Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cable's Lack Of Interest In HDTV

2007 was the year the government, broadcasters, and equipment manufacturers finally began to get serious about the February, 2009 transition to digital television.

The first step was setting the date of February 17, 2009 in essential stone for the transition, with the Congress fending off a last attempt to delay the date early in the year.

The number of cheap analog-only TV's available for sale has dropped at the retail level, with more digital-ready sets at the ready. And the retail push for HDTV has been generating more interest in large-size screens good for movies and sports programs.

Strangely on the sidelines have been most of America's Cable companies, who have taken the position that they will be the last to the HDTV table in any wholesale sense. Cable has apparently decided it will be more profitable to continue to limit video capacity and wait for the final transition than add capacity, especially to aid broadcasters.

Cable has instead concentrated much of its development in the area of Internet access and telephone service, which require less ongoing investment and no programming negotiations, with cable serving as little more than a bandwidth provider.

Cable's seeming lack of interest in HDTV has opened up a major window for satellite television, which not long ago was teetering on the brink of disaster. Many of cable's most profitable customers have left for the dish, even with its numerous weather and service problems, in order to try and get a broader range of high-definition programming.

Cable's apparent willingness to let these customers go is a strange one, but a likely strategy is becoming apparent in doing so.

In largely ignoring HDTV, Cable can maintain its present amounts of video bandwidth and limit the development of additional channels of programming that are viable enough to either compete for advertising or demand significant rights fees.

As America's cable companies continue to own part or all of dozens of the most popular cable networks, limiting video bandwidth protects cable-owned network audiences from dilution by additional significant program sources.

By not carrying both the HDTV and analog signals of broadcasters, cable also has inhibited the development of local broadcasting's HDTV audience, as well as any additional revenues broadcasters have hoped to develop from using their FCC assigned bandwidth in additional ways, including the provision of Internet access.

This has left broadcasters absorbing many millions of dollars of costs at each station with essentially no growth in revenue from digital television to support it. Which in turn helps local cable compete better for advertising against weaker broadcasters.

Cable also sees an opportunity to drive penetration into the last of America's broadcast-only households, as analog-only sets become dark in February, 2009. After that date they will either require a converter, or a cable box. Cable will be more than happy to supply the latter, and you can expect a major push to do so in 2008.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 5-4 decision in "Turner Broadcasting System vs. FCC" that cable functioned in many respects as a vertically integrated monopoly. I served as the lead expert witness for the winning government and broadcasters in that case, and generated more than 100,000 pages of original research.

In watching Cable handle the transition to digital television, it's becoming apparent that the same thinking present ten years ago is still largely controlling the cable industry today. Cable wants to continue to control programming access to America's homes while expanding its reach into non-video markets.

This behavior portends yet another round of regulatory and judicial fights, which the Cable industry likely thinks it can win in this go-round, as the Court has become even more conservative.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Essential Utilities Help Make PC's More Useful

Most of today's new computers come with a minimal software load and a lot of junk and trialware. One of the first things many users have to do is get rid of all the trialware and add the programs needed to make PC's more productive.

Here are some of my current recommendations, nearly all of which I install on the systems I set up and service.

Adobe Reader 8 – Adobe's free Reader software (formerly Acrobat Reader) has been around for years as the standard for reading web-friendly PDF documents. The latest version of Reader, although a somewhat large download (about 22MB) contains some useful added features including the ability to fill out forms online (if properly set up and offered). You can download Reader at

There are also Web sites available if you need to create your own PDF documents, including, which can create or convert to PDF for free online in only a few minutes.

7-Zip – At some point nearly everyone will have a need to create a compressed Zip file containing several pictures or documents. These files can be handy for e-mail or distribution of multiple documents.

There are a number of well-known Zip applications around such as WinZip, but I've found the freeware Z-Zip works just as well, is smaller, and doesn't contain any ads or other annoyances. You can get it free at 7-Zip also opens compressed files in multiple formats, and can be especially handy for those exchanging files with Mac users.

Weatherbug – Although there are a number of system tray weather applications out there, Weatherbug continues to offer the best information in the easiest to use interface.

Weatherbug installs in your system tray and provides instant access to temperature, forecast and emergency bulletins on a 24/7 basis. It's emergency bulletin handling is most useful, as it can instantly alert you to any weather bulletins in your specific area, and offers better alert targeting than conventional weather radios.

The free version of Weatherbug requires you select an ad sponsor from time to time, but it's a small price to pay for a highly useful freeware application. You can get it at

IObit Smart Defrag – One of the most common problems on PC's is fragmentation of data on hard drives. Although Windows contains a disk defragmenter, it cannot easily be set to run automatically or in the background when the system is idle.

Iobit's Smart Defrag freewware does that, allowing for regular scheduled complete defrags on multiple drives, as well as automatic defragging in the background of disk data, Regular disk defragmentation can speed PC performance and reduce wear and tear on hard drives. You can get Iobit Smart Defrag at

CleanCache 3.5 – Although its developer is no longer in business, this handy utility is still available to get rid of all kinds of cached, temp and history files.

Setup is fairly easy, and CleanCache works on multiple browsers such as Explorer, Firefox and Opera at the same time. You can also set it to clear your Internet history, temp files, and other material on your drive that's not needed. One the program is configured, you can open and run a complete cleanup in only one click. You can get CleanCache through several major file services including

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Best High-Tech Gift Bets For 2007

It's holiday gift-giving season again, and there are plenty of choices this year for those looking for electronics and other high-tech gifts. Retailers are reporting electronics are some of this year's hottest sellers, so any of the choices below are likely a good bet.

Plasma HDTV's – Plasma televisions used to be reserved for those with near-unlimited budgets when making the switch to digital television. However, the past year has seen a plunge in the price of plasma televisions to levels much closer to their DLP and LCD competitors. Even in larger sizes, plasma televisions are now usually only a small premium, and the quality of pictures is often worth it.

DLP sets are also a good choice, but will eventually require an expensive projection bulb replacement that cannot be avoided. I recommend when buying any set to be sure it displays native 1080i resolution, the maximum digital standard that will be used by the broadcasting industry for the foreseeable future.

Satellite HDTV – America's cable companies have often been woefully slow to offer many HDTV choices, and have sometimes charged a hefty premium for even a few channels. This has opened the door for DBS satellite carriers to gain an unprecedented foothold in delivering digital television services.

Even with a February 2009 switch to fully digital television on the horizon, the only way most consumers can get much full digital television is via DBS. Both DirecTV and Dish Network now claim to offer more than 70 channels of HD programming, with dozens more on the way.

Upconverting DVD Players – Although competition is often healthy in high-tech areas, occasionally it leads to competitive problems where differing formats can lead to headaches for the consumer.

Such is the case with high-definition DVD systems, where the competing Blu-Ray and HD formats have reached a near-stalemate in offering true high-definition video, with no resolution likely in the near-term future. That leaves movie buffs having to buy multiple DVD playback systems or very expensive dual-format players that can handle both systems.

A better choice for now for many will be an upconverting DVD player.. These DVD players can electronically scale standard DVD's to HDTV monitors, and offer an improvement over standard DVD players at only a small premium in cost. Prices in the last year have fallen to well under $100 in many cases for upconverting DVD players, in some cases less than $50. They are a good choice to go with that new HDTV set.

iTunes Gift Cards – It seems nearly every teen, and many adults, have an iPod. As such, gift cards for the iTunes music service are often a well-appreciated gift. Available at most major retailers and in a variety of denominations, these cards offer access to the millions of songs and videos contained in the iTunes library.

Flash Memory Cards – Another item that has seen a precipitous price drop in the past year are flash memory cards used in digital cameras and phones. These cards can store thousands of pictures and songs, and a 2GB card has now dropped to under $30 in most cases.

Be sure you know what format the phone or digital camera takes from the many possible choices, or just buy a gift card instead to be sure the right one is chosen.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Connectors Are Key In Digital Audio & Video World

The move to high-definition television and digital audio has brought with it a huge expansion in the number and types of video connectors seen in audio and video equipment.

The importance of understanding these connectors was driven home to me recently when I saw a major retail chain advertising a name-brand upconverting DVD player for $30, a new low in retail pricing for a player that converts standard DVD's to something closer to high-definition video.

However, the cable required to connect the cable to a high-definition TV was $35, and if you wanted to add a coaxial digital audio cable for output to a surround sound system (provided the receiver had the correct input), you would have to fork out another $10-20.

So as you ready yourself for holiday electronics purposes, here's an idea of what to look for:

Composite Audio/Video – These connectors, known commonly as “RCA Plugs”, have been the standard audio and video connectors for decades for most equipment. They were only designed, however, for analog signals. RCA connectors remain what you'll find packed, in many cases, with most DVD players and televisions, leaving you to have to buy additional connecting cables. And this is where things begin to get tricky.

– Around twenty years ago the first attempt to improve video was made through S-Video connections for the video portion of the signal. While still in the analog realm, these connectors kept the red, blue and green signals separate until they reached the television, allowing for higher-quality video at somewhat greater resolution.

DVI – With the advent of digital video, things began to get trickier. The first commonly used digital video connectors were DVI connectors. These look like a larger version of the VGA connector that computer monitors commonly use to this day. DVI connectors are now almost exclusively digital, but some early connectors were actually DVI-A (for analog), making things even more confusing.

Coaxial Digital Audio – This single cable uses RCA plugs, but is substantially different (and not compatible) with regular RCA cables. It is most used to output true digital audio to receivers used in 5.1 and other digital surround sound environments.

Component Video – Yet another variation on the video cable and connector maze is component video. These connectors also use RCA-style plugs, but keep the video separate in red, green and blue like S-Video. Because of their design and heavier construction, they allow for high-definition signals to be passed to monitors which have the correct inputs.

Optical Audio – These light fiber connectors use light to transfer digital audio signals, and are some of the best cables available in terms of issues like noise. Their connectors tend be be somewhat fragile however, and they are not commonly used as a result.

HDMI – These simple but expensive cables are among the easiest to connect and carry both digital audio and video, and are the best choice for large monitors that have their own built-in surround style-systems. However, be prepared to add another type of cable to output digital audio to a receiver, unless the DVD in question has multiple HDMI outputs and your corresponding equipment has the required inputs.

It's also common for a DVD player to have an HDMI output, while a monitor may only have a DVI input. An HDMI-to-DVI adapter cable can handle the job.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Travel Sites Provide Genuine Discounts With Smart Shopping

The major holiday travel season is here, and millions of Americans are looking to the Web for travel bargains. The number of travel sites that have useful information has grown in recent years – here are some of my favorites to help make traveling a more cost-effective experience.

There are two major online discount travel providers, Priceline ( and Hotwire ( Each takes a slightly different approach to offering sometimes substantial discounts to travel bargain seekers.

Priceline is the better known of the two for offering discounted hotel rooms, car rentals and air travel.

Priceline's biggest saver is usually in hotel rooms. Select a destination and dates through the “Name Your Own Price” option, and you'll be presented with a list of available room types according to a grading system between one and five stars, and a map showing the general area where the hotels are located.

Major metropolitan areas often have several areas defined, such as “Airport” and “Downtown”, so it's usually possible to find hotels in the area you're seeking.

Enter a date range and price along with the star level you desire, and in a few seconds you'll receive an answer as to whether your price was accepted.

Priceline also offers a bid your own price service for airfare, auto rentals and cruises. The airfare service is usually for travelers who have the most flexibility, as you must be prepared to take any flight offered on a given day in order to have a chance of winning. Car rentals on Priceline are by days, location and vehicle class.

Hotwire offers specific hotels according to grading and location at a specific price without bidding. Hotwire also offers discounted car rentals by car class and location.

Neither service reveals the specific hotel, flight or car chosen until after a bid has been received, accepted and charged to a credit card. Both add a small additional booking fee to hotel rentals, and both add taxes as required to whatever the base amount charged is.

Travelers will also need to contact the hotels directly to insure they receive bed and smoking preferences. In most cases, hotels are willing to accept such requests, but they are not guaranteed at the time of payment.

The biggest issues with each service most travelers have is the fact they are not guaranteed a specific hotel, and this is indeed a limitation.

However, two user forums often provide information that with a little research, can provide both the likely hotel to be received, as well as the lowest amount to bid on Priceline likely to be accepted. is often an excellent resource for hotel pricing information. With some practice you can often know ahead of time what hotel you'll receive in a given zone at a given star level, as well as the total cost with taxes and fees.

From my experience when using BiddingForTravel, I receive the specific hotel I am expecting about 70% of the time. However, any traveler has to be prepared to accept a different hotel than the one expected when using Priceline.

BiddingForTravel also contains feedback about car rentals and airplane rates, although air travel feedback is often very limited.

Another site offering user feedback on Priceline and Hotwire is This site is especially useful for Hotwire, as travelers can often tell the specific hotel offered based on the amenities shown in the Hotwire description.

With a little practice, using these services can usually save travelers hundreds of dollars on hotel and other charges on a week-long stay.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Web Browser Wars Return To Surfer Benefit

The world of the Internet browser has been a pendulum, of sorts, since the Internet first started to become a factor in people's lives in the early and mid-1990's.

Back then, Netscape's Navigator software ruled the Web browser world for PC's, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer was looked upon as a poor stepchild in comparison by most users.

This lack of focus was in large part due to the vision, or in this case lack thereof, of founder Bill Gates, who in 1993 was quoted as saying “The Internet? We are not interested in it”.

It didn't take long for Gates to realize his mistake, and by the time Windows 98 was released, Microsoft had developed and integrated a Web browser into Windows.

Internet Explorer had also rapidly became more functional, while Netscape's Navigator seemed content to largely hold its ground, largely failing to see the impact multimedia would eventually have on the Web.

In 1999 Netscape was purchased by America Online, who many thought made the purchase to switch its then-dominant AOL Internet access service away from using an integrated version of Internet Explorer.

However, that effort was stillborn, and AOL was never released, short of a single Beta version, with Netscape as the integrated browser.

For several years, Internet Explorer continued as the unchallenged leader in Web browsers, but also failed to do much additional development. Again, this lack of focus created an opportunity for other players to gain a foothold, which has now become a full-fledged competition again.

As Web pages have become more complex and media intensive, the pressure on the Web browser to use as few system resources as possible while rendering as much content as possible has grown considerably.

One of Microsoft's biggest problems has become its overriding goal of security, which has led it to hamstring Internet Explorer's functionality, and make the process of acquiring Internet content both cumbersome and resource intensive.

The reality has been that this security has become so onerous as to cause some users to switch it off almost entirely, while others have set out in search of a less difficult browsing experience.

The biggest winner in all of this has been Mozilla's Firefox, which has grown in three years from near-zero to nearly 15% of the browser market as of October, 2007.

Firefox was the one of first to offer tabbed browsing, allowing users to open tabs, rather than new windows, for each Web page visited. It also integrated an anti-phishing scheme to prevent browser redirects and takeovers.

Firefox was born of developer desires to strip down the browser and let users add on specific features as needed, rather than bloating the browser with more and more features many users didn't need, and slowing the entire experience as a result.

My recent experiences have been that certain Web sites including GMail and MySpace often render faster, and better, with Firefox than they do with Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer 7 had a ton of bugs when it was released, and although many of those have now been resolved, it still often has trouble with certain Web sites, especially those with lots of content it sometimes fails to properly cache.

So, if you're looking for an alternative Web experience, try Firefox. It too has its quirks and issues, but it's a worthy add to most PC's.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

64-bit Windows Vista A Largely Empty Promise

For the last several months I have been using a laptop computer designed for Microsoft's new top-of-the line operating system, Windows Ultimate 64-bit. I have actually ended up using the system more than first planned because of a concurrent hardware failure in a Windows XP laptop.

Doing so has given me more of a taste of Vista than I first imagined, and as a long-time Microsoft Partner, I wish I could say the news is better. In all fairness, it is not.

When Microsoft launched Vista almost one year ago, expectations were high that PC users were about to enter a world of vastly improved multi-tasking, multimedia, security, and computer performance.

The unfortunate reality is that Vista has mostly failed to deliver on all of those fronts, with 64-bit computing and all it promises largely left behind, while Microsoft pushed forward an operating system that failed to capitalize on nearly every advantage originally touted.

I spoke with Microsoft representatives in Redmond several months ago about what the realities of 64-bit Vista in fact were, and then decided to give Vista 64 more of a chance than what my original conclusions had led me to believe.

The interim period has in fact only affirmed what I first concluded – that nearly all the promises of 64-bit computing, the original reason a switch to Vista made potential sense, have been left behind to be adopted at some unknown point years away in the practical future.

Let me be frank here – a viewing of the User Support Forums at any of the major PC manufacturer Web sites will show hundreds, if not thousands, of people desperately seeking Windows XP drivers for new machines in the hope of returning computers to a more usable state. The number of persons seeking help in this area borders on staggering.

The reality is that many new machines only have Vista drivers available, and users are scrambling to make systems work with older applications.

One PC tech in a major office supply store I spoke with reported a customer buying a new top-end desktop was incensed after being quoted a $300 charge to load XP onto his new machine, with no promises everything would in fact work properly after same.

Microsoft claims that the vast majority of Vista users are in fact very satisfied with their new computers. While that may be true for many basic users, more sophisticated users have often found Vista lacking.

What's more remarkable, and less reported, is the fact that, according to Microsoft, less than 1% of machines being sold at the retail level are loaded with 64-bit Vista.

Let me repeat that – less than 1%.

There is nothing inherently safer about 32-bit Windows Vista than 32-bit Windows XP. While Vista may do a better job of using more RAM, its touted Aero interface, especially when used with the Sidebar feature, is a tremendous resource gobbler in and of itself.

My experience with most users is that they are far more concerned with having a system that is usable, reliable, and easy to maintain than they are how pretty the interface might be. Microsoft lost the pretty interface crowd to Apple years ago, and Aero isn't about to bring Mac users back.

What Microsoft should have done, rather than spend a fortune touting Vista as the "next big thing", which it only can be in a true 64-bit environment, was to devote some of the gigantic marketing budget to providing developers incentives to write native 64-bit applications, and then sold users on the idea of truly enhanced performance, rather than a prettier shell.

What should have been the next major advancement in computer performance has instead become the latest, and by far the largest, empty promise in the recent history of personal computing.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Music Industry Continues Attack On File Sharing

One of the scarier stories in recent weeks for computer users was a judgment of $222,000 against a 30 year-old Minnesota single mother convicted of uploading 24 songs to a popular file sharing service.

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is the leading enforcer of copyright rules for the music industry in the name of protecting artist rights and revenues. In doing so they have become synonymous with tactics many music lovers see as Gestapo-like, the Minnesota case being the latest and most egregious example thereof.

The RIAA has also recently sent pre-litigation letters to 19 major U.S. universities, including the University of South Florida, threatening legal action if immediate steps are not taken to block campus networks from being used to download music from file sharing services.

A recent case in German courts has also put a significant dent in the eDonkey file sharing network, closing many of the primary servers that contained user file information that resided on German soil. Although servers from other countries have stepped in, the number of available files and users have both seen a significant drop since the ruling in the German case.

The reality is that the traditional music industry has seen a shakeup unlike anything in its century-old history prior. And that same industry has been left reeling from its own mistakes and ineptitude, while often blaming file sharing as the sole reason profits and revenues have been in a tailspin for years.

The real reasons for the decline of the traditional music industry run much deeper, and most often end with a mirror-view the business seems loathe to accept, as in “We have seen the enemy, and he is us”.

First and foremost, the industry did not see the advantage of digital file sharing through services such as iTunes and Napster until long after the horse had left the proverbial barn. The growth of pirate file-sharing networks was such that the industry was caught off guard, and even legal services such as iTunes were able to negotiate rates for music purchases that set a lower standard than today's market would likely demand.

In the meantime, artists have also begun to rebel against the traditional music business like never before. The popular band Radiohead made huge headlines recently in allowing users to download their new album and pay whatever they wished to do so, without any support from a record company.

One of the band's cited influences, composer Joseph Byrd, filed a letter in the 2002 Napster case stating he'd never received a penny from album sales totaling in the hundreds of thousands of units for nearly four decades from a major record label. Dozens of similar stories exist, especially from artists who became famous in the 1950's and 60's.

Another story circulating among musicians is an accounting from singer Courtney Love, who details how $10 million became nearly nothing after paying production, promotion and touring expenses from a recent contract.

These conflicts have made musicians extremely wary of traditional music companies, and most new artists now try and self-produce their own music with varying degrees of success. The music business has responded by supporting fewer upcoming bands and trying to rely more on mass-market appeal, which has in turn lowered the overall quality and diversity of music being offered.

One other key factor has been the wholesale change of MTV from a music promotional vehicle to something that often has nothing to do with music at all, prompting a plea from singer Justin Timberlake on a recent awards show.

It's likely this shift will continue, driven by the Internet and historic industry practices that no longer seem to work. The eventual winners will be those who figure out how to actually make a profit in the increasingly digital age while embracing the new technologies that millions have adopted.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Use Common Sense To Avoid Online Scams

Amazingly, some online frauds that have been around for years continue to be advertised day and day out via e-mail and Web sites worldwide.

Even though many of these scams are well-known, the fact they continue to generate millions of spam e-mails means only one thing – that some Internet users still fall prey.

Here are some of the most common scams and frauds out there, which should be studiously avoided at all costs.

Offers To Transfer Large Sums Of Money From A Foreign Source – The usual offer here is that the family of some dignitary, often from Africa, is in need of a conduit to receive a large amount of cash in the U.S.

If only you will provide a small amount of deposit “capital” to assist in moving these funds, potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars will soon be winging its way to you in return.

Winner of Internet or Foreign Sweepstakes – You receive an e-mail one day that indicates that you have been chosen as a lucky winner in an Internet or foreign sweepstakes, often from Ireland, In return for s small deposit to cover expenses of the money transfer, you'll be awarded a huge cash prize.

Russian Women Who Want To Come To The U.S. And Marry American Men - Another scam that has been around for years, this one plays on the idea that there are millions of Russian women that are desperate to come to the United States.

While that may or may not ultimately be true, the scam here is that these women are ready to jump on a plane at a moment's notice to fly to the U.S. and meet men in return for travel finds and expenses.

These “women” often send lengthy letters full of details and pictures from their current lives to men found on online dating sites. There are a few legitimate agencies that handle these American/Russian meetings, but all of them advise men to travel to Russia to meet women in person, rather than vice-versa.

Phony E-Mail & Web Sites Looking For Financial Information – One of the most common schemes, called “phishing” . If you receive an e-mail from your bank or credit card company asking you to provide financial or personal information, be immediately suspect.

These businesses do not use e-mail to request credit information from users. In most cases the scam involves a computer breakdown or security breech which calls for you to verify your credit information, often linked to a dummy Web site that looks much like the real thing for a bank, eBay or PayPal.

Password Stealing – Another online scam is to gain the passwords of e-mail or other accounts to that can be used to send out spam mail or announcements of various types.

One of the newer tricks here is to post what appears to be a YouTube video in e-mail or on MySpace, which when clicked requires the user to re-enter a user name and password. If you've already entered a user name and password on MySpace to enter your personal Web page, you should not need to re-enter it to view a video.

The old adage is “If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is” is even more applicable in the world of the Web.

The best way to deal with these schemes is to err on the side of caution. If you even think you may have inadvertently supplied financial information or passwords, immediately log in and change passwords on those accounts, and if need be, contact your financial supplier by phone to have transactions frozen.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Use Folders To Keep PC & Mail Organized

More and more correspondence is being transferred from the printed world to computers and e-mail.

While there are plenty of advantages to this, the need to keep mail and programs organized is just as great, if not more so, on your personal computer.

Much like the need for a filing cabinet and folders for important bills and correspondence, a PC needs folders to do the most effective job of keeping track of information.

For example, most computers I see that use e-mail programs like Outlook Express have a single Inbox folder, often containing many thousands of messages.

What I recommend users do instead is to select their most frequent subjects and clients and create folders within the Inbox where all related incoming mail can be easily dragged and dropped.

To create a new Inbox folder in Outlook Express, for example, highlight the Inbox folder with a left mouse click, then right click the mouse and choose “New Folder”.

Type in a short name for the desired subject, and you'll have created a folder that any correspondence related to that subject can be more quickly reviewed and retrieved.

The same procedure can be followed for the Sent Folder as well if needed. Use the Edit and Find functions in Outlook Express, and you can locate all your correspondence on a given subject and move it to the specific folder.

Using folders has several advantages including faster location and retrieval of relevant mail, the ability to look at all your correspondence with a given client quickly and easily, and less chance of a gigantic Inbox file becoming data corrupted, which can result in a disastrous loss of information.

The same type of system can generally be adopted for any popular e-mail programs including Outlook, Thunderbird, and Entourage. Some Web mail programs, including the latest version of Yahoo! Mail, allow users to create additional folders.

Creating additional folders on computers is useful in at least two additional areas as well.

The first is in the main Programs List which contains all the shortcuts to launch programs on a PC.

Highlight “Programs” in the All Programs list, and then right click to Open All Users. When presented with the list of programs under Start Menu, highlight Programs, then click File and New and create a new Folder.

The main idea in doing this is to group multiple relevant programs together in a single folder, much like Windows, for example, includes numerous programs under the Accessories Folder, and then uses Sub-folders like System Tools for PC maintenance programs.

Some of the like folders I often create include Audio & Video, Web Browsers & Mail, Photo & Graphics, and PC Health, where I place all anti-virus and system maintenance programs in a single folder.

I find the latter especially helpful in serving as a reminder of what programs should be run on an ongoing basis to keep a PC in best operating condition.

The other way I use folders is for organizing program and other downloads. Create a New Folder via Windows Explorer on your hard drive for each program you download. It's also a good idea to put any relevant serial numbers and purchase information in the same folder for ready reference.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Monday, October 8, 2007

Convert Video for Portable And Online Playback

As the demand for video online and in devices like video iPods increases, so are the options for getting it into the proper format. With some practice and patience, a variety of tools exist to help transfer home movies and other video to online and portable formats.

In some cases freeware programs exist, in others programs you already own may include a video converter.

As an example, the popular Nero software supplied with some cameras and computers includes a program called Recode which allows users to convert videos to sources compatible with iPods and other portable playback devices.

One of the more recent improvements in video encoding is the H.264, or AVC, encoding standard.

Use of this latest standard is becoming widespread throughout the video production and online video businesses because of its ability to create high-quality video with considerable detail in both compressed and high-definition formats.

The Nero Recode software allows users to insert video from DVD's and other sources and customize the output to match the desired device.

A set of custom profiles including Mobile, Portable and High-Definition are built into the Recode software. Recode can also be used to prepare video from cameras to be burned onto CD's and DVD's in a few clicks.

Nero Recode also allows for simple trimming and editing of movies, as well as adding chapters to DVD's and creating single DVD's from multiple videos and sources.

Other common commercial programs found with numerous computers and cameras that often include conversion software are Adobe Premiere, Ulead Video Studio, and Roxio Easy Media Creator.

If you want to get video onto your mobile phone, one of the most popular free programs is Israel-based MediaCell Video Converter (

The program includes phone-specific profiles for dozens of cell phones including Apple, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony and Palm Treo.

MediaCell also provides modes for popular portable video players including the Sony PSP and Video iPod. The program has been noted for its very fast preparation of converted video files.

Another easy-to-use free program is Any Video Converter. This program offers a variety of conversion options including DVD creation, Flash movies, and movies for various portable devices including iPod, PSP and Zune.

One of the more useful features of Any Video Converter is its ability to burn a PAL-format DVD that can be sent to viewers in Europe and other countries using that alternate video format. Any Video Converter can also be found at

If you hope to get your video up on YouTube, remember that in most cases it must be shorter than 11 minutes in length, and less than 100MB in size. If you have movies that have been shot on video cameras or DVD's, you may well find you need to use a program like the ones above to shrink your video before it can be uploaded.

One other tip about YouTube – do not convert your video to Flash before uploading to YouTube (which uses Flash). Better quality can be achieved by using a format such as MP4 or MOV, which will show less degeneration when put through the YouTube compression process.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Multi-Messengers Keep Users In Touch

One of the most common issues PC instant messenger users encounter is having friends and business associates who use different services.

AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, ICQ and Jabber are some of the instant messengers in common use today. If you use separate applications to try and keep up with instant messaging across these applications, chances are you;s tie both yourself and your system up in virtual knots.

The best answer to this issue is to use a multi-messenger that combines features and buddy lists from several applications that allow users to keep in contact with others across several platforms.

On the PC side, the best application for doing so is also a free application – Trillian (

Trillian combines the buddy lists of AOL/AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ and IRC into one convenient list. Different color icons help identify which service each contact is using.

Trillian supports standard features such as audio chat, file transfers, group chats, chat rooms (on some services), buddy icons, multiple simultaneous connections to the same network, server-side contact importing, typing notification, direct connection (AIM), proxy support, encrypted messaging (AIM/ICQ), SMS support, and privacy settings.

The basic version of Trillian is free, does not serve ads, and does not include any spyware or adware.

Trillian Pro adds support for video chat on multiple networks, as well as other multimedia features and messengers for $25. If you don't need those features, the free Trillian will likely suit your needs.

Another free Windows IM client offering compatible versions back to Windows 95 is Miranda IM ( Miranda keys on using as limited system resources as possible.

Apple/Mac users also have options when it comes to multi-messengers.

Adium is a program that can handle AOL, Bonjour, ICQ, Yahoo, Jabber, Google Talk, MSN, and IRC in a single interface. Unlike many areas where it's often tough to find good freeware programs for Macs, Adium is a free application (

More and more messaging is done from mobile phones, and using a multi-messenger can offer advantages over text messaging in terms of cost and versatility.

For Palm and Windows Mobile phone users, the best choice I've found is Mundu Messenger (

Mundu Messenger combines AOL/AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, ICQ, Jabber and Google Talk! into a simple interface that is easy to use on mobile devices. It's not free, but its one-time $11 price is reasonable for its usability.

Mundu also plans to release a version for Symbian mobile phones, and a new iPhone program is also available.

Another multi-messenger for the iPhone is Heysan!, which offers IM services through AIM, MSN and ICQ in a free program at

Another multi-messenger program that is designed to work with iPhones, and other Web browsers, is Meebo (

Enter your AIM/AOL, Yahoo!, MSN and Google Talk! ID's into the browser screen, and Meebo creates a Web-based buddy list without having to download any added software.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Disk Defragmenter Utilities Help Improve System Performance

One of the most common complaints about PC's is that over time, they tend to run slower and slower.

Even more so than today's automobiles, computers are prone to significant performance degradation over time.

In what seems an ironic twist, today's cars containing multiple computers use those systems to require even less regular maintenance than PC's.

Fortunately, a number of freeware utilities have appeared recently that can help with maintaining PC hard drive performance. Here are a couple of my personal favorites:

Many PC owners know that occasionally (I recommend weekly) running the Disk Defragmenter found in the System Tools folder is a good idea.

Best used with the adjacent Disk Cleanup program, Disk Defragmenter reorders the data on a disk to make it faster for Windows to find data on a hard drive, improving performance.

Far fewer users know that Windows Disk Defragmenter is actually a (very) “lite” version of Diskeeper (, a professional program that has been in use for years in professional and enterprise-level commercial applications which are required to process as much information as possible as fast as possible.

The drawback for most home PC users to Diskeeper is its cost, starting at around $50. However, two new freeware disk defragmenters have recently become available that can help improve on the performance of the standard Disk Defragmenter.

The first is the Auslogics Disk Defrag ( This simple to use free program performs additional steps beyond the standard Windows version to help reorder drive data.

I recently used this program on a system that had been serviced with Windows Disk Defragmenter. The Auslogics Disk Defrag program found the drive was still almost 25% fragmented, and was able to bring that down to under 10% by the time it was finished.

Auslogics Disk Defrag is available for Windows 2000, XP and Vista systems. It;s usually a good idea to run it once a week at night without other tasks running.

If your system is running well and has plenty of free memory, a second program can offer the same kind of “on-the fly” disk defragmentation that expensive paid programs provide.

The IOBit SmartDefrag program ( actually runs continuously in the background, optimizing data and disk performance automatically.

This freeware utility has received strong reviews from most major software sites, and with good reason. It's the only easy-to-use free utility of its type that runs in the background, unlike Windows Disk Defragmenter or other programs that users have to remember to run an regular intervals for maximum usefulness.

The downside of SmartDefrag is the fact that like any program running in the background on a PC, it uses system memory that is also used for other tasks.

My experience with SmartDefrag suggests that it is best used on Windows XP systems with at least 1GB of system RAM, and on Vista systems with at least 2GB.

Keeping both of these free programs on hand and running them on a regular basis can help keep system performance at levels closer to when systems were new.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Monday, September 17, 2007

Musicians Reach Out To Fans Directly Online

While the music industry's complaints about online file sharing are no secret, the flip side of music online is that finding information about musicians has never been easier.

Traditional record companies are being bypassed in favor of direct communications between artist and fans.

While traditional music promotion continues to be valuable, more and more musicians are realizing that communicating directly with potential buyers is growing increasingly important in a world where increasing numbers of consumers young, and old, are buying music directly for their iPods, rather than hoping their local record store has an item in stock.

One of the biggest drivers of this shift to direct communication between artist and public has been the social networking site MySpace (

Around two years ago, MySpace began offering free musician accounts, allowing artists to post a set of songs, combined with easy ways to accumulate members, post performance calendars, and send out information or release bulletins to those who'd joined the site.

Almost overnight, musicians and bands that had previously faced building custom Web sites requiring considerable time and expense had a way to generate an online presence in only a few hours with little or no Web site creation expertise.

MySpace also offered the means to readily recruit a set of base members by doing a search of the MySpace existing membership, and then sending an invitation to join a MySpace site dealing directly with a band or musician.

In most cases, those persons who already expressing an interest in a particular band or musician as a part of their MySpace profile are more than happy to join a MySpace page dealing with said artist.

In a nutshell, these sites provide a high-level working example of just how social networking was supposed to work – providing an opportunity for perilsons with like interests to easy find and communicate with each other.

Musicians, especially those from outside mainstream radio airplay, have found MySpace makes one of the most effective ways of reaching out to their fan base at very little cost. Some musicians are now actively posting performance samples on sites such as YouTube in the hope of drawing new listeners.

The success of MySpace musician accounts have spread so rapidly that even some of music's biggest artists, most recently Bruce Springsteen, have erected MySpace Music pages.

An example of MySpace's potential reach was seen in the creation of a home page for a 1970's latin jazz-rock group called Azteca (

Azteca Reunion Concert, September 15, 2007 - Photo By Tom Meek

After not performing for more than three decades, the creation of a MySpace page for the band announcing a reunion concert was a key factor in helping to create a successful concert with hundreds of fans in attendance.

The site will also be used as a key component to help promote and market a DVD being produced from the same concert event.

Thousands of musicians now have MySpace pages announcing concert events, communicating directly with fans, and providing the opportunity to both listen to and now directly sell music to consumers.

It's likely the music business will only continue to evolve in this direct marketing model, rather than relying on traditional retail delivery. Doing so may eventually mean musicians will earn a greater percentage of the income their talent ultimately generates.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cyberville Q&A Answers Firewall and Picture Moving Questions

Q: I have dial-up Internet service and want to buy firewall software for added protection. I am also considering upgrading to a home network with DSL service that will run two other computers in my house. My computer runs Windows XP – what should I buy?

A: If you stick with dial-up service, firewall software is not generally regarded as necessary. The reasons for this are three-fold.

First, your computer is assigned a different IP address every time it connects to the Intenet, and is therefore harder for a hacker to potentially locate.

Second, few potential hackers are concerned about data transfer over dial-up connections, which are too slow to be useful to most.

Third, most computers using dial-up are also using a shared phone line with voice calls, which means they are only connected to the Web on an intermittent basis.

If you switch to a home network with DSL, then you need a firewall, as your computer will generally stay connected (which is actually a good thing) to the Web at all times, and do it through either a Static (fixed) IP address, or through a range of IP addresses generally well-known to those who might wish to cause mischief.

The good news is that in either case, your Windows XP (or Vista) computer comes with built-in free firewall software as part of the operating system.

To turn it on, just go to Help and type in “firewall”. Follow the prompts and your firewall will be activated. It generally requires little attention or additional user information, and is a good choice for most home computers.

If you end up connecting multiple computers to a home DSL network, you will need to use a router. Again, the good news here is that routers also have a built-in firewall called NAT (Newtork Address Translation).

NAT effectively hides the computers on its side of the Internet, as the router presents a false IP address to any program that might be trying to search for that computer's IP address.
Some routers also offer a hardware firewall, which offers additional protection and can be configured for specific applications by a technician or high-level user.

Q: I am trying to copy most of my pictures to an external hard drive, but I cannot erase them easily from my system drive after I do. I want to leave a few pictures on the system, and move most. What can I do?

A: In your case, use Windows Explorer's “Move” command, rather than “Copy”.

Use Windows Explorer (in Accessories on most newer PC's) to open the folder, such as “My Pictures”, where the images are located.

Click Edit, then Select All. If you want to leave some pictures on your PC, hold down the CTRL key, then click the left mouse button to de-select those images from being moved. Go to Edit, click on Move To Folder, and select the folder or hard drive where you want to move the pictures.

Practicing this will allow you to keep most of your picture files on an external hard drive, saving that space, and also back up your images to an external drive.

You can also take that drive with you if you want to work on another system, or show someone else the pictures now stored on the drive.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Free Software Can Outfit A New Computer

Perhaps you've been thinking about buying a new computer, but have held off because of the cost of buying new software.

It's not unusual for the cost of a common set of software programs including an office suite, anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, photo processing and media recording and playback to cost more than a low-end PC.

Fortunately, there are good free alternatives that can be used to make a very functional computer, legally, without spending a cent on additional software. If you think it can't be done, read on.

Office Software – Sun's OpenOffice will take care of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, flow charts and database needs for most individuals and small businesses.

Although you can buy OpenOffice in a retail box, it's available for a completely free download at

Open Office can also create Microsoft-compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations, simply by using the “Save As” command for a variety of compatible format choices.

Anti-Virus – It's common to spend $50 or more for an anti-virus program. And that program will generally charge an annual subscription renewal fee that as much on top of the initial cost.

The alternative is a free program from European companies AVG or Avast!, which do the same thing as a paid program at no charge. These companies sell paid and premium versions for business customers, but offer free software to home and personal users without cost.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition ( can easily be set to download updates and run full system scans every night, if you're willing to leave your computer on. Avast! Home Edition ( updates itself automatically as long as your computer is connected to the Internet. Both programs perform the same functions as McAfee or Norton without cost.

Anti-Spyware/Adware – Spybot and Ad Aware Personal Edition make a good tandem in fighting to keep your computer free of the never-ending glut of garbage nearly any Web surfer will readily acquire.

While both programs have to be updated and run manually in their free versions, doing so on a weekly basis will rid your system of most of the annoying junk that degrades system performance and serves up annoying ads.

Add in Microsoft's free Windows Defender for XP and Vista systems, and your PC will keep running better month after month. All three programs can obtained free of charge at

Photo Processing – A number of good free photo programs are now available. One of the best is XnView ( which offers some advanced features while maintaining a simpler interface.

PDF Reader – PDF files are a way of life on the Web and in business. The free Adobe Reader program ( makes reading and saving those files a snap. A quick Web search can also find freeware programs that can create PDF files online.

Media Playback & CD Creation - A host of programs make CD creation and DVD playback possible. Among the best are Real Player 11 ( Windows Media Player ( and The KMPlayer ( The KMPlayer is a stand alone DVD player with many advanced features.

Other good freeware choices are 7-Zip (file compression), Gmail (free e-mail able to be read and sent through free mail programs like Outlook Express or Windows Mail), and Mozilla's Firefox, a Web browser that's a good alternative to Internet Explorer, especially on Windows Vista. And both Vista and XP have a free built-in firewall, just type “firewall” in Help to turn it on in a few mouse clicks.

Using this set of free programs will take care of more than 90% of the needs of the average computer user.

All without costing an added cent.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Monday, August 27, 2007

Digital Superzooms Make True All-In-One Cameras

One of the greatest shifts in technology has been the advent of digital photography replacing film over the past five years.

Conventional film usage has done nothing short of plummet, while the rise of digital photography has seen a huge upswing.

Digital photography's rise has generally been keyed by multiple factors – the reusability of digital media, increases in the number of camera megapixels (MP) offered at lower costs, and the rapid increase in the size of digital flash cards allowing more pictures to be taken at higher resolutions.

And now a further digital development is likely to add the Single-Lens-Reflex (SLR) camera with interchangeable lenses to the endangered species list.

The latest generation of “superzoom” cameras is here, and the cost of these cameras has now come down to where most photographers will gladly shelve their bulky camera bags in favor of a single do-it-all camera that will fit handily in a purse or pouch.

These cameras offer huge zoom ranges in compact packages for little more than the cost of a good SLR zoom lens alone. And while professional photographers may still prefer individual lenses for specific uses, the vast majority of amateur photographers will see digital superzoom cameras as being little short of a panacea for most imaging needs.

I recently had the opportunity to test, courtesy of Kodak, the Z712-IS superzoom camera.

It features a 12x optical all-glass zoom lens with a 35mm equivalency focal range of 36-432mm, licensed from respected German lens designer Schneider-Kreuznach. The lens also features a reasonably fast focal range of f/2.8–f/4.8.

Other Z712-IS features include 7.1MP resolution, allowing for high-qualty 8x10 and even larger enlargements, ISO's up to 3200 for shooting in low-light conditions, optical image stabilization, and a 2.5” color display.

The camera also takes 640x480 MPEG-4 movies with sound at a full 30 frames per second, allowing users to record well over 30 minutes of video with a 2GB SD memory card (about $30).

Using the zoom is also possible in movie mode, a newer and much-needed feature on digital cameras.

All of this and more come in a camera retailing for $250 that's easy enough for most amateur photographers to start using in a few minutes, allowing users to shoot both images and movies through a single camera and on the same memory card.

Comparable models are now available from most manufacturers including Sony, Olympus, Canon, Fuji, Casio and Panasonic.

As examples, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 adds a lens as wide as 28mm in a thinner body some may (or may not) prefer. The Canon S5 IS offers 8MP's and stereo sound recording.

Sony and Olympus have increased zoom ranges in their most recent offering, with the Sony DSC-H7 checking in with 15x and the Olympus SP-550 UZ offering a huge 28-504mm (18x).

All of these cameras are available for under $500 at the retail level, and offer a range of features that will take most users months to fully explore.

Be sure to check what type of memory any camera uses. Many newer computers come with built-in memory card slots, while an adapter may be needed for others.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back To School Computing Tips

It's time for millions of Florida students to head back to their classrooms. With computers being a near-necessity for most schools, now is a good time to prepare for another year of successful computing.

Here are some of my favorite suggestions for an annual school time tune-up.

Update Anti-Virus, Spyware and Adware Programs – Nearly every new computer comes pre-installed with some kind of anti-virus software. Most are time-limited trials that require a subscription service to keep them updated.

Any anti-virus solution is only as good as its most recent update. If you haven't kept up with your subscription, now's the time to renew and get your PC properly protected.

If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus subscription, uninstall your old dog and get a fresh download of a free anti-virus program from AVG, ( or Avast! ( Both programs offer anti-virus protection equivalent to better known paid programs, and are free for personal use.

Good freeware solutions are also available to combat the ever-increasing glut of spyware and adware slowing down nearly every computer connected to the Internet. They include Spybot and Ad Aware Special Edition.

Both require manual updates, and you'll have to remember to run them at least once per week. Doing so can dramatically cut down on the number of programs tracking your computer usage and wasting PC resources. A quick Web search will lead you to a variety of download sources.

Add System Memory – The biggest hardware reason for poor PC performance is a lack of system memory, or RAM.

Early PC's weren't optimized to use memory efficiently, but modern computers running Windows XP and Vista, and Apple's OS X, are able to use and depend on a large amount of system memory.

If you are running Windows XP, try and install 1GB of RAM, for Vista, 2GB is strongly recommended, as is a frequent recommendation for Apple's OS X.

The more memory your system can use, the better you'll be able to perform multiple tasks, work with pictures and multimedia, and speed your Web browsing experience.

Install A Home Network – For years I've recommended children have their own computer in a household. Following that rule means parents have to closely monitor children's Internet usage, and limit time online as needed to insure other activities have enough.

Sharing a broadband connection allows all the PC's in a home to connect to the Web at the same time and still maintain good performance.

Today's home networking hardware is easier and safer to use than ever. If you're not sure you can handle a network installation, invite a knowledgeable friend or computer professional to set one up for you. You'll be glad you did.

I's also like to alert Cyberville readers that after today, you can find my column online at

For nearly seven years I've had the pleasure of joining you in your homes, offices, schools and coffee shops.

I've also had the pleasure of meeting thousands of you through e-mail, civic and technical presentations, on the radio, and in person in stores and on the street.

I thank each and every Cyberville reader for their many kind words and time, and hope to see more of you in the new Cyberville online in the days to come.

You're also always welcome to reach me via e-mail at

Best wishes, and my sincere gratitude, to all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Welcome To Another Day In Cyberville

For nearly seven years I have had the pleasure of joining thousands of you in your homes, offices, coffee shops and restaurants.

When I was first asked to do this column, the Sun and I agreed that the key need was to try and make technology understandable for the average person.

At that point I'd already been involved in computers in an office setting for more than fifteen years.

I'd had the opportunity to help design computer installations for a Fortune 500 company, and it had become very clear to me that spending millions of dollars on hardware meant next to nothing if the people being asked to use it didn't understand how.

By the year 2000 I'd also sat through hundreds of computer seminars aimed at both tech professionals and small businesses. It was also clear from those seminars that the thing most often needed by computer users wasn't new hardware, but a better understanding of how to use what they already had.

I've also very much enjoyed the fact that so many of you have written to me with questions, stopped me in stores or on the street, and invited me into your homes and offices.

I've also had the chance to meet many more of you at presentations throughout the area including Lake City, Lake Butler, Gainesville and numerous others.

Perhaps the most gratifying experience from meeting so many of you online or in person is that so many readers have told me they have saved many of my columns for years.

I've even had readers bring out folders full of “Cyberville” where they've kept their favorites for future reference. From my experience it's rare that people clip and save something on a regular basis, and I hope Cyberville continues to be so.

I'd like to thank several people for their assistance to me over the past seven years – first to Jackie Levine, Managing Editor, for giving me the opportunity to begin writing “Another Day In Cyberville”. It was her impetus from reading a similar column in Syracuse that brought “Cyberville” to life.

The second would be Doris Chandler, long-time Business Editor of the Sun, who provided much of the feedback I received from an editorial side, and for her invaluable input for many years.

And the third would be Jeff Tudeen, now the Sun's Weekend and Readership Editor, who also provided encouragement and the opportunity to appear elsewhere in the Sun from time to time.

I'd also like to thank Hank Conner of WUFT-FM's “Conner Calling” for having me as a semi-regular guest on his Friday program.

Over the years we've taken calls, e-mail and instant messages from readers and listeners as far away as New England and from trucks driving through Gainesvile on I-75. With Hank's good graces, you'll continue to hear a radio version of “Cyberville” as time permits.

The majority of the many readers I've met online or in person have told me they read Cyberville every Monday and look forward to it.

As such, it's my intention online to have a new column available for readers each Monday as well. You're also welcome to contact me either through the blog, or at

Again, it's truly been a pleasure to know so many readers have joined me along the way in exploring Another Day In Cyberville. And I hope to see many of you in the future.

Thank you.