Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

The Wiki Presidency

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

I attended an interesting conference a few weeks ago at which a number of people whom I respect shared their advice for presidential candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The conference ended with a drop in visit by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (himself a candidate for President, running on the Democratic ticket.

Other discussions at that conference included ones dealing with the impact of electronic communications on print media, and my aging brain slowly put together all sorts of disparate pieces. The result of my ruminations was a question: “Can the people of the U.S. elect a President with the same tools and principles used in the new Internet?” These tools include things like wikis, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, and more.

The more I have thought about this idea, the more I have come to the realization that just as there has been a shift from physical media to electronic media, there will ultimately be a similar shift in campaigning. And thus was born the concept that I call the Wiki Presidency.

I’ve started a new blog at http://wikipresidency.blogspot.com/ to discuss and explore the Wiki Presidency, and hope that you’ll join me there and become involved in getting campaign financing abuse and partisanship out of the presidential campaign process, while bringing the ideas and energy of real people into the process.

My Latest Video Appearance

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Well, in addition to now being closely associated with discussions on the future of HD-DVD and Blu-ray standards, in particular with respect to the adult entertainment industry, a recent interview of mine has made it to the web (not YouTube yet, though).

Take a look at this clip, shot during a media luncheon at Pat Meier-Johnson’s Lunch@Piero’s event. It’s a five minute interview dealing with commentary on multimedia convergence and the future of tangible media (e.g. CDs, DVDs).

Braving Internet Explorer 7 And Security Warnings

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

I have spent the last week setting up over a half dozen new UPSes, a new multimedia receiver, and three high end Windows XP Media Center Edition computers – two fully loaded Dell XPS 710 systems and an HP x565 Digital Entertainment Center. Seeing as these were new installations, I decided to bite the bullet and go ahead an accept Microsoft’s Automatic Update suggestion to install Internet Explorer 7 (IE7).

Well, one of the other things we do here at the Richter high-tech household is use a central file server (running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3), and that file server includes some applications we run on local systems. Well, Microsoft, in it’s desire to help the average user avoid running bad programs has implemented additional security features as part of IE7, features that get really annoying for more advanced users. In particular, when you run applications off a server on a LAN, IE7’s default settings cause a dialog box to pop-up entitled “Security Warning”, and asking you to verify you really really really want to run the program in question.

One application we use in turn spawns calls to a Windows version of the PERL scripting language, dozens of times, and each time we’d get a warning.

We used Google to try to find a solution, and the closest we got to a solution was here. But the real answer was in the comments to that blog post, and not the blog post itself.

In any event, if you have a similar problem, including for the error “Publisher Code Not Be Verified”, try this solution to see if it makes it go away. A concise summary of the solution follows.

First, get to the Internet Options control. Three ways to do this: 1) Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Internet Options; 2) Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Security Center -> Internet Options; and 3) IE7 -> Tools -> Internet Options (works only if you have the menu bar enabled).

Once there, click on the Security tab at top, then in Local Intranet, click Sites, and then unclick “Automatically detect intranet network”. Voila.

Nice of Microsoft to make it so easy to locate and resolve. Not.

Bitpass Gone Without Much Warning

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

One of my many other projects is an e-commerce web site called Patent Fetcher, which provides a way for folks to download complete PDF files of published patents and patent applications. One of the early challenges I faced was finding an easy way to accept payments for these downloads, for which I wanted to charge less than $1 per document. Enter Bitpass.

That was in July of 2003. Since then Patent Fetcher has used the Bitpass payment platform, which worked much like a prepaid phone card, but for on-line purchases, exclusively for the Pay-As-You-Go Patent Fetcher PDF download service, at 65 cents a download. And while the 15% cut that Bitpass took on all purchases was a bit steep, they tended to be very responsive to my unique requirements, adding numerous features to Bitpass for corporate use (as a large percentage of Patent Fetcher users are law firms and large corporations).

However, they were either before their time, or had grander aspirations (and expenditures) than their revenue stream could support. Plus, as their focus was media, they found themselves in competition first with Apple’s iTunes, and then later a bevy of other services which sold content for small amounts of money.

Regardless of the of cause of their demise, last night at 5:52pm EST, I got the following e-mail from Bitpass:

Dear Valued Bitpass Merchant,

We want to thank you for your past business, however due to circumstances beyond our control, we are discontinuing our operations. 

We have partnered with Digital River to provide operational support during the period prior to shut down.  As of today, January 19, 2007, all Bitpass Buyers with US dollar denominated accounts are being notified that they will have seven (7) days to spend any amounts that currently exist in their Bitpass Account. 

During this seven day period, US Buyers will not be able to add additional funds into their account. 

On January 26, all US Bitpass Buyer accounts will be closed and we will begin the process of refunding all unspent monies to the accountholder.

Bitpass Merchant Accounts will be available for viewing until February 28, 2007.  At that time any funds that you have on account or owed to you will be refunded or paid.  All account records and materials will be retained for 60 days and available upon request. 

Again we would like to thank you for your business and support. 

Matthew Graves

Chief Operating Officer

Bitpass Inc.

Our long time customers got the same message at approximately the same time. Talk about a Friday night surprise for all of us. Bitpass was a good thing while it lasted, but giving merchants more notice than consumers would have been greatly appreciated and desired. Instead, Bitpass merchants like myself have to scramble to communicate with our customers and deal with a sudden and near instant loss of revenue until alternatives can be found.

I ended up spending much of Friday evening trying to come up with a stopgap measure that would still allow my customers to use Patent Fetcher, and be able to continue to charge them for the downloads. Most important was to ensure minimal problems for Patent Fetcher users, so I made the service free of charge until I can develop an alternate payment platform. And this time I will bite the bullet and just do my own credit card processing instead of relying on an expensive, yet convenient, proprietary third party solution. On the bright side, this failure of Bitpass forces me to develop and complete some long overdue functionality for Patent Fetcher and should make it a much better service in the coming months.

Lesson learned: Don’t rely exclusively on proprietary technology, no matter how cool.

Switching to FeedBurner

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

While I am getting fonder of Expression Engine, the software which drives this blog, the RSS/ATOM feeds the software generates leave a lot to be desired. I have therefore taken the bold plunge to syndicate The Richter Scale Blog and The Richter Scale Articles via FeedBurner.

If you are looking at my site right now, scroll down and you’ll see a much expanded list of blog readers and aggregators now supported at the end of the column on the left side of the web page.

The other thing that FeedBurner offers is the ability to subscribe to a blog via e-mail – that feature too can be found at left. Not sure how well it works, but as I post here in bursts, that might be a good way for casual blog readers to keep up with the latest posts.

Links to my blogs at FeedBurner can be found at:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheRichterScale (this blog)

and

http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheRichterScaleArticles (my articles)

The Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter

Friday, April 28th, 2006

I travel a lot, and I depend heavily on being able to connect to the Internet most anywhere and any time. For speed reasons, I prefer using my notebook’s WiFi connection, but have as back-up a built-in Cingular data connection, and a T-Mobile plug-in PC Card.

For WiFi, I pay both a monthly subscription to T-Mobile and Boingo. T-Mobile Hotspot service is great because it’s what’s offered at American Airlines Admiral’s Clubs, many Starbucks cafes, and Borders Books & Music stores, among others. Boingo is useful because they have roaming agreements with a slew of other WiFi hot spot operators, including Wayport, which is used by many hotels. So, instead of paying $9.95/day for access, I pay $21.95 a month. Considering I have already had nearly 60 hotel nights this year so far (and we’re only 4 months into the year), that’s serious savings.

One of the biggest frustrations of using WiFi connections, however, is finding them, and that’s where the Digital Hotspotter from Canary Wireless comes into play.


(Courtesy of Canary Wireless)

I have been testing the HS10 model of their Digital Hotspotter (MSRP $59.95) for about three months now, and it certainly works as promised. Weighing in at 2.5 ounces (71 grams) with a pair of AAA batteries, the Hotspotter, with a mere button press, will allow you find 802.11b and 802.11g access points in the area (the ones in the 2.4GHz spectrum). It’s not fool proof, but almost every time I tested it it showed the access points I knew to exist in the area, as well as a surprising number of access points which I was not aware of. I have used the Hotspotter all over the U.S. and in a number of foreign locales as well. The few times that known access points were not shown required merely rescanning with the device – a process as easy as just pressing the sole button on the Digital Hotspotter.

The things I like about the Digital Hotspotter include that it is small and compact, that it is quite fast in locating hot spots (and showing them by SSID – the network ID of the hot spot), that it gives me an idea of signal strength and whether the access point is “open” (i.e. does not require a password or encryption key). It also provides information on which channel the access point resides (something that is more useful when debugging a wireless network as an advanced user or an administrator).

Canary Wireless suggests that administrators can use the Digital Hotspotter to find unsecured access points, and certainly that has been helpful to me too.

It’s also a lot faster to whip out the Digital Hotspotter and test an area for hot spots than it is to boot a computer, and then use Microsoft’s maddeningly slow “feature” in Windows XP to scan for wireless networks. Once the Hotspotter finds a hotspot is when you need to boot your computer up and try and access the open hot spot.

Be forewarned, however, that there’s no guarantee, however, that hotspots flagged as “Open” by the Hotspotter will actually allow you free Internet access. Making that determination requires a much more complicated device and process (and takes quite a bit of time) – something that at this point is best done by your computer.

At $59.95, the HS10 Digital Hotspotter is a pretty good deal for all it does, and merits a 8.5 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

I should note that the Digital Hotspotter has been out since late 2004, at least according to the user forums on the Canary Wireless web site, and it is my understanding that a new version is due out this summer.

Here is my wishlist of what I would like an advanced model of this device to additionally offer:

– A recessed button so that it does not accidentally trigger (and run down the batteries) when in my computer bag.

– A second button which would let me ask the Hotspotter to do an in-depth analysis of how “Open” the currently displayed access point was. This would involve actually connecting to the access point, trying to get assigned an IP address, and then trying some HTTP (web) requests to see if sign-in is required (e.g. like for T-Mobile or other access-for-pay wireless gateways) or if the HTTP requests are processed correctly (indicating a truly open, unrestricted gateway)

– Optionally under this second button function, the device should be configurable to check to see if one or more of a series of Internet ports are open in the network the access point is connected to, including e-mail, VPN, and SSH/telnet.

The above items would be incredibly useful to travelers and administrators alike, but likely also challenging to implement in a small battery powered package. Although, if size were not an issue, then an optional GPS module which allows the unit to report on all access points and their characteristics at a given location which could then be logged automatically would be sweet.

Mind you, there are some legal concerns here too. The St. Petersburg Times reported last summer that a man was arrested for “stealing” access to an unsecured WiFi access point in a residential area and charged with “unauthorized access to a computer network” – that’s a third-degree felony. And last month in Illinois another individual was fined US$250 and put under court supervision for a year for using a WiFi access point that he was not authorized to use (even though it was “Open”). So if you are using a Digital Hotspotter or any other mechanism to find open hotspots to use, beware the potential legal ramifications if you get caught by someone objecting to your use of their access point.