Using SSID of free wi-fi for marketing

Very clever.  [via Techdirt: Coffee Shop Advertising Via Its Free WiFi ID]

… reader Jon, alerts us to a story of a cafe in Holland, called CoffeeCompany, who is constantly renaming its WiFi SSID name with gentle reminders to buy something. Among the names being rotated around:

OrderAnotherCoffeeAlready, BuyCoffeeForCuteGirlOverThere?, HaveYouTriedCoffeeCake?, BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate, TodaysSpecialExpresso1.60Euro and BuyaLargeLatterGetBrownieForFree

It's a cute, and probably somewhat effective way to get the folks hanging out in the coffee shop to feel good about buying something at the shop though, the cheapskate claim might piss off some.

Yellow Dots of Mystery: Is Your Printer Spying on You?

Did you know your color printer is probably spying on you?  Most pages printed in color include "secret" yellow dots.  Groups like EFF have "decoded" some of these, and found in every case that the dots include the serial number of the printer, and the time the document was printed.

Most likely, the US government secretly asked printer companies to include this tracking data in a misguided attempt to fight currency counterfeiting.  But the problem is that anyone, not just the US government, who knows the secret code can use it against others.  For example, the Chinese government could track dissidents who unknowingly print flyers on these printers, thinking they were anonymous.

The threat to anonymous free speech posed by these secret dots is too large to let the US government and the printer companies off the hook for their secret agreement.  Yes, there may be risks to currency counterfeiting, but the solution is not to put anonymous free-speech at risk.  The solution is to design currency to resist copying.  In fact, most currency now cannot be copied due to watermarks, and very very tiny details.  So even if these yellow dots made sense 10 years ago, the no longer help reduce currency counterfeiting, but they continue to put at risk those who need anonymous free-speech.

LCD or plasma for TVs?

Lately I've been asked a few times about which is "better", plasma or LCD?  In 2004 I posted "The display technology guide", but that's now kind of out of date.

Bryan pointed me to this more recent May 2007 article, Home Theater: Plasma Vs. LCD.  Since I had last looked, plasmas have dealt with some of their negative aspects, like the risk for burn-in.

So what about the question on which is better?  First, I'd ask this simple question:

Will you be watching in a typical family room?

Yes:  You should get an LCD, because most family rooms are brightly lit, and the one major strength of LCD is that they are bright.

No: You should get a plasma, because they are better than LCD in almost every other category other than brightness.

Don't be tempted by plasma's superiority in every category except brightness, because most family rooms are very bright which means LCD's win most of the time.

Fixing WordPress "smart quotes"

If you run your own WordPress blog, you may be annoyed (like me) by the smart quotes feature that automatically turns pairs of regular quotes into so-called "smart" open and close quotes.  I find this annoying, because if you cut-n-paste out of WordPress, these smart quotes can cause problems depending on where you are pasting to.

I found the wpuntexturize plugin which fixes this feature.  Now my blog post use just regular quotes.

Closed captions on Comcast DVR via HDMI

[Updated June 2013] Good news, it's much easier to turn on closed captions on my Comcast DVR manufactured by Motorola (picture) because of a recent update to the Comcast DVR software.  I can now turn captions on/off from the "regular menus" (no need to turn the cable box on & off).  Here's how it works for me now:

  • Turn on your TV and the Comcast box
  • Press the Menu button twice on the Comcast remote (or on the box)
  • In the on-screen menu, choose the "Setup" button (using the arrows and Ok button on the remote or box)
  • Then choose the "Closed Captioning Setup"
  • You'll see a setting for "Closed Caption", which you can change between off & on by using the left & right arrow on the remote (or box)

If your box does not have the menus seen above, you'll have to use my older instructions below (after the break) until your box is updated.

FYI, you still cannot use your TV remote closed captions button when your DVR is connected to your TV with HDMI and component connections.   Read below for more details.


[My original post from 2008, kept for posterity] Last weekend I lost a few hours trying to get closed caption to display with my Comcast DVR connected to my TV with an HDMI cable.  I like to temporarily turn on captions when trying to figure out what someone said, or if there's a lot of background noise.  But the closed captions button on my TVs remote did not seem to work.

If your box still has the old software (you've tried the instructions above and they don't work), here's a quick cheat sheet for enabling closed captions on the Comcast DVR manufactured by Motorola (picture). You can use either the buttons on the remote, or on the front of the DVR:

  • Turn on your TV
  • Turn off the DVR
  • Press the Menu button, on the Comcast remote (or on the Comcast box)
  • You will see the USER SETTING screen on your TV
  • Move down to the CLOSED CAPTIONS entry using the arrow buttons
  • Press the right-arrow to switch between ENABLED and DISABLED
  • Press the Menu button
  • Turn on the DVR

The problem was not with my TV or the DVR.  The problem is that HDMI and component connections cannot carry closed captions for the TV to decode. This was the first time I've connected a TV using HDMI or component cables, so I never ran into this closed caption issue before.  If you connect any device (Comcast's DVR, Tivo, etc) by HDMI/component, you must use that device's menu to decode the closed captions — your TV's closed caption button will never show captions when connected this way.  You can read more about this limitation of HDMI and component on the HDTV interoperability issues section on the main Wikipedia page for closed captions.

I called Comcast to get help, and talked with a support person who tried very hard, and ultimately directed me to the "hidden" setup menu on the DVR to enable closed captions (see above).  But it was pretty bumpy, and Comcast never said that it was a limitation of HDMI/component.

Also, the Comcast DVR makes it very hard to quickly toggle captions on/off, because you must turn off the DVR every time you want to change the setting.  My guess is that the DVR engineers assumed that only deaf people would want captions, and leave them on all the time.

See How to use a Motorola DVR for a nearly complete manual on many of Comcast's Motorola DVRs.  I updated the "Closed Captions" section to clarify the limitations of HDMI and component connections.

Promising e-book device

Plastic Logic recently demonstrated their e-reader device at the DemoFall conference. Unlike the other e-readers on the market (like the Amazon Kindle), Plastic Logic's device is all plastic, and has no glass that can break.  They claim it will weigh less than a pound, the battery will last for days, and that it will have input/markup features so it's more than just a reader.

At this point they are not available for sale.  But they do have a factory in Germany so they should be closer to production than if it were just a prototype coming out of the lab.

The Plastic Logic home page currently has a video of the CEO demonstrating their device.

Win XP crashes solved by disabling Nvidia Driver service

I finally solved a long-standing problem with my Windows XP laptop.

My CPU would slowly grow to about 15% even when idle.  Then a window would pop-up telling me I had 60 seconds to reboot because an RPC service had crashed.  This occurred about once a week.  Often enough to be annoying, but not often enough to make me dig to find the problem.  The crashed "RPC service" was not very instructive, because it's a service used by lots of programs.  So clearly some software running on my computer was "abusing" this service.

At first I thought it may have been due to the Intel PROSet/Wireless software running on my computer that was doing something bad with RPC, it turns out the problem was with Nvidia driver software for my Nvidia graphics card.  The problems were on my Asus A8JS laptop, under XP Pro SP2 & SP3, with an Nvidia GeForce Go 7700 graphics card, and Nvidia Forceware 163.44 drivers, with DirectX 9.0c.

I found the solution here:

I had to disable the Nvidia Driver service (see detailed instructions below).  After that, I've not had any of the symptoms.

This describes the exact symptoms I was seeing (including the 1 minute to reboot):

Apparently, you can shutdown the Nvidia Driver helper without much consequences. There may be some multi-monitor stuff that doesn't work, but you can always start it manually, or re-enable it to start automatically.

Read on for detailed instructions…

Read More …

Return of the sneakernet?

Ages ago (pre-1990), most computers weren't connected to networks. You had to use sneakernet to transfer files — put them on a floppy disk, and walk to the other computer (in your sneakers).

The rise of networking killed off sneakernet, but maybe only temporarily. Rasmus Fleischer writes in The Future of Copyright:

The capacity of portable storage devices is increasing exponentially, much faster than Internet bandwidth, according to a principle known as "Kryder's Law". The information in our pockets yesterday was measured in megabytes, today in gigabytes, tomorrow in terabytes and in a few years probably in petabytes (an incredible amount of data). Within 10-15 years a cheap pocket-size media player will probably be able to store all recorded music that has ever been released — ready for direct copying to another person's device.

In other words: The sneakernet will come back if needed. "I believe this is a 'wild card' that most people in the music industry are not seeing at all," writes Swedish filesharing researcher Daniel Johansson. "When music fans can say, 'I have all the music from 1950-2010, do you want a copy?' — what kind of business models will be viable in such a reality?"

Regardless of the mistakes the recording industry is making, I suspect the sneakernet will come back, at least for transferring large amounts of content.

This reminds me of this quote I first heard in the mid-90's: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with CDs."