August 31, 2005
Phew! What a day. Wednesday is when the Bleeding Edge column has to be filed, but today ICE TV's Peter Vogel was in town for a rare visit, so we also scheduled a lunch with him.
And in the afternoon we had to turn up to inspect a possible new home for the Bleeding Edge cave - a former home for wayward women, so it has great potential - which made things even tighter.
As it happened, we were half an hour late at Abbotsford. And when we pulled out the laptop to test the iBurst link, we discovered the battery was flat. The agents say ADSL is available, and there is an iBurst antenna at Collingwood, so it's probably fine. We might ride the bike over on the weekend to check that, and also see how long it would take to commute on two wheels.
While there are many advantages to having one's cave/office in one's home, the big drawback is that there's a temptation to just slip ijn and do a little bit of work ... and emerge a few hours later.
Politicians should never assume that a journalist is a friend. The relationships you want to build up, Every journalist wants to break another Watergate, and thinks you say in private become parliament. You have to take a shield.
August 30, 2005
eDonkey takes the BitTorrent burden
What with the music industry seeming intent on killing the legal download business, it might be timely for the music and video industries to consider that their glee over apparently frustrating BitTorrent users was distinctly premature.
While BitTorrent's share of Internet traffic has fallen, peer to peer file transfers are consuming just as much bandwidth as they ever did, but with programs like eDonkey, people have found new ways of getting what they want.
Posted by cw at 12:21 PM
August 29, 2005
Mad for laptops
Let's start to think about the new market that's being unleashed by the arrival of the $999 price point for portable PCs. According to IDC (quoted in Computer Daily News) this year's second quarter sales jumped 25 per cent over those of the first quarter, and were up 53 per cent over the same period of 2004.
That means a lot more people are going to be buying Wi-Fi hubs, and iBurst, and possibly Telstra's EV-DO. It means a lot more people are going to be searching for vacant power plugs in cafes etc. Which makes us feel a little glum, although the long battery life of the Toshiba Portege R200 means we don't really have to worry about such things much any more. That's one reason why we'd never consider buying a $999 laptop. One of the many things that are sacrificed in order to reach that price point is battery life.
But Hewlett Packard and Acer are obviously riding high on the trend. They've overtaken Toshiba as joint leaders of the portable PC segment.
Toshiba can't be all that unhappy, however, because their high-end Qosmio range is still going gang-busters. This is the phrase that killed our interest in Qosmio: "Less than 10lbs." Umm. That's 4.5kg, forgowdsake. The Qosmio G20 costs a mere $5999 (which gets you a 17-inch screen, 160GB hard drive and a 2.13GHZ Pentium 770 CPU). But we imagine it's difficult to get one of those gorgeous wide "Trubrite" screens open in economy class. Which would hamper one's enjoyment of all those entertainment options.
August 27, 2005
Recently the Chief Toad decided that there are better things to do with his valuable time than deleting spam from this blog. Therefore, you may have noticed over the last few weeks that new comments do not appear immediately, but instead don't appear until one of us pond-dwellers approves it.
The good news is that now you can have your contributions appear immediately, by logging into TypeKey. TypeKey lets you post comments to multiple blogs, including the Bleeding Edge pond, and LiveJournal. To take advantage of this, click the "comments" link under any post, and then click the link in "If you have a TypeKey identity, you can sign in to use it here." That link takes you to a page where you can either sign in with an existing account, or sign up for a new account. Once logged in, you will only have to re-login once every 2 weeks.
If you've never commented before, now is a great chance to try. Feel free to use the comments under this post to test it out, offer your feedback, or ask any questions that you have.
Making Microsoft Office work
You don't have to look any further than Microsoft's brilliant idea of "adaptive menus" to understand that usability labs mostly don't work.
Bill Gates' user "experts" have spent millions of dollars and untold amounts of time examining the way people use their products, and what they came up with was this idea of moving users' most frequently used command to the top of the list, and hide the rest.
Great idea. According to some researchers, until users get familiar with the idea, it takes longer to get something done with a restricted selection of tools. And even though people do adapt, the majority of people don't like adaptive menus. You can put Bleeding Edge firmly in that category. Faced with continually having to expand the menus to find the tool we wanted, we very quickly decided to turn that "feature" off.
Here's how: Go to the Tools menu, click Customize, then select the Options tab and check the "Always show full menus" box. Click OK.
VOIP and you
We are trying to convince Jeremy Howard to write a comprehensive guide to VOIP. He knows more about the topic than anyone else we know. As a matter of fact, he's written his own VOIP application.
In the meantime, you'll have to get by with this.
Beazley gets US boost
He might not be getting much traction in Australia - he's not getting much press either - but Kim Beazley's "phased extraction" plan to help the US get out of the mess in Iraq is getting a lot of support in Washington. It's the Washington Post's most-read story today.
What's that saying about prophets and countries?
Posted by cw at 08:38 AM
August 26, 2005
It occurred to your humble correspondent, while he was standing in the long queue at the bookshop at the Melbourne Writer's Festival seeking Alexander McCall Smith's signature on his spouse's copy of The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom - the Von Igelfeld Trilogy, that since the spouse had departed 15 minutes previously, pleading a consulation with a client, and he was doing the waiting, that he'd like his very own signature on his very own book.
There happened to be a hardback copy of 44 Scotland Street nearby, so your quick-thinking correspondent slipped out of line - carefully reserving his place, of course, with the permission of the person behind him - and purchased same.
Sandy (as those who've had him sign one of our books call him) displays unusual courtesy in these matters. He stands up and personally greets every person, and shakes hands. We pointed out to him - well, we couldn't think of anything else to say - that whereas the spouse had been prepared to pay $24.95 to obtain his signature, it was worth $34.95 to us. He was suitably impressed.
"Well," he said, "Jill (spouse's name) shall get the usual signature, but you shall have a 'Warm Regards'. AND ... he signed it twice! He might have been born in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, but he's a true Scot.
Posted by cw at 04:13 PM
Sandy (McCall Smith) and us
Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Writers' Festival. It was just a 15-minute bicycle ride from the Bleeding Edge cave to join the audience for Alexander McCall Smith's session. If you've not read the series that started [I think] with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, then you have a delight in store for you.
He's speaking at 8pm too, although I imagine the seats are all gone. In fact the Bleeding Edge spouse obtained the last two seats for this afternoon's session.
A minor annoyance: the iBurst connection has dropped out
three times five times. It was perfectly fine in the cafe, but it doesn't seem to like the upstairs seating.
August 25, 2005
Uninstalling Norton products
As a caller to this mornings computer help section on 774's Computer Help section discovered recently, uninstalling Norton security programs can be less than simple.
There's been some discussion on the topic in the Bleeding Edge forum, and I advised the caller that there is a program that can seek out those components that sometimes get left behind.
Here's some links: The Add/Remove Software approach won't work if some files and utilities aren't running. So try this.
And if you still have problems, SymNRT can be quite a help.
Shifting time. Spending time.
We started exploring the idea on the blog recently. And today's Bleeding Edge column takes the subject of time-shifting a little further.
And something I didn't know about until just now: Radio Time also looks interesting.
Here at Bleeding Edge Entertainment Options Inc, the management has been busily reallocating resources in order to cope with the phenomenon we've recently embraced called "time-shifting".
Time-shifting is what happens when you buy yourself a Personal Video Recorder, which allows you to record free-to-air and cable TV broadcasts on a hard drive and watch them when it suits you, rather than when it suits Kerry Packer's bank account.
Worse for Mr Packer and his fellow network owners - time-shifting allows you to fast-forward through the commercials with a click (or two) of the remote.
We've written about our early experiences in the area with the Home Media Centre, produced by a small Melbourne company called Development One using the open software MythTV project, its competitor, Microsoft's Windows Media Edition and the Topfield TF5000PVRt, but we've discovered that time-shifting is particularly addictive.
Last week, for instance, we decided to switch to Topfield's TF500PVRt Masterpiece, which, among other new features, has a 160GB hard drive, capable of recording twice as many programs as its predecessor, thus easing the anxiety of deciding what programs we're going to have to eliminate from our menu in order to accommodate the new stuff.
Our freedom from the TV schedule got us thinking. Now we've taken to time-shifting radio, too, largely through podcasting, in which you download prepared programs and upload them to an MP3 player. ABC Radio National is packaging an increasing number of shows, and the BBC has an even greater choice.
But even where there are no podcasts, it's possible to create your own. In Windows, for instance, you can use Total Recorder to record streaming audio and save it as an MP3 file, and Audio Hijack Pro does the same for Mac users.
We've got a good deal more choice than that, too, because we've also been using Griffin Technology's Radio Shark to record radio programs we would otherwise have missed.
The ABC no longer offers a streaming audio replay of the computer help session that your humble correspondent and the Financial Review's Peter Moon share on Radio 774's Jon Faine show. But the RadioShark allows us to record it and save it as an MP3 file.
All this new freedom sounds wonderful, and it is. But it doesn't come without commitment.
You have to sit down with the Green Guide and decide what shows you're going to program into the PVR. That's much easier these days with ICE TV's iceguide electronic program guide. For a $3-per-week subscription, you can see what's on every free-to-air channel for the next seven days and record your choice simply by clicking on the title. Even better, ICE TV automatically updates itself. The company even has a wi-fi link that connects to your broadband network. Their programmers have done a brilliant job and we regard it as an essential aid for any time-shifter. It works with most popular PVRs.
If you're not a subscriber, you're going to have to allocate time to your recording activities. If you've got a Topfield, there's a lot of inexpensive applications called "TAPS" that can speed things up.
Andrew Cullen's ProgressBarKeys has improved considerably since we last looked at it, and it's indispensable for entering recording information, editing recordings and automating fast-forwarding through ads, among other things.
If you're not careful, time-shifting can become an obsession. Ask Tony Hamlyn. He started spending so much time programming his Topfield that his girlfriend moved out. He provides a great resource, which includes links to his own and others' Topfield applications, tips on how to burn your recordings to DVD and practically anything else to do with this remarkable device.
It isn't just the PVR that demands attention. If you're downloading podcasts, you'll have to search for interesting content, download the files and transfer them to your MP3 player, and then remember to hook up your PodFreq - our choice of FM transmitters that link your iPod to your car stereo.
Then there's all the extra storage space you're likely to need. If you're a time-shifter, you're likely to find yourself shopping for an external hard drive. Bleeding Edge has half-a-dozen of them, and we'll be writing soon about how to select a good one.
Time-shifting, it seems, isn't at all the same thing as time-saving.
August 24, 2005
Now you can talk with Google ... sort of
Interested in trying out Google Talk - the Instant Messaging client just released by the [much more than a] search engine company?
There's a free (900k) download here. It works with Windows XP and Windows 2000 only, at the moment, but Mac and Linux users can connect to Google Talk through other clients.
Broken promises. Broken record.
Suddenly, the music industry loves technology. Releasing a new e-label distribution mechanism that will rely on digital downloads instead of compact discs, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros Music, Edgar Bronfman appealed to the technology industry to set aside its differences with the entertainment industry and work together to ensure its hardware and software protects copyright.
Why would anyone else want to work with an industry that recognises nobody's interests but its own? An industry, furthermore, that conceals the benefits it has gained from technology, inflates any losses, and lies about its tactics.
Bronfman had the sheer gall to claim, for instance, that he didn't support government interference in "what should be normal fair-market mechanisms". Pardon? The music industry and the movie industry lobbied the US Government to bundle TRIPS into the World Trade Organisation, utterly poisoning fair-market mechanisms.
The industry abhors fair-market mechanisms. What it seeks, at every turn - and is prepared to pay to get, is protection. It's actually succeeded in obtaining massive public funding for a private tax on consumers.
As Bronfman puts it: "We like government levies when they benefit us. I would like none of the legislators in France, for instance, to say they should no longer pay us a levy for all the blank CDs that are being sold, (though) it doesn't make up for the revenue that we're losing. If the government mandated filtering technologies, we'd be delighted." Fair market? Phshaw!
This is the situation. It isn't only France that imposes levies on blank cassettes and CDs. The industry gets similar payments from other European countries, and from Canada. Even Bleeding Edge originally thought this might be a good idea, until we realised that the industry pockets this money ... and gives absolutely nothing in return.
It's still bleating about the cost of CD copying, using figures that, as we've said in the past, are clearly fictitious.
We need the technology industry to stand up to these robber barons. And we need governments to do the same thing.
Posted by cw at 10:38 AM
August 23, 2005
Sharing your library
On the face of it, Britain's new online book-sharing collective, My Book Your Book, looks like a great idea.
For an annual fee of £8.95 (currently being waived) members pledge to share 10 of their own paperbacks, in return for access to the titles owned by the rest of the community.
After choosing a book, each reader sends a stamped addressed envelope to whoever owns the volume. The owner posts the book and the reader is allowed to keep it for up to five weeks before passing it on to the next person in the chain.
As librarians pointed out to The Guardian, however, the same service is available for free at public libraries, without the postage. And again, unlike libraries, it doesn't offer a royalty payment for authors.
Posted by cw at 11:45 PM
Google Sidebar trumps Microsoft
Google has released a new version of its desktop which includes a feature called Sidebar, which gives you a vertical monitor for things like email and Web sites, and stock quotes. You can stick photos there, or make notes on a scratch pad among other things.
And if you give Sidebar the go ahead, it will monitor your Web habits, analyse your habits, and bring you news tailored to your interests. It can't be long, surely, before it will be telling you where you fit in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator scale, and what the stars have in store for you today.
According to The Guardian, Sidebar indexes data from Microsoft Outlook and Office, which must please Bill Gates no end, given that he was planning on doing much the same thing with Vista. On the other hand, Apple beat him to it with Spotlight.
The forgotten people
We know that our Minister for Selling Telstra, Senator Coonan, has an awful lot on her mind as she prepares to chair the first meeting of the Online Council in Perth - a forum designed to get the States to cough up a contribution to the $3.2 billion regional communications fund.
We think that it's a jolly good thing indeed to spend $3.2 billion fixing regional communications - although somehow we suspect it's going to take more than that to do the job - but we'd just like to point out to the minister that, due to the brilliant management of Telstra and the inspired administration and planning of Senator Richard Alston, and some of his Labor predecessors, there's a lot more Australians who cannot get broadband connections.
These are the forgotten people. They live in an unimportant part of Australia known as "the city". There are untold thousands of them, living in suburbs that you'd never dream were centres of neglect.
There are several reasons for this neglect. They include the fact that Telstra continued to deploy antiquated technology like RIMS and pair-gain systems long after it knew, or should have known, that it shouldn't be installing the stuff, and the government let it get away with it.
That aggravated the appalling waste of both Telstra and Optus being permitted to lay out parallel cable networks which bypassed significant population areas. While some of those areas have since been covered by ADSL, the fact that there's a physical limitation on the range of an ADSL signal means a lot of people not all that remote from the GPO are still restricted to dial-up.
Even those who do have ADSL and cable have nowhere near the speed of connection that other countries routinely regard as broadband. What we have here is "almost broadband" or "pretend broadband", which makes the figures on international broadband penetration compared to total Internet use in today's Financial Review even worse than they look.
The fact is, Australia doesn't even appear on the chart, because it's No 22 in the world, behind countries like Iceland and Portugal.
Part of the reason for that is that, having focused on the sole telecommunications agenda of flogging off Telstra for as much as possible, the Federal Government has done anything but promote competition. OECD figures show a wholesale failure of the government's regulatory regime. Facilities-based competitors to Telstra broadband have a combined market share of less than 20 per cent - compared to more than 60 per cent in the US.
If you accept the Telstra spin, the regulatory framework in Australia is "overly intrusive", discouraging investment while encouraging reselling and cherry-picking by competitors.
Bleeding Edge tends to favour the alternative explanation offered by Ewan Sutherland, executive director of the International Telecommunications Users Group, which is that Telstra's high backhaul transmission charges - the cost of transmitting data over Telstra lines back to the main network - have paralysed broadband competition.
Telstra is the typical monopolist structure, weighed down by a culture of risk-aversion, short-term decision-making and sheer administrative incompetence. Its billing systems are a byzantine mess which are a perfect case study in how not to manage projects. We are unlikely ever to know precisely how much money Telstra tipped into the bank accounts of external contractors, with conspicuously poor results, but it must be a staggering sum. That money would have been better spent on digital infrastructure.
Right about now, new CEO Solomon Trujillo must be waking up to the fact that the apparently cosy little backwater on which he was encouraged to settle is surrounded by shooting parties, and he's the designated duck.
August 22, 2005
Double diary, as Margo Kingston goes freelance
Margo Kingston has taken her Webdiary freelance, ending what appeared to be a three-year contract with the Sydney Morning Herald.
After five years writing - or more to the point, building quite a team of writers - she says she'll open for business on her own account in four weeks time. In the meantime, her Fairfax page still seems to be active, although the last post was made on Friday.
The reasons for the split are as yet a mystery, although on her new site she declares, "Recently, my understanding of the nature of Webdiary and that of Fairfax suddenly and dramatically diverged, and as a result I ended my relationship with smh.com.au."
She invites further questions on the topic, however, and says she will "answer all bona fide questions unless I am unable to do so due to legal considerations arising from the termination of my contract to write for, edit and publish Webdiary for smh.com.au for three years". We can scarcely wait!
We'd be surprised if the SMH didn't come up with another writer for the original Webdiary, which would mean a fascinating struggle for those eyeballs. An obvious contender would surely have to be Tim Dunlop, who's just returned from the US, and is now to be found in Adelaide.
So let's see now, if we compare the list of contributors on the SMH site with those on the new site, who's missing, and who's been added?
On the old site, there's Carmen Lawrence, Craig Rowley, Darlene Taylor, David Roffey, Harry Heidelberg, Jack Robertson, John Miner, John Wojdylo, Kerryn Higgs, Michael Ekin Smyth, Noel Hadjimichael, PF Journey, Phil Uebergang, Polly Bush, Russell Darroch and Stuart Lord.
On the new, we have (so far): Rubens Camejo, Polly Bush, Craig Rowley, Jozef Imrich, Harry Heidelberg, David Roffey, Ian McPherson, Russell Darroch and Hamish Alcorn.
We can't help wondering if, in leaving the Herald, Margo might have lost sight of her original plan.
On the other hand, it seems to be a growing trend for journalists who blog to embrace what they call citizen journalism.
Posted by cw at 02:00 PM
Safe as houses?
So you'd like to bet on the value of real estate? No problems. According to the New York Times, the online fraternity may collectively be wiser than real estate agents.
Posted by cw at 12:56 PM
August 19, 2005
Strategy and the spotless mind
After a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of chaos, Bleeding Edge appears to have at last begun to embrace the virtue of tidiness. It's been two months now since the Bleeding Edge cave had the distinct appearance of having been recently ransacked, and even our most inspired cooking sessions no longer reduce the local Institution of Marriage to something close to tears.
We even caught ourselves reading Barbara Hemphill's latest book, Taming the Paper Tiger at Home with an uncharacterstic relish. She has some great ideas, for instance, for organising one's kitchen, and conquering the "to-read" pile that has so far defeated us.
And it isn't just that we're more tidy. We're also getting a little more strategic about things like parking meters. Yesterday, for instance, we did our usual piece for the Jon Faine show.
Since we have to drive in for that, we've decided to extract maximum efficiency from the trip. It's only a short detour to Victoria Market, where we buy Basil, the Bleeding Edge bulldog's rabbit meat, and for us such things as Heidi Raclette cheese (cheaper there than elsewhere, but all but unobtainable this week because of the cheese show), and Mr Tan's tomatoes.
Usually we also pick up some ingredients for dinner. Last night, it was King George whiting fillets - dipped in flour, and fried in oil infused with some fresh herbs. Delicious.
As we were parking at the market, we heard John Faine and Tim Lane interviewing Adrian d'Hage, a former brigadier in the Australian Army who's written a thriller called The Omega Scroll. It sounded interesting (although, having read the first two chapters, we think d'Hage was a far better brigadier than a thriller writer).
But having decided to buy it, we knew that it would cost us $29.99 at McGill's (although we do get a 10 per cent
discount there, for having an account). Because it's a thriller, published by Penguin, we decided it would probably be available at Big W in the Queen Victoria Village in Lonsdale St at a discount. It was - $17.94.
What we've been doing is saving up some of our purchases - Reflex paper for instance - until they add up to $60, which gets you two hours free parking at Queen Vic. (In any case, what with most parking stations charging $4.50 for half an hour, the Queen Vic's $2.50 per hour is quite a bargain in the city).
Having eliminated the ever-present danger of those parking cops popping one of those expensive little slips under the windscreen wiper, we strolled down to Kenzan restaurant in Collins St and had a leisurely sushi lunch. Now that's strategic thinking, is it not? We're sure Barbara Hemphill would approve.
August 18, 2005
Watch that Wi-Fi!
What with all those TV shows we've been watching and the knowledge that our computers are out to get us, it doesn't take much to move Bleeding Edge from our normal state of anxiety into total paranoia.
We were therefore horrified by a reader's email saying he believed someone had hacked into a wireless home network and used up his monthly bandwidth allowance.
The reader had just moved from BigPond's 200MB a month cable plan to the 500MB deal. On the first Sunday of the month he checked his email at lunchtime and saw three emails from BigPond. The first, at 12.35pm, told him he'd used half of his allowance. In fact, he'd used somewhat more than that - 346.63 MB, it said.
Two minutes later, another email said he'd used three-quarters of the allowance, or 476.17MB.
The third email arrived a minute later. Now 579.03MB was gone, it claimed, and his allowance was spent, with 24 days of the month to run.
Obviously, this user adopted a similar approach to our own when faced with crises of this magnitude - excess usage charges of 15 cents a megabyte: blind panic. He unplugged the modem and phoned BigPond's tech-support department and then its billing department.
He was told BigPond could not check the past two days' usage but all the internet service provider's equipment was operating normally. He'd have to pay any excess charges. They suggested asking the police to investigate.
He sought advice from Bleeding Edge on how to tighten his security.
Like most users, his security was practically nonexistent. Unlike wired networks in which people have to plug a computer into the network, anyone within about 100 metres in any direction from a wireless router or access point could leech from your download allowance.
The first thing anyone using wi-fi should do is change the default SSID (service set identifier) and default password. This reader hadn't done that.
Another option is to use MAC address locking, which limits connections only to known computers.
A third tip we picked up from a book titled Home Networking Simplified (Cisco Press) is to stop advertising the presence of your wireless network. By default, wireless routers are set up to broadcast their SSID. Once you've established all the devices on your network, it's unnecessary and, at that point, it's safer to disable that feature.
There's a good backgrounder on some newer methods of improving wi-fi security in the Windows Secrets newsletter at windowssecrets.com/comp/050714/, and Witopia offers a free wi-fi security program to personal users at www.witopia.net.
We passed on the information but we weren't satisfied that anyone had been stealing his bandwidth. He'd kept his anti-virus software up to date so it was unlikely the other potential bandwidth parasite - a Trojan communicating with a remote server - was at work. Just in case, we referred him to some free online resources. One is House Call at trendmicro.com, and the same company has recently picked up CWShredder, a free tool to deal with another possible cause of problems, the Cool Web Search browser hijacker.
We went back to those BigPond emails. They said the reader's system had downloaded 103MB in a minute. That would have been remarkable on a wired network, but at a distance over a wireless network it seemed to us impossible.
BigPond says its cable network can download data at "up to" 5Mbps (remembering that 1Mb, or megabit, is one-eighth of one MB or megabyte) so it would seem to be beyond the theoretical capacity of the network, and certainly beyond anything we've been able to wring out of BigPond cable over the years. Big Pond explained that the emails aren't sent in real time, but instead they go out at the end of a billing session. Because 500MB of the 770MB of usage occurred in the hour from 8am to 9am, the thresholds were reached in the same session, and the emails despatched at the same time.
The evidence seemed pretty conclusive. It was quite possible, given his absolute lack of security, that a neighbour could have been stealing his bandwidth. Big Pond sells wi-fi equipment, and it won't provide support for any other products. But it's more costly to take that route. There are several manufacturers who make products that are at least as secure, provided they're installed correctly. In this case, the installer seems to have been less than diligent.
Our reader could have checked out the efficiency of the hardware firewall included in his equipment by using the free ShieldsUp! service. Whether you're using a wired or wireless network, that's a wise move.
In this case, he would have benefited from being a little more paranoid. When it comes to broadband internet connections, we thoroughly recommend it.
Sam Varghese reports that there's a new variant of a keylogging trojan out there that - according to an IT consultant - appears to be "virtually impossible to dislodge".
We're always suspicious of stories like this. In our experience, while some malware is difficult to detect and remove, it's by no means impossible, without actually reformatting the hard drive, which seems to be what the IT consultant is on the verge of doing.
We did a quick search and came up with this removal tool for instance.
August 17, 2005
Intriguing time waster
No instructions. No explanations. But if you'd like to waste a bit of time playing with your computer, check out Raoul's little find. It's such joy when you finally figure out how to win!
So Microsoft didn't invent the iPod after all
Here's an interesting explanation of the absurd patent shenanigans involving the iPod:
In reality it will not be approved because of this little thing called Prior Art. As you might have guessed, you can't patent something someone else is already shipping. Further in the US we use a "First to Invent" method rather than a "First to File." Clearly since the Apple product was ~you know~ shipping, they invented it before Microsoft and clearly the MS application was not novel.
So why did Apple wait so long for the patent application? Probably because it just was not important. (and you aspiring inventors should know this) Once you ship (or publish info about) an invention you lose the right to patent it. Apple will lose on appeal and frankly, I'm not even sure why they bothered, probably only because Microsoft filed.
Help for Outlook users
You can get some idea of the difficulties involved in tracking down the cause of software problems, and the dedication of our Forum posters in this exchange on the Bleeding Edge forum (which is where you can ask questions and have them answered).
In this particular case, Wesma has lost the Send/Receive button in Outlook 2003 - come on Wesma, you must have put it somewhere! - and Outlook isn't being at all nice about putting it back. In the process, Anandasim has come up with a very helpful source of Outlook solutions.
Microsoft lesson of the day: Patch early. Patch often.
Executives of the New York Times, CNN and the US TV network ABC - among many other companies - will be asking some searching questions of their IT departments today after they were hit by the Zotob worm, patches for which were released by Microsoft on August 9. The worm hits Windows 2000, and some early versions of Windows XP.
You can understand how these things happen. How many times in the past have people installed new patches, only to find that an unexpected bug threw their systems into chaos? Unfortunately, what with the malware community proving itself to be a good deal more adept at responding to security holes than Microsoft is at fixing them, these days, anyone who doesn't immediately apply a remedy is asking for trouble.
You might like to check to see whether you've installed the latest critical patches.
August 16, 2005
Postponing RSI for $43.95
On a not entirely unrelated site a wise man warned that your laptop can cripple you, thanks to its sub-sub-sub-optimal ergonomics. I learnt this the hard way a couple of years ago, when that caveman-crouch required to successfully see the notebook screen finally caused me to succumb to RSI.
Now, amongst my arsenal of gadgets, one of my very favorites is a $44 piece of plastic, called the Macally IceStation. The IceStation props up the notebook such that the screen is at roughly eye-height, as is recommended by ergonomic experts. This is one of the most perfectly-engineered pieces of plastic I've come across, being small, light, highly adjustable, and rather reasonably priced. Pair it (ummm... should that be "triple it"?) with a wireless keyboard and mouse (or even better, a trackball) and postpone the inevitable RSI a few more years. Recommendations on suitable keyboards and pointing devices will appear in a future post, so stay tuned.
A new face... errr... or something
I'm always nagging Charles to write about the latest gadget I'm playing with; he's now found the perfect way to keep me quiet, which is to let me write about them myself! You can see which entries are written by me, by simply looking at the "Posted by" right under this here sentence...
Journalist resigns over technology hype
We know David Hewson ever so slightly - largely because he too is a fan of FastMail - and we're therefore sorry to learn that he has given up a presumably well-paying column on the Sunday Times because he was being increasingly pressured to promote the attractions of technology as the paper embarked on a "Get Digital Campaign", rather than to point out the potential negatives of "getting digital".
Among his observations: "Technology can be great. It can also be horrible. Journalism is there to cover both sides of the coin. There are a huge number of dodgy products, companies and services out there, and I always saw it as our job to try to expose them. Somehow, though, the campaign element took over, and I, along with everyone else on Doors, started being constantly exhorted to ‘encourage’ readers to take up new products, some of which made me distinctly uneasy."
It seems to Bleeding Edge that a lot of what passes for technology journalism in Australia follows the latter path, rather than the former.
We have to say that over the years, The Age has been incredibly supportive of the various campaigns Bleeding Edge has run against the rip-offs and sundry shortcomings of technology and technology companies. Readers probably don't realise how lucky they are. No other newspaper, in Australia and overseas, has given this sort of technology writing such a huge run.
There's been nothing to indicate that The Age plans to change that attitude. But when one reads stories like David's, one can't help but feel ever so slightly threatened. Maybe, like David, we should start learning how to write fiction.
Posted by cw at 05:46 PM
eBay makes us richer
You probably didn't realise it, but thanks to online auction sites like eBay, the value of household assets has jumped considerably.
A survey by Britain's Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) says the average household over there has gained more than £3000 because of the ability to sell unwanted or unused goods.
The centre's economists say this should boost consumer confidence. The report estimates that more than £4bn of trading is likely to be conducted on eBay alone this year - the equivalent of 1.3 per cent of total retail sales - and that 50,000 Britons are drawing an income from online trading.
We'd expect the situation is pretty similar in Australia, which boosts our personal consumer confidence immensely. The knowledge that we've got all that money sitting in the attic makes us feel ever so much better about buying that new laptop.
Has anyone tried Microsoft's Calculator Plus? It's a free download for Windows XP that extends the functionality of the Windows calculator to include metric conversions and currency exchange rate conversions.
August 15, 2005
Spam is waning - and so are cookies
Between suing spammers and filtering their loathsome messages, it seems that we're finally gaining some traction against the stuff.
But advertisers are highly alarmed at the fact that we don't seem to like their cookies any more.
Posted by cw at 06:03 PM
So you want to hear the 774 computer segment?
Over in the Forum, there's a thread on the sudden decision of the ABC to drop streaming audio of the computer segment which I raised with Jon Faine on the show last Thursday. The ABC says there haven't been sufficient people downloading the files to justify the work involved.
I ran into Florenz Ronn, on Saturday, who runs the 774 Web site, and he suggested that if listeners wanted the service to continue, they could email him and he'd take it up with the all-powerful authorities.
He's now advised me that he's received several emails and forwarded them to firstname.lastname@example.org where they are collected and saved, after being responded to. At the end of the month he will count them and plans to keep the ABC informed of the quantity of complaints and comments. He says it's best to use that address for these comments.
I've offered to host the audio here, but the ABC's Regional Editor, New Media & Digital Services says it would be better done by the ABC, before exploring alternatives.
So if you'd like to be able to download the show, send in your comments to that email address.
Microsoft invents ... the iPod?
Wouldn't this be ironic? Apple might have to pay Microsoft a royalty on its iPod sales because according to the US Patent Office - an institution which seems to us to be not so much dysfunctional as stark staring mad - Bill Gates' mob has a prior patent on the iPod interface.
Even more ironic: Apple says it "invented and publicly released the iPod interface before the Microsoft patent application cited by the examiner was filed".
It does seem to shed some light on the question we raised recently: Has Microsoft actually invented anything?
On the subject of iPods, we've had a request from a friend for our candid view of the iPod versus cheaper alternatives. For Mac users we think the iPod is probably worth the additional expense. But if you've got a PC, we can't help but think that the iRiver represents far better value. Particularly when there's no Australian iTunes Music Store.
We'd be interested in your views on the topic.
August 14, 2005
Digg: for information diggers
Uh-oh. Looks like the term "Digger" is about to lose its special relevance to Australia. Henceforth, a Digger might be someone who uses Digg. And what's Digg exactly? Well, it's "a technology news website that combines social bookmarking, blogging, RSS, and non-hierarchical editorial control. With digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allowing an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do".
Silicon Valley Sleuth is calling it a Slashdot killer.
How to hack your relationship
Maybe you don't want a divorce after all. You might just need a trial separation from your computer.
August 13, 2005
Mac OS X - on your PC, now!
See for yourself. Before your very eyes, a little piece of magic that turns a Mitac laptop PC into a PowerBook. OK. It's not actually a PowerBook. Not the PowerBook that Bleeding Edge dropped a small fortune on recently. It doesn't look as good. It doesn't have all the Mac bits and pieces. But it's running Mac OS X. It's MUUUCH cheaper. And it [AAARGH!!!] boots up faster.
The hack bypasses Apple's Trusted Platform Module chip, and all over the world, people have had it running on Dell laptops, and Gigabyte motherboards. John Dvorak sees it all as some fiendishly clever plan by Steve Jobs. Bleeding Edge, on the other hand, suspects that right now, Steve Jobs is despatching entire squads of lawyers.
Road warrior's power guide
Here's something I didn't know. If you're taking your laptop to China, you might not need a plug converter. One of the three types of plugs you find over there is the one we use in Australia.
How do you know what to pack for your power needs? You visit Steve Kropla's World Electric Guide.
If you travel a lot, you might be interested in a global adapter and surge protector.
August 12, 2005
Info Select redux
Over in the forum, a new user, Hanuman, has been unwise enough to ask for an opinion on Info Select. Many of you will have learnt long ago not to get us started on the topic, but since we have the opportunity, we thought we'd instruct you, once again, in the reasons this product should be on EVERY PC ...
Deep in the damp recesses of the Bleeding Edge cave, we've been suffering the effects of what we call the paradox of the diligent user. We became aware of this recently when we looked at a copy of Info Select which one of our friends had been using. It didn't look like ours.
As we so often point out to anyone who isn't fast enough to get out of earshot, Info Select is the real reason the computer was invented.
The term "flatfile database" scarcely begins to describe the sheer usefulness of this product. While its primary purpose is to enter and retrieve random pieces of information at truly astonishing speed, it's also an organiser, calendar, a basic word processor, email client and forms creator.
We've been using it for so many years now that we have accumulated an extraordinary record of phone numbers, interviews, business transactions, notes and quotations, text retrieved from Web pages etc. All the information that most people write on Post-It notes and table napkins and throw away, Bleeding Edge has stored away on Info Select, ready for instant retrieval.
Several times a day we search the database, looking for a phone number or address, something we read somewhere on a particular topic that has suddenly become vital, details of computer error messages, fixes to various problems etc.
Within the space of one 10-minute period as we were writing this, for instance, we looked it up three times.
The first was when the Plantronics headset we use on our mobile phone suddenly stopped working. We simply typed in “Plantronics” and there were all the details we needed. We rang the distributor, told them the model number, and exactly when we'd bought it - on December 17 last year, well within the warranty period - and the invoice number that allowed them to locate the transaction.
We had to arrange a travel insurance policy, and we needed to know the name of a particularly helpful travel agent we'd used two years ago. All we remembered was her first name, but with Info Select, you don't need much information. We typed in "Helen" and up popped the information.
A courier rang unexpectly to pick up a printer we'd been reviewing, and we wanted to quickly print out the address details. It was in Info Select, already formatted.
Given those typical results, we could scarcely say that the way we use Info Select hampers us unduly. But when we compared our Info Select data to our friend's, ours lacked definition. Frankly, it looked like the information had been entered with a shovel. Basically we had a long list of entries running down the side of the screen, in what the program terms the Selector.
We could search them easily enough, which is why they were simply sitting there in a long list. But in the years since we first began using Info Select it's become much more powerful. We could have been using some of the new features that came out in Info Select 6 and the latest version, Info Select 7 [since updated to Info Select 8] to streamline things as our friend had done.
That is the paradox of the diligent user. When you get to know what appear to be the most useful elements of a piece of software for your particular purposes, you tend to stop learning about it and just go on using it.
We did alter our ways sufficiently to use the Transporter, a lightning rod icon in the Windows tray that allows you to instantly transfer marked text in one application to a new note in Info Select. We think that came out in version 5.
But basically we just used the "N" key to enter new information and the G key to retrieve it. That's why our friend's data had much more form. He had organised a lot of his notes into topics (by pushing the F11 key) and nominated them as Hot Spots, which appear at the top of the database under black labels.
These days, there are even better ways to find the data you’re looking for. We often forget that we could use the program's ability to handle Boolean operators to better focus searches.
We decided it was time to change our diligent ways and spend a little time re-familiarising ourselves with Info Select.
We’d never cared too much for the calendar feature, probably because early versions of the program used a "tickler" format which forced you to enter asterisks beside a date. It seemed a little clunky to us. Ticklers are easier to enter these days, and the calendar allows you to link appointments to notes, keep diaries, enter repeating appointments, even execute programs at a certain time, or email reminders to yourself.
Email is one of the big improvements in the latest version. We get far too much email to want to store it in an Info Select database, but the average user might find it very useful indeed to be able to handle email from within the program, with the ability to retrieve messages instantly. It supports both POP3 and IMAP servers, encryption and filtering, although those features aren't as sophisticated as they are in programs like Outlook.
These days, Info Select even has its own Web browser and Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP) connections for Internet newsgroups, which allows you to retrieve news articles directly into Info Select, or create new articles and post them to newsgroups.
Other new features might radically change the sort of information that you might choose to store in Info Select. The addition of “selector grids”, which allow you to create tables and organise information in a more structured way means that might want to use the program to create schedules and business plans, manage information on employees etc or better organise the way you save details of things like purchases.
You can get even more organised than that, using Info Select’s new ability to handle simple spreadsheets. Cells can hold formulas based on other cells, and perform automatic calculations.
The new checkmark feature can be very useful when you’re doing something like planning a trip.
Info Select costs $249.95 from Step Up Systems. Upgrades cost $99.95. We suggest you should be much more diligent about using it less diligently.
Really. I'm TERRIBLY interested!
We can see why software which lets you know whether the person you're chatting to on the mobile phone is actually engaged in the conversation or is scrolling through the SMS Mailbox could be a boon to mankind. Possibly.
But we're going to have to have a law that prevents the Jerk-o-Meter being sold to mothers. Or bosses. Or spouses. Etc.
Posted by cw at 02:17 PM
Google's Gyro Gearloose
He might be a terribly clever chap whose services Google must have at all costs, but Kai-Fu Lee, Microsoft's former research star - who will be making an awful lot of money for the two companies' lawyers as they fight a legal battle over a non-compete clause - obviously is a bit of an idiot when it comes to PCs.
Not only did he use his Microsoft office PC to look at documents sent to him by his new prospective employer, the silly sausage thought that they'd disappear if he dropped them into the Recycle bin, rather than erasing them, bit by incriminating bit. The lads at Microsoft weren't half so stupid. They hauled in his computer, dived into the Recycle bin, and recovered his employment contract with Google. We wonder if Google might be having second thoughts about the lad.
Nasty spyware ... and a fix
Remember that nasty keylogger that Sunbelt Software discovered was busily stealing sensitive information? The company has released some more details of what constitutes a serious security threat.
- Part of the Dumador family of trojans, its footprint is extremely small — about 26k, and it runs under Internet Explorer.
- It is generally undetectable by a software or hardware firewall, and it turns off the Windows firewall.
- It steals data in the IE Protected Storage area and from the Windows clipboard.
- It logs passwords from online banking, eBay and PayPal sessions, steals logins and passwords from a number of programs, including WebMoney, Far Manager and Total Commander, and modifies the host file to stop access to Trend Micro, Mcafee.com, Symantec.com, Etrust/Computer Associates, AVP, Kaspersky, and F-secure, etc.
Kaspersky Labs anti-virus - which we've been recommending as our No. 1 AV product - detects it, unlike its better-known competitors.
Posted by cw at 10:52 AM
Beware the crippling laptop
What with The Guardian discovering that laptops can be dangerous, we thought we'd resurrect a piece we did a couple of years ago on avoiding these problems ...
It was a particularly painful example of fear of flying. Travelling business class from London to Singapore, one of our friends worked for 10 hours straight on his notebook, having bought a new cable that allowed him to plug into the aircraft's power supply.
It is the sort of thing the committed road warrior dreams of doing, but late the next day, he felt the first twinges of pain in the outside of his hands. Over the next few days the pain travelled up his forearms, to his shoulder and his back. After a couple of weeks, he had to severely cut back on his work.
Within a month he could not type. He was also incapable of twisting a door handle. He had difficulty sleeping, couldn't exercise, and even sitting in a chair for any length of time was painful.
His specialist told him he was suffering from an ``impingement" on a nerve at the top of his spine. It was something that often happened, he said, to people who spent long hours at a desk. Our friend had been a touch-typist for 20 years, ignoring - as we all tend to do - those warnings about taking frequent breaks for stretching. It was a long and painful nightmare. Our friend spent several thousand dollars on a Therapod chair, with arm rests and adjustable back support. He bought a $1200 DataHand keyboard, a $160 Microsoft thumb-operated trackball, an adjustable table and a book support. As the effects worsened, he'd become incapable of holding a book open.
To allow him to do more of his work standing up he spent another $300 on a Doro cordless hands-free phone.
He bought a copy of IBM's ViaVoice speech recognition software but although it transcribed his sentences with few errors he found he couldn't use it to do things such as surfing the web. The manual told him that commands like ``Go to address" and ``Click hyperlink" would work. They didn't.
The dictionary didn't include a lot of technical terms that he used quite often. He tried using the "analyse documents" command, which in theory sets the program to scan your documents and add any missing words to the dictionary. That didn't work either.
Bleeding Edge was reviewing the latest release of Dragon's Naturally Speaking, Version 7, and we thought it might solve his problems. We included him in the review process.
He didn't have a chance to look at it until the day he flew to Noosa for a few weeks of recuperation. Somewhat forbiddingly, he was in precisely the same situation that had brought on his problem - in fact, somewhat worse, given that he wasn't in business class this time. Domestic cattle class is not the best environment for working on a notebook.
But although he could scarcely hear the flight attendant over the sound of the engines, Dragon Naturally Speaking gave the "acoustic environment" 20 out of 20 - probably because he was using a noise-cancelling headset. Because it uses a dictionary that's been modified for Australian vowel sounds, it was even better at recording his dictation, and it successfully analysed his documents - extracting 2000 new words from 4000 of his sent emails. Within days he was "typing" at 100 words a minute, without touching a key.
Two months later, he's become an evangelist for Dragon Naturally Speaking. The program, and the trackball in particular, got him back to work. In his view, all of us should be using it, rather than risking injury.
It's far better, however, to avoid this sort of injury in the first place. If you plan on using a laptop for prolonged periods, you should get an external keyboard and mouse and monitor, or alternatively use one of those brilliant laptop stands that Dell, and more recently Targus and Kensington among other have been selling. Take care the laptop is properly secured though, because another friend recently found his 17-inch PowerBook on the floor, having somehow come adrift from the stand.
And be careful not to put any strain on your elbow when you use the mouse. That might mean using a narrower keyboard, so your arm isn't extended too far to the side. We run ours over our thigh.
August 11, 2005
The workhorse PC
We've upped the specifications for our workhorse PC. For less than $1200, you get a great machine.
August 10, 2005
The beauty of low-tech photography
Over at our sister site, Terry Lane's posted an article on the growing passion for pinhole cameras - possibly as an antidote to increasingly high-tech photography.
Some of the images are extraordinary. And there's a link to a site that shows you how to build your own pinhole camera. For somewhat less than Mr Canon or Mr Nikon will charge you.
Posted by cw at 10:30 AM
August 09, 2005
Life with laptops
Last week, Bleeding Edge had to face the truth. We can't get by with a single laptop - particularly if that laptop is a Mac. You'll remember we forked out a depressingly large sum of money for a 15-inch PowerBook, under the illusion that we'd be able to do all our blogging and column writing on that, while keeping up with the world of Windows via our desktop.
We thought that Spotlight would be an adequate replacement for Info Select, the flat-file database in which we keep all our notes and Web clippings and interviews etc. The wider screen would be perfect for watching videos and DVDs etc.
We should have known better.
While we do enjoy using the Mac for a lot of things, we're absolutely lost without Info Select. We immediately ran into another problem: OS X Tiger "broke" the Mac iBurst driver. There's a beta fix for that out now, but it made us realise that the Mac will always be vulnerable to glitches like that. It just doesn't have the market share to command the immediate attention of developers of iBurst equipment, or for that matter Telstra's CDMA network equipment, or too many other critical elements of our particular infrastructure. And frankly, the PowerBook is just a little too heavy to carry around all the time.
We're going to have to buy that Toshiba Portege R200 we raved about recently. It's light enough to take anywhere, and we can type all our notes directly into Info Select. It's the perfect little system for our regular research visits to the State Library. While we're reading and taking notes, we can be on the iBurst network checking our email etc. And the battery charge lasts for five hours or so, which is a good deal longer than the PowerBook.
This is not, by the way, something we'd recommend to anybody else. One laptop ought to be enough for anyone. In our particular case, however, where we write about both platforms and spend a lot of time outside the Bleeding Edge cave, we can't see another solution. (We're not about to use emulation software).
The only problem is how we're going to explain all this to the Bleeding Edge spouse. One thing that's on our side: she took over the Portege R100. And somehow we don't think she's going to want to give it back.
August 08, 2005
Bleeding Edge: Rules of engagement
For 18 months or so now, the Bleeding Edge Forum has been amazingly free of the flame wars that make many online forums remarkably unpleasant places.
Just recently, however, someone asked a question and received what seemed to me a savage response. I waited a couple of days, hoping that sanity would return, but then emailed the cranky one thus:
"I know that we can all get cross at times, but I wonder if you'd mind not posting the sort of flame that you directed at the schoolteacher in future? And having had some time to reflect, you might even feel the need to apologise to her.
"The forum has been remarkably free of this sort of thing in the past, and I'd like to keep it that way. The people who come here are often utterly clueless about computers, and I spend an awful lot of time trying to put them at their ease and help them, rather than attacking them and making them feel like idiots. In time they'll learn, but they're more likely to learn if one is patient.
"Sometimes we forget that all of us - without exception - stand on the shoulders of others.
"I'd rather you apologised, rather than having to apologise on your behalf."
I was bemused to receive the following response:
"Have noted your concerns and accordingly I will apologise to you(never to the teacher in question) and also tender my resignation to you for your blog site. Please delete my records from your computer."
Isn't it extraordinary the way some people seem to lose their perspective when they go online?
I'm not in favour of censorship, and, as I wrote in my email, I understand that at times we can all get cross, and possibly lose the plot. But it seems to me that flame wars can make online forums like ours so hostile that many people simply avoid them.
I think our little community is a remarkably hospitable place, and I'd like very much to keep it that way.
Spyware: Identity theft explodes
One of the nastiest, and most difficult pieces of spyware to get rid of is Cool Web Search. It appears now to be an even bigger threat than we realised. According to anti-spyware vendor Sunbelt Software, Cool Web Search is the instrument being used by a ring of hackers in a massive identity-theft operation.
Ars Technica, which broke the story, quotes a Sunbelt Software executive as saying that one of his researchers discovered a payload in the program which monitors the victim's internet traffic, chat activity and Windows protected storage store.
"When using Internet Explorer with autocomplete turned on, your autocomplete info gets stored in protected storage. This piece of spyware collected your protected storage info plus URLs, chat activity and website usernames and passwords." The information is posted back to a public Website which can be read by anyone.
"This website had collected over 500 different computers very private information within a 24 hours period. Including chat activity and login info to online bank accounts. One company had over $380,000 in a compromised account. The information was not the normal info collected for hacking purposes. It was collected to steal your money, SSN, credit card info, address, and identity."
Our recommendations for protecting yourself from spyware are here.
Posted by cw at 10:40 AM
Podcast amateurs losing out
We've been trying to point this out for quite a while now. If amateur podcasters want to hold their audience, they're going to have to improve their content. Crap radio just isn't good enough. Now Business Week makes it very clear.
When Apple added podcasting to its iTunes Music Store, it represented a great opportunity for enthusiasts. But they've been overtaken very quickly by the professionals.
That doesn't mean that there isn't a place for amateur podcasters. There is, and over on Razor, we've been trying to give a few of them a bit of exposure. But they've got to make their stuff interesting. And imaginative. More like Skepticality, for instance. And IT Conversations. And not at all like G'day World.
August 06, 2005
Life as a time shifter
Life in the Bleeding Edge cave has been subtly, but significantly altered by the concept of time shifting. Even Wikipedia doesn't seem to have caught up yet with the rapidly expanding boundaries of this phenomenon. It isn't just that one can record television programs and then watch them when it suits oneself, rather than Kerry Packer's bank account.
We've got a good deal more choice than that, too, because we've also been using Griffin Technology's Radio Shark to record radio programs that we would otherwise have missed, due to the fact that the programmers don't consult our schedule when they decide when something should go to air.
This new freedom sounds wonderful, and of course it is. But it doesn't come without commitment. You have to program the PVR - we've just ordered a new Topfield TF5000 PVRt Masterpiece, which gives us much more hard disk space, among other new features - which admittedly becomes much easier with ICE TV's electronic program guide.
ICE TV has even come up with a Wi-Fi link that will automatically download the week's programs, if you've got a wireless Internet connection. If you're not an ICE TV subscriber, however, you're going to have to allocate time to manage your time-shifting. And if you're downloading podcasts, you'll have to search for interesting content, download the files and transfer them to your MP3 player (assuming you're using an MP3 player), and then remember to hook up your PodFreq or whatever you're using to listen to the podcasts when you're in the car. Then there's all the extra storage space you're likely to need. If you're a time-shifter, you're likely to find yourself shopping for an external hard drive. (Bleeding Edge has half a dozen of them!) That's the thing about passivity. It's much easier.
We're going to be exploring this in more depth in a future column, and we'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, and possibly your recommendations. How has time-shifting affected your routine? Do you feel empowered? Or slightly over-whelmed?
Blogs ... a "global thought bubble"
The New York Times looks at the statistics of blogging collected by Technorati - which aren't necessarily accurate, by the way - and decides this is a phenomenon worth editorialising about ... "80,000 new blogs are created every day, and there are some 14.2 million in existence already, 55 percent of which remain active. Some 900,000 new blog postings are added every day ... the blogosphere doubles every 5 1/2 months ..."
It notes that newspapers like the Times are treating the phenomenon seriously, but also observes that "blogs are often just a way of making oneself appear on the Internet. It's like a closed-circuit video camera that catches a glimpse of you walking by an electronics store window filled with televisions. There you are in all your glory, suddenly, if not forever, mediated. Starting your own blog used to require a certain amount of technical expertise. Now you can do it from within popular Web portals like MSN and AOL, using tools that make it almost as easy as sending e-mail. These days, a surprising number of people write home by posting to their blogs - that is, by writing to everyone on earth."
August 05, 2005
Let's deport Jihad John
We've got to do something about these dangerous radicals promoting terrorist activities!
As if comment spam weren't a big enough problem - forcing us to spend as much as half an hour a day pruning links to let's see now, online casinos, porno sites, and assorted other pieces of garbage, we're going to be spending a couple of hours today closing down our trackbacks, and pruning God knows how many links to grimy online activities.
The worst part about it is that it's been pretty much invisible to us. You don't see it unless you browse through past articles and comments. If anyone sees any of this stuff after, say, 5pm today, please let us know. Oh, and the same applies to the Forum. Please let us know if you see any crap pictures and Web links.
New Windows XP synch tool
If, like most Windows users, you've been less than impressed by its Briefcase folder and file synchronisation tool, you might be interested in the beta of a new Windows XP utility called SyncToy.
It's supposed to be easier to use and more reliable than Briefcase, which is a good thing, because Microsoft doesn't offer any support for it.
According to the company guff, SyncToy is "an easy-to-use, highly customisable program that helps users to do the heavy lifting involved with the copying, moving, and synchronisation of different directories. Most common operations can be performed with just a few clicks of the mouse, and additional customisation is available without adding complexity. SyncToy can manage multiple sets of directories at the same time; it can combine files from two folders in one case, and mimic renames and deletes in another. Unlike other applications, SyncToy keeps track of renames to files and will make sure those changes get carried over to the synchronised folder."
There is a user-to-user forum available at the Windows XP Professional Photography site.
We haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it looks interesting.
August 04, 2005
Posted by cw at 10:59 AM
Boosting Windows bandwidth
Nothing concentrates Bleeding Edge's mind more than the feeling that we aren't getting what we're paying for, particularly when it comes to bandwidth. What with the fact that Telstra rations the stuff to the extent that, according to the International Telecommunication Union (which defines broadband as a transmission capacity that is faster than 1.5 Mbps), most of us don't have it, which makes us feel permanently deprived.
If you use the bandwidth test at toast.net, averaging your performance over, for example, five different tests, you're likely to be as gloomy as we usually are.
Under Windows XP Pro, our Optus Cable service has been coming in at between 806 and 1294kbps, while on the Apple Mac, performance has ranged between 660 and 1990kbps. The performance is well below what people get in the United States.
It's worse when you arepaying for a high-speed connection. A friend of ours has a 1.5Mbps ADSL service, but he has never got anywhere near that performance.
Last week, however, he sent us an email about some adjustments he had made in his Windows XP set-up, which made him feel much more content. He'd been reading an article at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Centre website, which suggests that there may be ways to ease the delays that high-speed users experience downloading material from overseas.
It's a complex topic that revolves around the fact that the internet's highly-efficient TCP (Transfer Control Protocol) manages the flow of "packets" of data between computers by a process that involves sending data, receiving it, and acknowledging what's been received.
In most cases it makes good use of the available bandwidth.
Rather than sending a packet of data and waiting for acknowledgement before sending another, TCP sends a number of packets before it waits for the acknowledgement. The amount of data sent before waiting is called the window size.
With a fast network, the data in this window can transfer faster than an acknowledgement can be sent.
There's another three-letter acronym involved in this procedure - something called BDP or Bandwidth Delay Protocol, which is a measure of how much of your bandwidth could be lost while waiting for TCP acknowledgement.
The value of the BDP changes depending on where you are downloading data from and is worked out by multiplying your available bandwidth by how long it takes to send a message to the server. A ping (a monitoring signal) to a server in the US may take about 200 to 300 milliseconds, compared to between 60 to 100 milliseconds for a server in Australia. It seems like a tiny interval, but in 200 milliseconds a 1500kbps connection could transfer around 37KB of data (remember that KB stands for kilobytes, which are eight times the size of Kbs, or kilobits).
The default Windows XP window size is just 16KB. After about 80 milliseconds, it's been filled, and if it's dealing with an overseas computer, your PC will have to wait more than 100 milliseconds for the server to get the acknowledgment to send more data. It's interesting to note that the default settings for OS X and Linux are 32KB, which makes a lot more sense.
What our friend discovered is that increasing the window to around 128KB seems to work well for 1500kbps connections. To make this change you could use Regedit and follow some instructions on the internet. But it's probably easier if you download a registry patch from our website.
You have to keep in mind that a bigger window will take up more system memory for every TCP connection. Your computer should be able to handle it without any problems, but keep it in mind. Even with the patch applied there are many other factors that will contribute to slow downloads. Some servers may throttle your connection to a slower speed and there is only a finite amount of bandwidth out of Australia.
The other thing to remember is that this patch will only improve downloads that require a single TCP connection such as HTTP and FTP. Protocols such as BitTorrent may not benefit as much as it uses multiple connection from many hosts.
A couple of other friends - one of them with the same Optusnet Cable service - found the patch made a distinct difference to their performance. Alas, in our case, the difference was only marginal.
We are thinking of moving to the US.
August 03, 2005
Microsoft and invention
We've been inspired by the comment that Microsoft's anti-spyware software is "the best product they've ever invented". Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't invent their anti-spyware product. They bought it. Just like most of their best products. And those they didn't buy, they copied. Well, possibly not all of them. But when we put our mind to it, we couldn't think of any of their "best products" that hadn't been either bought or copied.
There have to be some, surely. Put your thinking caps on. What has Microsoft actually invented?
Get rich: argue the toss
We're going to have to be much more argumentative. What with the news that Google was conceived due to an argument between Sergey Brin and Larry Page, we're convinced that we're never going to achieve wealth beyond our wildest dreams unless we get far more disagreeable.
The umm, single-button multi-button mouse
You're going to have to be awfully careful about the way you describe Apple's new "Mighty Mouse", the news of which we posted over here.
Already one of our commenters has reported being ticked off by an Apple sales rep: "It's still a 'one button mouse'. The remaining aren't buttons, they're touch-sensitive and pressure-sensitive areas. The only button is the ball."
Hmmn. Technically, what we have here is "the programmability of a four-button mouse in a one-button mouse". But hang on, if the only button is the scroll ball, then, in the past, Apple's had a no-button mouse. If it had a one-button mouse, then today it's got a two-button mouse. With [oh God, this is complicated] touch-sensitive clickable areas.
Presumably the touch-sensitive areas are entirely different from the "force-sensing buttons" Apple's engineers claim to have added to the Mighty Mouse that let you squeeze the mouse between thumb and finger, activating Mac OS X Tiger Dashboard, Exposé or "a whole host of other, customizable features".
We're counting up Apple's use of the word "button" in this thing, and we're pretty sure that they're saying it has four buttons. Although officially there's only one. Or is that two? That's Apple for you. The soul of simplicity.
Yahoo! gets the news
Recently Yahoo! picked up Matt McAlister from IDG, from whom we learned about other online journalism hires at the company.
Then from PaidContent we learn it's hired online journalism pioneer Elizabeth Osder as "Director, Social Media" in what it describes as "a clear indicator of our intention to go deep in social media and user-generated content."
It's easy to overlook Yahoo! amid all the fuss about Google, but it's got a much better grasp on news than its competitor. And it looks like something big may be about to happen.
August 02, 2005
I'm a blogger. Blame me!
Gosh this blogging thing seems to be a dangerous activity. Molly Holzschlag got a barrage of hate mail over defending Microsoft in relation to Internet Explorer 7.
Even Robert Scoble has had enough for a while. As he puts it: "I understand where Molly's coming from (she's feeling attacked because of reactions to her blog). This business just sucks sometimes and people forget you're human. They think they have the right to attack you personally just cause of what you write.
"These people would never say this kind of stuff face-to-face but because it's on the Internet folks feel like they are allowed to be rude in ways they'd never think of being face-to-face."
We recommend a career in journalism for learning how to deal with this stuff. We take the attitude that if even 50 per cent of your responses are positive, you're doing well. Fortunately we're batting well above that. But some of the stuff we've had from people we've never met would probably curdle your blood.
August 01, 2005
So maybe what you really want is a woman you can push around.
Good old Movable Type. We're being hit by some disgusting comment spam that not only evades the comment moderation software, but also makes it difficult to find and delete it. In the past we've been able to keep the site clean of this garbage, but just when we're flat out with everything else, it starts to creep in.
We're working on it. But in the meantime, you know what this stuff is like. So don't click on it.
New Belarc Advisor
There's a new version of Belarc Advisor, one of the free Windows auditing tools both Peter Moon and I mention from time.
It builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, including application serial numbers and Microsoft Hotfixes, and displays them in your browser. This release has some quite sophisticated security
audition auditing tools.