Seriously stupid that iMac’s don’t come with Blu-Ray players built in. Just ridiculous.
So let’s say you bought a new mac and cloned your old hard drive to the new one, and now your netflix is all sorts of busted. Let’s fix that shall we? Netflix uses silverlight for DRM which creates a file that IDs your computer hardware for licensing. So we delete that file… It’s here: /Library/Application Support/Microsoft/PlayReady/mspr.hds
Go find it, throw it away and restart your browser. Wha-boom! You’re in business.
So what’s up with the geek? How come that Colby fellow is just plain lackluster in terms of content? Well, you can call it writer’s block, you can call it enjoying the summer months, or you can call it just plain busy elsewhere.
But the truth is, i’m a little stumped for relevant material. So this is a call to action. I am looking for some questions, direct or indirect, regarding topics that you think need covering in this column. I can of course go back and hit issues previously addressed and i suppose that’s exactly what i will do…
It’s summer, and it’s been a glorious summer here in Southern Vermont, but let’s not forget about lightning. Sure, it’s been a sunny summer and the gardens are lush and fruitful, but lightning storms crush computers and electronics in an instant. Uninterruptable power supplies are essential if your data is essential, and a quality surge protector will suffice for the rest of us. Let’s be smart and not just plug our expensive things directly in to the wall okay? Good.
Definitions. A while back I went about writing a couple of articles regarding the terminology of a handful of useful tech items so that perhaps we could all easily converse in a language that was mutually defined. No sense regurgitating that drudgery here, but rest assured there i an archive online. it’s at: http://www.vermontgeeks.com/blog
Shopping online. It’s huge. Well, for me it certainly is. I am a preaching locavore when it comes to food. And this year is a good year to be just that. Start simple, you probably have a neighbor within three miles that has chickens and fresh eggs. Make it happen, say hello. They’re probably cheaper and so much better for you than any factory farm produced junk that could have salmonella. Know Your Source! Then take it up another notch and get some milk. Did you know there are cows here? Milking cows? It’s true. Oh yeah, and you can get a CSA farm share from the Boyd farm that’s not only reasonable, but supports local farmers in the best way possible. Not to mention the fair number of roadside farmsteads with a plethora of fresh produce. Or just park your car somewhere near my house and leave it unlocked, there will be squash on your passenger seat when you return. So anyway, yeah, shopping online. I buy all kinds of things online. If you’re worried about internet security in that regard, you need to not be worried, as much as educated. Be sure that you are paying through a secure site and if a deal seems too good to be true, well, there it is…
Mac’s vs. PCs. Mac’s still win. But PC’s are cheaper. So go ahead, the economy stinks.
Home Theatre? Same as before. Things keep getting shinier and less expensive. HD content is becoming more and more prominent and it’s fantastic. Duncan Cable is working on a new HD distribution system with great promise and we’re eagerly awaiting it’s full rollout, we’ll keep you posted! 3D is still kind of a joke. Cool for gaming and animated movies, but the home experience is still in it’s infancy. We’ll see if this not new technology can somehow do what it has historically failed to do… Succeed.
SPAM, the delicious Hormel product, and ubiquitous junkmail that we all suffer from. I still say the best defense is to protect your email address and to have multiple email addresses for just that reason. One for family/friends, that you NEVER give to an outside company. One for online shopping, and another just for junk that you can use to ‘sign up’ for random bits of online information and otherwise ignore.
Word. Well, they’ve gone ahead and released Microsoft Office 2010, and early reviews are outstanding. It’s much snappier than 2007 and cleaned up a little, so if you didn’t bother with 2007, but upgraded your computer somewhere along the way, well, I say go for it. Especially if you’re running Windows 7.
I’m quite sure that everyone could use a reminder about the tragedy of data loss and the need for at least one backup if not two. Online backup solutions are convenient and inexpensive insurance. Having an external hard drive that backs up your data automatically is a no brainer with the cost per GB dropping daily. If you’re not backed up, you WILL lose your data eventually. So there’s fair warning.
Viruses morph and change constantly, but the basic tenets stay the same. we’re still a fan of Microsoft Security Essentials for free and while there are a number of fantastic paid solutions. ESET Nod32 has been consistently fantastic for a long time.
Recycling. Yes we still gripe about recycling. One good thing has occurred since that article. The WSWMD has gone forward with accepting pretty much all forms of recyclable plastic. I applaud their efforts greatly, especially as it is by no means a money maker to do so. As well, it’s gotten a bit less expensive to recycle your old computers and peripherals. Just bring them by your local transfer station and pay the fee, don’t dumpster them, that’s just bad karma.
So there’s a general recap of a number of topics we’ve covered in the past. Sure, I’m mailing it in with this article, but there’s some gems in there somewhere, I’m sure of it. If you have questions or would like a specific topic covered, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see about making everything better in your geek world.
Not that you are following my posts online for any reason, but I’ve had a chance to talk directly with some of the confab’ers after my remarks and voiced my displeasure. I even have one of their signs here at the geeks for a keepsake. I have no problem with their particular cause, or the people who perpetrated this whole mess. In fact, I think it’s a good cause and that they did a bang up job of creating a buzz. Impressive in a lot of ways. Let’s remove that from this entirely though. Let’s remove the individual people that we all know and respect, and let’s remove the ’cause’ from the equation. If instead of motherly locals advocating for the safety of their children, we had someone like me, a smartass musician/comedian who wanted to promote his scatalogical humor with a similar stunt. How would I be treated when it was found out who/what was behind it. Would I be given the same kid glove, slap on the wrist? What if it wasn’t me and my potty mouthed humor, but someone who was promoting gay sex education in our schools, or legalization of methamphetamine suppositories for children?
Politically I understand the desire to let this blow over, but personally, I’d be appalled to see it dismissed and then to crucify any future abusers. Rest assured if this goes unchecked I will be one of the first to take advantage of the hypocrisy, I have no taste for it. If you want to make a silk purse out of it, fine them appropriately and donate the money directly to an organization like ParentUP (http://parentupvt.org/). They are an organization doing good work directly in line with the confab’ers.
That’s my 4 cents.
So you want to be a geek huh? Being a geek isn’t something that just happens overnight there sparky, some are born with it, and others train for a lifetime, only to lapse into normalcy before the age of fifty. Being a geek means different things to different people, but it might best be explained simply as obsession. Pick a topic to be obsessed about. Maybe it’s Anne Frank, or Abe Vigoda, maybe it’s using COBOL to compile your music library database. Any topic will do really, so long as it isn’t something that’s inherently popular.
Once you have that topic chosen, it’s time to do the homework. Read everything you can on the subject and form definite opinions that may or may not be based on factual evidence. Stick to these opinions even after they are clearly disproven. Talk about your subject to anyone who will listen, and then continue to talk about it once they’ve turned away. Reinforce your own beliefs by restating them often and you’re well on your way.
It will also help you dramatically if you make this one very difficult choice. Star Trek or Star Wars? Sure you can easily just go with Star Wars if it’s 1985 and only three epic movies were made, but it’s 2010 and they hammered us with a second trilogy of mediocrity, forever tarnishing the name. And Star Trek? You’re going to go with the tribbles?!? Unconscionable. But a choice must be made, and it is a difficult one. Extra points if you go ‘Deep Space Nine’ only, or forsake them both for Battlestar Galactica and net double points. Take it a step further by having a well reasoned argument prepared for or against the Starship Enterprise vs. a fully functional Death Star.
Buy at least four small, unnecessary, but shiny electronic items. Extra points for being able to attach them all to your belt simultaneously. At least one of these devices should cost more than a weeks worth of your current salary, which is minimal, because you are a geek. Using these items should frustrate you to no end. Upgrading them is de rigueur, and talking about the next revision before it exists is perfectly acceptable.
Your clothing can’t be particularly stylish, at least not all at once. Sure, a nice pair of jeans is fine, but only if paired with a shirt that says ‘Don’t Panic’ on the front with the name Zarniwoop above the number 42 on the back. Shoes should be Chuck Taylor All Stars, unless you are a shoe geek, like me, which is probably one of the most appalling types of geeks around. It does improve the overall ‘look’ when I sport a well worn pair of Carhartt painter pants with some spiffy Cole Haan’s, no doubt about it.
As an electronics geek, you must be willing to spend hours, if not days, trying to make something work, without ever having the slightest desire to read a manual or call any manner of tech support. They clearly can’t help you. Any software installation ‘wizard’ will be wholly ignored. Extra points for authoring or modifying your own video or printer driver. +4 for calling tech support after three weeks of mucking about to tell them it’s ‘defective’.
Playing video games, it’s a given. Just like knowing which house you would belong to in Hogwarts. -10 for Hufflepuffs, no exceptions. Knowing the definitions of non-words like pwn, grok, and n00b. Dressing up as a paladin at Halloween is cool, dressing up as a dwarven warrior is really cool, seeing a girl dressed up as a night elf druid is epic. Being able to count in binary using your fingers and showing it off at cocktail parties. I can’t tell you how popular this will make you.
The downside of being a geek is that as your geekness increases, the amount of questions asked to you about any technical problem increases almost exponentially. At first it’s flattering, but after a while, it’s just madness, din, and vex. Using the word ‘vex’ as a noun is worth even more points, regardless of the impropriety. The best part about being a true geek is that it doesn’t matter what your answer is, so long as you offer it up with confidence, in truth you can take that broken thing and google up a fix as fast as anyone else out there. Being able to implement that found knowledge is where it’s at. Everyone has google, just like everyone had a set of Brittanica’s, or in my case the geekier World Book’s, but those who could actually use them to great advantage, well, they’re winning.
Yep, it’s a pretty good time to be a geek. Our time has truly come. Sure it’s painful as can be at the high school level, but the infinite rewards are out there, and most of us couldn’t un-geek ourselves if we tried. So I say to go for it, learn a programming language and annoy your teachers by constantly staying ahead of the curve with technology, because at some point, even the geekiest of us all, have to stop, stick with what we’re surrounded with and let go. Like an upside down kill screen in Ms. Pacman, all things must end. But I for one have plenty of time left to keep reaching for the next gadget, to see the Star Trek reboot and like it, and to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, or at least listen to the audiobooks. I’m a geek, it’s what we do.
So there’s already a bunch of people belly-aching about AT&T dropping their unlimited plan from iPhones. First thing to consider is that if you have an unlimited plan now and want to keep it, you can. So shut up. Okay, so now for the real numbers on this. The current $30/month plan is being replaced by two limited data plans. First is a $25/mo. plan that allows for 2 Gigabytes of data transfer. This is a LOT of data as far as a smartphone is concerned. AT&T claims that it will cover over 98% of it’s users easily with this. So there’s $60 in annual savings to 98% of users. The second plan is a much lower data amount. A paltry 200MB for $15 monthly. But let’s think about our data usage. In my particular case (an avid geek to boot), I am rarely using AT&T’s network for my data. Almost everywhere I go there is a WiFi hotspot that is open or mine. So I actually use very little data. I looked at the online reports for my account available here: https://www.att.com/view/analytics/process.do (You’ll need to be logged in for that link to be any good). So yeah, I looked at those reports and found that I have never in two years gone over 100MB, much less 200. So that’s $180 off my annual bill. AT&T claims that this plan will cover about 65% of their users. Do yourself a favor and go check out your data usage on the AT&T site or use the AT&T app for the iPhone to check your regular consumption. You may be surprised to see that you use far less than you though and that the new plans are in fact beneficial to the strong majority of users. That other two percent need to think about their usage a bit. Seriously? 2 gigs on a 3G speed network that drops out here and there? How aggravating. Go find a Starbucks or a McDonalds and finish off that download tout de suite.
So my iPhone screen went blank today. Scared the crap out of me. I thought it was a goner, even though it had received no ill treatment. It still seemed active, even vibrated with an incoming call, but there was no way to answer it with no screen activity. I plugged it into my computer and started up iTunes and it still saw the phone. That made me feel better immediately. I ran a backup, just because. Then I pulled it from the computer and did what any tried and true geek would do. I reset the phone. How to do that?
1. press the sleep/wake button and the home button simultaneously for about ten seconds.
2. watch as the screen lights up with a glorious apple logo
3. rejoice when it starts back up and works perfectly.
So no need to fear. It’s not broken, at least mine wasn’t. Hope this helps someone out there who’s heart is fluttering with fear…
Someone keeps talking about a recession, but I never had a whole lot of money so it all looks pretty similar to me. But what is a geek to do? They keep parading out new shiny things with lights and buttons that tempt and draw us in. Like that ridiculous iPad thingy. I have no need for it, it’s little more than an enlarged iPod Touch, yet of course I am captivated, longing to make it mine. But I can’t justify a material purchase in this rocky fiscal environment, no sir. And frankly, I’ll wait until they start blowing them out at $300 and add a usb port. But still, what is a geek to do? How can we maximize our tech budget, or better yet, how can we save money? Today we’ll focus on a few key tips to provide just that.
Here’s the first one, and it may be too late. The holiday buying season and the Superbowl came and went, and maybe, just maybe, you made it through without buying a new flat screen. Maybe you didn’t make it, but if you resisted, good for you. The prices that magically appeared just after ‘Black Friday’ (Monday for us internet shoppers), have stayed and perhaps dropped further. And they will continue to do so. My advice is to hold out as long as you can. If you’re looking at a specific model of television, wait for at least a 25% price drop off from it’s original retail price. And don’t get too caught up in the 1080p, 120Hz, higher numbers are better idiocy. It’s a lot of fluff. They are better, but the amount they are better aren’t generally justified by the price. For the human eye at 20/20 to actually perceive a difference between 720p to 1080p, you’d have to be sitting closer than 5′ from a 42″ screen. My mother told me not too sit that close to the television. You can now get a very good name brand 42″ 720p LCD or plasma for less than $500. That’s just awesome. Somebody paid $1000 for that same shiny box less than a year ago. Sit ten feet away and enjoy.
Want a new computer? Well, it might be time. It’s a fine time to get one, they are cheaper than ever. A decent Dell laptop is sub-$500 now. We are nearing the end of a technology cycle in terms of computer processors and hard drive design, so those components in addition to all major companies decoupling warranty coverage from your purchase has made them all the more affordable. By decoupling warranty coverage, I’m talking about the fact that when you call the 800 number you talk to someone with less than spectacular english. You used to pay more for your computers so that they could provide you with decent service after the sale. Apparently, this quality, as with so many other things, is the first to go to make sure that we can have it cheaper. Sad. I have a Mac, not that it’s ever needed service, but I promise you’ll be talking to someone stateside when you call. If for some reason you bought a computer within the last couple of years, you may be best served by upgrading the RAM and perhaps the hard drive to maximize performance for short money. Why buy new if you can upgrade your current machine and improve productivity for $150 or less?
Leakage. Where is the leakage? Sometimes it’s as easy as taking a closer look at your monthly credit card statement. Hosting a website? You’re almost definitely paying too much. I happen to know of a local company that will certainly save you money on that. Paying for your antivirus program? Sure it’s not much, but it’s really no better than the free versions available in Microsoft Security Essentials and AVG. If you don’t watch a lot of current release television shows, drop the satellite/cable bill and start streaming them online. Hulu.com streams even the biggest new release television shows the day after their on air premiere, and it’s free. Have a Netflix account? Drop it to one disc at a time and check out their stream on demand service. The selection is limited, but it’s pretty cool. If you have a XBox 360 with a Live account, you can stream Netflix through that direct to your television. Or pick up a nifty little wireless box from Roku to make it happen. Or maybe that new TV you just bought has it built in. For real, they make that. Telephone bills driving you to the poor house? An internet phone is a no brainer, especially if you are making any international calls. Vonage is solid, but we recently switched over to Ooma for even our business lines. Great service and all but free after your initial hardware investment. There are even more high tech ways to sweeten the phone deal utilizing Google Voice and other services, but they get pretty in depth and going into it here would bore even me.
Perhaps the best way for a geek to survive the downturn is to stay vigilant. I strongly believe that taking a bit of that new found idle time to educate yourself to new technologies is time well spent. Just brushing up on more recent versions of software that you already use regularly can make you all the more productive and effective in your current position. This is no time to sit idly by. The job market is rough as can be and your skills may need to be much sharper if you find yourself suddenly without work. Take some of this time to push yourself forward and to break through some of the walls that have crept up around you while you were otherwise occupied. Invest in yourself, clean up your own web presence, whether it’s an out of date website, a long lost myspace account (at least go to facebook), or just checking your search engine rankings, there’s no doubt that some part of you or you business has been neglected and can use a facelift. What kind of impression are you giving online right now? Take a look at what’s out there and be honest with yourself, it can always be better.
So that’s just a handful of things, and maybe you’re doing just fine and none of this applies to you. In that case, feel free and give me a call, I’ve got some business ideas for you. But if any of these makes you think even just a little bit about ways to improve your inner geek, well that’s good. I say go for it, and I’ll be happy to help. I will also accept an iPad as payment.
I was a Vonage customer for years. First with a residential line, then another personal/business line, and then most recently my primary business phone was a Vonage line. Vonage is fine, I’m not going to complain about quality, it’s as good as our internet connection, which isn’t amazing, so there’s that. I switched my business line over to Ooma. I liked the feature set, the mailboxes and the pricing. It works/sounds great. No complaints there other than the lack of voicemail transcription. Both Google Voice and Vonage have that, it rules.
So Ooma’s cool, it’s working fine, I’m happy, but if you’re a current Vonage customer and you call our work line, you get a message saying the the line is out of service and can not be connected. This is because Vonage still has routing in place for my number that assumes it to be ‘within network’ if you will. But now that the number resides elsewhere in the ephemera, I am not at all ‘in network’. There are numerous posts about this phenomenon online, and there are some people saying that Vonage isn’t trying to be malicious, it’s just the system, blah blah. That’s bullshit. A five minute phone call to Vonage Technical Support is all it takes to ask them to fully release your number. It’s a simple task, and it should be automatic whenever anyone cancels their account. The fact that it is not automatic is what makes it malicious. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for them not to release the number completely and the only thing it causes is inconvenience.
Furthermore, most people do not realize that this is going on. We’ve gone for at least three months before it became strikingly obvious that Vonage customers were unable to contact us properly. How much business did we lose? Probably enough to negate the savings that I assumed in using a VoIP phone line.
So there’s a quick rant, hoping that someone else may stumble across this and it will help them to avoid the same negative affect. If you cancel your Vonage, make a point of telling them to release your number completely, and then go and confirm that it has been done by having a friend or foe with Vonage call your line to check it.
Perhaps heard most often on the phone is the phrase ‘I’m not really computer literate’. At least I hear it a heck of a lot, and my response that I usually keep to myself is ‘Well, why not?’. The time for that to be an acceptable position is long past. Personal computers have been part of our landscape for over three decades and they have only become increasingly intuitive. The amount of free help out there is daunting, and while you get what you pay for, google and wikipedia have put the old door to door Brittanica fellow out of a job. There still exists among a large portion of our population a reticence to accept computers on both an intellectual and visceral level, and frankly, it’s just unacceptable. ‘Be wired or be gone’ is another phrase bandied about and it rings true for a great number of reasons and at all levels of human existence. This is not a fad, this is not a demo, the burn in period is over, computers are an everyday, every hour part of life.
Now some may scoff, wince, and turn the page at this, mumbling something about never owning a cell phone, or maybe that the set of World Book’s from 1986 is all they need to reference any question they have about the platypus. And I will not deny them their say as I had that very set of encyclopedias and felt smarter for having them, in 1986. I also got my first Apple IIe computer at roughly the same time, and by no means do I take for granted the printed pages and their part in my education. I was fortunate though, to have that computer at such an age and to have Mrs. Millett, my third grade teacher as a early adopter and advocate for computers in the classroom and beyond. My generation was the first to receive hands on use of computers at an early age in the public school system. This is why we have little or no fear in computing today, and it’s also why your grandchildren can show you how to navigate the menus with ease on your flat screen television, tivo, iPod, GPS, blackberry, you name it. I was setting the clocks on the worlds VCRs when I was a boy, but today kids that age are writing simple programs that can control the appliances in your home.
If you have moved past the first stage of technology acceptance, the second level is the ‘user by rote’. This type despises any and all changes to a computer, program, or system, but can work efficiently for a near eternity, so long as the order of actions remains the same. I still have many customers that fall into this category, and they are invaluable members of our workforce. They just want a list to follow, and they prefer it stay ‘just so’. A computer upgrade is not an upgrade to them, it is a hinderance, and at times a return to zero. These users would just as soon stick with an outdated, virus-ridden operating system than upgrade to newer, faster, more secure lifestyle. To them Windows 98 was the zenith of computer development and any changes since have caused more trouble than not. Many of them have a poster of a kitten perilously clinging to a branch with the phrase ‘hang in there’, posted near by. Another tell tail sign of this user is the number of times they click the button on the mouse. A double click for everything? This person has not adapted to change well at all.
Moving past this stage we have our most feared user. He who knows just enough to be dangerous. Clearly this individual wants to accept and use technology. It is likely that, some well meaning IT professional or youth has shown them enough keyboard shortcuts and tricks that he feels empowered. Empowered enough to buy into the newest technology, an iPhone perhaps, only to have it seemingly blow up in his face when those keystrokes don’t apply similarly. They usually power through however, and the best advancement for this group can be found when they are not afraid to ask questions, or seek out help. Help menus and google are invaluable to them. These are the folks who got burned by the Lord Voldemort of operating systems, Vista. The early adopters of that system can barely say it’s name without vitriol, if at all, and deservedly so. They are also the rather vocal majority that has everyone repeating the scorn in mockingbird fashion. Vista has gotten much better, but they’ll never know it, it’s on to 7! And good riddance I say. 7 is a cleaned up, streamlined Vista 2. Believe the hype, as much as you believed in the maligning of Vista, 7 is solid.
And then there’s fools like me. I want the latest, bleeding edge, beta version of everything. I don’t care if it wipes out my entire computer, I can fix that. I’m the one who was using an internet phone service more than five years ago. It sucked. I still have it, although under a different moniker, and now it’s great. I still have my first iPod, the first generation one that’s as big as a deck of cards. They can fit as much music onto a player the size of a thumbtack now. I have a Mac computer museum graveyard that I should really do away with. It begins to remind me of how much those things cost and how quickly they depreciate. And yes, I always upgrade to the latest operating system, and it’s good for you that I do. That way, when you call and ask me if you should upgrade, i can give you a hands-on response which typically is, ‘not yet’. We are societies beta testers, and we get taken advantage of by the big companies for our inability to resist their shiny claims, but it also puts us in the position to resolutely pan an emerging technology that doesn’t live up to it’s advertising ballyhoo.
So I need you, and you, like it or not, need me. I’ll be vetting these new trinkets eternally, and on the far end, you will accept these pieces as useful, but only after they’ve become so ubiquitous and inexpensive that it’s a near impossibility to functionally exist without it, and that’s just fine. By that time, I will invariably be on to the next, and I can’t wait.