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July 2002 Archive
For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.
Hank was excited about a new network storage device from Western Digital. Previous products in this category came with 40 or 60 gig hard disks. The new one comes with a 200 gig hard disk that spins at 7200 rpm and uses three platters instead of the usual two. Hank found the price quite reasonable, but Alfred wondered how you back up 200 gigabytes of data.
Ziff Davis Media is on the verge of bankruptcy and it is expected they will be re-organized soon. They publish PC Magazine, eWeek magazine and the ExtremeTech web site. They used to publish the now defunct Family PC and Yahoo Internet Life magazines. Alfred said that PC Magazine is profitable, though it is not the money maker it used to be.
Bryant Park, behind the 42nd Street Library has been unwired for WiFi. You can now sit in the park with a laptop computer and a WiFi card and be on the Internet. According to NYC Wireless there are over 70 access points around the city that you can get into. Dave mentioned some ISPs (Broadway.net, Speakeasy, probably Covad, probably Panix) that don't mind your hooking up their high speed digital connection to a wireless LAN. Joe mentioned that Acecap in New York also does not mind. In contrast, Time Warner threatens to disconnect you for linking your cable connection to a wireless access point.
A caller asked about Lindows. Lindows is
a version of Linux. WalMart
now sells computers with Lindows starting at $299 for computer without a
monitor. What makes Lindows different from other flavors of Linux is that it can
run some Windows programs. See the Lindows website for more information.
Joe pointed out the Lindows is still in beta and no one has actually seen a
computer running Lindows.
A caller had a problem with a Canon printer. He bought it used and downloaded the Windows Me driver for it from Canon. When he prints web pages, only the hypertext links print. It skips everything else. Alfred suggested printing the self test page. Many printers can print such a page on their own, without a need for Windows or any printer drivers. This is different from the self test page that the Windows printer driver offers to print. The button/key combination to invoke the self test page varies for different printers. Joe suggested looking at the Canon web site for information on how to invoke the test page for Canon printers. Alfred said the purpose of the self test page is to insure that all the colors are working. It was also suggested that he try to print from Notepad. One possibility is that the black ink cartridge is simply empty. Some printers will warn you about empty print cartridges, but Alfred said that Canon printers do not. Alfred also noted that with Canon printers the inkjet print head is in the carrier for the ink cartridge, not in the cartridge itself. It may be that what is needed is a new cartridge carrier because the print heads might be clogged.
A caller has an old Apple iMac that suffered an error type 2 which means it could not read the hard disk. He wondered if he can replace the hard drive and put in a larger one? Hank said yes. The safest strategy though is to buy a new hard disk of the same size from the same vendor that made the original one. A larger one might work, but it depends on whether the iMac BIOS will recognize the larger disk. Many disk drives are warranted for 3 years, separate and independent of the computer warranty. It is possible the hard disk vendor might honor that warranty. It was suggested he take the machine to Tekserve, a store on 23rd Street in Manhattan that honestly repairs Macs for a reasonable price.
The idea of using power lines for networking has been around for a long time. Last year a consortium called the HomePlug Powerline Alliance adopted a new industry standard with speeds of up to 14 megabits per second over AC power lines. Networking via powerline has some advantages over competing technologies (WiFi, Ethernet cables, phone lines).
Some of the downsides are that the network interface devices are larger than those of competing technologies and more expensive. Currently, you can expect to pay twice or three times as much for Powerline networking adapters compared to WiFi. As Powerline networking expands however, prices might fall. Also, major appliances turning on and off can interfere with the networking, as noted in the Stephen Manes article below.
Powerline LANs are rated with a speed of up to 14Mbps, theoretically faster than phone-line networking using the HPNA 2.0 standard (phone line) and WiFi. One article reported a real life speed of just over 4 Mbps, comparable to WiFi. PC World magazine reported transfer rates of 5.5 Mbps in their July 2002 issue. Hank felt the speed was equal to a standard 10baseT connection.
All Powerline (also referred to as HomePlug) products use encryption (64-bit DES encryption with a 56-bit key) and offer password protection. All the devices in your home must have the same password to communicate. The data signal does not pass through your electrical meter, so there are limited neighbors that you need to be concerned about hacking into your LAN. On the other hand, this level of encryption was described as easy to break on the show.
Powerline networking adapters should not be plugged into surge protectors because they might filter out the data signal. The computer and monitor however, can still be plugged into surge protectors. This should only be a critical issue in a house with surge protection installed at a main junction for the entire house. Hank found that it did not work on a TrippLite surge protector. It should work though on a plain power strip.
Powerline networking is separate and distinct from X10.
Some articles about Powerline networking
Some Powerline vendors
A caller asked about a product he was using called Passport from Intelogis. This is an earlier version of Powerline networking. The vendor, Intelogis, became Inari and no longer sells consumer products. They introduced the first Powerline network adapter, the PassPort PlugIn Network™ kit in 1997. It worked with Windows 95 and 98, connected to the parallel port and transferred data at 350Kbps. Later generations of the product transferred data at 2Mbps, then 12Mbps. Our guest, Bruce Brown said these products had some problems and that there are no upgrades available.
A caller asked about some computer monitors that had differing levels of brightness in different areas of the screen. Alfred warned never to take the case off a CRT monitor. There is high voltage inside a CRT monitor and they are dangerous even if they have been unplugged for a week. In general, you should keep monitors away from electrical equipment. Hank suggested using the monitors in other locations and hooked up to different computers to see if the problem persisted.
The age-old question was asked again, should someone buy a Windows based computer or an Apple Mac for desktop publishing. It was said that if you ask three experts this question, you'll get four opinions. Alfred noted that the Mac is not price competitive with Windows computers so it remains a niche product. Hank suggested going with a PC (Windows) unless using a Mac can get you a job. Alfred suggested that if you work with people in the graphics arts industry, then a Mac is the way to go. In general, it was agreed that the choice of an operating system is a matter of taste. A later caller who has used audio software on both machines said that sound editing programs are better on the Mac.
A caller wanted advice on buying a 21 inch LCD monitor with a built-in TV tuner. He wanted to use it as both a TV set and a computer display. Prices on products in this category have fallen from $1,800 to $1,200 in a year. Alfred suggested waiting a couple months because prices can be expected to fall. He noted that a number of new manufacturing plants were soon going to come on-line and that they were more efficient than older plants. As such, he expected supply to outstrip demand and result in lower prices. Hank said that there was no advantage to having the TV tuner built into the monitor. These displays have a video input jack that can be fed by the TV tuner in a VCR.
the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, which is separate and independent of Palladium. It is available now and is focused on keeping your pc safe, not on Digital Rights Management. It offers a better pc architecture with security chips on the motherboard.
There is a bug with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) that only effects users of Microsoft Outlook. Outlook Express users are OK. The problem occurs when PGP is used as a plug-in to Outlook. Network Associates has a free downloadable bug fix. PGP itself, has not been cracked. Newscan covered this: Pretty Poor Privacy from Network Associates. The bug allows an attacker to do anything a user of that machine could do such as copy and delete files.
At MacWorld, new versions of the iPod were announced. Joe mentioned that it can store data, not just songs. Wired magazine wrote about this in February 2002: Have iPod, Will Secretly Bootleg.
The recent Annual Reader Survey on Service & Reliability by PC Magazine was discussed. In what is not news, AOL continues to be disliked by their customers. The top ISPs were ATT WorldNet and Earthlink. Joining AOL as the worst ISP was MSN. In Hardware, Dell and Handspring scored well. Dave called Dell "awful" and it was agreed that although they are, everyone else is worse. Below are links to some stories in the news about Dell technical support:
In laptops, IBM and HP scored well. Dave said the survey results, which came from 15,000 PC Magazine readers, were accurate. He noted that it was the same information you would get from asking friends at a computer club.
Gator was in the news this week. Gator is free software that you install on your computer to manage your userids and passwords. Dave said it is often installed by accident or as part of installing another product (Gator is bundled with AudioGalaxy, Gozilla, WeatherBug and more). Gator does not produce pop-up ads. Joe said they frame the content of other web sites. Hank said they attach ads to a known web site. A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia ruled against Gator this week. Joe noted that Alexandria is very close to the home office of AOL and that AOL is against Gator. Is it co-incidence that a judge from AOL's home town ruled in their favor? The New York Times and a few other companies sued Gator accusing them of using their content as a way to sell Gator ads. This weeks news: Judge clamps down on Gator. By Stefanie Olsen. Special to ZDNet News. July 12, 2002. For a good background on Gator read this CNet article from August 7, 2001. Other software to manage your passwords and fill in forms is AI RoboForm, which is both cost-free and ad-free. Gator can be uninstalled using "add/remove programs" in the control panel. AdAware will also remove it.
Jennie Bourne and Dave Burstein wrote a book in December 2001 called DSL: A Wiley Tech Brief
Joe recommended seniornet.org, a web site for senior citizens.
A caller asked about buying a new pc. Alfred suggesting going with a machine with a slower cpu speed but more ram. Hank preferred buying a machine with a faster cpu, arguing that ram can always be added later. Hard disk speed and buffer size are also important considerations in a new pc. An 8 meg buffer is generous and preferred. Joe suggested looking into a refurbished computer as a way to get more bang for your buck. If maintenance of the computer is a priority, then of course, buy a new one and opt for a three year on-site maintenance agreement. Everyone agreed that you should always pay careful attention to the maintenance agreement with a laptop computer.
Someone looking for a Fortran compiler for
Windows was referred to Microsoft and Intel. Joe also suggested eBay and Google
thinking that anyone who had a Fortran compiler was looking to sell it.
For someone whose computer was acting up, it was suggested they go to housecall.antivirus.com (from Trend Micro) for a free virus check of your computer.
Alfred mentioned the Boneyard Bundle Special at Microcenter. It consists of a: Pentium Computer, 17" SVGA monitor and an HP 600 series inkjet printer for $99. The part numbers are: PC 493320, Monitor 492959, Printer 662197. There are limited quantities and a printer cartridge is not included. These are used systems that have been tested for power-on and will require an operating system, drivers, and other adaptations for your specific needs. All sold as is. Non-returnable. Selection varies by store. Microcenter has a store in Westbury, Long Island at 655 Merrick Avenue. (516) 683-6760.
A program was discussed that claims to speed up your download times. It does not. Worse than that it is spyware. To both detect and clean up spyware on your computer, AdAware is an excellent and free program. It runs under Windows 95, 98, ME, NT4, 2000, and XP. Alternate links for it are www.lavasoftusa.com and/or www.lavasoft.de.
Gene Kan, a programmer who helped develop the music-swapping Web site Gnutella, died recently. He was 25 years old and apparently took his own life. CNN covered this on July 10, 2002: Gnutella developer dies in apparent suicide. Steve Gillmor wrote about it in the July 15, 2002 issue of InfoWorld magazine. The Mercury News wrote about it on July 25, 2002: Young Net visionary couldn't see his own worth by Mary Anne Ostrom and Joshua L. Kwan. Listeners in New York City can seek help with depression at the Mood Disorders Support Group.
On the subject of the digital divide:
Neil Ticktin the CEO of Xplain Corp. was the guest. Xplain will manage the Special Interest Pavilions at Macworld, including MacTech Central. The upcoming Macworld Conference & Expo will take place July 15-19,2002 in Manhattan. Further details are on our Announcements page. Among the subjects discussed were two web sites Rumor Tracker, which tracks 10 Mac Rumor sites and Mac OS Rumors.
On the subject of video editing software, Alfred suggested ULead as a company with a good reputation that makes mid-range software products. He uses their graphics program.
A caller asked about the differences between the Intel P4 cpu and one from AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Hank said that all things being equal, he recommends going with the AMD chip because they are cheaper. He also noted that AMD chips perform better than Intel chips when both are rated at the same processing speed. For the average computer buyer, the P4 and equivalent AMD chips are functionally identical. While the P4 has more instructions, no one uses the extra capabilities provided by these instructions. AMD is not a niche player, they have 20% of the market.
Regarding a COMS battery failed message, Hank pointed out that the CMOS is memory that tells the computer important information about itself. It is powered by a battery that, like all batteries, inevitably fails. To replace the battery, you first have to remove the cover from the computer. Hank said there are two types of CMOS batteries. A button type is easy to remove and replace. Other batteries however, are soldered on to the motherboard and instead of replacing them, you have to add an extra pack to it, a more complex operation. Alfred suggested getting a copy of a book he co-wrote with David Stone called Troubleshooting Your PC. It has instructions on replacing CMOS batteries and should be in the library. Amazon sells it for less than $20.
A caller asked about an internal Zip drive that no longer functioned. It was suggested to use Device Manager to logically remove the Zip drive from the computer and then re-boot. Windows should automatically detect it at startup and re-install the necessary drivers.
Alfred, Hank and Joe agreed that the best way to go is a disk imaging product such as Drive Image by PowerQuest or Ghost by Symantec. These products run while Windows is down and back up disk sectors rather than files. They can span a single disk image backup across multiple CDs. Hank suggested making an image backup while the system is performing well and again prior to installing software. An advantage of disk image backups is that all the drivers, which are unique to your computer, get restored. Disk image backups also avoid the problem of backing up files (such as Windows system files) while the OS is running.
A disk image is great for restoring an entire system, however, file level backups are still required. Typically, file level backups will run much more frequently than disk image backups. A disk image product restores partitions, typically one (but possibly more). On a computer with a single disk partition, restoring it restores the entire system. However, a better design is to keep the Operating System and applications in one partition and your data files segregated into another partition. This way, a disk image restore of the OS and applications will not clobber your data. It also allows for OS backups that don't include your data and thus run faster.
Dave suggested a second hard disk for backups because they are cheap and fast, however Joe warned that disk drive controller failure will impact both hard disks. Hank also warned that in case of a fire both hard disks are again impacted. Disk image backups on CDs can easily be kept off-site.
Alfred mentioned that he will soon have an article on ExtremeTech about RAID disk controllers. These devices keep two hard disks in synch, mirror images of each other. They are typically used on servers to protect from the failure of a single hard disk. RAID disk mirroring is not however appropriate for system recovery. Alfred noted that a virus that infects on hard disk will be mirrored an infect the other one too. Likewise, a file that you delete by mistake will be deleted from both hard disks.
Making a DCC connection between Windows Me and XP
A caller asked about making a Direct Cable Connection between computers running Windows Me and XP. Alfred advised against it. Sounding like he fought this battle many times, he advised against using DCC in general. Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article on it called How to Create a Direct Cable Connection. The article applies to Windows XP.
There are a number of ways to network two computers. DCC is at the low end of the spectrum. It is a feature of Windows and was included in Windows 95, 98 and 2000. As the name implies it is is a direct connection between two computers using either a serial cable or a printer/parallel cable. Note that the printer/parallel cable used in this case is not at all like a standard printer cable. It is a special type of cable designed specifically for file transfers between two computers and is typically called a crossover cable or a Laplink cable. Parallel cables are faster than serial cables.
Next up the networking food chain is a LAN without a hub. That is, you can establish a LAN-like connection using Ethernet adapters in each computer and a cable between the Ethernet adapters. As with DCC, this is not the usual Ethernet cable, it is called a crossover cable and designed for this purpose (and others). Standard Windows networking software is used in this case. Crossover cables can even be used with DOS based machines (no Windows OS) using DOSLAN software.
The computers used by the caller did not have NICs, so the suggested solution was LapLink, a classic product for transferring files from one computer to another. Like DCC, LapLink works over a cable that directly connects two computers. In effect, LapLink lets you build a network using just an existing port on your computer. There are multiple versions of Laplink. PCsync 3 is probably the most appropriate version for file transfers between two computers. When purchased in a box, PCsync 3 includes a serial cable.
Laplink supports three types of cables: serial, parallel and USB. A LapLink Serial Cable offers the most compatibility, but the slowest transfer speed. It has proprietary pin-outs and transfers files at speeds up to 0.4 Mbps. A LapLink Parallel Cable is supported with Windows Me/98/95. It is a proprietary cable designed to work with most LapLink products. Their parallel cable provides up to 0.7 Mbps file transfers. The LapLink USB Network cable transfers files at up to 5 Mbps. At the moment, the vendor is offering a free USB cable with an online purchase.
Other software for interconnecting one PC to another includes FastLynx 3.22 and Fast PC Linker (DOS) 2.54 which is shareware.
The book Jenny mentioned on the show was Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground by Curt Cloninger. Amazon currently sells it for $24.50.
The Hackers convention, H2K2, will be in New York City July 12, 2002 through the 14th.
Internet group leaves ordinary surfer high and dry CNN July 4, 2002. ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, oversees the Internet's name system. They voted to exclude ordinary Web surfers from their board in a move critics say allows mainstream interests to tighten their grip on the online world.
Webmaster: Page Last Updated: January 16, 2003