29 September, 2006

More Sony batteries are recalled

If you are still counting, Sony has had to recall over 7 million, yes 7 million, laptop batteries. This has affected Dell, Apple, Lenovo/IBM, and Toshiba. According to ZDNet and CNet, Sony's stock has dropped 8.2% since the first battery recalls in the Dell laptops. Of course the stock drop also takes into account the long delay to the PS3 game console. Analyst Masahiro Ono from Morgan Stanely:
Sony's battery business is expected to have an operating profit margin of about 5 percent in the current business year to March. That compares with Sony's own estimate of its overall operating margin of 1.6 percent for the year.
This seems a bit odd with the battery problems -- perhaps there are some financial creativity to handle the expenses related to the recall.

I know that the techies, such as myself, pay attention to this stuff, but it will be interesting to see how big of an effect the battery recall and PS3 delay has on Sony's overall business.

On top of this, we heard rumors of Apple buying Sony in July and now Microsoft. Neither makes too much sense, though we know that Microsoft is not afraid to buy up their competition.

The patch of all patches for Internet Explorer

Today ZDNet and other news agencies reported yet another security hole found in Internet Explorer. For only the third time, a third-party has provided an immediate fix, so that users do not have to wait on Microsoft. Microsoft expects to release the fix as part of their monthly "patch Tuesday" distribution, which occurs the second Tuesday of every month.

Do not forget we have another patch that is the patch of all patches -- Firefox.

28 September, 2006

Safer Browsing

Recently I posted about another security issue with Internet Explorer -- Microsoft has since released a patch -- a rare case for Microsoft to release a patch outside their monthly "patch Tuesday" cycle. I also push Firefox fairly hard as an alternative to Internet Explorer. To be fair, Firefox has had as many issues as Microsoft, but it still is a better alternative for two reasons: 1) Firefox does not have the same tight integration to Windows as Internet Explorer, therefore the problems are typically not as severe; 2) Firefox releases fixes much faster than Microsoft.

All that aside, if your machine gets a virus, spyware, or other malware from browsing, it is more difficult than ever to remove. So of course you need to be diligent in keeping your browser and operating system (OS) up-to-date, as well as your security applications. If your system is compromised, you might as well just plan on re-installing your OS -- a very time consuming effort -- and consider yourself lucky if that is all you need to do.

There are actually other alternatives to help protect yourself. Yesterday I installed a "virtual appliance" for web browsing. I'll try to make this as simple as possible -- using the free VMware Player from VMware, I loaded a Linux OS with Windows, and in turn the Linux OS loaded the Firefox browser. VMware provides many "appliances" to work with their free player -- I used their Browser Appliance.

VM means virtual machine. The Linux OS that loaded thinks that it is running directly on computer hardware, where in fact it is just another Windows application. The power behind this is that I can configure the VMware to never save any settings. Why is this powerful? Well if I were to go to a website that loaded spyware or a virus (which would have to be written for Linux by the way), once I close my VMware application, all that would be gone.

Think of the last time you inadvertently closed Word or Excel without first saving the file -- you had to go back and recreate your document all over again. For spyware and viruses though, that would be a good thing. So using the VMware Player with the Browser Appliance to do your web browsing, can keep your computer free of spyware and viruses, as it would never be saved to your hard drive and therefore it would never infect your computer.

As I said, I loaded this last night, and it worked flawlessly -- I had no install issues and no trouble making it work. Understand that the VMware Player is a 30 MB download and the Browser Appliance is 260 MB, so it takes a bit to download and install it. Also, since you are loading another operating system (Linux Ubuntu 5.10), launching it takes longer than just opening a web browser. But once loaded, it performs fine -- I did not experience any detectable lag time. (This is also a great solution for web developers who need to test their applications on Linux -- you do not need a separate box or a dual boot machine any more.)

25 September, 2006

Internet Explorer Security Issues Affect More Than Just Internet Explorer

As yet another security issue is found in Internet Explorer, it is a good time to remind you that Internet Explorer is used for more than web browsing. A few months back I pointed out how Microsoft Project had problems due to the ActiveX security settings I had set too high. Another such program is Outlook and Outlook Express.

With the latest issue, you could receive an email with embedded code that would exploit your computer. This problem is big enough that Microsoft may actually release it outside their normal monthly patch cycle -- they have only done this once -- to fix a problem with their DRM. This problem is big enough, you can actually get a fix from a third-party.

Perhaps a better fix, in addition to using Firefox (or Netscape) instead of Internet Explorer, use an alternate email program such as Eudora or Thunderbird (from the makers of Firefox).

24 September, 2006

Discover Free Music on the Internet

Contrary to what you might hear, there is a lot of free music available on the Internet. A good place to start is with podcasts. There are a few different licenses available to podcasters, such as Creative Commons. Podcasters are often also granted rights to play music from smaller labels. In some cases, because the podcaster is not in the U.S., they can also play artists that would never be approved for play within the U.S. Here is three to get you started:
  1. The Roadhouse
  2. Raven n Blues
  3. IndieFeed
Another option is to try services such as Pandora or Blogmusik. With Pandora, you can suggest an artist or sing that you like, and Pandora will play it. From there, Pandora will play other songs that they believe you will like based on your selection and others before you. This is a great way to discover new songs and new artists. With Blogmusik, you can search on artist or song, and it will return sources for you to select and listen to. Both services play the music through Flash, making it difficult to copy unless you capture the output of your speakers.

Perhaps you have an old vinyl collection, but do not have the tools to convert them to digital. With ourTunes, find others who have the same music on iTunes, and you can copy the files across the network.

If that is not enough music, try Podbop. Podbop helps you find live music in your area, plus if the artist has made it available, you can download tracks from the artists off of the Podbop site.

Of course there are many more music options on the Internet, some free, some not. Using one or more of these options, you can get access to artists from local to international for no cost and DRM free.

iTunes : Movie Studios : Wal-Mart

The New York Post reported September 22nd that Wal-Mart has threatened movie studios if they sell movies through the iTunes store. Consumers want to see several improvements in the online movie distribution business:
  1. Quality needs to go up
  2. DRM removed (or the same DRM across all platforms)
  3. The ability to watch a video without going to the store
  4. Access to a larger selection
I think Wal-Mart's position works against the consumer and is giving the movie industry one more reason to continue to be scared of online distribtion.

The fact is, we are a long way away from having the quality through digital download that you can get off of a disk, because bandwidth limitations. And for DRM consitancy, that will take even longer. Did I mention people are getting a larger selection ofmovies and other entertainment without going to the store, than ever before? So what is the big deal Wal-Mart? Seems like there is a more logical approach -- make a better offer to consumers.

Instead of bullying the movie studios, Wal-Mart could develop NetFlix and iTunes equivalents. Using their buying power, they can undercut pricing, making it more attractive (just like they do in their stores). But here is the real way to get consumers to buy from Wal-Mart: really flex their buying power muscle and insist on non-DRM movies from the movie studios -- now that would bring consumers over from iTunes.

21 September, 2006

Internet Explorer: Security Fix Breaks Applications, Again

Yesterday my organization announced that they are still unable to get a fix from Microsoft for the security patch MS06-042 from August 15 that broke our ClearQuest web interface for creating queries. The August 15 patch was actually the third release of the MS06-042 patch from Microsoft, as each time they have introduced new problems. The original release of the patch actually introduced security problems.

This is the recommendation from my company to fix the problem, "Internet Explorer is the only browser impacted by the Microsoft security patch. The only known workaround at this time is to use one of the other supported browsers; Firefox version 1.5 is suggested."

20 September, 2006

iTunes Problems

I listen to the Buzz Out Load from CNet on a regular basis, and there has been recent discussion about the new iTunes 7 and problems with it. Here is some help. Note, this is based on version 6.x of iTunes, as I have not yet installed version 7 (see item 1).
  1. Do not be the first to upgrade to the latest version of any software -- wait and listen to the experience of others. If you really want the latest version now, make sure you have a sandbox machine to thoroughly test it out yourself. Oh, and when you install it on your primary machine, make sure you have your data files backed up.
  2. Many folks had complained about iTunes moving their files around. iTunes has a feature to let it manage your files (Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized). Likely version 7 just shipped with this featured turned on. I actually use this feature -- I remember having the same experience when I first turned it on.
  3. iTunes and QuickTime will run in the background and in your System Tray. And when you think you have removed them, they come back after the next time your start one of the programs. Get a program such as Microsoft Windows Defender that allows you to disable startup programs. Disable over delete is very important -- if you delete, they will re-install and re-appear. Disabling will not remove them from the install, therefore they wont re-install, but they still will not start. This also works real well for Acrobat and Real Player.

17 September, 2006

New Blog: Web Support Blog

I started a new blog today, specifically focusing on my experience in web support over the past 10+ years. I will cover things such as web analytics, knowledge management, and tricks to help drive change in the organization.

In turn, I removed from this blog any reference that may have conflicted -- most specifically the blogroll of web analytics web sites.

Since I have not been completely happy with the flexibility in Blogger, I thought I would try WordPress as the host this time. Please stop in and check out my new blog at: http://websupportblog.wordpress.com/

How to Be a Better Developer

Steve Bayzl writes in his blog Petit ecureuil, 5 Easy Ways to be a Better Developer. Steve makes some very good points. Here is the list with my comments:
  1. Learn Ruby and Ruby on Rails: Steve's point is that you need to learn how to write clean and maintainable code. He is right on the money. It is simple: bugs need to be fixed, you will want to extend your app, and/or someone else is going to work with the code too.
  2. Read The Daily WTF?: I think the lesson here is learn from your mistakes and of others.
  3. Learn something new every week: Someone is doing something new and better everyday. I joked the other day that the Internet is moving so fast, we are now on Web 4.0. The point is that if you want a career as a developer, you need to be constantly learning.
  4. Understand customer wants != customer needs: A very wise observation. I have two comments -- First, one common situation is your customer comes to you to get a new tool to solve their business problem. What they really need is better management, better communication, and better processes. The best application in the world will not fix a management problem. Second, prototype solutions so you can test the viability before building. Usually customers cannot see the pro and cons of what they want until they can put their hands on it.
  5. Find some passion!: Having passion will definitely make 1, 2 and 3 easier. It will also help you find better solutions than the next guy. When hiring, you need to look past education and skills to character, including passion. These are the people that I want working on my team.

16 September, 2006

Nintendo Wii: The Other Game Console

Nintendo announced this week that their U.S. launch for the Wii (we) is scheduled for November 19th, selling for $250. This is $50 more than expected by industry analysts, but makes sense with the price of the Xbox 360 and PS3 being so high. If you have not seen the Wii, it offers an innovative controller worth checking out.

Take a video tour of their event from September 14th on TechEBlog and then go over to IGN and get a first-hand look at Zelda. You wont want to miss the Zelda videos, they are truly awesome.

15 September, 2006

Apple's Designer, Jonathan Ive

I was not the first to find this article, but it is worth passing on. Business Week wrote a great article on Jonathan Ive, the Apple Senior Vice-President for Industrial Design. This is probably one of the few guys that has been actually able to work closely with Steve Jobs, and the results have been great over the last 10 years.

This line really resonated with me, "He talked about focusing on only what is important and limiting the number of projects", because I see too often people trying to do too many things at once. But what should really get you to read this is we rarely hear much about Apple's people, so this is a rare glimpse of Jobs' partner, who has helped to raise Apples stock over 225% in the last 10 years.

14 September, 2006

Technical Support - Try Google

How do you solve technical problems with your computer? I have 6 PCs on a wireless network at home, plus my work laptop. In addition I support family and friends on occasion. There are so many things to know and learn, it is nearly impossible to have an answer all the time. (I did get A+ certified once, but that was a long time ago.)

Amazingly enough, if you have an error code or message, or you can describe the issue in 3 to 6 words, you can often find the answer through Google. I even use Google when I know that it is an answer that I will likely find at Microsoft -- Google is easier. If you are not doing this already, it is time to start.

Take for example when my firewall tells me I have a new program trying to access the Internet (You do have a software firewall, right?!). Recently compaq connections.exe came up -- I entered it in Google and found many results. Within the first three, I had found enough information to feel comfortable about the action to take. This part is important -- do not believe the first entry you read; look for another result to confirm the first. In this particular example, I learned this was one of many HP-ware programs on my PC that I really did not need. (HP, like most hardware manufacturers, add little programs to call home for checking for new drivers or so that you use their photo service or game portal.)

I use this same technique when I am trying to remember the syntax when I am programming too. Since I do not do a lot of programming these days, I know what I want to do, but often do not remember the exact syntax. Going back to Google, I can usually find the answer faster than pulling a book off of my bookshelf.

At work today, I was reading survey results on how technical engineers and designers (primarily electrical engineer types) find technical how-to information. Fifty-nine percent said through a search engine first, and the vendors website second. (Another 21% said the vendor website first.) In the same survey, 60% of them used Google as their first choice for search engines. My point is that for solving technical problems, technical people use Google (or another search engine) most often.

If you are not doing this today, I think you should give it a try next time, before you call your friend, family IT guy, or the help desk at work.

Now that I have written all this, I have a few more related thoughts... First, as you can see from many of my posts over the last few weeks, it is not fool proof. With some tough problems, even the more technical guys such as myself either cannot find the right answer (i.e. my connectivity issues as of late) or understand the answer (i.e. Technorati ping for this blog).

So with those caveats, here is a couple other good uses for Google:
  • Confirm a definition. Enter Define
  • Find a friends address. Enter their phone number: xxx-xxx-xxxx
  • Find function help for Excel. Just like I share in relationship to finding code syntax.

12 September, 2006

Execute Programs Faster

Seems once or more a week that I use Windows NetMeeting. When the participants look for NetMeeting, which Microsoft now hides, I hear them struggle to find it. For me, it is very easy -- go to Run..., type conf, and Enter. This is one of many shortcuts to launch applications that can save you time.

For more of these shortcut, visit Another Home @ Sansor -- he has posted many such shortcuts. Now if you combine this with the shortcuts I posted on the 30th of August, here is what you get:
type plus R, the filename from Sansor's list, and then Enter.

Give it a try: + R, s-p-i-d-e-r, Enter

07 September, 2006

Technorati Help with Ping

I cannot beleive that it is so difficult or I am so stupid, but I cannot seem to get to update (ping) my blog as being refreshed. I signed up about 12 days ago, yet it says that my blog has not been refreshed in about 95 days. Is this the day I first started my blog? I suppose it could be.

I added their little promo on the right nav, but that did not help. I followed their instructions for Blogger, which I already had set, but that did not help either. And of course I have tried their manual process now about a dozen times. Of course I cannot find even an email address for support.

I found something else in the FAQ section on tagging links, but I am not sure I understand how that would help either. Here's the format: <a href="http://apple.com/ipod" rel="tag">iPod</a>. I will try adding the rel="tag" to the link about, and I guess we will see.

In the mean time, any help would be appreciated.

Troubleshooting Your Internet Connection

I seemed to have found several good resources related to speed and connectivity issues. My wife in particular has been frustrated that certain http connections seem slower than most – more specifically Yahoo! And Go Daddy. I decided to do some investigation, including whether I have other options besides Comcast (which I do not if I want broadband).

I found a site called T1 Shopper, which provides tools and help, plus links to bandwidth testers. For example, here is their information on traceroute. They can even run a traceroute from their end to me, though Comcast seems to block the last hop. T1 Shopper also offers a download calculator. I cannot speak about the services they can hook you up with, but I believe the resources are great.

Back to my connectivity issue. Here is what I sent to Comcast. Does this seem technically right? Any suggestions for better ways to troubleshoot and report connectivity issues?

It seems we have problems connecting to websites reliably. My wife noticed specifically Yahoo!, Go Daddy, and American Express. The one I have problems with most often is ZDNet. Of course, we go to these sites more often than others, so we detect these the most.

I decided to do some tracert and noticed that we get a lot of failures going through the 2nd and 3rd hops of the Comcast network (rarely other hops) -- here are some examples.

2 10 ms * 9 ms GE-2-38-ur01.vancouver.wa.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.218.241]
3 11 ms 9 ms * 10g-8-3-ar01.beaverton.or.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.216.21]
=====================
2 9 ms * 10 ms GE-2-38-ur01.vancouver.wa.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.218.241]
3 * 11 ms * 10g-8-3-ar01.beaverton.or.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.216.21]
=====================
2 12 ms 9 ms * GE-2-38-ur01.vancouver.wa.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.218.241]
3 11 ms * * 10g-8-3-ar01.beaverton.or.bverton.comcast.net [68.87.216.21]
=====================

Of course the delays are greater for each failure. What can you do to fix this? I want service that I can count on for the sites I use most.

05 September, 2006

Net Neutrality: Internet Sites Are a Feature

I found a great site in June, Public Knowledge, which "is a group of lawyers, technologists, lobbyists, academics, volunteers and activists dedicated to fortifying and defending a vibrant information commons."

On the Public Knowledge site, Alex Curtis writes about Net Neutrality. August 30th he wrote about what it could be like if we did not have protection for a neutral Internet. In the future, we could be reading Consumer Reports for the ISP that provides interests that best match our needs. Curtis reminds us of the Prodigy, Compuserve, and (even) AOL days that did not stand the test of time. This looks like a good blog to follow.

Firefox: Safe Mode !?

Did you know that Firefox has a safe mode? I did not. If you find that Firefox crashes on you, perhaps after installing a new Extension, you can run Firefix in safe mode to correct the problem. Simply restart Firefox with the following switch: " -safe-mode ". Do this either through Run..., " firefox.exe -safe-mode ", or add it within the properties of your Firefox shortcut.

Net Neutrality: Senator Snowe Gets It, Does Your Senator?

Jim Puzzanghera of the LA Times writes about how Olympia J. Snowe, Republican Senator from Maine actually understands the implications if we do not have a net neutraility bill. Some great insights are mentioned in this article:
  • [New] lines won't be worth much if network operators can dictate whose data flows through them — and at what speed.
  • [Snowe] fears that phone and cable executives would create an Internet class system.
"The Googles and Yahoos will take care of themselves," Snowe said. But small entrepreneurs looking to launch innovative Web services, such as YouTube, would be at the mercy of phone and cable companies, who could charge "a mighty fee" for fast content delivery, she said.
It looks like at least one more Senator is on board with Snowe, that is Byron L. Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.

Have you contacted your Senator and let him or her know how their vote will affect your vote? If you are in Washington, Senator Patty Murray is still undecided. You can email her at: http://murray.senate.gov/email/index.cfm. If you are in Oregon, Senator Gordon Smith is against Net Neutrality. You can email Senator Smith at: http://gsmith.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home.