How To Crap Up Your Computer


Ever get a toolbar, pop-up ads, or search engine change on your computer and wonder how that happened? It’s easier than you think if you click too quickly!

I’m typing on my recently reloaded laptop, Resetting a computer to its day one state solves a variety of problems. This machine is breezing along.

Unfortunately, reformatting removed the good with the bad. One-by-one I’m reinstalling needed software. I just installed Filezilla.

Filezilla is an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client. It’s used to move files to my web servers. It’s 100% free, licensed under the GPL. However, if you’re not careful, what Filezilla brings makes changes to your computer!

Filezilla comes with a few add-on programs. They’re not part of what I’m trying to download. They’re attached to make some money for the developers and to pay for bandwidth to get the files to me.

You don’t have to install these ancillary programs. In fact, if you think about it, you probably don’t want to install them.

Most people just click through. Too late. Here’s what they’ve agreed to.

“Set MySearchDial as my home page, default search, and as my default new tab.”

The Google entry for “remove MySearchDial from my computer” is long. It’s a question that’s been asked a lot. The MySearch Dial removal process isn’t simple.

Reading the comments from the afflicted is sad. They sound like victims of a drive-by crime.

Of the friends and family tech support calls I get, removing programs like this is the most common request.

Most people think they were hacked. Nope. You gave them permission!

The Penguin And I Are Fighting… Again

You might be wondering why I run Linux if it is sometimes a little difficult to deal with? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s like a geek’s medal of honor.

This will be short. I am not of good spirit. I am fighting with the Penguin–my euphemism for Linux.

Last week I attempted to install a little hardware addition to the Ubuntu Linux computer I use as my desktop at work. It didn’t work and I gave up trying!

Trying to get back to where I’d begun I uninstalled the new software I’d added to the machine. Bad move!

Today when the machine wasn’t working quite right I rebooted only to find the Internet was nowhere to be found! I probably had uninstalled the software that controls Internet access. The only way to reinstall is to go on the Internet to get the files.

Oops! no Internet.

My only simple choice is to reinstall the operating system from the ground up.

I backed up my customized files to a pen drive, burned a disk and am in the midst of watching screen-after-screen of Ubuntu promotion as new bits fill up the hard drive. Before I leave work tonight the machine will be up and running again.

You might be wondering why I run Linux if it is sometimes a little difficult to deal with? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s like a geek’s medal of honor.

Website Gets Thrown Out And Rewritten

The commands are short and powerful. You can accidentally do a lot of damage with Putty!

striped-bkgnd.pngI have learned the pleasure and pain involved in website creation. This is pregnancy and childbirth combined. If nothing else it feels so good when you stop!

I woke up early this afternoon and discussed my design progress with Helaine. The site was just not looking right and I was considering throwing it all away–three full days of work. Unfortunately, it was becoming obvious more work wouldn’t fix my problems.

“I know that’s what you want to do,” she said. She didn’t encourage me to restart, but she didn’t discourage me either.

I bit the bullet and opened Putty, my SSH client. Putty resembles an old school terminal screen–black and white with no graphics. It’s powerful because Putty allows me to control the remote server. The commands are short and powerful. You can accidentally do a lot of damage with Putty!

mv site old_site

With that cryptic command three days of work was moved to the Internet equivalent of a railroad siding. Everything was intact but now out-of-the-way. I then created a new site directory, a new database and reinstalled a fresh copy of WordPress. It didn’t take more than ten minutes to have a fresh website.

Fresh and empty.

Last night I found Mimbo, a WordPress theme. I download a copy and activated it. These website condiments are small and download in a few seconds. Now I had the makings of a website.

Mimbo is touted as a ‘magazine’ theme. It isn’t made for blogging even though WordPress is primarily blogging software. It ‘ages’ entries in various categories independently of each other. It has room for an unbloglike ‘sticky’ entry which will remain prominently displayed even as new content slips beneath it.

Designing a website is conceptual. You need to think about how each piece will relate and interact with all the others. That is the part I was most confident about. It’s good to be naive!

By late afternoon the site was coming together nicely. Mimbo took care of most of my presentation worries. I customized its look. The polka dots at the top of this entry are part of the site’s background. Amazingly the pages look good! My main concern from the previous iteration was gone.

Now I was ready to install the key component of this site–the ability for users to create the content destined for the home page. The plugin didn’t work. It literally did nothing. I poured over forums and the sparse documentation that came with it.

The real shortcoming of free software isn’t how it works but how you learn to use it. Those who write software are seldom adept at telling others how to use it. I suspect a huge percentage of the best stuff in software is never used because no one knows it’s there.

I opened Putty again and made some changes to the inner workings of my web server. It was only a few lines of code–really someone else’s work cut and pasted. Immediately the plugin worked! My submission form was live.

I started to add dummy content to the site. These are entries that contain nonsense text. It looks like English but actually has no real words which might distract you. Online “Lorem generators” provide this stuff!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Duis vulputate elit vel dolor. Vivamus sollicitudin est nec eros vehicula dapibus. Vivamus in lorem. Curabitur at sapien tempor odio hendrerit lacinia. Suspendisse congue risus non justo. Nullam odio turpis, dapibus quis, sollicitudin quis, rutrum sit amet, orci.

It only looks like Latin! It’s gibberish.

Tonight I showed the incomplete site to a few friends. Most seemed suitably impressed.

It’s getting close. The next few dozen steps are cosmetic. Stylesheets will be tweaked. Some underlying HTML code will have to be reworked. In my dreams this doesn’t take long. In reality who knows?

Sometime in the next few days I’ll be asking for your help. In order for this site to go live it will need lots of user generated content. I’ll save the specifics for later.

This is a little one-man-band website. I take that back. It’s a one-woman-band website because it’s my wife’s and she will administer it.

It will not cure cancer. It will not compete with Yahoo! or Google. It has potential.

As If I Knew What I Was Doing

I know my way around the backend of a webserver. Still, I think anyone could have installed this without too much trouble.

Back 25+ years ago while I was hosting PM Magazine/Buffalo I ran into a nice young girl woman producer. She made sure I hit my mark and properly intro’d Captain Carrot and Chef Tell.

Obviously she had her act together because her career has really done well and she’s been responsible for some pretty big TV hits and has some Emmy awards to prove it. Recently she and her business partner split and she decided to take me up on an offer I’d made many times over the years–put up a website for her.

I did a little work this weekend and more last night. The site’s not ready to unveil yet but it’s coming along.

This site is based on MovableType, free blogging software (though useful for more than blogging). I use MT because Peter Sachs who installed it also used it! He put in what he knew–and I’ll always be grateful. For my friend’s new site I decided to try WordPress. Again, this is free software, heavily supported by a very active community.


The website installed in under five minutes. There was some information to fill into forms to get the program to properly speak with the server, but that was fairly painless. I’m not a neophyte. I know my way around the backend of a webserver. Still, I think anyone could have installed this without too much trouble.

What really impressed me with WordPress was the ease of modifying the look.

Hold on. Let me take a step back. What software like WordPress, MovableType, Joomla, Drupal and other do is separate content from look. I can change how this website looks without messing with my entries. Everything should fall right back into place. For web design that’s power.

I was able to take a template and modify it to fit the look I wanted in just a few minutes. I was astounded how easily I was able to accomplish my goal.

My friend’s website is hosted on a plan that costs her $9.99 a month, includes three domains ( would be a domain), unlimited mail addresses and more storage space and bandwidth than she’ll ever use. And since I’m doing my part free, it’s quite a deal.

When I’m done, I’ll post the link. Right now I just want to put out the word, it’s easier than you think.

In Search Of The Use

I just opened a free account with ComVu’s PocketCaster:

With your individual account, you get PocketCaster software for your phone, a Personal Webcast Page to host videos for your viewers, live video broadcasting capability, online video storage, and many options for automatically sharing your video.

In other words, I can broadcast video live (with a delay) directly from my cell phone to any Internet equipped computer worldwide.

I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise. I already upload every piece of video I shout with my cellphone directly to YouTube (in a private, not public, directory) using simple and free software from Shozu.

Where this is different is, if you’re looking at the right web page and I start ‘broadcasting’, you’re going to see it right then and there. It doesn’t make any difference where I am or what’s going on. At the ballgame, at a concert, overloooking the nuclear sub base- it makes no difference. You see it (reasonably close to) live.

The quality isn’t all that great. What I see, coming through at&t’s G3 data network, is pixelated and choppy. However, if it’s a situation where content trumps technical quality, this is perfect.

With this software up and running, I realize more than ever my Samsung Blackjack wasn’t designed to be a video camera! It’s a cellphone with a camera added on as an afterthought. Why else would the screen go blank (as all cell screens do after a while) while I’m shooting video?

For TV stations, this definitely unlocks the ability to have cheap and dirty live coverage for minimal cost. Luckily, the poor quality will keep this from being overused, except where the story itself is compelling.

Anyway, I’ll keep playing with it and let you know if I figure anything out… like how this company plans on making money.

Working For You – Not

I’m not in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention. I wish I was.

It’s a hardware, not content, affair. I was there a few years ago, demonstrating products on behalf of a weather equipment vendor. This broadcasters convention attracts a lot more production companies than TV stations.

Announced at NAB and most interesting to me, without really knowing everything that’s there, are new software suites from Adobe and Microsoft. These are made for posting richly interactive multimedia content on the web. This software facilitates an experience more than a few steps beyond just watching a video on YouTube in a small window.

What concerns me is the deep insertion of DRM, or digital rights management into the output of these products. Producers want the ability to make sure you watch the commercials if you watch their content. Certainly they’re entitled to make money to pay for their troubles.

The problem is, so far DRM has been an invasive add-on. It adds another layer of complexity to the viewing experience. It is software designed for the customer, but not the end user… or at least it has been until now.

I worry because Microsoft’s Silverlight platform requires people watching the content to first download a new plug-in (as you do for Flash, Real, PDF files, etc.). When Microsoft asks me to install free software, I instinctively count my fingers and lock the silverware.

A perfect example of DRM gone wrong shows up in the Sony-BMG DRM debacle. Sony’s audio CDs installed secret software on computers to protect Sony. Unfortunately, the software wreaked havoc with some PCs.

There are rumors Sony’s at it again with DVDs that won’t play in some (even Sony’s own) DVD players.

Maybe, in these rapidly changing days, there’s a better way to include commercial content? Maybe the ‘roadblock commercial’ we’ve accepted for over 50 years needs to change?

In the meantime, my opinion is, Adobe and Microsoft are not working for you.

How Is My DVR doing?

I really wasn’t going to write about this, but a posting’s just gone up on Digg and I figured I’d better update. The Digg story referred to this article on building a homebrew DVR using SageTV software.

Paying $80 for software – that’s so not me.

I have chosen to use KnoppMyth, a Linux distribution based on Knoppix Linux and MythTV. For the un-geeky, “Linux distribution” refers to the operating system software that speaks directly to my computer’s chips. Windows XP is an example of an operating system.

What makes Linux so interesting as an operating system is, it’s free and it’s mainly supported by its own community of users.

MythTV is the actual suite of programs (also free) which turn my computer into a DVR.

What KnoppMyth does is make them play nicely together. Once you stick the KnoppMyth disk into your CD drive, most (not all) of the work has been done.

OK – enough of the technical stuff. How does it work and what have I discovered?

I’m pretty impressed with the quality. I haven’t played much with changing the capture parameters, but the way it’s set up now, recorded shows don’t look any different from what I’d expect to see on a TV screen.

The computer is currently in Steffie’s playroom. I thought it would stay there, but moving the video as packets across my network isn’t quite as simple as I thought. It will probably move into my office, on a shelf under the TV. I’ll unplug the computer monitor and move the video directly into a TV set.

Being able to program the DVR over the Internet is amazing – very powerful. More than once I have scheduled a recording while I was away from home.

Internet programming might be a problem over the long run because Comcast changes my home IP address from time-to-time. Imagine going to work in the morning and having all your stuff moved to a secret location while you’re away.

Also on the list of impressive features is the use of a MySQL database to hold the programming information. Enter a name, title, subject – nearly anything, and the DVR will let you know when something that matches will air. If there’s a conflict, it will even figure out another time to record! That’s very cool.

I recorded a program and wanted it on a DVD. No sweat. MythTV does all the grunt work of setting that up.

The computer I’m using is from the 90s. Its hard drive is large enough to hold 30 hours of high quality video. That should be enough.

One of the advantages of this free software is my ability to play around with it and modify it. I’ve done a little. I plan on doing more.

At some point, this homebuilt DVR will make me cry. All my computer projects do at one time or another. I try and keep it all in perspective, but stuff you throw together on a kitchen table or the floor of a spare room just isn’t the same as what you buy at Circuit City or Best Buy.

I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Why My Website Disappeared Today

In a perfect world (one where no one sends spam and windshield wipers never streak) I would own the server this website is on. It’s really not a big deal. You take a computer – not even a powerful computer – hook it to a fixed IP address, run some free software and voila, you’ve got a website.

It’s that easy. It’s just not that cheap!

A fixed IP address and permission to run a server don’t come with a cable modem. And putting a high speed line in my house would be fun but impractically pricey. I contract with a company in Chicago,

I pay $100 per year to rent the space and the computing power on which this site runs. For $100, the hosting package comes with restrictions. I share the computer I use with others. I don’t know how many others but at least dozens, maybe hundreds.

I have to be a good neighbor to the other websites that live with me. So, I can take some resources, but not enough to slow the others down. It’s only fair. Of course, I never have an exact feel for what I’m using or what they’re allowing.

Earlier today took a look at what this website was doing and realized the process I was running to post weather bulletins (on a day with two active hurricanes and other severe/strong weather) was a resource hog. I didn’t think it would be, but this week in general and today specifically are not the norm.

Here’s one thing does that really upsets me. When they found my server was using too many resources, they just shut me down!

Where my website once lived there was now a note telling anyone who came that there were problems. My mail was shut down too, as was my shell access (the ability to command the server computer from my home computer – or anywhere).

I contact via computer. The tech support person who answered my chat said I needed to send an email. Of course, they had shut down my email!

I called their 800 number. After a few minutes of holding I was told no one could take my call but I should send an email. On my second try I reached someone by phone.

To make a long story short, the process that was causing the problem wasn’t important enough to fight about. I like my hosting, I’m comfortable here. So, I removed one tiny part of the website and they let me back on.

Actually, they had to let me back on first. Without access to the website, I couldn’t do anything to fix it.

Case closed – I hope.