Diminishing Returns

Mar 6, 2003

Hotmail has my panties in a bunch. On one hand, it hosts the only stable email address I’ve had over the best several years. On the other, I just can’t stand it anymore.

Let me explain.

In the past I’ve been able to look past some of its problems; the fact that it’s free certainly helps. The storage limit is low at an attachment clenching 2 MB. Export options, which basically involve using Outlook or Outlook Express to download your mail, are at best clumsy. And, when you get down to it, I can’t forget that it is owned by Microsoft. You can almost feel the dark side calling.

Still, my Hotmail account has served me well. I can get to my email from home, work, or, in the past, school. Ads can be easily ignored. Any games of ISP roulette that I play remain invisible to my friends because my email isn’t tied to any particular service provider.

It’s their junk mail system that really bothers me. Junk mail options fall into three categories: let it all in, try to stop some of it, or only let in things from a known source. I ruled out the last option because the limits it places on who can send me mail are too constricting. I’ve played with options one and two and I can’t tell the difference. I still get a lot of junk mail even if Microsoft claims that they are trying to help.

So I switched to plan two: the blacklist. Hotmail will let you block incoming mail by both by individual address or domain. However, all is still not well. Blocking a specific address is a waste of time. This may counter the occasional piece of relayed mail from a bogus yahoo or hotmail account but, in general, the spammers are way too smart to let one address get in their way. Is 1@youwannabuy.com blocked? Let’s try 2@youwannabuy.com. Blocking an entire domain is definitely the way to go.

That too isn’t without its faults, the biggest of which is that there’s a limit to the number of domains you can block. I’ve now reached that limit and that is my problem. Leaks have sprung in the flood gates. It is only a matter of time before spam comes crashing through.

Microsoft would be happy to offer a solution to my problem for a mere $19.95 a year. This is unacceptable. I know. I know. This is the new age of the internet. Nothing is free. That may be true, but I won’t buy into a service because it is growing worse. I just can’t do it. The fact that their solution stinks doesn’t help.

By now, I would think that Microsoft would have its act together. How about maintaining a master list of sites to block? A good list is surely easy to find. Besides a couple of legal issues, why not allow users to block bad offenders from a public list automagically?

What about offering algorithmic tools? My recently purchased domain offers such a feature. The included Spam Assasin tool is a gift from the heavens. It will even tell you why something was rejected and include the original mail as an attachment, stopping the offending mail from communicating back to its master.
Here, check out this cool sample. You know you want to.

Sadly, none of these options are available. A little more storage and the removal the block cap is all they offer. Big deal.

If you haven’t guessed by now (and you should have since I gave it away), I’m changing my email address. No longer will I suffer under Microsoft’s tyranny. I will clear my own path, incidentally under my own domain. If you have my hotmail address, please stop using it. My new email address is my name at thewoottons.com. The wife has a similar address. (Note that the addresses above are carefully edited to stop bots from coming by and sending me more spam. Put it all together yourself. If you can’t, give me a ring, I’ll spell it out for you.)

I’ve already begun the transfer process. Those web sites that I actually request mail from have been notified. Now, so have you. My hotmail account now sports about one piece of desired mail for every ten pieces of junk. I’ll be happy to leave it behind and I soon will.

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The Last Straw

Feb 27, 2003

Millenium cable drew the last straw. I’m so sick and tired of them that I’m severing the ties of our relationship, despite the fact that I’ll miss some of the perks they provide. Although my problems lie mostly with their customer service, not their cable service, I’m honestly dissapointed with both.

Millenium’s cable service has its ups and downs. They certainly offered me a nice package. Digital cable, with all the movie trimmings, and a cable modem were provided for a very reasonable price. The picture was clear and matching digital decoders decorated both the bedroom and living room. I was in cable heaven. The problem was that, even with all those choices, cable TV was and is not my focus. I’m a certified geek. I don’t need my MTV. I need my yahoo.

That’s primarily where they failed me. Over the last several months, their cable modem service has been intermittent. Sometimes it would go down without warning. At others, my connection, and particularly my connection to onlineracin.com, was crap. Latency was out of control. Pings over 200 make me frown. Pings over 600 make an invisible vein pop out on my forehead.

Some of my pain could have been overlooked if their customer service line (and I say line because I’m convinced they only have one) wasn’t completely and utterly useless. I’ve spent hours – yes, hours – on the phone trying to find someone – anyone – to listen to my complaints. An hour of busy signals normally preceeded a daunting thirty minute wait to speak to a human being. The commercials you hear during this time are almost comforting compared to the constant buzzing you heard to get to that point.

I can say nothing worse about their service than I know their phone number by heart. I don’t even know my own brother’s phone number off the top of my head. Don’t call us, I suppose, and we’ll never call you.

My dissatifaction reached its peak during the latest snowstorm. I had spent the last month calling about internet connection problems of one sort or another. Things were finally working when a snow plow came by and knocked over our cable box and, along with it, all Millenium related services. It took us two days to get through to a service representative. Two days later a technician, who didn’t even bother to visit my doorstep, came out and fixed almost nothing. We had a little cable here and there but no cable modem and no digital cable. Two more days of calling yielded a service representative with an attitude. Two days later we called Comcast. Comcast came over the very next day.

Our deal with Comcast means we lose our precious movie channels and our second decoder box. I’ll take a working cable modem as my replacement. At this point, I would have done just about anything to never have to call Millenium again.

Our ex-cable company finally called back to check up on us on Wednesday. I take great joy in the fact that my wife reported to them that Comcast was installing cable while they spoke. Please cancel us. Thank you very much.

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Geeking Out

Sep 13, 2002

To a geek such as I, getting a new computer somehow feels like a rite of
passage. Out with the old; in with the new. Time to move on to better things.

It also yields more than its share of nostalgia, reminding me of those times where hard drives were in expressed in terms of megabytes and a floppy disk was actually useful. The first PC I actually owned (actually co-owned with my wife, before she was my wife) was a Packard Bell 436 SX 33. 33 mhz of blazing power, coupled with an almost 150 mb hard drive and a fresh version of Windows 3.1. Plug in the hampster and watch it go. I’m sure it was a stud in its time but now, almost 10 years later, the average bank clock is probably more powerful.

The new PC on the block will be my fourth and, like its forebearers, it will
be quite a step up indeed. It doesn’t actually exist yet, but all the parts
but the case sit next to me at the moment. I merely await the shell to
house all of this. Here’s the break down of its components.
Be forewarned, only the geek may apply.

Case: CA305 ATX Case Tower
I went a just a little wild on this one. Cool cut out side panel, stylish
duds, and a neon light highlight the package. It should be great to show
off to my geek friends. Those who not so inclined to gawk at cords
will wonder why I’d even want to see inside in the first place. I think they
miss the point.

Motherboard: EP-8K5A3+
The mother board is one place where I splurged just a bit. Take
a more
Epox board and add a couple of cool little extras like
6 channel audio, a built in network card, and 6 USB ports. All of the
additions should save me some work, allowing me leave my soundcard,
network card, and USB hub in my old computer.
It also comes with a cool little RAID controller, which I’ll probably never use,
but I can always hope that it keeps the ants away.


Beefy enough and its fits right into the sweet spot of the price vs performance
chart (where the latest and greatest is much more expensive than the next, normally small, step down). According to
benchmarks, the little bugger
favorably with the latest Pentium 4 processors, settling in somewhere
between a 2.1 GHz and 2.4 GHz Pentium 4.
That little note is important to me because the processor itself runs at a
mere 1.733 Ghz and I promised myself that my next CPU would have a
“2” in front it. Mission accomplished, at least in theory (and in
AMD‘s marketing).

Memory: Crucial Micron 512MB PC2100 DDR RAM
Speedy ram and good chunk of it. It’s not the fastest you can buy or the fastest
that my motherboard supports but it’ll do fine, particularly since I don’t
plan on making it cry from overclocking (promises, promises).


I’ve been waiting to purchase one of these for quite a while. Since I
came in almost $200 under my planned purchase price (thanks Chris),
I found a way to fit it in for a very reasonable price. Now I can finally see
what I’ve been missing on the
DVD and paint by numbers
using the extras from lastest Disney movie (mom will be so proud).

Hard Drive:

Western Digital Special Edition 7200 rpm 120 GB

Wow. That’s a lot of space; a whole lot of space. The mind boggles at
the possibilities that fill the void. Take 10 gb away because I’m going
to partition it off and place
Red Hat
on it. The rest will be filled
with the usual assortment of games, mp3s, pictures, and games.
I plan on picking up a digital video camera sometime before the child
pops out and I’d guess my future video sessions will fill some of the
room in as well. I’ve said this before (and was wrong) and I’ll say it
again (and be wrong again) but I just can’t imagine filling all that space.
Given my history, that leaves it about 6 months.

Video Card: Radeon 8500
This is one of the few components I plan on bringing over from my current
PC. It’s no longer the fastest thing on the block (actually, it never was),
but it holds its own, even under the stress of today’s latest games.
The new PC should enhance its performance, as the CPU will finally be
able to keep up with the number crunching of the card.
Besides, my use of its built in dual monitor support is one of the coolest talking
points of my current PC. I’d hate to lose that.

Sound Card: SoundBlaster Live
The sound card is still a bit up in the air. At the moment, I plan on leaving
it behind. However, if I’m not happy with the sound on the motherboard,
I will quickly bring the Live card over. After all, something sweet
needs to power my rather expensive speakers.

Monitors: Two 19”, one
the other from Dell
38” of radiation. Ahh. Who needs the sun?

Speakers: Klipsch Pro Media 4.1
The best PC speakers money can buy, or at least they were until
these came out. There’s something wrong when your PC speakers sound better than
those attached to your home stereo.

That which was left behind: Yamaha 6x CD burner, Iomega Zip drive
I’ve decided to leave both my CD burner and Zip drive on my current,
and quite capable computer. Given that everything is networked together
there really isn’t a good reason to saddle the new PC with either. Now
I can burn CDs while I play games and save the IDE slot that the Zip
drive would claim for something else. Sounds like a good deal with me.

I expect the general speed of my computer to change pretty drastically.
It’s not just the CPU. The speed of the bus, the speed of the memory,
and the fact that the new motherboard, unlike the old, actually supports
ATA 133, giving the hard drive an extra boost, are all contributing factors.
In fact, I have some homework to do to make sure my current configuration
is benchmarked so I properly compare the present with the near future.

That’s it (if you aren’t a techie and are still with me, wake up; I’m about
to end this thing). It’s time to move onto bigger and faster things.
It’ll be a blast to be at least near the bleeding edge for a bit. Too bad
it only lasts about a month. Then it will just be another slow PC hanging
on the coattails of the next big thing. Such is the life of a hardware geek.

by | Categories: technology | 1 Comment

The other day I was surfing the digital waves of the internet when I
found something interesting, maybe even amazing. A rather large,
flashing banner displayed along the top of my current swell informed
me that, “If this banner is flashing, you have already won!”. No way!
Me? Oh, yeah. All I have to do is enter my email address so they
can send me the prize information.

Of course, I didn’t win (and no, I didn’t really think I had). These sad
attempts at trickery are rampant on the net these days, rather
they border a favorite web page or clog my email like so many
leaves in a storm drain.

To me, they are generally just an annoyance. To those not so well
versed in technology, they can make the internet a confusing, annoying
hell. Sometimes, they just piss me off.

It’s not like I don’t accept advertising as a necessary evil. We are
bombarded with it every day on TV, on the radio, in the mail,
along the side of road, plastered on our favorite sports figure,
on our children (You think I’m kidding? Check
this out.), and more. It’s just that deliberate lies, intended to reel in
the gullible or confuse the technical deficient, are just
plain wrong.

Should laws to used to enforce this stuff? My normally
laissez-faire attitude is taking a beating because, at some point,
it needs to stop. My email is not the community dump.
The internet should not be a playground for
these companies to molest us with one useless product or another.
Save that for late night television and
QVC. At least then, a simple
turn of the switch or press of a button can relieve us of this anguish.

Maybe we could all reach a compromise here. Spammers, agree not
to outright lie in your advertisements. We’ll agree to occasionally take
you all out back and beat you with a stick (preferably a big stick).
Heck, we’re still getting the raw end of the deal.

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Movable Blog

Jul 29, 2002

The posts have slowed but the layout has changed. What’s the deal?
The deal is that I’ve changed my blogging tool. I did use
I now use a tool called
Movable Type.
During the transition, I’ve been busy
tweaking the new layout and installing the new tool, leaving little time to
record my thoughts.

I’m quite happy with Movable Type. It sports a whole mess of features
not available with Blogger. I’m a technology geek and these features, like
the ability to use blog excerpts within other content, are just too cool.
The tool also exists solely on my web server and is entirely free, not asking me to
pay on a
yearly basis
for its extra bells and whistles. However,
the free version of blogger treated me well and is still highly recommended,
especially for beginners. It’s almost like saying goodbye to an old friend
(buh-bye blogger, sniff, sniff).

The funny thing is – and I’m reaching here in the midst of all this slightly
technical drivel – that the move from one tool to another felt a bit like
changing skins (though I imagine in real life, that would hurt).

The thought of changing tools filled me with a bit of dread because sometimes –
often, if you ask the wife – the geek inside works against me. Give me
a bunch of new knobs and buttons and what do I do? Poke and prod the beast until
something comes out that I like, generally taking a boat load of time in the process.
For me, at least, the transition wouldn’t be too simple and I knew it.

This fact, however, sure didn’t stop me. As soon as I peeked
over the shoulder of a friend playing with his new
I just had to have it. And now I do.

Actually, it wasn’t bad at all – a testament to the
a husband a wife who blessedly offer it for free. I’m happy its over though.
Now I might have time to blog about something actually interesting.

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