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September 2002 Archive

Shows  (on this page)
September 25, 2002  September 18, 2002   September 11, 2002  September 4, 2002 

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

September 25, 2002 Show   RETURN TO TOP

ICANN, which manages the Internet's Domain Name System, was granted another year to do its job. ICANN is not universally liked and supported. ICANN Keeps Job Overseeing Internet. U.S. wants organization to still supervise, but improve some of its polices.

A government study found that ten percent of US households have high speed broadband Internet access. Dave Burstein said the current figures are actually 15 to 16 percent, that government studies tend to lag behind. In Canada, the figure is 25%, in Korea it is 52%. Two studies said that the reason for low broadband use is cost. US providers charge up to twice as much as the rest of the world. Dave said that in Japan broadband access costs $25 to $34 for 7 MB compared to the 700KB that US consumers get for $40 to $50. It was also noted that fifty percent of US families have some type of Internet access. Report: Demand Low for Broadband September 23, 2002. AP. 

Dell is going into the printer business. At first they will sell Lexmark printers with a Lexmark label. Later they will sell Lexmark printers with a Dell label. Hank said it was unlikely that someone would buy a replacement cartridge through the mail because when you need it, you need it now. Joe told of a store that could not carry all the printer cartridges for all the various printers and felt that on-line purchasing of replacement cartridges would work because of the large selection. 

The guest was Ken Plotkin of Hauppauge Computer Works. This discussion started with the question of how to get a video, that currently resides on video tape into a computer. The video tape is analog and you have to convert the video into a digital format before it can be stored in a computer. In addition, the video almost always, if not always, needs to be compressed. 

For 10 years Hauppauge has sold WinTV video digitizers. These are devices that take in analog video and digitize it so that you can store it on your hard drive. You can feed it either the output from a VCR or video camera or the digitizers also have TV tuners so they can tune in live TV shows on their own. 

Two years ago, Hauppauge added a new piece of hardware to their digitizers - an MPEG encoder chip. This lets the hardware device encode (and compress) the video into MPEG format before it is stored on your hard disk. MPEG encoding can also be done in software as Alfred mentioned. Ken noted that doing it in the hardware lets you use your computer for other tasks while the encoding is in-flight. This is not true with software encoding. Also, the combination of the TV tuner and hardware MPEG encoding lets you watch and record a TV show onto your hard disk while concurrently using the main cpu in the computer for anything else you care to do. The new devices are called WinTV PVR for Personal Video Recorder. They are essentially a TiVo for your PC. 

The MPEG2 files created by the WinTV PVR on your hard disk can be burnt to a CD. Approximately one hour of VHS quality (low quality) video or a half hour of high quality video will fit on a single CD. Alfred translated this into 4 or 5 hours of video on a recordable DVD. It was pointed out that recordable DVDs are down to about $300 to $350 for internal models.  

Ken said their products can be used to watch TV shows on a laptop computer while traveling. An hour of video can take from 650 Megabytes to 2 Gigabytes of hard disk space depending on the video quality. This is analogous to VHS tapes where, depending upon the format chosen, you can get from 2 to 6 hours on a tape. On the low end is VCD quality, where an hour of video takes only 650 Megabytes. On the high end is DVD quality, where it takes 2 Gigabytes. Their products also offer five other quality settings in between these extremes. 

The question came up of distribution. If you burn a CD or DVD with a TV show you have recorded, can you give it to a friend or relative? Joe was emphatic that you can only use it for your own use. The law forbids giving a copy to anyone else. Needless to say, the law prohibits selling it.  

Other facts about WinTVs: 

  • Presently you can not use them to watch one show on your computer while you record another show. Hauppauge is looking into this. 
  • The software has a 10 second skip ahead button that can be used to skip through commercials
  • For laptop computers, they have external USB models. Most of the digitizers however are PCI cards 
  • They work with Windows 98SE, Me, 2000 and XP 
  • Their software does not let you pause an active recording as a way of bypassing the commercials. You have to fast forward through the commercials during playback. 

A caller with a KU band satellite dish was interested in a Hauppauge DVD-S card, but they are not sold in US. Ken said that it is the European standard for consumer satellite television and as such not marketed here. He recommended calling the Hauppauge sales department which might have some because the US Government buys them.  

Another caller asked if you can reduce the file size by opting for a high quality picture in a small screen size rather than a lower quality picture. Ken said that they support 10 different video formats. Choosing high quality MPEG2 at half D1 will reduce the file size by 75%. 

SnapStream is an independent software development company that makes a product that uses a Hauppauge WinTV digitizer. Ken said it was a great application that can, among other things, stream video to a Compaq iPaq portable. 

Mark asked our opinions on buying an AMD Athlon cpu vs. an Intel Pentium 4. Alfred said there was nothing wrong with the AMD chip. Hank prefers the AMD Athlon to the Pentium 4 because it is compatible and cheaper.

He also asked if 256 megabytes of ram was enough for a new computer or should he buy a machine with 512 meg. It was agreed that 256 megabytes is plenty of ram. Alfred mentioned that Windows 9x can have problems on computers with over 512 megabytes of ram. Hank suggested looking at which monitors memory prices. For the last few months, he said memory prices have been stable. 

Marks last question was about buying a refurbished computer he saw in an HP ad in the Sunday New York Times. Hank would not hesitate to buy an HP refurb. He has had experience with quite a few of them and noted that sometimes computers sold as refurbished are really closeouts. Alfred warned that some Compaq machines make system recovery difficult due to their not including a recovery CD, but instead depending on a hidden hard drive partition. This is also true of some HP machines. 

September 18, 2002 Show   RETURN TO TOP

Apple is working with several electronics makers on a new software standard called Rendezvous that will make it easy to connect their computers to printers, cell phones and other devices. It enables electronic products to discover each other automatically over a network. Canon, Xerox, Epson, Lexmark, Philips and HP have agreed to use the Rendezvous protocol. The first printers with the software embedded in them are expected on store shelves early in 2003.  Apple Launches Software, Announces Printer Deals Reuters. September 11, 2002. 

Update: In the Business Week magazine Technology and You column by Stephen H. Wildstrom (October 7, 2002 issue) he noted that few Rendezvous equipped products are now available. He also complained that Apple released so little technical information that it is hard to compare Rendezvous to the competing technologies: Universal Plug and Play from Microsoft and Jini from Sun Microsystems. 

It was agreed that Plug and Play in Windows is much better in XP than in prior versions of Windows. Hank however has had more than his share of problems with win-modems (modems that use the cpu in the computer for processing rather than include their own cpu). Joe repeated an old warning that anyone using a win-modem is asking for trouble.  

AMD to Unveil Double-Gate Transistors  Reuters. September 10, 2002. . Advanced Micro Devices said that it had manufactured the smallest double-gate transistors to date using industry-standard technology. The gate of the transistor, across which electrical current flows to turn the switch on, measures 10 nanometers, or 10 billionths of a meter. 

Intel manufactures experimental tri-gate transistors Reuters/San Jose Mercury News. September 17, 2002.  Intel has developed a 'tri-gate' transistor, planned for large-scale production after 2005, which uses three rather than the current single logic gate, in order to increase computer performance 

Alfred was most intrigued with the potential for energy savings with these new transistors. 

Sun announces plans for low-cost Linux PC  Reuters/San Jose Mercury News. September 18, 2002. In its continuing battle against Microsoft for the PC desktop marketplace, Sun soon will be offering inexpensive Linux-based machines targeted for call centers other corporate environments that require a limited set of features. A statement from Sun says, "The primary motivator for enterprise customers will be reduction in costs and freedom from Microsoft." The systems will have vanilla Intel based hardware and include Star Office, the Mozilla web browser, Evolution and other open source software. The machines will have a reader for credit-card sized identity cards to ensure security using Java technology and likely will not include a floppy disk drive. They will be sold in lots of 100 along with a server for identity management and messaging. Sun and others have tried unsuccessfully in the past to sell stripped-down computers, however.  Sun officials predicted it would go for sale in the first quarter of 2003. 
Sun Designing Linux Desktop Computer ExtremeTech. September 18, 2002. 

Joe noted that some Linux distributions have opted not to include Sun's Star Office because it now contains code that is not open source and because it costs money. He suggested Open Office, a free, open source, competitor to Microsoft Office.  

Low-risk Internet worm creating computer drones in-waiting Reuters/USA Today. September 17, 2002. The computer security firm Network Associates is calling attention to "Slapper," an invasive network "worm" capable of insinuating its way into Linux server computer systems and waiting until it, and many others like it, are activated to produce denial-of-service attacks that can overwhelm targeted Web sites. The worm, which targets Apache web servers, is being closely monitored and currently presents no great risk according to Network Associates. Joe said that within 40 hours of its being discovered, it had hit 6,000 computers. 

Hank reported on a survey that claimed 86% of college students use the Internet. Alfred was surprised that the figure was that low. The survey also found that much of this Internet surfing is not related to schoolwork. Forty Two percent of the students use it mostly for email and instant messages. 

Students Take Old PCs Back to School  Reuters September 6, 2002. Students appear to be carrying old PCs to school this year, confirming glum expectations in the technology industry. The back to school buying season was softer than expected this year. The president of HP said that they normally we see about a 50 percent rise in demand, but this year it was only 35 percent. The eight weeks of back-to-school sales count for about a fifth of annual PC sales. Analysts said that consumers and businesses have shown little inclination to shell out for new computers that do not offer significant improvements during the current economic slowdown. The guys on the show did not view this as bad news. It was agreed that older computers are just fine for the vast majority of tasks people do with their computers. 

HP Researchers Make Tiny Memory from Molecules. Reuters. September 9, 2002. Hewlett-Packard has created a computer memory chip using new molecular technology that takes miniaturization further than ever before. Using previously patented technology, H-P has created a 64-bit memory unit that fits inside a square micron -- a micron is one millionth of a meter. The memory contains 10 times more bits per square micron than today's most advanced DRAM computer chip memory chips. Within 5 to 10 years the H-P scientists expect to have a commercial product manufactured with what is called nano-imprint technology -- manipulating molecules and atoms.

Feds to Study H-1B Program's Impact on IT Hiring, Retention. GAO seeks data on how visas affect jobs of U.S. workers. ComputerWorld Magazine. September 16, 2002. GAO to study impact of H-1B program on hiring. ComputerWorld Magazine. September 11, 2002. 

H-1B is a program from 1998 that allows workers from overseas to work in the United States. The justification was a shortage of technical skills. H-1B employees can work in the U.S. for six years through the visa program, and possibly longer. ComputerWorld says: "There's no shortage of anecdotal reports from U.S. workers that the H-1B visa program is costing Americans jobs. But proving it has been elusive because companies don't disclose whom they hire or lay off."  The GAO study is due next year at a time when congress will be debating whether the number of people let into the country will be allowed to shrink from 195,000 to 65,000 on Sept. 30, 2003. 

Critics of the H-1B program charge that in many cases, foreign workers are hired because of their willingness to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. Industry groups counter that the U.S. doesn't supply enough workers with technical skills to meet demand. 

As we described in August, the web site Zazona lists applications for H-1B visas. A quick search of Zazona shows that H-1B is not being used exclusively for high technology jobs. Below are some of the jobs filled by H-1B visa holders at three companies: 

  • American Express: Accountant, Auditor, Loan Examiner, Business Communications Analyst, Miscellaneous Managers And Officials, Occupations In Architecture, Physicians And Surgeons. 
  • Dow Jones: Reporter, News Editor, News Assistant, Copy editor, Writer 
  • Bloomberg: Research Assistant, Writer/Editor, Reporter, Translator, Financial analyst, Customer Service Representative, Sales representative, Graphic Artist 
Hank noted that there is a high rate of unemployment among high tech people who, he says, are not getting a fair shake. It was suggested to write your congressman and Senators.

There is a security flaw with Microsoft Word that effects every version. For more on this see the Computer Gripes for Word. If you edit a Word document and send it to someone, a file on your computer can be hidden in the Word document and sent along with it. Anti-virus programs will not detect this behavior and setting Word not to run macros will not protect you either. 

As the flaw requires knowing the name of a file on your computer, it was suggested to never take the defaults when installing software. This results in your computer not having files in the expected places. Later research into the problem has shown that the Word document can dynamically determine the name of other open Word documents.

Our webmaster is teaching a class at the continuing education division of Hunter College called Defensive Computing. The class starts October 8, 2002. 

A caller running Windows 98 was able to burn CDs for years. Then one day while copying an audio CD with Adaptec Easy CD Creator 4 he decided to use a feature that added song titles downloaded from a web site. Since then he can't burn new CDs. The burn starts, gets 3% of the way through and freezes. He has re-installed the Adaptec software to no avail. The burner is an  HP 8100i . It was suggested that creating the image on the hard disk first is a better way to go. He was previously copying directly from CD to CD. Hard drives are faster than CD-ROM drives and for burners like his that do not have buffer under-run protection it is best to have the faster input device during the burn process. It was also suggested that he create CDs just after booting up in case there was a memory leak somewhere in system. Finally, upgrading to Adaptec 5 was recommended, Alfred called it a better release. 

A caller running Windows Me downloaded a file and saved it to her desktop. This caused most of her desktop icons to disappear. The problem was that the icon cache got fouled up (a technical term). There is no need to re-install Windows to fix this. Joe offered to provide her with the fix and here it is: Microsoft KB article Q133733 says that this happens when the ShellIconCache file in the Windows folder is damaged. This file is hidden and Windows Explorer might be configured to hide hidden files. To see the file, you first have to insure that Windows Explorer will display it (the KB article explains this).  

For Windows 95 and 98, boot to Safe Mode, use Windows Explorer to remove the ShellIconCache file from the Windows folder and then restart normally. For Windows NT and 95, double click the Display applet in the Control Panel, then go to the Appearance tab and in the Item box, click on Icon. Increase the icon size by one unit and click the Apply button. Then decrease the icon size by one unit, and click OK. It was noted on the air that saving a file to the desktop is really saving it to the C drive. 

Still another solution is discussed in Microsoft KB article Q132668 which notes that the ShellIconCache file is re-created automatically when you change your display's color depth. It walks you through the procedure for doing this.  

A caller runs a small office with 3 laptop computers and 4 desktops. Only one machine has a CD writer and he wants to know how to make disaster recovery disks for all the computers which are networked together. A disaster recovery disc in this context is a CD resident hard disk image backup created by programs such as Drive Image by PowerQuest and Ghost by Symantec. It is not a file oriented backup. Disk image backups are very useful if the hard drive dies or they can be used instead of a complete re-install of Windows should things get that bad. Disk image backups have to be run from DOS, they can not run while Windows is up and running on the partition being backed up. The need to run from DOS makes saving the output image file on a network share difficult because the networking software needs to run from DOS. 

  • One solution is make the disk images to a partition other than one being copied but on the computer being backed up. After the backup is made, boot to Windows and copy the backup file to the computer with the CD writer and burn it from there. This however, is likely to require re-partitioning every computer that needs to be backed up. 
  • Mirroring the hard disks by installing a second hard disk was suggested. Hard disks are quite cheap and fast, but on a desktop computer the second hard disk is susceptible to some of the same potential problems as the first one. On a laptop computer this is not an option. 
  • The idea of using an external USB based CD writer and hooking it up to each computer was also floated. The problem with this is writing to a USB device from DOS, almost certainly not possible. There are external CD burners that hook into the parallel port. It is not known if these can be written to directly from DOS by either Drive Image or Ghost, but it is not likely. To use any external CD burner from Windows would require that the output image file reside on the same hard disk as the partition being copied, the same situation as the first case above. 
  • The CD burner can be shared on the LAN and if formatted for use with packet writing any computer on the LAN can write files directly to a CD-RW disc in the burner. From Windows this is trivial, from DOS however it is not. Older versions of Drive Image could not write the output image file to a network shared drive. Newer versions can and Ghost can also. This is probably the best option. 
  • Another possibility, especially for laptops, is an external hard disk. However, they suffer from the same problem as an external CD writer, writing an image backup directly requires access from DOS. However, if there are two operating system instances on the computer, each in its own partition, then it might be possible to copy the partition of the inactive OS to the external hard disk from the active OS using partitioning software such as Partition Magic, Partition Commander or Partition Resizer. Copying an entire partition provides the same type of backup as a disk imaging program, the only difference being that the backup exists as a partition rather than as a file.  
  • CMS Peripherals makes an external hard disk that they sell bundled with software specifically designed for disk image backups of laptop computers. It is called the Automated Backup System Plus and has been on the market for several years. It is very small and prices start at under $250 for a 10 gigabyte version (there are larger capacities also). Their external hard disk connects to the computer via either a PC Card, FireWire, USB 2.0 or USB 1.1.  

One concern with burning disk images to CDs is that they will almost always be too large to fit on a single CD. Drive Image can be configured to create multiple output files that are logically part of the same backup image. You can set the size of each file (except the last one of course) thus letting you burn the backup image on multiple CDs. Very likely that Ghost can do this too (we're not sure) but the caller said Ghost was difficult to use. 

Another caller asked about converting real audio files into MP3. Joe suggested Total Recorder a $12 shareware program.

Jose has two Windows 98 SE computers networked together using peer to peer networking. Only one has a modem. He wondered if there is software to let you share the modem. Joe suggested Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) a feature built in to Windows 98 SE (and other flavors of Windows also). For information on ICS you can either read the Windows Help or check out Joe has had problems trying to get ICS working on a mixed network with both Windows XP and Windows 98 SE. However, with all the computers running Windows 98 SE he said it should work fine. 

Jim has two laptops, one with a USB port and one without. They both have PCMCIA (a.k.a PC card) slots. He asked how to network the two machines to share files. Use of a LapLink cable is not possible because the computer with the USB port does not have either a parallel or serial port. It was designed for use with a docking station that he doesn't have. The computer without the USB port does have serial and parallel ports. It was suggested that he use standard Windows networking with PC card based network adapters (there are also USB based network adapters). For more information on this, Joe suggested the Practically Networked web site. Hank has on outline of "How to Build a Peer-to-Peer Network with Windows95/98" available on this web site. 

September 11, 2002 Show   RETURN TO TOP

Considering this was the one year anniversary of September 11th, the show was a bit different than usual. It was a more personal show, and as such, there was not as much technical information as usual to summarize here. 

Everyone talked about how 9-11 effected them and the city. Hank talked about its effect on Chinatown. WBAI was off the air for a week as power was cut off in the entire area of the station (Wall Street). 

Joe mentioned Silicon Alley Cares that helped the Red Cross and other relief organizations with their technology needs in the aftermath of 9-11. They match up volunteers with technical assistance in order to help keep track of the goods and services that came pouring into lower Manhattan. A story about the group a year later was published September 11, 2002 by Silicon Alley Cares: Updating the Movement

There was a discussion of the current state of the city and in many respects Joe was disappointed to find it is much like it was before 9-11. Too much, in his opinion.

Amtrak is going to offer Internet access on their Keystone Line, which stops in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and New York. A yearlong test, scheduled to begin in October 2002, will be conducted on one lounge car with 36 seats. 

The system is being provided at no cost to Amtrak by Philadelphia-based NRoute Communications. NRoute is in the business of providing a mobile, high-speed wireless network that delivers full video, audio, and Internet access via wireless and satellite technologies to passengers on trains and buses.

The system will allow Amtrak riders to watch movies and television, check and send e-mail, and shop online using interactive touch-screen displays integrated into the back of each seat. Eventually they hope allow riders to connect to the network via their laptops for a fee, and also offer pay-per-view movies. 

The NRoute system uses geo-positioning and satellite capabilities to distribute high-speed interconnectivity to the train while it is moving. A local caching server on the train holds video content, updated news, weather, sports, and advertising. Large updates to the server occur when the train is at the station. The network incorporates Global Positioning System technology so that advertising can be targeted based on location. For example, as the train approaches New York City, local restaurants, hotels and theaters can promote themselves to the passengers.  

Amtrak to lure commuters with onboard Internet. CNN posting of an AP story. September 12, 2002.  This story has a picture of the system. 

Amtrak to Offer On-Board Internet Train passengers will be able to check and send e-mail, shop, and watch videos via NRoute's satellite service. PC World Magazine. September 13, 2002.

Hank recently purchased a new Windows XP laptop. He had to download 56 megabytes of patches for the OS. This was just prior to the release of Service Pack 1 for XP. Joe warned not to be the first on your block to install Windows XP SP1, which by the way, is 137 megabytes for the full download. Every Microsoft Service Pack has had its share of bugs. 

CNet had a somewhat related story on September 9th: PC makers take slow road to XP update. Only a handful of PC makers expect to begin shipping PCs with SP1 by early October. Some PC makers, such as Sony, plan to release new models without the update and wait until possibly early next year to offer XP with the service pack. Their lack of enthusiasm  contrasts sharply with earlier service packs. An analyst is quoted as saying that there isn't much to get excited about in SP1.

There is a problem with the Toshiba 4300 series laptops - the outside lid develops fracture cracks. It often takes 13 months for the cracks to develop. The Toshiba laptops come with a 12 month warranty. If you go to Toshiba after 13 months with a lid crack, they have told customers that the warranty has expired. 

Hank repeated a point from the last show that HP allows you to extend a one year warranty on their computers to three years for only $100. Hank recommends doing so. This offer, however, is not available in New York State due to insurance rules. 

It was also mentioned that there are store warranties (such as those from the Wiz) and nationwide corporate warranties, such as those from HP. Joe had a problem in the past with a store warranty when the store (Crazy Eddie) went out of business.

Briefly mentioned was a class on Defensive Computing, to be given in October by our webmaster, Michael Horowitz. Click here for full details on the class. In brief: 

Prepare for the day when your computer doesn't do what you want it to do. Learn software and hardware maintenance and preventive care for PCs. Topics include various types of backups and backup media, anti-virus programs, firewalls, UPS', SPAM, Spyware, security and more. Also learn how to prepare for the most common problems (boot failures, freezes, program crashes, running slow, Internet connection failures) and get a checklist of things to do when dealing with these problems.  

There were no caller questions this week as the show was mostly about the September 11th anniversary. 

September 4, 2002 Show   RETURN TO TOP

This show was pre-empted by Pacifica. We were not on the air. 

Webmaster:             Page Last Updated:  October 26, 2002