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November 2002 Archive
For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.
In The News:
Intel to Hike Flash Memory Prices in January
IDG News. November 26, 2002. Prices for Intel's flash memory chips, a vital component in cell phones, will rise 20 percent to 40 percent on January
1st. Hank said this is due to the economic law of supply and demand. Joe said it
was due to greed. Flash memory allows devices to store data without a constant electrical current, making it ideal for
cell phones and PDAs.
New software brings lip-reading to mobiles. November 26, 2002. Reuters. Cellcom and SpeechView have just launched software called LipCcell, that allows deaf and hard-of-hearing people to use mobile phones. The software is installed on your PC and connected via cable to a cell phone. When you get a call, the voice on the cell phone is translated into a three-dimensional animated face on the computer. The quality is such that lip reading is possible from the picture. The software is expected to sell for $125.
Voter news service got knocked out during the election earlier this month. They do the polling and come up with numbers that should predict the outcome. They were hacked, never explained what happened and were "out for the count" in this election. They are a consortium of the major news networks which were disappointed with their results in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. As a result, there was a reorganization at VNS and much money was spent on their computers.
The polling is an independent check of what goes on inside the voting machines. If the polling disappears and the numbers are not as expected, then the question is raised about where is the oversight. Professor Mercuri has spent the last decade looking at computer voting systems to see if fully computerized systems can do a self audit on the data inside them.
Vendors of computer based voting machines provide a black box that only they are allowed access to. The voting machines are protected by trade secret laws that prevent their being examined. Therefore it is impossible for an independent examiner to say whether the machine was working correctly during the election or not.
The vendors say the voting machines are self audited. They are inspected, but the inspections are paid for by the vendors of the voting machines. There is a very very small group of people who do the inspections and some of them have been hired by the vendors.
The country is planning to roll out $4 billion of new voting machines, much of it will be protected in this way. In the last election no one knows how many machines of this type were in use. That data is only collected in Presidential election years. A number of states with chad problems in 2000 have outlawed punch cards. For example, the states of Georgia and Maryland converted from punch cards to Diebold machines.
We are setting ourselves up for a major fraud in the future. The computerized voting machines can be re-programmed to completely obliterate any trace of the program and the data that was in the machine before.
In contrast to computer based voting machines, optical scanners are independently re-countable. Professor Mercuri said the mechanical machines used in New York City are great because they are so easily audited. She thinks that someone does not want the voters to have a way to verify that their ballots are being counted correctly. Auditability can be easily added to computerized voting machines by simply having them print out a paper ballot that the voter sees and drops in a ballot box. A company in Princeton called Avante does just this.
A number of countries and the military are considering voting over the Internet. Professor Mercuri said this would provide a quite an opportunity to vote early and often. Arizona did this for a primary as an experiment, but withdrew it.
Voting into the void.
Salon. November 5, 2002.
Tom asked about installing Windows XP SP1. Hank said you need it, Joe said the jury is still out on it, part because of changes it makes to Outlook Express. Hank said that he avoids Outlook and Outlook Express because it is the email client that hackers often go after. SP1 also changes the way the Microsoft Media Player plays and puts an emphasis on digital rights management that most people don't want or need. However, it fixes a number of things that needed fixing including a slew of security bugs. Windows Update will want to install quite a few individual security patches and also SP1. However, SP1 must be installed by itself and after doing so (and re-booting) most or all of the security patches will no longer show up in Windows Update. The service pack is about 50 megabytes.
A caller asked about email messages he sometimes gets that say a message of his had a virus in it. This did not make sense because he uses an anti-virus program. Some worms will go into your email address book or mailboxes and find email addresses. They then send email messages using the found addresses as the from address. This lying about the true source of an email message is called "spoofing" and it creates two victims, the person who receives the virus or worm and person who appears to have sent it, but did not send it.
Ken asked about using his new CD burner to replace Zip disks. Hank suggested that he use Direct CD, a software program from Roxio (formerly Adaptec) that treats a CD-RW disc as a big floppy disk. That is, it allows files on a CD-RW to be read, written and deleted just like files on any other drive letter.
Direct CD is an example of software called packet writing software. Usually a packet writing program is included with the software that comes with the CD burner. In the Nero software suite from Ahead, the packet writing program is InCD. Packet writing software does not suffer from buffer under-run problems, it is a very different technology than that used to burn CD-Rs. CD-RW discs need to be formatted for use with packet writing software and process that might take up to an hour per disc. During the formatting, you can use your computer, but not the CD being formatted. After formatting, the CD-RW disc can hold about 530 megabytes of data.
Newer versions of Windows, such as XP and 2000, can read CD-RW discs formatted for use with packet writing software. Older versions of Windows may need to have software called the UDF reader installed to read these discs. The UDF reader is free and can be downloaded from the Roxio web site.
Hank noted that CD-R discs can be found on sale at major computer retailers (CompUSA, Best Buy, J&R, Staples) for 9 cents each. CD-RW discs can be purchased for 25 to 30 cents each.
In The News:
After the show a security problem with Outlook was discovered. Any Microsoft Office file sent as an attachment to an Outlook 2002 or Outlook 11 email message contains a ten digit number that can be traced to the machine on which the message originated. Woody's Office Watch covered this on November 20, 2002. Outlook 2002 doesn't respect the privacy settings in Word. The ten digit number, and your email address and name, appear even if you've told Word 2002 to remove any personally identifiable information.
Microsoft is seeking to partner with industry and US government on developing a security toolbox, set standards for security rules for cell phones and wireless networks in their next OS.
The new Homeland security law gives the government permission to create a
massive data warehouse. Homeland Security's tech effects
CNET News.com November 20, 2002.
Comdex Producer may file for bankruptcy protection November 22, 2002.
Gates Proposes Web-Enabled Alarm Clocks ExtremeTech. November 18, 2002.
U.S. fails cybersecurity review--again Reuters November 19, 2002. The best department in the government was Social Security which got a grade of B-.
A new domain, .kids.us, will be set aside for child-friendly web sites. Joe asked: who determines what is child friendly? Different communities have different local standards. You are not allowed to link to web sites outside of this domain. A company will monitor this domain to insure the rules are followed. Kids is defined to mean up to 12 years old. US Senate clears kid friendly sub-domain. November 18, 2002.
Can you boot from an upgrade Windows CD? Hank said it depends. There are many different flavors of Windows upgrade CDs, multiple flavors even for the same version of Windows. Some CDs are from Microsoft and some are from OEMs. Alfred tested a Windows 98SE CD from Microsoft and found it not bootable.
The discussion of defragging continued. The complete defrag topic, including notes from this show, is documented in last week's show.
A listener wrote Hank about a stuttering problem on his computer when playing back DVDs. After some debugging, it turned out that the DVD reader worked fine after enabling DMA. To enable DMA under Windows 98: My Computer -> Properties -> Device Manager tab -> Find the drive -> Get the drive properties -> go to the Settings tab where there is a DMA checkbox. In Windows 2000, DMA access is a property of the IDE channels rather than of the drive (hard disk, CD, DVD). There may also be a BIOS option for DMA.
In September 2002 Sony announced an external and internal DVD burner that supports DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+RW, DVD+R and CDs. A first. Sony refers to these new drives as Dual DVD RW drives. The internal model number is DRU-500A. It can read and burn anything except DVD-RAM. Its CD burning speeds are 24X CD-R and 10X CD-RW. The internal model initially sold for $350, a price that ZDNet said was less than many competing, less flexible DVD burners. It works with Windows 98SE, 2000, Me and XP. The external model debuted in November 2002 and was expected to sell for $430. It will use FireWire or USB 2.0. PC World magazine called it “the clear winner as the fastest and most flexible drive”. (October 2002)
Fred asked about the implications of Microsoft dropping support for Windows 98. Hank said there will be no new enhancements and no bug fixes. The next security problem in Windows 98 will not be dealt with by Microsoft. Their position is now "upgrade".
Deece has a PowerMac G4 running OS v9.22. His computer locked up. He rebooted and got a flashing diskette with a question mark. He rebooted off the Norton CD and ran v6.0 and he still could not restart the computer. We really didn't have a solution. Hank suggested a virus scan and a hard disk scan. Another caller, Ken, suggested using Disk Warrior. It can boot from the CD-ROM and fix things that Norton can not.
Andy asked what email clients we prefer. Joe uses quite a few: Outlook 2000, Outlook XP, Outlook Express 5.5, Outlook Express 6.0, Eudora Pro, Opera Mail and Netscape Mail. Michael uses Netscape Messenger version 4. Joe liked the version 4 Netscape mail program, but does not like version 7. Hank uses the mail reader supplied by ATT WorldNet. Alfred uses Outlook Express v5.5.
This raised another issue, Outlook Express 6 with Service Pack 1 appears to not accept attachments. For more on this read Woody's Windows XP Newsletter from November 19, 2002: Outlook Express 6 SP-1 and Blocked Email Attachments. The next issue of Woody's Windows XP newsletter on November 26, 2002 had more on this subject. It seems that some file types can not be let thru the OE blockade, no matter what.
Office 2000 and Outlook have been down this road already. Service Pack 2 for Microsoft Office also introduced a blocking of attached files. Woody's Office Watch wrote about this in January 2002. The recent introduction of Service Pack 3 for Office has changed the rules yet again. See Woody's Office Watch article on this from November 20, 2002.
Tom asked about having his computer automatically dial the modem. Joe said there are three steps involved in enabling this. 1) Right click on the connection icon and set it as the default connection. 2) Go to the Internet Options in the Control Panel. Then go to the Connections tab and turn on the checkbox for "Always dial my default connection". 3) It may prompt you for the name and password, make sure that this is turned off.
Bobby asked about System Resources and disk defragging. They are separate and independent issues. System resources is something that Windows 95, 98 and ME users need to worry about. Users of Windows NT4, 2000 or XP do not need be concerned with it. Sometimes system resources become a problem in Windows 9x because programs don't free up resources after they terminate. On the subject of system resources, Hank suggests reading this article from Monkey Review. It says that low system resources can cause problems for WinModems (software based modems). You can free up system resources by deleting fonts you don't use and by preventing programs from running automatically at boot time.
November 13, 2002 Show RETURN TO TOP
In The News:
High court agrees to rule on library Web filters.
The San Jose Mercury News. November 12, 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a challenge to a law requiring public libraries to filter Web content or lose federal funds.
The Children's Internet Protection Act requires libraries to block images defined as obscene, child pornography or otherwise harmful to minors. It was
previously struck down in the courts in part because Internet filters are unreliable.
Joe tried two Internet filters. One prevented him from viewing a Camp Sussex web
site for disabled children because it contains the letters
Alfred said the leading category, in terms of dollars, in computer products for end users is ink cartridges. More money is spent on them every year than on desktop computers.
ViewSonic and Microsoft are expected, in the first quarter of 2003, to offer a new LCD panel based on technology that used to be called Mira and is now called a Smart Panel. The device will be removable and useable as a tablet. It will have built-in support for WiFi and run a new operating system from Microsoft called Windows CE for Smart Displays based on the OS that powers Pocket PC devices. A 10 inch model will be $1,000 and a 15 inch model $1,3000. This is three times the price of a normal LCD and Alfred asked: why not just buy a notebook and a WiFi card? ViewSonic Shows Off Wireless Windows Display. IDG News Service. November 12, 2002.
Here is an article on the difference between Tablet PC's and Smart Displays - both from Microsoft and both heavily hyped. How 'SMART' are the new displays. Woody's Windows Watch. November 21 2002.
Microsoft and Samsung are going to sell a black and white pocket pc for $300. Joe and Alfred felt that color was necessary for new PDAs.
Hank reported that in the past 3 months the cost of a CD burner has dropped significantly (for a few dollars more you can get a CD burner that includes a DVD player). Also, the cost of the discs (media) has come way down - CD-R discs are now 15 to 20 cents each, CD-RW discs are about 3 times that. A new external CD burner can be had for under $100. New internal units for as low as $60. The cost of DVD burners has fallen from around $500 in June to as low as $300 now. Only 1.5 years ago, when DVD burners were introduced, the price was $1,500.
Tablet PCs and Lindows: The Tablet PCs that were just released with backing from Microsoft run Windows XP, cost at least $1,700 and are being pushed as devices for taking notes on in a meeting. The vision of Tablet computers running Lindows (a version of Linux) is very different.
Imagine an Etch-A-Sketch size computer on the front of your refrigerator or maybe on the coffee table in your living room. Anytime you want movie times, sport scores, news headlines, or need to check your email, you'll have a handy, battery-operated, wirelessly-networked computer ready for your use. Such a tablet computer running Lindows, is planned to be available around the first part of 2003 with a price tag close to $500. Its developers hope that at this price, it can "reach the masses". Note that Sharp sells a PDA called the Zaurus that is based on Linux (but not Lindows).
One of the greatest impacts on Windows systems performance is disk fragmentation. As disk files are written and deleted, empty spaces are created across the hard disk drive. The operating system attempts to write into the first empty space, if there is insufficient storage, it then writes the next piece of the file in the next empty space on the disk. The file now exists in multiple chunks called fragments.
The existence of non-contiguous files is known as fragmentation. Moving around the chunks of individual files so that they are physically next to each other is known as defragmentation or defragging or just a defrag.
File fragmentation causes a huge degradation in system performance, and over time can bring your system to a near crawl. A hard disk is a mechanical device and very slow when compared to the CPU and RAM. Every time the read/write heads of the disk have to move to a new section, it slows down the computer.
Defragging cuts down on the movements required by the mechanical read/write heads to process a file. It also consolidates the free space on the disk for better performance. The system and your applications can run 20%-80% better when the files are contiguous (assuming all other system settings are appropriate).
A grocery list analogy describes defragmentation in simple terms. If you have a grocery list with ten items, there are two ways you can get everything you need. You can make ten trips to the store and get one item each time; or you can make one trip and get all ten items. The first method wastes time and valuable resources; this is like reading a fragmented file. Each piece needs to be located and read one at a time. The second method is more efficient and saves time and resources. This is like reading a contiguous file where all the file data is in one place. Obviously, the contiguous files are better.
Internet downloads also create a lot of small temporary files that can fragment the free space and accelerate fragmentation. Regular disk defragmentation will insure optimum performance.
Depending on how many files are on the disk, how badly fragmented they are, the speed of the disk and the speed of the computer, a defragmentation can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Hank defrags his computers once a week. A computer that has not been defragged for many months can experience a very noticeable performance improvement after defragging.
You can find the Defrag utility in Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000 and XP by starting at My Computer, then right clicking on the icon for you hard drive, selecting properties and going to the Tools tab. You can also start at the Start button, then Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools and finally Disk Defragmenter. Note that Windows NT4 does not include a defrag program. There are also third party defrag programs available, such as Diskeeper from Executive Software, PerfectDisk (which Hank uses) and PowerDefrag. They are faster, better, with more features, but are not free.
If you run GoBack, it must be disabled before defragging. This causes you to lose your history. Also, the Fast Find feature in Microsoft Office conflicts with disk defragmentation and can cause the defrag to run forever. For good luck, consider checking the disk for errors with Scan Disk or Check Disk before running the defrag. Also, make backups prior to a defrag.
Joe did some testing on a handful of computers of the performance gains from defragging (actually mentioned on the air during the November 20th show). He saw improvements ranging from 15 to 29% on the low end to 500% on the high end. A stopwatch measured the time to boot up and the time to load a program. He also found that PowerDefrag did not manage GoBack and as a result he had to turn off GoBack and lose its history. On three of the four machines the defrag seemed to corrupt files. One one machine defrag caused him to lose his connectivity to the Internet. Re-installing Hyperterm re-installed the corrupted dll.
Hank is testing a program that copies a DVD on to a CD-R. It first copies the entire DVD to your hard disk. After defragging, he can't read the file. Before defragging he could. These are very large files, around a gigabyte.
Bill is running Windows 2000 and changed the size of the system fonts. He wears glasses and made the fonts bigger. Now assorted dialog boxes are truncated, some check boxes and buttons don't display. Hank had this problem when running at 800x600 and to solve it had to increase the screen resolution. Alfred suggested purchasing Liquid View from Portrait Systems to make fonts larger and things more legible.
Alan bought some double sided floppies at a computer show, but they were
formatted for a Mac. He tried to format them from Windows and it failed. Hank
said to format them from DOS with this command:
Norman asked about hard disks. Hank said that most IDE hard disks spin at 5400 or 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute) . SCSI hard disks spin up to 15, 000 RPM, but 10,000 RPM is more common. Western Digital has an 8 MB buffer for an IDE 7200 RPM that is supposed to make it as fast as a disk that spins at 10,000RPM.
Alex listens to our show over the Internet and would like to record it. Joe suggested Total Recorder from High Criteria. They have a free trial that lets you record 40 second sound clips. The product sells for $12.
November 6, 2002 Show RETURN TO TOP
In The News:
There is a worm alert on electronic greeting cards from FriendGreetings.com. Someone sends you an email message that there is a greeting card waiting for you and a URL to read it. In this case, reading the greeting card required downloading software which included a license agreement that gave them the right to email their ads to everyone in your email address book. Joe checked it out and found the worm was no longer there - it may have been pulled due to the publicity it generated. Read about it from McAfee and from Symantec.
On October 19,2002 Les Solomon, known as "the Father of The Personal Computer"
passed away at the age of 80. You can read about the history of personal
computers at pc-history.org Among many
positions Mr. Solomon held were technical editor and technical directory of Popular Electronics.
Les is credited with the assisting in the development of the Altair project that produced the first practical home microcomputer. He
also worked on other major computer projects for the magazine including the Penny Whistle modem, The SOL Computer ( named after him) and many
Microsoft Office to Run on New OS. AP. October 30, 2002. Next Microsoft Office Version to Run Only on Two Latest Editions of Windows Operating Systems. The next version of Microsoft Office is called Office 11 and will only run on Windows XP and 2000. It is scheduled for release in mid-2003. Joe and Hank were not upset about this at all. Hank pointed out that there are competing products, such as Corel Office, Star Office and Open Office. This led into a discussion that people don't need new versions of Microsoft Office anyway - the majority of users don't use all the features currently offered. Joe cited a study that said 90 percent of Word users use 10 percent of the features. Alfred felt that most people use less than 5 percent of the features in Word.
There was a ruling in the Microsoft anti-trust case this week which was essentially the already agreed upon terms. Joe called it "nothing" saying the agreement was what Bill Gates had asked for before the lawsuit started. He summarized the case as: Microsoft did bad things, they promise not to do it again and an internal department within Microsoft will make sure they don't do it again. Joe felt the lawsuit was a waste of money and noted that the suit was lost under one Administration and won under another because the current Attorney General did not want to prosecute the case. Alfred mentioned that around five years ago, Microsoft had no lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Now they are a major player in lobbying.
The Tablet PC was released this week. Alfred said it was dead in the water
asking: How much would you pay for a notebook computer without a keyboard?
He felt that nobody needs them. Tablet computers are not new. Existing ones fill
a small niche and are used by UPS, law enforcement and insurance adjusters. It
was felt that a big reason Microsoft pushed for the Tablet PC was ego. Prices
will range from $2,000 to $2,500.
Hank went over a number of ways to speed up you computer, starting with no cost items:
John asked about search engine placement and optimization. Google charges for top billing and gives out tips on how to get high rankings to its advertisers. It was suggested to look at the searchenginewatch web site for all sorts of information about search engines.
Jeff asked about laying cables 1,500 feet across a factory floor to connect computers. Hank said that you have to treat it as a WAN, a separate local area network. The maximum length of Ethernet cables is 100 meters (300 feet). Alfred said to contact Black Box, a company that specializes in this. They sell special equipment that amplifies a signal and also super low loss cables with extra shielding. Alfred has used them a lot in the past and found them to be very helpful. Joe recommended their catalog.
Ernie asked whether it was safe to delete "tmp" files. It is. In general it is safe to delete them all, but there may some issues with "tmp" files that are currently in use. A good strategy is delete all of them except those created today.
He also asked about Real Player, wondering what happened to many radio stations that he used to be able to listen to. The problem is not with Real Player, many stations have stopped broadcasting over the Internet due to the cost associated with licensing. Internet broadcasters now have to pay more than over the air radio stations.
Rick put a wet floppy disk in his computer and now the machine can not read any floppies. Hank said that the head is probably ruined and suggested replacing the floppy disk drive for about $15 to $20. Alfred said there are cleaning kits that you can buy, but they are probably not worth it because a new floppy drive is so cheap. If you are not able to install a floppy disk drive yourself, it can be done by a retailer. Hank said that Best Buy and Microcenter (in Roosevelt Field) charge a reasonable price for installing hardware. CompUSA is a different story. Joe said to look for a local store that makes their own computers.
Lazaro asked this question by email:
Joe said this is not an easy problem to solve. There are however some shareware programs that can help. PC World has a good article to read about this.
John asked this question by email:
Joe said that Windows XP does a better job than the Windows 9x OSes in cleaning up memory leaks and unloading unneeded garbage. Still, there is much that can be done and the following web sites can give you some advice: www.tweakxp.com, www.winguides.com, www.tweaktown.com, www.windowsxp.nu and of course go to www.extremetech.com and do a search of their database. The easy way to limit programs from loading at startup is to run msconfig. Go to the startup tab and unselect those programs you don't want to load. Windows XP also loads additional programs and routines as services; run services.msc but be careful, by changing from automatic load to manual you may break some other program functions. Read the articles on the above sites before attempting to optimize your XP system.
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