Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Instead of Studying for Finals I Have:

  1. Formatted and reinstalled my entire computer system
  2. Come up with a good class action against the banking industry (Link)
  3. Listened to five Dave Brubeck albums -- but payed attention to only three
  4. Completed two missions in "Call of Duty 2"
  5. Recovered from completing two missions in "Call of Duty 2"
  6. Watched Saving Private Ryan
  7. Caught up on saved episodes of Discovery Channel shows including, but not limited to: "Man v. Wild," "Mythbusters," and "American Chopper"
  8. NFL
  9. Watched History Channel at 3:00am and learned about volcanoes, the KKK, and Coast Guard ships designed to break up ice in the Great Lakes**
  10. Procrastinated by creating a list of 9 things I've done instead of studying for finals.

** These are separate documentaries, though I would be eager to watch a documentary that had all three subject matters.

Electronic Bill Payments: Do I Smell A Class Action?

So maybe someone with more expertise in finance can answer this question for me:

Most banks now offer you the ability to make a "free" online bill payment. This payment is either wired electronically (if your payee has an electronic fund transfer set up) or the payee is sent a paper check in the mail automatically generated by my bank. While this is a great addition to an otherwise backward and stagnant banking industry, I've started to realize that it has some significant--perhaps actionable--drawbacks.

What I've noticed is this: as soon as you "send" the bill payment, that amount is deducted from my account balance immediately--that is, regardless of whether the payee cashes the check or not.

So for example, if I make a bill payment to my brother in NY for $1,200.00 on Jan 1, 2007, my account will be debited $1,200.00 that same day. It might take my bank three or four days to process it and send it out, and another two or three days for the check to get through the mail. On top of that, my brother might not have time to cash the check for a few weeks because he's busy. Let's say my brother cashes the check on Jan 21. This is when my account balance should be debited 1,200.00, not as early as Jan 1.

I'm sure the bank will try to give me certain party lines. They might say that the automatic deduction makes me less likely to bounce a check because it is now "easier" or "more convenient" to keep track of my account balance without having to worry about what checks of mine are floating out there. There are two responses to this: (1) I could always--gasp--write it down and balance my own checkbook like an adult; or (2) if you really wanted to make it more convenient for me, add another column on my account balance, one that shows my actual balance and one that shows my balance adjusted for outstanding bill payments yet to be cashed.

The bottom line is this: what my bank is really doing here is depriving me of interest that my $1,200.00 would earn between Jan 1 and Jan 21. If you add this up for the millions of bill payments, a bank could be saving millions on interest payments that are actually due to account holders.

So if there are any entrepreneurial class action attorneys out there--call me, I'm game.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Milton Friedman on Charlie Rose

An eye-opening interview with a man who is synonymous with modern economics.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Adobe Acrobat 8 Troubleshooting

According to Adobe's technical support website, those of us experiencing application freezes and instability may try this "Advanced Troubleshooting" suggestion:

Reformat the hard disk, and reinstall only Windows and Acrobat.

Are you kidding me?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Password Wars: Operation HSBC

So I've commented before (here and here) on how ridiculous and varied the rules on passwords have become on various internet sites. Well, the popular bank HSBC has introduced a new security feature for its customers that is making it even more difficult to sign in.

In addition to the standard username and password (which have naming restrictions in and of themselves), and your standard PIN number, HSBC now requires you to have a "Security Key" which is an even longer password (with its own naming restrictions).

You also have to answer two "Security Questions" which I guess I will be asked if I ever forget my password. But the majority of the questions are ones that you will never remember the answer to, such as my favorite "childhood cartoon character" or my favorite "tv show." I love Batman from the Animated Series, but was that my childhood? Should I pick Optimus Prime instead? Need I remind you that I will be no doubt having this existential debate with a bank representative on the phone when I'm locked out of my account and need money to pay a bill.

HSBC doesn't even let you input all of your login information on the same screen anymore. The first thing you are asked for when you log in is a screen that asks for your username only:

What takes the cake is the next page, in which you have to type (and remember) your original password and then--I kid you not--use a "Virtual Keyboard" to click in your new "Security Key." So now I have to sit there using my mouse to click on every letter in a password that they recommended should upwards of 20 characters. It will give you an error message if you attempt to type in the password.

So why the limitation on not being able to type in the new "Security Key"? Is the bank worried that I have a keystroke recorder installed on my system? Well, I suppose that is one way to keep your password secure, although I'm not sure what genius thought it was going to be more secure to SHOW EVERYONE NEAR YOU what letters you are clicking on your screen.

Did this same person think it was a good idea to basically quadruple the amount of time it takes to sign in? I figure if HSBC is so dedicated to security, they should give their customers a USB retinal scanner. Of course, a retinal scan won't be enough security in and of itself for HSBC, who will then ask me for my mother's maiden name and what her favorite sitcom of the 1980's was.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Another Lesson in Irony

Keisha Castle Hughes, 16, stars in the newly released movie "The Nativity Story." In real life, Huges is reportedly pregant with her boyfriend's baby and, as a result, did not attend a screening of the movie at the Vatican. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI refused to attend the screening because Hughes was expecting a child out of wedlock.

In the movie, Hughes plays the role of Mary.

Bill Gates on Charlie Rose

This is a fantastic interview taken at Stanford University. It covers a wide range of issues including increased competition, the videogame market, online search markets, Office 2007, and Windows Vista.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard: Review

Elegant, well-designed, intuitive, fully customizable -- and damn beautiful. This is quite possibly one of the greatest keyboards I've ever used. It's even better than the keyboard that came as a part of Logitech's Cordless MX Duo.

Logitech's G15 Gaming Keyboard is great even for people who don't play videogames. As you can see, it's features backlit blue keys that are very easy to see in low light. Unlike other "backlit" keyboards that are totally useless because they only have a light between the keys, the G15 has illuminated letters so you can easily find the key you're looking for in any lighting. They are not too distracting or too bright (the exposure on the digital picture took in a bit too much light, so it's not that bright in reality).

The top left of the keyboard features three sections of fully customizable buttons. The software is quite malleable, letting you record keystrokes, launch programs or websites, and even record macros. This would be amazing for people who do a lot of repetitive office tasks. The only problem with this section of keys is that it is about a half inch too close to the normal keyboard sections, which means that you can't easily just find the edge of the keyboard when you want to hit "Shift" or "Ctrl." Bummer. Adding these extra buttons also adds to the size of the keyboard, which is quite wide.

On the top center are illuminated multimedia controls. The volume wheel is a bit stiff and not as good as Logitech's predecessors, but the multimedia keys are elegant and work right out of the box on a number of programs. If I launch Winamp, MediaMonkey, iTunes, Windows Media Player, or even my TV tuner, this set of controls works perfectly.

The keyboard has two USB ports, though they are unfortunately not USB 2.0 ports. This is a convenient feature to have, though those of us with sliding keyboard trays won't really make much use of these available ports.

At the top of the keyboard is an illuminated LCD screen that is bright and easy to read (you can adjust the brightness and contrast if it is too bright for you). I have never seen an LCD screen like this and it really makes the keyboard come alive. This LCD screen has a number of downloadable programs, letting you see a whole range of information about your computer. You can see your CPU/RAM statistics, disk space, network upload and download rates, time, number of unread emails. There are even specific programs for videogames that enable you to see vital in-game information like health and various weapons/ammo count. The screen is collapsible, and will fold down if you won't want to use it.

The keys are a bit soft to the touch, but firm enough to be responsive (i.e., you're not guessing whether you pressed a button -- I call that the "public library computer syndrome"). It is a very quiet keyboard. The entire keyboard slopes gently downward (the top half of the keyboard is slightly lower than the bottom half of the keyboard), which makes it much more comfortable to use. It came with its own wrist rest (made of plastic), but I've opted for my existing gel wrist pad instead.

Other than the spacing of the extra function keys on the left side, the only other problems I see are: (1) lack of USB 2.0 support; (2) short-ish USB cable to connect to your computer; (3) better interface for accessing LCD interface. These are fairly minor criticisms, and the fact that the keyboard is on sale for 59.99 at CompUsa.com makes this one a steal.

9 out of 10.

Vytorin is Infuriating

Vytorin is cholesterol medication designed to help block the absorption of cholesterol that comes from food, and reduce the cholesterol your body makes naturally. The product's commercials, however, are designed to make no sense.

Cholesterol, it can come from fettucine alfredo, but also from your Grandpa Alfredo; from barbeque ribs, and from your Grandma Barbie.

What the hell? Who forgot to proofread the copy on this?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

ReplayTV PC Edition Review

Well, practically everything nowadays lets you "pause, rewind, and record" TV. I'm pretty sure that my new electric toothbrush burns DVDs. Interestingly, there have been few commercially popular DVR services made specifically for computer users.

Once a rival of the popular digital video recorder TiVo, ReplayTV has been relatively quiet for the past few years. My roommate has the ReplayTV2, which is a very well designed set-top box. It comes with a decent decent--some would say boring--electronic program guide (EPG), but it is a solid all around product. ReplayTV now wants to bring its interface to your computer: ReplayTV PC Edition.

But, as I will show below, even if you have a decent computer, a compatible TV tuner card, and are willing to shell out $99.95 (plus 19.95 for each additional year), a 30-day trial is more than enough to see that ReplayTV PC Edition is worth passing on.

I. BYO-everything?

While the traditional ReplayTV comes in the form of a box with hardware for encoding and decoding video, and a harddrive, the PC Edition doesn't include any hardware at all. You have to buy your own cable TV signal, compatible TV tuner card, hard drive, and personal computer.

So what does the PC Edition include if it has no hardware? It offers you ReplayTV's EPG and interface -- and not much more sadly. ReplayTV's PC Edition is less of a "product" and more of a service, though when you look at the steep price, the service falls short of even modest expectations.

II. Setup

Installing the software took a lot longer than I expected. It was a small download, but it immediately notified me that I needed to install Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 Express. Ten minutes later, it was installed and I had to reboot.

When I launched the program for the first time, it gave me simple to read directions on how to set up my ReplayTV. I entered in my zip code and chose my cable provider, but the channel listings offered have some minor differences which I cannot fix. Thus, Discovery Channel is actually a home shopping channel and also off by like seven channel numbers. My roommate has the same problem on his set top box as well.

Next ReplayTV tried to initialize my TV tuner card (Happauge WinTV PVR 150, an amazing and well priced PVR card), but it failed. I restarted my computer and then it initialized properly. Finally the software downloaded my programming information and I was off.

III. Interface

Does ReplayTV add anything to my viewing experience? Marginally.

Before I signed up for this service, I had a basic cable connection that gives me no easy way to surf channels and view what's on. I rely generally on TitanTV.com, which is a great free site that lets me schedule recordings on my computer and search for shows. This of course is a separate interface from the software I use to watch TV on my computer.

ReplayTV, on the other hand, has an EPG built into the TV software, offering you something similar to what digital cable or DirecTV look like. You have a guide that gives you a decent description of what's available, as well as a fully integrated way of recording and watching your recorded shows. What's sort of annoying is that there is no way to customize the colors, which as you can see below are kind of bland. Nor is the programming color coded like most modern EPGs. I can't label my favorite shows easily or color certain types of sporting events or sitcoms. For 99.95, I expect a little more.

A simple but useful feature allows you to quickly see how far the show is in progress and how much time is left in the program.

A decent feature allows you to quickly record every episode of a particular show regardless of what channel it is on. Although you can easily set a timer without ReplayTV to record your favorite shows, ReplayTV does a great job of not cutting off your shows based on time slots. Unlike a traditional timer that starts recording exactly at the time you say, ReplayTV relies on its advanced EPG, which will take into account if your show is starting 2 minutes late, or 3 minutes early. I suppose this is a peace of mind feature, but I usually just set my timer to record a minute early in either direction, and that's for free.

ReplayTV boasts how it can find shows that match your interests, allowing you to find similar actors and genres. While this is convenient, you can easily run a few searches on TitanTV.com and TVGuide.com for free and just schedule those by yourself. Thus, the value add here is marginal.

Resizing your window isn't too bad, but is a bit slow and choppy at times. The title bar at the top of the screen hides itself and sometimes doesn't want to work with you. In addition, full screen mode locks your monitor, which makes it difficult to watch TV and continue to work on a system that has more than one monitor. Major bummer.

IV. System Resources

ReplayTV's PC Edition is SLOW, even on a pretty quick system. It consistently uses 30-50% of my CPU, in contrast, my normal TV tuner software uses only 5-15% of my CPU's resources, allowing me to easy multitask without any lag.

This results mainly from one of ReplayTV's features, namely that you can instantly rewind anything you're currently watching. So, whenever you change the channel, ReplayTV begins recording in the background and will continue to record so that you can quickly go back in time. Apart from this using a lot your system's resources, the other problem is that it takes about 5-6 seconds for you to change a channel, which is quite annoying.

This lag affects a number of other features. It causes the entire interface to slow down and seem rather unresponsive. Changing channels seems like a chore now because you can no longer "flip" through channels, but briskly peruse them instead.

One thing that ReplayTV could do is give you an option to disable the automatic recording or to at least delay it by a few seconds. Thus, you could quickly change a channel and only have the recording kick in after 3 or 5 seconds. This would give you a balance of speed and access to instant replay. Again, for 99.95, you'd think that ReplayTV would give its users, especially those who have very different types of computers and needs, the ability to tweak the service to fit their needs.

V. File Formats

ReplayTV also doesn't give you a very clear idea of how it is recording video. It gives you the option of recording at Low, Medium, or High, which although mildly descriptive, is generally unhelpful. Low quality recording uses 1GB of space per hour, while Medium and High use 2GB and 3GB, respectively.

While ReplayTV lets you choose where you want to record your video, navigating to that folder is frustrating because you can't simply double click on a video file and play it in your favorite media player. Windows Media Player gives you a decoding error, so you're forced to load up ReplayTV and then have to go through their menus (which are well-designed I admit) and load up the video through there. This is a pointless limitation and a blatant attempt at forcing you to use their software player, which for 99.95 should give me the option of using it or not using it when I want.

The other side effect of being forced to use ReplayTV as your software player is that you cannot stream your video to another computer either through the internet or through your home network. That is a MAJOR limitation especially because place-shifting is where all the action is going to be in the next year or two.

And speaking of space shifting, if ReplayTV's EPG is supposed to be so good, then how come ReplayTV doesn't give me the ability to sign in to a website and tell my computer at home what to record? This seems like a simple feature and something that would add a lot of value to their product.

VI. Conclusion

First off, this product isn't meant for everyone, so if you don't watch or record any video to your computer, then you're much better off getting a set-top box.

Like many popular software applications/services these days, ReplayTV tries to incorporate a bunch of features in a self-contained unit. Also like many applications and services these days, ReplayTV makes it difficult to opt-out of using certain parts of its system.

ReplayTV's PC Edition gives me very few reasons to think it is worth its steep price tag. The fact that I have to buy all of the hardware by myself means this high priced services needs to add a lot of value, which it really doesn't.

Not only does ReplayTV make it harder for you stream videos, ReplayTV gives me very few options in general. It makes me think that the company was just trying to capitalize on its existing mediocre, non-customizable EPG and sell it to you online. If all I'm getting is an EPG, I suggest that ReplayTV release a downloadable version of its EPG for $20.00 a year, and I think it will get far more subscribers. Although the product does exactly what it promises to do, the thought behind the product is a let down.

5 out of 10.

Monday, November 27, 2006

5 PSAs for the Women of Berkeley

1. Even if it wasn't still 65 degress out, you'd still look ridiculous in those UGG boots.

2. There's a reason that jeans with tightly tapered ankles went out of fashion.

3. Aviators are not sparkly.

4. Yes, you do look like a pirate.

5. As if wearing sweatpants in public wasn't bad enough, rolling up the waistband five times is unforgiveable.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Yahoo! Music Unlimited Review

It is a very interesting time to be a consumer of digital media. We can see business models appearing--and disappearing--on an almost daily basis. And the market for online music is no exception. In comparison to Napster and Rhapsody, and also (to a lesser extent) services like eMusic and iTunes, Yahoo!'s music service has its quirks, but is a strongest bang for the buck.

I. Introduction

Using the term "digital jukebox" to describe anything these days is meaningless because virtually anything can be described as a digital jukebox. In terms of its offerings, Yahoo! Music Unlimited is identical to Rhapsody and Napster because each service gives you a number of ways to legally listen and/or download music. You can: (1) stream MP3 quality audio from thousands of online radio stations; (2) purchase individual tracks for a one time fee; (3) download unlimited amounts of protected files; (4) share recommendations and playlists with other users; and (5) burn compilations. You can participate in one or all of these business models.

I first tried Yahoo! Music Unlimited when it launched in May 2005. I signed up for the 7-day trial but in the end opted for Napster’s paid service because it had a larger portfolio of music. Currently, Napster has over 2+ million songs available while Yahoo!—up until just a few days ago—still had about 1 million songs available (see below). Without any press whatsoever, Yahoo! now advertises that they have over 2 million songs as well. How can someone double their portfolio and not think it’s worth mentioning? So in terms of the amount of songs available, both are on par.


II. Pricing

The reason I chose Yahoo! Music Unlimited over Napster and Rhapsody is because of the price There is a fantastic promotion for Yahoo for anybody with a MasterCard. If you spend $59.98 for one year of unlimited downloads (the regular one year subscription price), you get a second year for free. That works out to only $2.50 per month for unlimited downloads. Compare this to Napster, which costs $9.95 a month unlimited downloads or Rhapsody Unlimited for $9.99 a month, and Yahoo! Music Unlimited begins to look quite appealing.
Like NetFlix in the movie market, I think Yahoo! has really hit the right chord with its price. I think anything hovering around the $5.00/month range is sufficiently appealing for many users who would otherwise illegally download via BitTorrent or other pre-legal Napster-like services. Rather than sifting through, often unorganized, torrent sites and risking spyware and viruses as well as confronting various filename and ID3 tag schemes, it seems that “buying in” is becoming a cheaper and more convenient solution than illegal downloading.
III. Subscription v. Single-Track Business Models
Let’s do some math. 60 bucks gets me two years of unlimited downloads, very good streaming radio, playlist services on Yahoo! or can get me approximately 4 albums on iTunes, which I can only play on my iPod.
It may not seem like it, but I strongly support the idea that if we buy music, we should only have to buy music one time and not feel compelled to re-buy an entire collection when another format comes along. This leaves us with two options. First, you can choose to just “not buy” music and perpetually subscribe to a service like Yahoo!’s. On the other hand, you can purchase CDs and just rip them yourself, which takes more time and more money. The benefit of ripping your own music is that you can always re-rip your own CD when a new format comes out and you can buy any music player you want; plus, you’re not going to lose your collection later on. In contrast to both of these approaches, Apple attempts to straddle the middle, but its position is inherently unstable because it gives you the worst of both worlds: restrictions on file formats, hardware and software lock in, and higher prices.
As stated earlier, Yahoo! offers a subscription model, so you have to remain a member to keep your music. You can listen to however many songs, radio, playlists, download them to your computer when you’re off the internet, and (for an additional fee) fill up your non-iPod music player with all the latest music. The fact that you lose all of this music if you stop becoming a member turns off a lot of people. I can’t say that it irks me as much as the iTunes and (maybe?) the Zune points model.
Subscription pricing gives services like Yahoo!, Rhapsody, and Napster a big leg up over iTunes, which sell tracks one-by-one. If I spent $2.50 a month on iTunes, I’d get two and a half tracks. Sure I can put them on my iPod, which although I was unhappy with the first three generations of, has begun to live up to the hype with the Nano, but I’m locked not only into Apple’s proprietary file format, but also to their software (iTunes) and their hardware (iPod). Good luck if Apple wants to give you support in moving your songs to multiple computers, other iPods, or even another platform. From what I can tell, there are also some limitations on how many times you can burn the song. Good luck using anything other than iTunes with it.
Ultimately, what we have here is a tradeoff of sorts. You’re locked in no matter which way you go, but I’d choose to be locked in a way that costs much less money and one that is not tied to particular type of hardware.

IV. Installation and Ease of Use

Yahoo! Music Unlimited requires you to install a large, rather bulky piece of software on your computer. Even with a fast notebook or desktop, downloading tracks and navigating through them is resource intensive, especially if you have or are going to have a large music collection. What is nice is that Yahoo!’s servers are quite robust, so if you have a fast internet connection, you can fly through a few hundred albums in a matter of hours.
In order to avoid using your computer that will be slow and unresponsive, I recommend making a major queue of downloads and download them overnight. If you have other people in the house, this is a great idea because downloading tracks during the day can clog your internet connection.

Sound quality is fantastic, so I’m not even going to go there.

You have full control over where the files are downloaded to. This is great if you have an extra hard drive and want to avoid making your MyDocuments\MyMusic folder bloated. Yahoo! does, however, ask you to import your existing music into the jukebox so that you can listen to it in there. While this might be convenient, Yahoo!’s jukebox is slow and it generally sucks. I’d say iTunes—which I don’t think is very good—is much better than Yahoo!’s jukebox in this respect. What is nice, however, is that you can open these protected .wma files in Winamp, MediaMonkey, or Windows Media Player, which are all good alternatives to the crappy jukebox software.

Yahoo!’s interface needs a lot of work. There is no quick way (or a very counterintuitive, often hidden way) of finding: (1) new releases; (2) a hierarchical list of genres. Both of these make the program difficult to navigate. It seems like Yahoo! has six or seven different ways of finding music—such as through other members, through similar artists/songs, and the like—but Yahoo! does a very poor job of integrating these methods in its interface.

A huge problem with Yahoo!’s interface is that it does not give you the track numbers of the tracks available for download. Thus, you can be downloading what you believe is a full album, but you’ll eventually find out that it is missing tracks 7, 10, and 13. I know Yahoo! avoids posting track numbers because it brings attention to the fact that many tracks are not available for download, but significantly impairing your customers’ abilities to navigate music is not a reasonable tradeoff.

Yahoo!’s recommendations are generally on target and helpful. One of the best features of the program is that if you find a song you really like, you create a playlist of similar songs or similar artists. This is a fantastic way to just listen to great new music without having to sift through 2 million songs. I’ve found plenty of great artists through this service.
V. Tag Inconsistencies
As I noted in an earlier set of tutorials titled "Digital Dirty Laundry" about MP3 file conversion and naming schemes (Part 1 and Part 2), one of my pet peeves about digital music libraries are file names and ID3 tags that are inconsistent. For example, an artist like “The Strokes” can show up as: (1) The Strokes, (2) Strokes, The, (3) Strokes. Add into the mix the different permutations of album names and track names, and building a library of music can quickly become a disaster.
For the most part Yahoo! does a mediocre job in keeping its library fairly easy to navigate. It, however, does not give you an option to correct the mistakes that Yahoo! has made. Thus, if you have an artist that is misspelled, you can’t rename it. I find the worst problems on rap and R&B albums, which inevitably “feature” thirty different artists on each track. The names are all completely out of whack and there’s no way to update them to make it easy to view.
VI. Conclusion

Yahoo! Music Unlimited is a bargain. For about $2.50/month, you can get unlimited access to over 2 million songs. While the software has its quirks, is slow and often hard to navigate, the business model--and the access it gives you to new music--runs circles around Apple's digital marketplace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Facebook Makes Me Tingle

So I broke down and finally created a Facebook profile. Apart from all of the organizational problems with the website (i.e., not being able to quickly see or join networks), my biggest gripe with Facebook is that it gives me the option of "poking" my friends, which is either annoying, wildly inappropriate or both.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Google Accessible Search

If you don't like staring at Google's sponsored advertisements, try using Google's "Accessible Search" for the visually impaired. As shown below, the search listings are clean and easy to read. Personally I find the sponsored links to be often more helpful than the search results. Unlike Yahoo!, Google does a decent job of keeping the interface clean and neat, so the sponsored links on the right sidebar don't bother me all that much. But, to each his own.

I am of the opinoin that using this site, even if you are not visually impaired, is not in any way morally reprehensible. It's not like using your Uncle's handicapped parking permit. And because I am visually impaired, I'm in the clear. Suckers.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Norm MacDonald on Dennis Miller Live

Sorry for the recent string of Norm videos, but this is one of my favorite interviews of all time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Best Buy + DMCA = One Step Further From Reality

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), originally designed to combat digital piracy, has proven to us in its short history that it is poorly designed to prevent abuse of its provisions to monopolize various markets. Whether it be a garage door opener, an inkjet printer, or a game server, the anti competitive implications are quite clear.

Yet another ridiculous example: Consumer electronics giant BestBuy has threatened to send a DMCA takedown notice to the the ISP of a site called BlackFriday.info. This site posts the prices of products that will be on sale on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Recently these types of sites have become very popular because big name stores--I assume--like to keep their sale prices a secret. I still don't quite understand how getting more publicity about sale prices is a bad thing, but it is clear that BestBuy is not happy at all.

The site decided to pull the post: "BestBuy has threatened to file a take down notice with our ISP under the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) due to our posting of the BestBuy Black Friday ad. While we believe that sale prices are facts and not copyrightable, we do not want to risk having this website shut down due to a DMCA take down notice. Because of this, we have removed the BestBuy Black Friday ad from the website as requested."

This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and for two reasons.

First, this isn't even the first time BestBuy has pulled this kind of stunt. In 2003, BestBuy threatened FatWallet.com for posting the same type of price information, which provoked FatWallet to sue BestBuy--although unsuccessfully--for abusing the DMCA.

Second, it is not at all clear that BestBuy has a valid legal claim. The DMCA is designed to give a party with a copyrighted work--a videogame, a song, a software program--a way to effectively protect their works and prevent others from either circumventing digital locks or trafficking in the sale of tools that would enable others to circumvent digital locks. The prerequisite for any of this protection, however, is that you must be protecting a COPYRIGHTED work. What copyrighted work is BestBuy protecting? The work at issue is text-only lists of products and their sale prices.

I think it would be a much closer case if someone was scanning in actual BestBuy advertisements and posting those images on the website. In that case, I would agree that BestBuy's advertisement was a copyrighted work because the selection and arrangement need to create an advertising design exhibit a modicum of creativity.

That I believe a sale price isn't copyrightable doesn't, however, mean that I agree with BlackFriday.info. BestBuy has a right to protect its own business information until it decides to make that information public. Nevertheless, the DMCA isn't the way to effectuate that kind of control. There are plenty of ways to protect business information without distorting copyright law.

Fog Rolling In

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

At The Hair Salon

I got a haircut last Wednesday at a local salon in Berkeley on University Ave. I've gone there for two and a half years because they charge $12.00, which is between three and five dollars cheaper than the rest. While I still think $12.00 plus tip is outrageous for a fifteen minute haircut (without shampoo or shave), there aren't any better options. Even a barber near the campus wants $15.00 for a buzz cut, not to mention that barbers in the bay area won't give you a shave. I went to a barber on University last year and asked how much a shave was: "Buddy, you need to go to New York for that sort of thing!"

So, I go for a haircut on Wednesday and ask for a trim just to clean up my sideburns and even up my fade. The woman working on my hair spent a total of ten minutes on it, which is fine since it was only a quick trim. $14.00 bucks. I went home, took a shower and that was that.

The next morning after I took a shower, I noticed that she cut my hair unevenly in a number of places, either too close or left patches of my hair uncut. It was an all around bad job, so I went back the next day and asked her to fix it. She seemed absolutely amazed not only that I would accuse her of giving me a bad haircut, but that I would actually ask to have it fixed free of charge. I told her I'd been going there for almost three years, so she agreed.

When I sat down she told me to point out what was wrong. I pointed out that the fade, instead of being in a straight line, was completely uneven and missing in certain areas and that a few patches of hair were not cut at all while others were cut too close. She stared at my head for a minute or two shaking her head in disapproval as if she didn't see anything wrong at all.

Her response, and I kid you not: "I know I didn't cut your hair like that. You are probably losing your hair; don't worry this happens with a lot of men. This explains why it is uneven now."

Absolutely unbelievable (and absolutely indicative of the consumer's shithole that we affectionately call Berkeley, CA).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Norm Macdonald, My Favourite Comedian

YouTube originally pulled this video due to licensing restrictions but have since worked out a deal with Viacom to allow Comedy Central clips. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

10 Ways to Spice Up Midterm Elections

  1. More special effects in campaign ads.
  2. Corporate sponsored election officers, from Hooters.
  3. Oil, filter, lube while you wait (6-cylinders extra, plus recycling fee).
  4. House music at the polling station.
  5. No Republicans or Democrats.
  6. Unlimited salad, soup, and breadsticks for just $5.99.
  7. Polling stations inside of Fry's Electronics.
  8. Automatic buy-in to the World Series of Poker Main Event.
  9. Poll Tax.
  10. Automatic renewal of your driver's license when you vote.

Monday, November 06, 2006

5 Resolutions for the Rainy Season

  1. Avoid awkward eye contact with female classmates by replacing my umbrella's nylon sheath in private.
  2. Remind Apple that offering a music player in "red" is not as seismic a shift in the portable audio player market as they think it is.
  3. Finally finish the last three episodes of Kieslowski's "The Decalouge"
  4. Renew my campaign against the term "pussy poppin" in any rap song.
  5. Attempt to read more than 35% of the Economist in any given week.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

MPRE -- Done. I think. I hope.

The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is a part of the BAR exam for any state and was administered this morning. 60 multiple choice questions in 2 hours and 5 minutes, which is surprisingly reasonable. I finished in about an hour and a half, though I make no representations that finishing early has any relevance on my actual performance.

The test makes you leave feeling like you're stupid for not knowing which answer is ethical , and I think everyone leaves wondering if they failed. Surprisingly, there is very little information about there about the grading curve, raw scores, and passage rates. I assume that when we get our scores 5 weeks from now, that it will simply state Pass or Fail, and won't go into any detail about the breakdown of the grades.

While I think a breakdown of your rank and performance isn't necessary (because if you pass you pass), I do think it is necessary to give us some way of showing us what questions we got wrong so that we can learn what the right answer is. Frankly, if I'm never told what questions I got wrong, I'll probably assume--even when I start working--that what I originally thought was proper under the circumstances.

But I can't complain much. I think the test was at or near the level of difficulty seen on other practice exams. The Bar/Bri practice exams were a bit harder actually, not because of the material tested, but because of the confusingly written narratives.

If any of you in the East Bay are considering taking the exam in March 2007, I would recommend the Alameda testing center, which is easy to get to and has ample parking. I've never seen a test administration run smoother.

This is in absolute contrast to taking the LSAT (the first time), where the person reading the instructions was reading at a third to fourth grade reading level and the time keeper insisted that the time kept running in between sections of the exam, such that we were getting about 25-27 actual minutes for a "35" minute section. What a debacle.

One down -- many to go.


I bought a subscription to Adbusters during the summer. It only comes once every other month, so I go through withdrawal for awhile before I can get my next fix of cutting edge cultural commentary. The magazine, based out of Vancouver, is made by The Media Foundation, which describes itself as the following: "We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century." I suppose that's what they call "puffing" in trademark law. Sure it's putting it a bit strongly, but the Media Foundation is right that Adbusters magazine is a cultural crossroads. It reminds me a lot of studying critical theory during my undergrad years.

What The Media Group says about the magazine is also informative: Adbusters has 120,000-circulation and it is "concerned about the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces." The magazine definitely has an activist energy, offering "incisive philosophical articles as well as activist commentary from around the world addressing issues ranging from genetically modified foods to media concentration. In addition, our annual social marketing campaigns like Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week have made us an important activist networking group. Ultimately, though, Adbusters is an ecological magazine, dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environment."

Adbusters has wonderful cultural commentary on consumption. They create wonderful spoof advertisements, real anti-consumption advertisements, and insightful articles on topics you don't normally see. A few issues back they wrote an amazing article titled "How Nike Conquered Skateboard Culture," which discussed how the traditionally anti-brand skateboard crowd embraced the swoosh-company that represented the epitome of corporate branding.

Adbusters really fills my curiosity about how advertising and various systems of production generate true need and desire. Realizing that much of the desire is artificial--or at least sufficiently malleable--amazes me because sometimes I wonder how difficult it is to unlearn certain lessons about consumption.

One thing I really like about the magazine is that the magazines anti-consumption message is not absolute. The articles are written by people who function in a modern world economy, who own laptops and buy clothes. They're not Luddites; instead, they're just looking for moderation and accountability when these systems have harmful effects outweighing their contributions to society. While I don't really care about brands for clothes, wallets, and normal things, I undoubtedly suffer from "needing" the latest solutions for modern technological living. As if you didn't already know it, I'm a technophile.

Adbusters is a pretty pricey magazine, but they have a fantastic website where you can find most of the featured articles as well as a culture shop, where you can see some of their ad campaigns as well as see the postcards that I've linked to throughout this post.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Norm MacDonald, My Favourite Comedian


Apparently the beta version of Blogger is causing errors and freezing up people's browsers. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the unplanned outages over the past few days by Blogger, but I'm taking this opportunity to update my template. Thus, the blog will be changing over the next few days. I guess that's what I get for going beta.

Here are some of the changes I've implemented:
  1. Added a Downloads Section on the sidebar. Here you can download my movie list and a PDF copy of my honors thesis, generously hosted by my friend Adam.
  2. Added a few pictures in the sidebar.
  3. Removed the Flickr badge.
  4. Removed the Pandora sidebar
  5. Added a hierarchy/tree for my archives, which is much easier to use than the old school month by month links.
  6. Added a Top Albums section in the sidebar linking you to an artist's website
  7. Added a feedburner RSS icon
  8. Added working Atom and RSS feeds for syndication
  9. Added a Favicon
  10. Updated the Links section
  11. Updated some colors and changed the size of the fonts
  12. Fixed my hit counter, which was misreporting my hits for quite some time
  13. Removed the background image, mostly because I can't figure out how to get it back with this new template

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Intellectual Property Auctions: Hendrix

There is apparently a push to create a market for intellectual property auctions, which I am not quite sure how to interpret. Apparently companies like Ocean Tomo have set up auctions where you can bid for the intellectual property embodying a particular object, not necessarily the objects themselves.

Jimi Hendrix's entire music portfolio was up for auction and was purchased by a phone bidder for $15 million. Hendrix's music was--allegedly--the property of his manager, Michael Frank Jeffery, who died in the late 1970's. The beneficiaries of his estate are a number of charities in the U.K. Jeffery's estate put the songs up for sale to the highest bidder. But Hendrix's family--who believe that Jeffery never had rights to the music--is going fight: "Whoever bought this bought themselves the right to be a litigant."

The most common reaction I hear when I tell people about this story is how terrible it is that Hendrix's songs are being traded, and that the family deserves the money. Perhaps I've already been indoctrinated by the property rights-centric canon of IP law, but I think I've read enough cases to know that practically every party, often the author him or herself, is a rent-seeker.

In this case, it is difficult to identify the "good guy." Is the family trying to make some profit on the 600,000 records Hendrix still sells a year? Should the fact that the beneficiaries of the Jeffery estate include the Asthma Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the Kings College Hospital sway my opinion? The answer, I'm not sure and, frankly, I don't much care.

Courts and law professors often make character judgments based on the parties (and I suppose that's what good lawyers have to do). At any given time, a movie studio can be an evil corporation or a business held hostage. An author can be a powerless cog in corporate machinery or an unoriginal pirate. An estate can be a greedy rent-seeker or a deserving widow. Knowing just how fickle and opaque these characterizations are most of the time, I'm willing to suspend judgment in this matter.

An interesting aside on IP auctions: at this auction, a number of trademarks were also up for sale. This seems a bit counter intuitive to me because I always assumed that the sale, transfer or assignment of a trademark included "the goodwill of the business connected with the use of and symbolized by the mark.” If so, I wonder how smart it is to open up the sale of a trademark to anyone willing to bid on it without asking whether the buyer has any interest in using the mark for similar goods or services.

Friday, October 27, 2006

15 Reasons the Last 6 Weeks Sucked

  1. 11 missed Comcast appointments
  2. Four parking tickets, including a two-fer, for a total of $142.00
  3. The awfully predictable and undisciplined writing on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
  4. Lack of internet
  5. "Family Guy" withdrawal
  6. Mets / A's World Series
  7. Forgetting to purchase shoe insoles and, as a result, not quite gellin' like Magellan
  8. CBS's "How I Met Your Mother"
  9. Defective network enclosures
  10. FOX's camera work during the World Series
  11. William Newmark
  12. Bob Ryan guest-hosting on PTI
  13. Trader Joe's
  14. Constantly forgetting to put new CDs in my car
  15. Almost getting killed on the highway--twice

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Netgear SC101 Storage Central Review

The third time's a charm . . . sort of.
I have recently taken an unplanned pilgrimage to the market for Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. These devices let you add more storage to your existing home network so that you can share music, movies, and other media with other computers or with devices that can stream content in your house. The key advantage to NAS devices are that they plug right into your router/switch, not an individual computer on the network.

I first purchased D-Link's DSM-G600 (reviewed here) and returned it because of a manufacturer's defect. I then purchased Linksys' NSLU2 (reviewed here) and was quite dissatisfied by Linksys' false advertising and the product's overwhelmingly poor performance, so I returned that as well.

I have purchased Netgear's SC101 Storage Central and, although it has some drawbacks, it is probably the best out of the three. Although with slight reluctance, I declare this NAS device a keeper.

I. Yet Another NAS Concept

Netgear has stayed out of the NAS market for a long time and the SC101 represents their first real attempt to capture any portion of the home consumer market. As noted in earlier posts, NAS devices come in many shapes and sizes and the SC101 is no exception.

As you can see above, the SC101 has 2 drive bays that can take 3.5" hard drives, which unlike the DSM-G600 that can only take 1 hard drive. Having 2 drive bays allows mirroring of your hard drives (RAID 1 configuration), but according to Tom's Hardware Guide, enabling this kind of setup slows down performance.

The drawback of this setup is that the SC101 has no USB ports available, which means you cannot add additional hard drives to your network later on.

The SC101, D-Link's DSM-G600, and Linksys' NSLU2 represent a spectrum of NAS concepts. The SC101 offers no expandability, but doesn't require to you buy individual enclosures for your hard drives. The drawback here is that you cannot add drives later on. Compare this with the NSLU2, which represents the other extreme. The NSLU2 is minimal and simply allows you to plug in whatever external devices you like. Occupying a middle ground is the DSM-G600, which basically gives you an internal enclosure and USB ports. The DSM-G600 is the best option theoretically, though the fact that the product line is defective means that it isn't a viable option.

II. Installation and Setup

I had two spare 200GB drives laying around (one from Seagate and another from Maxtor). Opening up the machine was very easy. On the front panel is a spring loaded lock that you can twist open with a quarter. The face of the SC101 pops up easily and reveals two drive bays. You don't need any screws; just slide in the drives and connect the IDE cable and the power connector. It's a snug fit, but the face of the SC101 does not seem to be set tight enough, which does make some noise from vibrations.

You turn on the machine and plug it into your network, then you have to run the setup CD. One possibly major drawback for some users might be that the SC101 only works on PCs running XP or Win2k. Although I use XP Professional, I can really see how this might be a point of contention for a lot of other users who use a mix of machines.

The other drawback is that you must add the drive manually to each and every computer on your network by running the install CD. This might make the SC101 a poor option for a small business that has several computers.

III. File Systems Revisited

I won't go into the same tirade I went into last time on how NAS devices require you to format your hard drives to a particular format, rendering whatever media you already have useless. The SC101 is no exception. Nowhere on the box does it suggest that it will reformat your drives or that it uses a peculiar proprietary IP-protocol. It turns out you do have to format your hard drives, information virtually hidden on the Quick Install pamphlet that comes with the CD.

The SC101 employs "Z-SAN" technology by Zetera. This format is proprietary, and Windows mounts the hard drives as "SFSZ" disks, which I have never seen before and have very little information about. I have also noticed that after updating to the latest firmware, the SC101 drives are now displayed as "DATAPLOW_ZFS" file systems. The SC101 lets you create one large virtual drive or multiple drives of different sizes, all independent of the number and size of the physical hard drives you are using.

At this point, I have conceeded that there are no good NAS options that have true NTFS compatability and I am willing to trade off this significant drawback in exchange for ease of use and strong performance, of which the SC101 has both. I figure I already have at least two spare hard drives that are wiped clean, so I'll just format them and move on from there.

IV. Using the SC101

During installation, the SC101 installs a SCSI driver on your system for these hard drives. When you leave your home network, the drives disappear from your "My Computer" listing. But the moment you log into your home network, the drives appear.

Windows XP creates an annoyance here because of its "Autoplay" feature. When the computer recognizes a drive, a status bar pops up scanning the hard drive and then a window pops up how you'd like to view the new media. This major pain has been mentioned on a number of forums and I am glad to say that Netgear's most recent software/firmware update resolves this issue.

I will mention that Netgear's process for updating your software and firmware is counterintuitive because you have to download and install the updates on each and every computer. And after an update, one of the drives won't show up or attach properly for a few hours. Buggy firmware as usual.

Once installed, browsing and streaming your files is a breeze, however. I can upload to the drives at about 5,000 KB/sec, which is more than I was expecting. There are no significant lags unlike the DSM-G600 and the NSLU2. Nor are transfers are interrupted when I or someone else on the network access the drive. I can also access both drives at the same time too. I have not had any problems streaming movies, music, or working on documents directly from the network drive.

V. Conclusions

I am still a bit skeptical about NAS technology, but the SC101 makes me feel a bit more secure about the data I am putting on these drives. I think this product deserves a 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Linksys NSLU2 Network Storage Link Review

In my previous post, I did a review of a network storage product by D-Link, which turned out to be not only slow, but generally defective. I still, however, need some network storage, so I have since returned the DSM-600 and have come home from CompUSA with Linksys’s NSLU2.

I. A Slightly Different Concept

The NSLU2 is much smaller than the DSM-600 because it is a different type of product. Unlike the DSM-600, the NSLU2 is not a hard drive enclosure—thus there is no space inside of the machine to put a hard drive in. Instead, the NSLU2 simply has two USB 2.0 ports and a single network port. Thus, you take your existing external hard drives and plug them into the back of the NSLU2 and then connect it to your router.

The NSLU2 also has no wireless antenna and, therefore, cannot serve as an access point or a range extender.

II. File Systems

I mentioned in a comment on my previous post that a significant drawback of the DSM-G600 was that it forced you to format any hard drive you connected to it and then use a Linux file system! Unlike an NTFS and FAT32 file system that Windows supports, a Linux EXT2 file system is UNREADABLE if not connected directly to your network storage unit.

So what does this mean?

First, this means that if you already have a few hard drives full of media you want to share, then you’re screwed because you need to erase all the data on the hard drive before you can “share” it. This sounds even dumber when you consider the fact that no one will want to purchase one of these products UNLESS they already have a ton of media that they would like to share. Is anybody out there saying, “Hmm. I have absolutely no music and movies or documents I need to share in my home network, so how about I invest in home network storage now?” What makes it even more infuriating is the way that companies market these products, saying that they allow you to “Share music, video, or data files” but neglect to mention that you’ll need to get all of those after you’re forced to format your hard drives.

Second, this also means that if you ever need to physically move your hard drive (let’s say you’re going on a trip and want to bring it home for the holidays), you’re going to need to not only lug around the entire network enclosure, but you’ll need a router wherever you go to hook the damn thing up. Moreover, you’ll need to bring the setup disks with you because the home network you add it to is completely unconfigured.

Third, if you ever decide to ditch the network storage box and still want your media on your hard drives, a Windows PC will NOT be able to read those hard drives anymore because EXT2 isn’t natively read on PCs. There is a way to recover the files using a Linux Reader utility, but this is very slow going (it can take days).

As you can see, the use of Linux file systems is a serious drawback of NAS (Network Attached Storage) today. The worst part is that the manufacturers do not list that they use EXT2 ANYWHERE on the outside of the box, and in some cases don’t even mention it in their product manuals. During setup of the DSM-G600, for example, it simply tells you that it is reformatting the hard drive without any warning, so quite a few people have probably lost all of their data thinking that it was going to be shared, not erased.

How stupid are the engineers who came up with these products? How near-sighted do you have to be to let something like this get through to the retail shelves?

Well, with all of these problems with file systems, I was quite delighted to see on the box of the NSLU2 the following message: “Supports Windows NTFS and FAT32 File Systems!” That would actually solve a lot of my problems.

III. Installation

I brought the NSLU2 home and plugged it in. The setup process was a little clunky and counter intuitive, and it was virtually impossible to figure out how to actually see the hard drives on my computer. I started out by plugging in the first hard drive I wanted to share. This was an NTFS drive. And because none of the product packaging says it will or will not erase my data, I did not put much data on the hard drive just to test it out.

Error message: “Unsupported File System.” I thought NTFS was supported, you know, based on the front of the packaging that says NTFS is supported. Apparently not. I plugged in another hard drive I had, this one with a FAT32 file system. Same error message. I plugged them into either port and nothing happened.

Oh and by the way, every time I unplugged a hard drive, I had to reboot the entire NSLU2 and go through the setup process again. I found this out in the fine print of the product manual which says, “The NSLU2 is not hot swappable.” That’s odd isn’t it? Every time I want to share something on a new drive on the network, I need to reboot the entire machine? That sounds counter to what Linksys advertised on their product packaging: “You can even plug a USB flash disk into the Network Storage Link, for a convenient way of accessing your portable data files.” Two things about this marketing strategy. First, is anyone really going to come home with a USB flash drive and then plug it into their home network if they need to reboot the entire machine and disrupt access to the other hard drive as well? NO. Second, who the hell is walking around with a USB flash drive that has a EXT2 file system on it?? No one, that’s who.

IV. Tech Support

I got through to Linksys’ tech support line, which didn’t require a long wait, but did force me to talk to technicians who had strong Canadian and Indian accents, which are virtually impenetrable, even by my standards. I finally got someone I could understand and he says, “The NSLU2 CAN support NTFS and FAT32 file systems, but not outside of the box. You’ll need to update your firmware in order to do this.” So I’m thinking that this is complete bullshit that it says it does support it, but actually doesn’t, but the other part of me thinks, ‘Hey it’s a quick download, so why not?’

I download the firmware and try to install it and get an error message. It turns out you need a hard drive attached to the NSLU2 while upgrading the firmware, and guess what, that hard drive won’t be recognized until your FORMAT the hard drive and erase all of your data. Thus, in order to have support for NTFS and FAT32 file systems, Linksys forces you to ERASE those file systems first. What a complete debacle.

So I decided I would just format one of my harddrives and then reformat it back to NTFS later on. I look at the release notes of the firmware and it says, “Port 2 only supports NTFS/FAT32. Port 1 supports EXT2 only.” What the hell? That seems quite arbitrary.

After the firmware upgrade, the machine would only recognize the Linux formatted disk, but not disks from any other file system. After an hour I figured out that the release notes were simply wrong because they mixed up the port numbers. Port 1 only supports NTFS/FAT32 and Port 2 is the one with EXT2 only. How can you manage to foul that up, too, Linksys?

V. Using it . . . sort of

Even assuming that I am willing to forgive Linksys for blatant and predator false advertising, and even assuming I am willing to use a machine that I need to reboot every time I swap out a hard drive, and even assuming that I am willing to format one of my hard drives using a Linux file system—I still wouldn’t be happy with this product.

First off, it is damn near impossible to keep this thing connected to your computer. The hard drives show up as network drives, but they keep cutting in and out. The performance is lackluster (2MB-3MB/second, which is atrocious for a wired home network).

Then I discovered something else. Lets say I have some music on network hard drive 1 and I am listening to it on my computer. I would be streaming a small amount of data from that drive. It turns out that if anybody on the network accesses either network hard drive 1 or 2 for any reason, all connections to the hard drive cut out for a few seconds.

What is the purpose of SHARING your media with MULTIPLE users on a home network when that same machine can only access one hard drive at a time and CUTS OFF all other users in doing so?

The answer: No purpose at all.

VI. Conclusion

Linksys’s NSLU2 is quite possibly one of the most horrific products I have ever purchased. It is false advertised, buggy, slow, and a general piece of shit (that’s an industry term). Needless to say I returned the NSLU2 to CompUsa immediately for a full refund.

1.5 out of 10. Stay away!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

D-Link DSM-G600 Network Enclosure Review

Two words: Great Idea

Two more words: Manufacturer's Recall

D-Link's DSM-G600 Network Enclosure is an amazing idea in theory. A network enclosure is basically an empty box that you can add a hard drive to. On the back of the unit is a network port and a wi-fi antenna. Thus, you can connect the enclosure to your router or existing network.

What's the purpose of this? You can share media in your entire house without having to leave your computer on all of the time. You can stream video or audio to any devices in your home as well. You can also get access to all of your files when not at home (provided you have a stable internet connection). The DSM-G600 also has two USB ports on its back. This enables you to plug in additional hard drives and make those shared on the network as well.

The DSM-G600 was bought for me as a gift. I put a 500GB hard drive in mine and turned it on. Setup was not too bad, and the drive was working for a few days. I did notice that even though the manufacturer claimed gigabit speeds, the performance was not much faster than a standard network connection. Either way, I was just sharing music, so that is not too bandwith intensive.

After three days the unit just shut off and turned back on. It did it again and again. And then, it didn't turn on again at all. The power switch was broken. I called D-Link and they were quick to tell me that my unit was defective. In fact, the whole line of DSM-G600's were defective because of a recall on their system boards.

What was their solution, you ask? "We'll ship you another unit." Hmm. Let's think about that one for a bit. This technician just told me that ALL of their products are defective, and now they want to send me a replacement defective product? I asked how they could ensure that this unit won't be defective and the technician said, "We can't guarantee that." On top of that, they wanted me to pay for shipping! D-Link can kiss my ass.

Well, after about two or three minutes of assorted varieties of verbal abuse, I told them to have a great day. I am returning the unit directly to Best Buy, where I purchased the product. It's amazing that Best Buy didn't pull the product from their shelves when they knew about it. Compusa apparently took the product off of their shelves 8 MONTHS ago because of this recall.
2.5 out of 10.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Authentication Security Codes

Security code verifications have been commonplace for a half a decade now, perhaps longer. You have probably been forced to enter in a series of characters when registering for a new e-mail address, IM screen name, or for a promotion at virtually any website. Security codes essentially combat against automated junk registrations that can flood systems, exposing those within a community to unwanted junk e-mail or other solicitations. But take a look at these two examples:

What I have noticed lately is that these security codes are getting quite elaborate--and increasingly difficult to decipher. So many of them have these ridiculous looking artifacts in them and are stretched so badly that they are practically beyond recognition. I think I have about a 40% chance at getting it right the first time. And on some sites, if you get the security code wrong, it throws you out and forces you to enter in all of your information again.

I understand that this is a feature designed to prevent fraudulent registrations, but I figure that if a literate human being can't recognize the characters, then the system itself is flawed.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Citi Rewards: "Thank You" . . . for letting us devalue your points

Citi has a fairly robust credit card rewards program detailed in an earlier post. However, like the steady decline of JetBlue's rewards program, Citi too has begun to tighten its belt.

Gift Card Price Change: On September 29, 2006, the required points to redeem $25 and $50 gift cards changed. The new point values are as follows:
$25.00 Gift Cards - 3,500 ThankYou Points
$50.00 Gift Cards - 6,000 ThankYou Points

There goes my habit of purchasing $50.00 gift cards at Shell. I suppose I'll redeem my points for $100.00 gift cards, which still generally require 10,000 points.

Go to hell, Citi.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Google Suggest Beta

Google Suggest Beta is a search tool I have mentioned before on this blog. It is a replacement for your standard Google homepage, the only difference being that as you type your search terms, Google provides a real-time list of suggestions along with a result total for each listing.

Interestingly, if I type "www," the first suggestion Google offers is actually "www.yahoo.com" which is pretty odd considering that this is Google's service.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

5 Myths Debunked

  1. Meg White is identified as Jack White's TD Ameritrade consultant
  2. Toyota's new RAV4--now only inches shorter than the Hummer H3--is recalled when researchers discover a Toyota Tercel lodged inside its engine compartment
  3. Duracell's strong market performance is traced back to allegations that the Energizer Bunny used performance-enhancing drugs
  4. Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former-Prime Minister, failed to return home to address civil unrest because Thai International Airlines refused to transfer his "Super-Saver" fare
  5. A significant decrease in viruses reported on the latest Windows Vista release candidate is a result of Microsft's campaign to keep its customers safe by "disabling the internet"