New Features: Last week, we made mention of the Spring Cleaning Contest that we're running for the next couple of weeks. The scores are starting to roll in, and like the US primaries, it's a crowded field. But a couple of people are going to win gift certificates, and the first-day-issue of EE's new coffee mug will go to about twenty people, so sign up today; there's still plenty of time.
New Moderators: Please welcome ForestDenizen and Night-Eagle as the newest members of the Moderator team. Before you start asking, no, there has never been any requirement that Mods have the letters M, O and D in their names; in fact, none of our four longest-serving Moderators have any more than two of those letters, and one -- Lunchy -- has none of them. So in a sense, the choice of usernames by FD and N-E is harkening back to tradition. In any case, we're glad to have them on board.
And for those of you wondering about the image, the mascot of the Mark Twain Elementary School Badgers kindly consented to show his fondness for our favorite website. And on the subject of shirts, angelIII, who will probably take over the top spot in the Hall of Fame in a couple of months, has posted pictures of his collection.
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I wanted to let you know that I finally upgraded my Mac OS. I waited until the last minute so I could go straight to the newest Leopard. I have a Power G4 dual processor with a new internal hard drive and a new DVD/CD-RW drive, so I have absolutely no complaints about the speed or size of my drive. I bought Leopard from Amazon.com and tried to install it to no avail -- as you might remember from my rant at the Apple forum. Thank God for Amazon because they did accept the return even though the software was open.
I started searching around for Tiger, the older OS, and found only two used copies on Amazon for $140. Then I checked at eBay, and found more and at better prices. I don't want you to think I am shorting the guy I bought my software from; I just want him to be honest about what and how he's selling it. The item listed had the words "full upgrade from any operating system including 8.6" or words to that effect. Naturally, I was elated because the asking price was $65, but being somewhat competitive, I made an offer of $55. But before I did, I read all the facts on the info page. Down at the bottom, there was a single line that said "if you are upgrading from 9.2, you will need to buy this additional software for $9.99 and if upgrading from 8.6, you must buy this additional software for an additional $something." I was confused, so I sent an email to the contact and, oddly, never received a response. Having waited in vain for months for Leopard, I was in no mood to wait longer. I hesitated because this merchant, a place called "We Fix Macs" in Santa Clara, did not accept returns but only gave exchanges. But I made my offer and decided I could wait no more.
Feeling slightly queasy about the whole thing, I decided to pay by calling in my credit card instead of doing it online. I called the non-800 number and got a main switchboard which took about five minutes to get through all the menu choices (yes, like AT&T) and I choose the wrong menu item. This routed me to the San Francisco store (supposedly) where I waited for more than a minute on hold until it was answered by "Margaret" who said her name just as I gave up and hung up. So I did the whole thing again and selected the right store in Santa Clara and guess who finally picked up? Yes, Margaret. She told me I would have to buy additional software in order to use the Tiger update and that she was sorry I was confused. So I ended up spending not $55, but $73 (part shipping). After my software arrived and worked, I noticed the Tiger disks were imprinted with "Not for individual sale, part of a hardware bundle" and the other required updates were homemade copies of something.
Later, I decided to leave buyer feedback, quoting what I thought was a misleading title. I reported it to the misleading title section of eBay, and left buyer feedback. The very same day, a young man called me and said he was sorry I was upset (?) and that if I would remove my negative feedback, he would refund the money I had paid over and above the $55 as advertised. I said I would be happy to remove the feedback if he promised never to use a misleading title again. He said he couldn't agree to that, that he would have to speak to the sales manager. I said the point of negative feedback was to inform the public, not save me $9.99. He was shocked that I could not be bought for ten bucks. Gosh.
I got a couple of emails from people asking me about the negative feedback and I answered them truthfully. They were grateful to know about the intended confusion. I revisited eBay to see if the seller had learned anything and looks like something happened; they are no longer selling in auctions but are still using the misleading title on their items in their eBay store.
An editor by trade, a writer by avocation and an Expert by happenstance, ericpete puts together the newsletter for Experts Exchange.
There's a scene in the first Jurassic Park movie where the gamekeeper is trying to show he's smarter than the velociraptors -- just before the injured Laura Dern runs across the clearing to the power shack while the gamekeeper becomes lunch for some big reptiles.
That has to be how the top brass at Yahoo feels; despite the fact that the company's stock price has been falling (until Microsoft offered to buy it, that is), and profits have been declining, Yahoo founder and president Jerry Yang insists that the company is worth more than $31 a share, even though the collected wisdom of stockholders world wide disagree with him.
He believes it so much that his board has voted the top executives some very sweet golden parachu... er... severance plans in case the company is purchased by Microsoft -- which will happily spend the money a proxy fight would cost -- call it $25 million, give or take -- rather than spend the $1.5 billion additional for each dollar the share price goes up.
Yang's insistence that Yahoo is worth at least a third more than Microsoft is offering wasn't the only incredible -- as in unbelievable -- step in the dance involving Number 1 and Numbers 3 and 5 on the Alexa hit parade. Bill Gates told c|net that Yahoo's value is in its engineers, as if its place atop the rankings -- and ahead of Google -- didn't mean a thing. Right. We saw an ad on Craigslist for some beachfront property in Ely too.
The one thing that Yahoo's insistence on getting more for itself has done is to cause its stock to go up by about half. When Microsoft made its offer, Yahoo was sitting under $20 a share, and now it's pushing $30; there are a bunch of people sitting there, patiently waiting for Microsoft to start buying. Of course, during the same time frame, Microsoft has dropped about ten per cent of its value. Since a good portion of the offer was an exchange of Microsoft stock for Yahoo stock, that means the value of the bid has dropped.
What nobody has asked is whether this is really a good deal for Microsoft OR Yahoo. It's probably pretty good for Yahoo, since Yahoo has been pummeled over the past year or so for any number of things. A quick search on Yahoo turns up a whole pile of reasons. It makes acquisitions of companies and then devalues them. Its technology stinks, and it's disjointed. It has shot itself in the foot on human rights. And it's not always very user-friendly (read about halfway down). It hasn't got a clue about what kind of company it wants to be -- perhaps the most damning criticism of all.
We have nothing against old technology that works. We have nothing against new technology that works either. But the idea of replacing functional old tech with dysfunctional new tech annoys your customers (can you say "Vista"?). But what can REALLY kick a company in the stomach is when other people do the things you're doing better, while you sit around watching the paint dry. Yahoo mail? Probably complicit in as much spam as AOL. Yahoo messenger? Okay, but nothing that others don't do more reliably. Yahoo search? [blank stare]. So Microsoft can't really be buying the technology. And ask any major newspaper publisher about the business model involving the delivery of non-unique content and earning a profit on the advertising. They're finally beginning to realize that at their scope, it's a dead end street.
But for Microsoft, it's a little less clear. Oh, sure -- the aggregated Microsoft domains, which include Live and MSN, will be the biggest baddest websites in the world, and they'll be buying themselves a nice revenue stream. Yahoo does generates a lot of content, but there's the rub: its missed the boat on upgrading the technology to deliver the content.
No, this one is all about ego. For decades, Microsoft has been the big fish, but over the past few years, its luster has faded in the spectacular light of Google's ascent. That's not the way Bill Gates wants to leave his active duties at his company; there is no way his ego could take knowing he walked away in second place. For him, this puts him back on top.
Of course, the rest of the world might not see it that way, but that's not relevant; with their reach, the combined Microsoft-Yahoo would command a stable, strong revenue stream that Google would be hard-pressed to match anytime soon, and Google's frequent, but rarely financially successful, sorties into Microsoft territory will be like flies are to a Longhorn steer.
That's good enough for Gates.
We're going to take this opportunity to tip our collective hat to the Zone Advisors, who are a godsend to us when it comes to answering our questions about the technical aspects of questions asked at Experts Exchange, while we spend more of our time dealing with the behavioral issues. They were asked by the Administrators to come up with some "Tips For Asking Questions", and their answers were consolidated into a page at Experts Exchange -- but in case you haven't seen it, we're going to reproduce the list here:
No honor among thieves: In the blue corner, the challenger, Bit Torrent, long vilified (along with several other websites) as one of the main suppliers of software and movies to those people who don't want to fork out money for Windows XP or the latest Star Wars... and in the red corner, the champeeen, Comcast, representing the honest, upstanding business of broadband Internet providers, who would protect us little folk from the few who use up gigabytes of bandwidth every day, robbing us of our 4mb/sec download times. Let's get ready to rummmbbllllle!!.
The word "serendipity" comes to mind: A week ago, the Moderators were asked to look at a question because it seemed to be a little like it might be a prelude to hacking an iPhone. As it turns out, the asker in the question doesn't have to figure out how to do what he wants to do, because Apple will probably release a SDK for the iPhone any day now.
"I was just holding it for a friend" provision not approved, either: The House of Representatives went into recess without passing a bill that would have given the telephone companies immunity from prosecution for breaking federal wiretapping laws.
Court unable to locate the "ANY" key: A California judge, apparently unclear on the concept of a world wide web, ordered Dynadot, a domain name registrar, to remove Wikileaks.org from its servers. The order hasn't really had much effect. The case that prompted the shutdown order is one involving a Swiss bank doing business in the Cayman Islands.
Something certain to cause an increased heart rate in those people still playing Flight Simulator: A 360-degree view, with closeups, of the Airbus A380.
It ain't over 'til it's over: Okay, so Toshiba that raised the white flag in its fight with (among others) Betamax manufacturer Sony over which technology -- Toshiba's HD-DVD or Sony's (and Panasonic's) BluRay -- would be the one favored by the major movie studios. But there's still a huge segment of the video market to be heard from -- the five major movie studios who have backed BluRay notwithstanding. You oldtimers will recall that while the Betamax was universally regarded as having higher quality and were better technically, the VHS had longer tapes -- and it was easier to produce the product for a segment of the film industry that takes in a lot of money and has low production costs, and doesn't spend a lot of money on glitzy marketing campaigns. You know who we're talking about too -- don't be coy. Just think of the marketing tie-ins for BluMovies on BluRay...
Meanwhile, HD DVD players should be available on eBay at pretty good prices pretty soon. We're also thinking of starting a pool for the appearance of the first consumer HD DVD to BluRay translator/burner, because you know there's some kid out there who would rather spend 1500 hours developing it than pay $650 to buy a Sony BDP-S1. Ooops... someone has already figured it out.
Things to tell your Aunt Molly before she starts building her website on her collected Tickle Me Elmo dolls: A list of 43 mistakes you should avoid that gets expanded to 63.
Site of the week: Saving a few bucks on computers.
At least RIM learned how to create a successful business model: The manufacturer of the technology used in Blackberry devices did pick up one thing in the lawsuits it lost over its patents: suing someone is a good way to make a buck. So it's suing Motorola over a breach of agreements licensing the technology. It's actually a countersuit; Motorola threw the first punch.
It's easier to pronounce than that funny symbol The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince uses: Okay, this isn't really tech-related, but it's funny. Imagine your kid's third grade teacher trying to put this child's name on a seating chart.
Left hand, meet the right hand: This almost defies explanation. We mentioned last issue that Microsoft had released SP1 for Vista "to manufacturing" -- meaning the hardware companies would be able to install it on machines they were delivering to retailers -- but that it probably wouldn't be available to most consumers until sometime in March. Except that in the middle of last week, Microsoft stopped shipping an automatic update that is necessary to install (and remove) SP1 because it was causing problems for some users. Which would be fine, except that a supposed glitch (from Microsoft? Nah... it's a feature) made SP1 available for download the next day.
Much of what SP1 breaks are security applications, but also included is the New York Times reader application -- which, one expects, would draw some comment on an editorial page. Perhaps those Yahoo engineers could figure this out...
Mr. Jones, we have some good news and some bad news: The bad news is that your doctor, who has all of your records, is fishing of the coast of Bora-Bora, and we can't get ahold of his office. The good news is that there's always Google.
One word comes to mind: PEBKAC.
Now maybe your mother will stop complaining about that degree in Russian literature: A report from McAfee says that hackers are now using the help wanted ads to find people who can speak and write in a variety of languages to better tailor their attempts to get at your personal information. We can see the hits on Craigslist going through the roof.
Sign of the Apocalypse: Microsoft is going to release all of its APIs to the computing public. Nothing like making it easier for the virus/spyware writers. Microsoft also says it won't sue people who use its APIs to make better (competing) products. Right. Even IBM? Also, stealing someone's profile at a social networking site.
For those of us in the US, it's that time of year when we're all settling down with the newest version of tax software and doing our annual dance with the Internal Revenue Service. It's also the time of year when the phishermen come out of their holes. There are two versions of the same scam going around -- either an email or a telephone call telling you that you need to turn over banking information in order to get your refund by direct deposit. If you get such an email, just forward it to the IRS.
A while back, I got invitations to join yet another networking site called Naymz, and I didn't pay a lot of attention to it -- particularly because the person who sent me the invitation is already in my address book, and partially because I'm already "connected" to the person in at least one other networking type of site. Now, I did a little research, and some people seem to think that Naymz has done a good job, but the problem I have is this. Since Naymz wants me to send an invitation to everyone who is in my LinkedIn profile, won't that just be a duplication of what's already there? Or is the point to just get your name listed in so many of these sites that when someone searches for you, specifically, they'll find you everywhere? Inquiring minds want to know.
You will recall a while back that the editor of this newsletter went through the cell phone blues -- trying to decide if he wanted a new carrier or a new phone. Well, he got one that he mostly likes (an LG), even if he did sign up with MaBell for two more years. Now, it's my turn, and since he got this ring tone that nobody else has -- the opening to The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again -- I've been thinking about getting one too. Or rather, I was, until I read about how a former spam king is now the king of ripping people off with ringtones. The FCC website also lists other kinds of cell phone fraud.