Archive | December, 2003

Quote of the day

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
- Abraham Lincoln

This post represents the beginning of something new I will be doing on the blog. As I see quotes that strike me, I will post them here under the category, “Quotes”.

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The holidays are almost over

Well, we are almost through the holidays and starting a new year. In the technology world, this can be a particularly busy time. Many organizations and people are attempting to spend money so as to reduce their tax burdens, and still others are simply trying to ensure that they don’t lose budget that they haven’t spent. Either way, it produces a much busier time for those like me that assist businesses with their technology needs.

One of the major projects many people are undertaking at the end of this year is a major network upgrade. As hard as it may be for some people to believe, there are still companies with Windows NT 4.0 as their network operating system. With Microsoft ceasing all support for NT 4 at the end of this year, it becomes moderately critical for companies and organizations to attempt to at least upgrade to Windows 2000; my recommendations at this point, however, are to upgrade to Windows 2003, Microsoft’s latest network OS.

I am currently managing one Windows 2000 to 2003 upgrade, which I should be completing tonight and tomorrow, and one Windows NT 4 to 2003 upgrade, which will probably be completed in the month of January. I will post any issues that I come across after I have completed the projects.

At any rate, here is wishing you and yours a happy and prosperous new year.

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Merry Christmas to all!

May the joy of the Christmas – time with family and friends, gifts given and received, and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – bless and keep us all on this day.

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On the value of teaching

While I am sure this post may stray some from the topic of technology, I feel compelled nonetheless to comment on the value of teaching after having paid my respects to the deceased wife of a client of mine. I was particularly struck by the “Get Well Soon” cards that were displayed, all of which were created by students at the school at which she taught. The pure and innocent love with which those children created those cards touched me deeply, and it is that love that prompted me to write this piece in the honor of Teresa Scarcelli, even though I personally knew her not.

Teaching, especially the teaching of children, has to be one of the most noble vocations in which one can endeavor. Without teachers almost none of the great things that have been accomplished throughout history would have been. Teachers take many forms – respected colleagues, superiors, loved ones, family members, and most notably those that make it their life’s work to pass on their knowledge to others. What greater purpose can we as a species have than to pass on knowledge?

I have not often found myself contemplating the value of teaching, and teachers in particular. The ability to learn and the availability of someone to teach me are things I have basically taken for granted. I also know that I have been extremely trying for many who have had me as their charge, mostly by not living up to my full potential while under their tutelage. For that, I am sorry, but I suppose there is no one who has greater suffered for it than me. That may not, though, be completely true, for many of those who teach children make it their own duty to ensure that all of the pupils achieve.

I am struck by the fact that in many parts of the world there are not even enough teachers to teach those who wish to learn. I am struck by the fact that one teacher can impact so many lives. I am struck by the fact that my own life has been impacted and in some ways shaped by teachers I have encountered. Mostly I am struck by the fact that so many teachers work each day to ensure that the next generation of human beings are more knowledgeable than the one before, and for that they receive no enormous paycheck, no substantial amount of glory, and relatively little appreciation.

Think of where you would be without the teachers that have inspired you to learn. Think of where we would be as a species without great teachers who have inspired great minds throughout history. Think of where we could be as our children are inspired daily by those who teach them. Take a moment to thank the teachers you know for what they do and have done, and take a moment to remember those who left us before they could be thanked enough.

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Appeals court rules against the RIAA

Today an appeals court for the District of Columbia overturned a trial judge’s ruling that Internet Service Providers are required to turn over the names of file sharers to the RIAA. These names have been obtained, up until now, by simply issuing a subpoena under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) that didn’t require a judge’s signature or a lawsuit. While I am not legal expert, and I make no promise that this is a thorough explanation of the ruling, the appeals court said that the RIAA would have to first file a “John Doe” civil lawsuit before being able to compel the ISP to turn over the name, and even then only after the courts had approved the subpoena.

I in no way endorse the idea of trading music illegally online. I have written about parents’ responsibility in this matter before, and my beliefs on the subject apply to adults as well – if you like an artist’s music, you should be willing to pay a fair price for it if that is required. Technology allows for a lot of things to happen faster than would otherwise be possible, including some illegal activities. Just because something is possible, doesn’t make it right.

This ruling, however, was quite right. An organization, such as the RIAA, should not simply be able to compel a third party to identify any individual for conduct that they don’t like. If they wish to bring a suit against such an individual, then that is their prerogative. The RIAA’s president, Cary Sherman, said, “unfortunately [this] means we can no longer notify illegal file sharers before we file lawsuits against them to offer the opportunity to settle outside of litigation.” What a bunch of hooey! While this argument is factually correct, it most certainly does not mean that a settlement is still not possible – it simply means that getting the information to try and force a settlement will be more expensive for the RIAA. Almost any suit, especially a civil one, can be dropped at the initiating party’s whim if a settlement is reached.

Congratulations to the appeals court for standing up for the individual’s rights. Here is a link to the full opinion by the court.

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Lord of the Rings – Return of the King

All I can say initially is wow. This movie, which runs for three hours and forty minutes (3:40), was an almost continuous assault on the senses. I won’t bore you with summaries and the like – those are items you can find all over the Internet, including at the official LOTR site. I will tell you that the movie was worth the price of admission and did not seem to last as long as it did.

The effects were outstanding. It has been long enough since I originally read the books, some 15 years ago, that I can’t comment on the movies’ fidelity to Tolkien’s original storyline, but the movie plot does not disappoing, even if it is a little too predictable. Some of the human characters were a little stiff, but the hobbits were played with much aplomb, and the villainous orcs were actually quite well done. As in the first two films, Golem continues to be both a source of comic relief in an intense setting and of sympathy for this pathetic creature so consumed with the desire for the ring that it is his ultimate undoing.

I am sure I will see this film a number of more times. There is far too much present to catch it all in even two or three viewings. Noticeably absent from this film was Saruman, portrayed by the incredibly accomplished Christopher Lee. I can only hope that he is present in the extended edition when it is made available on DVD.

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Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

If you are at all interested in web design, then I suggest you learn about CSS. There is a book on my bookshelf to the left that I am currently reading that gives a very thorough exploration of the subject. In brief, the idea of CSS is to separate the content (for instance, the text you are reading here) of a web page from the design aspect (for instance, the color, size, orientation, font, etc. that applies to said text).

One of the best ways to explain CSS to the first timer is to see it in action. One of the best sites I have found for a demonstration is the CSS Zen Garden.

I am by no means an expert on the topic of CSS, for that go take a look at Eric Meyer’s site, but I do think it is something that any fledgeling, or experienced for that matter, web designer should know. If you are using a Typepad site, then your whole site is driven by a combination of CSS and the Movable Type template tags. I will be playing with the style of this site over the holidays. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

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New color scheme

I have been reading a lot about CSS and how it works, and while I haven’t gotten quite brave enough to try and actually modify templates and the like of my site, I did modify the color scheme. Please let me know if you have any comments on the new do. Thanks.

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Parental responsibility in children’s computing

This is a very sensitive topic for many people, but with the holidays upon us, I feel compelled to express my own opinion about parents and their responsibility with regards to their children’s computing habits. If I seem harsh, it is because I am passionate about this topic. I don’t like big brother (in the form of the government) looking over anyone’s shoulder. I would like to minimize the need for government to regulate the activity of minors with computers. If that is to be the case, however, then parents must fulfill their own responsibility.

Learn more

The highest degree of responsibility that a parent has with regards to their child’s computer use is to know about and understand what they are doing. If you don’t understand it, how in the world can you hope to know whether or not it is appropriate, beneficial, harmful, or otherwise? If you don’t understand it, ask the child about it. If they seem defensive or scared that you are asking, you should probably probe deeper. Look online for information about a specific program they are using, ask their teacher, ask a technologically knowledgeable friend, or for that matter email me, and I will try to help. The bottom line here is you have to understand to be able to make an informed decision. Thinking that you are incapable of understanding is not an excuse – there are too many resources through classes at a community college or research online to allow for that sort of excuse.

Also on the topic of learning more, you should explore the parental controls, if any, that your Internet provider gives. As much as I don’t like them, providers like AOL and MSN have a high degree of parental control that can be exercised. Research and use the features as appropriate.

For more information about music downloading, one of the most common things that kids do on the net, see my article here.

Home computer location

In my opinion, no child living at home should have a computer with access to the Internet in their own room. If there are multiple children in a household, then set up a shared office workspace with multiple desks and computers that is in a public area. As long as the child is a minor and living in your home, you should know what they are doing on the computer – you are legally responsible for anything they do, in most cases, and at a minimum could be found criminally negligent for your child’s inappropriate behavior.

Monitoring

There are a number of software products on the market for monitoring children’s activities. The one I have liked the best is from Spectorsoft called Spector Pro. This application will monitor emails, keystrokes, instant messaging conversations, websites visited, and will even do screen captures at regular intervals. I know that many people don’t believe that a child deserves more trust than that. I understand the argument, but I don’t agree that children deserve any privacy FROM THEIR PARENTS with regard to their use of the computer. Further, I think parents should discuss this topic at length with their kids. If you inform them that you will monitor what they do and review their activity, they will be less likely to do something they shouldn’t.

Part of the reason for monitoring is for the child’s safety, as well. There have been quite a few publicized situations where minors have become involved with predatory individuals through instant messaging and chat rooms. I won’t go into more details here, but it should suffice to say that there are people that would like to meet young children and do them harm. I believe it is a parent’s responsibility to try and minimize the possibility of something like that happening.

Rights limitations

One of the best features for parents to ensure the stability of their computer, in addition to protecting their children, is the ability to assign rights to different users. I don’t believe children should have the ability to install applications on their computers without the parents’ knowledge. Windows XP has the ability to limit these rights, and parents should take the time to set them up. I will write a separate article on user rights assignment with screenshots for any parents who want to know more about this option. The basic principal is that it will keep a child from installing many applications that could be harmful to your computer, but like any such security measure, it will probably be less convenient for you when they ask you every time they want to download and install something.

Another way rights can be limited is by installing software to limit websites and other material that your child can access. There are quite a few out there, but some of the biggest are SurfControl, NetNanny, and CyberSitter.

Summary

I know some of the things I discuss here will be controversial. I also know that some people won’t like the inconveniences that come along with increasing the security of their computers to require children to ask permission before they do things. The inconvenience, though, is much less damaging than the consequences of not being involved in your child’s use of the computer.

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Public time servers

Many people are unfamiliar with the protocol called NTP (Network Time Protocol), so I thought I would comment on it and give some basic information on its use. If you would like to read the full technical details of the protocol, you can go to the IETF website and read RFC 1769.

NTP allows computers to synchronize their time over a network. One computer uses another as a server and requests information on the current time and date settings. Several complex calculations are performed that measure latency and other information between the two computers, and the client computer determines if an update is required and then updates its time based on the server’s settings. All versions of Windows since Windows 2000 have had a reliable time service that runs by default and can be configured to synchronize with a time server of the users’ choice.

If your Windows 2000 or XP computer is a member of a Windows domain, then it is automatically configured to synchronize with one of the Domain Controllers on your network. DO NOT CHANGE THIS SETTING. Windows 2000 and later uses an authentication protocol called Kerberos that uses the time as part of its process – if the workstation and Domain Controller times are not in sync, access to network resources may not be possible.

In Windows 2000 or XP, you can modify your NTP settings with the following commands at the command prompt (start->run->cmd[enter]):
net time /querysntp – this command will display the current default time server; many Windows machines come preconfigured to synchronize with time.windows.com.
net time /setsntp:serverlist – this command allows you to set the list of time servers with which you wish to synchronize.
net time – this command will synchronize the time on your computer with a time server from the sntp list.

For a list of public NTP servers, please see this website at the University of Delaware.

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