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