Monday, December 31, 2007

Tech Rewind: 2007 In Review and a 2008 Preview

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 31 December 2007

Happy New Year!

Nearly a year ago we watched Apple’s CEO threw a hat into the ring for mobile phone market share... the controversial AT&T carrier-exclusivity did little to discourage early adopters from lining up for the iPhone days before the June release. Another major product that actually shipped in January was Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Claiming “the wow starts now” – many XP users are sticking to the former operating system while the Northwest-based software giant works out bugs. Corporate users even pressured Microsoft to extend support for Windows XP.

We talked a fair amount about social networking in 2007—with relative newcomer Facebook stealing the spotlight from one-time king Myspace. The decision to open Facebook for outside groups to build software on the network paid huge dividends and earned the site a sizeable investment from Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Mountain View-based archrival, you know, the search, advertising (and added in 2007: Apps) giant Google watched its stock skyrocket above the 700 mark after announcement of an “Open Social” platform for social networking sites followed by plans to release an operating system for phones, resting months of speculation a so-called Google Phone was in the works.

Finally, in the world of video games – Two big winners, in this blogger's humble opinion: Halo 3 from Microsoft set records and Nintendo’s Wii console outsold rivals Xbox 360 from Microsoft and Sony’s Playstation 3. An exciting year, indeed.

As for my predictions for stories we'll be talking about in 2008...

I think (perhaps hope?) 2008 will be the year all these social networking sites finally grow up and become useful. A faster 3G version of the iPhone is due out while we see what Google has in store for their Open Handset Alliance. I’m personally excited about airline plans to offer inflight internet – a story we discussed a few weeks back on KXL – and the ever-changing face of digital content delivery ... are 24-hour movie rentals coming to iTunes in ’08?

As you may know, January 1, marks the start of the transition period to digital high-definition television… those old analog broadcast signals are going bye-bye... Finally, R&S, we’ll look to next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas and MacWorld in San Francisco the week after to set the pace for technology in ’08.

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Monday December 31: kxl_techexpert-2007rewind2008preview_20071231.mp3 (MP3)

I'll bring you these tech stories and more in the new year... as always, drop me a line and let me know what you want to hear. I look forward to hearing from you!

Happy New Year and thanks for listening (and reading)...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Power-hungry TVs, Mobile Gifting and a Wii Tip

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 21 December 2007

Today on Portland's Morning News on Newsradio 750 KXL we discussed how the TV you buy may affect your power bill, how to give a mobile phone as a gift, and gave listeners one last-minute tip to update the Holiday Wii Hunt.

For more information and tips on buying a TV for the energy efficient consumer, check out this post. You might also consider equipping your home with a "Green Switch" to completely cut off power to devices that drain juice even when in power save mode. The kits start at $1125 and more information is available here. If that sounds like an expensive accessory, consider you'll make it up in energy consumption from idle devices in just a few years!

Considering a mobile phone for that recipient on your gift list? I explain on today's show why giving a gift certificate or "IOU" may be the wiser choice. Many phone users prefer to pick their own phones. Some considerations:
  • Will this phone be used for work? Some employers only support certain models when interfacing with corporate systems such as email.
  • Is size, form-factor, style or the presence of a full keyboard important?
  • Does the intended user require WiFi web browser or the ability to connect to their laptop as a makeshift wireless modem?
  • Are they willing to switch carriers (are there contract implications?) to get a particular model such as Apple's iPhone?
As you can see, it might be best to talk this over with the recipient before making a purchase.

Finally, because dozens of you have written in asking where to buy a Wii -- I'm happy to share a special alert I received from Santa's Helpers. Seems St. Nick himself will be stopping by the Game Crazy in King City with 100 Wii consoles available for purchase. How they managed to schedule the last-minute delivery on Santa's busiest day of the year, I'll never know... but for those still on the Great Wii Hunt 2007 edition? Read this entry carefully!

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 21: kxl_techexpert-plasmaenergy&lastminutegifts_20071221.mp3 (MP3)

Got a question? Need help deciding what gift to buy? Drop me an email techexpert (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com (remove CAPS before sending)... I'm here to help!

Energy Consumption: LCD vs. Plasma Flat Screen TVs

New gadgets this holiday season come a bump in your power bill. Seemingly minor differences in technology can cause large swings in power consumption. Power bills can range from an average of $33 to $233 a year (source)

First on the list are new high-definition televisions. It seems logical that a larger television consumes more power than a same-technology, yet smaller, set. What you may not know, however, is that the type of display makes a significant difference. Standard tube televisions and newer LCD panels consume only two-thirds the power of a new plasma screen.

Current generation video game consoles vary widely in the amount of electricity required as well. For instance, according to a CNET’s TV power consumption guide, a PlayStation 3 consumes 197 watts while the Xbox 360 is just under at 187 watts. Nintendo’s latest console, the popular Wii, wins the efficiency award, roughly one-tenth of it’s rivals, consume approximately 19 watts.

And for those who think you’re saving power when the unit is “off” and in power saver mode? Think again! Some units tested in CNET’s report consume as much as 10 watts when sitting idle.

There are steps you can take to reduce your energy consumption. Buy an energy-efficient set – look for ratings or ask your retailer. Various brands in the same size can have different power requirements. Consider completely shutting down your set when not watching programming.

Does this mean you shouldn’t upgrade? No.

Being an educated consumer when shopping for a replacement set will reduce your energy consumption and save you money on your power bill.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Update: Last Minute Wii-Finding Tips & Tricks

Previously on Newsradio 750 KXL I gave listeners tips on how to find the sold-out Wii video game console. I've received dozens of emails from listeners and thought I'd post an update for those still searching for the video game device to put under the tree this Christmas.

Here are some tips:
  • Sign up for online Wii trackers: websites such as and have convenient, centralized and constantly updated, listings of where to find a Wii. Sign up for alerts via. Twitter or email or refresh the site frequently. Wii consoles have been available at the online retailers in the past few days -- but check often as they are being snatched up within mere minutes.
  • Get or give a raincheck: Some retailers are offering guarantees that you will be able to buy a Wii in January. And if the recipient can want (and really, they probably can, right?) -- why not offer to buy a Wii when stock shortages ease after the holidays?
  • Go to Game Crazy on Christmas Eve: I'm being told by Tanya Khamis, Sr. Marketing Manager for Wilsonville-based Game Crazy, that 100 consoles will be available at their King City store. "Santa Claus and his elves will be hand delivering them." Free raffle tickets will be distributed giving winners the opportunity to purchase the sold-out console at retail price. Those who don't win a chance to purchase will be given a chance to win one of two free Wii's the game retailer is giving away!

    Event details: Game Crazy - 15660 SW Pacific Hwy, Ste 100, Tigard, OR 97224 on December 24th. Tickets will be given out beginning at 7am, raffle drawing starts at 10am. (As an added bonus, those with a raffle ticket will be offered 10% off non-hardware purchases at Game Crazy all day December 24th!)
Did you listen to Newsradio 750 KXL's Lars Larson's 12-hour "Lars-A-Thon" raising money for the Salvation Army? Thanks to Game Crazy, Lars auctioned off a Wii console with proceeds benefiting the Salvation Army! Click here to hear Game Crazy EVP Wes Sand kick-off bidding on today's Lars Larson Show.

Keep it right here for more tips on how to score the holiday's hottest game console!

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Wii Bit Disappointed? Try These Alternatives

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 14 December 2007

Nintendo's Wii is by far this season's "must-have" video game console -- but getting your hands on the system is game itself. Fortunately there are alternatives and we talked about them on Portland's Morning news today, December 14, 2007.

First, why is the Wii so popular?

In my opinion? It's just that good. The folks at Nintendo hit it out of the park in designing a game console that makes gaming an interactive activity for the entire family. And we're not talking about previous generations' consoles that rely on sitting in front of the television shooting up the bad guys... The Wii will have you dancing, jumping, and bouncing in the living room. And sure, many of the same interactive titles are available on Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 -- there's a recipe for success that gives the Wii an advantage.

Now if you, like thousands of others are looking for a Wii - try these tips:
  • Look often. Try different times of the day, and call area stores often. They are getting consoles, you just have to be patient.
  • Look elsewhere. This one's going to require a low-tech approach: shopping online may leave you disappointed as Wii's are snatched up online in nanoseconds.
  • Wait until after Christmas. If you can wait you may have better luck getting a Wii when the holidays are over.
  • Look for sales. Often stores such as Target, Best Buy, etc. will save some consoles to have on-hand after ads hit Sunday morning. Arrive early, and again -- be patient.

Give up? Try an alternative!

Of course, you've read the gift-giving ideas on my annual Holiday Gadget Guide -- I've got one more gift idea for you: CLOCKY! This ingenious alarm clock leaps off the table and runs away from you forcing you to get out of bed to shut it off. No more hitting snooze and sleeping past that morning meeting! Buy the Clocky online here. Just think: You can get Clocky to wake you up early enough to beat the crowds and buy a Wii!

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 14: kxl_techexpert-getawii&clocky_20071214.mp3 (MP3)
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WiFi Wisdom: Watch for Wicked Wireless

A regular listener wrote in with a reference to a USA Today article warning users about the dangers of using public WiFi connections and the security dangers of such. One such concern, referred to as the "evil twin" in the report's headline -- is certainly worth repeating here.

Computer criminals can "sniff" the traffic in a cafe, or set up a fake hot spot that you might innocently log into. When that happens, watch out: Everything you type goes directly to the host computer, known as an "evil twin." In that scenario, as soon as you get into your online bank account, the evil twin is ready to grab the password.

As portable computers without WiFi connections are now in the minority, users of public hotspots are increasingly subject to attack. Here are a few of my own wireless safety tips when using public hotspots:
  • Connect only to known hotspots. Look for signs in airports, hotel lobbies, coffee shops, and anywhere else you might find a hotspot. If there isn't a sign, ask a staff member, especially if your computer recognizes multiple open networks. If you run a public hotspot yourself, make this information easy to find.

  • It's all in the name. Starbucks uses T-Mobile to power their hotspots. These hotspots are generally named "t-mobile". While it might sound appropriate for there to be a WiFi hotspot called "starbucks" -- that's exactly what the bad guys want you to think, it could be a trap.

  • Watch for "Computer-to-Computer" connections. While only a warning sign and not an absolute guide, those networks that show up in your list of available connections as a "peer-to-peer" or "computer-to-computer" are more likely to be the data thief sipping a mocha across the room. Some computers can be set to hide computer-to-computer conections as an added safeguard.

  • Increase your own security. Firewall software is essential -- most newer operating systems have it built-in. Keep your anti-virus software current by downloading the latest definition files. Finally, update your operating system to fix known vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

  • Change your passwords. Sometimes using a public hotspot is unavailable (same applies to internet kiosks) -- a good tip after using a public wireless connection is to change your email password when you return to your home computer. (Changing a password on a potentially tainted computer could be a bad idea if you think about it.) Even better: Change your password at regular intervals!

  • Don't access sensitive data. The best way to ensure you're being protected is to avoid accessing personal data such as banking information or email while using a public hotspot or internet kiosk. If possible, wait until you're back on your own connection or hardwired. And don't forget to look for the "s" or closed padlock indicating an encrpyted connection to the site you are accessing...

  • Bring your own (secure) wireless. Many hotels are offering wireless connections in addition to ethernet jacks in guest rooms. Even when a hotel offers their own wireless signal, I prefer to make my own using a portable router such as Linksys' WTR54GS Travel Router or Apple's Airport Express. I've used and recommend both devices.

While not completely fool-proof, being cautious -- and using common sense -- will help protect you from those trying to steal your personal information for purposes of identity theft.

If you've got a tech tip you'd like to pass along, or want more information on how to keep yourself safe while surfing, email me -- tech (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Online Onboard: Inflight Internet in 2008

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 7 December 2007

A handful of domestic carriers have made plans to offer inflight Internet access starting next year. The carriers, starting with Jetblue's test plane next week, will offer a range of service options with fees ranging from free to $10 per flight.

This isn't the first time you've been able to online on board, yet there's new optimism this will finally fill in one of the last Internet dead spots with a useful option for frequent travelers. Boeing's now defunct Connexion project offered online access for largely international carriers but was disbanded in recent years.

Jetblue, through its subsidiary LiveTV, will offer email and messaging access for free while Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and new startup Virgin America each plan to offer a more complete Internet offering sometime in 2008 -- for an estimated $10 per flight.

Don't expect any mid-air connection as fast as services on the ground, but sometimes anything is better than nothing. Look for Voice-over-IP services such as Vonage and Skype to be disabled -- saving everyone from the feared Chatty Cathy in the next seat.

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 7: kxl_techexpert-onlineonboard_20071207.mp3 (MP3)

For more on this story, check out the following links:
What do you think? Will Inflight Internet change the way you travel? Are you likely to select a carrier based on whether or not the carriers keeps you connected? I'll be following this story closely and look forward to trying it out...

Boarding Pass On Your Mobile Phone

The TSA recently gave the go-ahead for a pilot program in Houston, sponsored by Continental Airlines, to offer travelers the ability to flash a barcode on their cell phone to board a plane. The new boarding pass takes the place of the paper slips now used by carriers and promises to speed your boarding time -- eliminating a stop at the ticket counter or carrier's kiosk.

For much of the past decade, boarding passes have used barcodes. Seemingly random bits of black and white that a scanner reads and identifies with your seat, flight number, travel date and name. Matching this information with your ID then ensures you paid for a particular seat on the plane. The mobile phone simply replicates that barcode on-screen and replaces a printed barcode.

Those flying from Contintental's hub city will still need a boarding pass -- for their return flight home.

For more:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Using Gmail to Chat With AIM Buddies

Over a year ago, Google bought a piece of AOL. Now in a brilliant move and convenient step towards taking over the online world... Google Talk users can use the Gmail client to chat with their AOL-based buddies.

(Full disclosure: My partner is a software engineer on this project at Google's Kirkland, Wash. office.)

While not perfect, it's a step towards bringing all instant messaging clients together into one big, happy family.

I'm something of a power-user: the 17" screen on my laptop provides extra screen real estate, it seems, simply to handle the growing number of messengers I have running at any given time. With AOL's "Instant Messenger", Microsoft's "MSN Messenger" (err, "Windows Live... uhh, I forgot already"), Google Talk (I prefer a flavour known as the "Google Talk Gadget"), Yahoo! Messenger -- nevermind IM and instant messenger applications from various online and social networking sites. Keeping up with all the flashing windows can be something of a challenge.

MSN Messenger (insert current brand-name-du-jour) and Yahoo have previously allowed synergy between contacts -- though I confess I haven’t quite figured out how. While the Google-AOL partnership is currently only one-way (AIM client users aren't yet able to add Gtalk contacts), I'm happy to be able to drop my simultaneously open IM clients by one.

Not so fast.

Before I bury my AOL Instant Messenger client I'll need to wait until the service is added to the Google Apps platform, a move that will apparently happen in the coming weeks.

If you’re a Gmail user, however, and chat within the Gmail client (using the built-in chat box) – you’ve been upgraded. Look for the “Sign in to AIM” option in the dropdown under your name. Add your AIM login details (the feature requires a separate AOL Instant Messenger account) and your AIM buddies will appear alongside your Google Talk contacts.

Perhaps someday instant messaging will become ubiquitous – much like email – allowing anyone to talk to anyone regardless of which network they are using.

Baby steps … baby steps.

Google Helps NORAD Track Santa

As if search, maps, blogs, mail, talk among others weren't enough -- Google has its hands in the Santa Tracking business. The NORAD site has some fun games for the kids now, and according to the Google blog, a special website ( will be a must-visit starting 1:00 AM PST on 24 December 2007.

Tracking santa has never been easier.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Botnets: Is Your Computer Commiting Crimes?

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 30 November 2007

By some estimates one in four computers connected to the internet is working overtime – without your knowledge. These hijacked systems could be hacking into computer systems, stealing identities or flooding websites in an attempt to shut them down. Called “botnets”, these underground, and mostly hidden, networks are being shut down thanks to International law enforcement efforts spearheaded by the FBI.

Protecting your system from becoming a drone in a hacker’s botnet army requires safe computing practices. While some opt for drastic measures such as pulling the plug on your internet connection – you can leave your system running and keep it focused on the tasks you choose and from doing a hacker’s dirty work.

Keep your operating system current.
All computer software – and the operating system (i.e. Windows, Mac OS) especially– requires periodic updates. Security updates and vulnerability patches should be installed immediately to plugs holes in software that can be used to take over your system. For most home users, setting the updates to download and install automatically is usually recommended. To keep your computer at work patched, ask your IT Help Desk for their plan to keep your system up-to-date (they may have special concerns, procedures, or prefer to test updates before they get installed).

Run the latest anti-virus software – regularly.
The anti-virus software you got with your new system last year will only help you squash bugs that were identified last year. If you haven’t updated the data files for your anti-virus software, you may be operating under a false sense of security. All anti-virus software is capable of checking for the latest definition files (the list of what exploits are out there and how to inoculate against them) – but some must be configured to do so.

Look for spyware.
Spyware, like virus infectons, are malicious bits of code completing tasks you never intended. A good anti-spyware program is called “AdAware” (the basic version is free) and will clean your system of known software that could be extracting your personal data and sending it to the cyber crooks. Having a machine full of spyware could make your computer an easy target for enrollment in a botnet's virtual network of evil.

Check your firewall – or get one.
A firewall is a device that sites on your home or office network between the computers you use and the Internet. Acting as a gatekeeper, the firewall prevents unwanted traffic from directly accessing your computer. A “front door” to your home network, you can choose which traffic (and from who) to let in – and keep out the bad guys. You can also run firewall software that monitors incoming network traffic on an individual computer – a handy option for those using one or two computers connected online directly. Most recent operating systems include a built-in basic firewall.

Use good passwords and change them often.
Perhaps you've been tempted by that “special offer” or met someone online who has been dying to meet you (and 100,000 of her closest friends) – but were you the subject of a phishing attack? “Phishing” is a tactic to extract personal information (passwords, credit card numbers, etc.) by posing as seemingly legit websites. Victims often click on enticing offers received by email or in response to notifications that appear to be from a bank or online merchant. If in doubt, close the email and contact that company directly – either by phone (“did you send me this email?”) or by accessing the website directly (i.e. typing the address into your browser manually – don’t click the link from your email), or via. a trusted search engine. “If it smells like a phish...”

Watch for suspicious signs and get help.
Is your computer not quite acting like you think it should? Are you finding it takes longer to perform routine tasks? Are the lights blinking when nobody’s home? Suspicious behavior or degraded performance could indicate your computer is being used in a botnet. Have it checked out by an expert who can monitor system processes and check for other vulnerabilities.

While no single tip will completely block hackers, and new exploits and tactics are being discovered constantly – practicing safe computing will help keep your system out of the hands of the bad guys.

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday November 30: kxl_techexpert-botnets_20071130.mp3 (MP3)

Do you have additional tips? Any horror stories you’d like to share? Drop me an email (techexpert AT brianwestbrook DOT com) or post to the comments – I’m here to help.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Brian Westbrook's 2007 Holiday Gadget Guide

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 23 November 2007

Nespresso Lattissima
For the coffee aficionado in your life – single-serve coffee machines provide a convenient way to serve up a cup o’ jo with push-button ease. Nespresso offers a line of machines ranging from simple entry-level to the deluxe “Top line” model. Now these kitchen gadgets work by placing a coded (where a darker color, cleverly = darker roast) capsule into the top, locking it into place and pressing a single button. My favorite, the Lattissima includes a milk frother (and who can’t love a gadget that comes with a “frother”) makes lattes and cappuccinos – it even cleans itself! The Lattissima is available for $700 or $800 depending on the options and you can buy it online here or check it out at fine kitchen stores such as Williams-Sonoma. If you’re a business owner looking for a gift for the break room, ask about Nespresso’s commercial line.

Sony’s DVD Direct VRD-MC5
Got a pile of old VHS tapes? We just moved and it killed me to lug around a carton of old tapes. One of the questions I get often from blog readers is how to convert old VHS, 8mm, and other old-school format tapes to DVD. Sony recently released a new device that I couldn’t wait to test drive -- it includes a small color viewfinder so you can see what’s going on and doesn’t require a computer. Not only does it transfer movies to DVD, but you can copy high definition videos from certain camcorders add backgrounds to DVD menus – it even includes the ability to transfer
photos from your camera’s memory card onto inexpensive recordable discs … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on vacation and wish they had something like this in the hotel lobby! To use, connect up your VCR, camcorder or other video device to the Sony VRD-MC5 press record and watch your parents’ old home movies jump generations landing on DVD. The Sony DVD Direct gadget is available online for $200 or you can take it for your own test-drive at the SonyStyle Store (online) at Washington Square. I’ve been digging my way through the carton of tapes in my garage… and now I’ve got room for all sorts of new electronics.

Support this site, buy through this link:

Amazon’s Kindle E-book reader
For the book worm: At first glance it seems odd Amazon would offer a product that attempts to replace the print book… but the “Kindle” does just that. With wireless connectivity and access to 90,000 titles over high-speed cellular data connections – you can instantly access books, magazines, and newspapers on-demand. It’s $400 and available – you guessed it – on

Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Camera
My niece loves watching me take photos with my digital camera. Unfortunately, equipping this preschooler with a $1500 digital SLR camera like my Nikon D200 – probably not a wise idea. Kid Expert Fisher Price comes to the rescue with a $60 option for the 3-7 year old set… available in blue or pink it takes up to 50 photos and has a dual-eye viewfinder designed for the little one. Plus, since it’s made by Fisher-Price – you know it’s built -- as they say “kid tough”.

Apple iPod Touch
For those on your list waiting until next year for the anticipated next-generation iPhone, give the gift of an iPod Touch. Sporting many features of it’s phone-calling and text-messaging big brother, the Touch has the same display, web browsing and multimedia playback features without contracts data plans or switching carriers. Pick one up at the Apple Store or online for about $300.

What gadgets are you excited about this holiday? Drop me a line if you have gadget-shopping questions or would like to know what to buy me. ;-)

Listen to Brian Westbrook's 2007 Holiday Gadget Guide originally broadcast on Newsradio 750 KXL (Friday 23 November 2007): kxl_techexpert-gadgetguide2007_20071123.mp3

Until next time ... happy shopping!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Too Embarassed To Ask Directions? Google At The Pump

Business Week has the story of Google's plans to offer its popular mapping service in kiosk-form at gas pumps. Initially 3,500, and set to expand based on demand, the service won't bring in ad revenue for the online ad giant.

Read more online from Business Week.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Silence Pesky Cell Phone Users, Illegally.

The NY Times ran a story on cell phone jammers -- devices that block cell phone reception around them -- and the debate over their use is intriguing.

Make no mistake, use of these jamming devices is prohibited by federal law.

That doesn't stop commuters tired of hearing your conversation from pressing the power button on a portable device that will make you think you've traveled outside the coverage area.

Agree with the vigilante approach or not -- there are courtesies both side of the discussion could adopt:

  • Be considerate. Use your mobile phone only where you will not disturb others. The call may be important to you -- the rest of the cafe' may prioritize your discussion differently.
  • Think silent-mode The latest dance track that puts your feet into motion when your friend calls you? Others might prefer to smash your handset with their own feet.
  • Don't spoil the darkness Checking your text messages during a movie can be just a disruptive as answering a call. Avoid both.
  • Take it outside How many times have you been at a dinner table listening to half a conversation while one person at the table takes a call? Take it outside so the rest of the group can enjoy themselves.

Do you have other tips or cell phone courtesies? Pass them along!

Google Announces Mobile Phone Strategy

There will be no one "gPhone".

Deciding instead to concentrate on an open-source mobile phone platform, Google today announced plans to ship a developer kit in the coming weeks.

The first devices to run Google's new phone operating system are expected mid-next year and will not carry the Google brand. Rather, these devices will be made by one of several hardware manufacturers that belong to the newly-announced Open Handset Alliance.

More on this story:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daylight Savings Time: The Clock That Time Forgot

Daylight Savings time did NOT end this past weekend.

You may recall due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 -- daylight savings time is now typically three weeks longer each year. Instead of setting clocks back the last weekend in October (2006 and earlier schedule), we will now move our clocks back by one hour on Sunday (2am) 4 November 2007.

If the change (or in today's case, lack thereof) caused you momentary confusion -- you're not alone. Today on KXL we talked about phones that (if not patched last Spring ahead of the first schedule change) were displaying the wrong time.

Then there's the inexpensive... (under twenty bucks, mine shown at right) clock that you wouldn't think knew which weekend to "Spring Forward" or "Fall Back" -- yet, in fact it does.

The clock maker Chaney Instrument Company refers to this product with the brand name AccuRite and boasts a (patent-pending, though perhaps now patented?) Set & Forget® technology. You can read the Jan. 2004 press release heralding this new time-saving (if you'll pardon the pun) device here.

Sounds great, right?

Problem is -- the clock's internal pre-programmed calendar is hard-coded to the old daylight savings time with apparently no way for it to be upgraded. This means, you've guessed it -- now I am forced to set the clock FOUR times a year.

Sometimes technology isn't all it's cracked up to be... might be time for a new wall clock. ;-)

I've sent an inquiry into the manufacturer and will post updates here when I hear back...

1:30 PM -- Update 1: A very gracious (and helpful) Customer Service Manager tells me, "The clocks are not technically defective." Fair, I suppose. I've been referred to the marketing department for additional information, I'll post an update when available.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blog Report: "Quote" Unnecessary, Indeed.

Blog Report is a periodic look at what's happening in the blogosphere. A means of sharing fun, interesting, and noteworthy blogs and the bloggers that post them.

You've seen the emails from your friends, coworkers, and perhaps even family members -- excessive and/or unnecessary use of quotation marks. One blogger has made it her personal mission to highlight the silly and unusual use of quotes. With nods from the Associated Press and a "Site of the day" designation from Yahoo! recently, it seems others are taking, ahem... "notice".

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks:

Know of a "blog" you'd like to see highlighted here? Email: blogreport (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com. I might even "quote" you in the post (couldn't resist!).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Microsoft's $240 Million Facebook Profile

Settling a bidding war between software giants Microsoft and Google, Facebook sold 1 1.6% stake to Microsoft for $240 million. The deal, announced today is the latest of high-stakes banters for dominance in the online advertising space.

What does this mean for Facebook users?

Hopefully... not much. Longtime Myspace users recall the plastering of FOX property ads for their TV shows and movies after that social networking site was picked up by the same parent company. Will Microsoft influence Facebook beyond banner advertising? Will today's news stunt Facebook's growth? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Wildfires: "On Fire" (per Google)

While we send our thoughts and well-wishes to those affected by the Southern California wildfires, Google has something of an (incidental) ironic observation. The search engine tracks popular search terms and presents a relative scale (using phrases from "mild" to "volcanic") of their popularity for a given day.

On Monday 22 October 2007, "california wildfires" was ranked on the "hotness" scale as On Fire.

Check it out here (or click the screenshot above).

View the current list of Hot Trends using the Google Trends tool.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nightclub Powered by Dancing -- Literally.

Did you know that the average nightclub consumes 150 times the power of a typical 4-person household? This and other energy conservation observations serva as basis for a dance floor that will turn the kinetic energy of those dancing into electricity to fuel the lights, sound, and other power-guzzling needs of a nightclub. It'll take a spin in Rotterdam, Netherlands soon and you can read all about it and check out the photos on the PopularMechanics site. Happy (green) dancing!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Picnik Update: New premium features and Flickr support

If the camera adds ten pounds, there's a new way to give your digital photos a diet. You may recall my review of Picnik a few months back on Portland's Morning News -- well now the online photo editing site has gone big-time! Launching its 1.0 product (no more beta!) and adding a set of Premium features that for most users will rival the functionality of Adobe's Photoshop -- the guys at this Seattle-based startup aren't wasting any time.

TechCrunch has a review of the Flickr / Picnik integration. Now Flickr users can do more than crop and rotate images stored on the Yahoo-owned photo sharing site.

I'll be reviewing Picnik Premium in the coming weeks, and posting an interview with head picniker Jonathan Sposato soon, but for now, take a peek at Picnik and let me know what you think. The new tools will give you, like me, a new excuse to put off a trip to the gym and with the holidays just around the corner -- sign me up! ;-)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Microsoft Takes Office Online, Answers Google

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 1 October 2007

Microsoft earlier this morning announced plans to offer users an online add-on for its popular Office productivity suite. The service, Office Live Workspace, gives users the ability to post 1000 documents online and is expected to be released into beta later this year.

In February Google released an enterprise version of its free applications Docs & Spreadsheets. Many are seeing today's announcement as a response to the Google Apps product.

For more information, check out this story from today's NY Times. To compare Office productivity suites, I recommend this chart over at Wikipedia.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Comcast kicks off high-bandwidth users

Residential users of Comcast cable internet who hog the service's bandwidth may find themselves being dropped for excessive use. Reports from users disconnected have been trickling in for the past few months, and some have taken their frustration to an online blog.

Comcast has declined to comment on whether or not any Portland-area customers have hit the undisclosed ceiling. For perspective, today's Oregonian quotes Comcast as classifying these extremely high users as cosuming, "As much bandwidth as if they were sending 256,000 photos, or 13 million e-mails, every month."

More on this story from:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Apple announces new iPods, iTunes ringtones

At a media event today in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced an entire lineup of new iPods, including a new touch-screen that has many features of the iPhone. Apple is set to launch a Wi-Fi version of the music store that will also allow you to buy songs playing at a Starbucks location.

The announcements began with the launch of ringtones available through the iTunes music store. Initially available to just under 10% of the over 6 million songs in the iTunes store, ringtones can be purchases for an additional 99 cents. iPhone owners will be able to choose up to 30 seconds of the song and create simple transitions before buying.

The tiny iPod Shuffle (1GB) adds a Product(RED) color and is available in five colors for $79.

The Nano line of iPods gains a video screen in black, silver, blue, green and Product(RED) for the 8GB version ($199). The 4GB ($149) is available in silver. The screen is 320x240 and the new Nano sports the popular Cover Flow feature from the iPhone, but this time controlled by touchwheel.

Newly named iPod "Classic" gets a thinner size, all-metal case, and will be available in two versions: 80GB for $249 and 160GB (!) for $349. Both are expected to be available in the Apple online store and retail locations by this weekend.

For those longing for the interactive features of the iPhone, but would prefer to shy away from the contract and AT&T obligations: The iPod Touch. Slightly thinner than it's iPhone predecessor, the iPod Touch is 8mm. Available in two sizes: 8GB for $299 and 16GB for $399.

Owners of the iPhone (after a software upgrade) and the iPod Touch will be able to access the iTunes music store via. Wi-Fi. Those near an equipped Starbucks location will soon be able to access the iTunes wireless music store without a hotspot login. Rollout begins this October in New York and Seattle.

The iPhone saw a two hundred dollar price drop for the 8GB version and a discontinuation of the 4GB model.

For more on Apple's product announcements, join me on Portland's Morning News on Monday 10 September at 6:40am and 8:40am -- I'll break down all the news and give you the information you need to know...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

KATU Blogger Meetup: Recap & Photos

Syndicated from:

KATU invited nearly 100 local bloggers to the studios in Southeast Portland for a "meetup". While met with initial skepticism, conspiracy, and as many theories as there were invites, the event was an amazing success! Thanks to the team at KATU for reaching out to the blogging community in stumptown -- for trusting me with the task of corralling the masses and hosting the meetup, the great food and drink, the clever (and useful!) thumb drive-containing gift bags and of course for letting us invade your studios for the evening! (I hope we didn't leave a mess?) More "Thank You" notes in a bit, but for now...

The Details
Arriving at the KATU Studios just before 6:30pm, my parking concerns eased with a spot across the street from the Portland Mercury offices, and -- more importantly -- the much-anticipated 4-Square tournament (good thing it wasn't a beer-tossing contest!).

Across the street, bloggers from all genres were shuffling in, registering and receiving name tags. My first impression was that the KATU staff was warm and welcoming -- working wonders at setting any tension or awkwardness at ease (thanks Kristen!). I exchanged greetings with the now-familiar Rob and Terry and made my way back to the studio.

What the room lacked in size, the buffet table redeemed in selection. The traditional fried finger foods were paired with an assortment of meats, cheeses, shrimp, even sushi (though I've never quite been able to stomach the idea of party sushi). KATU's staff of bartenders (perhaps explaining how they get through long wall-to-wall coverage of Pacific Northwest storms?) served up a selection of area wines and Widmer beer. I suspect we made friends among the engineering staff by leaving behind the leftover keg.

It's at this point we learn there's an interview for KATU's sister station in the news studio. This temporarily deflates hopes of a group photo on the anchor chair and quality time in Helen and Dave's AM Northwest living room. Fortunately, hope was restored in the form of a quick interviewer and we filed in to the primary broadcast studio.

You've certainly heard about tiny news sets -- this was no exception or surprise. I didn't realize they used the same room for both the local news AND the AM Northwest program. Props to the engineers for making that work every day!

I put on my headset for the group photo and more mingling / networking before the night came to a close. I regret that I didn't get to meet everyone, and I won't even *try* to recount all the faces and names I did chat with (with some exception below) -- hopefully you had as good a time as I did and, well ...until we meet again!

  • Matt & Scott at Portland Mercury - thanks for the 4-square, next time I promise I'll even play! (if you'll forgive me for the invite snafu?)
  • Rich - hopefuly you got at least one decent shot? (I went back to the mic so you could have a second chance. ;-) )
  • Dieselboii - Thanks for inviting fellow bloggers and the great chat.
  • LynnS - You were as insightful and friendly in person as you appear on your blog - thanks for coming!
  • Athena - I look forward to the Portland version - where can I get the Seattle book about ghosts? You're brave heading to the basement!
  • J.D. - when I win the MegaMillions ($325 million!!) on Friday, I'll come to you for advice!
  • Samuel John Klein (and the WifeTM) - You looked like a natural at the anchor chair, did you drop off a resume?
  • Aaron (a fellow "RCG") - thanks for reconnecting even though you couldn't make it (congrats on the newborn!). Let's get together soon?
  • To Rob, Terry, John, Julie, Kristen, Steve, Deb, and the rest of the KATU staff that made the event possible -- thank you! You were excellent hosts.

With that, I say... Let the conversation continue!

For more coverage of KATU's Blogger Meetup, visit:
  • Brian M. Westbrook's photo gallery (including the "group photo")
  • Portland Bloggers Flickr group (join the group, share your photos!)
  • Blogtown PDX Four-Square game highlights (bonus: animated photo)
  • Terry Heaton's PoMo Blog: Bloggers Meet in Portland
  • Oregon Media Insiders declares: "KATU Is My New Best Friend" (Can I have your energy drink? ;-) )
  • ...did you write about the meetup? Tag your post "katumeetup" so we can all find it. Drop me a note and I'll add to this list. Unless you have bad photos of me, then tag your post "awfulphotoofbmw" so I can filter out the horror. :-p

    Thanks again to everyone who came out -- it was a pleasure to meet such a diverse and passionate group of bloggers.
  • Monday, August 27, 2007

    Fountain of shame: Blog posts photos of vandals

    The Portland Water Bureau's "Water Blog" is using a new tool to combat an expensive nuisance in the City's fountains: shame. Posting a mugshot of the nineteen-year old accused hooligan, the blog goes on to describe the sudsy problem -- 75,000 gallons of water dumped at a cost of about $1000 for each incident. (Who knew?!)

    According to the Bureau, the blog is alone among the nation's municipal water utilities and blogs everything from water main breaks to whether or not simultaneous flushing during a Super Bowl half-time wreaks havoc on the water system.

    Back to the detergent drama, for those wondering, the blog reminds readers that the "pictures, names and addresses of people who are charged are public record." Chalk this up as yet another creative way blogs are being used to disseminate information to the public -- and discourage unlawful behavior. Does your blog encourage civic responsibility?

    28 Aug @ 15:30 -- Update:
    There's been follow-up on this story, and the use of blogging as a means to shame those caught commiting crimes. The Water Bureau lists various media outlets reporting on the story, and New York Times blogger Mike Nizza says, "Don't Mess with the Portland Water Bureau" (including a reference to this post).

    Stay tuned for more information on the power of blogs -- including a wrap-up of the KATU Blogger Meetup -- throughout the week, right here.

    Future employers read your online profile too!

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for 27 August 2007

    Information you share in an online profile is read by more than your friends and family – what a prospective employer reads about you in your social networking profile could keep you from that dream job.

    College students are accustomed to sharing weekend recaps, blogs about trips, and photos from parties with their peers … but more and more employers are searching employee hopeful profiles – and are marking an application “no hire” as a result.

    According to a March survey by the think tank Ponemon Institute (as quoted by
    Thirty-five percent of hiring managers use Google to do online background checks on job candidates, and 23 percent look people up on social networking sites. About one-third of those Web searches lead to rejections.

    What can those looking for a job do to keep from scaring off potential employers?
    • Be careful what you post. Details of sexual experiences, use of illicit substances, and frequent drinking may be best left out of your online blog posts, profile updates and photos.
    • Watch what you do write. Even if you “keep it clean”, sloppy grammar and poor spelling could give an employer a misleading representation of your skills and professionalism.
    • Talk to your friends. Ask they respect your privacy in their own profile updates and when posting pictures from parties.
    • Consider an alias. There’s no reason you need to give your real name online, your friends will find you – but employer’s might be unsuccessful.
    • Hide your profile. Sure it’s more fun to let anyone read your posts, but if limited to your network of friends you may keep that hiring manager from snooping.
    • Call in the professionals. Online services such as will monitor what information is available for you and, for a fee of course, work to remove undesirable content – if it’s not too late.

    Online privacy requires diligence, careful consideration and constant monitoring. A good rule of thumb is to consider that anything posted on an online profile is not private – avoid sharing details you would not want a prospective employer to use in considering whether or not to hire you.

    Further reading:

    Have you been rejected from a job because of what you had posted in an online profile? Ever pass up a candidate based on information found online? I'd love to hear from you!

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Digital SLR Cameras: Canon, Nikon announcements

    Canon and Nikon both announced new bodies aimed at the high-end amateur and professional markets this week. Canon, with it's new 40D body, took the first shot earlier this week with an upgrade to its popular 30D digital SLR. Nikon, just this morning, is touting two new units: the D300 and the 3D.

    As many of you know, I'm an avid Nikon fan and quite excited to hear about the D300 specifically. I'll leave the product specifics to the links section of this post, but for now I'll have to wrestle with whether or not to upgrade. On one hand, I did just get the D200 six months ago, on the other hand, it's only money and I'd love to upgrade. :-p [I *really* need to sell my old D70s before I buy YET ANOTHER body!]

    Nikon's new 3D is an upgrade for their professional line of cameras.

    For more on the new Nikon D300, Nikon 3D and Canon 40D digital SLRs... watch this space.

    Monday, August 20, 2007

    Portland-area blogger meet-up August 29th

    A local television station is inviting area bloggers to gather, meet, and discuss the blogosphere in-person next week. The folks at KATU are gathering local bloggers, enticed by free food and drink of course, to a no-agenda conversation.

    They asked me to help get the word out and welcome fellow bloggers to the event. I'm really looking forward to it and hope we get a good turn-out...

    Join me and hundreds of Portland's finest bloggers for this historic gathering!

    Hopefully I'll be able to meet as many of you as possible, and -- more importantly -- we can have a fun time! :-p

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    Nokia recalls 46 million mobile phone batteries

    Nokia today announced a product advisory affecting 46 million mobile phones worldwide. Phones with the "BL-5C" battery, manufactured between Dec 2005 and Nov 2006 could be affected. Customers are advised to visit the Nokia site to check if their battery is subject to free replacement:

    Nokia Battery Replacement Website

    I have a Nokia phone I use as a backup, for International roaming, and whenever I want a smaller alternative to my usual Windows Mobile phone -- punching in the 26 digit code into the site above told me I was not affected by the recall. Were you? Feel free to weigh in with a comment, or email me: tech (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com

    For more information on battery management, read my previous blog post on the subject here.

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    Facebook: More than the "New Myspace"

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for 30 July 2007

    So I've done it... I've signed up for Facebook.

    Once limited to the college crowd, Facebook opened its online doors to anyone last year and that includes myself. The popular social networking site has gained momentum in recent months, even stealing the headlines away from Fox-owned Myspace.

    What sets Facebook apart from Myspace, and Friendster before that, in my opinion, is it's reliance on interactive features. More than messages and blogs, Facebook allows anyone to write software that interacts with the social networking site creating a global network of plug-ins and additions to make the site more versatile. I appreciate the lack of "pimped out" profiles in favor of clean design and easy-to-navigate consistency.

    With Facebook's recent popularity comes a challenge -- known sex offenders have joined the site as well.

    “We want to be a good partner to the states in attempting to address this societal problem,” Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly said. “We’ve worked with them for quite some time now, and we look forward to continuing our fruitful partnership.” (quoted in this NY Times story)

    Unique in its approach, Facebook offers limited profile viewing, in many cases only a thumbnail photo, for those not connected to you in some way. You can easily connect with members of a common group (say high school alumni or coworkers), but those not included are banned from viewing your details.

    Like any online site, you should be aware of anything posted. Sharing personal details can be dangerous, especially for minors. Talk with your children and monitor their activity closely. Be cautious about sharing personal details about where you live or how to reach you. While steps ahead of Myspace, Facebook's privacy controls are not perfect -- an inherent trait of social networking sites.

    So go ahead, get addicted... Join Facebook! And while you're there, look me up! You can find me by searching for my email: brian (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com

    To receive updates to this blog, sign up for RSS feeds or subscribe via. email - enter your address in the box on this page.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Open Source Software / OSCON 2007

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for 23 July 2007

    Open Source Software is a standard for creating software by which the license or permission to use the software includes the availability of the source code. Popular examples of "Open Source" software include Linux, Open Office, and more peer-to-peer file sharing applications than you can imagine.

    To learn more about Open Source Software, check out these links:

    Do you use open source software at your home or workplace? Feel free to drop me a line or post to the comments! Listen to KXL at 6:40am and 8:40am each Monday for more Tech Expert features.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Internet Radio Faces Uncertain Future

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for 16 July 2007

    Fans of internet radio may find their favorite online music stations silent if new fees set to go in effect today are enforced...

    Internet radio, like terrestrial stations heard up and down the FM dial, are obligated to compensate artists for each song played as part of their programming. New rates are threatening to shut down many online music channels that simply can’t afford to pay.

    The per-song/per-listener fees double by 2010 at the top of the chart, but also of (perhaps larger) concern to smaller broadcasters is a $500 minimum charge per-channel and the discontinuation of a previous “percentage of revenue” plan that spared those who made little or no advertising revenue off their streams.

    Congress, no doubt in response to constituents fearing their favorite internet radio stations will fold, has pending legislation that would reduce these fees in both the US House and Senate – though neither bill has made much progress.

    Now it’s important to point out that these fees are retroactive to the beginning of 2006 – so some stations could face a hefty bill if the recording industry group SoundExchange -- they collect the fees on behalf of the artists – start enforcing the new rates, which do in fact go into effect today. In a welcome “sigh of relief” (albeit temporary), the recording industry has said they will hold off enforcement while negotiations are ongoing sparing some music channels – for now at least…

    For an audio replay of this broadcast, please check back!

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Apple iPhone: Will it Blend?

    In an ingenious promotions strategy, the guys over at toss various items into their consumer blender (available for sale!) to answer the question: Will It Blend?

    Now, they've sacrificed (GASP!) an Apple iPhone for yet another faux-scientific study. The answer to the question you've been begging to know...? Watch for yourself!

    (or view the embedded YouTube clip below)

    With the hot weather we've been experiencing lately... I think I'm going to go blend myself a margarita... ;-)

    (Please, don't write me telling me you tried this at home despite warnings and now your iPhone doesn't work... I take absolutely no responsibility!)

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    Google Earth Link to JFK Terror Plot

    There’s the old adage that any press is good press. Except when you’re connected to a foiled terrorist plot. Reports are linking the masterminds of the JFK Airport Terror Plot with Google Earth and aerial photographs downloaded from the online service.

    But officials said the four men determined to carry out their attack, having conducted “precise and extensive” surveillance of the airport using photographs, video, the recollections of Mr. Defreitas and satellite images downloaded from Google Earth.
    (Source: NY Times)

    A Google Spokesperson responds, according to this CNET report, of any possible link:
    "Google takes security concerns very seriously, and is always willing to discuss them with public agencies and officials. Our experience is that security concerns can best be addressed through dialog with the relevant governmental experts."

    This isn’t the first time Google’s mapping products have been connected to negative press. You may recall speculation a few months ago that CNET Editor James Kim may have used Google Maps to receive ill-fated driving directions in Oregon.

    TechEd 2007: Photos from the Keynote

    As promised, here are some photos I took from the press section during the keynote address. Sorry there aren't more, I had to duck out to do a live shot with Steve & Rebecca on Newsradio 750 KXL. Look for more photos from TechEd throughout the week.

    For more photos, visit my TechEd keynote photo gallery.

    TechEd 2007: Notes from the Keynote

    The keynote just wrapped here at Microsoft's TechEd conference in Orlando. A packed audience listened eagerly to hear a roadmap of upcoming releases and product announcements from the software giant.

    Microsoft SVP Bob Muglia appeared on stage with actor Christopher Lloyd of the “Back to the Future” series after a splashy and entertaining video introduction poking fun at previous keynotes (and unrealized “vision”) -- and making light of failed Microsoft Products (the other Bob and his sidekick Clippy). Christopher Lloyd took on the role of “MS-BS Detector” promising to sound a honking noise if the keynote were to drift into “vision” territory. The gimic was certainly memorable, but the keynote itself? Not so much.

    Here’s a rundown of the product announcements from this morning’s keynote:
    • First public beta of Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5
    • Microsoft launched a new strategy known as “Dynamic IT” with a suite of Microsoft Optimization tools
    • Windows Server 2008 Core Installation option
    • Windows Server 2008 will include Internet Information Services 7.0 (IIS7) web server software
    • Microsoft Forefront security software sees updates
    • Windows Vista’s add-on “Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack” gets new components to virtualiation, asset control, error monitoring, policy management and troubleshooting
    • Microsoft has acquired Engyro Corp.
    • Microsoft is acquiring Dundas Data Visualization’s Data Visualization products
    • Office Business Applications include Open XML – an SDK was released today.

    And finally, from the Department of Codename-Translation:
    • ”Katmai” is now officially Microsoft SQL Server 2008.
    • ”Orcas” is now Visual Studio 2008 with a Beta2 available later this summer.

    The session ended with video montage timeline respective loook at Microsoft TechEd over the past 15 years. For more on Microsoft TechEd, check back soon or visit Microsoft’s Virtual TechEd site. I took some photos of Bob Muglia and Christopher Lloyd onstage from the press row and will post them here in a few minutes.

    Welcome to TechEd 2007!

    Microsoft’s annual TechEd conference kicks off today in Orlando, Florida. About 14,000 attendees from around the world are expected to accept Microsoft’s challenge to “Make Your Mark”. Despite arriving late last week, I feel like, well… it’s Monday! :-p

    I’ll be here all week tracking the latest developments throughout the conference. Of course if you have any questions, please drop me a line.

    First up on the agenda is a keynote by Bob Muglia, Microsoft SVP / Server and Tools Business. We’re expecting to hear updates on the new Longhorn (Windows Server 2008) platform as well as projects with codenames such as Orcas and Katmai. What do all these mean and how will they impact your business’ IT plans for the coming years? Stay tuned – right here – and on the air for the latest from Orlando!

    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    Top-10 Spammer Arrested in Seattle

    'Spam King', 27-year old Robert Soloway, was arrested Wednesday at his Seattle waterfront apartment on allegations he sent perhaps as many as tens of billions of illegal unsolicited email -- the Inbox-cluttering junk mail known as "spam".

    According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, this is not the first time the 'Spam King' has been in trouble.
    In 2005, Microsoft won a $7 million judgment against Soloway, after it sued him over spam sent through Microsoft's MSN and Hotmail services. Later that year, an Internet service provider in Oklahoma won a $10 million judgment against him in a spam-related lawsuit.

    (Seattle P-I)

    What can you do to protect yourself from Spam?
    • Use anti-spam filters and enable junk-mail folders in your email program.
    • Be careful who you give your internet address to -- use a 'disposable' (i.e. Hotmail, or Gmail) address for contests and questionable sites.
    • Don't click on links in Spam or download images (this tells spammers that the address goes to someone that looks at the email, only making your address more valuable).
    • Avoid placing your email address on websites as a mailto: link (these addresses can be scraped off your website and added to a spam database). Instead, use a form or mask the address against robots.
    • Register your domain name to an alternate email address, or choose private registration from your registrar.
    • Forward copies of "unsolicited commercial email" (aka, "UCE", "spam") to the government anti-spam task force at: (Notice how this email is a link? If the spam robots capture *this* address, it'll just save me a step. ;-) )
    • Finally, NEVER EVER ... EVER ... click on attachments in emails from folks you do not know, or that may appear suspicious. That video clip, "amazing" screen saver, or other attachment is very likely a virus that can cause havoc -- including sending your email address book to -- you guessed it, spammers.

    Maybe with all the time you'll save with less spam to delete, you can get out, enjoy the sunshine and make some new friends! ;-)

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    Microsoft Demonstrates the 'Surface'

    With various public demonstrations, Microsoft publicly unveils today what it has secretly been working on for years. The new interface is more 'Minority Report' than Microsoft Mouse/Keyboward. A seemingly ordinary coffee table until activated, the device contains small cameras that detect motion from all angles and a projector that displays the action.

    “With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said. “We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision.”

    Imagine throwing a virtual stack of images onto the screen only to shuffle them around like a shoebox full of old photographs. Pretty cool stuff! Here's a demo video (YouTube):

    See more at the following links:

    Microsoft's Surface will be on display in New York City next weekend -- as it happens, I'll be in The City -- I'll try to take a peek and let you know how it works!

    Sensitive data at Goodwill? Wipe that drive!

    A recent story on caught my eye today, one that has sadly become all-too frequent: a laptop with sensitive data is in public hands.

    This latest episode of an ongoing saga involves a portable computer purchased for eight dollars from a Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon. The buyer got more than their eight bucks worth when they found a spreadsheet with medical records on the used laptop. According to the report, Goodwill generally erase hard drives before reselling computers. Apparently this one fell through the cracks.

    So how can you protect yourself and your data when you pass along your computer for recycling or reuse? What should you do to keep your sensitive history from the bad guys?

    Wipe that drive!

    And of course (or I likely wouldn't have much to blog about ;-) ), it's easier than it sounds. Sorry folks! Simply erasing or formatting your hard drive isn't quite enough. When a hard disk drive is formatted, sure it makes the drive available for re-use and shows no files found, but a clever hacker or curious computer buyer can often dig up the digital remains.

    To protect yourself, and be confident the data is gone, gone I recommend the following steps:
    • Use a wipe utility that destroys the data completely -- formatting isn't enough as your files may still be hidden beneath the curtain.
    • Remove the hard drive -- take the drive out and toss it in a shoebox, recycle it seperately, or: destroy it physically (also great agression-reduction therapy!)
    • Send your computer to a computer recycle shop -- many of the specialists have policies and standards to wipe hard drives... ask when you drop off your old computer.
    • A business subject to Sarbanes-Oxley controls should ensure their IT department is following appropriate handling of used hard drives.

    My favorite computer recycling facility is Free Geek and they have the type of policy you should look for to ensure your hard drive is properly wiped:
    At FREE GEEK, we will never boot from a hard drive before it has been wiped of data. Hard drives we are going to keep first have their partition table removed, and then are overwritten five times in the process of testing. If we are not going to reuse a hard drive, it is physically destroyed in our facility before we send it to a responsible e-waste recycler. We do not give or sell hard drives to places that do not have a similar policy. Data on donated hard drives is safe.


    I've talked about computer recycling (and Free Geek) on Portland's Morning News before, in case you missed it -- I've got an archive from my hard drive here: kxl_techexpert-recyclepc_20060724.mp3

    Finally, if you're looking for tools to wipe a drive, here are a few that do the trick (Please use these tools CAREFULLY -- especially around drives with data you intend to keep, I can't be responsible for their use or misuse):

    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Google Maps Adds StreetView In Some Cities

    Google has added a "Streetview" feature to its popular Maps product today. Launching first in five cities (San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and Denver) with more promised, the feature allows users to take a 360-degree look from the street. It's the closest thing in mapping to actually being there.

    Here's a video Google made to help show off the new feature (click to play):

    I took it for a quick spin and found of my favorite spots in these cities. Here's my quick tour of the five cities available now -- feel free to add your own:

    Where are your favorite destinations in these cities? Share!

    Thanks to Google, I've just killed about 30 minutes browsing different places in these cities! Wouldn't be it cool if these were live? The entire USA mapped? Video? Live video of the entire world?

    I also wonder if this would make for good news coverage... i.e. the aftermath of a hurricane, take a street-level drive through an area to show viewers just how things look. This is great stuff... enjoy!

    Read more at the Google LatLong Blog

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Military Records Go Online At

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for May 28, 2007

    The genealogy website has completed a project to digitize 90 million US military war records -- making them available online for the first time. The records, dating back to the early Jamestown settlement and covering every major conflict, include war-time images, draft cards from both World Wars, information from military yearbooks, prisoner-of-war records, military rosters, civil war pension records, and more. The information is free until June 6, the anniversary of D-Day.

    I spent some time researching the website for today's radio report and learned some interesting details about my own past. For example, I was able to find an original marriage certificate from my mother's parents and details about my paternal grandfather's WWII draft. The site is a fascinating look at information that has long been "public record" -- but never as accessible to the general public. It is free to sign up and creating your own "tree" takes just a few minutes (once you get used to the interface). Adding detail about each of your relatives is as simple as clicking "Attach" and some of the artifacts are fun to review.

    Will you find that you're a second cousin of Bill Gates and hit him up for millions? Probably not. Is there information about your family's history you'd care not to know? Likely. Is the site a good way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon? Indeed!

    Did you find interesting history about your family? Learn something you didn't know about your ancestors' military past? Share your experiences with others in the comments.

    For more on this topic, visit:

    To hear my radio report, listen online at Mondays at 6:40am and 8:40am. Check back for a podcast Mondays at noon.

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Battery Management Tips

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for May 21, 2007
    Batteries are a necessary accessory for many portable electronic devices. I'll be talking about batteries on today's show and will add more information afterwards -- in the meantime, be sure to visit these links for details:
    If you have other tips or resources that might be useful, feel free to post them in the comments!

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007 to Sell Rights-Free Music Online has sights on giving Apple's iTunes store a run for it's money. The online retailer said today it plans to launch a digital music store selling DRM-free MP3s "later this year". No word yet on pricing -- iTunes' similar rights-free offerings are $1.29 per song. today announced it will launch a digital music store later this year offering millions of songs in the DRM-free MP3 format from more than 12,000 record labels. EMI Music's digital catalog is the latest addition to the store. Every song and album in the digital music store will be available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software.
    Read the press release here.

    Speaking of -- I confess: I'm addicted to Amazon Prime. Sure, it's a scheme to get you to buy more products from Amazon, and I may not actually make the $79/year pay for itself -- but who can hate free 2-day shipping and cheap cheap overnight delivery? Kudos to Amazon ... you got me!

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Apple MacBook gets faster processors, upgrades

    Apple just announced a refreshed version of the popular MacBook consumer notebook. I've been considering an upgrade myself, but think I'll hold out and see what the LED laptops bring to the table (likely something this year - source).
    CUPERTINO, California—May 15, 2007—Apple® today updated its MacBook® consumer notebooks with faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors, 1GB of memory and larger hard drives in every model. The MacBook is just one-inch thin and features built-in 802.11n wireless networking for up to five times the performance and twice the range of 802.11g.* Every MacBook also includes a built-in iSight® video camera for on-the-go video conferencing, Apple’s MagSafe® Power Adapter that safely disconnects when under strain, and iLife® ‘06, Apple’s award-winning suite of digital lifestyle applications.

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Suggestion - Google Maps: "Take a Walk"

    It's Monday and beautiful outside.

    I found myself longing for coffee from a particular Starbucks (Second & Seneca) while at Century Square (1501 4th Avenue). I plotted these two addresses into Google Maps and it dutifully gave me the quickest route between the two locations. Thing is, while I have a car here and *could* drive, that'd be rather silly. (see above weather report)

    So rather than the 0.7 miles from origin (Century Square) to destination (Starbucks), I was cleverly able to reduce the walking distance estimate to 0.5 miles by simply clicking "Get reverse directions". (I'll walk backwards and save two tenths of a mile). As you can see on the map screenshot below, the most direct path (assuming I can't cut through any buildings, etc.) would be to travel on 4th for three blocks and Seneca for two.

    Now, I suspect the demands for Google Foot Maps is likely quite low... a temporary workaround might be maps that ignore one-way streets (that don't obviously apply to the sneaker lanes). Obviously with vehicle-centric directions, the one-way streets rules are critical!

    walking map of downtown seattle - click for google maps

    How about it, Google? Want to take a walk? Anyone have any good sites that provide walking directions / distances -- if so, post to the comments! (I think I saw a good site for NYC that included Subway, etc. but can't recall the site (and/or be bothered to look)).

    As for me? I spent the few spare minutes in my schedule writing this blog post -- I'll have to settle for the Starbucks in the building instead. Sorry Joe Jo, I'll get that grande iced soy mocha no-whip another time!


    Free Email: Microsoft's New Hotmail

    Today on the show we talked about free email services. Why use free email? Are they secure? Microsoft last week released a new, slick, version of Hotmail... err... sorry, "Windows Live Hotmail" (ya, sure) -- I provided listeners with an overview of the new features.

    Windows Live Hotmail logo

    Microsoft's ad agency created a somewhat funny (with the balance of that "somewhat" falling in the offensive/crude/unnecessary category) ad campaign to get the word out about the new Hotmail. Take a look at the clips.

    For a replay of today's Tech Expert segment, click here: kxl_techexpert-newhotmail_20070514.mp3

    As always, if you have comments / suggestions / feedback... drop me a line or email: tech (AT) -- and speaking of email, take a minute to subscribe to updates to this blog via. email!

    Have a great week!

    Monday, May 7, 2007

    Barack Obama's Debacle: Whose space is "Myspace"?

    A Barack Obama supporter got an abrupt lesson in politics last week when the Senator’s campaign seized control of an online Myspace profile he created. Joe Anthony, a once enthusiastic volunteer for the campaign feels slighted -- and the implications could be costly to Obama's Presidential aspirations.

    The controversy and uproar has us asking on today's Tech Expert segment, "Whose Space Is Myspace?"

    Listen to the answer here:

    What do you think? Was did the Senator do the right thing? Whose space is it?

    Monday, March 5, 2007

    Hijacked Myspace page could mean trouble for everyone

    Tech Expert Bonus Post

    It might not be a jumbo jet, but a hijacked Myspace page can open the door to many problems -- identity theft, stolen data, or an inbox full of spam. It can affect not only the owner of the hijacked Myspace page -- but anyone who visits the page.

    Since I get asked this question quite a bit -- I figured I'd post (if anything so I can point users here rather than re-typing the story... lazy? yup!).

    Typically the Myspace hijack is introduced when a page owner decides to pimp their profile out with one of the many available "free layouts" abundant on the web. Installing this code on your page can introduce a trojan-like code that will result in those visiting the site in being phished of their myspace login. Here's how...

    Threat Details
    While browsing Myspace (or a similar site), an unsuspecting user / victim clicks a link appearing to be from a myspace "friend" (often this link is to "Send Message" or "Add as a Friend". (See screenshot with this post, personal information hidden to protect the innocent.) The link you click then prompts you with a "you must be logged in to do that" page... and without too much thought... ("oh, myspace must've logged me out or something, right?")... . and without checking the URL (i.e. look for ""), you've actually provided your myspace login information to the bad guys (who then cleverly re-direct you to the content you originally requested / your myspace home / someplace else that seems logical and doesn't raise your suspicion). The bad guys can now post bulletins / messages as YOU and spread the illegitimate login link to other victims...but wait, there's more...

    Now where this gets *really* bad is when you've used the same password in myspace as you have for your email account.

    Let's say your Myspace login is your email address ( and a password (hijackvictim). If you, like many other users, have set your myspace password to be the same as your email password... I (representing evil-doers everywhere) can now log into your email account. Muhahaha....

    And, as I'm sure you know, once I've got access to your email address... I can use the "forgot my password' link for a variety of sites -- obtaining access to bank accounts, ebay, etc. etc... (Click this link [mp3] for my 12 Feb 2007 report for Newsradio 750 KXL on identity theft.

    My suggestion: Change your myspace password immediately to something VERY DIFFERENT from anything else associated with that email address. Change every other login that uses the same password to something new and unique to your myspace account -- do it now.

    While not foolproof, some users pick a default password ("D0n't@sk!" and change it for every site... slighty... say, "D0n't@sk!a" for since "A" is the first vowel... something you can remember, but that keeps your passwords unique... it's a start. (For more on good password techniques, listen to my report from 19 Feb 2007 here [mp3])

    Quick Tips:
    1. Change your myspace password to something unique (even if you don't think you've been hijacked, change it now!)
    2. Don't use the same password for myspace as you do email, bank accounts, etc. (this is good advice in general, but especially for sites like myspace)
    3. If in doubt, follow these steps: Open a new browser window to the site you're trying to view.
    4. Just because it *looks like* Myspace (or your bank's site, etc.) -- doesn't mean it is!
    5. Avoid clicking links in emails or online messages from strangers (and even then, do so with caution!)

    For more on this story, visit:

    Monday, February 26, 2007

    Online Small Business Software: Google vs. Microsoft

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for February 26, 2007
    Want to get your small business online but don't have the expensive resources to do it yourself? Microsoft and Google both launched new versions of their online web presence offerings last week and KXL Tech Expert Brian Westbrook has the three-minute rundown of what you need to know. Listen weekly to "Features on the :40's" on Newsradio 750 KXL (and online at each Monday for more

    Listen to my report on Google and Microsoft's new offerings here: kxl_techexpert-onlinesoftware_20070226.mp3

    Monday, February 19, 2007

    Default Router Passwords and Selecting Good Passwords

    Tech Expert segment for 20070219

    Nothing new for many of you reading this blog... but today I talked about why you should change your computer's default password on my weekly radio appearance. Listen here. (I noticed I haven't posted a radio report link in awhile, they're always at

    Default Router Passwords and Selecting Good Passwords

    KXL Tech Expert Segment for February 19, 2007

    Nothing new for many of you reading this blog... but today I talked about why you should change your computer's default password on my weekly radio appearance. Listen here: kxl_techexpert-pharming_20070219.mp3.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Comsumer Electronics Show and MacWorld 2007 Wrap-up

    Tech Expert Segment for 20070115

    Bummed you didn't make it to MacWorld to hear Steve Jobs announce Apple's new iPhone?

    Sad you missed a week in Vegas drooling over the latest in consumer electronics?

    I've got the complete rundown from both shows on today's Tech Expert repot on Newsradio 750 KXL. The report airs live at 6:40 & 8:40 as part of KXL's "Features on the :40's" segemnts and can be heard online on (right column of the homepage).