Monthly Archives: August 2006

Writely just a few rocks short of a full load

Yeah, I get that Writely can do basic HTML, like bold, italic and such, and there’s even provision to bring in photos.

But to make this useful for writers who are submitting material for publication, it’s vital that Writerly kick out both text files and Word-formatted documents with “smart quotes.” So far, the quotes don’t look all that smart.

And I can’t seem to get an indented first line on a paragraph. That’s HTML-y but not very writerly — sorry Writely.

I appreciate such HTML hacks as writing in different colors. But what about turning all this mush into a traditional Mac or PC file that can be e-mailed to an editor?

Wait!

Click on the File menu and you can Save As a Word, RTF, Open Office (yeah!), or PDF (double fuckin’ yeah!) document. Do it, and a dialog box pops up with a file name ready to be saved on your own PC. Yeah! Now we’re talking.

All they’ve got to do is keep building this thing, and when the Internet flows like air and water, we’ll never “buy” applications again. While Writely, Blogger, Gmail and the like are free at present, I’m not opposed to paying if they help me get stuff done.

At present, as an aid to writing on Blogger, Writely is pretty much a toy — it uploads instantly, but the title of my Writely document doesn’t make the leap — I’m left with title-less blog posts, for which I have to insert said title via the Blogger Dashboard.

And you can only configure Writely to post to a single blog. That wouldn’t work for me, since I’ve got four Blogger blogs. And while the HTML formatting is great, why wouldn’t I just work in Blogger’s Dashboard in the first place? Well, one reason is that Blogger chokes on browsers that aren’t IE 6 and above or Firefox. Writely, like Blogger, doesn’t work on Safari, but if Writely functions as promised — and continues to do so — on such oldies as IE 5 and Netscape 4, it’ll be a boon to my Powerbook 1400 and the whole world of This Old Mac.

If for some reason I didn’t have instant Web access (and this happens a lot more than you’d think), Blogger already allows posts to be e-mailed in. I can blog offline with a mail program on This Old Mac, for instance. That means Netscape 4.7. Writing blog posts, if you don’t factor in HTML links and photos, is pretty simple and well-suited to e-mail composition.

So is Writely more than a toy at this point? Well, it’s better than Pote, which I actually have used to compose documents. But any competing text-editing product, in my view, must confront the basic formatting of Microsoft Word, and by that I mean indents, smart quotes and adjustable column widths.

Give me that, and I’ll be pig-in-shit happy. That’s what makes Open Office such a marvel of free-software success. You can play in the Microsoft Office world without paying $300 plus whatever it takes to upgrade periodically for the privilege. Even the Daily News is on board with this one — we all have Open Office, not Microsoft Office.

For now, just give me my Writely paragraph indent. And soon.

What the hell is Writely anyway?

Want to try Google’s latest assault on the desktop before it even becomes Google-ized?

Well, I’m doing it right now — Writely, the technology that Google recently bought, brings Microsoft Word-like text editing to the browser, with a toolbar surprisingly like Word’s, document length of up to 500k, and the ability to take what you write here and open it to collaboration with others. No extra software required. And you can create and modify documents from anywhere with Web access and with a ton of browsers, old and new. It even supports Netscape 4 and IE 5, both of which I use on This Old Mac .

Did I mention that it’s wicked fast? Hell, give me a ton of disk space on some Google server somewhere, and I’d pay real money for such a service, as will, I suspect, businesses large and small. Imagine never having to update or maintain an application, nor a server. That’s where Google is headed — and the world wil march with it, I expect.

There’s even a Print button, which I assume takes your document and prints it out on your local printer. Have to try that one.

You can also bring in documents from various formats (I’m a bit shaky on which ones besides Word and regular text at this point) and take your Writerly documents and directly publish them to your blog. I’m not quite sure why you’d want to do the latter, but it can be done, and if there’s a compelling reason to do it, I’ll sure tell you.

Until now, I’ve used the little-heard-of Pote.com to write text files online — and Writely sure looks better, as it has actual formatting, like bold, italic, underline and even did the links you see above.

I tried to start a Writely account a month or so ago, in the wake of the Google announcement, but they were closed to new users. No longer.

Update: It took a couple of tries but I did manage to publish this entry to 2,000 Days in the Valley from here. It was pretty easy to set up (about 80 percent intuitive) and of course works on Blogger because both Writely and Blogger are owned by Google. All went well except that the entry had no title — I thought it would pick up the document title from Writely, but it didn’t, and I finally entered it manually through Blogger Dashboard.

Not Dora the Internet Explorer

IE plagues me at home and at the Daily News. On This Old PC, it quits for no apparent reason and won’t restart. At work, where Web posting requires use of IE, I’m having an unsolvable refresh problem that causes my edits to vanish.

DAMN YOU, Bill Gates. You lull us into using your browser, then abandon platform after platform. And the new IE 7 will only work on Windows Vista? Good luck with that, boyo.

Wireless router BLOWOUT

Had a quick walk over to Fry’s today (closest retail business to the Daily News), and they have refurbished Netgear routers — wireless or wired — for $19.99 each. They’re packed in plain brown boxes. So if you need a router, it’s a whole lot less hassle than buying a used one on Craigslist or eBay, and the damn things look new.

And keeping the previous entry in mind, the Netgear router includes a firewall as well as password-protection, encryption and MAC address filtering to keep out all those you don’t want to let in.

The wireless is a somewhat older WGR614. One thing different from my old-school Netgear router — you CAN turn the wireless off.

And if you want a wired-only router, there’s the RP614 (no boxes were opened, so I couldn’t examine to see which “revision”).

A Netgear router, not a no-name, no rebate hassles, for $20. Just do it.

The ethics of "free" Wi-Fi

Should I be piggybacking on somebody else’s Wi-Fi? Since I’ve had such trouble making my own Wi-Fi network connect reliably to both the house and The Back Room (home of This Old PC), I’ve recently begun connecting to a neighbor’s wireless router. We’ve got a big apartment complex and a new condo building right behind us, and since the condo units started selling, a bunch of new routers have come online — none of which I can get on the house’s iBook, but many of which hit between 40 percent and 60 percent power on This Old PC (now equipped with a cheap Fry’s antenna on the desk).

Am I doing a bad thing? Is it illegal, unethical or perfectly reasonable?

As it turns out, there’s a lot of chatter out there about this very topic. Start here:

Tech Builder: Opinion: ‘Stealing’ Your Neighbor’s Wi-Fi

PC World: Use a wireless network, get arrested?

Here’s a comment from this one:

If someone is using your wireless network from the street, it’s because your wireless network is broadcasting beyond your property, pushing its connection protocols. If that doesn’t seem like an explicit invitation, it’s at least implied permission to connect.

and another:

It’s beginning to sound like our society has become full of people that are looking for a free ride. The ethical thing to do is buy your own access. If you’re in a residential area it’s a no brainer that the network you see isn’t some company offering free access. It sounds like a large percentage of people would use their neighbor’s access without telling them and you can bet they wouldn’t offer to pay any of the monthly bill. What happened to good old fashioned honesty and integrity?

More on this subject:

Darknet: Jacking Wifi is ‘OK’ say Ethics Expert

Wikipedia: Wardriving

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Wi-Fi users piggyback on free signals

The New York Times (reg. required): Hey Neighbor, Stop Piggybacking on My Wireless

Here’s a sample from the NYT:

Many who piggyback say the practice does not feel like theft because it does not seem to take anything away from anyone. One occasional piggybacker recently compared it to “reading the newspaper over someone’s shoulder.”

Wi-Fi is in the air, and it is a very low curb, if you will, to step up and use it,” said Mike Wolf of ABI Research, a high-technology market research company in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

This is especially true, Mr. Wolf said, because so many users do not bother to secure their networks with passwords or encryption programs. The programs are usually shipped with customers’ wireless routers, devices that plug into an Internet connection and make access to it wireless. Many home network owners admit that they are oblivious to piggybackers.

Some, like Marla Edwards, who think they have locked intruders out of their networks, learn otherwise. Ms. Edwards, a junior at Baruch College in New York, said her husband recently discovered that their home network was not secure after a visiting friend with a laptop easily hopped on.

“There’s no gauge, no measuring device that says 48 people are using your access,” Ms. Edwards said.

And there could be malicious goings-on:

David Cole, director of product management for Symantec Security Response, a unit of Symantec, a maker of computer security software, said consumers should understand that an open wireless network invites greater vulnerabilities than just a stampede of “freeloading neighbors.”

He said savvy users could piggyback into unprotected computers to peer into files containing sensitive financial and personal information, release malicious viruses and worms that could do irreparable damage, or use the computer as a launching pad for identity theft or the uploading and downloading of child pornography.

“The best case is that you end up giving a neighbor a free ride,” Mr. Cole said. “The worst case is that someone can destroy your computer, take your files and do some really nefarious things with your network that gets you dragged into court.”

But others see it differently:

Some users say they have protected their computers but have decided to keep their networks open as a passive protest of what they consider the exorbitant cost of Internet access:

“I’m sticking it to the man,” said Elaine Ball, an Internet subscriber who lives in Chicago. She complained that she paid $65 a month for Internet access until she recently switched to a $20-a-month promotion plan that would go up to $45 a month after the first three months.

“I open up my network, leave it wide open for anyone to jump on,” Ms. Ball said.

And still one more:

ZDnet: Is it wrong to steal wireless bandwidth?

From a quick perusal of these Web pages, my gut feeling is that sharing Wi-Fi is OK if both parties — the router’s owner and the piggybacking user — agree on it, even though broadband providers probably aren’t too crazy about it (they’d rather collect $15 to $50 from everybody). AND if the router’s owner doesn’t charge for it. (I think splitting the bill gets into some uncharted waters.) In the real world, the vast majority of customers are just not going to pimp out their Wi-Fi to 20 neighbors — and the really paranoid ones aren’t going to use a wireless router at all, either plugging the modem directly into the computer or using a wired router (or turning off the wireless on their Wi-Fi router).

But piggybacking on someone else’s Wi-Fi without them knowing? Every once in a while and for a limited amount of non-malicious activity, I think it’s OK; but on a daily basis, not OK. As was expressed in many of the articles linked here, routers generally ship with the security wide open so they will work for unsavvy users. There needs to be better, easier software for configuring and maintaining these routers so even the technophobic can implement their security. And as my friend Bruce says, “Ethernet is best.” He likes the wire for the speed, especially with gigabit Ethernet and CAT6 cable.

But if you want to create a network with the expressed purpose of sharing it, FreeNetworks.org has the guidelines on how to do it. This organization in San Diego is currently setting up such networks.

On our Netgear router, the lengthy manual (available to all on PDF from Netgear) goes through how to implement password protection, encryption and MAC address filtering. I think it would be a nice thing, if you know a neighbor or neighbors who just do a little surfing — not running a business or anything — and let them in by password and or MAC address.

And Google is planning to offer free Wi-Fi in Mountain View and San Francisco, while other cities, including Los Angeles, have some plans to offer Wi-Fi and charge for it.

Assuming it can be done, I think that making a transition from wired to wireless Internet for home users would be a great thing. And much in the same way that home phone service is regulated to be affordable, I think the same should be done for Internet access, which these days is as essential, if not more so, to the lives of most of us.

Happy 11th birthday, Powerbook 5300c

Charles W. Moore has a great article at Low End Mac on the 11th birthday of the Macintosh Powerbook 5300c, Apple’s first PowerPC laptop.

First off, this 1995 model had the same problem that plagued iBook G4 and Powerbook G4 computers last week — flaming batteries:

Even before the 5300 began shipping in quantity, it suffered a major engineering setback and PR disaster that is ironically seems ripped from the headlines in August 2006. The 5300 was originally designed to use lithium-ion (LiIon) batteries, but Apple did a recall and switched to Nickel-Metal-Hydride (NiMH) cells after two of the Sony-made LiIon batteries caught fire.

No consumer machines were damaged, but the switchover caused shipping delays and was a major embarrassment.

This will make you feel good about today’s computer prices:

In addition to being the first PowerPC PowerBook, the 5300 also has the distinction of being the most expensive laptop Apple ever sold, with the top-end 5300ce model originally selling for a whopping $6,500!

Give the article a look — it’s well worth reading for old Mac aficionados.

Free wireless update

With my new antenna, speed on the free wireless connection is up to 24 MB/s. As far as I’m concerned, that rocks.

Next step: I plan to look into the nerd-ethics of sharing Wi-Fi connections. If somebody just plugs their router in and doesn’t bother to even change the name from the default (the one I’m connecting to is still called “Linksys,” as that is the brand name of the router), is it as OK to connect to it as it would be to someone more tech-savvy who actually knows how to give their Wi-Fi router a unique name with the expressed purpose of letting others share in their bandwidth? (Our Netgear router, when running, was called The Back Room, and has password protection AND 64-bit encryption turned on).

Now I have no desire to hack into this router — to go to the Linksys router’s URL and poke around — I just want to surf the Web, but others may not be so scrupulous.

So even if you want to share your DSL or cable Internet bandwidth — and I think it’s a noble and doable thing — do yourself a favor and at least rename your router and set the password.

By the way, you can help your neighbors AND block out others by offering them free Wi-Fi: Just ask them for (or help them figure out) the MAC address of their PC. MAC doesn’t stand for Macintosh, though every Mac has a MAC, which stands for something else, but I don’t know what. Every wireless card (and every Ethernet card, for that matter) has a unique MAC address, and you can filter for them, only letting those who you approve use your connection. It’s a nice thing to do for your neighbors, if you’re the do-nice-things-for-your-neighbors type.