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Microsoft Office 2010

The ides of June (that was Monday the 15th) Microsoft announced the newest version of their Office suite — Microsoft Office 2010… yawn.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft also unveiled Microsoft Office Live — that’s a “scaled down” version of the office products offered absolutely free as part of the Microsoft Live website.

The online version, like the desktop version, has been in beta for quite some time, so none of the features of capabilities (or limitations) should be a big surprise to anyone who’s shown enough interest to try the online version or download and install the desktop version.

While I totally understand Microsoft’s need to sustain (and expand) their cash flow through upgrades (after all, Apple has now overtaken Microsoft as the largest technology company based on stock market valuation) — but why most people would even consider an upgrade to something they only use a fraction of the capabilities of is totally beyond me.

Microsoft is meeting competition on the office front from both Open Office (a free desktop office suite) and Google Office (an online office suite) — and competition in the office arena isn’t something Microsoft has had to deal with since killing off Word Perfect a quarter century ago!

I want Microsoft stock to appreciate (trust me, my portfolio still depends on it); but perhaps Steve Balmer should consider making Microsoft a leader through innovation rather than just putting lipstick on a pig (after all, it didn’t work in the last presidential election — and I serious doubt it’ll work in the technology race).

In my view, the features most people really need and use in an office suite are perfectly generic in this day and age — and most people fumble around to do the things they need to do anyway (read that as they aren’t an expert with the software), so why not pick out something that works, works well, and is affordable (free)?

Personally I don’t trust Google, and I don’t want my documents (or any other information) on their servers… so I’ll stick with Open Office, and I’ve been using the Go OO version (it’s a re-packing of the open source Open Office with some refinements to make it look-and-feel a little more like other programs on the host environment).  Try it out — and see if it won’t do everything you need — it’s priced right, it’s free (as in “free beer”)!

Go OO Open Office

Originally posted 2010-06-17 02:00:43.

Apple – Double or Nothing?

Yesterday Apple announced another record quarter in sales.  In fact, iPhone sales doubled in Q4 2009 (a good holiday present for Apple).

Tomorrow Apples announces a new tablet computer (at least that’s the rumor of what they will announce).

Google has a lot of ground to catch up with Apple in the phone market, and it certainly doesn’t appear that Apple is going to just stand by and wait for them.

I guess the one thing that Apples numbers show is that there is money to be made in economic hard times if you’ve got something people want.

Originally posted 2010-01-26 01:00:44.

AT&T U-Verse – Voice

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with voice.

U-Verse voice isn’t traditional wire line POTS service; rather it’s a feature rich digital communication service.

When you have AT&T U-Verse voice service installed, the pair from the Telco will be routed from your MPOE to the residential gateway and then back to your home wiring (though the MPOE).  This allows you to keep all your current phones working through their existing wiring plant.

My residential gateway labels the first “POTS” port as line one and two, and has a separate jack for an auxiliary voice connection (the online account management only has options for one or two lines — but since there is an option for zero lines, there may well be an option for a third or even fourth line that simply isn’t displayed).

Remember the gateway is connected to a UPS, so you will be able to maintain voice service for some period of time after the electricity goes out — this allows for E911 during power outages (and yes, AT&T provides E911 capabilities with their U-Verse service).

AT&T currently offers two different levels on their voice plan — “Unlimited” and”250″.

The unlimited plan currently costs $35.00 in my area for the primary line, $15 for a secondary line (not including local, state, federal taxes and fees or FCC line charges); and the 250 is $25.00 for the primary line, $15 for a secondary line.

Below is what AT&T says about the plans…

AT&T U-verse Voice Unlimited
Provides unlimited calling within the U.S. and to Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas for just $30 per month. A second line that shares minutes under the same plan can be added for another $15 per month.

AT&T U-verse Voice 250
For just $25 per month, provides 250 minutes of calling each month within the U.S. and to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas and only 5¢ per minute thereafter. A second line that shares minutes under the same plan can be added for another $15 per month.

Notice the discrepancy in the price for the “Unlimited” — like I have already said, AT&T does not engender trust.

I’m guessing that other than the number of minutes of usage you get, the plans are the same.

When you get AT&T U-Verse voice you can have your current number ported (which means you can keep your current number) or have a new number assigned.  AT&T of course will charge you extra for non-published or un-listed numbers, and they don’t seems to allow you to have the number listed under an alternate name (as Bell South did).

To me, charging for not doing something is a travesty — and simply a way to make more money; remember they make money on published/listed numbers by selling your address and telephone information to marketing firms (which I believe it should be illegal for anyone to sell any information about me without my express permission and paying me the amount I deem fair — which trust me, no company could afford).

You can manage many (if not all) of the features of U-Verse voice through the Internet, and many through your TV set-top box — I don’t really know how you’d manage your voice feature if you didn’t have one (or both) of the other services.

U-Verse voice include voice mail, call forwarding (no answer, busy, safe, all); call filtering (blocking, screening, exclusive call forwarding); call waiting, do not disturb, anonymous call blocking, locate me (or what some people call follow me ring); caller id blocking, international call blocking, directory assistance blocking… they don’t seem to specifically allow blocking of premium service and third party billing (900 numbers, xxx-976 numbers, collect calls, etc).

The service also offers logs of calls (placed, received, missed) and an address book (which you can use to place calls via the Internet or TV interfaces — I have no idea if you can do it directly from a telephone handset).

I’d say it’s a fairly sophisticated number of features — more than most people will ever need or use for sure.

The “feature” I use…

Well, I block ALL calls except calls from specified numbers.  You see, since I don’t intend to keep this number I know that the only ones that will call the number got it from AT&T (not from me) — and are entities I don’t want to talk to… so I forward Google Voice calls (which I also have tight controls on) to it for the moment.

Other than that — I’ve used it to place calls (which I could have done via my cell phone using Google Voice) and send a couple faxes (which aren’t important to me — generally a company that wants me to send a fax I just laugh at and tell them to move into the new millennium).

My feeling is that the price is too high for AT&T U-Verse Voice… it should be on the level of $20 per month for unlimited service, and certainly no more than $25 per month — for 250 minutes it should be on the level of $10 per month.  Obviously AT&T seems to feel that they’re offering some type of “premium” voice service, and seem to forget that for most people if they added even $25 per month to the cellular plan they’d be well over what some companies charge for unlimited and have the convenience of a phone they can take with them.

For me, it’s a service I won’t be keeping — I added it to the order to maximize the savings and minimize the installation fee… my calculation is that I’ll have to keep it a maximum of three months and it will end up being almost a wash.

Originally posted 2010-05-15 02:00:29.

BP Profits

Byron Grove, BP’s chief financial officer said a week after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that it was too early to talk about how much BP would be spending on the cleanup.

2010 First Quarter financial statements for BP show profits double the same period last year at $6.08 billion.

Over the past few years BP has been fined for workplace safety violations… but apparently the company hasn’t had a problem staying in business and making record amounts of money.

The oil spill cleanup is after all, just a cost of doing business for BP; and perhaps it’s time to crank up that cost with hefty fines for each and every day it continues.

The Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar has threatened BP with a government take over of the clean up… but last I check the government was already involved.  And US Coast Guard Admiral Thad W Allen has been clear that their is little more that they can do… mainly because there isn’t a contingency plan for this type of spill — by any government agency.

In 1989 Exxon was hit hard by a consumer boycott when they dragged their feet in the clean up of the Valdez spill; but so far there’s no sign that consumers are slowing their purchases at BP — the largest oil and gas producer in North American, and one of the largest in the United States (selling under the retail labels of BP and Arco).

Maybe when the news media starts providing images of animals and habitat that’s devastated by the oil spill consumers might wake up — but there are actually live feeds of the oil spewing from the damaged rig that show oil-soaked birds and now there’s plenty of footage of landfall of the spill in Louisiana… so maybe not.

The oil and gas industries are the 14th largest contributors to congress — almost $7 billion per year ( http://politics.usnews.com/congress/industries — don’t be shocked by how many times Harry Reid is the #1 recipient of that money — and by all means use this list to know who to vote out of office) — so it’s understandable why the federal government is slow is really punish BP; after all, we know that our elected official look out for their interests first (which involves looking out for the interests of those who give you money — over those who you consider sheep who’ll just continue to vote for you).

FINES FINES and MORE FINES — if BP is making money hand over foot, let’s make sure that they bare the full cost of this cleanup and the costs of un-doing the damage that they’ve caused…  I’m thinking $50 million per day would be just about right to force BP to take real action.

Originally posted 2010-05-28 02:00:19.

Gas Prices

So have you filled up your tank lately?

Gas is now less than two dollars a gallon in much of the country again; including California and the Northeast (NY/CT).

Less two months ago gas had hit five dollars a gallon, and had taken three years to rise to that price from it’s current level.  Actually it took one year to go up a dollar, and then the next year it went up two (and most of that in just a few months).

Why?

How?

Oh… right — who was in charge of the US Petroleum Reserves… and who are his friends and business associates?

My feeling is this begs for a congressional investigation and some punitive action against those responsible.

My rational is simple.  Many American’s that were hardest hit this Summer by gasoline prices had their budgets totally destroyed by the price gouging… and some of them likely lost their houses or had to dip into their retirement saving because of it.  So once again, the middle class Americans pay for big business (read that as big oil) to make even more money.

Greed… pure adulterated greed!

I certainly have no issues with capitalism and fair market economies; but we don’t have a totally open economy, the government exercises control over many facets of it, and that requires that the government keep a watchful eye over all of it.

Originally posted 2008-11-17 12:00:11.

Does your mail provider really want to eliminate SPAM?

I’ve been actively working to stop SPAM (that’s also known as UCE – Unsolicited Commercial Email) for a very long time, and it’s great to see how many of the “free” email providers talk about preventing SPAM and provide users with filters to prevent SPAM from reaching their inbox.

But, the bottom line is, that unless you actively report SPAMmers nothing will ever really change.

Some providers (very few) actually will generate automated SPAM reports for you [that’s great, more email providers should make it that easy]; however, most will do nothing more than use an email that you mark as SPAM to refine their filters [which might prevent you from seeing the SPAM, but it doesn’t stop the SPAMmer].

The really interesting thing is that many of the “free” email providers actually inhibit you from reporting SPAM by preventing you from accessing the “raw message” (you need all the headers and the body of the email to file an abuse report with most carriers).  What’s really funny is that some of the providers who are most vocal have actually changed their web-mail interfaces to prevent you from accessing the raw message [essentially insuring that you cannot take action against a SPAMmer].

Now if you can access you email via POP3 or IMAP4 or load it into an email client using a proprietary connector (well, at least the only ones I could test) you can access the raw message and file a report; but remember, many of the free email providers don’t give you that type of access to your email unless you pay them.

What a great message… it’s OK to SPAM free email subscribers because they can’t do anything about it!

I’m not going to provide an extensive list of those providers that do and do not actually enable you to report SPAM; I’ll just mention that Yahoo! (one of the largest free email providers, but waning) doesn’t allow free subscribers to access raw message (or if they do, I certainly couldn’t figure out how); and of course Google (GMail) and Microsoft (MSN/HotMail/Live/Bing) do allow access.

One other thing to keep in mind… there’s no such thing as free email — you’re paying for it some how some way.

Originally posted 2009-08-17 01:00:04.

Ubuntu – Desktop Search

Microsoft has really shown the power of desktop search in Vista and Windows 7; their newest Desktop Search Engine works, and works well… so in my quest to migrate over to Linux I wanted to have the ability to have both a server style as well as a desktop style search.

So the quest begun… and it was as short a quest as marching on the top of a butte.

I started by reviewing what I could find on the major contenders (just do an Internet search, and you’ll only find about half a dozen reasonable articles comparing the various desktop search solutions for Linux)… which were few enough it didn’t take very long (alphabetical):

My metrics to evaluate a desktop search solutions would focus on the following point:

  • ease of installation, configuration, maintenance
  • search speed
  • search accuracy
  • ease of access to search (applet, web, participation in Windows search)
  • resource utilization (cpu and memory on indexing and searching)

I immediately passed on Google Desktop Search; I have no desire for Google to have more access to information about me; and I’ve tried it before in virtual machines and didn’t think very much of it.

Begal

I first tried Beagle; it sounded like the most promising of all the search engines, and Novel was one of the developers behind it so I figured it would be a stable baseline.

It was easy to install and configure (the package manager did most of the work); and I could use the the search application or the web search, I had to enable it using beagle-config:

beagle-config Networking WebInterface true

And then I could just goto port 4000 (either locally or remotely).

I immediately did a test search; nothing came back.  Wow, how disappointing — several hundred documents in my home folder should have matched.  I waited and tried again — still nothing.

While I liked what I saw, a search engine that couldn’t return reasonable results to a simple query (at all) was just not going to work for me… and since Begal isn’t actively developed any longer, I’m not going to hold out for them to fix a “minor” issue like this.

Tracker

My next choice to experiment with was Tracker; you couldn’t ask for an easier desktop search to experiment with on Ubuntu — it seems to be the “default”.

One thing that’s important to mention — you’ll have to enable the indexer (per-user), it’s disabled by default.  Just use the configuration tool (you might need to install an additional package):

tracker-preferences

Same test, but instantly I got about a dozen documents returned, and additional documents started to appear every few seconds.  I could live with this; after all I figured it would take a little while to totally index my home directory (I had rsync’d a copy of all my documents, emails, pictures, etc from my Windows 2008 server to test with, so there was a great deal of information for the indexer to handle).

The big problem with Tracker was there was no web interface that I could find (yes, I’m sure I could write my own web interface; but then again, I could just write my own search engine).

Strigi

On to Strigi — straight forward to install, and easy to use… but it didn’t seem to give me the results I’d gotten quickly with Tracker (though better than Beagle), and it seemed to be limited to only ten results (WTF?).

I honestly didn’t even look for a web interface for Strigi — it was way too much a disappointment (in fact, I think I’d rather have put more time into Beagle to figure out why I wasn’t getting search results that work with Strigi).

Recoll

My last test was with Recoll; and while it looked promising from all that I read, but everyone seemed to indicate it was difficult to install and that you needed to build it from source.

Well, there’s an Ubuntu package for Recoll — so it’s just as easy to install; it just was a waste of effort to install.

I launched the recoll application, and typed a query in — no results came back, but numerous errors were printed in my terminal window.  I checked the preferences, and made a couple minor changes — ran the search query again — got a segmentation fault, and called it a done deal.

It looked to me from the size of the database files that Recoll had indexed quite a bit of my folder; why it wouldn’t give me any search results (and seg faulted) was beyond me — but it certainly was something I’d seen before with Linux based desktop search.

Conclusions

My biggest conclusion was that Desktop Search on Linux just isn’t really something that’s ready for prime time.  It’s a joke — a horrible joke.

Of the search engines I tried, only Tracker worked reasonably well, and it has no web interface, nor does it participate in a Windows search query (SMB2 feature which directs the server to perform the search when querying against a remote file share).

I’ve been vocal in my past that Linux fails as a Desktop because of the lack of a cohesive experience; but it appears that Desktop Search (or search in general) is a failing of Linux as both a Desktop and a Server — and clearly a reason why choosing Windows Server 2008 is the only reasonable choice for businesses.

The only upside to this evaluation was that it took less time to do than to read about or write up!

Originally posted 2010-07-06 02:00:58.

The War of Northern Agression

Or more commonly known as the American Civil War officially ended on 9 April 1865 when General Robert E Lee of the Army of Northern Virgina (Confederate States of America) surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant of the Federal Army of the Potomac ) United States of America) at the Appomattox Court House (Appomattox, Virginia).

In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

The war officially ended, and the country started the long road of reconstruction.

Originally posted 2010-04-09 01:30:38.

No Soliciting!

Last week when I was outside washing out the litter box I noticed a gathering of “strangers” getting ready to pass out leaflets.

I went back inside and finished preparing my dinner… no sooner than I’d sat down my door bell rang.

At the door was a middle aged woman with one of the bright yellow leaflets I’d seen who started to say she was from the XXX Baptist Church — I immediately told her that anything being peddled door to door wasn’t worth having, and closed the door.

SPAMmers, junk mailers, tele-marketers, and door to door peddlers seem to believe that they have every right to intrude on your privacy.

But they don’t…

I’ve been doing a fair amount of research and some where along the line people began to believe that “soliciting” required the exchange of money; well legally and technically it only involves making a request.

Interesting enough there have been tons of Federal District and Circuit Court rulings on the subject; including a few Supreme Court rulings.  It appears that all you need do to protect your privacy is post either a “No Soliciting” or a “No Trespassing” sign on your property (if your neighborhood has private streets it can choose to post signs at the entrances which have equal weight under the law).

Should someone knock on your door soliciting you, you have every right to file a police report, and require that the police take action.

While religious and political organizations have every right to distribute their information, their rights do not supersede your right to privacy and your right to control access to your property.

I encourage each and every one of you to take back control of your home, your phone, your mailbox, and your email… use the law to make it uncomfortable for those who believe their rights and greed circumvent your privacy.

Originally posted 2009-08-24 01:00:54.

Swarms

No, not a swarm of bees, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets — I’m talking about file sharing technology.

First, there’s absolutely nothing illegal or immoral about using file sharing technology for file sharing and distribution, just as there’s nothing illegal or immoral about using hyper-text (http) or file transfer (ftp) technology.  It all has to do with the content you’re trying to exchange, not the system you’re using to exchange it.

There are many legitamate uses for BitTorrent and other P2P technologies.  Here’s a perfect example.

A small company has a number of offices spread throughout the world, and no one location has an internet connection with significant bandwidth (let’s say for argument, they all had a high end class of DSL service, but none of them have fibre).  This company would like to distribute it’s trial software, but because of the economics can’t afford to pay for additional bandwidth or for a content delivery system — they could opt to “aggragate” the bandwidth of all of their offices by providing a torrent and running torrent servers at each location — that would allow the nodes with the most bandwidth available to satisfy requests, and any individuals who had downloaded the software and elected to continue seeding would be able to source it as well.  While no one individual might get the software as quickly (though that’s not necessarily true), many more people would be able to get the software sooner, and at no additional cost; thus the company could meet it’s budgetary constraints and might not have to consider increasing the amount they need to charge for the software to cover operating expenses.

Swarming technology is real, it’s practical, and it’s a solution for a number of problems.

Swarms are highly fault tolerant, they’re highly distributed, and they dynamically adjust to changing conditions…

While any technology can be abused and misused, there’s nothing inherently bad in any of the P2P technologies.  Just because bank robbers use pens to write hold up notes we didn’t outlaw the pen or pencil…

Originally posted 2009-01-12 12:00:19.