Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Friday, February 29, 2008

Microsoft Fines Continue to Increase Daily

The European Union doesn’t think Microsoft is giving them a lot of respect and wants to make them pay. Recent fines amount to 899 million(€) Euros which came out to be about $1.3 billion USD the day it was announced. Since that time, the US dollar as fallen so the fine has increased about 400 million just due the conversion rate changes.

Of course, as the dollar falls Microsoft products become more affordable to Europeans. For example, last week my 29.95 USD WinPatrol PLUS sold for over 21 EUR. Today, it’s under 20 EUR. So while it’s more expensive for US residents to purchase products made abroad, the rest of the world can now afford our products.

The European Union determined that Microsoft had failed to disclose technical information that would allow competitors to develop products that would work with Windows. Microsoft did provide most of the technical information requested but charged a licensing fee that was considered extreme.

Microsoft has a long history of skirting the letter of the law and delaying court decisions until their opponents just give up. The EU appears determined whittle away at the Microsoft monopoly one way or another. In 2006 the French parliament decided to dump Windows in favor of Linux and open source applications.

I’ve always said I wished Microsoft Corp spent more on development than on lawyers. Perhaps we would see a better Vista instead of class action suits from people who purchased “Windows Vista Capable” machines that don’t run Vista. Under pressure to get Vista in the hands of more people Microsoft announced a price cut this week. Vista Ultimate drops $80 to $219 while Home Premium drops $30 to $129.

Ideally, newly discounted retail packages of Vista will include the SP1 update. If not, the first thing new Vista users will be doing is downloading multiple system updates and finally SP1. I would recommend new Vista users refrain from any web surfing until all the updates are completed.

Side note: Ironically, last year when French President Nicolas Sarkozy vacationed in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, he stayed at the estate of former Microsoft executive Michael Appe. You may remember President Sarkozy had a confrontation with photographers over their intrusion into his family vacation.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Virtual 3D Computing Thanks to Nintendo Wii Tech

Three Dimensional Computing may not appeal to everyone but it's coming sooner than you might think. It’s real and won’t make you dizzy. I’ve been able to mimic some advances using the evolutionary technology of my Nintendo Wii.

Example of video screen using head tracking

Based on a code project by Johnny Chung Lee this display presents a 3D perspective that actually changes as I move my head. If I move closer, Scotty gets bigger.

The following video will blow you away when you see how Nintendo Wii technology can be used to create a simple head tracking device to provide a true 3D perspective.

The possibilities of using head tracking goes beyond cool video games. I would love to be able to just look up or down to scroll the screen. Tilt my head and see behind a window?  Perhaps when I finish up WinPatrol 2008 I’ll work on an applet that will provide head based scrolling thanks to starter code available from Johnny.

The folks at Stanford think there’s a future in 3D environments.  They’ve developed technology that will allow cameras to map the distance of various subjects in the photo.  Click for More Info

This diagram shows the multi-aperture sensor, which puts a small lens over a group of image sensor pixels. Each subarray gets its own microlens
(Credit: Keith Fife/Stanford University)

Researchers at Stanford aren’t alone.  Last year Adobe showed off its efforts to create a 3D lens. The real world possibilities for this type of technology are endless.


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse in the Village

I wasn’t able to see any satellites shot down but clear skies gave me a nice view of the shadow of the earth as it passed over the full moon. Lunar Eclipse February 20th, 2008

For the camera buffs out there, this series of photos were taken with a Canon EOS 30D with my Canon EF 100-400mm lens.
This was one of the few times I have used the camera in completely manual raw mode.

I admit making the silly mistake that I could take test shots before the eclipse started to find the best settings. As the sky darkened it became obvious that I had to manually adjust the settings to find the perfect exposure.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Our Government and the News Media

If you’re paying attention to world news you may have heard that Kosovo has declared their independence this weekend. Some of you may even remember that the United States played an important role in the establishment of a safe Kosovo for its mostly muslim population.

I have a slight connection to this topic and thought I’d share a personal story of how our government and news media work together. If you will indulge me, I’d also like to say how very proud I am of our son Christopher Cook’s role with KFOR helping free the people of Kosovo. Click for Photos

Crisis in Kosovo

I had been working on a project with CBS News in 1999 when I received a call telling me it was urgent that we launch the project “tomorrow!”. So, before the sun came up I was on Amtrak heading for CBS News in NYC.

When I arrived in the news room the doors were locked behind me. I was told I was there for the day and won’t be allowed to leave until later that afternoon. OK, so I asked how come? “We’re bombing Serbian military targets today but President Clinton isn’t going to announce it until quarter after two”.

“Huh?” Maybe I was naive but I never realized that our government gave the news media leads on what our military plans were. Sure enough as I worked toward my 2:15 PM deadline I watched a wall of monitors showing our jets taking off from aircraft carriers.

It wasn’t a big surprise that we were entering the war but it did surprise me to learn how closely our government and news media works together. Being an optimist I’ll accept this as a good thing. Still it has always made me wonder what the requirements are to get this privileged access? What happens if the news media pisses off someone in the government who controls gets this early information? What do you think?

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's "Inside Amazon" About You?

While I order a lot of products from Amazon I’ve forgotten how much they still specialize in books and the extra features available. Last night I decided to play with the Search Inside feature and just out of curiousity wondered if WinPatrol was mentioned in any computer books. I knew there were one or two but was pleasantly surprised at how many recommendations were published praising Scotty the Windows Watch Dog.

Some references include:

Lock the Boogie Man Out of Your Computer

Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet---Better, Faster, Easier

By far the most interesting mention was actually in a book created for Norton users. While I’m not a big fan of Norton Security Suites the company has had a few good innovations over the years.

Norton All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies

So just go to Amazon books and type in any term you’d like to search for and they’ll give you a list of books that include your topic. I’m sure many of you have searched your name in Google but have you searched it in Amazon?

I found a few references to “Pytlovany” including an infamous comment about my days with AOL where I am quoted as saying “A lot of people learned to type with one hand”. (Stealing Time p30)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Opt Out to Protect Your Privacy and Identity

The World Privacy Forum has posted their Top Ten Opt Outs which I recommend you all review. If you think the Do Not Call Registry is a great idea you’ll be excited to learn what else is available.

I know many of you are concerned about using your credit card online but you might also want to protect what information the credit card company shares(sells) about you.

According to the FDIC:

Unless you opt out, your financial company can provide your personal financial information (for example, information on the kinds of stores you shop at, how much you borrow, your account balances, or the dollar value of your assets) to non-affiliates for marketing and other purposes.
Contact your credit card company to opt-out(4)

Top Ten Opt Outs

  • 1. National Do Not Call Registry

  • 2. Prescreened offers of credit and insurance

  • 3. DMA opt outs

  • 4. Financial institution opt outs

  • 5. CAN SPAM

  • 6. Credit freeze

  • 7. FERPA
    The FERPA opt out stops schools from releasing student directory information (Name, home address, date of birth, and other information) without consent, with some limitations.

  • 8. Data broker opt outs

  • 9. Internet portal opt outs

  • 10. NAI opt out

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Time to Update Adobe Reader

Regular readers know that I don’t always encourage folks to download updates immediately after they’re released. For instance, tomorrow Microsoft will be releasing a new update that fixes a number of issues. Included are 7 critical fixes and 5 important fixes. I usually recommend waiting 7–10 days just to make sure there aren’t unique problems caused by these updates.

Past articles:

I do have an exception this week. Adobe has released a fix for their popular Adobe Reader which is used to render PDF files. In the past, Adobe Reader was a program you’d download as needed but PDF files are now so popular it’s extremely likely the Adobe Reader has already been installed on your system.

A number of malicious PDF files have been seen in the wild and we’ve had reports of infection attempts using a vulnerability in Adobe Reader. You can update your system by downloading the new Adobe Reader at

You probably want to uncheck the Photoshop Starter Album

In the grand tradition of companies trying to shove their other products down our throat you’ll see a pre-checked box encouraging you to download the 50 MB Photoshop Album Starter Edition. While this may not be a bad package, I recommend you uncheck the box and concentrate on just updating that Adobe Reader. That way if you do have some kind of problem you’ll know which application introduced the change.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Create Help Pages for Fun and Profit

I’ve been lucky that over the years WinPatrol has grown in popularity largely due to the efforts of its users.  I really don’t have an advertising budget so Scotty’s fame has spread mostly by word of mouth on the Internet. Many of you have participated in improving WinPatrol and our online PLUS descriptions by sending comments and suggestion. Even all our language packs have been created thanks to the volunteer efforts of our international Team WinPatrol.

One of the weaknesses of WinPatrol has always been documentation. I’m the first to admit I could do a much better job at writing help descriptions but I’m betting there are folks out there who could do a really great job.

I thought it might be a good time to ask(beg) for help from folks who know how to create useful help and hopefully I make it worth their while.  Currently, we have 10 help pages which could use some work. The most commonly accessed file can be found at Each tab on our main interface has a similar help page which can be found at There are ten pages in all and perhaps one new one coming with WinPatrol 2008.

Request for Proposal

Are you familiar with WinPatrol. Know the difference between Remove and Disable?  Are you creative? Do you think you’d be good at creating a good help page for WinPatrol?

I’ll be accepting bids from anyone willing to give it a shot. What I’ll be looking for is a sample replacement for our startup.html page in either html or PDF form. Email your submission to and let me know what you’d want to work the same magic to our other nine help pages.  The most creative, useful and reasonable submission will be offered the job and become the newest member of Team WinPatrol.  The top five (at least) efforts will receive a WinPatrol PLUS sports shirt for their efforts.

WinPatrol Sports Shirt

Feel free to use your imagination.  Change the format, the text and use any graphics available on our website. The ultimate goal is to create something that is appealing to read and can be understood by users on every level.


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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Beware the Valentines Day Storm

No, I’m not talking about your spouses reaction if you forget a gift on Thursday, February 14th. Like many past holidays the well known “Storm” Trojan is using the upcoming theme of love to trick users into clicking on malicious sites.

Typical Email subject lines that I’ve already looked into include:
  • Our Love is Free
  • Happy Valentines day
  • I Would Dream
  • Hugging My Pillow
  • Inside My Heart
  • Sending You My Love
  • The Dance of Love
  • Eternal Love
  • A Rose for my Love
You get the idea right? As always, I recommend against clicking on links you’ve received in E-mails. It’s also important that you download new Windows security updates in a timely manner. Most Trojans like Storm depend on security holes which haven’t yet been patched.

Just to be sure it’s clear, this kind of Trojan is a bad thing.
Many of you may think of a Trojan as something that protects you against disease and untimely new family members. A computer Trojan is analogous to the legend of the large wooden horse used by the Trojan army to conquer the city of Troy.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

How Do We Stop Spyware?

A number of folks who have been on the forefront of battling spyware and adware met last week in Washington D.C. I’ve been to a number of AntiSpyware conferences over the years and they seem to get better all the time.

Panel called CSI Spyware: Can Investigators Stay Ahead of the Bad Guys.
CSI Spyware: Can Investigators Stay Ahead of the Bad Guys?

From left to right

Seated up front is longtime supporter of the MyWay searchbar, Kirk Lawrence, IAC Search & Media.

It’s hard quantify what kind of difference these meetings make. In a way it’s like a pep rally that gets many of us excited and motivated to continue our efforts. It’s also excellent to share stories and methodology. While many participants are essentially competitors the cooperation is unlike other industries.

Chris Boyd has posted some photos from the conference as well as some fun tourist travels on Flickr. There’s even proof that I sometimes wear a suit and tie. It’s interesting to view our country through new eyes. Click the photos below for more.

Photos by Chris Boyd during his recent adventures in the colonies.
NYC as viewed by a visitor from across the pond.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

RealPlayer with Rhapsody is BADWARE

The folks at have been busy looking at all kinds of software and this week designated the RealPlayer as “Badware”.

“We find that RealPlayer 10.5 is badware because it fails to accurately and completely disclose the fact that it installs advertising software on the user's computer. We additionally find that RealPlayer 11 is badware because it does not disclose the fact that it installs Rhapsody Player Engine software, and fails to remove this software when RealPlayer is uninstalled. “

“We currently recommend that users do not install the versions of RealPlayer software that we tested, unless the user is comfortable with the software behaviors we identify or until the application is updated to be consistent with the recommendations contained in this report. “

I’m not a big fan of RealPlayer even though I was hoping they’d provide some competition for Microsoft’s Media Player. Unfortunately, RealNetworks have always promoted some annoying habits. One of the reasons I created the “Disable” feature in WinPatrol was programs like RealPlayer that keep coming back as an autostart programs. All you have to do is view a video or listen to music in RealPlayer and they think it means you want RealPlayer to run every time you reboot. They’re not unique. Apple does the same thing with Quicktime.

I was surprised by this announcement. I'm told typically only gives companies 24 hour notice before an announcement so perhaps we'll see new versions from RealNetworks soon.

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