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March 2005 - Vol. 5, Issue No. 67

By Scot Finnie

IN THIS ISSUE

  • A Mac in the House
  • T-Series ThinkPads Everywhere
  • 60-Second Briefs
       - Get Firefox and Thunderbird 1.0.1
       - Beware Phishing Scams
       - LCDs, Firefox, and ClearType for Windows XP
       - Scot's Newsletter Forums
  • Death to the Video Card
  • Getting HTML If You Want It
  • Recommend-A-Friend to Scot's Newsletter
  • Newsletter Archiving
  • Announce-Only Text Edition Test Coming
  • Linux Explorer: Ch- Ch- Changing File Permissions
  • Problem of the Month: Windows XP Pro File Sharing
  • Newsletter Schedule
  • Subscribe, Unsubscribe, Change Your Subscription


    A Mac in the House
    The first Macintosh I've owned in over 8 years arrived on a slow boat from China — literally (well it went by boat only part of the way). I ordered my Mac Mini direct from Apple Computer on January 28, and exactly three weeks and six days later, it arrived at my home.

    I purchased the more expensive of the two models, whose number is M9687LL/A. I waited until after Apple cut prices on the options, which probably contributed to the slow arrival. The diminutive computer contains a 1.42GHz PowerPC G4 processor with 1GB of RAM, the ATI Radeon 9200 with 32MB of DDR video RAM, an 80GB Ultra ATA hard drive, the basic Combo drive, the Bluetooth plus Airport option, and Mac OS X 10.3x Panther. The downright tiny Mini also comes with a 56k v.92 modem, two USB ports, a firewire port, DVI video port (a stub-type DVI-to-VGA adapter comes in the box), and a 100Mbps Ethernet port. There's a tiny on/off or on/sleep button, configurable in the Systems Preferences (or Control Panel). There's also a headphone/speaker jack. With the Mac Mini, you bring your own monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Note: There are no pesky PS/2 ports. The bottom line on the Mac Mini I purchased was $1074.15, including tax. Shipping was free.

    From a hardware perspective, the pressure points are: 1GB of RAM maximum, notebook-like internal speaker quality, 32MB of video RAM maximum, and an utter lack of user-upgradeable options (internally). Unlike most PCs, Macintoshes are not designed for users to remove the case. More experienced Mac users will quibble with me on this point. But when you look at the way Apple offers support and warranties, they really don't expect or want users to tinker with these boxes. After all, this is proprietary hardware, whereas Wintel PCs are really open. As I wrote it just there, that only presents the downside of the Mac's proprietary design. The upside is that Apple exerts far more control, and that means an inherently more reliable environment. Less flexible, but less prone to issues.

    Something else about the hardware: Why is it that Steve Jobs is the only man on earth whose company can design a computer that people somehow instinctively "love"? Within seconds of unwrapping my Mac Mini, I heard myself whisper "This is utterly cool!" in admiration over the packaging, the industrial design, the eloquent smallness, the profound simplicity. The Mac Mini doesn't need color coding and a pre-opened 4-color slick step-by-step guide to tell you what to do to set it up.

    The Mac Mini, which is about the size of a small, square external Macintosh hard drive from the 1990s, just disappears on your desktop. It looks like an office toy left there for your co-workers to pick up or the perfect place to rest your coffee cup. It doesn't look at all like a computer. The AC power brick that comes with it is the same length as the computer itself. I haven't loved all of Apple's designs. The "works in a drawer" iMac G5, for example, is not my idea of scintillating design. It's form over function, IMHO. But Apple's notebooks are also well designed — but pricey.

    First Boot
    My first Mac Mini experience was nearly perfect, but in the end failed. Bring your own keyboard to me meant I would use the same keyboard I use on all my desktop PCs (which number over a dozen), Microsoft's Natural Keyboard Elite. Newer versions of this keyboard come with USB adapters. But I buy these keyboards in bulk every two years or so, and I don't have any with the USB adapters. No problem, I have some PS/2-to-USB adapters which I've collected along the way. They are clearly marked as being for keyboard conversion. So I thought I would be all set. The mouse I use on all my computers, Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical, with the scroll wheel and four buttons, comes with a USB connector (and a PS/2 adapter). The monitor I selected for my Mini was the Samsung SyncMaster 213T 21.3" LCD, which I have several examples of and have recommended to you in the past.

    On that first night, after about two hours of playing around, I went to bed frustrated. I couldn't get past the second screen of the initial boot process. My Mac couldn't detect my keyboard through the USB adapter. I tried another USB adapter without success. The next morning I went down to CompUSA and bought an open-box example of the Mac Bluetooth wireless keyboard for $55. After setting up the keyboard, turning it on, and powering up the Mini, at first it didn't detect the keyboard. So I waved the keyboard within literally two inches of the Mini and instantly got the ping of recognition. The rest of the initial boot went fine. A few points of irritation included asking for my "Apple I.D." and then requiring me to answer demographic information (which I lied about, as usual) in order to register my Macintosh. Incidentally, the way I lie about demographic information is that I decide what the company's demographic sweet spot probably is, then I choose the answers that are as far away as possible. Apple should not require demographic information from people who just plunked down their cash on a new Macintosh.

    Addendum to the keyboard digression: A few days later I decided I couldn't deal with the Mac Bluetooth keyboard. I've been typing with split keyboards so long my arms feel "knock kneed" with the Mac keyboard (this would be true of most non-Microsoft keyboards for Windows too). While I was able to locate an $80 Mac USB keyboard that looks identical to the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite (whose system requirements list Windows only), I don't need another keyboard. I just need a PS/2-to-USB adapter that supports the Mac. CablesToGo.com offers one for $25 list that supports Windows, Mac, and Sun platforms. So I just bought it. That will let me plug PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard into a single USB port, freeing up the second USB port on the Mac Mini for other stuff.

    Back to the first boot, let's face it, all this keyboard stuff is picking at nits. Once past that, the Mac Mini detected my wireless network immediately, without my having to configure a thing. All it needed was for me to choose the correct SSID name from the list of detected wireless networks (there are a lot in my neighborhood). The interface, though different from the old Mac System interface, isn't vastly different. I had no trouble figuring out how to use it, though clearly there are many nuances I'm still working through. [Editor's Note: Yeah, like I had to remind him of the keyboard-combination shortcuts for Copy and Paste. --Cyndy]

    Scot's Newsletter Forums' All Things Mac forum has also been very helpful. Other forum members are also testing the Mac waters with me.

    I'm also fortunate to work with several people who are outright Mac experts, including Brad Shimmin of Network Computing, Richard Hoffman of Developer Pipeline, Suzanne Warfield of TechWeb, and Arena2045 who is lead administrator my forums. In fact, one of the surprising things to me is just how many people I know who use Macs. Being a registered Windows maven, I'll admit to having overlooked this for years. But a disproportionately large number of people I know use Macs.

    The next most surprising thing to me is how much software is out there for Macs these days. This continues to be Apple's Achilles' Heel, but the software collection is larger and more mature than it was before. I still have a lot to discover on the application front, but that's my initial impression. In fact, if you use the Mac or you manage Macs in an IT setting, I'd be very interested in your input about Mac apps I should check out. Please shoot me off a message with any suggestions. URLs would be appreciated.

    Mid-Life Crisis
    This article is not a review of the Mac Mini. Please don't mistake it for that. Consider it my notes on the maiden voyage. So it's a first installment. Also, I want to be baldly honest about something: I am not putting my main Windows machine in a box and plopping the Mac on my desk. The Mini is set up next to my main machine. There's no way I can use it as my primary machine. For one thing, I'd have to shell out another $300 or so for Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac before I could even think about doing that. I would also need to spend some serious time working out my email situation, which is complex, to say the least. (Eudora for the Mac, I guess.) But I am doing the next closest thing. I'm trying to use the Mac whenever possible. What would also be great is if I had a Mac laptop to use when I'm not working. Because of money, that's not happening any time soon either. But Mac OS X and the Mac Mini will get a totally fair shake from me. It just might take a while.

    For those of you who might doubt my sincerity on the fairness thing, I was an ardent Mac user long before Windows came along. I eventually came to hate Apple in the 1990s prior to Jobs' return to the company, but I never lost my admiration for the Macintosh. If anything, my underlying fear is that I might get subsumed back to the "light side." This Mac flirtation definitely complicates my monogamous Windows life (oh, Cyndy is going to rake me over the coals on this one). Besides, Macs aren't cheap, and Apple isn't very generous with eval. machines. So, I approached this purchase and evaluation experience with trepidation. In other words, it wouldn't look good if I suddenly became a Mac junkie. Again. It'd be like a computing mid-life crisis. (Hey, maybe I *should* get that 15-inch PowerBook G4 with SuperDrive ... in Candy Apple Red. Let's see, tricked out with all the goodies I want, it'd only be $2,849. And I deserve it, right?)

    Initial Thoughts
    All that said, let's get down to what I didn't like about the Macintosh interface after the first 60 minutes — the juicy part. It must be a huge long list from a Windows guy, right? Uh, that would be no.

    Here's what I wrote in a SNF All Things Mac forum post 60 minutes into my initial Mac Mini experience:

    So, what do I think of the Mac? I like it a lot. I'm ... already looking forward to Tiger, the next version of the OS [due in the second quarter]. There are some very cool features [planned for] it ...

    The only thing I find extremely annoying is the fact that — and I'd forgotten this — you can't reposition the sides of windows by dragging their edges. You have to go to that lower right corner to resize any open window or dialog ....

    Perhaps someone can set me straight on networking. While my Mac Mini connected wirelessly to my Windows peer network better than most Windows computers, wireless internet connection is dog slow. Not suitable for downloads. And when you consider my service is 4Mbps, that's pretty bad. I suspect something about the wireless internet protocols is amiss. When I plugged in an Ethernet cable to my router, presto, perfect connection and wicked fast ... Any and all suggestions on this wireless stuff [would be] appreciated!

    Although it's perfectly serviceable as is, the user interface construct that still needs work in Mac OS X is "the Dock." The Dock is a program launcher, task switcher, and container for minimized apps that's designed to be always visible wherever you go on your Mac. It is not as elegant as the Windows taskbar. The Dock has a much newer, more inviting look and leverages newer multimedia technologies delivered by its operating system. But from a purely functional standpoint, the Taskbar is easier to understand and uses less space. Although the Dock can be scaled down in size, it was designed to be bigger than the taskbar.

    That concludes the criticism portion of our program (in this installment). Because of past experience, I didn't have to adjust myself to the Finder structure, the fact that the menu bar across the top is modal, and displays options based upon the application that is currently active (one of the things I think Mac newbies coming from Windows sometimes have a hard time with). Installing applications, is, of course, much easier on the Mac.

    Mac Joy
    One of the first things I did was open a terminal window and stare at the UNIX underpinnings, which bear a *much* closer resemblance to Linux than they do to Windows. In fact, I would have to say that the Dock actually draws some design cues from Linux desktops, especially KDE. The reality is that computer interface designers borrow from each other routinely. And everyone has borrowed from Apple, which initially borrowed from Xerox PARC, and so forth. The fact that such borrowing is legally dangerous for companies building operating systems and desktops shrouds this in mystery. But if you've got eyes, there's no mystery about it. I think Apple may have consciously decided to pick up a few Linux design cues with OS X. Let's face it, this operating system's UNIX underpinnings are very attractive to a great many experienced computer users, including yours truly. (Even more than that, the Mac UI over UNIX is truly cool.) To me, the UNIX-ness of this OS whispers "power!" They might as well pop out fender bulges and put a hood scoop on the thing. That's the reason for these faint Linux/UNIX design cues.

    There hasn't been enough time yet for me to try all of the many Mac applications that people have recommended to me or that come preinstalled on the Mac Mini (consisting primarily of iLife, Apple's consumer-oriented package, which includes iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie HD, GarageBand). But the first Mac app I took to was iChat. Instead of trying to be the network, Apple is doing what it does best: Being the interface. In about 30 seconds, I was able to configure my AIM-based login iChatting with a whole bunch of folks. The iChat UI is first rate. Simple, but much better than AOL Instant Messenger. The two-sided orientation of the cartoon balloons makes it a much less tiresome interface to text-chat with someone. Little touches mean a lot with software.

    Since I own an iPod Mini, I connected that and immediately ran into trouble because my iPod is formatted for Windows FAT32, and of course, that's a different file system from the Mac. There is a somewhat arcane process for moving your music library to a Mac, but there's no way (supported by Apple) for moving your library from a Mac to a PC. What I haven't had time to investigate is whether I can access and update both Windows and Mac libraries by reformatting my iPod for the Mac. My guess is that one or more of you may tell me before I check it out, and that's fine.

    Mac OS X's Exposť feature is a simple, useful UI addition designed to manage window clutter. Windows has a rudimentary version Exposť called Show Desktop. Microsoft's Show Desktop lets you click an icon on the Quick Launch bar that swiftly minimizes all your open application windows so you can get to something on your desktop. Click the Show Desktop icon again, and all your minimized app windows, open dialogs, and folder windows reopen where they were. It doesn't always restore the pre-existing active window state, but it works pretty well.

    Exposť offers that functionality, but takes it a step or two further. it does the Show Desktop thing with aplomb, but it has another trick. Instead of showing you the desktop, it can help you find a window buried by layers of more recently opened windows — an everyday experience on my desktops. When you choose the All Windows option, it smartly moves windows out from behind others while simultaneously scaling down all open windows, making all windows visible. .Exposť has four separate functions (All Windows, Application Windows, Desktop, and Show or Disable Screensaver). You can mount initiation points for them on the four corners of the screen, so they'll occur when you point your mouse at them. Once the All Windows action has been tripped, you merely click the window you want to work with and it comes to the fore, while the rest of the windows return to their original state. This tool is very slick. And it makes excellent use of the Mac's excellent native scaling and animation abilities.

    Exposť can also be kicked off with keyboard or mouse-click shortcuts. It can even be used to make it easier to drag and drop copy or move objects from one place to another by whisking obstructing windows out of the way. Exposť is such a great idea, I think Apple should mount it to the four corners of the screen by default. (It does have default keyboard function key settings.) You'd still be able to customize the behavior in the Exposť System Preferences area, but having this functionality preset in a known screen location would be a boon.

    Overall, OS X today (and for some time) has delivered some of the many goals Microsoft has set for Windows Longhorn — the ability to scale many constructs of the interface, for example, or moving images not just by pushing bits but by more adroitly drawing them with algorithms. Graphically, the Mac remains well ahead of Windows. In fact, that's more true today than it was eight years ago.

    More to come on Windows Boy's experiences with the Mac in future editions of the newsletter. And, at some point, my considered and detailed opinion about where Mac OS X lives in the pecking order of desktop operating systems. Until then, one hint: It isn't at the bottom.

    Back to the Top


    T-Series ThinkPads Everywhere
    New computers are us. A while back I had to return the IBM ThinkPad T42 I reviewed last year. The high-res 15" LCD T42 had become an integral part of my everyday experience. So I decided to put my money where my mouth was and purchase a newer T42, the 15" 2379-R9U.

    I managed to "save" quite a bit of money by purchasing it from a Web store called PCSuperDeals.com. In all respects the T42 2379-R9U is the perfect notebook for me. It was the equal of the model that I had evaluated in all respects but one: Instead of the Phillips 802.11a/b/g mini PCI wireless networking card, it comes with the lower-cost Intel 2200BG. The Intel card doesn't support 802.11a. However, my access points (I'm currently using D-Link DWL2100APs) focus mostly on the 802.11g standard, so I figured what the heck. The nagging little doubt in the back of mind was this: I have never, ever had good luck with Intel networking products. I've had trouble with Intel switches, PCI NICs, and PC Card NICs. In fact, every single time I've wound up with an Intel networking product over the last 10 years, it's been nothing but trouble. I love Intel processors and chipsets, but I just don't have good luck with the company's networking products.

    My out was this: On all previous versions of the ThinkPad T4x series that I've examined, the mini PCI LAN card was user installable. So I figured that if worse came to worse, I could buy the Phillips card on eBay and install it myself. I'll come back to that point in a moment.

    Unfortunately for me, this instance with an Intel networking device was no exception. My new 2379-R9U arrived three days later than it should have. In fact, it was so late that it arrived during my planned trip to Redmond to visit Microsoft a few weeks back. My wife was in Florida the same week. The new ThinkPad arrived on a Monday, and it would have sat on the front stoop until the following Saturday, through several snow storms and acting as a beacon of temptation to potential thieves. As it turned out, Microsoft cancelled the trip, and so I was home alone. Messing around with my new ThinkPad gave me something to do in the evenings while my wife and three-year-old daughter were away.

    Trouble was, I found myself messing around with it far too much. There was trouble with the wireless networking. It worked when the machine first booted up, but would spontaneously stop working after three minutes, 30 minutes, and in one case, 30 hours. I tried everything to make it work. I know way too much about Windows and wireless networking. So much that I have a long list of tricks to try in this situation. But no matter what I tried, sooner or later I'd get the message "Limited or no connectivity." And in all cases when I saw that message, the wireless radio had spontaneously shut down.

    The troubleshooting process was complicated by the fact that IBM uses its own special software to customize ThinkPads. A utility called IBM Access Connections is preinstalled on every ThinkPad. The utility is designed to let you save named network and Internet connections that you can turn on in different locales. It's a set of functionality that should be built into Windows, not offered by OEM computer makers. The one advantage to Windows XP SP2's wireless functionality is that it's painfully simple and quite reliable, if not convenient. Three full days later, after testing with and without IBM Access Connections, I was sure there was something wrong with the hardware. So I called IBM's tech support.

    For the first time ever, I got a bad IBM tech support person. He was very helpful, but he made an important mistake. I was in no position to correct him. Neither of us was aware that mini PCI cards aren't user installable on the IBM 15-inch-LCD T42 I had purchased. In fact, you have to totally crack the case of this model ThinkPad to replace the wireless networking functionality — something you should never try with most notebook computers without training and the right tools. After working with me, he agreed the card was at fault. But then he sent me a new one, which arrived two business days later. In the interim, though, I looked more closely at my ThinkPad, consulted the IBM website, and came to the conclusion that there's was no way for an end-user to install a mini PCI card on the 15-inch T series ThinkPads. So I called IBM again. I got confirmation right away that I was right. The suggestion was that I call the IBM customer support center the following Monday and return my T42 since it was during the first 30 days of ownership. Wrong. Sorry, that only applies if you buy your ThinkPad directly from IBM. So, I had to call ThinkPad tech support back again. By this time it's one week since I received the T42, and I'm starting to get a little steamed.

    On my third call to IBM's tech support, my rep is a great guy who knew what he was talking about and who really took the time to set me straight. He overnighted me a box so that I could return the unit to IBM for repair. But he also recommended that because the unit was within 30 days of purchase that I return it to PCSuperDeals and get them to send me a new one. Given just how arduous a job it is to replace this card, I decided that was by far the best way to go.

    The customer support person at PCSuperDeals was pretty good. He took the time to explain their process, and gave me a timeframe. I knew I would have to pay shipping back to them. (Sending it to IBM would have been free.) But the prospect of getting a brand new box with no hassles seemed the better way to go. It took PCSuperDeals the rest of the week, though, to get me the Return Authorization number. I finally received the RA number this past Saturday and sent the unit out the same day. My return ground shipping, from one coast to the other with insurance, cost almost $34. I was told it could take PCSuperDeals 7-10 business days to process and ship me back the new unit. It will take another five business days to return to me if they ship it ground. I might not see the thing back here for a month.

    IBM Delivers T43
    So it was a good thing IBM's press evaluation people contacted me about reviewing a ThinkPad T43 2668-97U. It arrived toward the end of last week, on the same day the Mac Mini showed up. It has an 802.11a/b/g mini PCI wireless networking card, of course. And it's working like a champ. Of course. Sometimes life is ironic.

    The T43 shares the identical form factor of the T42 that just went back to PCSuperDeals. Both of them have the cool fingerprint scanner that lets you login to Windows (and other logins) by sliding your finger over a scanner mounted below the keyboard. You still have passwords, but you never have to remember them. I like this feature a lot. IBM released the first models with this feature late last summer.

    The best thing about the recently introduced T43, however, is Intel's new Sonoma stuff, which includes the Intel Pentium M Processor 760 with a 2MB Level 2 cache, the new Intel 915 Express chipset, and the new 533MHz front side bus. The T43 also sports one PC Card slot and one PCI Express Card slot. The model I'm testing also has the ATI Radeon X300 with 64MB of video memory. The Sonoma line of processors goes up to 2.13GHz; the unit I'm testing is 2.0GHz.

    There is a small but noticeable performance improvement over the 1.8GHz Pentium M Processor 745 and attending chipset with its older 400MHz front side bus. That's the power-train behind the T42 I reviewed last year and also the one I just bought.

    Check out the specs on the ThinkPad T43 2668-97U I'm in the process of evaluating. And check out IBM's Jan. 19, 2005, T43 press release for additional technical detail.

    Back to the Top


    60-Second Briefs
       - Get Firefox and Thunderbird 1.0.1
       - Beware Phishing Scams
       - LCDs, Firefox, and ClearType for Windows XP
       - Get Broadband!
       - Scot's Newsletter Forums

    Get Firefox and Thunderbird 1.0.1
    By now you should have heard that Mozilla released the 1.0.1 security update last week for its Firefox browser for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. The company has also announced it expects to release a similar 1.0.1 security update this coming week for its new Thunderbird email client.

    The update is currently available as an entirely new download of Firefox. Your best bet is to uninstall the 1.0 version of Firefox first, then install Firefox 1.0.1. See the Release Notes for details. (Note: Your bookmarks, extensions, and other customizations will be fully retained when you uninstall and reinstall like this.) Although this update plugs some vulnerabilities, without any known exploits, it also improves the stability of the browser.

    According to published reports, the update addresses a small handful of security issues, the worst of which is termed "moderately critical," and adds some 40 additional fixes derived largely from user feedback.

    The 1.1 version of Firefox was earlier this month confirmed to be on track for a June 2005 release by lead programmer Ben Goodger, when he updated the Mozilla Firefox Roadmap.

    For more information on the 1.0.1 releases:

  • Mozilla Firefox 1.0.1 Release Notes - Mozilla
  • Thunderbird, Mozilla Updates Next In Line - TechWeb
  • Firefox Patch Fixes Security Flaws, Prevents Crashing - InformationWeek

    Speaking of Firefox, I've just updated the Customizing Firefox story from a couple of issues ago. Check it out.

    Beware Phishing Scams
    Identity theft is a very scary thing. I haven't written much about "phishing" in the newsletter. Barely a day passes when I don't get at least 50 spoof emails attempting to get me to provide my PayPal, credit card, or personal banking information. I wrote about phishing scams and the rise of spyware in my column in the upcoming May 2005 issue of PC Today. Bottom line: Use common sense. Never send your social security number, driver's license number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or any other financially sensitive information in response to a request via email. (In fact, just make it a rule never to send these details by email, period.)

    But the real reason for this particular 60-Second Brief is this warning: Phishing scams are on the rise, and they're going to get smarter, a lot smarter. Please, heed this warning now. Information stored on your computer — even if you never send it out in email — is not truly safe unless it's encrypted. Now is the time to wise up about this threat. [Editor's Note: How about all those passwords written on post-its all over your home office bulletin board? --Cyndy.]

    LCDs, Firefox, and ClearType for Windows XP
    One of the more annoying things about switching to Firefox is the fact that zillions of ActiveX applets promulgated on the Web are not supported by your new browser. One applet I use a lot is ClearType for Windows XP, a Microsoft utility designed to enhance the clarity and contrast of fonts displayed on LCD displays. ClearType, a past Scot's Newsletter Link of the Month, delivers a noticeable if not dramatic improvement.

    ClearType improves font display in virtually every application running under Windows XP. But until last fall, you needed Internet Explorer to install it. That's when Microsoft released a 2.5MB download .EXE PowerToy version of ClearType. Since you may only need to run it once, you can uninstall it afterwards from Add or Remove Programs.

  • ClearType PowerToy Page - Microsoft
  • Download ClearType PowerToy - Microsoft

    You may find other PowerToys you like too. I find, in fact, that with Firefox as my default browser, occasionally after a major program installation or security update, Firefox shortcut icons (or bookmark icons on your desktop) lose their Firefox identity and icon. Another PowerToy, Tweak UI, offers the Repair Icons option that fixes this problem in a jiffy.

  • Other Windows XP PowerToys - Microsoft
  • Tweak UI Download - Microsoft

    Get Broadband!
    My April 2005 column in PC Today is all about how and why everyone who can get broadband access should — and what we should do about people who don't have this essential utility available to them.

    Scot's Newsletter Forums
    In the last issue of the newsletter, I wrote a little promotion of the Scot's Newsletter Forums (SNF). Unfortunately, there was an inadvertent copy and paste error in the URL. So here it is again:

    http://forums.scotsnewsletter.com/

    SNF recently came through a major software upgrade, and it continues to grow. Someone has an opportunity to be our 3,000th registered member this week. You don't have to register to just hang out and read. We do require double-opt-in (confirmation click) registration in order to post messages. That's really only to prevent "drive-by flames" though. Your email address is completely confidential.

    Back to the Top


    Death to the Video Card
    Consider this to be a live, on-the-scene report from the school of hard knocks. It's all about how I fried my video card, but wound up not being off that much worse for it.

    Don't tell the local building inspector, but I do my own household wiring. Not all of it, to be sure. I have a very, very healthy respect for electricity. What I know, I've learned by lots of research, talking to experts, and more than 20 years of weekend warrior experience. What I know has worked in every house I've ever lived in (rentals too, and that's a lot of houses, trust me). Mostly, though, I work in exposed areas like basements and garages, though I've done some wall cutting and snaking here and there.

    After moving into the current digs, I discovered that some idiot taking a shortcut — perhaps when the 35-year-old house was built — had wired half my basement (including the furnace) with aluminum wiring. Even worse, there were two junction boxes where copper and aluminum had been spliced together improperly. Needless to say, all that's gone now. And I did it myself. I know enough to sleep well at night when I do this kind of work. I'm careful, I take it slow, and I check it.

    So I'm especially sheepish when I pull a boneheaded moved. A couple weeks back I wanted to check something in my 200-amp service box. I approach the fuse box with the utmost of caution. But there's always this problem with fuse boxes. You should throw the main to disable all power before you unscrew and remove the cover. The problem with that is it's in your basement or some other dark place and you can't see a thing once you do that. You need good battery-powered lighting. So anyway, I didn't have to work in the box, I just wanted to check something that would only take a second. So I resolved to carefully remove the cover, take a quick peek, and then put it back on. But just as I was lifting the heavy cover off the box, it slipped out of my hand, slamming into the twin main circuit-breakers, shutting down all the power in the house.

    But that was only half of what I was stupid about. The other half was that on one the PCs I leave running most of the time, the surge protector was purchased from Tandy Radio Shack at some point (possibly early) in the Reagan era. Worse, last summer, another one of the exact same surge protectors had died a noisy death. And still I had not put this one out to pasture. Well, the mains shutting down the way they did killed it off. And because of Murphy's Law, the NVidia GeForce FX 5200-8x 128MB w/TV video card in that PC gave up the ghost too.

    The video card's death throes were manifest in a very pronounced tic. Every 10 to 30 seconds the image would jump as if struck virtually by a hammer, or would it would black out entirely for five to 10 seconds at a time. Finally, it would display no more. Happily for me, I'd bought this computer in a quantity of two. And I upgraded the other computer to an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro card, so I had an extra NVidia GeForce FX 5200 128MB w/TV. I just popped in the spare and everything was fine.

    Post Script: The process of fixing this problem made me aware of other unrelated problems on this PC — including the fact that its makers, Systemax, never connected the wiring for the front-mounted USB ports and also that the USB functionality was disabled because of a missing Windows driver. Systemax was woefully unhelpful when I emailed its tech support desk. Of course, the unit is out of its one-year warranty. But given how little information this company provides about its products on its website and in its spare manual, I expected more. Withholding information as a way to drive you to extend your warranty doesn't sit well with me.

    Naturally, I fixed all this stuff too.

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    Getting HTML If You Want It
    I'm still getting a surprising amount of email from Text Edition subscribers to Scot's Newsletter congratulating me on the "new HTML format," telling me to keep it coming. Text Edition Subscribers: You're going to keep getting the Text. The HTML edition is over three years old, and no one is being moved to it automatically. If you preferred the HTML Edition, you'll need to take out two minutes to run through my wizard:

  • The Switch-from-Text-to-HTML Wizard

    For the record, HTML subscribers to Scot's Newsletter now outstrip Text subscribers by about 20%. The vast majority of people who have received the HTML edition tell me they prefer it. I've received many emails from people saying that, although they'd expected to hate the HTML edition, they now prefer it.

    Most people just find it easier to read. And the HTML Edition is only slightly larger than the Text Edition. The Text newsletter averages about 45K and the HTML averages about 55K.

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    Recommend-A-Friend to Scot's Newsletter
    Word of mouth is a newsletter's best friend. So I created a little Web-based tool recently that automates the process of recommending the newsletter to a friend. It'll take you 30 seconds to help both me and a friend or two. Check it out:

  • http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/recommend.htm

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    Newsletter Archiving
    I never dreamed this would be as hot a topic as it turned out to be. Hundreds of people wrote to express their opinions about how frequently and in what format I should offer a downloadable archive collection of back issues of this newsletter.

    To me, there is no better archive than the one on my website. You can navigate it by back issue, search the back issue page, or use the website's search tool to look for all the things I've ever written in Scot's Newsletter.

    Despite those methods of retrieving previous articles, most people were suggesting a downloadable file in one of these three formats:

      - HTML
      - PDF
      - Windows Help File

    The strong likelihood is that I will eventually do an archive, and that it will either be in HTML or PDF (with clickable links). Cyndy has already done some exploring of the PDF option, since she recently wrote about PDF-generation tools for PC Today. HTML would be very easy for me to do. It's also a *lot* smaller than PDF. I could create a zip file of HTML editions every six months with relative ease.

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    Announce-Only Text Edition Test Coming
    The results from another barrage of emails still rolling in on this was a 50-50 split, with a lot of people feeling very passionately about it on both sides. In case you missed the discussion last month, here's a recap. I've been looking for ways to minimize my labor-intensive production work load, simplify the process of sending the newsletter, and save money with my list distributor. I have ruled out the use of Multipart Alternative (an automatic process that serves you HTML if your email package is capable of displaying it). I am exploring the idea of converting the entire Text List to Announce Only.

    By that I mean that Text Edition subscribers would no longer receive an entire copy of the newsletter in the mail. Instead, they would receive a text message with a link to the website version of the newsletter.

    The SFNL Announce Only would be a little different than what some other newsletter authors do. It would sport a link to the website edition at the top. But it would also provide the "In This Issue" headlines, with links directly to those sections of the newsletter on the website. So you'd have a good sense about what's in the issue before you launch your browser, and you could cherry pick and navigate the website from the message in your inbox.

    Believe it or not, this approach would save me a lot of time, and a little bit of money.

    It does, however, have a significant downside for people who use PDAs or dial-up. And though I still find it hard to believe, some people tell me they prefer the text formatting. To be honest, I'm sympathetic to the first two groups of people — especially the dial-up people who have no DSL or cable Internet options.

    Even so, I've decided to test this alternative. As before, this will be a one-time test for the next issue of the newsletter.

    HTML-to-Text Converters
    For all of you who think I should use some sort of format conversion tool to create the text edition of the newsletter, I appreciate the sentiment. But this is a lot more complex than it looks. There is no tool out there that can do that job. (It would need full-bore artificial intelligence and still would require a good deal of hand work.) There are a couple of products that come close to being helpful, but not close enough. In case you think you've got something new and better that might help, bear this in mind: It would have to be able to convert hyperlinks so that it preserved both the descriptive hyperlink text as well as the URL. And it would have to place them on two separate lines, the descriptive text above the URL. Anything less than that and it would be faster to do it by hand.

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    Linux Explorer: Ch- Ch- Changing File Permissions
    Last Updated: March 6, 2005
    Access to files in Linux is based on permissions. As you may know, we talk about "users" and "groups." Each has different permissions regarding access to files. The available permissions are read, write, execute, and no permission. This installment of Linux Explorer delves into file permissions, how to find out what the current permisions are, and how to use the chmod command to change them.

    -----------------------

    IMPORTANT: The tips in this document require the use command-line commands. For more information about how to read and execute Linux command-line prompts and commands, please check the Linux Clues' Linux Cheat Sheet, especially Linux Prompt Basics and Linux Command-Line Nomenclature. You'll need to start by logging in as root. If you're not sure how to do that, read Logging in and out as Root.

    -----------------------

    File Permissions Explained
    There's a clever command that let's you check existing file permissions. The command "ls" lists all the files in the current directory, "ls -a" shows all the hidden files as well. Typing this returns the results in "long" format:

    $ ls -l

    So, for example, when you type something like:

    $ ls -l /etc/gnome/gnomerc

    Linux will return list the file permissions for the file gnomerc in this format:

    -rwxr-xr-x   1   root   root   484 Feb 25 14:08 /etc/gnome/gnomerc

    This does look a bit complicated at first, but it gets easier once you understand what everything means. The first 10 characters should be read like this:

    - | rwx | r-x | r-x

    The first character, the "-", tells you whether the item you're checking is a file (-), a directory (d), or a link (l).

    The next three characters, "rwx", express the permissions for the user (or file owner). They correspond to: Read, Write, and eXecute.

    The next three characters, "r-x", are for the group.

    The last three-character set, "r-x", refers to public permissions, or "everyone."

    You've already gotten what you came for, the permissions for the file. But here's how the rest of the listing should be interpreted:

    The "1" stands for the number of links to the file.

    The position where the first "root" appears lists the file owner.

    The position where the second "root" appears lists the group.

    The "484" is the size in bytes.

    The date and time refer to the last modification to the file.

    And, the last bit refers to the name and path of the file being checked.

    Getting Directory Permissions
    The same command works for checking all the permissions of a directory and its file contents. So, for example, type (replacing "bruno" with your user name):

    $ ls -al /home/bruno

    That returns a long list of all the files in your home directory and their permissions. Because that tends to be too long for your screen, the better way to do it is to instead type:

    $ ls -al /home/bruno >permissions

    That creates a text file called "permissions" in your home directory. Print it out for further inspection.

    Changing File Permissions
    You change permissions with letters or numbers. We prefer the numbers. Do you remember the chmod 775 command from the All That Bash installment of Linux Explorer? (Look under the "Bash Script" heading.) That was one example of changing permissions. Typing the following command (choosing the filename of your choice) will change the permissions of the file to rwx r-x r--.

    # chmod 754 {filename}

    Remember, the available permissions are Read, Write, and eXecute. Each permission is assigned a different number:

    Read = 4
    Write = 2
    eXecute = 1

    The first number in the chmod command above corresponds to the "user"; the second number corresponds to the "group"; and third number corresponds to "everyone." Add the numbers for the permissions you want to assign to each position.

    To give the user all permissions, you add up the numbers for the three permissions: 4 + 2 + 1 = 7

    To give the group Read and eXecute (not Write) permissions: 4 + 1 = 5

    And to give everyone read-only permission: 4 = 4.

    Put them together and you get chmod 754.

    So, if you change a file's permissions to 777, that will give all permissions to everybody. Not a wise thing to do.

    Chown and chgrp are two commands also related to permissions:

    # chown

    This changes the owner of the file.

    # chown anna tessst

    This example changes the owner of the file tessst from bruno to anna.

    # chgrp

    This changes the group ownership of a file if you changed the user and the user belongs to another group. If you want to change both user and group at the same time you can do it this way:

    # chown anna:anna tessst

    This example changes the owner to anna and the group to anna.

    When you want to do the same thing for all the files in a directory, type it with the -R attribute:

    # chown -R anna:anna tessst

    The Letter-Based Method
    In addition to the method described above there is a second way to change permissions. Chmod uses either the numeric representation of the permissions or a letter-based representation. The letter-based representation is [ugoa][+-][rwx]. This is one of the letters u (user=file owner), g (group), o (others), a (all users, groups and others); followed by + or - to add or remove permissions; and then the symbolic representation of the permissions in the form of r(read) w(write) x(execute). To extend Write permissions to all for the file "file.txt," for example, you would type:

    # chmod a+w file.txt

    Is your head spinning yet? That's enough on this subject. Next time we'll tackle another exciting Linux adventure.

    Sources
    Most of the material found in Linux Explorer comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, lead moderator of the popular All Things Linux forum at Scot's Newsletter Forums. Bruno is helped by All Things Linux co-moderators Peachy and Teacher, as well as other forum members who have posted in the highly useful Tips for Linux Explorers thread (from which Linux Explorer and the LinuxClues.com site are adapted). All previous installments of this section of the newsletter can be found at LinuxClues.com. For more from Bruno, please see his Tips for Linux Explorers website.

    Linux Explorer is edited by Cyndy, and copyedited by Scot.

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    Problem of the Month: Windows XP Pro File Sharing
    Windows XP Pro's LAN file sharing model is designed to provide increased levels of security, but strangely, the default settings both leave your computer vulnerable and are apt to frustrate more experienced users running larger peer networks.

    I've come to realize that literally thousands and probably millions of people using Windows XP, especially under NTFS, are working around a complex directory-based permissions that limit file sharing from specific folders. The first step, if you're willing to dig into this to ensure you're protected, is to disable something called Simple File Sharing.

    There are a lot of variables to this problem, and there's no possible way I can lay it out to you in one little article in the newsletter. But if you've been frustrated by this problem, the following articles will definitely help. The Practically Networked article is jam packed with useful information. Be sure to page through that piece. It's a shame it hasn't been updated recently.

  • How to Configure File Sharing in Windows XP - Microsoft
  • How to Disable Simplified Sharing and Set Permissions on a shared folder in Windows XP - Microsoft
  • Enabling Windows XP File Permissions Editing - WhooZoo
  • Windows XP Professional File Sharing - Practically Networked
  • Establish the Correct File-Sharing Permissions in Win XP - CNETAsia

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    Newsletter Schedule
    Scot's Newsletter is a monthly e-magazine. My aim is to deliver each issue of the newsletter on or before the first of each month.

    You can always find out when the next issue of Scot's Newsletter is expected to appear by visiting the Scot's Newsletter home page.

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