Snow and Wind

Just a short slice of winter on video...shot from the front porch. The outside temp was about 10 degrees F, wind about 10 mph, gusting to very darn windy indeed.

A "Fix" for Windows XP Movie Maker 2.1 Artifacts

A few posts ago I described a situation in which Windows Movie Maker running on Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 leaves persistent video 'artifacts' on the computer display after it has closed (or crashed). Today I found a way to fix this problem, for a certain definition of 'fix'. This trick probably applies to XP Home as well.

Cobb's First Law of Digital Comms

Cobb's first law of digital communications states:  You should never say anything in a digital communication that you wouldn't want your mother to read.

Why? Because there is a chance that at some point in the future your mother might read it. The probability varies, but it is there, whether your mother uses a computer or not; just ask the scores of embarrassed CEOs and public officials who have seen some of their nastiest emails reprinted in newspapers.

In the context of this law, "digital communications" means email, instant messaging, SMS, Twitter, web pages, blog posts, blog comments, social network content, and more. The term "say anything" means write or post and includes images as well as words. What constitutes digital communications will change but the law will remain the same.

I came up with the basic premise for this law before blogs were invented, before the web as invented, even before Internet email started to take off and millions of people began sending messages under the mistaken assumption that only the intended recipients could read them. However, it was email that really brought the 'message' home, so to speak.

Leaving aside the wrongly addressed and incorrectly cc'd emails, the fact is that email is like a postcard, not a letter, it can be read by any machine it passes through (with the possible exception of some specially encrypted email, although there are people who can read that too--and some of them can be hired by the lawyers that your ex-spouse or ex-employer hired).

I started using digital messaging in the early 1980s on services like The Source and CompuServe. Although these were 'closed' networks with paid admission, it was clear even then that the contents of digital communications could easily be exposed by human errors, technical errors, court orders, and business decisions, to name a few. It was also clear that digital messages could linger a long time after they were sent, read, and supposedly deleted.

Like many 'early adopters' I learned the hard way that it was better to moderate the wording of one's messages, or simply leave some things unsaid, than to face the embarrassment of rash words getting into the wrong hands. I don't think I ever went so far as to call a client a jerk in a message that ended up in the client's hands, but I did discover, to my chagrin, that there is no 'unsend' button in email applications and an email retraction never arrives before an emailed statement.

I happen to think there are some very positive ethical and philosophical implications to the reality I have tried to encapsulate in this first law of digital comms. I will try to lay out my thoughts on this in more depth in a future post. But here's the short version: the transparency and persistence of digital comms tend to reduce the fudge factor in human existence, forcing us to be true to ourselves in all aspects of our lives. For all the talk about the ways in which things digital can be faked, the underlying thrust of our world becoming more digital is that we are faced with a fuller, and truer, picture of ourselves, across multiple dimensions. We are more likely, over time, to engage in dialog than to stay silent, to be ourselves in all things, to both give and seek acceptance, to accept diversity of thought and lifestyle rather than to censure and straightjacket.

Of course, this will all take time, so in the meantime I humbly suggest that we all keep the first law of digital comms in mind. Big brother is one thing, mother is another.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays Video

I was going to post this on Christmas Eve but came down with a nasty head cold. Spent most of Christmas Day in bed, sniffing and sweating [and not in a good way]. Feeling slightly better this Boxing Day, so I posted this Christmas video I made on YouTube. For more about the video, scroll down the page.



What you are looking at in the video is a driver's eye view of the snow plow going down part of our notorious drive after about 18 inches of snow fall. The vehicle doing the snow plowing is a four wheel drive Arctic Cat ATV or "quad" (specifically a 2004 TBX 400). The plow itself is made by Warn, the company that makes winches. Using this setup and plowing ourselves, instead of paying someone with a bigger plow to do it for is, will probably pay for the ATV in two seasons.

Oh, and the driver, and camera-person, is yours truly. This video card's message is at the end of the drive. Enjoy!

Go South Cobb! Marching band chosen for Obama parade

About ten days ago my wife pointed out this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a high school band selected to march in Mr. Obama's inauguration (technically he is Mr. Obama between being Senator Obama and President Obama). She had noticed the article simply because of my last name, Cobb.

Now I  was already aware that Cobb County was named after an indirect ancestor of mine (that branch of the tree split off many generations ago). But I was not familiar with South Cobb High School. Apparently the students and staff of the school have worked really hard to turn the band around in the last five years and make it something really special.

Getting to march down Pennsylvania Avenue for the inauguration of the first black president of the United States is a huge deal and the school's excitement was matched only by their concern that this honor is truly honorary, there are no funds attached. So I emailed the principal and asked where people should send donations. He sent me a very nice reply:
"Your email address [@scobb.net] made me smile...I've attached the donation letter and encourage you to contribute or share with other Cobbs as you feel appropriate :-)

Thanks for your interest in our students. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to check out www.cbs46.com and click on the video portion of your story. It will put a face with the other Cobb name...hope we do your family proud!"

I'm sure they will, and I have posted the donation instructions here, so anyone who feels so inclined can lend their support to this great accomplishment. You can also donate online here. A formal donation request letter from the school is here. We'll definitely be watching for these kids on inauguration day.

Go Blue Eagles!

10,000 Megabytes for a Buck!

I blogged about the declining price of storage when the first terabyte drives for consumers came on the market, and then again when the price dropped below $250 for a terabyte drive. I recently bought my first one terabyte drive when I saw this Microcenter ad. To put this in perspective, the ad is selling, for $99.99, about $8 million dollars worth of data storage (at 1985 prices).

Do I need a terabyte drive? Not really, not right away maybe; but you have to realize this is a significant moment for an old timer like me. My first hard disk computer was a Kaypro CP/M machine with a 10 megabyte drive. The price of that system was around $3,000 when it was introduced.

When I built my first PC from scratch in 1985--using a hand soldered motherboard I picked up at a Silicon Valley swap meet, with a BIOS chip flashed in an actual Silicon Valley garage--the 30 megabyte hard drive that I put in it cost me $250 cash, handed over at the back door of a Sunnyvale warehouse just off the 101.

To be clear, that was 30 mega-bytes. Of which there are 1000 or so in a gigabyte. So at that rate the cost of a terabyte of storage would have worked out to be somewhere North of $8 million! So when I saw a price tag of $99.99 on a 1TB Western Digital drive, I just had to buy it. After all, it represents over $80,000 of 1985 storage for a dollar of 2008 money.

What am I going to do with this drive? Probably put it in my trusty IBM Thinkcenter box in place of the current 200 gig drive. Then I can use the 200 gig drive as a laptop backup device and the 1TB drive will be a central repository for all the video files I have been accumulating from various projects. I had been shifting  them to data DVD at the end of each project to keep my laptop drives from maxxing out, but then I find I need the files again and I put the DVD down somewhere and...you know how that goes.

Much easier to keep files online, luxuriating in the amazingly affordable vastness of a terabyte drive, for just pennies a megabyte.

Hemochromatosis: Support and Discussion

So, it has been about six weeks since my wife was diagnosed with hereditary hemochromatosis and I have lost track of the number people I have told about this truly insidious condition. I have told my family, my friends, and anyone who reads this blog. It really is a sick bastard of a condition and more people need to know about it.

One of the burdens of finding out you have hereditary hemochromatosis is the need to tell all your "blood" relatives. Chey did that and got some telling responses. She found out that her mother's brother, long out of touch, has been in really bad shape for some years now, with a. heart disease that has required extensive hospitalization and has doctors baffled, b. serious liver problems despite the fact that he is not a drinker.

Bingo! Both of those sound like the kind of organ damage that hemochromatosis does. And his sister, Chey's aunt, died of liver cancer at a very early age. Clearly, the need to run routine tests for hereditary hemochromatosis as a standard part of preventative health care is emerging as a theme in this new world of unwellness we are exploring.

Another theme is complexity. The treatment for hereditary hemochromatosis sounds simple: frequent phlebotomy. But the reality is a little different. First of all, a diagnosis of hereditary hemochromatosis is typically followed by a whole bunch of doctor visits and tests to determine what damage the condition has inflicted so far. As mentioned in my previous post on this, women naturally mitigate or the effects of the condition, to some degree at least, from puberty through menopause. This does not mean their organs are not being damaged.

When Chey had arthroscopic surgery on her shoulders years ago the surgeon mentioned seeing crystals. Dude, those were probably iron crystals, and if a patient has those then there is a good chance she has hemochromatosis; point that out to the patient and she can start dealing with it.

But no, this guy did shoulders--did them very well-but that was all he did (in fact, I went to see the same guy for soreness of the shoulder that turned out to be caused by a herniated disc, which he didn't diagnose because--you guessed it--he's a shoulder guy).

That was just one of the many times over the years that a greater physician awareness of hemochromatosis (and greater levels of patient awareness on the part of physicians) could have resulted in less damage to Chey's organs.

We are now awaiting the results of tests, pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, liver, etc. We think the heart is okay because she did well on a stress test earlier this year. Lungs seem good too, something we know from a very thorough testing at the quit smoking clinic last January.

In the meantime, Chey continues to experience extreme fatigue, bad headaches, and severe stomach pains; not all day, not every day, but most of the time on most days. With a lot of time to think while waiting out the pain, she is beginning to see the past in a new light, the last ten years of it anyway. She realizes that she was much sicker much sooner than she admitted to herself at the time. She was understandably loathe to accept that, somewhere around 2004, she had become technically disabled, i.e. she could not have held down a 9 to 5 job for 5 days a week.

There's still plenty of room to hope for a return to a more normal existence. We draw inspiration from "The Man Who Turned Orange" in Season 3 of Mystery Diagnosis on Discovery (Episode 2). Here was a marathon runner who described a rapid decline to the point of feeling, and walking, like he was 80. Depressed and suicidal, he was brought to his knees, literally, by what turned out to be hemochromatosis. With treatment he finally got back to the point where he could run a marathon again. Chey has never been the marathon type, but if she got to the point where she could walk the dog every day, that would be wonderful (and the dog would be really happy too).

Anyway, the whole point of this post was to help people with hemochromatosis get in touch with other sufferers. So, here are three resources we have found. There is an old fashioned mailing here and a somewhat more accessible forum here. It really does help to talk with others who have the condition. And we don't think you have to be Canadian to join this forum. If you know of others, please comment on this post and let folks know. Thanks.



Let's Hope Spammers and Criminals Don't Find This

I realize that yesterday's post about jpeggery only included one actual JPEG. So here's a couple more and they are quite disturbing.

You wouldn't think they were scary, looking at the first example, a pair of screenshots of the Eudora email program (yep, I'm really old school when it comes to email). The odd thing is that the upper shot, where the dark blue rectangle is just hovering on the page, is weird. It was just sitting there, even when I wasn't using the program. When you pull down the File menu in Eudora to select Check Mail it normally looks like the segment in the lower shot.  In other words, in the upper shot the screen seems to be retaining a piece of menu after the menu is closed. And Eudora is not the only place this happened, in fact the rectangle appeared over every application.

Consider the second pair of shots. This time the phantom rectangle has picked up the Save menu item from the Paint program, and below that a blog menu item called Details.

What appears to have happened is that after Windows Media Player crashed while playing a video, it left something in a graphics layer/frame/buffer which that program accesses. And that something persisted, across applications. It even stayed in place through a system stand-by and wake-up.

Do you begin to see what I see? There could be a way to inject persistent messaging that users can't remove without a reboot. Why would someone want to do that? Here's what Compter Security 101 teaches us. First there will be some people who do it "Because we can." Then some people will figure a way to exploit this to annoy/disrupt/market/infect/spam systems without system-owner consent. If doing this has perceived value, it will be done. And then the way to do this will have value and it will be sold. And so on.

Hopefully getting this phantom code entity into a system requires a hard-to-duplicate set of conditions (like you have to crash Windows Media just right).

An Odd Box of Images: Round up of jpeggery

As life goes by on the Internet highway I sometimes take a moment to snap pictures of odd things I see. Figured I would share some of them from time to time. Like this recent weather report from Google. The graphic for the current conditions in Cherry Valley is either missing or an attempt to depict a white out. I thought it was pretty funny. The actual conditions were very snowy but not a blizzard. Later in the day the white square was replaced by a the image you see on the left of the bottom row of icons.

And speaking of snow, I just uploaded a short video of the fun to be when you live in a cottage on a hill in upstate New York that relies on a wood stove for heat during the winter. This is a sneak preview. I may move the video to a different host but for now you can see it here.

Coldplay Viva La Vida Satriana Ripoff? The Internet helps you decide!

There's an interesting Web 2.0 twist in the lawsuit brought by guitar legend Joe Satriani against Coldplay for alleged plagiarism in Viva La Vida (one of the tunes used to sell iPhones). Thanks to the magic of the Internet you can play both songs at the same time. I think this is quite telling.*

Here's one of the places that has both performances on the same page so you can decide what you think. If you time your "Play" clicks just right, and you have decent bandwidth, you can get them playing on top of each other.

Having admired Satriani's musicianship for many years, as well as his extensive knowledge of the history of guitar technique, I am inclined to take him seriously. This could well be a My Sweet Lord He's So Fine moment, although that case--in which George Harrison's 1970 hit "My Sweet Lord" was found to have plagiarised "He's So Fine" composed by Ronald Mack and recorded by the Chiffons in 1962 lasted for a lot longer than a moment--the moment the question was raised, the public could start deciding for itself, albeit without the benefit fo the Internet.

Regardless of the outcome of the Satriani Coldplay case, there's a fascinating historical twist: Apple Computer used this possibly plagiarized tune to promote its iPhone less than two years after the conclusion of decades of trademark litigation involving Apple Music, of which Harrison was a co-founder.

*Note: The author of this blog post was declared "tone deaf" by his third grade teacher, Mrs. Ashby, and makes no claim to having any special knowledge about music, except a. He knows what he likes when he hears it, and b. He claims he can recognize any Otis Redding recording within 3 seconds.
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Geeks Who Give? What a great idea!

As if all the hope embodied in our president elect were not enough to put a smile on your face, along comes another very hopeful sign: Geeks Who Give. These particular geeks are in Philadelphia and they are using Twitter to give their food drive some momentum. You can follow them here: http://twitter.com/geekswhogive. Or help spread the word by placing this badge on your web site:
Geeks Who Give

Another Great Hemochromatosis Resource

Thanks to a comment on my previous post about hemochromatosis I can pass along another web resource for anyone looking to learn more about this common, dangerous, yet treatable condition. The Canadian Hemochromatosis Society web site at toomuchiron.ca has loads of information.

I'm very grateful to Bob Rogers, Executive Director of the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society, for pointing me to the site. I particularly like the way the "What is it?" page is written. It provides a very straightforward explanation of hereditatry hemochromatosis.