Sunday, 29 August 2004

I've been a Dish Network customer for years, and before that I was a DirecTV customer. These days I have standard-definition Dish Network equipment with a TiVo DVR box, and in another room I have one of Dish Network's standard-def DVR receivers, as well.

I'll be honest: I don't like Dish's DVR receiver at all. I don't even use the DVR capability. It's annoying - it doesn't even download the programming guide on it's own - It makes me do it when I try to access the guide and it suddenly realizes there's nothing in memory to display. I have no idea who designed Dish Network's receiver software, but I can almost guarantee you it's been the same person(s) since day-one. All their equipment has this unusable "engineer" flavor. Instead I use my TiVo all the time, every day, with the TiVo remote and IR blaster controlling the satellite receiver.

But what I want is High Definition TV all-around. I have a nice high-def projector and I want to do more than playing Counter-Strike and Halo in HD.

Dish Network has a $1000 HD DVR available, but I can't bring myself to risk spending the money on it - every Dish Network receiver I have ever owned (and that's several) has been lacking in the usability department. Maybe they got it right on their new one, but there is no way for me to know. No one I know has one of these units. I can see the potential in it, but past experience scares me too much to pony up that much money. Now, if Dish Network wanted to send me one to try out, they could do that - I'd even review it (objectively) here. But no up-front money any more, not unless I can see it in action. Sorry, Charlie.

So, I have been looking at options to the Dish Network lineup. Probably the most obvious is DirecTV, my long-ago former satellite television service provider. They also have a HD receiver, and this one is a DirecTiVo model, which certainly catches my attention. TiVo's product is solid and ranks high in my one-man usability survey. If I try hard enough, I can probably find a place somewhere in this city to demo the DirecTV product. I will probably try to do that, since I doubt DirecTV will be willing to loan me one to evaluate, either. But if they want to, I'll gladly take them up on the offer.

But there's another company that's got my eye, as well. I have been watching a third company, VOOM, for the past several months. I like VOOM and their web site- they even show you on their site what you see on the screen, what the equipment is like, pretty much anything you want to know. Why don't all the companies do that? They also have something that just caught my eye, and which I might even be willing to wait around for - They're prepping a HD-DVR and their "Whole House Solution." This is looking very interesting. Accessing your PC - does this integrate with Windows XP Media Center Edition by chance? Maybe not, and that's a whole different post topic for another day - The only thing that's really missing from XP MCE -- in my not-so-humble opinion -- is high-def support. Anyone know? Hey VOOM - you need a market tester??? :-)

Ripped unabashedly and directly from the VOOMTM web site and their future-stuff page:

With the introduction of our HD-DVR, you'll be able to watch and record any channel, whenever you want, in both standard and high definition. Every recording is a perfect digital version of the original. The VOOM DVR has multiple tuners, enabling you to record two shows while you’re watching a third! And you can expand the DVR’s usefulness even further with our Whole House Solution.

Our upcoming Whole House Solution extends the power of our DVR throughout your home. With a single click, you can pause live TV and HDTV, then go to another room and pick up where you left off. It also connects your TV and PC entertainment like never before. You can access your PC and enjoy digital music and photos on any TV in the house. That's VOOMing!

Obviously, this looks like it has some potential. I've been considering moving to a PC/network-based digital media solution, and Satellite TV in HD is the only way I can take advantage of the video equipment that is presently leveraged only by my X-BOX and DVD home theater systems. I'll be buying something eventually, I just don't know what.

If anyone has any personal experience with any of this new technology. please share your thoughts - We'd like to know!

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Random Stuff
Saturday, 28 August 2004 23:22:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 28 August 2004

My friend Dian wrote to say she is thrilled to let everyone know that the new Urban Grind Coffee, in the Pearl, is finally open!  They're done with construction and training and are fully operational. Head on down and check them out. Be sure to take your laptop - they're a Personal Telco site, so free WiFi is available!

Urban Grind Coffee is located at 911 NW 14th Ave. in the Pearl, on the corner of 14th and Kearny (Portland).  The building is just one block north of the new REI store in a very cool part of town. Their business hours are:

  • Sunday 7am-7pm
  • Monday/Tuesday 6am-7pm
  • Wednesday-Friday 6am-9pm
  • Saturday 7am-9pm

Right now they're focusing on espresso drinks and pastries, but should be adding more breakfast and lunch items in the coming weeks.  Desserts and wine/beer are a month or two away.

If you're in the area, stop in and check them out!

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Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Saturday, 28 August 2004 22:47:09 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Web forums used to be useful. Then h4xZ0r teenagers found them, and the world changed (for the worse). Over at for example, about two years ago things in the support forums went to hell in a hand-basket - about the time goldzip came along (or a little thereafter). Forum flaming became an art for a short time, but as it is with most art-forms, it was quickly commoditized and thus cheapened.

But I digress...

Someone apparently picked up on this little-known and less-understood behavior over at the Steam forums, and having realized that a FAQ or sticky post won't get read by the people that need to read it, did what all good communicators do: Took it to their own medium and style.

Introducing: Posting and You

Pretty much hits the proverbial nail right on the head.

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Random Stuff | Things that Suck
Saturday, 28 August 2004 19:01:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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This is not exactly breaking news, since it was officially announced a few weeks ago, but I neglected to point out at the time that Microsoft dropped the retail price of their OneNote 2003 software to $99 early in August, with similar reductions in other currencies worldwide.

See Chris Pratley's weblog announcement for more info. Chris is the Group Program Manager at Microsoft for Office Authoring Services, and as such is a member of the OneNote team. His blog is a terrific resource and insightful read, by the way.

Don't have OneNote yet? Want to buy a copy of OneNote for yourself, your new college student, or someone else? Hey, you just can't beat the price now. If you really want to make someone crazy who desperately deserves it (and have a little fun with a colleague of mine at the same time), call Scott Rommel at Softchoice, at 503-241-6554, and order a copy directly from him on the phone. Tell him Greg said to call and you're looking for the extra-special price, and he'll take care of you. :-)

Oh and no, I won't get anything in return for software orders placed through Scott. All I get out of it is a good laugh at the calls he'll get from you. That's all I really need. DOPS attack! (Denial Of Phone Service, that is).

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Office 2003 | OneNote | Tech
Saturday, 28 August 2004 13:20:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 27 August 2004

Darron Devlin recently published two useful new PowerToys for OneNote 2003 with SP1:

OneNote Image Writer
This PowerToy is a virtual printer that enables the import of document images into Microsoft Office OneNote® 2003 sections. Any program that is capable of printing can send a document to the OneNote Image Writer just as it would when printing to a physical device. The printed document is converted into a document image that can be used as a foreground or background image on a OneNote page.

This PowerToys adds a WebPageToOneNote button to the Standard Buttons toolbar in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or later. Click this button to copy an image of the entire current web page (WYSIWYG) to a new page in OneNote. The new page is created in a WebImageCaptures section in your notebook.

Grab the new powertoys to install and use at Darron's web site. As mentioned in the past, you can also download a couple of useful add-on powertoys for OneNote from Microsoft.

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OneNote | Tech
Friday, 27 August 2004 20:42:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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MSDN will be hosting two weeks worth of webcasts October 18th-29th, organized into three skill levels and covering a variety of aspects of web development. This is a great way for people who want to learn new technology or to sharpen their skills with the latest and greatest. Learn about and other web development topics.

From the MSDN Webcasts announcements blog, here are some early details. Look for more information on the Webcasts main page and on the MSDN Webcasts Blog:

Web Development Webcast Weeks, October 18 - 29, 2004

  • Basic/Novice - (level 100) 12 webcasts – Good for hobbyists, beginners, students looking to learn about Microsoft’s web development environment and tools
  • Intermediate- (level 200/300) 18 webcasts – Ideal for experienced developers who have some experience with Visual Basic.NET, C#, ASP.NET, and XML web services.
  • Advanced - (level 400) 10 webcasts – All about the advanced features in ASP.NET 2.0. Must attend sneak preview on ASP.NET 2.0. I attended the internal airlift that Microsoft held for it’s partners and employees and there is some truly wicked features that you need to check out here.

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Friday, 27 August 2004 19:56:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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The other day I wrote an article about how RSS saves me so much time when it comes to work. Interestingly, it's been so heavily traffic'ed I'll have to look at upgrading my account to accommodate the extra bandwidth. But that's just fine, and I have had a few interesting conversations with people the past couple of days as a result. The beauty of the blogging community is that everyone has thoughts, ideas and opinions, and we can share them so effectively.

Matthew Lanham commented on what I wrote, and made an interesting point:

“Sounds great - but here's a question: How many corporate information infrastructures out there already have RSS/Atom aggregation as part of the big picture? My bet is that most of them still don't and the RSS driven employee is still using her own aggregator or a centralized system like Bloglines to read those feeds. So what happens to that information once you've read it? Is it piped into the corporate information system to be spread amongst the rest of the company or does it just "disappear"? From a corporate side there is still a lot to be done to bring both worlds together. And the software vendors like Microsoft and IBM need to integrate that functionality (both aggregating and reading) into their line of products before RSS and Atom become corporate mainstream. But it'll happen.”

He's right - for now there is no real, commercial, out of the box capability for aggregating information found via RSS at the corporate level. That's why we built our own, of sorts.

We run SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services on our Intranet, and one of our talented developers created in-house web parts that both consume and expose information in RSS. Since then, several others have created similar things.

The RSS display web parts allow me to create areas on the Intranet where users can see the latest information about any given topic, and the web part is available for any site creator to use, so they can aggregate internal and/or external information/feeds on their Intranet sites, too. The other components allow us to expose any list of information on a SharePoint site as an RSS feed.

It's only a first step, and Matthew's point is well-taken. We can create it now, each of us putting the work in individually to create something custom, or the big boys can do it for us. The beauty of a company like Microsoft or IBM building it and packaging it (there is a standard to follow, after all) is that they can make a single investment that the rest of us can leverage. That is a value-add proposition, and what I expect from the companies whose software I buy.

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RSS Stuff | SharePoint | Tech
Friday, 27 August 2004 18:23:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 26 August 2004

Wow. This is different[QuickTime MOV]

Ever wonder what your purpose in life is? Apparently, so does that little lawn bomb your dog left in the yard:

"Once upon a time, a little doggy poo lived on the side of a road. He felt all alone in the world. He believed that nobody needed him for anything, and that he had no purpose in life. If only Doggy Poo had a reason for being, then he wouldn't give up on his dream to be useful to the world.

"One day, Doggy Poo meets a lovely dandelion sprout. Will she explain his purpose in life? Will she help make his dream come true?"

You ever get the feeling maybe someone is stretching the premise just a little too thin? Well, anyhow if you're into this kind of shi... uhh I mean stuff, go buy the DVD or book or soundtrack. Enjoy.

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Humor | Random Stuff
Thursday, 26 August 2004 21:06:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Larry Osterman points out what should be obvious, but is largely overlooked or ignored since it makes tasty "news." Recent reports that there is a security "hole" in Windows XP SP2 miss the big picture, he says.

The gist of the reported complaint is this: The new Security Center in SP2 uses WMI to control what information is displayed to the end user regarding what software is in place and it's status. Malicious code can, therefore, potentially use WMI to modify the information displayed by the Security Center, thereby convincing the user of the system that their firewall is on and AV software is running when in fact it's not.

PC Magazine and others ran articles about how they were able to spoof the new Windows XP SP2 Security Center, causing it to display false information about the status of the system. Microsoft later responded and PC Magazine followed up on the response, where they changed their tone somewhat.

From PC Magazine's original article:

"Based on an anonymous tip, we looked into the WMI and the Windows Security Center's use of it, and found that it may not only be a security hole, but a crater in the wrong hands. Due to the nature of WMI, the WSC could potentially allow attackers to spoof the state of security on a user's system while accessing data, infecting the system, or turning the PC into a zombie for spam or other purposes."

While this is technically possible, what is missed is the fact that in order to use WMI to make those changes, a program would have to be downloaded and installed on the machine with "system" level permissions. Any unwelcome code that is allowed/able to get that level of access has already won the race and is able to do much more harm than simply changing the information displayed in the Security Center. Even if the security center was not a part of your system, as soon as you ran the malicious code you'd be equally screwed, and the malware could make changes to pretty much any other apps running on your system. It would not need the Security Center to do its dirty work.

Read Larry's post for more, but remember one thing: The fact that someone claims something is a security hole - or in this case, a "crater" - does not mean they're right. It is, of course, always best to check things out and play the role of the skeptic, but accuracy in reporting is of primary importance, even if it is not as exciting. I'm glad PC Week followed up with their second story.

Their conclusion?

"We see the WMI and WSC as an indirect security risk, or hole, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe we're giving hackers and malware writers too much credit. WMI allows a program to get the security status of a user's system, as well as spoof it to give the user a false sense of security. Maybe it is too subtle. However, it is another tool in the hacker's toolbox. To have easy public access to the security status of a user's machine is like sending a password in plain text to a web site. It may not be used, but then again it might..."

"Do we think that end users should upgrade? Yes, Windows XP Service Pack 2 is a must do, especially for end users. However, we would recommend users not take the WSC as gospel, If you use an antivirus, or 3rd party firewall, look at their status panels as a sanity check. Keep your Antivirus, windows, firewall updates current, and most of all, be very careful of what you run on your system."

I do think the articles serve an important and valid purpose, though: They call to light the importance of securing systems by default and continuing to improve in that area. It's fair to say that in the real world, people will do exactly what you hope they would not do, and that the default configuration of the operating system, which is certainly greatly improved with the new service pack, is still a real concern. They point out that there is still work to be done, and that while things are better, they;re not perfect.  In that sense, I think they're right on.

Crater? No. Worth mentioning and asking about? Absolutely.

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IT Security
Thursday, 26 August 2004 18:59:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 25 August 2004

Microsoft will ship the CD to you free of charge. This CD includes the same Service Pack 2 software that is available for download from Windows Update. You'll wait 4-5 weeks for delivery, according to the site. You can also download the complete service pack here.

Note that Microsoft started the electronic delivery of SP2 to Windows XP Home Edition users last week, and to XP Professional Edition today via the Automatic-Updates distribution route.

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IT Security | Tech
Wednesday, 25 August 2004 20:43:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Microsoft's latest version of MOM has been released to manufacturing, with retail availability slated for October 1. MOM, or Microsoft Operations Manager, is a console for administering Windows servers and applications, with tools for monitoring and analyzing performance. MOM 2005 includes an easier setup, new user interface and improved built-in security.

MOM 2005 takes the product to a whole new level. Pricing and licensing has also changed.

To enhance and extend MOM 2005 even more, there are five MOM Solution Accelerators available to streamline the way MOM works, integrates and deploys. Solution accelerators at Microsoft are generally chunks of code, tools and prescriptive info you can use to design your own custom extensions and to make their products fit more tightly into your environment:

Check out the animated demo presentation, here, for a high-level explanation of how MOM works. You can also use the MOM 2005 Online Virtual Lab to learn more about the product and how to use it to solve problems in your environment. Looking for more information? Check out the blog published by the Operations Management team, which did the dog-food work with the product before it was released.

Small businesses with 10 or fewer servers to monitor should check out MOM 2005 Workgroup edition, which is priced appropriately - one flat fee of $499. Nice to see Microsoft taking the needs of the smaller business into account. My company has many more servers than that license would allow, but I know a number of people who will be able to take advantage of it.


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Wednesday, 25 August 2004 18:22:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Corey Gouker is a Media Center MVP, and he has posted a detailed description of his experiences with a new Creative Portable Media Center Device. Included at the bottom of the article are a couple of Windows Media videos and a gallery of images showing the device in action.

For anyone who has been wondering what these are all about and what you'll really get, check this out - with the videos and his description, it's a view that you've likely not had til now, unless you have been lucky enough to get your grubby hands on one.

Also: Sean Alexander post more links to details about the devices.

[via Scobleizer]

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Tuesday, 24 August 2004 23:21:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 24 August 2004
From Paul Fallon's blog, more SP2 planning news:

Yesterday, the Application Compatibility Testing and Mitigation Guide for Windows XP Service Pack 2 was published.

This guide considers potential application compatibility issues that may arise after a Service Pack 2 deployment. The guide provides mitigation procedures that can be followed to overcome compatibility issues. Since the mitigation procedures relax the default security configuration, the guide in no way recommends that they should be followed, but if there is no other way of overcoming compatibility issues, they can be applied in the short term.

The Guide also includes a download of example scripts. The scripts demonstrate how to reconfigure a Service Pack 2 computer to overcome compatibility issues. The scripts are designed as functional samples and will require modification for use in a production environment.

I've only flicked though it, but I am very impressed with the level of detail of what I've seen to date.

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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 24 August 2004 20:59:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Robert posts about having to use more than one MSN Messenger account due to limits placed on the service as far as number of contacts you can have on one Messenger passport account. He has to use two computers in order to work with two instances of messenger.

I have the same problem (multiple personalities, that is, but for different reasons than Scoble ;-)), and I am not personally interested in Trillion or other IM interfaces for this purpose, and I Already use Windows messenger for SIP service at work, so I don't want to go there.

It turns out it is possible to run two copies of MSN messenger with different accounts on the same computer at the same time. It used to be that you had to alter the messenger code to do so with a third-party program, which is not allowed under the software license. But more recently there is a program available that starts messenger and acts as a sort of proxy, so you're not (AFAIK - I will promptly remove this if I am wrong, of course...) in violation of the MSN Messenger software agreement, which specifically says you can't modify the MSFT binaries.

It also starts up in "appear off-line" state by default, which for some people is helpful. It's not a perfect program, but it works pretty darned well.

JnrzLoader 6.2.0137 is the program name, and it is available to download from (along with a lot of other nifty stuff).

Of course this advice is totally without warranty, your mileage may vary, scan your files, yada yada. But it works for me. :)

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Tuesday, 24 August 2004 06:49:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 23 August 2004

This was hot stuff in '89... In 1986 I has an IBM Model 5150 that I ran two BBS'es on, and 1200 baud was huge;-)

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Random Stuff | Tech
Monday, 23 August 2004 21:58:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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The one about how using RSS opens up information to me in a way that is so reliable I could only do it this way manually if there were two of me...

Okay, so maybe it's a little exaggerated. But seriously, I read an incredible amount of information these days. So much more than I ever did, and a lot of it on the Internet. Not only that, but I get the information I need (or want) so fast now that I can practically always act faster than most people when news breaks. Research that used to take hours and hours of searching and browsing now takes just minutes. I'm consuming much, much more information and doing so in much, much less time. What I can accomplish today in the information gathering department would have taken two of me just a year or so ago, before I found the real beauty of RSS.

I use RSS feeds for practically everything now. Rarely do I browse to a web site these days as my first method of gathering my daily doses of information. The data comes to me, based on my subscriptions. I know what I need, and I use the tools to get it. I find information sources just once, and then let the tools take care of the rest. I update my information world in real time, using tools like FeedDemon to do the dirty work for me. I focus on consuming, and the rest is practically magic.

RSS has made me a more productive, and therefore (in theory ;-)) more valuable employee where I work. A huge part of my job is staying up to date with the latest technology, trends and issues. I subscribe to a couple hundred feeds that I review several times daily, some of which are aggregated feeds or feeds that are the result of a search of thousands of blogs and other sources for certain keywords or subjects. Then there's the couple hundred others that I review periodically, both work-related and otherwise.

When news breaks, when someone writes a new article that I might care about, when new security patches or alerts are released, when Woot! posts their latest great deal for cheap geeks on the web, it all comes straight to me.

In a nutshell, RSS has enabled me to work (and play) on the 'net in a way that would not be practical (or even possible) without the technology.

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RSS Stuff | Tech
Monday, 23 August 2004 21:54:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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By way of Jonathan Hardwick, a list of webcasts scheduled covering the upcoming release of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005:

"The MOM 2005 release date is fast approaching, and they're setting up a series of webcasts for customers to learn more about it."

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Monday, 23 August 2004 21:27:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I hope you can forgive one politics-related post - This one is worth it I think.

Supposedly (and as far as I can tell thus far) non-partisan, is a decent online resource for doing a reality check when new ads and other communications come out in the political campaigns. Certainly we've seen a recent wave of ads that have caused quite a stir of controversy. examines the known facts as they are available and simply compares and contrast those facts to the hype.

The site is run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania (with offices in Washington DC), and I recommend it for anyone trying to get past the noise and down to brass tacks. That's coming from an admittedly somewhat-conservative person, but several of my friends who range politically anywhere from middle-of-the-road to ultra-liberal agree it's a fair and welcome look at reality. It should not be your sole resource for information, of course, but it's one that's worth using, IMHO.

I just wish they had a RSS feed - can't find one though. UPDATE: Oops, wait, spoke too soon, sort of - (there's a whole other blog entry to write, heheh) has feeds already available!

From the APPC/ mission statement:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

Note: I have decided to date to stay out of the politics and taking sides here, since that's not my focus on this blog. Yes, I do have my opinions in this political debate and yes, I will share them at time if asked. But in this venue I have chosen to remain agnostic ad stay on-topic (as if I had a topic to stay on...).

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Random Stuff
Monday, 23 August 2004 20:22:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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An old friend emailed me over the weekend and asked for some help reducing the size of a MP3 file so he could load it on his wireless phone. Seems he wanted the ringer to sound like a sheep when one certain person called (don't ask), but the MP3 he found was too big for the phone to accept.

I did a little research and found a cool little utility called FreeRIP over at that will convert between .WAV, .MP3 and .OGG formats with ease. You can also convert a MP3 file to the same format, but with a different bit-rate, which allowed my friend to reduce the file size as needed, and duly embarrass his friend in public.

Mission accomplished.

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Monday, 23 August 2004 20:00:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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As a professional geek, I am often tasked with explaining RSS (which these days stands for Really Simple Syndication) to people who are either not familiar with the technology or are non-technical by nature. Typically the explanation includes some form of answer to some common questions, such as "What is it and how does it work?" combined with "What is XML?" and "Why do people use it, and why should I care?"

It's always nice to explain RSS in person (and it's much easier), but that's not always possible. For example, trying to explain RSS in an instant messenger session(which I did the other evening) can be pretty difficult. So, there are times when it's nice to have an online resource to point people to.

So, with no further delay, here is a very good, clear and simple explanation of What RSS is, what it does, how it works and pretty much anything else someone might want to know in terms of consuming RSS feeds, all explained in plain English for the common-folk:

Using RSS feeds is so simple that literally anyone can do it, with just a little knowledge. If you want to consume my RSS feed, just look for the XML button marked RSS in the "Syndication" section of the side-bar (RSS 2.0) and click on it - you'll then see the raw XML RSS feed in your browser window. Don't be scared by the gobbledy-gook: The URL (web browser address) is all your RSS reader program will need to be able to use the feed from this web site.

If you have not yet found the world of RSS, download a RSS reader (to start try RSS Bandit for a free one, or FeedDemon for an inexpensive but very nice commercial RSS client), sign up for my feed (RSS 2.0) to see what it looks like, and then start looking for the RSS buttons on your favorite blogs and web sites. You will quickly find that you have been missing out on a revolutionary capability and information source, and that it's much easier than you think.

And if all else fails, send me an email and I'll be glad to explain - Send mail to the author(s)  ;-)

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RSS Stuff | Tech
Monday, 23 August 2004 19:40:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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PhotoStamp of my puppy DiogiPhotoStamps lets you create postage stamps with any image you want (assuming it's not pornographic or copyrighted by someone else). This is very, very cool. You'll pay extra for the novelty, but hey, regular postage stamps will run you $16.99 for a sheet of 20, and $17 is not too bad for a unique gift or to do something nice for someone.

They also offer other types of stamps, in addition to your regular first-class envelope, ranging from postcard postage to 1-pound priority mail versions.

You won't want to buy ail your stamps this way, most likely, but its so easy and fun, it's worth it for special occasions.

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Random Stuff
Monday, 23 August 2004 19:17:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 22 August 2004

Living in the middle of nowhere has its decided advantages, but it also complicates things when it comes to technology, especially for a technology-addicted geek like myself.

For example, wireless technologies:

My Internet connectivity is a wireless broadband service from Cascade Networks, across the river and state line in Longview, Washington. Good people over there. It's the only way I can get any kind of Internet connectivity faster than dialup on poor telephone lines. The wireless service is 2.4GHz radio connectivity (WiFi) using a roof-mounted commercial antenna pointed over at Green Mountain, where the provider has a tower with its radio gear. On my end and attached to the antenna is a Cisco network radio transceiver.

Then there's the Wireless LAN I have set up here. Again, 2.4GHz WiFi, using a Linksys WRT54G with (very) custom firmware. Since no one else is anywhere close to me from a wireless network standpoint, I have also boosted the signal from 25mw to 84mw. The special firmware also lets my Universal Plug and Play devices operate the way they're supposed to, and cleans up the signal a little to reduce the clutter in the radio spectrum.

And then there's my crappy cordless phone, yet again a 2.4GHz model, DSS and all that. It's alike 4 years old though, and it plugs into a VOIP network device that connects, of course, to the Internet - over the wireless broadband device.

You can probably see where this is going. What it comes right down to is that I can't reliably make a clean phone call on the cordless phone without interfering with the wireless LAN and/or wireless broadband service. The end result is occasionally choppy phone calls (regardless of my Linksys transmit power settings, by the way) unless I am using a wired phone plugged into the VOIP device.

So, looks like it's time to pick up a new phone, and I guess I should try a 5.8GHz model, if I can find one that doesn't have an answering machine and all that extra junk I don't need or want built in, but is still a decent model.

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Sunday, 22 August 2004 19:14:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My friend from Germany, Florian, will be making a trip over to this side of the world in September, and he'll be in Portland from September 13th to the 18th. I'm thinking of things to do and show him while he is here, and so far I have the following obvious things on my list of possibilities (he's especially interested in getting out and seeing the world around these parts).

  • Mt. St. Helens (pretty much a given)
  • Oregon Coast (probably the northern-most portion)
  • Various food joints downtown
  • Maybe some of the micro-breweries (if he's interested in that)
  • Powell's (another given, but not really an event)
  • The Gorge
  • ???

I need some help. I mean, I can easily fill up a few days with interesting/fun stuff, but I figured I would ask around. Any ideas? Anything exciting happening during that time? What do you show/do with people who come to visit?

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Sunday, 22 August 2004 14:25:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Today's my dad's birthday, and so before I start my regular routine of trying to call him and leaving voice-mails everywhere :-), I just wanted to put this out here where I know he'll see it:

Happy Birthday, Dad!

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Sunday, 22 August 2004 12:49:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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If you use MSN Messenger and want to get an alert when this site is updated, use this link to register your Microsoft Passport account for alerts:

I've also added the icon to the right nav in the syndication section.

How did I do this? Bloggers can (for the time being at least) sign up for free alerting for their readers at MessageCast. Once signed up with a Microsoft Passport account, alert subscribers will be notified via their chosen methods (Messenger, mobile device, email) when you post a new entry to your blog. The service simply checks your RSS feeds and sends an alert when it sees new items have been added.

Note that this is a free service to the blogger, and is ad-supported on the reader's end.

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Blogging | Tech
Saturday, 21 August 2004 23:07:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 21 August 2004

I took two days off from work at the end of this past week, so I am now in the middle of a four-day weekend. I've done pretty much nothing. I'm just taking a break from having to be anywhere or do anything, and chillin'. It's a nice change of pace.

I watched Office Space last weekend, and in its own special way it prepped me for the past couple of days. Probably three of the top five lines of all time are in that movie.

Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”

I slept in a couple of times. Played with the dogs a bit more than usual. I even watched a little bit of the Olympics. Fencing is on now. I know someone who should be a real contender for that sport in the future. Met a friend for coffee. Sat on my butt. Drove to Astoria on a whim (actually just drove off on a whim and ended up there) with a friend and grabbed pizza before heading home.

So, I have no idea what I am going to do today. Basically nothing. Yeah, this is greaaaat...

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Saturday, 21 August 2004 13:29:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 19 August 2004

Last night Robert Scoble posted a commentary about a commentary on Windows XP SP2 and whether or not people should be told to upgrade to it right away. I pretty much agree with Robert that now is better than later, with an added mention that different users probably need to take different paths to deploy this service pack. Our company, for example, will complete our deployment when it will not interrupt an ongoing project. It's not the service pack that we're hesitating on, it's the time the computer will be unavailable - or performance potentially reduced - by the background installation that we'll be doing over the network.

But more interesting then the original commentary, or Robert's commentary-on-the-commentary, is the commentary-on-the-commentary-on-the-commentary: Robert's also opened up the exact can of worms in the comments on his blog that you'd expect from the "community" on this subject. But hey, I guess that's what community is all about, after all. It takes all kinds.

[yes, I know that's two Scoble posts in a row, I'll stop now :)]

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IT Security | Random Stuff | Tech
Thursday, 19 August 2004 13:44:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Robert Scoble recently opened up a little contest that has people sending him new CSS files for his blog to alter the layout into something different. He says he's going to try to change it every couple of days and try out some designs til he sees what looks good.




Nice. :-)

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Blogging | Random Stuff
Thursday, 19 August 2004 00:40:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 17 August 2004

MailFrontier, a company that makes a great anti-spam gateway package, has put together “The MailFrontier Phishing IQ Test.” The have assembled 10 real-world suspected-fraud emails as captured by their systems. You review them and decide, is each one legitimate or fraudulent?

Take the test now. What's your score?

A little phishing lesson:

Phishing is a term used to describe various methods used by scam artists to persuade you to send them your personal information, so they can fraudulently use it for their own benefit. Almost always, phishers use what appear to be legitimate business emails and web-sites to get you to submit your personal information to them. But in fact, the emails and web sites are not legitimate, even though they may appear to be.

The information collected in phishing scams runs the gamut, and includes credit card information, social security numbers, bank account information, and any other items crooks can use to clean out banking accounts or benefit from assuming some portion of your identity.

Never submit personal information via an email form or on a web site in response to an email or other communication you receive asking you to update that kind of data. If you ever suspect you are being phished, call the bank or other company that sent you the email at their standard customer service number (don't trust a number in the email, look it up in the book or on your statement) and ask them if it's a legitimate request. You'll find that at no time do banks or other reputable businesses call or email you asking you to provide personal information.

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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 17 August 2004 11:37:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 16 August 2004

Otis, Oregon is back up for sale. For $3 million you can own your own town, complete with a gas station and its accompanying mini-mart, the Pronto Pup hot dog stand, two houses, an empty 25-stall horse barn, a helicopter storage shed, a garage, an old grange hall and 190 acres of farmland, part of which is used for raising cattle and part of which is in timber conservation. The Otis post office, Otis Cafe and an auto-repair garage property and buildings are also included.

What you may not know is this: The Otis Cafe is one of the best darn places you can go in the whole state of Oregon on a lazy hazy morning. It has 28 seats and there's more often than not a line of people waiting to get in. What's so great about it? The food is very good, but their bread (especially the dark molasses bread they are famous for) is great.

3 million? I don't know about the property, but work in the rights to the bread recipe and you would easily make up for the difference in price. ;-)

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Monday, 16 August 2004 20:32:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Does blogging consume a measurable portion of your life? Well, then - what are you doing on November 6th?

"BloggerCon is an unusual conference. We don't have speakers, slide shows or panels. Repeat that please. No panels, no PowerPoints, no speakers. We do have discussions and sessions, and each session has a discussion leader."

Now, BloggerCon III really sounds interesting. And the site design is cool. I'll have to think seriously about attending this. It also sounds like a good excuse to visit the bay area and see my dad - he lives just a few minutes from Stanford, where it's being held. I'll have to give him a call and see what he's doing that weekend. It's also a good opportunity to use some of my vacation time that's accrued to the point of bursting at the seams. I've gotten to the point where I'm close to "topped out" on hours, so it's becoming clear that it's well past time to start using some of them up.

Other potential time-off plans for this fall and winter include:

  • A week off work while hosting a friend who will be visiting from Germany.
  • Another week off work on a Tiger Cruise, where I will be on-board a nuclear aircraft carrier underway from Hawaii to San Diego, with a friend who serves on the ship.
  • An unknown amount of time off (probably a few days) getting my back operated on in one form or another, not yet determined.
  • A day or two off to go jump out of an airplane with a friend.
  • A few days off here and there to do house stuff.
  • A week off over the holidays to travel to England for my cousin's wedding and a big extended family get-together.

So, it's going to be a busy rest of the year. But I'll have plenty to blog about!

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Monday, 16 August 2004 18:56:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 15 August 2004

I realized I've posted almost all tech stuff recently, so I figured its about time to write about something a little less technical: My garden.

With three and a half acres, I figured I should do something. Besides, with my job being what it is, getting unplugged (at least mentally if not literally) on a regular basis is a good thing. So I started a small garden this year, mostly above-ground beds in the back yard, and it's working out pretty well.

  • I have sunflowers that are 15 feet tall (not an exaggeration) and still growing
  • I have three tomato plants that have a combined total of well over a hundred green tomatoes growing on them right now.
  • I have more beets and radishes than I know what to do with
  • I had something like half a ton (well it seemed like it) of broccoli and cauliflower
  • The corn is growing pretty well (I think I have them too close together though)
  • Gonna be some huge freaking pumpkins pretty soon
  • Even the watermelons look like they're going to work out
  • Peas and carrots abound

And it wasn't really all that much work, once the beds were put together and ready (thanks in large part to help from my great neighbors). I just seeded, watered and kept on watering. I pulled a few weeds here and there, but surprisingly few. It's been pretty fun. I like being able to walk into the garden when I am a little hungry and eat right off the plant. I'm not an organic farmer or anything, but I have not needed to use pesticides or anything. I used Miracle Grow on the hose just once, right off the bat, and the rest was just plain water and a little composty stuff, but I think mostly it's the good soil and regular watering.

I grew up in the desert - making things grow there was a true art form. My dad was the artist - I can remember that garden in the back yard when I was a kid. He even got peaches to grow there. Here in Oregon you have to try to kill plants if you don't want them, and even that can be a chore. So I've got it easy.

What I am doing now is letting some of the early-season plants (like radishes and broccoli) go to seed, so I can see if maybe they'll work again from the seeds they produce. I know that some plants will and others won't, and that is I wanted to I could probably look them up, but I just want to see what happens - it will be an interesting test.

If only the grass was as easy to keep green as the garden is to grow. Although the other night the lawn, whether or not it's as green as I like, made a decent carpet to lie on while watching the meteor shower (which was amazing).

Oh, and if anyone needs any tomatoes in a few weeks, I think I'm going to a be a little overloaded. Just let me know. Oh, and if you happen to be in New Mexico and want to trade some frozen roasted chilis from there for some home grown tomatoes, just say the word. I'm told by friends that the best chilis in the world can be had over the phone, though, and I am going to call them soon:

Perea Farms (in New Mexico)
505-565-1897 - at the chili stand
505-261-5887 - their cell
505-450-2535 - the chili farm itself

They'll roast, peel, pack and ship them to you. If you're a green chili fan and you actually believe the stuff you buy in the stores here in the northwest is worth a damn, you're wrong. Give it up and call one of those numbers. You'll be glad you did.

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Sunday, 15 August 2004 12:44:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 14 August 2004

Do you use TiVo? Or own a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC (and if so do you use the MCE features at all)? What about PC-based software that does TiVo/MCE-like functionality, such as SnapStream?

I'm a TiVo guy - I have one of the original 20GB TiVos that I "hacked" and now it has 240GB of storage in it, and I can't imagine ever running out of space. I've recorded (literally) every episode of the West Wing, and each and every day I record the Daily Show and Dennis Miller. I love Season Passes, and I still have tons of space left.

But there are certain things I wish it was better at.

I have been considering, for some time, going the route of a Media Center PC. I want and need a new PC anyhow (mine's dead in the water under the desk and I have been lap-topping it the past few months). Two things have stopped me, though. The main problem is the fact that I can't build my own - I have to buy a pre-built machine and none of them really meet my (very specific and picky) needs. The second is cost - I'm not interested in shelling out the premium that the system builders charge, when you consider what you'll end up with. Yeah, I know I could use the MSDN subscription to download it and build a "test" machine, but that's not really kosher. Point is, it's the restrictive nature of the operating system and how it's licensed that's stopped me. Other than that, I'm all game.

There are other options I may just look at. For example, I've played with SnapStream's software in the past. These days they are selling a product called Beyond TV, and they will soon be coming out with Beyond Media, which will will have some nifty features and will work nicely with Beyond TV, they say. It looks very promising, and it's affordable. Hopefully there will be a version of Beyond TV to test soon - I'll be interested to see what it looks like and how it works. If I can arrange an early test copy, I'll even review it here, maybe do a side-by side thing. We'll see.

But for now, I've got the TiVo. I just wish it did more. Yes, I have seen the Series-2 TiVo product with the Home Media option, and the ones that are built into a DirecTV receiver, and the ones that have the DVD recorder in them (yada yada), but it's just not all there for me. I want to detach from the central device and use media anywhere I like. Give me HDTV capability and network sharing and sync capabilities. What is I want to want to view a show or something on my PC? Quit dumbing down the hardware that's already in the box. Let me export my digital media files to whatever I want, and make it easy for gosh sakes.

In the "make-them-better" department, Thomas Hawk recently wrote "Ten things that Microsoft and TiVo must each do to win the living room," which anyone who is tracking the future of digital media for the home will be interested in reading. I think he's pretty spot-on.

What do other people use? Right now I am tied to a Dish Network receiver (but definitely not married to it and I'll change for the right feature set - I just have not seen anything else compelling enough yet). I can't get cable and have not even tried to receive broadcast HDTV yet out where I live (which is very rural, by the way - my broadband is over a wireless connection to a tower on a mountain I can see from here). MY home theater consists of a big cave of a room with a projector (resulting in a 110-inch projected television image in HD), pretty darn good audio and a DVD changer. It rocks, but there's no computers involved.

Hmmmm... Ideas?

(inspired by various content found via Scoble's experimental aggregator blog)

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Saturday, 14 August 2004 15:30:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A few months ago I got excited about the forthcoming Motorola MPx phone - a PDA/mobile-phone unit running the Windows Mobile OS and sporting a true HTML browser, WiFi, etc. Well the story is even better now, by a long shot:

Research in Motion announced a couple of weeks ago (now how did I miss that?) that the MPx and MPx220 will include BlackBerry Connect capability, meaning the MPx will be a full-blown Pocket PC PDA (Windows Mobile OS), a telephone, and a Blackberry device. The MPx220 (the smaller SmartPhone that will get the software) is a quad-band device - I am going to have to assume for now that the MPx is what their spec sheet (PDF) shows: GSM 900/1800/1900 and GPRS.

I bet it costs a fortune, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. This is exactly the type of device needed for companies that have people who travel a lot, have to be constantly in touch, need the immediacy of Blackberry email but want to be able to kick a PowerPoint presentation onto the screen and have it really work, or view and make some simple edits to a spreadsheet, or browse the intranet or Internet. Who needs a laptop? The QWERTY keyboard is just right. I like the rumor of a dual-hinge capability - supposedly it can open hinging on either the long side or the short side, depending on what you want to do with it. The image look like that's true too, although they all seem to show it its long-side pose.

What the MPx will have:

  • GSM 900/1800/1900; GPRS
  • Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches; 99.7 X 61.2 X 24 mm
  • Weight: 6.1 oz; 174 g
  • Up to 180 minutes talk time
  • Up to 140 hours standby time
  • Integrated 1.2 megapixel camera with flash
  • 2.8” 240 x 320 color touch TFT screen for easy data input that also works with a stylus
  • Multi-function QWERTY keyboard with touch screen that also works with stylus
  • Opens in portrait view for phone use, PDA applications and games
  • Built-in Wi-Fi: embedded 802.11b wireless networking
  • Microsoft Outlook on the PocketPC
  • Integrated Bluetooth Wireless Technology
  • SD/MMC slot up to 1 GB
  • Compatible with all Microsoft Pocket PC applications
  • WAP and HTML browsing, streaming video and audio
  • Multi-Media Messaging Service (MMS)
  • IrDA (Infra red) and Built-in "ActiveSync" protocol
  • Connectivity via IrDA, USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

If anyone happens to read this who know when and where it will be available (aside from “second-half of '04” that is), comment or email me.

What do you think? What would make the perfect device that could replace a laptop, phone and PDA? Comment your thoughts below.

( the way, companies that put search functions on their web sites should only do it if it works worth a darn. Compare this search with the same one in Google... Argh!)

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Mobile | Tech
Saturday, 14 August 2004 10:04:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 12 August 2004

Seemingly random post, I know, but Citizen Dmitri's web log site is great looking and has some very cool functionality. I've spent considerable time just refreshing and browsing to look at the pictures that make up the site and its entries. If you're a visual person, check it out.

A little while back I started doing a custom layout for my site, but ran out of time pretty quickly. This one puts the spark back in me to think about that again.

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Thursday, 12 August 2004 19:34:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My friend and coworker Scott pointed me to an article by Robert Hensing on his new security incident-response weblog that does a great job of explaining “Why you shouldn't be using passwords of any kind on your Windows networks.”

The fact that Microsoft's security people are now starting to blog about their areas of expertise is awesome - and I realize it's not an easy thing for security management to buy into for a number of justifiable reasons. What Robert suggests in this article is right on the money, and is where many companies are already heading (and where the rest should be heading).


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IT Security | Tech
Thursday, 12 August 2004 12:24:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 11 August 2004

Update: Six more invites available to resourceful peoples who can follow instructions... Wow, making a real mess of this post! ;-)

I have one invitation to offer up for a Gmail account. First email to reach me gets it. You'll have to find/guess the email address though. ;-)

WINNER: Tim Gilbreath was first, and got the gmail account. Thanks for playing. :-)

EDIT: This is apparently harder than I thought it would be... No, no everyone... Not my regular email address, and it's not like it's rocket science or anything... Look around you. Follow the yellow brick road, push the envelope, open your eyes... Heh...

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Wednesday, 11 August 2004 19:42:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Microsoft has published this list of dates for where and how XP SP2 will be made available:

  • From 8/06 - Release to manufacturing
  • 8/09 - Release to Microsoft Download Center (full network install package)
  • 8/10 - Release to Automatic Updates (for machines running pre-release versions of Windows XP SP2 only)
  • 8/16 - Release to Automatic Updates (for machines not running pre-releases versions of Windows XP SP2)
  • 8/16 - Release to SUS
  • Later in August - Release to Windows Update for interactive user installations

UPDATE: If you have to deploy to an organization, you should read this guide.

Other Methods of Deployment
In addition, they have published an article and related tools called "Temporarily Disabling Delivery of Windows XP Service Pack 2 Through Windows Update and Automatic Updates," which offers a number of options to IT operations shops that may need to delay the auto-updating of SP2 on any one of a number of machines, until testing can be completed. The tools allow you to temporarily disable application of the service pack via Windows Update, as well as to re-enable it. The article also discusses some of the benefits of using Software Update Services (SUS) or Systems Management Server (SMS) to deploy SP2.

By the way, a little about SUS: Do you have a company that relies on Windows Updates to patch your computers, but wish you had more control over the process? Ever have a patch cause a problem because you didn't get to test it first? SUS is your answer. Information on SUS is available at Note that SUS is available as a free download to customers with a Windows Server 2003 or Windows 2000 Server license and can be downloaded from here.

For those who are thinking they'll just block the Windows Update IP address or URL at the firewall or content filter, think again... Laptops, anyone? You get the picture. Plus, a firewall block would just be a cheap, lazy "solution" that would break every other update. Read the article and the FAQ.

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IT Security | Tech
Wednesday, 11 August 2004 06:57:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 10 August 2004

Watch the computer updates how-to video
Watch the Computer
Updates how-to video

Or go to this web site to set up your computer automatically

Windows XP SP2 will be available starting August 16th for automatic download over the Internet, if you have automatic updating turned on. If you run Windows XP at home, you should have it turned on by now. If you don't know how, or whether it's on or off - don't worry, we are here to help. In the next three or four paragraphs, your computing life will become easier. Read and learn, it's easy!

So - Why so many redundant posts here about SP2 and how to get it? Because, the greater the number of home users who get SP2 and install it now, the better. Why? It will make your lives easier, as well as everyone else's. It will at least help prevent security issues. It will practically eliminate the browser pop-up problems you have, and as such will reduce the footprint of spy-ware and other malicious code. If you'll also go and get the free year's worth of AV software and firewall protection that Computer Associates will let you download (for home use), you'll not be a platform for the rampant spread of viruses. It will make all our computing lives better...


So, PLEASE - if you are a home user, do two things:

  1. Go to this web site to prep your system automatically to receive SP2, or watch the video linked above and follow the instructions to enable automatic updates.
  2. Tell everyone you know to do the same thing. Think of it as a positive viral infection effort -- word-of-mouth, power-to-the-people style of getting out the message.

Please, pretty please.

Go. Do it. NOW!


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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 10 August 2004 11:22:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 09 August 2004

Tom posts about a couple of common sense things to do when designing your blog web page to make it more usable for those people who read your site on a mobile device.

I actually view a number of blogs on my Blackberry hand-held, which has a pretty darn small piece of real estate for a screen. But, in HTML content mode (AKA RBRO mode) it's workable. I can even log onto secure web sites with form-based logon fields and fill out forms and submit content to other web sites.

I agree with Tom's suggestions about what the little things are that can make a big difference to the mobile user when laying out your pages. Of course, you could always design a WML/WAP version of your web site, and if you do 100% CSS it's all about order, not layout. At any rate, the point is that it's a good idea to think about the many users of your site, and how they consume your content - and for the average blogger, basic layout changes are about all one is going to take on.

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Blogging | Mobile
Monday, 09 August 2004 20:01:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Evan Dodd addresses the /3GB switch confusion and common misconceptions in an informative and to-the-point article on his web log, pointing to technical commentary by a colleague, in the context of Exchange server.

Exchange Server is a complicated product, but things as simple (yeah, I said it) as the /3GB switch don't need to be such a mystery. Admittedly, most exchange admins won't actually care what the switch does. But for those that do want to know, they can easily find out, and even participate in a lively discussion. Or get a link summary of the whole discussion here.

This is a good example of why blogging by the people who are in the trenches is such a great idea. By the way - Another good Exchange commentary resource is KC Lemson's blog.

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Monday, 09 August 2004 19:09:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Over on Channel 9 there's a cool short video of an interview with Bert Keely, an architect on Microsoft's Tablet PC team. He shows how the Tablet PC can be sued so much more quickly with XP SP2 applied. This is a great little demo of Bert using the TIP (Tablet Input Panel) to make things happen quickly in the SP2 version of the operating system. It's amazing how fast you can work with the new TIP, compared to the original version - and the handwriting recognition is really pretty darn amazing.

For those who don't already know, when you upgrade your Tablet PC to SP2, you'll get all the nifty 2004-version (code-name was "Lonestar") tablet software right along with the SP2 security fixes. I've been using these features for several months with beta versions, and now-a-days every time I pick up a Tablet with the original software and try to use it, it just makes me crazy... That's how much better the new version is: It's well worth the (free) upgrade!

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Tablet PC | Tech
Monday, 09 August 2004 16:40:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Microsoft has now made XP SP2 available as a (great big ol') download for those needing to distribute it over a network, and (as of August 15th - date change) will also made it available via Windows Update soon to anyone who has auto-updating turned on.

Starting on August 15th your system will automatically download the express version of Windows XP SP2 in the background, if you have auto-updates turned on as described below. For typical home users this is about a 75 MB download, as opposed to the 250+ MB download of the complete network install pack. As soon as the background download is complete, you will be prompted to install SP2 and to accept the EULA (SP2 does not install automatically even if Automatic Updates is set to automatically install security updates). If you have a modem connection, don't "Cancel" the update once it's in progress; just disconnect and when you reconnect later, it will automatcially pick up where it left off until it completes.

If you are a home user or if your computer is not in a managed environment, and you don't need to ask permission to upgrade to SP2, you should go to the Protect Your PC page at Microsoft's web site, which will walk you through setting up your computer (automagically if you use XP Home Edition) to be ready to get SP2 as soon as Windows Update is ready to send it to you. Whether you use the step-by-step instructions or let the application do it for you, you'll be all set.

Administrators of Windows networks (wired and wireless) may be interested in reading about the network protections built into the new service pack. That article is part of a broader set of information entitled “Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2,” which was published today on the TechNet web site. Note that the full technical documentation can be downloaded here, as well.

Other useful links (there's so many, here are a few of what appear to be the most useful - feel free to add more links in the comments if you see something else that's good):

If you are a MS Premier Support customer, there are a wide variety of information and tools available to you now on your premier support web site, as well - just log in.

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IT Security | Tech
Monday, 09 August 2004 11:12:57 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 08 August 2004

Omar Shahine has a nice entry detailing how to configure the Motorola voice modem you get from Vonage to work in conjunction with your home network router. By placing the Vonage voice device first in the chain on your network (directly connected to the Internet) and the router behind it, you can take full advantage of the QOS (Quality Of Service) capabilities of the voice device, which helps ensure other network traffic from your LAN doesn't suck up all the bandwidth and kill your voice call quality.

I did a similar thing on my home network a little while back (different equipment, same basic procedure), and found that it substantially improved my voice call quality when computers are hooked to the LAN, especially since my computers often do automated/scheduled things that will - if left unchecked - hog the pipe from time to time.


I just noticed - if you want to sign up for Vonage service, they have a referral program where I can send you an invitation and you'll get the first month free, and I'll get an equal service credit - which is good for everyone! Just email me here: Send mail to the author(s) and I will send you the invite - be sure to send your name and the email address you want the invite to go to.

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Sunday, 08 August 2004 13:44:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 07 August 2004

A friend asked me tonight if I knew where to find the oom paa paa song from the Matrix spoof, Computer Boy. I had never heard the song, or seen the short film, but started looking anyhow.

I found the MP3 and dropped it into the IM window to transfer the file to my friend. I also found the MOV file and grabbed that for myself, out of curiosity. On a side note, it's pretty fun(ny) to watch.

"How did you find it?" my friend asked. "Google," I said. "Where one finds everything."

He LOL'ed (gotta love all this IM-speak) and then asked me to send him my search string so he could learn. Now that's the right question to ask. Ahhhh, grasshoppa... you are learning...

It's a very simple search, barely more than a basic search - and really it's all about being specific, but for some reason, there are many people who don't know how to do that. Everyone should learn to search and to do it well. Being able to find things on the Internet used to be a nice skill to have, but how it's becoming more and more of a necessity. It's always surprising to me how few people really know how to search using Google or other search tools to find relevant information, especially when you consider you can learn the basics (and then some) in about 5 minutes. Spend an hour learning some more advanced skills and you'll practically be a pro.

Google even has a help page where you can learn about the basics and some more advanced search tricks. And there are any number of third-party articles out there that will help you learn power searching, like this one (See parts one, two and three). Unfortunately, most of the tutorials out there are on poorly formatted web pages with lots of other junk piled on the page, but content is content.

Do you have good places to learn about becoming a search engine power-user? Leave a link in the comments.

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Saturday, 07 August 2004 21:00:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 06 August 2004

If you use SQL 2000 or MSDE on Windows XP, you'll want to do some research before you apply WinXP SP2.

Microsoft has provided a FAQ list that covers the bases pretty well. Excerpted from that page:

Q.  Why is Windows XP SP2 important to SQL Server customers?
A.  Windows XP SP2 will turn on the Windows Firewall by default. By turning on the Windows Firewall, computers are more resilient to attacks from worms similar to Blaster and Slammer.

Q.  How does Windows XP SP2 affect SQL Server?
A.  SQL Server will have access to the local subnet by means of file and print sharing, which will enable access to named pipes, also known as multi-protocol, that use Port 445. TCP/IP and UDP will be turned off by default. Applications that connect to a SQL Server database by means of a network will not be able to accept or make connections. This setting change helps protect the customer system by making it resilient to malicious worms that send port requests to a computer in an attempt to create a denial of service attack.

In addition, KB article 841249, "How to configure Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) for use with SQL Server," includes information about manual configuration of the SP2 firewall for use with SQL server, how to script configuration administratively, and troubleshooting tips and steps. Note that users of Windows Group Policy can also configure the firewall via that method using the new ADM files (which are included in the service pack).

I've been working with SP2 configuration via Windows domain Group Policy for a while now, with the beta versions. If you have the GPO option available to you, do yourself a huge favor and take advantage of it. Same goes for Office System settings - You can quickly, easily and effectively configure and maintain all your computers in one place.

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IT Security | Tech
Friday, 06 August 2004 21:00:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I am watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 at home with a friend. I saw the second movie when it was in the theaters earlier this year, and of course I also saw this one when it came out originally.

This is one movie that just keeps getting better. It was good the first time, and especially after the second movie, it's just good to watch again and again.

And Volume 2 will be released on DVD on August 10th. Yes!

QT rules.

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Movies | Random Stuff
Friday, 06 August 2004 20:29:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Testers have it (running it now) and it will be available on the web soon. Windows XP SP2 is Gold.

Tablet PC and Media Center Edition users get all kinds of new features included, too - can't beat that.

If you're a home user, turn on auto-updates and when there is bandwidth to serve you, you'll get the full meal deal.

If you're a business user in a managed computing environment, don't take the chance - talk to your IT department before doing anything, as there are a number of possible Bad Things that could result in applying the service pack before they're ready, especially in the area of application compatibility with all those wonky custom business applications.

If you're a web designer or developer and your site doesn't work with SP2 - you're too late and well beyond the point of having reasonable excuses, so fix it fast and skip the whine.

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IT Security | Tech
Friday, 06 August 2004 14:35:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Rumor was that SP2 was supposed to RTM on Thursday, but that didn't happen. Microsoft Watch reports it's still right around the corner. Others say this month. I hear the same thing. Apparently, there are a few last-minute things that need to be worked out, which is about what you'd expect with a service pack that makes the kinds of changes this one does.

The RC2 version of the service pack was removed from the web on August 2nd, in preparation for release of the final version this month, according to the TechNet web site pages dedicated to XP SP2 information:

Aug 2, 2004: Windows XP SP 2 Release Candidate 2 (RC2) Removed from the Web

This signifies the end of the pre-release distribution program in anticipation of the final release of SP2. Windows XP SP2 remains on schedule for release this month.

The process of implementing SP2 in the real world is more complicated and sensitive than previous Windows service packs, due to the security changes in areas like firewall, DCOM, Java Virtual Machine, Active-X and other aspects of the new code. Testing in individual environments is critical except in the most plain-vanilla situations.

End users in managed environments will need to check with their IT departments before they download the service pack, and IT pros will certainly need to evaluate the service packs in their environments closely for application and network issues, so they can be remediated prior to roll-out. Group Policy attributes new with SP2 can assist administrators of Active Directory networks in deploying, configuring and enforcing consistency in the service pack roll-out, as well.

Developers who rely on SP2 platform security and certain other areas of functionality will need to be thinking ahead, as well. Even Microsoft's recently-released CRM v1.2 functionality breaks when XP SP2 is applied, so they'll need to supply a patch for that product. We can expect this to be a common - but ultimately necessary - occurrence.

Web site designers will certainly need to make sure their implementation of applets using the JavaVM, Active-X controls or embedded content, and pop-ups are reviewed and changes made where necessary.

Microsoft has made a number of documents available recently regarding the service pack and how different people need to plan for its arrival and use.

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IT Security | Tech
Thursday, 05 August 2004 23:33:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Ever want to use MSN Messenger from a computer where it's not installed? MSN has released to the public the beta version of it's Web Messenger, which allows you to have a fairly complete Messenger client in a web browser window. It works pretty well - Not as fancy as the installable client, but still a worthy IM interface. Check it out and use it here.

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Thursday, 05 August 2004 23:14:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 02 August 2004
From Jonathan Hardwick's weblog, news of the pre-release version of a new OS deployment feature pack for SMS 2003, and the availability of more online training for MOM 2005:

The OS deployment feature pack for SMS 2003 SP1 does just what you'd hope - allow you to create and deploy Windows OS images to lots of client machines, with unattended imaging, backup and restore of user state, and all the replication and targeting features of regular SMS 2003. Grab a copy of the beta from the SMS 2003 OSD site.

The SMS team have also published a white paper on how to use SMS 2003 in a corporate environment with lots of roaming client computers and intermittent network connectivity. This is not for the weak: Configuration and Operation of Advanced Client Roaming.

Finally, the MOM 2005 online training courses were too popular - so they're adding more servers and running more courses. If you couldn't sign up last time, give it another try.

Take advantage soon while you still can. Eight 50-minute training sessions for MOM 2005 - for free. You can't beat that.

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Monday, 02 August 2004 21:33:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 01 August 2004

I just got my lucky hands on a Sony TR3AP2 super-tiny notebook to try out, and wow, let me tell ya - this in one nice little (very little) notebook computer. In the past I was not overly impressed with Sony's little computers - they were just not up to par with my reliability and performance requirements - but I think they've changed my mind with this one.

Where to start? To say it's small is simply not enough. It's more like very compact, but quite usable. It has a full gig of RAM and a CD burner/DVD player built in, which is pretty amazing for something this size.

The display is nothing short of amazing - very high contrast, color that really pops, and very sharp image. It's a 10.6-inch wide-screen, with a resolution of 1280x768.

It also has a built-in video camera that's a lot more usable than I thought it would be, and has terrific battery life: In real-life it's getting about 3.5-4 hours on the standard battery and 7-8 hours on the extra, extended battery. The hard drive is 40GB/4200RPM (slower, but requires less battery to drive it) and if you want more, USB2 and FireWire are there to help.

For travellers, this thing is great - it's very light and compact - smaller than a tablet of paper in terms of footprint. It has 802.11g WiFi built in, supports an external monitor as a second video device, and even does Dolby surround from the headphone jack if you have the headphones to support it.

If you need to run Visual Studio or 3D games, this won't be your machine. For almost anything else, it's sweet. It's also a bit pricey, but hey - I'm sold.

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Sunday, 01 August 2004 12:16:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I often lose track of things I want to write about in my blog. You know how you'll browse to some web site, see something you want to maybe keep track of or find again later, but when "later" actually comes, you're out of luck and don't have a record of it? Or maybe you save all those random links as "favorites" or "bookmarks" in your browser, but all that does is make for a long, useless list of items that you don't use because it's too random.

A short time ago, I found a web-based service called Furl that solves this problem. I use it to categorize, catalog and keep track of various things, either for my real life or items that I might want to blog about later on. It helps me keep track of all those bits on information on the web that - before Furl - I would forget about or just lose.

Furl lets you save anything you see in your browser. The easiest way to do that is to have a "Furl It" button right on the link toolbar of your browser, or you can install the Furl toolbar if you like. When you find something you want to save, you just click the "Furl It" button.

That opens up a new window with the title and URL of the page you are looking at already filled in. You can then add comments to, rate, and categorize the page (or not). When you're done, click "Save."

That's all. Next time you view your online Furl archive you will see the new entry. View by category, filter, whatever. It's cool. You can also set up a public view of your Furl list for others to see if you want to.

So, if you're looking for an online service to keep track of links to information, give it a try. More information is available here. Oh, and for now it's free. In the future, they may do the in-line-ad-supported thing, or maybe charge a fee, but I'm honestly not worried about it - my lists help me now, which is a good thing.

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Sunday, 01 August 2004 11:33:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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