The Computer Blog

Thursday, July 29, 2004

No More Mr. Nice Guy

If you had a direct link to any image on thus website from another, those links will no longer work. I really didn’t mind the ones coming from other websites to the charts in the “AMD Shootout” article in The ComputerZone, but the recent episode with a message board moderator at “The Insiders” (http://www.theinsiders.com) has made it necessary to protect both the images and my bandwidth from my website. I have enabled software that will block any attempt to direct link to images on the site.

For my personal friends, if you have any links to pictures not hosted on a webpage, they also will no longer work. Sorry. In the future, I’ll host such pictures on a webpage and let you know the URL.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Violating My Space

Well, folks, I’ve seen a little of this before; but I have experienced my first rather blatant copyright violation running my website.

I noticed in my website’s logs a lot of activity surrounding the image I use as a logo for The CougarZone. So, I followed the link and found it led to a website called “The Insiders” (http://houston.theinsiders.com), in particular the piece of the site that is for Houston Cougar fans called “CoogFans.com”. One of the message board moderators who calls himself “Bocephus” has been using the logo as his personal icon. That’s my art, folks, and I do have a problem with that kind of use...not to mention the bandwidth I'm paying for that is being stolen.

I wrote a note to the website asking for them to stop Bocephus from using that image. We’ll see what kind of response I get. I am willing to hire an attorney to defend my rights to that logo, though I would hope it doesn’t go that far.

I can’t know what “Bocephus” was thinking. Maybe he thought it was harmless. Maybe he thought I’d never know. But I do, and I don’t like it.

I spend a lot of my free time maintaining this website. As they say, time is money. Don’t expect me to sink as much time as I do into this thing and then have me day nothing when someone else tries to take advantage of it. If you’re read any of my blogs here, you know I’m all for “fair use”. This is not that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

iTunes for Cell Phones?

iTunes for cell phones? Aren’t things bad enough? I mean, it’s terrible that you can’t go to meetings (well, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that cell phones interrupt those), symphonies, ballets, theaters, dinners, and yes, for God’s sake, even the bathroom without having the less than melodic tones of a cell phone interrupting our lives. And sending the sounds of a flushing toilet screaming across the airwaves. Let those extraterrestrial on Alpha Centauri, who will intercept those radio waves in a very distant future, figure out that one…

Then, again, maybe it would be kind of cool to hear the refrain of the 1812 Overture (Tchiakovsky) or an angry snippet from Billy Joel or a soft ballad from the Beatles. Or Maybe something more modern like the lessening angst of Alanis Morrisette, the romping lyrics of Barenaked Ladies, or the forgotten ballads of Collective Soul. Or at least pieces of them since it’s not clear how many songs the new Motorola cell phones are going to store.

Frankly, I don’t see any use for such a device. Maybe lots of teens and college students will. Would it be cool to have a single device that was PDA, cell phone, and iPod all in one. Yes, as long as I wasn’t using it to play music when the phone rang. When I think of that, I want to keep my iPod separate. Some conversations can only be endured when there is good music in the background.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Mini DVD-R? Why?

On the MacNN website, I saw a notice stating that Verbatim, a computer media manufacturer, was going to release “mini DVD-R” disks at a price of $4 each and “mini DVD-RW” disks at $10 each. These disks would meet DVD-R standards but be only 3 inches in diameter, the same size as mini CD’s already in circulation.

I have only one question: why?

I bought a little package of mini-CD-R’s, thinking it would be neat to have media that would store data files bigger than I could carry on my USB drive (256MB) but smaller than that on a regular CD (680MB). But using them was not as straightforward as I had thought it would be.

First, I discovered that using these mini CD’s in a slot-drive CD or DVD ROM or burner could damage the drive. I believe the drive mechanisms are not really built to handle disks that small, though most tray drives can accommodate them without a problem. Luckily, I discovered the warning before I tried to read or write one of the mini CD-R’s in my PowerBook which houses a slot type combo drive (CD-R/RW/DVD).

Secondly, on more than one occasion, other people’s computers had trouble reading the mini CD-R’s. Of course, there are lots of reasons a CD or DVD drive will not read a CD that have nothing to do with the CD’s size. But the disproportionate number of rejections I got while using them versus the lack of problems my users had when I used full sized CD’s has made me back of from using them for any purpose but my own data storage needs.

Lastly, speaking to the mini DVD-R’s themselves, there’s the little matter of cost. My reasons for wanting to use mini DVD-R’s would center around portability and economy. At $4 a pop, mini DVD-R’s will cost at least twice as much as full sized DVD-R’s. Their higher cost would outweigh any other consideration. Simply put, I have no motivation to use them. Where the hell is the market for these? I’m sure there must be one, but I probably will not be one of the customers in it.

A Quiet PowerMac

The last two generations of G4 PowerMacs were not known for being quiet. The Mirror Door Drive (MDD) PowerMac caused such a stir with its noise that a website was started to protest it and Apple faithful complained in droves to the company. I own a machine from both generations, one known as the QuickSilver and the other a Mirror Door Drive. The QuickSilver sounds like it was equipped with wind-tunnel fans but the noise is even, so I don’t find it particularly bothersome. My MDD PowerMac was another story.

My MDD PowerMac was one of those built after Apple responded to customer complaints, so it had a quieter case fan and less noisy power supply fans. But the factory case fan had an annoying knock to it, and the power supply fans still whined, even though they were supposed to be quieter. I tried to get Apple to replace the case fan but had no luck.

I’ve searched the web for a year for a solution to the MDD’s noise. I wanted it to be as quiet as my homebuilt PC which I had constructed using components known to be low noise. The best known solution for the MDD was by a German company named Verax that made a kit to answer the MDD noise problem. The kit supplied new fans for the MDD’s power supply and replaced the large 120mm case fan with two smaller fans fitted to a special mount sitting on the CPU. The kit was very expensive, retailing at over $350. I did not want to spend that much money on the problem.

Many Mac owners solved the case fan noise problem by replacing the original fan with a 120mm Panaflo fan. There are several breeds of this fan, and I wasn’t sure what the spec airflow was supposed to be. If I replaced the case fan with one that didn’t put out enough air, I ran the risk of overheating the CPUs. But a few weeks ago, I finally found the specs on the factory supplied case fan and found a Panaflo fan that might work. While it didn’t put out as much air as the original factory fan, it was significantly quieter and had enough airflow where I thought it might work. I ordered it and, after trimming up its sides a bit, managed to fit it into the MDD case and hooked it up to the motherboard’s socket. The fan did nothing. Betting that the electrical lead polarity was reversed, I cut the wires and then spliced them to its socket’s pins backwards. The next time I started the MDD, the fan started right up.

It was a LOT quieter!

The power supply fans were now the loudest components on the machine. I discovered that in the last year the Verax fan kit had been broken into two pieces, allowing me to buy replacement power supply fans for only $129. I ordered the kit, removed and opened the MDD’s power supply following its instructions, and installed the new fans.

The MDD PowerMac is VERY quiet now. I can hear its hard disks hit for the first time; and when it’s not hitting the hard disks, I can barely tell it is on. Even so, the MDD runs at essentially the same temperature as before.

Too bad it took me a year and about $150 to solve a problem Apple needed to have designed out in the first place. Apple has largely addressed the problem with noise in its G5 model PowerMacs, though some problems with CPU’s ?chirping?have been experienced. I’m hoping quietness is one of the ramifications of ?water cooling? recently introduced in the G5.

One of the things I loved about the flat panel iMac was its silence. You could almost never hear it running. The same holds true for Dell computers. The day of the quiet PC has come. For me, the day of the quiet PowerMac has, too.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Spam King

If you haven’t read the interview PC World did with Scott Richter, the Spam King, you can find it at http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,116807,00.asp. Give it a read. It’s a good example of how someone can practice self-delusion and rationalization when it lines their pockets. In this case, it’s with your money.

If someone sends you a piece of direct mail, it costs them Postal Service fees. It’s true the direct mailers don’t bear all the costs since we all share in the costs of the USPS; in some ways, we help pay for those guys to run a business. Spammers or e-mail marketers , or whatever else they wish to call themselves, take money from you much more directly. Each month, you pay for the Internet access and for the e-mail servers they use to run their businesses and clog your e-mail box. The transport costs lie largely with you and not them, and that disproportionate costing is what makes the whole thing both objectionable and insidious. It’s objectionable because it is an abuse of an open system, and it’s insidious because it is raising the costs in time and money we all pay to use e-mail. Many experts think e-mail as we know it today will not survive because of these guys, and that’s a bad thing.

I could take hours to discuss how spamming, whether over e-mail or the telephone, is a sign and result of codependent behavior. It displays a total lack of boundaries and disrespect for the consumer. But many sick behaviors are excused by our society when we start calling it “marketing”. Marketing is, is it not, too often an attempt to con or manipulate the consumer for the sole purpose of getting them to spend their money on the product you are selling. Claims that the consumer opted in don’t mean much when the consumer isn’t even aware it happened; confusion and obfuscation are common tools of this trade. It’s dishonesty no matter how else you try to paint it.

In the interview, Richter points out how he’s working with spam filtering companies to help them develop spam-fighting technologies. There’s even the implication he’ll make money from it. His function, then, is the same as the virus writer’s. He’s generated the disease that forces the spending of more money to find the cure. In the medical business, such a practice would be illegal and send people to jail; on the Internet, it makes people rich. No matter how you look at it, the analogy to cancer holds; and in the end, the effect on the Internet may be just as deadly as cancer often is to its own host.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Bad Law, Bad Senator

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, who makes money as a song writer but still chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over copyright law, has introduced Senate Bill S.2560, “Intentional Inducement of Copyright Infringement”. It’s bad law. This bill amends Section 501 of Title 17, United States Code, to punish those who produce any tools that can be judged as possessing an “intent to induce infringement” of the “commercial viability” of any copyright. In other words, this bill can make computer manufacturers liable for copyright infringement damages. Your MP3 player, your iPod, your DVD burner, all could make their manufacturers liable for copyright infringement suits.

Think of the chilling affect this could have on computing and the First Amendment.

Over the years, the gun lobby has argued that ?people kill people? and that gun manufacturers were not liable for how their products were used. I believe Mr. Hatch has been a proponent of those arguments. Why is he so willing to hold that line when it comes to guns but throws individual responsibility out the window when it comes to using a computer or electronic music device to download music?

And how far do you carry that argument?

First, if the premise in this law holds, the country needs to demand that not only gun manufacturers but gun sellers be responsible for “inducing infringement” of life, liberty, privacy, or whatever right a gun was used to deprive someone of. And let’s extend the analogy to other areas as well: the automobile dealer that sells a vehicle used in a felony; an author who writes a novel someone decides to enact; a musician who sings a song about an injustice that leads to protests that turn into riots and looting.

Of course, a good lawyer will latch onto the “intent to induce” phrase and put the burden on the government to prove his client’s intent…if we’re still judged innocent until proven guilty, that is, which is something very much in doubt these days.

Write your Senators and urge defeat of this bill. Better yet, I think it’s about time consumers start giving serious thought to organized boycotts of both the movie and music industries. The only way to stop the madness is either through politics or economy, and the latter will have far more impact than any law that can be written.

I’ll begin my boycott right after I see Spiderman 2.