Brushfire in George… smoke in Tampa?

This is truly remarkable.  We’re in the Tampa Bay area, about 250 miles from Waycross, GA.

Now, there’s a huge fire up in Waycross.  And through an odd quirk in the wind patterns, we’re getting the smoke.  I just stepped outside and it was pretty rough — just a carpet of smoke throughout the area.  The picture below doesn’t do the situation justice, but here’s an example:


Alex Eckelberry


Google buys DoubleClick. And is now the most powerful behavioral marketer on the planet.

The acquisition of DoubleClick by Google is not surprising from a business standpoint — they now have a big footprint in the third party ad network space.  And I think it’s a good deal for them and makes a lot of sense.

But wow. It boggles the mind as to how much consumer data that Google now has available to it. 

Think about it.  Combining information on searches, email usage, download habits, video viewing and all the rest, with the information from DoubleClick’s massive datastream of information from cookies and sites.


Marketers dream. 

Do you trust marketers?



Insuring data breaches

Tech//404, a new venture by insurance company Darwin, sells insurance for losses due to technology and security failures.  And they now publish a “Data Loss Archive”, a sort of repository of horrible acts of corporate data theft (it has potential, but should it only has a number of recent events and really should have an RSS feed). 

They also have a “Data Loss Calculator”, a rather grim calculator that lays out the cost of data breaches  — but it has zippy sounds (insurance company folks are such wild and crazy people.)


The real costs of data breaches — ruined credit, stolen identify, etc. — are far harder to calculate. 

Alex Eckelberry


Sunbelt Weekly TechTips #38

Internetconvers1283172377777Download: Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool
Here’s a new free tool from Microsoft that will check your Internet router/NAT device to determine whether it supports advanced features such as face to face collaboration with Windows Meeting Space in Vista. The tool can be run on an XP or Vista computer. You can download it from the Microsoft web site here.

Is Vista a “slow pig” when it comes to copying files?
A number of users have complained that sometimes the Vista file copy process is slow or stops responding, and an article on Slashdot last week played up the problem.

I’ve not experienced the problem myself but apparently quite a few people have, and Microsoft has a hotfix to correct it, which you can get from Customer Support Services. There’s more info in KB article 931770.

CompUSA closing many stores
CompUSA was once “the” place to go to buy computers and computer accessories, but now many people buy at discounters such as Fry’s Electronics or over the Internet, where you can almost always find lower prices and good service from sources such as Now CompUSA is closing about half of its stores. The process began in February and is still ongoing. You may still be able to get some good deals at the “going out of business sales.” Here’s a list of locations that are closing.

Court rules in favor of media server that copies DVDs
A company that makes a home media server that allows user to “rip” their DVDs to disk was sued by the DVD Copy Control Association for allegedly violating its licensing contract. A California judge ruled in favor of the defendant. Read more about it here.

Manage your digital photos in Vista
Many of us have amassed large collections of digital photos, and Vista makes it easier to manage and find them. One of the most useful new features is the ability to add “tags” to your pictures. These are keywords that can be used to sort and search. The tags are stored as metadata within the file, along with other details about the graphic.

To add a tag to a photo, right click the photo file and select Properties. Click the Details tab, and then click Tags. A field will appear that says “Add a tag.” You can type in the keyword(s) you want to associate with the picture here. Then, in the Tags column of Explorer (in a folder that contains pictures), you can click the down arrow to sort or stack by tags.

How to join a domain in Windows XP Professional
If you take your laptop to work with you, you may need to join it to the company domain in order to log onto your company network account. Here’s how:

  1. Click Start | Control Panel.
  2. In Classic view, click System. In XP view, click Performance and Maintenance, then click System.
  3. Click the Computer Name tab, then click the Change button.
  4. In the Domain dialog box, enter the name of the company domain you want to join.
  5. A dialog box will ask for the username and password. If the domain administrator has already created a domain account for the computer, you can enter your own user name and password. If not, a domain administrator will need to enter his/her username and password here.
  6. You will receive a “welcome to the domain” message indicating the computer was successfully joined to the domain.
  7. Reboot the computer.

Note that Windows XP Home computers cannot join domains.

User Q&A: What happened to all that space on my hard disk?
“Hi there. I bought a new hard drive, got a great deal on what was supposed to be a 750 GB drive – BUT when I installed it in the computer, it says there’s only 686 GB. I could understand maybe a small difference but that’s a lot of gigabytes that got lost somewhere. This seems like false advertising to me, as I didn’t get all the space I paid for. I’ve seen the same thing every time I bought a hard drive. Can you explain? Thanks. – T.W.”

Well, the problem comes from the difference in the way computers and disk manufacturers calculate drive capacity. Computers “think” in binary math (base 2), where kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, and so forth is an increment of 2 to the 10th power (1024).

Humans are used to thinking in base 10, where hundreds, thousands, millions, etc. are incremented by 1000. So hard drive manufacturers use a more familiar system in which they “round” a kilobyte to 1000 bytes, a megabyte to 1000 kilobytes, and a gigabyte to 1000 megabytes. So the drive manufacturer advertises a drive that has 750 billion bytes as a 750 GB drive, but that’s not how the computer sees it because it’s dividing by 1024 instead of by 1000.

Is it false advertising? Well, technically, maybe so. But since just about all hard drive makers do it this way, it has become the standard. On the other hand, just to confuse matters a little more, manufacturers don’t use this system for other storage media, such as flash memory cards. There, what you see is what you actually get: flash cards usually actually have the amount of space advertised, although formatting does reduce the amount of usable space on both hard drives and flash cards. For a more detailed discussion of all this, click here.

You get an error message when you sync offline files in XP
If you get an error message stating that files of this type cannot be made available offline when you try to synchronize offline files on an XP computer, this may be caused by a problem with client-side caching. There’s a hotfix available. To find out how to get it, see KB article 890671.

Poor video quality with interlaced mode on Vista computers
If you configure your video settings to use interlaced mode on a Windows Vista machine, you may find that the video is jerky and of poor quality. To fix this problem, you need to download a free update package. There are versions available for both 32 bit and 64 bit Vista. To get the download, see KB article 932649.

Until next week,

Deb Shinder


Ethics and antispyware

I’ve written before about the “scan and scare” tactics used by antispyware companies (similar are the “scan and find errors” used by registry cleaners).  And recently, Larry Jaffe, our outspoken editor of CounterSpy News, also wrote about this and received mail by the ton.  It’s a burning hot topic in the minds of users.

Here’s how it works: You download a “free trial”, which scans your drive, finds a bunch of terrifying things on your PC, demands payment in order to clean your system.  And it works even better when the antispyware product has false positives. 

It’s even something that the highly reputable Robert Vamosi at CNET mentions in his antispyware roundup recently:

The free trial copy … will not remove any spyware found until you purchase the full product. We think this is wrong, and a crude way to force sales. 

He’s absolutely right.  It is wrong. 

But this model is, in fact, implicitly driven by places like, TuCows, etc., which base a large part of their revenue model by selling manufacturers higher visibility. 

Here’s why: For every download, a developer will get a certain percentage of people actually buying the product.  So, if you get 1,000 downloads, you might get 2 people who buy the product, a conversion rate of 2%.  And that 2%, by the way, holds pretty standard throughout the industry.

But many companies in the antispyware space (and earlier, in the registry cleaner area) learned that by scanning the machine, but refusing to clean until paid, their conversion rates soared.  I spoke with an antispyware vendor a while back who told me that by using the “scan and scare” tactics, they were able to get a conversion rate of almost 30%.  Another conversation with a commissioned affiliate of an antispyware vendor said that their tests showed a 10x higher conversion rate when they moved to the scan-and-scare model.

And so there’s the reason why virtually the entire industry has moved to this model:  the conversion rates are astounding — especially in security.   It really pays to scare the crap out of people. 

Our conversion rates?  Maybe 2%, because we refuse to do the scan-and-scare thing — we provide a fully functional trial version. But that means that for every million downloads of CounterSpy, we get (maybe) 20,000 sales.  If we were on the “scan-and-scare” model, that number would likely increase to something like 200,000 sales.  The difference in math is staggering.  

This puts companies like Sunbelt at a considerable disadvantage over the competition, for the reason that the competition can buy up vast amounts of ad space and pay-for-download programs on places like CNET and TuCows, virtually guaranteeing themselves a healthy return. 

Look at the math — a pay-per-download program at a major download site might cost you as high as $1.00 per download, getting you listed in a premier location, driving huge download numbers.  If you’re getting a 2% conversion rate on a $20 product, you’re losing money.  But if you’re getting a 20% conversion rate, you’re making money hand over fist.  By using these types of marketing practices, you win.  So even highly reputable companies like WebRoot have moved to the scan-and-scare model, because of the sheer difference in numbers. 

And more advertising is also encouraged by ad sales reps who openly state that “more advertising with us will get you better visibility with the editors”.  While completely nonsensical with the major, reputable publishers like PC Magazine, PC World and CNET (who have strict Chinese walls between editorial and advertising), it hasn’t seemed to have stopped some ad reps from saying it to us (very few ad reps do this by the way — it’s actually a rare occurrence — but it is done).

Another hidden secret of the antispyware business is that independent “review” sites rank products higher based on the commission paid.  We had one major review site offer us a high spot in their review if we promised a higher commission — and then, he would only list us a “#2”, because our price point was too low ($19.95, vs. $29.95 for the “#1 player”).  This is why for reviews, your best bet is to look at user reviews and reviews by reputable organizations, like PC Mag, PC World, CNET, etc.  Sleazy?  Yes.  But it’s the nature of the business, and it’s something that very few people know about. 

It has been rumored that a major state attorney general’s office was sniffing around the scan-and-scare practices in the registry cleaning business.   Perhaps they need to look at it for the antispyware side of the business.

In the meantime, you can trust that we will always offer a fully-functional trial version.  To hell with the money.  

Alex Eckelberry