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September 2003 Archive

Shows  (on this page)
September 24, 2003  September 17, 2003  September 10, 2003   September 3, 2003 

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


September 24, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

Microsoft has decided to shut their free, unmoderated MSN chat rooms in 28 countries. They say the reason is because it was providing a meeting ground for spammers and pedophiles. People who don't believe everything Microsoft says thing there may be a business motive to the move. After all, MSN will still permit unmoderated chat for U.S. users that subscribe to one or more of its paid services. MSN says this is so they have credit card numbers that it can use to track down those who violate their terms of use. In Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Japan, MSN will offer some moderated chat rooms and discussions. 
Microsoft Says Quitting Chat Over Sex, Junk Mail
Reuters September 24, 2003 
Microsoft's MSN to end most chat, scaling it back in U.S. AP September 23, 2003 

Microsoft never sends out software via email. Never. Ever. What they do email customers about is notification of patches or software updates. All Microsoft software that you download, comes from their web site. Any email message you get claiming to be from Microsoft and telling you to run a file attached to the message is a fraud and a virus. Joe has gotten over 30 email messages like this today. Michael too has gotten his share of them. The subject lines vary, the sender also varies. Be sure to keep your anti-virus program updated, it will catch this sort of thing. 
Worm Wears A 'Patch' For Disguise  The Washington Post September 21, 2003 
How to Tell If a Microsoft Security-Related Message Is Genuine from Microsoft September 19, 2003

Sharman Networks, the company behind the KaZaA file sharing software, is suing the RIAA for copyright infringement. They claim the RIAA used KaZaA Lite, an unauthorized version of their software that has no ads, to get onto the KaZaA network.
Kazaa sues RIAA for copyright infringement
The Register September 24, 2003 
Sharman Networks Files Countersuit Vs Record Labels Reuters September 24, 2003

Governor Gray Davis of California just signed the nation's toughest anti-spam law. It is due to take effect January 1st and it makes it illegal to send unsolicited e-mail to California residents, unless the recipient has a prior business relationship with the sender. The law allows spam recipients to sue for damages of $1,000 per message. Liability extends beyond the spammer to the makers of the products being pushed. The problem is that there is no way to tie an email address to a state. Both the email recipient and the ISP can go after the spammer. Some potential problems with the law were pointed out USA Today: Hard-core spam will still come through, but legitimate companies will be more hesitant to send e-mail. Also, when companies try to determine whether e-mail recipients live in California, spammers and advertisers may be forced to learn more about consumers, thereby reducing privacy.
Davis signs nation's toughest anti-spam bill
Mercury News. September 23, 2003.  
California's anti-spam law faces hurdles
By Jon Swartz, USA TODAY September 25, 2003 

Suit: Hard drive size does matter Reuters September 18, 2003. A group of computer owners has filed a lawsuit against some of the world's biggest makers of personal computers, claiming that their advertising deceptively overstates the true capacity of their hard drives. The lawsuit says that a hard drive described as being 20 gigabytes actually has only 18.6 gigabytes of readable capacity. A 150 GB hard drive actually has 140 GB of storage space. Hank pointed out that a 20 GB unformatted drive can hold less data after it has been formatted. 


 Registry Cleaners

The Registry is a big, complex database that stores all the configuration settings for your software and hardware. Over time, it ends up with broken links that should be cleaned out. In the old days Microsoft had a registry cleaner called RegClean. It was discontinued in September 2001. 

Joe recommended restoring old versions of the Registry before resorting to a cleaning product. Windows 98 and Me save 5 copies of the registry. Each time the computer starts up, a new copy is saved and the oldest copy is deleted. You can tweak this and tell Windows to save more than just 5 copies. Windows 95 saves only one old copy of the Registry automatically. In Windows ME and XP, the Registry is backed up as part of a System Restore Point. In Windows 2000 you have to run the Backup utility to backup the Registry. In all versions of Windows, the Registry editing program can also be used to make a backup of the Registry. 

If your computer is acting up and restoring old copies of the registry does not fix the problem, then you might need a Registry cleaning product. 

System Mechanic  has a Professional ($70) and a regular version($50), the difference being anti-virus checking. Hank said it was an excellent tool, but only if you use its manual controls. He advised against using it in its automated mode. Joe is also wary of automating things because you may not agree with the decisions the program makes. For example, it also deletes temporary files and the definition of a temporary file is not black and white. It also gets rid of Spyware and Adware, broken shortcuts and duplicate files. In addition it can cover your tracks, that is, it gets rid of IE history files and cookies. And it has a defrag program, a pop-up stopper and a secure file deletion option. It can purchased cheaper in the open market than it can be from the vendor. 

CleanMyPC Registry Cleaner costs $30 and there is a free 15 day trial edition. The vendor is CleanMyPC Software. Hank said this can be used in its automated mode. Joe did not like the fact that it pops up every morning asking if you want your Registry cleaned now. Both Hank and Joe felt the price was reasonable. They both liked the fact that it can easily backup the Registry before you do anything and save any number of Registry backups. 

CleanMyPC is the better of the two for use by non-technical people according to Hank. For his own personal use, he prefers System Mechanic. Joe too preferred System Mechanic for power users.


 Caller Questions 

There was a discussion about how your computer knows what CD you are playing. In the old days, CDs had no self-identifying information stored on them. After all, they were being played on devices that could not display such information anyway. Now that PCs and other new hardware can display identifying information, it is starting to be included on some CDs. The majority of CDs however, do not self-identify themselves.  

Many software programs that play audio CDs can get identifying information about the CD over the Internet. One place where this information is obtained from is CDDB.com which is part of GraceNote. A list of Windows software that use CDDB is available from GraceNote. Windows Media Player is among the programs that does this. These audio players take their best guess as to which CD you have, and are said to be generally accurate. They use a combination of a serial number on the CD and/or the number of tracks and the time/length of each track to determine what the CD contains. Specifically, they try to determine the name of the artist and titles of each track. 

The first time you play a CD, the audio software visits a website to get identifying information and stores it locally. Because it is stored locally, this information is available later on, even without an Internet connection. If you never had an active Internet connection while playing a particular CD, then you might not have track information, unless it was already on the CD. Should you copy an audio track to a .WAV file, the self-identifying information will not be available within the .WAV file.


Holly is running Windows 2000 Advanced Server could not boot. He tried both Safe Mode and the Last Known Good Configuration and neither worked. Hank suggested that he go to bootdisk.com and download a boot floppy disk. After the show, Joe researched the issue of non-booting Windows 2000 machines and found a Microsoft Support WebCast from July 16, 2003 called Recovering from Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Start Problems

Danny asked about the new 64 bit chips from AMD. Hank said they are better at running at running current 32 bit software than the 64 bit chips from Intel. The Intel chips require 32 bit software to be re-written to take advantage of 64 bit mode. 
Microsoft Takes Windows XP To 64 Bits For AMD September 23, 2003. TechWeb News. Microsoft just launched a beta version of Windows XP that supports AMD's new 64-bit Athlon on the desktop and the chipmaker's Opteron 64-bit processor on workstations and servers. The final version is expected in the first half of 2004. 

Louie notices that whenever he is in Internet Explorer that program hbsrv is also running (he sees it with ctl-alt-delete). Joe suggested searching for the program name in a Search Engine (we couldn't do this while on the air). He also suggested running a free online virus scan such as House Call from Trend Micro and running Spybot Search and Destroy, a free anti-Spyware program. After the show, Michael verified this is the Hotbot Spyware software

Bill can not read floppy disks on his computer. The suggestion was that he try a floppy disk drive cleaning kit. One such kit is the Kensington Drive Guardian 3.5" and CD Drive Cleaning Kit which CDW sells for $6.77 (this is not an endorsement of either this specific kit or CDW). After the show a listener on Staten Island reported that Staples sells both a floppy disk drive and a CD drive cleaner together in a single package for $10. 


September 17, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

In the News

Service Pack 2 for Windows XP is expected in the third quarter of 2004. In the meantime an interim service pack is expected from Microsoft. This is just a re-packaging of the many bug fixes since Service Pack 1 for Windows XP. Dial-up users are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting bug fixes as they can be quite large to download, especially on a machine that has not been updated in a while. Hank mentioned the bug fixes to XP can be 50 MB to 100 MB. 

Secunia came out with a notice (Advisory: SA9711) that may of the recent bug fixes don't fully fix the bugs. You can subscribe to their advisories here. They also have 2 tests to see if your copy of IE is vulnerable, even after applying bug fixes. 

Verizon, RIAA Trade Jabs at Senate Hearing September 10, 2003 InternetNews.com  

Statistics from the United Nations: In South Korea, 94% of Internet users are on broadband, the highest percentage of any country. The flip side however is that only 21% of the country is on the Internet. There are 70 million Internet subscribers in the U.S., of these about 20 million use broadband. The 70 million is about 25% of the U.S. population. Japan is the cheapest country for broadband access, averaging about $24 a month. The U.S. averages $53 a month for broadband, a figure Joe disputed. 

As for statistics, the mean is what we normally call the average. The median is point at which half the values are higher and half are lower. The mode is the most commonly occurring value. 

Eolas suit may spark HTML changes September 19, 2003 CNET News.com 


 PC Expo

What was PC Expo is now the TechXNY show. Our roving reporter, Alfred Poor was there on opening day (Tuesday) and reported the show was small. It took him 30 minutes to go from one end of the exhibit hall to the other, including stopovers to talk to vendors. The show reported that there were 250 exhibitors, but Alfred found many vacant booths. There were many booths from India and Romania, companies offering to outsource IT.  

In many ways, CeBit has replaced PC Expo, in addition to taking it's timeslot. Alfred wondered if the market can even support CeBit. As technology matures, there is less need for people to be educated about it. There is also less money for marketing. Joe reported that some of the companies on the show floor did not even bother bringing their new products to exhibit. 

Hank said that 10 years ago, shows like this would show off products that often generated a "Wow" response. Now products are not "idea" products, but are more mature. Alfred felt that innovation is taking place elsewhere. For displays/monitors, for example, the big show is CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. He also cited the media PC which he felt was more than just simple repackaging. IT is boring.  

One new technology that Joe likes and found affordable is the IC3 rechargeable NiMH battery from Ray-O-Vac. IC stands for in-cell charge control which puts the control over recharging in the battery rather than in the charger. This allows a high speed charger that won't blow out the battery. It can go from dead to fully charged in less than 15 minutes, compared to many hours for older technology. Prices are comparable to existing batteries: a charger is less than $25, one with a car adapter is less than $35, the batteries are $10 for 2, $15 for 4. NiMH batteries have a memory effect and are best recharged after being fully drained. Joe said this technology offers a fix for this problem. In testing with his flashlight Joe found they don't hold a charge as long as an alkaline battery. They are far less expensive than Lithium batteries. It is just now reaching stores and will say on the battery that it is a 15 minute rechargeable. 

Hank had a conversation with someone from Epson about their ink cartridges reporting as being empty when they are not. Epson printers have the print head built into the printer, not the ink cartridge. This results in cheaper ink cartridges, but the print heads need some ink in reserve so they do not dry out. Should they dry out, the printer is all but useless. Also, Epson says they do not ship printers with "starter" cartridges. 


 Caller Questions 

coming... 


September 10, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

In the News

RIAA is after 261 specific users, among them a 12 year old girl in Manhattan. They are offering an amnesty program that Joe felt was a sham. The companies that make up the RIAA are not bound by this agreement. You are liable for up to $150,000 per song.
Record Industry Sues Hundreds of Internet Music Swappers Yahoo News September 11, 2003
P2P group to pay 12-year-old girl's RIAA fine ComputerWorld  September 11, 2003

The power of a network lies more in the number of users rather than in its sophistication, says Metcalf's Law. Rather than speed or features, sometimes slow and steady -- but light and cheap -- packs more punch. Imagine a municipal light department trying to track broken street lamps. It would need wireless outposts in thousands of lamps, so the nodes must be inexpensive. Their only job would be to occasionally relay a simple piece of information: whether a light is on, or off. "A street lamp doesn't have a lot to say," said Robert Poor, chief technology officer at Ember, a Boston start-up developing low-power wireless networks. "They don't have to talk very fast. They don't have to talk very often." A new networking standard called Zigbee, runs as slow as 20 kilobits per second and each node can act as a relay station. A message could jump from lamp post to lamp post, all the way to headquarters, with no need for expensive hubs or wires.
Slow and Stupid Networks Often Win Race
AP September 6, 2003 

Secunia recommends that you disable ActiveX because of a bug in Internet Explorer. Despite recent fixes from Microsoft, the basic underlying problem remains. 

We are working on an Introduction to Backups for our listeners. It will soon be posted on this web site. 


 Memory Sticks

Verbatim keychain storage deviceJoe reviewed the Verbatim Store n Go USB flash ram memory storage key. This class of storage device has many names. Among them: keychain storage devices, Flash Ram drives, memory sticks and more. Many companies make these portable storage devices. Joe is a fan of Verbatim, he has been using their disks for many years. These devices are replacing floppy disks. Flash ram is solid state memory and used in digital cameras and PDAs. 

Flash ram storage devices are about the size of your finger as shown here. They comes in various storage capacities, from 8MB up to 1 GB. The most commonly sold sizes are 64MB, 128 MB and 256MB. Joe found prices ranging from $22 up to $186 (for 512MB). 

They are plug and play, with Windows Me, 2000 and XP. They also work with Windows 98SE, but require the installation of drivers. After plugging one of these devices into the USB port of your computer, they show up as another disk drive letter. For example, if your CD-ROM drive is the D drive, then this device would become the E drive. 

This particular device can take advantage of USB 2.0, but like all such devices will also work with USB 1.1 ports. These devices are faster than a floppy disk drive, but slower than a hard disk. The USB 2.0 versions are faster than the USB 1.1 versions, but not 40 times as fast as the USB spec allows. This particular model runs 5 to 8 times faster with USB 2.0 vs. USB 1.1  

Joe likes the fact that keychain storage devices hold up to 100 times as much data as a floppy disk but yet are so small. Alfred pointed out that they are more reliable than floppy disks. Hank has used these devices instead of floppy disks while traveling and been very happy with the result. 

A friend of Joe's uses one of these devices as a boot up (virtual) floppy disk. Some, but not all computers can boot using a keychain storage device. In general this is true of newer machines with a newer BIOS.  

Hank pointed out that is can also be used for backup purposes. While they are not the best backup media, certainly some backup is better than none and they are very easy to use. 

One downside to the small size and portability is that these devices are just begging to get lost. The Verbatim drive can be formatted into a public section and a private, password protected section. Don't lose your password however, there is no way around it. 

Another downside is that they are relatively expensive. Compared to a hard disk which is about $1 per gigabyte, these cost about $1 per megabyte. 


 Caller Questions 

A caller asked about GoBack, previously from Roxio, now from Symantec. He had a poor experience using it with Windows XP, his hard disk was constantly spinning. This is normal. On a system making many changes, such as a server, GoBack is not recommended. His big problem however occurred when he went to uninstall the software. Don't do this without reading the manual first! Hank also warned to disable the System Restore feature when using GoBack under Windows Me and XP. Joe has had many problems using GoBack under Windows XP. 

Israel asked about Verizon coming out with a new walkie-talkie feature. AT&T is also planning to roll it out. Verizon supports press to talk across the country. Joe prefers to shake it out and give the technology time to mature. 
Walkie-talkie phones share too much info
September 11, 2003 in the Baltimore Sun 

Beth spent 20 hours with HP support in India and 5 hours with HP support people in the USA. She needs to re-install an HP all-in-one device into a Dell computer and gets error 2343. She is using Windows 2000 Professional. The first printer worked fine, then it developed a problem. HP sent her a new printer and that's the one that can't be installed. Hank said to check in device manager that there are no yellow question marks and no yellow exclamation marks. If the printer shows up in device manager, it was suggested she remove it. She also used an HP scrubber utility. Hank asked if she has been trying the latest version of the Windows 2000 drivers. She had not. You should install the USB drivers before the printer is connected to the computer.  

Scott asked about flat panel monitors, he has seen very few second hand ones on sale. No one on the show has seen second hand LCDs advertised. Our only suggestion was eBay. As to size, Alfred uses a 15 inch model and is happy with it. Hank said these sell for under $300, while a 17 model can be had for less than $400. Alfred warned not to buy a $200 model.  

Barry asked about the ram for a new computer with Windows XP and Dragon speech recognition software. Alfred warned not to go over 512 MB because some computers have hardware related issues with more memory, even though Windows XP can handle more than 512 MB. He also asked about a monitor that can be carried around the room. Alfred suggested the ViewSonic Airport which uses Microsoft MIRA technology that turns your display into a wireless tablet that you can take anywhere. There are also laptops that come with extra wide 17 inch screens. Micro Center was recommended as a good store for buying computers. Alfred has found their salesman reasonably well informed. 


September 3, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

In the News

The FBI arrested a teenage Jeffrey Lee Parson for creating one variant of the Blaster worm. He was charged with attempting to cause damage to a computer. He was placed under house arrest. Joe felt the punishment did not fit the crime as he has only been charged, not convicted. Symantec has a free Sobig Fix program that will search for and remove the Sobig virus and the Lithium Trojan. Other anti-virus software vendors have comparable programs. 
Teenage Blaster worm suspect arrested  ComputerWorld magazine. August 29, 2003
The Blaster worm explained
by Jon Gordon, Minnesota Public Radio August 29, 2003 

Opera released a new version of their browser, 7.2. It runs on Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD and Windows. It is available in three languages. It can be downloaded for free at www.opera.com. Opera can fake out web sites that only work with Internet Explorer to make them think it is IE. 
Opera Increases Language Support in 7.2 Beta August 29, 2003 Computer Business Review 

Read about the latest security bugs in Microsoft software. 

Woody's Office Watch newsletter September 4, 2003. Microsoft Office advice and news from Woody Leonhard. Microsoft released four Security Bulletins for Office products on September 4, 2003. Read about the good points, bad points, at least one gotcha, and a host of unanswered questions. 


 Pop-Up Blockers

A pop-up is a new browser window that opens up with an ad. Some pop-ups are underneath the original web page, so you don't know they are there, at least at first. This is called a pop-under. Some pop-up ads can't be closed or when you do close them, they spawn another ad window. There are many pop-up blocking programs on the market. Joe reviewed three on the show. 

StopZilla is available at www.stopzilla.com. In addition to blocking pop-ups it blocks Spyware, Adware, cookies and erases your history. It is $30 and there is a time limited trial version. Joe tried it on Windows XP and 98. On XP it worked as advertised. On Windows 98 it crashed. The vendor told him you have to use an earlier release of the product on Windows 98. It also did not work and at that point, Joe gave up. He continues to use it on Windows XP. It allows pop-ups generated by your actions but blocks those that are automatically created. Tech support is available by a toll-free number, but Joe found it hard to speak to a person. He had good luck however with a live chat feature for tech support. It works with IE 4 or higher. The Spyware feature blocks the installation of new Spyware but does not scan your entire computer looking for pre-existing Spyware. 

Sunbelt Software makes iHate Popups. Joe found it easy to set up and easy to over-ride its default actions. It also blocks message spam and JavaScript error dialog windows. It costs $10 and works with IE 5.5 or higher. It is less functional that StopZilla.  

The Google toolbar version 2 is free. It is in beta and requires IE 5.5 or later. It has a pop-up blocker and an auto-fill capability for forms on web pages. There is also a blogger filler - you can press one key and take words on your screen and automatically write them to a blog on the web. Joe had significant problems installing it. Popup blocking is an option for the toolbar that you have to turn on. Joe warned that activating some features, such as the page rank feature, sends Google the addresses of web pages that you view. Google claims not to track this information for each user, but the capability is there nonetheless. 

Joe has installed all three, but suggests running only one of them at a time. Still another option is to use the Mozilla web browser. It is free and comes with built-in pop-up controls.   
  

 Caller Questions 

Dan mentioned that there are five new security bugs from Microsoft released today. Most of these are for Microsoft Office products, not Windows itself. As such, you have to run both Windows Update and Office Update to get all the bug fixes. Joe warned that you always be leery of applying a new bug fix because they can cause more problems than they solve. Also, some patches can not be uninstalled.

Jose works in a company that just distributed 40 new PCs with Windows XP and wondered how to keep them all updated with bug fixes. The users are not techies and can't be expected or depended on to run Windows Update. He wondered it the patch apply process can be automated. Hank said you can download patches once and apply them directly to each machine as you install the new machine. Joe said you can put the bug fix files on a file server and have each machine pull them from there with a batch file. 

A later caller suggested using the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP. You get to this by right clicking on My Computer, selecting properties and clicking on the Automatic Updates tab. You have to be an administrator to do this and of course, the computer has to be able to access the Internet. It can both automatically download bug fixes and install them, but automatically installing them takes some care. Hank is not a big fan of this because going through the net is slower and you lose control over which patches get installed. For more on Windows Update see these gripes. Hank has had problems installing device drivers along with other bug fixes. 

A listener later wrote to mention Software Update Services (SUS) from Microsoft. If you have a copy of Windows 2000 server or Windows 2003 server, then SUS is a free add-on. It is very limited in scope however. For one thing, it only works with desktop computers running Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP Professional. Also, it only deals with updates to Windows, it does not include updates to other Microsoft products such as SQL Server or Exchange Server. And it is not possible to integrate your own patches or those from third parties into SUS. To distribute patches, you have to point each desktop machine to the SUS server which periodically downloads updates from Microsoft.  

Joe mentioned that at the end of the year, Microsoft will no longer provide bug fixes for Windows 98. To prepare for this, he suggested downloading all the Windows 98 patches now. 

Martin has an external USB hard drive that uses with many computers. He has a problem using it with Windows 98 and Me, the drive is not recognized. He said you need Windows 98SE for USB devices, that the original Windows 98 won't work. He suggested an adapter to convert from USB to parallel. Belkin makes such an adapter. 

Gordon has a Windows XP computer that does not boot. When the machine starts all he gets is the screen saver and he can't get out of it. Some anti-virus programs have Rescue disks which might be able to get the machine booted. You can also get boot disks at www.bootdisk.com. Both Windows XP and 2000 have a last known good configuration option for starting up the computer. This is specifically designed for problems like this. With XP, hit the F8 key at boot time, then select Last Known Good Configuration. See HOW TO: Start Your Computer by Using the Last Known Good Configuration in Windows XP. If all this fails, then see How to Recover from a Corrupted Registry that Prevents Windows XP from Starting. After the machine boots, it was suggested he run Housecall from Trend Micro, a free virus scan over the Internet. 
   


Webmaster:             Page Last Updated:  October 22, 2003