Tag Archives: Microsoft

There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set

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(TV image from webtvwire.com)

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

That was the advice viewers heard at the beginning of each episode of “The Outer Limits“, a sci-fi TV series originally broadcast from 1963 to 1965. Now, 45 years later, Americans are getting some new advice, and yes, those same scary people are still “controlling transmission”. This time, however, there IS something wrong with your television set… the problem is that it’s analog, not digital.

When the clock strikes Midnight on February 17, 2009 (six months from this writing), your decrepit, old analog television sets will become electronic boat anchors, and you will be dragged into the brave new world of digital TV, whether you like it or not. You can enter the digital realm by replacing your beloved boat anchor with one of those shiny new digital HDTVs. Or, you can give your analog friend a reprieve by adding a set-top converter box which will allow your analog TV to pick up those new-fangled ATSC digital broadcasts, more commonly known as DTV or Digital TV. Learn more about DTV at the U.S. government’s official digital television website, www.dtv.gov.

A small number of stations in the United States will still be allowed to continue broadcasting those old NTSC analog signals after February 19th, but for the most part, analog TV sets will stop working on that date. And if you get your daily fix via cable or satellite TV, no worries. Nothing will change for you a few days after the St. Valentine martyrs get their annual tribute.

Now we don’t know about you, but the mere thought of being denied our god-given right to watch infomercials and the home shopping network 24×7 has put us into a digital frenzy. We’re pretty sure that those converter boxes will become scarcer than hens teeth as the deadline approaches. Expect long lines at electronics retailers, with people camping out at the local Best Buy, waiting for the next shipment of converter boxes to arrive from China by armored car. The lines will be so long, you’ll think Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft was releasing their newest game console. People will be paying proxies to stand in line for them. Scalpers will be buying the converter boxes and selling them on eBay at 300% markups. So, with these visions of my digital future weighing heavily on my mind, I’ve decided to start my dtv converter box shopping now.

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Gamers line up to buy the Nintendo Wii (from zeldawii.com - click on photo)

Uncle Sam, in the guise of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (doesn’t that name just roll off your tongue?), has blessed Americans who apply for their $40 converter box coupons (limit two per household) at www.dtv2009.gov. They will send you a coupon that can be used towards the purchase of government-approved eligible converter boxes. It’s not actually a coupon, but rather what appears to be a debit or gift card, complete with a 16 digit account number embossed on the front, along with a way cool hologram, and the obligatory high-coercivity magnetic stripe and three digit CVC2 code on the back. And it expires two to three months after you get it, so if you snooze, you loose.

What will you pay for a DTV converter box? They are generally available anywhere from $60.00 to well over $100, online and at retail stores. We think that manufacturers and retailers have taken advantage of the fact that the government is subsidizing these converters to the tune of $40 each, and they’ve decided to inflate their selling price. Low-end DVD players, which are substantially more complex and expensive to produce, sell for prices starting in the $30 range. If you are considering shelling out over $100 for a converter box, you might want to think about replacing your TV with a digital model instead. You won’t have to deal with two devices or two remote controls, and you’ll gain some functionality and ease of use by replacing your TV, VCR, Tivo and/or DVD recorder, instead of retrofitting your old set, especially if you plan to record programs off-air. One of the biggest limitations when using a atv-to-dtv converter box is that you can no longer select the channel using the tuner (or programming capability) of your TV, VCR, Tivo or DVD recorder. You are forced to select the channel via the converter box (“Series 3” Tivos have both ATSC and NTSC tuners.)

What would these DTV converters sell for, if it wasn’t for the government subsidy? We suspect they would be in the area of $25-35 each. Expect them to drop back to that price range once the subsidy program goes away, and replacement of older televisions with new digital receivers picks up more steam. Almost all new TVs sold today have digital tuners that do not require an analog-to-digital set-top converter box.

So while the government subsidy program has probably encouraged people to buy converter boxes, it has no doubt also inflated the prices of those boxes. It has also encouraged some people who would have simply replaced their television sets, to put off that purchase, and opt for a converter instead. Based on some of the reviews being posted by purchasers of these set-top converter boxes, there are a lot of people unhappy with the performance and quality of these products. It seems likely that many of them will decide to scrap their converter boxes in favor of a new TV. We think a better way of providing a subsidy for DTV to Americans would have been a one-time tax credit for the purchase of a converter box or new digital television set. It would have had less of an inflationary effect on retail prices, been less expensive to implement, and would have been less susceptible to abuse than the coupon program.

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to see those infomercials offering their snake oil in 1920 x 1080 high-def resolution, with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. So if you haven’t done so already, apply for your converter-box coupons, bring your TV viewing into the digital age, and help increase our trade deficit with China, all from the comfort of your web browser. Click here to follow our adventures as we shop for, purchase, install and compare the features and performance of set-top DTV converter boxes.

To paraphrase the late television legend Tom Snyder, “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the bits, now, as they fly through the air”. (There is a treasure trove of Tom Snyder’s interviews from The Tomorrow Show available on youtube.)

– Routing By Rumor

Tom Snyder (1936-2007)

photo: wkyc.com Cleveland/Akron, OH

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Filed under Business, China, Consumerism, Free Stuff, Home, Life, Money, Politics, Rebates, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Technology, TV Shows, Your Money

Of Blogs And Bugs

This is one bug we can’t blame on Microsoft.

While writing our last post to this blog, the cute little fellow pictured above came scurrying across the floor, and stopped right in front of us. I’d swear he was looking at our computer screen. Maybe he was thinking of starting his own bug blog.

He sat there long enough for us to scoop him up and sequester him in an empty jar, so we could get our camera and take his mug shot. He’s about an inch and a half or two inches long, and best we can determine, he once had 28 legs, but apparently lost several of them. Think buying shoes for your kids is expensive? Count your blessings that they only have two feet each. It looks like he has antennae fore and aft, although his head is to the right in the above photo.

Given the human need to endear every creature with a name, we have named him “WordPress”. We’ll admit that we are only guessing that he’s a he. If it’s actually Ms. WordPress, our apologies for the gender error. Actually, we’re not even sure if all insects have a gender… Aren’t some both sexes?

Since we don’t have any entomologists on staff here at Routing By Rumor, we are going to enlist the help of our readers. If you know what this cute fellow is, please leave a comment.

All those insect rights people out there will be happy to know that no bugs were harmed in the creation of this article. WordPress was released into the great outdoors after his photo shoot. You should have seen how quickly he moved once we put him on the ground. He was gone in a flash. We suspect, however, that he is going to try and get back into the Routing By Rumor network operations center, so if we spot him again, we’ll post a followup to this story.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Blogging, Home, Life, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Wordpress

My Adobe Acrobat PDF Files Are Printing Garbage Text (Sometimes)

This issue when printing some PDF documents from within Adobe Reader has been one of the most vexing computer problems I’ve experienced in a while.  I think I might have just figured out how to solve it, so I’m posting a description of the problem, as well as what I believe is a solution (or at least a work-around).

Some PDF documents I try to print from within Adobe Reader will have all of their text print as garbage (“greeked” text). From the Google searches I’ve done, it seems that others have reported that this problem is not always reproducible, and that no single type of printer seems to be involved. In my experience, it is reproducible. The common thread seems to be (from what I’ve read) that all users having this problem are running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed.

The problematic PDFs will look just fine when you view them on your computer, but when they print, only the graphics will print correctly. All of the printed text looks like it’s just random characters of “gobbledygook”. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the characters are all off by one position in the alphabet (actually, off by one ASCII character, since symbols and numbers are also off by one). ie: “A” prints as “B”, “”e” prints as “f”, and a zero prints as “1”. Even when I select “print preview” in the print options for my Hewlett-Packard printer, the documents show garbage text in the on-screen print preview window!.

I am running Windows XP SP2, and have updated Adobe Reader to version 8.1.1, which is the current version. I use Windows Update to keep XP up to date with patches. I’ll say that I first noticed this problem with some PDFs about a year ago, but I can’t tell you what version of Adobe Reader I first noticed it with. I’m not even sure this is an Adobe Reader issue. It might be a Windows or a printer driver issue also. The latest problems occured when printing a PDF that was being viewed with Adobe Reader within my Firefox v 2.0.0.11 browser, but it has occured in earlier versions of Firefox, and I believe in Internet Explorer as well.

I’ve experienced this problem when printing to an HP PSC1210 all-in-one inkjet printer, and an HP Photosmart 7260 inkjet printer.

Today, after reprinting the same PDF several times, and getting garbage out each time, I clicked “print”, and started looking around in the print window that opens for my HP 7260 printer. When I print PDFs, I get an “Advanced” button in the bottom left corner of the print window that I can click on. There are a bunch of “greyed-out” postscript options in this window, but there is also a check box that says “Print as image”. I decided to check this box and click “OK”, which closes the advanced printing options window, then I clicked “OK” to send the PDF to the printer. I think doing this causes the entire document to be sent to the printer as “raster graphics”, rather than as PCL containing a mix of graphics and ASCII text.

Voila! The PDF printed correctly. I’m not certain that checking the “Print as image” option was the reason, but it’s worth trying if you are having this problem, and you have this option in your print setup.

If this solution works for you, please post the details as a comment to this article.

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Filed under Acrobat Reader, Adobe, Adobe Acrobat, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, PDF files, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Windows XP

Sandisk Sansa vs Apple iPod – And The Winner Is…

We purchased an identical set of Sandisk Sansa m240 (1GB) MP3 players in November, 2005. These alternatives to the iPods that most of the world has fallen in love with were less expensive than an iPod of the same capacity, and had some nice features such as an FM radio and voice recorder.

I had problems with the m240s as soon as I started loading music onto them. There were two issues in particular that were particularly problematic. Some album tracks would play in the wrong order (with shuffle turned off), and when I loaded a large number of albums or audiobooks, many files would disappear. They were there when you viewed the contents of the players via a PC, but once you disconnected the sansa from the computer, it could not find the tracks. The shuffled track issue might not be the end of the world when you’re listening to your favorite album, but it is unacceptable when you are listening to audiobooks. Some audiobooks have more than 1,000 tracks, each of which are a few minutes long.

I communicated the problems I was having to Sandisk’s tech support people, who assured me that firmware updates would solve my problems. They did not. I went back and forth with Sandisk via their website, via e-mails and by phone over a period of about six months. I spent hours upon hours editing the ID3 tags in the albums, podcasts and audiobooks I was loading onto the Sansa, to no avail. It did not matter whether files were .mp3 or other formats. The Sansa would still shuffle some tracks. I tried applying several firmware updates. I tried resetting the Sansa. I tried loading different files. I tried using a different USB cable. Nothing helped.

Dealing with their support people was frustrating and infuriating at times. They seemed to be in denial when it came to the issues I was reporting, despite the fact that I found other Sansa owners on the Web who posted identical issues with their Sansas. I would provide Sandisk with details on how to reproduce the problems I was experiencing, but couldn’t get them to acknowledge the problems. They had me doing things that they should have been doing themselves, like preparing sets of test files and sending them to their tech support people. I also came away from the experience questioning whether Sandisk designed and produced the Sansa product line in-house, or whether they are branding someone else’s players with the Sandisk name. I say this because Sandisk seemed to be unable to address problems with the Sansa. It seemed to me like they may be dependent on a third party for resolving those issues. Overall, I would rate Sandisk’s support as poor.

I guess they finally had enough of my calls and support requests, because a senior technician that I was dealing with finally acknowledged they did not have a fix for the problems. They offered to replace my players with another Sansa model, the e250 (2GB), which they assured me would solve the problem. I took them up on their offer, but while I was waiting for them to send me the replacement Sansas, I found reports that owners of those Sansas had posted to various websites, indicating that there were problems with the
Sansa e200 series also. (Actually, Sandisk doesn’t even handle product returns. They have you send the defective products to a third party.)

When I received the replacement players, I decided to sell both of them rather then open the packages and see for myself whether I’d have the same problems with the e250’s as I did with the m240’s. I had little faith in their tech support, and just wanted to find another brand of MP3 player that worked correctly. I was not impressed with the quality of Sandisk’s support, and upset about the amount of time wasted trying unsuccessfully to resolve the problems with their product.

I’ve always been an IBM-compatible PC and Microsoft DOS/Windows computer user. I’ve never owned or used an Apple Macintosh, but I was aware that Mac devotees consider Windows-based PCs to be inferior to the Mac. Status symbols have never been real important to me. I also tend to root for the underdog, whether it’s in politics or MP3 players. I don’t like to pay a premium just so I can have the most popular brand of anything. On the other hand, I knew there were reasons why people love their iPods, and I knew that the iPod’s popularity wasn’t just because of the Apple mystique, but because of the design superiority of Apple products.

I considered buying one of the Microsoft Zune MP3 players which had just been released, but was unimpressed with them. I thought the (first generation) Zune was expensive, large, ugly, received lukewarm reviews, and it was (at the time) version 1.0 of a Microsoft product, which I’ve previously mentioned should always be avoided.

 

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I ended up buying a second generation Apple iPod nano (2GB) in November, 2006. I feel like kicking myself for not buying an iPod in the first place. I’ve had no significant problems with the nano in the year since I bought it. Sure, there are some minor problems I’ve come across, mostly involving Apple’s iTune’s software, rather than with the software inside the nano (the firmware). To be fair, there are iPod owners that have posted some serious problems on various websites, so the iPod is not completely problem-free. However, everything you read about the iPods are true. They have better user interfaces than the competition, whether it’s a scroll wheel model like the nano, or one of their newer touch screen devices such as the iPod touch. Apple is known for their superior design features and the materials they use in their devices, such as aluminum cases. I did give up the FM radio and voice recorder features of the Sansa, which the nano does not have, but I gained an audio player that works correctly. I would have preferred the nano to have an easily replaceable battery, but none of the iPods have easily user-replaceable batteries. Apple wants you to return the iPods to them for battery replacement, if it becomes necessary. Fortunately, there are alternatives… do-it-yourself replacement battery kits, and third party service companies that do iPod repairs and battery replacements.

Now, I want one of the new third generation iPod nanos that play video, and come in memory capacities up to 8GB. Then again, the iPod touch would be even nicer. Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas. I guess Apple has spoiled me for anything else, because I would probably never consider purchasing another brand of audio or video player.

So, as you’ve figured out by now, in the Sansa vs iPod contest, as far as I’m concerned, the clear winner is: The Apple iPod.

Who knows… Maybe my next computer will be a Mac.

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Filed under Apple, Consumerism, iPod, iPod nano, iPod touch, Life, Microsoft, Money, mp3 players, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Portable music players, Routing by Rumor, Sandisk, Sandisk Sansa, Shopping, Technology, Your Money, Zune

Never Be First In Line

I’m not usually an early adopter**, so it should surprise nobody that it took until now for me to start a blog. Maybe I surprised myself though, since I think I spend at least half of my waking hours in front of a computer.

While I have been a Webmaster as part of my job, and I’ve put up a few websites of my own, their content has tended to be pretty static. More and more lately, I’ve wanted something like a blog, where I could throw up my latest thoughts without a lot of effort. But which blog hosting site should I choose? After a couple of Google searches and kicking a few tires, WordPress.com looked like it would do nicely.

…so here we go.

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** – For instance, you’ll never catch me waiting in line outside a store, hoping to be one of the first to buy the latest version of Microsoft Windows, the latest movie release, or that brand-new, must-have video game console. As they say, never buy version 1.0 of anything, especially if it’s from Microsoft. Case-in-point: Microsoft’s Zune music player.

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Filed under Blogging, Microsoft, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Wordpress, Zune