Nov 27 2011

My experience with Norton Internet Security


When I bought my computer last year, it came with Norton Internet Security as a free trial.  It seemed decent and it was preinstalled so I figured why not give it a shot.  The antivirus part of it seemed fine and on the speedy new hardware I have, I couldn’t detect any performance problems.  I ended up purchasing it basically because it was the path of least resistance.

My kids are getting old enough to be using the computer quite a bit, including surfing the internet.  I did some research and Norton’s parental control software seemed like a well-regarded solution, so I bought that and set it up.  That turned out to be a pain.  The biggest problem I had was that it doesn’t support “switch users” properly.  I’d be logged on and looking at facebook – I’d hit “windows-L” to lock screen and go do something else.  Then my 6 year old would login via “switch users” and she’d be getting all of these pop-ups saying “you’re not allowed on facebook”.  Norton’s product couldn’t tell who was who when we were using “switch users”.

More research happened and I saw that Microsoft Essentials has a parental control component to it – and it’s free.  So I installed and configured it, and so far it has been a better experience.  No erroneous pop-ups, it allows control of when the kids can be online and all is good.

Now that my Norton Internet Security license is expiring I went to uninstall it I figure I’ll use Microsoft’s free antivirus solution too.  Well, the “Norton Removal Tool” is kind of a weird thing.  First of all, why do I need to do more than uninstall via the control panel?  I’m not sure but the website says to so I did.  Also, you double click on the icon for it and then no less than 20 minutes later it pops up a dialog.  That’s really user-hostile!  (Eventually it did seem like it worked.)  Lastly, it asked me for feedback about why I was uninstalling Norton’s products.  The dialogs on the website say “up to 1000 characters” but I couldn’t put in more than about 160.  So I guess I could Tweet my feedback.  Apparently Symantec just didn’t want the feedback after all!

In any case, I’m far from an Microsoft fanboy but we’ll see how it goes with their stuff instead of Symantec’s.  One issue I’ve always had with this stuff is how to have ANY clue which one is better.  It’s not like you’re going to try infecting your machine to see which one catches the most.

Sep 18 2011

Clarion CZ200 – quirks using it with a 32G USB drive


I was given a Clarion CZ200 for my birthday this year.  It was a super-nice gift – it’s a car stereo that can play MP3s from cdroms, directly from your iPod, or from a USB stick.  Initially I was using my iPod with it but given that the iPod’s battery is supposed to be good for about 500 charging cycles, I quickly realized that plugging it in twice a day during the commute wasn’t the best idea.

So I went out and bought a 32G USB stick and switched to using that instead.  It’s been great – 32G can hold a lot of music – even with my “insane” method of ripping MP3s at very high quality – variable bit rate but averaging around 215kb/s.

The biggest problem that I was having is that the controls on this stereo are not “fancy” so you have to scroll around through folders quite a bit to find what you’re looking for.  And one that that was making that especially inconvenient is that the USB stick has to be formatted using the ‘old school’ FAT filesystem.  This filesystem does not order its contents in any particular order – just the order that you wrote files to it.  And the stereo lists them in that order.  Like most people, I don’t have photographic memory about what order I added music to the stick so I was having a really hard time finding what I wanted to listen to.

After I investigated this a bit I found a program for Windows called “FatSorter”.  It came pretty close to doing what I wanted but there was one mystery.   Initially the order was coming out:

  • acdc
  • adele
  • bush

Which looks fine but there were quite a few artists in between Adele and Bush on the USB stick.  It turns out that with the FAT filesystem, if the folder name was less than 8 characters, it was using the “dos short name” instead of the “extended filename”.  In the short name, there is no way to encode the case of the letters so they were being read as upper case by the sorter and getting put in the list first.  (The lower case “A” bands started again at folder 79.)

I ended up fixing this on Linux.  I mounted the USB stick in Linux with the option “shortnames=win95″ and running a script to lower-case all of the uppercase names.  (In Linux, it uses an extended name for lowercase names so it can encode the case.)  Then I used the program “fatsort” on Linux to re-sort the filesystem.  Voila, I can now navigate through my memory stick in alphabetical order without surprises.  (Well, read the updates below for more on that.)

Update #1:

There have been two surprises so far.

  1. The shuffling never seems to pick an artist/band (folder) whose name starts with anything over “F”.  (And mostly picks “A”, “B”, and “C”.)
  2. I can only access bands up to “P” in my collection when I navigate the filesystem.

I’m still looking into these things.  I’m wonder if I need to go to a hierarchy that is only one layer deep in terms of folders.

Update #2:

As I speculated about above, I reorganized all of the files from this form:

Into this form:

So now there is only a single level of folders below the top folder.  With this organization, the CZ200 seems to access the first 250 folders.  On my 32G drive, this gets me to “V” in my collection – much better than before.  I think the takeaway here is that 16G USB drive is about as large as you can reasonably go with this stereo.  (Probably the real limit is a max of 250 folders in total no matter how large the drive is.)

The randomization behavior has not changed – it never picks a file from a folder above “F” or so, and mostly they come from “A”, “B”, and “C”.

Clarion, can we please get a firmware update to address these issues?   This unit would be perfect without these quirks.

Nov 24 2010

Brother 5040 laser printer and Windows 7 64 bit


Microsoft says it’s not compatible:

Initially I installed the 64 bit Windows Vista driver and that seemed to work OK.  But then I ran Windows Update (from inside the printer control panel thingy) and suddenly now it is listed with other Brother Printers in Windows 7.  The dialogs are all much fancier as well, so I’m pretty sure it’s really an upgraded driver.

I suggested to MS that it really is supported…