The FBI’s new antipiracy label

I consider myself a law-abiding citizen; I haven’t been to jail or fined for breaking the law. Today I bought the new Audioslave CD, “Out of Exile,” and I noticed the new FBI Anti-Piracy sticker on the back. I don’t burn copies of a CD and give them out or sell them. Instead, I burn one copy for the car and download the music into my computer to use with my portable digital jukebox. They are strictly for personal use; I do not broadcast their contents illegally, share them online, or give them away. I am not rich enough to buy multiple copies of one album, and doing so is practically ridiculous. But the anti-piracy sticker got me thinking and researching, so here is what I’ve found.

The FBI is working with recording associations (Recording Industry of America Association – RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America – MPAA) to help stop piracy of their members’ materials. Technically, according to an RIAA lawyer, it is illegal to copy music from a copyrighted source to another. However, the practicality of enforcing the law is so difficult that it is rarely pursued. The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 states that “copyright holders cannot sue the average user for making home recordings of their music” (Van Ness, see CD Burning Software Review article below).

Below are some links that provide more information. In the meantime, I’ll continue my current practice.

United States Federal Bureau of Investigation Investigative Programs Cyber Investigations – The Anti-Piracy Warning Seal article: Copying Music to CD: The Right, the Wrong, and the Law – For the Record: The RIAA Position on Home Copying (1998)

US Code 17 – Copyrights

CD Burning Software Review article: Is CD copying illegal?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act Of 1998 – US Copyright Office Summary (this opens a 71 KB PDF file on the US Copyright Office’s web site)

BBC News article: Why that mix CD might be illegal (Nov 10, 2003)

Monster Cable delivers what my computer needs… for the car?

I searched high and wide for an 3.5 mm plug-to-plug audio stereo cable that is longer than six feet. I finally found one at Best Buy. Monster cable, it turns out, makes one that is seven feet long. What’s in a foot, you ask? It’s the difference of my computer speakers connecting to my computer outside of my desk (rather than underneath) with room to pull it forward for PC maintenance and such.

The cool thing was that the Best Buy associate who decided to stock it paid attention to several customers that had asked for it. He spent some time looking for something and found this cable. When he ordered it, it was backordered for a while. So as I happen to be shopping there tonight for something else, I finally came across the cable and purchased one right away.

I hadn’t come across this before because I was looking in the wrong spot. If you’ve read my guitar page, you know that I use Monster Cable exclusively for all connections between my guitars, amp, and effects. Although it’s a pricey cable, it’s worth it… after all, it’s from Monster Cable.

Monster Performance Car MP3 MusicConnect

Cell phone directories and telemarketers

The other day, someone sent me a warning about how cell phone companies are going to put together a national registry of cell phones and sell them to telemarketers. Working for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, I already knew that most of this was false (and that friend should have known better, since he used to work there with me). However, a follow-up from his source (with a huge apology) led to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) web site. The FTC states the following direct quotes on its web site (which is listed at the end of this blog):

  • FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent.
  • The federal government does not maintain a national cell phone registry. Personal cell phone users have always been able to add their numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry — the same Registry consumers use to register their land lines — either online at or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number they wish to register. Registrations become effective within 31 days of signing up and are active for five years. There is no cut-off date or deadline for registrations.

Snopes also has a good article on this. It further explains that some of the wireless providers created a consortium and hired a consultant to produce a wireless subscriber directory. Two of the providers, US Cellular and Verizon, have always opposed such a directory, and Alltel and Sprint PCS have since pulled away from the project (mostly due to bad press and government regulation).

FTC article: The Truth about Cell Phones and the National Do Not Call Registry

Snopes article: Celling your soul

Is e-mail simply conversational?

In case you are still wondering if e-mail is merely conversational or something that can be held against you, the State of Wisconsin’s states that e-mail can be used against an employee. Remember that the next time you send out something that could incriminate you in the future.

I think this is a good time to reiterate my view of whether or not e-mail is conversational. I always believed that it is not, simply because it is written. Most people use it as such, though, and don’t realize that it reflects your character. Writing a message quickly and sending it with a few typos shows carelessness. Taking the time to review your message and ensuring its clarity demonstrates consideration and competency.

I think that this is especially appropriate now because there are many college students that are entering the job market for their first times. I hope they recognize the importance of double-checking their written and electronic documents before sending them off to potential employers. A list of typos on a résumé or cover letter can make the difference between getting an interview. Even when you type up and e-mail your thank you letter after an interview (which is acceptable today), a poorly written note can cost you your position.

And since I’m on the subject of writing, I just want to point out that writing things clearly are more important today than ever, especially with all of the technical devices available today. Most consumers today will not tolerate poorly-written instruction manuals when they’ve paid hundreds of dollars for a device. And a 10-page manual is less desirable than a single-page quick-install sheet. When a boss tells you that he or she wants a single-page summary of a specific topic and you feel compelled to turn in a 10-page paper, expect to rewrite it. That’s the real world, dude.

Microsoft Employee Purchase Program

I have Microsoft Visio and Project at work. I realized that by having them at home, I could get more work done (assuming I actually want to, of course). So I started looking for a way to get these packages without spending an arm and a leg. I can’t purchase the academic versions because I’m not a student (and my karma won’t let me live with myself).

It turns out that Microsoft has a purchasing program for organizations that license with them. It’s called the Employee Purchase Program. If you have software at work that you could use on your home computer, then this is definitely worth a look. I’m not providing the web site because each organization has a unique program identifcation code. But I can tell you that the prices are much more reasonable than retail. I managed to purchase both Visio and Project 2003 for my home computer at prices almost comparable to the volume license costs at work.

Working with Outlook 2003 and Windows XP

I have used Microsoft Windows XP and Office 2003 at home for over a year now, and I started using Outlook 2003 at work a few months ago. Before then, I had Windows 2000 and Office 97 at work. When I used the older software, I was able to put a shortcut in my quick launch bar to start a new e-mail message without opening Outlook. Once the IT folks upgraded my PC to Windows XP and Office 2003, I lost my shortcut. After doing a lot of searching, I finally found a solution on Sean Daniel’s blog (listed below.)

It turns out that you just create a shortcut, type “mailto:” in the location box, and finish out the wizard. Then you drag the shortcut into the quick launch bar. For some added functionality, you can change the icon using the instructions listed in Sean’s site.

Sean Daniel’s blog – Mailto: Made That Much Easier

It’s nice to have a quick launch shortcut for a new e-mail message. but what if you also want a shortcut for a new appointment? There’s a shortcut for this also. I found a method on the forum listed below. Just follow the thread to the bottom (it’s a short thread). You’ll see how to create a shortcut for a new appointment, note, contact, and task.

Tek-tips forum – How to create a “New Message” from a desktop icon

And in case you’re interested, Sean Daniel has some other very useful tips to make your computing experience a little easier.

Try limited full version software before you buy

The IT section at work ordered me a copy of Microsoft Visio for developing flowcharts. While I’ve been waiting, I decided to give it a try at home. Microsoft allows a person to try its Office software for over a month before rendering it inoperative (just like other software trials). I downloaded the 190 MB file, installed it, and started using it to draw a process flow diagram for work. What I find amazing is that I’ve already gotten pretty used to it, even though I only downloaded it last night. After using it for a couple of days, I’m inclined to purchase a copy.

Some software companies have done a good job of providing full versions of their products to consumers and businesses to give it a test spin for a set amount of time (typically 30 days). I did this with Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004; after downloading, installing, and trying it, I decided that I liked it more than FrontPage and purchased it within a week. I’ll admit that it’s a form of marketing, but it gives the user a chance to really determine if the software will meet his or her needs. I don’t know if I’ll decide to purchase Visio right away, but at least now I know what it is capable of and how it can meet my needs. Unfortunately, most of the software companies do not offer a discount for purchasing a full version of the software after you’ve downloaded and tested it.

Trial Microsoft software available for download