Silly Bill Gates

I want to write to Bill Gates. This has nothing to do with Microsoft.

Recently, Gates was in Ottawa, Canada&#185. As Reuters reports, He was asked about his children and their use of computers.

“She could spend two or three hours a day on this Viva Pinata, because it’s kind of engaging and fun.”

Gates said he and his wife Melinda decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time she needs for homework.

“Up to some age, to be determined, it’s very appropriate for a parent to get a sense of what they’re seeing out there and be able to have conversations about it,” he said.

“My son said, ‘Am I going to have limits like this my whole life?’, and I said, ‘No, when you move away you can set your own screen limits’,” Gates recounted, to audience laughter.”

Bill Gates, you’re so silly. Sure, you’re the richest man in the world, but controlling your children… C’mon Bill, no one’s got that much pull!

I am told, when Steffie was very small, I claimed I’d never say “no” to her. I’d find a way to discuss and explain. I don’t remember saying that, though I don’t deny it.

What was I smoking?

You see Bill, the problem is we teach them to speak. We teach them to reason. They hear us dispute others in our conversations. Somehow, they feel they should have a free mind and free will.

I know, it sounded awfully heavy handed to me too. Why should a 9 or 13 or 19 year old child have any input when I make a decision? And yet, over time, they wear you out. They push and push and push some more until, finally, you are powerless to stop them.

Bill, it’s going to be tougher in your situation, because you’re surrounded by an army of sycophants who only know yes. They will be outweighed by your children who will only know “no.” Unfortunately, Children can’t be fired or outsourced to Bangalore.

Here’s my biggest revelation as a parent. You can’t teach experience! Your child will have to do everything you know is wrong or foolish or against their own best interests, just the way you did. From time-to-time, you will just have to sit back and watch them screw up.

I know you’re still a little naive. I’ve heard you talk about the incredible stability and security of the Windows platform. Fixing children is much more difficult. And this time, you’ve got to do it in “version 1.0”.

&#185 – When I first visited Ottawa in the late 70s, my friend Howard drove by the US Embassy and said, “That’s where the landlord lives.”

Viruses – Never Say Never

Viruses are the scourge of the Internet.

Earlier this week, I told my friend Farrell (always searching for better, more vigorous virus protection) how I use none and had never been hit by a virus!

Oops. Somehow I got two at once!

I turned on my old laptop&#185 when I came home last night and there they were. I’d probably picked them up the night before, but they needed a reboot to activate. They didn’t come via email, because I don’t get mail on that machine. They must have come through Firefox or (more likely) Windows Media Player.

They were both sitting in the system toolbar at the lower right of my screen and one was popping up dialog boxes ever few seconds. The sentence structure hinted of slightly broken English. That was my cue it wasn’t what it claimed to be – a warning from Microsoft that I’d been infected and needed to download protection.

The first of the virii cleaned up with no trouble. In fact, it had an entry in the add/remove programs dialog, as if it were legit. The second wasn’t quite as easy.

I can’t tell you its name except to say its toolbar signature is a red circle with an “X” in the middle.

A little sleuthing turned up some older entries, but none seemed to exactly match my poison. What I caught was probably an adaptation of an earlier virus.

We’re talking about crooks and thieves here. They’re not buying their software at CompUSA.

On the inside, my virus was programmed to hide in plain site, creating a new, randomly named, program each time it ran. Find the virus, stop the program – it creates another.

I found what I think is the ‘seed,’ a program called winstall.exe, as a new entry in my registry. It was scheduled to run each time the computer rebooted.

I did some manual pruning, removing a line from the registry, then allowed AOL’s new virus scanner&#178 (actually the very highly rated Kaspersky anti-virus) do its thing. As is my custom in these cases, I ran it in ‘safe mode,’ then ran it again.

I’ll keep an eye on the little laptop to make sure it hasn’t been permanently compromised. I’ve heard of cases where the virus goes dormant for a while only to return when your defenses are down.

I’d hate to have my computer responsible for sending out thousands of spam emails (as compromised computers often do) or interrupting my surfing with pop-up messages.

I’m upset I allowed this to happen to me! I’m supposed to be the guy who fixes other people’s computers and then, disapprovingly, shakes my head.

It wasn’t a virus as much as it was an injection of humility.

&#185 – This is a really old machine – a Dell PII 300 laptop with 256 mb RAM. It is ploddingly slow for many things, but easily handles web surfing and poker while I’m in the family room.

&#178 – AOL’s virus scanner is free, and you don’t have to join AOL to get it. I suppose its in their best interest to clean up the Internet as best they can.

How Do You Deal With It?

I like Noah Finz, our sports guy at the TV station. I like his wife, Kendra, too. I’ve known her a lot longer than I’ve known Noah. They are both technophobes.

Actually, being a little skittish in the face of technology puts them in step with most everyone, which leads me to what happened today.

Noah’s laptop was old. He wanted to upgrade to faster hardware, especially with a two year old, infant and very nice camera for picture taking.

Most people would have unplugged the old machine, plugged in the new and then forgotten what was left on the laptop. Sure, they’re networked together, but how many people know how that works? Few!

I popped in the car and headed to Fairfield County.

His Dell desktop machine was the most quiet PC I’ve ever heard – startling, since the trend has been in the opposite direction. It needed a Firewire and wireless network card. No sweat, except it only had two slots, one of which was already filled by a dial-up modem.

“Put this away,” I told Noah as I handed it to him in an anti-static bag. Truthfully, it will never be used.

The Firewire card was effortlessly installed suing native Windows drivers. The wireless card was more trouble. It didn’t conform to Belkin’s instructions!

It finally installed because I ad libbed. How do they sell and support these things when the installation process isn’t remotely connected to what’s in the instructions?

As with Helaine’s computer, this Dell came loaded with ‘nagware.’ I don’t want programs bugging me. Some are difficult to remove. Others are confusingly described. Most have limited lifespans, meaning you’re later expected to shell out more money for the software that came on your PC!

Hats off to Cablevision, Noah’s ISP. Their Optonline cable modem service has an automated configuration tool which set up Outlook Express correctly on the first try.

We installed Picasa, MS Office, the new free AOL anti-virus suite and a few others. Then it was time to move photos and documents. I couldn’t get his computers to speak to each other. I have no idea why, nor do I know how I finally encouraged them to have limited access to each other.

It just happened.

You never accomplish 100% on a mission of mercy like this, but we came close. Again, I have no idea how Noah or Kendra could have done this themselves, and they can’t be alone.

What do most people do? Or do people like me just drive around on weekends helping out and playing with little kids – they couldn’t have been cuter.

My Biggest Computer Repair Secret

I have no virus protection on my PCs at home. Pretty scary huh?

Actually, no. I’ve had a few minor run-ins, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed pretty quickly. Not using Internet Explorer, instead browsing the web with Firefox gives me minor protection, but that’s not the real answer.

The fact that lots of my friends have been infected implies the problem is more than just being susceptible. There is a certain innocence in the operator that adds to the threat.

Every friend whose every been infected has had virus software on board! Every single one. Sometimes it wasn’t activated, but it was there.

As far as I’m concerned, anti-virus software is nearly worthless. Test after test shows most viruses are released into the wild before anti-virus software has been updated. AV software is most valuable after the fact, when you’re trying to disinfect.

When friends call, there is one thing I always suggest first: Restore. This might be the best feature in Windows XP, though it is little known outside the geek community.

Windows XP’s Restore function turns back the clock on your PC. Any mail, saved data files and downloads remain. Any programs installed or changes to the registry (Windows’ index) disappear, though the files that could reinfect you do remain lurking on the hard drive.

If you’ve installed something awful, most likely it will become inert!

Restore is found by clicking the Start button and then finding your way to Help. It’s hidden in plain sight. That last sentence comes from experience. Everyone’s first reaction is, “I don’t see it here.”

Oh, one more thing. After restoring is complete, I do suggest at least one ‘scouring’ by an anti-virus program to clean out the junk.

Right now (and this changes) my favorite is from AOL… really. AOL’s Active Virus Shield is a rebranded version of the top rated Kaspersky program, but it’s free.

I guess even AOL realizes less of this garbage is good for everyone and will save them money in the long run.

Stretching The Internet

“AFL players have the best hair.” That’s a direct quote from Helen Razer who is hosting the overnight talk show from the Australian Broadcasting Company. AFL, in this case, refers to the Australian Football League.

I’m listening to their station in Darwin, Northern Territory, but at this hour of the morning (it’s past 3:00 AM in most of Australia), the broadcast might be coming from anywhere. Helen keeps referring to “ABC local radio,” followed by a ‘canned’ ID for the Darwin frequency. My guess is this show isn’t local radio as much as it fills in for local radio while most of the country is asleep.

Normally… no, even now… I’ve got no interest in “footy.” I’ve come to listen to coverage of Tropical Cyclone Monica. Obviously, it’s not much of a concern, except possibly as it relates to players’ hairstyles.

At the bottom of the hour, ABC switched to a few minutes of news. Monica was the lead story. It’s a big storm and very close to ‘the top end,’ as the Northern Coast was called. Monica is attacking a desolate, inhospitable area. In the bullseye is Jabiru with 1,200 people – built entirely within a national park.

I grew up on a block with over 1,200 people. Really.

Monica will threaten Darwin tomorrow. Darwin is more substantial, over 100,000 people. By then the storm should be greatly diminished, haing spent a day over land.

Trust me – from listening, it’s obvious this station isn’t meant for anyone outside Australia. It’s not interesting or exciting, but it’s there. It is available via the Internet, as are all the warnings and advice from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

That’s part of the unexpected power of the Internet. Much of the web is optimized for disseminating information to the widest possible audience. Other nooks and crannys, like this ABC broadcast, are there for a small but needy audience.

This afternoon, from half a world away, I’m eavesdropping on them.

Blogger’s note: As much as I’ve wanted to stay away from the Real player, ABC’s Windows Media feed wouldn’t stay up for more than a few seconds. I’ve been listening using Real for nearly an hour, flawlessly.

Damn You Penguin!

I’ve been fooling around with a homebuilt DVR – a MythTV box. It’s very cool and I’ve discussed it ad nauseum over the past few days.

It is based on Linux (aka – the Penguin), a free operating system. Most likely, the computer you’re using now is running some flavor of Windows. That too is an operating system.

Anyway, I love this little DVR. There are amazing tricks it can do that my current cable company DVR can’t. But, there’s one thing it doesn’t do – and that’s about to drive me nuts.

I want this thing to stream video to me anywhere I am, over the Internet. Every bit of that functionality is set, but one. I can’t convert the video files it produces to something usable in the outside world.

I consider myself pretty savvy, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a “nuv” video file. I should be able to convert it to and flv file (Flash video)… well, should and can are two entirely different things.

I spent much of last night… and the night before, sitting in front of the computer, trying to coax this conversion.

I have posted on bulletin boards and mailing lists – even sent email to strangers I thought might help. Nothing!

So, the Penguin and I are currently on the outs. If he doesn’t make me happy soon, I’ll pour water on him. That’ll show him who’s boss… because currently, it’s not me.

It Works – The New Computer Works

It Works – The New Comput

I finished a little too late to report back, but the new PC seems to work and it’s really fast!

I haven’t closed the case yet, but it is louder than I anticipated. Hopefully, some of that will go away with it buttoned up. I was surprised Monarch installed the Zallman cooler, but not the speed control ‘pot’ (slower fan equals less noise).

That’s in now.

It is strange to see how this dual core processor works. It’s almost like having two computers running at once. I will learn more.

When I left the house, a full backup of the early install was being burned to a DVD. That’s just in case I prang it tonight.

Still to come, an extra hard drive controller (it will have 5 drives before I’m finished), and a video capture/TV tuner card. I’m also considering adding a dual boot installation of Ubuntu Linux (so the computer can be Windows or Linux at any given moment).

It’s very cool – especially since it fired up the first time and I even plugged all the pilot lights in correctly so they actually work.

On a network, each computer is usually named. All my PCs are named after characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle (this idea stolen from my friend Bob whose computers are named for characters on the Simpsons). This new one is “Peabody.”

Looking At Video On The Web

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

As I wrote yesterday, with a house full of Helaine’s friends visiting, I spent a lot of looking at online video. It quickly became obvious there’s a lot right and a lot wrong as far as video goes.

I’m not talking about content. There will always be good and bad content. This is about structure, access and indexing.

While mulling over what I would write in this entry, I had breakfast and browsed the Sunday Times.

THE NEWS Yahoo said it was backing off from a plan to bring television-style programming like situation comedies and talk shows to the Internet.

BEHIND THE NEWS As advertising grows on the Internet, there is a market for content as well. But the content that seems to be working best is created by individual users and takes the form of short videos, shared photos, blogs and other small-scale efforts. The Hollywood approach, epitomized by Yahoo’s hiring of Lloyd Braun, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment, in 2004, is no longer in favor. There had been speculation that the shift in strategy would result in Mr. Braun’s leaving the company, but he vowed last week that he would stay.

Yahoo!’s&#185 corporate wisdom seems to be right on. Internet video is not watched the same way as mainstream over-the-air video.

As far as I can tell, that point is lost on the news divisions of the major broadcast networks. NBC and ABC both present ‘conventional’ newscasts online. I’m glad they do, as opposed to posting nothing, but they have extremely limited utility.

Internet video done right is sharply focused – one subject. For news, that means offering stories one-by-one.

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

Technology does exist to make a newscast random access, so I can pick and choose what I want to see. I don’t see that technology widely used.

In the pre-remote era there were ‘specials’ and ‘variety shows’ on TV. They’re gone, victims of cost and easy viewer choice. I think the same fate awaits conventional TV newcasts re-purposed for the Internet (or web only newscasts presented in virtually the same format as their on-the-air siblibgs) .

It’s a new age, and content must adapt.

What seems to be in its infancy is a way to find what you’re looking for and a standardization of format. Why must we fight between Windows Media, Real, Quicktime and Flash. Isn’t there already one or two that are actually superior to the others?

That was painfully obvious when I followed a link for a Simpsons video that went to After I watched, and was on the site, I couldn’t do much but randomly traipse around.

Yes, there were categories to click, but it was non-intuitive and a hodge podge. I ended up going to pages that I hadn’t intended to visit.

The same goes for Itunes. It looks organized (and Itunes, after all, is an adjunct to the Ipod, with the world’s best designed user interface), but I had trouble finding what I wanted, or even knowing whether what I was clicking was audio or video! And why is it necessary for Itunes to run in its own application and not my browser?

There is not yet a ‘Google’ for video – and that includes Google’s video search though this ad implies they understand there’s a problem). We desperately need one. We’re early in the game. Someone will figure it out before long.

Addendum – As I finished writing this, I came across a link for the Natalie Portman video from last night’s Saturday Night Live. Though NBC will surely end up objecting to and stopping this improper use of their content by, isn’t this the way SNL should be presented on the Internet – a piece at a time?

&#185 – Am I writing that correctly? The corporate name ends with an exclamation point. It just doesn’t look right set in type.

NBC Almost Gets It

As I type this, I am watching NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. It’s the Internet version, though I’m not sure what’s different between this and the newscast that aired earlier tonight over-the-air&#185.

As a Firefox browser user, MSNBC sites have given me problems in the past. Everything loaded perfectly tonight – painlessly. Maybe MSNBC has mended their ways.

Nightly News is streaming using the Windows Media protocol at 300 kbps. The video looks to be about 320×240 and is relatively sharp with a few glitches associated with motion. Brian Williams looks crisper on TV with more vivid colors… but not by much. I’m actually impressed with the quality.

Here’s where NBC has it wrong – and I’m afraid this shows they don’t totally understand how Internet streaming will be used. You can only watch this broadcast beginning to end, in real time. There is no ability to jump forward or back.

If you miss something, there’s no way to repeat without repeating everything you’ve already seen. Same if you want to skip ahead past a story you’re not interested in. Tough luck.

There is code on the webpage which turns off the Windows Media Player timeline and any of the standard ‘right click’ functions. There are probably ways to work around these shortcomings, but for most users, it is what it is.

This is the way I watched TV 20 years ago. I am used to more control. My DVR is more powerful. Certainly, the Internet and Windows Media Player allow more versatility, if that’s NBC’s desire.

I should be allowed to move forward and backward thought the timeline. In fact, the site should be set up with the ability to random access stories, probably at the click of a button.

At some point television networks and stations will have to come to grips with the difference between Internet viewing and over-the-air viewing. We will probably see shorter programs, but possibly longer individual stories. Once we can ‘request’ stories that interest us, more time and depth in reporting are a logical next step.

Maybe the idea of a program (at least for news) will disappear as you cherry pick what you want to see.

It’s funny, in this age when HDTV and huge sets seem to be the big thing, the tiny on-screen viewing window works just fine.

&#185 – Now that it’s over, I can report the commercials have been replaced by promos and the 30 minute newscast ran around 22 minutes.

Finishing My Photos

We’ve been back from our cruise for nearly three weeks and I’m finally finished working on the pictures. It was easier in the old school point-and-shoot film days when you brought your film in and walked out with prints.

Today’s tools are more versatile and the prints are simply better in the digital era – at least for me.

We ordered a ‘book’ of 60 – 4×6″ pictures from the 1,700 I shot on the cruise.

I know there are bound books you can buy, but we’ve chosen to have these pictures ‘loosely’ bound with a spiral binding. We did it last year with our California vacation and were very pleased with the result.

My panoramas went to, a company I found through a web search. They offer to print custom sizes, and my panos are anything but standard. I’m waiting to see how they turn out, because the photos (even enlarged) have lots of detail. Since they’re composed of many more pixels than can be displayed on my computer screen, seeing them there probably doesn’t begin to do them justice.

It’s my understanding uses a very high quality ink jet printer. That’s different from the process used on most photo prints and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one up close and personal.

A few nights ago, I was thumbing through “The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers,” by Scott Kelby and came upon his idea for creating a poster. His demo was individual photos of a baby’s face. I thought it might work for a few of my Mexican shots. My finished product is displayed on the left above.

I am really pleased with how it came out. Response from my friends (who as friends will compliment or say nothing at all) has been extremely positive.

This is more technique than artistry. It’s really not too difficult to do (though I did it three times until I got the spacing the way I wanted it). It was done with Photoshop, but it’s tough to believe Photoshop Elements, Paintshop Pro, GIMP&#185 or any other program that ships with digital cameras, don’t have the few tools needed to achieve this same result.

Like the panos, I am very interested in seeing this printed. There’s a lot of detail available, even for the 16×24″ size I specified. My finished product was created at 300 dpi (dots per inch), which I hope is enough to maintain the quality I think is there. It went to, who are also doing the 60 bound 4×6’s.

I’ll post my impressions when the prints arrive.

&#185 – GIMP is a very good photo finishing program. What makes it even better is, it’s 100% free. The prevailing wisdom is, it’s comparable to Photoshop, though not quite as good or robust. The user interface is obtuse and clunky and will feel unfamiliar to most Windows users. Did I mention it’s free?

Computer Problems – Business As Usual

As a special welcome home, Helaine’s computer decided to suffer a near death experience today. It was one of those things that can happen to anyone.

She turned on the computer, but forgot to plug it in the wall. Having been away for nearly two weeks, and with an elderly battery, there wasn’t more than a minute or two of juice. It was just enough to allow it to die while booting!

When she plugged the laptop in and tried to boot again, it got to the first Windows ‘splash screen’, churned its disk drive for a while, briefly flashed a ‘Blue Screen of Death,’ and began the boot cycle all over again. Uh oh!

I was called in for my technical expertise. You like to think in a situation like this you can just boot to the ‘Safe Mode,’ restore the computer to an earlier time, and merrily resume computing.

If only it were that easy.

Attempting to get to the ‘Safe Mode’ produced exactly the same result. I told Helaine it was possible her emails and bookmarks, the things she really wanted, might be gone. she wasn’t thrilled.

I called for tech support – my friends Peter and Kevin. They had some suggestions and I plowed on.

With Windows XP you should be able to put the original Windows installation CD in the disk drive and watch it repair itself. Good idea, but it didn’t work.

Since the ‘splash screen’ came up, I assumed the drive wasn’t a total failure. Maybe there was a way to read this laptop drive in my desktop?

They are normally incompatible, but sure enough, there was a cable for sale at CompUSA to allow them to talk. I’m trying to think if there are any good circumstances when you’d want this little device? No.

This was too easy. It’s a 25 minute drive to CompUSA and the cable was around $8… and they had it in stock&#185!

In order to use it, I had to remove the drive from Helaine’s laptop, physically open my desktop’s case, free up an IDE port (I unplugged the CD and DVD drives), hook everything up and fire up the PC.

I crossed my fingers and pressed the button.

My desktop booted very slowly, as if it knew it was entering uncharted waters. Finally it flashed a screen saying the “H” drive (that was where the laptop drive ended) needed to be checked.

I gave my permission and watched the errors fly. Four clusters were unreadable, an index file was wrong, some corrections were made and a small section of the disk was being marked as bad. It was bad, but it could have been much worse.

When Windows finally finished its booting, I tried to move all of Helaine’s files to my PC for safekeeping, but got an error message. What had looked promising a few seconds ago now looked bleak.

Kevin suggested I just take the semi-repaired drive out of my PC and put it back in the laptop. I did, booted, and watched the disk warning again – this time with a few different files.

Then a strange thing happened… the laptop finished its disk check, ran through its boot sequence and worked! Helaine was overjoyed.

You know, in the movies the geek never gets the girl. Maybe we should?

&#185 – Interestingly enough, there were two of the needed cables on a hook at CompUSA. The one in front had obviously been used and poorly repackaged. I passed on it for the other. The next purchaser gets to be their guinea pig.

SonyBMG’s Rootkit – Real World Story

I have written a few times about SonyBMG’s rootkit, originally intended to protect songs on their CDs. All my writing has been in the abstract, looking at the whole situation from afar.

Tonight I got this email, and the problem has come closer to home.


I have been reading your blog since you started it. Therefore I thought of you recently when my computer was harmed. I have been online for about 7 years and have had my current computer for 3 years. NO problems with virus’ etc. I have been very careful with my online activity.

Now comes the problem. I am a Neil Diamond fan (no laughing) for at least 30 years. Therefore my husband bought his latest CD “12 Songs” the minute it was released. Not his best but still a good thing after 4 years with no released CD’s. Unbeknown to us this CD was infected with XCP software. I played it in my computer and it disabled my CD and CDRW drives.

I contacted Dell techs (no help). I never mentioned the CD. Next step….I called our computer repair man. He spent two visits eliminating possible reasons for the unresponsive drives. I did tell him that the last CD in the drive was the ND/CD. No problems with my BIOS, drives, motherboard etc. So he determined it was my Windows OS that was corrupted.

Upon starting the repair disk it seemed to be working. NOT– it kept looping. At this point we wanted to return to the computer as it was. Again it wouldn’t allow this.

So Windows had to have a clean install. You know what that means!!!!

Lost all hard drive and software and everything that has been done on this computer for 3 years. Frustration. You bet. I am trying to restore my poor computer one step, one day at a time. What a lot of unnecessary work. I would have expected this from my online time NOT a CD. If I had ANY idea that this was possible I could have prevented this.

We still had no proof that the ND/CD was to blame. Then by chance my husband came across an announcement on the SONY/BMG site that explains the infected CD problem.

All the info is a day late and a dollar short for me and my computer.

All SONY wants to do is replace the CD.

Why has this problem not been more widely shared with the public? It is a huge problem. 52 artists have been affected. has pulled many many CD’s. This IS big news affecting a large part of the music listening population. However I found all of this out too late.

Do you think this is right? And where do you suggest I go from here?

Hope this isn’t too long and will be of some interest to you.

Thank you for any consideration.

Barbara (last name removed)

Seymour, CT

I told Barbara to write our state’s Attorney General. This is the kind of case he often takes.

Truthfully, I don’t know what Sony’s responsibility is, or if there is a responsibility. Obviously, there is real damage and real costs incurred by Barbara.

I don’t know how Sony will deal with it. So far, their position has slowly evolved as if it was being formulated based on response to their last action. I’m not sure there are provisions for the Barbaras of the world… or if there ever will be.

I wonder how Neil Diamond feels about all this?

More On The Sony DRM Thing

This entry makes the third time I’ve written about Sony’s Digital Rights Management debacle. I need to hold this in check. I don’t want it to appear I’ve got some vendetta against them… especially as I type this on a Sony laptop.

Earlier, it looked like this would become a public relations nightmare for Sony. It still does.

If you’re just joining me on this: First came word that Sony was protecting its music CDs with software that installs on users computers. Then word the software hides itself so even experienced users can’t see it’s there and taps into the deepest depths of Windows where it can affect other programs.

After an early hard line attitude, Sony began to offer limited relief.

Today comes strange and somewhat ironic news. And, again, I’m going to have to explain a little before I go on.

Within the computing environment there are some very good, free programs. The Linux operating system comes to mind as does the Firefox browser. There are loads of others.

Though free, these programs are not without restrictions. In many, you can’t integrate the program into derivative work unless you jump through a few hoops. Source code and object files must be released. A copyright notice must be attached which lays all this out.

It looks like&#185 Sony’s DRM incorporates a free program called LAME. But, Sony complies with none of LAME’s licensing restrictions.

Here’s the irony. Sony is trying to protect its intellectual property from exactly what it is doing to LAME!

Of course Sony is entitled to have full protection of its intellectual property. I just question their heavy handed method of enforcement. And maybe, that adds to my amusement over this latest revelation.

&#185 – Though it looks like Sony is using LAME, I am not personally able to independently confirm this. It has been published by otherwise trustworthy sources, in places where it will be scrutinized. If what I’ve written in later questioned, I’ll try and post that too.

Why I Might Change Browsers

This is a very geeky entry. I apologize in advance. Feel free to pass it by.

When I go on the Internet, like right now, I use the Firefox browser. Firefox comes from Mozilla. I suppose this is unimportant to all but those of us who wear propeller hats.

Most people use Internet Explorer. That’s the browser that comes standard with Windows.

IE, as it’s called, is fine… except it is often the equivalent of living in a home in a bad neighborhood with no locks on the doors. Truthfully, if everyone were trustworthy, IE would be perfect. They aren’t. It isn’t.

There are some improvements Firefox brings, including some in security. A whole community has sprung up, writing ‘extensions’ to give it extra capabilities. I take advantage of many of those (including one that eliminates all pop-ups and most other ads).

Unfortunately, Firefox isn’t without its downside. It was totally incompatible with the software Mississippi State used to administer my courses. It falls on its face on video files(big surprise there), asking me to install software I already have.

This weekend I attempted to install That too wouldn’t play well with Firefox.

I am not alone. There have been a number of articles citing the inability of FEMA’s website to work with anything but Internet Explorer.

From CNET: Unfortunately, more and more U.S. government agency Web sites are becoming Internet Explorer-only sites. For example, if you want to fill out a Katrina claim form online with FEMA, you have no other choice but to use the only 66 percent secure Internet Explorer 6.x.

The problem is, Firefox follows the standards that have been established for the web. Anything that won’t work with Firefox won’t work because the author has decided to write to Internet Explorer’s peculiarities. Websites should be browser agnostic.

Since IE controls nearly 90% of the browser market, it makes sense to keep things compatible with it. What doesn’t make sense is excluding Microsoft’s competitor.

If these sites were more forgiving toward agreed upon standards, Firefox might get a better foothold and Microsoft would have to respond by improving IE. Competition is good.

As it stands right now, I am seriously thinking of abandoning Firefox. That’s not because it isn’t good. It’s because I’m sick and tired of hitting dead ends.

Firefox doesn’t have to be ‘fixed’ for it to work. Quite the contrary. The only thing wrong with Firefox is, it isn’t broken.

Laser Printer Follies

I went to print something today on my Samsung ML-1210 laser printer. This little economy model has been a faithful friend for a few years.

Years ago, I thought color was the way to go, but ink jet printouts never looked quiet right. After a few weeks with the Samsung, I never questioned the purchase.

Fast forward to 2005.

A week or so ago, I went to print something and the paper wouldn’t move. I took it out, riffled it, put it back in the printer and after a little coaxing, it printed. I didn’t think anything of it until today when, again, I went to print only to see the paper become a still life.

I took off the back of the printer (as if I’d actually be able to see a problem), and pushed a few movable parts. I knew right away this thing was too disposal to fix. If it was gone, it was gone.

I looked around on the Internet and found a few decent replacement candidates.

Not every printer will work in my house. We print to a port on my router. In other words, the printer is not directly connected to the computer. That means no USB printers and, as I unfortunately found out, not every parallel port printer either.

Staples had a great deal on a Konica-Minolta PagePro 1250W. I drove up to Cheshire, popped into the store and brought it home.

This printer is a “Windows only” model, and that was my undoing. It needed to be directly connected to a Windows computer to get its instructions. In fact, much of what most printers do is pawned off to the computer when you’re using this particular printer. It just didn’t know how to send data over a network cable to my router.

It only took a few minutes of fooling with it, and then a few more researching the problem on Usenet, before I realized I was sunk.

Back to Staples.

Their computer guru said taking it back was no problem, but I know thats not so. By my opening it, I have reduced its value to them. And, even though that cost is built into everything they sell, I felt bad about it.

He asked if I’d be interested in something else. I’m not sure whether it was guilt or just a desire to get this over with, but I went back to the printer aisle to take another look.

I ended up with a Brother HL-2040. It’s pretty close to the same footprint as my original Samsung, though it prints faster. I spent $30 or so more than I wanted to, but it’s done.

Hooking up the Brother was easy. It immediately adapted to my somewhat non-conventional setup and printed very nicely on the first try.

Now I’ve got to change the drivers on all the PCs around the house.

Problem solved.