Saturday, October 9

Are Facebook Groups Another Violation of Privacy?

It wasn’t all that long ago when I was hollering about Facebook Places, the feature that lets people “check in” to places and tag their friends as being there with them. If Tom and Mike decide to stop for a beer and Tom checks in at the bar, tagging Mike at the same time, Mike had better hope that his wife is not Facebook Friends with either one of them. If she is, she’s going to know that her husband is not working late – or at least she’ll know that Tom SAYS her husband is not working late. At least Facebook Places has an option under Privacy Settings to disable your friends’ ability to check you in.

(Let me pause here and say that if you don’t know where this is, that would probably be a result of Facebook burying this option. I’m guessing here, but I would say that Facebook really doesn’t want you blocking friends from checking you in, because they want Places to become popular and they’re convinced tagging friends is crucial to that. Here’s what you do. From the Account menu, choose Privacy Settings. Look for the link that says “Customize Settings” and click that. Scroll down to “Things others share” and look for “Friends can check me in to Places.” Click the Edit button to the right of that and on the next screen choose Disabled. How’s that for buried deep?)

Now we have a another new feature, called Groups. Anyone can make a Facebook Group. To explain to you what one of these is gets a little complicated, so bear with me. We’ve always had Friends. People ask to be your Friend, you ask to be Friends with someone else, and then you see things about each other in your News Feed. If you’re a Facebook user, then you’re familiar with how this works. One key element to it is that when someone asks to be your Friend, Facebook checks with you to see if that’s okay. I wish, no…I long for the day when people were smart enough to only become Friends with other people they actually know, but expecting people to be smart is asking too much. (There! My obligatory “Men in Black” reference. If you’ve never seen the movie, go Netflix it now.)

Then we used to have a feature called Fan Pages. Someone would create a page and others could become Fans of it. Fan pages might be for a person, a sports team, a business, an organization or cause – anything could have a page. When you became a Fan of a page, all of your Friends were told “Mark Lautenschlager became a fan of Burping Softly Around Women.” with the implication being that if I liked something, you might also, and you should go take a look at the page. We still have these pages, but we just don’t call them “Fan Pages” any longer. It seems that the word “fan” doesn’t translate well into other languages and cultures. In America, we know that it’s short for “fanatic,” implying the enthusiastic support of something. But the rest of the planet thinks fanatics are bad. Just ask the Brits, where people become “supporters” of their “athletic clubs.” (I’ll let you make your own athletic supporter joke here.)

So Fan pages became just Pages, and we didn’t become a Fan, we just clicked the Like button. We already were used to clicking Like for things about our Friends that we saw on our News Feeds, so it was a simple extension. And again, you must choose to click Like. I can’t Like something FOR you.

Finally, we had Lists. A Facebook List was something that we made for ourselves. We could assign Friends to a List, and then we could send a single message to everyone, etc. It was a sort of mailing list feature, not many people even knew it existed, and hardly anyone used it.

So, what’s a Group? A Facebook Group is a combination of all of these. I could create a Group for family members, for my interest in playing World of Warcraft, for my church, for the pub I frequent – literally anything! When I create a Group, a page for that Group is made and I am the Administrator of the page. “How is that different from a Facebook Page made by some company or sports team,” you ask? Excellent question. First, Facebook claims that only an “authorized representative” of the subject of that Page can administrate it. That’s not true, as it happens. I created a Page for our church, and while if you asked them they would tell you that I certainly am “authorized” to do this, there is no way Facebook knows this.

The really BIG difference is this: Business, organizations, or people who create Facebook Pages have to get you to click that Like button, in order to attach yourself to the Page. They have the task of getting the word out about their Page. Every company in Western society has the little blue “F” logo on their website, TV commercials sport the URL for their Page, etc. Most of all, they’re counting on people to Like their Page, hoping that Friends of the people who Like their Page will see it and exclaim “Oh-ho! I didn’t know that the Frog Admirer’s Society had a Facebook page!” followed by visiting the Page and Liking it also.

Not so with a Group. With a Facebook Group, any member of the Group can add you to that Group. “Yeah, but surely Facebook will ASK me, right?” I can hear your indignation. You’d think so, but no. Adding someone to a Group is just like tagging them in a Photo or Video. As long as someone is your Friend and part of the Group, they can add you to it also. And you can’t stop them, no matter what you do. Once you are a member of a Group, you will start receiving notifications of activity within the group, including email messages sent to the Group. And all of your other Friends will see that you’ve been added to this Group.

And you can’t opt out of this. So, what can you do?

Well, the first time someone adds you to a Group that you’re not happy about, you can remove yourself from that Group, just like you can remove your tag from a photo or video. Once you’ve done that, not only can you not be added back to that particular Group (unless you request to be added back), but the person who added you and prompted the remove request will not be able to add you to any OTHER Groups, ever. That’s something, I suppose, but it’s still definitely closing the barn door well after the horses have left.

In the past, when you wanted to recommend a Page to me, you could do just that. You’d send me a suggestion that would tell me you think I’d like this page, and I could choose whether I wanted to Like it also, or not. No more. Now all of your Facebook Friends have the power to decide what you might like, and sign you up.

And with the “one strike and you’re out” policy, you’d better never make a mistake in adding any of your Friends to a Group. One remove request and you’re struck with the ban stick, forever.

Mark Zuckerberg said at a press conference, “We aren't trying to be hyperbolic when we say this is going to be a fundamental shift in the way people use Facebook.” Personally, I’m troubled by the fact that the new design of Groups seems to be solving the “problem” of people either not recommending a Group to their Friends, or their Friends declining to join.

Facebook has fixed what was not broken.

Tuesday, September 28

Why Adobe is the best AND the worst company, ever!

Let’s get one thing straight, Adobe makes great programs. I use Adobe Audition for my audio editing work, I have photographer friends who swear by Photoshop and Lightroom, and I know a few video editors who will tell you that if you HAVE to use a Windows PC for video editing, you’re crazy and you should be using Adobe Premiere to make the best of an awful situation.

Flash, despite the fact that Apple doesn’t like it, has turned the web into an interactive, multimedia environment rippling with video and music. Hideous menus and web site designs also, but that’s not Adobe’s fault.

So why do I say they are the worst company ever? Because - brace yourselves - they are EVEN more draconian in their customer policies than Apple. They know their software is great, they know people will pay breathtaking prices for it, and they know they can make us hop on one foot while barking like a dog to register it, and we WILL. That sort of power must be intoxicating. After all, it makes both Adobe and Apple behave like Cold War-era dictators towards their customers, so it must.

Let me give you two examples. First, Adobe Audition. I have a desktop and a laptop. I do audio editing on both, but never at the same time. If I’m in the office, I use the desktop with its faster processor, bigger screen, and more comfortable keyboard. I use the laptop when I’m on the road. I would like to install my copy of Audition on both computers. Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? It still seems like a single license, no? Well, no. Not to Adobe it doesn’t. Oh, I can install Audition on both computers, but in order to use it on the laptop, I have to deactivate it on the desktop, then activate it on the laptop. If I forget to run the deactivation before leaving the office, I have officially screwed the pooch.

Even Microsoft permits me to install Office 2010 Home and Business Edition on one desktop and one laptop under a single license. Dear Adobe, when your policies make Microsoft look good, you should be worried.

Next, we have the curious case of Student and Teacher Editions. I have a part time job working for the church I’ve attended for the past 25 years, editing the pastor’s sermons into a weekly radio show. (You’ll find that, aside from Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, most of us who work in radio have more than one job. Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to talk into microphones?) Because of my 30+ years working in IT support, I also help with the office computers.

The church has a school. The school has an art teacher. The art teacher wants to use Photoshop and Premiere for art projects. So we set up a “media computer” and set out to order software. The Photoshop and Premiere bundle is called “Creative Suite 5 Production Premium.” At, it sells for $1,675.20. Or, $429.99 for the Student and Teacher version. I’ll give you three guesses which edition we ordered, and the first two don’t count.

The product arrives, and with it is a notice explaining that before we can get a serial number for installation, we have to submit documentation that we are in fact a school. No problem, I think. After all, we ARE a school. I punch in the URL for the web site and it tells me to submit a scan of the teacher’s photo ID. If the teacher’s ID does not feature a photo, I’m told to submit a scan of the ID plus a scan of a letter from the school’s registrar saying that the teacher in question is the art teacher and will be using this software.

Let’s pause here for a moment and consider that. What difference does the picture make? Will Adobe only license its software to our art teacher if she’s hot? She’s a perfectly lovely person, but she’s a married art teacher at a Christian school. She’s not posing for your calendar, Adobe! But, I digress.

We scan her teacher’s ID, we scan a letter from the registrar on school letterhead, and I submit both documents. As I did so, I was encouraged to find that our school was listed on the drop-down menu of schools that came up when I entered our city. The service Adobe was using for this verification had at least heard of us. After a couple of days, I receive an email saying further documentation is required.

They want a scan of her driver’s license, because that has a photo on it.

(Insert scream of frustration, here.)

Why? WHY? Give me one single reason why you need a picture of our art teacher, before you can decide that she’s actually our art teacher. Do art teachers all have a certain look to them? Are you checking faces against a terrorist watch list, so bad people can’t use Photoshop to make illustrated bomb plans? What could possibly be of value in seeing a photo ID for a teacher from a school that you recognize to be a school in the community entered?

Okay, here’s the part where we have to rewind back to the beginning of this post and realize that Adobe wants to watch me hop on one foot and bark like a dog. Since Photoshop and Premiere are the best programs of their kind, and because we can’t install them without complying with this ridiculous request or paying $1,200 more for the regular retail version, I swallow my pride and my rage, and I hop while barking.

I emailed the school, saying that Jenny had to scan her driver’s license for me, also.

But I still hate you for it, Adobe. I hate you because your software is so good that you can treat me like a terrorist criminal pile of dog poop, and I’ll roll on my back and show you my belly.

Two thoughts occur to me in conclusion. One, there better never come a time when Adobe wants something from ME, or they’d better be prepared for a week of hopping and barking.

Two, I know for a fact that I am not the only one who hates how Adobe treats its customers like they were criminals, so the world is wide open for someone to be successful if they make products that are just as good (that right there is key, because there are competitors, but no one that is “as good”) and doesn’t treat its customers this badly.

Wednesday, September 1

Pro-tip: Facebook IS an Internet service, not your own personal playground.

The Associated Press carried this story about a juror who updated her Facebook status, before the trial was over, to say they (the jury) were going to enjoy finding the defendant guilty. The defense attorney discovered what the juror had posted, and things got ugly from there.

First off, let me explain to you how I think the defense attorney found out what the juror had posted. There’s this nifty little free service from Google called Alerts. This gem lets you turn Google into your own research department. You just tell Google what you want to search for and how often to look, and Google emails you with whatever it finds. Because Google is constantly indexing the Internet, Alerts is a fantastic way of making certain you know the minute something is said about you or something you have an interest in. Like, I don’t know, maybe a trial you were working on?

Disclaimer: I have no idea whether the defense attorney used Google Alerts or not. But if I were a defense attorney, I would sure as heck put in search terms about my case, including the names of jurors. Why not? It only takes a minute to scan the emails Google sends you, and you don’t have to remember to search for things manually.

“But, how did Google pick up on the juror’s Facebook status?” you ask. Ah! Good question. Facebook’s “Recommended” privacy setting is for your status, photos, and posts to be public. (Also your bio and favorite quotations, and your family and relationships.) It’s easy enough, of course, to change this. But a lot of people don’t. In fact, Facebook would prefer that you didn’t. To be fair, they would say this is to make using the service “more social,” and that’s true. But I don’t care to share what I’m doing, or pictures of my kids, with “society.” If I’ve requested to be your Facebook friend, or I’ve accepted your request to be mine, it’s because I actually do know you. And every time I accept a request, I ask myself “would I care if this person knew the kinds of things I put on my Facebook page?” (I click Ignore, often.)

All that being said, I think there is a bigger issue here. People who use Facebook and Twitter regularly become comfortable with them. When you post status updates or tweets and your friends comment or reply, it gives you that warm, fuzzy, “connected” feeling. As it should. That’s what social networks were designed to do – give people a feeling of being connected with their friends, even though you might be separated by thousands of miles. However, the insidious nature of feeling comfortable makes you feel like it’s just you and your friends. You begin sharing things you shouldn’t (something the blogosphere has begun to call “over-sharing”), and you forget that anyone else using the Internet is, in effect, reading over your shoulder.

I have a friend at the Advanced Media Network, where I work on the Into Tomorrow show, who lives his life on social networks (hi, Rob!). He blogs, he facebooks, he tweets, he checks in on foursquare, and if something’s happening where he is – there are pictures of it, with video to follow. That’s not wrong, because that’s how he’s chosen to live his life. He knows you’re all watching, and he wants you to. That’s the whole point of posting. He doesn’t have to remember that social networks are public, because he’s counting on it.

It’s the rest of us (or maybe you?) who need to remind ourselves. Check your privacy settings on Facebook. Remember that Twitter is just ALWAYS public. Even text messages won’t STAY private, if you get yourself in any real trouble. Just ask Tiger Woods.

And remember – Google is always watching.

Friday, August 27 Part II

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on the "penny auction" sites, naming as an example because their advertisements on Facebook were intriguing enough to at least get me over to their site. I expressed my opinion that penny auctions are a scam. They are at best a form of gambling.

Today, I was emailed a comment apparently from someone at When I came to the blog to respond to the comment, I couldn't find it. However, since it was emailed to me, I'll copy and paste it in here.
Good Afternoon George,

My name is Jennifer, Head of Customer Service for Swipebids. I assure
you our website is not a scam and is entirely legit, please visit the
information below for confirmation.

The registration
page where your credit card information is inputted into our system
, has 4 locations where we notify customers of our
$159 Membership fee. Provided in the link below, you will see 1 right above where your information is inputted, 2 are off to the left and the last is right above the "Start Bidding" button, which will finalize your registration.

We show on our website quite a few pages of past winners, included we
show the price it was sold at, retail price and you can even confirm the
tracking numbers by clicking on the number itself. We have also given
away numerous cars to bidders within the United States and Australia
which can be verified at the link below

We also sponsor numerous children through World Vision, the link below
will take you to the site where we describe how it all works and how we
started by sponsoring 100 children and we continue to add 1 more each
day in our effort to make a positive change.

If you have any other questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me personally at


Head of Customer Service

Our Winners:
Our World Vision Charity:
Our Customer Service Page:
My goodness. Where to begin? First, my name is Mark, it is not George. That leads me to question whether Jennifer meant to post her comment on another blog, hit mine by mistake, and after realizing her error, came back and deleted it.

Next, she defends the prominent placement of the $159 charge. I never said they were hiding it. My previous post mentions it clearly, in fact. It was right there on the home page. Let me be clear: is not hiding the fact that you will have to give them $159 before you can bid. They're just hoping you'll do it anyway.

After that, we see a declaration that people win these auctions. That is correct. Someone does win every auction. However, that does not change my opinion that they are a scam. Your odds of winning reduce dramatically as more people buy bids on the site, while the site operator's profits go up sharply. It's a lottery. Yes, someone wins every item. But hundreds more don't. They spend $159, they don't get any of the shiny items advertised, and they're presented with a consolation price that is worth less than a coffee at Starbucks.

Jennifer, if you want to dispute that, please give me just one piece of information. On average, how many LOSING bidders are there for each item? I'm guessing you'll tell me that information is confidential.

And finally, there's the tug at charity. Don't misunderstand me, I support anything that will feed hungry children. I give money to charity frequently, and if this company actually does give money to World Vision, they have my appreciation for that. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with how they acquired the money. It's just a cheap play for our emotions, and it comes across looking weak.

These penny auction sites are not illegal. I am not suggesting they are breaking the law in any way. They are, however, a lottery, a form of gambling, and in my opinion, a scam. They scam you because they do not disclose exactly how these "auctions" work, and they do not warn you that your odds of winning an item are actually quite low. At least in Vegas, you know the house wins 90% of the time.

I did get a bit of email asking for specific details on how these sites function. I'm going to link you to a terrific bit of reporting from, where they explain it plainly and reveal just what a sucker bet these penny auction sites are. They've done a better job at it than I could have, and they deserve the link. "Penny Auctions Bet on Chump Change."

As for Jennifer from, please do not hesitate to respond in a comment. I promise you that I will not delete it, nor edit it in any way. You can speak your piece. The facts are on my side in this discussion.

Monday, August 23

The scam of penny auctions:

Today I was motoring around Facebook, clicking status and taking names, when one of those sidebar ads caught my attention. They did it by appealing to my man gene. There are three ways to appeal to someone’s man gene. You can show him a woman in a seductive pose, you can show him a frosty mug of beer, or you can show him a BBQ Grill the size of a Chevy with wheels and tires and enough gleaming stainless steel to blind low-flying birds. That last one is what they used on me. Just below the picture of Grillasarus Rex was the following text.

Click here to see how our unique website can get you your dream BBQ Grill at up to 95% off retail price. No joke.

Wow. Ninety-five percent? That’s a lot, isn’t it? With my man gene fully stimulated, I clicked on the ad. I was directed to a website named Brightly colored pictures of vast warehouses of items, one of which just HAD to be Grillasarus Rex, were plastered across the page, and bold type proclaimed that they offered fantastic prices on brand new items because they bought from warehouse closeouts and overstocks. Furthermore, the text assured me, I could trust this because it’s been COVERED ON THE NEWS. (This, dear imaginary reader, is where my man gene was wrestled to the ground by my suspicion gene, tied up, and stuffed in to a burlap sack closed with duct tape.)

There was a prodigious array of logos from major news outlets across the top, and right dead center of it all was an embedded video showing some generic local newscast (I think I figured out it was from the Atlanta area) covering auctions. Only, it was covering auctions of police seizures and repossessions, and didn’t mention a single thing about closeouts or overstocks. The point was made during the report that the items were NOT new, they were just LIKE new, which again differed from the text.

(Here’s a note to all you would-be scammers. When you slap up a video that has nothing to do with what you’re advertising, it’s counterproductive. We will notice.)

So now, I scroll down further and see a panel of auctions that just closed (allegedly), showing me screen names that had bought a Honda Civic for $1700 and change, a Macbook Pro for $120 and change, etc., etc. Pretty impressive stuff, if it was true at all. Under that were some more auctions that were just about to close. For the same sort of items, at the same sort of price. Clearly the pressure was on. Bid, damn you, BID!

Luckily my man gene’s muffled screams could not be heard through the burlap sack. I scroll down a bit further and see two things of interest. I’ll tell you about the second one, first. At the very bottom of the screen was the now-standard disclaimer of all Internet scam websites that vouch for their products by saying the news media has covered them. We have no affiliation with the companies identified by the logos above. They did not publish anything about our specific service. However, the subject of penny auctions was featured.

So, let me get this straight. I can trust you because the news media has covered you, only…they haven’t? Charming. Right above this disclaimer from hell was a list of names and beside each one it said “Name Goes Here invested $159 and won auctions worth $SomeHugeAmount.” Aha! The scam shows itself in the light of day!

Here’s how these penny auction scams work. They get your credit card and tell you that you’re “buying bids.” Get that? You’re not bidding on items, you’re not buying items, you’re buying bids. Once you’ve bought some bids, the auction site will bid for you on items, bumping the price up a few pennies at a time. What they SAY will happen is, as soon as there is no available bid for a given item, the auction closes and the last person who entered a bid on that item, wins it. The problem is, you have no control over what item you’re bidding on, and you have no control over how long the auction goes on. It’s not time limited, as legitimate sites like eBay are, it continues to run until it runs out of bids.

You could win something you don’t care about at all (a number of people complaining about on scam alert websites said they “won” gift cards worth between $4 and $10), or you could pay the regular retail price for an item if the bids continued to come in. It’s all very vague.

The one thing that’s NOT vague is that YOUR credit card will be charged $159 for a supply of “bids.”

There are two lessons for us to learn here. First, always be skeptical. Look over the entire site first, and scroll down to the bottom where the disclaimers live. Any time an auction website wants money before you can bid, that’s a bad sign.

Second, just because the ads are repackaged into friendly little Facebook sidebar nuggets that look just like the official bits that come from Facebook itself means precisely nothing. Those ads are PACKED with scammers who want a piece of Facebook’s 500+ million users.

Make sure one of them isn’t you, okay?

Sunday, August 22

The stock market and math

Not long ago, I had a meeting with a financial advisor and he shared something very interesting with me. Yeah, I know… What’s that got to do with tech, computer boy? As I’ve already reminded the both of you who read this blog, The Gray Geek is about me. And sometimes, I think about stuff other than technology. Not often, I grant you, but sometimes.

Anyway, the stock market. (My financial advisor friend did use a computer to show me this, by the way, so there!) Let’s say you have a dollar, to make the math easy. You invest that dollar and in year one, your investment gains 100 percent. How much do you have now? Two dollars, right?

Now year two. In year two, the value of your investment declines 50 percent. Now how much do you have? You’re back to your original one dollar. So, what is the rate of return on your investment over the past two years?

Zero? No. In fact, it’s 25 percent. Which sounds like you ought to be holding at least $1.25, but you’re not. You don’t have jack.

And that’s why you need to know the stock market’s dirty little secret. A smaller loss wipes out a bigger gain in dollars, but not in percentage. So the percentages look great, but long term investors are losing money. There’s an Oppenheimer mutual fund that I’ve been putting money in to for a long time now, years and years. Sometimes it’s been way up and sometimes it’s been down a bit, and recently I looked at the fund comparing what it’s worth to what I’ve actually paid in.

I’ve lost money. If I close it today and withdraw every dollar it’s worth, I will have paid more money than I have.

And the economists wonder why the small investor is getting out of the market and turning to bonds? They marvel over the fact that small investors don’t want to jump back in and catch the market at a low point, to profit on the ride back up? Really?

Here, I’ll help them out. Mister Economist, please take note. We can’t always figure out all your damn formulas and how those tricky percentages work, but we can count our money.

Saturday, August 21

BlackBerry Media Sync errors on Windows 7

Okay, here's the scenario. You have a computer that originally used Windows Vista. You downloaded the BlackBerry Desktop Manager 5.0 to it, in order to update and backup your BlackBerry. As part of that whole process, BlackBerry Media Sync was installed to help copy music and pictures between the BlackBerry and your computer.

Now that computer has been updated to Windows 7, and you notice the BlackBerry Desktop Manager 5.0 is now the BlackBerry Desktop SOFTWARE (perhaps we no longer manage things?) 6.0. Being a well trained computer user, you decide to update. Part of that update is to update the BlackBerry Media Sync from version 2.0 to version 3.0.

And then the entire process comes to a screeching halt. You're presented with an error box that says an invalid operating system has been detected, that BlackBerry Media Sync supports only Windows XP SP2 (apparently, they didn't get the memo about Service Pack 3?) and Windows Vista. It warns you that the program will now exit, and it does.

The problem isn't the new BB Media Sync 3.0 software. It works fine on Windows 7. In fact, so does BB Media Sync 2.0, but not the version you have! Version 3.0, you see, detects version 2.0 during its installation and attempts to uninstall the old version. And that promptly fails, giving you the false impression that the software you're trying to INSTALL won't work on Windows 7, not the version that's being UNINSTALLED.

This red herring can lead you on a wild goose chase, and if you give me a moment I'll think of some other archaic metaphors... Anyway, the solution is to update BB Media Sync to the very latest revision of version 2.0. You can download that file by following this link:

BB Media Sync 2.0

Run that, and it will offer to update your copy of version 2.0. Allow it to do so, and you have a Windows 7 compatible edition. Now you need to reinstall BB Desktop Software 6.0, so it can properly update you to the BB Media Sync 3.0.

Here's hoping at least one person is saved the hair-pulling that I endured tracking this fix down! :)

Windows 7 and the padlock icon

Have you ever looked at one of your folders using Windows 7 and noticed a strange padlock next to it? Have you ever wondered what in the heck that thing is? The padlock probably has several meanings, someone will need to beat the details out of some poor Microsoftie to know for sure, but one thing that it CAN mean is that some of the files in that folder (or sub-folders inside of that folder) have specific security permissions on them that are not inherited from the folders they reside in. In general, that isn't a good idea. You want to own folders, and then by extension anything in those folders. The good news is, there is a fairly easy - if a bit obscure - way of fixing this. You can remove the lock overlay in this case by resetting the permissions to be inherited, and removing all permissions that are not inherited.

Right click the folder, click Properties.
Click the Security tab.
Click Advanced.
Click Change Permissions.
Check Both boxes to Include inheritable permissions, and to Replace all child object permissions.
Click Apply then click Yes.
Wait for the list to refresh.
Remove all permissions that say "not inherited".

That should remove the Lock overlay.

You may need to uncheck Use Sharing Wizard in Folder Options on the View tab to see the Security tab, and may have to boot to Safe Mode as well, if running Home Basic or Premium.

Tuesday, July 20

Windows 7, Sleep mode, and the Blue Screen Of Death

For quite a while now, I've been having an occasional problem with my desktop computer. It's a big, fast, powerful rig from iBuyPower, the Gamer 930-I.

  • Core i7-860 processor
  • 8GB of RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 5850 video card
  • Dual SATA hard drives running in AHCI mode. The boot drive is a 500GB Seagate and the second drive is a 1TB Western Digital
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Like most old-time Windows geeks, I know that when you have a second PHYSICAL hard drive in your computer, you should put your paging file (aka the "swap file") on that second drive. Run your operating system off the boot drive, and page memory to a file on the second drive. That's been the rule for as long as I can recall, and it's a good one.

(Quick break for the non-geeks reading this.) No matter how much memory your computer has, it will want a paging file. This is a file on the hard disk to which Windows writes "pages" of memory that are not being used. A memory page is just a fixed-length block of memory. Rather than move things around in memory one byte at a time, Windows does it in pages. The paging file is where Windows will move pages of memory that have not been accessed for a while, if it finds that it needs that space for a program that's currently running. If you have two physical drives, you should always put this paging file on the drive where Windows is NOT. This lets your computer load the various bits of Windows at the same time it's paging memory without causing the hard drive to "thrash" by moving its drive heads around furiously. (Okay, enough of that.)

I was experiencing two symptoms. Both symptoms would occur when the computer was attempting to wake up from sleep mode.

Symptom #1: The computer would start to wake up, then crash with a Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD). The error message would be something like "KERNEL_INPAGE_ERROR" or something equally incomprehensible.

Symptom #2: The computer would wake all the way up, but suddenly be unable to access any file or folder on the second hard drive. Opening the Computer folder would show that the second hard drive was missing.

In both cases, a reboot fixed the problem. So what was it?

It turns out that when a computer is returning from sleep mode, it would expect that all hard drives would be ready in 10 seconds or less. It also turns out that sometimes, big hard drives like my 1TB second drive take longer than 10 seconds to be ready. Hence the BSODs and the disappearing act.

The fix is simple. You need an updated MSACHI.SYS file, which you can download as part of this hotfix:

Please note there are three versions of the hotfix, one for x86 (that's the 32-bit Windows), x64 (64-bit Windows, duh!), and IA-64 (for the both of you running Itanium processors in your computer). Also note that there appears to be a "Version 2" of the hotfix. So when you go to download the file, take the one for your operating system with the most recent date on it. I noticed when I did that, there was a "V2" as part of the file name in the hotfix file after extracting it from the compressed file that you download.

After installing this, you should not see any more problems with your computer waking up from sleep mode. If this helps you, leave me a comment and let me know that it was worthwhile posting it.

Friday, July 9

And as quickly as it came -- it goes!

In this post, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said they are dropping the plan to add Real ID (displaying your real first and last name) to forum postings. In my prior blog post on this (see below), I suggested that Blizzard did not have to use real first and last names, if in fact all they wanted to do was make people accountable for their forum posts. Create a "Forum ID," link it to your login so you can only have one, and there you are. Still anonymous, yet accountable.

In the current post, Morhaime says you will post with your "character name + character code." I don't have the details on that yet, but it would appear that they are doing exactly what I suggested they should. Not because I suggested it, of course, I don't for a moment think they read my blog. I'm not even sure that YOU are reading my blog, imaginary friend, but still I press on in hopes that you do.

Now, two NEW questions beg to be asked.

1. Did Blizzard do this as a PR stunt? The outpouring of love to Blizzard for "listening to us" posted by the same people who yesterday were calling for heads on the chopping block suggests that we might have been played a bit, here. Personally, I doubt it, because of my next question, but it's still a valid topic for discussion.

2. Will the consequences be long lasting? People did quit the game over this. In our guild of 39 accounts (listing the characters is meaningless, since we all have more than one), 2 people have canceled their accounts. That's only 10%, but if it is representative of players worldwide, then 1.5 million accounts were canceled. Multiply that by $15 a month, and we're talking about a yacht's worth of income here. That's enough to make even the behemoth Blizzard Entertainment flinch.

And flinch they did. Wisely so, I believe. Now we will wait and see whether the canceled come back, and whether those who were angered will ever get over it.

Wednesday, July 7

Blizzard takes careful your privacy, and their foot!

Is this the WoW killer? That's the provocative question asked by the popular MMO blog in this recent post. Like everyone else, I have my opinions, but let's take a look at the facts, first.

1. Blizzard and Facebook are pals. Don't believe me? Here, read the press release. The plan, as I understand it, is to permit you to share your identity through your Facebook friends list, AND to be able to import your Facebook friends into The net effect from either side is the same. Any of your Facebook friends who are also playing a Blizzard game will be revealed to you. You will be able to see what game and/or server they are playing on, and what their character's name is.

2. Blizzard added Real ID to Real ID is a system in which you send a friend request to someone in game using their email address (that's how you log in to instead of a character name. If they accept, you will then see them on your friends list under their real name, with the name of the character they are playing and what server they are playing on at the moment listed off to the right hand side. You have the ability to send a message to your friends even if they are logged in to a different server, or a different game altogether.

3. Blizzard announced that Real ID was coming to the official forums. Although it's not live yet, here's how it will work. To post a message on the official forums, you will need to sign in using your account. Of course, you have to do that NOW. What will be different is that instead of selecting a character of yours to post with, your post will go up showing your real name, first and last. You can, if you wish, link a character name to the post, but you cannot post without giving readers your first and last name.

So those are the facts. The first question we must ask is why? Why is Blizzard doing this?

One reason is that Blizzard sees how much cash a game like Farmville generates through Facebook, and although none of the Blizzard games are casual social games like Farmville, Blizzard does not want to miss a money making opportunity. Don't believe for one minute that the sole reason Blizzard does something like this is to promote social networking among gamers. That might be the company line, but the TRUTH is that they are in business to make money. And if this helps them make more money, they will do it.

Another reason is that the official forums are, quite frankly, a cesspool. People create low level characters on a server other than the one they play on normally, and use that identity to post the sort of messages that you wouldn't take home to meet your mother. This has led to one of those phrases you only see on the Internet: "Post on your main or get out." Meaning, don't hide behind your anonymous character, post from your level 80 main character, the one we all will see in game, the one you have time invested in, and the one whose reputation you theoretically don't want to tarnish.

The flip side of that is sometimes you get more honesty when the threat of reprisal is removed. I have seen, on many occasions, messages posted by one of these anonymous level one characters that are brutally honest, saying the things that need to be said but aren't because of potential conflict with your friends. In a perfect world, you should be able to say anything to anyone, as long as it's the truth. But you and I both know that we don't live in a perfect world. People hold grudges, and the threat of that will stifle honesty at times.

Blizzard wants to change this culture. Forcing you to post under a single identity that is forever branded with your real name will pierce the veil of anonymity and bring accountability to the forums in the blink of an eye. There are some who applaud this and declare that it was long overdue. I am not among them.

The Internet is full of smart people. Even if I'm not one, and you're not one, they ARE out there. Time and time again, clever searchers have uncovered home addresses, telephone numbers, the names and addresses of relatives and employers, all from someone leaving their real name. It can be done and it IS done. If you have a disagreement with someone in game, it is not at all outside the realm of probability that this fight could spill over into real life. With everyone having access to the real first and last names of people who post on the forums, connecting the dots to enable such cyber-stalking is child's play.

Here is my opinion: This is a terrible idea and Blizzard does not have to do it simply to make people accountable for their forum rants. It would be a simple matter for Blizzard to link a "Forum ID" to your account. All your forum posts would be made under that single identity, thus ensuring that you will not be able to hide when you insult someone, but without exposing people's real first and last name.

Whether this is a violation of privacy or not, legally, is murky. When you buy software or sign up for online accounts, you nearly always are presented with a Terms of Service that you must assent to in order to go forward. I don't read them, you don't read them, and they probably say we pledge our fortunes and our firstborn child along with our immortal soul, for the company to do with as it pleases. I'm quite certain that Blizzard has covered themselves for this somewhere, in one of the many Terms of Service screens we've seen and agreed to.

So I think Blizzard can do it. The question of whether they will do it still remains to be answered. My guess is that the backlash is so intense that Blizzard will back down and re-think this. But I wouldn't consider myself surprised if they pressed forward, either. Blizzard Entertainment, like my favorite fruity computer company, believes that they are Incredibly Smart and thus they know what's better for you than you do.

Oh, one final note. If you choose to exchange Real ID friend requests with someone, you should know that you can then see the Real IDs for all the OTHER people with whom your friend has done the same thing. And vice versa. Any Real ID friend of yours can see the real names of anyone else you've friended in this manner. You can't see any status on these friends of friends unless they send, and you accept, a Real ID friend request. But just having your real first and last name exposed in an online game makes my skin crawl.

Wednesday, June 16

A fix for the disappearing App World icon?

If you follow my Twitter feed, you saw me warning people about a possible glitch with the App World update from (which I shall call x.33 from here out) to (yeah, um, x.35 it shall be!).

I accepted the update - hey, App World itself offered it! - and immediately lost all access to App World. I did a battery pull reset, but to no avail (that's the ultimate solution to most BlackBerry problems...with the power on, remove the back cover and knock the battery out by tapping the phone on the edge of your hand, and no I'm not kidding). I looked around to make sure it wasn't buried in a folder somewhere. I uninstalled it and reinstalled it a number of times.

Finally I visited the RIM Community Support Forums. It was there that I saw this gigantic message thread. While it was comforting to see that I was not alone and hundreds of others around the world were reporting the problem, no solution was being proposed. I saw a message where some guy said he received an update notice to the BB OS itself, installed that using BB Desktop Manager, and his icon returned.

I figured what the heck, I didn't have an update to install but you can reinstall the same version again if you want. Just click Application Loader and when it shows you your choices, the most recent one will be checked. The upgrade process will back up your data and third party apps, so the most you will lose is some preferences and the occasional key for the purchased app. (Which, assuming App World returned, I would have no problem retrieving!)

It worked. The App World icon returned to my desktop, just where I'd put it back when I was running the x.33 version. In a massively ironic moment, Verizon Wireless then pushed an ACTUAL update to the BB OS (from to - don't you love BlackBerry version numbers always looking like IP addresses?). So I had the privilege of repeating what I'd just spent an hour doing.

After returning to the support forums, I saw a post from one of the forum gurus that RIM was advising a "Security Wipe" (Options > Security Options > Security Wipe) to fix the problem. Right under that post was a message from a guy saying he'd tried it and App World was back, now where was his data and all his other apps? Here's a pro tip for you: Make certain you backup your data AND your third party apps because a Security Wipe means "delete everything on this BlackBerry and reload the basic software."

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, here's a post I made back in April that will walk you through it step by step. I feel bad for the guy who killed his BlackBerry, but come on! If the phrase "security wipe" doesn't clue you in to the fact that stuff is going to be erased, I don't know what will. But I also want to slap the guru for not including the simple warning to backup everything.

Here's the bottom line. RIM didn't really FIX anything. All they did was tell you to "reformat and reinstall Windows," to borrow a line from our buddies in Redmond. Will it work? Absolutely it will. Do we know what caused the problem in the first place? Not a clue.

Go ahead and update to the x.35 version of App World. It might work fine for you. But know that if your icon disappears, you get to spend an hour (or more, depending on how many apps need to be set up again) reformatting your BlackBerry. Oh, final note, don't worry about pictures, songs, or anything stored on your media card. None of these processes disturb anything on the media card.

Monday, June 7

Is it a matter of time before iBuy an iPad?

Scanning the post dates on this blog tells me one thing definitively. I have more ideas than I have the ability to sit down and write up. I can't begin to tell you, my imaginary reader-friend, how many times I will stop during the day and think "Wow! That would be a great blog post!" And by the time I get to a computer, even if that's just a few minutes later, I can't remember what the heck I was thinking.

Yeah, yeah. The AARP sent me a membership card in the mail this year. So what's your point? About short term memory? Ah, right. I'd forgotten.

Now I carry a very nice smartphone with me, a BlackBerry Tour 9630. With it, I stay on top of email, Twitter, Facebook, and the RSS feeds of my favorite tech news outlets. It's glorious. I can respond to emails, send text messages, tweet, and update my Facebook status. What I can't do, realistically, is create blog posts. Now I HAVE done it at times, but thumb typing is just too slow to do it regularly.

I know what you're thinking. Silly Mark, just buy yourself a netbook! There are two problems with that. The first problem is that netbooks are an endangered species. The price of full-fledged notebook computers are crashing down on the price of netbooks, and tablets like the Apple iPad are thumping them soundly on the portability front. The second problem I have with buying a netbook is that I don't need one for this. What I need is something that is easy to carry with me at almost all times, instant to power up, easy to enter blog posts with, with battery life that lasts all day.

Heaven help me, that sounds like an iPad. No! No! No, I tell you! Not until Steve Jobs gives me whiskey flavored Apple Kool-Aid will I become a zombie.

Someone needs to make a usable, working, ACTUALLY ON SALE Android tablet, and quick!

And that silly 5-inch screen Dell Streak doesn't count. It wishes it were an HTC Evo, if you want to know the truth of the matter.

Oh, man. This could get serious. I'd better get some iTherapy for this iDementia before I whip out an iCredit Card and do something I'll regret in the morning.

Thursday, April 22

A funny thing happened on the way to living the rest of my life.

A Facebook friend of mine who happens to be the daughter of some close friends got me to thinking. She's almost 18, you see, and she's a senior in high school. The last two weeks of school are killing her. She wants to be on to the Next Thing so badly, she almost can't stand it.

Wow. I remember that. I'm going to be 50 years old this year, and I can still remember that feeling as if it was yesterday. Your breath gets a little short, your stomach has this really weird combination of feeling hungry and nauseous at the same time, your skin feels a little bit itchy, and you have to go to the bathroom. Yep, that's it. Nervous anticipation with a super sized side order of impatience.

Some time ago, probably when we moved in to our current house (let's see, that'd be almost 14 years ago), I found a box that contained some notes people had written to me back when I was in college. I don't think I intentionally kept them, and I certainly didn't keep all of them, so whether by ranked importance or random chance, I had a small number of notes that represented about two years in real time.

Almost every single note was from a friend encouraging me to get some rest, and saying how they hoped I get to relax soon. I kid you not, I had to sit down when I read that. I was flat out stunned. You see, from where I am now, I remember college as a time of playing guitar for an entire day, going somewhere just because we felt like it, hanging out with friends (sometimes all night), and just generally one big party.

When I think back on that time, I have almost the exact same physical sensations now, wishing I could go back there, as I remember clearly having back then, wishing I was here.

I've had a truly incredible life. I'm married to someone who has made me a better person, and who has built with me a family that I never hoped or dreamed I could have. I have two children who are smarter, better looking, and more mature than I ever was or pretended to be. I get to do work that I love for people that appreciate it, I'm not rich but we're comfortable. Faith, family, career... It makes me get teary-eyed just to consider what I've been handed.

Yeah, I've had my health problems. Some chronic crap, and oh yes, I got fat somewhere along the way. I sure would've taken better care of myself, if I'd given much thought to how much I was going to need my body as I got older. But that's just the skin I live in, it's not me.

And still, I wish I could go back to 18 again. But, only if I could know then what I know now. Because just to rush through it all again would be pointless. Yet, to slow down, I mean REALLY slow down, and appreciate how wonderful, random, and free it was to be young? That would almost be worth a do-over. Except, of course, that I would have to give up all that I have and am today. And in that little moment of clarity, the longing disappears. What I am today is a product of how life went, and is still going, and I would not change a thing. Not. One. Thing!

So I guess I'll do the next best thing. I'll blast out a blog post to nowhere, on the off chance that no one reads it, and that this nobody is 18, just getting out of high school or just entering college, and they're feeling like time is just draaaaaaaaaggggggging on because they can't wait for what's next. That's who I'm talking to when I say this:

Slow down. Next will get here just as fast if you enjoy Now.

Just breathe, dammit! Take a deep breath and look around. The days you have, right now, are days that you will one day look back on with longing because of how simple and free life was for you then. Please don't live through them in such a way as to wind up with a shoe box full of regret that's shaped like notes.

Wednesday, April 14

Social Beat - An Awesome Free App for BlackBerry!

The upgrade to the 5.0 system software on my BlackBerry Tour 9630 brought with it a new icon on the home screen. It read, simply, "Social Beat." Ever the curious one, I clicked it.

(Now, this is the spot where you pause for a moment, because the app wasn't actually on my phone. Verizon had given me the icon, which would now load the app, and then it would be on my phone. So please just imagine for yourself the time spent watching the progress bar fill. If you'd like music, feel free to hum something catchy. I'll wait.)

After the download, I clicked the icon again with far more satisfying results. Social Beat turns out to be an app that consolidates Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google Talk, and RSS feeds into a single unified stream of information. Now I've seen other social media programs that do this, but I've not yet seen one that also lets me choose from among my favorite tech news sources (Engadget, Gizmodo, and CNET, to name a few).

I find myself leaving the phone in Social Beat almost all the time now, and picking it up to periodically check on things throughout the day. It's Facebook integration is actually faster and smoother than the BlackBerry Facebook app (it doesn't do everything that the FB app does, really it just handles status updates and comments - but that turns out to be all I really care about from Facebook). And I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy feeling as though I'm keeping abreast of the tech news. This is a necessary thing, you see, because I happen to be "The Geek They Know" for a whole bunch of my friends, and they don't take it well when they ask me if I've heard about some new gadget or gizmo and receive a blank stare in return.

Social Beat is from iSkoot. It's completely free. However, at the present time, it runs only on BlackBerry smartphones and exclusively on the Verizon network. Hopefully this will expand soon, so the rest of you can also enjoy keeping up with ... well, everything, in an almost effortless manner.

Monday, April 12

More BlackBerry Shenanigans

Hi there, fictional people in Bloggerland who aren't reading what I write. That's okay, you don't have to be real. I'm pretending you're real in my mind, and it gives me a fluffy, warm feeling in my tummy. That's all one can ask of imaginary, readers, I think.

Today's blog entry is about how not to lose everything on your BlackBerry. Here's the deal: Your BlackBerry comes with some built in apps. Email, contacts, calendar, text messaging, web browser, etc. You will also have a handful of other things that your wireless provider put there for you.

In BlackBerry parlance, those last ones are called "virtual preloads." What THAT means is that you have an icon on your home screen and it looks as though you have an app loaded, but you DON'T, not really. What you DO have is an icon that knows where to go and download the actual app, the first time you click on that icon. Once the app is downloaded and installed, then clicking on the icon starts the actual app. Despite the fact that these apps had icons on your BlackBerry when you first turned it on, they are still third party apps.

But I digress.

To get back on have built in apps on your BlackBerry. And if all that you ever do is use those apps, you don't have to ever back up anything except for your data. Your data is your emails, your text messages, contacts, calendar, and so forth. Backing those up is simple.
  1. Start the Desktop Manager program.
  2. Connect your BlackBerry to your computer with its USB cable.
  3. Once the computer recognizes the BlackBerry and the Desktop Manager software connects with it, select Backup and Restore on the Desktop Manager main menu.
  4. Click on the "Back up" button under the Backup category, and then tell the program what folder it can use to store the backup file. The backup shouldn't take long.
And that's it! Your data is safely backed up. If you've never downloaded a new app to your phone, then you're all done. Go forth, and worry not for thy data!

Oh, but that's NOT all, is it? You still have a few, some, maybe dozens of third party apps that you've downloaded to your BlackBerry. Sure, you could download them all again after a crash, but that requires an awful lot of time, and you might not even recall where certain apps came from. It would be better, would it not, to back up those third party apps? The procedure for this, however, is a bit more convoluted than backing up the data.

One of the things you will need to know, before you get started with this, is what your BlackBerry's PIN is. This is a unique ID that sets your BlackBerry apart from all others. It will become important, in just a minute. To find this PIN, look at the Desktop Manager main menu AFTER your BlackBerry is connected and recognized. You will see "Device connected (PIN):" followed by the model of your BlackBerry and the PIN. Write down that series of letters and numbers, so you can recognize them when you see them again.

Okay, let's get started. For this backup, you must use the Device Switch Wizard. (I'm picturing the mixture of surprise and confusion on your faces right now. It's kinda cool. I wish you could see it from my end. I'd draw a picture, but I suck at art.) There is a solid reason here, though. BlackBerry does not give you a tool for backing up your third party apps, but if you WERE going to switch to another model of BlackBerry, you would want your third party apps to move with you, correct? So the process of switching devices needs to be able to copy third party apps.

Return to the Desktop Manager main menu, if you're not there already. Then choose Device Switch Wizard.
  1. Under "Switch BlackBerry devices," click Start.
  2. Under Options, CLEAR the check mark for "Device data and options," LEAVE the check mark for "Third-party applications," and CLEAR the check mark for "Update the software on my device."
  3. Click Next. The Device Switch Wizard will run, copying all your third party applications.
  4. When it reaches the point where it asks you to connect your new device, STOP.
  5. Click on the Start button and in the "Search programs and files" box, enter %temp% and press Enter. (This assumes you're running Windows. If you're running a Mac, that's great for you, but I don't know how to do this on Mac OS, sorry.)
  6. This should open a folder view of your temporary files folder, no matter where that sucker happens to be. Inside, you should see a folder that is named with your BlackBerry's PIN.
  7. COPY that folder (do NOT move it) to another place on your hard drive. I happen to put mine in my Downloads folder.
  8. This step is important. RENAME the folder that you copied. If you don't, you won't get a complete copy of all third party applications when you do this again in the future.

And that's it. Told you it was more complicated, right?

In the event of a crash now, you will reload your device software in the normal manner. That is, you will click on the Application Loader at the main menu, then click Start under "Update Software." Once that's done, you need to add back your third party applications.

Click Start under "Add / Remove Applications." You'll see some progress bars flash about, and eventually it will stop and show you a list of the applications you can add to or remove from your device. To reload those third party apps, click the Browse... button. Navigate to the backup folder you renamed at the end of the procedure above. In it, you should find a file with a filename matching your BlackBerry's PIN and an extension of ALX. Double click on that file, and you should be returned to the Application Loader screen, where you will now have all your third party applications available for selecting, in addition to those applications that came with the device.

It's not as hard as it might sound. It IS a little tricky to do, but it does work, and it's the only way to protect yourself against losing those third party applications.

Good luck!

The best and the worst things about the Internet

Just a short entry this morning. Something random, a fleeting thought. A gigantic societal NIGHTMARE that won't go, sorry about that. I sort of jumped a bit there, didn't I? My point? YES, I have one. Hang on a second.

So, a Facebook friend invites me to an "event" that is a rally for weight loss. "Okay," I say, "I'm fat, so let's go check this out." Now I've been on every diet known to man, some of them more than once, and I'm curious to see which one this is. There's a link included with the event, pointing us to a report on this new diet that the event organizer is going to follow. The implication, of course, is that you and I should follow it also.

I check out the link for this "report" on the "new diet." What I find there is a web site mocked up closely on US News and World Report, only it's called "US World News." It's the same old acai berry and colon cleanse blah blah blah. If you like reading in the bathroom, go ahead -- that's a GREAT diet for you.

But, what's amazing to me is that almost 20,000 people seemed to be impressed by a web site that is so PLAINLY an advertisement. At the bottom of the page, it has a HUGE disclaimer saying we're not affiliated with any of the news organizations we mention at the top. *sigh*

The great thing about the Internet is, anyone can put up a web site.

The awful thing about the Internet is, yeah...same thing.

Thursday, March 4

How to delete a custom ringtone on your BlackBerry

Why am I blogging about this? One reason is that I know if I write a blog post about it, I will remember THAT even when I forget the details, and I can come here to find the magic information once again. In effect, my blog begins to substitute for my memory. As I'm sneaking up on 50 this year, my short term memory has become increasingly...well, short term. It's in there, and then it's gone like a wisp of smoke.

But that's sort of what the Internet is supposed to be, isn't it? Where we, all of humankind, brain dump everything we know for the benefit of everyone else and so WE don't have to remember things any more.

HOW-ever! The second reason I'm blogging about this is that it drove me nuts for weeks, and I couldn't figure out how to do it from fiddling with my BlackBerry alone. Now, I'm a pretty darn good fiddler, when it comes to geeky technical crap, so if it was making me nuts, I can imagine it's been doing the same to some of you. I decided to search for the answer tonight, and I found it in the forums at If you use a BlackBerry and you don't have that site bookmarked already, then you have missed something wonderful. But that's okay! You can browse there and check it out, just as soon as you're done reading this.

Now, where was I? Yeah...custom ringtones.

At some point, one of my contacts picked up a custom ringtone. No matter what profile I had active, when she called me, the phone would ring. Loudly. With a clang-y bell sound. No problem, I thought, I'll just nip off to my Contacts, edit her entry, and no doubt resolve this little problem in no time flat.

Except that when you Edit a Contact, all you can do is CHANGE their custom ringtone. You can't define whether or not they get one. So where does THAT come from? It turns out to be in the Sounds option.

Pick Sounds (that's the place you change from ringing to vibrate to silent, and so forth). Scroll down to the bottom of the list and you will see an option for "Set Contact Alerts." This is a list of everyone who is activated for a custom alert, which you can so efficiently change through their Contact entry, but HERE you get to determine who's a special snowflake and who is not.

So I selected Set Contact Alerts and, lo and behold! There she was. I highlighted her name, pressed my BlackBerry Menu key, and picked Delete. After confirming the deletion, things were exactly how I wanted them.

Now, when my friend calls me, it'll play the same stupid music that sounds like the theme song from an 80s action TV show (think: Magnum P.I.) as it does when everyone else calls me. My kids will try to stop you from asking me what the music is, because they cringe every time I say "it's the theme song for Action Dad!"

Don't tell them this, but I live for those moments. You see, someday I'm going to be dead and gone, and my kids won't remember all the times I got phone calls in their presence. They will, however, smile and laugh with each other when they reminisce about their dad's stupid ringtone music.

And as long as the memories of me make them smile, then my work was done well. That's a long way from removing a custom ringtone on a BlackBerry, I admit. And I'm sorry if I dragged you somewhere you didn't want to go. But that's ALSO the nature of a blog. It's my mind, and what's in it. I sit here and I write, and you get to see a small part of what I am with each post.

Now you know I'm a geek AND a dad, and the latter is more important to me. My tech gadgets don't influence why I do things, or really even what things I choose to do in the first place. I find tech that makes my life easier.

But I make decisions that change my life, for the sake of my kids.

Verizon Wireless and the BlackBerry Tour 9630, Part II

Sometimes, you rant. That's what I keep telling myself, every time I rant.

Anyway, before I can move on to other topics, I need to post the second part to this whole "Error 552" issue and clear up something regarding Verizon Wireless.

First, Verizon. In my previous blog post, I took Verizon Wireless to task for two reasons. First, I criticized them for not knowing how to fix my BlackBerry error, and dogmatically insisting they had to send me a new phone because "an Error 552 can't be fixed." On this count, they're still, misinformed.

The second thing I was fuming about was their policy that the contract I had with them wasn't just for ME and my money, it was for my lines. Any attempt to move any line to another provider, even though I was willing to leave my contract untouched otherwise and pay the full amount, was considered an early termination of the contract and thus subject to heavy fees.

Dave Graveline told me that, while he understood how that seemed unfair to me, Verizon Wireless' policy here was essentially the same as every other wireless provider. All of them lock you up by controlling your number, because they know that your number is what you care about. If they let you move it, even if you "promise" to keep paying for the contract, once your number is out the door they have no leverage on you.

Subsequently, I noticed that Verizon Wireless TV ads were including the fact that the contract is with the LINE in their small print. I suppose, given that they are disclosing this, and given that every other wireless service provider has the same draconian policy, I have to agree that Verizon Wireless is NOT the devil, and if you want to do business with them, they are no worse than anyone else.

I do, however, still believe the practice stinks. I just can't criticize them, if no one else is any different.

Now, on to the matter of the BlackBerry Tour 9630.

Here, I have some good news. After digging around a bit in the RIM support documents, I found a page that said the Error 552 crashes had been escalated to a higher priority and a fix was anticipated soon. On some BlackBerry fan sites, I saw messages hinting that version of the operating system would fix the 552s.

For some time, we'd heard from people running the 5.x OS that the problem was fixed there, but if your carrier hasn't upgraded your model to 5.x and you're still stuck on a 4.x OS, there is little you can do. Sure, I know you can get a "leaked" copy of the newer operating system and modify the installation files so it will install on any BlackBerry model from any carrier, but I don't want to swim TOO far out of the shark cage.

On the same fan sites, I saw a method for fixing the Error 552 condition. You see, the reason Verizon Wireless can't fix it is that the phone won't boot up. Since it won't boot up, they can't connect to it with Desktop Manager to reload the system software. And that's as far as their techs would go. But it turns out that the "fix" for this is INCREDIBLY simple. Just remove the battery.

Yes, that's it. Just remove the battery. Then open the Desktop Manager on your PC and connect the USB cable. The BlackBerry won't even try to boot ( has no battery! hurr, hurr). But it WILL connect with Desktop Manager using the power from the USB cable. At that point, it's a relatively simple matter to reload the system software. There is one important tip, however. Once the system files begin to install to your phone, you must carefully put the battery back in. Don't bother with putting the cover back on until later, and do NOT do ANYTHING that disconnects the USB cable. If you fail to put the battery back in, or you disconnect the cable, you'll get to start this process over. Once the system software has loaded, the phone will reboot (that's why the battery had to be replaced!). After booting, it will connect with the Desktop Manager again and complete the process.

This, of course, wipes your BlackBerry. If you have a backup, you're okay. And even you don't, you should be syncing your BlackBerry with SOMETHING (I use Google Sync to sync with my Google Contacts and Calendar), so it's quick enough to recover that data. Having to install your third party apps again is a bit of a pain, but BlackBerry App World keeps track of the ones you've bought through them, making it easy to recover them. Any of the apps that were free...are still free. Download them again.

Between the time that I had my meltdown with Verizon Wireless and the time that magically appeared for download, I "bricked" my BlackBerry Tour 9630 with Error 552 on two occasions. Both times, I used this technique to recover and it worked perfectly. When it happened for the second time, Desktop Manager told me there was an update for my operating system. It was the magic version. I downloaded it, of course, and installed it on the phone.

Since that time, not a single error. No 552s, no 503s...nothing. The phone has been completely stable. So, I have to take back where I called the BlackBerry Tour 9630 "broken, a bad design, and a piece of crap." Yes, a LOT of them have defective trackballs. If yours does, keep taking it back until you get one that's fixed. Now that I have one that works properly, I am kicking myself for tolerating a bad one for those months that I did. And, yes, there was something about the Tour 9630 that made this Error 552 crash happen more often than it did with other models. Perhaps it was the extra memory? I don't know. But it seems that the problem is gone for good.

And if it's not, then I know how to fix it.

The question is, why don't the techs at Verizon Wireless?

Monday, January 25

Verizon Wireless and the BlackBerry Tour 9630

Last August, I bought a BlackBerry Curve 8330 for my wife. She's an attorney and their addiction to BlackBerry phones is the stuff of legend. Because my Palm Treo 700p was getting long in the tooth, I decided that I ought to get a BlackBerry as well.

I chose the BlackBerry Tour 9630. It was smaller than the Curve, had a sharper screen, a higher resolution camera, and more memory. It is also a defective phone. I don't mean MY phone is defective, I mean it's a defective design. It's bad, it's broken, it's crap.

Six weeks after buying the Tour, it turned into a brick with "Error 552" on the screen, telling me to reload the software. Which is impossible, given that the phone won't boot or connect to your computer. So I went back to the Verizon store. There, a helpful tech said she knew a way to fix it. She slipped into the back for a while and returned with the phone working again.

By this time, I'd also begun having problems with the trackball. Vertical movement was fine, but horizontal movement was sticky. Often you couldn't move the cursor left or right at all. (If you want to have some fun, just Google "BlackBerry Tour trackball error 552" and see how many complaints you find. Not hundreds, but THOUSANDS. It's an epidemic.)

In December, about six weeks after the Error 552 crash, my phone did it again. Same error, same result. The phone won't boot and your BlackBerry is now BrickBerry. So back to Verizon I go, again. This time I complained about the trackball also. I'm told at the store that you can't fix an Error 552, you have to get a new phone. Since my trackball sucks, I'm happy to hear this.

Verizon overnights me a new phone. I move the battery and media card from my old phone to the new one, and I'm back in business. (I have to note that what's irritating about this is how Verizon sends you a phone, makes you do the work swapping parts, and gives you 10 days to get the old phone back to them or they'll charge you for a second phone. That's right, the phone they sold you broke, and now YOU have to do the work and do it quickly or they charge you hundreds for a new phone.)

Which brings us to today, about six weeks after the last crash. Once again, my phone stops with an Error 552. Yes, the new one. It's a brick, again. So back to Verizon I go. This time, I want a different phone. Another model BlackBerry, a Droid, it doesn't matter. I just don't want a Tour any more. Verizon's answer was that they'll overnight me another Tour. That's it. That's all they will do. I told them this was happening every six weeks, but because the first visit occurred "off the record," with the tech girl fixing it in the back room, they only show one visit from me thus far. They won't even CONSIDER helping me switch to a different phone until they've had to replace this one three times in 90 days. (Let that be a lesson to you. When someone offers to do something special for you, say no. You want all support calls and visits to be in their computer. You shouldn't let Verizon do anything for you without a paper trail.)

So I've had enough. I tell the girl I want to cancel the data plan associated with my BlackBerry and I'm going to port my number over to AT&T, and buy an iPhone. That's when I'm told that Verizon's contract is with the LINE, not the PERSON, and if I move my number I will be breaking my contract and subject to a $150 early termination fee. I'm sure that's in the fine print that I signed, but do YOU ever read all that crap? No, I didn't think so.

What's the moral of this story? Two things.

First, do NOT buy a BlackBerry Tour 9630. That model is a bad design. I can't speak to other BlackBerry models, but the Tour is crap. Bad trackballs and Error 552 crashes are common. If you already have a Tour and it's working well for you, consider yourself lucky and do NOT fill it up with apps. (Running a large number of apps on the phone appears to be what triggers Error 552.)

Second, and I can't believe I'm saying this, do NOT do business with Verizon Wireless. If you pick a bad model of phone, and I don't mean a bad phone - I mean a bad MODEL, they will do nothing to help you get into a better one. All they will do is overnight you a new phone. And, for what it's worth, they treat you like you've somehow mistreated the phone. Even though it's a software error, and my phone looked absolutely untouched, somehow it's my fault.

And then, when you've had enough of their "un-support" (let's coin a new phrase here!), you find out that you can't even take your number elsewhere without breaking your contract and being hit with a large fee. Even though you're NOT trying to cancel the entire contract and you will leave the rest of your lines in place, taking a number away from Verizon is "breaking your contract."

Bad phone, bad service. Learn from my hard lessons and avoid them both. Someone ask Verizon if they have a map for THAT, eh?