Archive for August 2009

FTC Puts an end to “Robocalls” tomorrow

Ever get one of those automated phone calls with the taped (okay, recorded) voice? Most of the time its telling you about something you have no interest in, and you can tell right away you’re not interested, and now you have the added aggravation as you realize the “person” at the other end doesn’t even want to talk to you about it personally.

Well, many, many, many of those calls become history today. Sept. 1 marks the end of the pre-recorded telemarketing “robocall “.

The Federal Trade Commission** said it is banning “robocalls” to consumers, unless the telemarketer has “written permission” from a customer that they want to receive these calls. (Ooo! Ooo! Sign me up, please! …Not!)

Now, perhaps you noticed, I said “many” and not “all”. Did you see that? No? You didn’t? … Oh … you did? Yeah, well, don’t worry, there’s no catch, … really. There will be some automated calls that are allowed without written permission. For example, informative calls like flight cancellations, prescriptions from your doctor or pharmacist, delivery notices, and debt collectors calls will be allowed.

Hmm. I can happily live with the first three, but can I opt out of the last one? (Probably not).

Franly, there are a lot of other annoying calls that are still permitted, and those also include calls from politicians, charities, banks, insurers, phone companies, and survey calls. Why aren’t they banned, too? Because this is an FTC or Federal Trade Commission ruling, and not an FCC or Federal Communications Commission ruling. The FTC deals with trade and sales, not communications. Since the latter calls aren’t selling anything (at least not for money) they they aren’t part of the FTC’s jurisdiction.

Rats! What a difference one letter makes.

By the way, this kinda does away with the do-not-call list, and as of tomorrow no one should be receiving these “most” of these calls anymore; and if you do, now you can file a complaint with the commission at www.FTC.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. Under the new rules violators can expect to pay a $16,000 fine.

Loophole: This doesn’t put an end to annoying “live” calls. The robots may have lost some jobs here; but humans are still permitted to pick up the phone and personally annoy their fellow man (or woman).

** Think about who put this out. It’s important later.

Here on Long Island. Hacker Admits Guilt, Forfeits $1.65 million

Identity TheftJust over a year ago I reported on the Justice Department’s indictment of 11 “individuals” involved in an identity theft ring that targeted wireless retail networks of TJX Companies, BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, and DSW, among others. They were charged for stealing over 130 million credit and debit card numbers.

Albert Gonzalez, hacker

Albert Gonzalez, hacker

One of those indicted was a U.S. citizen named Albert Gonzalez, age 28. Gonzalez, under arrest on one ID theft case, had been working as an informant in a second case, and was found to be criminally involved in a third identity theft ring. Over the weekend he admitted his guilt in an older case, and agreed to forfeit assets gained by crimes.  Among his assets were a condominium in Miami, a 2006 BMW, various computers and laptops, a Glock 27 firearm, a Nokia cell phone, a Tiffany diamond ring and three Rolex watches.

tjxGonzalez was scheduled to go to trial Sept. 14 in federal court in Central Islip, N.Y. His charges included operating a fraud scheme from April through September in 2007, and hacking into computers at the corporate headquarters of the Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain where he stole debit and credit card numbers. He faces 15 years to 25 years in prison.

#1 in Identity Theft Protection

On the second case, Gonzalez faces as many as 35 years in prison.In that case Gonzalez and the other hackers malware and so-called “injection strings” to attack the computers and steal data. They installed “sniffer” programs to capture data “on a real-time basis” as it moved through the computer networks. They used instant messaging services to advise each other on how to navigate the systems. They also programmed malware to evade detection by anti-virus software and erase files that might detect its presence.

Homeland Security and Laptop Searches

Image from ARS Technica

Image from ARS Technica. (Click image for article)

This past Thursday, August 27, 2009, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new directives to enhance and clarify oversight for searches of computers and other electronic media at U.S. ports of entry. New guidelines are being designed to reinforce the Department’s efforts to combat crime and terrorism while protecting personal right’s to privacy and civil liberties.

The new directives and guidelines will “enhance transparency, accountability and oversight” of searches at borders, airports, and other ports of entry to the U.S.  Included are new administrative procedures “designed to ensure that officers and agents understand their responsibilities to protect individual private information and that individuals understand their rights.”

Airport laptop search. Image from Center for American Progress.

Airport laptop search. Image from Center for American Progress. (Click image for article)

The DHS further stated that searches are permitted by law and are not restricted to detection of terrorist plans, but are also necessary to uncover possession of child pornography and criminal possession of intellectual property, trademark and copyright infringement.

You can read three reports made available by the government along with this recent announcement. First, the DHS Privacy Office released a Privacy Impact Assessment, which is also available at www.dhs.gov/privacy. This document is designed to improve the public’s understanding of the authorities, policies, and procedures used during searches. It also let’s them know what is being done to protect individuals’ privacy.

(In a related story, the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) will also conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” within 120 days.)

Next, additional reports were released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Their guidelines also made mention of searches of iPods and other digital media players, as well as video and digital cameras. Click the links to see the PDFs of the reports.

laptop searchThis is all well and good, but I was a little surprised to learn that out of the 221,000,000 (that’s 221 million) travellers that crossed U.S. borders in the last 10 months that only 1,000 laptops were searched in this period, and that less than 50 of those searches were in depth. That’s about 3 laptops a day being checked out. Typically, the laptop wner is asked to turn on the laptop and demonstrate that it is a working computer, but apparently there are at least 3 PCs a day that require a little bit more scrutiny.

Have you had your camera, iPod, or laptop searched while you were travelling and out of the US? Tell me your story. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to hear it.

$100 Xbox 360 Price Drop

Microsoft Store

After Sony dropped its prices last week for the PS3, Microsoft followed suit and lowered prices for its Xbox 360 console gaming system. The Xbox 360 Elite is now available for $299, down $100 from $399. The new prices is effective as of yesterday, Friday, August 28, 2009.

The Xbox 360 Pro system was reduced by $50 to $249, and the Xbox 360 Arcade edition kept its price at $199.

I’ve been holding on to my old Xbox game console, but I’ve checked out the new Xbox 360 several times over the past few years, and I think this price drop will cause me to take the plunge and get the new system. I’ll have to research the differences between the Xbox 360 Pro and the Xbox 360 Elite. I’m thinking the Pro edition is good enough for me.

XBOX 360 – Meet the new FAMILY game night. Shop now at Microsoft Store!

One Day Only — $9 .com sale

This is only a picture

This is only a picture

My domain name and web hosting service, SkylarkWebworks.com, is offering a one day sale on .com domain names. Get your new .com domain name for only $9 per year. Offer ends tomorrow, August 21, 2009. Just use the domain name search tool in the upper right hand corner of the site to get started.

Quick News from Affiliate Summit East

imagesHi, folks. I should be in NYC right now attending day 2 of Affiliate Summit East, but I stayed in for a little extra sleep.

I’m attending Affiliate Summit East 2009 in NYC at the Hilton. It’s my first Affiliate Summit, and I have learned so much in less than 6 hours that it’s hard to believe. I’ve learned a bit about marketing, and I’ve learned that the affiliate marketing community is real tight and friendly. A bunch of great people out there.

First, thanks to Evan Weber of Experience Ads (@experienceads) for helping me get my pass. And we finally got to meet after trying to meet all day.

Sunday I attended three seminars: Getting Noticed Fast (with Mike Buechele, Trisha Lyn Fawver, Jen Goode, and Stephanie Lichtenstein), Viral Campaigns by Larry Bailin, and What the heck is a web site? (Or are web sites dead?) All three were very informative, and chock full of useful info and ideas. I’ll write more about them later.

Drew, Brett, and Heather

Drew, Brett, and Heather

I met some more bloggers such as Ben Spark (Drew) at benspark.com; @HeatherinBC (boatinginbeautifulbritishcolumbia.com) who was great; Brett Bumeter from softduit.com; and Andre Natta of bhamterminal.com. Real nice people.

John Chow, me, and Jeremy Schoemaker

John Chow, me, and Jeremy Schoemaker

I also got to chat briefly with John Chow of JohnChow.com and Jeremy Schoemaker of shoemoney.com. I completely look like I snuck up behind them and had someone sneak this photo when they weren’t looking, but I had been chatting with them both beforehand. It was great to meet them, and they’re two really down to earth guys for such well-known bloggers.

Much more to tell, but I’m going to save it for later and head on down to ASE09 ASAP.

Play your PC’s Music, Photos, and Video on your TV

I don’t know about you, but I am still waiting for the TV and the PC to come together without having to go out and buy a new television. In earlier articles I have discussed ways to connect your PC to your TV, and though wireless is popular, I prefer wire whenever possible.

WD TV HD Media Player

WD TV HD Media Player

Photos and Videos naturally lend themselves to television, but how, oh  how, to get them from the computer to the TV without having to burn a new DVD? And, as earlier, without having to buy a new TV with some of this capability already built-in.

Enter the “Western Digital TV Hi-Definition Media Player” or the “WD TV HD MediaPlayer” for short, and Buy.com is selling Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player – Refurbished units this weekend for only $85 with free shipping! Regularly this media players goes for $125 new.

HDMI Connector

HDMI Connector

Composite A/V

Composite A/V

This little box connects to your TV via HDMI (left) or Composite A/V (right). If you have an HDTV you may already have a HDMI connector. HDMI allows you to connect audio and video with one cable. If you don’t have HDMI, then you can always use the Composite A/V connections on your TV. Most TVs sold in the last ten years have this connector. You’ve probably seen a composite audio-video cable before with its familiar yellow plug for video, and the red and white plugs for audio sound.

Next you can take an external USB drive with any digital music files, digital photo files, or digital video files on it, and connect it to one of the two USB ports on the WD TV HD Media Player. If you’ve got more than one USB drive, then go ahead and connect one to each of the USB ports. If you have more than two, then you can always switch drives at will to access the content on each of the drive. Western Digital says the media player works best with their own ‘My Book’ and ‘My Passport’ external USB drives, but will work most any USB storage device for that matter.

screen-videoOnce you turn on the media player (and your TV, too) then you will be presented with some beautiful navigation screens to access the media files on your drives. Thumbnail images are shown of your files as shown in the picture at right.

Western Digital has also included some software to convert your photos and videos to a format that works best with the media player. Don’t worry about altering your files. Just connect your external USB drive, and have the software create optimized copies of your files on the external drive while leaving your originals untouched.

And its easy ot navigate through your files with the WD TV HD’s included remote control. And who doesn’t need more remotes in their TV room? … 😎

The box supports full high definition 1080p image presentations through the HDMI connector. When connected to your TV with the composite A/V cable you’ll get standard, non hi-def video playback. Plus, you can play non-HD digital content, too. (Digital and hi-def aren’t synonyms.)

As you can see the box is quite small, and can easily be transported from room to room or place to place, so you can take your media anywhere you go.

You can read more about the WD TV HD media player on Western Digital’s web site. Have I sold you on this device? then go to Buy.com and get your Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player – Refurbished now! I’ll be there getting mine, too. Check back with me if you’re interested in my opinion.

And if you don’t have an external USB drive for your files already, then check out these USB drive deals from Buy.com, too: Western Digital 320GB My Passport Essential USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive – Cool Silver ($80), or the Western Digital 250GB My Passport Essential USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive Refurbished ($60).

Toshiba: Favorite Laptop, Favorite Netbook

I was reading Walter S. Mossberg’s Personal Technology column in today’s Wall Street Journal as he reviewed, quite favorably, Toshiba’s latest entry in the netbook market: The Toshiba Mini NB205-N310/BN Netbook. ($399.99 at TigerDirect).

I have long been a fan of Toshiba laptops which have offered unmatched features in their price range. I’m happy to see their netbooks continue that tradition.

On the positive side, Walter was very happy with the exceptional Mac-style keyboard on the Toshiba NB205-N310. He thought it had a “decent” array of ports and connectors such as 3 USB ports which he, like I, agreed were useful for charging cellphones among other things.


Toshiba Mini NB205-N210

He mentioned there was also the Toshiba Mini NB205-N210 Netbook which at 349.99 had a standard flat keyboard. He thought the N310’s keyboard was worth the extra $50.

He was also happy with the mouse touchpad and its buttons which he says are larger than those found on many other netbooks.

Walter was also very pleased with the battery life on the N310. Toshiba says the battery lasts over 9 hours. By Walter’s own battery test he believed that the battery would probably last over 8 hours.

The drawbacks he listed were slow boot speeds which he said took 30 seconds longer than many other netbooks. He compared it to his previous Acer Aspire One netbook. He also thought the speakers were “feeble, even for a netbook”.

Overall, it was a very positive review. I have been considering a new netbook purchase, and I think this may be the one.

Tech specs: Intel Atom N280 1.66GHz processor, 1GB DDR2 RAM (Memory), 160 GB hard disk drive, 10.1 inch WSVGA screen, webcam, with Windows XP Home edition. Dimensions were 2.9 pounds, 10.4 inches wide by 7.6 inches deep, and 1 inch thick “at its thinnest point”.

For myself I am curious if the new Windows 7 operating system will work well on this netbook. It appears to meet Microsoft’s minimum requirements.

You can also order the Toshiba Mini NB205-N210 Netbook ($349) and the Toshiba Mini NB205-N310/BN Netbook ($399)from CompUSA.

Must Read eBooks from eBooks.com (plus coupons)

Download an eBook today

Here are a few bargains I found in the world of eBooks today from eBooks.com.

20% Off — August Coupon Code

Save 20% on ebooks in the Drama, Romance, Law, Science, and Social Science categories at eBooks.com when you use the coupon code Categorysalecp on the ‘payment details’ page for your order.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark

Fans of the HBO series might want to check out Harris’s books. Dead Until Dark is currently available for download for $7.99. Compare that to the $10 to $14 you’ll pay for the paperback online or in retail stores. This eBook is available for Adobe Reader and Microsoft Reader.

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out.… Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea.

Click on the picture at left for more information and an excerpt from this title.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper

Did you see the movie?  Whether the answer is yes or no you should read this book by New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult. Picoult is widely acclaimed for her keen insights into the hearts and minds of real people. In My Sister’s Keeper she tells the emotionally riveting story of a family torn apart by conflicting needs and a passionate love that triumphs over human weakness.

Click the picture at right for more information on the title. And you can download now for less than $8. No need to wait for delivery for $10 or more from other online retailers and bookstores.