Tech Talk Column Archive

9/23/10

“Is this a technology question?” asks a reader. “Could I use an electronic keyboard to practice on? My roommate also plays. Are there trade-offs I couldn’t live with?”

Yes, sounds like a technology question, to me. Yes, it can work just fine to practice piano on a digital piano (but not all electronic keyboards are digital pianos). I doubt the trade-offs would be such that you can’t live with them.

Calling the differences between digital pianos and acoustic pianos “trade-offs” suggests that there could be some advantages and some disadvantages. The question would be how those balance out.

Another way to look at it is that those are two kinds of pianos, and each has its uses, and they are not entirely interchangeable. That’s about where I stand on the issue. So far I have kept my Baldwin, but I have had electronic keyboards for a long time, and two digital pianos.

There have been digital pianos, some of them excellent, long enough that I am not sure it makes sense to refer to the acoustic kind as “traditional.” Which tradition would that mean? The tall, pre-WWII upright? The uprights produced since then, from three to five feet high? Horizontal pianos called grands, from three to 12 feet long? Those can sound very different from each other, but all would be recognizable as pianos. None of them sound like Beethoven’s piano, though.

The college student (at least I think it is a dorm room that is mentioned) seems to think getting an electronic keyboard in there wouldn’t be so difficult, but putting an acoustic piano in there could be out of the question. Makes sense to me. But this reader might be picturing the synthe kind of keyboard, which is seen in many settings. I would not recommend most synthes for maintaining or building piano abilities. They don’t feel or sound or operate enough like pianos; but there are a few digital pianos that have some of the characteristics of synthes.

Digital pianos need to have at least 76 keys, but most have 88, the same number as modern acoustic pianos. There are lots of keyboards around that have 61 or fewer keys, but that would be only five octaves plus an extra c, and that is not enough for piano players except in very early stages of piano study.

I would miss the extra 12 keys, if I had a 76-key piano, because I am used to having 88. But then, Beethoven didn’t have 88, or wire (strings) as heavy as that in my Baldwin, or a cast-iron plate or “harp” inside the cabinet, and I think Beethoven still managed very well. It would appear from the sloppy way he wrote ledger lines, Beethoven would not have used a lot of the lowest notes we can play, or the tippy-top ones either.

A digital piano is much lighter, and easier to move around. Not only do movers of digital pianos not risk hernias, but there is no need to call a piano tuner every time a digital piano is moved. I wonder whether those people who diss digital pianos are piano technicians and surgeons!

Many digital pianos available now feel enough like acoustic pianos to allow pianists to maintain their ability to control dynamics, and to use proper phrasing and touch effects. I don’t get a really good manual sostenuto “ring” with my digital piano, though.

Digital pianos classified as “stage pianos” generally lack on-board amps and speakers. The expectation is that they will be used in settings where there are sound systems, and will be connected to amps and speakers. Most other digital pianos have on-board speakers. Digital pianos that come in cabinets resembling short upright pianos in appearance tend to have more on-board sound.

Most digital pianos also have output jacks for headphones or speakers or both.

Concerning touch, most digital pianos being marketed now are designed to simulate the feel of acoustic piano keys. Acoustic piano keys are levers, attached to hammer actions. The fingers overcome the weight of the key mechanisms, and the weight is not uniform from bottom to top of the scale. “Graduated action” in a digital piano indicates that this difference has been simulated. Some have little hammers inside, but they don’t strike anything.

Many digital pianos come with sustain pedals, the pedal on the right, typically used with the right foot; all at least have jacks for sustain pedals, and some “cabinet” models have all three pedals. I don’t like doing without the middle, or sostenuto pedal; but many piano players use one but little—depending on the kind of music they play. The una corda (sometimes called “soft”) is good to have, too, but most of us can live without it.

What most digital pianos can do that acoustic ones can’t is interface with a computer. Those of us who do some composing and arranging and use notation software do like to use MIDI (musical instrument digital interface). We need MIDI in and MIDI out, definitely; and MIDI through is very handy too. There are other interfaces now too.

Many digital pianos can be pitch adjusted up or down enough to match some other instrument. That would be a very tedious undertaking with an acoustic piano! And quite a few digital models can transpose to any desired key. Well, about time people stopped expecting us keyboard instrument players to transpose for everyone else!

Digitals I have played do not provide the tactile feedback (as distinct from touch) I enjoy from good acoustic pianos in good tune. And I miss the shifting, circling “sympathetics”; but some musicians would not.

Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Korg, Roland—lots of good digital pianos out there. I encourage my reader to find one—Musician’s Friend or zzZounds might have a used one or close-out at a masterpiece of a price.

9/30/10

A community resident and I were discussing the need for a new library. Or rather, in her case, she was saying why she doesn’t think there is such a need.

She said there will be fewer and fewer books in coming years. “People will read online. They already do. People will all own those little book machines like the Kindle. The prices are coming down and they’ll cost about $25 before long and anyone can afford them.”

Yes, I did point out that whether or not we keep putting more books on shelves and into lending circulation, there isn’t a good solution to the accessibility problem relating to the present library building.

But back to the alleged shrinking market for actual books, the kind made of paper. Amazon, which sells a lot of books, says sales of electronic books (e-books) have passed hardback book sales. Next  year they will pass softcover book sales. In 1912 they will exceed the combined sales of both kinds of books. I am not talking about sales of the devices, but of the books that can be read on the devices.

But it seems that many owners of electronic book readers and buyers of e-books still buy conventional books.

It also seems that many people with cell phones have dropped their landlines; others have not, but use both.

So I tend to think we will continue to need more space in our public library; and I think we will want to have regular books around.

Electronic book reading devices are proliferating and becoming more affordable. Even the e-book versions of published books are becoming more affordable. But most are not free—and we can use library books for nothing.

My conversation partner mentioned above asked me whether I have “one of the devices,” and whether one would work for me, given my visual limitations. I told her I have used two different e-book readers that belong to other people. I would love to own one.

I did download Kindle for PC, which is free. Obviously it is used on a computer. Kindle books can be downloaded and read on it. Most books published since 1923 must be purchased, and the usual price is $9.95. (Please Amazon, just say $10! We consumers don’t really think something is more affordable if that last dollar has a nickel shaved off.)

Kindle for PC and portable Kindles also can download and use any of thousands of free books, mostly classics, older works and textbooks.

But the portable e-book reading device I really lust for is the new Sony Reader, Touch edition, PRS-650. It can be ordered now for $229.99. (Please, Sony, just say $230. We consumers of such products can’t be induced, subliminally, to accept the one cent break as an inducement to buy what we would not have popped for without it. Truly!) It is said to be in stock at Sony; and the estimated ship date is—tomorrow.

Like other Sony readers, the new 650 is slim, has a metal case, has a 6-inch clear touch screen and an intuitive design.

Using the stylus or your finger, you tap or swipe to turn pages, set bookmarks, change the font, highlight and take notes.

The 650 can handle most common file formats, and EPUB/ACS4 and Adobe Digital Editions, and is copacetic with Mac and PC platforms and will play back common-format audio files that have not been copy-crippled.

Those public domain books on Google? The Sony PRS-650 can use them.

The display looks like paper, with conventional printing on it, which shows up well even in bright sunlight.

If you downloaded several thousand books (for me, they would have to be those free ones), your Reader Touch Edition would let you carry all of them around. If you want to lug 50,000, that will require use of additional memory cards.

You won’t need to carry a charger unless you are going to be on the go for at least two weeks—or so they claim. This baby, fully charged, can go for “up to” that long. (Really? Thirteen days, 11 hours, 59 minutes, then it goes black?)

Oh, yeah, there is a Kindle out there for $139.95, so I hear. ::sigh:: (How about charging only $139.90? Please, Amazon, knock off a whole dime!)

Are you using an e-book reader? Tell us about it.

10/07/10

Recently I was helping someone get used to a new application she needed to use in her work.

 

She had used WordPerfect for years and years, she told me. “I bet I used the first version there ever was,” she said. I told her she must have been using a mainframe, because WordPerfect was a document preparation program developed for use on those, before there were any “personal computers.”

 

Turned out she had used an early version of WordPerfect for use on a DOS operating system, and the first WordPerfect for Windows, and almost every version since then. WordPerfect used to be standard, in law offices. Now Microsoft Word is.

 

“I also used one of those things that was more like a typewriter, but it had this little display and worked like a computer, but all it did was our letters and court papers. It also printed,” she recalled. I remembered those. Brother made some of them. “What was your first word processor?” she asked.

 

Computer-wise, that would be the word processor that was part of GeoWorks, I said. Then she mused, “Well, I guess typewriters processed words…”

 

Later I thought about word processing some more, and decided my first word processing was accomplished with chalk on a little blackboard on the kitchen wall of my childhood home. Mother taught us to read and print and do some arithmetic before we were old enough for school.

 

Soon after making letters and numbers on the blackboard, I began to use paper and pencil, first for drawing and then for printing. Once in school I processed words with chalk, pencil and pen.

 

I could think of typewriters and teleprinters and telecopiers and maybe mimeographs as word processing equipment. But what would be my favorite? Probably a good pen.

 

Much as I like a good felt-tip, a Sharpie, a roller ball or even a marker, what I like more is a fountain pen.

 

I have had neat little Waterman pens, a Sheaffer or two and a nice Parker. I used to keep several fountain pens handy, one containing black ink, one with red, one with green. There was a special pen in a holder, for writing music. There was an Osmiroid for cursive Italic.

 

Some “ordinary” fountain pens were turned into the kind I liked for writing and lettering, when I filed the “beads” off the nibs and gave them a bevel.

 

The Sheaffers had snorkels which extended from the nib for filling the pens. Others had pumps, and others had bladders to squeeze.

 

I used Parker Quink and Sheaffer and Waterman and Pen-it ink for writing. It got so ink was not stocked in stores. But it could be found on desks in post offices and banks—so sometimes I resorted to filling up in those establishments. Then “ink pens” and ink vanished, or were eradicated, it seemed, leaving only ball-point pens and felt-tips.

 

Pilot Precise pens are nice, fine-point felt-tip pens. Actually the tips are nylon. I buy those Pilots by the dozen. I didn’t know Pilot makes fountain pens until I started searching for a fountain pen with a stub nib.

 

I found the Pilot 78G fountain pen at HisNibs.com, and ordered it like a shot, along with a nice big bottle of velvet black Private Reserve.

 

They came in a few days, well packed to guard against accidents in transit. Not only would my valiant postal delivery person be annoyed to have ink escaping in the mail truck or bag, but I would be sorry to lose any of that Private Reserve. It took me about half an hour to get the top unscrewed the first time.

 

The pen is perfect. The stub nib does that thick-and-thin line thing. Cursive writing is a dying skill, but even for “manuscript” (hand printing), fountain pens are great.

 

Drawing pens are a whole nother thing—and I have bunches of those. But for word processing, there’s nothing like a good fountain pen filled with black, or blue-black, or “chocolat” ink.

 

 10/14/10

A reader upbraided me mildly for not having written about games lately. He was talking about computer games. I believe he and a colleague or two have developed some games or are in the process of doing that; but they haven’t sent me a beta, so I can’t review theirs.

I don’t keep up with games, and am not a great game player by any stretch. But one game I have played (although I don’t have it on any of my systems) is Sid Meier’s Civilization.

The one I played didn’t have a Roman numeral, as I recall. First edition books don’t say First Edition in the front, because that would be presumptuous or bad luck or something. But later editions are numbered, and “serial” movies are, and so it is with computer games.

Civilization is up to V now. The franchise is going strong. If only civilization, the concept and the state, were doing so well.

The series is produced by Firaxis Games. To run on Windows XP, Civilization needs a Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2 64, 2GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage free, a DVD-ROM drive for installation, and a highly capable video card or integrated graphics capability.

For Vista (SP2) or 7, it wants at least 2 4GHz Quad Core CPUs, 4GB of RAM, and of course a frisky, gaming-capable video board or mainboard implant.

A broadband connection is a must for interactive gaming. But you knew that.

Graphics are spiffed up a lot in CivV. This is a strategy game, so the more clearly images and controls are rendered, the better the play.

The research tree is optimized as to selection of technologies, and it is easier to see how innovations would fit into potential strategies, long-range or short-term.

This is the first Civ to utilize hexagonal mapping, as some war games have for years. (So does Chinese Checkers—the one played on a real board with holes, and marbles.) Only one combat unit may occupy a hex at a given time. Cities, not just forces, have defenses.

The claim is that play is streamlined. Players can fight over possession of strategic resources, but not in mind-boggling, decision bogging numbers.

In general, the upgrades simplify play by enabling more rapid decisions and more intuitive execution.

Unified social policies are available in CivV. Other versions required that players make separate choices concerning religion, culture, form of government and type of economic system, inter alia. Now a social policy can be elected from a list of eight, each incorporating all those elements.

A lingering drawback or lack of realism is that a player’s civilizations may go to war somewhat unpredictably, or with no just cause. Wait, did I say that detracts from realism? Oops!

But try this one: peace also breaks out seemingly spontaneously, sometimes, not as a result of a victory or defeat. How often does that happen in our real life version of civilization?

Diplomacy? There’s little of that broken out. Too bad. If there were more stress on those efforts, CivV would be a great tool for the State Department and the Commander in Chief. We could all chip in and send them copies. (Too bad there isn’t a Blackberry edition.)

Civilization is a solid franchise, in my opinion. Played in DirectX 11, the new graphics features are nice as long as a recent, high powered video card is in use, along with the latest driver. Otherwise it is necessary to back up into DirectX 9, lest a memory leak trigger a crash.

I see GameSpot gives this version 9.4 on a scale of 10. Other scores are in that range.

Civilization V is available at Amazon for $49 even. List price is $49.99 (there’s that magical .99 that we aren’t supposed to be able to round up from before deciding to buy!). Not such a great discount, but hey, it qualifies for free shipping.

10/21/10

“Have you ever written about food technology?” someone asked me. “Like you wrote about how people write, and about phones—how about food?”

“Farming? Cooking? Packaging?” I asked. He said what he had been thinking about was food preparation technology, especially the way food is prepared in homes and restaurants and schools; but those other aspects would be interesting to look at too.

“It has changed a lot, hasn’t it!” He said. Well, it has, and it hasn’t.

Wa-a-ay back when I was a small child, there was quite a lot of difference between cooking technology in remote rural homes and that town and city homes. (You’re probably thinking about how hard it was for women to cook while wearing those hoop skirts. I do not have a clear recollection of that, though.)

Before a gas well was brought into production on our farm and we had natural gas for our own use, my family cooked and heated with wood. That was very labor intensive. My mother knew about wood and coal cook stoves and heating, from her childhood, and she could regulate the wood range for perfect stovetop and oven results.

When I was a toddler the Aladdin lamps gave way to electric lights, and there was power for the first Surge milker, but we weren’t wired for appliances. No mixers or irons, certainly no electric range, no refrigerator. Some of the garden bounty and meat from the farm went to the frozen food locker in town; the rest was canned, mostly “hot packed” in a large canner.

Mother chopped, shredded, grated, mixed, beat, whipped, kneaded by hand. She had a large egg beater and a small one. Her blender was a pastry blender, curved blades on a handle. She had an array of wooden spoons for mixing everything from meat loaf to dough to batter to pudding. Meat was ground in a zinc-coated gadget clamped to a table, with Mother turning a crank. With a change of blades she ground onions, or peppers, or bread, or veggies for relish.

High-line electric was tantalizingly close—three-quarters of a mile down the road. When finally Penelec ran it all the way to our place, there had already been one revolution: our generator had been converted to natural gas, and we had a floor furnace and several space heaters, and a Kalamazoo combination range. And now Dad rewired the house and barn for “regular electricity,” and my parents got a Crosley Shelvador refrigerator.

Mother was cooking with gas, but she was delighted with the Dormeyer mixer. Years later she got an Osterizer blender, and it was so handy she got each daughter, by then cooking for her own household, a blender.

My blenders have included two Osterizers, a Waring and a Cuisinart. I have had two stand-alone food processors and one that attaches to the General.

Ah, the General! It is my mighty stand mixer, still chugging after 25 years, give or take.

It says “General Slicing” on the prow. It’s a “pro-sumer” model from a company that makes food service equipment. Like most heavy-duty stand mixers it has several beaters—a K beater (an open spade with a K shape inside), a dough hook and a whisk.

Unlike the two Sunbeam stand Mixmasters I have had, the General can’t be taken off its stand for use at the stove or in a pot full of potatoes. But also unlike those, it can knead a two- or three-loaf batch of bread without stalling. In fact, it tells me when the dough is kneaded: when the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and clings to the hook in one big mass.

The General makes whipped cream in a minute, with the whisk, and beats egg whites with ease. Most mixers can. But not many can make butter.

I put heavy cream into the stainless steel bowl (the plastic ones don’t work nearly so well for whipped cream, butter or egg whites), insert the K beater, put on a spatter shield (one didn’t come with, so I improvise shields from large styro plates), turn the control all the way past 8 to MAX. About five minutes later I stop the mixer and scrape the fluff down from the sides of the bowl, then turn the mixer back on for about five more minutes. A change in the sound tells me I have butter and buttermilk. A KitchenAid or other full-size stand mixer can perform similar feats

I love my microwave ovens. One is a combination microwave-convection, branded Montgomery Ward, so you know I have had it a long time. It works very well as a dehydrator, thanks to the little screen shelves Leo Smithmyer found for me. There’s nothing better for making custard.

No electric appliance has quite replaced the Foley mill, a manual juice and pulp extractor of ingenious design. Mother had two, I believe—much like one I recently finished wearing out. A Foley will process raw or cooked tomatoes or apples, leaving behind only skin and seeds, like nothing else I have seen. It’s powered by elbow grease.

What’s your favorite item of food technology? Tell us here.

10/28/10

Samuel Morse quoted Scripture (Number 23:23) in connection with a pivotal breakthrough in communications technology. “What hath God wrought?” was his rhetorical query.

But sometimes we find ourselves wondering whether our brave new communications capabilities have a devilish side.

Phone service can seem fiendish when incoming calls interrupt work, play or sleep.

Technology to the rescue! We can have our calls screened, recorded, caller identified. We can answer if it seems important that we do so right now. We can let the answering device or service catch the call and deal with it at our convenience.

We can have the convenience of a cell phone, so that we can call from wherever (at least where there is cell service or signal) in case we need to make an urgent call while away from our home or place of business.

But once we have given out the cell number, or called quite a few people using our wonderfully convenient cell phone, chances are those people with our cell number start calling us on our cell phones. Then they are calling us at their convenience but at our convenience or inconvenience—and which that is seems to be our problem.

Well, yes, we could just turn the phone off except when we are using it for our own convenience. But apparently most people don’t!

It has been strange but true, as long as I can remember, that we feel compelled to respond to the summons of a ringing telephone. We would be more likely to ignore a knock at the door than to refrain from answering a phone.

With the advent of cordless portable phones, and then infinitely more freely portable phone service, we have become so accessible, we now see ourselves as phonable anywhere, anytime. Or at least a large segment of the population does. I see this as potential enslavement. My cell phone number is given out on a very picky need-to-know basis. If you need to be able to reach me at once, whether or not I am in the office where I expect to be reached, chances are I have given you my cell phone number. But you also know that I don’t have my cell turned on, most of the time, and I carry it only when I think I will need it.

Phone service has become so intrusive and phone use so nearly constant, the potential for misusing phone communications has expanded exponentially.

So has the persistence of formerly fleeting communication. Not just the peskiness of people who will call over and over and over, but the kind of memory-lingers-on of that comes of storage. These devices can store voice messages and text messages and photos, and can even “broadcast” them to others.

Now we are finding that there were some unanticipated trade-offs when we as a society embraced the brave new telephony along with immersion in social networking.

Ever-present phones have many of us jabbering away with one another about almost everything, often too immediately for forethought, and too impulsively to consider the probable outcomes.

Things we would think twice about before saying to someone’s face, we blurt out on Facebook.

Things we would be unlikely to commit to writing, we text or e-mail or tweet.

Many of us are doing this without stopping to think that our words are being captured and can be retained. That computer, that portable device at the other end can preserve our words.

We might think of phone calls, spoken words and quickly exchanged or spontaneous messages as being so fleeting as to vanish as soon as the next message comes flying in. But that isn’t the way it works.

E-mails live on, and on and on. They can be subpoenaed. They can be stored a long time, and traced and verified as having come from us, or at least our system.

Text messages and instant messages and blogs and chats and message board posts can be retained, and thrown back at us, and come back to haunt us in various situations later on. Political candidates and errant spouses are among those who have learned this to their pain.

Among the complaints that crop up locally, and command police attention, are those of upset parents whose children have been communicated with inappropriately, and of the kids themselves who are angered or frightened by text messages. It isn’t a matter of “That’s what I recall him saying” now; but one of “See, right there is what he wrote” or “Here’s the voice message.”

In some schools these modes of communication are being factored into the anti-bullying policies and programs. The upsetment triggered by misused communications out of school hours creates tensions that charge the atmosphere at school.

How can these unintended consequences of perpetual communication be ameliorated? I am not sure. But I believe we need to think about it. Parents, schools, communities, law enforcers, all of us need to find ways of helping society use these communication tools constructively and wisely.

Suggestions?

11/04/10

What does the well-dressed technophile wear? What article of clothing does your favorite geek want for Christmas, instead of another tie or pair of acrylic socks or knit hat and gloves set? Oh, that’s right, there are girl geeks too, and yes, this item would be appropriate for them. (I mean, us.)

It’s the Personal Soundtrack Shirt. It looks like other black tee-shirts with some design emblazoned on the front, except that in the middle of the chest area is a speaker.

This is a wearable sound system. The speaker is for real. There’s a remote the geek can carry in the pocket. He/she pushes the button that corresponds to the desired sound effect, and hark! is that the police? The buzzer? Applause?

Your gifted geek might want to pop in his/her own memory card containing favorite trax or other sound effects, if cheering, booing, laughter, sexy time themes, scary music, the Lone Ranger theme, drum rolls, bunny-hoppy jive, spy mission music, western showdown echoes, crying, laughter, monster menacing and cat calls don’t cover the life situations he/she encounters.

Geek-o or Geek-elle will be able to connect an audio player such as an iPod, using the input jack on the battery box. The necessary male-to-male headphone cable is not included with the Personal Soundtrack Shirt, so you might want to add one to the gift. The volume control on the player can be used to control the volume of the shirt. (Sound volume or amplitude, I mean. The spatial volume of the shirt is a matter of physical development and diet, seems to me.)

If this all sounds like a belated April Fool gag, it was a timely one. It was a put-on, not an actual product, but the concept proved so popular that ThinkGeek Labs acceded to the many requests to “make the shirt already!”

Batteries are not included. The well-dressed geek will need four AAAs.

She-geeks will be wondering about washing instructions. (Some he-geeks I have known are clean-freaks, but others seemed unfamiliar with the concept of washing shirts, or anything else for that matter.)

First, unplug the battery pack from the cable, and unhook the remote; remove.

Peel the Velcro-backed speaker from the shirt, and pull out its cable and remove.

Wash the shirt in cold water, either in the gentle cycle of the washer or by hand.

Hang on a hanger to dry, or tumble dry on a low setting.

This nicely pre-accessorized garment sells for $29.95. But even grungy geeks change their shirts now and then, don’t they! Besides, you probably know several geeks, and it would never do to give them identical gifts, would it? So you will be glad to know that there are Drum Kit, Electronic Rock Guitar, T-qualizer and Wi-Fi Detector shirts, all priced the same, and all in basic black.

The Drum Kit shirt has a sound system and seven pieces (bass, snare, cocktail, cymbals, etc), or art showing them. The musical geek taps them singly or in combination to call forth their sounds.

The Electronic Rock Guitar depicts a large guitar with a better than full-size fingerboard and buttons for the (labeled) chords—you were expecting actual strings and frets?

It occurs to me that the Personal Soundtrack Shirt in particular could be made to outlast the fabric of the original garment, by adapting a successor shirt with a pocket for the battery pack and remote and some Velcro for the speaker.

The guitar and drum versions have speaker units that hang on the belt. The Wi-Fi Detector has an antenna. Possibly those could be “renewed” with shirt transplants. I think most such things can be done. After all, I have been credited with performing the world’s first a** transplant, when I sewed an entire jeans backside replacement, waist to mid-thighs, to a friend’s much worn favorite Levis.

As for ThinkGeek Labs, I think that they are showing a surprising lack of imagination: why only tee-shirts? Why not electronic implants in ties and blazers and sweatshirts? But knowing them, those items could well be in production as we speak; they just haven’t hit the market yet.

E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

11/11/10

Sometimes advances in science and technology bring in their wake moral, ethical, legal and political dilemmas. That must be a corollary of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Years ago Myriad Genetics, based in Utah, patented some genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

European courts struck down the patent as to whether it would be binding on uses of the gene information and processes using it in determinations of special susceptibility to those cancers.

Myriad Genetics still claimed licensing and royalty rights based on the patents in question, in the United States. Mind you, MG did not do the work of isolating those genes, nor invent the uses of the isolated gene in diagnostic procedures. But often patents are issued to the party that buys some right or other and gets to the patent office first.

Come to that, pharmaceutical companies commonly patent drugs they did not develop. Big Pharma is not so heavily into research as we might imagine. It sponsors some, but our government sponsors much more. Drug companies buy certain rights and patent thousands of formulas and processes they bought from the discoverers or the discoverer’s sponsors.

Previous court skirmishes over several years have brought the matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

And now the U.S. government has filed a friend-of-the-court brief, in the suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) challenging patents on human genes.

The suit was filed in May of 2009. The suit claims that such patents unfairly stifle research that could result in cures, and diagnostic use of knowledge, and treatment modalities that could enhance survival rates for women with certain cancers. 

This past March a federal court rules that the BRCA1&2 patents are invalid. Myriad appealed.

The government brief says, “The chemical nature of native human genes is a product of nature, and it is no less a product of nature when that structure is ‘isolated’ from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth.’”

In another tech-related federal court ruling, a federal district court in Seattle, Washington has ruled that the North Carolina Department of Revenue’s demands for information about Amazon.com customers’ purchases violate the U.S. Constitution as well as the Video Privacy Protection Act.

The NC tax agency wanted records about our purchases and shopping habits, as known to Amazon and held in their data storage.

Amazon did come across with information about items purchased, dates of purchases,
 amounts paid, and counties to which items were shipped. North Carolina acknowledged that was the information needed for use in assessing sales taxes.

What Amazon would not turn over was customer identity records and links between specific customers and their purchases. The state tax agency continued to demand that information. Amazon sued.

ACLU intervened on behalf of several NC residents who thought information about their purchases of movies, books, music and some other goods would reveal highly personal details of their lives.

The court agreed that government does not have a right to learn such personal stuff about individuals. This is the latest ruling declaring that the First Amendment restricts government’s ability to go after information about our personal reading (or viewing or listening) habits.

The court pointed out that even the prospect of government intrusion by tracking such habits or choices if harmful. We might come to fear buying online generally, or fear buying perfectly legal items online or at all (will store records be next? will data shared across chains be deemed necessary to some government agency?

Another ruling many of us welcomed came when a New York federal court ruled that The Constitution does obligate law enforcement agents to get warrants based on probable cause in order to obtain historical cell phone location information.  But in another ruling, it was noted that judges may apply the probable cause standards before granting warrants, but are not obligated to do so.

It boils down to no warrantless snooping into historical cell phone location data—but warrants are not very hard to get.

But—now in a matter with the ACLU on one side and Electronic Frontier Foundation on the other, a judge in Texas has held that warrantless disclosure of cell site data violates the Fourth Amendment.

Before, it has been ruled that cell phone locations could be tracked when the phones were in use. Then the government sought to track locations whether or not the phones were in use.

The ACLU not only agrees that government should not track us when our phones are not in use, but also insists that government or law enforcement should have to obtain warrants prior to any such tracking, and those warrants should be based on probable cause.

What say you?

E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

11/18/10

Think technology is all serious, unemotional science? No more. It’s really touching.

Touch is the input that is used more and more, in computers, communications tools, gadgets and software.

Apple helped kick off the touch revolution with the iPhone. That’s when the touch interface and small apps grabbed a big chunk of market.

Google followed suit with Android. Smart phones like the Motorola Droid have been well received, and a host of small app writers have embraced that platform.

Tablet PCs have been around for a while, but the coming of the iPad demonstrated that a tablet PC that is fast enough and does real work will be accepted. If it also does real play, it will be accepted with enthusiasm bordering on lust.

iPad and iPhone have a similar hardware look, but some obvious differences. The similarity is a plus for iPhone users in that their iPad learning curve is as flat as an anorexic. The underlying software lets the same or similar apps run on both. If the source code is similar, the source (vendor) is identical: Apple’s App Store.

Android users, who are becoming more and more numerous as we speak, get their smart phone and tablet apps at the Android Marketplace. At least, that’s the vendor of choice for the majority of choosers. (Yes, Chooser sounds like an archaic Apple Macintosh OS term, but OSX has driven it from our minds, much as System and Finder used to drive us from our minds.)

I have had a tablet or two—not only the medicinal kind, but also the compact computer kind. I have always liked the concept, even though the first two or three I owned were disappointing. I still have one nifty little Compaq tablet, and an IBM ThinkPad I can write on, and a Scribe that looks almost like a legal pad.

That doesn’t mean I won’t want an Android-based tablet, such as the Archos 10. By the time I am ready to get one, there will be a few dozen other Android tablets out there, and scads more apps than the current plentiful crop.

Also I have four or five graphics tablets, or input devices I can write and sign and draw on—Wacom, Graphire, LaPazz, etc.

The operating systems, user interface and programming frameworks employed in these touchy-feely products have attracted app makers as well as users. The apps themselves have benefitted from the high interactivity made possible by the sensitivity of the screens, their high resolution for visual satisfaction, and the high performance of multicore processing. What’s not to like? Where are the trade-offs? These devices are fun, but they are not toys.

Android provides platforms with multiple interfaces. Any hulking, tower-form-factor desktop of 2000 or before, costing twice or thrice what the Android device costs, would have blue-screened at an attempt to multi-task to such a degree. Now you can have a camera grabbing full motion video while the 3D accelerometer tracks the device that is tracking the action.

Touch gets a lot of the attention, but it is just one aspect of the Apple iOS and Android platforms. What’s more, these are integral features of the operating systems.

The Apple iOS SDK (software design kit) gives the Cocoa-Touch framework and the operating system to developers. It includes Model-View Controller (MVC) architecture. Objective-C is the native programming language, which is C, but not much like C++ (the last programming language I learned).

Android’s framework runs on Linux and JVM, the Dalvik Java virtual machine. Apache is in there somewhere—that’s the license through which the Dalvik source code is licensed. If a developer uses the General Public License (GPL) the changes have to be shared publicly. The Apache license carries no such requirement, so developers can retain original work product rather than handing it over to competitors.

Dalvik is optimized for mobile device use. It has a register-based approach, rather than a stack-based one.

It would take several columns to plumb the intricacies of these platforms. I could say I have just touched on them, but that would be a terrible pun. Not that that would stop me.

Are you touchy? How do you feel about touch? What touch-based interface gear do you use?

E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

11/25/10

I have been using Thunderbird 3.1.6 for a while now, having updated when 3.0 came out, and again whenever notified that there is a new update. (There have been some vulnerabilities batched.). T’bird is finally out of beta!

It did take some getting used to. I think it refreshes (loads the message you clicked on) a little more slowly than 2.x did. But I like the interface.

Not that it didn’t take some getting used to. What is different is the tab behavior. You can have a number of messages, and the Inbox too, all open at once, the one you last clicked on in the foreground, and you can switch back and forth. Or you can choose to open another message in its own window.

I like that feature now. But I’d hate to tell you how many times I clicked on the X in the upper right corner of the application window, to close a message, instead of clicking on the X on that message’s tab.

Now that I have quit closing the app by accident, I think Mozilla Thunderbird is a great little e-mail program. As with any e-mail program, I do not let it show a preview pane. Previewing a message is tantamount to opening it, in situations where there is bad code that would run on opening.

Speaking of e-mail, a pet peeve of mine is IncrediMail. It is a pestilence. For the privilege of having an array of cutesy, animated emoticons, you get to send an ad for IncrediMail at the bottom of every e-mail you send.

Like all our correspondents and going to be impressed that we fell for this scheme? And they are going to be fascinated by these juvenile, not especially clever cartoons? And they can’t express themselves without oversized cartoon faces grimacing to show various emotions? If someone made such faces at you in an f2f encounter, you’d call the professionals to see about getting him evaluated at a secure mental health facility.

But it isn’t just that IncrediMail is silly and vapid and boring and childish and in the way and a bandwidth suck. It also messes with Thunderbird! If I try to reply to a message sent with IncrediMail, I can’t place a cursor in the message body. Or if I can, the cursor soon disappears.

If you experience this problem, you can use these workarounds:

First, go up to View and follow Message body as - -> and choose Simple HTML, or text. Only then should you click on the Reply link (or do Ctrl r).

Once you have a Reply message blank, if you cannot place a cursor in the message body, leave that blank open and hit Reply another time. Use the second Reply blank. Your cursor should behave normally.

*    *    *

People call me with problems with software they are using. Sometimes these are people whom I have trained, sometimes they are people who are doing something using a common program, and they got stuck with some operation.

Often the application with which they are having difficulties is Word. It’s not that Word is so hard to use, for most word processing tasks. But it has such a huge variety of features, there are more possibilities for getting tangled up than there would be in, say, Notepad.

Fortunately there are a number of sources of help with Word. I’m not saying that I don’t want you to call me. But what if I’m not available at the time? And you have to do a mailing, and the Mail Merge ribbon is tied in a knot? Maybe this is the very lesson they said you would get later at that ed council class—but then they never did get to that?

Sometimes Help is as close as good old F1. That will take you to context-sensitive help in many a situation. Microsoft knows dang well that your quandary has been confronted by many a Word user. When you installed Office, Help should have been installed too. If it wasn’t, go back and do it.

Also, there’s a free forum called Microsoft Answers. Go to the site, search Find Answer by entering a question, and there probably will be an answer waiting because your question is one that has been asked before.

But if perchance your question has not been asked before, go ahead and ask it. You do that by clicking on Ask a Question (scroll to the bottom to find it), and typing in your question.

To search and ask at Microsoft Answers, you need to be signed in. And to be able to sign in, you need to have a Microsoft Live ID. If you don’t have a Microsoft Live ID, well, it’s time you did. It’s free, you know.

You may know some other sources of Word help that you like using. Share here, please.

12/09/10

Black Friday, Schmiday. The technology deals keep coming, and some of them are better than any I saw that day; and some are the same deals, but obviously not sold out, still available.

The HP Deskjet 1050 for $20 is still around. (The ink costs more than the printer—but get compatible ink from a reputable supplier.) The color inks come in a tri-color cartridge and a black, not as advantageous as separate cartridges for different colors.

This is an all-in-one. It scans and faxes. If you just need a scanner but have a good printer, this is a good deal. Scan from this all-in-one, print on a stand-alone printer or a color laser that doesn’t scan. That way you won’t be locked in buying all that tri-color ink, which will quit on you whenever one color is kaput.

If you use the HP DJ 750 as a copier, you will be back to it gobbling cartridges. But if you do mostly black-and-white copying and set the multifunction to printing black-and-white only, The ink you will be replacing will be the black.

That reminds me of a call I had from a person who didn’t identify herself who asked me about sources for white ink. At first I thought the caller was looking for art or scrapbooking supplies.

Then she said it was for her printer. She wanted to do some black-and-white copying and had black ink but no white ink.

“Ah, HAHAHA, good one!” I said.

She was quiet for several beats, then said in a dispirited voice, “I guess that was a stupid question. White is just where the paper shows, right? Only I thought you could actually print in black-and-white even on colored paper…so there isn’t any white ink, is there? Sorry…”

Then I had to apologize for having assumed that she was joking. I think it would make sense to have white ink, or paint or something like Wite-out, that would work in inkjet printers.

Back when I had Epson Stylus color inkjets, one after another, and they were models that had three-color or even four-color cartridges, combined, and a separate black one, it proved expensive to keep the color part fed. I don’t recommend going that route if you can help it.

Most printers do not come with a USB cable. When printers hooked onto parallel ports, they didn’t come with parallel cables either. But you can get a USB cable for $3.

Staples has been selling a 24-inch AOC monitor for $130 shipped. Think of it, an LCD 24-incher!

And there’s a 22-inch LCD HDTV at Target for $157.50 shipped. That would fit perfectly on my TV stand with casters that twirls to face the office or the next room.

Blockbuster has thrown in the towel, or all but the dobby ends. Now Netflix is backing away from its shipped DVDs and pushing its streaming service.

Instant-view has been very popular with Netflix subscribers. There is an enormous selection available for download-and-play, and no waiting for the mail, or sending back.

Obviously Netflix saves mail and envelope costs and doesn’t have to make or have as many copies of movies and other rentables, when users opt for streaming. So Netflix has introduced a watch-now service that does not include the mailed DVD service. The charge is $8 a month, whereas the el-cheapo mail program has gone up to $11.

I found it really difficult to get more than nine or ten DVDs back and forth each month. So I am switching to the instant-view-only plan.

Are you using Netflix? What plan? Do you use instant view? Are you using any of the Internet-based television services? What services work best for you?

12/16/10

Here’s a present for you from iCare. I’d liken it to one of those emergency devices you would carry in your car. Your spouse or your parent might give you one, or you might buy one for yourself, hoping you’ll never have occasion to use it. But just in case you ever need to, you will be able to cut that seat belt and break out the window and escape from your upside-down car.

So if you get iCare Data Recovery 4.0, which is priced at $69.95 (Please, iCare, do us another favor and price your software in whole dollars), you may never need it, but if you do it will be worth every penny. Between now and Christmas you can download iCare Data Recovery at no cost, which is why I said it is a presnt from iCare.

No paying up front and then sending in a refund form. It’s plain old free.

I’m going to download it. Then I’ll install it and get it activated before the 25th.

iCare Data Recovery can restore data lost due to a hard drive crash, bad boot sectors, virus attacks, corrupted master boot records, deleted partitions, or my favorite explanation when I don’t know what else it could be: stray cosmic rays.

It works on hard drives in your computer, external hard drives, memory cards (in your camcorder or your digicam or whatever), USB drives—almost any storage other than an optical disc (CD, DVD).

Download it, run it as an administrator, and paste in the activation code. Do it before you need it, and keep a spare copy on something bootable.

Here’s the URL: www.icare-recovery.com/icaredrs.exe. Here’s the activation code: CG7332343A7XEOUD3EHH4AIL2WSB4G9F.

The reviews I have read have been glowing.

*    *    *

Another freebie can be found at http://downloads.x5music.com/christmas/. It’s 10 Christmas songs from the album “Christmas Piano.” You choose the genre you prefer, from classical to blues to reggae, and you will be taken to a download button. You can save the a archive (zip, or rar) and expand and save the songs.

These are MP3 files, playable from your computer and totable on a player. The ones I got are nice arrangements of some Christmas standards.

Worth how much? Well, how much would 10 tunes downloaded from iTunes set you back ?

*    *    *

Do you take a lot of notes by hand? I certainly do. Sometimes I have carried a laptop to do this with, one of which was a special ThinkPad that captured the motions of the stylus and let me call up the notes in electronic form. I also had the notes on a legal pad, which was mounted in the ThinkPad. It was slow. The handwriting recognition wasn’t great.

Along came the Pulse SmartPen. It would be handy for reporters and students—anyone who takes notes. The latest version is the Echo, which costs $170 or $200 depending on whether you want 4 Gb of storage or 8.

The Echo looks like a chubby ball-point pen. It contains an ink cartridge and there is a spare.

Echo will keep track of when you take each set of notes, if you set its date and time.

The pen wants to know whether you are a leftie or a rightie.

Echo requires that you use special paper, so it can keep track of where the pen tip is. It comes with a starter pad of 50 sheets. So that’s it: they are just setting us up to sell us consumables.

Not really. We don’t have to buy special paper for the Echo SmartPen. The special paper has an array of tiny dots on it. But we can print our own speckled paper. We all know that 50 sheets of El Cheapo 20-pound copy paper costs less than a legal pad, and printing those sheets with merely visible dots doesn’t consume enough toner to think about.

When you have taken a set of notes you can upload your notes to a computer, if you wish  

There’s a come-with app called Paper Replay that lets you record the speech or meeting or lecture while you are taking notes. Later when you listen to the “pencast,” you can tap a word in your notes and hear what the pen heard when you jotted that word.

There are some proprietary apps available, including some pastimes (Sudoku and hangman, for instance) and a dictionary. These take up some of the space.

Share your tech adventures, tricks and questions here. E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.

12/23/10

Most wanted geeky gifts? According to TechRepublic, those would be:

1. Apple iPad

2. Alienware M11x gaming notebook

3. Parrot AR.Drone Wi-Fi quadricopter

4. LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0

5. Roku XDS streaming media player

6. VIZIO M470NV 47-inch 1080p LED LCD HDTV

7. Amazon Kindle Graphite 3G+ Wi-Fi 2010

8. Microsoft Kinect sensor for Xbox 360

9. Cyborg R.A.T. 7 gaming mouse

10. Personal Soundtrack Shirt

You might be thinking you don’t have time to get those shipped before the Big Guy batters down your door Christmas Eve to deliver the stuff that is the due of good girls and boys of all ages. (He will batter down the door quietly, of course, so as not to wreck his rep for great stealth; he comes through the door because he knows those quartz heaters with the fake fire display do not connect to chimneys; and you will have found a better place than the dinky Amish mantel to hang the stockings.)

Well, there still might be time to beat Santa—that is, not to assault him with a piece of firewood, but to take care of gift ordering and delivering before his arrival on or about midnight December 24.

Some places have those goodies cued up (not queued, but ready to play, as a DJ might get a numba set to blast) such that they can be two-dayed or overnighted.

But if not, a downloaded order confirmation, preferably with a tracking number or a delivery date, will make an acceptable present, if you place it in a good-sized box and add a bag or two of dried beans to give it heft, and wrap it in something colorful. Anticipation heightens the joy, right? (Also, dealing with frustration helps people develop strength of character.)

Get your geeks batteries, lots of batteries, for all those gadgets geeks have, and the new ones they get. Get assortments, or get the popular AA and AAA shapes and some rechargeables and a charger.

People with cells (not units of human tissue, but communications devices formerly known as cell phones) need batteries for them. Would the makers of various cells design them to take the same kind of battery? Would battery makers get together and design interchangeable batteries? Did all the manufacturers jumping on the videotape bandwagon, way back when, agree to standardize on Betamax because it was the first out and worked so well?

So by all means get someone with a cell some batteries for it. Don’t you hate when that person is chatting away and there is a funny beep and she is gone? Or he says, “I didn’t have my phone on because my battery doesn’t hold a charge anymore”?

Look in the battery compartment and write down the battery model numbers and get two or three of those batteries from an Amazon or eBay dealer. You might want to check for a direct charger. Most cell users just have a charger that they set the phone into; but if they had a charger for a naked battery, there would always be a fully charged battery, and the cell owner could just swap the tired battery for the all-charged-up one—maybe daily.

Ideally a cell user has a charger to use in a vehicle. And ideally a cell user carries a spare battery, and ideally that spare is charged regularly.

LED flashlights, big ones and little ones, and battery-based LED lanterns for when the power goes out, and battery-based LED trouble lights to use anywhere in the house or outside, are handy to have around. Not high on the geekiness index, but neither is pizza, and most geeks love pizza.

Some geeks are music lovers, but they all have MP3 players coming out of their ears. Or going into their ears. So pfui on geeks. Music lovers deserve to be remembered too. Get a musician a one-year subscription to VirtualSheetmusic. It is a wonderful service, and lets you download all sorts of music in sheet music form—music for various instruments and combinations, of various genres, at various levels of difficulty. In fact, VirtualSheetmusic is so various all the way around, and keeps on adding to its catalog at such a rate, your musical friends will be downloading and printing it until they run out of paper or toner.

I was going to keep writing until somebody gives me some figgy pudding, but the editor says there is early deadline this week, and I’m afraid he might not send my Christmas bonus…

Tech-related comments and questions, and virtual figgy pudding, may be directed to Drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini

12/30/10

Are e-readers greener than books?

Say you have a Kindle, or a Nook or an iPad or whichever portable, electronic e-book downloading and storage device you chose. You download books to it and read them wherever you wish. You can store hundreds of books on one. You can carry it, and its library, about very easily.

These readers are becoming more affordable and better functioning all the time. That’s the way it is with so much electronics and communication technology: capabilities go up, prices come down. Would that other categories of products followed those metrics!

But back to the relative greenness of electronic books as compared with the other kind. E-book proponents say e-readers are more environmentally friendly.

One study purported to show that if a book lover were to read even 40 books on an e-reader, he/she would be at break-even, environmentally. After that, the e-reader would be increasingly earth-friendlier with every book.

Another study said 23 books would be the  number to be “consumed” before reaching the carbon-emission advantage. After that, all to the good.

I haven’t read the actual studies, just reports of them. So I don’t know whether the studies considered everything I think would have to be considered to come up with a valid conclusion.

Is the assumption that an individual book lover buys one e-reading device and stays with it? If not, discarding and replacing devices means repeat manufacturing and additional accumulations of electronic waste, heavy metals included.

Is another assumption that those 40 or 23 books were hardcover ones? Paperbacks take much less paper, and even ink, to produce. In general, people who read on the go are more likely to tuck paperbacks into handbags or pockets.

As for economics, paperbacks cost lots less than hardcovers. Downloads cost less than either.

Cost and environmental impact of use of an e-reader include energy. Batteries. I don’t know whether or how energy costs were calculated in the studies. iPads cost more to run than Kindles or Nooks, which use Pearl Ink rather than LCDs.

Bigger e-readers use more energy than the smaller models. Bigger ones also enable easier use of larger type—and there’s a feature it would be impossible to claim for a given conventional book: a regular book is large-type or it isn’t; the user can’t adjust it.

I suspect that e-books are reserved for personal use more, or shared less, than conventional books are—the latter being shared through a family or among friends.

Ah, sharing! That brings up a topic I did not see in the articles about the comparison studies: libraries. The assumption is that people use their e-readers for reading books they otherwise would buy in conventional form. But we do not buy all the books we read! Many of us buy the occasional book, and give the occasional book, but we read dozens of books for every one we buy—we borrow those dozens from the library.

Those books are reused over and over. We could ask Janna and her team what the lifetime circulation is of a given book, but we can guess that a library book is read dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times before it must be discarded. Library editions are well protected in special jackets, and made to take lots of use. Think of the date stamps we have seen in library books!

I have used one alternative to conventional books heavily (and I use the adverb advisedly; you could check with the USPS delivery persons): Talking Books. I know those are available in commercial forms, on tape, but I have used the Library of Congress service for the blind and visually impaired. I have used the flimsy disks form, now discontinued, and the tape kind, rapidly becoming obsolete, and now the digital kind, which are the most convenient, most compact and best sounding to date. Like all recorded books formats, these require use of special players (unique speeds), which use AC power and batteries, and they have to be mailed.

I hope Talking Books will be made available to clients as downloadable e-books. That would be a relief to those aforementioned USPS delivery persons too, although they have been such good sports, and so far have refrained from sending a police officer to enforce the timely return of the polyflute totes (or “hods,” in USPS parlance).

As for e-books, as they and the e-readers are being adopted by an ever greater proportion of the reading public, are they cutting into the size of printings, and changing the publish-on-demand market, and diminishing library use?

Slowly, in this country and others, e-readers are changing libraries, schools and universities, as to book acquisition and provision. Schools are issuing texts and other materials on e-readers or apps that are installed on laptop computers issued to students. Library books are being provided by libraries loaded on e-readers, or downloaded to e-readers on premises or remotely. Regular e-book download licenses don’t allow for free sharing, but special licenses are being developed as we speak.

Those services are being implemented in public and university libraries. It occurs to me that law journals have been available online for years, by subscription.

So on the one hand, libraries are a way of multiplying the usefulness of conventional books and periodicals, keeping their “green” rating high.

On the other hand, as libraries issue e-readers and books in that form, this will accelerate the use of that book format. This will make any book a large-print one. It will make books more portable and more convenient to read. And all of that will mean the libraries of the future will be more affordable, will provide much more material, and will require less physical space.

Perhaps they will not be libraries as such, but resource centers, or libralereums (library-gallery-museum blends).

01/06/11

A year ago tablets were the next big thing. Hasn’t quite turned out that way. Maybe the prognosticators were just off a year.

At CES, or ICES as we are supposed to call it now (International Consumer Electronics Show), everyone was agog over the tablet or slate computer.

There was Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer waving not one tablet but three. Watch for them in coming months, he said. But nary a one of them became available in 2010.

There were other computer makers talking up their coming tablets.

We all know who ignores ICES, don’t we? They have their own show! Well, you know who has her OWN network. Who needs those other ones?

I do, and I bet I have lots of company.

Apple’s iPad came out in April, at Apple’s own show. Seems to me that not since God etched commandments on slabs of stone have tablets had so much significance.

Apple learned a thing or two about tablet design Since then. For sure its rivals learned a lot about what consumers want in a tablet computer. They also learned that, despite all the false starts of the past, consumers really do want a good tablet.

This past year 10.3 million tablet computers were sold in the United States.

Apple sold something like 10 millions iPads worldwide last year. This year Apple hopes to grab a major chunk of pad sales, estimated to total somewhere between 24 and 42 million.

Tablet customers will be looking for a strong feature set. But what will be the most wanted capability? High quality video. That is a must-have, for media consumption, such as streaming movies and broadcasts, playing games and sharing photos.

High-end processors are needed, to enable snappy delivery of streaming media and the excellent resolution demanded by HDTV-spoiled users.

Research in Motion (Blackberry) and HP promise whiz-bang tablet models, and rumors have it that Motorola and Microsoft will unveil new ones as well.

All this is happening in Vegas, after all. Big players in technology are betting heavily on the pad market, and the models they plan to release. The stakes are high.

Among the players are makers that have been known for cellular phones and TVs.

Samsung started its foray into the market in November. Since then it has sold 1.5 million Galaxy Tabs.

Price competition should work in customers’ favor, as more models become available. Also welcome to buyers will be makers’ attempts to outdo each other with innovative features, including some that Apple has not incorporated into first gen iPads.

How about front-facing and back-facing or dual cameras? How about SIM cards, Adobe flash, HDMI connections, stereo speakers, screens with adjustable contrast?

Toshiba’s slate will run Google’s Android operating system, which is making a serious dent in Microsoft’s OS dominance.

As for the price competition, Enspert says it will introduce a tablet with a seven-inch screen. The Korean maker will price it at $350 when it becomes available in the U.S. later in the year. The fee will be about $100.

Enspert says it will couple its “identity Tab” with a data plan by partnering with a major wireless carrier.

One feature pad customers have come to expect is a “light” feel. Consumers also expect an operating system to be intuitive and powerful. Speedy response and the availability of lots of apps are important.

I expect to see cell phone makers doing well in the pad market. They have good “connections” with wireless carriers. By making advantageous agreements with carriers, they can offer attractive agreements that also allow for tempting discounts on pads.

Do you have an iPad, or some other slate device? What do you like about it? If you don’t have one, do you plan to buy one? How much would you be willing to pay for one that meets your needs? How about one that fulfills your wishes?

Let’s talk about it.

1/13/11

There are good ISPs, and bad ones.

The Internet Service Providers that provide Internet services to us are good, right? But those that provide services to bad folks, well, those a bad ISPs.

That seemed pretty clear in September of 2008 when a group of security researchers and network security personnel announced that they had forced the rogue ISP Atrivo offline.

Atrivo’s last uplink provider had ended its arrangement with Atrivo. Then in October the FTC said it had won an injunction against HerbalKing, an international spam operation.

Then the rogue ISP McColo was taken offline.

The Washington Post’s SecurityFix had been investigating McColo’s activities for months. Then the blog began contacting McColo’s major service providers, and along the way SecurityFix shared with the backbone providers whatever information it had on McColo.

Most of those service providers were horrified at the scope of the spam activities by McColo. Most legit ISPs have terms of use that forbid spamming. For that matter, most also forbid what I call “chain mail”—not the metallic kind but mass, multiplier forwarding.

One service provider to McColo, Global Crossing, merely responded with the pro forma “We cooperate with government investigations and security researchers.” I was disappointed to see that, because for years I had used Global Crossing’s free side for some of the online communities in which I was involved.

Hurricane Electric was more forthright. “We shut them down,” said an exec. When they saw the extent of the problem, “Within an hour we had terminated all our connections with them.”

McColo was into spam, with clients that included a nasty mix of crooks.

Does shutting down one major spam cartel make a difference? There is at least a short-term effect, usually followed by a rebound.

There is no single ISP or secret alliance of them that is so critical to the flow of spam that if it were identified and disabled, the flood of spam would be dammed. But the mathematics of spamming is instructive.

The predominant trend in spam is its steadily increasing volume. Now spam accounts for about 90 percent of all e-mail volume.

Okay, not in your mailbox, right? That’s because a lot of that spam is blocked before it reaches you. Your e-mail service uses one or more forms of spam blocking.

But think of it: malicious spam totals at least 4 billion messages a day.

Spammers have excelled at developing automation technologies and more and more powerful spam engines.

More effective spam filtering strategies are followed by more effective filter defeating strategies.

IT administrators have to manage spam volumes. They scan logs, searching for potentially valuable e-mail messages that have been diverted from recipients because they were mistaken for spam.

As moderator of some mail lists, I spend way too much time chasing down sources of wrongful spam blocking. The ISPs of various list subscribers have identified, wrongly, the mail lists or their listserv domains, as spam sources. The ISPs hide behind their spam blockers, at lower levels of these discussions. “We can’t help it. We have to do what Barracuda says,” is their mantra.

My answer to that is that, actually, Barracuda (or SpamAssassin, or whatever) has to do what the ISP says, just as my spam blocker has to blacklist according to my settings, and has to allow any e-dress or domain I whitelist. Whitelist the e-dresses that the customer has a relationship with—such as a mail list the customer is subscribed to.

But lest we think spam is just an annoying, or even an expensive, time-suck, here’s what it has become: an enormous security problem. Spam is the opener in what have come to be called “blended threats.” Recips are asked for some response or some ID, and are taken to malicious sites, or video codecs are launched, or readers are induced to open infected attachments.

Most current spam is driven by botnets (Cutwail, for example), and those networks are comprised of those computers that have been infected with code that enlists them in spam-spewing networks, unbeknownst to the computers’ legitimate users.

Are you guarded against spam? If so, how?

 

1/20/11

Is there a privacy toll on consumers?

We know that complying with regs about privacy can be costly to record keepers, including but not limited to health care providers. For example, it costs the school something to handle privacy and confidentiality responsibilities, on top of what it costs to maintain student and personnel records and other data.

But we are also paying a privacy premium to phone companies and Internet service providers and retailers. Part of that is to cover their costs of dealing with spam—warding it off, and not exposing you to new onslaughts from fresh batches of e-dresses. Part of the costs also have to do with preventing identity theft through acquisition of data concerning consumers. Such costs are passed on to consumers.

There’s another aspect to this “toll on consumers.” Those who sell to us like to reward us. That is because those merchants and service providers are so grateful, and benevolent. They like us, they really LIKE us! Because we are such good, loyal customers, and obviously likable too, they want to do something to show us they care.

Or maybe their reasons are less about warmth, and more about marketing more aggressively.

At the health-beauty-etc. store we can register for rewards programs, and are given special cards identifying us as members. We get special deals. Some advertising is targeted to us.

Same thing happens at many other stores, from hardwares to home improvement stores to grocery stores. I’ll have you know I am a preferred customer of several office supply chains. One recently reclassified me from Preferred to Preferred Silver. I assume this is a demotion. I dread receiving a notice that I have become Preferred Bronze, and envy those elite customers who have met the volume goals that would transmute their preferability metal to gold or platinum.

I order office supplies online. Having registered as a customer at each vendor’s online outlet, I am not amazed that each such vendor tracks my purchases with ease. This does not require spycraft, but the good business sense that causes a good bartender to remember each “regular’s” favorite tipple, or a good waitperson to remember you like Splenda with your coffee, and that’s regular coffee.

So I am enrolled in a kind of privileged shopper program at the local outlet of the prescription, health, beauty and sundries chain. I find extra super specials on the shelves as I stroll through. I get to buy those, because I am preferred by this chain. Other customers, who are merely accepted, and maybe even the ones who are barely tolerated, may buy those items, of course, but at regular price.

I also get e-mails telling me about the things I can buy as a favored customer, enrolled in the special program. My special qualities may wear off, as to those products, or the specialness of the pricing may wear off while I continue to hold my special status, unless I buy those items soon or while present stock lasts.

Critics of such card programs call them “registration and monitoring programs.” Critics say the registered customers are paying the regular price, for the most part, while the customers who decline to register for and use the programs pay extra.

The critics also point out that the programs, designed to help classify and track and  market to customers in a better targeted way, involve customers’ willingness to provide more personally differentiated information, more identity stuff. Phone number and address and e-mail, for instance.

They couldn’t get your credit card number, could they? Um, what do you think? Yes, but they wouldn’t, would they? Or at least they would not “lose” it or share it or sell it, would they? We can only hope.

But consider this. The people who pay those higher prices for rejecting frequent shopper programs are making a financial sacrifice for privacy. Are we okay with a privacy surcharge?

Loss of privacy, or the distribution of our mailing information, sets us up for junk mail. The opt-out programs are very poorly operated, and the junk mail law is lacking in dentition.

Sure, you can throw junk mail away. But you have to sort through it. Then it has to be discarded (and some of us take the address and other data-rich parts off first). Then it gets carted to the landfill in gross quantities, or recycled at considerable cost and little profit.

Consider that the average mail patron receives several pieces of junk mail in every mail delivery, and a household gets 1,000 or more every year. It adds up to about 4.5 million tons in the U.S., annually. To produce that paper it takes around 100 million trees. About half of the junk mail is never opened.

Do you have enough privacy?  E-mail me and let me know. (But then I’ll have your e-dress, won’t I!) Or you could call me—(but unless you block it, I’ll see your number).  Or drop me a card. (You might not want to use stationery or an address label, though.)

1/27/11

More memory, bigger screen, touch input, different operating system, more speed, better graphics—what improvements would make for a laptop/notebook model that would make us want to replace the one we have right now? Was the notebook of your dreams unveiled at CES (Consumer Electronics Show, in Vegas) a couple weeks ago?

The single feature that would be most tempting to me would be Intel’s new Sandy Bridge platform and latest Core CPUs. (Just in case there are any users out there who are on the same newbie wavelength as a participant in a computer beginners class I was teaching a while back, I’ll clarify that CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, not “Certified Public, uh…” But she was a bookkeeper, after all.

Sandy Bridge is what Intel code named the latest permutation of the platform-bar-raising line, some members of which were released last year. Apple has not copyrighted the letter i, so far, and these Intel chips have a nomenclature that follows a Core i3 and i5 and i7… pattern.

Intel says second generation Core processors are based on a new 32nm micro-architecture. They are more energy efficient, and have better graphics and 3D performance than their predecessors.

Exciting graphics to go, in a laptop? The performance we used to think we had to have a desktop, or rather a workstation, to get—and then some? And 3D? This is in the CPU itself, with no need for a separate graphics processor? Yum!

And Turbo Boost 2.0, the latest version of the technology that “overclocks” each core? Turbo Boost sounds like a buzz phrase to promote something without conveying any information concerning its nature, except that it is speed-related. The test lab results Intel offers claim “content creation up to 42 percent faster and gaming up to 50 percent faster.” (Actually Turbo Boost 2.0 speeds up and slows down the processor, so as to improve energy efficiency. Features with similar names and comparable effects have been found in vehicle transmissions, from way back.)

Gamers, game designers, music lovers and musicians are licking their lips. Animations. Streaming media uploads and downloads. Grabbing and editing tracks in real time, and all this while balancing the thermal headroom.

Laptops have used integrated graphics for a long time, to pack more into smaller or thinner form factors. But most integrated graphics tended to be pallid and sluggish, and unable to handle 3D games well enough for enthusiasts.

The new i3, i5, i7 processors in laptops now available are quad-core. Later this year dual-core second gen Core processor models will make their appearance. Some 500 new PC models will utilize Sandy Bridge’s new architecture, Intel claims.

Quick Sync Video will accelerate encoding and decoding, and translating, of video formats. (Look for new “codecs,” the term that is an elision, or a Reese’s cup collision, of code and decode.)

Intel Wireless Display 2.0, dubbed WiDi 2.0, wirelessly directs content to large-screen HDTVs at 1080 hi-def pixels per inch.

Then there’s Intel Insider. I suppose they couldn’t call it Hollywood Insider because that name is taken—but this Sandy Bridge feature provides direct access to movies that couldn’t be viewed on PCs in hi-def, before.

A NetGear receiver box would be needed, to handle the video output from the computer to the TV or whatever device is the target.

Last year’s gee-whiz-golly WiDi 1.0 was exciting as a first-of-kind, but it couldn’t function as a real-time secondary monitor, due to signal delay. Also, it couldn’t play back protected DVD or Blu-ray content.

Since then, Intel has made some deals that enable use of certain protected content, including new Hollywood releases in the golly-whiz-gee formats.

Intel Insider (Oh, clever. From the company’s label slogan, “Intel Inside,” get it?) provides a secure path for digital content and supports HDCP 2.

Is your new-laptop lust unbearable yet? Will you pop for a new one with Sandy Bridge’s latest innovations? Will you dump your desktop in favor of a laptop with a faster, multi-core, feature-richer processor?

E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

2/03/11

A good friend, an attorney no less, sent me one of those Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: (etc.) things. He also sent it to 19 others. To wit:

<<**_JURY Duty Scam_** *Pass this on to your grown children. This has been verified by the FBI (their link is also included below). Please pass this on to everyone in your email address book. It is spreading fast so be prepared should you get this call. Most of us take those summonses for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic  duty that a new and ominous kind of fraud has surfaced.

<<The caller claims to be a jury DUTY coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the Scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Give out any of this information and bingo, your identity was just stolen.

<<The fraud has been reported so far in 11 states, including Oklahoma , Illinois , and Colorado, AZ and more. This (swindle) is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to try to bully people into giving information by pretending they are with the court system.

<<The FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud. Check it out here: http://www.fbi.gov/page2/june06/jury_scams060206.htm_ And here: http://www.snopes.com/crime/fraud/juryduty.asp Yep! It's true Please make sure and pass this on!>>

OMG! If this spam had not warned you, you and your adult children (and of course everyone in your address book) would have given up your Social Security number just like that, if a stranger told you he was a jury duty coordinator. It would not cross your mind that we have two jury commissioners, one from each party, and they do not have staff for calling us up and harassing us.

And Snopes and the FBI and the federal court system are all over this, right? Must be serious! Snopes is considered so authoritative when it comes to scams and urban legends, we don’t even bother to click on the link. (We should, though.)

But if we just read the supposed FBI link, and notice the date, that might give us a clue. This is just baloney. Never was much more than, well, SPAM (luncheon meat), and has been baloney for a while. Not Swift baloney, mind you, because the “threat” surfaced in 2005 and never amounted to much, and the latest report of it I could find was from 2006.

Of course the FBI never did issue an alert. Since when is a disclaimer on their website an alert? In case anyone got such a call and looked on the FBI website, at least back then, the information would be there, that there is no actual effort by jury duty coordinators to round up jury duty shirkers. The American Cancer Society might still have a disclaimer concerning the dying child scam and requests for greeting cards or e-mails or whatever. That isn’t an alert, and it doesn’t mean there is a current threat.

Besides, we have been told so often that we should never, ever give up our SSNs to anyone on the phone! Maybe if we initiate a call to the Social Security office, we would want to spit out our number, but I think it is more likely the person we are speaking with would be able to ascertain that number from our name and maybe our DOB or our address or even our phone number if it’s the one they have on file.

Talk about spam! Talk about passing out our info to strangers! My friend, who is astute about many things, sent those other recipients’ e-dresses to me in the clear. What’s the quickest way to harvest them and add them to the collection of known-good e-mail addies to spam to or sell to spammers? Right-click on each one and choose “add to address book”? Reply All (Ctrl Shift r)? Of course, there is the unsettling knowledge that all these folks now have my e-dress. And if I had done a straight Fwd: as instructed, each of my recips would have all 20.

My learned friend would be used to looking for motive, I suppose. It might not seem to him that some people love to launch, or relaunch, those fake warnings (or glurge about how if you really love Jesus you will not be ashamed to send the “inspirational” and heavily embellished message, in a fancy font at 48 points, to everyone you know) just because they have some sick need to control people—to trick them, to make them follow orders—and they are malicious enough to use this method to slow mail servers far and wide, and bring some of them down in a heap.

I don’t get those silly mass-forward things much, because each time I get one, I send back a message stating the reasons it is pointless and downright harmful to send them, and that ALL messages instructing the recipient to send them on to any particular number, or to everyone, are harmful, and none are worth consideration. If there is another chain-forwarded message from a given sender, I’m likely to use Reply All.

What’s your favorite example of mindlessly forwarded mindless drivel (or overblown panic)?

E whiteknightnews@yahoo.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

2/10/11

Are you noticing any advances in the use of technology by your health care providers?

This time I don’t mean the latest fandangle imaging equipment or surgery done through a scope. I mean health information technology, not diagnostic or treatment technology.

You might be thinking that HIPAA—Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—took care of a lot of that. Information flow was a big part of that 1996 legislation. Care and coverage information was supposed to be made available quickly when and where needed and personal health and health care information was supposed to be kept private and confidential, safe from the eyes if anyone without a valid need to know.

Implementation has been patchy and slow. Providers have complained that it all costs too much during times of budgetary stress. It requires equipment, staff and training. Employers have joined the chorus, with woes of their own.

Then came the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). It is part of ARRA, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Right.  Stimulus.

The connection might seem tenuous, but the idea was that incentives were needed to get providers to invest in health care information technology. This funding would accelerate the switch to electronic health record (EHR) systems.

Also, HITECH helps fund the creation of national health care information infrastructure.

Electronic protected health information (ePHI) is expanding logarithmically, or is supposed to be, and with it, the potential for legal liability over privacy breaches, security failures and communications failures.

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and grant fund elixir is known to be a good way to get providers to swallow requirements to get health care and coverage information flowing.

The HITECH Act contains several effective dates, with the earliest having come 12 months after passage—so several were last year.

A widely held view of HIPAA within the health care industry is that enforcement has been lame. The HITECH Act contains language that includes mandatory penalties for “willful neglect.” A provider that is unable to provide a “story” concerning compliance efforts is at risk of financial penalties.

Civil penalties can be as high as $250,000, initially, and ongoing noncompliance can push penalties to $1.5 million.

And it isn’t just health care providers that are under the gun to comply. There are situations in which HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties can be applied to business associates.

HIPAA does not allow an individual to bring a cause of action against a provider, and neither does the HITECH Act. But it does allow a state attorney general to act on behalf of the state’s residents. And now Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to do periodic audits of providers and their business associates.

These measures are all about putting carrots and sticks in place, enticing and punishing to achieve “enhanced enforcement.”

The HITECH Act requires data breach notification concerning unauthorized disclosures and uses of “unsecured PHI.” These are not unlike various notification requirements concerning personally identifiable financial information data breaches, such as when banking or credit card data are exposed to use or capture by unauthorized persons or entities.

What is “unsecured” personal health information? The basic definition is data that are unencrypted.

Patients must be notified of any breach. A breach involving 500 patients or more must be reported to HHS. HHS posts identities of breached providers on its website. Sometimes the local media are notified.

Privacy and security of patient records have become a priority. Funds have been made available for help to providers, in putting the necessary technology in place. Patients and employees are entitled to know the policies and measures in use by their health care providers, insurance companies and employers.

No doubt this is good news to vendors of the requisite technology. I think its good news to consumers too.

 

2/17/11

There are about 100 billion single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags used in Europe annually. Or there have been. This year there should be 20 billion fewer.

That’s because as of the first of the year, use of plastic bags has been banned in Italy, where about a fifth of Europe’s annual 100 billion had been used.

Along the way to Italy’s ban there were outcries from those who complained that biodegradable bags are less durable. Well, duh. We expect biodegradable bags to break down, not sit there in their permanent, impermeable way, in landfills, or form giant floating reefs in the Pacific.

We hear that China is not environmentally aware or responsible, and pollutes air, water and soil with abandon. Well, maybe so, but China did ban plastic bags two years back, thereby keeping some 100 billion bags out of landfills, dumps and waterways, so far.

Retailers say biodegradable plastic bags cost too much and they aren’t sturdy enough. Those might seem to be drawbacks, especially for people who like to keep those bags around for long periods to store things in or to use in crafts. But hey, we all know we can accumulate single-use bags in vast quantities, unless we deliberately try not to. There is no way to make them all into crocheted rugs or place mats, is there. Taking them all back to a collection point at a supermarket sounds great, but do we know what happens to them after that?

Perhaps some of the bags would be shredded and mixed with other materials to produce paving or foam packing or furniture, according to some literature I read. But it takes a lot of energy to accomplish that, and commercial companies are wary of investing much in the process.

Banning bags is one approach. Another is using bag fees. Ireland imposed a PlasTax in 2002. Washington, D.C. adopted a similar measure.

Ireland was a major consumer of plastic bags—about 1.2 billion a year. The tPlasTax cut that consumption by about 90 percent! And the tax yielded about $9.6 in annual revenue. The money does to a “green fund” dedicated to environmentally beneficial projects.

New York City is considering a similar program, as are U.K. and Australia.

The idea of imposing a fee or tax for plastic bag use is that this changes consumer behavior. A consumption tax is a market-based solution. It’s something like a liquor tax or a tobacco tax. “Okay, we won’t forbid your use of this product, but if you insist on your right to use it, that will come at a price. Your use brings some social (or environmental) harms. So you must pay the freight.”

Under the PlasTax Irish shoppers pay 15 cents for every bag used for their order at check-out. Retailers find they use far fewer of the taxed bags, and don’t have to stock many.

Another benefit to retailers is that they sometimes resell used plastic bags, which means that those endlessly dispensed and soon discarded bags are recycled in the most direct way possible, at minimal cost.

Administration of the program is easy. Retailers keep records of bags they purchase and sales of those bags. The Irish Republic has a bureau that monitors those transactions, mostly electronically.

There are exemptions for meat, poultry, fish, produce and ice. Also, heavier, reusable plastic bags are still permitted without penalty.

Along the way, 18 million liters of oil have been saved each year, by reduced bag production.

Instead of using more paper to bag purchases, stores promote use of long-term use totes, as is done here. Those are among the many popular and environment-friendly items sold by reuseit.com and other vendors.

If anyone doubts that fees can help control waste and encourage recycling, take a look at how buy-the-bag or stickering systems impact garbage and trash volume, and recycling around here. People become quite enthusiastic about keeping recyclable materials out of the landfill when it costs quite a lot to send them there, and hardly anything to deposit them in Casella dumpsters provided by the township.

As for push-back at the grocery store, I doubt there would be much. People have been paying deposits on beverage cans and bottles for decades, and most people do not collect those deposits! Besides, for bagging groceries and other merchandise, people can bring their own bags and escape the fees.

Would you support a ban on disposable plastic bags? How about a fee for their use

E whiteknightnews@yahoo.com. Skype lilimartini.

 

2/24/11

Recently I turned off my e-mail filters on one account, trying to replicate a problem a client was having. Soon I found out what I had been missing all this while by blacklisting certain domains and addresses, and using a stock de-spaminator.

Here is a message saying in the Subject line that I can see profiles of 50 plus singles; but in the From line it says “45 plus singles.” This might indicate that when this service named itself for e-mailing purposes there were only 45 plus who were single, but since then some got divorced.

I click on the message, expecting to see an array or series of people, certifiably single, and all posed for a side-view. You know how sometimes you can’t really tell how that person looks from a full-face view. Only in profile do you see the beak-like nose, the Caspar Milquetoast chin.

Well, there is a picture of just two people, one male (silver hair, nose like that of Groucho Marx, but hey, it could have been like Jimmy Durante’s schnozola), one female, dark hair with nary a tell-tale grey strand, cuddled up against his chest, cheek on his clavicle.

This is at SeniorPeople Meet.com, which is connected somehow with DLP & Associates of Walnut, California.

Looking at these two (from the 45 or 55 plus), I conclude that they are a couple. They could have been singles until they got to this SeniorPeopleMeet place or the photo shoot, but they clicked, the camera clicked,  these two are all we see on the opened e-mail. Not a solitary single, let alone 45 plus or 55 plus.

Do you think the cryptic e-mail subject and sender names were meant to indicate ages? How senior is that? Was it meant to indicate that those just north of 45, such as the raven-haired and downright scrawny female, can meet silver-haired gentlemen who are aged, like fine wine that is at least 55 years in the bottle, under the auspices of these California walnut matchmakers? (I mean the wine has been in the bottle at least 55 years; I don’t know how long Silverhair has. And before you e-mail, post or tweet that ravens have feathers, not hair, I know that; and I know his hair is not even aluminum, let alone silver, and he had better get some action before the Hair Club repossesses it.)

No profiles, nothing that could be used for that right photo, the one of the right side of the face, on a Wanted poster. His is a 7/8 pose, hers 4/5.

Ah, here’s one with a promising subject: meet 1000s of local singles. It is From matchcom.ofkcfw@oremak.secpmdfortysell.net. Catchy domain, huh?

I want to check it out because it is news to me that there are 1000s of singles whom we would think of as local. There are not that many single dogs, cats and children here. (Yes, I know there are children having children and begetting children here, but they tend to be single.)

At least this message shows a guy in profile, and a nice profile it is. Dark brown hair. She has platinum hair, porcelain teeth (about 40—the number of teeth, not the age). She also has a little black dress, except in one area where it is not so little, but it makes up for that in the modest amount of fabric it contains, and the modest amount of modesty achieved. (Same disclaimer as before. I know her hair is not platinum. The part by the part is more like agate. But I bet the teeth really are porcelain.)

These are not local people. They don’t look particularly single either. Where are the other 1000s? Will they appear, singly I would hope, if I click this link?

Alas no. For that I would need to supply a lot of information, and then Continental Solutions Grope will sort them out for me, and come up with at least one prospect. And they’ll do it in 6 months or they’ll give me 6 months FREE.

Oops. That’s Continental Solutions Group, not Grope. The last Continental Solutions Grope I remember seeing was by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it was very tastefully done.

Here’s one that looks adventurous. The domain is mail.defenders.org, and the Subject is LAST CHANCE—Vote for Wolves!

Now that they mention it, yes, it would be a good idea to have a rating system for wolves.  I have to open this message.

Well, the nose is prominent, and there is a lot of hair. Grandma, what big ears you have! What sharp teeth you have! Nice try. It might fool Little Red Ridinghood, but I know right off, this is a critter. Canis lupus. The wolfsavers org (turns out org is short for organization, see, not what I thought) wants us to vote for it to get some of the $1,000,000 that American Express will hand out to the most popular charities.

In addition to the impressive specimen with the 1,000-mile stare, featured in this e-mail, there is a photo of an adorable, fluffy wolf cub covered in gray plush. It would seem that Canis lupus is, or are, involved in a dating system that really does work.

Phooey on this piece-by-piece spam checking. I am turning on the filters again. These unsolicited solicitations are all come-ons, and they are just looking for money. False promises everywhere. ::sigh::

E drymar@gmail.com, or Skype lilimartini, if you have better luck and want to share. Or at least tell us about it.