(updated 1/27/2017)

Tips, news and views, for 2005...


To email PCN, click here...

Follow these links to see tips for 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012...


Topics...

Spam, Acrobat Reader, software versions, crash-free computing, passwords, batteries, phishing, games, WinMX., stamps, MS AntiSpyware, email, ransomware, flies, UPS's, discarding data drives, Mars, Google Earth, maps, automated assistance, Froogle, Google, updates, monitor test, plain text email, blocked senders list, hotkeys, Blockview maps, PC cooling, form factors, DSL test, DSL power-cycling, web cams, movie trailers, Internet video, flesh tones, hibernation, Windows Backup, WinMX and Limewire, "stuck on stupid", spyware apps, why you are, spell check, hard drive grinds, "business", CRT vs. LCD, StarOffice 8, garbage day, oldies lyrics, "digital home", Wikipedia, Skype...


12-07-05...

This free software can be installed and used comfortably on any PC with a DSL or cable Internet connection.

"Skype in a nutshell...

Our software's quick and easy to get started with. Download, register, install, plug in your headset, speakers or USB phone and start calling your friends. The calls have excellent sound quality and are highly secure with end-to-end encryption. You don't even need to configure your firewall or router or any other networking gear. It just, you know, works."

The screen pic below is from the Skype website. Note that they are illustrating the "services" for which they do charge. Their rates are very low - under 2 cents a minute when using the services with charges (again, no charge to use the product for Internet-to-Internet calling).

As I understand it... SkypeOut refers to calls you make that surface on a regular land line somewhere in the world. SkypeIn refers to calls others make from land lines that "ring" on your computer. Voicemail is just that.

(click on the image to enlarge)

Also of interest may be...

"Skype 2.0 beta. Now with free video calling. Say hello, smile or even wave to anyone, anywhere in the world."

Notes: beware of any program that wants to start "when Windows starts" and "run in the background". Also, this program is from the people who brought us Kazaa, which caused a good deal of trouble for some.

Skype uses ports to pass data in and out of a PC. Ports may be blocked by routers, so some adjustments may need to be done if you have connection issues.

Adequate headsets with microphones are as low as $9. You will pay more for superior comfort and quality.


12-07-05...

Wikipedia...

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia. What's unique about this encyclopedia is that the users of it actually create and edit it online. Since it is constantly being edited, it is quite current. Some 600,000 contributors are involved.

Each article may link to other articles, which makes the content very lively. It is interesting to see how virtually everything is related somehow - reminds me of the documentary series by James Burke called "How the Universe Changed".


12-01-05...

Intel touts "digital home"...

At a recent Intel conference, speakers spent perhaps one third of the presentation time on the concept of a "digital home". Visit this page to see what they mean.

The site is quite extensive and inspiring, though somewhat unrealistic. Standards are not yet in place in the industries involved, and most of the electronics you already have in your house are not usable.

I did see the presenter turning lamps and fans on with only his voice during his presentation. (He was speaking his commands to the "interface" that manages the household.) But I noted that these things resemble "The Clapper" technology, and won't work with appliances with soft-on/off switches like modern TVs and VCRs. In speaking to the all of the presenters afterwards, they did acknowledge this.

Note: the site has sound and there are several web page effects that may burden less-than-full-DSL connections.


12-01-05...

Those golden oldies...

This site has 30 years of Canadian pop chart listings, from Monday, May 27, 1957 (#1, Elvis Presley, All Shook Up) to Saturday, June 14, 1986 (#1, Madonna, Live To Tell).

Originally http://www.webfitz.com/lyrics/Chartlst.html

Seems to be here now http://archive.is/www.webfitz.com

There seems to be no particular site that has accurate lyrics to a broad variety of songs. If you are looking for the lyrics to any song, go to Google and do a search for the keyword lyrics, followed by the song title or a part of the lyrics in quotes. An example of a search string would be...

lyrics "four strong winds" or lyrics "It was twenty years ago today"

If you use Winamp, try LyricFX - a plug-in that searches for lyrics to display with songs played.


12-01-05...

Garbage day...

...is the windiest day of the week...


11-25-05...

StarOffice 8...

Sun Microsystems has a competitive product to Microsoft's Office suite, in which you may be interested. The suite includes...

Benefits...

Try out StarOffice 8 for free.


11-25-05...

CRT and LCD monitors...

It looks like CRTs may finally be passé. The supply chain and marketplace are steadily bringing the price of the LCDs down to that of a commodity, and some wholesale outlets no longer carry much of a variety of CRTs.

There is a definite difference between these two technologies. LCDs are made up of a plastic array of millions of tiny liquid crystal diodes (L-C-D) that are visible to the eye, while CRTs have a smooth glass screen coated internally with phosphor that simply glows. It is something like comparing a photograph taken by a film camera with a photograph taken by a digital camera - the tiny elements of a film print are continuous and flow together, while the tiny elements of a digital camera print are always side-by-side.

Pixel policies (explained earlier, and written about in an article at my site) of the major manufacturers still give them the right to not refund or exchange monitors that have a few bad pixels, no matter how bothersome the bad pixels appear. Something like 5% of LCDs (more in the lesser brands) have some bad pixels. Beware...

Of course, LCDs are much smaller - just a couple of inches deep compared to the 16" to 19" depth of larger CRTs. And LCDs are much lighter - easily moved around a desk or to another site. But when was the last time you had to move your monitor? And just how far away can you position your display before it is too far away to read?

And don't forget that LCDs have a much narrower viewing range - perhaps 140 degrees horizontally and vertically, meaning that someone looking from an angle will see a darker image as you move away from center. CRTs are far more readable from an angle, and don't lose brightness this way.

Some say that a 17" LCD is equivalent in screen area to that of a 19" CRT. Not exactly true. A 17" LCD has a screen diagonal measurement of 17", while a 19" CRT has a screen diagonal measurement of slightly more than 18".

"Response time" is the period required for a liquid crystal cell to go from inactive (black) to active (white) and back to inactive (black) again. It is measured in milliseconds. Faster is better: Lower response time means faster transitions, resulting in fewer image artifacts in the display.


11-25-05...

Business...

We all pronounce business ("bizness") incorrectly - it should be "busy-ness".


11-25-05...

Your hard drive grinds and grinds away...

One of the few sounds a PC makes beyond fan noise is the hard drive. A hard drive also an indicator light on the face of your PC that comes on when the hard drive is busy, and goes off when it is idle.

If you believe that your hard drive appears to be overworked, but your drive is not full, it may be that your hard drive is wearing out. An aged drive can have trouble reading from certain spots, or from the whole surface area, but will continue to try and try again to retrieve data from the same spot. Eventually you will either see an outright error, or the drive will succeed and you will only feel the slowness caused by the repeated readings.

Since the boot area is the most used part of the hard drive, this may wear out first. If it goes, then you can lose your drive's entire contents.

Cloning a dying drive before it goes can save hours of data recovery and program reinstallation. If you think your drive is failing, act sooner than later. The cost of a new drive is about $79 (80 GB), with the process of cloning costing about $30. New drives have a life expectancy of about 3-5 years. Other benefits of buying a new drive are speed (the probable 5400 RPM speed of the old compared to the 7200 RPM of the new, and the speed boost of increased caching) and capacity (drives that may be 3-5 years old are likely 10 GB and under in size). New drives are also very quiet compared to their predecessors.


11-25-05...

Spell check - not quite Windows Update...

A clever "s-oh-b" has used the approximation of http://www.windowsupdat.com to capitalize on some user's inept typing. If you visit this site by accident, you will be hit with popups and other "commercial" ads and such.

I can see this as being a good way to scam a person - build a look-alike site, register a URL that approximates the spelling of the real thing, then wait for the mis-typing. Be aware...


10-17-05...

For those who wonder why they are the way they are...

(From the X-Files, Season 3, Episode 4.)

Homicidal maniac, reflecting on past acts: Can you tell me why I do all these terrible things?

Prognosticator Clyde Bruckman (played by Peter Boyle) : Don't you get it? You do the things you do because you are a homicidal maniac.

Maniac, thoughtful : That does explain a lot, doesn't it?


10-17-05...

1 in 6 spyware apps tries to steal identities...

This article appeared September 18th, 2005, in the publication CRN Canada.

"A significant portion of spyware is designed specifically to steal identities, underscoring the trend toward more malicious use of such software by criminals, said a security firm Wednesday.

Fifteen percent of the 2,000 known spyware threats analyzed by Aladdin Knowledge Systems over a two-month span send private information gathered from the infected PC by logging keystrokes, capturing usernames and passwords, and hijacking e-mail address and contact lists.

About one-in-six pieces of spyware -- a category that also includes adware -- is "specifically designed for identity theft," said Aladdin in a statement.

Another 25 percent of the spyware examined gathers information non-identity information, but was classified by Aladdin as a "moderate threat" because these programs collect such data as the victim PC's operating system, domain name, process logs, security applications, IP address, and security updates installed.

The remaining 60 percent, said Aladdin, gathered "commercial-value information about the end user's browsing habits," the traditional definition of the often noxious but rarely dangerous adware."


10-17-05...

"WinMX PNP Network Mysteriously Ends Operations"...

WinMX, the software and network for downloading music files, is down. To learn more, read this article...

As an alternative, I have tried Limewire Basic. It seems to work quite well, but beware of the few settings that will start Limewire on startup and keep Limewire running in the background (both undesirable). These settings can be changed in the options of the program. And always be on the lookout for "tag-alongs" when you download a program - those that unintentionally get installed when you intentionally install something useful.

(For those using Windows Messenger, it has the same "in your face" feature, whereby it starts when Windows starts. It, too, has an option to turn that feature off. Why give up prime resources to such a program when you may not be using it on a regular basis, or perhaps not at all?)

For those using the advanced features of WinMX that utilized OpenNap Protocol Networks, those hosts are still up and functional. Some of the more difficult to find files can be found here.


09-21-05...

Don't get "stuck on stupid"...

CNN: press conference on Hurricane Rita. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin & Gen. Russel Honore.

Honore: "Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last-storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward."

(To a reporter again asking questions about Katrina.)

Honore: "You are stuck on stupid. I'm not gonna answer that question. We are going to deal with [the present]."

Clip is available here...


09-14-05

Flesh tones...

When digital photo editing, it may be useful to know how to create certain colours from the available cyan, magenta, and yellow colour set.

According to digital photography pioneer and consultant Dan Marguilis, a cyan level about one-fifth that of magenta, with yellow just slightly higher than magenta, will produce what many perceive as flesh tone. Something like 5% cyan, with 23% magenta and 24% yellow would be good a starting point. The ideal gray is equal portions of magenta and yellow with cyan 5% higher. The ideal for black is equal parts magenta and yellow with cyan 10% higher.


09-14-05

Web cams...

Web cams can be found throughout the world. While not quite "video", you do get to see images taken by these cams that refresh after short periods. This Niagara Falls webcam refreshes every 10 seconds...

There are several webcams at Times Square...

Panoramic web cams...

These cameras can be manipulated by the viewer to display a panoramic 360º image. Often the image has zoom (in, out) controls, and horizon (up, down) controls.

This site has such a panoramic camera, and a live web cam, too. The panoramic camera image at this site is not live, so to catch a glimpse of "leprechauns and other Irish faeries such as pookas, banshees and merrows", it will be necessary to use their live webcam. Please report any sightings to me.

To learn about the panoramic photographic process, and to see more examples, visit this site. To see some panoramic images of popular tourist sites, try this site.

Movie trailers...

Movie trailers can be found and viewed at this site (and elsewhere)...

"The Skeleton Key" movie trailer

These movie trailers can give you an idea of what Internet video might be like. When offered, choose "large".

Their main problem, that of quality/size ratio (which is limited by the available bandwidth), will take newer technology than DSL to bring appreciable video into your PC, perhaps optic fibre (not so far away).

Internet video...

While not ready for prime time, video on the Internet can be found. There are a number of websites offering video that can be viewed in formats that "stream in" (are buffered into a player that displays what it has already received while it continues to download the remainder).

To view such video, you absolutely need high-speed Internet, and even then the video is often not viewable in full screen format. The audio is usually good enough, though some high-pitched hissing or clicking may be audible. Here are a few examples...

Major League Baseball (pay-per-view, for die-hard fans). Click on "free sample", and a pop-up window will appear with a game in progress. To view full screen, double-click the image. (Double-click to restore.)

The Elegant Universe (PBS multi-hour series, in its entirety). Click on any episode, view with Quicktime.

The Elegant Universe


09-14-05

High-speed connection maintenance...

Every few weeks, turn your Internet modem off (wait ten seconds) and back on. This is called "power-cycling". No harm should come to your connection, though you may have to re-start your PC to let it renew its IP address. This procedure may help restore any lost performance you are suffering from having a prolonged connection.

If you have a router also, I would suggest that you turn your PC, router and modem off, then turn your modem, router and PC back on, in that order. Wait about a minute for the modem to set itself up before turning on the router, then wait about another minute before turning on you PC.


08-29-05

Test your DSL speed...

Here is a quick way to test what your DSL speed is, up and down. http://speedtest.norcomcable.ca. Let the applet load, then click on Start.

Mine was reported this way on this date...

2005-08-28 16:44:54 EST: 2424 / 663

Your download speed : 2482947 bps, or 2424 kbps. A 303 KB/sec transfer rate.

Your upload speed : 679117 bps, or 663 kbps.

For those with dial-up connections, your top speed would be 56 kbps. For those with Lite versions of DSL or Rogers cable, I believe that your top speed would be 128 kbps. For those with full Sympatico DSL or Rogers cable, your top speed would be 3000 kbps.


08-29-05

PC cooling...

Cooling fan

Cooling is very important to a PC. General cooling of objects like the circuit boards (video card, sound card, network card, motherboard), memory and hard drive require that case fans circulate air through the case to remove built-up heat.

Special cooling of the CPU calls for a heat sink to "drain" heat away, and a fan to cool the heat sink. (Curiously, as CPUs have become more powerful, they have become smaller, but they run much hotter, so the heat sink in a modern computer is perhaps eight times the mass of an older one, and its fan moves perhaps three times the amount of air.) Some video cards have chips similar to CPUs on them, and these, too, may have proportionally-sized heat sinks and fans on them. The power supply has its own cooling fan. (In some older PCs, this was the only case fan.)

The fans acount for virtually all the noise eminating from a modern PC, though there are a few other noises possible. A modern hard drive makes almost no noise at all anymore, and floppy- and optical drives only make noise when they are spinning, which isn't very often.

There seems to be little architectural organization of the fans in most PCs. Fans blow air in, fans blow air out, and fans blow air around. With all of this air movement, ambient air does mix with "case" air, and cooling does take place.

If the fans in your PC are not working well, or not working at all, this should be looked after. Dust build-up in the case, especially around the fans and in the heat sinks, can reduce the amount of cooling substantially. Normal house dust can readily be removed with compressed air. For smokers, residue from smoke sticks on the fan blades and heat sink surfaces, then dust sticks on the residue, making these objects virtually uncleanable. (Smoke also corrodes electronic circuitry, and may invade hard drives through their air passages and pit and scar their data storage surfaces. This may lead to an early death for these components.)

Dust can cause fans to spin unevenly and wear out prematurely. (Fan bearings can also wear out from normal spinning.) Imbalanced fans, or fans with worn bearings, make more noise - sometimes a great deal of noise. Sometimes the noise will begin when a PC is started and go away after a few minutes of running (heating up). Sometimes the noise will begin after a PC has run for a period of time, after the bearing has heated up and begins to roll unevenly. Fans can be replaced without replacing circuitry. (Don't get fooled by a fan that began making undesirable noise, made the noise regularly, then no longer makes the noise at all. The problem likely did not solve itself, and the fan probably seized, and now does not spin at all - hence, no noise. No spinning means no cooling.)

Why should I care if my PC runs hot?

Steady excessive heat will eventually lead to circuitry failure, as will short periods of extreme heat. When a PC generates more heat than it dissipates ("thermal runaway"), the CPU will begin failing - switching inaccurately, erratically processing data. You might see this as your operating system "freezing" or locking up, or your PC may shut itself down without warning. Other devices under heat duress, like power supplies or hard drives, can also misbehave and cause cascading errors. If nothing happens to shut the electricity off and the heat keeps rising, you may hear components cracking, smell smoke, or see flames.

What can I do to prevent heat damage?

Keep your PC surroundings clean of dust. Put your PC on the desk, rather than under it. Use a vacuum brush attachment to draw dust out of the external fan openings and cooling vents. Remove obstructions - allow air to get to the intake passages, and away from exhaust passages. Don't smoke around your PC.

When the computer is unplugged, you can undo a few screws and gently lift off the case side or cover and access the interior. With a can of compressed air intended for PCs, blow the dust off components and fans, then blow the dislodged dust out of the case as best you can. (It can be harmful to blow fans "around", so you may want to blow the dust off of them by blowing across them.) Spray Windex on a paper towel and wipe down any dusty metal case surfaces, inside and out.

Replace any bad, slow, or noisy fans.

In the history of PC motherboard design, very early proprietary circuit boards eventually evolved into standardized "form factors". A motherboard with a given form factor will fit in a specific case, and have specific connectors, slots and ports. Accessories may be specific for a given form factor, or may be suitable for different form factors.

The earliest PC form factor was XT. XT was followed by AT and ATX. (ATX can also be further specified as micro- or mini-). Lesser-known is WTX, and the newest form factor is BTX.

BTX, (balanced technology extended), addresses issues of modern computing. Components continue to get smaller, and generate more heat. BTX motherboards are lower in profile, and BTX motherboard layouts put devices requiring especial cooling in line from front to back. Fans at the front of a BTX case, fans inside (on a BTX motherboard), and fans at the rear of a BTX case are all in line - working together to pull cooling air in from the front, and push heated air out the back. BTX computers are expected to be cooler and quieter, due to this new efficiency.


08-22-05

Blockview maps...

A9, an Amazon.com company and a competitior of Google, offers Blockview maps that give us a look from ground level at street locations in major U.S. cities.

http://maps.a9.com/

Using a Mapquest map, a viewer can position themselves at a street address, then see the area from ground level, panning around through photos of the area taken at some point in time. In the image below, you can see the basic features of the website - a positionable cursor (magnifying glass) on a resizable map, and a side panel that shows what photos are available for that location. Controls for the photos lets one "pan" around the selected point, viewing either side of the street.

The site is a bit cumbersome, and the controls limited, but it does illustrate our desire to see more than Google Earth offers at present. The direction of development seems clear, though - we all want to see and experience the whole world, even if it's only virtually.


08-22-05

Hotkeys (keyboard shortcuts)...

When one learns how to operate a computer, the first input device to be mastered is the mouse. How to position the mouse cursor, when to left-click, when to double-click, when to right-click, how to scroll screens and lists up and down, how to select more than one item at a time - these motions become second nature for most users over time. The keyboard must also be learned early on if an operator is going to do anything but casually browse the Internet or play games. The more fingers used, the better. The most efficient way to work is combining mouse movements of the right hand with hotkey-strokes of the left, with two-handed typing for the rest.

A hotkey is a unique keystroke combination performed in a given situation that takes the place of one or more mouse movements. Hotkeys are most effectively performed by the left hand alone, but there are times when hotkeys require both hands. Hotkeys are issued by holding down one of these keys - CTRL, ALT, SHIFT, or WINKEY (Windows logo key), while a second key is tapped. The first key is then released. Hotkeys may perform different tasks in different situations, but the principal hotkeys, the most useful hotkeys, perform the same operation virtually throughout.

When should you use a hotkey, and when should you use the mouse to perform a given operation? Pick up on the rhythm and flow of computer operation and choose the most appropriate method. But don't lose time trying to figure out which is best - do whichever of the two comes to mind first, whichever of the two you think is more applicable in the situation. If it feels inefficient as you do it, perhaps next time you will choose the alternative.

For those who would like to use a mouse to type, try the on-screen keyboard... (I typed this sentence with it.)

Hotkeys to know...

These hotkeys work in most versions of Windows, but some require Windows XP.

Winkey+E - opens Windows Explorer

Winkey+F - opens the Search Companion

Winkey+U - opens the Utility Manager

Winkey+L - log off

CTRL+A - select all (select something first, then...)

CTRL+X - cut (select something first, then...)

CTRL+C - copy (select something first, then...)

CTRL+V - paste (cut or copy something first, then...)

CTRL+Z - undo

SHIFT+CTRL+Z - redo

ALT+F4 - close

ALT+TAB - choose an active window

ALT+(an underlined letter in a visible menu item) - pull down a menu, or choose from within it

ALT+PRINTSCREEN - copy the pixels of the active window to the clipboard (for pasting elsewhere later)

CTRL+PRINTSCREEN - copy the pixels of the entire screen to the clipboard (for pasting elsewhere later)

CTRL+HOME - go to the top of a document

CTRL+END - go to the bottom of a document

Just these few hotkeys can save many minutes of time and take some stress off an ailing mouse hand. There are many more hotkeys, and many programs have specific hotkeys of their own. Some are quite obscure (like holding the SHIFT key in while inserting a CD to keep it from auto-playing), and others may be somewhat helpful. The hotkeys in this short list should be memorized and used regularly.


08-17-05

Windows updates, anti-virus program renewals...

Microsoft is continually having to fix parts of its code as hackers discover new ways to exploit their operating systems (Win98, WinXP, etc.) These "vulnerabilities" require patches. Numerous patches become a Service Pack. Patches and Service Packs are available at the Microsoft Update site. Be sure to take the time to visit that site and install all the appropriate updates you can find there. www.windowsupdate.com should redirect you to the appropriate update page for your operating system.

Anti-virus programs will always be behind the outbreak of a new virus, so there will always be a chance that you get a newcomer. If you have not updated your anti-virus program lately, you should do so, as you may be missing virus protection entitled to you.

Your anti-virus program should be looking for both viruses and malware (malicious programs). If it is not, you should no longer renew it - rather, replace it with a new one. If you think of the anti-virus protection you have as being a doctor with a list of viruses and malware to look for, you may find that you have an older, less capable, doctor using an outdated list. With computers, the newer the doctor, the better. (With humans, perhaps not so.) And the list of viruses and malware must be totally up to date to be truly effective.


Nokia monitor test...

08-17-05

Nokia is a monitor manufacturer. A small utility of theirs is this monitor test program. The numerous patterns it provides can be used to check CRTs for clarity and focus, geometry and alignment. It's help text explains a number of terms pertaining to monitors.

Another significant use for this program is to test an LCD screen for bad pixels. The program can generate a series of screens full of the five colours you need to see to be sure that no pixels are stuck on or off. (The colours are red, green, blue, white and black.) Note that LCD screens do not have adjustable geometry like CRTs.

If you have a CRT, you will have to know how to manipulate the controls on its face to correct any flaws you may find. If you have an LCD, you will have fewer controls, but there may be corrections you wish to make after the test is complete.

To download this program, visit the downloads page...


08-17-05

Plain text email...

When sending email, there is nothing the matter with plain text. Many recipients appreciate the quickness receiving and displaying a plain-text message. No backgrounds, no smileys, no colour, no frilly fonts - the words speak for themselves. Plain text is easy to assimilate.

As a recipient, I have the option to view all email in "text only" format, which means that any underlying scripts cannot run, and any graphics are not shown. Therefore, email laden with viruses or other malicious scripts cannot act and unwanted images are not displayed.

Colour, graphics, and images have their place though. Plain-text email can be (by definition) quite plain.

If you receive a large number of nuisance email, toggling the setting may be the most sensible thing. To do so, when in Outlook Express, click on Tools > Options, choose the Read tab, and check (or uncheck) the line "Read all messages in plain text" as needed. It may be wise to toggle this feature on before downloading and reading new email, then toggle the feature off again when it is desirable to view an email's full content.


08-17-05

Blocking senders of unwanted email...

A sender of unwanted email can be put on a blocked list that you create and maintain for yourself. If you have an unwanted email, select it, then click on Message > Block Sender. The sender's name will be added to the list, and any other email from this person can be deleted en masse from your folders at this time.

To view the Blocked Senders List, click on Tools > Message Rules > Blocked Senders List. Senders can be input here directly, or removed from the list, as desired.

Rules for the acceptance or rejection of email can also be created. It may not be worth the effort though, unless you receive a great amount of email. If you are just receiving a few spam per day, it may be simplest to just delete them. Click on Tools > Message Rules > Mail to see the applicable logic.


07-27-05

Automated assistance...

If you ever have to call 310-BELL or 611 for service on your phone line, you will likely hear the voice of "Emily, your automated assistant", asking you to speak aloud keywords that will guide you through the various preliminary levels of inquiry, after which Bell will finally direct your call.

Tip : Now, I know there is a real person at the other end listening behind that voice, but they won't come on the line. So, when asked to respond, what I do is speak some unintelligible gibberish, twice sometimes, which causes the hidden operator to direct my call through to a real live customer service representative, with whom I can explain my problem directly.

I usually say something like "humma gibo booga" or "minne coby jinga", but almost anything uttered will do. (If you cannot think up some gibberish of your own, visit this site and use the Gibberish Generator there.)

An update to this article...

A news release from Bell about the automated assistant states "Her name is Emily and she's a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University who enjoys listening to live music in her free time... And she's a computer." Emily's responses are "based on sophisticated speech recognition technology". Emily is three years old in the 905 area code.

(Anyway, try the gibberish - it still works.)


07-27-05

"froo·gle (fru'gal) n. Smart shopping through Google."

Froogle's search engine will find products for sale, with their pricing and links to the offering websites. Helpful comparisons between products can be made by simply clicking on "Compare...".

Tip: as with any pricing on the Internet, assume that the price is in American dollars, unless the site is certainly Canadian, or the site specifically states that funds are in Canadian dollars.


07-27-05

"Our mission is to organize the world's information..."

Most everyone has tried Google for web searches. It is a great tool, and even the most inexperienced user can be shown how to use it in just a few minutes. Visit www.google.ca. It makes a great home page - quick to load, and great as a test for Internet connectivity. And Google's site is readily available for use on any computer with Internet access.

Google is becoming somewhat commercial these days, but it remains so much less so than other search engines and news sites, that you do not get the feeling that what you see and find is being forced upon you.

Tip: when searching for something very specific, use quotes around the phrase. Because Google drops certain common words from search criteria, searching for I can see by my watch (without quotes) will return a completely different result than searching for "I can see by my watch".

For those who are using Google already, you may not be aware of all the extras Google offers.

Tip : Try clicking on the links Google offers above its search content field. These links will assist you in searching through specific areas of information on the Internet, and in searching for information in a particular format (Images Groups News Local).

Google's more » option leads to other options, some of which are useful, some are "not ready for prime time".


07-21-05

Google Earth, maps...

There is such a thing as a "killer app", which is an excellent application (program) that can only be run on a computer with certain modernizations, causing those with an older computer or peripheral, or lesser Internet service, to finally upgrade.

Google Earth is such a program. If you have not already found this application, prepare to be amazed...

What's it gonna do for me? For many more details, visit this PCN page...

Download and install Google Earth.


07-20-05

Catching annoying flies...

Ever had a fly get into your house, and become extremely, and increasingly, annoying as it buzzes around from window to window trying to get back out?

Here are two techniques I use to get rid of them.

The "flick" technique... When the fly has landed in a place that you can comfortably reach, ready your hand in a finger-flick position and move slowly in toward the fly. If the fly is at rest, it may twitch or freeze as you approach, but if you go slowly, it will not take off. When you reach the point where your extended flicking finger will hit the spot where the fly is, or perhaps slightly above that, flick your finger with as much speed as you can muster. You will probably hit the fly most of the time, killing it or disabling it.

The "clear glass" (or clear plastic) technique... This more humane technique has a very high success rate. A buzzing fly will land at times for many seconds, especially if it has been buzzing around for a long time. Wait until the fly has landed on a flat, reachable spot. Take a clear, palm-sized glass in one hand, and have something like a playing card or stiff paper in the other. Move the open end of the glass towards the fly, slowly approaching it until you encapsulate the fly against the surface it was on. Habitually, the fly may twitch or freeze as you slowly approach, but they do not seem to see the entrapping clear glass as it approaches until the last half-inch or so. If the fly does take off at all, it usually flies into the glass as you move the last half-inch. Once the fly is trapped in the glass, raise one edge slightly and push the playing card or stiff paper under the glass until you can lift the glass off the surface with the card or paper sealing its top. Take the fly outside (close the door behind you), and let the fly go.


07-20-05

Managing power, and power outages...

Power problems commonly happen in the summer due to the high demand for electricity and thunderstorms. Your PC and peripherals can suffer greatly from these sharp losses of power, power spikes, and high levels of static electricity. Hard drives that typically cache data can cause data loss. System files that are similarly cached can become damaged and unusable when a PC re-boots. Static charges and spikes can ruin electronic components like circuit boards, power supplies and picture tubes.

While such an event may only amount to having to re-type a paragraph or two, it is not uncommon to have major component repairs, extensive reinstalls of operating systems (Windows), and total data loss (when hard drives lose low-level files and formatting, or fail outright). And the losses may not only involve your PC - televisions, VCRs, DVD players, microwaves, telephones and other electronics can also receive damage and require repair or replacement.

What can you do?

1) be sure to have a power bar that protects your electronics from surges, and from static charges that may come in through an attached phone line or TV cable

2) for devices like computers that have important data in them, install a UPS (see below) to maintain power through outages

3) back up your data to media that is not sensitive to magnetic fluctuations (optical media, CD-RWs, DVD-RWs)

Most people have surge-protection power bars with data line protection, but many do not use their phone line in/out and cable in/out ports to protect their devices from incoming surges on these lines. (Imagine a lightning strike near the phone line outside your house or office - a static charge may develop on the line and dissipate inside your electronics, ruining them.) Any line coming in to a PC (or television, VCR, etc.) can potentially be the surge carrier, so these lines must be passed through filters to avoid damage and loss. Your solution might simply be to add a short length or cable or phone line and re-route the way the data lines come in to your devices. From the wall into the power bar, then out from the power bar and into the computer (or television, VCR, etc.).

For computers, "soft" damage, like having to reinstall an operating system and restore data, can be very time-consuming and costly. A typical PC takes an informed person about four hours (at the going rate) to be restored to previous working order. And, of course, this can only be accomplished if the installation programs are on hand and all data has been backed up. In this case, incorporating an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) into your setup may be your best defense. These battery-like devices protect against surges, brownouts, and complete power loss.

A UPS has an amount of battery power that will instantly kick in to replace lost power. A computer connected to a UPS will continue to work for the length of time for which the UPS is rated. Before this time is up, the power must be restored, or the computer must be safely off to avoid damage and loss.

If you are working at a PC that has a UPS and the power goes out, you will be able to continue your work for a short time. You will begin to hear warning beeps, and you should start closing down any open documents in preparation of completely shutting down. The length of time that you can continue to work depends on the power rating of the UPS and the condition of the battery. An inexpensive UPS with a rating of as low as 350va is quite adequate to protect against those brief outages that last only seconds, and for situations where the computer operator is in attendance and can safely shut down with perhaps eight minutes of work. For unattended PCs with the monitor off, the length of time is extended. For situations that require greater lengths of power provision, UPS's with much higher ratings are available. The more you pay, the more time you get.

For most people, the protection of a UPS that costs under $100 is probably all that's needed. The 350va mentioned above costs just $50, while a larger 600va costs $79. For commercial use, suitable UPS's can run up to multi-hundreds of dollars, and care should be taken to not "underbuy". This may be a small price to pay when time lost and data lost are considered economically.

Software comes with most UPS's. The software can monitor the power situation whether or not the PC is attended, and can be setup to close files and shut down a PC in the event that power does go out for a length of time and there is no one in attendance to turn the PC off. (Note: some older programs cannot be managed this way, and data loss may result if a PC is forced off while such programs have open files, but operating systems, most installed programs, and unopened data should survive.)

A UPS, which typically has three to five AC outlets and phone line in/out protection, can be used in place of a surge protection power bar, or can be used in addition to one. If the UPS is first in line "from the wall", an attached power bar can distribute assisted power to any number of devices, while providing data line protection through its protected data ports. Of course, the more devices connected will mean shorter battery life. A laser printer, for example, will drain a battery in a hurry, and if there happens to be a heater connected to the power bar, you may only have a few seconds of protection. The smartest use would be to put the PC, monitor, and any Internet hardware (modem, router) on the UPS, while any other devices are plugged in separately.


07-20-05

Data remains on discarded hard drives...

You may be at risk if you have sensitive data on a hard drive that you are throwing away or which you are otherwise disposing. Account information, passwords, personal or business data files all may remain on a hard drive even though you believe that you have deleted them. Information stored in the Registry of a PC may yield valuable software keys, account logins and passwords, and other sensitive information about a previous user.

A recent study showed that more than 70% of used hard drives sold through eBay had recoverable data. Other discardable devices that may hold sensitive data include mobile phones, USB flash drives, and digital music players. Care should be taken to delete, then overwrite, sensitive data whenever possible.

What can you do about that hard drive? Try "FDISKing" it, and re-formatting it entirely before giving it up. In my mind, there can be little left for a typical user to find after that.

To read the source article, Data Data Everywhere 2005, visit this page...


07-20-05

Mars will not appear as big as the moon...

Hate to disappoint, but Mars won't be much bigger than its usual self when it comes into its closest proximity to Earth this year in October. The emailed rumour that most of you probably received was not very factual. Mars will be some 69 million kilometers away, and "will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light in the night sky".

To see what NASA plans for the encounter, and to see an image of Mars from the Hubble telescope, visit this page...


07-20-05

Ransomware, vulnerable files...

Are you doing your backups?

Ransomware can now be added to your list of computer concerns. Imagine software that you download and install, or an attachment that you receive and open, that causes your personal or business documents to become encrypted. The decryption keys are then offered for a ransom which, if not paid, will leave your documents unopenable and unusable.

Sounds outrageous? Well, this kind of extortion is happening already.

"Even though this type of attack is not widespread at this point, Internet users should be aware of the threat", said Oliver Friedrichs, a senior manager at Symantec Security Response.

For example... "The "Trojan.Pgpcoder" searches a victim's hard disk drive for 15 common file types, including images and Microsoft Office file types. It then encrypts the files, removes the originals and drops a note asking $200 for the encryption key", Friedrichs said.

On a related topic... are you using shareware, or trial versions of utilities that provide evidence of security or performance problems - could these programs themselves be causing your troubles, only to miraculously alleviate them once you buy them?

A couple of recent examples are SpywareNo!, and SpySheriff, which you may have already installed, thinking that these products were beneficial. Or perhaps these products may have been installed without your consent by a virus-related "trojan downloader" or by an "application dropper" (which forces software onto your PC through the simple action of visiting a website with hidden scripts).

Protect yourself from these threats - make multiple backups of your files on removable media, and be wary of attachments of every kind, and email from anyone you don't know. Avoid third-party utilities that may only be putting a new face on an intrinsic feature of Windows itself. There is really only one "must have" third-party product - that being a credible anti-virus program with a malware detection component.

The four areas that you should be backing up "on the shelf" are : original data files (text and image), email, address book entries, and Internet favourites.

The three areas for which you should have licensed software "on the shelf" are : the operating system (typically, whatever version of Windows), the hardware drivers (for the motherboard, video card, sound card, printer, etc.), and any third-party programs purchased, or otherwise acquired (like image software received with the purchase of a scanner, or DVD-burning software received with the purchase of a DVD burner).

If a user has their data backed up "on the shelf", and their licensed software assembled "on the shelf", any damaged or messed-up computer can be completely repaired or restored, replaced or upgraded in just a few hours.


06-15-05

Email - backups, compacting folders, email rules...

Recently I looked at the email storage folder on my hard drive and discovered that I was using over a GB of space for some 120 email I had. Since this was outrageous, I looked into the matter further and found that the flow-through rate of my email has a lot to do with how large and slow my Outlook Express files had become. So I made some changes to my own routine, and wrote some notes that should help you look into, and improve, your own email situation.

These notes, and more, can be found on this page about email...


Microsoft AntiSpyware...

06/10/05

New PCs from PCN will now include Microsoft's new AntiSpyware software, version Beta 1, a product designed to scan daily for active, and inactive, malicious programs. (This product is comparable to Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, with which you may be familiar. Ad-Aware will continue to be installed on new PCs also.)


Commemorative stamps...

06/10/05

Did you know...

...that Canada Post has many attractive, untypical, commemorative stamps that you can order online or by telephone and have delivered to you for free? You can decorate your mail with these stamps at no more cost than the typical corner store variety stamps, or give them as gifts to help commemorate events of personal interest.

Souvenir sheets and prepaid postcards are also available, and there is an extensive variety of other products that may interest you.

You may also be interested in collecting first-day covers - decorative envelopes with the appropriate stamp postmarked on the day of issue. The reverse side has more decoration and a full story about the stamp.

You can open an account and receive their free catalogue regularly, which lists all the products presently available and what's coming out in the near future.


Games...

06/07/05

In cleaning up some of my personal files, I have assembled a few games, novelties and videos at my site that you can access from the bottom of the home page. There are general instructions for each file, so if you have problems let me know and I will make any necessary adjustments. Some of you will have seen these before - then again, perhaps not. Many of these files are of size, so it may take a bit of waiting to get certain ones.


WinMX problems...

06/07/05

If you are having difficulties downloading music using WinMX or a similar product, you may be encountering false (or fake, or dummy) files deliberately set out to disrupt the downloading of popular music.

What happens... the connection for a file selected for download never gets to the download stage but remains in limbo "waiting for network reply". This seems to happen to the newer popular music more so than to much older files.

This is a quote from a WinMX newsgroup... "Most likely the files you've been trying to download are dummies propagated by RIAA puppets in an effort to disrupt the WPN network, defeat sharing of popular songs, and generally frustrate users to the point they abandon WinMX altogether."

Their recommendations led me to try the OpenNap Protocol Networks option of WinMX, and some of the ability of downloading the newer songs was restored. Perhaps not for everyone, instructions for how to do this can be found here...

Presently it is not illegal in Canada to download music, and a proposed law seems directed at "those who share high volumes of copyright-protected material including music".


Phishing, pharming and internet security...

05/16/05

Please be aware that a fraudulent activity known as "phishing" (fishing) or "spoofing" is a growing concern.

Email that appears to be coming from a reputable financial institution asks recipients to go to a website and effectively give out personal information about themselves - including account numbers and passwords - to rectify some concocted account problem.

The quality of the email requests and the "look-alike" websites can be impressive, as you can see here...


SSL Encrypted Email

Dear LaSalleBank . com customer,

We recently have determined that different computers have logged onto your Online Banking LaSalleBank account, and multiple passwords failures were present before the logins.

We now need you to re-confirm your account information to us. If this is not completed till April 30, 2005, we will be forced to suspend your account Indefinitely, as it may have been used for fraudulent purposes.

We thank you for your cooperation in this manner.

Click below to confirm and verify your Online Banking Account:

https://lasallena.com/servlet/lasalle/login/name?=lasalle=LaSalle+Online+Verification

Note: If you choose to ignore our request, you leave us no choice but to temporary suspend your account.

Best Regards,

LaSalleBank Security and Anti-Fraudulent Department.


LaSalle Bank has responded to the scam by posting info at their website. (Then again, is this a perpetuation of the fraud by the scammer?)

You may well ask how the scammers get the logos, etc. to make their fraudulent pages look so real. They can simply download them - right-click on any web image and copy and paste, or save.



Cutting and pasting other corporate info in text format can also make a fraudulent site look legitimate, as shown here...

Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, with offices around the world, TD Bank Financial Group offers a full range of financial products and services through the following businesses...


So, if you receive something like this and you are unsure as to the authenticity of the request, contact you financial institution in your regular way (via a phone number you already have, or visit the branch, etc.) and ask.

For those of you who are dealing with legitimate financial institutions, be sure that you have the 128-bit encryption version of your browser, and that the little "security lock" at the bottom of your browser screen is in the locked position when you are logged on.

To check the encryption level of Internet Explorer on your PC, click on Help and About. This will reveal what browser version you have, and what "cipher strength" you have.

For those of you purchasing products via the Internet, or thinking about doing so, it is a good idea to have a special major credit card for this purpose alone. Have it set to a low limit and check your monthly statements with extra care.

Many financial institutions have ways of distinguishing their legitimate websites, so you can look for information at their legitimate sites regarding the spotting of the fake ones.

"Pharming" is a somewhat less likely problem to have happen on your PC, but this also is a growing concern. Viruses can rewrite files on your PC that contain addressing information about legitimate sites. This in turn causes you to be redirected to fraudulent sites - effectively a domain hijack. A "poisoned" DNS directory on a PC can cause serious problems for trusting souls, so keep your guard up and look for any anomalies or unusual items at websites you frequent and take these as a warning that you may not be at a legitimate website.

To differentiate - with "phishing", the user must click on a deceptive link to be taken in: with "pharming", an existing legitimate link stored on a PC is altered without the user knowing.


Batteries - shelf life, and tips on storing them...

05/09/05


How to Create An Effective Password...

03/10/05

Here is a very useful Microsoft article on passwords.


Five Steps to Help Have Crash-Free Computing...

03/08/2005

(from a Microsoft article for business)

1. Upgrade to the latest operating system

2. Take virus protection seriously

3. Keep your software up-to-date

4. Use care when installing new programs or drivers

5. Provide surge protection and back-up power

More details here...


Excessive spam...

2/26/2005

For those of you receiving excessive spam in your email, a program called Mailwasher (which is free for one user account) is available in the Downloads section of my site. This product has the ability to use popular public blacklists and lists you develop yourself to flag and remove spam from your incoming email.

I have the version at my site that let's you set up one account for free. The latest, more capable, version is available in trial format and for purchase at the Mailwasher site.


Adobe Acrobat Reader...

2/26/2005

In acknowledgement of the increased use of the PDF file format at many sites, I have added the latest version of Acrobat Reader in the Downloads section of my site - 7.0 for Windows XP. Version 5.05 is already there, and it is fine for almost all PDFs you may come across.

My upload rate from my site is at best 800 kbps, so a faster connection may be made to the Adobe site directly. The target file size is 19.8 MB.

Note that, at the Adobe site and other sites, other products are often being added as unneeded tag-alongs. In this instance, the Adobe site is offering the Adobe Yahoo! search bar and Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition. These are not required to read PDFs, and are not especially needed for anything else, so you can avoid their download by unchecking these options. (The tag-alongs add 8 MB).


Software versions...

2/26/2005

A general comment about the latest versions of most software - you do not need to have the latest version in many cases. In fact, earlier versions still may work quite well, and they are not usually plagued with tag-alongs and pushy prompts to buy. Older versions of products like Winamp, for example, are completely adequate for what most people want them for.

When installing products, I usually turn off any update notices and product promotional notices, and refuse the tag-alongs. This is done simply by unchecking these options when offered. When I feel a product is out-of-date, or I think I am missing something, I go to the website of the product manufacturer and look for what is current.

For those of you who have Microsoft Office software, there is a website for Microsoft Office updates of which you may not have been aware. Click on "Check for Updates" to see what you can get. You will need the original CD on hand to complete the process.


© Products of Concord North Ltd. Home