Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Windows Auto Update service leaves a bit to be desired. I recently posted the following on the MS Windows update newsgroup:

The recent problems that I and others have had with Q329170 recalls the adage - Do No Harm.

I was under the impression that the point to the auto update feature in added to Win 2000 SP3 and later was to keep your system in tip top shape and hack free. I know MS is running scared and trying to plug all holes like the proverbial Dutch dike but maybe a little more regression testing is needed?

I know no one put a gun to my head to install these updates, but one would like to believe that an official update propagated as widely as these updates would be more thoroughly tested? What's even more annoying is that I had to scrounge around in this newsgroup to confirm what I had just about already deduced by myself using the event log to review what happened on the date right before I started getting "couldn't unload registry" messages in my event log. I never ever ask for anyone's help or support with my computer system as it is hopeless and I can always figure it out myself or use my own research. I do think that MS should post as soon as possible on a known web site when it becomes clear that there is a problem with an update. I may be uninformed but the last google I did of did not reveal this latest gem of a problem called Q329170. I count at least a dozen or so reports of problems with this update on this board so I extrapolate this is a pretty widespread problem. It would be nice if MS informed users of this issue but I guess this is wishful thinking?

Again - Do No Harm.

A kind soul also posted this workaround (I just uninstalled the patch):

Old bug reintroduced with latest updates.

Here's a fix:

Start > Run > gpedit.msc to open the Group Policy Editor

In the Group Policy Editor: Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Logon

In the right hand panel, double click on "Maximum retries to unload and update user profile", choose "Enabled" and set the Max. retries value to less than its default of 60. I set it to 5.

Bill Simeon MCSE

I find it curious that advertising firms reuse the same music over and over. For example, the latest HP add campaign uses a tune by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra ("Perpetuum Mobile"). I wonder if HP knows that the exact same music was used several years ago by IBM for a series of commercials? Is there so little music to choose from that they keep using the same songs? I've noticed that movie trailers often use the same outtake from a Peter Gabriel song (it's the end of The "Rhythm of the Heat" I think) as well. Another favorite of movie trailer musicologists is the song "There She Goes" by The La's. Every third movie trailer I see uses some outtake from a version of this song. So it seems there are only three songs for all the world to choose from when making advertisements?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The Music Industry!

I think one can draw a parallel to the way that the Music Industry "invests" and the way that Wall Street invested during the "bubble". After the burst on Wall Street it was loudly announced that what's wrong with a lot of investors is they didn't diversify. I think the Music Industry has fallen into this same trap. The whole industry is built around making or breaking one or two megastars. Take Mariah Carey's famous flameout with her record label. They let her go for something like $40 million dollars. It put severe strains on the company. If the Music Industry organized itself so it could make money on dozens or hundreds of artists it would be diversified and profitable over the long run. Also, it is clear that there are just too many middlemen in the Music Industry all wanting to make a fortune. It ain't going to happen. Finally, there appears to be a form of payola still going on whereby a third party "placement manager" is paid by the record labels to lobby radio to play just a couple of artists. The Music Industry deserves all the pain they suffer. In my mind, I would like to see the entire Music Industry implode and we all start over again. The Music Industry is so arrogant to think that if it goes out of business that no one will ever make music again. I've begun to make my own music. Who cares about the success or failure of the Music Industry?

Friday, December 13, 2002

November turned out to be rather busy. Lots of technical problems hit me:

1. Doing a routine bios flash update, I manged to munge my bios and make my PC unbootable. I've flashed many times over many years but this was a first for me. I thought I was hosed and was going to have to mail my EPROM back to Soyo. Instead, I decided to try a trick that I had read about years ago to see if I could save myself. Basically, the EPROM bios chip on PCs is only used to bootstrap the PC hardware. Once booted it is no longer used. So, in theory it is possible to hotswap the EPROM while the PC is running and subsequently reflash a dead chip in another PC. My first attemts at this legerdemain failed. I had an old flash program that balked at the chip swapping. Once I downloaded a new award flash program I was able to successfully hotswap my chip, flash, and then return the updated chip to my dead PC. Amazingly, it worked. I don't think I'll be doing any more flashing for quite awhile.

2. One of my hard drives started to report SMART errors. I tried all sorts of chkdisk error scanning sweeps but with no luck. I finally backed up some files and repartitioned the drive and formatted the disc with FAT32 so I could run Spinrite 5 on the drive. Spinrite doesn't understand NTFS. Spinrite didn't report anything. Anyway, I think by reformatting the drives I might have mapped out the bad sector as I have now repartitioned and reformatted back to NTFS and the drive works fine. It seems drives are becoming less robust. I had a serious hard disk failure this past summer. I was able to do a warranty swap with Western Digital. I don't think I'll be buying WD drives again. Thankfully, I have multiple redundant backup strategies so I haven't lost a byte of data. I also bit the bullet and repartitioned my boot drive to small OS boot partion and a separate data drive. I had used this approach for years at work but was stubborn about my home PC. Now I have a boot partition that contains all my OS and program files that I can disk image with DriveImage in about thirty minutes. I use Retrospect backup to back up my data files to CD or external Firewire drive. I also keep CDs offsite at my safety deposit box as well. You can never be too paranoid with this stuff.

3. As I continue to refine my Home Studio I discovered to my dismay that I had a channel imbalance problem with my external Spirt Folio Notepad mixer. After much testing with test tones, I determined that the problem was isolated to the monitor output left channel which was down about 7 db below the right. I checked and found it would cost a minimum of $65 to repair. A new notepad can be had for $150. So, I was suddenly in the market for a new mixer. I had recently been seeing ads for a new line of mixers from Samson called the MDR series. Among other things these mixers were compact, claimed low noise, and had some interesting features. I chose to buy the Samson MDR8 for $199. It features a 24bit DSP for reverb, delay, etc. Quite nice. I think it may be quieter than the Notepad. I was really pleased with the Notepad and I am sad to see it go. I may try to fix it myself since it looks like I could just replace the OpAmps, resistors, etc. until I solve the problem.

4. I bought a great new synth keyboard to replace my very old yamaha PSR synth. I had been wanting to upgrade to a better more professional synth but did not want to spend a lot. I became aware of the great price breaks on the E-MU Proteus PK-6 synth. This used to cost over $1200. It now lists for about $599 and some ads place it at $499. I was lucky and found a floor model at Guitar Center and talked them down to $465. At that price, there really isn't anything that can touch it. I'll spend all winter discovering what I can do with this machine!

5. I also solved a problem I had with the battery in my Takoma Chief guitar running down. I took it in for warranty and they replaced the phone jack which seems to have done the trick. All under warranty, natch.

6. I also resolved an issue with some hum that showed up in my SOTA Home Theater rig as a result of my new McCormack MAP-1 preamp and adding my old B&K amp for the rear channels. The B&K amp only uses a two prong plug and I suspect introduced a ground loop into the system. The solution was ultimately easy. I found that the hum disappeared if I unplugged my front channel McCormack amp which as a three prong plug. Thus, a cheap cheater plug that effectly floats the ground on the McCormack amp solved the problem. Deathly silence now! Since all the electronics are plugged into a Panamax surge protector that is fully grounded and all are hooked together via Canare interconnects, I believe I am quite safe electrically. I also think the sound quality has improved as well? Next upgrade will be a Martin Logan cinema center channel speaker and one channel amp from Outlaw.

Whew! As I said, November was pretty busy. I don't know what I would do if I had a real job?

Saturday, October 26, 2002

I've been revisiting computer MP3/WMA/Ogg player/managers. I have used Sonic Foundry's Siren for a long time. In many ways it is the most expansive and well thought out of all the players out there. Unfortunately, Sonic Foundry stopped developing the product. I tried out recent versions of Winamp (ver 3) and MusicMatch (ver 7.2). Each had odd flaws that utimately led to my uninstalling them.

In the case of Winamp, despite it's claims it has poor support of WMA files. For instance, it will play WMA files but it will not properly retrieve WMA headers and display them in the Music Library. This makes it unusable for WMA in my book. Their response is WMA sucks, use MP3 or Ogg. Well the "WMA sucks" point is debatable. MP3 needs more disk space for equivalent WMA sound with a smaller file. Ogg is ok but is still too new and is not supported by any portable players. With DRM turned off, WMA is quite satisfactory. I don't know if WMA 9 will change things?

In the case of MusicMatch it too has a problem with WMA files. The default player install doesn't include support for WMA. One has to download and install a separate WMA "patch". Once installed, WMA files play but again there is a catch. Using the library, WMA files do not display their Track Number embedded in the header. Again this is deal killer. I don't understand what these companies are thinking? It seems more political than technical. Siren doesn't have these issues. It supports WAV, PCA, Ogg, MP3, WMA, and more.

This makes me wonder why there are no truly well designed MP3 players in production for the PC?

I look longingly at iTunes on the Mac. I've only played with it at stores but it appears well designed when compared to PC products. The iPod combined with iTunes seems like a killer combo that has no competition in the PC world. I wonder if Apple will ever embrace Ogg?

I suppose I may look at MS Windows Player 9 when it ships. Even so, out of the gate it is limited by slavish support of WMA only and using the lame All Music Guide for lookups. One can add MP3 support but I do not know of a way to add other codecs like Ogg?

It's surprising how little is written about the poor state of players for the PC?

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Walt Mossberg writes a very good column for the WSJ. I enjoy his no nonsense pragmatic approach to technology. This is an example of his insightful approach and addresses a view on a subject (email clients) I have long espoused. As some know, I have railed against the mess that is Microsoft Outlook, I refuse to use it and made my feelings known while I was at Microsoft. I have always felt that Outlook Express was long undervalued as a very carefully crafted email and news client. Few realize that even if you you use Outlook, if you connect to a POP3 account you are using the Outlook Express engine. Further, Outlook does not support Newsgroups and never will due to MSFT's favor of Outlook's Public Folders - a completely braindead and unusable technology. Walt Mossberg addresses these issues in this article: Frustrated with Outlook? Take the Express Route.

Friday, October 11, 2002

With the continuing Tech downturn, I think there is new pragmatism to personal technology. This NY Times article, Wired, but Drawing the Line, exlpores this trend. Overall, I think it is a good trend. I certainly encountered too many "tech for tech's sake" people when I worked at MSFT. Some saw me as cynical. I prefer "pragmatic" as my moniker.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Another day of troubleshooting. One day after I testified in front of the Montgomery County Council on the sad state of Comcast Internet, right on schedule my Internet goes out for the majority of the afternoon. Called Comcast, again, and read them the riot act. They're hopeless.

Contacted Tacoma guitars about my preamp burning up batteries. Decided to contact HMT and see if they would help me. They consulted with Tacoma and they are sending a new preamp which they will have installed locally in about a week. Hopefully this will solve the problem?

Also, found out that Pinnacle Systems will have a patch that fixes my just purchased Expression DVD authoring program to allow it to not re-encode imported mpeg video. I can't believe they released the product without this. What were they thinking?

At least my SAT dish, stereo, and phone are working. Decided to ditch the Sony CD-RW and ordered another Plextor drive. Plextor has always been the premier CD-RW. I am a bit disappointed in the Sony drives. I expected better from Sony.

Need to take the car in for it's yearly checkup. Also, need to take my new preamp in for the quick update as recommended by Lew Johnson.

Suddenly, very busy.

Weather very summer like. I want it to get cold. I'm weary of warm weather.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Working on getting technical glitches solved today. Just had Verizon here to clear up a persistent hum/buzz on my phone line. They removed some old RF filters and cleaned up my connection at my network junction box. Seems a bit better.

Yesterday, I made the discovery that the cause of the radio interference (WTOP-AM) on my phone line was due to the satellite dish phone connection. I disconnected the SAT to phone link and the radio goes away. Very odd?

Comcast seems to behaving itself this week. I am off to testify this evening in Rockville.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Comcast upload problems continue. I did receive a call today from a "concerned" Comcast rep. She did sound sincere in her intent to solve this ongoing problem. Time will tell but I will give her a chance. I will also testify at the County Cable Council meeting on Oct. 1 as well. Maybe Comcast will get the message that MC citizens just don't roll over and play dead.

Attended my local Kensington Heights citizens meeting. Very interesting presentations about the traffic congestion in Montgomery County. Looks like the Inter-County connector light rail initiative is gathering steam. It could become a reality in 10 years?

Monday, September 23, 2002

An interesting article, The Mundane Future, describes the rapid slowdown in software innovation. I have to agree that things have really ground to halt after the giddiness of the late 90's.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

I was stood up for a lunch appointment yesterday. Very odd? I double checked the email exchange that led up to the appointment and I had the date, time, and location correct. I left two voice mails and left after waiting 50 minutes. There are a number of possibilities.

1. The person forgot
2. The person had a personal emergency
3. The person really didn't want to have lunch with me

I'm ok with any of these but since I left a message and have not heard anything via phone or email I would have to rule out number 1. If more days go by without explanation I will have to conclude it is number 3? If so, why bother to agree to lunch in the first place?

Friday, September 20, 2002

Comcrap is up to their old tricks tonight. Web is very slow. I cannot upload any files. I sent an email to Comcrap tech support. They'll come back with the usual response that everything is great. Comcrap is perfect. How dare I insinuate that they have problems with their network? I've been updating my problem log - again. When I get critical mass, I'll send another email to the Montgomery County Cable Affairs office. They at least are responsive. From what I hear, they are growing weary of Comcast problems.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

In his article, The Free Software Lunch, David Henderson argues against the friendly reception that various governments have given GPL software. I think his points are flawed and miss a larger phenomenon of users wanting to retain control over their future and tools they need to use.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Here's a treasure trove of concert recordings available for download that consists mostly of Grateful Dead but also some others such as Pat Metheny and Nickel Creek (look under xtras link).

Monday, September 16, 2002

Dan Bricklin has posted a great article on the ongoing RIAA jihad against music trading, etc. As others have pointed out before, there are a lot of holes in the RIAA's arguments. As a hardcore music consumer for over 30 years, I have a lot to say about this matter and will make my own thoughts known at a later time. In the meantime, another thought provoking article is available here.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Currently at the beach with my mom. Weather was rough for the first week. NorEaster last Sunday followed by humid weather. Now that the front has come through, things are much drier and nicer.

Due to the heavy rains last Sunday, the POTS land lines have been trashed. It was very hard to get modem access all week. I called Verizon to notify them about the poor quality of the phone lines. The first thing they inform you is that it will be $80 if they determine it's your phone and not their lines that's the problem. Then I tried to explain to them where I was located and they were clueless. They couldn't find me in their database. They asked if this was a new location. Yeah, like thirty years ago! I finally just hung up since it was clear that they were not really interested in being notified that their phone lines were trashed. I bet because of their "we'll charge you $80" approach to customer service that Verizon now has a spotless customer service record because no one bothers to follow through an report and actual problem. This is very innovative of Verizon and must have been an award winning/promotion opportunity for the MBA genius who dreamed it up. When the Federal oversight committee asks Verizon to show them their complaint records, Verzion can proudly say - We don't have any. Little does anyone realize that Verzion refuses to accept a report of problem unless the consumer accepts Verizon's contract that they will, at their sole discretion, decide if it is their problem. This is truly American business at its most innovative! Not!

Anyway, the Verizon truck appears in the condo parking lot this morning. Amazingly, after it leaves all the phone lines perform perfectly. So much for who's problem it was.

Other experiences with Verizon include my ongoing AM radio phone at home. My home in MD (suburb of DC) has had a local radio station (WTOP-AM) on the line for about 5 months. Also, I frequently have a nasty buzz as well. I don't use phones much since I went to a cable modem with another not great company - Comcast. I called Verizon a while back about the AM radio on my phone and they went through their $80 song and dance. Verizon wants me to go out and dismantle my network junction box on my house and test things there. It's been too hot this summer to bother. When things cool I will devote a couple of weeks fighting with Verizon. Again, let's see whose problem this turns out to be.

It's hard to be sympathetic to ailing US business with this type of nonsense going on. It's also kind of scary to wonder where it will all end?

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Rain today. Finally!

August is the worst month for me weather wise. I just don't like hot weather. I am very much looking forward to cooler Fall weather. The drought this year has been particularly bad. I was looking at the rainfall list in the paper. Usually, we should get about an average of 3" a month. These days we're luckey to get half an inch.

Packing up today to go to the beach. First time since June - due to my mom's illness. It will be nice to get a change of view. I've been kind of trapped in my basement all summer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Picked up the following new CDs at Tower today:

Aimee Mann - Lost in Space
Patricia Barber - Verse
Duncan Sheik - Daylight
Stones Remasters (SACD) - Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Through the Past Darkly

Hope to do some serious listening tomorrow. Curious to see how the Stones SACDs sound. Tower as usual didn't have all the discs. Wanted Sticky Fingers as well. I haven't really cared about the Stones for years but this remaster series is interesting. I think I stopped paying attention to the Stones by about 1975. They're a bunch of old farts at this point. Best years behind them.
I've got my tickets to go to the big island of Hawaii in Feb. 2003 - unless United folds before then. It will be the first time I will be on an airplane in about 3.25 years. I'll be staying in Kona, with my parents. I was wondering what might have developed in terms of Internet connectivity since I was last there. Well, it turns out that the whole island is one big Wi-Fi net! Check this article out. Looks like I'll be taking my Wi-Fi card with me!

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Just checked in at Trey Gunn's website. Looks like the mighty Crim were in the studio in July in Nashville. Sounds like a promising new release projected for Feb. 2003. Also, something new from Trey is also in the works. His last group live album was great.
Well that wasn't fun. I just lost all of my last post due to web congestion or something!

Ok, just listened to most of the new Aimee Mann cd. Quite nice. On sale for $10 along with the new Duncan Sheik at Tower on Tuesday. Looking forward to the new Peter Gabriel cd at the end of September. Now if we could get new material from The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, and Joni Mitchell.

Began fiddling with Linux again recently. I had a been on a hiatus for a while. I've been playing with Linux since about '97-98. Things have definitely progressed in the install, gui, and apps. I recently discovered the Knoppix distrib. The cool thing about this one is it is designed to run entirely off CD-ROM without touching your discs. If you type "knoppix noswap" at the prompt it just runs all in memory. Very impressive. One can even save a floppy config file to remember you mail options, printer, etc. I tried it on several machines and it came right up. One nit on one machine I have is the sound config. This pc has a Crystal 42xx sound chip which is auto detected. When I try to play XMMS it starts and then the whole machine locks. I've been seeing this type of behavior under Linux for years. Linux sound support is still not very robust! I used to run BeOS on this box and it worked fine with this sound chip. What's up with Linux? This would be a real roadblock for me to go full time Linux. I don't know why things haven't improved in this area.

I continue to muse about Apple PCs. I have always been skeptical about Jobs and his reality distortion field but the current batch of products are quite compelling. The problem, of course, is having to buy all new apps in addition to the new Mac. I think Apple should try to shave about 2 pounds off the iBook. I've been happy with my under 4 lb. Sony Vaio. Apple needs to get into this space.

Meanwhile, I languish in my aging Windows world. It's amazing how disenchanted I've become since I left MSFT. I just don't find their apps compelling. IE was good in it's day. I still think OE does a lot right. Of course, I never could stomach Outlook and will never use it. Office no longer holds any interest. Visio was interesting when it was independent but now has just been sucked into a black hole.

I am impressed by the first release of Open Office. I especially like the open XML format of the files. The great thing about OO is that you are guaranteed there will always be support for the format since you don't have to worry about a company going bankrupt or becoming arbitrary like MSFT. I think I heard that the next version of MSFT Office will finally go open XML has well for the file format. That was inevitable. My sense in the few statistics I've seen is that each version of Office sells less with each passing version and year. It's simply overpriced and not compelling. Give me a text editor and email. That's all you really need. The student pricing scheme MSFT has been selling is simply a backdoor way of admitting that prices have to come down. I remember asking Orlando Ayala (VP of North America) while I was at MSFT what we were going to do when you could buy a PC for less than the price of Office? His response was that people would recognize the value of MSFT software. I was unimpressed then and still am in his answer.
I have been exchanging emails with Comcrap's online help. I send them questions and they send me answers for totally different and unrelated quesitons. Totally clueless! Their "mywebpages" are still hosed. I just tested my uploads by ftp'ng them locally and they check out fine, so there must be a problem with there web server cache or some such nonsense. C'est la guerre?
Ok, its a day after my 42nd birthday. Decided to try out blogging for a while. Still having trouble with ComCrap ftp servers so my pages are not fully rendered. Hopefully, things will sort themselves out soon. More to come.