Archive for July, 2011

My Media Center’s Clock is drifting

July 25, 2011 5 comments

Maybe it’s something with running Windows Media Center, maybe it’s something with modern processors, but a drifting clock really messes up the media center experience. I generally start to notice because TV shows will start recording a minute late or so, and slowly and progressivly get noticabbly worse. I don’t remember older computers having that much clock drift. It’s generally not noticed today because most computers sync to an online master clock once a week.

So if the computer is syncing with (or some other time server) why would there be so much clock drift. I’ve found out that some Windows 7 (maybe Vista) computers, somehow got their sync schedule misconfigured. To see if a computer as this problem open Task Scheduler elevated. Then find the Microsoft\Windows\Time Synchronization\SynchronizeTime task. Check it’s history and see if when it last ran it had an exit code of 5 (access denied). Somehow these tasks got reconfigured to run as the Network Service (which doesn’t have admin perms) instead of Local Service.

To change the permissions of the task, open it up and in the General tab select “Change User or Group” and change it to Local Service. Also, make sure that the “Run with highest privileges” box is checked. I don’t know why some computers aren’t configured like this (it does tend to be ones which run Media Center frequently), but fixing this resolves the time drift issue.

All emails should cost 1¢

July 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently I watched a presentation about spam. One of the reasons why spam can be effective in getting past spam filters is that webmail (Live Mail, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL) hosts mailboxes for end users for free. The business model is that advertisers will display advertisements when people view their inbox, thereby paying for the service. This works great, unless there’s spam. Because what spammers do is create a bunch of free accounts, and then never personally log into them (no advertisements get viewed by end users). They write programs to send messages back and forth between the accounts to find out which messages make it through. They train the spam filters to ignore their messages.

In essence the spammers are using the free services as their testing infrastructure. Doing so makes it very difficult for any sort of reputation algorithms to have any value. Also, it allows to spammers to always know if their messages need more work behind them. But if web-based emails were to cost 1¢ it would make it very expensive for the spammers to use the free emails services in this way.

Of course all of the major providers would need to implement this policy at the same time for it to become successful. And of course when it happens, people will be very angry and post nasty comments online. But think about it, without email how much would it cost you to communicate as much as you do? A lot more than a penny per message sent (receiving would still be free). Mailing a letter in the US costs nearly half a dollar, and cell phone minutes costs more than that. Even ignoring the revenue earned from messages the reduction in spam would free up resources and allow the webmail hosters to provide better infrastructure, or other better services. It would be an overall gain for every non-spammer involved.

Sadly, due to perception, it would never work. Let’s say it happened; what would happen next is some new company comes along and doesn’t charge per message. I can see lots of people flocking to the new “freemail” service. But just as people will flock to it, so will the spammers. Then the existing services will detect that the freemail servers are spam servers, and start blocking all messages coming from those servers. From the freemail’s legitimate users point of view, they’ll see a bunch of reply messages which tell them that their message weren’t sent, because Live Mail/Gmail/Yahoo! Mail, all determine that it’s spam. These users then think “Those other services suck. They couldn’t tell that I’m not spam.” Little do they know that if they were to look at the volume of emails coming from their servers, they’d think that they were spam too.

I know that this happens because it’s happened to me. I’ve never had any of my Windows Live Mail emails marked as spam, but I’ve had people tell me that WLM has rejected messages that they’ve sent to me. So they think that Live Mail is doing a bad job, when really it’s been Gmail doing a bad job, in allowing spam to be sent from their servers. Of course there’s more to filtering spam than just based on the sending server, but at some point there’s a cutoff line where a spam filter won’t even bother to look at the individual messages.

Today I learned that if AOL suspects that messages being sent from one of its own accounts are spam, it sends those emails through specific servers. They in essence pre-mark the message as spam. What happened is someone was told by their friends who use AOL, that the emails they were sending to their Live Mail account were getting bounced back. So of course they took the “Live Mail sucks” attitude. When in reality AOL was marking the message as spam, but was still sending it along through a designated spam server, to Live Mail (which then bounced it back).

So spam, it’s a problem. It’d overwhelm our email ecosystem if we didn’t fight so hard against it. Our services wouldn’t have to fight so hard against it if they could charge 1¢ per sent message, but sadly that business model will never work because (just like the outrage over Netflix raising its prices this week) people get really angry over raised prices, and people usually don’t do a good job when it comes to blaming the right party.


I’ve started pinning applications to the task bar

July 15, 2011 1 comment

One of the features of Windows 7 is pinning an application to the task bar. Let’s contrast this to previous versions of Windows. Think of the familiar Windows XP desktop with no programs running; you see a picture of rolling green hills and beneath the picture is a green oval and a blue line. As you start programs the blue line fills up with (more or less) buttons that help you manage which application you want to be interacting with. That paradigm is still kind of true with Windows 7, but now it’s easier to theme the color of the task bar with the Aero desktop. As you start applications buttons will appear in the task bar. What’s different is that you can have buttons for applications on the task bar which aren’t running.

I’ve always desired a clean desktop. There are only about four or five icons on the desktop. I find lots of icons on the desktop to be clutter, and they don’t help me find the programs I want to interact with. Plus I like looking at the wallpaper occasionally. Naturally this desire for lack of icon clutter extended to the task bar. Recently though, I’ve switched. I found that after a computer reboot I’d start-up pretty much the same applications eventually and keep them running. So I decided to take that set of programs and just pin them to the task bar, since they’d be taking up space there anyway. The two advantages I’ve discovered are: it’s easy to find them to start them, and it’s easier to find them when running because I know where to look for them on the task bar.

So, if you’re stingy about pinning programs to the Windows 7 task bar, don’t be. It’s not clutter (unless you pin about 16 or more) and it is useful. Now pinning websites to the task bar, that still has yet to catch on with me.

Moore’s Law must not apply to King County Libraries

July 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Moore’s Law states that computers will double in speed every eighteen months. Naturally one would assume then, that over time the computers you interact with with either do more or do the same thing faster. By and large I find this to be true, the exception being King County Libraries.

A few months ago King County noticeably reworked their computer systems. Their website used to be faster than what it is today, with a smoother work flow, and no pop-ups. The painful experience is their self checkout in the libraries. I used to be able to swipe my library card, enter my PIN, swipe the bar code of the book, hit enter, grab the receipt and go. It was as fast as it reasonably could have been. Now, the bar code readers need a lot of coaxing to actually read one of the bar codes. In addition, they threw a mouse into the process. I have to navigate a mouse pointer to a button, where previously I just had to hit enter. Also, the receipts print so slowly. The printers don’t look like they’ve changed, but even if they are newer, why should they be slower? The old system printed as fast as it could push the paper up and out. The current system takes it’s sweet time, as if it were putting on a show or something while printing.

I’d expect libraries to perhaps not advanced technologically as fast as most consumers, but to actually degrade… that takes money.

Categories: Organizations

What happened to Bluetooth Mice?

July 7, 2011 2 comments

Both Amanda and I like playing Age of Empires Online. I primarily use our desktop computer and she uses the laptop. But when I wasn’t using the desktop computer, she was stealing the desktop computers’ mouse! The laptop computer came with a wireless lazer mouse that connects over Bluetooth and the built-in track pad. Amanda primarily gets by with the trackpad, because it’s sufficient for simple web browsing, but it wasn’t sufficient for playing AoEO. So I pulled out the Bluetooth mouse for her to try, but that must have suffered from neglect because about only half of the mouse clicks were going through. So, she started taking the mouse from the desktop computer to use while playing AoEO.

Funny thing about the desktop mouse, is that it’s not a very good mouse. It’s a lazer wired USB mouse that came with the computer. It’s very plain, with no special features, but it gets the job done. Also, I primarily used the Bluetooth mouse when the laptop was my primary computer, so I was surprised that it wasn’t getting the job done.

Because of this I started shopping around for a new mouse for the laptop. Since the laptop has built-in Bluetooth, I started shopping for a Bluetooth mouse. I was surprised to learn that all of the new mice weren’t Bluetooth mice. I could still find a Bluetooth mouse, but they were all older models that hadn’t sold. Reading online I get the impression that what happened was that WiFi started interfering with Bluetooth. As WiFi became common, and as cell towers grew in strength, Bluetooth started being interfered with. Plus, people were saying that Bluetooth couldn’t handle the data throughput needed for mouse to computer communication. I find that to be odd, because it had sufficient throuput for years. As a consequence of all of this, Bluetooth is no longer a good technology to use with computer mice.

I see that nearly all laptops (and some all-in-ones) come with a Bluetooth receiver built-in. I wonder why the OEM’s are bothering to put it in. I realize that Bluetooth has great potential to wirelessly connect devices to your computer (camera’s, digital frames, mp3 players, etc), but I don’t see devices advertising their Bluethooth-ines. Plus, if Bluetooth doesn’t have the needed throughput for a mouse, I know I wouldn’t consider it as a means of syncing my devices. Seems like Bluetooth is becoming a solution in need of a problem.

The US Department of Justice Predicted the iPad

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I have found the Department of Justice’s fact finding document for the Microsoft abusive monopoly practices to be very interesting. One thing which I find unique to Microsoft in regards to becoming a monopoly is that Windows is an ingredient in a product. In every other anti-trust dispute I can think of, someone was using their monopoly in one product push around their partners. In one sense Windows is a product; but more accurately it’s an ingredient/part in a product. Microsoft doesn’t sell computers, and without hardware Windows is worthless; it has no value. The OS is a platform and a different OS should be able to run on the same hardware, as long as that OS is designed on the hardware’s API’s. So I can see how easily it would have been for Microsoft employees to perform (what we now consider) monopolistic practices, because they weren’t like monopolistic practices in the past. They were trying to encourage the use of their ingredient in a product which was becoming more and more important.

Because Microsoft was able to make Windows as predominate as it was the DOJ said that the only way for a computing platform overcome to high bar of entry that Windows created would be to create “information appliances”. The quote from the DOJ

“23. It is possible that, within the next few years, those consumers who otherwise would use an Intel-compatible PC system solely for storing addresses and schedules, for sending and receiving E-mail, for browsing the Web, and for playing video games might be able to choose a complementary set of information appliances over an Intel-compatible PC system without incurring substantial costs. To the extent this substitution occurs, though, it will be the result of innovation by the producers of information appliances, and it will occur even if Intel- compatible PC operating systems are priced at the same level that they would be in a competitive market. More importantly, while some consumers may decide to make do with one or more information appliances in place of an Intel-compatible PC system, the number of these consumers will, for the foreseeable future, remain small in comparison to the number of consumers deciding that they still need an Intel-compatible PC system. One reason for this is the fact that no single type of information appliance, nor even all types in the aggregate, provides all of the features that most consumers have come to rely on in their PC systems and in the applications that run on them. Thus, most of those who buy information appliances will do so in addition to, rather than instead of, buying an Intel-compatible PC system. Not surprisingly, then, sales of PC systems are not expected to suffer on account of the growing consumer interest in information appliances. It follows that, for the foreseeable future, a firm controlling the licensing of all Intel-compatible PC operating systems could set prices substantially above competitive levels without losing an unacceptable amount of business to information appliances.”

Wow, simply wow. An information appliance is exactly what the iPad is (and what any iOS and Android device more or less are). Back in 1999 the DOJ said that there weren’t any information appliances in the foreseeable future, and as a result Microsoft was in a monopolistic position. But here we are in 2011, and there are information appliances. Apple went out of it’s way to not call the iPad a computer, and even made sure that the keyboard dock for it, wouldn’t dock with the iPad being horizontal because they don’t want people thinking of the iPad as a computer. Because if it’s a computer, it falls short of the many things that a computer does; whereas as a information appliance it excels.

So bravo to the DOJ for seeing that a lot of the consumer computing world was headed toward the direction of information appliances, and that the only reason why we weren’t there was because the hardware wasn’t yet at the point for them to be feasible.

I’ll be your cashier when you’re ready

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Something that I really dislike about our American society is having the waiter/waitress be “my” cashier. The vast majority of the times when I go to a “nice” restaurant I’ll finish with my meal and want to leave. I’ve eaten and I usually have some place to go. At this point I sit and wait and sit and wait for the waiter to bring me the check. Then when they hand me the check and before I can hand them a payment card, they disappear. It takes about ten seconds to scan over the receipt and see that everything is correct. Why they disappear between handing me the check and me pulling a card from my wallet is beyond me?

Five minutes later (during which time I can only think about how dumb this is and get angrier at the waiter) the waiter comes back, grabs my card and goes back to some cash register somewhere. I’m told this is a uniquely American custom. The reason why is because some stranger now has my payment card and I can’t see what they might be doing with it. Apparently in most countries they bring the credit card reader out to the table because someone paying with a credit card does not want a stranger to be copying down their credit card information; for nefarious uses later.

Then when the waiter finally comes back – way later than what should have been necessary – I can finally sign the receipt and leave. Is this system really desirable? It causes me to hate going out to eat at “nice” places; it seems to waste a good portion of the time it takes to go out to eat. Would it really be so hard to get the check and pay as we leave? It would be a lot faster? Would it really be that hard to bring a credit card reader to the table? It sure would be more convenient (and safer) for customers.

How can I go about getting this American custom to change? The only way I can think of would be forcing me to enter a pin with the transaction. That way it would be quite burdensome for the restaurants to take my payment card away from me. They’d either have to take me to the back, bring the payment device to me, or let me pay on my way out. I’m happy with any of these options.

Sadly I don’t see change on the horizon, forcing me to be stuck in a bothersomely slow and inefficient system. Grrrrr.

Categories: Entertainment