KEEPING UP December 2001
by Paul Howard (NCTCUG)

The opinions reflected in this column are those of the curmudgeon behind the keyboard, and not those of the editor or NCTCUG.

What do you remember? If you’re like me, virtually nothing you should, but certain things shine like the brightest of lighthouse beacons. “Bloopers” albums, from the ‘golden days’ of radio, and serialized storytelling for the kiddies. Deep, avuncular, announcer voice - “And so, boys and girls, we leave Don Quixote, with his faithful servant at his side, sitting on his ass at the gates of the city.” Television was a late arrival in our house, with all the family resources devoted to the purchase of our own home. So I still recall those mornings in the fifties as weekend radio featured “The Comic Weekly Man” - “You’ll remember last time ......”

I was lamenting finding a clock radio with phone while writing my last column. I’d barely shipped off the column to the editors via modem when Linda, reading through the advertising supplements for Sunday’s paper that we receive Saturday afternoon, announced another clock radio prospect. And, needing our strength for a shopping jaunt will, of course, require a stop at Pizzeria Uno for sirloin tips!

A great bargain at Sears - $25 off a GE branded 900MHz cordless phone, and AM/FM clock radio. Considering that the Brookstone clock radio I returned cost $40, and the GE clock radio I didn’t like because of the alarm arrangement was $25, the $35 price of the new cordless phone seemed like a great buy. (This unit lasted about 45 months before the radio audio became unlistenable - of course, you weren't likely to sleep through the alarm when it sounded that bad !!)
GE Cordless Phone

It was indeed - the cordless phone works well all over the house, and I carried it around the boundaries of the property, and it seems to work despite the aluminum siding on the house which I thought would kill the signal. The clock radio has all the alarm features I wanted, and more. The radio is digitally tuned, with three presets, allowing three FM and three AM selections with one touch. While I have to admit that slide rule radio tuning is always faster than up / down digital tuning for finding a non-preset station, this radio’s performance is a surprise in an inexpensive clock radio.

I was able to digitally tune several stations on both AM and FM bands that were difficult to receive with similar analog tuned clock and table radios. So, good sensitivity and selectivity, and while the unit only has a single small speaker, it’s pleasant to listen to. You can select either or both of two alarm settings, and each can be a radio wake up alarm or the usual raucous electronic squawk, if you’re one of those dead-to-the-world types that needs a stew pot whacked with a spoon inches from your head to get you out of the rack. Other features include a snooze bar, sleep to music button, night light, and reasonable resistance to resetting time or alarms accidentally while fumbling to turn off the alarm in the morning.

I’d call the GE model 26980 cordless telephone and clock radio a good buy at its regular $60 price, and a steal for $35! With the reversal of daylight savings time last weekend, I can report that our Howard Miller Accuwave DS managed the transition without a hitch, thanks to the NIST radio time signals receiver this clock incorporates. And yes, Windoze managed the transition again this year on my computer without intervention, and it’s probably one expansion of the operating system we never whined about.

Settle ?? Settle ?? Dream a Little Dream With Me!

What conjunction of stars and spinelessness has the DOJ on the run? The appeals court, despite giving Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson the public “dope slap” still ruled his findings as to Micro$oft’s violations of antitrust laws virtually all valid. Now it looks like Woodstock in blue suits, with Attorney General Ashcroft announcing a settlement which punishes by shaking a finger and saying “Nah, Nah, Nah.”

What is going on? Throughout the antitrust suit, and before the last presidential election, there was great whining about the “terrible power of the federal government” in harassing the paragons of tech virtue in Washington state. Press reports have Charles James, current head of the DOJ Antitrust division telling a senior Judiciary Committee senator that DOJ “was outgunned and outmanned” in its fight with Microsoft. But I guess DOJ Antitrust is looking to move on to new, more pertinent litigation. I understand they’re filing against Fidel and Osama for monopolizing the beard and pressed fatigues look. Apparently it conflicts with new designs that Hart, Schaftner and Marx was coming out with in a Spring line of “office casual.” Hey, we truly need to enlist all the government’s resources in fighting tyranny in all its forms, especially if they didn’t contribute to the last round of campaign funding solicitations!

Now what? Any hope the remaining state Attorneys General who are parties to the suit might actual go for some meaningful remedies for illegal conduct? My wildest dream - the current judge overseeing the case refuses to accept the settlement in light of the proven violations of law. She sentences Gates and Balmer to two months in Africa with the “Survivor” cast - and no means of communication with the outside world except drums and smoke signals. Also, all the attorneys on both sides of the case, are found in contempt for agreeing to a fraudulent remedy, and have to join the Micro$oftians on the veldt, in their suits, with one canteen of brackish water a day. True Justice Prevails!

Ok, Ok, I’ll settle - here’s the scene in Federal District Court:

Judge: “Gentlemen, what do you have to say for yourselves and Microsoft?”

Bill Gates: “Microsoft has broken the Antitrust Laws of the United States and is guilty of the charges upheld by the Appeals Court.”

Steve Balmer: “We acknowledge our guilt and the damages we caused to our competitors, customers and the entire industry.”

Bill and Steve together: “We’re sorry, and we won’t do it again.”

Judge: “Now which one of you two geeks is going to show me how to get rid of the blue screen on my computer, make Netscape the default browser, and let me use RealAudio to play my InSync tunes, instead of that horrid Media Player?”

Thanks for joining us on “Escape to Fantasy Island!”

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Keeping Up October, 2001
by Paul Howard (NCTCUG)

[Cue the music] “Time..Time..Time is on my side, yes it is.” So said the Rolling Stones, back in the sixties, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Here our computers go faster and faster, and I haven’t found a single extra minute in my day. All I get are another dozen spam messages, offering me a second mortgage to buy Viagra so I can be a dynamic Internet entrepreneur, lose fifty pounds, and send two point five million email messages to my closest friends, helping them avoid bankruptcy by playing at my web casino.

Time has been a problem around my house of late. Several months ago, I retired the GE clock radio I had on the bedside table for years. It was a multipurpose unit, including a telephone handset. The phone cord just got so static ridden the handset was unusable, and the cord was a special configuration I was unable to find an appropriate replacement for.

But what I really miss about that clock radio was the alarm sequence. I could set it for my morning wake-up time, and leave it set forever (all right, I cheated and turned the alarm off on weekends!) But when the radio alarm turned on in the morning, I could tap a button that turned off the radio - but the alarm was still set for the next day. The replacement, also carrying the GE brand, although they’re made by Thompson Electronics these days, requires me to find a small, hard to manipulate switch to turn on the alarm, and then grope for it to turn the radio alarm off in the morning. I’ll not mention how many times I’ ve forgotten to set the alarm in the three months since I bought this new radio. Enough so Linda has taken to setting her alarm half an hour after mine so she can be sure I got up!

Last weekend I stopped in the Brookstone store, and found a clock radio (unfortunately with no phone) that allowed two alarm settings (neat - work week alarm time, and weekend snooze time!) Easy to set, tap the button to turn off. But, the AM radio section squealed like stuck pig all across the band - three other AM radios in the same location had no problems at all. Back to the store, got a replacement, same problem. This time, the radio would sort of stop the squealing when you tuned in a station, but it wasn’t completely gone. Back it goes and the search for a reliable clock radio continues. This radio did have one nice feature - a built in, battery powered clock, that would set the time on the clock radio automatically when plugged in, or after power failure - presuming the battery still worked, of course. Just a step up from a battery back up feature, but neat!

What Time Is It, REALLY?

One thing’s really important around my house - I like to see the PBS Mystery series, NYPD Blue, and a couple of other cop shows from the beginning! I had a battery operated table clock that worked well until about a year ago, and then started getting flakey. New battery didn’t help, it would run ok for a couple of weeks, then stop. Guess I’ll need to search the Internet for a replacement clock movement - I’m sure there must be companies that sell them to folks that put clocks in pieces of driftwood and similar woodworking projects.

This clock failure meant ‘time to go to one of my favorite places’ - Herndon Clock and Watch. I’m sure I’ll never be able to justify buying one of the lovely grandfather clocks this store has about thirty varieties of, but I can spend all day looking. (Gee, they cost as much as a computer used to <grin>!) A colleague at work told me about a clock he had, which set itself from the National Institute of Standards radio signal originating from “atomic clock” references in Boulder, Colorado.

After an Internet search, I was able to find a Howard Miller “Accuwave DS” model that met the current decor standards of the homestead police, errr, my lovely wife, so off to the clock shop. We had to order the model we wanted, so it was with great anticipation when we finally brought it home and set it up - basically, setting a switch to calibrate for the correct time zone, and installing a size “AA” battery. The clock starts tracking the NIST radio signal, which it indicates receiving by stepping the second hand three seconds at a time. Then, the hands start moving rapidly, and in a few minutes, the correct time.

Well, almost - unfortunately the first clock had a bad module, and the time was exactly 15 minutes off. The good news was that the clock store had ordered several units when I placed my order, and immediately replaced the defective one. Of course, I forgot to set the time zone switch, and starting jumping up and down when the new clock set itself to a precise three hour difference from the current time - I checked against the WWV radio signal with my shortwave receiver. So, I now have a time standard to use in setting all the other clocks in the house, that’s reasonably portable so I may carry it around for the great updating exercise. If I can only figure out how to set the clock in the VCR?

As some of our computer club colleagues will point out, there are a number of programs available to set your computer’s clock to the NIST time standards. One such is “Web Time for Windows 95/NT” a freeware program available from the author, Gregory Braun. His website is: The program will allow you to run it automatically on bootup, or by clicking on a desktop icon and synchronizing your computer with the NIST clock as needed. When I tried the program today, I was unable to reach the Boulder server, but was able to use a NIST site in Greenbelt, Maryland instead. I hadn’t experienced any problem reaching Boulder on the dozen or so times I’ve used the program in the past.

Maybe time will be on my side after all?

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Keeping Up July 2001
by Paul Howard (NCTCUG)

I wonder if Bill Veck, Jr. is available to help us sell seats at our NCTCUG meetings? He’s been carrying on in his dad’s shoes, finding innovative ways to bring fans into baseball parks. In our case, several long time members are moving out of the area and will be sorely missed.

Jef Bates and his wife have moved to Florida. We’re hoping to hear from him soon so we can keep in touch via email. A new edition of Jef’s book, “Writing With Precision : How to Write So That You Cannot Possibly Be Misunderstood,” is out in Penguin Paperback. Over the last few years, Jef’s filled me in on the trials of getting a book published as we’ve ridden together to NCTCUG meetings. I hope he sells a million copies - Steven King needs some competition!

Bill and Marion Higgins are headed for Dayton, Ohio after 40 years in the Carlin Springs neighborhood, about two blocks away from our Virginia meeting place. Bill was the driving force behind a number of our SIGs in years past, and I suspect he may actually have made a few bucks with his computers over the years. That’s not a claim I like to have closely examined - in my case - “expensive toys”is the appellation most frequently applied. Marion has to be an honorary member of NCTCUG - a bunch of us used to traipse through her house on weekends for some of the semi-formal SIGs Bill operated. Bill’s regaled us for years with tales of selling office equipment in Brazil, acquiring his PhD, touring Europe, and a variety of other adventures over Pepsi and Pizza after our meetings.

In September, Maralee Johnson will be headed for new horizons in Washington state. She served several terms as a club director and 2nd VP, and took up where Bill left off with dog stories and happy homeowner trials and tribulations.

Our best to all our friends - hope they’ll all keep in touch, and keep the stories coming via the wonders of the Internet!

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Copyright © 2001 NCTCUG, Inc. and Paul L. Howard