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January 31, 2006

Microsoft bugs laptops with battery parasite

Good old Microsoft. It's been aware of a bug in its Advanced Configuration and Power Interface driver for Windows SP-2, but has done nothing about it. Now, according to Tom's Hardware, the bug has emerged as a major problem for Intel's new Core Duo mobile chips.

If you attach a USB 2.0 device, you can expect to lose more than an hour of total battery life, reducing the Core Duo's much-vaunted power conservation capabilities to the extent that batteries last only 15 minutes or so longer than its Sonoma predecessor.

Posted by cw at 06:21 PM

Gadgets: and your nominees are?

We're trying to put together a list of new, desirable gadgets for a column we write for the monthly magazine of Chartered Public Accountants, and we're having a bit of trouble. Perhaps we're still in holiday mode, but we haven't seen that much around to tempt us.

There's nothing much new on the PDA or mobile phone front, and ditto for cameras. We can't recommend those new Intel iMacs yet, although the FM tuner/remote for the iPod looks interesting.

Blue Ant Wireless will shortly be releasing a rechargeable stereo speaker/hands-free for PCs and mobile phones which looks impressive, and we can't resist the rechargeable USB shaver that Anyware's distributing.

Anything new caught your fancy?

Posted by cw at 06:06 PM | Comments (6)

January 30, 2006

Attacking the core of Music Inc.?

Hmm. We got a bit confused this morning about which particular Movable Type platform we were using, and consequently posted this here, rather than on the Sydney Morning Herald site. Took us quite a while to work out where it went to. Nevertheless, we'll leave it here. You might be interested ....


The most cursory glance through Razor's online music topic reveals that we are possibly not the music industry's biggest fan. Could it be, perhaps, that our tolerance for greed, lies, more lies, exploitation, cynical lobbying of government and contempt for the public is possibly lower than the average citizen's?

Unfortunately, the Internet has not yet fulfilled the dreams of the long-suffering music consumer by producing an alternative model for music marketing. We don't expect that TuneCore will be the radical solution we're looking for, but it's a nice start, and we regard it as our sacred duty to tell you about it.

The FAQ sets out all the details, but basically it allows musicians without a label to post their work to iTunes [including iTunes Australia] and Rhapsody [other arrangements are being finalised], without signing over their rights and the lion's share of profits.

TuneCore charges a small fee - US$.99 per song per service, and a US$7.98 annual "maintenance and storage fee" for each album, EP or single posted.

The founders have quite a bit of background in the industry, so who knows, it could represent the first chink in the armour of the traditional gatekeepers.

Posted by cw at 10:01 AM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2006

Search research resurgence

Impressed by the "Internet singularity" [whatever that is], Microsoft has announced a research initiative called LiveLabs, which will provide more money for umm, search research.

There are some very lofty goals attached to this initiative, designed to create a "positive virtuous circle".

"The Internet operates in a manner fundamentally unlike anything that has ever preceded it. In particular, it promotes “democratization” of information, tools, and resources that combine to empower more people with increasing capabilities. As democratization progresses in multiple domains (e.g., content, commerce, community, code) the aggregate impact of the many small participants (i.e., individuals and small companies) can eventually surpass the impact of the larger participants (i.e., companies), changing the manner in which online entities cooperate, compete, and form a richer digital ecosystem." This, we remind you, is from Microsoft. The company that gave us "embrace, extend, extinguish". Some singularity. OK. We're cynical. It's our job.

Posted by cw at 04:20 PM

The top 10 Firefox extensions

At last count, there were 970 Firefox extensions - those little add-ons that add convenience and power to our favourite browser. Here's one view of the 10 absolute must-haves. Tried them all? What's your view? And do you have an alternative list?

And while we're at it, has anyone tried Performancing for Firefox 1.1? It's a blog editor that fits right into the browser, with a split-screen view of what you're working on. We're having a play, and so far we're impressed.

Posted by cw at 03:54 PM | Comments (3)

True confessions from Microsoft

This is probably evidence of the post-Robert Scoble Microsoft [we've been harsh on the boy, at times, but he's energetic, if not insanely driven, and influential]: Mike Nash, one of the company's security satraps agreed to a full and frank discussion from the lion's den of Slashdot.

Among his admissions: "Microsoft is a company that is very focused on technology, very focused on business, and very focused on the competition. Getting groups to put security high in their list of priorities was a super hard thing to change at Microsoft. Four years ago, I used to have to have frequent conversations with teams who would tell me that they couldn't go through the security review process because they had competitive pressures or had made a commitment to partners to ship at a certain time."

And: "What the events of the last 5-10 years have taught us (or at least taught me) is that the more you have turned on, the more attack surface area the system has and therefore the more vulnerable it is. If you assume near perfect quality or that there is no one out there trying to attack you, it might even be an ok decision. But since you can't, we need to be more selective about what things we turn on by default."

Now, he says, "Today, generally, people get it. It's now clear to us that security is a competitive and business priority. While I still see escalations from people who want exceptions, the numbers are pretty low. A big change from four years ago is that when I say no, I get great support from above me in the organization."

Right or wrong, he's a brave man. And at least the company now sees a buck or two in stronger security.

Posted by cw at 12:18 PM

January 26, 2006

Fixing the time zone for Mac OS X

As we said [below] there's a fix for the Windows XP/2000 time zone problem in the forum.

But what about Mac users? Apple hasn't yet addressed the issue, but we asked Christopher Hunt, from Class Action - an expert on time zone issues - what Mac owners could do.

Here's his solution:

BACKGROUND
Firstly Mac OS X, being based on FreeBSD, uses the zoneinfo database
approach found on many Unix derivatives. This database structure
permits a highly sophisticated expression of time zone data,
particularly with regards to daylight savings time (DST) information.
Not only can one specify DST boundary information, but one can
specify it for a specific year or range of years. The resultant
zoneinfo database contains DST characteristics for past history and
future known changes. For more information on zoneinfo please visit:
http://www.twinsun.com/tz/tz-link.htm

FTP SERVER
The above link also provides a link to an ftp server that hosts the
latest collection of time zone data. Here's the link: ftp://
elsie.nci.nih.gov/pub/ This database has been formed as a result of a
mailing list that effects time zone changes as they occur. It is not
authoritative, but it is as best as we've got to be authoritative. I
suspect that the original Mac OS X zoneinfo database results from
this location (Apple may now maintain their own version though).

STEPS TO UPGRADE MAC OS X FOR COMMONWEALTH GAMES
1. Login to Mac OS X as an administrator style of user. Open your
terminal window.
2. Type "curl ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/pub/tzdata2005r.tar.gz >
tzdata2005r.tar.gz" (just the stuff between the quotes). This will
create a file named tzdata2005r.tar.gz in your ~ (home) directory.
3. Create a directory for our zoneinfo files. Type "mkdir zoneinfo".
4. Move to that directory. Type "cd zoneinfo".
5. Type "gzip -dc ../tzdata2005r.tar.gz | tar -xf -". This will unzip
and expand the above archive file into a set of files in our zoneinfo
directory.
6. Now the fun command - this command will make the time zone changes
for Australasia as a whole. Type "sudo zic australasia". You'll need
to type in your current user's password.
7. To validate that the change has been effected, type "zdump -v -c
2007 australia/sydney|grep 2006". You'll notice that the first two
lines now state April which is correct given our Commonwealth Games.

As further proof that the Unix approach to time zone handling is
quite sophisticated type "zdump -v -c 2008 australia/sydney | grep
2007". You'll see that next year, we're back to March.

That's it!

UPDATE: WARNING from Christopher: A number of people have reported a problem
in iCal as a result of applying the following update. The problem
manifests itself as April appearing with the name "March". I have now
logged a bug report with Apple although it should be noted that I am
unable to reproduce the problem on my own machine.

Additionally, prior to performing the update, the directory at "/usr/
share/zoneinfo/Australia/" should be copied to another location so
that time zone data can be restored if necessary.

Posted by cw at 09:32 PM | Comments (9)

Answering the iPod's forbidden question

Here is the question you apparently mustn’t ask, if you’re an iPod owner: “How do I transfer the songs on my iPod to a PC or a Mac?”
We can’t find this prohibition in the End User Licence Agreement, but it must be there somewhere, because two of our friends – one a Windows iPod owner, the other a Mac-based user, recently asked precisely that question in Apple dealerships in Sydney and Melbourne, and were treated like master criminals.
“You can’t do it,” they were told, with noticeable firmness. “It isn’t possible.” That, at any rate, is an approximate version of the response.
The only reason we can think of for this vehement, and unfortunately completely wrong advice, is that in the world of Apple, there’s a pervasive view that people who ask that question are intent on music piracy.
Here at the Bleeding Edge Centre for the Examination of Intentions, we’re totally convinced, however, that most of them have far more honourable motives. They simply want to know how to recover their music collection – possibly representing an investment of thousands of dollars, and vast amount of time – in the event, or the actuality, of a catastrophic failure of their computer hard drive. Alternatively, they might want to back up their music collection to a different computer. They ought to be made aware of the fact that it’s quite easy to do so.

While we don’t have a high opinion of the technical knowledge of the average computer salesman, anyone working in an Apple Centre should surely be aware of the fact that the iPod is in fact a miniature hard drive, and it contains a complete copy of the entire iTunes music library.
It’s all there, in a file called iTunesDB. Unfortunately, both the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes won’t show you that file. In a somewhat rudimentary approach to rights management, the developers made it invisible to the operating system. In our view, it’s a wise approach, given the certainty that some young hacker would break any protection they could put together.
And it’s very handy for users. All you have to do is make the file visible.
You can do that on the Mac with a very handy free program called TinkerTool, which gives you access to additional preferences in Mac OS X. The one you’d use in this case, is an option to show hidden and system files.
It’s a little easier with Windows. In the Windows Explorer Tools menu, choose Folder Options/View/Show Hidden Files and Folders, and click on Apply.
In both cases, it’s then a simple matter of clicking on the iPod icon and finding the Music folder (in the iPod-Control folder) and dragging it across to your computer desktop.
That’s the inelegant way. It’s far better, in our view, to download one of a small flotilla of programs for both Windows and Mac OS X that have been specifically designed for the task, and use that. Quite how these clever people have kept all those Apple Centre salesmen in the dark, we’ll never know.
Before you use any of these programs, you need to remember two things. First, make sure the "Enable disk use" option is checked in iTunes’ iPod Preferences. And – this is critical - when you insert an unknown iPod into your computer (you will have lost your original iTunes settings, remember) iTunes will ask you if you want it to associate that particular iPod with that computer. Choosing to do so will obliterate all the music on the iPod. The correct answer is “ABSOLUTELY NOT”.
We found PodUtil was simple to use on both platforms, and surprisingly fast. There’s a help file here. If you pay 10 pounds to register it, you get access to advanced features, which allow you to create templates for directory structures and file formats. It also frees you from an irritating nag screen which pops up after every 10 tracks.
Before you do any copying you might also explore the programs Copy Settings menu, which you can use to have PodUtil create separate subdirectories for each artist and album in your collection, and to turn on the iTunes features that will add the copied songs to your library, and recreate your iTunes playlists.
If you don’t want to pay, there’s a free program for the Mac, called Senuti, which is almost as powerful, and equally simple to use.
An alternative in the Windows world is CopyPod (copypod.net), where you’ll also find a version that backs up images on an iPod Photo.
But whatever you choose, don’t tell anyone who sells iPods. It will only frighten them.

Posted by cw at 02:22 PM | Comments (2)

A week of missed appointments?

Over on Razor, we're speculating on a national week of missed appointments, due to likely confusion over a patch (and an un-patch) to force Windows and Outlook to observe the daylight saving changes made for the Commonwealth Games.

We've yet to discover whether Apple has adjusted Mac OS X to handle the changes.

As one commenter points out, it's not as if this is the first time we've had these changes. But still Microsoft hasn't addressed the issue. And apparently they've continued to ignore it in Vista.

Paul's kindly posted manual patches in the Forum.

Posted by cw at 12:33 PM | Comments (1)

True confessions from Microsoft

This is probably evidence of the post-Robert Scoble Microsoft [we've been harsh on the boy, at times, but he's energetic, if not insanely driven, and influential]: Mike Nash, one of the company's security satraps agreed to a full and frank discussion from the lion's den of Slashdot.

Among his admissions: "Microsoft is a company that is very focused on technology, very focused on business, and very focused on the competition. Getting groups to put security high in their list of priorities was a super hard thing to change at Microsoft. Four years ago, I used to have to have frequent conversations with teams who would tell me that they couldn't go through the security review process because they had competitive pressures or had made a commitment to partners to ship at a certain time."

And: "What the events of the last 5-10 years have taught us (or at least taught me) is that the more you have turned on, the more attack surface area the system has and therefore the more vulnerable it is. If you assume near perfect quality or that there is no one out there trying to attack you, it might even be an ok decision. But since you can't, we need to be more selective about what things we turn on by default."

Now, he says, "Today, generally, people get it. It's now clear to us that security is a competitive and business priority. While I still see escalations from people who want exceptions, the numbers are pretty low. A big change from four years ago is that when I say no, I get great support from above me in the organization."

Right or wrong, he's a brave man. And at least the company now sees a buck or two in stronger security.

Posted by cw at 12:11 PM

January 25, 2006

Another one bites the dust

First Margo Kingston runs up the white flag, having paid WAA-aay too much for too little. As a result of which she's even more penniless. Now another bold experiment in citizen journalism has failed, with Dan Gillmor announcing he's calling it a day at Bayosphere.

It was quite a learning experience for Dan, who gave up one of the cushiest jobs in journalism for the venture: "A more personal lesson also emerged: As an entrepreneur, let's just say I wasn't in my element. The relentless focus on a single, limited project for long periods of time, combined with the inevitable compromises inherent in for-profit decision-making, turned out not to be my best skills. For almost 25 years I'd thrived on the constant deadlines and competition of journalism. So I assumed I'd easily handle the pressures of trying to create a business from scratch while also keeping my reporting and writing skills intact and helping other people join in. In reality, I was unprepared for what proved to be an entirely different kind of pressure, and didn't handle it nearly as well as I'd expected. I allowed myself to get distracted, moreover, by matters that were not directly relevant to the project."

Rings a bit of a bell here at Bleeding Edge. Journalists who like writing tend to put off doing important stuff. We've still got to get around to that re-design. We've GOT to get some ad revenue going. [Maybe we should write an article teaching blog readers how and why to read the Google ads, and click on the ones they find interesting.] We MUST do something about patrons. In the meantime, we'd better get that column written.

Posted by cw at 12:46 PM | Comments (2)

Warning: iTunes rots your taste buds

Traffic to iTunes Music Stores grew 240 per cent in 2005, but once the news gets out, you can expect the sales of iPods etc will plummet. It turns out that a survey of iTunes types by
Nielsen NetRatings revealed an astonishing degree of boring predictability.

"The research revealed that teenagers aged between 12 and 17 years old made up a disproportionately large group of iTunes users. They were more than twice as likely to visit the music store than any other population group. Nielsen also found a slight male bias in the iTunes audience as 54% of users were male.

Here's where we start to develop an interest in, say, the iRiver: iTunes users were 2.2 times more likely to own a Volkswagen than the average internet user. Audi and Subaru were also popular with regular users of the Apple store. The most popular alcohol drink was CIDER! Ffollowed by imported beers. A wee dram of Ardbeg, for instance, would no doubt kill them.

Posted by cw at 12:26 PM

The life expectancy of CD-R, Part II

In the last exciting episode, we linked to an expert who claimed the maximumm life of a CD-R disc was five years. Not so, say several Bleeding Edge readers whose discs seem perfectly stable after up to nine years. Our last commenter reported he's perfectly happy to accept Kodak's guarantee of 100 years. (Ironic, given that at the current rate of the company's deterioration, Kodak itself won't last that long.)

This publication on the life of burnable media from the US Council on Library and Information Resources and National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests that there's too little research to be entirely accurate. The most rigorous seems to point to about 30 years for good media, stored at optimal conditions - if stored at 25°C and 50% relative humidity. Unless yours are in a controlled-humidity cool room, you can probably expect less that that.

Out in the field - at least the particular field that Bleeding Edge patrols - reports vary from a matter of weeks, to nine years and counting.

Posted by cw at 08:57 AM | Comments (3)

January 24, 2006

Keeping them amused

Maybe it's not too high a price to pay, if turning 20-year-olds onto graffiti discourages them from running zombie networks. On the other hand, we could always introduce the death penalty.

Posted by cw at 10:35 AM

iPod battery secrets

How to determine what your iPod's battery life should be, what it actually is, and what to do about it.

Posted by cw at 10:30 AM

Nailing the podcast

"If the advent of podcasting has proven anything, it is this: computer memory is not the precious resource it once was." In a witty and revealing examination of the world of the podcast, two years after the term was first used in The Guardian, Tim Dowling does little to enhance the reputation of Adam Curry:

Curry is famous for two things: his influential role in the development of the podcast, and his judicious editing of the Wikipedia entry on podcasting, allegedly in an effort to enhance his role in the development of the podcast. But his own podcast, The Daily Source Code, remains one of the most widely followed and it is not for nothing that he is sometimes called the Podfather. On the day I subscribed to The Daily Source Code, Curry played some podsafe music, talked about his new Blackberry - "It's the one with the new screen, it's got a faster processor" - and introduced a report on the "mysterious Apple PowerBook audio echo issue". (This was also the day I unsubscribed.)

Dowling makes some necessary distinctions: "If it's difficult for the newcomer to understand the difference between a podcast and an ordinary radio programme, this may be because the bulk of the top 25 podcasts available through the iTunes music store on a given day are ordinary radio programmes ... But we have always been able to record the radio and listen to it later; it just never proved compelling enough to bother. What is it about this new technology that makes listening to yesterday's Today programme tomorrow such a tantalising possibility?"

The answers are worth reading. And the link to the President's weekly radio broadcasts. Priceless!

Posted by cw at 08:14 AM | Comments (2)

January 23, 2006

Un-levelling the Internet playing field?

The principle of "network neutrality", on which the Internet has been built, looks like being endangered by the discovery of US telcos that they might make an awful lot of money by playing favourites - and giving online sites that are prepared to pay, priority over their competitors.

That might mean that you'd have to wait a lot longer to access a service that didn't cough up ... with presumably dramatic effects on the unfortunate tortoises.

"The telecommunications companies' proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information - and your personal experience --on the Internet," reports the Washington Post, pointing out that public interest groups, including the Consumer Federation and Consumers Union, have been lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to write the concept called "network neutrality" into law and regulation.

You can see how the prospect of fees for speed might appeal to Telstra. We wonder whether anyone here has been talking to our Communications Minister, Coonan the Barbarian, about enshrining the principle of network neutrality in law.

Posted by cw at 02:59 PM | Comments (3)

January 20, 2006

Some del.icio.us ideas

Bleeding Edge has become increasingly fascinated by the del.icio.us social bookmarking phenomenon, and its potential as an aid to information gathering

Take a look, for instance, at the way the teenage entrepreneur Ben Casnocha uses it on his blog. We've found a lot of stuff we're interested in, simply by clicking on the topics.

Is it possible that there might be a commercial market for these individual collections of bookmarks?

Posted by cw at 01:03 PM | Comments (4)

January 19, 2006

Next, the USB scalpel

We do like to see versatility being built into gadgets, but until we read this, we had no idea of therapeutic use of a water pistol. Puts an entirely new slant on the term "earshot".

Posted by cw at 04:54 PM

Oracle users in dee-eep deep water

Microsoft might be irritatingly slow to patch its vulnerabilities, but it could be worse. You could be using Oracle. Would you believe more than 80 patches per quarter, some of them for problems reported more than two years ago. And a massive backlog of issues still not addressed. Obviously, they've got to keep Larry Ellison off that damned yacht!

Posted by cw at 04:46 PM | Comments (2)

Are you dropping your guard?

Microsoft's OneCare team has highlighted an interesting phenomenon: the way - and the reasons - some Windows users disable their firewalls, exposing themselves to intruders.

It's worth reading the comment stream. And perhaps trying out the service. At least while it's still free.

Posted by cw at 01:11 PM

Learning to love your PC

For some of us, it seems, this year of technology begins much as 2005 ended – not with a sense of being empowered by the great advances in computers and communications, but with a profound feeling of helplessness and resentment.

For these people, computers are an imposition … a trial, if not an outright threat. Their daily experience is an unbroken sequence of small defeats, with occasional catastrophes. They’re overwhelmed by their Inboxes, fearful of the constant threat of viruses, dreading paralysed by ignorance and timidity.

The endless cycle of updates and enhancements of hardware and software and faster communications – the “speeds and feeds” that most of us see as progress – for them only exacerbates their sense of being caught in a rip, and rapidly being swept into ever deepening waters.

Some seem to portray a false sense of bravado, hoping perhaps to conceal their inadequacy. We were reminded of this by an article by a journalist, Kieren McCarthy, in The Guardian, which compared computers to “your fat friend at school, lagging behind, slowing you up”.

Declaring himself better at multi-tasking than his PC, McCarthy posed the rhetorical question: "If computers are so fantastic, so amazingly smart and clever, how come I'm so much faster at doing things.

“Even if you give your computer extra RAM, perhaps even splash out on a new, faster hard drive, the same thing eventually happens. Sure, it's delightful for a few weeks. But that's just because of the difference. Before you know it, it is back to its old ways, stuffing its face with data and painfully keeping up the rear."

It seemed to us that it was much more likely that the PC wasn't to blame, and the problems that McCarthy attributed to his computer were self-inflicted. The average personal computer is more adept at multi-tasking than any human, and capable of dispensing with simple jobs like email in a flash.

If your PC is slow, it's more likely to be caused by malware and sloppy housekeeping - the responsibility of the operator – rather than an inherent failing of the technology.

And how often do you find that people who resent technology end up sabotaging themselves through sheer neglect?

It's the ideal time, of course, to examine one's conscience and determine whether we might be suffering from a touch of Kieren McCarthy-ism. Might we, perhaps, adopt safer and more efficient computing practices that will protect us from hackers and data loss, and make our time at the keyboard much more efficient and less stressful?

Might we also, perhaps, swim out of that threatening current, and take charge of our technology? For yet another year, then, Bleeding Edge commits itself to trying to help.

What to do, for instance, if your computer feels slow? You could of course, do a clean install of Windows, or even toss out the PC and buy another, which seems to be a growing phenomenon in the US. Both responses are equally drastic, in our view.

The first thing to do is to check your system for malware – remote-access Trojans, viruses or spyware that might have found their way into your PC, particularly if you haven’t kept your operating system, Web browser and anti-virus program and definitions up to date, or failed to install anti-spyware programs. Or perhaps you’ve neglected to use a firewall, or been accepting pop-up invitations to buy software, or clicking on unknown email attachments. Your first New Year’s resolution should be to correct those dangerous habits.

You can learn how to keep Microsoft software up to date here.

In relation to anti-virus packages, we were less than impressed by Google’s recent bundling of Norton anti-virus in its software pack. They’d have been far better to include a free anti-virus package like the open source ClamWin, or AVG.

You should install and maintain a couple of anti-spyware programs as a matter of course. Microsoft’s free beta anti-spyware should be one of them. Also on that site, you’ll find some information on avoiding remote-access Trojans.

We also recommend Spybot Search & Destroy (safer-networking.org), and perhaps Ad-Aware SE (lavasoft.com). Keep them up to date.

If you find your browser home page has been re-directed, you should run the free browser hijack tool cwshredder.

Even if you use a hardware firewall built in to your broadband modem (recommended), you should still run a software firewall – but not the Windows XP free firewall. Our pick is the free version of ZoneAlarm at tinyurl.com/8cbas

If Windows is slow to boot up, you should look for programs that might have been placed in your Startup folder without your knowledge. You can learn how to fix that at tinyurl.com/uatw

Another potential cause of instability in Windows XP can be overcome by running the Windows System File checker. From the Run menu, type in sfc /scannow.

Windows XP can also be accelerated by a number of tweaks. We’ve always liked O’Reilly Publisher’s Windows Annoyances, and we’ve just found a free chapter from the latest in that series on optimising Windows.

Take all those steps, and you might find that 2006 becomes the year in which you learned to love technology.

Posted by cw at 12:25 PM | Comments (1)

January 18, 2006

A new Web life cycle: enterprise, envy, extortion?

It was a million-dollar idea. British student Alex Tew had the great idea of selling pixels on his Web site, and hit the headlines when it made him a million dollars in four months. Someone was watching, however, and on January 7, Tew received an extortion e-mail threatening to bombard the site with data unless he paid a ransom of $5,000 (£2,800).

Such threats are all too common these days, but generally they're directed at company sites. Tew ignored it, and sure enough, five days later, when the deadline expired, the extortionist - believed to be a Russian - brought the site down. It has been up only intermittently since then. In the meantime, a series of other e-mails, upping the ransom to $50,000 (£28,000), followed.

Tew told the BBC: "I haven't replied to any of them as I don't want to give them the satisfaction and I certainly don't intend to pay them any money."

It's sad, isn't it, how the Internet reflects all that's base in human nature? As well as the sunnier aspects. Have we had a murder by e-mail yet? If not, it can only be a matter of time.

Posted by cw at 06:56 PM | Comments (1)

January 17, 2006

Global warming: it's all too late, says Lovelock

Those poor editors at The Independent are in for a proper bollocking from Andrew Bolt, world-renowed climate expert and pseudo-journalist, what with publishing the opinion of that Gaia theorist and worry-wart Professor James Lovelock, that it's already too late to reverse the effect of global warming, and that, ""Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."

As A. Bolt has declared, more than once, global warming is total bunkum.

Who is this Lovelock character, anyway? A mere professor and Royal Society fellow, author of 200 papers in medicine, biology, instrument science and geophysiology who invented the electron capture detector, which led to the development of environmental awareness. A mere dilettante, when compared to A. Bolt, who did a degree in philosophy, and apparently worked as a political staffer before becoming the All-Knowing Expert on Everything for the Herald Sun. He's a man who is so offended by the idea of making an error, that it makes him ill. Or something.

If you'd like to know more about this remarkable, "moderately conservative", rarely-wrong polymath, devoted to the "honest, open, frank conversation", you must check out the video of his debate at RMIT, with Professor Rob Watts. There are four parts, and we're sure you'll agree that this Professor Lovelock character could not withstand the sheer intellectual force [and almost infinite capacity for taking offence and self-pity] of A. Bolt. He even scored the debate himself. He won, of course.

Posted by cw at 02:02 PM | Comments (3)

Your Microsoft-sponsored Wi-Fi security hole

Gosh it's generous of Microsoft's coding geniuses to leave Windows Wi-Fi users totally exposed to a wireless security risk.

Even better, Microsoft knows about the vulnerability, and they promise to release a patch, you know, when they do their regular patch release. So if you get hit, in the meantime, just be sure to thank them for their insouciant approach to security. So much for that "trustworthy computing" initiative. The one that it told us was "a long-term, collaborative effort to provide more secure, private, and reliable computing experiences for everyone". The one they said was "a core company tenet at Microsoft and guides virtually everything we do". Except, apparently, fixing security holes without delay. And releasing them ASAP.

Honestly. Microsoft has totally lost the plot, in our opinion. The company has become so mired in entrenched heirarchies that it seems incapable of shipping practically anything on time. Microsoft is in deep trouble. Another topic, perhaps, for a column.

Posted by cw at 12:20 PM | Comments (2)

Stardust sleuths

Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely nights, dreaming of a song ... oh, now I know why. It's because the Planetary Society requires some help identifying stardust particles captured by a NASA space probe.

The task is equivalent, say experts, to trying to locate 45 ants in a football field. So they'll create 1.6 million tiny "movies" of each section of the dust collector and distribute them electronically to volunteers who would undergo basic training, teaching them to spot signs of interstellar dust particles. Go get 'em, folks!

Posted by cw at 11:47 AM | Comments (1)

Those greedy bastards, the banks

Over at Razor, we're stirring up trouble as usual, trying to encourage just a wee bit more competition among our financial institutions.

This arose largely from the fact that Westpac, having got its customers hooked on paying their bills electronically, so they can save a heap of money on staff, is now going to charge 25c per "pay anyone" transaction. After announcing what we calculate is their 13th record [obscene] profit in a row, it truly beggars the mind that these anti-social, grossly cossetted organisations should be allowed to prey so viciously on the consumer.

Posted by cw at 11:39 AM | Comments (6)

January 16, 2006

Yahoo! goes dotty for addresses

For those of us who signed up to Yahoo! with mindless names because the decent ones had already gone, the decision to allow "dot" addresses is great news. Our original address was chazza_w@yahoo.com. Now, however, we've got charles.wright@yahoo.com, and bleeding.edge@yahoo.com.

The Yahoo! mail beta blog warns that the good addresses are disappearing fast, so it might be an idea to get yours ASAP.

Posted by cw at 02:16 PM | Comments (4)

January 13, 2006

We the dull

We're sure that Apple doesn't mean for you to take their new Macintosh advertising campaign personally. We're quite sure that Intel doesn't take it personally. But if you're not a Mac user, aren't you likely to be offended by the implicit suggestion that, what with not having the good taste to choose a Macintosh, rather than a PC, you are, in social terms, practically invisible?

For years, the ads say, Intel's chips have been "trapped inside PCs - dull little boxes, dutifully performing dull little tasks." Now, the voiceover declares, the Intel processor will finally be set free ... inside, you know, one of those Mac boxes that somehow or other, are never required to perform "dull little tasks".

Mind you, of course, the ads ignore the fact that until those superior little Mac laptops, for instance, picked up the Intel chips, they were four to five times slower than their Intel counterparts. Which you would have thought made them, in performance terms, well, dull. Which is surely why Steve Jobs decided to join all those "dull" PC users. Isn't it? So wouldn't you say, having taken so long to wake up to himself, Steve was just a little ... dull?

Intel is embarrassed, of course. "Never would we characterize our customers that way," Intel Vice President Deborah Conrad responded in an interview.

Posted by cw at 09:14 AM | Comments (3)

January 12, 2006

Better BIOS

Tom's Hardware has a very detailed exploration of BIOS settings that might help you improve the performance of your PC.

Posted by cw at 07:56 AM

Your digital photos: are they safe?

At the risk of spoiling your day, may we suggest that if you've been storing your digital images and music collection and other data archives on CD-R/RW discs, it might be wise to make another copy immediately ... and think about longer-term storage alternatives.

According to a physicist and storage expert, the maximum life - we repeat, the MAXIMUM life - of data stored on burnable CD media ranges from two to five years. Several people have told us their CDs became unreadable in a matter of months.

The best alternative, according to the expert, is magnetic tape. But even magnetic tape is subject to heat and dust and magnetic fields, has to be re-tensioned periodically, and stored vertically.

Hard drives can provide longer storage life than CDs, but choose the 7200rpm models, because their bearings are more robust.

Bleeding Edge has made multiple copies of our archives on several hard drives, which we re-copy periodically.

As for your precious prints: if you're looking for longevity, cheap inks and paper aren't a good idea, as you'll learn if you have a look at the data amassed by the world authority, Wilhelm Imaging Research. By far the best solution for 6x4 prints is the Epson PictureMate Personal Photo Lab, using Epson PictureMate pigment inks, and photo paper.

Posted by cw at 07:03 AM | Comments (8)

January 11, 2006

Our Greedy Prick of the Year Award

Bleeding Edge hereby nominates Stephen Peach, chief executive of the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for our inaugural "Greedy Prick of the Year Award", for his continuing denial of fair play and sanity, in trying to convince Attorney General mirthless Phil Ruddock, that Australians should continue to be denied the right to copy their CDs for personal use.

Peach claims the existing laws - possibly the developed world's most odious - are adequate and that more liberal amendments would "give out the wrong message" to consumers.

It seems, however, that following his fair use inquiry, even Ruddock has finally woken up to the fact that his Government has been just a little too obedient in giving the copyright owners whatever they want, at the expense of the public, and that the law is so clearly absurd that it's universally ignored.

According to The Age, the Government will shortly introduce amendments that allow personal copying under a new fair use regime. And they're not going to hit us with a tax on recording devices like the iPod. But don't give any kudos to Phil for that one. It seems that Peach and his mates don't think they'll make enough money out of an iPod tax. They want us to pay licensing fees!

Call us cynics, but we're going to wait until we read the fine print before doing any vigorous celebrating. We'd like to know, for instance, how many copies we're going to be allowed to make under this more enlightened legislative environment. One?

And here's an interesting thing we discovered while scrolling through ARIA's website. In exploring the issue of so-called myths of Internet file sharing, ARIA has acknowledged that all those public pronouncements the industry has been making that music piracy is being run by organised crime are manipulative crap. ARIA declares " Furthermore - copying music without permission is illegal. And just because it doesn't involve organised crime or knock-offs sold on street corners doesn't mean that it isn't taken very seriously." Whoops! Only in June last year, the industry was claiming that CD copying was funding the Mafia.

Posted by cw at 12:19 PM | Comments (3)

Apple's [gritted teeth] wonderful new laptops

You can possibly imagine the distinctly alloyed joy with which Bleeding Edge - the owner of a six-month-old G4 Mac PowerBook - greets Steve Jobs' announcement of the first Intel-powered MacBook™ Pro notebooks at San Francisco Mac World.

You'd have thought Steve Jobs would have had the decency to at least wear a black arm band, or possibly declare a minute's silence for recent PowerBook owners, but no, he was positively ecstatic as he declared "these things are screamers", and reeled off the consequences of better "power-per-watt" performance of the Intel Core Duo processor. Depending on whether you believe Jobs' speech, or the company press release, it's "four to five times" or "up to four times" more powerful than the [SOB!] fastest G4 PowerBook.

The 15-inch display is 67-percent brighter - "as bright as Apple’s Cinema Displays" - and has a completely new system architecture, including a 667 MHz front-side bus that is four times as fast as the PowerBook G4 , and 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory expandable to 2GB that is twice as fast as the PowerBook G4.

It's also got a one-inch-thin "stunning aluminum enclosure", weighs only 2.54 Kgs , includes a built-in iSight video camera for video conferencing on-the-go, and the Apple Remote and Front Row software for "a simple, intuitive and powerful way for users to enjoy their content wherever they go".

Plus there's "Apple’s new patent-pending MagSafe magnetic power connector", which presumably means the end of those catastrophic entanglements of legs in power cords which have brought who knows how many expensive notebooks into abrupt and expensive contact with floors. The basic $1.67 GHz model will cost $A3199, and the 1.83Ghz version $3999.

There was, of course, the typical Jobs' exaggeration: “MacBook Pro delivers dual-processor desktop performance in a thin, sleek notebook” - we'll believe that when we see it - but we are now suffering from a serious case of upgraditis.

These are the only things that prevent us from seriously endangering our credit rating: we don't yet know how much of that additional grunt will translate into real-world performance improvements, what with the fact that existing software will be running via the Rosetta emulation software, and architectural revolutions like these often mean irritating, if not show-stopping glitches. Plus, we don't yet know if Apple will actually meet the promised February delivery date.

AND .... over at The PDA Guy, Anthony points out that Steve Jobs neglected to point out the omission of some features that contributed to the attractiveness of the G4 15-inch PowerBook. Already we're feeling better.

Posted by cw at 11:30 AM | Comments (3)

January 10, 2006

Socialising playlists

Phew! The new year is but a pup, and already we're finding it hard to keep up with developments ... throughout the technology world, but particularly on the Web. Google and Yahoo! for instance announced at CES that they're getting in to the world of video (at least in the US). Here's a comparison of the competing offerings.

Now Yahoo! has acquired Webjay. Not heard of Webjay? Well you're clearly suffering from Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder, just like Bleeding Edge.

It's another one of those social software developments, like Flickr [thanks, Stephen] and del.icio.us, that have re-invigorated the Web, but this time directed to playlists: [QUOTE] Webjay is not file sharing. It helps you find music like Google helps you to find web pages; it helps you share music in the same way that Blogger helps you create a weblog; it never stores or transmits music itself.[/QUOTE] You can learn a little more about the idea of WebJay and playlists in this podcast, and about using it here.

What's interesting to us is that a lot of people who have MP3 players - essentially we're talking about the iPod - don't use playlists as a means of organising their music, rather than as a means of sharing your tastes, or understand them.

Today someone came around to fix the security system, and we got to talking about iPods. He brought his in to show us, and we discovered that after six months of using the thing, he still wasn't using playlists. He could learn a lot from Webjay.

He also didn't know about PodUtil. If you've got an iPod, you should really think about getting PodUtil.

Posted by cw at 08:16 PM | Comments (1)

On computer bashing

Bleeding Edge admits to having a love-hate relationship wth technology that at times, frankly, isn't all that affectionate. Nevertheless, we were mildly irritated by what we regarded as a smug and irrational attack on our electronic companions by a Guardian journalist.

"If computers are so fantastic, so amazingly smart and clever, how come I'm so much faster at doing things?" wrote Kieren McCarthy. "Like your fat friend at school, computers lag behind, slowing you up ... Even if you give your computer extra RAM, perhaps even splash out on a new, faster hard drive, the same thing eventually happens. Sure, it's delightful for a few weeks. But that's just because of the difference. Before you know it, it is back to its old ways, stuffing its face with data and painfully keeping up the rear."

It seemed to us that it was much more likely that the PC wasn't to blame, and the problems that were McCarthy attributed to his computer were self-inflicted. The average personal computer is more adept at multi-tasking than any human, and capable of dispensing with simple jobs like email in a flash. If it's slow, it's more likely to be caused by malware and sloppy housekeeping - the responsibility of the operator.

And how often do you find that people who resent technology end up sabotaging themselves?

It's the ideal time, of course, to examine one's conscience and determine whether we might be suffering from a touch of Kieren McCarthy-ism. Might we, perhaps, adopt safer and more efficient computing practices that will protect us from hackers and data loss, and make our time at the keyboard much more efficient and less stressful?

Perhaps that might be a better topic for our first column of the year. Any suggestions?

Posted by cw at 03:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 09, 2006

Do NOT (temporarily) buy that Mac

Just in case you were thinking of buying anything from Apple in the next week or so ... DON'T. Steve Jobs always wheels out something new for his annual keynote address at San Francisco's Mac World, and the current atmospheric conditions in the Mac universe are distinctly hazy, with rumours abounding.

The odds on a new, Intel-powered iBook range are particularly short. But the chatter includes changes to .MAC and new plasma displays.

Even if the particular product you're considering remains current, there's a distinct possibility that the price could drop. So unless you're a sado-masochistic consumer, our advice is to resist the temptation.

Posted by cw at 04:18 PM

So this is 2006?

We're back. Slightly baked - it's a good thing we've got Senator Campbell's and Andrew Bolt's guarantee that global warming is just a scare campaign by global dimwits, otherwise we might be really worried by that 45-degree day from Hell - but ever so much more relaxed.

First we had to delete 4400 pieces of comment spam - no kidding - and just as soon as SmartyHost installs a Perl module, Matt's going to installjust installed a Movable Type add-on that will mean you'll have to prove you're a human before commenting. Hope that's not going to be too inconvenient, because we can't see any other way. It's intensely irritating to have to comb through spam comments, trying to make sure we're not junking genuine comments.

We're hoping to have a much less stressful year, after the resolution of a dispute with our bank over its refusal to compensate us for online fraud involving our home loan and other accounts that involved more than $100,000 in losses. That catapulted us into 18 months of sheer hell. You might now understand why we continue to say that online banking is not safe. Too bad the Bleeding Edge spouse - who manages the finances - doesn't agree.

In 2006, we want to have more time to write books, while improving the blog and maintaining the Bleeding Edge column and the Razor blog.

Part of the Bleeding Edge brain thinks it's still on the beach, but it's going to have to kick in pretty soon, because the deadline for the first Bleeding Edge column of the year is this week. We're thinking of writing about e-books - about which we've been enthusiastic, and consistently wrong - for about five years. We remain completely mystified by the fact that so few people seem to share our passion for the things, but we're hopeful that the new Sony e-ink e-book will change that.

We hope you'll enjoy the ride with us in 2006, and that you might even consider becoming a patron.

Posted by cw at 10:45 AM | Comments (5)