29 December, 2008

My top Firefox Add-ons

I was reading Webware's Seth Rosenblatt's post, Futzing with features: Firefox add-ons in 2008, and it made me think about the Add-ons in Firefox that I use on a daily basis. Here my top 10, in ranked in order of value to me:
  1. RoboForm: More than an Add-on, more like a toolbar in itself, RoboForm stores all my passwords. If I could only have 1 Add-on, this one would be it. Read my blog post from January 14, 2007, to learn about the powerful features of RoboForm.
  2. NoScript: When visiting a new site, you never know what you might find. NoScript allows me to view the site first without Javascript, first -- letting me decide whether I want scripts to run or not. This is definately a tedious way to surf; on the otherhand my browser and desktop are much more secure, too.
  3. IE Tab: Sometimes you just have to look at a page using Internet Explorer -- for those times, I use IE Tab.
  4. Download Statusbar: With download status bar, I don't have to bother with a pop-up window everytime I download, instead I have a small icon in my status bar.
  5. Tiny Menu: This Add-on allowed me to combine toolbars, freeing up some real estate. With Tiny Menu I went from 5 toolbars to 3 without giving up any functionality.
  6. TwitterFox: Without TwitterFox, I wouldn't be using Twitter.
  7. FoxClocks: So I can easily tell what time it is in Tokyo (and other parts of the world).
  8. Delicious Bookmarks: Another toolbar. Without Delicious Bookmarks, I wouldn't be using delicious.
  9. Forecastfox: Let's me see the current weather and forcast right from my Status bar.
  10. Web Developer: A menu and toolbar with various web developer tools.
When I look at this list, it is the top 5 that keep me from switching from Firefox to another browser such as Chrome or Safari. What features keeps you on your favorite browser?

19 December, 2008

iTunes / iPhone buggy

The iPhone is the phone that everyone wants to love. Unfortunately, Apple makes that difficult at times. The 2.2 upgrade was the first error free upgrade I've had. But now I ran into another problem.

I had added a new, 2nd drive to my PC as my media was consuming so much space. With that, I moved my photos and videos to the new drive. With photos, it was easy to point iTunes to the new location, but unfortunately for the videos it wasn't.

iTunes uses a custom database (itl file) to store its media index and creates an xml file for a backup. If the itl file should become corrupt, it will rebuild with the xml file. If the itl file is non-existant, it will start over. Based on some various guides I found online, I used search and replace and updated the location for all the videos, and then I caused the itl file to be corrupt. iTunes read my updated xml file and rebuild the itl database file and I seemed to be back in business. Ahh, not so fast.

Apparently iTunes does not back up any of your iPhone apps, as when I synced, they were all pulled off of my phone -- no more apps -- bye, bye. Fortunately, iTunes does store each app on my hard drive, so I was able to drag them back into iTunes and get them back, though now all unorganized and missing all the saved data.

Lesson? The iTunes environment is still version 1. The iPhone? It's still in beta.

17 December, 2008

Another Internet Explorer vulnerability has experts recommending you switch browsers

The BBC and other news outlets reported yesterday on the latest security vulnerabilities within Microsoft's Internet Explorer. What makes this report different than a lot of others is that we finally are hearing recommendations to actually switch browsers.

Right now it sounds worse than it is, but nevertheless, the risk is there. Experts claim that 10,000 websites have been exploited but that is only 0.02% of all Internet sites. The typical warning is to stay away from potentially nefarious sites such as bit torrent indexes and pornography, but as you may recall we have seen threats show up on more popular social sites such as Facebook and MySpace (see Worm virus from Facebook and MySpace).

Bottom line, no browser is completely safe all the time, but you can reduce your own risk by choosing your websites carefully, and by using a more secure browser such as Firefox or Opera. Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari are also options, though I don't believe they are as battle-hardened as Firefox and Opera.

15 December, 2008

Online planning tools

Remember collecting names and drawing for your holiday gift exchange? And when you got your own name, you had to pick again. Of course if you were last, then it was even more of a problem. Or how about the last potluck where you had 12 desserts and no salads or appetizers. Good thing everyone likes dessert.

Well with a new crop of online planning tools, these problems don't need to keep repeating themselves. For your next gift exchange, try Elfster; and that potluck, try LuckPotluck. These are just two of many new planning tools available in this web 2.0 world. Enjoy!.

14 December, 2008

Photos on the 'Frig

With the low cost of color ink jet printers, most of us have one. I like to buy the manufacturers photo paper and collage frames, to display some of the better pictures I have of my family. Often in this process I print more photos than end up in the collage; I've now found a use for those extra photos.

Take your refrigerator magnets and tape them to the back of the photos. Now instead of the tacky magnets (or throwing them out), I have more photos of the family. Using a scissors, you can cut the magnets to place at either side of a larger 4 x 6 or, cut the photo to better fit the magnet.

11 December, 2008

New PC? Buy basic and build out as needed

Gizmodo's Prof. Dealzmodo takes a similar approach to buy PCs as I do. Buy a low-end machine and then buy third-party components if/when required. You can read the Gizmodo article to get an idea, but I'll also throw in some of my own thoughts.

First, you must get at least 2 GB of RAM. If you can still get Windows XP, then you can stop at 2 GBs. If you are stuck with Vista, add at least 1 more GB -- if you add 2, giving you 4 total, 0.5 GB will go to waste unless you go with a 64-bit Vista. This introduces potential compatibility problems with older hardware and games, so likely you will want to stick with the non-64-bit versions.

For monitors, it's likely you already have 1 or more. If it's time to get a new one, look for 3rd party deals. Sometimes running 2 side-by-side can be more effective than one large display -- putting them at an angel can be easier to view than turning your head from side to side (avoid the 30" displays).

In terms of a video card to drive that monitor, if you are getting a laptop, you must buy what you need at time of purchase. For desktops, you can pick it up through a 3rd party. Video cards have come a long way due to gaming. Unless you're a hardcore gamer (which would make this blog mute), getting a 12 to 18 month old card should be sufficient and much cheaper. If you do some gaming, such as 1st-person shooters, I would look for 512 MB minimum -- letting your budget determine whether to get more RAM. If you do little to no gaming, 256 MB would probably be just fine. The other item to look for is the number of outputs. If you are going to run 2 monitors, make sure you have 2 outputs. Likewise, digital is the predominant output now -- make sure your video card and monitors take the same output/input. (You can get digital to analog converters to support older monitors.)

Input devices, mouse and keyboard -- you should already have ones that meet your needs. Buy these independent of your PC, if and when you need them. Don't pay extra while you order your new PC.

For audio out, unless your an audiophile, what you get standard should be good enough. Like the input devices, buy what meets your needs independent of the PC, them move them to the new PC as required.

For networking, all your PCs should have wired 10/100 ethernet connections. If you're running wireless and buying a laptop, you should be covered too. For desktop users who want to go wireless, buy an 802.11N ethernet card from the same manufacturer that makes your router -- it will likely always be cheaper to buy it third-party and add yourself. This is the safest way to make sure you will be compatible. If you want the fastest throughput, though easier, do not get the USB version, buy the add-on card version.

So far we've covered video, audio, and networking that may all require additional slots in your computer. Be sure to validate that the new desktop has slots to accept this add-ons.

Remaining are your media devices, harddrive, CD/DVD, and perhaps blue-ray. For all of these, they are going to come with the machine regardless, so do some comparison shopping to see if you should get bigger/better from the PC manufacturer or 3rd party, as typically if you replace what comes with the PC, you're going to have unused parts left-over -- this can actually lead to higher costs.

To dig deeper into the harddrive, if you buy small and add a second in the PC box, now you have to manage 2 drives. If you're doing a lot of picture or video editing, this is probably desirable, for the rest of us, probably not. With that in mind, I would likely just get the largest drive I can from the PC manufacturer. I would still get a 2nd drive, but I would make this either a USB or network drive and use this for backup -- mirroring my data from my primary drive. This can be bought through a third-party and configured to run backups while I'm asleep.

One last though on harddrives. If you are running a home network, you can always add some storage capacity to your old PC and configure it to be centralize media storage and/or backups for the entire family. This is a completely different topic that can be discussed at some future time.

There you have it... my recommendation for buying a new PC. By the way, my current home PC is a 3 year old Compaq that I have added better video, preferred keyboard and mouse, additional RAM, a wireless network card, and more harddrive storage. My next upgrade will come after Windows 7 is released, and I will at least keep the video card, keyboard and mouse, likely the wireless network card, and my external backup drive. Oh, and my speakers -- they are about 6 years old.

10 December, 2008

Head tracking for mere pennys

Carnegie Mellon University student Johnny Lee has demonstrated a break-through in low-cost head tracking devices. In his video, he demonstrates how a 2-D image on your computer can appear 3-D.

Johnny Lee has also developed a low-cost video whiteboard that is now being used by schools around the world.

I find it amazing what our young people are able to do with the building blocks of the 21st century.

Way to go Johnny!

How do your tech picks stack up?

Business Week has released their top 20 and bottom 5 tech products of 2008 -- how do your picks compare to their picks? The top of the list is the iPhone App Store. As I mentioned in a prior post, this is not the first App Store, but perhaps the most popular. Though I do like the concept, I find it hard to be released at number 1 with the restrictions Apple places.

The Blackberry Storm beat out the iPhone. Having not used the Storm, I can't give it a fair comparison. I do know that I like my iPhone much better than my last smartphone, a Blackberry.

The MacBook Air made it an number 5. Here's another one I don't agree with. I doubt many Windows-to-Apple switchers would be happy with this as their first Mac product, with its missing connections and under-powered performance. It may be a fine product as a netbook, but at the price point, it's only for those with disposable income. Perhaps switching palces with number 10, the Sling Catcher would be better.

Chrome, Firefox, and Twitter all made it within the top 10, which seem appropriate. Twitter is definately a break-through product, creating a new niche, while Chrome and Firefox have turned the browser wars back on.

I think the Wii Fit and Roku box probably should have been in the top 10, replacing some of the smartphones. With Apple opening up the smartphone market last year, this years offerings including the iPhone 3G are just me-too products.

Speaking of me-too products, the G1 Android phone made the bottom list. Yes it is a "me-too", but it hardly qualifies as a bottom feeder, Google has demonstrate the potential of an new open-source smartphone platform. They deserve at lease enough kudos to get off the bottom -- this is like getting an "F" for giving a speech in middle school by a nervous kid; getting up and trying is worth at least a "D".

Other products that qualified for the bottom 5 included Vista and HD DVD. But again I think another error in placement is the Tesla Roadster. Yes, too high of price for the average consumer, but innovative and promising. It doesn't seem to make sense that the MacBook Air could get #5 while the Tesla list listed in the bottom 5 -- where's the consistency?

What do you think? Agree or disagree with Business Week? With me?

Easily change the default program for a specific file type in Windows XP

I recently found that my Word and Excel files were associated with another program and I wanted to change them back. Windows XP as with prior versions of Windows allows you to do this through Explorer, but it's time consuming and easy to do wrong. Here's the quick and easy way to associate a file type with an application.
  1. Right-click on a file of the file type (e.g. "My-Word.doc")
  2. Click Open With...
  3. Click Choose Program... (last option in the list)
  4. Choose Select the program from a list and click OK
  5. Select the program you want associated to the file type
    If you don't find the application program you're looking for, click Browse... and locate the programs .exe file
  6. Click the box next to Always use the selected program to open this kind of file
  7. Click OK
This opens the file in the program you chose and the icon of the file will change to the programs icon.

Microsoft reports a new vulnerability in WordPad Text Converter for Word 97

I suspect this will only impact a very few people, but the threat is real. If you are viewing Word 97 documents using WordPad, because you do not have Word installed and you use one of the following OSs, then you're at risk.
  • Windows 2000 Service Pack 4
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2
Unfortunately, unless you get a Word file in the new .docx, I don't know how you easily tell different Word versions apart. If you fit into this category of having a vulnerable system, I would suggest not opening any Word documents sent to you, unless you know very specifically what the user has sent.

If you are unsure of the source, but you still want to open it, at least go through the extra work to make sure it was not created in Word 97. To do this:
  • Right-click the Word file
  • Click Properties
  • Click the Summary tab
  • Scroll down to the Application Name and make sure it does NOT read Microsoft Word 8.0
If you really must open it, find a free Word alternative such as OpenOffice. If you are unable to install an alternative such as OpenOffice and you fear you may open Word 97 documents by mistake, you can always disable the WordPad Text Converter for Word 97 file format.
  • Go to the Command Prompt (Start >Run... > cmd)
  • Enter the following: echo y| cacls "%ProgramFiles%\Windows NT\Accessories\mswrd8.wpc" /E /P everyone:N
Again, this is only a reported vulnerability -- there has not been any reported systems being compromised as of yet due to this. And, this vulnerability should only impact a very few systems -- check the top of this post to validate whether your system is impacted.

08 December, 2008

Use a Formula in an Excel Column, Bar, Line, or Pie Chart

When you create Excel charts, you can populate the title with a formula. You might find this helpful to display a total quantity, such as in this example. Suppose you have 30 students and you are displaying their grade distribution in a pie chart.

Here's what you do. Steps 1 - 4 set up the data; step 5 creates the Title formula; step 6 creates a pie chart.
  1. In the first column, skip the first line (A1) for the Title (we'll come back)
  2. In rows 2 - 6 of the first column (A2:A6), add the letter grades, A - D and F
  3. In column 2, rows 2 - 6 (B2:B6), add the number of grades of each type
  4. In column 2, row 7 (B7), sum the number of grades to get your student total
  5. Now go back to the first cell (A1) and add the following formula: ="Grade Distribution, " & B7 & " students"
    • B7 is the same cell we put our total in, in step 4
    • If you want to format the value contained in B7m remember the TEXT functioned discussed in an earlier post
  6. Create your pie chart
    • Highlight the data, cells A2 to B6
    • Click the Chart Wizard
    • Select Pie
    • Click Next
    • Click on the Series tab
    • Click on the mini-cells graphic to the right of Name
    • Click on A1 and press Enter
    • Click Finish

To recap, it is the Series Name field in a pie chart that also serves as the Title. The Series Name field can be entered manually or refer to any cell, and the cell may contain a formula. This same technique will work for Column, Bar, and Line charts as long as your are only looking at one set of data (like you do with a pie chart).

04 December, 2008

Worm virus from Facebook and MySpace

05-Dec-08 update: Webware posted an article describing the Koobface virus coming from Facebook.

I just received an email from our corporate IT department, as they are temporarily blocking Facebook and MySpace due to a worm infected file.

The method of infection is:

There is a prompt to update your flash player when visiting one of these sites . This executes a worm that infects explorer.exe and other critical operating system files. To date there is no easy method to clean an infected system. The IT staff is working to clean the 20 odd systems that have been affected to date.
I'm not sure how real it is, but it serves as a good reminder to make sure updates are coming from known URLs.

03 December, 2008

The Interent fails for Sprint and Cogent customers

If you're a Sprint or Cogent customer, relying on them for your Internet connectivity, you're probably already aware of this article from Scott Woolley of Forbes. In late October, due to differences between these companies, Sprint severed the Internet backbone connection between them. The result was customers on both sides not being able to reach all parts of the Internet.

The feud goes back several years, with what appears that Sprint is being a bit of a bully. It is common practice for the Internet backbone carries to exchange traffic between them for no cost. The rationale is that it benefits both companies' customers and the traffic is even enough both ways where there is no profit to be made by one company or the other. In this case, "...Sprint stood to gain $1.5 million or so in annual revenue, which would add .004% to the company's $40 billion in annual revenue." (Note that this was based on Sprint's billing justifications; there's nothing to say this was a fair and reasonable rate.) $1.5 million seems like a lot of money, but what was the financial impact to the customers of Sprint and Cogent? And to Cognet that has revenues in 10s of millions, it's a much greater impact. Again, Sprint is being a bully, not even taking into account the impact to their own customers.

To make a long story short, when an agreement breaks down between companies, users suffer. Not just the subscribers to those services, but customers trying to reach websites of companies that subscribe to the services. The Forbes article draws the conclusion that perhaps the unregulated backbone connections is very dangerous for all Internet users and the FCC should be stepping in.

In my opinion, all aspects of connectivity to the Internet need to be looked at -- this is just one more item to add to the list of Net Neutrality. The Internet is important enough to the people and companies of our country that government needs to step in and make sure it is treated like a utility -- like water and electricity. Whether urban or rural, whether rich or poor, all people of the U.S. should have uninterrupted Internet access at a reasonable speed and a reasonable capacity. What is reasonable is a topic for another time, but if it takes government to keep these connectivity arrangements together, then they need to add some regulation and oversight to it.

Find electonics recyclers near you

It's not uncommon during birthdays and Christmas to get new electronic gadgets and have the need therefore to throwout the old gear. Before you throw them out, consider the toxic metals that you may be adding to our landfills. Instead go to Earth911.com and find a recycler near you.
In addition to electronics, you can search for locations that will take paper, metal, hazardous materials, plastic, and more. So the next time you need to dispose of electronics or other materials, start with Earth911.

29 November, 2008

Apple TV (ATV) remote not working

Recently my Apple TV remote quit working. When I pressed the buttons, the light on the Apple TV lit, but nothing happened. I've since learned, similar to "pairing" your wireless key for your car, the Apple TV remote needs to be "paired" with your Apple TV. It's an easy process:
  1. Hold the Menu and Previous buttons for 6 seconds. You should see a new graphic appear, a remote and a broken chain.
  2. Then, Hold the Menu and Next buttons for 6 seconds. The graphic will go away, as you have just "paired" your remote with your Apple TV.

28 November, 2008

Cannot format new hard drive

I got a new external hard drive to use for backups. Before starting, I wanted to format the drive as NTFS, instead of the default FAT32. When I tried though, the system always gave me an error message,"volume is in use by another process." Of course I checked and checked, and was certain nothing else was using the drive. It turns out that the drive when initial setup was added to the System Restore Monitoring; I needed to remove it to format the drive.

Here's how to do that:
  1. Go to Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> System Tools >> System Restore
  2. Click the System Restore Settings in the right pane
  3. Highlight the drive
  4. Click Settings
  5. Check "Turn off System Restore" on this drive
  6. Click OK
  7. Click OK again
  8. Click Cancel (to close the Welcome to System Restore dialog)
For a drive that I am using as a backup drive (a data only drive), there is no reason to use System restore, so after formatting, I did not re-enable.

Note that if you are a Windows Vista user, you will find System Restore within the System Properties dialog box under the System Protection tab.

25 November, 2008

Amazon search tip

I recently discovered a very helpful search tip for Amazon. When I shop, I like to sort by price, low to high. What usually happens though is I then have to go through all the match but irrelevant items before I get to what I really want. What I learned is that if I use a minus (-) for the items I don't want to see, then I no longer have this issue. Here's an example:
  • Searched for "upconverting DVD players"
  • Sort by price: low to high
  • First thing I get is a bunch of cables
  • Change search to "upconverting DVD players -cables"
  • Sort by price: low to high
  • Now the first results are the low-end upconverting DVD players
You can also add multiple items to exclude. For example: "upconverting DVD players -cables -progressive".

BONUS Tip: Use this URL to find all Electronic items that are 85% or greater off of list price: http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/?node=172282&pct-off=85-. Change 85 to any number to get the percentage you are looking for. Thanks to ProBargainHunter.com for this tip.

Before you buy a gift card, check this list

Many stores have plans to close some or all locations after the Christmas holiday. Before you buy that gift card for little Johnny, better check out whether they'll still be around.

Delete empty rows in Excel

When I get data from the screen view in Salesforce.com, the results have an empty row between each row of data. With a little VBA help to create a macro, it's easy to clean it up. Here's how to do this:
  1. Go to Tools >> Macros >> Visual Basic Editor OR press Alt-F11.
  2. The Project Explorer should be open in the upper-left corner. If not press Ctrl-R.
  3. In the Project Explorer, double-click the worksheet name to add the macro only to a single worksheet. Double-click ThisWorkbook to have it available to all worksheets.
  4. Paste the code (option 1 or option 2) into the worksheet.
  5. Go to View >> Microsoft Excel OR press Alt-F11.
  6. Select column A.
  7. Go to Tools >> Macros >> Macros OR press Alt-F8.
  8. Highlight the DeleteRows macro and click Run.
  9. Wait as it process through each row. To make it faster, only highlight the rows you want checked.
Sub DeleteRows()
RowCount = Selection.Rows.Count
ActiveCell.Offset(0, 0).Select
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
For i = 1 To RowCount
If ActiveCell.Value = "" Then
ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
End If
Next i
Application.ScreenUpdating = True
End Sub
Sub DeleteRows()
Dim theRows As Range
With Application
.Calculation = xlCalculationManual
.ScreenUpdating = False
For Each Rw In Selection.Rows
If WorksheetFunction.CountA(Selection.EntireRow) = 0 Then
End If
Next theRows
.Calculation = xlCalculationAutomatic
.ScreenUpdating = True
End With
End Sub
Option 1 seems a little easier, while option 2 is a little faster. Option 1 checks for row value (= ""), while option 2 counts the number of empty cells in to see if it is equal to 0. Option 2 also turns off calculations, which is where the real speed is gained.

That's it, now you have a worksheet without empty rows.

Remember, extra security is required for wireless hotspots

Forbes reports on recent work that has identified many airport hotspots not being secure. This is a good reminder to all of us who use hotspots that we need extra security. First, if you can get on the hotspot, so can anyone else. With a little work and help from programs such as Cane and Abel, anyone can intercept everything you send and receive. Other people may just set up their laptop to look like a hotspot, so when you connect, you are actually connecting to their laptop. Again programs are readily available to make this work with relative ease.

Your job, if you're going to use hotspots, is to only communicate with VPN on. VPN will encrypt data as it is sent and received between your laptop and the VPN server. If your company does not provide you with VPN or you need it for private use, try services such as PublicVPN or HotSpotVPN. For a small fee, these services will protect you .

The same rule also applies to any public network that you physically connect to such as from a hotel room. After connecting to the network, fire up the VPN before doing anything else. It is also a good idea to make sure you are not sharing any files or folders. If you are, when you join the network, but before you access the VPN, anyone on the network can get to those shares.

How does this differ from private physical connections such as in your place of byusiness? You are trusting that the only people on your business network are safe, and not snooping the network. If your business network is also available via wireless, it should be protected with WPA using a strong security key.

You're keeping up with Microsoft updates, aren't you?

Ars technica reported yesterday that a recent Microsoft update, with its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), removed nearly 1 million fake anti-virus programs from users' machines. This is a good reminder to us all -- make sure you're keeping up with the Microsoft patches, which are typically released the second Tuesday of every month.

Unless you're technically astute enough to critically review each and every patch, I would recommend you set it for auto-update. Here's how to do it.
  • Go to Control Panel
  • Click on Security Center
  • If not already set to "ON", click on "OFF" next to Automatic Updates to change it
  • In the "Manage security settings for category" click on "Automatic Updates"
  • Click on the radio button next to Automatic (recommended) and set the frequency to every day at an hour when you rarely or never use your computer
This is a great example to why security protection is the number one reason you should be running a legal copy of Windows.

24 November, 2008

Convert text fields in Excel to Proper case

Excel provides an easy formula to set text values in cells to the correct or proper case. This is very helpful when cleaning up data before entering into a database. If the source was from a third-party -- perhaps from user registrations, it's not unusual to have users not capitalize proper names.

Here's an example:
  • You want st. paul to read St. Paul
  • You want project manager to read Project Manager
Here's the formula:
  • =PROPER(A1) where A1 is the cell of the value you want to convert
If you are going to reference the value later, remember you can use the Text command too.
  • =TEXT(PROPER(A1),"#")
If you want to convert the entire value to upper case, use the UPPER function.
  • =UPPER(A1)

TIME releases the Best Innovations of the Year

TIME has put together a great list of innovations for 2008. Here are just of few of the 50 that TIME lists.
  • #4, Hulu.com. The TV and movie site from NBC and Fox. A good site, but not worthy of making it to #4. In fact, I'm not sure it's even worthy of being on the list.
  • #9, the Internet in space. Though it can't operate the same way; it requires confirmation of each packet being sent from every router.
  • #20, Spore, the "Everything Game." A disappointment for many users, both in game play and in the DRM used.
  • #30, the Internet of things. Now your toaster and refrigerator can have their own social network.
  • #32, Facebook for Spies. So that spies (CIA, FBI, NSA, and others) are no longer left out.
  • #36, a new ping-pong server from German Dimitrij Ovtcharov -- yep, a ping-pong serve made the top 50.
  • #38, Instant replay for baseball.
You think I kid... these actually made the list. Intermixed with these innovations are some really valuable innovations too, such as:
  • #6, the Global Seed Vault. 4.5 million seed samples stored at -18 c -- this is something to be excited about. I saw a feature on 60 Minutes about this.
  • #34, Made in transit packaging. Designed so your fresh food can continue to grow as it is being transported -- now that's fresh.
  • #37, Smog eating cement. Currently being used in Segrate, Italy, it seems to reduce nitric oxides in the area by 60%.
Go to the TIME website to read about all 50 of their top innovations for 2008.

22 November, 2008

Tweak Windows without Regedit

I ran across a nice program that makes it very easy to tweak many Windows settings that normally could only be done by manually making changes to the Registry. TweakNow WinSecret is a free Windows XP and Vista application that has tweaks in 12 categories. The categories are as follows:
  1. Applications
  2. Control Panel
  3. Desktop
  4. Miscellaneous
  5. Network & Internet
  6. OEM Info
  7. Special Folder
  8. Start Menu
  9. User Accounts
  10. Windows Core
  11. Windows Explorer
  12. Windows Startup
Here are just a few of the many tweaks you can make.
  • Enable or disable Desktop icons such as Internet Explorer and Printers and Faxes
  • Disable the Desktop Cleanup Wizard prompt from showing every 60 days
  • Move special folders such as the location of My Music or Internet Explorer Cookies
  • Change the menu display speed, i.e. length of pause before a menu expands
  • Hide submenus
  • Add context menu ites such as Copy to Folder and Move to Folder
  • Disable Startup programs
  • Add text to the message box that appears before log on
This is just a small list of many configuration and tweak options available with TweakNow WinSecret. If for no other reason, use it work the management of startup programs -- disabling those programs that are slowing your computer down.

19 November, 2008

Getting too much done, too soon?

Perhaps some help from the Procrastination Flowchart would be in order. I learned about this back in September, but I'm just now getting to it. Hmm...

18 November, 2008

Twitter offers goodness

If you're not familiar with Twitter, it is a micro-blogging tool, where users can only post 140 characters at a time. The low character count was determined based on the ability of phones to SMS, with caps ranging from 140 to 165 characters per SMS message. As a Twitterer, you can post information on what your doing, a new website you found, or short news blurbs. Other people can follow you on Twitter, and see your posts as you make them.

The "goodness" I am referring to is the use of Twitter by the AMBER Alert system. Sign up as a follower of amberalert and get informed of any new AMBER Alerts. I'm actually quite surprised amberalert doesn't have more followers -- less than 500. According to TwitDir, President-Elect Barack Obama (BarackObama), the leader with the most followers, has 133,482 followers. Couldn't get at least 5% of those followers to follow amberalert?

Did you know that in 2007, there were 13 to 24 AMBER Alerts issued each month? In total, there were 227 AMBER Alerts that involved 278 children -- 278 abducted children! Statistics from the 2007 AMBER Alert Report.

If you want to follow others, once you "follow" them on their Twitter page, there are several easy-to-use clients (that you can also use to make your own posts, called Tweets). For example, I use TwitterFox, a add-on for Firefox. In this way I don't need a separate application open and most times it's my top screen on my desktop. Twitter lists several on its own website.

So whether your a Twitter user now or not, it's time you start tracking amberalert and do your part. I'm sure this is probably just one of several "goodness" opportunities on Twitter. If you know of others, please let me know.

17 November, 2008

Free PDF Hosting

UPDATE 18-Nov-08: I missed this one; not sure what changed -- Google Docs DOES NOT allow sharing of PDFs. Of course a single user can store and view a PDF; you just cannot share it.
"Please note, at this time you can only share PDFs from the Docs list, not the PDF itself. Publishing a PDF so that anyone can view has not yet been implemented."
I guess I am back to finding an alternative.
I looked into free file hosting, to see if I could find a place to store a few PDFs for this blog. The real need came from my current host, Blogger, not providing this service when I last checked in August. It is free, so I can't really complain, yet it is part of Google that gives me 10 GBs free for using their Gmail and Picasa services -- that are also free. Of course I could use Google Docs, but then that forces me to format my documents to fit their tool.

STOP - I spoke too soon, Google Docs now supports PDFs; I can host any PDF up to 10 MB in size (and I can always purchase more space). This is great news, as it helps tie together one more piece in having an integrated blogging solution.

While I'm here though, I thought I'd share a little about what I learned about some free hosting services. I started on a free hosting list page, which had a number of possibilities -- most looking too good to be true. Here's the three that I clicked through to look at more closely.
  1. DataFileHost.com: This is the first site I look at. 25 MB of free space. No file management; just an upload screen on the home page with a 4-character captia. I'm returned with a download link and a delete link. When you click on the file link, you get a couple Google Content Ads -- a reasonable trade. The one caveat to the service is the file has to be downloaded at least once every 30 days. I want a more permanent solution that will persist after the newness wears off. Time to move on.
  2. FileAve.com: They offer 50 MB of free storage, and will hold your files as long as you login at least once every 30 days. I actually signed up for this one, as they made it rather easy. I was immediately able to upload files, which I stored in a subfolder I labeled PDFs. Upon completion, I realized I had a newer version of a file, and attempted to upload it. I say attempted, because I was returned an out of server space message. I tried deleting the older one, still no luck -- out of space. I figure it's temporary, so no problem, "What do you expect for free?" I then realized I made a typo in my username (lower instead of uppercase), but FileAve doesn't allow me to change it. Time to move on.
  3. FastFiles: Promises a whopping 100 MB of free storage. this site is not quite clear on what it wants to do. There's no way to register or manage files, yet the FAQs claims to have my email address and that it can limit my usage. Nevertheless, once I do upload and then look at the download experience, its not what I want to share with my users. The download page is covered with a dark shading, and you cannot view the file until you click through an ad or take a survey. This is served by cpalead.com ("Leading Advertising Solutions"), and if you have a script blocker such as NoScript, you can actually avoid this mess. Not something for more users; time to move on.
  4. GoogleDocs. This is where I realize I either need to get a different hosting solution (which will eventually happen anyway) or give up on the idea. I decide to give GoogleDocs a look, again, to see if I can squeeze something into their format -- and here I find my solution.
Speaking of Google Docs, I have now seen it used in other good contexts. One is its integration with Salesforce.com. With the Salesforce integration you can develop proposals and other customer documents, and email and track with Salesforce. You can also use it as part of a collaboration and/or workflow within Salesforce. For a startups looking to save cost in hardaware, software and IT labor, Google offers a great solution for office documents, email, collaboration. For now, I'll just be using it to refresh a few posts; who knows what I may find for it next.

Google Docs File Upload Specs:
Documents (up to 500KB)
  • HTML files and plain text (.txt).
  • Microsoft Word (.doc), Rich Text (.rtf), OpenDocument Text (.odt) and StarOffice (.sxw).
Presentations (up to 10MB from your computer, 2MB from the web, 500KB via email)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint (.ppt, .pps).
Spreadsheets (up to 1MB)
  • Comma Separated Value (.csv).
  • Microsoft Excel (.xls) files and OpenDocument Spreadsheet (.ods).
PDF Files (up to 10MB from your computer, 2MB from the web)

Other Features:
  • Trackable using Google Analytics
  • Several RSS feed options
  • Offline access using Gears

15 November, 2008

Net Neutrality looks more promising than ever before

Save the Internet reports on the change in position around Net Neutrality with the change of the guard in Washington. With President-Elect Barack Obama understanding of technology, our "representatives" need to finally get-in-the-game and not just sellout to big business. I hope this is just the beginning of much more attention and spending on technology, so the U.S. can be recognized as a leader again.

14 November, 2008

Explore and discover product keys

I reviewed two different product key utilities, with the purpose of keeping a backup of all my product keys in case I ever need to reinstall my applications. The programs I tried were Product Key Finder and MSKeyViewerPlus.

I tried MSKeyViewerPlus and immediately liked it. It separated those applications that required keys and those that did not (free). With a single click I was able to expand the window to view all the key information, and with another click I had them all copied to the clipboard. MSKeyViewerPlus was created by a guy named Todd (couldn't find his last name) and he makes it available off of his family website for free.

The other program I tried, Product Key Finder lists all your registered programs on one screen and does not provide an alternate screen with your other programs. On the plus side, it offers different output options to save your records including XML, Access, CSV and Tab Delimited. These programs are not that complex, so there's not much more to it. Product Key Finder costs $30 and a purchase is required to really use it, though the site claims 15 free trial. In addition to the $30 fee, what I didn't like about Product Key Finder is that you cannot uninstall it if you do not let the program have access to the Internet.

Having to allow Internet access to uninstall any program is not acceptable under any circumstances. Product Key Finder did not give me any information as to what data was being sent while accessing the Internet. And even if it showed me some data, I have no way of ensuring that something else is not being sent. So whether using Product Key Finder or another product, whether I pay $30 or I get it for free, there are very few programs that I could recommend that requires Internet access to uninstall. For that matter, I would also be cautious of programs requiring Internet access for installation.

So there you have it. If you want to make a backup of your product keys, checkout Todd's MSKeyViewerPlus. While you're on his site, Todd offers some other free utilities that may be of interest too.

13 November, 2008

Dreamweaver Find and Replace Crash / Failure

One of my favorite applications for web application development, whether ASP, ColdFusion, or HTML and JavaScript is Dreamweaver. I currently use version 8, and for the first time I experienced a real problem. Every time I tried using Search & Replace, the dialog box would not appear and eventually Dreamweaver crashed.

I tried updating to the latest version, 8.0.2, but that still didn't help. After no luck with some Google searching on "dreamweaver 8 find and replace crashes" I tried to do some Registry exploring and I figured out a solution. Upon initial exploration, I determined that Dreamweaver held various parameters specific to Search & Replace. After trying a few things, I found the ones that seem to be the culprits.

Enough said, here are the steps:
  1. Close Dreamweaver
  2. Launch Regedit (Start >> Run...; Regedit; OK)
  3. Go to HK_users >> HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-1606980848-1500820517-839522115-1689
    Most of this key is going to be unique to you. If you share the machine, you need to identify the key specific to you.
  4. Continue navigating to >> Software >> Macromedia >> Dreamweaver 8 >> Find and Replace
  5. Right-click on Find and Replace and Export. This will allow you to undo in case you have a bigger problem (i.e. lockup or crash)
  6. Delete the following keys
    • FindReplaceXPos
    • FindReplaceXSize
    • FindReplaceYPos
    • FindReplaceYSize
    • Q_1_0
    • Q_1_1
    • Q_1_2
    • Q_1_3
  7. Start Dreamweaver
That did the trick for me. Good luck!

75% reduction in spam as of Tuesday

Brian Krebs, columnist of Security Fix in the Washington Post has been following a San Jose company McColo Corp due to it's contribution to spam. Over the last 4 months Brian has been gathering data, which he shared with the service providers of McColo on Monday. Upon reviewing this material, the ISPs shut down service to McColo. I think the results were bigger than Brian expected -- 75% of all spam has been reduced across the Internet -- that is 75% of all spam was coming from this one company. In his column, Brian has some graphs from a couple different sources that displays these terrific results.
Congratulations and well done Brian!

11 November, 2008

2009 Top 10 Future Outlook

I found on the Discovery website, originating from The Futurist magazine, the Top 10 Forecasts for 2009 and Beyond. Here's an exert and some opinion.
  1. Everything you say and do will be recorded by 2030. Here's some facts: Our ISPs can (and some do) record every movement we make on the Internet (including email); Google is everywhere and capturing everything; our employers are tracking our network and email usage; and we're already capturing and documenting our lives through social networks and photo & video sites. On top of that, places like London have cameras on every corner and are recording every phone call too. It is just a matter of time before everything is recorded -- I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a reality as soon as 2020.
    British authorities have placed great faith in CCTV as a crime control device, installing an estimated 1.5 million police cameras along the country's streets, buildings and mass transport systems. Still shots taken from video feed are used to identify protesters and hooligans.
    - Wired, 2002

    The government of the United Kingdom leaked its plans yesterday to launch a programme which will monitor every British citizen's emails, internet browsing records, and telephone conversations. While a specific plan has not been reached, UK ministers agreed on spending up to £12 billion (USD$21.2 billion) on the new spying system. More than £1 billion (USD$1.76 billion) has already been spent.
    - WikiNews, Oct 2008
  2. Bioviolence will become a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible. Emerging scientific disciplines (notably genomics, nanotechnology, and other microsciences) could pave the way for a bioattack. I just watched a NOVA video on how a particular bacteria, Acetinobacter aka Iraqibacter, also found as MDR Acinetobacter Baumannii, is adding its own defenses making it resistant to antibiotics. If this can spread so easily on its own, it makes sense that terrorist and anti-Amrican organization would persue this expertise.
    An ICU nurse at Bethesda Naval in Washington DC leaves work feeling under the weather. Within 24 hours she is in a community hospital, intubated, with Acinetobacter Baumannii. It was determined that the bacteria were acquired from a patient at work. She succumbed to the infection quickly and with no fan fare. The story went silent.
    - Acinetobacter.org
  3. The car’s days as king of the road may soon be over. I have mixed feelings over this one. The continued fight for energy supports this statement, as well as the improvement in social and collaboration technologies. What makes this difficult to beleive is that people still want to be together and I beleive are more productive when together. Of course you can cite many examples of remote teams delivering great products, but given the choice, most people would like to work in close proximity to their peers. Of course being on the West Coast, our community is not as compact and centralized as the East Coast and places abroad. What do you think?
Well that's just a look at the first three. Quite interesting and a bit scary. As they say, only time will tell.

09 November, 2008

Replace iTunes without replacing your iPod

Are you tired of too many bloated updates for iTunes, (Reminds you too much of Windows?) yet you love your iPod? Well there are alternatives to iTunes that will let you continue to enjoy your iPod. For Windows only users, there's SharePod; for Windows, Mac, and Linux users there is YamiPod. Both applications claim to run off the iPod, so you can avoid installing it to your computer.

With a replacement for syncing your iPod, now you can explore other music and media players such as Songbird. Songbird is an open-source music player that feels a lot like iTunes, but offers a lot more flexibility.

If you are interested in other iPod utilities, try The 20 Best iPod Utilities from LifeHacker. Enjoy!

08 November, 2008

Cloud computing and Salesforce.com

I just got back from Dreamforce '08, Salesforce.com's annual user and developer conference (see Keynotes here). I've been a Salesforce.com user and administrator for about 6 months, so this was my first Dreamforce. I came away impressed and excited about the Salesforce.com platform. Cloud computing has been a recent buzz word, and we have heard it in context of Google, Amazon, and recently from Microsoft. What I saw from Salesforce.com though was the first real example of what cloud computing can offer.

First, Salesforce.com offers their CRM (customer releationship management) application, that is used and administered through a web browser. A great application, but that in itself is not much different than many other web-based applications. What makes it extend beyond the traditional web app is the ability to add additiional applications availalbe through their AppExchange. AppExchange is like the iPhone App Store, but Salesforce.com was there first. Applications found on the AppExchange extended the functionality of Salesforce.com.

Still not cloud computing, in that these apps can be hosted by a 3rd party or even in your own data center. What finally hits the cloud computing mark are AppExchange apps that now run on the Salesforce.com backend. I like this because now it's one platform, not a distributed one. And with a worldwide organization, we can get the same performance all over the world, not the latency you can experience with apps only running from one location.

Most companies don't know how and/or do not have the resources to build applications that leverage an always up, distributed environment. With Salesforce.com, you can use their own Apex language to build your apps, therefore leveraging the cloud platform from the beginning.

Not to be confused with programs such as the Google office apps, Salesforce.com demostrates the first real solution using cloud computing. This is worth checking out for any business looking to lower IT costs, having troubles getting work from IT, or looking to focus on their core business, instead of IT. Watch for additional post on Salesforces.com in the next several days.

30 October, 2008

Organize and share travel plans with TripIt

I just learned about TripIt last night, as I was discussing an upcoming conference with a friend. this is a website that I am excited about, even though my travel has dwindled considerably. TripIt is an easy to use trip organizer. The Internet has made it easier than ever to plan trips, make reservations, and send friends and family information about that trip. Until TripIt, though, you still had to keep every booking, every plan, and every detail in its own format scatter over the Internet, in your email box, and on printouts.

With TripIt, you can enter all the data into one place, and build an itinerary that can be accessed from anywhere; an itinerary that can be shared with friends and family; and an itinerary that you can print and have all in one easy to read format.

There are so many easy to use features, it's difficult to know where to start in explaining. In planning my trip, I added my hotel arrival date, departure date, and other data I received when I booked it. When I added my airline info, the hotel information was updated with arrival times based on when my plane landed plus travel time. It also added directions and a map to travel from the airport. Using the airline information, it added links so I can easily go to the airline site and check-in and get my boarding pass.

Now of course the site didn't know that I am planning on taking public transportation from the airport to the hotel, but it was easy to add those details too. I added a new Note, had it entered in my itinerary after arriving at the airport, and added the pickup and drop off information, so I'd have it handy. The Note even supports graphics, so I added a picture of the airport with the location of the pickup location.

With arrival and departures added, each day has its own heading with a small graphic showing the weather forecast and high and low temperatures. It also automatically added a map of the area. I clicked on my first full day, and added my plan for the day (an 8 - 5 conference). It was then easy to copy the plan to the subsequent days. One easier approach would have been a reoccurring option, such as reoccurring meetings in Outlook.

So now I have my trip details entered, and I want to share it. With a single click I can share it with other TripIt members, or a second click lets me add email addresses. My friends and families don't need to be TripIt members to view my itinerary, which makes them happy. I also see in this process that I have a colleague in TripIt who has a trip at the same time in the same area. Now I have someone I can connect up with, when the business meetings are done, instead of spending the rest of the night cooped up in the hotel room.

I'm still not done though. If I want to add it to my calendar, and it support iCal, with a single click I can do that. iCal is an open format, but there are available plug-ins so you can even get it into Outlook. If I want to get alert notifications, I can add them to my RSS reader. Alerts appear to be notifications of itinerary changes made by people that I am following through TripIt -- perhaps that colleague who's going to meet me on the trip.

When I'm ready to go, I can easily print my itinerary too. Before printing, I have the option to select the level of details, such as whether I want the maps or not. Or if I want to save a few trees, I can just use their mobile phone interface, which can be accessed through a mobile web browser and via emailed commands (e.g. "get trip").

Finally, in addition to gathering airline information for you, TripIt has plug-ins for some popular websites such as LinkedIn, Expedia and Travelocity business services, Fandango and TicketMaster, popular hotel chains, and rental car companies. With these linkages, it just makes it even an easier tool to use.

Founded in 2006, TripIt is just a beta product. As I interact with it tonight to write this, at times it seems a big sluggish. I'm sure that will improve. If you want to see for yourself, but you're not ready to sign up or don't yet have a trip to plan, check out TripIt's demo videos. If you're not much of a traveler yourself, but you have loved ones that do travel, have them give this a go and share their itinerary with you.

29 October, 2008

Free AT&T Wi-Fi with your iPhone

Here are the steps to get your free AT&T Wi-Fi on your iPhone:
  1. Activate Wi-Fi from the settings icon on your iPhone
  2. Select "attwifi" from the list of available networks
  3. Enter your 10-digit mobile number and check the box to agree to the Acceptable Use Policy.
  4. Tap 'continue'
  5. You will receive a text message from AT&T with a secure link to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. You will not be charged for the text message.
  6. The SMS link will only be valid for 24 hours at the location it was requested. Another request must be submitted when using another hotspot location.
  7. Open the text message and tap on the link for 24-hour access to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot.
  8. Enjoy!
Credit for the documented steps goes to my great colleagues at work.

Happy Birthday Internet

It was 39 years ago today that the first transmission over the new ARPANET occurred. Here's scans of the actual documents that logged the first attempt, which crashed after sending "lo". We've come a long way since those early days of developing the packet switching network we know and love as the Internet.

Happy Birthday Internet!

27 October, 2008

Write, fold, mail, and other folding fun

Seems letter writing is dead -- not according to Letterfu. Letterfu.com contains several page templates that you can use to send a letter without using an envelope. The steps are easy:
  1. Find a design template you like
  2. Print it
  3. Write your letter (on the back)
  4. Fold per the printed guides
  5. Address
  6. Add a stamp
  7. Mail
If Letterfu intrigued you, then you might find one of these other paper folding sites of interest.
  • Paperfolding.com is all about origami, from the history to easy lessons to complex origami art.
  • A Paper Folding Project contains instructions for a single design from Paul Haeberli.
  • Folds.net has a collection of links (some broken) to folding instructions for various origami.
So give Letterfu and letter writing a try. Perhaps letter writing isn't quite dead, yet.

24 October, 2008

Firefox drop zones for keyboard-less surfing

As read on Webware, using the Drag & DropZones Firefox Add-on you can now surf the web without using the keyboard. Zones are areas in the visible browser window that are assigned various tasks. To use, select a word or phrase and drag and drop into a zone. The process of dragging applies a set of semi-transparent colored boxes with labels, illustrating where the zones exist.

Drag & DropZones can be used immediately upon installation, as it will auto-assign drop zones on your browser window to your pre-defined search engines that are defined in your Search Engine Manager. Using the configuration manager, you can move the search engine zones around, delete them, and add new functionality. I think the most valuable time saving feature is for users that actually use more than one of the search engines in your search engine manager.

Other functions include:
  • Add to dictionary
  • Back
  • Bookmark
  • Copy
  • Open in a new tab
  • Paste
  • Reload
  • Save
  • View page source
As you can see, except for the search engine zones, most the rest is just duplication of the right-mouse click functions. Watch the demo if you are interested in seeing more.

23 October, 2008

Tab preview and switcher for Firefox

In March I wrote about programs that can improve your alt-tab behavior in Windows. In this 300th blog post, I'm going to share with you a Firefox add-on that works similarly for tabs. With the Ctrl-Tab add-on, press the Control and Tab keys, and you get a preview window of current and other tabs. Continue to press to scroll through and select the tab of your choice.

By default, Ctrl-Tab will order the previews based on last viewed. Use it with the Shift key (Ctrl-Shift-Tab) to move in reverse direction. With a small modification, you can configure it to scroll through in order of the tabs.

Here's how you change the tab order:
  • Open a new tab
  • Enter about:config
  • Search for browser.ctrlTab.mostRecentlyUsed
  • Change the setting from True to False (double-click on True)
  • Restart your browser
Just one more usability improvement to making web browsing a little easier.

22 October, 2008

Add / Change / Delete Systems Properties General Tab

For most of us, we bought our XP computer from a vendor who customized the display of the Systems Properties General tab (Control Panel >> System Properties). Microsoft has made it easy to put your own custom logo and Support Information on this tab.
Go to "C:\WINDOWS\system32" and search for oeminfo.ini. Open oeminfo.ini with a text editor such as notepad to make changes. If the file does not exist on your system, you can create the file. Here's the syntax:
Manufacturer=The Company
Model=The Model

[Support Information]
Line1="Customer Care provides support"
Line2="for basic Windows XP questions."
Line3="Please refer to the Warranty and Support Guide"
Line4="for complete support information in your country."
Line5 = ""
Line6 = ""
Line7 = "In the United States, call 1-800-652-6672. "
Line8 = ""
Line9 = "Support is available 24 hours per day,"
Line10 = "7 days per week, and 365 days a year."
You can change to logo by replacing oemlogo.bmp located in the same folder (C:\WINDOWS\system32). The BMP file must be only 256 colors and be 96 x 96 pixels.
That's all there is to it. A great feature if you are supporting friends and family, or for your own support business.

17 October, 2008

Favorite websites, new to me

The Internet is flooded with websites, more bad than good. Just the shear number of sites, even if they were all good, makes it difficult to find those sites that are relevant to you right now. With that in mind, I thought I would share some websites that I recently found, that I believe fall into the "good" category.
  1. The Best Article Every Day
    Day-to-day the articles on this site do not typically go together, which is the power of this site. It exposes you to new things all the time. Take for example the article from October 16, 2008 -- it's about 28 different free file storage websites. The article on the 15th of October has 78 ways small businesses can save money. Quite diverse, both offer value.
  2. NirSoft
    NirSoft has countless software utilities from password tools, to network tools, to browser tools. Definately a site for geeks.
  3. How to Clean Stuff
    Maybe your microwave smells like burnt popcorn. How to Clean Stuff has a way to clean up that smell. Maybe your son came home from school with gum in his hair. How to Clean Stuff has an answer for that too. Categories include tech gear, your house, carpets, clothes, and more. Check it out.
  4. Earth Album
    Earth Album is a Google Maps and Flickr mashup. Select your favorite part of the world or a place you want to checkout, and see photos taken from there. It's easy to spend lots of time here exploring new places.
  5. Tag Galaxy
    Another Flickr mashup, this time with Papervision 3D, Tag Galaxy is a fun way to explore Flickr photos based on their tags. Start with a tag of your own or pick a favorite one. The result will show you popular additional tags on photos that have your first tag. For example, start with "mountains". Photos with "mountains" also have these tags: snow, nature, trees, and water, to name a few. Click on one of those, and start viewing photos.
Thre you have it, just 5 of the many "good" Internet sites. Enjoy!

16 October, 2008

The value of DRM

As you may recall I wrote in September about the latest company to drop DRM, Walmart. I think we all agree that dropping DRM is a good thing, but in Walmart's case, as with Microsoft and Yahoo before them, they were also planning to turn-off their DRM servers, punishing those who bought the DRM'd music through their online store. Again like Microsoft and Yahoo before them, Walmart had a change of heart and has decided to leave their DRM servers running, at least for now.

So this is a good thing. At least for Microsoft, Yahoo, and Walmart they have owned up to their mistake and they are not penalizing their customers, who supported them during their DRM mistake, any further.

For those companies that are still pushing and supporting DRM, heres a short comic of the greater problem they are causing. They're putting their own customers between a rock and a hard place. I ask, "Why would you do this to people who have interest in your products?"

Facebook in real life and the website is down

What would it be like if your life was like Facebook or another social network? You might find acquaintances from long ago showing up at your door. This first video helps you see what that might be like.

The first video is from some blokes in England, Idots of Ants -- they are Benjamin Wilson, James Wrighton, Elliott Tiney and Andrew Spiers. This is just one of many videos available on YouTube by the Idiots.

If you have a tech job, many others likely do not understand what you do. Of course you spend most of the day playing computer games. And when your non-technical colleagues have technical problems, they are all the same problem, caused by the same thing, requiring the same fix. In this case, it's because the website is down.

I hope you enjoyed these video shorts as much as I did.

15 October, 2008

Create ringtones from your own MP3s

I found a great, free site that will take my mp3 music and create ringtones. With audiko.net you can search for existing ringtones, upload your own mp3 or enter a URL of an mp3 or YouTube video. The ringtones should work with most phones including the iPhone.

When you upload a file, it takes only a few minutes to process, and then you can select the music segment that you want converted to a ringtone. The one problem with the entire process is that you cannot play your uploaded file, so you need to determine on your computer or mp3 player the time mark to start and stop the clip. Audiko.net is able to process files so quickly because they only use the first 75 seconds of a clip, which should be fine in most cases.
If you opt to use a YouTube file, the process takes a bit longer, but still works. Of course with YouTube, the audio is not likely to be as good as what you can get from an mp3 file. When the ringtone is ready to download, you can get it in mp3 format, m4r, (the iPhone format), or amr (older phones).

I create 4 new ringtones in less than 15 minutes; check them out:
  1. Bring It On Home - Willie Dixon
  2. Harpin on a Riff Instrumental - Charlie Musselwhite
  3. That's My Partner - Elvin Bishop & Little Smokey Smothers
  4. The Thrill is Gone - B.B. King with Gary Moore (from YouTube video)
Enjoy your new ringtones.

13 October, 2008

Wells Fargo login not secure enough

Updated 17-Oct-08.
Some good news on the Wells Fargo security front.

  1. Though the ignoring of extra password characters is still true, you have to exceed 14 characters before you see this behavior. A 14 character password is sufficiently long enough where this should not be a significant issue.
  2. The reason behind the case insensitive username and password is so the same system can support phone interaction as well. Though this lowers the security level, it is compensated for by limiting failed logins to 3 attempts. After the 3rd failure, the user must contact the bank before they can try again.

In listening to Security Now, a TWiT Network netcast, staring Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte has reported over several episodes in September that the Wells Fargo online login is not as secure as it should be. This report came from users of Secuirty Now.
  • The first report was that the password would still work if it had extra charcters at the end of it. It was not determined to whether the length was ignored after a specific number of characters or if it ignores anything longer than your password length.
  • The second reported issue is that the password is case insensitive.
  • The third report is that the username is case insensitive.
As of the last episode that I've listened too (September 11th), there has been no reports of correction. I find it real disappointing that a bank, of all websites, would have these types of security vulnerabilities. With poor security practices used by typical users, these vulnerabilities make it much easier to guess usernames and passwords.

If you are a Wells Fargo customer, I would recommend you let them know about the security problem at a minimum, and change banks if you do not see reasonable effort to correct this.

10 October, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Net Neutrality in Popular Mechanics

In an effort to tell the stories of Obama and McCain and their positions of Net Neutrality, Popular Mechanics put together a great article describing the various issues involved in the Net Neutrality debate. Though too late in the game for Obama and McCain to devote time to sitting down and discussing with Popular Mechanics, they did get enough information to know the general positions -- Obama wants enough regulation by government to provide an open Internet while McCain does not want government involvement. Popular Mechanics summarized it as "John McCain is against Net neutrality and Barack Obama is for it."

The Popular Mechanics article does a good job describing the role of the ISP and the so called "last mile". We're reminded about the ethical issues around conflict in interest the ISPs have. For example, the ISP can provide a slower or throttled bandwidth, which would impact VoIP (Internet telephone) from 3rd parties while making sure their own VoIP solution has plenty of dedicated bandwidth. The same situation applies to video from 3rd parties versus videos provided by the ISP -- the ISP can make sure their product always perform better.

My position is that if you are an ISP, you should not be allowed to also be a content provider -- the conflict of interest should not even be a part of the equation. Do not allow companies to put themselves in a position of conflict, as history has shown us that they will make a decision that is not in the best interest of the customer.

Back to the Popular Mechanics article. The piece is finished with a discussion over where might wireless technologies fit within the Internet and Net Neutrality framework, if they do at all. And, whether Internet service should be considered a utility like electricity and water. The utility question is the fundamental difference in position between Barack Obama and John McCain, where Obama seems to put the Internet in the utility camp and McCain does not.

As much as I always worry about too much government involvement, I do think the Internet should be considered a utility, and therefore have some regulation that has some guarantees for all of us. Again, recent history shows us that many companies put their interest ahead of the average American, regardless of the ethical issues. If we want the Internet to be open and usable for all Americans, the government needs to take a more active role to make sure that happens.

Make sure you let your position know and vote in November.

09 October, 2008

Speed up Firefox with pipelining

Here's just one way to improve the performance of Firefox, through enabling pipelining. Pipelining is having the browser send a subsequent request before receiving a response from the prior request (standard behavior). Pipelining also provides the facility to include multiple requests within a single packet. Mozilla reports the highest potential performance gains for those web pages that have a higher latency rate. Here's how to configure Firefox:
  1. Enter about:config in the URL bar
  2. Click the warning button
  3. Enter "pip" in the Filter -- this should reduce the list of options to four items
  4. Click on the Value field for the following two entries and change from False to True
    • network.http.pipelining
    • network.http.proxy.pipelining
  5. Click on the Value field of network.http.pipelining.maxrequests and set the value to 8
  6. Start enjoying a faster Firefox
If you set the maximum requests for pipelining too high, you could actually see or just perceive a slower response time, so if you really want to maximize the performance gain some experimentation may be in order. This difference is influenced by the network performance, response of the remote server, and latency to name a few, therefore requiring the experimentation.

Map a drive while in the Command Prompt

If you have ever tried to switch to a UNC name while working with the Command Prompt, you have found that it can cause you a problem. What you need is a mapped drive to the UNC path. Using pushd, you can accomplish this. pushd will map to the last available drive (i.e. Z:) and automatically switch you to that drive mapping. Here's the syntax:
  • pushd \\server\share\path
    For example, \\mycompanyserver\commonfiles\project1
Of course when you're done, you may want to unmap that drive. No problem, use popd. With popd, it will switch you back to the path you were on and unmap the drive letter. Here's the syntax:
  • popd z
This is a great solution for those batch files that require a drive mapping, but you do not want to keep the mapping alive all the time.

07 October, 2008

Remove the DRM from iTune purchased music

Most of us who have purchased iTunes music know that we can remove the DRM from the M4P audio files by burning the music onto a CD. But if you have a large collection, this can be very time consuming -- though having your music backed up to CD isn't a bad idea. For those of you who do not relish the idea of bacing up each every track, there might be a solution available for you.
  1. This first program, MagicISO, will convert up to 3 minutes per song for 14 days without purchasing -- I tried a song under 3 minutes and it seemed to work fine. You can buy it for $30 or get it free when you buy a 3rd party item or service through their site. For example, you can get the 2009 Entertainment Book for $25.
  2. Your second option is NoteBurner -- a $35 software that will allow you to burn to a virtual CD, and then back to MP3s. This batch converter works with iTunes, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, Winamp, and SonicStage.
  3. Another option is TuneBite. TuneBite appears to play and capture, getting you an exact copy. I think there could be a risk of error if ran on a slow computer, though. Its trial captures the first 1 minute, which worked without a flaw on my testing. It also has other features such as capturing YouTube videos. This software runs for $27.
  4. If you're looking for something for free and you are running iTunes 7 or earlier, you might try myFairTunes7. I couldn't test this one as I am on iTunes 8, but it looks promising. Being that this is an open source project, it wouldn't surprise me if it eventually had a version released that supported iTunes 8.
  5. Another option for iTunes 7 users is QTFairUse from DVD John. This program has received a lot of press, as every time iTunes got a new release, this program has been updated. Again, this is a potential program that will have iTunes version 8 support before too long.
So there you have 5 good solutions. If you still want to do it the Apple way, here are some instructions on how to burn a CD at a time.

If you're looking for alternatives to iTunes for the source of your music, Sony just announced an agreement with Dada.net, selling DRM free tracks for only $0.66. Perhaps you want a bigger collection? Try Amazon.com's music store. Rock on.

Update 12:30 pm 07-Oct-2008: I might also add that some songs are available through iTunes (iTunes Plus) that are DRM free.

03 October, 2008

One spell checker to rule them all

Many applications we use come with built in spell checkers; with F7 being the most common way to execute the spell checker. With more and more web based apps, I seem to find myself occasionally not having a spell checker or the spell checker is cumbersome. For me, this no longer is a problem.

I have been using a free product called Enso Words from Humanized for over 6 months as my spell checker. Here's how simple it is:
  1. Highlight what you want to check (ctrl-A to select everything)
  2. Hold the Caps Lock key down and start typing "spellcheck". In my case, just an "s" is enough to put spellcheck in the top of the Enso list.
  3. Release the Caps Lock key
  4. If there are no misspellings, Enso Words will tell you so. If there are, a window will open with your text, and the misspelling will be highlighted.
  5. Click and hold on the misspellings to see possible correct spellings.
  6. Select the correct spelling or select Learn. Alternatively, you can type the correct spelling.
  7. When you are completed, hold the Caps Lock key down and start typing "done"
  8. When you see Done at the top of the Enso list, release the Caps Lock key
Eight steps may seem like a bit much, but not really. Once you get used to using it, it is a fast process.
You might be wondering why do you need to start typing "spellcheck" -- that's because Enso Words has other options too. Perhaps you're reading a PDF and you don't know a particular word. Enso Words can look it up for you using the same easy steps: (1) Highlight the word; (2) Hold Caps Lock and type "define" ("de" brings it to the top); (3) and Release Caps Lock. This opens a webpage on Answers.com with a definition of the word. Enso Words also contains a thesaurus look-up and character and word counters.

The makers of Enso Words has also created another free Enso branded product, Enso Launcher. With Enso Launcher, using the same technique, you can launch your favorite applications and website. Watch for a future blog post that covers some of the many features of Enso Launcher, or take my word for it and get it at the same time you get Enso Words.

The printer has not yet responded Error

I recently noticed a new problem with Word and Excel opening rather slow -- on a new laptop no less. And when I was connecting through our VPN to the office, I would get an error message, "The printer has not yet responded... Continue to wait?"

Turns out there was a problem with my default printer definition in Windows being corrupt. I delete the old definition and created a new definition (Add Printers and Faxes) and the problem has gone away.

02 October, 2008

DRM needs the boot

I ran across a great article on Royal HeHe2-ness from guest blogger Ian McLean about DRM and why it needs to go. Why Its Time To Kick DRM To The Curb give a good perspective on the options for digital media companies and consumers. Mr. McLean re-enforces the fact that honest folks are impacted, while the less honest have a better product. Further he also points out that in many cases there are free alternatives that are as good or nearly as good as the expensive DRM software packages. Give this article a read.

28 September, 2008

DRM hits you coming and going

If you re unfamiliar with the term DRM, it stands for digital rights management. The record (RIAA), movie (MPAA), and software industry has used forms of DRM to prohibit you from sharing your purchased digital goods with others. This continues to be a headache for the honest, while the less honest folks are able to find free "cracked" version of the same materials.

Take for example if you purchased music from the likes of Microsoft or Yahoo! You were notified (hopefully) this past year that they will no longer support these services. For reasons that appear to agree with what has been argued all along -- that DRM only impacts honest, paying customers -- Microsoft, Yahoo!, and now Wal-Mart are reversing their business models by discontinuing the DRM practice. Microsoft and Yahoo! have easied up some what on their position, to give you more time to find a work-around, but nevertheless you are left either with losing the music once your current PC dies or the burden of transfer through CD ripping or other nonsense. No word yet what Wal-Mart is going to do, if anything.

So here we have a bad business practice that has impacted customers continued through now not supporting "what was started". (DRM hits you coming and going.) I understand that if you work hard enough, you could get a full refund from Yahoo!. This should be the norm for all of these companies that forced DRM on consumers.

Another example is currently happening in the software industry. If you buy the new game, Spore, from Electronic Arts (EA), you are required to activate it over the Internet. If we ignore the many, many problems users have had with the system and just look forward 5 years, will EA still be supporting the Spore activation? What about in 10 years?

The message, which our government seems to always come down on the "big business" side is that you are never really purchasing a product to own, but rather to use until we (big business) decide you should no longer be able to use it. My advice... be very careful what you buy, and make sure you do it with your eyes wide open.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) says it is illegal to defeat any piracy protection, even if just for a backup. So, most CDs can be legally ripped (copied) to your computer, but many online services (e.g. iTunes) continue to have DRM music. It is very unlikely that you will find DVD movies that you can rip to your computer; fortunately most of us do not watch movies over and over like we listen to music. With software it is a mixed bag. Be very leary of any software that requires an online activation, unless you know that you will want a newer version within every 4 to 5 years. With the exception of games, there is usually a reletively similar open source alternative that you can always turn to if you do not want to risk your hard earned dollars.