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Preview: StraightShootinComputin by Jeff Smith

StraightShootinComputin by Jeff Smith

Get to know your computer!!! Originally published in the Russell Register newspaper, this collection of useful articles for computer users ranging from new to moderate can help you to learn your way around the digital world.

Updated: 2018-03-05T10:26:31.588-08:00


A solution to piracy we can all live with.


The solution as I see it is for the entire industry to wake up to the fact that they do not need to be structured as they are now in order to be profitable. You have 5 groups here. Production companies: People who make shows. Sponsors: People who pay for advertising. Viewers: People who watch shows. TV Networks: People who distribute shows via established television networks.Pirates: People who distribute shows via non-sanctioned illegal means. Thanks to Online Peer to Peer Distribution technology, one of these groups is obsolete. Fact: Companies pay dearly to have their products advertised. The prices they pay are generally enough to fund the making of a television series. Often even a movie. Instead, much of their money does not go toward the making of shows, but instead goes to support the Television infrastructure... cable, satellite, over-the-air broadcasting stations as well as pay the overly high salaries of TV Network Executives. Lets look back at the early days of television. Commercials were done on the set, by the actors in the show. Product placement was a big deal, as it is now (is it just me or is TV Land some alternate universe where everyone uses a Mac?) In the middle of the show, a short segment would feature an actor or announcer giving the advertising spiel for the product. In return, the sponsor would pay a fee that would enable the show to continue being made.It was easy for the viewer to connect the show and the sponsor together in their mind and see the symbiotic relationship that exists there. Now lots of commercials interrupt a show to try to sell products that have no connection to the show whatsoever. So now the viewer does not have an appreciation for the sponsor and what entertainment that sponsor has provided, but instead views the sponsor's ad as an annoyance and an interruption.People in the pirating scene cut those annoyances out. Sure, why not? They have the technology and the skill, and the product is much more enjoyable without the interruptions. Simply put, they refine the product into a more enjoyable form. They give it portability by encoding it into formats that fit on phones and PDA's.The catch-22 here is that by doing this job in an unsanctioned manner, they are removing the value of advertisement. Also, online popularity data for a particular show is not easily gathered. People are downloading stuff from thousands of different sources and those sources do not want to give up numbers, for fear of legal reprisal. So good shows do not get credit for their online viewers and may end up looking less popular than they are. Executives giving the heave-ho to shows like this receive a much bigger backlash than they initially anticipated. But the real tragedy is that really good shows get cancelled. If Television programming can be called an art, then I postulate that the current distribution model is hurting the art of television. Shows are overly condensed for length. Cliffhangers happen at predictable intervals because they don't want you to change the channel when the commercial comes on. This gives shows an unnatural cadence of action that hurts the viewer's ability to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show.Sanctioned online distribution is a new media landscape with different rules.The biggest problem as I see it is that intermission-style advertisements would not work in this new media landscape. Anything that interrupted the story would be cut out by people in pirate scene. Even sideliner ads and overlays that are too garish and distracting would be blurred out. Get back to making ads using the cast of the show, or if that would hurt the seriousness of the drama, just use the set. Either way, it is cheaper and it ties the two things together in the viewer's mind. People would buy products based on their love and loyalty to the show. Packaging can be specialized to become show memorabilia. There are a lot of tie-ins that are possible when show and sponsor are in a more symbiotic relationship. What needs to happen is that commerci[...]

SSC #86 Long time no see!


As I'm sure you're aware, I've not done the StraightShootinComputin article for a little while now. I feel I've covered most of the basics and some advanced topics. And while the computer industry may change fairly rapidly, for the needs of most of my readers, not enough changes to fill a weekly article. All of my past articles will still be available at, and will continue to be indefinitely.

If you find something here that helps you with your computer, then I am glad it wasn't for nothing.

Good Luck, and happy computing!

Jeff Smith

SSC #85 A reader question


Dear Mr. Smith:I recently tried to upload a video to a website, and could not get it to go. I increased my web hosting space to 20GB and still could not get it to work. I'm sure how big the video is, but it is over an hour church service. Any information/advise would be appreciated. Now I am looking at DVD burners and duplicators. What would you recommend that would duplicate videos of that size?Thank you,Hello reader, It sounds like you have an interesting problem on your hands.  I think that with a little more understanding on your part, you'll realize what is going wrong.The first thing to understand is that video can come in a lot of different sizes for the same length.  One hour of video can be as small as 300 megabytes, or as big as 10 or 20 gigabytes.   The size of the file is a result of the codecs used, the level of compression employed within the codec, and the bitrate of the video.  Also the resolution of the video has a large part to play.To define these terms, a codec is basically a system to encode or decode something.  There are codecs for both audio and video.  There are many different codecs for each.  You're probably familiar with MP3 files, right?  MP3's are just audio files encoded with the MP3 codec.  When you play an MP3 on a computer or a portable device, the device uses the same codec to decode the file into an audio stream.  A DVD player hooked up to your TV for instance uses the MPEG-2 video codec to decode the files on the disc and show you video.   Not all codecs are created equal.  Some are better for some tasks than others.Bitrate is a measurement of how many bits of information per second the file uses.    The higher the bitrate, the more data is used to render each second of video and/or audio.  The more data used, the higher the quality, and at the same time, the bigger the file size.  There's also something called variable-bitrate which allows the bitrate to change over time to adjust to the needs of the video.  This makes it so that high-action scenes in the video get a higher bitrate and hence look less choppy, while scenes with little movement can use a lower bitrate to save space.Compression is simply a way to crunch files down so that they are smaller.  If I went through this letter and every time I used the word "the" I put a number 6 in its place then by the time I got to the end of the letter, I'd have saved a lot of keystrokes.  I would just have to make sure to start out the letter by explaining that everywhere you see a 6, to mentally replace that with "the"... Compression works in the same way.  By identifying repeating patterns of data within a file, and then using a system to reduce it. Again, to relate to something you're likely to be familiar with, MP3 is a compressed audio format.  If you were to uncompress a 4 megabyte MP3, you'd get about 20 to 25 megabytes of data.Resolution is simply a measurement of how many pixels high and how many pixels wide the video is.  A pixel of course is one colored dot that makes up the picture.  Your computer monitor is likely displaying a resolution of about 800x600 or higher.  For the sake of arguement, we'll assume 800x600.  If you multipy the two numbers you get 480,000 pixels.  Thats 480,000 little dots of color that get updated every time your screen changes.  If each pixel only uses one bit of data for each change, then you're looking at 480k of data for each fullscreen change. And you want a decent framerate so that it doesn't look choppy, so around 30 frames per second.  So 480k times 30 = 14,400k or 14.4 megabytes of data, for one second!  or 843 megabytes for one minute or around 50 gigabytes for an hour.  Thats huge!Thats also uncompressed and assuming that every pixel changes throughout the entire video.  But you can see that sizes can theoretically be very big, hopefully you'll also see that they don[...]

ssc #84 Abakt backup


If you've ever lost valuable documents due to a computer crash or virus infection then today's article is for you.  If you've ever been told by friends that you need to back up your files, but never found the time, then today's article is for you.  If you've never had a problem and never saw a need to back up important data, then today's article is DEFINITELY for you.Crashes happen.  Files get lost every hour of every day due to viral infections, hardware failure, power fluctuations and just plain stupidity.  If you've never lost any important files then either you're really lucky, or you just don't have any files that you consider important.Today I'd like to share with you a very useful little program I found called Abakt.Abakt is an open source backup utility.  Essentially, you set up Abakt to copy your important files and folders to a specific location and then you can use the Windows Scheduler to make it back everything up on a regular basis.Abakt has the ability to compress your files when it backs them up, and also can delete backups when they've become too old, making sure that your storage space isn't filled up with zip archives of out-dated data.Another thing that Abakt can do is group a bunch of backup profiles into a group and then you can run them all by starting up the group.Whats even better for those of the geek persuasion is that Abakt can be called by DOS commands.  Essentially you can use a batch file (.bat) with all of your Abakt arguements and then use a command line email utility called Blat ( to email you after the process is complete to let you know if everything went ok.  If you use gmail you will need to use a program called "stunnel" ( which provides a secure ssl tunnel for blat to talk to Gmail.You can get Abakt at: is an example of a batch file designed to run Abakt and then email me the results of the process.---------------------set BLAT="C:\Program Files\blat\blat.exe"set ABAKT="C:\Program Files\Abakt\Abakt.exe"set PROFILE=set GROUP=set BODY="" set HOME=C:\Documents and Settings\set LOGFILE1="%HOME%\Application Data\Abakt\Log\%GROUP%.log"set LOGFILE2="%HOME%\Application Data\Abakt\Log\%PROFILE%.log"set set == This next line prepares Blat with your email server%BLAT% -install %EMAIL%@rem == This line actually starts up Abakt@rem== If you want to use a profile it should be "%PROFILE%".abp %ABAKT% -b -x -l -m "%GROUP%".abggoto result%ERRORLEVEL%:result0     @rem OK (0x00)    set BACKUPA=FilesCopied_OK        @goto end:result2    @rem OK+WARNING (0x02)     set BACKUPA=Files_Copied_With_errors    @goto end:result1    @rem ERROR (0x01):result3    @rem ERROR+WARNING (0x03)    set BACKUPA=File_Copy_FAILED    @goto end:end @rem==this line actually sends the email%BLAT% %BODY% -s "%BACKUPA%" -to %TOEMAIL% -f %FROMEMAIL% -server -port 25 -u -pw I hope thats helpful to some of you.  I've sure found it to be a great program.If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at straightshootincomputin@yahoo.comIf you'd like to read my past articles, browse to http://www.straightshootincomputin.comIf you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment. [...]

SSC #83 Splashtop


There's a new technology on its way and if you blink, you might just miss it.

Splashtop is just one instance of a new quick booting technology that the motherboard manufacturer ASUS is putting on all its new offerings.

The purpose of Splashtop is to provide a fast booting simplified desktop with a few essential aplications.  Its not designed to replace a full operating system, but instead it allows you to turn your machine on and within a few seconds have access to a web browser, Skype webphone, and possibly more. 

Splashtop will run in read-only mode, which means you won't be able to make changes to it or install new applications, but it also means you won't be able to mess it up.

For laptop users on the go, this means you'll be able to boot up very quickly into a low power desktop that you can use to get online, check your mail and shut down before a full operating system would get fully booted up.

For home users, this means that if your desktop suddenly catches the flu and refuses to start up, you have an emergency system that you can use to get online and find out what to do to get it up and running again.

The reason I said if you blink you might miss it is that its likely that this will be an option that you have to select at boot time by pressing a specific key or key combo.  Without selecting it, it won't come up.  And if you never see it, you may not even know that it is there. 

ASUS is leading the pack on this technology, but its doubtful that they'll be the only one to release products featuring it.  Other companies may not call it Splashtop, but it will be very similar.

This technology promises to have lots of potential for future applications.  Assuming just a few more advances in Virtual Machine technology, a Splashtop VM Manager seems not only inevitable, but undoubtedly awesome.  If you're geek enough to understand what this means, you'll no doubt agree to its usefulness.

All in all, Splashtop is definitely a technology to watch, and buy, when it becomes available in the coming months.

Oh, and did I mention that Splashtop is Linux based?   Yeah.  Its that cool.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

SSC #82 Net Neutrality


Many of you have probably heard the term "Net Neutrality" bandied about on the news lately.  A lot of people seem to be talking about it, but not many are showing signs that they really understand what it is all about.Net Neutrality is a concept that the internet should be nothing more than a set of "dumb pipes" that transfer data from one point to another.  They should not give precedence to one transfer over another, and that the internet should not block traffic or deliberately slow traffic going across it.  This is how the internet works as of right now, and in the past.At odds with this concept are the companies who collectively provide internet service to all of us.  Complaining of network congestion and an inability to reliably offer promised speeds to their customers, they claim that giving some traffic preferential treatment over other traffic is not only desirable, but necessary.If Network Neutrality is not upheld, there could be many consequences as a result of its downfall.  ISPs could begin to offer tiered priority schemes to different content providers.  This would, for instance, allow companies offering paid services (such as Netflix's movie streaming service) to gain a higher priority over the video conference you're having with your sister in Oregon.   It wouldn't just stop at legitimate services like Netflix though.  It would be something that would be offered to any company paying the price.  Full motion video advertisements would begin loading faster than the text based web pages on which they resided. And as a result, our collective bandwidth would suffer.  This also means that any new high-bandwidth services starting up that couldn't afford the internet fast lane would hardly be able to compete since their service would appear choppy and slow.Another possible outcome would be that you wouldn't necessarily be able to do wherever you want to with your internet connection.  You may have to pay one amount for web browsing, and another amount of money for chat or email.  Transferring files or encrypted data may be something else entirely.Really there's no way of knowing how it would eventually end up.  But one thing is for sure... once Net Neutrality is broken, things will only get worse for the end user.While I understand that it is a hard task to manage a congested network, the answer lies not in abolishing Net Neutrality.  The answer lies in abolishing spam (which accounts for far too much of internet traffic) and in adopting new faster technologies.In America we have the privilege of having one of the first country-wide information networks.  And while this might be a mark of pride for some, when you think about it, its one of the things that is holding us back.  Countries that did not build their information networks until recently got to take advantage of newer and better technologies that did not exist when our own was built.Many technologies have come to light since our nation's network was built.  But either by overbearing regulation or simple ignorance, they never seem to manifest for our use.One thing that is for sure is that Net Neutrality is something that we should all keep an eye on.  It is the internet equivalent of free speech.  While the corporations may own the networks, they were paid for using our monthly service subscriptions.  And the corporations should keep in mind that if they take away the freedom that makes the internet what it is, they'll find a lot of those subscriptions canceled.  Mine included.If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at straightshootincomputin@yahoo.comIf you'd like to read my past articles, browse to http://www.straightshootincomputin.comIf you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.[...]

SSC #81 DropBox


   I've been pretty busy lately, and it's been hard to find time to write, but fear not, I'm still here.

   Today I wanna tell you about a new utility I heard about on the LottaLinuxLinks podcast:  DropBox.

   DropBox is a great tool for syncing files between multiple computers.  Essentially it works by setting up a special folder on your machines that will sync to eachother.  First, install DropBox on all of your machines.  Then, if you put a picture or document into the DropBox on one computer, it will show up in the DropBox on all your other computers.  Its a great way to move files between work and home without any disks or thumbdrives to carry around with you... a no-fuss solution to a common problem.

   But it can be used in other ways as well.  Say for instance that you want to share pictures with your relatives.  If you set up a family DropBox, and install it on your relative's computers, then you simply drag and drop files into the DropBox and it will show up in their DropBox shortly thereafter.

   Its not a complicated looking affair, in fact it looks just like a normal folder on your desktop.  It really can't be easier than this!

   DropBox also has a public component that allows you to designate files to be accessible publicly.  Public files can be accessed through a web page from any computer in the world, whether DropBox is installed or not!  Its a great way to make a small cache of highly accessible personal files.  If you'd like something to be accessible globally, but you're worried about someone getting hold of sensitive files, simply compress the files in a password protected archive before making them public.  Then, while anyone will be able to get the archive, they won't be able to open it.

   I am sure you can think of more ways to use something like this... just go to and download it.
Its cross-platform meaning it has versions available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.  And they can all sync up with eachother.  

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

SSC #80 Duo-County Internet Speedup


In a surprising move, Duo-County Telephone has drastically raised their internet speeds.

Customers of Duo-County woke up a few days ago to faster downloads and faster loading web pages.  Originally some thought it was a glitch, but it turns out that Duo-County has indeed increased their broadband speeds across the board.

If you previously had Fastnet DSL Lite or Viewnet Cable Lite, you were accustomed to a download speed cap of 384kbps.  After applying the Windows Math to it (divide by 8), what you ended up seeing was around 48K download speeds in your machine.  The new speed for the service plan is 1.5Mbit, or 1,536kbps... four times what you got before, and twice what you used to get for the next tier up.  Now your top speed (in Windows Math) will be around 192K.

If you had their regular Fastnet DSL or Viewnet Cable you previously had speeds of 768kbps / 96K, but now you're enjoying a whopping 4Mbit service.  Thats 4096kbps aka 512K download speed.  Thats 5 and a third times faster than what you got before!  Apparently a little competition is a good thing.

From what I hear, there's a four dollar cost increase associated with these upgrades, but honestly thats not too bad considering the impressive speed boost.  Now all of those streaming web TV services should work just fine... no more stuttering youtube videos!

I'm not one much for corporations or corporate types, but I do give credit where credit is due.  Duo-County has done their customers a great service here.  Now Russell County speeds are much closer in line with what you'd get in Lexington or Louisville, and thats pretty impressive.

I've heard no word yet from Vortex Wireless on how they plan to react to this new development, but if and when I do I'll be sure to pass it along. 

Residential FastNET DSL Internet

1.5 Mbps download speeds (256 Kbps Upload).
per month.

4 Mbps download speeds (256 Kbps Upload)
per month.

Residential ViewNET Cable Internet

ViewNET 1.5 - 1.5 Mbps Download and 256 Kbps Upload Speed:
$33.95 per month.

ViewNET 4 - 4 Mbps Download and 256 Kbps Upload Speed:
$39.95 per month.

$100 Installation Charge applies to new installations.

Questions/Comments --

SSC #79 Don't use Antivirus XP 2008


Theres a new spyware/virus combo that is sweeping the unwary net-surfing population of Russell County. 

Several times now people have brought machines to me complaining of strange behavior and unexplained lockups.  The cause of all this is a fake anti-virus program called Antivirus XP 2008.  This is often installed by a trusting individual after reading terror-ridden warning messages in pop-up ads.  Essentially its like Iraq... they claim your computer has weapons of mass destruction so as to scare you to the point of stupidity, and in response you give them the keys to come in and wreck the place.

The advertisements are bogus, the program is bogus.  It does a fake scan and gives lots of scary fraudulent results and then asks you to purchase the program so that it can remove all of the so-called threats.  All the while, behind the scenes, it is installing viruses and possibly even a rootkit.  So, if they've done all of this, do you think these are the kind of people you should give your credit card info to?

Paying for this program would be a mistake of grand proportions!  Buying antivirus software from pop-up ads is like buying antibiotics from a stranger in a dark alley.  Common sense should tell you that its a bad idea.

But being gullible isn't the only way that this program gets in though, in some cases it has seemingly installed itself onto computers that have no protection whatsoever whenever the user browses to less than reputable sites.  So if you're running around the net unprotected, chances are this little bugger will just show up all on its own.

On newly infected machines, often this software can be disabled by running Avast Antivirus boot-time scan (or another good quality antiviral program), but in instances where it is entrenched, there's little choice but to offload important files, and then completely wipe and reinstall the operating system.  Its very hard to tell just how far a system has been infected, so in most cases its safest to wipe and re-install.  Also, any files that are taken off the machine should be scanned by a reliable anti-virus program.

If you've somehow got this software on your machine, you need to do something about it as soon as possible. 

You can find removal instructions here:

And if you don't feel confident that you can remove it yourself, you're welcome to give me a call.

See ya next week!

Jeff Smith

SSC #78 A great deal!


Sorry I missed writing last week, I was pretty worn out from Software Freedom Day. 

I'd love to tell you all that it went great, but it didn't.  Hardly anyone bothered to show up, despite all my efforts at advertising.  We were ready to go at around 10am, and we stayed til around 4pm.  Most people that came by were just wanting to pay their cellphone bills. 

Now I could rant and rave at everyone for not showing, but I think instead I'll just take it as a sign that Russell County is not interested in silly little things like freedom.  I doubt I'll be doing anything similar next year.  It was too much stress and the results were too depressing.

So instead I'm going to tell you about a good deal.

Right now, you can go to and buy a pre-installed Linux computer for $210, tax included.  They're made by a company called Everex, and they run gOS, a version of Linux.  If you have them ship it to the local Walmart, shipping is free. 

This is a great deal!  $210 buys you a tower with:
1.5GHz VIA C7-D processor
512MB DDR2 memory
80GB Hard Drive
DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo Drive
2-Button Scroll Mouse
stereo speakers - USB powered

The case has frontside USB ports as well as frontside headphone and mic jacks.

Make no mistake, this is not a powerhouse.  Its not a gaming machine.  This is a cheap machine for basic/average usage.  If all you do online is surf the internet, do email, and chat, this is for you.  It plays DVD movies, and can burn CDs.  It also has some simple games like solitaire and such. 

This is a great machine for a light user, a new user, or as a 2nd computer or student computer.  All you'll need is a monitor since it comes with everything else.

And if you find that you don't like the gOS operating system, you're fully capable of replacing it with Windows XP or Ubuntu or whatever you fancy.

I had some hands-on time with this machine yesterday.  And to be truthful, I wasn't too impressed with the gOS operating system.  If I were to buy one I'd replace it with Ubuntu, but that's just me.  But for the price, you get a complete system (minus a monitor) and thats a deal I just felt I should pass along.  If you want to get a monitor with it, the price goes up to $328.

They do not sell these at the local stores, you can only buy them online.  And if you don't like the $200 model there are others as well, including laptops and mini-laptops.  And all of these models are priced lower than what you find with Vista installed.

Until next week, take care of eachother!

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

I live in Russell County.  If you do too and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

SSC #77 Software Freedom Day 2008



Hope to see everyone there!

SSC #76 Fair Software Practices


A good portion of the open source community has got their eyes trained on a legal matter in Canada.  FACIL, a Quebec based open-source software group has filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government claiming unfair practices.  In Quebec there are laws on the books that stipulate that the government must take bids and do cost assessment when dealing with contractors.  But apparently, when deciding to spend an estimated $80 million dollars on upgrades to Vista and assorted Microsoft software this year alone, no assessments were made, and no competitive bids were entertained.  While this is the first lawsuit like this that I've heard of, if it is successful, it is doubtful that it will be the last.  Closer to home, the Russell County Court House (at least the Circuit Court Clerk's office) is preparing to upgrade to Microsoft Vista.  This will likely entail the purchasing of new computer towers, licensed copies of Microsoft Vista, as well as assorted Office software.  At a speculative cost ranging from $800 per desktop to possibly as high as $2500 per desktop, depending on what they're going to buy, you can start to see how the dollars add up really fast.  But truly I don't suggest that one county out of the whole state should move to Linux.  There is undoubtedly software that is in use state-wide that they would need to be able to interface with.  It is doubtful that Linux equivalents to their criminal database and vehicle licensing software exists under Linux.  And while there's a possibility that these may in fact run under the Windows emulator, WINE, its not guaranteed.Given that Windows Vista is so bloated that even today's high end hardware runs as sluggishly as what they currently use, as well as the cost of retraining the workers to deal with any differences brought on by the upgrade, the only reason for upgrading is to continue to receive security updates from Microsoft.  Government offices do not typically add loads and loads of new applications in a given year.  The same stuff they're doing today is likely the same stuff they'll be doing five years from now.  If not for the sad state of Windows security and the ever present need for them to fix the holes in it, there would scarcely be a reason to go to Vista.  And if Vista was not such a blatant system resource hog, there'd be no reason to upgrade the hardware.  Essentially, this upgrade is happening for the plain and simple fact that Microsoft has abandoned Windows XP.  This in and of itself is would not be such a big deal if the replacement they have for it were not so terrible.Despite the current dismal state of the economy, Microsoft, still one of the richest organizations in the entire world, believes that we should all upgrade immediately and with great haste.  I for one refuse to drink the kool-aid on this one.Companies contemplating the move to Vista should weigh their options.  There's more to computers than just Microsoft.  There's also Mac, and Linux, and BSD, and Unix, and Solaris and some more options I'm not even aware of.  Checking out the field is common sense.  And in Canada, its the law.  Without competition, innovation is diminished if not extinguished.The feeling that there is no real choice is something that Microsoft has worked very hard to cultivate.  Why?  Because they plan on STAYING one of the richest organizations in the world.By the time this comes out in print, it will be one week and two days until Software Freedom Day.  If you want to get away from Microsoft and their bullying, bring your computer tower and/or laptop down to the Sprint store in Russell Springs on September 20th.  Its a non-profit even[...]

SSC #75 They're not teachers, they're pushers!


I am so mad right now I can barely see straight.  So far three people have come up to me asking how to open the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats on their current machines.  Apparently, teachers at the local colleges have switched to MS Office 2007 and they've decided that you should to.  Some teachers are distributing assignments in the new format and their unwitting students are now forced to shell out between  $85 and $150 for the new MS Office Home and Student 2007 edition.  But wait, it gets worse.  Some are mistakenly paying more for other versions of the same software (possibly up to around $480 for the MS Office Ultimate 2007 Upgrade) when the Home and Student version isn't available at the store.  We're talking about an suite of office software that has the gall to charge $200 just for language packs.  Does anyone still have any questions as to why I dislike Microsoft so very very much??The one talent that Microsoft has demonstrated time and time again is not the ability to make great software, but instead the ability to make bloated locked-down drivel and make everyone pay through the nose for it!I can understand making students buy this software if the class is called Learning Office 2007, or something like that, but no... these are just general computing classes.  General. Computing. Classes.I've got it!  I've solved the whole national educational funding dilemma!  Teachers should start earning a commission for sales!  They're obviously doing the work of a massive sales force, they should get compensated for their hard work and treachery.Teachers.  Listen up.  Stop it.  If you don't have to use proprietary formats, then DON'T DO IT.  OpenOffice is a full suite of software that will read and write to open formats that are not locked down from anyone.  Open office will also read and write to all of the old Microsoft formats.    And OpenOffice is just one of many free and effective solutions.  After the big fight a little while back that Microsoft put up just to get their Office Open XML format accepted as a 2nd and unnecessary standard, you'd think they'd be a little more forthcoming with their new formats.  But no.  They're laying out the trough and we're all supposed to pony up the dough so we can lap it up.Are you really happy with your Microsoft Windows?  About 80% of you probably just said "No".    If you're not happy, then why in the world would you want to support them financially?  If you keep feeding the monster, it will still be around next time to bite you where it hurts.If you only teach someone how to use Microsoft software, then that is all they will ever know how to use.  This creates a mental dependency and allows a certain company to continually and unendingly put out high-priced junk.  Then three or five years later Microsoft decides to do it all over again.People aren't buying Microsoft Office 2007 because they think it is great software, they're buying it because they have to.  This is the definition of a monopoly.  And its the teachers who are enforcing this monopoly power.If you teach someone a wide variety of software--even if it is all for the same task--then they learn the fundamental concepts involved, not just the specific locations of options and tasks in one single solitary program.  One single solitary program that they'll just make obsolete in five years anyway for the sole reason of making more money from all of us sheep.People go to school to learn how to make more money.  When they're going to school, they generally don't have that much of it.  If they had loads of money, the[...]

SSC #74 Many different ways to use Linux


What many people at first fail to grasp about Linux is that it is all about choice.You can choose between more than 400 different Linux distrobutions.  You can choose to create your own.  You can choose to change how your Linux works.... how it looks... how it acts.You can make one or all of a thousand different choices to customize your Linux to your needs.  But you DON'T have to choose to give up Microsoft Windows to do it.Linux can be installed in many different ways.  Just like Windows, it can be installed to be the only Operating System in your computer.  But, it can also be installed in a dual boot configuration which allows you to KEEP Windows installed and working just like it is.   There are two different ways that you can choose from to accomplish this.     The easiest way is to use Wubi.  You can use the new Wubi installer that comes on the Ubuntu 8.04 discs to install Linux into a virtual harddrive, which is basically just a file in your Windows folders. Wubi works great and its an awesome way to give Ubuntu a try.  You simply start up your computer, boot up Windows, and put in the CD.  A box will pop up giving you some options, one of which will be to install it in Windows.  All you have to put in is your user name and password, and decide how much space to give Ubuntu to use.  The installer handles the rest very easily.  It also uninstalls very easily from the Add/Remove Programs feature found in Windows Control Panel.  The only problems with the Wubi method are that by installing from within Windows, you have essentially made Linux depend on Windows being able to keep itself working properly.  If your Windows has errors on the disk, then the Wubi Ubuntu installation can't boot up.    Another problem is that with Vista, Microsoft has apparently tried to block the usage of Wubi.  Vista kicks the Ubuntu disk out halfway through the install and messes everything up.  This seems to have been an intentional move by Microsoft since Vista only starts doing that after it receives its updates.   You can get around this by copying the wubi.exe file from the disk to your desktop and running it from there.So while Wubi is an excellent way of trying out Ubuntu Linux, its not desirable as a permanent installation since it relies on Windows not to mess things up.   Windows is the weak link in the chain... refraining from messing things up is not something that it is known for.    An install that has its own partition doesn't have to rely on Windows.  In a partitioned install, Windows can be infected with viruses and torn to shreds, yet Ubuntu will still boot up just fine and dandy.  If you just want to try out Linux without actually installing, you can simply put the CD in and reboot your machine.  The CD will boot up into a Live mode.  This Live mode allows you to use Ubuntu without installing anything at all... it doesn't change a single file on your computer.  You can play with the applications, you can browse the net.  You can do all sorts of stuff.  And if you reboot and take out the disk, Windows will boot right up as though nothing ever happened.Be aware that Live mode needs a decent amount of RAM to run.  I've gotten it to run with around 390 or so MB of RAM, but generally at least 512MB is recommended, and the more you have the faster Live mode will run.  Don't base your opinion on the speed of Ubuntu by how it runs in Live mode.  It will run faster once it is installed.Also note that changes you make in Live mode are not permanent.  You can mess with stuff an[...]

SSC #73 Time to face the change


Change can be a stressful thing.  And fear of change can be a big factor in whether or not a person will embrace something new.  Much in the same way that people can manage hold onto an abusive relationship for years on end, despite myriads of people telling them they should leave, people still continue to use an operating system that abuses their trust.While Linux hasn't exactly permeated our culture, bashing Microsoft and complaining about Windows seems to be something that is so widespread that its a wonder there isn't an Olympic event.  If there were, I'm sure I'd have more medals than Michael Phelps.  Its commonly agreed upon that Windows is not all it is cracked up to be.  The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) error screen has been integrated into pop culture to the point where people take snapshots of it in the oddest of places. Just search google images for BSOD and you'll see the most famous error screen of all time on those giant screens at Times Square, even at the Olympics torch lighting ceremony.  We can all agree, pretty much without reservation, that Microsoft Windows is bad.  Its buggy, its full of security holes that viruses just slip right through, there are hidden "features" that compromise your computer's security and allow outside agencies to snoop on your machine.  There are a lot of problems, but still people refrain from changing.  The bruises still haven't healed from the last time Windows came in drunk, reeking of viruses, emailed all your friends to tell them about some shady stock tips and crashed on the coffee table destroying all your files.  But people just aren't brave enough to put their foot down and kick Windows to the curb.Life with Linux IS different.  It is a change.  And I'll be honest, for many people its very uncomfortable at first.  The more you know about Windows, the more you'll feel out of place when you get rid of it.  The icons don't look the same, the menus are different, you may not be able to use your favorite programs.  You could be the most knowledgeable Windows geek in fifty miles, and when you boot into Linux for the first time, you'll feel like a complete moron.  This is natural.  This is change.The less you know about Windows, the easier the transition is.  But if you are a Windows power user, you've likely built up some skills that deal with finding information.  While a switching from being a Windows noobie to a Linux noobie isn't that uncomfortable, they're still noobies when all is said and done.  They have simple needs and so long as these needs are met, they're happy.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  I don't subscribe to the philosophy that everyone needs to be a computer genius.  Not knowing is ok.  But it won't feel okay for a Windows power user.  Transitioning will be slower.  There's much more to relearn.  Many more skills that need to be translated.  But speaking as a Windows power user who has taken the time and effort to make the switch, it is so totally worth it.  There is help in abundance.  The internet is quite actually teeming with support.  From IRC chat channels to online forums to community LUG meetings, the answers to your questions are out there.  And you can use the informational search skills that you've built up in the Windows world to steadily increase your Linux knowlege and slowly wean yourself from Windows one application, one neat hack, one cool trick at a time.By the time this reaches print there will be less than a month until Software Freedom Day.  On September 20th I invite anyone and everyo[...]

SSC #72 About last year


Be ready! Its coming back!No, I'm not talking about the McRib Sandwich (but if you see that THOSE are back, be sure and let me know), I'm talking about Software Freedom Day 2008! Not to be discouraged by last year's lackluster response from the community-at-large, we're signed up again to go out into the world yet again and pass out free software in an attempt to spread software freedom across the globe.Last year, over 300 teams in over 60 countries participated worldwide in an attempt to help people to escape from the dreary world of proprietary software. No longer must you put up with serial-key codes, trial-versions or annoying "unlock-me! I only cost $199.95" messages. No more electronic guilt-trips imploring you incessantly to upgrade to the "Pro" version.Software Freedom Day 2008 will be celebrated on Saturday, September 20th and I'll be stepping out of the newspaper pages and into the street to meet with YOU, dear reader. I will be passing out free CD's of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron as well as The Open Disk project (a disk full of Free Open Source Software or "FOSS" for Windows), Linux Mint 5, and Inferno Linux (an offshoot Fire Hydrant Linux, which is an offshoot of Puppy Linux 2.17). I will also have copies of the very handy BoothCD, aka the Firefox Kiosk disk. And I might possibly even have some copies of the Linux Gamer DVD on hand at request which is a great disk pre-loaded with great Linux compatible games that you can just boot and play.I will be doing my best to have a computer available for people to see Linux in action so they know that just because something is free, doesn't mean it's worthless. Sometimes you get what you pay for... but this isn't one of those times.Right now, though, I need your help. In the Open Source community, there is a saying... "Everyone can help in some way." If you are already a Linux user and want to help spread the word by handing out CD's and flyers, drop me a line or give me a call and come and help directly. More hands means more stuff being handed out. And if flagging down passers-by is not your cup of tea, you can help by telling someone else about what we're doing.Last year, the biggest problem we had was that people are afraid of the word "Free." At least ten different people accused us of trying to sell something. They insisted that there was a catch somewhere, no matter how fervently we assured them that there wasn't. Apparently, people have gotten to the sad state where not only will they not stand up and shout for what they believe in, but apparently they don't think that anyone else will either. When the word "Free" can't be trusted, what does that have to say about "The land of the Free"? Anyway, I digress.Software Freedom is not about Freedom in the sense that it costs nothing, (it does cost nothing, but that isn't the point) its about Freedom in the sense that it is used to describe "Free Speech". Geeks across the world have banded together to fight what they believe to be an unfairly closed system of political and economic oppression. Microsoft is just one company that partakes of this, but it is not the only one. And if there are any Apple/Mac lovers out there, don't think that Apple is any better. In fact, when it comes to proprietary closed systems, Apple is worse than Microsoft ever thought about being. You can't even get a Mac unless you buy it from Apple. If you try to build one yourself, you're breaking the law.In the early dawn of computers, the software was always free. It was a means to sell more machines. But somewhere along the line, things went sour. Now we live in a world where software is installed via virus embedded[...]

SSC #71 Its Linux and its Minty Fresh!


This week I'd like to talk to you about Linux Mint.  I think I may have mentioned it a few months ago, but I'd like to give it the proper treatment this week.  So without further ado, I present to you, dear reader, Linux Mint 5, codenamed Elyssa.One thing you must understand about Linux is that due to its open nature, anyone can use the sourcecode from an entire operating system.  It is sometimes slightly frowned upon, such as in the case of CentOS repackaging and redistrobuting pretty much the entire RedHat operating system.  While there's nothing official and no-one is getting sued, some have questioned if CentOS is hurting RedHat's business.  CentOS is free, RedHat is a commercial distrobution that charges money for its newest edition, as well as for support.  One could argue that CentOS is eating RedHat's lunch, but as CentOS isn't making money from doing this, nor is it providing professional support channels, those who use CentOS would likely have gone for a free distrobution in any case.  Its just something that comes along with being Open Source.  Based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint is a re-branded and repackaged offshoot with many very nice improvements.  It started out simply as just Ubuntu with audio/video codecs added in, but its grown beyond that by quite a bit. While it started out as just a pet project by one man in his spare time--and really, it still is just a pet project by one man in his spare time--with the help of the communty of users he has gathered, its become quite well rounded and has improved upon Ubuntu in many ways.Unlike the case of CentOS and RedHat, Ubuntu has not shown any hard feelings at all about the existence of Linux Mint (nor any of the other offshoots).  Ubuntu is free, and Canonical only seeks to make money by providing professional support services.  Being that Ubuntu itself has pretty much the same repackaging/improvement relationship between themselves and their parent distro, Debian, there's not much really they could say.Anyway, on with the story.I decided recently that I wanted to wipe my laptop and re-install Ubuntu.  I had been using the same installation for over a year, and while it had started out with 7.04 Feisty Fawn, I had upgraded it to 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, and then a couple months ago, 8.04 Gutsy Gibbon.  I had upgraded through the automatic upgrade tool, and while it still worked fine for me, I felt that it might run a little better if I were to wipe and start again.  The reason for this is that I tend to do a lot of tinkering around with things in keeping with the learning process and I had tinkered with a few things I should probably had read more about first.  So it was sluggish.  Easy enough to fix.  I backed up my home folder and some other files from around my system that I thought I would need (specifically /lib/firmware where my wireless card drivers resided).  I was in the process of reaching for my trusty Ubuntu install disk, and suddenly recalled having downloaded the Linux Mint ISO (disk image).  Figuring I would just install it for long enough to give it a test drive for review purposes, I popped it in and installed Linux Mint 5.  At first look, it seemed to be just like Ubuntu with a couple visual upgrades, no big deal.  But then I started to notice little changes... small details and improvements.  If you have ever driven a luxury car (not that I can afford one, but I've driven one a time or two) you notice that for the most part its just like a regular car.  It has the same controls--gas pedal, brake pedal, steeri[...]

SSC #70 Prepare for War!


The year was 1999. The new millenium was just around the corner and we all stood around wondering whether or not the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight.  Windows XP was unheard of for two more years.  And one company was releasing one of the first PC games to actually use the then-new technology of 3D acceleration.      While you were checking your bank balance yet again to be sure that none of your hard earned dollars were being eaten by the millenium bug, others were sitting down at their 200Mhz Pentium II's firing up Windows 98 and starting to wage war.These days your computer is considered slow if it doesn't have at least a Gigabyte of ram, yet here was an amazing war game that ran on machines with as low as 32 megabytes.  Many of you know what 32MB of RAM will hold.  Your digital camera probably has 16 times as much memory.I installed Warzone2100 on a whim.  My wife was asking if I had any interesting games for her to play because she was getting really tired of solitaire.  Although Ubuntu ships with over 50 different variations of solitaire, I can understand how one would get tired of playing cards.  Solitaire just isn't my thing.So I grab Warzone2100 from the Ubuntu repositories, not really getting my hopes up. Was I surprised? Boy Howdy!Warzone is the mother of all RTS games.  Literally.  RTS stands for Real Time Strategy.  As in, a game involving strategy that happens in real time.  This game is war.  Pure and simple.  Build a base, drill for oil to power your forces and start churning out tanks to defend and conquer.  Some of you may be thinking that it sounds like Command and Conquer, and it is similar, but there are subtle differences... such as the fact that you design your own units from the technology you develop.     The tanks you can build depend on the level of technology you have captured from the opposing force.  But at a glance they include machine-guns, missile launchers, mortars, bunker-busters and much much more.  When you get further along in the game you get upgrades like Surface-to-Air missiles, VTOL propulsion and the ability to shoot missiles across the lenght of the playing field.  Playing against the computer on the "normal" difficulty level is challenging and extremely addictive.  Levels can last from 30 minutes to two hours and you'll find yourself replaying levels in order to improve your progress because the units you have when you finish each level is what you start the next one with.  Barely make it through a mission alive? Better do that one again or you'll be starting the next mission with next to nothing.   Also, your troops gain experience from one level to the next.  So it's in your best interest to make sure they're not dying or you'll have an army full of rookies.Having a good grasp of military strategy is a must.  This is not a game where you can just jump in and start mashing buttons and come out on top.  While the graphics are a little dated, they're not so bad as to diminish the gaming experience.  In fact, if it were flashier, it might just take away from the hard-core strategy of it all.  You can't spend time looking at pretty lights, you have troops dying out there!    If you've been looking for a good game to test your mettle, this one will do the trick nicely.  And playing it won't cost you one red cent.  Originally developed by Pumpkin Studios, and later bought by Eidos Interactive, the game was eventually re[...]

SSC #69 Into the Vortex


Hi folk, its been a little while since I've written anything.  Did'ja miss me?  I just needed to take a break and charge the creative batteries a little bit.  I shouldn't be missing any submissions from here on out because... I would like to triumphantly report that I am back on the net!  Woot! After, what was it?  Three months?  Once again I am able to check my email from my living room.  Now that its over, I consider the whole experience to be quite invigorating.  While I have missed a few article submissions, (and I sincerely apologize to you for that) and I couldn't look things up in Wikipedia the moment I had a burning question, all in all it was a good chance to break some stagnant surfing habits and get some things done.  Rather than hitting the StumbleUpon button and randomly surfing for websites to alleviate boredom, I took the opportunity to really dig in and learn some cool new Linux tricks and skills that are really going to come in handy.But all that aside, I'm really glad to be connected again.  And for that I have Vortex Wireless to thank.Yep, thats right, I'm with a new Internet Service Provider.  And I just can't wait to tell you all about them.Vortex Wireless is a locally-owned, locally operated wireless broadband ISP.  Its not a local annex of a corporate machine, Its just a few local guys who had a great idea and who have made it a reality.  Exactly my kind of operation.  I always root for the underdog.I went down to talk to them yesterday about signing up and it was about as pain free a process as could ever be.  Tom Holt and David Godby, the owners were actually the people who took care of getting me registered and everything, and I asked them a few questions about how Vortex Wireless started out and how everything works.  What I got back were straightforward answers and a feeling that I wasn't just a number anymore.  After dealing with a decidedly corporate ISP for the last few years, it was like a breath of fresh air.  I also got to speak to the guys who would later be doing my installation and I found that these guys really know their stuff.  After we talked tech til we were blue in the face, I came away feeling like I hadn't just entered into an agreement for net-access, I had made some friends as well.  And because I was able to talk directly to the owners, I put in a good word on your behalf as well.  If you go in and sign up, just mention that you read about them here in my article and they'll give you a $25 discount on your installation.  Can't beat that, can you?  The only stipulation is that you have to be within range to receive the service.  In short, if for some reason it won't work from your house, he'll give your money back.Having a site survey to see if your location is viable is completely free and very easy.  Just call them up, give them your address and they'll set up a time with you so that they can come out and take a reading to tell them the strength of the wireless signal from your house.  If the reading is good then it's all gravy.  If not, then no harm, no foul.  Their rates are comparable to the competition, with multi-tiered services to let you get the speed your twitchy little mouse-finger craves, or give you a cheap always-on lifeline to the net, but without needing a phone-line or cable service in order to make it happen.  You can get the net, and JUST the net, in whatever speed fits your budget.  And with things getting as tight as they[...]

SSC #68 Sauerbraten


Ok folks, this one is for the Gamers out there.  I've been hooked on a new game lately and I've not been able to put it down.  Seriously, if you're a fan of Quake, Doom, or Unreal Tournament, then you're really going to like this.

The game is called Sauerbraten.  Its been said that there is nothing new under the sun.  This is true with Sauerbraten.  It has the usual weapons and powerups.  It has nice looking graphics and a lot of levels to run around and blow stuff up.  In short it is your typical First-Person Shooter (FPS).  But Sauerbraten has something that makes it stand out from the pack, at least for me anyway.  In Sauerbraten you can quickly and easily create your own maps and share them with others.  And get this, you edit the game while you are INSIDE the game.  In fact you can edit the game with other people in multi-player cooperative edit mode.  

Ok, so great.  You can edit it in game... whoop dee doo.  Whats so special about that?  Well, it means that there are just tons and tons of awesome user-made levels out there to be played.  Not to mention all new modes of play.  

Have you ever played one of these games and thought to yourself "Hey, I can do better than this!"?  Well, this is your chance.   If you've ever had a desire to get into game design, well this one is wide open.  They take submissions for models, skins, levels, music... the works!  Its a completely open opportunity to jump in and get involved in making a great game even better!

Or not.  You're perfectly capable and welcome to install Sauerbraten and just partake of the great levels and content created by other users.  Its a game that will just keep growing and growing.  

If you're interested in giving it a try, make sure you have a decent 3D accellerated graphics card.  Windows users can download the client at, and Ubuntu users can just download it from within Synaptic Package Manager since it is already in the repositories.  Sorry Mac users, but there's not a client for you yet, though it is on their TODO list.  The game is completely free to download and play, and its open source so the guts of the programming code is available for your perusal and/or improvement.  

Personally I'm working on a pretty fun level myself but I won't be hosting it online until I feel it is ready, so if you download the game, be looking out for a level by yours truely in a few weeks from now.

See you in game.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

SSC #67 Reader response and virtual machines


I have a letter from a reader I would like to share today before getting into the nitty gritty. Hi Jeff,         What kind of hours do you have there?   I need to bring my metal monster in for a good 'blowing out' (dust and pet hair I'm sure).   The problem is I work on the thing and don't have a back-up, so I can't be without it for any great length of time  :-/.         It's not doing anything 'wrong', but it is shutting itself off every now and then - which I'm assuming has to do with needing cleaned.   I can hear the fan kick in audibly after it's been running for a little while (at least I'm assuming it's the fan I'm hearing).         Also wanted to ask you - what is the difference between CDs and DVDs when you're talking about saving text and .jpg files to disc?   CDs are what I need for that, right?   Not DVDs.         Thanks!         SuziActually I come to you. :)I don't run a shop in a traditional sense, I do all of my work in the customer's home.  So if you'd like to set up a time for me to come out and clean your machine, just say the word.   And you will only suffer 15 minutes or so of downtime.And yes, shutting down is usually a sign of overheating. Not always, but usually.  The clicking could be a harddrive.  Those overheat too, which is why good airflow is important in your machine.  Burning a processor is an annoyance and a small bit of cash.  Losing a harddrive, that can really hurt because all your data goes with it and harddrive recovery services are expensive.  As for your question, the only major difference between DVD's and CD's is the amount of data they can hold (this is due to the color and width of the laser beam they are read with).  A CD can hold about 700MB of data, and a DVD can hold about 4.7GB or 4800MB.  If you are using a specific piece of software for the specific purpose of putting a picture slideshow on a DVD then you're going to probably want DVD instead of CD, or generally whatever the software recommends.  But as far as just plain-jane data discs, it is only a matter of capacity.  Unless you have a boatload of pics and text to burn, CD's will probably do the trick, since JPG's and text is usually small files. A more cost effective solution to moving these types of files around is to grab yourself a USB thumbdrive.  They have them at the X-mart(s) ranging in sizes from 256MB to 4GB or so.  And you just keep re-using the same little drive.Now, as promised, I present the nitty gritty.SERVER VIRTUALIZATIONThe tech world is abuzz with the merits of virtualization.  In response to this Canonical has released a new version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu JEOS.  JEOS (pronounced 'Juice') stands for Just Enough Operating System.  The majority of hardware drivers have been removed as well as everything that is not essential to the basic running of the operating system.  In fact, the only thing that is left is what is needed to run within virtualization software like VirtualBox or VMWare.  When you install Jeos into a virtual machine, you are left with nothing but a command prompt.  From this command prompt you can use the APT command line package manager to install any software in the Ubuntu repositories.  Sounds technical, d[...]

SSC #66 Russell County WiFi


One of the things that this county routinely depends upon is its tourist trade.  Having a great location near Lake Cumberland has been a big factor in the growth and influence that Russell County has enjoyed. With the long history of tourism starting with the original sulphur springs that prompted the creation of the town of Russell Springs, long has Russell County received its bread and butter by its ability to draw teeming crowds of summer funseekers and give them a quality vacation spot to get away from the big cities.Love them or hate them, the tourists are coming.  They are planning their trips, they are making their reservations.  They are currently arguing with their in-laws over who left who's cooler back at the fishing shack when they were here last year.But some of these tourists are going to be a little different this time around.  They're going to be coming along with a plethora of tiny devices and gadgets.  They'll be looking for available power outlets so they can charge laptops while they shop.  They will be getting frustrated and inconvenienced by the lack of open WiFi hotspots.These are people who have become accustomed to widespread free wireless internet access.  Malls, gas stations, libraries, coffeeshops, restaurants, hotels...  when driving through St. Louis last week it was simply astonishing how many signs all over the place proclaimed free wireless internet.  Its getting so saturated that you can likely surf Flickr at the dentist's office while you wait for your root canal.      I actually got the chance to use my laptop "in the wild" at a gas station in Mulberry Grove, Illinois at around 1 AM when we were on the way back from the concert (which was awesome). I simply booted up and connected to their wireless network which had the SSID of "Welcome to CC Food Mart".  Using their WiFi I was able to use Google to find a campground nearby where my wife and I could set a tent and catch some much needed rest.  And when we got there, the campground had free WiFi.  I didn't try to connect to it though, we were pretty worn out.With more WiFi equipped handheld devices becoming widely used such as Skypephones and Mobile Internet devices a.k.a. "MID's" like the Nokia n810, its getting easier and easier for people to communicate with and through the internet.  With two Skypephones at coffee shops on opposite ends of the planet you can bacially have free Starbucks-to-Starbucks communication indefinately.  Or at least until all the caffeine gives you an anurism. Alexander Graham Bell would be proud.The younger generation is really poised to capitalize on this sort of connectedness.  With cool phones and MID's becoming the new status symbols of highschools across the nation, these kids are one tech-savvy crowd.  And enterprising business owners in Russell County should take note of this.  Because these are the tourists of the future.  They'll pick a WiFi equipped restaurant over the competition because at that restaurant they can grab some great food AND they can check on their Ebay auctions.  And they'll stick around a little longer as well, grabbing a dessert and another cup of coffee while they grab the latest Doppler radar images from so they know what the weather will be like for the trip back home.Hotels you better listen up too!  For the future tourist, being able to connect beats out coffee and donuts... er..[...]

SSC #65 internet radio


    A wise man once said you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.  If you replace the word "fool" with the word "please" then you have aptly summed up the problems of a music radio network.  Unless you are Mr. Average, you have 1.5 kids, and your tastes play along the lines of the common denominator of society, chances are that sometimes the music played on the radio just doesn't suit your tastes.  So you switch the channel... and catch the tail end of your favorite song just before the DJ decides that it is time for a 5 minute block of news, weather, and commercials.    Radio has its problems.  I really don't envy them their job.  They have to do the best they can to please all of their listeners all of the time.  This is why they tend to stick to the Top 40 hits from the last 20 years.  It is just a way for them to play it safe.  But some musical artists don't really get good until you get off of the beaten path and delve into some of the stuff that never saw airtime.  And sometimes you really just want to hear something new. There is a lot of great music out there that just isn't getting heard.  If this describes your feelings toward music you hear on the radio then is for you. is a great new internet radio service that brings a breath of fresh air.  Its kind of like a radiostation that is built on the fly to suit your mood.  With a single artist name, song name, or even just a keyword that describes what you want to hear, it will line up a playlist of similar music that will play commercial free, non-stop until you turn it off.  And controlling it could not possibly be simpler.    You start off by going to and signing up.  Don't worry, its free and they don't ask for anything personal, just your name and email address.  Once you have an account, you can listen via the flash player on the website or you can download their Windows client.  Ubuntu users, fear not, Rythymbox, Ubuntu's default music player already has support built in, just look for it under plugins.  They also have a stand-alone Linux client availble as well.    When you start it up, you start off with just a text box, and a little drop down menu to select between a tag or an artist.  More on tags in a minute.  You simply just type in the artist you want to hear and it starts playing.  It may not immediately play the artist you entered, but it will eventually, as well as artists that belong in the same music genre.  If you type in Tammy Wynette it will fill the list with Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty and George Jones and more like that.  If you put in Megadeth it will put in Pantera, Rob Zombie and more of the same.  Much of it will be stuff you've heard, and some of it will be stuff you never knew existed.  Myself, being a big Radiohead fan of course, I put in Radiohead and I was introduced to a couple new bands (Mogwai, Muse) that I liked immediately.      Now what if you want to listen to something but you can't really think of an artist to put in?  Or perhaps you're going for a specific mood?  This is where the "tags" come in.  You could put in "easy listening" and thats what you'd g[...]

SSC #64 Linux Lament


    There's nothing really huge to talk about this week that I'm aware of...  I know that's not really the best way to start out a newspaper column, but I'm not one for sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism.    I know I have spent a lot of time hyping Ubuntu up and making it sound really good, but I want you to know that you always get the straight story from me even when it is news I would rather not have to be reporting.      Case in point, I've been installing Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron around town amongst friends and customers for the last little while, and I'm beginning to see through some of the shine and polish.  I'm finding that it is better installed freshly as opposed to an upgrade from Gutsy Gibbon.  One friend of mine who was using Gutsy has said that his machine has started acting very sluggish and that things that formerly worked very snappy and crisp are now delayed for unknown reasons.  I am thinking some of this is a result of the Beta status of Firefox 3.  They did some heavy tweaking in it to make it lighter on your RAM and as a result it is almost as though it runs with lower system priority and hence runs sluggishly and even freezes at times.  He was also a big fan of XMMS, like myself, and is having trouble making the transition to a replacement music player.  I plan to go over and help him to either work out the bugs or perhaps even switch him back to Gutsy, with which he was very happy.    Another friend of mine has a fairly new machine from Dell, and I spent 12 hours yesterday trying to get Hardy Heron correctly configured on it.  It installed fine via the Wubi installer, and everything worked great except I couldn't get the wireless network card to work.  Also it seemed that every time I installed the nVidia 3D-acceleration drivers then the monitor would be limited to a low resolution of 640x480.  Oh, the 3D would work, and the windows would wobble and I could do all the cool special effects, but in 640x480 that just isn't enough to satisfy.  In the end I realized that the 3D drivers were working fine, they just didn't properly recognize her flatscreen monitor, and as a result of this failure, they refused to display in resolutions that it could not detect.    After spending all of this time on it and failing to get these basic hardware components to work, I gave up.  And a little piece of me died inside.  I booted back over to Windows Vista and I removed Ubuntu.      After a brief moment of silence, I went and passed out in exhaustion.    I spend a lot of time in this column touting the benefits of Linux and other Open-Source software.  Its something that is important to me.  And if you're a computer owner, I feel it should be important to you also.  But even I must admit that Linux isn't for everyone.  While Linux works on more hardware than any other operating system (this is verifiably true) it doesn't work on ALL hardware.  My friend could have spent some money and replaced her graphics card and her wireless card with components that are definitely supported.  And if you're really determined to get Linux to work, sometimes parts replacement is the only option.      In a perfect world, all of the hardware manufacturers would release their dr[...]

SSC #63 Hardy Heron First Look!


   Wow, its been a pretty exciting week for Linux fans.  Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron was released last week, and I downloaded the LiveCD and set about testing out the new Wubi installer on the only computer in my house that runs Windows XP.  I also did an upgrade on my laptop via the built-in upgrade process.     First lemme talk about the Wubi install.  Essentially I just put the newly burnt Ubuntu CD into the computer while it was running Windows XP and it popped up a neat little window asking me if I wanted to reboot and try it out in Live mode, or if I wanted to install it inside of Windows.  I selected the option to install within Windows and was greeted with a second screen, which I will be including in this article.  Here I made a mistake.  I put in a password that was only a single digit long.  The installation seemed to progress properly until it got to the point where it wanted to reboot.  Upon rebooting it went into a LiveCD session off of the Wubi install.  I realized this wasn't correct almost immediately.  So rebooting back to Windows, I went into the Control Panel and clicked on Add/Remove Programs.  Ubuntu was there on the list and two clicks later it was removed.     I started up the Wubi install again and this time I put in a password of 8 letters (it turns out you need at least a six-letter password) and commenced the installation a second time.  This time Ubuntu installed flawlessly and I was able to do all of the normal customizations that I like to do just like a normal Ubuntu install.     Booting back to Windows was easy, in fact it was the default option.   To clarify, all you have to do to boot into Windows is just turn your machine on.  There is a menu to select between Ubuntu and Windows when it first starts up and if you don't select a choice, it will automatically boot into Windows in about 10 seconds or so.   From what I hear, it doesn't go so easily on Windows Vista machines.  Apparently Microsoft has done something in an attempt to block the Wubi installer by ejecting the CD during the installation process.  To get around this, if you're a Vista user, you copy the Wubi.exe file from the CD to someplace on your computer and start it from there.  This will allow you to bypass the little MS tripwire and install Ubuntu via Wubi.   All in all I consider the Wubi installer to be a success.  A few bugs to work out for consistency's sake, but it installed fine and it uninstalled cleanly.  I just wish it had a warning about expected password length.     My laptop upgrade went well, all my software was updated to the newest versions and my custom wallpaper and application settings were all left alone.  I didn't even have to reconfigure my wireless card.  One thing that was a little disappointing to me was the loss of XMMS, which happens to be one of my favorite audio players.  Apparently it is no longer supported by Ubuntu.  Thankfully there are about 4 or 5 clones of it (XMMS itself is a clone of the Windows program Winamp) and I've started using Audacious, which looks exactly like XMMS did, but has some advanced features added.    I haven't yet gotten a chance to mess with the Pulse Audio other than to verify that it was indeed there. [...]