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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Amazon Axing Music Service

Back when digital music downloads were in their infancy, many consumer choices were available. In 2001, Apple began their iTunes music while big music companies like Sony had their own services. Amazon decided to wade into this market as well. One reason was that Amazon got into the market is because Apple—in their typical snob appeal fashion—charged more for music from iTunes than other companies and furthermore, they required that it could only be played back on Apple devices. Amazon felt they could charge less and still be profitable in this market space.

Music Encryption
You may not remember this but back in the day, all music downloads sold by Apple were encrypted and only their software could unlock the encryption to allow playback. The only workaround for this was to make a music CD using iTunes and then using third party software rip the songs back to your computer. Once that was done, you could play your music on any device that you owned.

Both Apple and Sony had malicious defects in their software.

In 2005, Sony snuck rootkits into their music software and 22 million CDs that they produced. Rootkits operate at a level below the operating system and could be used to monitor your computer usage and download other software onto your computer without the operation system or antivirus programs being aware of its existence. This software reported user data to Sony without user consent or awareness. Sony produced these rootkits for many years before being outed by the Tech community. However, many of the CDs with preinstalled rootkits are still in circulation today. Link: Sony BGM copy protection rootkit scandal

SONY BMG can take two lessons from its recent wayward attempt to fend off digital piracy: One, in a world of technology-astute bloggers, it’s not easy to get away with secretly infecting your customers’ computers with potentially malicious code. And two, as many a politician has learned, explaining your own screw-up badly is often worse than the screw-up itself.

The Rootkit of All Evil

FYI: most Google Android devices are built with rootkit features that regularly report your phone info including address book and text messages to third parties including foreign governments which by the way does not include Russia. (We have previously documented these issues on our blog.)

Apple was aware of an iTunes a security vulnerability in 2008 but didn’t fix it until bad publicity forced their hand in 2011.
Link: Wikipedia iTunes

Apple also has pushed out rootkits in their music software but since Apple calls it a feature of their program, people somehow don’t get bother by it.

Ironically, this news comes on the heels of the recent Sony BMG DRM fiasco, a part of which included an undisclosed “phone home” feature of its own. Is the Apple MiniStore a rootkit DRM? Not from what we can tell, but it is part of a dangerous trend EFF has been witnessing in the digital music space market. When the music players on our computers start monitoring our listening habits, we’ve crossed a major privacy line. After all, my Sony stereo and my Panasonic boombox don’t shouldersurf my listening habits when I turn them on, so where does Apple get off suddenly doing it on my computer?

iTunes MiniStore “phone home” feature part of a dangerous trend in data collection

My recollection is that there were others instances but Apple rarely admits publicly to defects in their security or software.

If you want to get deeper into music encryption, see this article
Hidden Feature in Sony DRM Uses Open Source Code to Add Apple DRM

Amazon Introduces Encryption Free Music
In 2008, along came Amazon and offered essentially the same songs as iTunes for less money and without the digital rights management (DRM) encryption. Eventually, Apple began to relax the DRM requirement and by the time smartphones were a thing (2009), the encryption of mp3 files was eliminated. (Please note that Amazon gets no credit from the Apple folks for breaking the Steve Jobs monopoly on digit music.)

As a result of their overpriced music and lack of trustworthiness, I never use iTunes for anything and am reluctant to install it on any computing devices that I own. Only when some other Liberal company or educational institution grants monopoly status to the iTunes store will I consider using it. Even if Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt or some other conservative media guy offered their shows for free as a podcast only on iTunes I would still not install it. Yeah, I really hate Apple that much.

Anyway, as time went on, Apple decided to offer a music matching service. The way it was supposed to work was that if you had an LP and recorded the music onto your computer and then uploaded it to Apple, if Apple had a digital version in their library, they would replace your LP ripped version with a clean digital copy—usually at a higher quality that your recording.

Amazon, as Apple’s chief competitor in the music download market, implemented a similar offering. Both companies offered the ability to upload files and get the music match option. With an annual subscription, Amazon offered you the ability to upload up to 250,000 of your own songs; plus any music that you bought from Amazon did not count against the 250K limit. Thus the offer was not a dedicated amount of space on their servers but number of tracks. All this for $24.95 per year. Oh, and just to get you to try it, Amazon would let you upload up to 250 songs for free.

Ten years Later
In December 2017, Amazon eliminated the free 250 song upload offer. This month, the other shoe dropped on their digital music business model. It was announced that the paid subscription for warehousing 250,000 songs is going away.

Amazon Music software warning message

Interestingly, I have yet to see a single article on the tech blogs and news sites that I frequent that even mentions this move by Amazon. I guess maybe not that many folks utilize this feature. I guess the pirated music offered by Spotify is all the rage these days.

Overall, I’ve been happy with Amazon but I do have a few gripes. Amazon has neglected the music software that they produce. For most of its existence, album art that was wrong could not be corrected and sometimes after they rolled-out updates, the album art would be changed.

The music match offer that Amazon made was never well thought out from a consumer’s point of view. Amazon software has never had the ability to give me a visual or other indication of when a music match was successful. This idea of the music match was to give you a copy of the song free of pops and scratches so prevalent in ripping LP tracks to a computer. The underlying assumption was that if you owned the LP copy, you had a license to entitle you to have a digital copy also—for your own personal use. Once matched, in theory you could then download a “clean” copy of the mp3 file.

Amazon website notice of pending doom

Amazon will let me keep what I have purchased from them but everything else is facing the digital chopping block. It is clear that rather I check the “Keep my songs” box in their webpage or not, my personal stuff will eventually go away. If they want, I suspect they could offer to sell hard drive space on Amazon Drive that could link to their media player but I think they are big enough not to bother with a bunch of us pesky customers anymore when they get so much money for hosting corporate data. At least when Microsoft got out of the music service business, their software will still play music warehoused on OneDrive.


I also like Amazon Music because it is not blocked by the draconian firewall where I work so I can stream anything from my vast library of music. I’m sad that this option will soon go the way of Toys R Us.


Posted by william on 04/10 at 07:23 AM

Friday, April 06, 2018

Microsoft & Apple leaving Intel

Lest you thought Toys R Us was the only business with bad news featured on our blog this week, things are not going well for another company whose name you know; namely, Intel. In the PC space, Intel has only one competitor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). However, in recent years they have faced pressure from the smartphone/portable devices segment of consumer devices.

Previously, we have documented the Windows on ARM initiative which is finally appearing in the consumer space. While Microsoft has yet to get all the bugs worked out of the process, you can now buy devices free of Intel chips that run a full version of Windows 10. The cell phone CPU chips are not quite up to the processing power of Intel’s but these devices can last up to a week on a full charge and unlike Intel’s they can maintain a connection to cellular data and resume from sleep in less than a blink of an eye.

In addition, this year you are seeing a new feature implemented by tech companies across devices that allows you to continue a document or game from one device to another. Here are some things you can or will shortly be able to do:
• Playing a game on your phone, you will be able to pause it, resume it on your tablet device and pause it and resume playing it on your desktop device.
• Working on a document, you can cut or copy to the clipboard on your PC and the paste it into you phone’s text message or tablet’s email.

Device platforms are moving to an always connected to the Internet model. This will allow for seamless operating of many tasks that you do daily.

Also companies like Microsoft are enabling personal devices to be integrated with Enterprise networks so you can use the same phone or tablet to do both your work stuff and your own stuff. If your company’s IT staff is worth a darn then folks on the go don’t need to carry two phones, one for work and one for them.

This week it was announced that Microsoft is not the only company trying to get free of the decades old Intel monopoly, Apple announced that they are abandoning Intel all together and will run all their devices including desktop PCs with cell phone CPUs.

Apple copies Microsoft, moves to abandon Intel

Apple has delivered a shock to Intel’s share price with news of a new project to move their Mac business to ARM-based processors of their own design by 2020.

According to Bloomberg, Project Kalamata would have all Apple’s devices, from iPhones to Macs, running on the low power processors, and would rely on Marzipan, a platform which lets iOS apps run on the Mac desktop.

The move would emulate that of Microsoft, who has already launched their Windows 10 on ARM initiative with two 3rd party laptops already in the market, and who has been working for many years on their UWP platform, which unifies mobile and desktop applications.

ARM Diagram

Two days later, Intel got another blow from Microsoft when they announced that the new version of their virtual reality device—HoloLens—will be using ARM chips and not those made by Intel.

Hololens 2.0 may ditch Intel for ARM processor

Competition for the Microsoft Hololens is finally close to reaching the market, with the Magic Leap’s headset expected to reach virtual shelves later this year.

This seems to have prompted the company to finally get around to releasing version 2 of the headset, according to a leak via the WC.

According to their sources, the headset will use Microsoft’s Always-Connected PC platform, with an ARM processor with LTE modem, have longer battery life and greater autonomy, and would also have an increased field of view.

Folks we are approaching the world of Ready Player One—at least in some respects—and Intel has no part of it. They are becoming a legacy company that has totally missed the boat on computing! Let that sink in, the biggest computer processor manufacturing company in the world has no part in the future of their own industry.

First generation Microsoft HoloLens

Please understand that Intel has spent billions of dollars trying to get into the mobile space but failed at every turn. They actually make Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell look like geniuses and that is really hard to accomplish. While I’m reluctant to say so, Aaron Park’s favorite phrase of “epic failure” is actually appropriate in this case.

Intel quit trying to get into the mobile device CPU business two years ago and look where they are now.


Intel’s new smartphone strategy is to quit

Late on Friday night, Intel snuck out the news that it’s bailing on the smartphone market. Despite being the world’s best known processor maker, Intel was only a bit player in the mobile space dominated by Qualcomm, Apple, and Samsung, and it finally chose to cut its losses and cancel its next planned chip, Broxton. This followed downbeat quarterly earnings, 12,000 job cuts, and a major restructuring at a company that’s had a very busy April. Intel is still one of the giants of the global tech industry, but it’s no longer as healthy and sprightly as it used to be.

The bane of Intel’s existence for the past decade or so has been the transition to mobile computing. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Having secured a commanding lead as the premier provider of desktop PC processors, Intel had a clear-eyed strategy for extending its dominance into the mobile realm.

This has cost Intel dearly, with the company lavishing billions on developing suitable processors and modems to put into its various mobile undertakings. The multibillion-dollar mobile costs have spiraled in recent years — a loss of $3.1 billion in 2013 was followed by a loss of $4.3 billion in 2014 — which eventually forced Intel to combine its mobile and PC earnings reports in order to disguise its unproductive spending.

The tragedy of Intel’s mobile failure is that the company foresaw all the threats to its business and acted to preempt them. It just didn’t do so very well. That being said, Intel’s the victim of its bad decision making almost as much as its poor execution.

Intel Cancels Atom Processor, Could Exit Mobile Industry

While Intel appears to be continuing to dominate the desktop and laptop market with their processors, their mobile efforts haven’t been as successful, with the landscape being mostly dominated by the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Samsung. So much so that there is now speculation that Intel could be looking to exit the mobile business.

No, Intel Isn’t Abandoning the Mobile Market

Atom has been one of the biggest duds in the history of semiconductors as Intel spent billions designing and producing the chip, then billions more paying hardware makers to use them before failing to get any traction at all and eventually burying the whole project last year inside of its shrinking but still highly profitable PC unit.

Since these articles appeared two years ago, Intel still has not produced a single chip that can connect to either Wi-Fi or the Internet.  In contrast, ARM devices in a single chip can do computing, video, cellular modem, Wi-Fi connectivity, and other functions and just as you would expect, each generation of ARM chips is better and faster than the last. Moore’s law anyone??

Posted by william on 04/06 at 06:54 AM

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: AMD RX480

I went toCho- Choo” Fry’s in Roseville last week-end and bought their last AMD 480 video card. It was made by Diamond.
Link Fry’s: Diamond AMD RX 480 8GB PCIE GDDR5 Graphics Video Card
(For those that don’t know, AMD and NVidia make video chipsets and sell them to various manufactures that customize them and sell them under various brands.)

This is the super-duper video card that has very high specs even when compared to cards costing more than twice as much. (NVidia’s comparable version is GTX 1060.) The card has 8 GB of video memory and this particular model has three Display Ports and one HDMI connection.

I bought a two pack of Display Port to DVI cables for $21.99 since the old monitors have DVI connectors.
Link: Amazon Display Port to DVI Two Pack


Like most video cards, this one takes up two expansion slots on the motherboard and it is long, almost ten inches.
Diamond Spec Sheet
Diamond Video Card

When the Display Port to DVI cables arrived, I installed them to the computer and nothing happened. The cables did not seat properly on the video card. After a visual investigation, I determined that the video ports on the back of the computer were too close to the metal support between the slot openings on the back of the computer case. (If you recall, the video card is two expansion slots wide.) I had two choices, either cut the metal support on the case or try a different set of video cables. I opted for different video cables. I swapped the cables that I bought on Amazon with some older ones at work. My work computer is happy with the new cables and the computer at home is happy too.

The other challenge was getting the video driver to install. Simply downloading the driver from AMD and clicking “RUN” was a miserable failure. To make it work, download the driver. Uninstall your existing video driver. Then in your Download folder, right click on the driver file and select “Run as Administrator” or the equivalent.

Now I just need my son to put it to the test when he gets back with from his summer trip with Grandma and Grandpa.

Posted by william on 07/14 at 07:08 PM

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Minors and Microsoft Band 2

My son is an avid reader and as an incentive to push him, we offered him some cash if he would get a certain point value by the end of the school year. (Each book he reads at school has a point system based on content and grade level.)

Earlier this month, he achieved the goal set for him and wanted to use his money to buy a Microsoft Band 2. About a week ago, the Band arrived from Amazon. It was on sale again for $175.

I had him charge it while I was at work and when I got home, I told him that I would connect it with his Lumia 640.


What should have been a five minute procedure ended up taking 3 ½ hours.

First, the Band is designed to sync with the Microsoft Health application. Unlike Apple products, the Microsoft Band works on Windows, Android, and Apple phones. What I learned is that on a Windows phone, there is no ability to log off of the Microsoft Health app. It is defaulted to use the user signed into the phone. Well the Lumia 640 was my old phone. I uninstalled the app and then reinstalled, hoping to get a log-in prompt. This failed.

I deleted my email accounts, entered my son’s email account, and tried again. The Microsoft health app then tried to log into my son’s account.

I need to give you a bit of background to understand what happened next. My son is listed as my son on my Microsoft Live account. As such, I have some ability to monitor his Internet activity and control things like purchases that he makes on the phone. By having his age listed, I can also control what he does on the XBOX.

When the app tried to log on to my son’s Microsoft account, it gave him an error stating that he was too young to use the Band and locked him out of the app. We deleted the app and reinstalled. The app jumped to this same blocked message.

I ended up wiping the phone completely and starting over. After I tried to run the Microsoft Health app, it once again locked him out due to his age. Please remember that without the ability for him to connect to this application, the Band is a $175 brick.

I researched this on the Internet and found that the Microsoft Health app will only allow connections with people 18 and older . Nowhere is this documented on Microsoft’s sales information on the Band. I then researched how to change his age on the youth account. Once I changed his age to 21 in my Live account, I was told by the website that this made him an adult and he could no longer be under my supervision. Reluctantly, I agreed to this.

Then we tried the MS Health app again. We were still locked-out. So once again I had to wipe the phone and start over. This time when the Microsoft app was installed, it reluctantly allowed him to connect. My problem is that the version of Windows 10 on the phone is a beta copy and not an approved production release. By wiping my account, I’m sure I broke the link to get further updates on the phone.

I think it is stupid that Microsoft targets youth to buy their Band and then won’t let them use it because they are youth. Thus we need to lie to MS about the age of our children to use their products.

What kind of society are we living in? We aren’t supposed to care which bathroom our children use or if they get an abortion but they have to be over 18 to buy a glorified watch?

Clearly there are lawyers involved in this somehow. You’d think Microsoft would get their highly paid lobbyists to fix any issues that might prevent youth from using their products. I’m sure Fitbit has no such concerns about their products. In fact I doubt many people in Fitbit’s ads are over 18.

The bottom line is when you get your kids a Microsoft Band 2 be sure and lie about their age before trying to connect it to the Internet. Great product, but lying is not good behavior to model for your kids.

Posted by william on 05/17 at 02:41 PM

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: Golden 1 Forces Quicken Use

A week ago, my financial institution killed my ability to use Microsoft Money. Up to this point, I’ve been happy with Golden 1 Credit Union but this move has given me pause to consider moving my finances to another business. 

Three reasons why I’m not happy:
• Golden 1 lied
• Quicken is inferior
• Privacy and Security concerns

Golden 1 Bad IT Guys
Golden 1 lied to their customers when they claimed that their software upgrade just made their site more secure and gave customers more options. They never stated that they would be discontinuing support for Money ahead of the upgrade. Not in emails to customers nor on their website. This is lousy customer service. In fact, they state just the opposite.

Does everything work the same as before the upgrade?
We worked hard to make sure that all functionality within Online and Mobile Banking remains the same.

The above statement has clearly been proven false.

My wife and I wrote to Golden 1 about this and got the following response. In effect, we were told to go pound sand.

Thank you for your email. Microsoft Money was discontinued in 2009, therefore it is not compatible with our website. Although you may have been able to use the service after it was discontinued, technical support is no longer offered. Golden 1 supports Quicken for Windows 2014 and 2015, Quicken for Mac 2007 and Essentials, as well as Buxfer and Mint.

When Golden 1 upgraded their website, the Quicken file format changed from QIF to QFX. I think they hosed some Quicken users as well.

Again, money was compatible with their website before the upgrade.

Quicken Inferior by Design
You may ask why I’m so upset? Quicken has always been an inferior product to Money.

Here are some samples of the differences:

Transaction entry screens

Microsoft Money entry screen

Quicken entry screen

Money gives you a way bigger area to enter a transaction on the same screen as your account register. In Quicken you have to resort to pop-up windows to find something comparable. This is a clunky design that is not user friendly.

Money lets you hide items that are reconciled without affecting the bank balance.  This allows you to limit your day-to-day interaction to recent items. Historical data is one mouse click away. If you try this in Quicken it will literally change the numbers that it shows for your bank account. This is stupid behavior.

I do accounting for a living. My bank balance is a record of withdrawals and deposits and that is the only things that should change it. If I want to slice and dice my financial information, I can run a report. Reporting is a separate tab in both programs.

In Money my ending balance is my ending balance and the check register stays the same (reconciled items are older and to see them you just scroll up).

In Quicken, this is a convoluted question. If you select to show only unreconciled items instead of all transactions then the running balance in the account goes into crazy land.


Here are screenshots for the same transactions in Quicken toggling between All Transactions and Unreconciled Transactions. In money the running balance would not change.

The download and matching of transactions in Quicken also seems inferior to Money. Matching transactions in Money was intuitive but Quicken requires much more clicking to do the same task.

The other gripe I have is the invasiveness of Intuit. When I install Money, I click on setup.exe and install the program and go. If I have a Money file, I just double click on it and I’m off to the races but Intuit is different and not in a good way.

When I installed Quicken, it offered to import my Money file. Once I did that, I was forced to go to a registration screen and either create a new Intuit account or login and tie-in my Quicken account to my Turbo Tax account. Without your financial data being tied to Intuit via the Internet you cannot run the program. 

Quicken also gladly offers to keep a copy of all your banking data on their website. As invasive as their program is, I wonder if they are anyway.

The Quicken program does not have a product key required for installation, just the requirement that you have an Intuit account. Without a product key, Quicken can be installed on as many devices as you wish but the program needs an Intuit account in order to run.

Quicken Bugs
I did experience two bugs in the program while messing with all this nonsense.

First, on my Windows 10 desktop, Quicken was unable to connect to the Internet. After messing around for longer than I should have, I finally found the “Mondo Patch” for Quicken 2016.
Link to Mondo Patch
Once installed, I was able to get beyond the registration screen.

I later installed Quicken on my wife’s Lenovo laptop and did not experience this issue. After waiting about 10 minutes, the program finally patched itself before completing setup.

A second bug that I experienced was the mess Quicken made of my Money file. Quicken duplicated about twelve transactions in my check register and overstated my bank balance in excess of $4,000. Quicken created duplicates of items that had been reconciled in the previous month plus some other nonsense. I really hated going into my check register and deleting transactions but that’s what it took.

Not a good first impression!

Before I get to my next section I did want to mention price.
Microsoft Money Sunset is a free download Money Download is here

Of course I couldn’t just get the basic version of Quicken, I needed Quicken Deluxe to import Money files. The program sells at Fry’s and Best Buy for $75. Thankfully, it sells at Sam’s Club for $55.

I wish back in the day that Microsoft had purchased Intuit but the Clinton Administration nixed the deal.

The Microsoft Corporation, in the software industry’s largest acquisition ever, agreed today to acquire Intuit Inc., the producer of the leading personal finance program, Quicken, in a stock swap valued at about $1.5 billion.
Microsoft to buy Intuit

I have problems with all my personal information being retained by Intuit. Over the years my concern has grown. I have come to understand that they are retaining large amounts of data on users of their products.  This information is a lot of knowledge and corporate power that they could wield. Intuit is maintaining files on millions of people.

Writing about Mint—another Intuit company—and online privacy concerns I found this:

Finally, besides security issues, there are also privacy issues associated with using such sites. The sites are sitting on financial behavior information that would be extremely valuable in aggregate to marketers and others if they chose to sell it, an option Mr. Patzer of has spoken about in the past.

Plus, even if a site promises now not to sell aggregate data about customers, it could change the agreement at any time and go ahead and sell the data. In addition, if such sites go bankrupt, even if they currently don’t sell data, trustees may decide to sell it to maximize the value of the assets.
Should you trust Mint?

I found this in the Quicken privacy policy.

If Quicken or its assets are acquired by another company, or in the event of a merger, consolidation, change in control, transfer of substantial assets, reorganization, or liquidation, we may transfer, sell, or assign to third parties, information concerning your relationship with us, including, without limitation, personal information that you provide and other information concerning your relationship with us.
Quicken Privacy Policy

See also Quicken-Intuit privacy hole

Bottom line is “we might keep your info safe but if we transfer it elsewhere, you’re on your own”.

Also, in the privacy notice, it says NOTE that on April 1, 2016 Quicken has changed ownership and is no longer a part of Intuit.

The notice then goes on to say that Quicken will continue to use the Intuit ID
This will remain in effect as a service that Intuit provides to the Quicken organization.

So presumably Intuit gives Quicken a copy of my financial data because I use their log-in services?
So does this mean hackers have two sets of data they can target? Or can be sold to a third party?

Security Concerns
Intuit seems to have better image control than the University of California at Davis campus.
However, every once in a while, their company makes the news.

As you might recall, there was a security scare with Intuit just last year.

On Thursday the company had stopped transmitting state returns filed via TurboTax because of “an increase in suspicious filings and attempts by criminals to use stolen identity information to file fraudulent state tax returns and claim tax refunds,” Intuit said in a blog post at the time. The company began transmitting state returns again on Friday afternoon Pacific Time after determining that the faked filings “did not result from a security breach of its systems,” according to a follow-up post.

Intuit glitch affects one percent of their users.

A programming glitch in Intuit Inc.‘s TurboTax software has posed a potential security problem for as many as 150,000 users and may force them to change their passwords, the company said Thursday.
ABC News Technology story

That’s right, one percent is 150,000 thousand users. That means over 15 million use Turbo Tax.

As more people move to web based solutions, I think the likelihood that Intuit or Quicken gets hacked increases. I wish consumers like me could reduce this part of our digital footprint to minimize the impact that this will have.

I sure miss the old days of keeping my finances between me and my bank.

Posted by william on 05/15 at 04:01 PM

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Cutting the Cable in 2016

2016 began with my efforts to stop more fiscal bleeding so I can add more fuel to the Dave Ramsey snowball”.

On New Year’s Day, we cancelled our subscription to DirecTV. I had been a customer of DirecTV for about ten years.

Back in 2006, I traded in our miserable service from Comcast. Comcast’s Internet and HD television we just crappy. Dial-up was faster on evenings and weekends than anything offered by Comcast. Their HD could be beaten by “rabbit ears” any day.

Unfortunately I live on the “old side” of Elk Grove where there is no fiber-optic cable or competition. Thus we looked at Dish and DirecTV. The deciding factor of which satellite product to go with literally came down to one TV show. My three year old liked Thomas the Tank Engine and Dish didn’t carry the station and DirecTV did so we went with them.

In contrast to Comcast, DirecTV had great service and a superior television experience. However, the bill kept inching upward. Two years ago, we dropped one television from our bill. We went from three to two TVs. I think we did that in November or December of 2014. We also went to a lesser programming package. Then in January, DirecTV raised their rates. After all was said and done, our DirecTV bill was about two dollars cheaper than having a higher programming package and an additional TV.

We have been subscribing to Amazon Prime and Netflix anyway so I decided to bite the bullet and “cut the cord”. The only thing we immediately miss is HGTV. They have no streaming subscription package and you can’t get much from their website. Yeah I know you can get them on Sling TV but you can’t DVR the programs or watch them when you want. Besides, we just added Hulu and the idea is to save money not reallocate it.

We bought a TiVo Bolt and a drone unit for the bedroom. Only after buying it did we learn that Hulu is not available thru the Bolt. As best as I can piece together, the app for the Bolt needs to be written in HTML 5 but previous TiVo products used Flash Player to power their app. TiVo has yet to get their Hulu app working on the Bolt. I called TiVo a few days ago and was assured that the Hulu app would be deployed to users in the next few days; I have yet to see it.
Update: After posting this blog, I checked again and found that the Hulu app is now available on my TiVo Bolt

Anyway, here is the quick and dirty economic analysis. DirecTV costs $109 per month less Hulu subscription of $12 yields a net savings of $97 per month. ($1,164 per year)

Oh the TiVo Bolt was $299 at BestBuy but was on sale for $289 and when we paid for it, for some reason we were given a $50 BestBuy card. We used the card to buy the $149 drone unit so we got both for about $400. The Bolt will support 4K displays and record up to four programs at once off the HD antenna.

In April, we get to kick Verizon to the curb. We will finish switching to Cricket. This will cut our monthly cell phone bill about $140 dollars compared to what I’m paying right now for two phones on “Big Red”. Oh, I think we will at least double our data when we switch.

Posted by william on 01/06 at 03:20 AM

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Windows 10 Mobile Build 10586

After reading the reviews on this Build, I decided that maybe I should again try running Windows 10 on my phone (Lumia 640). I tried running an older version last spring and uninstalled the software as soon as I could. It was a mess. The reviews on this build gave me just enough confidence to try it again.

A version of Build 10586 is supposed to be available to the public next week so the build is at or very near RTM. (Release To Manufacturing). I figured things were much improved so I started the upgrade last night on my way to bed.

Build 10586.11 updated smoothly. It seems faster and more responsive than Windows 8.1 I have yet to find any bugs or things that don’t work. The phone kept most of the settings for things that I use daily. Yes, a few apps were not compatible and are no longer listed as installed on the phone. I had five errors on apps but they were not things that I needed. I know at least two of the five were replaced by features in Windows 10.

Here was my punch list of things to adjust after the upgrade.

• Bluetooth was off and needed to be turned on when I got in my car.

• The Music app tile on my phone was not directly linked to my music library any more. I ended up removing it and replacing with the Groove Music tile. The Groove Music tile will often be the album cover of whatever song is playing. This is cool.

• Missing from my main screen was Data Sense. I was able to find a new one in Settings and added that to my screen. It retained my settings and usage numbers after the upgrade.

• Web pages that I had attached as tiles opened mobile versions of the pages when I expected to see full desktop versions.

• I had to re-pin the Weather app to my main screen.

After upgrading, do a restart of the phone and then check to see if there are further updates.

Two issues that I am aware of were causing problems for some users.

• First, the unified mail box was removed due to inserting a bug into phone performance for some users. I think this feature will be fixed and available soon.

• Second, Nokia’s Here Maps was disabled. Here Maps was recently sold to a consortium of European auto manufacturers and this might be a factor in the app being turned off. This should only affect people upgrading from Windows Phone 8.1 It is recommended to use Windows Maps. Mapquest, gMaps, and the regular map program all seem to be working.

The people app is still linked with Facebook. I thought this might break after upgrading since it no longer works on my Windows 10 desktop computer.

So far I’m a happy camper with this Build. Try it, you’ll like it.

Update 11-21-2015

After looking thru the phone further, I found that some items did not upload themselves. I have noticed no performance hit because of these. They might be relics that are normally hidden or not fully uninstalled.


Also, I had to delete my Hotmail account and set it up again to get it to sync.

Based on feedback from others, as a rule nothing Nokia related is likely to follow to Windows 10. Whether it works or not after an upgrade will probably vary for each user.

I don’t use Skype at all and rarely use Facebook but both ended up needing some love to insure they were happy. Skype, must be installed on you phone and not SD card. You may have to adjust you storage setting to get it to install. As you can see, I did have a few lingering problems. I have seen many fantastical claims on how to work thru these issues on the Internet but they are unproven and many involve resetting phone to factory setting. My problem with that is then why did I upgrade if I need to reinstall everything anyway?

Posted by william on 11/20 at 08:54 PM

Saturday, October 24, 2015

.Net Framework Install on Windows 8.1

When things work great on your computer the world is somehow a happier place. However, when something goes wrong then you know you are in for a bumpy ride.

The other day my daughter wanted to watch a DVD on her desktop computer which has a new installation of Windows 8.1. She couldn’t get it to work. I was not surprised. I figured it was missing the codec required to run the movie.

I decided to load my old copy of Roxio 2010 on the computer and figured that would solve the problem. OK, I know that loading Roxio is a bit of overkill but I figured she might start using the computer if it could burn DVDs also. Our Wi-Fi signal in her room is really bad so it made sense to use the computer that was wired to our home network.

After three tries, Roxio would not install. It kept hanging on the installation of Microsoft’s .Net 3.5.

At that point I thought, I will just go on the Windows Store and look for a DVD player. I found one that I had heard great things about and then was prompted for a password. The daughter didn’t know her password for her Windows Live account so that idea tanked also. I then went to the website for the DVD player that I found in the Store and then downloaded the free program that I couldn’t get off the Windows Store because the child (insert sarcasm here—she’s 23) didn’t know her password. So now, after about an hour off messing around, the DVD was able to be played.

However, the issue with .Net really bothered me. I tried the usual search of support threads on the Internet. As usual most of the advice was well meaning and totally worthless. Add and Remove Programs was a waste.

Downloading .Net 3.5 as a standalone install is not available on Microsoft’s website. I don’t trust third party solutions; who knows what Trojans or worms could be embedded in their “solution”. Only one suggestion made sense. Install .Net 3.5 from the Windows 8.1 installation disk.

As you have guessed, there is indeed a catch. Inserting the disk into your computer will not allow you to access a way to install the .Net framework for 3.5. You need to do it thru a Command Prompt with elevated privileges.

Here is what you need to do.

1 Put Windows 8.1 DVD into your computer’s DVD drive. Don’t let it run. It just needs to be in the drive. If you have the install files of a flash drive, this method should work just as well.

2 Open Command Prompt with Administrator rights. As is usual in Windows, there is more than one way to do this. Try this first, simultaneously press Windows key and letter X, you will get a menu on bottom left side of your computer screen. Click on Command Prompt (Admin)


3 Now that the Command Prompt is open, you need to type a command to install .Net Framework on the computer. Please note this command must be typed exactly. To help you be successful, remember that there is a single space before each backslash in this command. A total of six spaces appear in this command. Also note, Windows is typically agnostic in regards to capital or lower case letters but other operating systems may read these as different letters.

Type this in the Command Prompt

Dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFx3 /All /Source:D:\sources\sxs /LimitAccess

In the above command, it is assumes that D is the drive letter of you DVD.

After pressing the enter key, the screen will look something like this


On my daughter’s computer, it hung for several minutes at Enabling Feature 60.4 %

Finally it was done.

Then when you check Add and Remove Programs you will see that .Net 3.5 is installed.


I then ran Windows update and had to install 14 updates related to the .Net Framework. Oh, and yes, after all this, Roxio did install successfully.

Posted by william on 10/24 at 04:47 PM

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Apple Event is Exercise in Me Too

Apple rolled-out their new phones and tablets today. It’s clear that they’re missing Steve Jobs because their stuff today was boring, old, and overpriced.

Both the phone and tablet announced today, are lower in specifications than existing products already offered or announced by Microsoft. Oh, on the new Apple tablet demoed today, they were using Microsoft Office as their proof they could do something besides games on the new tablet.

The new Windows phones are capable of running any apps available for Windows 10 (phone, tablet, and desktop). If the programmer writes his code properly, the app can run on any Windows device.

Oh, the Continuum feature means your phone can function as a desktop computer including HD monitor, keyboard and mouse.


Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 runs the desktop operating system unlike Apple’s tablet which runs a phone OS.


Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 with pen, Apple starts at $999 plus extra $99 for their “pencil”.

This should insure that Apple stock remains in the basement for months to come.

Posted by william on 09/09 at 11:49 PM

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Building Student Computer

People think I spend all my time documenting the exploits of the Just Us Brothers which just ain’t so. I spend most of my day with computers but mostly I’d rather be building them.

Recently I had to make a new computer for my daughter. She is an aspiring teacher about to enter her first year instructing third graders. I went to visit the classroom and found that the student computer in her room was a veritable antique. It was a 350 MHz computer with 198 MB of RAM running Windows 98 with a Novel network client. It was not connected to the school’s network. It was clear that this private school was living off the donations of others and needed some help.


I did a lot of research and decided that my best bang for the buck would be to get an AMD A8 processor—since it had CPU and video on the same chip—and then get a compatible motherboard and 4 GB of RAM.

I wanted a 32 bit version of Windows 7 as I deemed it would be the most backwards compatible. I went to my local Fry’s Electronics and bought these items plus a DVD Writer for $15. My budget was $200 and I spent $222 including tax for the four items that I purchased.

The computer was housed in an old case with a 430 watt power supply that I had out in the garage. Everything when together well until I tried to install the operating system and then the BSOD (blue screen of death) appeared about 14 percent of the way through the installation process. I tried two different hard drives and got the same result. Not knowing if the drives were bad, I had my wife pick up a new drive at Fry’s. The ones at my house were living for many years in the garage so they might be bad…

My wife got a 1 TB drive for about $50. I installed that and hoped for the best. BSOD.

I tried a different DVD drive and got the same result. BSOD.

A that point, I removed part of the RAM, and tried the installation with only one 2 GB stick of RAM. The installation worked! I then tried to install the drivers from the motherboard DVD. BSOD. Finally, the computer refused to boot into Windows; even after trying all restore points.

I then ran the memory checker on the Windows DVD. For the first time ever, the on screen message said that I had a hardware problem. I don’t run that utility very often but that was a disturbing result.

Instead of taking the time to troubleshoot the motherboard, CPU and RAM, I decided to return the whole mess, get a store credit and start over.

I checked Fry’s weekly ads and saw a motherboard/CPU combo for about $222. It was and Intel i5 with onboard video and an ASUS motherboard. I decided to go with this since it was $75 cheaper to get this combo than purchasing the items separately. I then had to get a 4GB memory stick. This set-up cost me an additional $81. (Of course the Fry’s closest to my house did not have the CPU in stock so I had to run to Roseville and get it there.)

I took everything home and installed it in the case. I turned on the power and surprise, it booted up into Windows 7. Yeah, the Windows install created on the AMD processor booted up on the Intel motherboard. (By the way, this has worked every time I have tried it. It’s a testimony to the diversity of Microsoft.) After a few reboots to load additional drivers, I installed the network drivers from the motherboard DVD and ran Windows update.

The hardest part was finding a 32 bit copy of Office in my house. We all use 64 bit programs when possible. I found an unused copy of Office 2010 and loaded that.

So now my daughter has an up to date computer. The computer even has the flag in the bottom corner asking if I wanted to upgrade to Windows 10. My own computer doesn’t even prompt me for that.

My take away from this is that AMD has a quality control problem. Anybody can manufacture a motherboard for their processors but whether it works properly or not is completely out of their control. All the AMD motherboards for which I could find reviews for the A Series processors were in the same situation. 60 percent of the reviews rate the motherboards as good and the other 40 percent were reporting that the boards were junk. AMD needs to get this issue in hand.

Oh, all motherboards mentioned in my review are by ASUS.

Posted by william on 08/11 at 08:40 PM

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Windows 10 Upgrade Hiccups

Yesterday I received an email from Microsoft about upgrading my computers to Windows 10. (I’m on their Insider’s list so I get access to some things quicker than the general public.) If after reading my story you wish to try your hand at Windows 10, here is the link
Windows 10 Download

Anyway, I downloaded the tool that they had linked on the webpage to install Windows 10. Things didn’t quite go as advertised.

I downloaded the 64 bit version of the program (19 MB) and ran it.


The Upgrade this PC now option did not work. Once the program tries to download, it crashed.
Use the second option Create installation media for another PC


It will allow you to pick language. English (United States) worked well for me.

Windows version (Home or Pro). Don’t use choices ending in “N”


Architecture is 32 or 64 bit OS



I downloaded the ISO image to my windows 8.1 computer. When download was completed, I copied file to my son’s gaming computer.

Once copied, I mounted the installation file as a drive. For any newbies reading this, Windows 8 can make an ISO image into a virtual drive. The ISO image will then act as DVD player complete with drive letter.

I double clicked on the setup executable file and selected upgrade. After a few prompts Windows downloaded some update files and began installing. On the Internet I kept reading that it takes 20 to 40 minutes to run. This is rubbish. My best guess is an easy two hours. After nursing the computer for an hour and a half, I went to bed to let it finish. The installation progress was at 32 percent.

Then this morning, I spend another 20 minutes just to get it up to the normal desktop. Upon initial boot, the second monitor was not working and the primary monitor was the wrong resolution. Lots of background activity on the hard drive indicated to me that the OS was still downloading and installing updates and passes. I ran Windows Update and got confirmation that the NVidia drivers were finally loaded and then by doing a restart everything was as it should be.

I have yet to hear about any problems running games and that is a good sign.

Posted by william on 07/30 at 03:19 PM

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Review: Lumia 640

Finally, I am off Verizon. My contract was up this week-end and I switched to Cricket Wireless. I got on the lowest tier plan from Cricket and now have more data and a lower bill. 2.5 GB for $35 per month.

I chose the Lumia 640 as my new phone. It was $129 plus sales tax and a $25 connection fee. My old phone was HTC 8X with 16 GB of on board memory. While the Lumia only has 8 GB, it has an SD Memory slot. I had already bought a 64 GB memory card from Amazon for $26. The SD Card was put in the phone as it was being set-up at Cricket.
I took the phone home and set it up. After I entered the credentials for my Microsoft Account, I was asked if I wanted to restore from the backup of the HTC phone or start with a clean install. I chose to restore from the backup. This took a while to run—again do this at home. As the backup began installing, my phone automatically switched to my home’s Wi-Fi. All my custom settings except Bluetooth seemed to be installed when finished. Also, all phone apps were downloaded; most without any user intervention needed. Only 4 MB of the data plan was used to setup the phone and close to 6 GB on the Wi-Fi.

Also during the process of setting up the phone, my new SD card was detected. When prompted, I said “Yes” to use the SD card. All music, photos, documents, etc. were automatically set to go to this card instead of using the remaining memory on the phone.

Only maps that were downloaded were stored on the phone memory. I could find no setting to move these to the SD card.

The phone screen is slightly larger than my HTC, but is seems much bigger. I set my HTC phone on top of the 640 just to compare the size. To me it seemed about 1/8” bigger around all four sides.

The phone has fewer physical buttons than the HTC, only Power and Volume. The traditional Widows Phone buttons of Back, Windows, and Search are now virtual buttons on the touch screen. So far, the Lumia is faster than the HCT in booting up and running apps. I have not put the camera thru its paces yet but hope to do that soon.

It’s a great experience. Oh, and the color is Cyan which is bright, happy blue.

Lumia 640 can be viewed here


Posted by william on 06/02 at 01:23 PM

Monday, February 09, 2015

Amazon and Diablo 3

Amazon Dot Com has some peculiar pricing practices. My son has wanted to play Diablo III with his dad. Please understand that you need the full game of Diablo III before you can install the expansion pack so at list price this is $39.99 twice or basically $80.

Back in September I bought the expansion pack “Diablo III: Reaper of Souls” for $19.99. This price only lasted a few days. Typically each part of the game sells for between 29 and 32 dollars on Amazon. Blizzard has only dropped off their $39.99 suggested retail price once and that was only on “Black Friday” where each was $19.99. I have been waiting since December for a price drop so I can get my son a copy. Well, on Friday February 6, the original game dropped to $19.99 for one day. I placed my order. The expansion pack price did not drop at the same time. However, Diablo III went back up and then the expansion pack dropped to $19.99 on Sunday. So guess what I bought yesterday?


I don’t know if this happens to other software on Amazon but it sure makes me curious. I’m looking forward to spending time playing with my son. In the meantime, Terraria will keep us busy.

Posted by william on 02/09 at 05:37 PM

Friday, January 30, 2015

Finding Adobe Acrobat 9 Updates

At my work, we use the full version of Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional. Unfortunately, Adobe has scrubbed their website of any updates for their software because this version is too old. Officially they ended support as of June 26, 2013.

Our IT department is deploying new Windows 7 Enterprise boxes and I get to go behind them and install Acrobat 9 Pro. Version 9.0.0 does have some bugs and security holes—which clearly doesn’t bother our IT guys too much or they would have a more up to date version. Anyway, users are experiencing some glitches—especially when opening PDF files in their Internet Explorer 9 web browser (I know, different blogging item).

Anyway, I figured that the best way I could help them was by updating Acrobat 9. Running the update within Acrobat 9.0.0 does not work on our network. Getting past our Active Directory group policies and out of the firewall seems like a constant hindrance to network performance. Anyway, I decided to try and find updates on the Internet while avoiding malware and phishing sites. After several searches and a few trips to Task Manager to kill IE 9 when I stumbled on suspicious websites, I found both an upgrade path and a secret Adobe file server.

While Adobe no longer links their webpages to any updates, it does still show the upgrade path to Acrobat 9.5.5—the final version of Acrobat 9.

image All upgrade links take you to error page for file not found.

I downloaded all files and installed them in order and was successful. Every few updates, you need to restart the computer.

Regrettably, I did not bookmark the site where I found Adobe’s FTP server. But as of this writing, it is located here.


As an experiment, I skipped a few updates. Skipping resulted in failed updating of Acrobat. If that happens restart the computer and then try the correct upgrade again. Here is the experiment that I did on a computer.
I started with a machine that had 9.0.0 installed.
I then ran updates in this order
9.1.0 restart
9.1.2; 9.2.0; 9.3.0 restart
9.3.2 restart

At this point Acrobat’s Update utility wanted to run. Just to see what happened I let it run. It tried to jump Acrobat to 9.5.5. After the computer restarted, I tried to run Acrobat. I got an error. Then I went to the Control Panel and opened Programs and Features. On Acrobat 9, I ran Uninstall/Change and ran Repair option. Then Acrobat self-repaired and 9.5.5 was able to run.

Based on this, try installing a few more updates and then if 9.5.5 wants to install, you can try it.

Posted by william on 01/30 at 08:29 AM

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Upgrade from Windows 8.1 Preview to 8.1 RTM

I have a Windows Surface with Windows 8.1 Preview. I learned that if I installed Windows 8.1 RTM that I would not be able to keep my programs and setting without reinstalling everything. This was not acceptable so I began to find an alternative. After three days of trial and error here is what I learned.

• You need ISO image of Windows 8.1 RTM
• 1 USB Thumb Drive 4 GB or larger
• Rufus

All the web nonsense about editing ISO images is just unnecessary and a waste of time.

Create bootable drive per instructions at this website ( ) but here are additional things that I encountered trying the procedure. (Remember Surface is UEFI computer select your computer type on line for Partition Scheme.)

The first time I tried this it did not work. My drive did not format correctly and Windows Explorer could no longer see the drive. Don’t panic. Go to Disk Manager in Windows and you will see the drive. Just format it with FAT32 and then you can try again.

My second attempt in creating a bootable USB device was successful. Since the USB image is just files and not an ISO Image then it was easy to edit the cversion.ini file as instructed here. Ignore rest of this post as it is unnecessary.

Once the USB drive was ready, boot Surface or whatever computer that you have and insert drive into USB port. Use Explorer and double click on Setup.exe. It is not necessary to boot from UBS drive to run Upgrade. Enter product key. Eventually—if you edited cversion.ini correctly—you will be offered three upgrade options on Choose what to keep screen:
• Windows settings, personal files, and apps
• Just personal files
• Nothing

Of course the whole purpose of this blog is to get the option to keep Windows settings, personal files, and apps. Just follow any remaining prompts and you will have a happy computer upgraded from Windows 8.1 Preview to 8.1 RTM without reinstalling a single thing.


Posted by william on 09/14 at 03:01 PM
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