Sunday, May 27, 2007

Help me... When I'm trying to install Flash I get "Network error. Please check your Internet connection and try again."

Okay, okay, so sometimes PCs aren't the easiest thing to use.

Flash animation had been working fine on my machine, but some months ago it stopped working, displaying a a little red "X" inside two small boxes rather than showing me the Flash movie or the splash image for the Flash movie, but I don't care much for graphics and Flash, so it wasn't a big deal for me.

I also noticed that references to YouTube videos in blog posts had the same issue with the little red "X" and I was unable to watch the video. But, once again, not being able to watch YouTube videos was not a big deal for me and in fact improved my productivity.

But lately I have noticed that I can't even enter some web sites if they have Flash on the first page without any non-Flash "Skip Intro" button. For example, I just tried to visit the Sony web site and could not see anything.

So, finally, I decided to get to the root of the problem and fix it.

The obvious assumption was that I needed to re-install the Flash player. So, I tried that, but the installation would not complete successfully. I kept getting this error message:

Network error. Please check your Internet connection and try again

I checked, but there was no problem with my Internet connection. I could browse the Web and send and receive email fine.

That led me to continue that something was blocking Flash.

I did a Web search for that error message, but only found some suggestions about a firewall blocking Flash or a pop-up blocker. I don't have a firewall for my dial-up connection and could not find any settings that seemed to be designed to block Flash.

I was stumped.

I asked myself "What else do I know?"

One thing I knew was that months ago, maybe around the same time that Flash stopped working, I noticed that all Web graphics were very "muddy" looking and low quality. I quickly realized that this was an attempt by MSN to "accelerate" dial-up Web access and I also knew that you could right-mouse "View original image" to see the full-quality graphic. Alas, there was no such option for the red "X" Flash images.

It occurred to me that maybe this MSN "acceleration" was blocking Flash, so I set out to figure out how to disable the MSN Web "acceleration."

There is an icon for the MSN Connection Center in the System Tray in the lower right corner of the screen. It show you your connection speed, amount of data transferred, and your acceleration mode. If you right-mouse on the icon and then mouse over the "Acceleration" menu, you see a list of the acceleration options. If you have this Flash problem, your acceleration setting is probably "Fastest", which gives you the fastest Web page loading.

I changed the Acceleration setting from "Fastest" to "Faster" (actually, I tried "Normal", but I use "Faster" now), hit "Refresh" for the Sony web page, and Presto! I see the Flash image. Ditto for YouTube. Mystery solved. In fact, I already did have the Flash Player, but the "Fastest" MSN web acceleration setting was blocking the downloading of Flash content.

Actually, I'll just leave my acceleration on "Fastest" since I rarely wish to see any Flash content, but at least now I know how to get Flash content if for some reason I want to.

My hope is that by documenting my experience in a blog post, other MSN dial-up users can solve their own difficulties with Flash.

Of course, I'm not sure how many of us diehard Luddite dial-up users are left these days, maybe just me and a few dozen other people in the entire world?

-- Jack Krupansky

Randall Stross just doesn't get it: a computer is just a box

I was amused by an article in The New York Times by Randall Stross entitled "Apple's Lesson for Sony's Stores: Just Connect" which convinced me that poor Randall simple doesn't get it. Apple is in a completely separate market space, or alternative universe, if you will. Whatever Apple's "lessons" might be, they have no relevance to the distinctly separate market for Sony's products and those of a myriad of other "PC vendors."

To most of us (normal people), a computer is plain and simply just a box, a commodity, an appliance, actually an information applicance, that does some useful functions, but we have no more desire to form an "emotional bond" with this box than with a blender, stove, or refrigerator. Frankly, most of us reserve "emotional bonds" for more animate objects.

By all means give Apple credit for the cult it has created and the support environment that it offers its cult, but spare us the stupidity of suggesting that these cultish "lessons" should be inflicted on "the rest of us" who have no interest in annointing Steve Jobs as our PC (Personal Cult) leader.

I do fully understand that a minority subset of the American people do gravitate towards cults and cult-like "emotional bonds", and I really do feel that they are entitled to do so, but I don't see any merit to trying to suggest that Sony, et al should try to foist that dysfunctionality on the rest of America.

The article does remind me of a point that really does bug me, namely that if Apple computers are legendary for their "ease of use", why are all of these Geniuses and Genius Bars needed at all? Yeah, this is yet another instance of the legendary reality distortion field.

As far as Sony, they recognize that any damn fool can buy a PC "box" at the nearest mall or Wal*Mart or on the Web, so they are simply using their stores as another form of promotion, and even if somebody doesn't walk into the store, at least the "Sony" brand is implanted in their mind for the next time they are thinking about what brand of PC "box" to buy.

By all means, computers should deliver value to their users, but value should be measured by function and satisfaction with results relative to costs rather than by measuring the strength of "emotional bonds." Yeah, I am quite familiar with the desire of retailers to rise above the commodity and "value" aspects of their products and who see "emotional bonds" as a tool, but I'm an advocate for the interests of consumers, not for retailers who might seek to distort the interests of consumers.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What are the kids up to?

I am in the middle of reading John Brockman's Edge question for 2007: What are you optimistic about?, and although it is all very interesting, it strikes me that almost all of these "visions" are rather dated and even somewhat stale, probably because these are the ideas that people of the "boomer" generation grew up with in the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, and even most of the 1990's. Enough of the stuff already. What I really want to know is: What are the kids up to? Not in the sense of what toys do they play with and what tools do they work with, but what ground are they beginning to break and what visions of the future do they have that are their own creation and not something that was spoon-fed to them or rammed down their throats by a well-meaning but misguided elite.

By "kids", specifically I mean young people who:

  • Grew up with the Internet and the Web as their earliest significant computing experience, or at least since they were juniors in high school
  • Experienced 9/11 while in high school or freshmen in college, at a time when it had a chance to dramatically shape the way they started to view the geopolitical world
  • Just assume that global warming and climate change are "real" since the concepts were not "new" to them even when they were juniors or seniors in high school
  • Have been exposed to open source software in college
  • Have had a cell phone since high school and most of their classmates in high school had cell phones
  • Are no older than 25 (or maybe 26 or 27) and consider people who are 28 or 29 or 30 as already "too old" to "understand"
  • Are not deeply attracted to and attached to traditional politics and political parties such as the Republicans and the Democrats, and have their own politics and world view
  • Have been blogging since high school
  • Since high school have had teachers and professors who are challenging traditional views of economics, politics, and social structures

What I am interest in is:

  • What fields of intellectual study are they most attracted to?
  • What aspects of computing excite them the most?
  • Are they breaking any new ground, or simply "refashioning the wheel"?
  • What are examples of computing breakthroughs by the 20 to 25-year olds?
  • What are some hard-core examples of great leaps that kids have made compared to Ray Kurzweil, Dan Bricklin, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Larry Ellison, Bill Joy, et al when they were of this same age (20-25)?

Is it really true that "change is accelerating"? If so, we should see a much larger list of breakthroughs than for those "old-timers."

I'd also like to see two lists: one for applications, but primarily one for underlying technological fundamentals. Applications like YouTube, Digg, and Facebook go on that first list, but what I am primarily interested in is what fundamental technology ground is being broken by "the kids"?

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Yikes! Why can't I get my MSN email anymore in Outlook Express???!!!

I'm a hard-core Luddite in some ways. For example, I still use dial-up for Internet access. I use MSN as my Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have been using them for almost eight years now (in July). For the most part, the service is fine and only occasionally do I run into some kind of problem. Last night and today were one of those times, although to make a long story short, the customer service to fix the problem, via online chat, was great.

Okay, so here's the problem...

I use Outlook Express (OE) to compose, read, and send email. I don't really use my MSN account, and nobody even knows my MSN email account, but rather I use the POP3 email server for four web sites that I run. There is a low volume of administrative and marketing email directly from MSN to my MSN email account, but mostly the only reason I even have to have the MSN account in Outlook Express is due to the "joy" known as "Port 25 Blocking" which means that your friendly neighborhood ISP (MSN in my case) blocks attempts to send (email) to port 25 for anything other than their own SMTP server. So, all of my outbound email, even though it is "from" my four web sites is shuttled through port 25 of the MSN SMTP server. That was all working fine, until last night, when I started getting a timeout and this error message when attempting to fetch email for my MSN email account:

Your server has unexpectedly terminated the connection. Possible causes for this include server problems, network problems, or a long period of inactivity. Account: 'MSN Mail', Server: '', Protocol: POP3, Port: 110, Secure(SSL): No, Error Number: 0x800CCC0F

I do occasionally see this type of message, which usually means that there is some sort of transient network or server "outage". Usually, if you try again or wait a few minutes or a few hours, it goes away without any action required on your part. But this time, I got the same error even this morning.

Luckily, there was no problem with outbound email, so I was able to send and receive all of my usual non-MSN email. Still, it bothered me that something was amiss. Finally, this afternoon I had a spare moment to bite the bullet and dig into the problem.

My initial suspicion proved correct: The folks at MSN had shuffled their email servers and a change in email configuration settings would be required. I tried to poke around the MSN web site, but didn't find any email help within a couple of minutes, so I bit another bullet and decided to contact MSN "support." Among the support options offered by the MSN web site is "chat" based support, and I have used this type of support before successfully, so I gave it a try. It all worked out. The biggest problem I had was that they asked for a phone number for verification and I rarely update the phone number for my MSN account and have moved so many times in the past eight years so that I had no clue what number to give her. Luckily, they were willing to take the last four digits of my credit card, and off we went.

I gave her a brief synopsis of the problem and she said they were having a lot of that and some new Outlook email settings were needed. Specifically, she said:

John, we have received numerous calls regarding this same issue. You see, the MSN POP3 servers have finally updated their servers and we will need to reset your Outlook Express settings.

Here in fact are the instructions she (Cecille) gave me, plus one key instruction that she left out:

1.) Open Outlook Express
2.) Choose Tools and then Accounts
3.) Highlight your MSN mail account
4.) Choose Properties.
5.) Choose the Servers tab.
6.) Change the Incoming mail server to ''
7.) Change the Outgoing mail server to ''
7a.) UN-check the box for 'Log on using Secure Password Authentication' in the 'Incoming Mail Server' section in the middle of the dialog box.

8.) Check the box for 'My server requires authentication' in the 'Outgoing Mail Server' section at the bottom of the dialog box.
9.) Choose the Advanced tab
10.) Change the POP3 port to 995 while SMTP remains at port 25.
11.) Check the 2 check boxes next to 'This server requires a secure connection (SSL)' under both the Outgoing & Incoming server sections.

The original instructions did not include step 7a, and resulted in this error message when I tried to retrieve or send email:

Unable to logon to the server using Secure Password Authentication. Account: 'MSN Mail', Server: '', Protocol: POP3, Server Response: '-ERR command not implemented', Port: 995, Secure(SSL): Yes, Server Error: 0x800CCC90, Error Number: 0x800CCC18

Performing step 7a, by itself, without redoing the rest of the changes, caused that error to go away and both sending and receiving email via MSN were once again working.

All told, that was about 30 minutes in the chat session. Granted, I myself had to deduce the missing step, but the rest of the instructions gave me enough context so that there weren't many choices to choose from. If I hadn't found the missing step myself, here's what would have happened:

I will need to transfer you now to an E-mail Resolution Specialist. You might need to remove and then reconfigure the account all over again in OE.

That wouldn't have been the end of the world, and I have been there in the past, but luckily we didn't need to "go there", this time.

In truth, I think the forced change in email server names is ridiculous. They really could have maintained a redirection so that the change would have been transparent, and they could have had a grace period and "spammed" us with notices telling us to change our settings. In truth, maybe they did "spam" us, but the change was buried somewhere in some of the monthly newsletters, but it should have been a more prominent notice.

Note: This change in configuration does not change your email address. MSN email addresses continue to end in ""

For future reference, my main email address is is one of my web sites. Incoming email is stored by the POP3 server run by my web site hosting service (Fatcow.) OE directly fetches my email from that POP3 server, not the MSN (or Live) POP3 server. But my outbound email is routed by OE through the MSN (Live) SMTP server. OE and SMTP allow you to specify an email address for the account so that my email looks like it came from even though it was actually sent using MSN. Replies to my email get routed to the POP3 server for rather than to the MSN (Live) POP3 server.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why I don't believe in The Wisdom of Crowds

In the Web 2.0 community The Wisdom of Crowds is held as an article of faith, but I personally do not subscribe to it, at least as practiced by the blogosphere. My rationale is primarily that too often these so-called "crowds" are in fact mobs, reacting in an irrational, knee-jerk manner, unwilling to let the dust settle before weighing in and more enamored of passion than of reason.

In fact, the Wikipedia article tells us about wise crowds and gives us the requirements for a "crowd" to show wisdom:

Not all crowds (groups) are wise. Consider, for example, mobs or crazed investors in a stock market bubble. Refer to Failures of crowd intelligence (below) for more examples of unwise crowds. According to Surowiecki, these key criteria separate wise crowds from irrational ones:

Diversity of opinion
Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

If a crowd does exhibit these four key elements, then I would acknowledge the wisdom of the crowd, but so often (such as with the recent Digg Meltdown), multiple elements are missing. In fact, all too commonly, all we really see is a perversion of aggregation where a single opinion is amplified to the nth degree in the form of the infamous blogosphere echo chamber.

So, just because we have aggregated the voices of the crowd, does not automatically mean that the result will be wisdom. The Wikipedia article goes on to talk about "Failures of crowd intelligence":

Surowiecki studies situations (such as rational bubbles) in which the crowd produces very bad judgment, and argues that in these types of situations their cognition or cooperation failed because (in one way or another) the members of the crowd were too conscious of the opinions of others and began to emulate each other and conform rather than think differently. Although he gives experimental details of crowds collectively swayed by a persuasive speaker, he says that the main reason that groups of people intellectually conform is that the system for making decisions has a systematic flaw.

Surowiecki asserts that what happens when the decision making environment is not set up to accept the crowd, is that the benefits of individual judgments and private information are lost, and that the crowd can only do as well as its smartest member, rather than perform better (as he shows is otherwise possible). Detailed case histories of such failures include:

Too homogenous
Surowiecki stresses the need for diversity within a crowd to ensure enough variance in approach, thought process, and private information.
Too centralized
The Columbia shuttle disaster, which he blames on a hierarchical NASA management bureaucracy that was totally closed to the wisdom of low-level engineers.
Too divided
The U.S. Intelligence community failed to prevent the September 11, 2001 attacks partly because information held by one subdivision was not accessible by another. Surowiecki's argument is that crowds (of intelligence analysts in this case) work best when they choose for themselves what to work on and what information they need. (He cites the SARS-virus isolation as an example in which the free flow of data enabled laboratories around the world to coordinate research without a central point of control.)
Recent reports indicate that the CIA is now planning a Wikipedia style information sharing network that will help the free flow of information to prevent such failures again.
Too imitative
Where choices are visible and made in sequence, an "information cascade" can form in which only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once this has happened it is more efficient for everyone else to simply copy those around them.
Too emotional
Emotional factors, such as a feeling of belonging, can lead to peer pressure, herd instinct, and in extreme cases collective hysteria.

Wow, this puts the whole Digg Meltdown in a different light.

My own personal has been what I call "the sum of all curves." Each of us has our own views which we express and it is by expressing all of these views independently and looking at the net views (such as by taking polls or observing behavior in markets), we can get our collective views as the sum of all of the curves for each topic of interest. Whether talking about the stock market, political issues, or general social issues, "markets" work best when we each develop our own views independently (even if we all look at the same, shared information, but hopefully including information that we each discover on our own) and then use a "market" (or poll) to calculate the sum of all curves to produce the net curve (or set of curves).

I also believe that we need to forcefully challenge the notion that measuring raw popularity somehow implicitly gives us a measure of authority or even relevance.

In summary, I do in fact believe in The Wisdom of Crowds in its theoretical form as put forward by James Surowiecki, but I do not subscribe to it as currently practiced by the Web 2.0 community.

-- Jack Krupansky

The Digg Meltdown

I refrained from initially reacting the big Digg Meltdown last Tuesday, but I did finally succumb to the temptation to comment on it on a BusinessWeek Tech Beat blog post by Rob Hof entitled "Digg Users Revolt. Web 2.0's Moment of Truth?" Here's my comment from Thursday:

Although I myself am "too old to understand", I have mixed feelings about this latest "episode" in "Internet/information freedom." Superficially, I would agree that Digg users really jumped the shark this time and that Digg is now doomed to a Napsteresque fate, but on the other hand we old fogies do have to recognize that the next generation will have its own values that will ultimately prevail regardless of what we believe and know to be "right."

That said, one has to wonder whether the crowd/mob/gang of "hooligans" and "information anarchists" that has gotten attention here is truly representative of all of the Millennial Generation, or just a niche "community" that we should simply ignore.

Finally, although we (I) assume that these Digg agitators are "young", is that really completely true? Or are some significant fraction of them actually "aging hippy types" who simply fashion themselves as "young" or simply relish the opportunity to once again play the role of "radical activist"? I do not know, but I simply do not want to blindly blame "young people" for the Digg meltdown. I do imagine that there are probably quite a number of "old people" who also "steal music."

-- Jack Krupansky

Although the initial emotional "flap" has died off, there are both lingering legal ramifications as well as challenges to the validity of the concept of The Wisdom of Crowds.

My overall reaction is that if the Digg episode is the best of Web 2.0, then we should distance ourselves from Web 2.0 as quickly as humanly possible. The Digg Meltdown does not reflect in a very positive manner on humanity.

-- Jack Krupansky