Friday, March 5, 2010

TechnoPets: Even our Animals are Going High Tech

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Vol. 10, #4 - Jan 26, 2010 - Issue #414

 TechnoPets: Even our Animals are Going High Tech

  1. Editor's Corner
    • TechnoPets: Even our Animals are Going High Tech
    • Follow-up: Unofficial Tech Supporters, Unite
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Prolonging the life of your XP computer
    • Which web browser(s) will survive?
    • Hackers target Microsoft forensics software
    • Love those Bing images?
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to turn your display back right-side up
  5. XP Security News
    • Emergency Patch for IE flaw released
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Can I keep documents from being changed?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Error message with network printer
    • Change the default icons for folders in XP
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • WhiteSmoke Writer 2010: Advanced Writing Check Software for Error-Free Writing!

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 Editor's Corner

TechnoPets: Even our Animals are Going High Tech

Most households in the U.S., and in many other countries, include four-legged members. The 2007 Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook reported that there were over 72 million pet dogs and nearly 82 million pet cats in this country alone.

We love our animal friends, and it's no wonder. They provide companionship and entertainment, while asking for very little in return. And we now know there are proven health benefits, in addition to the psychological benefits, of living with pets.

And we're not about to give them up. People may be sacrificing their big cars, shivering or freezing in their homes, and throwing away their printers to "go green," but when it comes to our furry friends, we draw the line. A recent New Zealand study that suggests pets are "twice as damaging to the environment as a four-wheel drive vehicle" was met with responses indicating that's just too bad and readers will do "pretty much anything" to keep their pets:

What does this have to do with technology? Just as other aspects of our lives have been affected by computers and other high tech gadgets, so have our relationships with our pets. It begins with methods for acquiring a new puppy, kitten or other pet. Prior to the Internet era, most people got their pets from the local animal shelter, a pet shop at the mall, or a friend's or neighbor's litter. If you wanted a purebred animal, you might go to a local dog or cat show to connect with a breeder. Newspaper classified ads were also a common way to find a pet.

Today, many of us turn to the web as soon as we start considering adding a pet to the family. When Tom and I recently started talking about getting a dog, my first task was to research different breeds to determine what type would fit best with our lifestyle. You can even find surveys and quizzes that ask you a series of questions about your preferences and how you live and attempt to match you up with the right breed, such as the one at

These can get you started in the right direction, but they don't usually cover all of the breeds or ask all the right questions. We knew we wanted a small dog that would stay indoors with us all or most of the time, but that wouldn't be "yappy." We aren't extremely active, so we didn't want a high energy dog that would be jumping around all the time. We've long been "cat people," so we needed a dog that would get along with our cats, and in fact that would be as much like a cat as possible - while still being able to do "dog things" like swim with us in the pool, walk on a leash and ride in the car.

Pre-Internet, I doubt I would have found that perfect dog. But with the help of the web, I stumbled across a reference to the Japanese Chin - a breed I'd never heard of before - and more research showed that this breed fit our needs more than any other. A web search also turned up a couple of breeders in our area, and next weekend we're bringing home our little Suki:

The web has also made people much more aware of the phenomenon of "puppy mills," and more careful about checking out the credentials of breeders who offer pedigreed animals for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

But the technology angle doesn't stop there. At their first visit to the vet, many pet owners are having RFID chips implanted into their dogs' and cats' bodies so that if the pets are lost, they can be more easily identified and returned. Microchip implants for pets has grown into a multi-million dollar industry, and the Humane Society, the American Kennel Club and numerous other pet-related organizations endorse the practice.

One of the earliest technological developments that had an impact on pets and pet owners is the "invisible fence," an electronic device that some people use to keep their dogs and cats in their yards without a fence. It uses radio signals to activate a collar that causes a slight shock (similar to static electricity) when the pet gets close to a boundary wire. These products have been around for over three decades, with varying degrees of popularity. I've never tried them, but I know a few people who swear by them.

A less controversial technology is the "pet cam." Once upon a time, putting a surveillance system in your house or yard was expensive and installation wasn't a snap. With today's computer-connected web cams and wireless self-contained IP cameras, it's easy to keep an eye on your pets when you aren't at home. With microphones and speakers built into some models, you can even talk to your pet. If someone else is at home with the pet, you can have them bring your dog, cat, or bird to the computer and you can engage in a video call with the pet. If you're leaving the pet home alone, you can set up cameras in the places where the pet usually hangs out (for example, near its food dish or favorite sleeping spot). Some camera vendors are even marketing their products specifically as pet cams:

There are even "automatic" litter boxes now, such as the Litter Robot, that clean themselves (up to a point). A couple of years ago, one company was even selling a "SunSpa" so that if your pet was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) on gloomy winter days, you could give it a little dose of simulated sunlight in which to bask. Unfortunately, they seem to have since gone out of business.

I'm not the only person who has created a web site for my pet. Many cats and dogs have their own web pages now, and some of them (not mine) even have their own social networking sites. Dogbook is a Facebook application that's available for the iPhone, which you can use to upload photos and update your dog's status from your phone (or, I guess, in the case of some very pampered pups, from the dog's own phone).

Some of the new pet-related technology borders on the gruesome, though. I recently ran across a company called Perpetual Pet that "freeze dries" your animal after death so you can keep its body around forever. I hate the thought of ever losing my "babies," but I think I prefer to give them a proper burial when the time comes.

But if you want a pet that will never die, there's another way. Some companies are betting that people will be willing to trade in their flesh-and-fur animals for metal and plastic ones. Robotic pets are marketed as alternatives for those who live in "no pets" apartments, those who travel too much to provide a proper home for a dog or cat, or the elderly for whom pet care is too much of a chore. Although these robopets have been on the market for a few years, they haven't exactly surged in popularity in recent years. The Sony Aibo, a robotic dog that was introduced amidst much hype way back in 1999, was discontinued in 2006. Maybe it was the high price - or maybe we just aren't ready to make machines a part of our family as we do with real animals. After all, even children can tell the difference:

Tell us what you think about technology as it pertains to pets. Do you shower your furry or feathered friends with the latest pet gadgets, or do you keep the relationship more low tech? Does your dog or cat have its own web page or Facebook site, or do you think that's just silly? What technological developments would you like to see that would benefit your pets? Would you ever consider having your precious pet "preserved" for eternity? How about a robotic pet - does the low maintenance aspect appeal to you, or do you believe a machine, no matter how lifelike, could never substitute for a living animal? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum at

Follow-up: Unofficial Tech Supporters, Unite

In last week's editorial, I discussed the position in which many of us find ourselves, serving as the unofficial tech support person for our family members and friends. Wow - this piece inspired the most lengthy discussion we've had since going to the forum feedback format. Apparently many of our readers can relate to what I said, although one accused me of "just whining" and another turned it into an anti-Windows/pro-Mac issue. Yet another noted that he could fix any problem in an hour and implied that the rest of us are incompetent if any problem ever takes more time than that. But the topic seems to have struck a chord with most of you.

Some of you said you enjoy being able to help and don't mind the requests. I suspect those folks either don't get as many requests as I do, or don't have as much other (paid) work that they have to get done every week. I enjoy helping, too - but I don't enjoy being overloaded. Other readers shared some good tips and tricking for reducing the numbers of those tech support calls. I liked the one from RJMGroup: ask the person who needs help to bring the computer (and its peripherals) to you instead of making a house call. That will, indeed, help to weed out those who want you to do it all. However, this strategy can backfire, too. If you're not careful, you could end up with several friends' computers stacked in the spare room, awaiting your magic touch.

It was interesting to see the differing opinions regarding charging for your services. Some of you were adamant about not accepting money, pointing out that this creates a situation whereby your friends now think they "own" your services because they paid you. Others pointed out that quoting your fees will, in many cases, make the request go away altogether. But many of us have trouble asking for money from close friends and family members who ask for a "favor." That's especially true when many of your friends and relatives are less well off, financially, than you are. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had the same experience Ozekoala mentioned: a friend offers to pay when he/she brings you the computer to fix, but then after the work is done, all you get are thanks and praise for your skills - apparently that previous offer has been consumed in a bad case of selective amnesia.

I really enjoyed reading about all of your experiences and wish you all the best in your (wanted or unwanted) tech support roles. Thanks for participating.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds." Marian Evans

"The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work." - Harry Golden

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." - Sir Richard Steele

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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Prolonging the life of your XP computer

In this economic climate, many people who used to buy a new car and a new computer every year or two are now looking for ways to stretch out the lifespans of the ones they already have. This article offers some tips for keeping your old XP system running for a while longer. Check it out here:

Which web browser(s) will survive?

France and are advising everyone to ditch Internet Explorer following attacks in China that exploited a vulnerability in IE 6 (which Microsoft has since patched):

Talk show host Kim Komando was spouting the same advice on the radio a few days ago. At the same time, Randall Kennedy over at InfoWorld is telling us that Firefox is doomed:

Does anyone really think Chrome is going to overtake the top two anytime soon? It currently has less than 5 percent of the browser market, and Safari has even less.

Opera is down there in the 2-3 percent range.

Should governments really be telling their citizens what browser to use, anyway?

Hackers target Microsoft forensics software

Microsoft makes a forensics tool called COFEE that they give away to law enforcement agencies, world-wide, for examining computers for digital evidence. Now hackers have come up with a countermeasure that they call Decaf, that looks for the COFEE software and attempts to prevent it from doing its job. Read more here:

And here's an update about the new version, DECAF v2:

Love those Bing images?

If you enjoy seeing what great new photo will be featured on the Bing web site, you'll be happy to know that those images are archived so you can check out the ones that you might have missed, or set your favorite to be your Windows wallpaper. You'll find the Bing image archive at

 How To: Using XP Features

How to turn your display back right-side up

I got an urgent message a few nights ago, asking me to call an old friend I haven't seen in years (but with whom I've reconnected on Facebook). Curious, I gave him a call. It seems he had a problem with his computer. He came home to find that his Windows XP display was upside down. He didn't look forward to standing on his head to read his email, so he was hoping that I might be able to help.

How did it happen? Well, his wife said she "moved the mouse." Maybe so, but this is an old trick that many folks have played on friends and family members. If you want to annoy someone, next time you're alone with his/her XP system, try pressing CTRL + ALT + Down Arrow Key. If the computer's video card supports 180 degree rotation, this will turn the display upside down.

Luckily, it's usually just as easy to fix the problem by pressing CTRL + ALT + Up Arrow Key.

Sometimes, however, the key combination doesn't work. In that case, you may need to find the graphics card's settings. If your card displays an icon in the notification area (system tray), click or right click that and look for a "rotation settings" option. If that doesn't work or you can't find the graphics card settings application, do this:

  1. Open Display from Control Panel or by right clicking the desktop and selecting Properties.
  2. Click Settings | Advanced
  3. Click the tab that represents your video card. This tab may contain a rotation settings option. If so, choose "0 degrees" or "normal."
If you encounter the upside down display immediately after restarting the computer, check out KB article 915164:

 XP Security News

Emergency Patch for IE flaw released

In case you don't have XP set to automatically download and install critical updates, be aware that Microsoft released an "out of band" emergency patch of Internet Explorer last Thursday. This addresses the exploit that was used in the attacks on Google and other companies. Be sure to do a manual update to ensure that your system is protected.

 XP Question Corner

Can I keep documents from being changed?

I have some documents that are in their final form. Some are Word documents and some are .txt files. The point is that I don't want to accidentally change them and don't want them to get changed by my family members that use my computer. I've read about rights management service that lets you disallow modification of documents but if I understand right, you have to have a special server for that. Is there an easier way? - Howard L.

The easiest way to protect files from accidental changes is to set the Read Only attribute on them. When a file is Read Only, any changes you make to it can't be saved under the original file name. You can save changes with a new file name, but your original will remain the same. Here's how you set a file to Read Only:

  1. Navigate to the file in Windows Explorer.
  2. Right click it and choose Properties.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. Check the box that says "Read Only."
  5. Click OK.
If you want to make all files in a folder Read Only, you can check this box on the folder's Properties sheet. Note that this will make all of the files currently in the folder Read Only, but it won't affect new files that you put in the folder. Remember that others can still delete or move Read Only files, they just can't make changes to them.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Error message with network printer

If your XP computer tries to open the printer properties dialog box for a network printer that's connected to a Windows Server 2003 domain controller, you might get an error message. To fix the problem, you have to remove the printer and driver, install a hot fix and reconnect to the printer. For step-by-step instructions on how to do it, see KB article 924078 at

Change the default icons for folders in XP

You can't customize the default icon for a folder in Windows XP but you can make a shortcut to that folder, and change the icon for the shortcut. KB article 310192 walks you through the steps for doing this.

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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