Blog Bits: From GPS to Conficker

It's time for another edition of Blog Bits, where I gather a bunch of items too small to deserve solo entries. This time, topics range from Garmin GPS devices to the Conficker virus.

Buy a GPS? Yes. Rent a GPS? No. I recently purchased my first Garmin GPS device (a nuvi 760). I absolutely love it. My only regret is that I waited so long before buying one. Even when traveling over familiar territory, I find it helpful. Just the other day, I used its Places of Interest feature to quickly direct me to a branch of our local Public Library (whose precise street address I did not know). Plus, with its built-in Bluetooth, the Garmin functions as a superb hands-free headset, complete with an address book (automatically imported from my iPhone). Eventually, I may find that my iPhone is a viable substitute for the Garmin, but it's not there yet.

While I can recommend buying a GPS, renting one is a different story. A few months ago, when I rented a car for 10 days, the rental company offered to include a Garmin for about $14/day. That works out to at least $140 for the 10 days (probably more with hidden taxes and fees). For about the same price, you could buy a Garmin (such as the nuvi 360) and own it forever instead of just 10 days. Even for shorter rental periods, unless you never intend to rent a GPS again on a future trip, it doesn't pay.

iHome and Sony devices are too friendly. I have an iHome clock radio on my night-table. Recently, I added a Sony LCD TV to my bedroom's collection of technology. All is fine, except that the Sony uses the same "frequency" as my iHome for adjusting volume. The result is, whenever I use the Sony remote to raise or lower the TV volume, the iHome radio pops on. If I remember, I can carefully point the remote at an angle so that this does not happen. But inevitably, I forget to do this. And suddenly NPR is competing with Damages for my attention. Perhaps this is the first sign that I have exceeded the gadget limit for our house (at least that's my wife's contention).

Apple TV annoyance. Sometimes you don't realize that something's been bothering you until someone else points it out. That's what happened to me after reading the latest edition of Matt Deatherage's MDJ newsletter. Commenting on Apple TV, he wrote:

"On Apple TV, all of the menu choices for movies, TV shows, music, and even podcasts are about getting new content from the iTunes Store. The stuff you already have - the stuff you probably wanted to watch in the first place - is relegated to the bottom of each section's menu." You have to scroll to the seventh of seven items before Apple TV "finally, somewhat begrudgingly, lets you view movies you already own. iTunes is a media player. Apple TV is a storefront."

Exactly! While I enjoy my Apple TV overall, this interface setup (which has only gotten worse in recent revisions of the software) has consistently irritated me. Oddly, I still just accepted it as nothing worth commenting on, until I read what Matt wrote.

Stamp out voicemail preambles. Why do phone companies persist in those interminably long voicemail preambles that, in addition to whatever greeting the person I am calling has recorded, adds "If you want to leave a page..." "For more options..." and such? I understand my options. You've told me before. Hundreds of times.

I know the theory that the phone companies do this to generate more money, as you get charged for the minutes you spend listening to this crap. I don't know. I never exceed my free minutes, so it doesn't affect how much I pay each month. It just affects how much I get annoyed.

I've read about the buttons that you can press that supposedly bypass the announcements and skip instantly to the beep. Exactly what button to press varies with different carriers (as explained on Web pages such as this one). But whatever I try and whenever I try it, nothing happens. I wish the phone companies would just get together and offer a simple and standard solution here. I know I'm probably dreaming...but it can't hurt to ask.

60 Minutes segment on Conficker. Last Sunday, CBS' 60 Minutes had a segment on the Conficker virus. It was unduly alarmist from the opening bell, emphasizing the worst case scenarios at every opportunity, even when they were relatively unlikely. But that's not the worst part.

The worst part is that they never mentioned that the virus only affects machines running Windows. Even Intego (a company that sells anti-virus software) readily admits: "This worm, which affects Windows computers, has no effect on Mac OS X."

I thought we had moved beyond the point where the assumption is that the word "computer" is synonymous with "Windows PC." Apparently not if you work for CBS. Normally, I find 60 Minutes to do a great job of investigative journalism. This segment somehow fell through the cracks of whatever QA process they have.

[Note: Today is April Fools Day, the day when Conficker was supposed to do whatever it was it was supposed to do. The day isn't over yet, but so far nothing much has happened.]