Criminals Of The Internet

I am fascinated by the ‘dark side’ of the Internet.  Maybe that’s because I was here (wherever here actually is), back when it all began… or close to it.

How long ago was that?  My first surfing of the Internet was done with a browser (Lynx) that only saw text – no images, much less multimedia content.  I remember sending a  technical comment to Yahoo!.  The person responding (get an actual person to respond today) said he’s pass it along to “Jerry.”  He was talking about  Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder.

The Internet was trustworthy.  In fact, many of the Internet’s biggest weaknesses are caused by the innocence of software coders who didn’t feel it was necessary to verify much of anything because it was a relatively small group of American geeks – mostly affiliated with colleges, universities or the military.

When I send email from home on my account, it comes from servers run by Comcast.  The same mail, sent from work, comes from a server I use at (not the station’s mail server).  I hardly ever use the server assigned to (long story about its dependability).

No one checks to make sure I really am entitled to use  I could use anything as my return address with little fear of getting caught or suffering consequences!

It’s that ability to do what you wish with little scrutiny that has allowed parts of the Internet to become a cesspool.

I am often call upon to fix friend’s computers that have slowed down, as if a computer was a mechanical device that doesn’t run quite as well with age.  Of course the real reason for the slowdown is that they’ve been bogged down by hidden garbage on our trustworthy Internet

I read a long article, Invasion of the Computer Snatchers , in today’s Washington Post that shows how far all this scamming is going.  It’s scary.

Compromised computers are turned into ‘bots.’  It’s the PC equivalent of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

As is so often the case with crime, a few criminals can affect hundreds or thousands of unsuspecting computer owners.  And, since the thieves and scammers are giving away your time or money or convenience, they really don’t care how insidious their actions are.

What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a more concentrated effort to crack down on this crime?  OK – maybe mere individuals don’t have much pull, but Citibank, Bank of America, PayPal and others must.

And, since at some point these transactions must lead to the movement of money – why can’t it be tracked down and stopped?  I just don’t get it.

The Internet has such an incredible promise, which will never come to fruition if the net is allowed to remain the cyber equivalent of Times Square, circa 1975.

More High Tech Comes Home

I am a sucker for high tech. The common term is early adopter. I had a PC in 1978 and was on the Internet in the late 80s (though it wasn’t the graphical World Wide Web we know today). Now, I have a DVR.

DVR stands for Digital Video Recorder. A TIVO is a DVR. They’ve been around for a few years but, as far as I can see, they are poorly understood by most people.

Instead of recording video onto tape, DVR’s record video on a hard drive. The disadvantage is the lack of portability – being able to take a tape from your machine to someone else’s, since there’s no tape to take. The advantage is, since this is more a computer than mechanical device, you can integrate database manipulation into the package. That means a DVR can read a program schedule, allowing you to program thing in an easier fashion.

TIVO takes it one step further. If you show an interest in watching people play poker, for instance, TIVO will start recording poker shows – even without you asking!

Now that I think about it, there’s another disadvantage to DVD – the cost. For TIVO, you pay to buy the box and then pay again with a monthly subscription (or a lifetime fee paid when you buy the TIVO).

That’s what kept me away from a DVR, even though I’ve never heard anything but positive reviews. In fact, last week I spoke to a friend who said TIVO was the best purchase he had ever made. That’s quite an endorsement.

People in my business are petrified by the prospect of DVRs. It will make our programming schedules meaningless. More importantly, skipping commercials is simple, and commercials pay my salary and pay for all the programming on over-the-air TV and much of cable.

Recently, my cable company Comcast, started offering their own DVR for $9.95 a month additional. As it is, we’re already paying about as much a month for cable service as I paid rent for my first apartment! I decided to give it a try.

Comcast has an office near where I work, so I stopped by Thursday afternoon to pick one up. There were two customer service reps and eight subscribers waiting in line. No way I’d have that much time. I left.

Thursday evening, after the early news, I headed back to Comcast. The line was shorter. Before long I was leaving with a Scientific Atlanta 8000 Explorer… but not before someone in line recognized me and asked if I was there to pay because my cable service had been cut off. It’s a thrill a minute.

The DVR replaces my digital able box and it was pretty simple. I swapped the power cord, antenna cable, and the three wires that bring the audio (2 channels) and video to the TV set. Inside the box a disk drive began to spin. My DVD was booting up like the computer it is.

Within two or three minutes it was finished. On my TV screen the Scientific Atlanta logo was replaced by some ratty type inside a box telling me my unit hadn’t been authorized, I couldn’t watch anything, and I should call the toll free Comcast number.

It was after midnight when I got the error screen and found out no one’s working at Comcast on the all night show. This is not to say I didn’t get passed around voice mail hell and actually did speak with a real person. What I found out after working my way through the menus was that he wasn’t in New Haven, and not being here there was nothing he could do.

The preceding paragraph would have been acceptable, except I did call back the next morning to fix the problem and did get it fixed… without human intervention! Why couldn’t that have been done the night before?

I don’t have too much experience yet, and I’m not totally won over, but it’s interesting. The Comcast DVR doesn’t have the intuitive ability to guess my viewing preferences like TIVO does. It is programmed by an online channel guide, which is very easy to operate.

Unlike VCRs, the DVR has multiple tuners and will record two shows and play back another, all at the same time. It gives any TV picture-in-picture capability. Since everything goes through the DVR, you’re always watching it and it’s always recording. That means you can pause live TV!

In order to control all of this, and the TV it’s connected to, the remote control has 53 buttons, including two that are multipurpose (channel and volume). It’s a handful, to say the least.

There are a few problems I’ve noticed so far. The channel guide for programming includes all sorts of channels I don’t get, making a long list even longer. I wanted to go through the list of current movies, but the addition of all these channels made it excruciating. On the other hand, at least five or six movie channels we do get weren’t on the list.

The clock on my unit is about 20 seconds slow. So, my recordings start 20 seconds late.

I haven’t notice it yet, but Helaine complained the tuner switched channels when a recording started. That’s fine for the machine, but Helaine didn’t want to watch the Simpsons.

Since the DVR replaces my old cable box I went to return it the next day. This time it was 10 in line for two reps. I’ll try again Monday.

Blogger’s note: As if it knew, as I was filing this entry, the DVR crashed. It was a quick blue screen full of text and then power off! A few seconds later I was able to revive it, though it took at least 30 seconds to start working.