Monday, February 28, 2005
Thursday, February 24, 2005
- No DRM. DRM is an absolute, no-questions-asked deal breaker. I simply won't tolerate it. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, no one gets up in the morning and wishes they could do less with their media (*Full quote and link at bottom). Including me.
- Full Windows Explorer integration is mandatory. If external software is required in order for me to load my media, I'm looking somewhere else. And partial Explorer integration, like iPod uses, is not acceptable. You won't see iTunes on my computer.
- Recording capability. I had no idea how nice this was until I bought an MP3 player with real-time MP3 and WAV recording, and I've never looked back. Really, I don't need this much of the time, but when I need it, I really need it now. I'm never going back.
- FM Radio. Yeah, my music is great. But I need to let in the outside world from time to time, and I'd shrivel up and die without NPR.
- Multi-format capability. My current MP3 player supports AAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and a host of other formats. Odds are I'll never use most of them. But I've never woken up in the morning saying "I wish my MP3 player could do less."
- Preference: 40GB+ hard drive. This one gets wiggle room, because different users have different needs, and capacity is a commoditized feature. So determine your own capacity sweet spot, but mine is at least 40GB.
- Preference: Open-source firmware. My Archos ran RockBox, an open-source firmware package that was far superior to the factory firmware. RockBox is currently being ported to my iRiver, and I've donated real money to the cause. I currently wait about 2.5 minutes for my iRiver to boot. When I get RockBox on there, it will drop to about three seconds, and no, I am not exaggerating. I wouldn't lie to you.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Way back on the first day of the semester, I was in a hurry and parked in an area on campus that I didn't have a pass for, resulting in a parking ticket.
I'm man enough to take the consequences when I've done something wrong, and I didn't see the ticket itself as a problem.
A bad omen did accompany it, though. It was a wet day, and so the parking services people were distributing tickets in little plastic baggies. Unfortunately, the distributor of my ticket was on the slow side, and put the baggie opening facing up, so as to collect all the snow and gunk coming from above, rather than facing down.
Getting the ticket out of the bag and then out of its paper envelope was therefore a messy affair, and not something I'd like to experience again. To repeat, I'm calling this an omen, because it's not as bad as what was to come.
Minutes after discovering the ticket, I found myself in front of a computer, and I paid the fee online. This was January 11, 2005.
Nearly a month later, on February 07, I received an email from the parking services folks stating that my payment had failed. The email war that ensued warrants documentation. Documentation follows, altered only to make it more readable. No words, contexts, or spellings have been changed. I added text coloring to make it easier to keep track of who is saying what. Also, note that the email represented in green text below and the first email in red text were plain-text emails and included the credit card number with which I originally made the payment.
(Jan. 11): Your payment has been processed by
(Feb. 07): Jake
The credit card declined. The payment was not processed. Please resubmit using another card.
(Feb. 07): Ok. How?
(Feb. 07): You can reply to this email or follow the same process that you did last time to pay the citation.
(Feb. 07): You want my credit card number in a plain-text email? That's a good one.
What's the link to the site to pay? Will I need a citation number? Can you provide me with, you know, pertinent information?
(Feb. 07): Mr. Wilcox
You asked the question to which I replied. Your sarcasm is not need.
The web site is located on the bottom of the citation on the front side
You will need to provide the citation
Number which is 09430680.
If you are still concerned about this type of payment transaction please feel free to mail the payment to our office (
(Feb. 07): Ms. Allen-
I'm sorry you didn't like my reply. I wasn't being sarcastic; I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.
Computer security is a big deal in our day, and sending sensitive data over any network (including the internet) in plain text is always a bad idea, no matter what. It is a simple matter for anyone to intercept such messages and use the data in them for whatever purposes they choose. I generously assumed that you were not ignorant to this fact, and treated your suggestion as a joke.
If your management are also not aware of this serious breach of security, I respectfully request that you inform them. You work for an institution of higher education; negligence of this level is simply unacceptable.
Further, it is not unreasonable for those whom you deal to expect all pertinent details with the first message sent. All information needed in order to correct the failed payment should be clearly presented, including a link to the SSL Encrypted site where the original payment was made.
SSL Encryption, unlike plain text, is a reasonably secure method in which to send sensitive data over a network.
Please send a link to the website where I can re-send this payment, as I requested before.
(Feb. 08): The link is www.remit-online.com/801001 as noted in the last email.
Whew! Did you see her try to chew on me? I wasn’t even sure there was a problem until she accused me of sarcasm. But that just wasn’t going to fly.
I’ll be emailing Ms. Martinez to make her aware of this post. She may email me a rebuttal, if she likes, or post it in the comments. If she is courageous enough to do so, I’ll see that it gets moved from email or comments to a permanent update in the post.
Of course, a master stroke would be to realize that she and her department will come up smelling rosy by doing the following: Simply acknowledge that the manner in which this was handled was a mistake and state that corrections are being made. And then, of course, make said corrections.
But I have my doubts. Bureaucracy is a hard habit to break.
First: Internet Explorer is inherently vulnerable to exploitation. This became clear as I tried to run Windows Update on my neighbor’s computer. When I started, the browser had been compromised by several malware applications, but it occurred to me that I was using this weakened browser to improve the security of the machine. The simple fact is that IE is designed to install software on the computer, and that’s far more than you should ever trust a browser to do.
Windows Update should not use IE. It would be easy for Microsoft to write a stand alone program that could do the updating (they use a separate program now, but it must run in IE), which would free their browser to be a significantly scaled down tool for browsing the web, instead of a tool for websites to browse your computer.
I think that if IE were to cut back in its abilities, that some corporate IT groups would be disappointed at their new inability to control their users’ computers. Hopefully, they would eventually realize that the greater level of security makes up for any inconvenience. Microsoft, on the other hand, will not likely choose to limit their ability to access our machines.
Second: Quicktime is an okay media player. My brother loves it, and fortunately it doesn’t generally disappoint. I like that it allows for frame by frame advance and rewind (try to get Windows Media player or Real player to do that), and it’s the only media plugin that (with the professional version) sometimes allows you to save movies that are played with it. I don’t like how it installs a TSR that runs on startup, and I find that it can’t handle nearly as many media types as Windows Media player (for the record, I don’t think that any player has had the versitility that Media Player 2 had). Still, nothing else can play .mov files, so Quicktime has its place.
My beef is that you can no longer download Quicktime by itself. It now comes bundled with Apple’s media management program iTunes. I have not ever had a good experience with iTunes (I used it to install some stuff on my sister-in-law’s iPod), and if I had really wanted to have a bulky, bloated media manager, I would use Music Match. If I ever had an iPod, I would look long and far for another way to put music on it (in a way that could be played back, that is).
I have one other point to make. I just finished reading a tutorial titled “How to fix Mom’s computer”. It has six general steps to take to remove malware and viruses from a windows PC, and to give it a bit of protection from future infection. I also read through the (extensive) comments that followed. Some were helpful, listing other programs that might be used (I was amazed at how many anti-spyware utilities are out there) or giving tips on timing or ways to remove persistent bugs. A huge number of comments said basically, “Buy her a Mac.” These comments generally missed several points:
1) The repair techniques in the article cost nothing to implement, other than time (they argued that the repair time was valuable enough that it justified buying a Mac, but in reality your non-billable hours can’t be counted the same as your billable hours).
2) They believed that Macs are secure based on the anecdotal evidence that they haven’t had any viruses or spyware.
3) There is a lot of software that is only available for the PC, making it difficult to switch.
4) If you really want to run a secure OS, just install a free version of Linux and get all the goodness of OSX without buying new hardware or software, and with a more Windows-like interface to boot.
In the end, the Mac/Windows debate is not a trivial one. I feel a bit like a bully by arguing for the gorilla of operating systems, but those Mac users were so arrogant and snobby that I just couldn’t go on without some form of rebuttal.
I’ve been reading a book about encryption, which at times addresses a number of issues relevant to security in general. One important realization is that an insecure system is far more dangerous than no security whatsoever. This is both a strength and a weakness for Windows. It is a strength because many Windows users are fully aware that they are using an insecure system, and therefore they take secondary measures to protect themselves and their systems. The downside is that most Windows users are lulled into a false sense of security and, like my neighbor, are in fact totally exposed. Mac users almost all believe that their systems are totally secure, unlike their benighted, Windoze using friends.
This is Eric, reporting live from my soapbox.
Monday, February 21, 2005
What we did see were some warning boxes about a page failing to load due to ActiveX settings and a window that popped up when we tried to load Windows Update. Before long, we realized that there were about a dozen malware programs that loaded at bootup. I started purging them by a variety of methods, and got many of them removed. The HKLM/Software/Microsoft/Windows/Current Version/Run folder had about 20 entries, about half of which looked legitimate.
Once most of the spyware was disabled, I took a closer look at her McAfee virus scan settings. I discovered that it had never been activated. Since she only had a 6 month subscription in the first place, I killed it and replaced it with AVG 7. Even before updating, it had found several viruses, and we realized that there were fouler dealings afoot.
In all, we found about 40 viruses, and managed to get most of them automatically removed. Some were in the System Restore area, and I had forgotten how to purge the system restore folders (I relearned). Some of them were in the Local Services user Temporary Internet Files folders (of all places).
The persistent lingering problem turned out to be the IE window that would pop up whenever we loaded Windows Update. The URL for it was http://www.b3ware.nl/forgotten.html., which we think may have been connected with mydoom. It was probably connected to some infected ActiveX files, because they were in the last virus scan.
There is probably more wrong with that computer, but we had to go. We didnt get the Windows Updates installed (There were several MB of updates to download, and she has dial-up), and we didnt ever run a clean virus scan. The startup programs was cut from 20 to 3 (only one of the originals remainedit was a Dell support program).
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Eric thinks that Earthlink's customer service drone that I chatted with the other night may have been a bot. I doubt this, not because I don't think it's technologically possible, but for two much more banal reasons. First, Polly misspelled words several times when answering me. A bot has no fingers, never forgets how to spell, and doesn't get flustered, causing it to forget how a keyboard works. Second, programming a bot takes a lot of time and billable programming hours. Why on earth would they teach it a word like 'intimated'? They wouldn't. I'm 98% certain that Polly is an organic drone, not a cybernetic one.
Also, ALICE is way smarter than Polly was. Go ahead and ask her.
I've finally finished putting together my WEA user groups on Google Groups. The Interest Group, 154 people strong, took a long time to get set up because Google would only allow me to add 25 names to the group every 24 hours. I know, if you do the math, it seems to be a simple matter of fourteen minutes of work, broken up into seven sessions, once per day. But it was really more of a pain than that. First I had to experiment with the Add Users tool to figure out what my limits were. Once I got that down, I had to remember what time I had added names the previous day, and make sure that the current day's attempt was after that time. And so on.
But now it's done, and I no longer have to worry about sending limits on my email account. Hooray!
Monday, February 14, 2005
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Wow. I just had an interesting chat with an Earthlink rep.
I've had dealings with Earthlink for the last five years or so, first as my ISP, and then just as an emergency/vacation dial-up ISP and for my Earthlink email address.
But now I don't really need the ISP stuff anymore, and I get all the email services I need from Gmail for free.
So I tried to close my Earthlink account via live chat with an Earthlink billing agent tonight. The transcript follows:
Welcome to Earthlink LiveChat. Your chat session will begin shortly.
'Polly M.' says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today?
email@example.com: Hi Polly. Please close my account. I don't need it anymore.
Polly M.: Hi.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Hey. Did you get that last message?
Polly M.: At this time, EarthLink does not accept cancellation requests via email/live chat. To cancel your service you must call 888-EarthLink, 7am to 10pm EST M-F, and 8am to 10pm EST Sat/Sun or send registered or certified mail, return receipt requested to EarthLink Inc.; 1375 Peachtree Street, Level A Atlanta, GA 30309. Accounts are set to close at the end of the current cycle. We don't prorate charges. #PFR#/DUC/C-S/wecannotcancel
email@example.com: Hrm. That sucks. I always thought your cust. service was pretty good.
Polly M.: Yes.
Polly M.: I apologize for the inconvenience.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Yeah. It is inconvenient, but I don't imagine you can do anything about that. What if I just told my credit card co. to reject payments to Earthlink?
Polly M.: I am sorry. I am not authorized to accept online canmcellation requiests.
email@example.com: Yeah, I got that. I'm asking what would happen if I made it so that my credit card didn't pay Earthlink anymore.
Polly M.: Sorry. Once your account is closed, you will not be charged for the service.
Polly M.: You can get your billing issues resolved or even dispute the charges at the time of cancellation.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Sort of feels like you're not listening. What would happen? I'd just like to know.
Polly M.: If your Credit Card Company rejects the payment, then you can send a check for the payment.
email@example.com: Polly, you're a hoot. How long would it be before Earthlink killed the account for no payment?
Polly M.: Accounts are set to close at the end of the billing cycle. Please note that the the due date is set for 20 days after the invoice is generated.
Polly M.: If we do not receive the payment, you will be intimated.
Polly M.: Also, your account will not be closed without prior intimation.
firstname.lastname@example.org: "Marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity."? Are you serious?
Polly M.: Yes, a notice will be sent to you, if there is any problem with your account.
email@example.com: This is going nowhere, Polly. Work on your English. Good night.
Polly M.: I apologize for the inconvenience.
Poor Polly. When her boyfriend breaks up with her because she won't allow him to get intimated, does she apologize for the inconvenience? Must be lonely up in that ivory tower of broken English and unanswered questions.
But Polly's loneliness doesn't change the fact that tomorrow I'll have to call Earthlink and deal with someone who will almost certainly be more annoying than her, and will try to talk me out of closing my account for an hour or two, leading to the frustration of both parties.
My new mantra: "Maybe it will be easier for us both if you just go ahead and intimate my account now. Thank you."
Oh, and spammers? Go ahead; have at it!
Saturday, February 12, 2005
We started out trying to find a cache that wasn’t too far away, and which just screamed out for us to find it. Its name is the Technocache, and its theme is computer components. We had some IDE cables and a PCI vid card for it, and so we set out with high hopes. We drove for many miles, and managed to drive within .2 miles of the cache, but not within half a mile of any of the waypoints on the cache page. Being unable to start looking for the cache, we gave up and went to lunch (Greek).
After lunch, we went to a park in search of two caches, one virtual and the other micro. The virtual was (of course) not at all hard to find. Jake wandered around looking for it for a while (because he didn’t know what he was looking for), but I thought it was okay because it gave him a chance to get a feel for his receiver. With air that felt far too cold, we set out in search of the micro.
We didn’t take all the available evidence into account, and ended up walking through some mud before we narrowed down our search to a small area. Unfortunately, we managed to eliminate all of the likely spots quickly, and nothing else turned up before we got cold. We ended the day 1 for 3, and that 1 was a virtual (which is always so easy to find). I wish we could have had a better first day of caching. Sorry Jake. Next time we’ll find some.
Friday, February 11, 2005
On the other hand, “Sly Bevel first cache” can be shifted about to form “Five recyclable shts.” Shots, huh? Perhaps sheets? Why do these have to be so cryptic? Not even “A Fiery guide to Geocaching” gives anything meaningful (“Huge, grey age codification”).
On an unrelated note, “Embryonic manchild” gives “Minced boric hymnal”. This doesn’t mean anything either. (“Born indelicacy, hmm” seems more appropriate.)
* "Here's my latest post"
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
For those who don’t live with me, I should note that I’ve been busy traveling a lot lately. I have logged 8659 miles flying on three different trips to Arizona, Washington D.C., and Florida. I even qualified for Silver Medallion status with Delta’s Sky Miles program. I was traveling for 17 days, but fortunately my wife was able to come along for 8 of them.
My other bit of news concerns her. When I hit the ground in Florida last week, I had a message on my phone where she announced that she must have a laptop for one of her classes that start next week. After a week of shopping, we settled on a Dell Inspiron 700m. We’re both excited to have a laptop join our family, and I’m excited that she gets her own computer. I’m determined not to shanghai it, but my resolution does get weak around laptops.
Finally, I wish a festive (Chinese) new year to all. Enjoy a prosperous year of the Rooster.
Monday, February 07, 2005
Thursday, February 03, 2005
- 16ms Response Time or better.
- 17" Viewable Area or better (My 19" CRTs have about 17" viewable, and I'm not willing to lose viewable area.)
- Analog (D-Sub) AND Digital (DVI) inputs. If it won't to both, I don't want it.
- 1280 x 1024 Native Resolution. That's what I run my 19s at, and it's standard for the higher-end 17" and 19" LCD models.
- Must be under $400 per unit after rebates, shipping and other whatnot.
- Current customers must give uniformly good reviews of the model.
- Less than 10" Deep.
- Thin Bezel.
- Black or Dark Grey Frame, Chassis, and Stand.
- All Cables Included.
- More than 17" Viewable.
- Better than 16ms Response Time.
- Less than 8" Deep.
- 16ms Response Time
- 17" Viewable
- DVI and Analog connections