Category Archives: Computers and Internet

Caveat emptor: AT&T Advertising Solutions

AT&T Advertising Solutions uses the tactics of used car salesmen.

 

illustration by Russ Bellew

Within the past week, my suspicions about the way that AT&T Advertising Solutions handles SEO (Search Engine Optimization) were confirmed by the experience of a new client. When AT&T Advertising Solutions creates and hosts a website, they deliberately request that Google not add that website’s pages to Google’s index. (This is probably done within a website’s robots.txt file.) This prevents the website from being found via a Google search for keywords that are contained within the website’s pages. Your website can’t be found by searching for your keywords!

Then AT&T Advertising Solutions tries to upsell their “SEO Services”, which consist of, at the onset, merely allowing Google to add the new website’s pages to Google’s index. (A website administrator could do this in minutes by deleting one slash character “/” from the website’s robots.txt file.)

Sleazy used car sales tactic

The amazing thing about this is that, by default, Google would have eventually discovered and indexed the new website. Instead, AT&T goes out of their way to prevent Google from indexing your new website. This is like removing the windows from a car, selling that car without windows, and demanding more money when the customer asks, “May I have the windows, please?”.

What are your experiences with AT&T Advertising Solutions?

  • Update, October 2015: This shady operation was spun off by AT&T in 2012 and now is named YP LLC. It uses the trade name YP Marketing Solutions. Same sleazy tactics. Numerous consumer complaints.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695
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Facebook introduces “open data center”.

Facebook opens its data center design to encourage low cost copycats.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, noting that he developed Facebook’s software by using open-source software, has published Facebook’s newest data center design so that it can be copied by others. This new data center will open next month in rural Prineville, Orgeon.

MIT reports on the 147,000 square foot open design in two April 7 articles: Inside Facebook’s Not-So-Secret New Data Center and Facebook Opens Up Its Hardware Secrets.

It sounds like an innovative design. They run 3-phase 480/277 Volt electrical power directly to each server, to reduce step-down transformer losses. (This is very unconventional: I’ve never heard of it being done before.) They claim that each server’s power supply has an efficiency of 94%! They cool the servers by using prevailing winds and evaporative water cooling. (This is reminiscent of the whole-house coolers seen in relatively low-humidity Kansas.)

They use a power line reactor to condition incoming power and correct power factor. (This will lower utility costs.) Apparently there’s a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) using 48 VDC batteries, which are much better than 12 VDC batteries for each row of server racks. Lighting is provided by LEDs that are supplied by power over Ethernet. (I want to see this!)

Read about the ground-up data center design and construction in this Facebook engineering note. Be sure to watch the video. This is a startling statement: “The result is that our Prineville data center uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as Facebook’s existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less.” This summarizes why opening your designs makes sense: “opening the technology means the community will make advances that we wouldn’t have discovered if we had kept it secret.

I applaud Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook. Microsoft, Google, and other data center owners jealously guard their data center details. (Occasionally, information leaks out. Read What exactly is inside a Google data center?) Mr. Zuckerberg points out that there’s no reason to be so secretive: Why not allow the world to benefit from your data center design innovations?

Share this design

A project to open data center design, opencompute.org, plans to open the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of data centers so that anyone may use those designs. (The site contains Facebook’s design specs in PDF files that may be downloaded.) I think that this is great. Let’s hope that this trend continues throughout the computing hardware AND software realms. I hope that proprietary accounting software will be replaced soon by open-source accounting software. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Facebook’s Open compute servers

Above photos & notations: Lance Albertson

USB devices MAY halt computer boot

Photo: André Karwath aka Aka

If your computer won’t start, try removing USB devices.

I was engaged by a New York-based VAR (Value Added Reseller) to replace a server in a busy Miami environment. The symptom was that the server (only a few months old) wouldn’t boot. The VAR’s tech support personnel had remotely diagnosed the server and concluded that it needed to be replaced. The new server had been drop-shipped to the customer site, so I just needed to copy the data from the old server to the new server. I removed the drive from the old server and copied the data to the new server within an
hour; the new server started fine. Then the VAR’s technician logged on remotely to the new server and fine-tuned the VAR’s application.

The VAR had provided an external hard drive, connected via a USB cable, for routine data backup. We plugged it into the new server, and while it seemed to run okay, it made some odd squeaking noises for about 30 seconds. I tidied up the site as the VAR’s technician tidied up the software. When he tried to restart the new server, it wouldn’t boot. Neither of us liked the sound from the external hard drive. Turning off the external hard drive and removing its USB cable from the server allowed the new server to boot just fine. The USB-attached external hard drive wasn’t playing nice with the server, so the new server refused to boot. The technician asked the customer to return the old external hard drive and ordered a replacement external hard drive.

Moral of the story: When trouble-shooting a computer that won’t boot, don’t assume that all of its USB-connected devices are okay. Temporarily unplug any unnecessary USB devices and then try restarting the computer. It may just work!

p.s. I’ll bet that the old server was fine. We just needed to replace the external hard drive. D’oh!

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695




Amazon’s CEO introduces new improved Kindle e-book reader

Screenshot of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: The Charlie Rose Show

Amazon shows new, smaller Kindle e-book reader with same screen size, improved battery life, plus a $139 WiFi-only model

Charlie Rose, a lawyer turned television interviewer, is amazingly clued-in to information technology trends. On Wednesday night, he (again) interviewed Jeff Bezos, the long-time CEO of Amazon.com.

Jeff brought with him Amazon’s newest version of its ground-breaking Kindle e-book reader. It’s smaller, lighter, has better screen contrast, and has a one-month battery life, yet retains the same screen dimensions as the earlier Kindle. It looks like a winner. It will be released on August 27. The conversation had the easy, natural flow of a meeting between old friends — which apparently is the relationship between Jeff and Charlie. I especially enjoyed hearing Bezos, with apparent candor, explain the reasoning behind some of the Kindle’s design decisions: the trade-off between touch-screen functionality and minimum glare, for example. He emphasized that high contrast paper-like presentation with minimal eye strain remain Kindle design goals.

Mr. Bezos mentioned that at Amazon, over the past three months, sales of books in Kindle format have outnumbered sales of hardcover books by about 50%, and that this margin is widening.

The interview goes on to cover Amazon’s remarkable success, which Mr. Bezos attributes to Amazon’s concentration on customer satisfaction, and its willingness to suffer initial losses as it gains market share in new markets. (Sounds like the Japanese way of doing business.) All in all, it’s an interview worth watching.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695



Picasa adds face recognition.

Now Picasa can organize your photos by who’s in them.

Picasa recently added face recognition. It will scan your photos, identify people’s faces, and ask you for their names. It then tags each photo with those names and offers to place them in folders, with one folder for each person. (I think that it actually just creates pointers to each photo.)

Picasa has long been a leading on-line photo library. It was acquired by Google in 2004. Its major competitor is Kodak Gallery. Other players are Flickr, Facebook, Snapfish, and Shutterfly. None, as far as I know, offers face recognition. Expect to see them add face recognition real soon now.

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Carbonite has a new competitor: Acronis

The photograph is by John from USA. That was a telephone atop the computer case.

 

Acronis enters the online backup market by offering a $50 per year service: 5 computers; 250 GB max.

 

Carbonite is the leader in the online backup market. For $55 per year, Carbonite backs up an unlimited amount of data from one computer (either Windows or Mac). I like it: the service is reliable, unobtrusive, and the user interface is intuitive. It has a few competitors, but it leads the market. Acronis, who’s the leader in computer backup software for backing up to local media (tape, external hard drives, etc.), has begun offering Acronis Online Backup for $50 per year. It’s limited to 250 gigabytes of backed-up data, which may be distributed amongst up to 5 computers (Windows only – no Macs). This will be attractive to households and small businesses with several computers.

Acronis’ local backup and disk imaging software regularly wins awards. They are integrating it with their well-respected local-backup product, True Image. This is an industry first. (I have conservative customers who use both an external hard drive and Carbonite for backup. This gives them the fast speeds of local backup plus the security of having encrypted copies of their data reside off-site.) It’ll be interesting to see how well Acronis integrates local and online backup — this could be a real winner.
If Acronis Online Backup is as good as their local backup product, it will give Carbonite serious competition — especially at the introductory discount price of $30 per year (available until 15 February 2010. Subsequent years will not be discounted.). Have a look — both companies encrypt your data before it’s sent over the Internet and both companies offer free trials



Regardless of vendor, online backup offers low entry cost and complete protection within a few days of sign-up: there’s no hardware to buy and setup is very easy.

Articles on my website:

 

 

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of both Acronis and Carbonite.


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http://russbellew.com

Round 1 of eBay v Craigslist has ended

Round 1 awaits the judge’s decision. Round 2 of the eBay v Craigslist courtroom fight will begin in 2010.

After more than a week of courtroom scrapping, the judge who’s presiding over the Delaware lawsuit between eBay and Craigslist has urged the parties to settle out of court. He promised only that he would require time to reach a decision and that neither party would regard it as a clear victory. Chancellor William Chandler II warned: “I have an uncanny ability to make everyone unhappy.”

Case: eBay Domestic Holdings Inc v Newmark, et al, Delaware Chancery Court, No. 3705-CC  (Why Delaware? Craigslist is incorporated there.) My comment on week 1 of trial.

This lawsuit even has political implications: Meg Whitman, who was eBay CEO during the Craigslist stock acquisition, is campaigning as a Republican for the office of Governor of California. Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) is a major contributor to Democrat candidates and their causes. Craigslist testimony painted Whitman as a less than honest businesswoman, which may cost her votes in the gubernatorial election.

This public airing of dirty laundry could have been avoided if Craigslist had placed controls on the trading of its shares, as defined in
Five Lessons from the eBay-Craigslist Fight: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/dec2009/sb20091222_305115.htm

Craigslist has filed a separate lawsuit against eBay in California. It’s expected to go to trial in early 2010.


Visit my website:
http://russbellew.com

 

Synchronize files with “the cloud”

“Cloud computing” can store and help you synchronize files on multiple laptop and desktop computers.

The trendy term “the cloud” simply refers to the Internet. (Schematic diagrams display the Internet as a cloud.) There are a number of companies that offer file synchronization services. Most offer a basic service for free and charge money for enhanced services.

One of the leading players in this market is Dropbox. Maximum PC recently suggested 15 clever ways that Dropbox can be used to provide other services. Strong competitors include SugarSync and MemoPal

A nice thing about all these services is that you can use them to synchronize files between geographically diverse sites. You and a colleague who’s located thousands of miles away can work together on a sales proposal in almost real-time: pretty nice for zero cost.

Round 1 of The Main Event (eBay v Craigslist) has begun


The opening bell rings and the contenders come out swinging! eBay’s former CEO Meg Whitman and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster testify in round 1 of their courtroom fight.


Other headliners who testified last week: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, and Skype CEO Josh Silverman.

eBay has made no secret of their desire to acquire Craigslist and they came close to doing so when eBay bought 28% of Craigslist shares in 2004. But the relationship between the two companies ran off the rails and now they’re suing each other. The trial opened in the state of Delaware this past week, and the CEOs of both have already testified. This courtroom drama will be worth watching.

I view this as a conflict of cultures: eBay is driven by profit; Craigslist is driven by, well, it seems to be driven by service. It’s clear that Craigslist’s founder, Craig Newmark, could cash in his shares at any time and walk away a zillionaire, but he seems to be driven to provide a spam-free forum where sellers and buyers can safely meet and buy and sell.

This summary of yesterday’s courtroom testimonies will bring you up to speed: http://www.law.com/jsp/tal/digestTAL.jsp?id=1202436288314 and you can follow the links from there.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

Easily Install All of Your Favorite Apps

Save time when installing application programs on a PC.
Installing two or more application programs on a PC can chew up your time as you wade through web pages, download prompts that don’t always work, and questions and answers. Now ninite.com (http://ninite.com/) does this tedious work for you. I’ve tried it on a few PCs and it’s worked flawlessly. Install everything in one easy step on your brand-new Windows 7 PC!

 

Thanks to The Real Deal podcast for this tip.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com

Update your FoxIt PDF reader

If you can’t view images in PDF files, you may need to update your FoxIt Reader.

I’ve been using FoxIt Reader, rather than Adobe Reader, to display PDF files. I noticed that it didn’t display images in a newly created document, so I chose Check For Updates Now, saw that there was a JPG graphic image update, grabbed it and an “upgrade”, and — voilà! — it fixed itself. I wish that all problems were so easily cured. While your PC is connected to the Internet, update FoxIt Reader by clicking on Help and then Check For Updates Now.

Adobe Reader’s problems: http://russbellew.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D5F86162D2CCCC87!426.entry

Average schmo: 1. United Airlines: 0

Has an airline ever treated you unfairly? Has any large company ever treated you, a paying customer, with indifference or even disdain?

 

United Airlines abused the wrong passenger. Their luggage handlers at O’hare Airport (Chicago, Illinois) broke a passenger’s guitar and then refused for a year to compensate him for his loss. Rather than sue United, the passenger, who is a musician, wrote a clever song, produced a funny video, and posted it on Youtube. In less than a week, it has been viewed over 2.4 million times and received over 20,000 (mostly positive) comments. It’s a public relations nightmare for United.

Here’s the “United Breaks Guitars” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

View Dave Carroll’s commentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo  He seems like an A-1 chap: http://davecarrollmusic.com/

This is a David and Goliath story. David has used the power of the web. Goliath has no viable response channel.
Let’s summarize:
  • Damage to guitar: $1200
  • Dave Carroll’s video production cost: $300 (including $160 for props)
  • Loss in goodwill for United: millions of dollars
  • Potential lost revenue for United: millions of dollars
The phrase, “Penny wise and pound foolish” applies to United.
Dave indicates that some of his conversations were with United agents who are based in India. (This demonstrates that the company is willing to sacrifice customer satisfaction for cost.) United has lost this round — big time. Their management has forgotten that it’s less expensive to keep an existing customer happy than it is to find a new customer.
In this case the web has made possible the 60’s phrase, “power to the people”.
View my website: http://russbellew.com

Speak with a human being.

If you need to speak with a company or government agency, go to this site first to see if there’s a trick to bypassing their voice menu system: http://www.gethuman.com

 They’ve begun to allow users to comment and grade support.

Here’s a related site: http://get2human.com/

One theme that runs through the comments is that tech support from India ranges from horrible to slightly substandard. The tech support from some companies such as Hewlett-Packard is truly abysmal. What happened to the simple quality control step that every CEO and COO should take: simply call your own company to ask for assistance?

Here’s a new powerful information tool

illustration: Wolfram Research
 
To call WolframAlpha a "search engine" doesn’t do it justice. Its creator describes it as a "computational knowledge engine".
 
It was just placed on-line a few days ago, and already it’s pretty darned impressive. Unlike Google, its knowledge base is built upon structured data. When you query it, it adds organization, interpretation, and calculation to return answers — not links to websites. I’m impressed — but:
  1. it’s not a replacement for Google or other traditional search engines.
  2. its knowledge base is incomplete. It has huge gaps now. Maybe in a year or two those gaps will be filled.
 
Do you remember 2001: A Space OdysseyDo you remember how HAL would obediently answer all questions posed by Dave and Frank? WolframAlpha attempts to do HAL’s job — before HAL turned to the dark side. Have a look; the FAQ page is worth reading. Here’s its URL: http://www.wolframalpha.com/   <-The word "alpha" indicates that it’s under test.
 
Stephen Wolfram in 2002
 
 
WolframAlpha is the brainchild of respected British scientist / physicist / mathematician Stephen Wolfram, who created the program Mathematica, which is beloved by today’s mathematicians. Listen to his A New Kind of Science talk on how to model complex systems: http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail202.html
 
WolframAlpha uses Dr. Wolfram’s idea that complex systems such as human language can be broken down into simple programs. I hope that WolframAlpha grows up to become WolframOmega.
 
 
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Every picture tells a story.

photo: esthr
Do you recognize these people? Why are they smiling?

 

The man on the left is Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and he’s smiling because he’s the founder of Craigslist. The man on the right is Arthur Sulzberger Jr (nicknamed “Pinch”), publisher and chairman of the board of directors of The New York Times. Craigslist has all but killed print newspapers’ cash cow, the classified advertising section. For many decades the Sulzberger dynasty at The New York Times prospered thanks in part to classified ads in The New York Times. Now that income stream is dried up, thanks to Craig. I can’t imagine why Pinch is smiling, unless Craig is telling him about Craigslist’s plan to launch a book review publication . . .
I found this photo on flickr. The photographer is Esther Dyson, an early flickr investor. I guess that Esther took the photo at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. She captioned it, “The cool thing is how cheap we are . . .”  I think it’s great that she allows schlubs like me to use some of her photos. Thanks, Esther!
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