Type: Post Priority: 3
Don't Buy a Navman
G'day all :)
I bought a NavMan a year and a bit ago, for a fairly significant sum of money - $459 I think or thereabouts.
I recently checked out the website to get a pricing on a new set of maps as the 2005 maps that come with it are a little dated now. The price? $179!
For that money you can almost buy a new GPS these days.
Mind you I'm not sure what you should buy. Around the same time a customer bought a Garmin GPS, and their map update was free last month. Unfortunately they'll only post the maps to you, and the delay time is six weeks!
Hopefully Google and the Mobile Phone companies will put these greedy inefficient companies out of business with their own GPS services over time.
End of Rant :)
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 15a :)
In this edition:
No on-site repairs after Christmas for two weeks.
I'll be unavailable for house calls during the two weeks after Christmas (from 26/12 to 7/1). However, I'm still available much of that time for telephone and remote assistance calls.
Last newsletter I wrote about wireless broadband. Today I'll introduce you to something new that will probably make Telstra a little nervous. It's called a 'wireless telephone.'
Basically, it's a box that you plug into a power point, and plug your ordinary telephone into. It then gives you a 'landline' but without the landline. The phone operates as if it was connected to an ordinary Telstra line, but it is actually connected via the mobile phone network.
At present, only Optus and Virgin are offering them (although Telstra will do something similar if they have no other choice) , but there's lots of complaints about the Virgin one so it might pay to avoid them. The Optus ones, which seem more reliable, start at $30 a month with rates similar to most other landline phone companies. Info on this is available at http://tinyurl.com/optuswirelessphone (Of course, VoIP is much cheaper, but the hardware to do this wirelessly is still a bit pricey.)
For it to work, you need to have reasonable Optus mobile phone coverage where you live. The fact that there's no connection fee makes it quite attractive if you need a new landline. Of course, you need to be aware that faxes won't work with it, and that it will not work if the power goes off.
I personally look forward to seeing these new technologies evolve!
So far, the economic turbulence hasn't had any big impact on me. I'm still kept pretty busy. However, I hear the odd story from people affected - mostly people who's investments and super have dropped significantly in current value. Hopefully the stock market will turn around in a few years like it always has in the past, and for those who have not had to crystallize their debts, they should be OK :) The biggest change I've heard of was for Volvo in the UK who sold 115 trucks in the last three months compared to 41,970 last quarter of 2007. But that's the UK, not Australia. So, for the moment I'm reasonably confident that work will continue for CCC for a while yet. People seem nervous about it all, but I'm yet to see any big changes. http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/investing-and-markets/article.html?in_article_id=456069
If any of you get into big difficulties, Australia has a thing called the Part IX debt agreement, which allows you to freeze the interest on your debts without going bankrupt. Could be useful if you lose your job and have too many credit cards! (I'm lucky being self employed that I can't really lose my job overnight - at least not unless I did something spectacularly wrong next time I build something like those Slinkies of Doom! (Read on for details about the Slinkies of Doom.) Others I know haven't been so lucky job-wise in the past.) http://tinyurl.com/partIXdebt
How to copy any photo on the 'net.
If you encounter a picture on the Internet and you want to copy it, but you find that the right-click and copy doesn't work, then there's always the PrintScreen button on your keyboard. Simply press it to take a photo of your computer screen. You can then paste that picture of the screen into any program that takes pictures. If you only wanted part of the screenshot, open the "Paint" program built into windows in the Start menu under "Accessories", and paste the screenshot there. Then, trace around the part you wanted, copy it, and paste it where you wanted it to go :)
The general rule of computers is 'If you can hear it you can copy it. If you can see it you can copy it." The methods vary but there's no absolute way to protect AV content from copying on computers.
Slinkies of Doom
Well, it's taken me nearly two years to get the very few requisite parts together, but I now have them. Two matching slinkies. What can you do with two matching slinkies? Kill lots of bugs, that's what :)
Warning: This item is dangerous. Don't do it yourself unless you're willing to get electrocuted!
All you need to do is interleave two slinkies over a fluorescent tube, ensuring that for their entire length they are not less than about 3mm apart. You can then attach some form of high voltage low current generator. You have now created your own rather large bug zapper!
I built this because we get so many flies on the farm in Summer, and as you probably know they have a partial attraction to fluorescent lights. They will go for the blue ones in bug zappers, but don't have much greater attraction to them compared to ordinary white ones - which is quite annoying when the lights are on! So now I've got a greater chance against the little beggars in all hours :)
The high voltage generator on this model is out of an el-cheapo bug zapper from Coles that didn't last a month before the bulb went. If you touched it it wouldn't kill you because the current is far too low, but it would make you jump for sure!
Bag with that?
On Friday I ran out of chewing gum in the Kingswood. (I use it after sweet food, especially with bits of coconut, to get rid of leftovers.) I went to one of the Guyra supermarkets and bought a 14-slither pack, and was rather surprised to be asked "do you want a bag?" She then admitted she has to ask as it's store policy. I found my pocket was big enough :)
Every now and then, usually not long after the power bill arrives, I think about how to save power. So, recently I invested $30 in a power usage meter so I could check out the usage of some gadgets safely. There were a few surprises, but the biggest surprise was a Compaq PC I use as a TV set. When on, it used between 60 and 80 watts depending on what it was doing. However, I then put it on standby and was surprised that it was still using 50 watts. That's not much of a saving, and for the hassle of occasionally not having it wake up properly I've actually stopped putting it to sleep now. But that wasn't the end of it. I turned it off, and it was still using 20 watts! (That was the computer by itself, not with a screen.) Sometimes the power point is the only way to kill things! (Although there are a number of other products on the market which can turn off all devices when one master device is turned off - ie turn off the TV and the power is killed to everything else as well..)
How to beat Mobile MessageBank Fees.
One of my biggest bugbears is paying more for something than it's worth - which is especially true when it comes to phones. Thus, in an era where most landline calls cost me 10 cents untimed, and mobiles 15 cents a minute, I have often grumbled at paying 60c a minute to Telstra for listening to messages.
After some research (and a few arguments with others who probably live more lavish lifestlyes than my own) I've finally settled on a new solution. A program called "Advanced Call Manager" which will run on most Nokia Symbian mobile phones. http://www.webgate.bg/products/acm/ This program allows your phone to work as an answering machine, thereby virtually eliminating Telstra MessageBank retrieval fees.
It has in my case meant having to buy a new phone, but at $20+ per month saving it will pay itself off over the next 18 to 24 months. It's ability to also act as a VoIP phone making all landline calls from it 10c untimed will also help. If you want to have a laugh at my discussion, you can read the discussion at http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1075008 (One of them said "Sweet Jesus" when he found out what my current phone was - a ZTE is not highly regarded by some.)
The new phone, a Nokia E51, hasn't arrived yet so there's a chance it might not work as advertised; but so far it seems there should be no problems with this plan. I'll confirm in the next newsletter. It's not the best phone available, but it's not overpriced and has NextG coverage, which is the only one I can use at home.
As a side note: Some of you may now be getting new phone bills from Telstra which are 'easy to read.' When I read my last one it looked like they weren't giving the included call discounts, but after calling them it turned out that they were - they just don't show you the credit line like they used to. (ie instead of saying messagebank $29, call credit $15 cr, they just show messagebank $14. To view full details you have to go online - which for many people might be a worry as it's now somewhat harder to make sure you're getting all your discounts.)
The Day The Salad Died.
It is with some sadness that I announce the passing of our friend, the salad bar, at the Armidale Ex-Services club. Sadly they've decided to privatise the restaurant component (The Old Mill) and this has lead to a few small changes. Fortunately the $10 roasts and $7 meal specials still exist, albeit sans salad, and still make it more economical to eat out than to spend all that time preparing, cooking, washing up if already in Armidale :)
The only other gripe I have is that their signage advertises milkshakes as $3 but they charge $4 claiming they're waiting for new signs. It's been over a week since they took over, so I consider that to be a breach of some sort of trading standard. (Haven't they heard of sticky tape?) Oh well, I'll stop being a food critic now :)
Yes, the Kingswood has one now. It was only $10 at Vinnies in Forster. Next addition on the queue is a paging alarm of some sort - probably a re-use of the GSM 'too-hot-for-the-dog' alarm because...
I get a few people a week asking about Molly. Well, here's the story. She will travel if I put her in the car on the lead, and seems OK about getting into the car if I put her on the lead. But if I don't put her on the lead and take her to the car, and open the door for her, she shoots through the garden gate and under the house - so I think that means that she'd rather be at home. Perhaps having been a dumped dog she prefers to stay in familiar ground. That's OK with me. Heppie loved the car, Molly doesn't seem to. Oh well, she's a nice dog anyway and enjoys her runs with the scooter and bike. She's settled in well, although not too fond of the slinkies of doom. On the plus side, I get to turn the radio up now without worrying about a dog's taste in music!
Imaginative Credit Card Fraud
One of the Security podcasts I listen to talked about a recent discovery. Apparently hundreds of overseas grocery store credit card swiping machines (like the ones you use with your card at checkout at Coles, etc) had been modified with an extra part that would collect card numbers and PINs, and would phone up some place in Pakistan once a day via the mobile phone network to hand on the goodies.
The scheme uses untraceable devices inserted into credit card readers that were made in China.
At time of writing, the only way to detect it other than taking the reader to pieces was to weigh it! There's no reports of this happening in Australia yet, but just goes to show what can happen! And they apparently were only found out because of the same noises that you might sometimes hear when you hold your mobile phone near a radio or a set of el-cheapo computer speakers.
In one of the stories that I read about this, apparently a guard noted that there was some interference on his cell phone at certain times of day.
The full transcript is at http://www.grc.com/sn/sn-166.htm - use the Ctrl + F feature of your browser to find where the relevant conversation starts. (Search for "credit card" - it's about 1/3rd of the way through the document.)
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Type: Post Priority: 3
News 15: Wireless Internet Review
EDIT: Please note this is an old article, and many of the prices have changed now. Nonetheless, now in May 2009 Exetel is still one of the cheapest; and Telstra continues to charge about four times as much as the competition.
G'day all :)
This is a special newsletter dedicated to reviewing a number of Wireless Internet providers and providing extra information.
Wireless Broadband is certainly becoming more and more popular, and keeping up with all the offerings is getting challenging!
I'm now offering Wireless Broadband for $5 per month plus usage - but I'm not the only one; so I thought it's about time I do a review of who's offering what. I've also been busy driving around checking coverage in areas between Armidale and Glen Innes and report on the findings later in this newsletter...
Newer services can be quite a bit cheaper than the cheapest ADSL plans, and don't require a phone line at all.
In this review I'll take 1GB as the monthly usage, as that seems to be about what the average person who doesn't download music and movies will use in a month. I'll also use true wireless broadband options, not a unit that requires a power point.
Later, I'll explain the difference between the Telsta, Optus and Vodafone towers.
BigPond is rather expensive for wireless broadband, but in some cases is the only wireless option available.
Good: Uses the NextG wireless network.
Dodo's pricing is reasonable, and uses the Optus mobile network, but their past history is a concern.
Good: Modem & SIM card delivered for $149
Exetel (The one I'm selling locally via Auzzie & Cool Country Consulting.)
Exetel's is a pay for what you use service, and is using the Optus mobile network
Caution: Modem & SIM card delivered for $195
Optus has some pretty good deals for heavier wireless usage. They don't have any plans with 1GB, their smallest is 2GB for $40 Excess usage fees are a problem at 15c per megabyte, modem $199. There may be some quite good deals coming out soon with Optus to help get rid of your landline completely, but at present I can't find any evidence of this new service on their site.
Telstra and BigPond are supposed to be different businesses believe it or not, but they appear to be slowly merging.
The Telstra plans are normally where you use your mobile phone as a modem.
Good: No modem required if you have a contracted NextG phone
Side note: They have a $10 150MB plan which can be useful if you need Internet urgently for some reason.
Telstra PrePaid Wireless
Pre-Paid does not really exist for any major telephone company. It's more a case of 'use it or lose it' because of these company's trend to expire credit. You'd be rather annoyed if your money in the bank magically expired each month wouldn't you! So why accept the lies of Prepaid? Anyway, rant over. Here's their offering. (My prepaid dialup credit on Auzzie never expires, some accounts from 1997 are still in credit.)
Good: Modem $149
Caution: Uses Vodafone's mobile network - still dialup speed in many areas.
I've skipped 3 as they don't cover our areas.
About the Mobile Networks.
There are three different mobile networks. In my service area of Armidale and Guyra, only Optus and Telstra have fast wireless Internet, otherwise known as 3G or NextG available.Vodafone is currently limited to dialup speeds.
NextG is Telstra's version of 3G. It runs at 850MHz, which allows it to cover up to about 60km from the tower. Of course, hills bugger this up somewhat! Fortunately, they have so many towers that it is rare to find places that NextG doesn't work. In areas of weak coverage, external aerials are available to help and Telstra may even help you with installation of an aerial! Coverage maps at https://www.bigpond.com/internet-plans/broadband/availability/default.asp
Optus has two 3G networks - one on 2100MHz which covers about 25KM from the tower, and also 900MHz which is able to cover ranges similar to NextG's 60KM. Coverage maps are available at http://www2.optus.com.au/ and http://www.exetel.com.au/files/hspa_maps.pdf
About the Modems
The modems from the different providers are not always compatible with eachother. In particular, the newer Optus 900MHz UTMS network and the Telstra 850MHz UTMS networks tend to be supported only by certain models of modem. Additionally, some modems may be locked to one of the carriers only.
Most modern USB modems support external antenna connection. Alternatively, you can use a USB cable up to 10 metres to suspend the modem from a suitable height.
Using a Mobile Phone as a Modem.
This is particularly easy with the NextG Phones, as almost all of these phones can be connected to a PC to provide broadband. (The iPhone is a notable exception due to Steve Jobs' desire to please AAPT.)
For the Exetel plan and presumably for any other carrier that uses Optus, you can use a mobile phone as a broadband modem. However, you need to check that your phone supports the frequency in your area. (For example, Guyra is 900HMz UTMS. An older phone might support 900MHz for voice calls, but doesn't support 900MHz for UTMS data.) A list of smart phones that support this speed are at http://www.exetel.com.au/residential-hspa-compatibility.php and I generally recommend http://uniquemobiles.com.au/ as a fair priced provider.
In most cases, if the phone supports 'bluetooth tethering' and you have a bluetooth enabled computer, you can use the phone as a modem without having to connect it to the computer with a cable. One or two will even turn the modem into a home wireless router so you can use multiple computers at once.
You may or may not be able to make and receive calls with the mobile depending on what permissions the service has.
VoIP with Wireless Broadband?
VoIP allows you to call landlines for 10c untimed, and mobiles for 22c/min. Or in the case of Skype, you can call other Skype user's computers for free.
You can use VoIP software on your computer with wireless broadband and get quite reasonable results. (I'm currently doing this while on the road to save on the cost of mobile-originated calls.)
If you have a suitable mobile phone with wireless broadband availability, you can use Skype or Fring to achieve the same VoIP calling directly from the handset. A select few mobiles have VoIP built in without needing extra software.
Once you have wireless broadband, the world of phone lines, ADSL modems, etc, suddenly looks old fashioned; and the traditional need to run a phone line from a house to a telephone exchange seems to becoming increasingly endangered. The government's National Broadband Network almost seems unnecessary since it's based on wires and fibre in the ground technology.
Optus has done us a great service by upgrading so many regional towers to UTMS, providing much needed competition to Telstra's superior but far more expensive service. Vodafone is planning to catch up too, but this is some time away.
Apple has also helped in a roundabout way by inventing the iPhone. It's basically a full computer inside a phone shell, and has a similar thirst for downloads. Optus & Vodafone put huge pressure on Telstra to bring pricing down since they were scooping up the iPhone market with far better pricing.
Dialup is virtually dead. Web pages have grown to about three times the download size in the last few years, which means they take three times as long to download as they used to. I pity anyone on dialup now, and in the near future will be trying many high power antenna setups to see if I can get people with bad coverage up and running. Auzzie Dialup is still ticking over around breakeven and I don't have any plans to kill it at this stage.
NextG and Optus Coverage.
Generally speaking, where the phone works is where the broadband will work.
NextG works pretty well everywhere in the area I work, except for some valleys on the Old Armidale Road, and places that are too far from town. Valleys tend to be the biggest killer.
Optus coverage is not as strong, but is still pretty reasonable. The problem spots so far are a few valleys on the road to Armidale, near the Speed Trap at Llangothlin; some other valleys between Guyra and Glen Innes; immediately around the Black Mountain railway station (another valley); some areas in South Hill Armidale.
Coverage is good in Glen Innes, Guyra, areas of Black Mountain town and west at peaks, Most of Armidale, Ben Lomond, Lagoon Road. Optus has recently had some trouble with some of their capital city towers getting overloaded, which could be a concern if you travel to those types of places regularly.
External antennas may help in some trouble spots - that's the next step in researching these services.
For me, I maintain three services. I have a NextG Browse pack which offers 150MB for $10, and an Auzzie Exetel wireless plan for $5 a month plus usage. I use the Auzzie Exetel one everywhere that it will work, and fall back to the NextG one for problem areas. I make VoIP calls using the laptop since I haven't yet decided what to do about a smart phone, and have an Exetel $15/month 15c/min mobile as well for now. I also have traditional ADSL at home due to my remote backup and ISP business needs.
Naturally, I'm inclined to peddle the Exetel service since I have a financial interest in it; but I'm happy to admit that some of the other offers may be better for some people. The higher-end Optus plans in particular may suit regular moderate users more than the Exetel service.
Disclaimer: As far as I know the information in this newsletter is valid - but it's not guaranteed! Best to check the supplied links to get the full details of offers from each company.
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 14 :)
Disclaimer: This newsletter was written while running in phlegmbot mode. Only performing remote assistance repairs this week as I'm perpetually tired and probably infectious!
New Remote Assistance icon
With Broadband becoming more common these days, I have more of you opting to use my remote assistance facility to fix problems on your computer rather than incurring the cost of travel, etc.
I've recently upgraded this facility to work with Windows Vista PCs, and also to be useable from anywhere rather than just the office.
So, if you'd like to get an updated copy, you can get it by reading about it and downloading it here.
More Portable Broadband options.
Last newsletter I mentioned that you could now get wireless broadband from Telstra using your phone quite cheaply. Optus and Vodafone also offer similar capabilities.
Exetel, the company I recommend for most customers, has just released a more-or-less pay as you go wireless mobile broadband service, which sounds promising. At $5 per month minimum plus 1.5c per megabyte (or if you like $1.50 per 100MB) and with an optional $200 wireless USB modem if you don't have a suitable modern 3G phone handset. (If you download more than 1GB they put it up to 2.5c per MB thereafter.)
For some of you that probably sounds a bit confusing, but basically it means that you could hook either a mobile phone or a usb thing (a bit like a memory stick) into your computer and you get fast internet that you can use anywhere that there is coverage.
What is interesting about this new service is that it is, for many light to moderate Internet users, somewhat cheaper than the cheapest ADSL (landline) broadband plans.
I have ordered a service from them to test and see if it lives up to it's claims. It appears there should be a new 900MHz coverage in the Guyra area and 2100MHz coverage in Armidale. If the 900MHz service does exist, it should in theory provide the same coverage as NextG in the area. I'll let you know how it goes next newsletter, and I'm looking forward to the challenges that will come from offering this new service if it lives up to it's expectations.
It may even be possible to use it as a VoIP phone and ditch your landline completely!
NBN has gone Digital at last.
For those of you with set top boxes and digital TVs in Guyra and Armidale, you can at last get NBN digitally! If you want to add it yourself, find the installation or channel menu and do a manual scan of channel 38. If you aren't happy doing that, you can of course ask me to do it for you. If you have not yet opted for a digital set top box and are putting up with a snowy picture, it's probably time to think seriously about getting one. Any brand other than Bush should be OK. Most set top boxes will die young if they run hot so it's a good idea to make sure that your box can breathe :) (Bush ones tend to have some weird firmware issues when they detect two copies of the same channel.)
The new dog, Molly, is quite different to Heppie, but is settling in well. She's not as much of a traveller as Heppie which means some days she stays home rather than travelling - but since she's happy being a home dog it's not a big deal. Molly Photos can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CCCMikey/Molly
Quite often people ask me about Vista. It has generally matured to a point that it can be trusted; and provided you have enough memory in the computer it can run pretty well.
One of Vista's biggest advantages over XP is that it is quite resilient against viruses and spyware. Due to the way it protects itself, it's generally possible to remove the bugs without having to resort to using a second computer to do the removal. With XP on the other hand, it's quite common for a bug to get in and set itself up to load before windows finishes starting, making it very difficult to remove said bug since it just re-adds itself as the computer restarts - meaning it's usually easier to take the computer apart and attach it to another computer that does the repair.
Vista is not perfect however. I've still had a few weird things happen with it - the most recent being a customer's computer that was reportedly bringing up some unusual messages. As a result, I recommended upgrading it to SP1 which fixes most of the early bugs on Vista, but in her case the update started OK, but at the end when the computer restarts, it could no longer restart. There was no way to undo the update either, meaning the only way to fix this computer was to wipe it and start again - after backing up her files of course :)
She was not alone in having the computer die completely after an update - there were many other reports on the Internet about it.
Chinese Plastic Milk
You've probably heard in the media about the trickery being played with milk in China, and it's apparent infant-killing abilities.
Recently I encountered an interesting documentary on Google Video called "The Fake Trade" which discusses how many counterfeit products exist in China - and even to the point of making fake eggs because it was cheaper than having chooks.
Its about 47 mins / 120MB long. http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=-5947862651880646162&ei=FArVSL2SHKLWqAOpibHEAg&q=the+fake+trade&hl=en
The problem with counterfeit products is becoming increasingly widespread. It doesn't worry me when a counterfeit product works as well as the real one, but when it comes to foods and drugs it's a bit of a worry!
A couple of weeks before going on holiday to Tuncurry, I became concerned about a tooth which appeared to be developing a new hole. WIth the next appointment a month away, and recent memories of other problems on my mind, I did some more research into the situation and possible solutions. Fortunately an examination with a webcam and LED light showed that the hole in the tooth was not really much to worry about, and indeed it passed the laser test when I got back and visited the dentist.
Some interesting tips
1 - Cheese sticks, after meals, help keep teeth clean.
As usual, since this information is sourced from the Internet, god knows how accurate it is!
A few funny photos have been added to http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CCCMikey/FunnyStuff# including the night mower, the 'no half dogs' sign, the stoned goat and koala meat.
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Mike's Incomplete Philosophy and Belief System review.
Mike's Incomplete Philosophy and Belief System review.
The following article was written over a number of days starting shortly after the loss of Heppie. It is included in this newsletter for general interest, but future stories like this may be posted on the blog instead, and linked to in the newsletter. Your opinion on this is welcomed, and sought at the end of this newsletter.
Life is not always as easy to define – and many of us find ourselves asking questions to try to work it all out. Many people will find a religion or belief system that they adopt in order to help make sense of life, and especially death.
The recent death of Heppie, my 10 year four legged constant travelling companion, has caused me to briefly reflect on all those experiences I’ve had so far.
Before reading on, I ask that if you have already chosen a belief system and are easily offended by having that belief system questioned, you may prefer to go and read something else. I’m not out to offend anyone. This is simply my own story so far.
Also I warn ahead of time that I have not done due diligence on some of these items as this is not my profession. Thus, if you are interested in any of these items you need to do your own further research to see what merit lies, or does not lie within them Happy reading!
My first encounter with any belief system was for a couple of years at a Catholic Primary school. Too young of course to be able to apply any real understanding to the situation, it was nonetheless interesting. The church sessions that were interspersed with other classes involved sitting, kneeling, sitting, and watching as every other kid in the school would go and get their free 1” disc of bread. I was the only one out of the couple of hundred who did not do so – but I don’t know if that was pre-arranged or what it was. Irrespective, I failed to find any special feeling of belonging.
A couple of my high school years were at a Christian school. Here there was very little in the way of actual religious training, which suited me well as I still didn’t feel any sense of belonging to this type of religion. Again, just being good to others was the only bit I really had a belief in.
Roll forwards to when I’m about 20, and I have my first encounter with Jehovah’s witnesses. They visited a few times, advised of what I should be doing, and how only a certain fixed number of people could get into heaven. Given this rather low six figure number, it was statistically almost impossible for me to be a lucky contender, so I soon lost interest in this one too. I was however, quite happy with my built-in sense that if I do right by other people, then that’s a good thing and whatever potential judgment at the end, I’d not (at that point at least) be guilty of anything worse than accidentally killing a pet mouse by unknowingly sitting on it.
Still a bit naïve sadly at 20, I and my then partner got taken up with the excitement of Timeshare, as a company was running an invitation-only presentation. They told us all about how you could go anywhere in the world for a small amount compared to what people normally pay, and enjoy one week once every second year in some foreign resort. Sounded good, and I guess for some people it would be – but of course there’s no advantage in air fares, etc. So, we parted with somewhere between $4.5K and $7K (which we didn’t have anyway) and signed up.
A couple of years later, I was chatting online with a lady who defined herself to be a witch. This was a fascinating deviation from the mainstream, with strange beliefs about nude moon bathing, etc. By now, I had better Internet access, and was able to research these belief systems somewhat more efficiently. My mind’s a bit rusty on what witchcraft was all about now – at its roots it seemed mostly harmless – but now the only phrase I remember is the maiden, the mother, the crone – probably because it’s in a Tracey Chapman song too. Mind you, I think I was more fascinated by her than by the belief system, although nothing ever came of it. More info on this system at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca
A number of years later – after moving to Guyra and almost going broke due to the change - I was approached by a Health Insurance company to become a mobile sales droid. To become one involved a number of days of training in North Sydney. Sadly for them I had already learnt about mind control techniques, and was largely immune to the training. Certainly there was money to be made on commissions by selling and renewing policies to clients – quite a lot of money judging by some of the sales droids; but to do this for a living you either had to really want the money or else really believe in the product. For me, money wasn’t a big driver as I am satisfied if I have enough to pay the bills and a little in reserve; and the product may in rare cases really help someone in need – but for most people I imagine being vigilant in saving a similar amount in a bank account each quarter would achieve the same coverage over time, plus have the benefit of being available for any emergency, not just those covered in the qualifications and disclaimer sections of the application form.
The other element of it I could not take any joy in at all was the telephoning of customers to book appointments – complete with telemarketer-like scripted methods to keep callers on the line. It wasn’t cold calling, but it felt like it. I only stuck with this job for two days before giving it up on the second rainy night. Another irony was that of the 8 or so people at the training sessions, I was the only one who didn’t smoke!
I’ve had a couple of visits with psychics / spiritual readers and healers out of curiosity. (Well, they were in some promotional thing the Armidale tourism group was doing when I first moved here.) While they’re certainly fun to talk with, and talk about various issues with, so far the ones I’ve chatted with have not been able to produce any result that was not possible by warm reading. The idea of auras, chakras, etc, sound fancy and are easy to imagine but so far impossible to prove. A local one also claimed that my dog would die of a heart attack – she died from a fancy green injection instead with no heart problems - although perhaps it causes a heart attack. An Armidale one said my sister was pregnant – which was a surprise to her and now 6 years later is still not the case. I guess googling psychic, cold and warm reading will give more info. I’m not well researched in this area – the last article being a Youtube series “The Enemies of Reason” mentioned later. I don’t fully discount the possibility of psychic events, but have no evidence to hand
This is more a philosophy than anything else. Basically, if you were to have Einstein lecture to a budgie about his various laws on how the world works, the budgie’s response would probably be chirrp chirrp warble warble (head scratch) chirrup (crap on the ground) chirrup. The Budgie’s comprehension however would be almost zero, as a budgie is likely not capable of understanding human concepts and those of the world.
The Magic of Radio
I have one belief which is that, given radio works but is otherwise invisible, then it’s quite possible that other things exist that we don’t have facilities to see; so as a result weird things may well be possible!
Two unusual things happened in the following few years.
Firstly my pseudo-grandmother was dying of cancer, and on her last night before being hospitalized she had slipped down in her bed and was choking. I’d previously given her a cordless doorbell button to press if she needed assistance by any of us – but in this case she was too weak to be able to reach it. I also sleep with a small fan running which masks other sounds. However, despite this I managed to hear her choking in the next room, and at the same time my father was awoken from a much further room. Perhaps it was a coincidence or logic, or perhaps something else.
Later, a close friend of mine had decided to kill himself. That day I had just finished teaching a class and was feeling a little unsettled – started to go towards the front of the building and then changed my mind and went back to the classroom – I felt unsettled. There, I checked my email and found what looked like a suicide note email. After trying a few contacts I eventually dialed 000 and the police found said friend in the car with the motor running and the pipe through the window. Again, perhaps just a coincidence, or perhaps something else.
So, a few years ago after teaching a class, one of my students approached me asking if I’m interested in a unique business opportunity – but paradoxically would not name what it was about. Already suspicious, I nonetheless accepted an appointment with them to hear more about it. They talked about how it worked, about how you’d do all your shopping online and get cheaper prices than retail, and how you’d make money out of anyone else you got to do the same thing.
I followed along for a little bit out of curiosity, but the products online were far from being a match for Woolworths HomeShop yet alone Coles, and required lots of bulk purchases. The orange juice was a horrible reconstituted job, and most other products just didn’t exist. The site was pretty poor too.
I went along to one Amway meeting in Tamworth out of curiosity – and it seemed to have most of the hallmarks of a cult. By then I’d also researched Amway / Quixtar online and based on those two things it seemed pretty clear that the only real money to be made was on creating promotional training cassettes and hosting the fancy get-togethers; not in peddling mediocre products. I guess if you stuck at it long enough you could make some money on the product sales, but it’s not for me. My belief when entering into any new business relationship or belief system is to go in with an open mind and research it online to build up your own opinions, because like I said before it’s very easy for us as humans to take on a belief even when it’s false – so question everything (I made a mistake years ago in buying a florist business which I really shouldn’t have! Funny how you learn from your mistakes.)
More frequently now I am seeing pure atheism posts on sites like Reddit – http://reddit.com/ , Zgeek – caution – not safe for work – http://zgeek.com/ , and in other media sites. I guess this is to be expected as more people research more religions and belief systems on the Internet and poke holes in their teachings. I’m not sure I agree with what they replace religions with sometimes but am happy provided they stick to the basic obvious rule of being good to others.
FSMism – Pastafarians.
FSMism is a strange new religion created when there was an argument in American schools about whether or not scientology (or was it evolution) should be taught alongside other religions in American schools. The basis of FSM is that the world, trees, and a midget were created by an entity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s a laugh, and I love the graphics! http://www.venganza.org/
Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth vs. The Great Global Warming Swindle
These two contrasting documentaries argue for and against the existence of global warming. In time we’ll find out who was more right and wrong. Sadly other than buying these movies the only way to get them is an illegalish download from a Torrent network – which kind of cancels out their good intentions. Why would they try to make money out of a movie that is meant to save the world – or at least tell it how buggered it is! (Call me a freetard if you like!!) http://www.mininova.org/get/989352 for Al Gore, and http://www.mininova.org/tor/1584963 for the Swindle.
Richard Dawkins has produced a couple of documentaries – The root of all evil, and The Enemies of Reason. He works strictly on evidential science, and argues against anything else that can not be scientifically proven. They make for an interesting watch but his very blunt questioning may offend some of you. These ones are free to watch on Google Video. He’s almost certainly an atheist.
Years ago it was quite easy to sit in front of a computer, open google, and have your mind go blank – not able to think of anything interesting to search for. Since then, sites like Reddit, Digg, etc have come along that allow you to see what other people think is interesting at that moment in time.
Another term that has become more mainstream recently is ‘sheeple’ – which roughly means people simply following eachother and / or believing things simply because other people do, for good or bad, without questioning.
While sites like this make it easier to find out what others are thinking about, it may also have a negative effect if it takes away your desire to look for and analyze information independently. I recommend researching anything you read as there’s usually two sides to any story.
OK so by now it’d seem likely I’d mostly be an atheist, but happy to accept that strange things may still be possible simply because radios work and yet without a radio we would not know that the signal was there. However, after those Dawkins documentaries, it would seem there is nothing other than life itself. Perhaps, however unpalatable, this is the case – in which case you’d want to have as good a life as possible since they don’t last forever.
However, this last article, which I read before once again losing interest in philosophies and religions; reverting to the more logical world of computer repairs and having finished the worst of grieving Heppie’s loss; does leave a door open for possibilities that can’t be proven in the traditional scientific method.
http://www.noetic.org/publications/review/issue61/r61_Grossman.html is a fairly long document that aims to impart that NDEs (Near Death Experiences) are verifiably real due to cases where patients have been able to report things that have happened, even in other rooms, while they’re dead – but whose evidence does not fit well with scientific methods and is therefore readily dismissed.
He does use some fancy scrabble language – such as the word Qua, which means ‘acting in the capacity of’ or something like that. Oh, and as stated, I haven’t done due diligence on this one - it's the point I got to before freeing one of my registers from processing this sort of stuff, and getting back to work!
So, happy living, whatever you believe!
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 13 :)
In this edition:
Memory Stick Viruses.
When viruses were first invented, they often used to spread via floppy disks. With the advent of email, etc, this trend died off until quite recently when some new viruses began to emerge that would copy themselves onto memory sticks. I encountered one last week for example, which was quite clever. The virus hid itself in the bin that was on the memory stick, and then set up another file to tell the computer to open the virus from in the bin whenever the stick was plugged into the computer.
Fortunately, both XP and Vista do a reasonable job of protecting you from this trick because when you plug a stick in to them, they usually ask you what you want the computer to do, rather than just doing whatever the stick asked for. However, the first item in the list is usually the one that says something along the lines of 'run the program provided on the device' which, unless you know what that program is, you shouldn't do :)
Holiday: September 8th to 12th.
As mentioned later in this newsletter, I have a timeshare holiday that I have to use or lose - so rather than lose my $500 or so, I'll be taking a week off in Tuncurry. I will of course still be online and able to help with problems via remote control and over the phone - I just won't be able to readily park outside your residence to fix your computer. Feel free to call despite my being away - as I'm happy to help :)
Broadband via NextG phone suddenly much more affordable.
As you probably know, I'm not a great fan of Telstra - their pricing is after all usually what the market will bear, not what is reasonable. However, it appears that thanks to stiff competition regarding the new iPhone, Telstra has drastically reduced the price of one of their facilities by about 80% - I guess they had to because their prices for internet over the mobile phone truly stank compared to Optus & Vodafone, so presumably no one was buying them from the big T.
At present, if you have any contracted NextG mobile phone, you can now buy what's called a 'data pack' and then connect your phone to your computer and have broadband. $10 used to get you 20MB a month, now it gets 150MB. Sadly, and paradoxically, $30 only gets you 300MB, albeit with a lower excess fee. 150MB is still not much but it's reasonable at that price point - and excellent if you want to be able to check your email, text chat online and read some webpages while on the road. Since there's no ongoing contact with data packs, you can sign up a few weeks before going away and cancel when you get back.
If you're currently on dialup, and you have a NexG on contract, I reckon it's a great thing for you to try - dialup can only do about 7MB an hour so it gives you an idea what you could do with 150MB - and if you used up your 150MB before the end of the month you could just go back to dialup until the next billing cycle.
Now of course, I have no relationship with Telstra and don't earn any money from suggesting this - but the Internet has really outgrown dialup for most people (pages are 3 times the sizes they were a few years ago for example) and I am quite happy to help you set it up since having happy customers is my highest priority. I do of course still offer dialup at $1 per hour if you need it as a backup.
It has yet to be confirmed if or when these new prices will be available for prepaid customers. I expect it will be at some point in the not too distant future, and at that point I'll be recommending it to all dialup customers as prepaid phones are only $100 to buy - and just as important - no contracts!
Telstra data pack pricing is at http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/plans/browsing_packs.html
(Ignore the mobile as modem plans on that page - they're almost twice as expensive as a BigPond Relocatable Modem plan.)
Google Street View
You can now look at photos of many streets in Australia including most of Armidale and about 2/3rds of Guyra. I've since discovered that the house in Eastwood I lived in still exists, the one in Cremorne has had a storey added, and my parents have a new fence.
To use it simply go to http://maps.google.com.au/ and then type in an address. A small photo appears near your destination on a map - and if you click it you can then use the arrows to drag around the photos and have a good look around. Lots of fun but a bit of a time waster too :) To go to a new destination, drag the orange 'man' character to a new street.
Automatic Wallpaper Changer
One of my podcasts recently recommended a free wallpaper changer program - and it works quite well with no spyware or other nasties. It also gives you a calendar on the desktop which a few people have asked me for in the past. You can fetch it at http://www.johnsadventures.com/software/backgroundswitcher - however on my system it uses between 30 and 50MB of RAM so if your PC is fairly old or slow, it might not be for you. Anything two years or younger or with at least 1GB of RAM should be fine :)
Molly, and the story to go with her.
As you probably know by now, Heppie died on 24/7. A few days later I casually inquired about some dogs at the Armidale animal shelter. There was only one left there at the time, and the manager there didn't think she'd be a particularly good match as she was a shy, excessively timid dog and not overly fond of men. So, I decided not to go any further in looking, and resolved to wait for one to find me again - like Heppie did years ago.
So, shortly after that, I call one of my customers to help her with a niggling VoIP issue, and whilst adjusting the PSTN voltage detection thresholds on her modem chatted casually. It turned out that she was the one who initially found the last two dogs to go into the shelter, and had delivered them there. Of course, she knew me somewhat better than the voice on the phone at the shelter, and felt we'd be a good match; so figuring this was near enough to being found, I followed up, had a meeting with Molly that Friday, and then a week later 8/8/08 she was delivered here.
She's a 4-5 year old Border Collie, very shy, but otherwise good. So far she's been for a few walks, has adapter to walking with the electric scooter, and seems to be settling in well. Monday will be a big test to see how she likes, or doesn't like, travelling. It's sad that her previous owners dumped her before moving to Sydney, and I guess I may never know why they did that, but at least she should have a good life here. The way she cringes at every unexpected sound makes me think they must've been pretty hard on her.
Oh, and a quick note of thanks to the 20+ people who wrote in with condolences on the loss of Heppie, and similar stories of your own. I will write back to you all individually soon!
Update: 1 day later she's now getting a bit more spritely, runs well with the electric scooter, and has clocked up 10 metres in the Kingswood. I'm not sure if she'll travel like Heppie - time will tell.
A while ago I wrote about an update for some HP laptops to prevent an overheating sudden death issue with them. Since then, some more manufactures have had issues, and it has been traced to a faulty batch of laptop parts made by nVidia. These parts make the pictures come up on the screen, so when they break you end up with a stuffed laptop.
At this stage it's not clear exactly how many are affected, but the rumour mill's running. If you want to see if your new laptop could be affected, right click on your wallpaper, choose Properties, then Settings. If you see nVidia models 8400M or 8600M then you may have a cause to worry. More information from the rumour mill here - http://apcmag.com/nvidia_disaster_thousands_of_gpus_faulty.htm
Guyra buys a Monorail, Takes No Crap from Tingha
On Thursday evening, I attended a meeting in Guyra which discussed Guyra council's dramas and introduced three new candidates.
In summary, the claim appears to be that 82% of council's savings (about 7 Milliion) were invested in CDOs offered by Grange Securities. I'm not really up on all this stock market jargon - so had to look up what a CDO was. Basically a CDO - or Collateralised Debt Obligation - appears to be what you get when you buy other people's debts. You make money out of those people paying off their debts, because they pay interest on those debts which you get to keep. Problem is, Grange Securities was sourcing these debts from - you guessed it - the US, and you probably know already what's happened to the US housing market. Thus, the money is tied up in people's home loans and their real estate, and as more people default on their sub-prime loans, it adversely affects your money.
The heading is a reference to an old Simpsons episode where the Springfield council is conned into spending all their money on a Monorail - which apart from turning out to be impractical also tries to kill it's occupants! The catchy song and story that goes with it is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxkNBTz4WWk (I can't find a working legal copy of the whole episode online because Viacom doesn't like Google.)
I'm terrible with names, so I could have this quote wrong. Boyd Munro reported (~7PM) that back in June 2005 section 1.5.7 of a legal document relating to council financial affairs was amended to state "The general manger or his delegated representative is authorized to approve variations to the policy if the investment is to Council's advantage. All changes to the policy are to be reported to the next council meeting." He stated that this effectively annulled the rest of the policy, and possibly explains how the mess started.
The value of these CDOs is now reported to be about 3 Million, but Boyd believes this figure is closer to $800,000 or less based on info from the NAB. I personally have no idea what they're worth!
Many councils lost money to this arrangement - but it seems rather imprudent of the council to have put so much money in one investment. Related articles online are at http://www.smh.com.au/news/business/asic-protects-cdo-investors-names/2007/11/04/1194117879435.html and http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1940467/posts and http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB119145916317748442.html - Manly for example only invested 10%. and has lost 65% of it.
Another issue raised was a Tingha resident who complained that Guyra was not doing enough for Tingha - Guyra having about 6 public toilets where Tingha has either one or none. (Hence the second part of the headline.) The PA system failed quite early on so the whole thing was a bit hard to hear at times - no I was not in charge of the diversity microphone with the flat battery!
The next 15% rate rise is more or less locked in, but the one after that could apparently be negotiated on with the council.
Anyway, the whole episode gave me cause to consider whether I'd be any good as a Councilor, and at the moment that's an each way bet in my mind given that I know bugger all about politics and am usually the one alone in a crowd since I have a fairly one-track mind based on technology rather than beurocracy. If I was one I'd be all for transparency, having all meetings recorded and available on YouTube or similar, taking comments, etc although a brief read of the privacy act makes it sound like recording meetings is illegal - a point to which I despair as I feel anything said in public should be recordable for all time.
I'd also want to extend all decisions onto a public forum that people could access online from home and have their say on - since most of us are happy to click and read; but most of us don't want to go to council meetings - which of course helps these silly decisions happen. However I'm pretty sure that if I took such ideas to an established group of councilors I'd be viewed as a newbie know-nothing too bent on technology, in breach of some arcane unknown privacy and discriminatory democracy rules, and the ideas'd be voted down. Perhaps I could achieve this better by not being a councilor and just attending meetings - more research required.
The Seven Register Theory
As promised last newsletter, here's the Seven register theory.
Basically, it is believed that humans can hold about seven thoughts active in their working memory at one time, ignoring the subconscious. This is quite useful, particularly in some tasks in life that require using many at once.
A drama for us can be when one or more of these gets tied up with some background task, event, question, relationship or sexuality issue, loss, infatuation or trauma; leaving less registers available for other tasks at hand. There are many events in life that could cause this to happen.
Driving for example eventually becomes more or less subconscious at some point - but when first learning it's quite easy to run out of registers and do something stupid. Even when you get more experienced at driving, if you're distracted by something else you may end up missing something. For me, it's usually zebra crossings that can get missed if I'm off with the fairies! (There's one in Armidale which is right next to the corner, and an SUV blocks view of any pedestrian approaching the crossing.) To see the one I'm talking about on StreetView click http://tinyurl.com/badintersection2 (Corner Rusden and Faulkoner)
If you get a 'stuck' register it can make life a bit unpleasant - that is when something is on your mind and won't get out. For me of course the most recent would be the loss of Heppie which for a while leaves you less able to concentrate on other tasks at hand. I think stuck registers are particularly prevalent when you're a teenager which partly contributes to depression, etc - and also makes complex mutli-register tasks like mathematics a problem.
I believe there are some techniques available to help you jam more stuff into one register - but I haven't researched that for ages. I do appear to have at least one sticky register - it plays music when I'm not doing anything, as for some reason I'm quite good at memorising music - yet I can still be thinking about other things at the same time. It might also be what gives me the unique but mostly useless and for other people highly frustrating ability to repeat back what people are saying, while they are still saying it - an echo if you like. I'm yet to find anyone who can handle this treatment!
Mike's Incomplete Philosophy and Belief System review.
The following article was written over a number of days starting shortly after the loss of Heppie. It contains my thoughts on a number of different belief systems, philosophies, etc. Since it's quite lengthy, and in rare cases could contain material some may find offensive, I've made it a blog post instead. If you'd like to know more about religions, mind control techniques and afterlife philosophies, and are not already decided on a path, then happy reading! It's at http://auzzie.net/cccblog//index.php?title=mike_s_incomplete_philosophy_and_belief_&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1
A question for you :)
Many people run blogs as opposed to just having a newsletter. Blogs tend to be updated more regularly than newsletters, but require the viewer to actively go to visit the website.
For off-topic articles like the last three, would you prefer they are included wholely in the newsletter, or would you prefer they were on the blog only, and linked to in the newsletter? Click reply and type an answer to let me know :)
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Heppie's no longer in her body.
This morning I made the tough decision to have Heppie put to sleep. I had hoped that she'd die peacefully in her sleep during the night, but instead laboured breathing made it sound like that was not likely to happen - she was just too determined to keep ticking despite her problems.
It was clear that her condition was terminal, and although she was deteriorating quite slowly compared to what the vet expected, it wasn't getting any better - and with no energy to walk more than 20 metres and 48 hours without a #2, it seemed likely that things were shortly going to get a lot worse.
So, at around 11:30 this morning, she was put to sleep. It wasn't as easy as I'd hoped - they tried twice to put her to sleep in the Kingswood, but in the end because her blood pressure was so low they had to take her inside and use a different type of injection method. Nonetheless she seemed pretty relaxed about it all which was I guess as good as I could have hoped for.
I then took her home, dug a resting place, and later that evening we buried her - near the front gate because she always loved traveling and although presumably her body no longer contains her, at least if it did, she'd be in that happy place between car and home.
Now of course, grieving continues - raising as it always does the inevitable questions that no-one seems able to answer, like why are we here, is there an afterlife or some sort; along with the more localised thoughts like did I look after her well, was it the right decision, where did dogs come from anyway, etc.
I guess multiple religions have been invented around these themes, but at the risk of upsetting those of you who have decided; I'm yet to be convinced. I have taken some comfort in other people's near death experiences, but that still doesn't really qualify as scientific evidence - interesting as they are. Like Einstein lecturing to a budgie, the world may be too big for us to understand.
In memory of Heppie, I created a one page document which I buried with her in a glass bottle, and because I'm a techy guy I also burnt 5 copies of a CD of pictures of her life, sealed them in the plastic spindle with silicon and included some dessicant silicon in the package. Odds are no one will ever find them, but who knows - and if they do will they even know what a CD is? (This was inspired by a recent post on a website where someone had written a missive about their pond and buried it thereunder, said letter berating the pond violator for choosing to remove said pond.)
Following is the text of said letter, along with a link to some of the pictures that were included.
Unknown before 1998 to 24/7/2008
She lived in Bourke for a couple of years, had a number of puppies there in one litter. She lived outdoors.
She lived at Green Creek near Fords Bridge for a couple of years – again as an outside dog.
She lived at Fords Bridge for almost a year – again as an outside dog.
She then moved here (Black Mountain) around 2002 and was at last allowed to be an inside dog – all other properties were rental, etc. Her life really began here!
She miraculously survived a roll of a ute as she was flung off near Brewarrina, and her leash snapped due to the force. She was found two days later on a nearby property, to great relief.
Every day from 2002 on, she’d accompany me as I carried out computer repairs in the local area – occupying the back seat of the 1971 Kingswood. (Front seat for the last two weeks.)
She went with us on many holidays to Coffs Harbour, South West Rocks, Golden Beach – and was always a ‘car dog.’ There was nothing she liked more than travelling, although she preferred utes to cars.
In July, 2008, she began to become less spritely – would not run up and down the road any more with the electric scooter. A test at the vet showed she had a red blood cell count of 12, where normal is 35-57. The vet was a little surprised as it seemed she should not be alive at those levels.
She survived another two weeks, but could not walk more than about 20 metres before freezing on the spot and having to be carried. She would still travel happily each day and was now eating luxury food only – chicken from 627 café, steak and kidney pie, home made stews, and mars bars.
On 24/7/08 I took the painful decision to have her put to sleep, because her quality of life was diminishing further – she was still a happy dog, but sleeping was becoming more difficult.
She was a great loved friend for many years, and will be sorely missed.
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Unison doesn't work properly.
Hmm - the Unison File Synchroniser doesn't appear to work properly on windows despite what the website says. I asked it to synchronise C:\temp with M:\temp and it went off looking in my photos folder instead!
The installation instructions on the Internet are next to useless for windows versions as it requires you to manually work out where to put the executable, etc, and there are many dead links to gtk+ etc.
I'll stick to delta copy for now unless I can find something better.
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Fixing ATO E-Record on Vista
If you get an error when you install e-record on Vista, to the effect that it is always asking you where to save as worksheetindex2.ifm, then you might have hit a non-documented problem which I encountered with a customer's installation.
To fix it, you need to change the permissions on the e-record folder(s) to allow full access to the system, or was it the logged in user - anyway one or more of those.
There was no information about this on the e-record website, so hopefully this will help someone save an hour of their life trying to solve the problem!
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 12 :)
In this edition:
Possible new MP3 Virus
A new virus is apparently going around turning people's MP3s (music) into Windows Media Audio (.asf) files, adding links to malicious sites within them, but leaving them with the original mp3 name. http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/07/18/New_worm_transcodes_MP3s_to_try_to_infect_PCs_1.html
For those of you who use Limewire, etc, to download music from the Internet, I've traditionally said that MP3 files are safe and WMA/WMV files are not. It is possible that MP3 files may now also be slightly risky - although as yet I haven't been able to get confirmation of this.
It's easy to spot if you've picked up a bad file, however, because when you try to play it you'll instead be taken to a website, which will probably ask you to download a 'codec'.(A codec is a program for your computer that lets it play a specific type of file - a bit like teaching your computer a new language if you like - but in this case it's a ruse as they'll actually send you a bug instead.) If you close the website you'll probably be OK.
Buying Cheap Laptops...
One of the most common questions I get these days is 'what's a good laptop to buy.' Many retailers, such as Dick Smith and RetraVision, have laptops for sale from about $650, and with $150 cash back offers when you post away a registration form. Mostly these are Compaq and Acer laptops.
For this low price, you'll usually get a single brain laptop, whereas more expensive laptops tend to have two brains. Having two brains does help your computer run faster when it's trying to do two things at once, and may be worth the $200+ premium over these cheaper laptops in some cases; but for general office work having one brain is enough. (Curious if your computer has two or more brains? Hold down Ctrl + Alt + Del, click "Task Manager" then look on the Performance tab. If you see two graphs under CPU Usage History, you have two brains - or rather, your computer does!)
The other thing you'll probably want to do is add more RAM to one of these cheapies - as they usually come with only 1GB of RAM,.The good news there is another GB of RAM will cost you about $40-$50 from RetraVision. (Avoid buying RAM at Dick Smith Electronics, as they use a different brand that's about three to four times the price!) Fitting it is always easy on these new ones, but does involve undoing a small door under the laptop with a screwdriver. I usually have memory in stock as well, so you can always ask me to do it for you ;-)
As a side note, part of why Vista has received such a bad wrap is that it needs at least 1GB of memory, preferably 2GB or more to run at a bearable speed. Many laptops sold last year only have half a GB, so they'd take 4-6 minutes just to start. XP on the other hand used to need only 256MB to be happy, although with new virus scanners, etc, you really need at least 512MB to get by.
So, there you go. $550 will get you a nice new laptop with a bit of extra RAM, with most of the modern features you'd want, such as wireless, dvd burner, etc, and at a reasonable speed for most people.
Desktop PC sales appear to be dropping off rapidly - Dick Smith no longer stocks them for example! For those of you who prefer a fixed working position as opposed to a laptop, you can easily attach a normal screen and keyboard to a laptop and use it like a desktop PC.
I recently missed one of my supplier's closing time by a few minutes, and needed a new hard drive for a customer. So, went for a power-walk to K-Mart and found that you can get quite large USB hard drives there for about $120 - which for a 300GB hard drive was quite good value just for the drive itself. The drive inside was a seagate drive, so quality's not a concern. (Anything other than Western Digital is pretty good these days.) So, if you're worried about your hard drive dying, or you're getting low on space, it could be a good investment for a backup or more space!
USB hard drives come in two physical sizes - one the size of the average Bible or Dictionary, the other about the size of a short, wide TV remote control. The big ones require mains power to run, whereas the smaller ones will run just from the computer's power. The bigger ones often have more space for the same price, and are also faster since they spin a 7200 RPM whereas the smaller ones are, well, smaller and slower at 5400RPM, but more convenient since you can easily take them with you.
USB Record Player
One of the services I offer is converting LPs and Cassettes to CD & MP3. However, at $5 per album it can be a bit pricey for some people. So, here's a way that you can convert your old LP records to CD using your computer. Jaycar Electronics now sells a record player that plugs into your computer's USB port. http://snipurl.com/3140x - although I notice they're out of stock at the moment. The Amac computers shop next to The Warehouse in Armidale is a Jaycar dealer if you want to get your hands on one.
Losing another friend.
Many of you know Heppie, the border collie / kelpie cross that usually resides on the back seat of the Kingswood. (Some of you have probably also seen the fan in the front window, or heard of the gadget that rings my mobile when the temperature exceeds 30 degrees.) Well, over the last three weeks she's been getting slower and slower - not wanting to run with the electric scooter any more, and now not wanting to walk more than about 100 metres at a time.
I found her, or rather she found me, back in Bourke in '98 where she was already full grown, showed signs of having recently had puppies, and appeared to have been dumped. (This was at May's Bend, a fishing spot some way out of Bourke.) As a result, I don't know her exact age but expect it's at least 11 years, possibly up to 13 years.
A recent trip to the vet didn't come out too well - her heart's OK, lungs are OK, but she's very anaemic. (You can tell this because her gums are ghostly white rather than pink.) A blood test said something I think like "hermatic rate of 12", where normally it's 37-55. The implication from this is that she's either losing blood or has a tumour. Operating could be an option, but I suspect at her age it's better just to enjoy her remaining days until eating becomes an issue, or any pain becomes evident.
So, as a result she's getting a bit spoilt. She's been upgraded to the front seat, where she's always tried to be in the past. (Although technically she prefers utes to cars and has tried to jump into a few that weren't mine in the past!) She has a new coat, new electric blanket, and a new diet. She's particularly fond of Cafe 627 spicy chicken sans spice, and shelled Mars bars for energy. (Shelling a Mars bar is a messy but tasty job!) Canned fish (cat food) is also a popular but previously forbidden dish, along with that cheddar cheese stuff you get with snack packs..
The stress of knowing you're going to lose a friend isn't terribly pleasant of course, and has made me a little less reliable than usual. (I'll discuss the 7 register theory in another newsletter.) I'm trying to keep to reduced hours to get home before dark during the week,and making more stops to let her check out the world. Funnily enough, I've been through this with her before when 5 years ago she was on the back of a ute that rolled when it hit a roo. (Datsun 4WD with buggered shocks, and I wasn't driving.) We couldn't find her after the accident - but she turned up two days later at a nearby property. She was very lucky in that her leash snapped - but it must've been a heavy impact to do that. (It bent the pin in the collar's buckle by 30 degrees too, kind of amazing that she survived unscathed.)
When she does eventually go, I'll probably have a break from dogs for a while as I'm planning a trip to Tazzie at the end of the year. Maybe after that I'll find another - or another will find me!
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 11 - Addendum
An addendum to the last newsletter.
Sopcast & Spyware
Sopcast doesn't contain spyware. However, one of you has just advised me that some of the sites that are accessible from the 'home' tab in the SopCast player do have spyware. (I hadn't looked at that page - guess I've been on the 'net too long and am blind to advertising!) The channels I mentioned in the newsletter are on the Live Channels tab, so please ignore the advertising on the Home tab and stick to the channels already in the player to be on the safe side.
Match Game - new address
I found a better link for The Match Game - http://youtube.com/profile_videos?user=SuperPAC&p=r
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 11 :)
In this edition:
This is an out-of-sequence, special edition.
VoIP Users - Reminder on Dial Tones
A new VoIP customer has somehow managed to rack up a big Telstra bill despite having a brand new VoIP service. Just as a reminder to those of you using VoIP - please pay attention to the dialtone that your VoIP phone produces. If your VoIP modem is unable to connect to the Internet at any time, it may connect you directly to Telstra instead. You'll be able to tell this because the dial tone will be Telstra's. Also, the lights on your modem tell you if you're connected to VoIP or to the Telstra line - so if you're making a long call, and you're not 100% sure that you're on VoIP, check the lights to be sure. (The 'Line' light is on if you're on Telstra, whereas handset 1 or 2 is on if you're on VoIP.) On some handsets, especially Uniden cordless phones, pressing the talk button twice will also switch your call over to Telstra.
Free Discovery Channel, Sports & More.
Last week a customer signed up with me for Broadband in order to watch motorbike racing via the Internet. He'd paid for a subscription service from an American company, but we were unable to get the information through the Internet fast enough to be watchable in real time. We could pull in information at full speed in Australia, but traffic from America was not coming through fast enough.) Anyway, while waiting for a response from that company, I set off on a Google quest to see if there was another way...
I've mentioned Orb before - a program that lets you watch your TV from anywhere on the Internet. This works well if you have friends with pay tv and a suitable computer as you can watch their pay tv at the same time that they are - provided you both want to watch the same channel! To learn about this program go to http://www.orb.com/
This wouldn't work for this particular customer because his friends use satellite internet which is just too expensive for watching video with. So, I did another hour's research and eventually stumbled upon information about a program called Sopcast. It's a program that allows people to stream live TV / Video to multiple people at once. Once loaded, it lists multiple channels that it knows about - and I believe there are other channels available via the Internet but I haven't researched this. The channels in the list seem to come from Singapore because the ads tend to show starting times for South East Asia, Bangkok and Seoul - and naturally many of the shows are not in English. However, a number of them are in English with Chinese (I think they're Chinese) subtitles. The current list has ESPN Sports, National Geographic and Discovery channel, along with about 100+ others that I don't know what they are.
Now, of course there's a question as to whether this is legal. Google seems to show that it is - or at least the program itself is. After all, the program simply takes video from one place and sends it to other places. How the broadcasters could prevent it is hard to know - because of the peer to peer nature of the program (each watcher also sends to other watchers) it's probably hard to trace the source - and if the source is in a country like Sweden where there are few copyright laws then killing it is probably impossible. Use it at your own risk of course.
On the technical side, you need to have a fast broadband plan of at least 1500k/sec (which is $40 a month with me / Exetel or $60-$80 a month with BigPond) or else the video won't play. (It might almost play on 512k but I'm not sure about that.) It'll also count as a fairly big download while you're watching it - probably a couple of hundred megabytes per hour - and it uploads about half that at the same time. It doesn't seem to use any downloads or uploads when it's not running.
So, if you want to check it out - it's a free download from http://www.sopcast.com/ .
Oh, and if you have a new TV and a laptop, many new TVs let you connect your laptop to them so you can have the big screen experience.
The Match Game
Some of you might remember a show called Blankety Blanks. Well, back in the '70s there was a show in America called The Match Game, which was much the same. Recently a number of episodes (or parts thereof) have been turning up on YouTube - see http://youtube.com/results?search_query=match+game&search_type=&aq=f - so if you want to relive your childhood, or the simpler days of TV, enjoy!
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 10 :)
In this edition:
Potential AVG Problem for Dialup or Small Download Limited customers
There is a new feature in AVG called "AVG Safe Search." It's designed to give you a warning when you go to Google, Yahoo, etc if any of the resulting pages are malicious. However, their approach to this problem is a little unique! In the background it invisibly opens up each page in the search results to check if there are any nasties on it. This has some side effects.
1 - If you're on dialup, you know how long it takes just one page to load. Opening 10 pages at once in the background will take an unpleasantly long time.
2 - For any Internet connection, if you're paying by the amount you download; opening 10 pages at once could eat a fair chunk of your allowance each time you go a'googlin!
Fortunately it is quite simple to turn off this feature if you don't want it.
For Internet Explorer 7, click the Tools menu and choose "Manage Add-Ons." Click on AVG Safe Search, and then click Disable, OK.
For Firefox 2, click Tools and choose "Add-Ons." Click on AVG Safe Search, and then click Disable, OK.
In rare cases, it is rumoured that this feature can go completely nuts and repeatedly download the same page over and over in the background - one report on the net showed someone's computer downloaded the same page 20,000 times in a day. More information about this new feature and it's side effects are available at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/13/avg_scanner_skews_web_traffic_numbers/
Firefox 3 Coming Soon...
Mozilla has made some significant improvements to their Firefox web browser, and is expected to release their newest version on Tuesday. They're aiming to set a world record by getting at least 1.6 million downloads in 24 hours, so there's a chance that your computer might automatically fetch it if you're a Version 2 user.
The biggest improvements are in speed and memory usage, along with a nice new address bar that automatically searches for things you've been to before when you type words into it.
As usual, for safer browsing I recommend you download it and also install the Adblock Plus and Flashblock add-ons (by clicking Tools --> Add-ons), since malicious advertising is a major source for viruses and spyware. You will be able to get it from http://www.getfirefox.com/ . It also appears to be faster than Firefox 2 on Dialup due to less precacheing. (I'm using a preview version.)
Oh and of course, my absolute favourite feature of this new version is that it can remember the zoom level of each website you've been to. The writing on laptops is after all usually too small, so by having it remember the zoom level for each site, it saves the hassle of doing Ctrl + or Ctrl - each time you go to a new site. There's an add-in called "NoSquint" which also allows you to set a default zoom level for every new page.
A New Security Scanner - Secunia PSI
Many viruses and spyware programs take advantage of known vulnerabilities in programs on a computer in order to infect them. Most people use virus scanners, etc, in an attempt to catch these things when they happen. For example, there are some bugs that spread by sending a poisoned PDF file to Adobe Reader. When an older version of Adobe gets one of these, it dies, giving control of the computer to whoever wrote the bug. Likewise, QuickTime can be poisoned. So too can that Adobe Flash player thing that you might have seen at some point. Java, too, can be attacked. So can Windows itself, which is why every second Tuesday your computer (hopefully) updates itself with that little yellow shield thing near the clock, taking care of Microsoft's own vulnerabilities.
Of course, not all viruses and spyware work this way - lots of them use lies and trickery instead :) (For example, popping up a box saying 'spyware found on your computer - click here to fix it', which translates to 'click here to download a spyware program which will pretend you have a virus and ask you for some money to buy a program to remove it.' etc.)
If you're a paranoid or techy type, or even just curious to see what out-of-date vulnerable programs are on your computer, there's a great new program called Secunia PSI which scans your computer and tells you what's out of date, as well as giving you one-click buttons to update the relevant programs. It's free from https://psi.secunia.com/ - although it's still quite new and occasionally sits there for a minute looking like it's doing nothing, so don't worry if it seems momentarily lifeless - it's just distracted :)
Many of the more expensive antivirus programs will check the webpages you visit against lists of known bad sites - but this slows down your computer as it has to look up each page each time. You can offload this task to a company called OpenDNS for free by changing one setting on your computer. (Changing your DNS server to 22.214.171.124). If you want to know more, ask me or check out http://opendns.com/
Free Online First Aid Course
I'll admit I haven't actually done the course myself yet - but I really should as it's been 14 years since I last did one. St John Ambulances is running a free online First Aid Course website at https://www.ambulance.net.au/onlinecourse/login.asp - so if you've got 30 minutes spare it might be worth a look. (Fortunately no customers have tried to die on me - at least not while I've been on call!)
Rip-Offs of the Month.
A customer called me because she had a virus on her computer and she'd been quoted $700 by a local franchise competitor to repair it - that price apparently including $120 just to make a backup before doing any work, plus a new copy of office since she'd lent her disk to a relative. $120 for a backup? Blimey! It's really not that hard for us techs just to hook up a removeable hard disk and copy the Documents and Settings folder - takes about 10 mins of our attention max, then we just leave the computer for an hour and come back to it when it's done.
It turned out to be a typical sypware attack and I had it gone in about 40 mins. Total cost after other work to tidy up and help protect the PC: $65.
I get mildly burnt on eBay
A customer had a bad screen on his laptop. Buying a replacement screen is about $200 to $300 normally. In this case there was a matching model laptop on eBay with an apparent intermittent fault with the laptop turning off without warning. (Not unusual for that older model of Toshiba.) So I ended up getting it for $350, figuring I'd have some valuable parts left over after swapping out the screen. None of that quite went to plan this time around.
1 - The laptop would not power up at all when it arrived - no power light at all.
I soon discovered why the laptop was sold. Some bugger had spilt water on the touchpad area, and by the time it had arrived here the water had rusted through parts of the mainboard. A reminder to you all, of course, that if you get anything electronic wet, remove all batteries so this doesn't happen!
In the end, I'll probably not make a great loss as I'll be re-selling most of the parts on oztion.com.au where listing is free. (I've decided to support http://oztion.com.au over eBay for the time being since I don't like eBay's strategy of forcing people to use PayPal. Nor did the ACCC - more on that at http://apcmag.com/how_ebay_trashed_its_brand_for_the_sake_of_profits.htm .)
One nice thing about computers is that they're normally standardised. However, this isn't always the case, and I had a reminder of that recently. A very early model Optima computer had a fault that would not allow it to take more than 256M RAM, so it was decided to replace the motherboard. However, the front panel USB connector turned out to be wired in an unusual matter despite the connector being keyed to fit a standard motherboard connector. As a result, when it was turned on, it short circuited 5V through the thin wire, burning off the insulation and creating an impressive cloud of smoke. No real damage fortunately, although the owner did hurry to turn off the smoke detector! Similar traps have existed throughout the years - such as early Dell computers which had power boxes that looked identical to standard ones, but which were wired differently. Connecting a Dell motherboard or Power Supply to a standardised (non-Dell) part usually meant the sudden destruction of one or both components!
The Flat Batt
In the Kingswood there is a box called an Inverter. It takes power from the cigarette lighter and gives you a working power point. (Or in my case a 6 way power board.) Very useful. However, occasionally it catches you. The Friday before the long weekend was a long day, with lights, heater, etc, running, and also a laptop hard disk replacement which was done under battery power while I had lunch. (Takes about an hour to copy a hard disk.) Then there was a long weekend. Then Tuesday. The first job was a long one and flattened the battery of the laptop. So, during the next job, the car charged the laptop, and flattened itself instead! (50 watts for one hour is not normally a problem for the battery, but after Friday and the long weekend, it was.) Fortunately I was parked on the highway and it wasn't hard to push the car up to 5k/h and then rolling start it in second. I guess it really is time I bought that high capacity battery for the laptop!
Reddit is a site that lists sites that are most popular at any point in time, much like Digg and others. It's a bit America-centric by default, but now has an easy to use section where you can choose what sorts of stuff you do or don't want to know about. A warning of course that it might take up a fair bit of your time if you get addicted. http://reddit.com/ - Also in case you don't know, if you ever see something that says NSFW, that stands for "Not Safe For Work."
Read @ Work
OK and now for the final story for this newsletter. Someone with too much time on their hands, has created this 'read at work' website which takes the contents of a few books, and makes them look like typical office work! Good for a laugh, might get you fired? http://readatwork.com/
You can also subscribe or unsubscribe at http://auzzie.net/mailman/listinfo/ccc-news_auzzie.net
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 9 :)
In this edition:
Reminder: End of AVG 7.5 in 6 days.
Just a quick reminder for those of you using the old AVG that you need to upgrade to the new free version in the next few days.
You can get it from http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download?prd=afe
If you want to try a different free virus scanner instead, there is another one called Avast - free from http://www.avast.com/ - but don't forget to uninstall your current virus scanner before installing one of these since computers with two or more virus scanners often crash.
HP / Compaq Laptop Fault.
HP has made a number of laptops that are suicidal. It appears they have set them up with insufficient cooling and so they barbecue themselves to death. (No fire hazard, just a somewhat diminished lifespan.) I've seen a couple of laptops fail from this already in the last two months. The update causes the fan in the laptop to run for a longer time to prevent an early death.
If you have an HP laptop, look for the model number - usually on the top right corner of the screen. If it says dv-2000, dv-6000, dv-9000 or similar, you might be affected. The actual model number is underneath - so check it against the list on http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?docname=c01087277&lc=en&cc=us to see if you need to update the laptop.
This issue also affects Compaq V series laptops (V3000/V6000)
It's really hard to know what's a good laptop these days! Every brand has it's good and bad runs. Toshiba had a bad run in 2005-06 with some laptops, HP has had issues like this, Dell has had issues. Ironically, the laptop I've seen with the least issues of late are the cheapest $600 Acers!
Faxes are slowly dying out. There are a number of services on the Internet which offer to replace your fax machine and more importantly your fax line. If you're an Exetel customer you can get this service already. UTBox is another company that offers a similar service, but quite expensive compared to Exetel. (http://www.utbox.net/)
It works in two ways:
- Email to Fax: In this case you simply email whatever you want to fax to email@example.com and put your password in the subject line. It costs 3 cents per fax (up to 10 pages) anywhere in Australia.
- Fax to Email: In this case, you pay $1 per month for a dedicated fax number, and any fax sent to that number is delivered to you via email. The only issue here is that the fax number you get is going to be a Sydney / Brisbane / Adelaide or similar number, not a local regional number.
Of course, if you want to fax something that's on a sheet of paper, it's hard to beat an old fashioned fax machine. You can still use it on your main phone line to send such faxes, or use your fax's 'scan for email' function instead.
If you're a business user, if your accounting software has an option to email accounts, and you can get the subject line to stay the same on emails, then you could use this service to add fax capability to your existing software.
Sorry - this newsletter's a bit short on content, but I wanted to get the HP notice out to you so those affected can get your laptops fixed before they die on you! The remainder of the newsletter is the 'rambling' section :)
After much trial and error with different equipment, I'm now reasonably satisfied that I've found some reliable combinations of VoIP providers and equipment. A $125 integrated ADSL VoIP modem with Exetel or MyNetFone WhirlPool Saver is the way to go. I am doing discounted exchange / upgrades for some clients with older equipment that is not performing as it should.
The Odd Jobs of the last Month
Super Slow Laptop
I've actually had three of these this month. The symptom is that it takes your computer literally 1 minute to do the most basic thing. Click Start. Wait a minute. Start menu appears. Some have reported that it only happens when their internet is connected. Turns out it's an unexplained occurence of the Windows Update service breaking down. If your computer suddenly develops this issue, try clicking start, choosing run, and typing in 'net stop wuauserv' and pressing enter. If your computer is suddenly happy again, you've got the glitch - which incidentally is easy to fix but involves deleting a few files so get in touch if you need a hand.
Where's the Black?
The printers seem to be breeding in the office! I've had three printer repairs this month where the black simply stopped working. This usually happens with bad cheap inks - especially pigment inks. Fortunately I have some specialised cleaning equipment that has a moderate success rate. They're frustrating buggers to fix at times 'tho - typically you get one colour sorted and another one buggers off!
The Accounting Dilemma.
I know a lot about computers. I know somewhat less about accounting software although I have done a course in both. What I do know is if you have a problem with your MYOB or QuickBooks, they want to charge you through the nose for help. In one job I tried to help a customer move from a very old QuickBooks version to a new one, and after a few hours we had to give up since neither us nor Quicken could work out how to get the old info into the new version. (It didn't like provisional tax, etc.) Fortunately they didn't charge us for their time although they did sell us an upgrade we later found we didn't need.
Later, another customer job took almost 6 hours of experimenting to try to migrate from one system to another while selectively retaining information. It's always a bit of a dilemma to me when these sort of jobs come around - because you have in your mind that if you knew the system well, the answer might be simple; but finding someone who might know those answers (and might not) is prohibitively expensive and the customer has asked you to see if you can work it out instead. Generally I don't charge the full time on these, since it's an involuntary learning experience.
My preferred answer, of course, is to get the customer to deregister from GST and / or use the free tax office software E-Record instead since it doesn't have all this licensing, closed system rubbish that comes with these unwieldy accounting programs - but of course that doesn't suit many of these customers because of their requirements.
(I was particularly surprised one time when a customer had a friend get them started with MYOB, setting up the information on her own computer, and later giving it to said customer when they were ready for it - only a few months later to be told by MYOB that they have to pay a fee to get the license of the data file transferred because the data file (not the damn program!) belonged to the customer's friend and not the customer. It didn't matter to them that the customer had bought their own copy of the program.)
Schni schna schnappi schnappi schnappi schnapp
I wonder how many of you remember that viral song? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izibSMAQhEY - A young girl sang it in the radio in Germany and for a little while there it was one of those worldwide internet / radio phenomena.
I mention it here as a segway to the next story. A customer called to say their kids had snapped their screen half off their laptop. (In this case, an ASUS laptop.) Laptop hinges are quite prone to failure as they get older - either through screws getting loose in the hinge area, or through the hinges tightening to the point that they cause the plastic to break instead. In this case, the kids weren't entirely to blame even tho it appears they did drop it. Some of the screws had come loose and the remaining screw holding a nut into the plastic casing broke away from the plastic, causing the screen to come away from the laptop. A couple of small modifications later and it was back together albeit not quite a strong as before.
The said kid who dropped it was pleased to have me back up her story that she hadn't been overly rough with it!
So, if your laptop had developed a wobble in the screen - feels a bit loose - it might be a good idea to either tighten the screws yourself (which are usually hidden under rubber covers) or get someone to do that for you ;-)
I often read about why Petrol prices keep going up. There seem to be two arguments at this time. Some claim it's Peak Oil (where they can't find and extract enough oil to cover the demand, so prices rise) while others are claiming it's Futures Speculation by Hedge Funds. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/JE24Dj02.html is the last item I read to this effect. If it is the latter, then we're probably going to be happy soon when they over-gamble (or whatever it is that these people do - I'm not knowledgeable about this stuff yet) and their system crashes bringing the price down with it. If it really is Peak Oil instead, then I guess it's never going to come down. So, I've been thinking to myself at what point does this really worry me, and at this stage I think $3 per litre is the point where I'd start to look at alternative means - or at least have to increase the minimum callout rate.
How about an electric car?
If I had the $10,000 to $15,000 to spare I'd be converting either the spare Nissan Bluebird or the Merc 190b to electric. It's such an easy thing to do once you have the parts - as you can see by watching the New Zealand series at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83_Zig2vZlQ&feature=related - and the 70 mile per charge maximum range would suit most of my days, with about $1 of electricity max to recharge - somewhat less with offpeak. (Besides, it'd just be fun to do.)
Unfortunately my disposable income budget doesn't stretch that far (yet) so how about...
An electric bike?
I recently bought for $120 a 200 watt electric scooter just for a bit of fun and to see how they're made - because I can use most of the parts anyway if it turned out to be cr*p. It will run 8km on a charge in the hilly Black Mountain terrain and could easily be upgraded to go further - but it's not entirely practical for on road use out here, and of course I later found out that they're illegal in every state except Victoria - so now it's only used for exercising the dog.
It is, however, legal to put an electric motor on a bicycle, although the Australian laws are somewhat backward in this regard only allowing 200 Watts ass opposed to the UK 300 Watt limit and the US 750 Watt limit. As those of you in Guyra have probably seen, you can get away with putting a petrol motor on a bicycle at higher power levels than that legally - so the disparity is unfair and certainly doesn't encourage green electric transport on this scale. (I might have to learn how to get political on this one - any tips? The Tory party in the UK is working on changing the laws there since they, like Australia, currently also ban Segways.) Nonetheless there are a few legal low-powered kits available but with a starting retail price of $1,000 they're not exactly cheap. I don't mind peddling, and ran my business for a few years on abicycle in Bourke where hills were a novelty; but hills here are a bit of a pain ;-)
There are of course other more common options with price tags to match - from Vectrix scooters to the Tesla Roadster. For now the Kingswood's still the roost ruler, although the scooter may yet be 'grafted' onto the bike one weekend!
Ubuntu / Unix / Linux
You might have heard of one of these at some point. They're usually mentioned by 'geeks' as a way of getting rid of Microsoft.
I've tried a few out of curiosity, and they are certainly improving. Basically instead of running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you run something else that is free, and does the same things as Windows does without all the licensing costs. The latest Ubuntu can also be installed in Windows without having to wipe your hard disk etc so you can try it without risking stuffing up your computer.
I have it running on my laptop so if you're curious to see what this third option (as opposed to Windows and Mac) looks like, I can give you a demo.
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 8 :)
In this edition:
AVG Update Information
About 70% of you use AVG Free Edition. As a result, most of you will by now have received a message from AVG recommending that you get AVG version 8. Just like two or three years ago when this last happened, the message largely entices you to go and buy a high-fallutin' version which is overkill for most people - to the extent that it's not clear that there's still a free version.
There is a free version still, and you can get it from http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download?prd=afe
I am not sure how long version 7.5 will continue to work for - at a guess probably a month or two. It may magically turn itself into version 8, but that's not known at this time.
It appears that part of their reason for this upgrade is to offer you a new yahoo toolbar and AVG security toolbar - so they're hoping you'll use these to search for things and thereby earn Grisoft (AVG's authors) a commission along with some useful internet usage tracking. (It seems every program you install these days wants to install a toolbar so they can earn revenue from a search engine!) These components are optional of course. If you're on dialup or a low download account I'd suggest you don't install the toolbars as they will add some traffic to your connection when you're on the 'net. For all people I'd also recommend you don't ask for a daily scan when setting up despite it asking for one - it's always scanning in the background anyway and a computer doing a full scan is usually a bit slow and annoying!
The free version download is just under 47 MB in size, so it will be very difficult to download if you're on dialup - approximately 5 - 10 hours to download if you don't get disconnected. So, if you're on dialup and you do want to download it, you might first want to download "Free Download Manager Lite" from http://files.freedownloadmanager.org/lite/fdminst-lite.exe which will allow you to continue downloads even if your line drops out and you have to reconnect because it continues from where it left off rather than starting again. (It's about 2MB.)
If you don't want to download the new AVG, email me with your postal address, and I'll post you a copy on CD for $10 - to cover the cost of CD, Burning, Postage, time :)
Some problems with Equipmentless VoIP
A few of you who are using the 20c untimed equipmentless VoIP thing have had trouble with the exchange not calling you back. I am keeping an eye on this situation. Exetel has made some noises on a private forum about introducing it as a product in it's own right - so with a bit of luck that will happen in the next month or two, bringing greater reliability with it. If you do have a problem with the service, please email or WLM/MSN me and I'll pass the problem on to Exetel for investigation.
This newsletter's biggest bargain is not high tech. It's the Halogen heater - usually to be found for about $20 in supermarkets and cheap shops like The Warehouse and The Reject shop. There are two advantages these heaters have over other heaters.
1 - They're cheapish to run. At only 1200 watts when on high, they use half the power of most fan heaters.
The two downsides. 1 - About a 50% chance of one of the three bars failing within one year of use, and 2 - Dogs and cats - especially black ones - can singe their fur if they lie too close.
Not sure what they look like? (The heater, not the burnt pet) Click for a picture :) http://www.onix.com.au/internet/product_display.aspx?rec=78
One of the nice features in Vista that is not in XP is the ability to type in the first few letters of the program you want, and it comes up for you. (Start Menu Searching.) There is a handy free program called "VistaStartMenu" which gives you that feature in Windows XP. It's free from http://www.vistastartmenu.com/index.html
Learn to touch type the fun way!
The best thing about touch typing is that you can type without having to look at what you're doing - which makes you more efficient. It also gets you envious stares from the typing-challenged ;-) Chatting online is one way to get a fast typing speed, as you eventually get the feel of where the letters are - but if you want to be a true touch typer you need to know a couple of little tips.
The first tip - and this might be all you need to start learning - is to look at your keyboard's F and J keys. You'll find there's a little notch sticking up from them. Those are the keys that the fingers directly next to your thumbs go on. If you stick your hands on the keyboard and ensure that those two fingers stay near or on those two keys, and just use whatever finger is closest to the key you are after, you could probably adapt from a medium speed two finger peck to a low speed touch typer - and of course the more you do the better you'll get. (I started out as a three finger typist initially - one finger for shift and two for everything else.
Now, that's all well and good - but perhaps you want something a little better? There's a great free program called Stamina Typing Tutor at http://www.typingsoft.com/stamina.htm - it will teach you the basics initially and gives you a picture of the keyboard on the screen so you can see where the keys are without looking down - but the best part is that you can change it over to 'phrases' mode and get to type in some occasionally rude phrases. It makes rude noises if you make a mistake, and has some background music as well.
A Thing that goes Bing.
Every few years I decide that I want a clock that chimes on the hour. I go and look for one, try it, and it works for a bit then crashes and gets forgotten about. My latest find at http://www.blaiz.net/CHIMER.HTM has so far been faultless. I'm using the 'Elegance' sound setting which basically just sounds like a triangle hit per hour for the number of hours. It does have more raucous settings of course if you want them.
Here's a couple of recent entertaining sites.
Misheard Lyrics http://www.pajiba.com/misheard-lyrics.htm - here's a quote from there. (May have some rude words.)
I definitely thought for the longest time that in "You Oughta Know", Alanis was singing "It's not fair to remind me of the cross-eyed bear that you gave to me". Cross-eyed bear? Whatever, I was like 10. (Editor's note: The correct lyric was "It's not fair to remind me of the cross I('d) bear that you gave to me.)
Rules of Thumb http://rulesofthumb.org/ - Take these with a pinch of salt, but some are curious :) Here's a couple...
If you don't want a cat to jump into your lap, don't make eye contact with it.
Big Brother Fans?
Like it or hate it, it's back. If this year is like last year, there's a strong chance that Big Brother episodes will appear on many torrent sites such as http://www.mininova.org (caution - lots of annoying ads on this site) - so if you miss an episode you may be able to download it to watch later. (You might need to search for Big Brother AU 08 or something similar as there are a tonne of US episodes on there.) This is true of most major TV series - but as usual the legality of this is murky. Also, since the downloads will probably be a few hundred megabytes, this won't be an option for those of you on low download plans.
Exetel Activation down to $88
Exetel's having a bit of an "ADSL Drive" it seems and has lowered their new ADSL activation fee to $88. (It was $145) The rates can be viewed at http://www.auzzie.net/ADSL/pricing.html
They have also introduced a new optional feature where they can slow your line down rather than charge you $3 per 1000MB over your plan's allowance if you exceed your plan's download limit.
The Odd Jobs of the last Month
Turn it off an on again?
I probably shouldn't be telling you this one? Probably about 5-10% of jobs are cured simply by turning the problem bit of equipment off and on again! (At the power point that it - this actually makes a difference for computers!) This is particularly true of networking equipment and modems, as small dips in the power can be enough to confuse them.
This week saw the repair of a laptop that had a drink of coffee. Fortunately because of the design, the coffee was contained within the keyboard and did not leak through to the rest of the computer. The machine was repaired successfully :)
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[ccc-news] Assorted News 7 :)
In this edition:
New Statement System
One of the challenges of being self-employed and small-scale like myself is that you often have to do everything yourself - including accounting and paperwork. Back in '97 when I was starting out, I built a basic accounting system to produce invoices for computer repairs, as well as my dial-up ISP business. Over the years, it's been added to, changed, modified, had GST integrated, then removed again, handling for VoIP accounts, etc.
One thing it didn't do was any sort of automation regarding old accounts, which meant every few months I would have to go through by hand, reprint any unpaid accounts, and resend them. So, this easter, I took some time out to build in a statements feature, which at the beginning of each month, after EFTs and cheques have been entered, will generate printed statements and envelopes. I made a rule that statements will only be sent if an invoice has not been paid 30 days after it was sent, and that statements will only be sent by mail as I have a suspicion that emailed accounts are increasingly getting lost in inboxes or junk folders.
Hopefully, by sending accurate statements to people in a timely matter, it will help with tracking down missing payments for both parties :)
Some Small Business Tax tips:
Last year, tax time, I changed from a tax agent to an accountant, and learnt a few new things that saved me a bit of money...
Note: I'm not a qualified accountant, so this is general information only, and there's a fair chance I might be wrong or it might have changed! Like the ABC says, the information in this email is general in nature and should not be taken as personal professional financial advice.
Turnover less than $75,000 per year? If so, you may be able to deregister for GST. The positives: Less paperwork, Cheaper rates for residential customers. The negatives: you cannot claim GST for Items you purchase for the business. So far, since I deregistered from GST, I have had very few problems. (This used to be $50,000 up to a few years ago.)
Sole Trader: If you can keep your turnover below $50,000 per year, you may be able to claim for the "Entrepreneur's Offset" which can drop your end of year tax by 25%. Note that this benefit is available at higher turnover, but reduces as your turnover increases. Opinion: Testing this against turnover rather than profit is a silly thing in my opinion as having a high turnover does not necessarily mean a high profit. Example: I buy a DVD Burner, then sell it to a customer. My turnover is $60 higher, but the profit is $0 for the sale, yet I lose out in tax. This encourages a cash economy.
This week's biggest bargain is from Dick Smith Electronics. For just $74 you can buy a Samsung Laser Printer. It's only a black and white printer, but it does 22 pages a minute, and gives about 1000 pages on the provided toner cartridge, with replacements having a higher capacity. This compares favourably with ink printers that often only give you a couple of hundred pages per cartridge. http://www.dse.com.au/cgi-bin/dse.storefront/47ef456604eed6802742c0a87f9c0754/Product/View/XP0602
The only caveat I've found with this printer is that it has only one tray - so if you want to print on envelopes you have to remove the envelopes when you want to print on ordinary paper again.
Turn XP or Vista into a multi-user remote desktop server.
If you've ever worked in a fair size office, you might be familiar with remote desktop connections - where you operate a work computer from a remote location. Normally, if you do this with XP, you can not use the computer at the same time as someone else. However, there's a little trick you can play on XP that will allow you to have up to three people using it at once simultaneously. It involves replacing one file on the computer with an older version that predates Microsoft's decision to force people to buy server versions. (And it works on Vista too by the way.) This can also have unusual uses - for example, say you have a nice new computer at home, and one or more old computers, laptops, whatever. You can use these old computers to remotely drive the new computer even while someone else is sitting in front of it and using it. (I did this recently when my main laptop died - I had an old Pentium 1 laptop running XP, Office 2007, Firefox, etc, at full speed.) The old computers will behave like the new computer since they're just acting as terminals while the new computer does all the work.
If you want more information about this, write back, or do some research for concurrent users in xp.
Documentaries on Joost.
You might remember Joost from a previous newsletter - an internet-based TV replacement. Lately some nights there hasn't been anything much worth watching on TV, so if you've got a decent unlimited broadband connection (1.5M or faster) you might like to check out some of the nature doco's on Joost. http://joost.com/02000b0 - I can also help with getting your TV and computer talking to eachother.
The Odd Jobs of Last Month...
Perhaps one of the most bizarre jobs of recent times - a customer complaining of a computer that would restart itself whenever it was left alone for a few minutes - but would be just fine while it was being used. This would normally indicate a dodgy screensaver, but in this case it wasn't. I eventually witnessed that the fault only ever happened when she got up from her chair! In the end, it appears that the fault was due to new carpet, and possibly a USB extension cable that was resting on it. That is one temperamental computer!
Missing the Obvious:
Another customer has an office with two computers, both Vista, with one sharing files with the other. After repeated problems with files taking up to a minute to open over the network and trying Vista SP1 on both PCs which was rumoured to fix other issues, I brought in two extra Vista laptops to join the network and help pinpoint the fault. As testing began, one of the customers told the other, jokingly, that it was the other guy's Norton 360 causing it, even though up to that point in the testing process it didn't seem to be the case. However, about 10 minutes later, it turned out he was right! The fault, it turned out, only affected Vista Home Editions talking to eachother when Norton 360 was installed. Vista Business / Ultimate editions weren't similarly affected. So it was bye bye Norton, hello AVG. (Note - I did disable Norton during testing but even when disabled it would still break things.)
Beating the Gouge.
Another customer had an old stock tracking program that he'd been using for 7 years on a Windows 98 PC. However, when we tried to put it on Vista, there was a glitch in the program that prevented it from being activated by the authors. He was looking at upgrading, at a cost of $1,500 - not cheap! The problem was solved by using Microsoft Virtual PC to make a clone of his old PC onto his Vista laptop. Now, he can carry on as usual. (This trick doesn't always work as it depends on how the particular softwares registration process works - in this case the program he had was oblivious to the apparent hardware upgrade.)
It's All Gone :(
One customer lost a fair bit of information when his Western Digital hard drive in his computer died without warning. Another customer's PC did the same thing a week later. Western Digital drives like to die this way, giving no warning. Fortunately in both cases, they had a backup.
Aah well, that's it for this newsletter - hope you all had a good Easter break!
Sadly, the old friend of ours died a few hours ago, peacefully, aged 87.
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Laptop beep when unplugged freeware
[Edit] This program causes problems when entering and coming out of standby. It can still be used, but will probably not suit.
Sometimes when working on my laptop, the power cord may fall out - usually care of a dog sleeping near the heater. My laptop does nothing special to let me know this has happened, until it's getting flat of course.
Someone, two years ago, wrote a program that can be modified to suit this purpose - his program at http://alarm.sourceforge.net/ was written with the intention that if someone unplugged your laptop while it was turned on, it would play an alarm sound to warn of theft. In my case, I just made up a 5 min MP3 with a short sound at the beginning (because his utility repeats the sound continuously and is not configurable) and overwrote his included HomeAlarm.mp3 sound with my own.
This might seem like a slightly pointless post, but a google for laptop beep when unplugged does not at present give any useful results.
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Samsung SyncMaster 710n won't turn on.
This may be a solution to the following ailments:
710n Won't turn on after standby
I have one of these which has come in for repair. The fault appears to be heat related - there's no obvious fault within the unit.
If you have one of these and it is starting to fail after it's been on for a while, you might be able to eek a bit more life out of it by sticking a computer fan to the back of it, and if that works well perhaps fitting it permanently. A number of flat screens don't really provide enough ventilation and thus die an early death through running too hot internally.
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The Background Intelligent Transfer Service failed to start - possible fix
As an IT consultant, I occasionally run into a problem that takes ages to fix. In a recent case, a computer could not start BITS. (Sadly I didn't catch the exact error wording.)
After trying the usual tricks (that usually fix Automatic Updates) I got nowhere and had to resort to multi-page Googling. Here's the one link that did end up fixing the problem comprehensively - although at this stage I'm still not sure exactly which step fixed it.
If this link ever 404's let me know, I've saved a copy.
EDIT: CastleCops ceased trading. I've mirrored their page at http://auzzie.net/BITS/
(/me ponders whether 404's should have an apostrophe.)
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How to stop your ZZ Cruiser overheating (cuts out)
The ZZ Cruiser is an electric scooter. I recently purchased one via Deals Direct for just $120 when they were selling them off. (That would be close to being below cost.)
Living out in Black Mountain is not the ideal home for one of these - rough bitumen, not smooth pavement. So, on it's first trip it rattled and clanked alarmingly! Turned out it was the speed controller rattling around in the case, plus the two batteries bouncing around vertically. This is easily fixed with new double sided tape, and adding a foam base to the battery compartment area.
Next problem was that on long uphill runs, after about 1km or so it'd cut out. Turned out to be the speed controller overheating and cutting out. So, here's how to resolve that issue.
1 - Find or buy an 8cm computer / power supply fan.
Your computer fan is 12V, not 24V, so it needs to be wired in in a special way. Here's how
3 - Strip back about 1cm off the black and red wires on the fan.
That done you should now find that the fan runs when you turn on the master switch. The fan draws only .18 amps or so so will be less than a 1% drop in capacity - the scooter itself probably drawing up to 15A at stall.
My practical range in this hilly area is around 8km per charge, somewhat lower than you'd get in a flat area. However, at some stage I plan to modify the design slightly to support regenerative braking.
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