12 Things Made Obsolete This Decade

We're entering 2010 with all kinds of new gadgets, gizmos, and tech tools, but let's not forget that we've lost a few things this decade, too.

HuffPostTech took a look back at 12 things that became obsolete this decade.

From fax machines to landline phones check them out (and get nostalgic) in the slideshow below!

We'll start with the YellowPages..


Adding an authorized user to your Google Analytics account

A quick video on how to add SmartBox as an authorized user on your Google Analytics account so we can view and manipulate your data as required. 

Each American Consumed 34 Gigabytes Per Day In '08

Metrics can get really strange — especially on the scale of national consumption. Information consumption is one such area that has a lot of strange metrics to offer. A new report from the University of California, San Diego entitled 'How Much Information?' reveals that in 2008 your average American consumed 34 gigabytes per day. These values are entirely estimates of the flows of data delivered to consumers as bytes, words and hours of consumer information. 

From the executive summary: 'In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes. These estimates are from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included.' Has the flow and importance of information really become this prolific in our daily lives?

Failure Rate Study in Netbooks and Notebooks

Netbooks are more likely to fail within the first year than their more expensive laptop brethren, according to new research. SquareTrade, an independent US warranty provider, analyzed the failure rates of more than 30,000 laptops covered by its own warranties. It found that 5.8% of netbooks malfunctioned within the first year, compared to 4.7% for regular laptops and 4.2% for premium laptops costing more than $1,000. The research also raises question marks over the legendary reliability of Macs. 

Three PC manufacturers — Asus, Toshiba, and Sony — boasted better reliability rates than Apple. Macs have a 17.4% malfunction rate over three years, compared to market-leader Asus, which has a 15.6% failure rate. HP was the worst of the nine PC vendors listed, with a malfunction rate of 25.6% over three years.

Microsoft Office 2010 to Include Social Networking

From Microsoft's press release regarding the "5 Best Features in Office 2010":
Microsoft recognizes the social networking trend by adding Outlook Social Connector to the Outlook 2010 application. Outlook Social Connector will let you see emails, status updates, shared files and photos, and more all in a single view. You will also be able to see who your mutual friends are and other information to help you maintain and extend your social network.
Read more @ PCWorld

Your Business & Social Media

If you think social networking is only B2C, watch this video:

The accelerating decline of newspapers

U.S. newspaper circulation has hit its lowest level in seven decades, as papers across the country lost 10.6 percent of their paying readers from April through September, compared with a year earlier.

The newest numbers on newspaper circulation, released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, paint a dismal picture for an industry already feeling the pressures of an advertising slump coupled with the worst business downturn since the Great Depression.

The ABC data estimate that 30.4 million Americans now pay to buy a newspaper Monday through Saturday, on average, and about 40 million do so on Sunday. These figures come from 379 of the nation's largest newspapers. In 1940, 41.1 million Americans bought a daily newspaper, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

In September, for instance, Nielsen reported that the New York Times was the Internet's most popular newspaper site, with an average of 21.5 million unique visitors per month, up 7 percent compared with a year earlier. Yet last week, the Times Co. reported a 27 percent drop in ad revenue for the quarter. At The Washington Post, which has lost $143 million through the first six months of 2009, the number of monthly unique online users was down 29 percent, to 9.2 million, compared with September of last year, just before the presidential election.

Read more @ The Washington Post

Better Twitter Results in Google Search

A Google blog post announces that Google has “reached an agreement with Twitter to include their updates in the search results”. Real-time results from Twitter will probably included in a special OneBox triggered by keywords that are suddenly popular in Twitter.

“We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months. That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you’ll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information,” explains Marissa Mayer.

The most difficult problem that Google has to solve is ranking tweets, as most microblogging search engines sort the results by date and aren’t able to filter spam and irrelevant results.

Twitter’s blog explains why the company co-founded by two ex-Googlers partnered with Google. “Our friends down in Mountain View want to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. A fast growing amount of information is coursing through Twitter very quickly, and we want there to be many ways to access that information. As part of that effort, we’ve partnered with Google to index the entire world of public tweets as fast as possible and present them to their users in an organized and relevant fashion.”

In the meantime, Bing has released a Twitter search engine that sorts the results by date and highlights the top links shared by Twitter users.

Microsoft Reaches Deal To Bring Twitter And Facebook Data To Bing

Microsoft has reached deals with both Twitter and Facebook to include real-time feeds from both sites in Bing’s results. The Twitter deal had been rumored for several weeks, although the addition of Facebook data to Bing comes as a surprise. Under the Twitter partnership, Bing users will now be able to search for a query, and then immediately see a constantly refreshing stream of Tweets roll in. The results can be filtered by date or by “best match.” A beta version of the feature—which you can visit here—just went live; the Facebook tie-in will follow at an unspecified “later date.”
All of the major search engines have coveted some sort of deal with Twitter, since the microblogging service is being widely used to search for what people are thinking about a certain topic at a given moment. Facebook’s use as a real-time public pulse finder has been more limited, since so many Facebook users keep their status updates private. That is slowly changing, however, because of recent changes Facebook has made to its privacy settings.
The deal is a coup for Microsoft because—as Kara Swisher, who first reported the news, points out—Bing will now be able to offer access to data that Google does not have. Google does index Facebook and Twitter for public status updates, but there is a significant lag. Microsoft’s advantage, however, may not last long. Google too has been talking to Twitter and Facebook about getting access to their real-time feeds, and Microsoft’s deals with both Twitter and Facebook are reportedly non-exclusive.
Microsoft did not release any financial terms of the deals, but earlier reports said a deal could involve a “several million dollar” payment to Twitter and also include ad revenue sharing. Microsoft and Facebook already have a relationship, since Microsoft owns a 1.6 percent stake in the social network.

Google Analytics Gets a Bunch of New Features

Google announced a number of new and upcoming features for Google Analytics today. The features, Google says, focus on three things: power, flexibility, and intelligence.

It is the intelligence aspect, which Google places the most prominence on, and this comes in the form of a feature called "Analytics Intelligence," which will provide users with automatic alerts of significant changes in the data patterns of their site metrics and dimensions over daily, weekly, and monthly periods. Users can be notified by email or right within the Google Analytics user interface.

Google has also added goals for "time on site" and "pages per visit," as well as the ability to define up to 20 goals per profile. Here's some more on that:

Google Analytics now tracks mobile websites and mobile apps so you can better measure your mobile marketing efforts. They will be adding a code snippet for users to add to their mobile sites. PHP, Perl, JSP, and ASPX sites will be supported.

"iPhone and Android mobile application developers can now also track how users engage with apps, just as with tracking engagement on a website," says Dai Pham of the Google Analytics Team. "What's more, for apps on Android devices, usage can be tied back to ad campaigns: from ad to marketplace to download to engagement."

They have also added Advanced Table Filtering, which allows you to filter the rows in a table based on different metric conditions. Here's more on that feature:

Now when you create a Custom Report, you can select Unique Visitors as a metric against any dimensions in Google Analytics, and they are also adding multiple custom variables to the tracking API and making it easy to share Custom Reports and Advanced Segments.

Google says that it will be going into more detail on the new features in the coming days on the Google Analytics Blog. The features will be appearing in Google Analytics accounts gradually over the coming weeks.

Credit to WebProNews

Madison Avenue: Applying Traditional Marketing Best Practices to Search Marketing

The legendary reputations in the American advertising industry were built by brand visionaries who worked for large ad firms in New York. While many of these prominent icons of marketing are hailed for their genius, the true value they deliver is in distilling messages that speak to a consumer's wants and needs.

Beyond catchy slogans and brand icons, web marketing today is about gathering data and targeting your customers with offers that are custom tailored to their location, budget and needs.

A Data-Driven Approach to Marketing

Traditional advertising firms often conduct surveys or test groups in order to analyze the impact of a particular message before releasing a product. In today's marketing environment, trends are constantly shifting and you can launch a new campaign in a matter of hours based upon what you learn from your customers.

Web analytics provides insights into which parts of your website are generating the most leads and which need to be improved to ensure a seamless conversion funnel from beginning to end. The major advantage of small businesses today is that you can be nimble, responding to shifts in the marketplace by introducing a new special offer, service offering or approach that might take your larger competitors weeks to create.

As a successful business owner, you understand the power of cultivating brand loyalty through personal relationships. Effective online marketing carries those principles over from traditional advertising by segmenting potential customers according to their needs, and adjusting that message in real-time.

Are All 800 Numbers Treated Equal?

Whether it's the power of subconscious perception or reasoned logic, subtle clues on a web page can strongly impact our behavior on that site. Take for example the display of toll-free phone numbers. Most sites invite calls from visitors by prominently displaying their phone number on their web pages. Many times, these numbers are of the toll-free variety, with prefixes of "800", "888", "877" or "866".

Although the "800" prefix has been around for over 40 years, its next oldest sibling, "888" is only 13 years old. The "877" prefix came about 11 years ago, while the youngest "866" has only been in use for 9 years.

Does the longer legacy of the "800" prefix result in higher conversions when tested against the newer toll-free prefixes?

We utilized our call tracking software to create a test that would determine if the use of various toll-free prefixes produced different conversion rates. We wanted to measure the impact the different prefixes had on both call-in conversions and online conversions.

Our sample included 18,100 visits to one lead generation site. All visits were from paid search ads in Google and resulted in 2,614 combined call-in and online conversions. The visits were split evenly among 4 distinct landing pages, each page displaying a different toll free number. Other than the different phone numbers, the landing pages were identical. All visits were recorded during the 1st quarter of 2009.

Chart A shows conversion rates for call-in leads by prefix. Interestingly, our highest conversion rate corresponds to the oldest prefix (800) and the lowest conversion rate corresponds to the youngest prefix (866). Thus, the age of the prefix appears to directly impact the call-in conversion rate. The longer the prefix has existed, the higher its conversion rate. The magnitude of the difference between the best performing "800" prefix and worst performing "866" prefixes is 1.64 percentage points. This means that the "800" prefix had a 59.8% higher call-in conversion rate than the identical page with an "866" phone number.


Can different toll-free prefixes impact the online (form fills) conversion rate? As expected, while the results on call-in conversions were significant, the impact on online conversions (form fills) was somewhat less than conclusive as seen in Chart B.


The toll-free prefix that accompanied the page yielding the highest online conversion rate was "888", followed closely by "866". The "800" and "877" prefixes converted almost identically for online conversions. The spread between the highest and lowest conversion rates was .76 percentage points, less than half that of the difference in call-in conversion rates. Notice how these conversion rate results were almost opposite that of call-in conversions.

Chart C shows the results of our test on with the combined conversion rates. Notice now that the "888" and "800" prefixes convert at almost the same rate followed by the "877" and then the "866" prefixes.


If we place the same value to a call-in lead as an online lead, we can see in Chart D the projected revenues from the four prefixes. For the purposes of this exercise, we assumed that the value of a lead is $100.


Based on our observed combined conversion rates, the page with the "888" prefix would generate the most revenue.

In some instances, though, companies might place a higher value from a call-in lead. Sometimes call-in leads come from more highly motivated prospects, or prospects with a greater sense of urgency. If we were to value a call-in lead at twice (average order value of $200) that of an online lead (average order value of $100), the results become more striking.

The page with the "888" prefix clearly brings in the most revenue indicative of the strong call-in conversion rate for that prefix. In fact, the "888" prefix would generate 19.5% more revenue than the page with the"866" prefix.

Based on our study, the greater the difference between the average order value of the prefixes, the greater the impact expected on revenue generated.

Here are two important take-aways from our study:

  1. As part of your landing page testing and optimization, you should perform a similar test to see if there are opportunities to increase your conversion rates. Call tracking software makes this an easy and inexpensive test.
  2. Understand the values of both your call-in and online conversions and factor that into your results. For ecommerce companies, a call-in sale gives the opportunity for an upsell, potentially increasing the average order value of call-in leads. Lead generation companies may also benefit more from call-in leads by being able to capture the prospect when the prospect is most interested and motivated to discuss their needs.

SEO vs. PPC - The Final Round

One of the most common questions I get is "Is pay-per-click really worth the money?"

For the final answer to this, we turned to Engine Ready, a San Diego based company that specializes in search engine market research.

The results: Well I won't spoil the read, but let's just say it's definitely worth your while to look it over. And if you're crunched for time, you can fast-forward to the last page and get the bottom line.


Quickly view formatted PDFs in your Google search results


Massive Phishing Attack Steals Millions of Passwords

It seems as if the massive phishing campaign reported yesterday was not specific to Hotmail, as was initially believed. According to a report by the BBC, many Gmail and Yahoo Mail accounts have also been compromised. Earthlink, Comcast, and AOL were also affected. While the source of the latest attacks has not been determined, many are pointing to the same bug that claimed at least 10,000 passwords from Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail.

Microsoft has done their part in blocking all known hijacked Hotmail accounts and created tools to help users who had lost control of their email. An analysis of the data from Hotmail showed the most common password among the compromised accounts to be '12345.' On their end, Google responded to the attacks by forcing password resets on the affected accounts.

Why women rule social networking

The jury is still out on exactly why, but facts are facts.

One might conclude that women simply resort to more virtual contact because their real world physical everyday life leaves them rather more dissatisfied than it does men.

Might misery be driving women to MySpace?

Tracking Offline Marketing through Google Analytics

Ever advertise on a billboard and wonder what return you got on your investment? How about your Yellowpages ad?

This little known trick with Analytics can easily track any offline advertisement's exact return on your investment. You can also apply this to tracking return on an email sequence, or split testing an email sequence against another for best ROI.

From the video, here is the HTML template I promised:. You'll need to remove the trackable link here that we created in the video and replace it with your own, save it as index.htm, and upload it into a new folder on your website (such as 'offer').


Visit our website for more free video tips and information about profiting from local online advertising: http://www.smartboxwebmarketing.com

Extracting Exact Keywords Searched from Google Adwords & Analytics

Suppose you are bidding on broad match tooth implant in your Adwords account. What you may not know is Google is selling you traffic from "how long should I want to do an implant after a tooth is extracted" to "how does a tooth implant work?". Your Analytics report is giving you bad information! It will ONLY show you the term you are bidding on, in this case, tooth implant.

Using this process, you can extract the exact phrase your visitor searched for and include it in your Analytics report.

Referencing the video, here is the text for you to copy/paste into your Analytics filters.

Filter 1: Field A -> Extract A: Referral: (\?|&)(q|p|query)=([^&]*)
Field B -> Extract B: Campaign Medium: (cpc|ppc)
Output To -> Constructor: Custom Field 1: $A3

Filter 2:Field A -> Extract A: Custom Field 1: (.*)
Field B -> Extract B: Campaign Term: (.*)
Output To -> Constructor: Campaign Term: $B1 ($A1)

Make sure the sequence is correct or it will not work!!

Visit our website for more free video tips and information about profiting from local online advertising: http://www.smartboxwebmarketing.com

The Rocky Mountain Bank Incident

The Rocky Mountain Bank, based in Wyoming, accidentally sent confidential financial information to the wrong Gmail account. When Google refused to identify the innocent account owner's information, citing its privacy policy, the bank filed in Federal court to have the account deactivated and the user's information revealed. District Judge James Ware granted the bank's request, with the result that the user has had his email access cut off without any wrongdoing or knowledge of why. Pretty wild a judge would grant something like this. http://htxt.it/yicz

Here's what SmartBox can do for Your Business -

SmartBox has the knowledge and experience to take care of all your IT needs. We know how busy you are, which is why we take pride in our ability to bring our computer repair, sales, networking & web design services as well as voice & data wiring directly to your office, 7 days a week. If you've got questions or require assistance, we have the answers. Have an issue you need resolved?

To put it bluntly, SmartBox offers unparalleled knowledge, experience, customer service, and prices. But for those that need more reasons to choose us over the high-priced competition, we've compiled a list of 11 reasons why SmartBox is your best choice.

* Knowledge and Experience. Our technicians have years of proven experience and a near-perfect customer satisfaction rating. We are also Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and CompTia certified.
* No Geeks. While our knowledge of computer repair and maintenance may make us appear to be geeks, we assure you that our customer service is top quality and we'll explain everything with clarity.
* Price. No Geeks. No Squads. No High Prices.
* 'Fix It' Guarantee. We'll diagnose your computer. If we can't fix it, you don't pay. Simple as that.
* On-Site Service. We're available to come to you 7 days a week! We are based in New Albany, Indiana and service the entire Southern Indiana and Louisville area.
* Remote Service. Take advantage of our Remote Support Tool, which allows us to help you straight from our office, all while you watch, anywhere in the world.
* Free Back-ups. Computers always seem to crash at the most inconvenient times. We know how stressful it can be to lose your data, so we store backups of all the computers we work on for free up to 6 months.
* Flexible Hours. We do our best to accommodate your busy schedule, including after hours and weekend service at no extra charge.
* We're Local. SmartBox is a locally owned and operated in New Albany, Indiana.
* Extraordinary Service. We offer the personal touch that the corporate owned 'geek services' can't match.
* A Great Reputation. Delivering quality services for PC users is what we've been doing since 2001.

in reference to:

"So.. What Can SmartBox Do For You?"
- SmartBox - Computer Sales. Extraordinary Service. (view on Google Sidewiki)

Just wrote a Sidewiki

Just wrote a Sidewiki entry on "SmartBox Web Marketing - Turnkey Local Online Advertising for Doc..." http://bit.ly/xaXJ4

Why SmartBox? And what is "Web Marketing"?

For the last 9 years, Smartbox Marketing has led the way in web design, search engine optimization, and market solutions for the small business professional.

Internet marketing has grown up. Stylized, "me-too" template solutions sold by one-size-fits-all medical marketing companies just don't work anymore. Your practice is unique and it deserves a unique brand and a unique marketing niche. These marketing companies do the same thing for each client and the end result is that no one gets ahead of the rest.

You deserve better.

Yes, they will go on about all the directories in which you will be listed, but guess what? Your competitors are listed in those same directories. Each year fewer and fewer copies of the Yellow Pages are being printed. There's a good reason for that. Directory marketing is dying. If it doesn't work in real time, don't expect it to work on the net.

Here's what we do – the SmartBox difference:

* Provide in-depth analysis of existing websites.
* We tell you exactly what works, what doesn't, and why.
* We design your website to your specifications with an eye to what works
* We write your content to be both highly readable and friendly to Google.
* We provide a ridiculously easy to use tool to track your leads and ROI
* We keep you abreast of the latest technologies and advise you on new tips and tricks.

Why do we do it?

Simple. Because we know that if we do not increase the productivity of your website, we won't have you for a client very long. SmartBox is a turnkey solution for professionals like dentists, chiropractors, attorneys, doctors, and other businesses that provide services and need to use the internet as a marketing vehicle. Nowadays with the dominance of Google, the web is the largest and most important marketing medium available for any industry and SmartBox helps very busy people take advantage of that through web design, content, video, search engine optimization and advertising, blogs, phone conversion tracking, social networking, and anything else that’s crucial to their online reputation.

in reference to: SmartBox Web Marketing - Turnkey Local Online Advertising for Doctors (view on Google Sidewiki)

Local Online Advertising with SmartBox - Final Cut!

Local Online Advertising with SmartBox - Final Cut!

Microsoft says "Too Old" to Critical Update for Windows XP

Microsoft says it won't patch Windows XP for a pair of bugs it quashed Sept. 8 in Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. The news adds Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and SP3 to the no-patch list that previously included only Windows 2000 Server SP4. 'We're talking about code that is 12 to 15 years old in its origin, so backporting that level of code is essentially not feasible,' said security program manager Adrian Stone during Microsoft's monthly post-patch Webcast, referring to Windows 2000 and XP. 'An update for Windows XP will not be made available,' Stone and fellow program manager Jerry Bryant said during the Q&A portion of the Webcast (transcript here). Last Tuesday, Microsoft said that it wouldn't be patching Windows 2000 because creating a fix was 'infeasible.'

Dominating the Search Engines for Local Businesses across the US

is Dominating the Search Engines for local businesses across the US

Chapter 3 - SmartBox Web Marketing

Chapter 3 - SmartBox Web Marketing

A testimonial from a SmartBox client

A testimonial from a web marketing client..

Chapter 2 - SmartBox Web Marketing

Chapter 2 -

Is dominating Google

Is dominating Google search results for his clients right now

Today's Google Outage - And Who Really Cares?

Let me be the first to say, I was affected by the outage today. For about 4 hours.

My email was completely dead. I could have fired up Outlook, but I chose not to.

I've been on Google's web applications since starting in 2002 with GMail. Calendar, Docs, Spreadsheets as soon as they came out. I barely use my My Documents folder anymore.

I read the news sites tonight, and there's all this hype about "This is a perfect reason why companies won't switch to hosted apps - it's downtime and unreliability."

Let's quickly run some numbers. 8 years of service is 70,128 hours. My GMail ONLY was down for say worst case, 5 hours today. That's 99.9928% uptime.

If you're not familiar with up-time ratings, here's a crash course. The vast, overwhelming majority of web hosting providers only rate their uptime to 99% or maybe 99.9%. Over 8 years, that would be 701 hours and 70.1 hours, respectively. I'd say that's pretty damn good.

Think about your home computer and how often you reboot it. Or it crashes. Or you install some updates or new software and it needs a restart. Or the power goes out. Or it's down for a half-day (or a weekend) for a major upgrade). Or, God forbid, hardware failure. We've all experienced it, and that's all downtime.

Yeah, it was inconveniencing today, but the time Google has saved me over 8 years centralizing all my documents, email, spreadsheets, etc far outweighs the 5 hours of outage. I've had several computer and power failures, and being able to just stand up and move to another computer or location and resume my work has been a lifesaver at times.

Why AT&T Killed Google Voice

Earlier this month, Apple rejected an application for the iPhone called Google Voice. The uproar set off a chain of events—Google's CEO Eric Schmidt resigning from Apple's board, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigating wireless open access and handset exclusivity—that may finally end the 135-year-old Alexander Graham Bell era. It's about time.

With Google Voice, you have one Google phone number that callers use to reach you, and you pick up whichever phone—office, home or cellular—rings. You can screen calls, listen in before answering, record calls, read transcripts of your voicemails, and do free conference calls. Domestic calls and texting are free, and international calls to Europe are two cents a minute. In other words, a unified voice system, something a real phone company should have offered years ago.

Apple has an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S., stirring up rumors that AT&T was the one behind Apple rejecting Google Voice. How could AT&T not object? AT&T clings to the old business of charging for voice calls in minutes. It takes not much more than 10 kilobits per second of data to handle voice. In a world of megabit per-second connections, that's nothing—hence Google's proposal to offer voice calls for no cost and heap on features galore.

What this episode really uncovers is that AT&T is dying. AT&T is dragging down the rest of us by overcharging us for voice calls and stifling innovation in a mobile data market critical to the U.S. economy.

For the latest quarter, AT&T reported local voice revenue down 12%, long distance down 15%. With customers unplugging home phones and using flat-rate Internet services for long-distance calls (again, voice is just data), AT&T's wireline operating income is down 36%. Even in the wireless segment, which grew 10% overall, per-customer voice revenue is down 7%.

Wireless data service is AT&T's only bright spot, up a whopping 26% per customer. How so? As any parent of teenagers knows, text messages are 20 cents each, or $5,000 per megabyte. After the first month and a $320 bill, we all pony up $10 a month for unlimited texting plans. Same for Internet access. With my iPhone, I pay $30 a month for unlimited data service (actually, one gigabyte per month). Is it worth that? The à la carte price for other not-so-smart phones is $5 per megabyte (one-thousandth of a gigabyte) per month. So we buy monthly plans. Margins in AT&T's Wireless segment are an embarrassingly high 25%.

The trick in any communications and media business is to own a pipe between you and your customers so you can charge what you like. Cellphone companies don't have wired pipes, but by owning spectrum they do have a pipe and pricing power.

Aren't there phone competitors to knock down the price? Hardly. Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and others all joined AT&T in bidding huge amounts for wireless spectrum in FCC auctions, some $70-plus billion since the mid-1990s. That all gets passed along to you and me in the form of higher fees and friendly oligopolies that don't much compete on price. Google Voice is the new competition.

By the way, Apple also has a pipe—call it a virtual pipe—to customers. Its iTunes music service (now up to one-quarter of all music sales, according to NPD Market Research) works exclusively with iPods and iPhones. The new Palm Pre, another exclusive deal, this time by Verizon Wireless, tricked iTunes into thinking it was an iPod. Apple quickly changed its software to lock the Pre out, and one would expect Apple locking out any Google phone from using iTunes.

It wouldn't be so bad if we were just overpaying for our mobile plans. Americans are used to that—see mail, milk and medicine. But it's inexcusable that new, feature-rich and productive applications like Google Voice are being held back, just to prop up AT&T while we wait for it to transition away from its legacy of voice communications. How many productive apps beyond Google Voice are waiting in the wings?

So now the FCC and its new Chairman Julius Genachowski are getting involved. Usually this means a set of convoluted rules to make up for past errors in allocating scarce resources that—in the name of "fairness"—end up creating a new mess.

Some might say it is time to rethink our national communications policy. But even that's obsolete. I'd start with a simple idea. There is no such thing as voice or text or music or TV shows or video. They are all just data. We need a national data policy, and here are four suggestions:

• End phone exclusivity. Any device should work on any network. Data flows freely.

• Transition away from "owning" airwaves. As we've seen with license-free bandwidth via Wi-Fi networking, we can share the airwaves without interfering with each other. Let new carriers emerge based on quality of service rather than spectrum owned. Cellphone coverage from huge cell towers will naturally migrate seamlessly into offices and even homes via Wi-Fi networking. No more dropped calls in the bathroom.

• End municipal exclusivity deals for cable companies. TV channels are like voice pipes, part of an era that is about to pass. A little competition for cable will help the transition to paying for shows instead of overpaying for little-watched networks. Competition brings de facto network neutrality and open access (if you don't like one service blocking apps, use another), thus one less set of artificial rules to be gamed.

• Encourage faster and faster data connections to our homes and phones. It should more than double every two years. To homes, five megabits today should be 10 megabits in 2011, 25 megabits in 2013 and 100 megabits in 2017. These data-connection speeds are technically doable today, with obsolete voice and video policy holding it back.

Technology doesn't wait around, so it's all going to happen anyway, but it will take longer under today's rules. A weak economy is not the time to stifle change.

Data is toxic to old communications and media pipes. Instead, data gains value as it hops around in the packets that make up the Internet structure. New services like Twitter don't need to file with the FCC.

And new features for apps like Google Voice are only limited by the imagination. Mother-in-law location alerts? Video messaging? Whatever. The FCC better not treat AT&T and Verizon like Citigroup, GM and the Post Office. Cellphone operators aren't too big to fail. Rather, the telecom sector is too important to be allowed to hold back the rest of us.

New Logitech mice operate wherever

Logitech has launched a new range of laser mice that can work on glass or shiny surfaces. The new mice use two lasers rather than one to work on a variety of previously unusable surfaces.

The first laser picks out imperfections in the surface of a tabletop while the second laser focuses on microscopic imperfections highlighted and uses those to direct the cursor.

The technique, dubbed dark field microscopy, allows mice to be used on almost any surface, including glass as long as it is more than 4mm thick.

"Laptops have gained popularity in the last several years because of the freedom they afford – people today want to be able to connect to their digital world anytime, anywhere. However, until now, no mouse has been able to match that flexibility," said Rory Dooley, Logitech’s senior vice president and general manager of the Control Devices business unit.

"Thanks to Logitech Darkfield, whether you’re checking the morning news from the granite counter top in your kitchen or at work manipulating a spreadsheet from your glass desk, you can be confident that your Logitech mouse will be up to the task."

The two models, a desktop Performance Mouse MX and the smaller travel Anywhere Mouse MX are priced at Us$99.99 and US$79.99 respectively.

I Reduce Traffic Jams

Alright, not completely true, but there is a new study that give this validity.

Those who know me know I have a bit of a "heavy foot" - specifically, my right one.

So the next time I cut you off in traffic, run a yellow light, or pass you in the emergency lane (ok, joking on that last one!) just remember it's for the common good :)

Jerks actually reduce the risk of traffic jams: http://physicscentral.com/buzz/blog/index.cfm?postid=3414795237807494042

Mydoom Virus Variant to Wipe Your Hard Drive Friday

Several news sources are reporting that the tens of thousands of Microsoft Windows systems infected with the Mydoom worm and being used in an ongoing denial of service attack against US and S. Korean government Web sites will likely have their hard drives wiped of data come Friday. From The Washington Post's Security Fix blog, the malware is 'designed to download a payload from a set of Web servers. Included in that payload is a Trojan horse program that overwrites the data on the hard drive with a message that reads "memory of the independence day," followed by as many "u" characters as it takes to write over every sector of every physical drive attached to the compromised system.' ChannelNews Asia carries similar information.

7 Critical Secrets To Safe-Guarding Your Wireless Router

When you buy a wireless router it is not secure, and its default configuration will allow unwanted users that are in the vicinity of your router to connect your router and "steal" your wireless internet connection. They could also gain access to your PC's files and folders of data.

Manufacturers leave the configuration "open" so that the user can easily set up the router and get it up and running quickly. However, there is a risk if the router is not secure.

1) Change Admin password. Most wireless routers ship with a blank password. It is essential that this is changed or else a potential hacker could get into your router configuration and lock you out of your own hardware.

2) Change The Network Name (SSID). The default network name is usually made up of the name/model of your wireless router. This information gives a head start for a hacker and makes it easier for them to break into your network. Don't rename it to something like your surname or house name as this unnecessarily exposes personal information. Rename it to an alpha-numeric string - this can be up to 32 characters long.

3) Turn off SSID broadcasting. By default, a wireless router's SSID is broadcast so anyone in the vicinity of your wireless router can see that it. SSID broadcasting can be turned off thus making your wireless router virtually invisible.

4) Enabling Encryption. This is switched off by default. There is a choice of WEP, WPA and WPA2. Currently the latest encryption method is WPA2, so use this where possible. Both your wireless router and wireless PC adapter must be configured to use the same encryption.

5) Mac Address Control. All hardware has a unique MAC address associated with it, including your PC's adapter card. This MAC address can be added to access control list in the wireless router. Only devices added to the router's access control list are allowed to be connected.

6) Update router firmware. It is recommended that the latest router firmware is downloaded from the manufacturer's website and installed in the router. This will hopefully fix any bugs that have been found for your router and also help with any known security flaws in the router itself.

7) Backup settings. Finally, backup all router settings. If you reset the router back to its factory default settings for whatever reason, your configuration can later be easily and quickly restored back into the router.

Colin Receveur
SmartBox, LLC

Jeez my computer died what do I do?

Computer problems are frustrating. Becoming frustrated during the troubleshooting process will only lead to more problems. So the important thing to do first is take a deep breath, think happy thoughts, and plan out your course of action. Have tools ready, restore disks and drivers. This will save you time and patience.

read more | digg story

"Who Bought My Data?!"

Hundreds and hundreds of documents about government contracts,' were found on a hard drive purchased at a market in Ghana for the bargain basement price of $40, said Peter Klein, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia, who led an investigation into the global electronic waste business for the PBS show Frontline. The hard drive had belonged to US government contractor Northrop Grumman and in a made-for-TV ironic twist, 'some of the documents talked about how to recruit airport screeners and several of them even covered data security practices,' Klein said. 'Here were these contracts being awarded based on their ability to keep the data safe.

Windows 7 Licensing a "Disaster" For XP Shops

Enterprise licensing for Windows 7 could cause major headaches and add more cost to the Windows 7 migration effort, InfoWorld reports. Under the proposed license, businesses that purchase PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed within six months of the Oct. 23 launch date will be able to downgrade those systems to XP, and later upgrade back to Windows 7 when ready to migrate users.

PCs bought after April 22, 2010, however, can only be downgraded to Vista — no help for XP-based organizations, which would be wise to wait 12 to 18 months before adopting Windows 7, so that they can test hardware and software compatibility and ensure their vendors' Windows 7 support meets their needs. XP shops that chose not to install Vista will have to either rush their migration process or spend extra to enroll in Microsoft's Software Assurance program, which allows them to install any OS version — for about $90 per year per PC.

Microsoft to Release Record Setting Number of Critical Security Updates

Microsoft today issued 10 security updates that patched a record 31 vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Excel, Word, Windows Search and other programs, including 18 bugs marked 'critical.' Of the 10 bulletins, six patched some part of Windows, while three patched an Office application or component, and one fixed a flaw in IE. The total bug count was the most patched by Microsoft in a single month since the company began regularly scheduled updates in 2003. The previous record of 26 vulnerabilities patched occurred in both August 2008 and August 2006.

'This is a very broad bunch,' said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at Qualys, 'compared to last month, which was really all about PowerPoint. You've got to work everywhere, servers and workstations, and even Macs if you have them. It's not getting any better, the number of vulnerabilities [Microsoft discloses] continues to grow.'

Microsoft to Excel Users: Wiggle Your Mouse

I don't usualy post comical things on my blog, I try to keep it informative and helpful, but this is just too funny to pass up.

We've all heard of crazy "workarounds" as they're called - this one takes the cake.

This is a workaround for a data import function into Microsoft Excel. What is Microsoft's grand solution if it locks up while you're attempting this? Wiggle your mouse.

Method 2: Move Your Mouse Pointer

If you move your mouse pointer continuously while the data is being returned to Microsoft Excel, the query may not fail. Do not stop moving the mouse until all the data has been returned to Microsoft Excel.

NOTE: Depending on your query, it may take several minutes to return the results of your query to the worksheet.

Read more at: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/168702

Password Stealer Found on New Netbooks

An interesting development that Kaspersky Labs stumbled across.. They purchased a new M&A Companion Touch netbook in order to test a new anti-virus product targeted at the netbook segment, and discovered three pieces of malware on the factory-sealed netbook. A little sleuthing turned up the likely infection scenario — at the factory, someone was updating Intel drivers using a USB flash drive that was infected with a variant of the AutoRun worm.

"Installed along with the worm was a rootkit and a password stealer that harvests log-in credentials for online ... To ensure that a new PC is malware-free, [Kaspersky] recommended that before users connect the machine to the Internet, they install security software, update it by retrieving the latest definition file on another computer, and transferring that update to the new system, then running a full antivirus scan."

Gartner tells businesses: forget about Vista

IT analyst firm Gartner has told businesses to skip Vista and prepare to roll out Windows 7.

Companies have traditionally been advised to wait until the first Service Pack of an operating system arrives before considering migration.

However, Gartner is urging organisations that aren't already midway through Vista deployments to give the much-maligned operating system a miss.

"Skip Vista and target Windows 7," Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Stephen Kleynhans advise in a research paper. "Preparing for Vista will require the same amount of effort as preparing for Windows 7, so at this point, targeting Windows 7 would add less than six months to the schedule and would result in a plan that is more politically palatable, better for users, and results in greater longevity."

Even businesses that are midway through planning a Vista migration are urged to consider scrapping the deployment. "Consider switching to Windows 7 if it would delay deployment by six months or less," the pair advise. "The further you are withyour Vista plans, the more sense it makes to continue."

Companies who are in the midst of a deployment should carry on, the Gartner team says, although they should plan to move again to Windows 7 in "late 2010 or early 2011".

The Gartner experts say all companies should move off Windows XP by the end of 2012 to avoid problems with application compatibility.

Read more at http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/252955/gartner-tells-businesses-forget-about-vista.html#

ARS TECHNICA: 2009 Flash Drive Roundup

From Ars: "When we last took an in-depth look at USB flash drives in 2005, the landscape was a bit different. A 2GB drive ran nearly $200, and speeds were quite a bit slower then. At the time, we noted that while the then-current crop of drives was pretty fast, they still were not close to saturating the bandwidth of USB2. To top it off, a good drive was still going to set you back $50 or $70—not exactly a cheap proposition. Since our first roundup, this picture has changed considerably, and it leads to a question: has the flash drive become an undifferentiated commodity, just like any other cheap plastic tsotschke that you might find at an office supply store checkout counter?

Consider the following factors:

  • The majority of flash drives sold are either 4GB or 8GB, which is more than plenty of storage for most people.
  • Most of the drives in this size range are under $20.
  • Accessories (like neck straps, USB extension cables, spare caps, etc.) are no longer included.

Normally, twenty dollars is not something that most of us would think twice about, but don't most of us still want to know that we are getting our money's worth? To test this commodity theory, we selected a cornucopia of mostly 4GB and 8GB USB flash drives ranging from $9 to $30 dollars (average: $19.00)

Read more on Ars website (www.arstechnica.com) ..

Microsoft's Life Cycle for Windows - The Death of 2000, and soon XP.

I've long recommended to my clients that they stay within Microsoft's life cycle with respect to their Windows operating systems. Most of them, even after explaining it, I suspect deep down they think it's a scheme to extort more money out of them to upgrade. Well, here's a perfect example to backup my claims.

This is why NO ONE should be running Windows 2000 or Millennium (ME) anymore (or earlier, i.e. 98, NT, 95, etc). The last sentence sums it up very nicely. Even with a current anti-virus subscription, you are NOT protected!

"Recently, the Conficker/Downadup worm infected several hundred machines and critical medical equipment in an undisclosed number of US hospitals. The attacks were not widespread; however, Marcus Sachs, director of the SANS Internet Storm Center, told CNET News that it raises the awareness of what we would do if there were millions of computers infected in hospitals or in critical infrastructure locations. It's not clear how the devices (including heart monitors, MRI machines and PCs) got infected. Infected computers were running Windows NT and Windows 2000 in a local area network (LAN) that wasn't supposed to be Internet accessible, but the LAN was connected to one with direct Internet access. A patch was released by Microsoft last October by November that fixes the problem, but the computers infected were reportedly too old to be patched."

Researchers Find Massive Botnet On Nearly 2 Million Infected Consumer, Business, Government PCs

More than 70 government-owned domains hit, and nearly half of the overall infections are in the U.S.

Researchers have discovered a major botnet operating out of the Ukraine that has infected 1.9 million machines, including large corporate and government PCs mainly in the U.S.

The botnet, which appears to be larger than the infamous Storm botnet was in its heyday, has infected machines from some 77 government-owned domains -- 51 of which are U.S. government ones, according to Ophir Shalltin, marketing director of Finjan, which recently found the botnet. Shalltin says the botnet is controlled by six individuals and is hosted in Ukraine.

Aside from its massive size and scope, what is also striking about the botnet is what its malware can do to an infected machine. The malware lets an attacker read the victim's email, communicate via HTTP in the botnet, inject code into other processes, visit Websites without the user knowing, and register as a background service on the infected machine, for instance. The bots communicate with their command and control systems via HTTP.

Botnet expert Joe Stewart says it appears to be similar to other downloader-type botnets. "It looks a lot like other downloader bots out there," says Stewart, director of malware research for SecureWorks. "It has a system for installing other malware and getting paid for it. The first stage is to get the bot piece onto the machine, and then they get paid to install other malware."

Finjan says victims are infected when visiting legitimate Websites containing a Trojan that the company says is detected by only four of 39 anti-malware tools, according to a VirusTotal report run by Finjan researchers.

"We don't have our hands on the actual [stolen] data, but we can tell a lot of what they [may be] doing with it by the malware," Shalltin says. "They can use it for spam, [stealing data], and almost almost anything."

Around 45 percent of the bots are in the U.S., and the machines are Windows XP. Nearly 80 percent run Internet Explorer; 15 percent, Firefox; 3 percent, Opera; and 1 percent Safari. Finjan says the bots were found in banks and large corporations, as well as consumer machines.

Shalltin says it appears that the botnet operators may be buying and selling bots or portions of their botnet based on a communique Finjan discovered on an underground black-hat hacker forum in Russia.

Conficker Launches April 1 (and no this isn't a joke)

It's lurking in millions of PCs around the world. It's incredibly sophisticated and resilient, with built-in p2p and digital code-signing technology. It revels in killing security software. On April 1, the Conficker worm will activate.

The scariest thing about the Conficker worm is that literally millions of infected Windows PCs could be linked together to do its bidding. The second scariest thing is that no one really knows what its creator is going to do with this virtual army on April 1, when it's scheduled to contact a server for instructions. It's so bad, Microsoft has a running $250,000 bounty for the author, dead or alive. (Well, they probably want him alive, but they hate his guts.)

The New York Times' John Markoff rounded up some of the more ingeniously evil possibilities in a compelling article, the most sinister being a "Dark Google," postulated by University of California at San Diego researcher Stefan Savage, that would let bad people scour zombie machines all around the world for data to sell to other bad people.

But let's back up a bit. Conficker—whose weird name is a combination of "configuration" and a slightly more polite word for f***er, according to Urban Dictionary—actually began life as a lowly, "not very successful" worm in November, says Vincent Weafer, VP at Symantec Security Response. Weafer told us it exploited a Microsoft remote server vulnerability that had already been announced and patched the previous month, so the only systems that were vulnerable were the ones that weren't up to date.

The B release, pushed in December, on the other hand, was "wildly successful," says Weafer, infecting millions of unpatched computers because it's an aggressive little bastard—the first worm in years on a scale like Blaster. It has built-in p2p capabilities, and brute forces its way into open shared folders or printers, so it can crawl an office network quickly. It also piggybacks onto USB flash and hard drives. On top of all that, it's designed to be incredibly resilient, killing security software, disabling Windows Update, and digging down deep.

The C release came out this past month. It doesn't go after new machines—it's actually a payload for computers already infected with B. It transformed Conficker from a sneezing pandemic into a seriously nasty plague. With C, its p2p powers are extended further, with digital code-signing, so it only accepts trusted code updates from itself. That means security experts can't simply inject code to neutralize it. The patch also made Conficker better at killing security software. And it expanded the scope of the domains it tries to contact for instructions from 250 to 50,000, completely neutralizing security experts' previous tactic of seizing the domains. There's effectively no way to the cut the head off of this demon snake. The stage is set: On April 1, Conficker will reach out for the millions-strong zombienet's next set of instructions.

So what will happen? Well, no one knows for sure. Conficker's creator can do whatever he wants with his army. Launch massive denial-of-service attacks, setup the "Dark Google" syndicate, target millions of new machines, or generate a tidal wave of spam that'll crash against servers all over the world.

Most likely though, Weafer told us, Conficker's creator is motivated by money—they'll rent it out. And if Conficker's used as a massive doomsday tool, they'll "quickly lose the ability to make money" with it. A low key operation harnessing the power of computers that are mainly located in developing nations may not have a big impact, though it would certainly set a terrible precedent: Whatever Conficker's results, they will lead others to develop this idea in frightening new directions.

Conficker's innovative approach that utilizes p2p, code-signing and a distributed domain setup will very possibly serve as inspiration to other malware writers, who Weafer said "you can bet" are watching Conficker's success very closely, just as Conficker's creators have clearly learned from past malware. It's like evil open source.

That doesn't mean April 1 will be a "digital Pearl Harbor." If your machine is patched and up to date, the Microsoft Report's Ed Bott tells us, you'll probably be totally fine. And yes, you can get rid of it if you happen to be infected. There is an outside chance Conficker could turn into a massive parallel computer that borders on self-aware, come April 1, but more than likely, the day will come and go without you noticing anything weird, just some extra spam in your box for some V@ltr3xxx.

Conficker Worm Gets an Evil Twin

The criminals behind the widespread Conficker worm have released a new version of the malware that could signal a major shift in the way the worm operates.

The new variant, dubbed Conficker B++, was spotted three days ago by SRI International researchers, who published details of the new code on Thursday. To the untrained eye, the new variant looks almost identical to the previous version of the worm, Conficker B. But the B++ variant uses new techniques to download software, giving its creators more flexibility in what they can do with infected machines.

Conficker-infected machines could be used for nasty stuff -- sending spam, logging keystrokes, or launching denial of service (DoS) attacks, but an ad hoc group calling itself the Conficker Cabal has largely prevented this from happening. They've kept Conficker under control by cracking the algorithm the software uses to find one of thousands of rendezvous points on the Internet where it can look for new code. These rendezvous points use unique domain names, such as pwulrrog.org, that the Conficker Cabal has worked hard to register and keep out of the hands of the criminals.

The new B++ variant uses the same algorithm to look for rendezvous points, but it also gives the creators two new techniques that skip them altogether. That means that the Cabal's most successful technique could be bypassed.

Conficker underwent a major rewrite in December, when the B variant was released. But this latest B++ version includes more subtle changes, according to Phil Porras, a program director with SRI. "This is a more surgical set of changes that they've made," he said.

To put things in perspective: There were 297 subroutines in Conficker B; 39 new routines were added in B++ and three existing subroutines were modified, SRI wrote in a report on the new variant. B++ suggests "the malware authors may be seeking new ways to obviate the need for Internet rendezvous points altogether," the report states.

Porras could not say how long Conficker B++ has been in circulation, but it first appeared on Feb. 6, according to a researcher using the pseudonym Jart Armin, who works on the Hostexploit.com Web site, which has tracked Conficker.

Though he does not know whether B++ was created in response to the Cabal's work, "it does make the botnet more robust and it does mitigate some of the Cabal's work," Support Intelligence CEO Rick Wesson said in an e-mail interview.

Also known as Downadup, Conficker spreads using a variety of techniques. It exploits a dangerous Windows bug to attack computers on a local area network, and it can also spread via USB devices such as cameras or storage devices. All variants of Conficker have now infected about 10.5 million computers, according to SRI.

Microsoft Slaps $250K Bounty On Conficker Worm

The spreading Conficker/Downadup worm is now viewed as such a significant threat that it's inspired the formation of a posse to stop it, with Microsoft leading the charge by offering a $250,000 reward to bring the Conficker malware bad guys to justice. The money will be paid for 'information that results in the arrest and conviction of those responsible for illegally launching the Conficker malicious code on the Internet,' Microsoft said today in a statement, adding it is fostering a partnership with Internet registries and DNA providers such as ICANN, ORG, and NeuStar as well as security vendors Symantec and Arbor Networks, among others, to stop the Conficker worm once and for all. Conficker, also called Downadup, is estimated to have infected at least 10 million PCs. It has been slowly but surely spreading since November. Its main trick is to disable anti-malware protection and block access to anti-malware vendors' Web sites.

The Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Program

With Windows 7 set for release in Dec. 09, Microsoft is getting ready with their free upgrade program, which allows Vista users to switch to Windows 7 when it arrives. The folks at TechARP have consistently scored accurate scoops on Microsoft software releases. They have now revealed Microsoft's upgrade plans, schedules and even screenshots of the upgrade process.

"Conficker" Infects 9 Million Over the Weekend

The Conficker malware outbreak has continued to spread among corporate PCs in what appears to be the biggest IT security breach in the past seven years.

Initially it was reported Conficker, or Downadup, focused on machines that weren't patched with a Microsoft emergency fix released last October (MS008-067).

However since then, the bug has evolved and is now able to spread to patched computers through portable USB drives.

Once in the machine, the worm can browse through the network the computer is connected to and copy itself to other machines, according to the article. This means users do not have to be at their computers or even logged on for the bug to spread.

Infected machines can potentially reveal users' personal and financial information, though it is unclear if that is the objective of the cybercriminals behind the attack. With the presidential inauguration scheduled for today, it's possible the cybercriminals may act then, since they traditionally like to coincide attacks with large events.

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