Security Reminder

The internet can be a dangerous place.
Although one’s primary defense against internet badness should, like in the? real world, be ones own brain, that is often inadequate due to the cleverness of malware out there. Even so, be smart, stay away from shady websites, and don’t engage in shady behavior.
If you don’t have anti-virus/anti-malware software, particularly if you’re using Windows, please install some. The free Microsoft Security Essentials is an excellent choice and I highly encourage its use. Also, ensure that your automatic updates feature is enabled.
This post is brought to you by the people who get viruses due to their own irresponsibility and then come crying to Yahoo! Answers Computer-Security forum for help and ignore the dozens of previous posts about the identical issue and then post a new question.

How to Handle Copyright

We’re all familiar with the heavy-handed tactics of the music recording studios — suing people for hundreds of thousands of dollars for having downloaded a few songs off the internet.
Fortunately, it appears that at least some of them have gotten the memo that (a) the internet exists, (b) their content can be, for better or worse, easily distributed and copied on the internet and (c) suing people only alienates their customers.
Take, for example, this video:

Several years ago, I managed to find a WMV-encoded video of a bunch of people having fun shooting machine guns in Roanoka, VA. The video happened to have an audio track of “Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band. I didn’t create the video, but figured that others might want to see it, so I uploaded it to YouTube. Since then, about 280,000 people have viewed it. Cool.
Rather than suing me for a video that had a copyrighted piece of music, BMG and YouTube have instead put a small, closable ad on the bottom of the video that allows one to purchase the song at iTunes or Amazon. Not a huge intrusion, and it makes them — in my view — look a lot better than if they had issued a DMCA complaint, taken the video down, or sued me.
I trust that other recording studios will follow in BMGs footsteps and recognize that essentially nobody makes money from YouTube videos, but that they (the recording studio) could use the popularity of some videos to promote their works. Win-win for everyone.

Google Voice for the Military

As many of you may know, Google Voice is available on an invite-only basis. Unfortunately, it can take some time to receive one’s invite after one signs up.
For military members ((Verified by means of one’s .mil address.)), however, Google Voice is available within a day of requesting an invite. This is fantastic for deployed soldiers, as people can leave voicemails and texts for the soldier, something that’s a bit difficult with the existing phone systems on base. As a US number, callers to one’s Google Voice number only have to pay normal domestic phone rates.
While voicemails and text messages are no substitute for a live phone call (which, in turn, is no substitute for face-to-face interactions), it’s better than nothing.
My hearty compliments to Google for recognizing this need and doing something about it.

Cell Service

My contract with Verizon Wireless runs out in November, so I’m scouting out other providers. (I do this regularly with all services I use just to ensure I’m still getting a good deal.)
The only problem I’m finding is that even though Verizon does the occasional thing to annoy me, my service with them has been nearly perfect. I find no compelling reason to switch for just basic phone service (and I can’t afford an iPhone or BlackBerry), especially when my two-year-old Motorola W385 phone keeps chugging away with no problems other than a 9-12 month battery life (and since I can get replacement batteries for $5 including shipping, this isn’t a big deal).
Now, if only Jack Bauer’s cell company offered service to the public, I’d switch in a heartbeat. That guy’s phone seems to work everywhere, whether on an airplane, in an underground bunker, or in the middle of the bloody woods.

Electronics Repair

Knowing how to repair things is one of the more important tools a prepared person can have. While increased miniaturization and performance of electronics has resulted in many devices being cheaper to replace rather than repair, there’s quite a few things which one can do to keep ones electronics in top shape while also saving a bunch of money.
Take, for example, my Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS unit. It’s served me well over the last three years, though after enduring a blazing Arizona summer (or two), the internal lithium-ion battery was no longer able to hold a charge.
Garmin wanted $150 for an out-of-warranty replacement of the battery, which I thought was a bit hefty, so I did a bit of research online. It turns out that the battery was an “18650” lithium-ion battery, which is available at a number of retailers, including the local BatteriesPlus store. Fortunately, the local shop also had a model (PDA-210LI) of the battery which included the necessary plug to fit the circuit board of the GPS unit. While it was a bit pricier than the bare battery, it made life quite a bit easier.
Installation was rather easy: I simply needed to de-solder where the wires from the original plug (which was permanently connected to the battery) connected to the internal speakers and solder the speaker wires from the new plug to those same points. After that, it was a trivial matter of plugging the battery in and closing everything up. The battery charged up as expected and runs the GPS just fine.
This particular problem was quite simple and required only the most basic knowledge of soldering, but it ended up saving me $120. Oftentimes problems found with electronic devices are fairly simple (blown fuses, dead batteries, worn-out wire, etc.) and can be repaired using inexpensive, off-the-shelf tools (e.g. a soldering iron) and basic knowledge.
In addition to saving money, knowledge of basic electronics (and their repair) can be quite fun.

Starting Anew

For all its flaws and quirks, there’s still something immensely satisfying about a fresh Windows XP installation (( Particularly one that’s going to be used to play old (pre-2005) video games that don’t run well under GNU/Linux or Vista. )).
Next time I need to reinstall Windows on this old PC, I should see about just making an image of the installation when it’s still fresh so that I don’t need to go through the lengthy installation process. Oh well.

Some New Goodies

While yesterday was BAG Day, between paying off a little bit of debt and putting money away for the wedding, money’s been tight, so no new guns for me.
However, I did put a little bit away for the last month or so that I ended up using on Tuesday: my laptop needed a new battery, so I replaced the standard 6-cell battery with the extended 9-cell battery. My old battery had enough juice to run my laptop on the “Dell Recommended” power settings at low usage (typing, web browsing, etc.) for a bit more than an hour. The new battery has a >5 hour capacity, which is nice.
Additionally, I picked up a few electronic goodies at RadioShack (( Yeah, I know they’re not really the highest-quality stuff, but the stores are ubiquitous and reasonably priced. )) : an auto-ranging multimeter, some test leads, a breadboard, some jumper wires, and a few little electronic components — I’ll need it for some projects, both around the house and at the lab. My philosophy on electronics is the same as my philosophy on tools: if you buy and keep the tools required for a specific job, over the course of several jobs you’ll end up with a pretty well-stocked toolchest.
Of course, I’ve been using the multimeter to measure various electrical properties of things around my house. For example, I have a hand-to-hand resistance of about 1.7 MOmega, and I can work up a 1V potential between the leads if I rub one vigorously on the leg of my jeans ((Yes, I use my pants for science. What of it? )). More geekery as I get it.