Monday, November 23, 2009

. . . Windows 7


Those of you who follow my column regularly are likely aware that I am not what you would call an early adopter of new Microsoft OS's. Consider that when XP came out I was still using Windows ME, and I did not upgrade to XP until months after the first full Service Pack was released for that OS - and that should give you some idea as to my usual approach to new OS's - though I admit that I am an eager and willing adopter where Posix-compliant OS's are concerned (think Linux, Ubuntu, etc.).

Now having said that, would you be surprised to learn that I am writing this blog entry on my desktop PC - a PC that is running Windows 7? Well I am. Contrary to my usual habits, I ended up biting the bullet so to speak, and installing Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate on my main computer.

Bare in mind that when I did that with Vista Business it was an unmitigated disaster - everything that could go wrong did, starting with my needing to get special drivers for my hard drives and not being able to get the network card to work for three days. Once I finally got Vista installed, fixed the network card and managed to update the drivers for my video card so that I could get a larger than 640x480 screen, I discovered that half the programs I was regularly running under XP simply would not run under Vista.

Needless to say I gave Vista a fair shake - it lived on my PC for a week - and then I removed it, put XP back on the computer, and told myself that someone at Microsoft was probably looking for a new career. To sum it up for you, Vista was bad from start to finish, was a nightmare to install, even worse to tweak and configure, and to this day still serves as my personal example of how to do everything wrong.

Fast-forward to last week, as I backed up all of my data to thumb drive and prepared to install Windows 7 - the potentially deadly blue and gold DVD held gingerly in my hand as I wondered how bad this was going to be. I popped the disc into the drive, closed it, and waited for the explosion... That never came.

I do not know what the new career was for the guy who did Vista, but the bloke who handled the final tests for Windows 7 before it was released really should be given a 6 month paid vacation to wherever he or she wants to go and a corner office in the best building Microsoft owns, because the install for Windows 7 was flawless.

The OS installed, scanned my system, downloaded all of the correct drivers, patched itself, made me a cup of tea and scones, and then... Okay, it did not make me tea and scones, but if it had I would not have been shocked!

Right, so the install went off without a hitch, and you are probably wondering which of the many apps and games that I run had problems or did not run under Windows 7, right? The answer is None. Seriously, everything worked out of the box save for one program - FFXI - and that only required me to download the Vista/Win 7 version of the loader from Square Enix's website.

To sum it up for you:

Vista: A perfect example of how to do it wrong.

Windows 7: A perfect example of how to do it right.

Microsoft you surprised me. Not only that, you took away one of my favorite things to complain about, but I guess I can let you have a pass on that, all things considered.

Have you installed Windows 7 yet? Do you plan to install it soon? I would be very interested in hearing your opinions on it - drop me an email at if you want. Feel invited, because you are!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you - I will see you after the first of December!




CES Unveiled in NYC was a blast - if you are a techie you are going to have an interesting year in 2010! Look for Google's new phone slash telecom network next year, it will be interesting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

... A New Blog



Despite my lack of constant posting here I am happy to announce that I have a new blog over on the Cape Cod Times website - called Game On: Cape Cod Gaming Blog.

The new blog is part of the paper's push to expand our coverage of interesting things like gaming, game news, and game reviews. I have something of an ambitious schedule over there - I am to publish every other day - but fortunately there is plenty to write about, so that should be easy!

If you are interested in gaming please feel invited to check out the new blog! You can get to it by clicking on this link: Game On: Cape Cod Gaming



Sunday, November 1, 2009

. . . Ideas for My Column


This weekend my email inbox contained the usual stuff - ads for little blue pills, offers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Africa and Holland to let me help some honest criminals move money out of the country for a variety of plausible reasons - assuming that (A) I am larceny hearted, and (B) I am so stupid as to believe that they "found" my email address because they were looking for an honest person to help them rip off... Well you see where I am going with that, right? Unless there really is a list of honest people and their email addresses online - and I consider myself a mostly honest person really - I always have to pass.

Suggestions for Digital Grind

Among the mail there were about a dozen nice letters from folks with ideas for my column - and I want to say right now that I think that it is cool that you all like Digital Grind enough to actually send me suggestions.

I always reply to these email suggestions with a polite thank you, but for the most part I cannot use the suggestions that I receive - not that I am saying do not send them in! No, the problem is not you, it is the reality of the newspaper industry...

I only get around 1,400 words every other week to use - sometimes I get more, sometimes I get less - it all depends on how much space is available and of course, the news cycle for that week. I mention this to illustrate that I do not even have enough space to write about everything I want to write about - so while your suggestions are both welcome and appreciated, I hope you will all understand that unless it is a breaking topic or has significant local relevance, the chances are not good.

Video Game / MMO Requests

Another sort of suggestion that I get a lot is invitations to play video games...

I really do appreciate these invites - and there is a very good chance that I will take you up on the friending offer and invite to a game - but there are a few things you should know.

At the moment I only have the following platforms:

(1) PC
(2) XBox 360
(3) Nintendo Wii

And I am only active on the following MMO's:

(1) FFXI
(2) EQ2
(3) SWG

So keep that in mind when you are looking for a game partner d'accord?

Note - I do not play WoW - I will not play WoW - even if it was free.

A New Blog is in the Works

The folks at the paper are in the process of setting up a new blog for me to write - a Video Game News and Reviews based blog, that will be hosted at the paper's site and linked to from the section I write for.

The idea is to expand the paper's coverage of things like gaming and the game industry, and as there are significant space limits in the paper, a blog is the natural choice!

I have to say I am actually excited about this. The first time the subject was raised I had given an instant "not interested" as my answer because, and I blush to admit this, I know what my track record is with blogging! I am good about making entries for a while and then - poof - I disappear. Well, I am going to try really hard to not let that happen this time.


I hope that you all had a really great holiday and got loads of loot (candy). I still cannot believe that Summer is over - where did it go??



Monday, September 14, 2009

Associated Content


Last month I received an email from an aspiring writer who asked me if I thought that the website Associated Content might be a good place to get experience and get published. I was not familiar with that site, so I took a look at it, and I find it interesting.

It appears that its revenue stream is created by selling the content that the writers on its site create. It pays per 1,000 page views at different rates depending upon how much content the writer has created - though I am not clear if it pays for the page views for sites it sells a piece to or not.

I have decided to participate in that site to see how it works IRL - since it is a place I can write about topics I would not write about either for the paper or elsewhere...

If any of you have experience with that site - or others like it - I would really like to hear from you so please email me.



Sunday, September 6, 2009

Email Fraud


The number of emails I have received lately from fraudsters is only exceeded by the number of email messages I have received from readers asking about the email that THEY have been getting from fraudsters... Ah it is a circular hell we are in.

My answer to this problem was to create a short article on Email Fraud that you will find on the main menu of the new gateway page on my site - speaking of which, no I did not delete the eclectic pages that are my home page - I just moved them and replaced the first page with that new and rather plain gateway page.

My reason for doing this has to do with some email I received from an editor who was interested in something I wrote - and who commented that my "home" page should be more descriptive so that it gives an editor an idea of who I am as a person and what my experience and skills are. Well I took that to heart, and created what you now see on the home page... The simple part was intentional I want to point out - but I think it does the job.

The Email Fraud Primer is linked off of the main (gateway) page - let me know what you think of it?


Monday, July 13, 2009

Working Press


Anyone who has sent me an email knows that I always reply - I think that is just good manners - but every now and then I get asked similar questions and I am tempted to blog about it - then I answer the emails and forget about blogging about it!

Today I am blogging (though I did already answer the most recent email on the subject) because enough people have asked about this to convince me that it deserves a public post. The subject? A mixture of questions about working press.

Over the course of the past year I have received 20+ emails asking me about how I became a columnist and how they might do the same. Other emails of a similar line regarding journalism, working press, photography, and just getting published hikes the total above 50, which from where I sit is both a lot of interest and a reason to blog on it.

The following are my observations, answers, and opinions to each question I was asked:

(1) How did you become a columnist?

Pure dumb luck. Seriously, it was a right place, right time sort of deal. I had written a piece for a magazine that went out of business between when I proposed the piece and when I finished it, and at the suggestion of my wife, I sent a query to the Times.

I doubt anyone could have been more surprised than I was when they accepted it, and then printed it considering that it was a magazine-sized piece! I was asked for another piece, and then a third, after which I was asked if I would like to write a bi-monthly column on technology, and Digital Grind was born.

(2) How can I become a columnist/journalist?

First, there is a big difference between a columnist and a journalist.

A Columnist: Generally selects the subjects they write upon, and is responsible for all of the aspects of that process. If they are lucky they have a really great editor (I am and do) who they can call upon for guidance and an experienced eye. The biggest difference between a columnist and a journalist is that a columnist infuses their opinion into the pieces that they write, whereas a journalist should not be doing that.

A Journalist: Writes about things that happen and reports the news. Some (a rare few) work as investigative journalists, hunting for the untold and hidden, but most journalists are employed as Staff Writers and either cover an established beat or are assigned pieces by their editor.

Both Columnists and Journalists follow a well-established code of ethics and rules set by their paper - rules that are there to protect the integrity of the paper AND the writer. There are some obvious ones - like verifying facts and identifying yourself when interviewing people - and some not so obvious ones as well that I will cover in a question below...

To be a Columnist: Requires a solid grounding of knowledge in the area that you are writing about, and the ability to write. You know what you know, you know where your strengths are, and you should play to those strengths! If you think your skill set applies, contact the section editor of your paper and ask them if they would be interested in a column from you. Tell them about yourself, your experience, and your aims - write a sample column - and see where that takes you!

To be a Journalist: Is a bit more tricky, since there are specific skill sets you simply have to have. This career track usually begins with journalism as a major at university - though it does not have to - and requires you to be a very task-oriented and self-motivated person. You have X number of words (usually 600 to 900) to explain who, what, where, why, how, and when - and often only a few hours to make that happen. Talk about pressure! But if you think that is you, than educate yourself on the subject!

There are lots of books available and it would not hurt to start writing on your own - learn the style of the publication you want to write for, find a newsworthy topic or two, and write it up. Introduce yourself to the section editor, tell then about yourself and your goals, and include the sample piece you wrote. Yes, it can be that simple!

(3) How come you are identified in different ways in the paper? Sometimes you are a Contributing Writer, sometimes you are a Freelance Writer, and in your column you are just you?

In my by-line for the column I am identified by name - and as a columnist in the section - but you will notice that at the end of the piece, it always says that I am a Freelance Writer, and it gives you my email address. For non-column pieces - How it Works and news pieces - I am usually identified as a Contributing Writer.

The reason for this is actually pretty simple - and Jim, it is not a secret code... What it means in very basic terms is that I am not a Staff Writer - I write for the paper but I am not on staff there.

The term "Freelance" goes back to the age of knights and castles and kings - a "Free Lance" was a warrior who hired out his Lance to any Lord, Baron, or King who was willing to pay them. In its modern use, it means that the writer is working for the publication for a specific project, series, or in my case, column - though I can still contribute to the paper outside the column.

A "Contributing Writer" is widely viewed as a step-up from Freelance though I am not so sure that this is valid, considering that most newspapers use the title to denote a non-staff writer of straight news and feature pieces who has had more than three pieces published in that paper. Often a first time writer's piece is identified as "Analysis" though the usage varies by publication.

(4) It must be pretty cool to be able to wave your press pass and get into concerts and events / How many articles would I have to write for a paper to get a press pass? / You get a lot of free stuff as a newspaper writer?

These questions caught me by surprise the first few times I received them, and I have to admit that I am still surprised when someone asks me this - and it is not just by email, I get this in person too. The reason that I am surprised is that my mindset on the issue is the diametric opposite of the person asking it!

First I should point out that a "Press Pass" is not something that you receive from the publication you write for - it is an ID or pass that is provided to you, by the venue operator, at an event, after you have established your credentials as news media.

How you establish your credentials can be simple enough - you contact the venue in advance to register as press and they verify you. Ah but that is the point, isn't it? They VERIFY you. You do not just show up at an event and wave a media ID and waltz in - that is not how it usually works. You apply in advance, and the PR person for the event either verifies you by doing a web search or checking your paper's web site, or they call your editor.

As for your media credentials - I should point out that I am very reluctant to use them and I only do so when it is necessary - and I have good reasons for this!

First, the ID I was given by the Editor of the Times is a company ID - which means ANY time I use it, I am representing the paper. That is fine if I am working a story and I need to establish that I am in fact working press - and it is incredibly valuable for that purpose because it has the all important contact information on it so that the person or agency I am presenting it to can simply dial up the paper and verify that I am who I say I am, and more to the point - I am supposed to be asking the questions I am asking. That last bit is rather important, and I will explain why.

Somehow an opportunistic notion has been attached to media ID - it is almost as if the public thinks of it as a free pass, or the golden ticket for freebies. I would be a fool if I did not admit that there ARE some members of the press who have, at times, used it in that way, but you may be surprised to learn that that sort of use very often leads to an abrupt change in the users status - to unemployed (and in extreme cases, unemployable).

Remember the rules that working press follow that I mentioned earlier? One of the major rules is that any time you are using your status as press to access an event or to interview someone, it must relate to a piece you are actually writing. Let me rephrase that: I may really like the Blue Man Group, but I cannot use my ID to get a backstage pass and interview them unless I am actually writing a piece ON them - and since I am a technology writer that is not very likely is it?

It is true that as a tech writer, I am offered free stuff all the time. Companies email me offering to send me a gadget or software, and I get invited to industry events. Rarely do I ever accept any of these items or invitations, because if I did, I would have to write about them! I only have 1400 words twice a month and believe me when I say that there is no shortage of topics to write about.

(5) What is the best way for me to get published? / If I write for an online site that does not pay, will that help me get work for sites that do pay?

I am not being sarcastic when I say this - but knowing when to write is probably the best way for you to get published. What do I mean by that? Simply this: writing a piece and then trying to get it published is not the way to go, and is probably the most common mistake in freelance writing.

Learn how to write a good query - and research the publication you want to write for first! There is nothing more painful for a writer than to have to rip apart a piece that they have already written in order to meet the requirements received from a query - it is much easier to query, than write, than the other way around. And your pieces are always better that way.

I honestly cannot say one way or the other if writing for an online site is going to help you get work - a lot of those sites make a big deal out of the fact that you will be getting "published" and that writing for them will "help establish you as a writer" but whenever I see that sort of thing, I have to wonder why they need to tell me that?

I should mention that there are exceptions to this - years ago I actually sold a piece that I originally wrote as a review for the Lincoln Aviator to a magazine that found the piece online, so my qualified answer is yes - and no.

(6) I found a site that sells Freelance Press ID, is that helpful to getting started? / Are you a member of the IPA?

If you are working on a piece that has already been accepted or has been requested by a paper or magazine, providing the contact information for your editor should be sufficient to gain access to whatever venue it is that you are trying to cover. Having a laminated piece of paper with your photo on it issues by anyone other than the publication you are writing for is not just a bad idea, it could get you frozen out of the venue you are trying to access!

I do not claim to be an expert in this area - but common sense tells me that the PR people who handle vetting the press are very familiar with what legitimate credentials look like, and besides that they rarely every accept them on site unless they have established your credentials prior to the event, so I would have to say save your money.

No I am not a member of the IPA. I do not recommend the IPA. I know very little about the IPA other than that they have a very fancy web site and they provide "ID" services for a fee to people who want to be freelancers. Save your money?


Well this turned into a wall of text - sorry about that. Still those are the six most frequent topics, and I hope that I made sense to you :)

Be well!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

the Dangers of Hulu


I know the title of this post is alarmist but wow, has Hulu eaten up some serious time on me!

I doubt anyone online does not know what Hulu ( is - but on the off chance that you do not, it is a website that streams TV right to your computer at no charge. Not just TV - I misspoke there - TV and Movies and other video fare.

Now my excuse is that I am doing research for a column on online television - I just did not realise how large the selection is at Hulu... For instance I missed many of the episodes from the first season of Stargate SG1 - and that is what I have been watching for the most part...

Now I know about the network sites, and obviously Hulu... And I know about Netflix and its online viewing, so I ask you readers, have I missed any?


Tuesday, May 26, 2009



Today's column is about distributed computing and the various projects that exist that leverage that technology to do good things. One in particular that is the focus of the piece is the Folding@Home Project run by the Pande Lab at Stanford University.

I support that project myself through volunteering my PC when I am not using it - and I created a team for today's column - the team number is 164706 if you would like to join it. Joining is as simple as entering that team number in the slot provided when you register as a volunteer for the project and download the software for your OS type.

I have already received more than a few email messages about this, so I thought I would mention a few things here that are the result of them:

- FAH updates once a day, very early in the morning. If you have joined the team, you will not see yourself listed on the team page until the next time that the FAH server updates the statistics - and I think that happens around 3 in the morning east coast time, which would be midnight in California, and a logical time to do it, right?

- Participating in FAH requires that the computer be on... If you regularly put your computer in sleep mode than the FAH client will also be sleeping and not processing data. That does not mean that you need to change the way you use your computer, but I should point out that leaving your computer on does not hurt it; I never turn mine off.

- The goal for our team is to help with FAH. Having said that, and all things being equal, I think it would be nice if we managed some sort of event at which we could meet some time this summer - perhaps a picnic slash cookout at one of the parks or beaches here on the Cape? I would be interested in hearing your opinions on that and any suggestions that you have.

- Worms in general: the FAH program is not a worm, but I can see how there might be a bit of confusion as I mentioned two worms in the column. Creeper and Reaper were in fact worm programs, but the FAH client software is not, I assure you. It is a dedicated program that only preforms the following specific tasks:

(1) It contacts the FAH Server.
(2) It downloads a Folding Data Packet.
(3) It unpacks and verifies the content of the Folding Packet.
(4) It places the packet in the work directory (under your documents folder).
(5) It engages the simulation routine when the CPU is available (when you are not using it).
(6) It packs up the completed packet.
(7) It uploads the completed packet to the FAH Server.
(8) It maintains a log file of everything that it does on you computer.
(9) It starts the process all over again with a new packet.

It does not access your data or other programs, and it will not use resources that you need while you are using your computer. Its strength is that it harnesses the idle CPU cycles, so it is all good!

I wanted to thank you all for your interest in FAH and in the other distributed coomputing projects discussed in the piece. I really do enjoy hearing from you - so thank you for your email and thank you for reading the paper!


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Way-out plug-ins for your computer


The subject of this post is the title of my 14 April Column in Digital Grind, the piece being about USB devices of a whimsical nature that you can plug into your computer.

At the end of the column, I suggested that if any of my readers found a whimsical USB device that I had missed, they should drop me an email and let me know about it - and here is the list so far!

Already Covered in the Column
  • Laser Guided Missile Launcher
  • USB Heated Slippers
  • USB Heated Gloves
  • The Scent 2.0 USB Aromatherapy Burner
  • T-Light Bevereage Warmer
  • USB Fridge
  • USB Desk Lamp and Fan
  • USB Digital Microscope
  • Optimus Maximus Video Keyboard
  • Top Tag USB Pet ID
  • George Foreman USB Grill
  • USB Piggy Alarm Clock

Submitted by Readers
  • USB Self-Destruct Button
    A desktop device complete with an arming key and a flip-up cover protecting the self-destruct button. According to the website it includes sound effects and, according to comments posted by fans, has the capability of controlling or restricting access to certain programs on your computer - unless you have the key!
    (Submitted by Jon K. from Bourne)

  • USB Hamster Wheel
    A fuzzy little hamster, a big red wheel, and your USB port! As you type on your keyboard, the hamster begins to run - the faster you type, the faster it runs! Talk about being part of the rat-race!
    (Submitted by Kim O from Wellfleet, and Rob W. from East Falmouth)

  • Swiss Army 1GB USB Flash Drive
    Talk about being prepared! This device contains all of the bits you would expect to find on a Swiss Army Knife, including the knife, nail file, scissors - and even a flash light! It also has a 1GB Flash Drive built-in - but I have to wonder if the good folks at TSA would have a problem with me carrying it onto the airplane...
    (Submitted by Jeff S from Boston)

  • USB Pole Dancer
    Sadly you cannot purchase this - but it is worthy of mention here as they were sold for a few weeks before Marks & Spencer pulled them off the shelf due to protests from outraged moral-minding citiznes - see the Mail Online News Story - which I suppose I can understand in a way. If you just ahve to know what it would have been like to own one, check out this video on YouTube.
    (Submitted by Kris J, from Dennis)

  • USB Puppy CAM
    I cannot believe I missed this one! His name is Cooper, he is fuzzy, he is a puppy, he is a web camera, and he is only $25!
    (Submitted by Sara V, from Mashpee)
That is it for now - if you have seen one not mentioned here be sure to let me know! Email your strange USB devices with a link to!

Newspapers and Technology as a Guest Speaker


This past Thursday (7 May) I was a guest speaker at the Computers for Seniors of Cape Cod meeting at the Dennis Senior Center. The invitation to speak came several months back, about the same time as the invitation to be a guest on NPR's The Point - and I accepted both.

While I had a clear notion of what would happen on the radio, my expectations about speaking to the CFS was not so clear... In fact I had no idea what to expect! In an exchange of email with the coordinator from CFS we briefly touched upon some likely topics, including computer memory problems, the newspaper industry, and other 'net related subjects, eventually firming up a plan for me to speak about both the newspaper industry and speeding up and maintaining your computer.

That was the plan, I tell you! In fact I created a well-structured bullet list of speaking points, with footnotes, and even came up with a few clever jokes to use in my opening. It was a plan, maybe even a good plan... But you know what they say about plans.

7 May 2009 - Guest Speaker

My wife drove me out to Dennis - a trip that often takes over an hour due to the vagaries of traffic and road construction - and we made such good time that we were able to stop off at the Cape and Islands Boy Scout Council Store on the way. That was nice because despite the fact that I have been involved in Scouting as a leader I had never actually been there.

When we arrived at the CFS meeting the first thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of people - it was a pretty good crowd in fact - and something of a relief, as I had imagined speaking to a room with five people in it!

I set up my computer and turned it on, and leaned towards the microphone to begin, glancing at my speaking points and noting that my first point was to greet everyone and thank the CFS for inviting me to speak. That went off right-to-plan, and then the plan went off the rails.

Now do not misunderstand me - I am in no way suggesting that this was a bad thing - in fact I suspect that my chat to the CFS was all the better for the fact that the audience had a mind of its own with respect to what I would be talking about. You see after I finished speaking point one, a series of questions followed that covered all sorts of subjects, illustrating to me that (1) the members of the CFS are a very smart group with their collective thumb firmly on computing technology, and (2) they had some considered questions that they wanted to ask about the newspaper industry in general and the Cape Cod Times in particular.

My assessment of the event? There was not enough time available for me to answer all of the questions, and there were no questions that did not deserve an answer! We did not really have a chance to get too deep into tuning and maintaining your computer - which was largely the subject that I had prepared to address - but we did cover the newspaper industry, its present health, and its future, with more than a few meaningful observations from the audience on what was wrong and how it might be fixed.

It was a very pleasant experience for me - and I hope that they invite me back some time!



A note to the Boston Globe: One issue that appeared in the questions and observations from the audience was the fact that the Wall Street Journal is doing quite well, and I think that we all agreed that at least part of its success has to do with the fact that it altered its editorial approach and its content to better serve its customers. In the detective biz that is what is called a clue - so Boston Globe, you might want to take a tour of the WSJ!

... Paved with Good Intentions


What is it they say about the best intentions? Right, something to do with a road... Well here I am, dusting off the blog that was supposed to be a sort of companion part of my personal web page - a place where I can wax poetic and comment on the things that happen around and to me. And of course after one entry on video games, I promptly forgot about the blog.

Let me be perfectly clear here: it is not that I was too busy, or had other things to do, or was too wrapped up in life... I just, well, forgot. The blog was not linked in a meaningful way to my web page so it was an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of deal, it is as simple as that.

I was going through the notepad that I use to keep personal notes - random bits of this and that I tend to write down and never read again - thoughts that naturally enough are meant to help me remember things I want to write about or even - wait for it.... Blog about - and I came to understand that the only way this was going to happen was if I resolved to make it happen.

Right, so here it is. I will endeavor to post about the things I should be blogging, though I have no plans to make this a daily thing. In fact I am about to play catch-up, so you can expect more than one post on a given day as I work my way through all of the notes to myself *and* the new subjects and events that come to mind.

I apologize for my failure of follow-through in the past and will make considerable effort at correcting that short-coming.