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December 2002 Archive
For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.
Joe and Alfred had the night off. Sitting in for them were our webmaster Michael Horowitz and Olivia Whiteman.
In The News:
Say goodbye to OS/2. The official announcement from IBM:
Hank said OS/2 was better than Windows 95 and Windows 98 with true multithreading and multitasking. I recalled reading back when that it was better than Windows NT3. OS/2 was born as an idea in 1987, but did not hit the market until 1993. Hank noted that there were 2,000 OS/2 developers spread over 3 continents which he felt was poor management. I recalled that many IBM Aptivas could not be purchased with OS/2 pre-installed. Tech support for OS/2 will available until December 31, 2004.
The U.S. government unveiled plans this week for a new "do not
call" list for telemarketers. Approval is needed from Congress, so this
will not happen immediately. The new federal proposal is similar to lists
currently available in 27 states. Fines will be $11,000 per violation. In New
York State the current fine is much smaller (Hank thought it was $200). The
federal list however will have exceptions: non-profit and political groups.
These groups can call you once but have to honor requests not to be called
again. For profit companies will also be allowed to call existing
The Defense Department is warning that wireless networking technology could interfere with military radar
systems. There are no actual cases yet of interference, but they claim it might
jam up to 10 different types of radar systems. They want the private-sector WiFi players to tweak the technology so it won't jam the radio frequencies the military
uses. Industry players worry that government limits on WiFi could stymie further innovation.
There are now 16 million WiFi uses. Microsoft and Intel were among the companies that met last week with the Defense Department to try and iron out any
differences. Changes mandated in the U.S. will not be enforceable in other
Our other substitute host tonight, Michael Horowitz, teaches Defensive Computing at the Continuing Education Division of Hunter College. The course focuses on being prepared for the inevitable problems that always creep into personal computing. Much of the course covers standard safe computing topics: backups, firewalls, anti-virus programs and anti-Spyware programs. Also covered are surge protectors and Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs).
It was noted that a solid light is often used to indicate that surge protection is functioning. A blinking light or no light may indicate that the device is no longer protecting from electrical surges (be sure to read any documentation that comes with the surge protector). As Hank put it, what used to be a surge protector is now an extension cord. All surge protectors have a limited life span. However, the life span will vary based on how many surges they have to absorb. At some point, they lose the ability to absorb any more surges. Some surge protectors will indicate when they have lost their protective capacity, others will not.
Reflecting on the past year we discussed lumps of coal - where the consumer has gotten the sort end of the stick - and nuggets of gold - where the consumer benefited.
Olivia felt that Flash and pop-up ads on the Internet were lumps of coal. She likes booking online travel arrangements on the Internet, and searching online for information from the government and financial information.
Michael nominated computer articles in the New York Times for lumps of coal. He felt there were too many technical mistakes and cited the Circuits section from last Thursday as having an article with three technical mistakes in a single paragraph. It seems as if no one reviews the computer articles for technical accuracy. Some of their mistakes (not all) are documented on his Computer Gripes web site. Hank felt that some articles in the Times have been misleading. Specifically, a new Macintosh form factor was said to have been invented by Apple, when IBM had previously marketed a machine with a similar form factor.
Michael also called technical support a perennial lump of coal. His example was Norton AntiVirus 2003, one of the more popular programs for PCs. The vendor, Symantec, no longer offers any free technical support with the product (although you can return it within the first 60 days for your money back). Olivia noted that many things that used to be free are no longer, and felt that tech support is just part of this trend. Hank noted that most, if not all of the free ISPs are now gone. For an interesting take on this see What's Wrong with Tech Support? by Scot Finnie in the December 9, 2002 issue of his free newsletter.
Hardware is the other end of the spectrum, certainly a nugget of gold this year, if for nothing else, declining prices. Michael felt that USB based keychain storage devices were the greatest things since sliced bread. Starting at around $30, he felt they are great for backups and transferring files. Hank was not so enthused, calling them a gimmick, no different from a flash card you put into an adapter.
Another device that has gained in popularity this year are external hard disks. Connecting via USB2 and Firewire they are now much faster than previous models that depended on slower connections. They offer huge amounts of storage space at relatively cheap prices and are great for backups.
Speaking of backups, Hank noted that he had done a backup earlier in the day and asked his co-hosts the last time they had run a backup. Michael had not done one in too long, but it just so happens, ran a backup earlier in the day. Olivia admitted to being paranoid and backing up constantly to multiple media.
Hank uses GoBack to save him from times when you are working on something and make it worse. GoBack lets you restore files to the way they were a few minutes ago. It constantly runs in the background of your computer and copies all files as they are being changed. It logs the changes so they can be rolled back. Strictly speaking GoBack is not a backup program and should be supplemented by using a normal backup program.
Hank recalled that he had a fire a few years ago and advised not to keep your backups next to the computer. Michael noted that in his class he teaches that the best backups are those the farthest from the original computer.
Michael mentioned that Word and Excel can be configured to automatically make a copy of a document/spreadsheet as soon as you start working on it. A poor mans version of GoBack. Hank offered some advice he has mentioned previously on the air: backup, backup, backup. Good advice.
To retrieve data from a hard disk gone bad you can send the disk to either DriveSavers or OnTrack. Expect to pay anywhere from $95 to $5,000 to get your files back, if you can get them back at all. Often the cost is between $400 and $1,200. More if the hard disk is in really bad shape, such as if it was burnt in a fire. DriveSavers charges no money up front for its services. If the data cannot be recovered, they charge an attempt fee of $200. Their average successful recovery costs $700. Before getting to this point, try the disk repair programs in Symantec's Norton Utilities and Norton System Works or in OnTrack's Fix-It Utilities.
Charles is an amateur doing some web site development and asked for advice on how to proceed. Olivia said that DreamWeaver hides HTML from the user and is a good program for web page development.
Ray has a Windows Me computer with assorted problems. Hank suggested running a full virus scan. If you don't have a current anti-virus program with the latest virus definitions, this can be done from www.antivirus.com by clicking on HouseCall. He also suggested preventing programs from running at boot time by using program MSCONFIG and noted that Windows 98 and XP are better versions of the Operating System than Windows Me. Michael advised running Ad-aware to check for and remove Spyware programs.
Following up on surge protectors, a caller asked about getting a better one. Michael recommend two companies for surge protectors, voltage regulators and Uninterruptible Power Supplies: APC and Tripplite. In general, he said, you get what you pay for and would not spend less than $30. Hank has an $80 voltage regulator that also handles surges. Some UPSs can do all three jobs: surge protection, voltage regulation and battery backup. These start at about $150.
Julia has a notebook computer with 32 meg of ram running Windows 98. She asked about printers requiring 64 megabytes of ram. Hank said that any printer should run fine with her 32 meg of ram. However, when it comes to an all-in-one device (printer, fax, scanner, and possibly more) Hank suggested checking with the manufacturer.
A caller asked about playing Internet radio and web browsing on a handheld PDA, either a pocket PC or Palm based device. Hank felt the screens are too small for web browsing. Michael said that you need an Internet connection of around 30 Kbps for streaming audio and Hank felt that it was not really possible.
The Microsoft Virtual Machine for Java (JVM) needs to be replaced
because it contains more than its fair share of bugs.
A security flaw was recently discovered in the WiFi software built in to Windows XP. Normally, you can hide a WiFi access point by preventing it from advertising its SSID (service set identifier). However, the XP WiFi software "spills the beans" on access points' hidden SSIDs. Read this security advisory. ExtremeTech also covered this: Windows XP Spills the Beans on Wireless Access Points on December 11, 2002.
Hank reported on a new twist to the old Nigerian scam.
ElcomSoft verdict: Not guilty CNET News.com
December 17, 2002. "A jury on Tuesday acquitted a Russian software company of criminal copyright charges related to selling a program that can crack antipiracy protections on electronic books.
The case against ElcomSoft is considered a crucial test of the criminal provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a controversial law designed to extend copyright protections into the digital age."
ICANN to approve new domains. Reuters. December 15, 2002. "The group that oversees the Internet's traffic system said Sunday it plans to approve a host of new address suffixes to join the likes of .com and .org in the coming year. But most Internet users will not be able to register Web site names in the new domains, as they will be limited to organizations in specific fields such as health care." Hank pointed out that the new domains will be limited to businesses that pay a $50,000 fee.
Holiday Gifts Under $100
Hank suggested buying a box of CD-RW discs and formatting each disc for use with packet writing software. Be aware that it takes from 25 to 45 minutes to format each disc. He is puzzled as to why vendors don't sell pre-formatted CD-RW media. Way back when, floppy disks were also sold unformatted. It was suggested to get discs rated 1x to 4x. Faster discs are more expensive and may not work in slower speed machines.
Alfred suggested a CD polisher to get rid of scratches in CDs. They cost about $35 and Cyber Guys has one.
If you know a gamer, Alfred said they consider colored computers cool. For $25 he said you can get a Plexiglas light kit and a nibbler to put a Plexiglas window on the side of your computer case. For another $20 you can get a colored florescent tube to light up the inside of your computer.
Joe suggested titles from the O'Reilly pocket guide series. They are small books that cost about $12 to $15. Among the titles are Digital Photography, Mac OS X, Outlook, Palm, Word and Troubleshooting your Macintosh (the author of which will be on the show next month).
Alfred suggested a few items for $100. Tiger Direct is selling a Sony 2 megapixel digital camera for $99. Sony, Palm and Handspring all offer PDAs for $100. Finally, a quality 17 inch CRT can now be purchased for $100.
Joe warned that printing color photos takes a lot of ink. For $25 to $35 he suggested buying ink cartridges for a color printer. Hank said that Kodak photographic paper is typically 50 to 80 cents for an 8x10 sheet. He found that Costco in Hackensack and Roosevelt Field is selling the paper for $25 for 100 sheets - a great price. You have to be a member of Costco however.
Alfred suggested a USB keychain storage device as a great gift for college students. They are perfect for moving files between the computer lab and a dorm room. They are smaller than a floppy, more durable and have a larger capacity. With recent versions of Windows and Mac OS X, no drivers are required.
Jimmy asked about formatting for Direct CD (packet writing). Doing so lets you use a CD-RW disc as a 530 MB floppy disk. Software that comes with your CD burner can be used to format a CD-RW disc. After formatting, you can read and write to the CD-RW disc exactly as you read and write to any other Windows drive letter (A, C, etc.). However, if you give such a disc to someone running an older version of Windows, they will need to download and install a program called a UDF reader. This program lets older versions of Windows read these discs. A UDF reader can be downloaded for free from Roxio.
Bob asked if a computer deal was too good to be true. It was. The computer was advertised for sale for $150 if agree to also buy Internet access for 1.5 years. The computer is refurbished and powered by a 100 MHz Pentium. Such a brutally old machine is only worth about $150 on its own. There is no need to also be on the hook for the Internet access.
Bob also asked for a good place for a novice to buy a computer. Alfred suggested that novices should buy new computers rather than refurbished ones and that buying from someone that will provide good support should be the priority. He suggested Dell.
Paul inherited a computer with a modem. However, he can't get online even though he hears the modem dialing. He asked if polarity was important. The answer was no. Hank suggested installing AOL from one of their freebie CDs hoping that with AOL driving the modem it might work. Joe did not think installing AOL software was a good idea. Since the modem is from US Robotics, it was suggested that Paul go to www.3com.com and look to download a diagnostic program for the modem.
- asked about playing MP3 sound files a Linux computer. He wants a cheap Linux machine to download, store and play MP3s. Wal-Mart sells very cheap Linux computers. For $220 they have a Lindows based Linux machine with no floppy disk and a 10 gig hard disk. For $300 they have a Linux machine with a floppy disk drive and a 40 gig hard disk. Neither machine includes a monitor. You certainly can download, store and play MP3 files under Linux. Alfred suggested searching on Google for MP3 and Linux as a way to find links to many Linux based MP3 player programs. Three such programs are XMMS, MPG123 and Freeamp
Thomas is getting Spam pop-ups. There are two possible reasons for this. One is that the Spam comes from Windows messenger. This is a fairly recent Spam development and can be fixed by changing Windows parameters for messenger. Note that this is not the recent IM product messenger from Microsoft, rather it is an old LAN intended product also called messenger and also from Microsoft. On Windows 2000 and XP, try disabling the messenger service. For instructions on doing this see How to turn off Windows Messenger Service. This page explains how to disable the service in Windows XP, 200 and NT4. For Windows 98 and Me, it can not be disabled.
The other possibility is that the pop-ups are coming from a Spyware or Adware program. In this case, an excellent and free solution is to download and install Ad-aware. It scans your memory, registry and hard drives for known Spyware components and lets you remove them safely.
In The News:
Sun, Microsoft Renew Java Power Struggle
December 9, 2002. eWeek Magazine. The fate of Java on the desktop is again in the hands of a
judge. Sun wants the judge to force Microsoft to distribute Sun's JVM with each new copy of Windows and Internet Explorer.
Interview with our Princeton Review guests Robin Raskin and Robert Franek
The online chats and online college fairs at the National Association for College Admission Counseling were recommended for checking out schools.
One Princeton Review book mentioned on the air was Paying for College Without Going Broke. It was published October 2002 and has Insider Strategies for Maximizing Financial Aid and Minimizing College Costs. Their web site also has a pay for school page.
They will soon publish Eight Steps to Help Black Families Pay for College. Historically black families have shied away from the financial aid process.
Registering at the Princeton Review web site requires entering your name and email address. They have a lot of search features on their site including searches for financial aid. Another web site for financial aid, mentioned by a caller, is Fast Web.
A caller asked if the Princeton Review posted statistics about student crime against students and racial and sexual incidents on campus. Robert said they post statistics for diversity among students and the acceptance of the diversity.
Mike asked about Windows 98 vs. Windows Me. He migrated from 98 to Me and noticed that some features were missing. Hank said Windows Me is a crippled version of Windows 98 and not an upgrade. He suggested Windows 98 Second Edition as the best of the lot. Also, if you installed Me over 98, there should be an uninstall option to back out Me.
Rick installed Windows XP Service Pack 1 and is now faced with a boot time warning to activate Windows within 30 days. If you don't activate it, XP will lock you out of your computer. Joe said the re-activation is simple if you can do it online and there is no easy way around it. Many people consider the requirement to activate Windows XP a scam from Microsoft but there is no easy way to fight it, other than switching to Linux.
A caller asked about Mac software for recording audio. As promised on the air, Dave Burstein followed up on this and found three programs. Audio Hijack, a $16 program, was recommended by MacUser:
StreamRipperX is an open source application for Mac OS X that allows you to listen to Internet radio streams and record the songs as individual MP3 files. Finally, Audion can capture Internet radio stations and has a version for OS 9. Dave has not run Audion, but it didn't seem as straightforward as the other programs for many tasks.
In The News:
Judge Set To Rule on Windows Trademark Validity
Lindows.com has submitted its final legal papers in support of its pending Motion for Summary Judgment on
Genericness, challenging the validity of Microsoft's
trademark. The United States District Court in Seattle will address whether "windows" is a valid trademark.
PRESSI.COM December 3, 2002. A decision is expected in 30 days.
FTC settles domain name suit. CNet. December 3, 2002. The Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with five companies accused of selling bogus Web site domains including .usa, .sex, .brit and .scot. The companies were not accredited domain name registrars, and the domain names did not work. The offenders are required to provide $300,000 toward redress for consumers worldwide. This contrasts with the $1 million the raised in registration fees.
Hank's Review of DVD Copy Plus
One reason for doing this is that CD-R discs are much cheaper than DVD-R discs. In bulk, CD-R discs can be had for 10 cents each. Alfred said DVD-R discs are $3 to $5. Also, many more people have CD burners than have DVD burners and the movies you create on CD can be played on home DVD players.
Hank was disappointed with the product and its documentation. For one thing, the CD copies are of lesser quality than the original DVDs. Also, the installation instructions were not correct. Hank could not get the software up and running without technical support assistance from the vendor. To use the product, you have to shut down all other programs running on your computer.
The copy process involves three steps:
There are also copyright issues involved in copy DVD movies. They are encoded to prevent copying and breaking the encoding is illegal. However, with Copy Plus, you play the movie on your computer and it captures the video output. Joe was told by 321 Studios that since you are not breaking the CSS algorithm in any way, this is legal for making an archival copy by the owner of the commercial DVD.
There wasn't sufficient time on the show for Hank to say
everything he had to say about DVD Copy Plus. What follows is his full Product Review:
321 Studios has a newer $99 product called DVD X Copy which allows you to copy DVDs directly onto blank
DVDs. Obviously, this requires a DVD burner. As with Copy Plus, you first copy
the movie to your hard disk, then burn it to a DVD. Because
Copy Plus records onto CDs rather than DVDs, copying takes much longer and
requires more blank disks. In one test it took about an hour to copy a DVD to
another DVD with DVD X Copy. The product inserts electronic controls into the copied DVDs to prevent them from being duplicated
Joe's Gripes with CD Media
Joe tried to use an Iomega Predator USB CD Burner with no luck, at least initially. This is an external burner that plugs into the USB port. He was using high speed CD-RW discs rated for 4x to 10x. The burner is rated 1x to 6x. Should be OK, but no.
Initially, he tried the CD burner with IBM and HP machines both running Windows 98 and it didn't work. Then he hooked it up to a Windows XP machine and it also didn't work. Then he called Iomega and was told that his CD burner software, Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5 was not supported. Iomega only supports up to version 4 of this Roxio software. They suggested that he use their CD burning software, HotBurn. That didn't work either.
Someone suggested that Joe try different discs. He went to Staples, bought some of the house brand and they worked in each three machines. After digging around on Iomega's web site, Joe found the Iomega CD-RW (ZipCD™ 650) drive recommended media list which is a list of the CDs known to work with Iomega burners. Quoting this web page:
Joe noticed that big name brands such as Maxell, Sony and HP are not on the approved Iomega list. Hank mentioned that TDK does not make the CDs sold under their name and there is no consistency to them. Sony also outsources their CDs.
After trying a bunch of different brands, Joe found that discs rated 1x to 4x worked on this Iomega Predator burner. However, 4x thru 10x and 24x did not work. Also, be aware that an external 10x burner meant to be used with a USB2 port, will drop back to a much slower speed when used with an older (and more common) USB 1.1 port.
Wayne gets a message from Windows 98 at boot time that it cant find a DLL needed to run a program. Alfred guessed that a program was deleted without using the uninstall feature. Hank said the missing file might have been a shared file that was inadvertently deleted. The computer runs fine after it boots. Alfred said to run MSCONFIG (from Start -> Run) and prevent the offending program from loading at boot time. One resource for missing DLLs is the Missing Files page at WebAttack.
Joe asked about deleting the AOL software. Our Joe said that AOL version 5 and 6 were very hard to uninstall but version 7 should uninstall in the normal way.
Jerry asked about photo editing software and two cheap alternatives to PhotoShop were mentioned. Hank suggested Elements, a program also from Adobe that retails for $90 but can be found on sale with rebates for $40. Some digital cameras even include it as a freebie. Alfred suggested Ulead as a good company. They make Photo Impact, which does textures and lighting effects.
Mohammed has an internal CD burner that can write at 32x. Easy CD creator 5 shows that the actual write speed is between 4x and 6x. His CD media is also rated for 32x and the program is set to burn at a high speed. Our only guess was DMA, a faster access path between the computer and internal devices. Enabling DMA for a device can speed up access times greatly. It is an option of the device in Device Manager in Windows 9x. In Windows 2000, DMA access is an option of the IDE channel, also in Device Manager. There may also be a BIOS option for DMA.
He also has an invading pop-up for pornography. Joe intends to do a show on this soon, but for now it was suggested that he anti-Spyware software. An excellent free program is Ad-aware which can be downloaded here: www.lavasoftusa.com. Another good program is Pest Patrol, which costs $30 and has a free evaluation version. However, the free version of Pest Patrol will identify pests on your system, but not remove them.
Charles has a computer where the auto-run feature is not enabled. The computer is running Windows XP Home Edition. Usually this is a property of the drive in Device Manager. For Windows XP Professional, this page has instructions for configuring AutoPlay. Annoyances.org has this page with information on CD-ROM autorun for many flavors of Windows. For Windows XP it says: "Right-click on the drive icon for your CD drive, CD recorder, or DVD drive, and select Properties. Choose the AutoPlay tab, and choose the desired action for each type of CD.
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