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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Monday, February 27, 2006

Microsoft iPod Packaging video

One of the reasons so many read Robert Scoble, co-author of Naked Conversations, is he’s not afraid of poking fun at his employer, Microsoft. This morning he shared a link to a funny parody “Microsoft Designs the iPod package”.

It’s worth sharing.  To view the video, Click Here

 

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Microsoft Origami

Watch for the March 2nd Introduction of Origami
 Origami

A number of Blog sites have beat me again with the news of the newest Microsoft device currently called Microsoft Origami. That’s what I get for sleeping in on Sundays.  Both Bink’s Watching Microsoft and SunBelt BLOG have other photos of the what appears to be a mix between a Pocket PC and Tablet PC. If you click on Design Tastes Good they have instructions to a design site which at this time still have their promotional Flash available

I’m a huge fan of my Tablet PC from Motion Computing so I’m eager to hear all the specs on Origami. I’m never expected I could use any pen interface but I’ve found there are still plenty of tasks you can complete without writing a lot of text. Microsoft has done a fantastic job in hand writing even though every time I write “you” it thinks I wrote “yin”.

It’s no accident that the timing of this announcement comes at the most vulnerable time for the Blackberry market.  Origami will however kick the BlackBerry’s ass either way. 

Origami Gaming with Origami

 

 

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Relerank Search from Microsoft

Microsoft is on a roll with the introduction of more products previewed this year than there are bogus affiliates at 180solutions. There's Windows Defender, Windows OneCare, Windows Vista, weekly security updates and a whole realm of products called Windows (fill in any name) Live.

While they've backed off reported re-branding to MSN, it does appear that Microsoft is planning to introduce a new search technology called “Relerank”. According to papers filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, Relerank is "computer software for organizing, displaying and managing search results from computer search engine software".

In a previous trademark application which hints at being related, Microsoft registered a “sound mark” in the key of D, which may provide additional incite into the new search software.

“providing customized on-line web pages featuring user-defined information, which includes search engines and on-line web links to other web sites; providing information via the Internet in the fields of computers, computer software, computer components, computer peripherals, computer and software support; computer services, namely, providing search engines for obtaining data via the Internet; and providing information about the weather via the Internet”

While these definitions are vague, I expect Microsoft hopes Relerank to do for multimedia content ranking what Google ranking has done with web pages.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

AOL Email Tax Again?

One of the oldest, widely distributed,  Internet Urban Legends was that the U.S Post Office or America Online was going to start to charge members to send Email or Instant Messages.  It was more popular back when AOL had 80% of the online market and usually ended with the signing of a petition that you should forward on to 10 of your friends.

This old Urban Legend is easily confused with a current plan by America Online and Yahoo to use an Email certification system from GoodmailSystems.  The confusion is inflamed by opposition from a coalition of groups being assembled by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  The big difference is consumers won’t be billed if they send or receive Email. The similarity is organizations like MoveOn.org  have a form letters to pass along the news to your friends and RightMarch.com has an easy to use form that will Email six at a time.

In my opinion, this is even more obnoxious than Goodmail’s certification system.  Internet Petitions don’t work, and these guys know it. You’ll find each of these organizations include, donation links on their “tell a friend” page.

I’m still not a fan of Email certification that would allow AOL or Yahoo to charge bulk E-mailers 0.25 cents a message. In theory, anyone receiving Email would have chosen to Opt-In to this program but its still wrong. The expense of bulk Email is paid by the local ISP’s, internal company networks and the consumers who end up spending time weeding out the crap.  It might be OK, if the consumer was paid the 1/4 cent per Email but AOL and Yahoo should not be the ones collecting the toll.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Olympic Technology and FEMA

I still enjoy the Olympics but it no longer holds the magic it once did, now that I understand the business of the games. I am still very fascinated by the logistics and technology used to pull off such on massive international event.

There are certainly technicians at NBC who deserve gold medals for their performance. I spent three years working with folks at ABC and watched them move small cities from the Indy 500 Brickyard to Monday Night Football stadiums to the Kentucky’s Churchill Downs and back again. If FEMA needs people who know how to handle disasters they need to look to the media networks. Think about it, who were first on the scene after Katrina hit?

One change at this years Olympics was the name change for traditional sponsor IBM. Lenovo is hoping to use to the event to increase brand recognition now that they own IBM PC group. Another little known heavy weight running the games is Altos Origin. Other top partners include Coca-Cola, GE, Kodak, Manulife, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. According to the IOC’s “Celebrate Humanity Sponsor Recognition Page” …

 “Not only to these companies understand the importance of the Olympic Movement, but they have provided food, shelter, training facilities and more to the world’s athletes”

Perhaps when the games are over we could get some sponsorships for New Orleans and those forgotten in Mississippi.  FEMA trailers still sit empty while Americans refugee are being evicted from crowded hotels. Once proud neighborhoods have remained untouched for the last six months. At some locations the only growth is in E. coli.  These are not non-motivated welfare cases living it up in hotels. There are no jobs in towns still without stores, restaurants, electricity or sanitary services. It’s time to bring back the media and get things done.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

WinPatrol Dutch and Portuguese

Nederlands flag     Portugal flag

I know I must be doing something right when the folks who use my software want to give something back besides just $24.95 for the PLUS version.

While on vacation I was pleasantly surprised with two new localization files for WinPatrol users in Portugal and the Netherlands.  I’ve made the creation of language packs as easy as I could and it has really paid off. All our language packs have been done by volunteers eager to show their support.

If you’d like a version of WinPatrol in your native language see what’s available on our free download page. So far we have Italian, German, French, Español, Russian, Norwegian, Greek, Portuguese(Brazilian), Polish and now Portuguese and Dutch.  Thanks to Rui Costa and Gideon van Melle.

If you’re able to translate technical terms into a language you don’t see, you can help too. Instructions for creating a WinPatrol language file is available at http://www.winpatrol.com/localize.html.  You could even create WinPatrol Klingon or Sindarin if you’d like.

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Vacation is over

I’ve returned from our recent vacation refreshed, and ready to get back to work. So much as occurred it’s hard to know where to start.

Ben Edelman reports that 180solution has again failed to control their affiliates.

Word has gotten out that 21 year old, Australian Gold medal Olympic skier Dale Begg-Smith financed his training by owning  a spam/hijacking/spyware company CPM Media.

All my Series 2 TiVo’s have been updated so I can now purchase movie tickets, play games and use a number of applications that puts TiVo into a league of its own.  Games include the popular marble game “SameGame”, a Scrabble like word game and a  Connect Four game with a pirate theme.  Very Cool! I will be writing more about this and privacy concerns.

ZDNet reports that an Homeland Security official who suggested outlawing rootkits.

Google is advising their new Desktop 3 beta should be properly configured or it could pose a security risk in multi-user environments. Andy Ku, European marketing manager for Google said, “Companies can disable the Search Across Computers facility”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the news that has occurred while Cindi and I were laying on the beach in Puerto Rico.  I’ll be spending the day answering Email and researching many of these stories.

This morning my brain is still thinking of vacation related issues. For instance, I’ve decided I like Marriott over Hyatt.  I also found it strange that we ran into more bilingual staff who spoke English when we vacationed in Aruba than we did in Puerto Rico.  The hours spent watching Dora the Explorer with my grandkids didn’t help much.                                                          Adiós

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Automatic Updates from Microsoft

If you're a regular reader you know, I'm not a big fan of automatic updates. I like to take a wait and see approach to make sure new bugs aren't introduced in an update. Sometimes obscure bugs don't show up during testing but when a large group updates the results can be surprising.

Lately, I've had to go with a hurry up and get the update immediately on the Tuesdays when Microsoft releases their security updates. In the past, it hasn't been unusual for serious security flaws to be found in Windows but there wasn't a rush to update.

What has changed? The bad guys are quick to take advantage of these flaws and are quickly releasing threats into the wild. Programming examples of exploits are being posted so anyone can learn how to use them. We're starting to see web sites using security holes within 24 hours of a security alert being issued. While IDS programs like WinPatrol will catch the attack, traditional security programs will miss them.

Last month it was the zero-day WMF Exploit. This week Microsoft is patching a number of exploits including MS06-005:Vulnerability in Windows Media Player....

 Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for February, 2006 will describe the 5 Important updates and 2 Critical updates released in just the first two weeks of the month.

I'm still not a fan of auto-updates but I do recommend regularly going to Windows Update which is available on the Internet Explorer Tools menu or in some cases right on the Start Button menu.
Windows XP users have an option that I like under the Windows Security Center. I recommend the option "Notify me, but don't automatically download or install them." When notified you can then review the need for updates before installing.

Update: Thanks to Susan Bradley and the Windows Secrets Newsletter for this tip.

Whenever a problem is caused by a security patch, it's a free call to Microsoft. The number to start with is 1-866-PC-Safety.  Other numbers and information available at http://support.microsoft.com/?pr=SecurityHome


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Mac Malware

I recently wrote about the ASC AntiSpyware conference held in Washington DC. One of the items I didn't mention was an editor from Consumer Reports who wanted to let everyone know how great the Apple Mac was. While he had his soapbox, he wanted everyone to know they were wrong. The Macintosh was malware free because it was a better system and not because it only made up 1.5% of the market.

Well, all the blogs were buzzing today with stories of a new malware threat to Macs. Many sites couldn't decide if it was a virus, a trojan or a worm. CNet just called it Malware

Meanwhile, ZNDet reports Apple Computer may be invoking the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to stop the dissemination of methods allowing Mac OS X to run on x86 based chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

User Travel Reviews

Eight years ago, we took our first resort vacation where I searched online for useful information. At the time, it was impossible to find real information about the resort other than what the hotel wanted you to know. Now, you'd be foolish to plan an expensive vacation without going online for first hand travel tips. You'll find a number of travel sites like Hotels.com, Expedia.com or Orbitz but don't look to them for the real 411. Look for user sites created by vacationers who love a location and provide real tips on how to get around. Before my first trip to Disney I found a great user site called Deb's Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide. Deb has added a few ads but her advice and user reviews beat anything from Birnbaum. When we decided to go to Aruba in 2001, I found trip reports at the family run, Aruba Bound. After that experience I even created our own Aruba web site with the hundreds of photos taken over the course of three visits. My trip reports were essentially Blogging before I knew what a Blog was. Hyatt River Pool
Click on photo for larger version
Now when I travel I always try to report on our experiences in hopes it will help others. When I get a chance I'll write more about our experiences this month at the Hyatt Dorado in Puerto Rico. The nice part is if you write enough like I've been able to do and post a lot of photos, it can really pay off. The hotels are usually happy, and your readers can make better use of their short vacation time.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Vice President and Adware

I normally wouldn't be talking about national politics here but the events this week are so typical of getting the media to use the words you want. In this case, the news whores are willing to use any words to keep a good connection to their source.

News reports started with "the Vice President shot another hunter".
The next day it changed to "he sprayed his hunting companion with lead pellets".
and finally today it was "peppered his friend with birdshot".

Sorry but 28 gauge lead shot does not compare to adding condiments to your dinner.

We've seen this crap applied to Adware companies who refuse to be called Spyware and get the media to call them "behavioral analysts" or "contextual marketing services".
Our old Gator friends at Claria use terms like "online behavioral marketing". The folks at 180solutions have a new one, "time-shifted paid search".

It sounds better than "we sneak our programs on your computer and sell information about how you spend your time online and point you to products we get paid to promote".

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Can Geeks take vacations?

After expertly re-routing flight plans to avoid the Great Blizzard of 2006, we arrived in Puerto Rico this morning at 2:30 AM. It was a long day, we were 12 hours late but we're officially on vacation.

Being a family owned business I still have to check in daily to serve our PLUS members who might lose their registration code or have other emergencies. After some technical problems because TMobile Hotspot service doesn't support my Intel Wireless adapter I finally made it online.

I originally thought I'd continue keeping up my Blog while I was on vacation but given the sunshine, ocean and the warm weather I'm having serious doubts. So if you're a regular reader of Bits from Bill, stop back in about 8 days. :)
Hyatt Dorado

The view from our room at the Hyatt Dorado

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Friday, February 10, 2006

ASC Photos

The real enjoyment of the AntiSpyware Colition conference this week was getting together with friends and meeting other speakers.
Larry Ponemon, Cindy Southworth, Suzi Turner
Larry Ponemon, The Poneman Institue
Cindy Southworth, NNEDV
Suzi Turner, SpywareWarrior.com


Manessa Mithal, Chris Boyd, Katherine Tassi, Luis Villa
Manessa Mithal, Acting Director, International Division of the FTC
Chris Boyd,(Paperghost)Facetime, vitalsecurity.org/
Katherine Tassi, Washington State AG
Luis Villa, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, StopBadware.org

For more info on the event and other speakers check out Brian Krebs at the Washington Post

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

The most damaging Spyware

I spent a long day listening to a lot of smart folks telling me about stuff I really already knew about. The day was still great incentive for me, but nothing had as much impact as the stories from Cindy Southworth, representing the National Network to End Domestic Violence(NNEDV).
National Network to End Domestic Violence

The world may lump all malware into the spyware category but Cindy talked about real spyware. This kind is far more dangerous then having tracking cookies, pop-ups or even losing your hard drive. Cindy has been working with victims and law enforcement to stop programs purchased to spy on ex-spouses, girl friends or many other unsuspecting victims of both sexes and all ages.

One widely distributed program encourages and empowers their customers to Email a greeting card to say I'm sorry or some other tricky animated greeting. If the victim opens the card, a powerful keylogger and/or remote control executable would be installed in stealth mode on the computer. The stalker could have complete control and full knowledge of the victims computer activities. I can't adequately describe the horror I'm sure programs like this have caused.

The positive side of the story is we do have laws on the books that allow law enforcement to go after both the software publisher and the users. You may argue this kind of software has some well meaning security objectives. I can assure you, the software Cindy has seen isn't used that way, nor is it marketed for any legitimate purposes.

Special thanks to Mitch Dembin, Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego for his efforts and for providing us with very entertaining lessons on how we could help using current laws. If you feel you might be in danger I would encourage you to read more at http://www.nnedv.org/default.asp?Page=17

Photos, including Suzi and Paperghost :)

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Spyware Crusaders

One of my first photos of today's ASC conference included friends, Ben Edelman and Dave Methvin as they planned their presentations.
Spyware Crusaders
The Commissioner of the FTC, Orson Swindle(yea, that's really his name) introduced Dave from PC Pitstop and referred to Ben as a "Spyware Crusader". Ben said it was the first time he's been given that title, but I'm thinking it sure sounds better than zealot.

Dave presented some very scary examples of web sites easily found by kids doing simple searches. Ben followed up with examples of how reputable companies end up feeding the adware middle men which in turn feed the folks installing the spyware. There's a good reason both Dave and Ben keep getting invited to speak at these events.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

AntiSpyware Coalition Workshop

I’m spending most of today making sure I have all my office work is completed, backed up and/or packed for my trip to Washington D.C. tomorrow.  I leave early Wednesday to attend a workshop put on by the Anti-Spyware Coalition.

The ASC is a group dedicated to building a consensus about definitions and best practices in the debate surrounding spyware and other potentially unwanted technologies. Composed of anti-spyware software companies, academics, and consumer groups, the ASC seeks to bring together a diverse array of perspective on the problem of controlling spyware and other potentially unwanted technologies.

BillP Studios is not on the  ASC member list but I fully support their efforts. Generally I share the opinion of Grocho Marx who said, “… I would never join a club who would have me as a member.”  I’m really looking forward to this event.  It’s another chance to sit down with some good friends who also happen to be some of the worlds best spyware trackers and consumer advocates. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new friends. We’ve learned that collectively, we can frequently shine the spotlight on the bad guys and consumers win.

I will have my Canon Powershot Pro 1 with me so stay tuned for photos and news from our nations capital.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Digital Rights Copy Protection and the C64

Mark Russinovich, author of Rootkit Revealer updated his Blog today with great piece about CD burning and disc emulation utilities using Rootkits to prevent the enforcement of copy restrictions.

“Because PC game CDs and DVDs do not need to be compatible with set-top players software vendors can store data on media in unorthodox ways that require software support to read it. Attempts to make a copy of such media without the aid of the software results in a scrambled version and the software has DRM measures to detect and foil unauthorized copying.”

I couldn’t help being reminded of my old Commodore 64/128 days. Being a curious kinda guy, I wondered how game publishers copy protected their software so I could make my own legal backups. :) Essentially, they used methods much like todays rootkits.
Commodore 64

One common trick used was to write data on the floppy disc outside its normal formatted space. While the Commodore disk operating system consisted of 35 data tracks, game company's like Electronic Arts would store data on tracks 36–39. Their software would overwrite the normal Commodore DOS within the 1541/1571 disk drive so they could verify the floppy disk they distributed was in the drive.

It wasn’t long before some of the $300–$400 disk drives decided they didn’t like undocumented features and they locked up. The only solution was to take the drive apart and physically move the drive head back to a track zero position.  If this could happen on a machine that only runs one program at a time, imagine the disasters possible on multitasking, multiprocessor, multi-language Windows system.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cramps in Kama Sutra

Well, you don’t always need a Super Bowl commercial to get your message out.  For years we’ve been telling people, “Don’t download file attachments” unless you’re 100% sure they’re safe. It appears the message has gotten through.

This week all the buzz was about the Kama Sutra-MyWife-Blackmal worm which was set to corrupt files on computers around the world on the 3rd of every month. I was even  interviewed by my local news station.  They didn’t air the part where I said, I wasn’t really worried about this threat.  What a surprise! According to recent news reports,  Kama Sutra fizzled and the big story now is now little damage was reported. 

 What I said in the Blog on Tuesday,

“Users will have to physically download a file which is disguised as a zip file and run it.” 

Users are starting to get educated and all our ranting and raving is getting through. Spyware Warrior Suzi Turner also brought to my attention, a report by the University of Washington that spyware has significantly declined.  I would like to think I could retire from fighting spyware but I fear we’ll all keep busy for many years to come.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Windows IRS Special Edition

Bill Gates was at an Information and Communication Technologies(ICT) conference in Lisbon this week explaining how the IRS in the United States needs special computers just to handle his tax returns.

“My tax return in the United States has to be kept on a special computer because their normal computers can't deal with the numbers," he said at the Microsoft Government Leaders forum.

"So I am constantly getting these notices telling me I haven't paid something when really it is just on the wrong computer," he added in comments broadcast on television.

One has to wonder if their normal computers are running Windows. 

In fairness, Microsoft did announce some other meaningful initiatives  to fund and promote digital literacy around the world.

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Internet Explorer 7 Public Beta

This week Microsoft has made the beta of their next version of Internet Explorer available to the public.  Software is getting so complex the only way to really find the bugs is to make it available and call it a preview. I’m not including a link to the beta because I don’t advocate the average person download beta versions of any software that could make this big of an impact on their system.  Some of you may recall Microsoft admitted in court that Internet Explorer was integrated so deeply into Windows it couldn’t be separated. If you’re a die hard, early adopter I’m sure there is a link to the beta/preview in one of the following links. 
For a summary of new features you can watch a video demonstration at CNet’s News.com

If you want an explanation of a “Beta Preview” and if you should participate check out the MSDN IEBlog.

If you still decide to install IE 7’s public beta be sure to read Installation tips for the IE7 Beta Preview created by Microsoft MVP Sandi Hardmeier on her Blog Spyware Sucks.

Update: 2/2/2006
From CNet News, Joris Evers reports IE 7 Bugs Abound
Even more warnings from Molly Wood who says, IE 7: too little, too soon?

 

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