolio, I own a little Comcast stock)

Am I John Mayer’s stalker?

Click here for more photos from the concert

As of Wednesday morning, I still hadn’t heard from John Mayer’s road manager, Scotty Crowe, as promised. Just a little worried (it is my nature), I sent another email to the management folks and got a reassuring email in return.

By early afternoon there was an upbeat voicemail at work. We were good to go (literally and figuratively). The only surprise was the time. “Meet and greet” is normally a post show event. Not with this show. John would be entertaining at 7:00 PM.

Anticipating Hartford traffic (which we never saw), Steffie and I arrived at The Meadows a bit before 6:00 PM. A line had already begun to form the entrance. People with tickets for the vast expanse of lawn wanted to stake their claim and find a good seat.

Good lawn seating is miles away from the stage. Bad seating is in another time zone.

We hit the “will call” window, looking for our “Meet and Greet” passes. Nada. But, that’s not at all unusual. As it turned out, the clerk was looking in the wrong place, and a turn to the left produced two round adhesive passes and a small Xeroxed set of instructions to the marshaling point.

The gates to The Meadows actually open at 6:30 PM. But the real excitement starts a few minutes earlier as a PA announcement lists what you can and cannot do… can and cannot bring.

Digital cameras were on the forbidden list. I decided to take it anyway and hope for the best. After all, meeting John and having the passes might be enough of a mitigating factor. As it turned out, the ‘frisker’ took a look at he camera, pondered for two seconds, and pronounced it within reason. My guess is, with the lens retracted, he thought it was a non-professional film camera.

My first rock concert was probably 1966 or 1967. I went with my Cousin Michael and Larry Lubetsky to the Village Theater, aka The Fillmore East. We did that often on Friday and Saturday nights. It was pure fun and music (with the Joshua Light Show and the smell of marijuana pungent enough to knock you on your butt).

Things have changed

If there is something that isn’t for sale, or marked with signage, I didn’t see it. I’m surprised a wheelchair company doesn’t sponsor the handicapped ramp.

In the parking lot were four perky post-teens (male and female) wearing red t-shirts. They would be passing out Trojan condoms throughout the evening.

Dodge sponsored this, Comcast that, and Channel 30 something else. Dunkin’ Donuts was passing out Fruit Coolatas, but most everything else was for sale and over priced beyond belief (again, please excuse my naivet´┐Ż. I’m 53 and I’m not in the concert demo anymore).

Considering there is a law in Connecticut preventing a reseller from marking up a concert ticket by too much, you’d think the venue itself would follow that same policy when it came to bottled water or beer or pretzels. They could let you in for free and still make a profit.

A few minutes before 7:00 we met Scotty Crowe. It’s interesting how the Internet can catapult unlikely people into the limelight, and Scotty is one of them. Once I knew I’d be meeting him, I “Googled” him. Not only does he write John Mayer’s Road Journal, he also has some dedicated fans, including a Scotty Crowe bulletin board. Damn!

We went into the hallway that would serve as “Meet and Greet” central, and waited. I tried to make small talk with Scotty, but as is always the case when I do something like that, I came off as a total dork. At least I gave him a good PhotoShop tip (Ctl-L is perfect for enhancing video levels on digital photos).

John came out a few minutes later. I don’t notice these things, but Steffie said he was wearing the same outfit we saw him wear at Oakdale. He’s tall and thin and young and I’m jealous..

After saying hello and posing with the people in front of us, John came over. He was very nice (though after meeting him at KC-101, Oakdale and now here, I can’t help but wonder if he thinks I’m a stalker… or if I actually am a stalker).

As soon as he started to speak to Stefanie, he said, “You’re Stef, right?” I believe that was the magic moment as far as she was concerned. To be remembered by someone in his position, who meets so many people, was very gratifying.

I told John I thought he was smart, and a nice guy. But, I had seen others who had that… and lost it. I told him it was very important he remember to continue to be the kind of person he is now. I seriously think he will. But, as with Scotty a few minutes earlier, I felt like a dork after I said it. I hope he’ll think I was somewhat appropriate.

We had come very early and we found out we would be staying very late. Not only was John Mayer performing, so were the Counting Crows and an opening act before them. There was only so much we could take, so Steffie and I sat outside, people watching, while Stew (or possibly Stu… I wasn’t inside) performed.

We headed inside and found our seats before the Crows hit the stage.

If you have never been to The Meadows (and now that I’ve talked about all the commercialism, you should know, it’s the “ctnow.com Meadows Music Centre). It is a huge, high roofed pavilion with theater seating and a removable rear wall. There is no air conditioning. There are no ceiling fans. It was hot and sticky and uncomfortable.

I had never seen the Counting Crows and I was favorably impressed. Lead singer Adam Duritz, his hair fashioned with somewhat wild dreadlocks, is very talented and (and I always like this in a performance) a commanding presence on stage.

Toward the end of the set, he told a story of going to school in Watertown, CT and flunking a music course. Judging by the description, it is probably The Taft School. A website FAQ confirms it.

The Crows got off after 10:00 PM. The venue had not cooled down. Every once in a while, a brief whisper of air would move by, and you’d think, maybe it’s going to cool down. But the ‘waft’ was short lived; a tease at best.

Not quite 11:00, John Mayer took the stage. As appreciative as the audience was for the Counting Crows, they stepped it up a notch and a half for John. There’s no doubt that a packed house is good for the home team, and he is the home town here.

He is an artist who sounds just like his Cd’s (I wanted to write records, but that would make me very old, wouldn’t it?). That means his artistry is real and not produced into being. Most of the house stood for most of the performance.

He did the hits, and some cuts from the new CD (out in a few weeks) and then a phenomenal guitar solo. As good as he is as a troubadour, John Mayer is a masterful guitarist; as good as I’ve heard

There’s obviously some BB King in his riffs, and probably others I don’t recognize, but mostly it is his ability to make the guitar become its own voice that makes his playing so good. It is my contention that if he weren’t singing, he’d have an amazing career as a guitarist.

At 11:45 PM he said goodnight, only to come back on stage alone to do the first of two encore numbers.

We were out by midnight. As soon as I turned on the car radio, I realized I wasn’t hearing quite as well as I did when I went in! Within ten minutes we had navigated Hartford and gotten onto I-91 southbound.

Though Steffie tried (and she has pre-season field hockey practice tomorrow morning) she had only a few minutes of sleep before we were home.

Great night. I’d do it again.

Click here for more photos from the concert