Technology by Ben
Friday, January 30, 2004
  I've come to the conclusion that one of the shortcomings in our educational system is that people don't learn how to properly ask questions. I can't tell you how many times a day I get a support inquiry that goes something like:

"I can't open a document."

As if I'm supposed to be able to glean the solution to the problem from that extremely vague statement. "What happens when you try?" is invariably my response.

"It gives me an error."

Oh. "What does the error say?"

"I don't remember."

It's really quite exasperating. They have reported a problem that is so vague as to be almost unsolvable. After multiple questions we determine that there is some undetermined error that they didn't think to write down and can't recall. From this I'm expected to have an immediate solution to the problem. Inevitably they sound disappointed or even irritated when I tell them to try the process again and write down the error message when it occurs.

When reporting a problem, and I think this applies whether you're talking to your IT guy, your auto mechanic or your cardiologist it is extremely important for you to clearly state what it is you were attempting to do, what you expected to occur and what actually resulted from that attempt including, as specifically as possible, any error message/blinking light/aches or pains.

When problems are clearly and completely stated, solutions are much closer at hand.

  I need to reorganize my OneNote FAQ. It's lot a lot of great information, but it has quickly outgrown the format. I welcome any suggestions at

  As a OneNote MVP I'm very pleased to see that OneNote team member Chris Pratley is now publishing a blog. Those of you interested in OneNote will probably find his writings interesting.

Thursday, January 29, 2004
  Google spawns social networking service | CNET "Google tip-toed into the hot market of online social networks with the quiet launch of on Thursday, CNET has learned.
The search company, which is expected to go public this year, is flexing its power with its Internet fans by constantly offering new services, including comparison shopping and news search. Orkut could be the clearest signal that Google's aspirations don't end with search.
'Orkut is an online trusted community Web site designed for friends. The main goal of our service is to make the social life of yourself and your friends more active and stimulating,' according to the Web site, which states that the service is 'in affiliation with Google.'"

I'm a little skeptical of these "social network" services though I am curious to try one out. It tends to remind me too much of the "Friends and Family" thing that MCI used to do and I don't know that I'm comfortable providing a list of my friends and family to strangers.

Still...I'd be interested in checking one out to see if my concerns are unfounded.

  Robert Scoble's recent discussion of MP3 players has got me interested in a product area I never really cared about before. I have a portable CD player, which I rarely use, and I do enjoy music but for some reason MP3 players just didn't excite me.

Now I'm excited and this is the device I'm coveting: The Samsung YP-910GS. It's got 20Gb of storage for plenty of music and it also has an FM radio tuner so I can listen to the radio on the same device. To take that to the natural next step you can use the device to record from the FM tuner! That means if you're quick you can capture that song you've been hearing on the radio that never seems to come on when you want it to. Or you can record that radio program that you want to listen to later.

It has a built-in encoder so, in theory, you can plug a line directly from your stereo, radio, CD-player or whatever and encode music to the player without having to go thru your computer first.

There is also a clever option for playing back your music. All MP3 players have a headphone jack so you can plug in headphones and listen that way. You could plug some speakers, like the ones attached to your PC, into that same jack and play it that way. The Samsung, however, also has a built-in FM radio transmitter. It broadcasts on a specific frequency over a very short range. That means you can tune any FM radio (like the one in your car, for example) to that frequency and listen to your MP3s that way! Imaging having your MP3 player on the center console of your car, playing all of your music back through your car stereo!

It also is supposed to integrate "seamlessly" with Napster 2.0 (even has the Napster logo on the device) though I'm not a Napster user so I don't know about that.

It's an exciting little gadget, especially for under $300. Click here to check it out,, order one, or send me one as a gift.

I'm looking forward to trying one out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
  For those of you who are PocketPC users I picked up a neat tip the other evening. I usually use the on-screen "keyboard" to do data entry and find hitting the SHIFT key to get capital letters to be a bit of a drag when I'm typing. I could type in all lowercase I suppose but just don't care for how that looks.

It turns out that the on-screen keyboard in Windows Mobile (i.e. Pocket Windows 2002 or later at least) has some gesture recognition. If you press the letter you want and instead of bringing the stylus straight back up off the screen like a tap, instead drag the stylus tip up towards the top of the screen.

You'll get a capital letter! Yes, it works for the symbols over the number keys too so you can get "@" and "#" and "%" without needing to shift. You can get "?" from the front-slash button as well.


Saturday, January 17, 2004
  Compaq IPAQ 1935 for under $200! (after rebate)

Nice bargain on a Compaq PDA from Not the fastest processor, but 64MB of RAM, Pocket Windows 2003. Nice bargain on a solid PDA.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
  NASA creates CIO office: "One change at NASA in the wake of President Bush's new space agenda is a new Office of the Chief Information Officer."

It's sort of hard to believe that an organization as immensely information-dependant as NASA is wouldn't have already had one.

Friday, January 09, 2004
  Yahoo! News - Top Networking Technologies for 2004: "'Once a virus penetrates the corporate OK Corral, the only way that I.T. shops have to deal with it is to deploy a virus patch,' which can take up to several days to deploy across a wired network, he explained. What wireless technology will do is 'give I.T. departments instantaneous access to a high percentage of their installed customer base,' Dunn told NewsFactor. "

I can only assume that Mr. Dunn is talking about mobile users here. Otherwise I can't think of any scenario where wireless is going to give you faster access to a client machine than wired connections will.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Research In Motion's Blackberry Desktop Redirector software isn't going to support Outlook 2003 until their SP2 ships, which is supposed to be sometime this month. This is rather a big disappointment -- and a little surprising. Outlook 2003 has been highly touted and in beta for more than a year. More than ample opportunity for an ISV like RIM to get their compatibility issues worked out.

  Yahoo! News - Trial Shows Flaws in Pennsylvania Internet Porn Law: "A spokesman for the state attorney general said the office had not heard many complaints about blocked sites.
'If there were hundreds of thousands of legal Web sites being blocked, as the plaintiffs claim, we believe we would have heard about that,' said Sean Connolly, a spokesman for Acting Attorney General Gerald Pappert. "

Maybe the Attorney General's website is among those accidentally blocked and so citizens can't find their phone number or send them e-mail to complain.

A few thoughts on subjects related to technology.


06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 /

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