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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.

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.

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.

Mega Church – Mega Sex Scandle

Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia (just East of Atlanta) has been accused by three young male members of his congregation for sexual impropriety.

It’s yet another example of religious figures potentially using their position of authority and respect to seduce individuals who trust and respect them.

In this case, apparently the church leader seduced the boys by providing them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips, and access to celebrities.

What is totally hilarious about this particular case of homosexual relations between Long and three boys is that Long had joined with Rev Bernice King (the youngest daughter of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr and also a pastor at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church) in a march in 2004 in Atlanta to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union “between one man and one woman”.  Additionally not only does Long support a national ban on same-sex marriage, but his church counsels gay members to become straight.

One can only wonder what else might happen at the Longfellows Youth Academy, a tuition-based program for young men between the ages of 13 and 18.

Just another mega evil of mega religion.

Originally posted 2010-09-29 02:00:28.

Beware of vendors that support SPAM!

I’ve know for a very long time that many websites that sell goods and services to consumers also sell (or trade) the email addresses they register.

SPAM (Unsolicited Commercial Email – UCE) is when any entity sends you an email soliciting money for goods or services that you have not specifically requested.

Thus, when one company provided email marketers your email address (without your express permission) they are supporting SPAM, and companies that support SPAM are no better than the SPAMmers themselves since they are making money from SPAM.

But how would you know who sold your email address?

That’s easy, for years I’ve provided each vendor I do business with a unique email address which tracks any and all mail back to them.

Recently I found that a company I purchased a couple items from — CDR DVD Media ( www.cdrdvdrmedia.com ) sold or traded my email address to an email marketer.  What’s really funny in this is that CDR DVD Media uses Yahoo! (a company that purports to oppose SPAMming and hold it customers to high anti-SPAM standards) to process orders (so it appears it’s easy for Yahoo to talk the talk, but maybe they should walk the walk and actually adopt a ZERO tolerance policy against SPAMmers and their customers that support them — oh right, that means Yahoo would cut into it’s revenue stream, and they really probably only want to prevent SPAMming from free customers).

My policy (and I recommend it become you policy) is that you NEVER do business with SPAMmers or companies that support SPAMming.  Of course, I warned of the growing problem of SPAM/UCE over 15 years ago… and it’s easy for any and everyone to see now what burying your head in the sand does to prevent greedy marketers from breaking the law (yeah — SPAM is against the law in a number of states; and often SPAMmers steal services to send out their message).

Originally posted 2009-07-31 01:00:24.

D-Link DGS-2208 Eight Port Gigabit Switch

I ordered a couple of these from Amazon last month to make  my temporary network wiring a little easier until I can do some permanent wiring throughout the house.

They were very inexpensive, and had a rebate (limit two).

The newer version of these switches (hardware revision C) are Energy Star certified — they consume very little power, and produce almost no heat at all.

The bottom line is they work, and work well — are affordable to purchase, and reasonably eco-friendly.

Originally posted 2009-08-02 01:00:11.

Resetting NTFS File Permissions

From time to time after you’ve installed a piece of software and removed it (or removed users) you’ll find that you’re unable to delete a file or directory from Windows when using a NTFS file system (and that’s really the only file system you should be using for Windows).

The simplest way to handle that (assuming all you’re doing to do is delete the file or directory) is to do the following in a command prompt:

takeown /R /F %1

icacls %1 /T /Q /C /RESET

%1 is the Windows convention for a parameter (so you could put this in a batch file); you can manually substitute the name of the file or directory; also you could change into the directory containing the files and/or directories and use “*” (wildcard) rather than a file name.

NOTE:  You will need to elevate the privilege of the command prompt (launch it as user ‘administrator’).

Originally posted 2013-09-11 12:00:23.

Air Time Free

If you have a flat rate cellular voice plan, you may not be interested in this article; but for most of us who simply don’t have cost effective options for flat rate plans this might help cut down on cellular bills.

Most cellular telephone companies off the ability to add one or more telephone numbers to your cell plan that will not be charged air time for inbound or outbound calls.  It goes by various names, A-List, Friends & Family, My Favs, My Circle, etc.

Unfortunately, all of them limit the number of telephone numbers you can designate as air time free to a fairly modest number.

But… by using Google Voice, you might find that one air time free number is really all you need to greatly reduce your monthly cellular expenses.

You can go to Google and read a fair amount about Google Voice, they’re adding new features all the time so I won’t even try and cover all of them; just a few that might be of help to you (by the way, the “Call Me” widget on my web site uses Google Voice, and it’s no cost to the caller or me).

So how exactly can you use Google Voice — or really what will be covered in this post is how I use Google Voice.

First, I setup a Google Voice account a few months ago, mainly to be able to give out a telephone number that I wouldn’t be bothered answering when I didn’t want to, and still be able to get voice mail (at my convenience).  Mainly I wanted to do this because I’m going to disconnect my home phone (AT&T offers “naked” DSL here, and since all my home phone does is provide telemarketers with a number to call I really don’t see a reason to ever answer it).

The Google Voice line worked great for receiving messages; I got them in my email inbox, and more times than not the voice to text transcription wasn’t very useful, but I could just click the link and listen to the message as well.

Second, I added my Google Voice number to my Verizon “Friend’s & Family” (what AllTel used to call “My Circle”) so that it would be air time free.  Partially because there would be times when I wanted to actually route my Google Voice number to a phone so I could answer it (say when I was expecting a call), but mostly so that I could use Google Voice for outbound calls to people who were not going to be air time free.

So to use Google Voice for air time free outbound calling you need to log onto the Google Voice web site (there’s a mobile version of it as well, so if you have an unlimited data plan you don’t even need to be near a computer to make use of it) and simply instruct it to make a call.  What happens is Google Voice calls you, then calls the number you instruct it to call and conferences you together.

To make all this air time free, you need to setup Google Voice to present you Google Voice call on inbound calls (that’s the number you specified as air time free with your cellular provider).  This, unfortunately, means that you don’t know who’s calling, but there are some Google Voice features that help there too (I’ll let you go through all the features yourself).

For outbound calls you could setup Google Voice to present your actual telephone number, but it makes more sense to have your Google Voice number presented (especially for toll free calls, remember that they always get your telephone number).

Now you might not care whether or not you get charged air time for a quick call to your doctor’s office to confirm an appointment, but when you’re going to be on the line with customer service for half an hour (or more) you might want to think about the extra step of using Google Voice.

Now let me make it perfectly clear.  I don’t trust Google with my personal and confidential information, so I would never have any sensitive data go through a Google Voice call; but hey, when it’s something like a customer service call people I don’t really trust with my information already have it.

You can request an invite to Google Voice, it’ll probably take ten days to two weeks before you get it.  I’d recommend setting up a Google Mail account as well (you can forward the message from the Google Mail account or you can directly access the Google Mail account with POP3/IMAP4) to go along with Google Voice.  In fact, even if you don’t expect to use Google Voice much, I’d say go ahead and setup an account now.

Also, Google Voice will be adding VoIP (SIP) service (they purchased Gizmo5) soon.

Originally posted 2010-02-10 01:00:49.

Linux usability

While doing my preliminary look at usability in several Linux distributions that had adopted a Mac-ish paradigm I decided I needed to lay several ground rules to fully review them.

First, I decided that using a virtual machine was fine for getting intial impressions, but that just wasn’t going to be acceptable for a complete review… and I also decide that doing a review on only one piece of hardware wasn’t going to give me a very good idea of what problems a user might see related to the computer.

It’s certainly no problem for me to find a computer or two to install these Linux distributions on and run them through their paces; however, I don’t have any “low-end” hardware, so my tests are going to use fairly current generations of hardware, so be aware that my impressions might not match your impression if you’re planning on running these on hardware that is more than a couple years old (and by a couple year old I mean hardware who’s components were current no more than two years ago).

I’ll perform the following:

  1. Install the distribution (without requiring any settings manually)
  2. Update itself (and applications)
  3. Start up, shut down, log on, log off
  4. Browse the web (that’s a given)
  5. Read email (including setting up the email program)
  6. Play a CD (music)
  7. Play several music files
  8. Play a DVD (movie)
  9. Play several video files
  10. Edit a WYSIWYG document
  11. Edit an image
  12. View and print a PDF
  13. Access a thumb drive
  14. Access files stored on a network device
  15. Access secure digital media (though a USB card reader)
  16. Scan an image
  17. Open a ZIP archive; create a ZIP archive
  18. Email an attachment, recover an email attachment
  19. Install a new (and useful) application
  20. Alter the appearance (preferably using a theme)

Beyond these simple tests I’ll try and appraise the simplicity, clarity, and ease of use of the interface… I’ll also comment on the overall appearance, the look and feel.

Originally posted 2010-01-08 01:00:19.