The View from Landmark

Trends and issues in personal computing from Bud Stolker, a long-time PC consultant. The View from Landmark features tips and techniques to make time spent with your computer more productive and rewarding, commentary on new personal computer policies and trends, plain-English explanations of new hardware, software, and network designs and their relevance to you, and answers to common questions. There may be personal material interspersed if Bud believes it is of general interest.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A visit from the master

Ed Stolker in tuxTomorrow night at this time Dad will be in town for a special visit.

If you've been a Landmark client for a few years you may remember him. Chances are he built that Landmark 286 or 386 computer you have stashed in the attic. For a while he was the primary custom builder of our PCs.

More recently he helped build a temporary shop for us at Landmark. Before that he helped build our facility at Ameri-Tech Concepts (from whom we separated last year).

Dad knows things. He understands electricity and sheet metal and power tools and plumbing and internal combustion. He has all the artisan skills that sometimes skip a generation. And he's got all the answers to my questions -- usually the right ones.

You might say he's my personal Google.

Ed Stolker, Los Angeles Police DepartmentDad's current claim to fame is as Los Angeles' oldest police officer (84 years of age). In October he'll be named Reserve Officer of the Year for rough, tough Van Nuys, his home district of 30 square miles with over 325,000 residents.

That would be an exceptional achievement for anyone else, but for Dad it's about par. When he joined the LAPD in his late 70s -- without fudging the rigorous physical exam -- it was just his latest career move. This guy has credentials as a Naval shipfitter (he helped build the battleship Wisconsin, Army intelligence officer, refinery instrument mechanic, home escalator installer, nuclear plant engineer, and several other occupations.

His colorful life has included . . .
-- riding atop a coal delivery truck as a kid because he didn't have trolley fare,
-- lugging around a machine gun (and being shot at) in Germany in WWII,
-- owning a butcher shop near a Gypsy encampment in the Philadelphia swampland,
-- joining Mensa because he "felt like it", and
-- raising a couple of sons whose skills, though not insubstantial, pale next to his.

He has survived it all with grace, and without noticeable wear. As he travels east to see his newest two great-grandchildren, I salute him.

Though in the photo he's taken his hat off, it's my hat that's off as always to Ed Stolker. He makes me proud to be named Ed Stolker, Jr.

Ed and Bud Stolker in Venice, California

Thursday, August 26, 2004

You call this a managed network?

One of my clients -- a great guy -- is kind of a poster boy for how not to administer a network.

I knew he was in trouble when I surfed to his company's Web page and found it had become a porn site. His technology guru let the Web site registration lapse, and a speculator picked it up. It's now for sale for $500 by a no-name sleazeball in Florida (phone number 999-999-9999). My client was actually using a different domain name for his Web site and never noticed that the Web name he was using and the Web name he was publicizing didn't match.

Just about the time he called me in to clean up his network, the employee who was administering his network quit. History may be repeating itself: the former net admin is the listed contact for the company's current Web site. If he decides to hold that Web site hostage he can do it -- maybe not forever, but long enough to aggravate all concerned.

That same former network admin, who no longer returns phone calls, left his PC running but locked. No one knows the password. I was able to crack into the computer (yes, you can break password protection on Windows 2000 and XP servers with a simple floppy disk), but it's scary that we might have had to nuke the administrator's PC and start over without prior knowledge of how it worked and what he was working on.

There's more. It takes 2-3 minutes for a user to log onto the server. Maybe that's because it's running Windows 2003 Server in 128 Megabytes of RAM! Many basic home computers have four times that much memory. The 8 Gigabyte hard drive is maxed out, too.

One wonders how the network admin was spending his time.

I tried to open the server to upgrade memory but found it's locked. No key available. Okay, no sweat, I probably have a key that works, but are you getting the picture?

There's more. Users are flickering on and off the network. The Internet feed is unreliable. There's a tangle of unlabeled wires leading to the primary network switch (a multiport connector box). The switch is bolted to the leg of a lab bench, just begging to be kicked by the PC user sitting there. At the far end of some of those connections, the Ethernet cable comes right out of a hole in the wall. It's not punched down to the back of a wall socket. Put a kink in the wire, and you can't just replace a patch cable. You've got trouble, my friend, yes trouble right here in River City.

But I digress. There's a point here begging to be made:

Take care of your network; it's a primary business asset. Make sure you, the business owner, own what you need to own (in this case the rights to your Web site). Don't use a staffer's kid to string network cable if you want it to work reliably. Make sure everything is documented and labeled. And don't give away the keys to your kingdom -- or your server.

Hey, it's late and I'm tired after chasing wires all evening. I could go on, but not tonight.

A word or two to the wise . . .

. . . and a mention of our newest service, Domains by Landmark. Not only can you register and renew domain names at competitive rates, you can lock the registration and set it up for automatic renewal. That ensures you won't find one of your most precious business assets -- your Web name -- ripped off. If you're a dot-com, make sure you reserve similar Web names, too: dot-net, dot-org, dot-biz, dot-us, dot-name -- before someone else grabs them!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Publishing digital photos easily

I've found an outstanding tool for creating Web photo albums. It's a freeware program named JAlbum by a generous fellow named David Ekholm. JAlbum reads all the photos in a folder, compresses and reformats each one to a size of your choice, creates matching thumbnails*, then generates a sequence of Web pages using the thumbnails as an index to the larger pictures. Click on any thumbnail and a slide show revs up automatically. You can select from a variety of skins**, configuring the look and feel of each Web page to an astonishing degree.

Here's a sample album I created for a family reunion. The original photos were about 1.4 Megabytes each. JAlbum compressed them to less than 50K each for fast loading. JAlbum is a Java-based program, so it runs on Windows, Macintosh OS X, Linux, Solaris, AIX, OS/2, eComStation -- any platform that supports Java 1.3. I could go on about this program, but just read the feature list for yourself, download this gem, and get started on those online photo albums!

PS -- No spyware comes bundled with JAlbum; it's an utter gift. My hat is off to Mr. Eckholm. Such a deal!

* A small image representing a much larger one.
** An alternative graphical interface. A skin customizes the look of the program without affecting its functionality.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

What browser should I use?

See update 3-11-2005 at bottom of this entry for updates on Firefox and Mozilla.

Here's an interesting graphic from Re_Invigorate Propaganda, a site I wandered upon this morning. The font is so small and dark that I wonder how anyone can read it. Probably done on a Macintosh! The solid colors look ratty because I lightened up the whole image a bit after doing a screen grab.

It shows the most popular Web browsers and the most popular operating systems -- allegedly in real time. I don't think so, given that the latest Netscape listed is Version 5!

Look at the stats on Internet Explorer: in use by 90% of the market. A client who doesn't like the Microsoft browser called yesterday asking what's his next step forward from Netscape 4.76. Should he upgrade to the Netscape 7.2 Web browser and email program? (He's still using Windows 98.)

No, I said. New versions of Netscape are slow and burdened with ugly graphics and technical difficulties (which I won't go into here). I suggested Mozilla as a free alternative. Mozilla isn't even listed on this chart, but the chart has got to be a couple of years out of date. The new Mozilla is supposed to be fast and unburdened with the Netscape legacy.

Other choices are Opera ($39) and Firefox (also by the Mozilla people --fast, free, and capable).

Update 3-11-2005: The scene has changed considerably since August 2004 when I first published this entry. Today's top browser choice for those in the know, hands down, is Firefox. It's been downloaded 27 million times and is on its way to displacing Internet Explorer at the top of the heap. The Mozilla Foundation is calling it quits with Mozilla because Firefox and its email companion, Thunderbird, are proving so popular.

The last release of Mozilla will be Version 1.7.

Monday, August 23, 2004

First posting

I'm looking for an easy way to keep The View from Landmark up to date. Putting together each issue of The View requires several html pages: one for the overall "container" and one for each article. Then I have to publish a version for email and one for the Web.

It's a lot of work.

My hope is that blogging will simplify the publishing process so that I can get on with the business of writing. There's lots of information I want to share with Landmark clients and other readers.

Blogger is a free Google product. While not the most sophisticated of the many blogging programs available, it's all I need for now. Using it ensures that these pages will be indexed by Google.

I like the fact that I can go back later and update any posting without changing the original date stamp. (Posted 2 days later.)

Eventually I may step up to something like Movable Type -- free for personal use, licensed for business use. Powerful stuff.