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December 2004 Archive

Show Recaps on this page
December 29, 2004  December 22, 2004  December 15, 2004  December 8, 2004  December 1, 2004 

For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.     

 December 29, 2004 Show



Yahoo is making available real time traffic news. Hank felt that, since it is only available on a computer, it's not much use while driving around in a car. It is not available on a cellphone or a GPS device. 

American Online reported that SPAM to their customers is down by 75%. Michael felt this was a very self-serving announcement from AOL, which has been the home office (so to speak) for SPAM for a very long time. According to figures in an AP story, last year each AOL subscriber recieved 85 email messages a day, most of it, no doubt, SPAM. Now the figure is down to 70. Be aware that email messages AOL does not like are thrown away without notifying either the sender or the recipient that a message was deleted. This pre-filtering of email takes place before any white list you may have set up, so it is possible AOL will discard email from people you told them you want to accept it from. The problem with any SPAM filtering system is false positives, so be sure to chose a system that lets you review the mail flagged as being SPAM, just in case any were flagged incorrectly.  

Are Security Vendors Tricking XP SP2?  PC World  Magazine December 21, 2004. Windows Security Center may not know when your antivirus definitions are out of date. Quoting "...when we installed Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2005 and McAfee's Internet Security Suite 2005 on a system running SP2, both apps caused the Windows Security Center to erroneously report that the products were up-to-date ... Microsoft says the onus for accurately updating the status of antivirus definitions falls on the antivirus vendors themselves ... the same flexibility that allows the antivirus vendors to manipulate the Windows Security Center leaves open the possibility that a malware writer could do the same." Translation, Windows Security Center is useless. 

Trend Micro's PC-cillin, the F-Secure anti-virus product, and others, played by the rules and reported their true status to the Windows Security Center. 

IBM and other companies are sponsoring a grid computing project to identify the genome. For more see Quoting their web site "Simply donate the time your computer is turned on, but would normally lie idle, for projects that benefit humanity. Like a screensaver, grid technology is easy to use, safe and free. When you are ready to use your computer, the grid connection will shut itself off until the next time your computer is idle."

Joanne Witt spoke about her experiences in Myanmar in Burma, one site of the tsunami. She kept in touch with Joe and Hank thanks to Internet Cafes which are much more prevalent there than they are here. In Burma the Internet cafes used dial-up modems for net access. In Myanmar they block the web based email services from Yahoo and Hotmail. Government censorship.  

Alfred pointed out that this year saw a big boom is wireless Internet access. Most hotels though, don't yet support encryption (WEP or WPA). 

Joanne felt there was nothing this year in the computing world that qualified as technology. 

Michael felt that the spread of Spyware this year has been brutal. You can get infected in many different ways, new computers don't ship with anti-Spyware software pre-installed, to get rid of it you need to run more than one program, all in all, he called it a plague on Windows based computes. 

Hank felt that SPAM was the big IT story of the year and Alfred agreed. Stevie voted for the iPod and Satellite Radio. One study said that 75% of all email was SPAM, another said that 83% of all Internet traffic was SPAM email. Because there is no cost to the sender, there is no disincentive. 

Next year, Alfred expects continued consolidation in the PC market and that companies like Velocity, makers of game oriented PCs, that target niche markets will be successful. 

Joanne felt that blogs will continue to be important in bringing information to people. Alfred wondered how you separate the good from the useless blogs. She found the blogs were very up to date and insightful regarding the recent tsunami story. 
  2004: Big Year for Blogs  IDG News Service January 3, 2005. Readership is up, but most Web surfers still don't know what blogs are.

XXX, on a small screen near you CNET December 30, 2004 

 December 22, 2004 Show



In The News

In yet another example of the caution that should be exhibited when using new software, the newly revised Windows firewall in Windows XP Service Pack 2 had a big bug and was basically not doing its job. If you had file and printer sharing enabled (and it is often the default) you may have been sharing the files and printers on your computer with everyone on the entire Internet. Oops. Microsoft just released a bug fix, but it does not go all the way. To be really protected, Microsoft suggests using a hardware firewall. In other words, they don't trust themselves. Those of us here at the show, suggest using ZoneAlarm. 

Digital cameras are the number one gift for 2004, replacing DVD players. We did a show on digital photography last week. It is an $85 billion global business. Prices for cameras have dropped dramatically. 

Wal-Mart is selling a new laptop for under $500. Instead of Windows XP, it runs the Linspire (formerly known as Lindows) edition of Linux. The hardware is low end, a 1 GHz processor and 128 MB of ram. Open Office is included which offers word processing, spreadsheet and more. Hank felt that for a couple hundred dollars more you might be better off with a Windows based machine.  

Verizon DSL has a 15/30 offering. This means  they will increase the download speed of a DSL connection from 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps and also increase the upload speed from 384 Kbps to 768 Kbps. If you call Verizon and ask them, they'll even lower the price. If you don't ask them, the price will go up. To get the lower price you have to sign a 12 month contract with a $99 cancellation fee, but Verizon includes a free WiFi router with the one year contract. On January 19, 2005 will be discussing new offerings from Verizon DSL with a Verizon executive. 

In still more fallout from their being a monopoly, Microsoft was forced to offer Windows XP for sale in Europe without Windows Media Player.  
   Microsoft to Immediately Comply with EU Remedies in eWeek December 22, 2004 

 Electronic Voting 

Our guest was Dr. Rebecca Mercuri and we discussed electronic voting in 2004: where it failed, where it succeeded and what is there to be learned. 

To see a list of problems from the November elections, a good website is which has a "mess ups du jour" section that you can search by state or even voting equipment manufacturer.

80% of the ballots in the November election were processed by computers. In some states an independent recount is not allowed. With fully electronic voting machines (which counted 30% of the votes) there is no way to do a recount anyway. 

In a couple states (one of them Florida) they used Unity Vote tallying machines from ESS to count optically scanned absentee ballots. At first the totals went up, but then as more votes came in, the number of votes went down! It switched "somewhere around 32,000". Turns out it switched at exactly 32,767 which is 32K. An overflow bug having to do with twos compliment and the sign bit. If it hadn't been caught, it might have gone forwards and backwards forever. This was a known problem in 2002 and was never fixed!  Broward Florida knew about this problem, had requested it be fixed but it was never fixed. The whole chain of command is a problem. This story was not covered much in the main stream media.

30% of voters in Florida opted to vote absentee. 

In Indiana they counted democratic votes as libertarians.  

In North Carolina there were quite a few computerized voting problems. Dr. Mercuri will soon be testifying there regarding a do-over election (they took a mulligan the first time around). In Carteret, a machine with no independent audit trail seemed to have lost votes due to a software overflow problem. Two state council races were close enough to have the missing votes be significant. In Cravens county votes were doubled in many counties resulting in more votes than voters. 

There are so many errors and mistakes and there is no control over them.  

 December 15, 2004 Show



In The News 

Time Warner Cable will increase the speed of its broadband Internet connections to 5 and 8 Mbps, without raising prices. New York City will see the speed increase first (starting Tuesday). The rest of the country will get the faster speeds in January. Road Runner has about 3 mbps and the premium service was 6 mbps. Similarly, Cablevision, Cox, Comcast and RCN raised their speeds earlier this year to a range of 4 - 7 mbps. The other companies also did not raise their prices. Time Warner Cable has 3.7 million broadband customers. You can check your speed here

The Adobe Acrobat reader has serious security bugs. A malicious PDF file could let an attacker take total control of your computer. The problems affect both the full Adobe Acrobat product and the Reader program in versions 6.0 to 6.0.2 on Windows and Macintosh. Adobe released a fix in version 6.0.3 of the Acrobat Reader which is now available, but a pain to get. The latest version that you can download is 6.0.1 which has the bugs. The download is about 16 megabytes. The Adobe documentation says this can be upgraded to version 6.0.2 which also has the bug. Adobe does not mention the bugs or version 6.0.3 on their web site. 
   Adobe smoothes kinks in Acrobat  December 15, 2004 CNET
   Adobe patches holes in Reader  December 15, 2004 by Techworld staff 

No news here: Microsoft released fixes for 5 serious security bugs. There is a new player this time - WordPad. The bug fix for WordPad is only available to Windows XP users. If you have an older version of Windows, tough luck 
Microsoft Issues 5 Important Security Bulletins ENT News December 15, 2004 

A new variation on the Zafi worm is going around, disguised as a Christmas greeting. If you get email from an unknown source, do not click on anything in the message. 
E-Card Holiday Virus Packs Ugly Punch December 15, 2004 eWeek 
Zafi worm purports to be Christmas greeting CNET December 14, 2004 

There is a problem with Windows XP Home Edition when it tries to connect to another system as a file server on a peer-to-peer network. Quoting from Microsoft KB article 177078: "After you install Norton AntiVirus for Windows or IBM AntiVirus 3.01N (Build 301.590), you receive the following error messages: Not enough server storage is available to process this command. -and- Not enough memory to complete transaction. Close some applications and retry."

Windows XP SP2 causes big problems for a UPS (the package delivery guys) application. 

 Digital Photography 

Our guests were the authors of PC Magazine's Guide to Digital Photography (John Wiley, October, 2004), Daniel and Sally Wiener Grotta. Hank liked the book. Digital cameras are the biggest holiday gif this year. 

Sally suggested buying a camera only after trying it on, that is, confirming that it fits your hand and you can get at the controls easily. 

Megapixels are a measure of quantity, not of quality. Other things such as the lens and the dynamic range effect the quality of the pictures. Think of a Dodge with 250 horsepower vs. a Mercedes with 250 horsepower. 

3-4 Megapixels yields a good quality 8.5 x 11 print.  Professional cameras of 12-14 Megapixels are about the equal to good film camera. 

The Nikon D70  is a  6 megapixel digital camera with all the feel of a film camera and it takes Nikon lenses. 

Digital zoom is phooey. It takes all the pixels and spreads them further apart to fill a larger frame, thus degrading the quality. Our guests suggested never using the digital zoom. 

Shuttle lag is the between your pressing the shutter button and the picture actually being taken. In part this is because computing happens when you take a picture. If the camera does not have enough memory, this computing takes time. It also takes time to save the picture. Cheaper cameras have a smaller buffer and thus the shuttle lag is worse. There is a trick however - press the shutter button down halfway while composing the picture and point the center of the lens at main subject of picture, even if its off center. This gets the auto focus and auto exposure to lock in. Then re-frame and take your picture. 

Why are there no digital cameras with wide angle lenses? The image sensor is smaller than a 35mm frame, perhaps as small as a pinky fingernail. Sometimes the lens is smaller - 6.5 millimeter is roughly equal to a 50mm lens in the film world. 

Our guests split in their opinion of electronic viewfinders, Sally hated it, Daniel loved it. This is part of making sure the camera fits you.  

Sally suggested buying the right camera regardless of type of memory cards it uses with the one exception being if you already have a large library of existing memory cards from an older camera. 


Danny suggested purchasing a digital camera with standard rechargeable batteries. Some cameras can use ordinary AAs. One problem with ordinary Alkaline batteries is that they have very little power, so it was suggested to only use them in emergencies. Hank suggested keep the LCD screen off to save battery strength. Also, you can buy generic versions of some of the proprietary batteries. 

 December 8, 2004 Show



After years of decline, IBM is getting out of the Personal Computer business. They sold the division, which is said to gross $10 billion a year for less than $2 billion to a Chinese firm, Lenovo, that was already making IBM ThinkPad laptops. IBM retains a 19% interest in the new company. For the first 18 months, computers will retain the IBM and ThinkPad brand name. Then the machines will be co-branded until 40 months, at which point Lenovo will be the main brand.

Our guest was David Perry of Trend Micro, the company behind PC-cillin, an anti-virus program.

Trend Micro is giving away an anti-virus program for cellphones. David said there are currently no known in-the-wild cellphone viruses. Both Symbian and Microsoft smart phones have had viruses written to attack them. The software works in real-time to prevent virus infections. There was a virus for Bluetooth cellphones, but it was hard to get infected because the user had to answer a question and enter a code before getting infected. 

SPAM is getting out of control. Please, never ever buy anything advertised by a SPAM email message. If people did not purchase the products, the incentive for SPAM would go away. Postini handles 2.4 billion emails a week to filter it for corporate customers. They reported that in November, 88% of the email was malicious (SPAM, phishing, viruses and the like). Eighty Eight percent!  

Alfred mentioned a simple anti-spam scheme, an agreed upon keyword that has to be the first subject of any email message. The recipient discards all emails without that keyword. A secret handshake, so to speak. Pretty drastic. Joe and Michael have had problems responding to people who use a challenge-response system. For home use, David suggested a white list, which means accepting email only from people you have designated. 

Part of the problem is that it is very easy to spoof the FROM address of an email message. Many systems to authenticate the sender of a message have been proposed, but none is yet in widespread use. The best defense to SPAM is intelligence. Never buy anything advertised from a SPAM message. 

Of the 122,000 known viruses, only 2,000 or so have been spotted in the wild and infected computers. The rest are referred to as "zoo" samples. 

The Trenton Computer Festival will be April 16th & 17th, 2005. The Keynote Speaker is Brian Kernighan 

Note: After the show, Secunia released a warning about a security bug in many web browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and more). Currently there are no software fixes. The problem happens when you are browsing to a trusted web site in one window and a bad guys web site in another window. If you click on a link on the trusted web site, the bad guys web site can hijack the newly opened window and display anything it wants inside that window. The only work-around is browse to one web site at a time. Secunia's web site has a test that demonstrates whether your web browser is vulnerable to this problem. 

 December 1, 2004 Show

audio archives


Lycos issued a screen saver that bombards spammers with spam. It is/was available at
Update: As of December 6, 2004, Lycos has backed off and is no longer is spamming anyone. 

The Patent and Trademark Office is looking to hire 950 more examiners, an increase of almost 50%. It now takes 25 months to process an application. 

Philadelphia had planned on offering free WiFi for the entire city. The plan was complicated when Verizon, the mayor and the governor got involved. The state does not want the city to offer WiFi for a fee. 

The UK Department of Work and Pension was going to upgrade 7 machines. Instead they upgraded thousands by mistake, causing lots of grief. 

Also, in the UK, Microsoft is offering a free legal copy of Windows XP if you turn in a pirated copy. The price: they want to know how you got the illegal copy. 

Joe has warned in the past that when you install Windows on a laptop computer, there may be proprietary drivers needed that you can only get from the computer manufacturer. If the manufacturer does not make these driver available, you're out of luck. A listener wrote in to point out that IBM provides drivers for all their laptop computers for many years after the machine was manufactured. 

Joe has had problems getting drivers for an all-in-one IBM NetVista machine that is based on a ThinkPad, but is a desktop machine. 

David Perry from Trend Micro will be our guest next week to discuss malware - malicious software. 
   Damage Cleanup Engine / Template and Sysclean 

On December 15th our guests will be the authors of a book on digital photography and digital cameras. See the announcements page.

Hank suffers slowdowns when getting his email from Earthlink using their webmail service. He can get to other web sites just fine, it is only email that is slow. He contacted Earthlink about this and got a fairly useless reply. 

Michael is also an Earthlink customer and he too had a sorry tale to tell about their tech support. In fact, for a different problem, Michael got the same canned suggestion that they sent Hank. In both cases, the suggested solution had nothing to do with the problem at hand. Michael has documented his gripes here

Joe was having latency problems with Road Runner and they sent over a technician who was actually qualified to debug the problem. The problem was not Joe's computer and it was not in his premises at all, rather the problem was way down the line. On the one hand Joe was very impressed that Road Runner sent a qualified technician. On the other hand, Road Runner took a very long time to track down the real problem.  

Webmaster:  Michael Horowitz            Page Last Updated:  January 7, 2005