Saturday, November 14, 2009

AVG 9 disappoints

I had previously mentioned the intrusive popup message to upgrade to AVG 9, so last night I decided the only way to avoid that irritation was to do the upgrade. Bad idea.

I thought that I had downloaded the upgrade & saved to my hard drive. But when I ran it, what I had was just a download manager which then took about 20 minutes to download the actual program. Very slowly - my Cox connection generally runs 8-10 Megs download speed, but their connection manager was reporting speeds of only 175K. That's with a "K".

The install ran OK on my HP desktop, but failed on my ThinkPad. Lucky me.

This morning I booted up the desktop to find that something was chewing up CPU and thrashing the hard drive. Turned out to be my brand-new AVG 9. I Google'd about & found lots of complaints, specifically mentioning avgchsvx.exe as the culprit. In some cases users would report that it ran for up to 2 hours upon boot-up.

Fortunately I had saved the 8.5 program on my disk, so I just uninstalled 9.0 and reinstalled the previous version, ran the Update Manager several times to get all the program & virus updates; all of which completed within 10 minutes.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

AVG Nag for Nine

Here we go again, AVG version 9 is now available & announces itself right smack in the middle of your screen, stealing focus from whatever useless activity you were involved in at the time.

I still don't understand why they insist on these intrusive messages.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cox rocks

We had a power outage last week, but when the lights came back on my 7-year-old cable modem refused to reconnect. I called my ISP, Cox Communications, and after I got past the IVR system & spoke with a tech, they were extremely helpful trying to get me back online.

Unfortunately, in spite of being plugged into surge protector, the modem was trashed, so I ran out to pick up a new one, plugged 'er in, and got back on the phone with Cox. Once again, they were very helpful & I was back online quickly.

Cox is trying to use techno-gadgetry like the interactive voice response stuff which was totally annoying, and a fairly sophisticated web page that attempts to recognize & connect your modem when you first try to access the Internet (but it failed), however, there is no substitute for great people like the techs that I spoke with. Congrats! to the tech support staff at Cox, they know their stuff.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wireless redux

Back in February I had predicted some consolidation in the wireless industry.

There has been talk of T-Mobile (which is actually part of Deutsche Telekom) considering the acquisition of Sprint Nextel, according to a September 13 article in cellular news. There are major technology disconnects between the companies i.e. CDMA vs. GSM vs. iDEN and the whole alphabet-soup of acronyms. Certainly some wireless customers will be required to update their phones to wherever the winning technology winds up.

IMNSHO it is time for the US government, specifically the FCC, to step in & mandate some standards for wireless communication.

Many people think that government regulation only makes things worse, but look at the current state of wired telecom today - whether you are on POTS, digital phone via cable, or IP-based over the Internet - the core technology is still based on the PSTN developed by Bell Labs and implemented by AT&T many long years ago. In fact, all the wireless minutes directed at wired phones also pass thru that core system.

Monday, August 03, 2009

AVG Free Nag

EDIT ON 09/25/2009 ... the nag message has been long gone, so apparently AVG decided that this was not such a good idea after all. Thanks to AVG for correcting this situation.

I've been using AVG Free for quite some time now, but a recent update has added a nag window that pops up from time to time that encourages me to "upgrade" to the paid version.

This is not good. Either it's free, or it isn't.

I Google'd about to find out if there was a way to turn this off; apparently there isn't. Except of course to buy the product. I did find lots of complaints about the nag window; a few suggested nod32 as an alternative but I've never tried it, and none of my personal contacts have either, so I have no first-hand info about that.

I had originally implemented AVG as my anti-virus solution to replace Norton AV on multiple PC's which was getting expensive, not to mention that the memory & CPU usage was pretty high. But now that AVG has added Windows services for link scanning etc. it has a large footprint too.

Now, from the vendor's perspective, supporting zillions of unpaid copies with updates for virus definitions can be a heavy load. But IMHO if the product was labeled as a "trial copy" then the nag would be more acceptable to the consumer - take WinZip for example, which reminds you that your copy is unregistered every time you launch it.

Recently, broadband providers such as Cox have started offering free AV software to their subscribers; apparently preventing virus outbreaks & keeping their network healthy outweighs their cost of the software; so products like AVG, free or otherwise, might someday cease to exist.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Recently the term Vampires has been applied to electronic devices that consume energy even when they are powered "off" such as TV's, computers, and battery chargers. Numerous articles have appeared that urge users to unplug devices when they are turned off, or to use a power strip for your computer & accessories so you can power-down & then just flip the switch. These can be effective in reducing energy usage in many cases.

In a similar vein (no pun intended) there is another type of Vampire that can be lurking within your computer, in the form of background services that run continuously and steal cycles from your CPU and thus diminish your computing experience.

One example is the software that comes with a digital camera - usually there will be a background service that continually monitors when the camera gets plugged-in & then launches the photo-transfer software. But think about that - you know when you plug in the camera, so why not just launch the software after you plug in the camera?

Other gadgets like smart phones, GPS, MP3 players etc. have similar background services that you don't actually need running unless the gadget is connected.

Furthermore, many software programs today have an automatic update feature - a small program that runs in the background to periodically check for software updates. These auto-updaters will slow the computer at boot time & in many cases continue to lurk in the shadows. Windows Update is a well-known example of this, but products from Adobe, Symantec and many others will also have this behavior; some of them will pop-up an intrusive message that an update is available & you should install it. The good news is that products from major vendors such as these will have an option to turn off the auto-updating (but places the burden on the user to periodically check for updates; this is still a good idea, especially with anti-virus software).

The bad news is that some software doesn't have that turn-off option. In fact, some will continue to check for meaningless updates even after you have uninstalled the product. If you have technical skills, you can use msconfig (built-in to Windows) or free utilities such as Auto Runs and Process Explorer (search for Microsoft Sysinternals) that can help identify & turn off these vampires. Other useful utilities are HijackThis and Belarc Advisor, but they require a bit more technical knowledge to interpret the results.

Last but not least, use caution when installing "free" software downloads; a few of them install additional programs that "come along for the ride" like custom toolbars & add-ins, and you don't always have the option to de-select them. Before you install anything at all, do a Google search to find out what others have said about the product.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Photo Enforcement

Many cities across the US are rolling out speed cameras & red-light cameras in an effort to improve public safety. These are truly high-tech devices that include digital cameras, video cameras that record to DVR's, and high-speed links to upload images to the local PD.

I am strongly in favor of red-light cameras, especially after a harrowing incident that happened a few days ago.

I had just left my house in the morning, on the way to work. I had stopped at a red light. When the light changed & the cross traffic was stopped, I looked both ways and then started across the intersection. But then I glanced to my right and saw a car that was coming pretty fast & didn't appear to be slowing down to stop for his red light. I stopped my car half-way through the intersection, and sure enough WHOOSH the car went past right in front of me. Another 100 ft. and he hit his brakes after realizing what he had done. If it were not for that 2nd glance to the right, I might not be writing this today.

Now, there is no guarantee that a red-light camera would have prevented that car from running the light. But those intersections usually have not one, but two sets of signs with the warning "traffic laws photo-enforced" and drivers generally learn their locations & respect them. Who knows what distracted that driver from noticing that the light had changed? Would he have noticed the signs & paid more attention to his driving? Hard to say.

Critics claim that photo enforcement only serves to generate revenue for the city, but all it takes is one life-altering moment like this. . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Storyteller

Consultants have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects in many different environments. When working on a new project, or with a new customer, it is common to relate stories about other similar projects and how those were done & issues resolved. In some cases this is quite necessary, so that the customer is aware that you have the skills & experience applicable to their project.

But there is a fine line between sharing relevant experience, and simply turning into a storyteller talking about the good old days. For these stories to be effective, there is usually a certain amount of background information about that other customer, project, or the stakeholders; most of which the new customer really doesn't care about, wasting both your time & theirs.

What's more, consultants have an implied obligation for nondisclosure & privacy of their customer information, even in the absence of any written document.

It is essential to keep relevant when talking about past projects, in the context of the current customer's requirements. It's OK to reminisce about other similar projects, but it's best to keep it to yourself unless it has a direct bearing on the matter at hand.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Less Wireless

Within the next 7 to 10 years, all the major wireless carriers will establish a standard shared cellular network technology with consistent performance all across the United States.

That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Wireless communication has become a critical part of the U.S. infrastructure, but all the competing technologies are preventing it from going that last mile, no pun intended.

Anywhere across the country you can plug your toaster into an AC outlet & make some toast; plug your telephone into the wall jack & make / receive calls; most of the time you can even plug your Ethernet cable into a network port & surf the Internet.

Not so with wireless. At least not yet.

The consolidation has already begun:
  • Sprint + Nextel
  • Verizon (AirTouch (US West Cellular)) + Alltel (Cellular One / Western Wireless)
  • AT&T + Cingular
  • T-Mobile + VoiceStream (Western Wireless)
All these mergers have trimmed the number of competing technologies, and it is just a matter of time until they reach a consensus on a communication standard.

The projected result of having one cell phone network?
  • You could buy the exact phone you want
  • It would work everywhere
  • Contracts would become a thing of the past
  • The basic monthly charge is a flat fee
  • Unlimited local service is included
  • Long distance is charged by time & distance
  • No more roaming charges
  • Fewer unsightly cell towers
That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Google goof (and quick fix)

EDIT: Less than two hours after this post, Google fixed their search engine so the problem described is now gone. Hurray!

I was curious about the gadget that's been advertised on TV, supposedly you just plug it into a network jack & then plug in a telephone to call anywhere for a flat annual fee.

Being cautious about things that may be to good to be true, I thought I would just Google it first. Whaddaya know, every link related to that product had another link underneath it, stating that the site may be harmful to your computer.

Then I decided to visit PC World to see if they've done a review, so I did a Google search for "PC World". Guess what, every single link in the results had that same mysterious message underneath it.

I did try to click the warning link to find out what harm might occur, but every attempt would produce a 503 error and "try again in 30 seconds".

EDIT: As it turns out, the link for every single search result, on any topic, will take you to a "browse at your own risk" message but it does display the URL in plain text, so you can still copy the address and paste it into your browser's address bar.

Hope this gets fixed soon. Imagine how many are searching for Super Bowl info, the day before the big game.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


My last post chastised Microsoft for taking away the familiar Office interface & replacing it with The Ribbon. The very next day, an anonymous comment led me to ToolbarToggle ( which is an add-in for Office 2007 that restores the old familiar menus & toolbars of earlier versions.

I like it.

This is a COM add-in that works with the 2007 versions of MS-Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Single-user pricing is $19.95 USD, and you can get a free 5-day trial version. Volume discounts & other special pricing is also available.

I tried it with Word, Excel and briefly PowerPoint. The menus & toolbars all seem to work fine, but some of the deeper menu choices did not work as expected. For example, to print an envelope you can usually highlight the address block & hit Alt-T, E, E but the address did not copy over into the dialog box; clicking the menus also did not work, so you'd have to copy & paste the address into the box. Not a huge deal.

Judging from their web site, I think this product is still being actively developed (the PowerPoint support was just added) so this is definitely something to watch.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Microsoft 2009

Ever since the departure of Bill Gates from the helm of Microsoft, the company has changed its business model, and not for the better.

It used to be that their new product introductions made you want to upgrade for flashy new screens and features, but nowadays they mirror the auto industry with the rapid release of new models and versions, while the older products are being retired quickly which forces upgrades that only serve to increase MS revenues.

The new products lack the backward-compatibility of the old, and in some cases even alienate the users. Case in point - Office 2007 changed the entire user interface, making veteran Office users hunt in frustration for their familiar commands & features. Even the default file format is new, so in order to share files with older versions you have to Save As the older format. And developers cannot simply click, drag & drop to create custom toolbars, now they have to write XML code to modify the ribbon.

Another example of their disconnect with users is SQL Server 2008 - Notification Services, which was introduced in SQL Server 2005, was removed from the new version. If you've utilized SSNS now you're stuck.

Still another example is Windows Vista, which basically requires a brand-new PC to run effectively. Upgrading from an older OS to Vista in most cases disappoints. And will your old programs & peripherals continue to run with Vista? Oftentimes they won't.

Next on the horizon is the Azure cloud-computing initiative, where companies will trust their corporate assets to the Internet cloud and a set of MS-managed data centers. This, from a company that has a regular release schedule of security patches along with numerous out-of-band updates as well. Those patches run the gamut, from Windows 2000 and IE6 all the way up to Vista and Windows 2008 Server.

No software is perfect; Linux, OpenOffice and Firefox have their own sets of quirks and limitations; but the expectations are much higher for the #1 software company in the world.