Monday, November 26, 2007

SSC #46 What to watch

by Jeff Smith

    As you may or may not be aware, the Writers Guild is on strike claiming that the big media companies are not fairly compensating them for their work.  Personally I side with the Writers, but I'm not an expert on it.
    Be that as it may, today while I write this (Nov 26) the Writers Guild is purportedly meeting with the media execs to open up communications about ending the strike.  By the time this article hits print, it may be over.  Or it may not.
    If it doesn't end soon the majority of today's best TV shows will be entering re-run holding patterns indefinitely.  The TV corporations had enough shows already in production at the time of the strike to last until January, for the most part.  After that, its reruns and filler.  In other words, prepare for a non-stop parade of reality TV.  Ugh.  Just shoot me now.
     This is a big concern for the media companies because they know that a lot of viewers will turn to other activities, and without the big viewer numbers, they can't charge for advertising what they normally would.  Losing this kind of money, the media companies will eventually fold, they pretty much have to (its not like they have any creative talent themselves)... the question is how long will it take?
    A while back I wrote an article about streaming TV shows to your PC, which you can find by going to the following page  (I used to shorten the really long web address to something that wasn't so hard to type in)
    But since I'm ever on guard for things to talk to you about, dear reader, I've come up with a few more websites that weren't included in that article. 

    Miro - (Win, Lin, Mac) This is a new and open source (yay!) media player that has more content on it than any of the other net video players.  Its a little more involved to set up as you have to subscribe to some of the channels before you see all the available content, but with a little perseverance you'll find plenty of stuff to hold you over until the writers get back to working on Heroes.
    Hulu - (in browser) Hulu is the new website brought to you by joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corporation (try not to hold Fox News against them).  This site boasts high quality streams of today's top shows.  The only problem I see is that unless they also have yesterday's top shows, they're going to run out of em just like regular TV when the fallout from the Writers strike hits.  Hulu is in beta stage right now, you have to sign up and wait for them to invite you into it.

    Sidereel - (website) Sidereel is by far my favorite new TV show hotspot.  On this one site they have all the info on your favorite shows, and if they don't have it, you can add it in yourself because it is user-editable.  They also have links to stream individual episodes of your favorite shows from other websites.  They don't host the video themselves, instead they are a hub from which you can find info about cool shows you may have missed in the past week, year, or decade and then go watch them.

    While you may not be able to watch your favorite characters get into and out of precarious situations, that doesn't mean you have nothing to watch.  From the beginnings of TV to present, there is currently enough television programming out there that you could watch something different every waking moment of your life and not run out of shows.
    On second thought, thats kind of depressing.  Go ride a bike.

phone: (606) 219 - 4088


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Thursday, November 15, 2007

SSC #45 Talk Talk Talk

by Jeff Smith

    So you don't type so well.  By the time you've hunt-pecked out "Hi there, loong tim no see!" the other party has done given you a 3 page description of their entire workweek.  What to do, what to do...  Oh yes, VOICE CHAT!
    You may not know it, but your computer can save you a lot of money on your long distance phone bill.  If the people you talk to most also have a computer, you can even talk for free!   I'm not talking about a free twenty minute phone call, or only at certain times on certain days, I'm talking about 24/7 FREE, 365 days a year!

    In this article, I'll just hit the high spots.

    Skype - (Winows, Linux, Mac) Skype is about the most popular net-phone software out there.  With it you can make free PC-to-PC phone calls and video calls (note, no video calls for Linux version... yet).  You can purchase handsets that look and work just like a regular phone.  If you want to set up an account with them, you can make really cheap calls from your PC to a regular phone line (they may have prepaid cards, I'm not sure).  You can purchase the official Skype brand phones at places like Walmart... I saw some last time I was in Somerset.

    Gizmo - (Windows, Linux, Mac) This is the one that I use myself.  Gizmo does not do video calls like Skype does, but Gizmo integrates seemlessly with which is  fascinating new project recently purchased by Google.  Using these two together, I have one number that will ring my house phone, my cell phone, and my laptop (running Gizmo) and I can pick up that call on any one of them, as well as transfer it between them... even during a call.  This allows me to be hyper-available and never miss an important phone call.  And if I do miss one, it goes to a unified voicemail box and will even email me notice that I have a voicemail.  And I can listen to it online... Way Cool, no?  Whats more, there's a button on my weblog that will connect a call from you to my GrandCental number automagically!
    I'll be switching my business advertisement to my Grandcentral number as soon as I've drawn up the new ads.  GrandCentral is via invite only, meaning you have to be invited into it by a current user.  I've got a few invites left, so if you're really interested in it, drop me a line and I'll invite you.

    Ekiga Softphone - (Windows, Linux) This one is full of features, but isn't for those of you who are easily intimidated.  This net-phone allows you to make free PC-to-PC voice and video calls, EVEN ON LINUX!  It can make calls to regular phones, but it takes some setting up.  Its installed by default on Ubuntu Linux and its completely open-source.   From the website -- "Ekiga is compatible with any software, device or router supporting SIP or H.323. It includes SwissVoice, CISCO, SNOM, ... IP Phones, but also software like Windows Messenger, Netmeeting, SJPhone, Eyebeam, X-Lite, ... or also the Asterisk popular IPBX, as well as any other commercial or Open Source IPBX. Ekiga is not compatible with Skype and will never be as long as their protocol will stay proprietary."

    As more and more people move to net-based phones, long distance bills may eventually become a thing of the past.  These programs provide a real and inexpensive way to communicate with the people you need to talk to.  While some of you may feel intimidated, keep in mind that they have the potential to save you lots of money.  And with the cost of communications no longer a barrier between you and your loved ones, you may just find you keep in touch a lot more often.

    Keep in mind that these are just some of the available programs.  There is a lot of internet phone software out there, so if you want a more comprehensive list, just point your browser to

Next week:  Have you heard about the Hollywood Writer's Guild strike?   I'll be talking about how to find online enterainment when your favorite shows go into indefinate re-run holding patterns.  Yay.

phone: (606) - 219 4088  (not after 8pm please)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

SSC #44 Chat it up!

by Jeff Smith

    Often, one of the first joys a new computer user finds is chatting with friends and family across the internet.  Some of you may have purchased your computer explicitly for this purpose.  All in all, its a great way to keep in touch with loved ones, without raising your long-distance phone bill.
    But one problem you often run into is that not everyone you want to chat with uses the same chat network.  Your sister may be on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), your brother on Windows Live Messenger (MSN).  Still further, your old collegiate chum may use Yahoo. 
    To talk to all of these people, you'd think you would need to download the chat program for each network and install them.  But there you would be mistaken. 

Enter the Multi-Messengers
    A multi-messenger is one program that connects to multiple chat networks.  There are a few of them out there, such as Trillian, Qnext, and my own personal favorite, Pidgin.
    I began my use of multi-messengers with Trillian, ( which had both a trial version and a pro version.  Trillian connects to 5 chat networks including the big 4 (AOL, MSN, YAHOO, ICQ) and adds in the granddaddy of chat networks, IRC (Internet Relay Chat).  It has a skinnable interface (meaning you can change how it looks) and has a system of plugins that lets you add extra features.
    Its a very nice program with lots of features for power users, but honestly, why pay for software when a free program is just as good or better?
    When facing a choice of upgrading to a newer version of Trillian, (and paying for it again), I took a chance and tried out Qnext. (  Qnext is free.  Qnext connects to all the same networks as Trillian, as well as its own Qnext chat network.  It also does file transfers of unlimited size which is great for when you've left something on the PC at home that you need at work.  Qnext runs on JAVA, which basically means that it works for just about any operating system that has java.  You can use it on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux, and it'll look and work the same.  For Windows users, it also lets you control your PC from just about anywhere in the world that has internet access.  Very very handy.  It is kind of big, though, because along with Qnext itself, JAVA is also loaded in your RAM at the same time, and on an older computer, this can really slow things down.
    I used Qnext for quite a while, but when I moved to using Ubuntu Linux, I learned of a program called GAIM.   GAIM started out as a Linux version of AOL's program AIM, but it just kept growing.  After being faced with some legal issues from AOL over the similarity of the project's name, they changed the name of the program to Pidgin.    
    Pidgin ( is free and open source.  It runs on both Windows and Linux, and it comes installed by default on Ubuntu Linux.
Pidgin can connect to all of the following networks: AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo, and Zephyr.  Whew!  16 chat networks with one program, I think we have a winner here!
    Keep in mind that with any of these multi-messengers you have to set up accounts for each network that you wish to connect to.  Also, multi-messengers often do not have the full functionality of the individual clients for each network.  Namely, with multi-messengers, you cannot voice chat, or use Yahoo Audibles for instance... stuff like that.  What you get is basic chat functionality.  But you will be able to be visible on all of these networks using one program, which is WAY easier on your computer's hardware. 
    So if you've got friends chatting all over the place, use a multi-messenger to gather them all together in one manageable window.

Next time, I'll be talking about voice chat, VOIP internet phones, and Skype!  Talk to you later!

chat: straightshootincomputin on the Yahoo network

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Monday, November 5, 2007

SSC #43 Wireless Health Concerns

by Jeff Smith

    All day, every day, we are surrounded by and bombarded with radio waves.  More things emit radio waves than you can probably think. 
    Right now there is a lot of controversy surrounding WiFi (wireless internet) usage, and its associated health risks.
    In one camp, there are those who think that it can cause cancer, disrupt a good nights sleep, or just plain degrades general health.  In the other are all of the scientists who, so far, have found no evidence that it is harmful at all.
    Radio frequency waves are part of a larger spectrum of radiation that goes all the way from X-rays, which are definitely harmful, through the infrared spectrum, (thats infra-red to some of you, you know who you are) which is known to cause skins cancer, on down into the radio spectrum which is used for just about everything wireless these days.
    Believe it or not, whether you are a WiFi user or not, you're most likely being bathed in radio waves right now as you read this.  Wanna check?  Turn on the radio... if you hear music, thats radio waves at work.  Turn on the TV, do you get a station?  No? thats just because you live in Russell County.  But if you DO get a station, then that is also a sign of radio waves at work.   Here's a good one, look at your cell phone and see if you have any bars.  If you can call someone with it, again, thats radio frequency radiation. 
    Just because you turn off the radio, the TV, or switch off your phone doesn't mean they go away.  They're always there, unseen, waiting to be received.  The little keychain that you use to unlock your car? Radio waves.  The power lines to your house emit radio waves.  Your indoor cordless phone? Radio waves again.  Baby Monitor? Garage door opener? Satellite TV? CB radio?  Radio waves, radio waves radio waves!  Remote for the TV? Well, thats most likely infrared (infra-red) but thats worse than radio waves (skin cancer, remember?). 
    You get the picture.  If you are concerned about your WiFi, why don't these things bother you as well?
    The short and skinny is that there is no conclusive evidence that radio waves cause the sort of problems that people are claiming.  And theres a lot we don't know about it.  I'm not going to tell you that it is safe, because I can't.  We just don't know. 
    But even if you go out into the wilderness, with not a man-made device in sight, there are still radio waves coming down from from space... Apparently, ET wants to phone home.  Actually, spaceborne radiowaves are emitted from the stars themselves.  Or you can consider the brightest emitter of radio waves in the sky... the sun.
    There is a company that makes WiFi-resistant paint, that you can use to block radio waves from entering your house.  I've heard that it works, but I advise against using it unless you own your own home and you're absolutely sure that its WiFi thats causing you problems.  I'd be really mad to move in somewhere and find that previous tenants had slathered that stuff all over and that none of my gear would work.
    If you're interested, you can find this anti-WiFi paint at

Until next week, stay safe and try not to cook yourselves.



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