The Personal Computer Radio Show  WBAI-FM 99.5
New York City


January 2005 Show  Summaries

Show Recaps on this page
  January 26, 2005   January 19, 2005  January 12, 2005   January 5, 2005 

January 26, 2005 Show

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This was a fund raising show so there were no listener questions. As usual, we covered some computer stories in the news and Alfred led a discussion of troubleshooting your computer. 

Microsoft has a Windows anti-piracy program which is currently voluntary. In the second half of this year however, if you want to download updates for Microsoft products you will need to prove that your copy of Windows is legitimate. People with pirated copies of Windows will still be able to download security updates, but only with Automatic Updates. The article below says that in United States alone, almost a quarter of all Windows users run an unlicensed copy of the OS.
   Microsoft to restrict fixes for pirated Windows copies AP, January 26, 2005. 

Verizon raises DSL prices to cover tax costs  January 21, 2005 CNET News.com 
  

January 19, 2005 Show

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In The News

Man Charged in Tsunami Relief Scam January 17, 2005. NewsFactor Network. 

Google has a list of web sites that provide information and handle donations for victims throughout the region at  www.google.com/tsunami_relief.html 

eBay has increased their rates for their basic stores (not for the auctions). 

Nicholas Ciarelli is a 19-year-old Harvard freshman and the person behind www.ThinkSecret.com, a web site devoted to Macs. He is being sued by Apple for revealing Apple trade secrets on his web site. He correctly predicted the existence of the Mac Mini a couple weeks before Apple announced the product. A San Francisco lawyer, Terry Gross, a specialist in freedom of speech and the Internet, will defend him on a pro bono basis. The legal argument will be that Mr. Ciarelli used proper news-gathering techniques and deserves First Amendment protection. The trade secret is said to be picture of the Mac Mini which was published on the site. 

A court ruled in favor of Vonage, that they don't have to pay access charges. Hank's Verizon cellphone service is $35, but his actual bill is $44. This is the sort of fees/taxes that Vonage and other VOIP companies will not have to pay. At least for now. 


Panix Domain Hijacking

We spoke with Alexis Rosen, the President of Panix about the hijacking of their domain over the past weekend. For background see: 

In brief, this is what Panix had to say (from their web site): "The hijack occurred because an Australian registrar, MelbourneIT, failed to do proper confirmation of a fraudulent domain transfer request they received. The normal process, which includes notifications to the original registrar and the current domain holder, did not occur." 

The term "domain" on the Internet refers to names such as sony.com, cuny.edu, pcradioshow.org and panix.com. Domains are registered by companies called registrars. Some registrars are directnic.com and register.com. Panix used a registrar called Dotster. 

The panix.com domain belongs to Panix, a company in New York City that provides Internet access and web site hosting. Joe King uses them and he has an email address at panix.com. When Joe couldn't get his email, he at first thought the problem was on his end. 

The problem was caused by ownership of the panix.com domain being transferred from the registrar used by Panix (Dotster), to another registrar, one in Australia called MelbourneIT. The domain determines which computer responds to requests such as pointing your web browser at www.panix.com. When ownership of the Panix domain switched to Australia, it no longer pointed to the computers in Manhattan that are the Panix web site. It also no longer pointed to the computers that are supposed to handle the email for Panix customers. All the computers in Manhattan were alive and well, but the Internet master file (so to speak) was no longer pointing to them. 

The rules for tracking ownership of a domain leave a lot to be desired in terms of operational requirements. In this case however, it was a failure to execute the rules that let ownership of panix.com get transferred without anyone at Panix being asked for approval. 

MelbourneIT did not handle the domain registration transfer themselves, it was processed by a reseller of their services. The reseller accepted payment for panix.com from a stolen credit card and never checked with Panix before transferring their domain. The rules require the gaining registrar (the one with new business) to check with the current owners of a domain to insure that a transfer request is valid. How this checking is done varies and it may be possible for someone to spoof or forge an approval. However, in this case, no proof was sought at all. The reseller never bothered to check with Panix. 

MelbourneIT and their reseller each said the other one should have been doing the authentication. 

This sort of thing can happen to anyone at all, even Verizon (for example) and bring a business to its knees. 

Fixing the system is extraordinarily complicated as there are many political interests involved. 

Mr. Rosen first learned of the problem when he got paged at 4:30AM. Anyone referring to panix.com (either in an email message or a web site) was being re-directed to the wrong place. Email to Panix customers was not getting through. Panix figured out in about 30 minutes what had happened. 

Panix dates back to 1989, they were one of the first ISPs in New York City. Many members of law enforcement are Panix customers which turned out to be a good thing as assorted law enforcement agencies got involved in this. 

At this point, Panix does not know who instigated the domain theft. What was to be gained from this? Why might someone pick on them? Alexis had some guesses: 

  • Someone with a grudge against Panix - they fight spammers a lot and have mad their share of enemies amongst the bad guys
  • The current rules for domain transfers are fairly new and not carved in stone. It might have been a demo by someone out to prove that the current rules are bad. In the past, the losing registrar could refuse to give up the domain for a long time. The best registrars handle transfers by sending you a one time URL that can't be forged. 
  • Someone might have been out to embarrass MelbourneIT
  • Extortion. But no one asked for money
  • Blackmailers may have wanted to make an example of Panix. In the future blackmailers may threaten other companies with this.  

Listener Questions

One caller had a problem displaying pictures in Internet Explorer. We suggested checking Tools -> Internet Options -> Advanced tab and making sure that the Show Pictures check box is selected. After the show a listener (thanks Harry) suggested another solution based on another symptom: that the pictures can be made to appear by changing View -> Encoding to another language. Likewise, this listener was able to get a temporary fix by switching to Western European (Windows), but the fix wouldn't "stick". Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article Pictures Are Not Displayed on Web Sites in Internet Explorer that describes a problem where IE cannot determine the character set (also called code page or encoding) that is used by the web page. It may also be that a file or registry key required to display the web page may be missing or damaged. The KB article includes instructions on how to edit the Registry to fix this. 
  

 January 12, 2005 Show

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In The News

Hi Definition TV will soon be able to be transmitted over electric wires. Home Plug is the name for computer networks that run over AC power lines. A new spec was just released that bumps up the speed of electricity based networks to 200 MBPS. 

Microsoft is making available a free virus removal program. The program does not detect viruses and updates are provided only once a month so this is in no way shape or form a substitute for a real anti-virus program. It also does not provide protection from new infections. This may be just the first step in a long road for Microsoft, we may see a more full featured product from them in the future. 

Microsoft also just released a free beta (read, "buggy") version of their new anti-spyware software. The irony here is brutal, as it is the design of Windows that makes Spyware possible in the first place. The beta expires July 31, 2005. At this point, Microsoft has not decided whether or not to charge for the software in the future. 

The version of Windows that runs on PDAs used to be called Windows CE and was often referred to as WinCe. In part to avoid wincing at the name, Micorsoft renamed it Pocket PC about 3 years ago. It now has a new name, Windows Mobile. 

Joe will soon be on Jury Duty and mentioned that cellphones with cameras are not allowed.  

On January 22nd, Apple will roll out the cheapest Mac computer ever, the new Mac Mini. It is a tiny machine with only a processor, hard drive and optical drive, the size is about that of an external hard drive. You have to supply a monitor, mouse and keyboard. It includes USB, DVI and FireWire ports. To connect it to a normal VGA monitor requires using an included adapter cable. For $500 you get a 1.25-GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 40-GB hard drive and an optical drive that can read and burn CDs and read DVDs. For $600 you get a 1.42-GHz processor and an 80-GB hard drive. RAM can be upgraded up to 1GB, but the upgrade must be done by Apple, not by you. WiFi is optional and must be purchased pre-installed. 

The new Apple flash ram based MP3 player, the Shuffle, has no screen. We felt this was a large omission, especially since the competition does include a screen. Joe noted that the Muvo also has an FM radio. Alfred felt strongly that the iPod Shuffle will not succeed in the market. 

Alfred described his experiences with a very small external hard disk from Seagate called the Pocket Drive. It is shaped like a flying saucer or hockey puck and it plugs into a USB port. Although its not much bigger than an iPod, it does not play music, this is strictly a hard disk with a 5 GB capacity. Unlike full size hard disks, this ultra-portable model does not need a power plug. It draws all the electricity it needs from the USB port. Alfred loved it. The street price of the Seagate Pocket Drive is about $150. In comparison, 1 GB flash based thumb drives sells for about $65 to $90.    


Corel WordPerfect

In the DOS days, WordPerfect was king of the hill when it came to word processing. Joe recalled that they used to have unlimited free telephone tech support from qualified people. Of course, Word eventually took over the market for word processors. Eventually WordPerfect was purchased by Corel. Corel has since been acquired by a venture capital company called Vector Capital. You may have first run across Corel using their Draw program which was their first flagship product. 

Our guest was Mark Rathwell, product marketing manager for Corel, which has just come out with a new Office suite.  

Mark said there are 20 million active WordPerfect users. Corel was recently re-structured to put more of an emphasis on their Office suite (Quattro Pro is spreadsheet program in the suite). Doctors and lawyers are big WordPerfect users. Mark said there are 2 versions of WordPerfect Office, the Standard and Home and both are compatible with Microsoft Office. 

According to this Corel PDF document, there are three versions of WordPerfect Office: Standard, Home, and Student and Teacher. This document compares the features in each. 

The version Mark came to discuss was WordPerfect Office 12 Home Edition - it is specifically designed for home use. For example, it omits some advanced WordPerfect features that lawyers need. The home edition can't deal with file formats from legacy word processors, whereas the standard version of WordPerfect Office can. The Home version has templates, including among them, a resume. 

The WordPerfect productivity pack comes with many new Dell PCs. WordPerfect Office 12 Home Edition is sold at computer retailers for about $70. 

Technical support for the Home Edition is unlimited for the life of the product, but it is now via email. Turnaround time is typically 24 hours. They have a new Knowledge Base that tries to answer your tech support email question automatically. 

Joe said that with Microsoft Office, Star Office, Open Office and Lotus Smart Suite to chose from, why do we need another Office suite? Mark said that WordPerfect Office 12 Home Edition was built with the home user in mind. In contrast, the Standard version of WordPerfect Office is oriented to small business users. 

For more see www.wordperfect.com/home   

 January 5, 2005 Show

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There have been some scams to steal relief money meant for tsunami victims (special offers on eBay, bogus web sites, etc). Google has a list of web sites that provide information and handle donations for victims throughout the region at  www.google.com/tsunami_relief.html 

F.B.I. Warns of Internet Frauds That Capitalize on Tsunami New York Times January 6, 2005. The schemes have included unsolicited e-mail messages seeking money and a phony tsunami relief Web site capable of depositing a virus on your computer. 

In The News 

It turns out that the IBM PC division lost almost a billion dollars from January 1, 2001 through June 30 2004. Joe felt that most companies in the PC business lost money. IBM was the number three PC manufacturer during this period. It was felt that China is planning for the future in buying the IBM personal computer division. 

The Las Vegas airport provides WiFi for free. 

The RIAA will now have to get a court order before they go to an ISP to get the names and addresses of customers. 


  Reviews 

Joe has been evaluating a number of products and gave a quick heads up on what he has found so far. 

Scansoft just came out with version 9 of Naturally Speaking. So far Joe has been impressed with it. It has some problems though and a longer review is planned for the future. 

Corel now owns Paint Shop Pro formerly owned by JASC (it sells for under $100). Joe felt it has more features than he would ever need. It also comes with a 500 page printed manual, most unusual these days. 

The Google desktop search is free, but has some serious security implications. Joe found that, at times, it slowed down his computer drastically. Mostly Joe wanted desktop searching to help him find old email messages and the Google product does not support the email program Joe uses. Joe remains a big fan of X1, which does index his email, but is a commercial product. Yahoo will soon release some form of the X1 product for free. 

Update: January 11, 2005. Yahoo released free desktop search software that searches through more than 200 different file types on your computer and offers privacy controls to prevent unauthorized access to your stored information. This is a test version only. 
  Yahoo Launches Desktop Search at SearchEngineWatch.com  January 11, 2005. 
  Quoting: "For now, there's little difference between the X1 application and YDS"

Buffalo Link Station 

The hard disk with an Ethernet port that Hank described was the Buffalo Technology LinkStation. It is a very inexpensive LAN based hard drive - officially called Network Attached Storage (NAS). Hank recently paid about $240 for a model with 120 GB of storage. Other models are 160GB, 250GB and 300GB. In general, Hank was very pleased with the product. 

He purchased it because someone was using a Windows XP computer to store and share files and ran into a software limitation from Microsoft - only 10 concurrent users are allowed to connect. For additional computers to connect to the file server machine you have purchase fairly expensive licenses from Microsoft, called Client Access Licenses (CAL). Purchasing the LinkStation was much cheaper. 

You administer the LinkStation over the network, unlike a computer it does not require a monitor or keyboard. There is an internal web server program, you point a web browser at the device and talk to it using a web page interface. The product is fairly small (2.4” wide x 6.8” deep x 7.3” high) and it has two tricks up its sleeve (thanks to its two USB 2.0 ports). First, it can also serve as a print server for USB based printers. Second, if you want to keep two copies of your data on two different devices, you can plug an external hard disk into one of it’s two USB 2.0 ports. It can also function as an FTP server and offers restricted access with group and user level security. 

The only issue Hank mentioned was that the internal hard disk is not particularly fast. It spins at 5400 RPM rather than 7200 and has a 2 MB buffer rather than 8MB. One application he tried required a faster hard disk. For more on the subject of NAS see: 

Michael briefly mentioned a product called NASLite which can turn an old computer into a file server for $16. It also gets around the limit of 10 concurrent users, but does so by running Linux. We intend to cover NASLite in more detail later. Michael has a write-up about it on his site, the vendor is Server Elements.

Hank has also used the IOGear BOSS which has a faster hard disk.

Joe and Michael both had recent problems with secure thumb drives (a.k.a. flash drives), the security software refused to run under Windows 98.

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