U3 drives

U3 has a shiny DEMO presentation and some nice things to say about themselves. Lorna bought a cheap 1GB "Geek Squad" USB drive at Best Buy, which didn't indicate in any way that it contained secret software on it.

When you insert this USB card into your PC, with no prompting, it installs the U3 software. There's no documented way to remove it.

A post on (apparently from a U3 employee) reads as follows:
Unfortunately, at this moment, there is no way to stop the U3 system software from loading on insertion except to completely remove the partition on the drive which houses the system software. To do this, each USB maker is providing a way to remove the system, but you must contact the individual manufacturer of the U3 smart drive since they are the only people who can do this. U3 cannot remove this for you.
Let's do a test with Google's Software Principles, just for kicks:
  • We believe software should not trick you into installing it.

  • When an application is installed or enabled, it should inform you of its principal and significant functions. Nope.

  • It should be easy for you to figure out how to disable or delete an application. Nope.
These guys are really starting to make me upset. I'll have to take apart their stuff and see what it's doing, next. After all, I didn't click through a EULA or anything.


Synaptics (Thinkpad) scrolling in Picasa, and elsewhere...

I did some sleuthing into how the "UltraNav" middle button on thinkpads works (and got it working with Picasa!) The normal implementation sends messages only to windows with scrollbars. Awhile ago, I tried to make Picasa pretend it has a Windows scrollbar without actually making one visible, and it seems to be darned near impossible.

But there's another solution. Apps without real Windows scrollbars (like Picasa and Internet Explorer), can tell the driver to override its default behavior and use WM_MOUSEWHEEL messages instead. Why they don't do this globally I can't tell...there are some funny notes about smooth scrolling that may be the reason. So, IBM ships a driver with this setting overridden for many popular programs, like Acrobat, IE, Outlook, etc., but not Picasa.

You can, however, make the edits by hand, and then reboot to see them in action:

1. Open C:\Program Files\Synaptics\SynTP\tp4table.dat in notepad
2. Add the following lines to the "Pass 0" section:
; Picasa patch!
3. Reboot

Some documentation online seems to say that C:\Windows\System32\tp4table.dat is the correct location, but editing it on my system didn't appear to do anything, whereas the Program Files location did.


Wireless Cable...Discovered

I've recently been lamenting how expensive cable prices are. Tara got Lorna and I hooked on LOST via some insidious DVDs for Christmas. Unfortunately, our local cable company is Adelphia, which offers you a trial contract for $29, but the price goes up to some undisclosed amount after a mysterious trial period.

A few weeks ago I called Adelphia, and asked how much their service was *after the trial period*. They told me, "Well, that's subject to negotiation at that time, with the sales agent at that time." "So what's the normal rate for your service?" "Well, that's subject to negotiation with the sales agent at that time." They didn't sell me on it.

If you read the fine print (which is really more hidden than fine print), the answer seems to be, if you want basic cable, and you pay all the taxes and stuff, it's more than $50 a month. Satellites are somewhat less, about $30 a month, or about $35 with taxes. Everyone knows this, in fact knows that the cable companies really want to upgrade you to HD/DVR/premium channels for $100/month.

But our trip to Circuit City yesterday taught us -- even at $100/month, digital satellite and cable are using over-compressed MPEG-2, and if you care about image quality, you see so many blocking artifacts, it looks about as bad as NTSC.

But, we have solved the price problem for cable, using a novel approach. LOST is broadcast on ABC, and we have a local affiliate that broadcasts TV *through the air*! Wireless cable, even HDTV if you want it!

We bought a $15 set of rabbit ears at OSH (HD-ready!), and we suddenly have a wonderfully clear view into local channels.

This technology is awfully cool, and it's free. You should try it out.