Friday, December 21, 2001

George Mindling Column 12-21-2001

Expect an Active Hurricane Season Next Year

The holiday season is upon us. In fact, in two weeks the only things left will be taking down the decorations and, for many shoppers, piles of unpaid bills.

It will take until April just to take down all the lights from my neighbor's wonderful 22,000-light display. Florida Power & Light should send him a thank-you note. There will be joy of course, about the gifts and presents that outlast their batteries. and the wonderful memories of families reunited for the holidays. Flying will be cheaper, albeit more time consuming than last year, and driving will cost considerably less than our last Christmas visit to Atlanta to spend the holidays with our daughter and her husband.

The snowbirds are already showing up, most of them are unaffected by the airfares as the majority of them drive. I will be able to attest to the snowbird phenomenon shorty as I annually share the road with the southbound convoys of campers and trailers on Interstate 75 during the week between Christmas and New Year's.

It is one reason I like to travel at night during this time of year. Snowbirds are not by nature nocturnal creatures. Another reason for the annual winter resident migration is the end of the hurricane season on Nov. 30. We have been given a rhetorical "all clear" to coincide with our wonderful winter weather. Incidentally, we also have our first reality check. Just one week after the close of the 2001 season we already have the forecast for the 2002 hurricane season.

The annual tropical storm forecast has been released by Dr. William Gray and his staff at Colorado State University (http://typhoon.atrnos.colostate.edu/forecasts/2002/fcst2002/). The 2002 season is predicted to be busier than the previous six years, with the Southeast, including the Florida peninsula, rated at a 58% chance of being struck by a Category 3,4, or 5 storm. The average for the last century is 31 percent.

The forecast for 2002 includes 13 named storms, eight of which will be hurricanes. Four of those storms are predicted to be intense. Thomas Milligan and Jennifer Dimas, Colorado State University media representatives, (970) 491-6432, are available to answer various questions about the forecast.
I only report the numbers, I don't create them.

A recent forum on on disaster preparedness held in Port Charlotte failed to attract more than a few attendees. Of course, listening to officials preach doom and gloom immediately before a season of cheer and goodwill was not an example of astute marketing, especially when charging a $2 donation
for the New York relief fund when everyone has read about the new York Red Cross Relief fund no longer accepting donations.

It probably didn't help by holding the forum three days after the close of the hurricane season, either. The perpetually worried residents who believe they are now safe for six more months would much rather go shopping.

Speaking of shopping, no reason to rush, I still have four more days.

George Mindling © 2001

Sunday, December 16, 2001

George Mindling Column 2-16-2001


Read Any Good EULAs?


Imagine my surprise when I found out I had given an Internet, dot-com company the right to read and transmit data from my hard drive to their database every time I logged on to the Internet!

I was really upset my "firewall" program had failed to protect my PC when I first discovered data from my PC being transmitted to an unknown collector of my persona] data. I thought I was safe from this invasion of privacy. After all, I had installed not only the latest anti-virus program, but the latest Internet Firewall Program as well.

In addition, I subscribe to an update service which regularly installs the latest changes to both programs. How then. did this company gain access to read and collect data from my hard drive? Simple! I gave it to them.

I did it when I failed to read the EULA, or End Users License Agreement, that is included in practically every software program you'll ever install on a personal computer. Oh, you don't read the fine print on the software "I agree" page during software installation? Neither did I. After giving the usually standard EULA page a cursory glance, I usually click on the agree button to get the installation process rolling. The EULA usually states the same basic rights of ownership and non-copying provisions that arc similar to all programs.

Surprise! Surprise! Read all of them from now on, things are changing in the software world. As most people know, you don't buy software, you lease it. You do not own the programs you buy, you simply have the right to use them. If you did own the software. you could alter a program or rename it and sell it as a product of your own. You specifically agree not to do that when you click on the "agree button," or in some cases, when you open the container the software was shipped in. You don't own the right to a song on an audio tape or a CD; likewise, you don't own the programs on the diskettes or CD, either.

The problem is hidden deep in the many pages of fine print most people skip when installing software. My agreement to allow the authors of the software program 1 bought to have access to my data was in a paragraph buried deep in the EULA that I assumed was harmless. I tried to print it out, but only small pieces of text can he printed at any given time. making it difficult to print out for a legal review.

Basically, the paragraph I agreed to said they could compile information they wanted and forward it at their discretion. This had nothing to do with the now famous cookies that practically every Web site posts on everyone's hard drives. The software routines that collected my data had nothing to do with the program I had installed, even though the program was related to Internet and Web page usage. I immediately uninstalled the program, but they had left a hook requiring me to reload my browser. and eventually reload Windows 98 before I was clear of the unwanted program.

I'm not sure how they avoided my firewall program, but I'm sure from now on I'll read the fine print!


George Mindling © 2001