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August 9, 2003
[ Update: PaperPort vs PaperMaster ]

 There's been quite a bit of discussion here about PaperMaster and Paperport, two scanning and filing programs that in the past have been very useful tools. But now I'm not so sure. Both have glitches that I find worrying.
I've reviewed PaperPort, which I think is a good program, but I was alarmed to suddenly find some files disappearing, in the transition from editing to saving. Has anyone else had this experience? The problem with Papermaster, which I haven't reviewed yet, has a way of saving files into the Acrobat format, but not to view them in the program. Neither is there any way that I can figure out to convert the PDF file to the eFax file that Papermaster now uses to view and save documents. What's the point of that, I wonder? Thoughts anyone?

[ News: Follow The Spam, All The Way To The Top ]

 If you want to know how spam really works -- and how closely it's tied to legitimate big business -- read an excellent piece by Bob Sullivan at MSNBC. He describes pursuing a spam "from Alabama to Argentina, from a tiny Birmingham-based firm and someone named ?Erp? past a notorious spammer named Super-Zonda ? and right through big-name companies like Ameriquest, Quicken, and LoanWeb".
His conclusion: "While the dirty work is done by secretive, faceless computer jockeys who are constantly evading authorities, lots of companies with names you know profit, at least tangentially, from their efforts."

[ Mail: Another Flaw For Cellphone Tracking ]

 Further on my posting about mapAmobile, the UK service that tracks the whereabouts of 'loved ones' via their handphone, reader Lynn Dimick points out quite wisely: "Why not just turn off the phone, and claim the battery died, if you don't want to be monitored? I know that's what my kids will do."
How do you track someone who doesn't want to be tracked?

[ News: Six Degrees Reborn ]

 I think Friendster is probably a more dynamic version of this experiment, but it's interesting anyway. Duncan J. Watts, author and Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia, has launched an experiment to update the 1967 findings of social psychologist Stanley Milgram who coined the phrase 'six degrees of separation' by testing the hypothesis that members of any large social network would be connected to each other through short chains of intermediate acquaintances.
The test is basically to give folk a package and ask them to pass it onto someone who could deliver it by hand to the addressee. They then hand it onto someone they know who may be more likely to know that person, or someone who knows that person, etc etc. As Watts points out, Milgram's experiment was flawed, and didn't really prove the hypothesis. So it could be interesting. Sign up if you want to participate.
My tupennies worth: As Malcom Gladwell's excellent "The Tipping Point" points out not all people are equal. Some folk know no-one (me) and some know everybody (my friends Grainne and Ditta) so in my case I'd just give the package to them.

August 8, 2003
[ News: Now You Can Keep A Tag On Your 'Loved Ones' ]

 Now you can monitor the whereabouts of anyone using a mobile phone, at least in the UK. Scary, or what? MapAmobile offers a service which can locate someone via their mobile phone, anywhere in the UK, notify you when they move from that location, 24 hours a day. The privacy element: mapAmobile, which is touting the service as a way to reassure yourself about where your loved ones are, needs the permission of the person you wish to locate and sends them regular text reminders that they're being monitored.
My question: Isn't this false comfort? Just because you know where the phone is, doesn't mean you know where your loved one is, or whether they're safe. They may have been kidnapped, had their handphone stolen, or just left it in the car. I can't help feeling this kind of thing has more to do with bosses keeping an eye on employees (who would be smart enough to ditch their mobile in a drawer and then head out shopping). And if this has nothing to do with snooping, why is the 'o' in the logo a target?

[ News: Remote PC Users, Beware ]

 For those of you using software to connect to your computer remotely, here's a chilling, cautionary tale from the New York Times of a guy who, for almost two years, used an arsenal of computers in his bedroom on the 14th floor apartment he shared with his mother to break into others, steal their credit card information and shop. GoToMyPC is mentioned in the story, which was one of the programmes the guy used to access and hijack other PCs, raising some serious warning flags about the downsides of these kind of programs, which allow you to access your PC remotely.
The bottom line: Be very careful when you use a PC in a public place, including your own. This guy mainly used software he had installed on public computers to capture the information needed to get access, but shoulder surfing -- folk walking behind you, looking to see what you type -- is another way. Certainly, don't leave your computer unattended and still attached to the Internet if you don't intend to use things like GoToMyPC. (And if you do, consider the information on your PC to be vulnerable.

August 7, 2003
[ Software: Psst, Want Another RSS Feed? ]

 Here's another way to get your daily dose of blogs, news and RSS feeds (blogs that dripfeed their way through to your desktop without you having to do anything). NewsMonster is "a news, weblog, and RSS aggregator that runs directly in your web browser."
"NewsMonster offers a superior web experience and outstanding integration with existing websites and weblogs that support RSS. Even sites that don't support RSS can work with NewsMonster."  NewsMonster also incorporates an advanced reputation system to prevent spam and discover and inform you of important news. I have to say that I haven't checked it out yet.

[ News: Another Google Service ]

 Google is throwing up new services as fast as we can catch 'em. Here's another: Google News Alerts.
Google News Alerts are sent by email when news articles appear online that match the topics you specify.

August 6, 2003
[ News: Checking the Pulse of Blogging With a Mallet ]

 From the We're In Trouble, The Dataminers Are Showing an Interest Dept, a company called Intelliseek (description: "a business intelligence company that leverages a breakthrough technology platform to help marketers, researchers and other business professionals transform unstructured data into insights!") have pointed their datamining skills at blogs. The result: BlogPulse.
BlogPulse uses the datamining thing -- machine-learning algorithms and natural language processing techniques -- to comb through massive amounts of text and "look for meaning, trends, spikes and interesting facts". Gosh, I wish them luck. The vast majority of blogs are unvisited, unappreciated, and, if this one you're reading is anything to go by, unreadable.
No, seriously, it's good to see marketing folk actually looking at blogs, which at their best are a repository of repartee and modern thought. But I suspect it's somewhat typical that, instead of actually reading them and getting a sense of the intellectual flow behind (some of) them, they just throw a massive datamining bot at the whole kaboodle and hope to dig up some interesting "buzz". Or am I being hopelessly cynical? Intelliseek, let's hear your version.

[ News: Don't Smile At Me, SMS My Teddy ]

 From the That's Interesting, I Think, But Why Exactly Do We Need It Dept comes news that the boffins at British Telecom -- BT Exact, to be exact -- are working on interactive toys that are linked to mobile phones so that SMS communication can be displayed through the toys' actions. "This enables the texting experience to become more personable and fun", reports The Register, who could well be making this up.
So it would work like this: Send a message to the toy -- a smiley :-) or whatever -- and the toy would convey the emotion. For example, if a happy symbol was sent to a toy dog it would come to life and start barking. Alternatively a love message could be sent to a teddy bear, which would trigger its heart to glow and become warm to the touch. Lovely. The researchers, apparently, reckon this would "create a more natural and tangible mode of communicating for adults and children, which will encourage more imaginative text messaging". Er, OK. Your medication's ready, Sir.

August 5, 2003
[ News: WiFi To Go ]

 Now you don't need sniffers and chalk anymore. The Premier Online WiFi Location Directory, launched a free searchable database today, featuring over 8,900 WiFi HotSpot locations representing 136 Network Providers worldwide. 
Of course one person's 'worldwide' is another person's 'Hey! Why d'ya leave out my country? Not WiFi-ey enough for ya?'. I couldn't find anything in Singapore, only one place was listed in Thailand and the Philippines threw up a 'records not found!!!' [sic] message. Sadly, this kind of thing is a mug's game: Getting an uptodate list and keeping it uptodate with something like WiFi is a thankless, neverending task.

[ News: Klez Is Still So Big ]

 Viruses, worms, whatever, don't have to be new to be a pain. Bill Fallon, Vice President of Product Marketing at EasyLink Services Corporation, the company that offers and operates MailWatch ("a leading Spam-blocking, virus-scanning and content-filtering service protecting corporate networks worldwide!") : "The Klez worm, which debuted back in October 2001, continues to be the most widely circulating threat among corporate networks almost two years later. Just last month we intercepted it over 95,000 times." That baby just seems to run and run. There are three times as many Klezes running around as the next most popular worm, Sobig (32,000).

[ News: Is Windows About To Be Defenestrated? ]

 Interesting story about how Linux seems to be catching up with Windows in its user friendliness, at least among Germans. According to an article from ComputerWorld's IDG News Service, "study findings suggest that it's almost as easy to perform most major office tasks using Linux as it is using Windows".  The study was conducted by Relevantive AG, a Berlin-based company that specializes in consulting businesses on the usability of software and Web services.
Linux users, for example, needed 44.5 minutes to perform a set of tasks, compared with 41.2 minutes required by the XP users. Furthermore, 80% of the Linux users believed that they needed only one week to become as competent with the new system as with their existing one, compared with 85% of the XP users. But when it comes to the design of the desktop interface and programs, Windows XP still has a strong edge: 83% of the Linux users said they liked the design of the desktop and the programs, compared with 100% of the Windows XP users.

[ News: A Spam Blocker Throws in the Towel ]

  Trustic, an anti-spam blocker which used recommendations from its users to identify and block spammers, has bitten the dust after about six months of live use. Its website rather poignantly declares: "We remain confident that the problem of spam is a solvable problem. Thank you for your help with this great experiment."
Trustic, which was really just one guy, would assign each user a level of trust, according to an article on the O'Reilly Network. "Users build their trust by making accurate recommendations over time. In order for a host to become untrusted, the cumulative trust level of the recommendations has to be above a certain threshold." If you're interested, trawl through the debate on Slashdot. Is this a dark day for anti-spam?

August 4, 2003
[ News: Get Off Your RSS And Sort It Out ]

 From the Just When You Thought You'd Found A Corner Of The Net That Was Touchy Feely Dept  comes a story of egos, politics and money. Paul Festa of CNET News.com writes a great piece about an increasingly acrimonius dispute about blogging, or more accurately Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a technology widely used to syndicate blogs and other Web content.

The dispute, Paul writes, "pits Harvard Law School fellow Dave Winer, the blogging pioneer who is the key gatekeeper of RSS, against advocates of a different format. The most notable of these advocates are Blogger owner Google and Sam Ruby, an influential IBM developer who is now shepherding an RSS alternative through its early stages of development.
"The dispute offers a glimpse into the byzantine and highly politicized world of industry standards, where individuals without legal authority over a protocol may nonetheless exercise control over it and where, consequently, personal attacks can become the norm. Despite the apparent pettiness of developers' sniping, their arguments over digital minutia may carry enormous consequences, and corporate interests remain poised to capitalize on the conflicts if they are not resolved. " Yikes. Get it sorted out, guys, I kinda like RSS.

[ News: It's Monday, the Worms Are Out ]

 Sophos, a British anti-virus company, is getting worried about the new Mimail worm (W32/Mimail-A), a mass-mailing worm which first struck in
the United States on Friday 1st August.  Sophos says it "has received many reports of Mimail infections and anticipates the worm could be one of
the biggest of 2003".
The Mimail worm arrives in an email claiming to be from the network administrator. Cunningly, it can even spoof the domain name of the business's email address.  For instance, if the recipient's email address is John.Smith@ABCLimited.com the email would appear to come from admin@ABCLimited.com.
The message suggests that the recipient's email account will soon expire and urges them to read the attached information. The attachment, called
'message.zip', contains an HTML file which is not a message at all - it is a copy of the worm, which scours the user's hard disk looking for email addresses for its next round of victims.  
More information about the Mimail worm can be found at http://www.sophos.com/virusinfo/analyses/w32mimaila.html.

[ News: Copyright? What Is That Again? ]

 Are we all outlaws, or what? A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project from surveys fielded during March - May of 2003 (i.e. before the RIAA started sending out subpoenas) shows that 67% of Internet users who download music say they do not care about whether the music they have downloaded is copyrighted, an increase from a July-August 2000 survey which indicated 61% -- of a smaller number of downloaders -- said they didn?t care about the copyright status of their music files.
What does this say? Well on the surface it looks bad -- although not particularly newsworthy. But on closer inspection, two things strike me:
  • Of course, these folk who are already downloading music are unlikely to come out and say they consider themselves felons. If they did care about copyright, then what are they doing downloading music? So I think the figures are a bit misleading.
  • I suspect that, all the bluster aside, the number of people downloading music is going to drop off dramatically now the RIAA is getting heavy. Not the result I think should happen, but it's inevitable. The Net is a mysterious place and most folk (including me) don't really know what information can be gleaned about their browsing habits, so better safe than sorry. Whether that's going to have the intended effect of shuffling everyone off to the mall to stock up on CDs is another matter. One likely outcome is small localized clusters of CD-MP3 sharers along the lines of old mixtapes and CD-borrowing. Not that I'm condoning piracy, oh no sireee. But, now the party's over, who's going to go back to buying overpriced CDs just for a couple of songs you like? Share your thoughts.

[ News: "Something For the Weekend, Sir?" ]

 Further to my postings about the virally successful Friendster, a spoof site (one of many I suspect) emerges. Unfortunately, it's being taken seriously and is already developing a following. Check it out while it's still live.

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

my columns appear in
The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
both are owned by Dow Jones.

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Old lady loose on the web
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My wild night with Deep Purple

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