Recently Filed in Technology

I've had "crack case and vacuum computer" on my To Do list for months, but even so, when the fan would kick in to high gear I'd just shrug that it was summer, ponder whether the ever-increasing pigginess of software justified a new toy, and reach for my A/C remote. Today it was overcast, so when the fan sounded like it was about to have an electronic coronary, I got up from my computer game and walked alllll the way across my office to get my computer vacuum.

Since I was in the middle of a large file transfer, I started on the outside, vacuuming the vents and joints. When I took the vacuum's tip away from one spot, it pulled a tuft of dust out of the case with it. Uh oh. Maybe it was just that one spot—after all I'd been good about clearing any accumulated dust or cat hair from the external vents. Then another tuft. And another.

Download finishes, I get the computer powered down to open the tower, and confirm that not only do the tufts and layer of dust continue inside, there's even a little spider nest. Fortunately it had not yet disgorged its tiny-yet-twitch-inspiring spawn three feet from where I spend most of my waking hours.

I feel like I deserve a visit from computer protective services.

My computer is back to being pretty quiet (for an over-powered full tower), and I expect the performance will pick up a touch too. It's a minor miracle it was working at all, and testament to some serious over-engineering in the cooling system.

Looks like Dell is still treating Alienware as an independent subsidiary, so hopefully they'll keep making their great gaming machines and just gain some operations expertise from Texas. And not just because there are too few technology vendors who understand that electronics can have style too—I know I paid extra for my case in plasma purple with green lighting. Hey, Apple folks pay extra for style, but they don't get a color choice since Steve Jobs seems to be channeling Henry Ford on that topic.

Now off to add a recurring task to Outlook to keep that dust under control. Computer vacuums which are gentle enough to not suck the wires off their connections and come with tiny attachments can be found for less than $20—good to have one around.

Stockholm recently concluded a wonderful experiment in reducing traffic congestion. From January 1 to July 31, they turned on a variable cost toll system which charged 3 different toll levels, peaking twice a day at rush hour. From 6:30pm to 6:30am the roads remained completely free. All this was done using simple metal arches over the roads—no stopping for a toll booth. If you had a transponder box the funds would be deducted from your bank account; if you didn't, you'd receive a bill based on your license plate that could be taken care of at convenience stores.

Guess what? People changed their work schedules. They used buses and bikes more. Those with environmentally friendly cars could chortle a little more since they got a free ride. Travel times dropped by 1/3 at peak hours. Pollution was reduced. Even accident rates went down.

And why did it end July 31st? Because this was a trial period for a plan which was an unpopular initiative. The public vote to make it a permanent system is September 17, with every traffic planner in the world watching closely. While public support is greatly increased (and traffic right back up at December levels with the tolls off), politics are never certain.

Further reading:

I love it when technology is used to reinforce human behavior instead of to try and force people into a computer's mold. I could live with a toll system like this on 520 or I-90.

Recently AOL had a little "oops." They released 3 months' search data for over 650,000 subscribers. While they removed the AOL account names, they replaced those individual IDs with equally unique numeric IDs. Between "ego surfing" for one's own name and other specific local searches over such an extensive period, many of the "anonymous" people in this file could be identified. Theoretically this was supposed to be just for researchers, but they put it up on an unprotected site and naturally a whole bunch of other people found this Web goldmine. While they've apologized, there's no way to stuff the data back in the box.

Why do people care about the file? Several reasons. Search engine optimization consultants are drooling over the opportunity to compare search queries with the pages people clicked on. Since Google drives AOL's searches, their competitors now have a handy volume of data for reverse engineering their algorithms. Law enforcement has enough searches on illegal topics to keep them occupied for ages. The rest of us can simply be seduced by the life dramas captured in a season's worth of surfing.

Why should we all care about the release? If you didn't understand Google's resistance to disclosing this kind of data, maybe you can now see how personal it really is. Compared to regions such as the EU, the US already has very weak and patchwork privacy laws. And yet, it seems each week there's another attempt to erode them a little more. For some reason Minority Report is coming to mind, when Anderton (Cruise) was walking through the shopping center and every billboard tracked him as he walked by. If you think it's just SciFi, you haven't been paying attention to RFID developments.

I was recently responsible for IT for a software/Web services company, and along the way developed some tracking spreadsheets to document server status. While they were created for disaster recovery, on a day-to-day basis they turned out to be very helpful for troubleshooting problems and configuring new folders or servers.

Here's a template with the more generic tabs I used. It's all set for Windows LAN and Web servers, including detailed NTFS and IIS permissions.


I've finally found a great program for managing data on my desktop and laptop!

My primary system is an Alienware desktop, and then I have a Vaio SZ for when I'm out and about. (Yes, I like nice toys.) I keep my data organized by topic—personal, business, clients, etc.—in folders off the root. This takes care of most of the data, but there are also a few orphans under Documents and Settings such as my bookmarks and iTunes library data, some of which reside in folders where I only want to grab one or two files.

All of this adds up to about 10GB of data that I want to have synchronized when I switch from the desktop to laptop and back. I've used two applications, one paid but worth it, and one free but useful.

Google has snuck out yet another service (no doubt to be terminally in Beta). This one I heard about through an article about eBay stock dropping, despite having both AdWords and Analytics accouts.

I find Google Checkout very intriguing for two reasons.

First, they've undercut most of the reputable merchant account services, even Costco which was the least expensive last time I crunched the rates. Not only are the basic discount rate, per-transaction and monthly/annual fees lower, the fact that you don't need a separate payment gateway like Authorize.Net for real-time processing is another savings. Their simplified rates are also a nice change from the bait and switch experience with many merchant services companies. Many will advertise rates which can only be achieved by brick and mortar or high volume vendors, and it's only when you dig through the fine print that you learn you'll be paying a full percentage point more.