Main Line Computer Users Group


February 2005 Issue 273

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - FEBRUARY 12 th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
UPCOMING MEETING:

You have all seen samples of some of the photo recovery work that Layton Fireng has done. This month, he'll show us some of how it's done!

The program is about photographs, what they are, and what we can do with them. We need to understand what a photograph is, whether film, or digital. What a good exposure is and how to ensure that a good exposure is made.

Once we have an image, what can we do with it? I will limit this portion to correcting / restoring photographs. Before we can correct, we have to know how the image is constructed, then we can look to improving what we have. When we look at a picture, what do we see that we want to improve or correct? When we understand what is lacking and our tools, we can think of what correction is possible. The talk will be limited to general demonstrations, rather than great detail and many involved steps. We will dwell briefly with rips and blemishes. What I seek is to show the possibilities, and different approaches. Although I'll use Photoshop, most steps can be done with the more affordable Elements III.

Any who want to bring an image (TIFF, JPG, or PSD) will be entertained . Can't promise that we can get to them, but they are welcome.


Are YOU Getting Fed UP???

At more than one meeting, I have expressed my disgust at the enormous waste of computing and human resources trying to stay on top of viri, worms, Trojans, spyware, etc. A recent article by one of the San Francisco Chronicle's columnists (Mark Morford) has expressed it better! [cont]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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ARE YOU GETTING FED UP? - that bit is a theme for this issue, as is obvious from p.1. If you take the time - and I hope you will - to read the article beginning on p.5, you may find that you share some of the author's disgust at the way PCs have moved in recent year's. His solution - to switch to a MAC - may not be to your taste (tho it's not really a problem for most folks). But, an option he briefly mentioned - switching to Linux - may be more palatable (at least you won't have to buy new hardware). So, give the article a read, then plan to attend our March meeting. If you decide to make a change, I reckon we can try to assist (after all, most of us made the switch from Commodore!)! Emil...

OUR WEBSITE - just a reminder that our faithful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, will be most appreciative of ideas to improve the usability and value of this website; so don't hesitate to suggest (he says he's still learning!).

REGULAR REMINDERS:

1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

2) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room (we have hit 800+ KBps, that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). If you have a BIG download, you can bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done before or after the main meeting.

3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

January's wet, but NOT cold, snowy or icy, weather brought out 21 attendees, including 2 visitors. Our meeting room was, to put it mildly, in a mess when we arrived; so more effort than usual was required to make it useable! However, in spite of all this, we had an excellent meeting - with another successful demonstration essentially untouched by Murphy's Law.

Because of the expected length of the presentation, we limited the beginning of the meeting primarily to announcements and info to be passed on to everyone.

Amongst some of these items were experiences with the $200 computer that had been on sale briefly at Staples in late December. For those (including Emil and Marty) who zoomed in and got one, the opinion was unanimous that it was an incredible bargain. Most likely Staples had got their hands on a large quantity of a soon-to-be-discontinued Compaq Presario desktop system. Experiences with them so far have been rewarding.

Layton Fireng showed an SD memory card reader that he had got, which could also be used as a USB flash drive. SD cards up to 1 GB capacity are available and you can stick in another one when you fill up the first (something you can't do with a dedicated flash drive). A couple of items that I covered were the arrival of cell phone malware, including a Trojan Horse that masquerades as the Macromedia Flash Player that is commonly used by websites to do animation. If you have one of the fancy cell phones, be prepared to start protecting it!!

Just prior to starting the main program, I quickly showed the group several web sites that are very useful references to very long lists and compilations of data that you are very likely to want to get your hands on. They included:

Lists and descriptions of files likely to be started up by your computer and appearing in the "Task List" (call it up by pressing the CRTL-ALT_DEL keys together, then click the "Processes" tab).

http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php - this site can help you figure out what they are and whether you can safely kill them

http://www.answersthatwork.com - another well done site that has a long list of programs that can be running anytime.

http://www.filext.com - here's a long list of file extensions (hundreds of them) and the applications that they are associated with. Use it to identify the type and origin of files you do not recognize (and Windows doesn't either!)

The meeting was then turned over to John Murphy who got the demo underway, subject: "Capturing Audio". The demonstration was to be done using a cassette tape as the audio source, but the process can be applied to sound sources as diverse as LP records and streaming audio from the Internet. Here's my summary:

CAPTURING AUDIO

John Murphy started his presentation by going thru what you need to get the job done - the hardware and software. If you have a computer no older than 3-4 years, you'll likely have the minimum hardware (except possbily for a few cables). Two software components are needed; one to capture the sound information and edit it for burning to a CD and the CD burning software. If you already have the CD burner, you'll likely have the second piece of software and will only need to get the sound capture and edit program. All these needs are spelled out in the handout that John had thoughtfully provided (which will shortly be available for download from the MLCUG download site).

For the audio software, John chose a freeware program called: "Audacity". Everyone who attended the December meeting has it, as it is included in the "OpenCD" part of the club CD that was distributed. Any member who did not make December, but has renewed for 2005 can get a copy of the CD by contacting Emil. Or, you can use the URL listed in John's handout. That website, incidentally, has a tutorial on using Audacity. John installed Audacity from the CD on the club's PC while we observed the install (which was quite quick and uneventful).

The burner software had been installed and tested before the meeting - for this meeting, it was the "NERO OEM" program, from Ahead Software (which is commonly distributed with CD burner drives); but you can use your favorite program.

The cassette tape was an 18 minute long set of four Charlie Brown tunes. John fired up Audacity, set it to capture and display the sound waves as they were captured. Then, he turned on the cassette player and we got to observe for a couple of minutes while John pointed out features of the program to observe and check out to make sure the capturing was going OK (the general capture settings are listed in the handout). When all was proceeding satisfactorily, the sound volume was turned down and John continued with his review of the handout.

When the tape had finished (in a tad over 18 minutes), John stopped the hardware and immediately saved the captured sound to the hard drive as a .wav file. This file format preserves all the captured information and can be called up if something gets messed up in working the information over. The wav file was about 180 MB in size (they are normally about 10 MB for each minute of sound).

Using the editing features of Audacity, John deleted the dead areas at the beginning and end of the recording. We could easily scan thru the whole file of sound info to see just how it all looks. Then, he scanned thru the file to locate the quiet times between each tune (about 4 seconds of near silence). He then selected each tune, removed most of the silence and saved each, in turn, as its own mp3 file (the compressed sound file that is only about a tenth of the size of a wav file). So, at this point, we had five files - the one big master (wav) and the four smaller ones (mp3). Audacity would let us replay each of the tunes from the wav files saved to the hard drive.

He closed Audacity, fired up the NERO Express CD burning software, inserted a blank CD-R into the burner drive on the club computer and had it burn the four individual files as separate audio tracks on this new "music" CD.

This very quick step was culminated by closing NERO, then playing the tunes from that new CD. It worked and sounded just fine!!

Congratulations to John for a very well done, essentially hitchless program. Thanks again!

And, as I said, if you missed the meeting, you missed a very good introduction to capturing audio with your computer. See you next time? [Emil Volcheck]

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UPCOMING PROGRAMS

To provide a preview of upcoming meeting programs, your Steering Committee continues to keep a bit ahead. Here's what it looks like for:

March - a LINUX install on the club's PC April - protecting your data May - making and using the MLCUG Open CD

Your input is always sought; so let us hear from you this meeting.

NOTE: as of this writing, I have no got any suggestions from the general membership!! How about it, you all must have some preferences for a meeting program!! [Emil Volcheck]

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A Bit of Relief From Computers!

[Courtesy of Joe Pizzirusso]

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SPECIAL OFFER FOR "TRUE IMAGE 8.0" BACKUP

I have mentioned on a couple of occasions that the program "True Image 8.0" from Acronis software has replaced Powerquest's Drive Image in my affections! At a future meeting, I expect to show it off, but if anyone would like to give the software a try, it can be had at a user group discount from "User Group Relations".

The program lists for $63, but can be had thru UGR for $38, retail package. I will have order forms at the meeting next Saturday. You can either use the form and mail in a check, or use their web ordering via the directions given on the form. [Emil Volcheck]

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SP 2's Installation CD

And, speaking of CDs, if you do not have one, you may want a copy of the installation CD for Windows XP Service Pack 2.

If you do so, we can crank out any needed copies of either the Microsoft CD or the Emil special (one that he prepared via downloading from the MS website). You can swap a blank CD-R disc for either of them.

Emil's version runs a bit (to a lot) quicker and contains the latest version of our suggested procedure for prepping for the installation.

The MS version contains some extras that I have not investigated; so perhaps you may ultimately want both. To order either, just pop an email to Emil (emilv@ccil.org) or call him at 610-388-1581, to get on the list for a copy.

If you use Windows XP, you should have a copy of the SP2 CD, even if you do not plan to use it rightaway. If you install it at some future date, you'll need your own copy to recover from a future disaster, where you need to re-install your XP OS!

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Are YOU Getting Fed Up?

[cont'd from p.1] To lift a quote from the article:

"Perhaps there is something I'm missing. Maybe there's something I don't understand as to why there is not a massive rush of consumers and IT managers to dump PCs in favor of Macs (or even Linux OS). Surely thousands (millions?) of work-hours have been lost nationwide as tech departments spend untold months debugging and installing PC virus protections and keeping abreast of the latest and greatest worm to come down the pike, all due to Microsoft's lousy software."

I thought about putting some context around that quote, but instead am opting to give you Mark's article, which follows. Also, see remarks on p.2.

Why Does Windows Still Suck?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist, 2/4/05

Why do PC users put up with so many viruses and worms? Why isn't everyone on a Mac?

So about a year ago, the SO finally upgraded her Net connection to DSL, carefully installed the Yahoo! DSL software into her creaky Sony Vaio PC laptop and ran through all the checks and install verifications and appropriate nasty disclaimers.

And all seemed to go smoothly and reasonably enough considering it was a Windows PC and therefore nothing was really all that smooth or reasonable or elegant, but whatever. She just wanted to get online. Should be easy as 1-2-3, claimed the Yahoo! guide. Painless as tying your shoe, said the phone company.

She got online all right. The DSL worked great. For about four minutes.

Then, something happened. Something attacked. Something swarmed her computer the instant she tried to move around online and the computer slowed and bogged and cluttered and crashed, and multiple restarts and debuggings and what-the-hells only brought up only a flood of nightmarish pop-up windows and terrifying error messages and massive system slowdowns and all manner of inexplicable claims of infestation of this worm and that Trojan horse and did we want to buy McAfee AntiVirus protection for $39.95?

Four minutes. And she was already DOA.

My SO, she is not alone. This exact same scenario, with only slight variation, is happening throughout the nation, right now. Are you using a PC? You probably have spyware. The McAfee site claims a whopping 91 percent of PCs are infected. As every Windows user knows, PCs are ever waging a losing battle with a stunningly vicious array of malware and worms and viruses, all aimed at exploiting one of about ten thousand security flaws and holes in Microsoft Windows.

Here, then, is my big obvious question: Why the hell do people put up with this? Why is there not some massive revolt, some huge insurrection against Microsoft? Why is there not a huge contingent of furious users stomping up to Seattle with torches and scythes and crowbars, demanding the Windows Frankenstein monster be sacrificed at the altar of decent functionality and an elegant user interface?

There is nothing else like this phenomenon in the entire consumer culture. If anything else performed as horribly as Windows, and on such a global scale, consumers would scream bloody murder and demand their money back and there would be some sort of investigation, class-action litigation, a demand for Bill Gates' cute little geeky head on a platter.

Here is your brand new car, sir. Drive it off the lot. Yay yay new car. Suddenly, new car shuts off. New car barely starts again and then only goes about 6 miles per hour and it belches smoke and every warning light on the dashboard is blinking on and off and the tires are screaming and the heater is blasting your feet and something smells like burned hair. You hobble back to the dealer, who only says, gosh, sorry, we thought you knew -- that's they way they all run. Enjoy!

Would you not be, like, that is the goddamn last time I buy a Ford?

I see it all around me. All Chronicle employees receive regular email warnings from our IT department about all sorts of viruses that are coming their way and aiming for company PCs. The AP tech newswires are full tales of newly hatched viruses and worms and Trojan horses and insidious spyware programs sweeping networks and wreaking havoc on PCs and causing all manner of international problems, and all exploiting this or that serious flaw in the Windows OS.

Oh yes, the Serious Windows Flaw. This is astounding indeed. It seems not a month goes by that Gates & Co. isn't announcing yet another Microsoft Security Bulletin, one that could cause serious problems for users and networks and millions of Web sites alike, could compromise your personal data and make it very easy for any 10-year-old hacker to waltz right into your hard drive and swipe your credit card info and wipe out all your porn and read your secret emails to the babysitter and won't you please hurry over to Microsoft.com and download Major Windows Security Bug Fix #10-524-5b?

There have been not a few of these dire warnings. There have been dozens. Maybe hundreds. Each more dire and alarming than the last.

And with very few exceptions, every Mac owner everywhere on the planet simply looks at all this viral chaos and spyware noise and Microsoft apologia and shrugs. And smiles. And pretty much ignores it all outright, and gets back to work. (By the way, yes, I own a tiny handful of Apple stock. Do I need to advocate for Mac? Hardly. I'm already happy as can be thanks to the success of the brilliant, world-altering iPod.)

It's very simple. The Mac really has few, if any, known viruses or major debilitating anything, no spyware and no Trojans and no worms, and sure I've been affected by a couple email bugs over the years, but those were mostly related to my mail server and ISP. For the most part and for all intents and purposes, Macs are immune. Period.

I know of what I speak. I am not a novice. I've been using Macs almost daily for 15 years. I am online upward of 10-12 hours a day. I run multiple Net-connected programs at all times. I receive upward of 500 emails a day, much of it nasty spam that often comes with weird indecipherable attachments that try, in vain, to infiltrate my machine. My Mac just shrugs them off and keeps working perfectly. I dump them all in the trash and never look back.

I'm a power user. And I have yet to suffer a single debilitating virus or worm or spyware or malware whatsoever. Not one problem in 15 years, save the time I spilled water in the keyboard of my PowerBook and I took off the back and let it dry out for two days and it worked perfectly.

Oh, I know all the arguments as to why Macs aren't the dominant system in the world. I know Apple screwed up 20 years ago by not licensing its OS, and Gates stumbled in and made a killing by stealing the Mac's look and feel but mangling the actual usability and thus irritating about 150 million people for the next 20 years.

I know Macs are (well, were) more expensive, even though they're really not, when you finally jam that ugly cheapass Dell with enough video cards and sound cards and disk burners to make it comparable to a Mac that comes with all of it, standard.

I know Macs arn't perfect, that there have been a handful of serious Apple security fixes over the years, and even a few rumored viruses and spyware apps (though rarely any reports of major server attacks or system shutdowns). I know Apple releases regular security updates. The Mac is not flawless. But it's damn close.

And I know, finally, the argument that says that if the world was using Macs instead of PCs, the hackers would be attacking the Macs. It's a game of numbers, after all. Anti-Mac pundits always mutter the same thing as they install yet another PC bug fix: there just aren't enough Macs out there to warrant a hacker's attention.

Which is, of course, mostly bull. I'm no programmer, but I know what I read, and I know my experience: the Mac OS architecture is much more robust, much more solid, much more difficult to hack into. Apple's software is, by default, more sound and reliable, given its more stable core. (Sometime in the later '90s, a Mac org whose name I forget ran a rather amazing hacker competition: they offered a $13,000 cash prize to anyone in the world who could hack into the company's unprotected Mac server and alter the contest's home page in any way. Needless to say, no one ever could).

Perhaps there is something I'm missing. Maybe there's something I don't understand as to why there is not a massive rush of consumers and IT managers to dump PCs in favor of Macs (or even Linux OS). Surely thousands (millions?) of work-hours have been lost nationwide as tech departments spend untold months debugging and installing PC virus protections and keeping abreast of the latest and greatest worm to come down the pike, all due to Microsoft's lousy software.

Am I being unfair? Maybe. Hell, I'm sure Windows has its gnarled and wary defenders, war-torn and battle-tested folk who still insist that, because there's more software available for the Windows OS, it's somehow superior -- though I challenge them to name one significant, common activity the Mac can't do as well as, if not better than, PCs. For 97 percent of users in the world, Macs would be a more elegant and intuitive and appealing solution. Period.

So then. Here's hoping the new, incredibly affordable Mac Mini converts a hundred million people to Mac in the next year. Here's hoping the borderline illegal and monopolistic domination of Microsoft comes to an end in the next decade. Apple appears poised, finally, again, ready to take over the consumer world. Hell, thousands of glorious iPods have already infiltrated the Microsoft campus up in Redmond, causing MS management no end of humiliation and frustration. Can revolution be far behind?

And what about my SO's PC woes? Well, after her Vaio was so violently debilitated, and after being told by various experts that it would require nothing short of a complete (and very expensive) Windows system debugging and OS reinstall followed by a mandatory soak of the machine in a tub of bleach and then spraying it with a thick coat of road tar as she waved a burning effigy of Steve Ballmer over it while chanting the text of the Official Microsoft 'Screw You Sucker' Windows Troubleshooting Guide, she promptly dumped the useless hunk of sad landfill and bought herself a beautiful new iBook.

And of course, in a year of solid use, she has yet to have a single problem. Oh wait. I take that back. She has had one nagging issue with her Mac. One program keeps crashing in the middle of her work, for no apparent reason. It is baffling and frustrating and makes you shake your head and want to scream.

The program in question? Microsoft Word!!!

-------------------PC/128/64 Meetings  2005  Steering Committee Meetings

			January 8  			January 26 *
			February 12			February 16 **
			March 12 			March 16 **

	* = FOURTH Wednesday	** = THIRD Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
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