A few months ago, I asked CapQ readers to suggest a replacement feedreader to Sharpreader, which I had used for a couple of years. Several suggested Omea, which I have used ever since. I limit it to just RSS feeds and the Notes function, but it has served me very well.
One problem appears with some regularity, however. The content of the entries get scrambled, as though the Omea database has indexing issues. Has anyone else experienced the same issue, and is there a fix available for it?
MIcrosoft apparently wants to bring all of the expertise they’ve displayed in their Vista operating system to the portal/search business on the Internet. They have launched a bid to buy Yahoo!, the original indispensable search engine and now multilayered service provider. It marks the most significant expansion attempt in years for Microsoft, and maybe their most aggressive bid ever:
Microsoft Corp. offered to buy search engine operator Yahoo Inc. for $44.6 billion in cash and stock in a move to boost its competitive edge in the online services market.
Microsoft bid $31 per share for Yahoo, representing a 62 percent premium to Yahoo’s closing stock price Thursday.
It looks like Microsoft may have given up on MSN. Microsoft launched their own search/portal site years ago, and tied their Windows Messenger IM product to it. It didn’t exactly catch on with web surfers, who preferred the sleeker search engines of first Yahoo and then Google. Never one to abide a market-share failure, the Redmond juggernaut now wants to buy its way to the top, or in this case, almost to the top. Even Microsoft probably can’t afford Google.
Vista users around the world probably all have the same thought — why not use that money to fix their latest operating system? From the annoying User Account Control functions to their buggy DNS system, users have begun migrating backwards in frustration. An important industry voice, Info World, has launched a petition drive demanding that Microsoft make XP available indefinitely, or at least until they have updated Vista to work with a wider range of existing peripherals and to function at a much higher competency level than users currently experience.
Of course, Microsoft could always claim that they can multitask and both fix Vista and integrate Yahoo into their organization. However, when any company spends $45 billion on an acquisition, their attention will rightly be spent on ensuring the cash flows that will legitimize the risk taken for the investment, and scant resources will go elsewhere in the short run. Vista users will get taken for granted, as they obviously were when the product got released.
A few technical notes from behind the scenes at CapQ …
Yesterday, I gave the First Mate an unusual gift: a digital voice recorder. I have used the Sony ICD-P520 for recording interviews both in person and over the telephone, and it has proven handy and reliable. It has 256 MB of flash memory, and most importantly, allows for easy transfer to my computer. It also allows me to load MP3 files onto the device, which it converts to its native (and better compressed) format.
So why does this make a great gift for the FM? Being blind, she has to rely on recorded books for her reading. Normally this means tapes, but publishers have begun switching to CDs. CD players create headaches for blind users, as they rely on electronic displays and small buttons for operation. Also, unlike tapes, when the device gets turned off, the reader loses her place and has to restart the disk. The Sony ICD-P520 has an easier interface for the FM, and she can easily find her place after halting. All I do is rip the CDs and load the device — which takes a not insubstantial amount of time, but it does mean she can access the books repeatedly on her own terms. …
I received a gift from Vayapaso (Mom) of a new webcam, the Logitech QuickCam Orbit AF I’ve been using my Sony camcorder to do my webcam applications, but this looks much more suited to the task. It has a solid base for better stability, and computer-controlled pan-and-tilt operation. I’ll be using it today on my Heading Right Radio show, which you can see if you get into the webchat ….
Speaking of which, I’ll be using a dual-monitor set-up today. I put both of my older 19″ monitors to use with a new video display card I picked up last weekend. When I got the new desktop, I lost the ability to add the monitor to the laptop when I used it as my main system. It’s been working pretty well with Vista, which has also improved ever since I shut off every last bit of animation. It looks more like Win98, but at least it also responds as well as Win98.
I have to ask this question, because for the dozenth time in two days, I have to restart Internet Explorer after it locked up, on a brand-new Compaq desktop system. I dutifully have Vista check for a solution before restarting the program, and when it restarts, it locks up again when I try to maximize it for display.
Nor is this the only problem Vista has. Its DNS tables have a weird habit of suddenly getting very stupid. It forgets how to connect to various blogger sites, sometimes for quite a while, then just as suddenly rediscovers them. Occasionally, when I lose my patience, I flush the DNS — a process that involves several steps, including opening a command window in a special manner that requires me to answer a useless Vista prompt as to whether I really want to do this. About half of the time, the DNS flush solves the problem, while the other half, I just have to wait for Vista to get over its bout of Alzheimers.
Bear in mind that my XP system remains connected to all of these sites without fail, running on the same network. And my other Vista system — my spare laptop — has all of these same issues as well.
I’d write more, but unfortunately, IE just locked up for the third time since I started writing this post. I have to reboot the computer in order to correct the problem. Those Apple commercials start to sound like a good description of Microsoft’s competence these days. One would think that a flagship product like Vista might have been subjected to a little more quality testing than obviously went into it.
ADDENDUM: I should also point out that their Outlook 2003 doesn’t work very well with the system, either. I added the Microsoft Exchange Server account in the initial set-up wizard when I installed my copy of Office 2003, and it won’t connect properly to the account. Thanks to that issue, it won’t run at all now, and even de-installing it and re-installing it won’t eliminate the problem. The de-installation doesn’t remove the account information, as it turns out.
Just FYI, I have been using Microsoft systems since CPM DOS on the Apple IIe, and used to build my own computers from scratch until it got so cheap to buy pre-constructed systems about ten years ago. I worked as a net admin for a Fortune 100 company for a few years as a second hat during my call-center days. I’m not exactly a novice at this. I’m figuring that this will be my last Microsoft based system ever. The low price simply isn’t worth the hassle any longer.
UPDATE: I should also mention that I do use Firefox, but Vista won’t easily allow Firefox to become the default browser in the system. When I click links from my Omea or Sharpreader feedreaders, they invariably open an IE window rather than a tab in my Firefox browser, regardless of the settings in my Internet options in Vista. I manage my blog screens and management functions in Firefox and browse in IE as a result. And no, that doesn’t happen on my XP laptop, where I use Firefox exclusively.
I blame McQ. He and I met for the first time on our tour of Chevron and the Blind Faith facility in Texas, courtesy of the API. McQ brought a nifty little camcorder, which miraculously survived a beating on the rig, and it looked intriguing enough to investigate once I returned home.
The Aiptek IS-DV2+ will not have anyone dumping their more substantial video cameras any time soon. However, its low cost and flexibility makes a nice addition to the blogger toolbox. It combines several key functions into a package no bigger than a fist, and only takes two AA batteries to run it.
The IS-DV2+ (the model shown below is the IS-DV2) takes 8-megapixel digital photographs, as well as digital video. The quality of the latter is not quite as good as one might want for treasured family events, but for blog videos, it does just fine. It has an adequate stabilization feature, which given its size is a necessity. It includes a strobe flash and most of the basic functions of any digital camera, including a selection of densities from one megapixel to eight.
It also functions as a digital voice recorder and an MP3 player. It uses SD memory cards; I bought a 2 GB card, and that will hold 25 hours of voice recordings. I’m not certain of how much video it would hold, but based on the charts in the book, it appears that one can store more than 2 hours of video on a card of that size in DV format — and more in other formats, of course.
I bought the IS-DV2+ at Walgreens, which is where McQ bought his as well, for $99. For the traveling blogger, this looks like a great tool at a reasonable price, allowing a single, small unit for most of needs. Just be sure to have rechargeable batteries, because I suspect that this will grind alkalines down in a hurry.
Most bloggers use some sort of RSS feed reader to make their operations more efficient. For almost the entire four years I have been blogging, I have used Sharpreader, which has done a serviceable job in keeping me current with the day’s news and blogger views. However, the free feedreader has caused some problems, and does not have all of the flexibility that I would like to see in this utility.
After Allahpundit at Hot Air asked for suggestions on the best reader to use, I decided to start looking around at some fresh choices. First I tried just using the embedded RSS functionality of Thunderbird, which I use for my e-mail, but I couldn’t get that to work at all, and it seemed to slow its overall functionality somewhat. After that, I installed NewsFox as an extension to Firefox. This actually worked reasonably well, except for two issues. One, it wouldn’t display the Author field, so on newspapers and group blogs, I had no idea who had written the articles. Second, it would only update one feed at a time, where Sharpreader would update several simultaneously. It made updates slow to a crawl over a file of over 100 feeds.
Later, I tried Omea, which looks wonderful but turned out to be a huge resource hog. Like all of the others I mentioned, Omea is free, and it handles an extraordinary amount of tasks. That’s the problem; it wants to handle almost all of my Internet activities, and it slows up my fairly robust laptop in doing so. I really liked the interface but wound up too frustrated with it.
Lastly, I installed Feed Demon by NewsGator. It costs $30, but the 30-day trial version is free, and I’ve grown to like it. It addresses most of the shortcomings of the other systems without bogging down the computer, or throwing bugs like Sharpreader does — but then again, it ain’t free, either. It has plenty of features, including all sorts of organizational options, as well as offering an HTML access from NewsGator when one is at another computer, synchronized for all feeds if desired. I de-synched my feeds because it won’t allow me to customize feed updates on synched feeds. It also has a nasty habit of re-marking feed items as unread when I repeatedly mark them as read, which happens on only a few of the feeds, for some odd reason.
I may purchase FeedDemon, but I’m curious to see what Captain’s Quarters readers use and like in feed readers. Any hints, suggestions, or critiques?
I’d like to find out if an e-mail problem I’m seeing is a widespread issue. Most e-mail I send out to AOL customers has been bouncing back for the last several weeks. It comes back with a message from the AOL server that states:
Delay reason: SMTP error from remote mail server after end of data:
host mailin-01.mx.aol.com [126.96.36.199]: 421-:
421 SERVICE NOT AVAILABLE
My e-mail service tells me it will retry, and the failure messages continue for 72 hours until the system gives up entirely. Is this happening across the Internet and is AOL’s mail service failing, or is this something more localized? I’d like to hear from CQ readers if they have had any of these difficulties.
And if you use AOL and have been expecting replies from me, you may not get them until the problem gets resolved one way or another.
UPDATE: The problem appears to have been partly resolved with a DNS refresh by my hosting service. I’ll update this if more problems appear.
On Tuesday, I linked to a report from Australian researchers that found laser-printer particulates in high amounts in offices. The report suggested that laser printers could present a health hazard with such high levels in areas where people work long hours. I suggested that it sounded more like a great new market for personal-injury litigation.
Hewlett-Packard contacted me late yesterday and asked to respond publicly to the study here at Captain’s Quarters. The statement comes from Tuan Tran, HP’s Vice President of marketing for supplies:
After a preliminary review of the Queensland University of Technology research on particle emission characteristics of office printers, HP does not agree with its conclusion or some of the bold claims the authors have made recently in press reports.
HP stands behind the safety of its products. Testing of ultrafine particles is a very new scientific discipline. There are no indications that ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from laser printing systems are associated with special health risks. Currently, the nature and chemical composition of such particles – whether from a laser printer or from a toaster – cannot be accurately characterized by analytical technology. However, many experts believe that many of the UFPs found in common household and office products are not discrete solid particles, but may be condensation products or small droplets created during thermal processes.
HP agrees more testing in this area is needed, which is why we’ve been active with two of the world’s leading independent authorities on this subject: Air Quality Sciences in the United States and the Wilhelm-Klauditz Institute in Germany.
Vigorous tests are an integral part of HP’s research and development and its strict quality-control procedures. HP LaserJet printing systems, original HP print cartridges and papers are tested for dust release and possible material emissions and are compliant with all applicable international health and safety requirements. In addition to meeting or exceeding these guidelines, HP’s design criteria for its laser printing systems incorporate guidelines from both the Blue Angel program in Germany and the Greenguard program in the United States.
Based on our own testing, HP knows that many variables can affect the outcome of tests for ultrafine particle emissions. Although HP is not aware of all of the specific methodologies used in the Queensland study, based on what we’ve seen in the report – as well as our own work in this area – we do not believe there is a link between printer emissions and any public health risk. Specifically, HP does not see an association between printer use by customers and negative health effects for volatile organic compounds, ozone or dust. While we recognize ultrafine, fine, and coarse particles are emitted from printing systems, these levels are consistently below recognized occupational exposure limits.
HP hopes to learn more from the study authors about how products were chosen for the study, how ranges were determined given no standards exist, and many other factors that could have influenced the results.
This morning, I received the replacement Gateway laptop from the Corporate team — who, by the way, has been very responsive — and after lunch, I began to test it. As we had planned, I took the hard drive from the original laptop and swapped it into the new laptop, which had received a full day of testing by the Corporate team. Since the two systems were identical, the hard-drive swap made no difference at all to the system, and it immediately connected me to the wireless network.
And, 30 minutes later, it failed again in the exact same way.
I decided to take advantage of having both systems on hand, and I powered up my original Gateway with the other hard drive. After wading through the pop-up screens for the newly-imaged drive, I loaded my network key and connected into the wireless system.
And it’s still working.
This is not necessarily dispositive; I’ve had entire days where the wireless adapter did not fail, but usually I get a failure within the first half-hour or so. This seems to indicate that the problem resides not in the hardware, but in the driver for the adapter. I had reloaded the Gateway drivers repeatedly through the Recovery system and it never fixed the problem, and even once downloaded a 2006 driver from Realtek’s website, but that hadn’t made a difference. Today, I used the driver interface to download the latest files, and this one is a March 2007 driver set. So far, it seems to be working.
I just got off the phone with my contact at Gateway, and they’re happy to let me test both systems for a couple of days. If both stay up, I’m going to send back the new laptop and keep my original system. They are going to alert tech support of the potential driver problem if all my tests are successful. We’ll see.
UNRELATED BLEG: Can anyone tell me if they’ve used Pair Networks as a hosting service, and if so, how they performed?
Pardon the slow start today, but CQ has had a number of technical difficulties last night and this morning. And one of them is unfortunately an old story.
As I wrote last night, I got my Gateway laptop back from Gateway’s service team yesterday afternoon. As expected, the hard drive had been re-imaged, so I had to spend several hours reloading the software. As I finished doing that, the wireless network connection failed — again. It did the same thing twice more in a half hour, following reboots after the previous failures.
This morning, my Sony Vaio started acting up (it was a problem with my anti-virus program that I eventually solved), and I could have used a reliable backup laptop. Unfortunately, I have a Gateway. The network connection failed twice in rapid succession, forcing me to install the external adapter again — but by that time, the Sony was up and running smoothly.
So what did Gateway do with my laptop? I’d guess it was one of two possibilities. Either they stopped at wiping out my hard drive and re-imaging it, or they replaced the motherboard. Either way, they obviously never tested it at any length with secure wireless networks. If they did the latter, then the laptop has some serious hardware design or sourcing issues.
In any event, I’m now more unhappy than I was before. I’ve wasted several hours of my time last night and this morning getting this Gateway laptop to work, and now I’ll probably have to ship it off again for another round of posturing from Gateway corporate.
Don’t buy Gateway.