30 December, 2006

Hiding Content in an Image

Recently on two separate TV shows I saw an image file used to hide other data (one was text and one was another image). Wouldn't you know, I then ran across ZomgStuff and a post from UgLy NeRd, which has an article on how to hide a text file in a .jpg.

It is actually quite easy: use RAR to merge the two files, giving it a .jpg extension (copy /b secret.jpg + meeting.txt.rar lizard.jpg). When you want to retrieve the text, open the .jpg with WinRAR. Check the posting on ZombStuff to see a few screen shots.

AT&T Closer to Supporting Net Neutrality

For nearly a year, the FCC has not approved the AT&T / BellSouth merger -- more specifically commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein. In order to break the deadlock, AT&T has put forth provisions to make the merger look more favorable to consumers. This is the second set of conditions that AT&T has put forth in order to get the merger through -- the first being in October. The most exciting part of the provisions this time around is AT&T's partial support of Net Neutrality.

According to Nate Anderson of ArsTechnica, this provision means that all content of a particular type will receive equal bandwidth. What it does not provide is equal bandwidth across different content types. For example, AT&T could throttle back all VoIP, and give more bandwidth to video. The good news is that companies cannot pay AT&T money to deliver their content faster than another content provider.

Other provisions include returning 3,000 BellSouth outsourced jobs and low cost ($10) DSL for a minimum of 30 months.

Though not complete, I believe this a a great step for net neutrality.

28 December, 2006

Alt Key + Calculator Number = Symbol

I ran across this simple page from a link on Digg. It is shortcuts for symbols that you cannot normally type in directly. For example:
© = Alt + 0169
® = Alt + 0174

26 December, 2006

Activate Windows Vista for Free

Vista has not even been released to the consumers, and already there is a work-around to keep you from having to activate your copy. As you may recall, if you do not activate your copy of Vista within Microsoft's specified time, you will be reduced to an OS that lets you access the Internet for an hour at a time.

On December 20, 2006, KezNews posted an article on how to fool the activation clock, and therefore allowing you to run Vista without activation indefinitely. If that is not enough, KezNews has a synopsis of the eWeek article on how hackers can buy Vista exploits for $50,000.

I am not suggesting you steal or try to hack Vista; rather, I am suggesting you be careful in seriously consider before upgrading to Vista. With a completely new platform, Microsoft can claim that Vista is the most secure Windows platform ever (the same claim they made about XP), but the fact is, Microsoft has no idea how Vista will stand up to hackers -- only time will tell.

24 December, 2006

Santa Uses Science and Techhology to Deliver Presents to Millions of Homes

Most adults do not believe in Santa, because they do not understand how he can deliver presents to so many homes, all in one night. That's because most of us are not as smart as Santa and Dr. Larry Silverberg of North Carolina State University. Mick Kulikowski released an article earlier in the month, after speaking with Dr. Silverberg, that attempts to explain the science and technology behind Santa Claus' travels to the layman.
"...Santa has a personal pipeline to children’s thoughts – via a listening antenna that combines technologies currently used in cell phones and EKGs..."

Santa uses this information on his sleigh, so that he has up-to-the-minute information just before he builds a present for a child. Yes, Santa uses just-in-time manufacturing with nanotechnology to build the toys once he is in the home of each and every child. Of course that does not explain how Santa Claus can complete this all in a single night.

That fact is, Santa's knowledge of the space/time continuum and the theory of relativity is behind this trick. Santa is able to take months of his own time and hit every home in just hours. Just hours? NORAD has been tracking Santa each year now for more than 50 years, and Santa has successfully delivered gifts all around the world, all on Christmas Eve.

If you want to read and hear more about all the science and technology behind Santa's successful deliveries he makes each and every year, Dr. Silverberg has provided a more detailed Science of Santa on the North Carolina State University website.

Merry Christmas

23 December, 2006

Read Your WebMail with Thunderbird

The popular, safer alternative to the Outlook Express mail client Thunderbird, from the Mozilla folks, can be used for more than just POP3 / SMTP mail. If you did not know, Google provides POP3 access access, but all the other popular WebMail platforms do not. Lucky for us, Mozilla has developed Extensions to support the other popular WebMail formats from Yahoo to HotMail to AIM/AOL.

Mozilla has made it fairly easy to setup too. First, you download their base WebMail Extension, and then individual Extensions for only the services you have. After the Extensions are installed, you have a new option, WebMail, in the Add Account interface, which takes you through a Wizard to configure. That's it!.

I setup and tested both Yahoo and AIM/AOL. The only thing to watch for is that you enter your complete email address for the username (i.e. yourname@yourservice.com not yourname).

If you have not made the switch to Thunderbird yet, this is the time. In addition to the WebMail Extensions, you get a much safer environment (no Internet Explorer integration), and it doubles as an RSS reader.

21 December, 2006

Firefox Doesn't Work on Vista

The new release of Firefox, version, which was released December 19th, still has problems running on Vista. The biggest problem is that it cannot be set as the default browser. It almost seems as if Microsoft purposefully changed things to make it more difficult for Firefox. According to W3Schools, Firefox had nearly a 30% market share in November, number two after IE 6's 50% share.

20 December, 2006

Finally Updated to iTunes 7

You may recall that September 20th of this year, I suggested that you should not be the first to take new software updates -- let others see if there are problems. In this case, I was speaking of iTunes 7, as many people were having problems (and on Apple's Discussions forum) with the popular software. About a month ago, I finally installed iTunes 7 on the PC that I did not sync with.

The new software seemed to work well, but I had no reason to update my PC used to sync my 3rd generation iPod. Yesterday, I finally took the plunge -- 3 months after my warning. Everything seemed fine, the software loaded fine, my iPod seemed to sync okay too. This morning though, I found a problem -- I no longer had Podcasts listed as an option in the playlist. Fortunately I could scroll through recently added songs and find my podcasts.

Tonight I reconnected my iPod, found the Podcast tab on the iTunes sync screen, and specifically synced all podcasts. Now I do not know whether it was coincidental or a required step, but my Podcasts option in the playlist reappeared.

Am I happy with the new iTunes? Yes, I like it much better. Am I happy I waited? Definitely, having my favorite podcasts every day is more valuable than a new version of software. Next time software you use has an update available, wait and see if there are bugs to be worked out before updating your own version.

NOTE: If you are a Windows user, do not follow this rule -- you should immediately update Windows when Microsoft releases new patches; ideally your machine should be configured to do this automatically. The chance of being without your computer due to a rare problem with a patch update is better than compromising your machine and/or data to an unknown hacker.

17 December, 2006

Restrict Third-Party Cookies in Firefox

With the change to Firefox 2, restricting third-party cookies is no longer available through the Options dialog. The only option within the Options dialog is to either allow all cookies or no cookies. Fortunately you can still do this through About:Config. (If you are unfamiliar with About:Config, see my blog post on November 5, 2006.)

I recommend you disable third-party cookies to avoid companies, such as DoubleClick, from tracking your behavior across sites.

Open About:Config, and use the Filter dialog box and type network.cookie.cookieBehavior (it will be the second item once you have entered network.c). Double-click on network.cookie.cookieBehavior and change the value to 1. This will now permit only cookies from the same domain you are visiting to save cookies on your computer.

Here are all possible values:
  • 0 (default): Enable all cookies
  • 1: Allow cookies from originating server only
  • 2: Disable all cookies
  • 3: Use P3P policy to decide (see MozillaZine Knowledge Base, network.cookie.p3p)

Net Neutrality Explained

16 December, 2006


I ran across a site, StopBadware.org, led by Harvard Law School and Oxford University, with sponsorship from Google, Sun, and Lenovo, that is trying "to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware."

StopBadware.org "...shares information with the public in the form of reports, including in-depth and short form reports. The in-depth reports highlight particularly prominent or particularly bad applications, and shorter quick reports describe websites that host or distribute badware." StopBadware.org has a complete set of guidelines on what constitutes badware. Software and/or websites can be categorized as either badware or caution. From the guidelines, an application is badware in one of two cases:
  1. If the application acts deceptively or irreversibly.
  2. If the application engages in potentially objectionable behavior without:
    • First, prominently disclosing to the user that it will engage in such behavior, in clear and non-technical language, and
    • Then, obtaining the user's affirmative consent to that aspect of the application.
Interestingly enough, AOL version 9 is currently working to improve their product to keep themselves off of the badware list. In examining StopBadware.org's quick reports, most of the websites are either pornographic or free serial number related.

Check the badware site, and see if you currently have any badware. Check it again before downloading free applications and tools. And of course, stay away from questionable websites.

11 December, 2006

Safe Computing While Traveling

In speaking with an old friend today, I was reminded of how unsafe it can be to use an unprotected wireless connection, or even worse, an Internet cafe' PC. So when I got home, I researched some of the services and solutions that I have read and heard about.

First of all, you should always take caution when using an open network. This includes both wireless and wired (such as a hotel). The best way to do this is by setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) before doing anything else. If you are a business person, you may already have that capability through your company. If so, check with your IT department to find out what happens when you connect to non-work addresses. Typically it will skip the VPN and go directly to the site, saving company bandwidth, but putting you at risk. Note that there may be a way to change this setting.

Assuming you cannot get protected through your company network (or you do not want to), there are a couple other options. One option is to set up a VPN to your home PC. Using a service such as Himachi to set up a VPN, and then a version of VNC (RealVNC and TightVNC are two of several), you can connect to your home PC and safely surf. The other option is to use a 3rd party service.

I found two 3rd party VPN services, HotSpotVPN and WiTopia. HotSpotVPN is about $9 a month while WiTopia is $40 per year. There are free solutions too, but you might want to think twice before using a free service to protect your data. WiTopia also offers solutions to protect your wireless network at home -- there claim is that WAP is just not enough (you do use WAP, right?).

Perhaps you were considering an Internet cafe'. It just so happens that CNet had an article on a HotMail account that may have been compromised due to the user accessing it through an Internet cafe'. If this is your preferred computing platform while traveling, then I suggest you check out one of the Smart Drives from U3. With a Smart drive, you can boot a PC with the files that you carry on a USB flash drive, have it protect your data, and erase your activity upon completion. U3 does this with virtualization, as explained at Network World. Prices start at around $30.

So next time you travel, do not become the next victim -- prepare and protect yourself before you leave.

08 December, 2006

Security Flaw in Windows Media Player

As reported by IntelliAdmin.com and ComputerWorld, another security hole has been found in a Microsoft product -- this time it is Windows Media Player Versions 9 and 10. Specifically, the problem is with media files that have the .asx extension. By default when you click on this file type, Windows Media Player will launch -- a compromised file would allow hackers to gain control of your PC.

IntelliAdmin.com recommends that you remove the association for Windows Media Player to play .asx files. Microsoft recommend that you upgrade to Windows Media Player 11. Microsoft says Windows Media Player 11 will work on all versions of Windows XP that have Service Pack 2. I did find one mention of possible problems if you have Windows XP Media Center 2005.

If you are looking for a fix to versions 9 or 10, it does not look like Microsoft will have something by this Tuesday, the monthly patch release from Microsoft. So just as I indicated you will likely need to wait for January's patch release for a fix in Word, you will also have to wait for January for this fix.

07 December, 2006

Excel Quick Sum

I found an old trick in Excel the other day... if you highlight cells, the sum will appear in the status bar below. This works whether the cells are horizontal, vertical, or in a block. You can also select cells to sum from various parts of your spreadsheet by holding the Ctrl key down as you select each.

06 December, 2006

New Hole in Word

As reported by eWeek and ZDNet, there is a new problem with Word that could allow attackers to take control of your PC. Since there is no fix available yet, you should avoid opening any unknown Word files. I would expect that Microsoft would release a fix as soon as possible, but if they stick to their patch-Tuesday schedule, this may come to late to make the December release, forcing users to wait until January.

04 December, 2006

Reduce the Size of an Excel File

I have been working with an Excel file for about 18 months -- each month I link to a monthly Excel data file. This gives me data in one file that I can use to trend many different segments. I am not sure when, but this file had ballooned to over 3 MBs. Finally this month when I tried to upload it to our intranet, I received a file size limit exceeded message.

I searched and searched, and could not find any thing that would compress or clean up the file. Finally I went to Google and found a solution. The credit goes to OzGrid Business Applications. Here is a link to the entire article, and below is what I had done to reduce the file size.
  • The first thing of course is to make a backup... just in case
  • I then performed the following on each worksheet (only 2 in my case):
    • Select a cell and press F5
    • Click the Special... button
    • Click the Blanks radio button
    • Click OK
    • Select Edit | Clear | All
    • Manually go to the last row in the worksheet (do not use Edit menu shortcut)
    • Select the entire row
    • Press Ctrl + Shift + [down arrow]
    • Select Edit | Clear | All
    • Remember to repeat for each worksheet
  • Save
In my case, the file went from over 3 GBs to less than 200K. If this does not work for you, OzGrid does offer some other possible things to try.

03 December, 2006

Better Security May Not Be Better

There is an excellent article posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that describes how poorly implemented security is not better security. Trusted Computing: Promise and Risk by Seth Schoen reminds me a lot of DRM. The direction of two organizations, Microsoft Next-Generation Secure Computing Base or NGSCB and Trusted Computing Platform Alliance or TCPA, want to put restrictions in place that could force you to use certain software by certain manufacturers.

Of the fours security areas: (1) memory curtaining; (2) secure input and output; (3) sealed storage; and (4) remote attestation, remote attestation could be a problem. Developers could force you to use certain software in order to use their system. The author recommends adding an owner override to prevent problems.

Read the article yourself to learn more.

27 November, 2006

Defective Cameras Deal Another Blow to Sony

Yahoo! reported on the 24th that Sony has another recall -- this time it is their Cyber-shot camera. "The liquid crystal display screens of eight camera models might not display images correctly, images could be distorted or cameras might not take photos at all." This affects cameras sold over 16 months from September 2003 to January 2005. Apparently this is not the first camera recall for Sony.

Compared to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq over the last three months, things do not look good for Sony. I do not expect the PS3 to help them much either.

23 November, 2006

Look Inside the Wii

I found two sites that look at the inside of a Wii game machine from Nintendo. Popular Science has 16 photos while informit.com has a complete tear down with instructions. Both are very good, but informit.com gives you much more information including a nine minute video. In addition, CNN posted an AP article on how the motion controls for the Wii and PS3 work.

I also found a link to some handiwork where someone figured out how to get to the Wii Shop store.

17 November, 2006

Take a Third Look at Google Desktop

I had tried the free Google Desktop at work, twice, and each time uninstalled it. First because I could not search my network drives. (I like to use network drives to share files with my colleagues, and to make sure they are backed up.) Later I had decided to try again, and then discovered the possible security issues.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Google now has addressed the security concerns and they have released an update that will index networked drives. I have been running this now for about two weeks, and it generally has performed well. The Google Desktop Search is based on keywords, so it does not always give you the most relevant results. I also had some troubles with PowerPoint running very slow while editing. (I turn the search off when I am working in PowerPoint.) With those caveats, it seems to be a good solution.

A nice, new feature is that if you hit your CTRL button twice, a search dialog appears in the center of your screen. Of course Google Desktop will provide many more gadgets and garbage when you install it, so you need to pay close attention to make sure you disable those functions. But if you are looking for a good search across network drives at a low cost (free), I recommend giving Google Desktop another look.

Spam Increases 67% Since August 2006

Barracuda Networks reported November 15th that they have seen an increase in spam of 67% since August of this year. I learned this fact while reading about spam linked to Russian gang from eWeek, "...authorities have traced the operation to a well-organized hacking gang controlling a 70,000-strong peer-to-peer botnet..."

This hacking gang is using the trojan tool that removes other viruses before setting-up shop on breached computers, which I reported in October. The most common compromised machine is XP with service pack 2 at 47%. Another 37% is XP with no service pack or service pack 1. This I do not understand at all -- if you are going to use your computer on the Internet, you absolutely must keep it up-to-date with patches and fixes. Over 12,500 of the compromised machines are in the US.

Finally, this group push two messages, "pump-and-dump" and penis enlargements. The "pump-and-dump" is penny stocks. It is believe the reason must be that these two items are the most lucrative.

If you want to learn more about how one of these operations work, check out the eWeek article. In addition, make sure you are protecting yourself:
  1. Keep your OS up-to-date
  2. Use an anti-virus tool that is kept up-to-date, daily
  3. Use a spyware protector
  4. Use a firewall such as ZoneAlarm; using a software firewall will allow you to be notified if unauthorized programs try to access the Internet
  5. Do not use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express
  6. Do not click on links in emails; type the address manually into your browser (this is to protect you against phishing; read more at Wikipedia)
  7. Do not open attachments that you are not expecting (even if you know the sender)
  8. Use a credit card for online purchases, NOT a debit card
  9. Use McAfee SiteAdvisor or similar to identify problematic sites (Firefox extension)
  10. Use NoScript to disable JavaScript on sites that you do not trust (Firefox extension)

16 November, 2006

Don't Get Caught in the Zune Hype

Microsoft just released their new Zune player -- will it be a hit? My bet is no, and here is why.
  1. The software is difficult to install; it has crashed for many people.
  2. Does not support Microsoft's PlaysForSure music platform, including Windows Media Player.
  3. Therefore, you cannot play music you bought from other stores that used the PlaysForSure music platform.
  4. Microsoft closed their music store and opened a new one specific to Zune (Zune Marketplace).
  5. To buy music, you need to buy points from Microsoft in $5.00 increments. Each song is 79 points, which is about $0.99. So you will loan Microsoft $4.00 (or more), each time you buy more points.
  6. Yet another DRM in isolation.
  7. Supports video, but there is video available from Microsoft's Zune Marketplace store yet.
  8. Does not support podcasting.
  9. Paying Universal an undisclosed sum for each unit sold since all users are pirating music.
  10. Wireless only works between 2 Zunes with DRM music. Does not allow you to sync with your PC or Xbox over your own network.
  11. When sharing a song between Zunes, you must stop what ever is playing.
  12. You can only share DRM'd music.
  13. You can only share the music one time.
  14. Does not work with Vista.
  15. Too big to use when at the gym.
David Ewalt wrote a good article on why the Zune Stinks. So with all that, will some folks still buy it? Yes. The unknowing person will buy it, just to be disappointed later. If you want to learn more about the Zune, try Zune Scene. But if you buy it, remember, I warned you.

12 November, 2006

PowerPoint Keyboard Shortcuts

I have put together another keyboard shortcuts tri-fold, this time for PowerPoint. Whether you use PowerPoint a lot or just occasionally, I think you will find this to be a valuable tool.
I have some really good shortcuts in here. For example, did you know that if you enter Ctrl + Shift + [plus sign] with text selected, that it will change it to superscript? Or that Ctrl + D will duplicate a selected object? That is just two of over 100 keyboard shortcut combinations.

11 November, 2006

Still Confused About Net Neutrality?

Bill Moyers, Moyers on America, has developed an extremely informative piece on the current risk to open access on the Internet call The Net @ Risk. Moyers and his team dig into big media, telco, cable, and government, and shine a spotlight on how we risk losing open Internet access for everyone.

Let us not forget how in as little as two years from rule changes by the FCC, big media bought all the little radio stations, and now we have little to no local programming. That could just as easily happen to the Internet.

Take a company like Google. Eight years ago, Google was two guys in graduate school -- the Internet has allowed founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin start their own company and compete against incumbents Alta Vista, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

With net neutrality, telco and cable companies could make it more expensive to get Internet telephone companies like Vonage and Skype, then it would be to buy it from them -- they would do this by forcing Vonage and Skype to pay them high access fees.

If this scares you in the least or you would like more reliable and faster Internet access, it is time you learn more about this issue. It is time to make sure your local government officials know your views. After viewing Bill Moyers story, visit Free Press: Net Freedom Now, and Save the Internet to learn what else you can do.

09 November, 2006

1.2 Million Jobs / $500 Billion to the U.S. Economy

Michael J. Copps wrote a great article yesterday, America's Internet Disconnect, on the impact of not having broadband Internet access. Mr. Copps claims that some experts believe we could ..."add $500 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.2 million jobs" with universal broadband adoption. In addition, we are being over charged by $8 billion.

Here is a few more facts... the government is supposed to have universal broadband in the U.S. by 2007, yet we are not even close. The U.S. ranks 15th in the world in broadband penetration, while Europeans and Asians are getting 25 to 100 megabits to their homes. Oh, but "the FCC still defines broadband as 200 kilobits per second."

Who knows, maybe we will see some changes with the recent election. CNet posted an article describing some of the possible benefits to technology with the control of the House and possibly the Senate going to Democrats. I would expect at a minimum that we finally get some support on Net Neutrality. The CNet article, What the Democrats' win means for tech, also discusses other issues including digital copyright and the AT&T/BellSouth merger approval.

Well I guess it is the government we are talking about, so I should not get too optimistic, but one can hope.

06 November, 2006

Web Analytics

If you are new to web analytics or need to brush up your skills, I recently read Web Analytics Demystified: A Marketer's Guide to Understanding How Your Web Site Affects Your Businessand found it very helpful for this category. If you are a little more advanced, you might try another book from the same author, Eric T. Peterson, Web Site Measurement Hacks.Perhaps what I like most about both of these books, is that Eric makes it simple. In addition, Eric has experience with web tags, which is particularly beneficial when your site is distributed across multiple systems.

Eric also has a companion site for his Web Analytics Demystified book. In addition to companion files to Web Analytics Demystified, he has done a lot of work to bring the web analytics community together. For example, Eric has organized Web Analytics Wednesday where professionals all over the world meet locally on the 2nd Wednesday of every month, at 6 pm, to discuss web analytics. I attend the local Web Analytics Wednesday in Portland, and met Eric himself, along with folks from Web Trends and Intel.

So if you need to get a better handle on web analytics, even if you are just starting out, give these books a shot and join the web analytics community.

05 November, 2006

Configuring Firefox with About:Config

Have you wondered how you might change settings in Firefox, yet not found any options in the Tools | Options... section? Firefox uses a file called About:Config to manage options that are not configurable through the Tools | Options... menu. Just type About:Config in the Address Bar to access these additional options.
The Mozilla knowledge base has a list of options to set. Here are just a few that may be of interest to you.
  • Set the check document frequency (browser.cache.check_doc_frequency): This is the option as to how frequently the browser check to see if the page has been update.
    0: Check once per browser session
    1: Check every time you view the page
    2: Never check (always use the cached page)
    3: Check when the page is out-of-date (default)
  • Default Search (browser.search.defaulturl): Just as the name says. The default is Google, http://www.google.com/search?lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=
  • Search Open (browser.search.openintab): Set to true and your search results will open in a new tab. The default of false will return in the current window.
  • Browser Tab Close Button (browser.tabs.closeButtons): This is the option to where you want the close button for each tab:
    0: Display a close button on the active tab only
    1: Display a close button on each tab (default, Firefox 2)
    2: Do not display any close buttons
    3: Display a single close button at the end of the tab bar (old Firefox behavior)

To make a change on the About:Config page, double-click to toggle between true and false or to open the value dialog box. Alternately, right-click on a line to toggle or modify a value. Likewise, if you know what you are doing, you can right-click to add new properties.

04 November, 2006

Ethical Hacking Sam I Am

The Ethical Hacker Network runs various competitions to help grow the education of the hacker community [not be confused with unethical "crackers"]. Recently they ran Netcat in the Hat, after an old favorite Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. You do not have to be a hacker to enjoy and appreciate the humor behind it. Here is an exert from the instructions:
The data stood still,
And the packets did stay
Sitting there in the N.O.C.
All that cold, cold wet day.

Our connection went down
When the phone lines were cut
By some dude with a backhoe,
Gold tooth and beer gut.

Far worse was that we
Quite nearly were through
With a large data transfer
Straight from Kalamazoo


Three winners were announced. This is from the Creative Category:
That Netcat in the Hat he'd showed us his tricks, he'd showed us the what and the what makes it ticks.
He'd given us knowledge, he'd given us plans, but he'd left us the work, that tall feline man.

Well, Netcat had packed up,
he'd indeed taken off,
but he'd left us two gifts
like furballs, which up he had coughed.

These things I had heard of,
though indeed never used.
Thing One was dd,
and netcat was Thing Two.


Next time you have to learn something technical, instead of the dry, bland books we are so used to, try something more creative from the Ethical Hacker Network and Dr. Seuss.

Another Internet Explorer ActiveX Vulnerability

Microsoft and Secunia reported another ActiveX bug yesterday. Just by visiting a website or viewing email in html mode can provide the means for malicious code to be executed on your computer. Microsoft recommends keeping your virus scanner up-to-date [of course you should] and to use safe browsing habits.

The safest way to browse is to use Firefox or another non-Internet Explorer / ActiveX supporting browser. Microsoft provides directions on how to browse safer using their products. I highly recommend that you follow this if you want to continue using Internet Explorer. Here is a brief explanation:
  1. Set your Internet Zone security to High
  2. When you trust a site, add it to the Trusted Zone. Microsoft recommends you run the Trusted zone at Medium security -- if you do, you will have problems on some sites. You need to move it at least to Medium-Low.
  3. Read all email in plain text (not HTML).
So you have to ask yourself, do you want to manually manage your browsing security like this or run a safer browser like Firefox?

30 October, 2006

Testing / Improving Your Wireless Connection

A while back I had reported difficulty with the reliability of my wireless connection. I learned that different channels may perform better than others, and by switching, my wireless connection is much more reliable.

There are also various tools that can help the educated person with their wireless network. NetStumbler is one such program. With NetStumbler, you can test the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The higher, the better (i.e. a lower number is bad).

28 October, 2006

Use Gmail to Store Files

Did you know that you could use your Gmail account to store files? With nearly 3 GBs of space, this is an easy way to store files that you may want to access from multiple computers or that you want to make sure get archived off site. Rahul Jonna has created a simple Firefox Extension, making it very easy to store files from Firefox.

I made a 1.5 minute how-to movie to demonstrate how this works. [The quality of the movie does not match my desire, but I had to use a program that would output a format that could be accepted by Google.] Be sure to watch the last 3rd of the video as it demonstrates how to write a filter in Gmail, so the files do not show up in your inbox.

27 October, 2006

Michael Copps: Net Neutrality and Media Consolidation

I listened to a wonderful podcast yesterday (you can listen online too), provided by Gigavox' IT Conversations. Michael Copps, an FCC Commissioner spoke about Network Neutrality, Broadband and Media Ownership. This guy really gets it. We need to find ways to support Mr. Copps, and find more leaders like him. I highly encourage you to listen to the podcast -- in particular if you do not understand the issues, I think you will once you have listened to Mr. Copps.
Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps states that all is not well in Washington when it comes to technology policy. He argues that the continued trend in media consolidation, with fewer organizations owning more and more properties that allow them to control both content and distribution, will be further exacerbated by recent decisions by the FCC.

25 October, 2006

New Bug in IE7

CNet reported on October 25th that a new spoofing bug has been reported for IE7. The basic issue is that the displayed URL can be coaxed to looking like a legitimate URL when in reality it is hitting an undesirable website, i.e. phishing. CNet's source is Secunia, a security company.

Did I tell you that Mozilla released Firefox 2.0 on the 24th?

A Free Vista Upgrade May Not Be Free

I recently posted that I would recommend staying with Windows XP as long as possible. Well if you buy a PC now, it is likely that you will get a coupon for a free upgrade to Vista when it ships. I would be very leery of what "free" really means.

As you may also recall from my prior posting, I suggested you should wait as long as possible so that Microsoft can correct all the security issues -- there will be security issues. PC World published on October 24th a good reminder about the new Vista Home Edition -- it will have less features than XP Home. So, for your free version, you can upgrade to an OS with fewer features. Why would you want to do that?

PC World makes another good point... upgrading your OS may not be an easy task either. Unless you are very comfortable troubleshooting your PC issues, I would recommend you avoid that chore -- wait until you buy your next PC in 2009. (Average users should be fine getting a new PC every 3 years.)

Lithium-Ion Batteries and More Sony Recall News

The November issue of Wired has a great article on "Building a Better Battery". John Hockenberry begins with a story of a battery that catches fire, and then takes us to the first battery built in the 1800s. Hockenberry quickly takes us through the history to the point of talking about lithium-ion.
Today, most Li-ion cells contain at least two – and sometimes three – separate countermeasures to keep the reaction from getting out of control.
Finally, we hear a bit about Sony before Hockenberry concludes with the current research in battery technology.

CNet reported on October 23rd that Sony has even more battery recalls.
Batteries that shipped with laptops sold by Fujitsu, Gateway, Sony and Toshiba comprise this recall... ...worldwide tally... ...more than 3 million...
This extends the list to Dell, Lenovo/IBM, Apple, Sharp, Fujitsu, Gateway, Sony, and Toshiba.

Firefox 2 - Get it Today

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I do not recommend being an early adopter of new software. I let others try it first, and wait to hear the news. For example, I still have not updated to iTunes 7. Likewise, I will wait as long as possible before getting Vista.
On a side note, if you are thinking of getting a new PC, I would recommend you get it now before you are forced to take an early version of Vista. You want to wait as long as possible until the majority of the security issues are solved.
Anyway, back to Firefox... I have installed version 2 and have used it both at work and home without any problems. I did have to update an extension and removed the anti-phishing, as it is now built into Firefox, but other than that all is good.

I do not see a big difference from 1.5 to 2.0. My hope is that it does a better job managing memory -- occasionally in the past, if you surfed a lot and/or had the browser open for a long time, it would begin to slow down as it consumed more and more memory for caching.

In the Options, I set the Feeds to Thunderbird but have not had a chance to try it. This looks like a new and easier way to subscribe to new RSS feeds.

Firefox's tabbed browsing was updated as well. Now if the tabs exceed the window width, you will get left and right arrows to scroll through the tabs. You can also select a new active tab from a drop-down arrow on the right. Finally, the close tab button is on the right-side of the active tab instead of the right side of the browser window.

One other feature note: Firefox now has built in spell checking. This is a great feature if you have a blog or use online email.

So, if you have not downloaded Firefox 2 -- the time is now.

22 October, 2006

Battery Recall Information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council

I figured that I could find all the lithium-ion battery recalls by looking at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council website -- I was wrong. Here is what I found, but it is missing quite a few.

It is unfortunate that this website is incomplete. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council also released tips on notebook computer usage in September of this year. Interestingly enough, I found a laptop battery recall as far back as 1994.

For those of you who are interested, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council has new recalls announced each week. You can sign up for an email or even subscribe to a podcast to listen to the recalls.

21 October, 2006

Use VM to Play Old DOS Games

Do you have some old DOS games that no longer play on your system? I found a way to resurrect these old classics and play them again. As you may recall a while back, I introduced the VM Player as a way to run Firefox in an effort to provide total protection on the Internet. You can use this same idea to run DOS. I have found three solutions:
  1. Download Microsoft's Virtual PC and load FreeDOS or another DOS. (Virtual PCs only provide the hardware visualization, you still need to provide the OS.)
  2. Use the VM Player and run the Nostalgia appliance. This appliance comes pre-installed with OpenDOS and 8 old DOS games.
  3. Use the VM Player and run the FreeDOS appliance (beta).
On a related note, apparently there are some hacks you can make to the VM Player environment to create new environments without purchasing the client.

XP Memory Problems and Startup Applications

My wife and I bought the same model computer this past summer (HP Compaq Presario, Win XP Media Center), and while I have had no problems, she seemed to have many. The first problems was that her computer seemed to lock up when accessing the Internet. After several different tries, I ended up re-imaging her computer, and that seemed to do the trick.

Within a month though, she started having memory problems: "Insufficient system resources exist to complete the requested service." After doing a bit a research, I concluded that the problem stemmed from the new multi-function HP printer we bought. HP kindly [grrr...] installs a java-based server and application to monitor the device. And because it is so important, HP installed it in the system tray upon startup, so it is always available.

Come to find out, HP has know memory leak issues with this application. And worse, it is a very difficult application to uninstall. This led me to Bleeping Computers and Startup Inspector. Startup Inspector is an application written by a young man living in London working for a travel agency. Startup Inspector makes it easy to disable any of your startup items whether in the Registry or in the Startup folder.

Bleeping Computers is a good resource to help you troubleshoot problems. What I liked most was the database of startup programs. (It appears that Startup Inspector may have something similar on the website, but there were PHP errors when I went to view it.) Bleeping Computers also has a Firefox search plugin, so you can search their database directly from Firefox.

Here is what I have concluded from this experience:
  • It is not always Microsoft's fault for failure
  • Be very leery of HP -- they have a lot of unnecessary software, both on their computers and for their printers
  • Startup Inspector or a similar program (Windows Defender works too) is a much easier way to manage startup issues that msconfig
  • Bleeping Computers is a good research resource for startup programs
  • The flexibility, and therefore usefulness of Firefox (search plugin) is proven again

Trojan Virus Removes Other Viruses

EWeek reports a new trojan virus that removes other viruses from your computer. The creators of the trojan virus want to use your computer to send spam email, and do not want to share your computer with other malware programs. This is accomplished through downloading Kaspersky AntiVirus for WinGate and modifying it to skip over itself.

19 October, 2006

Wait Before You Upgrade: Bug Reported in IE7

Remember a few weeks back when Apple released iTunes 7 and Windows users had several problems? My advise at the time was to never be the first to download a new product version; wait for others to give it a try first. BTW: Apple has already release iTunes 7.1, but I still have not updated, as there are still some issues for listening to podcasts.

Well, Microsoft just released Internet Explorer 7, and a bug has already been reported. Apparently the problem manifests itself in Outlook Express, but because the two are closely integrated the cause was from IE 7.

Let's review:
  • Never be the first to try a new version of a product (if you really must, test it in a sandbox first)
  • Use Firefox, not Internet Explorer
  • Use Thunderbird, not Outlook Express
Any questions?

17 October, 2006

Windows Virus on iPods

Apple reported today that some versions of iPods (and here) manufactured on September 12th inadvertently went out with a Windows virus. From the sounds of it, you should be fine if your virus definition files are up-to-date.

Sony Recalls Their Own Batteries

After many months, Sony has finally issued a recall of their batteries in their Vaio laptops. The list of companies who have recalled Sony batteries now include Dell, Apple, Toshiba, Sharp, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Hitachi, and Sony. The only major manufacture that has not recalled Sony batteries is HP, which is a bit odd considering all the other manufacturers eventually placing a recall. As you may recall, Sony originally said the problem was limited to Dell, and then Dell and Apple. Seem just a matter of time before HP is part of the crowd too.

U.S. Today posted on article on October 2nd that indicated Sony will end up replacing 10 million batteries.

14 October, 2006

Manage Services, Gain Performance

Have you ever wondered why you need many of the Services running in your Windows XP environment? Or perhaps you want to know if you can disable any to gain some extra performance. I have scoured the web, viewing article from Microsoft and The Elder Geek; I have also used my own reference materials and notes that I have collected over the years; and have produced a description and recommendation for each of the Services in XP. If you consider yourself an average user, stick with the Standard recommendations. But if you are a Power User or Gamer, there are recommendations for you too.

Undoubtably you will find a service that is not listed, if so, try searching Google. And I am sure you will have a difference on some setting or another... well that is okay too. For the Power User, this should give you enough information to make your own decision.


13 October, 2006

20 Things ... XP

I found some good tips for power users of XP, 20 Things the average person doesn't know about XP. The tips include how to speed up the time it takes for XP to expand the Start menu; to how to configure Delete to delete, not send files to the Recycle Bin; to how to enable Clear Type. This is well worth adding to your XP toolkit.

11 October, 2006

Cool and Quick Firefox Bookmark Feature

Firefox has a very powerful bookmark feature. By simply giving the bookmark a keyword, you can reference it in the address bar, instead of searching through your list or typing the URL. You can extend this functionality and have it take a variable. Let me tell you through a few examples.
  1. First bookmark a site, say this one: http://the-cream.blogspot.com.
  2. Now open up the Bookmark Manager (or find the bookmark in your list) and open the Properties field.
  3. Add a keyword and save it (OK).
  4. Go to the Address bar, type in the keyword and hit enter.
  5. You should now be directed to this site.
Let's try another example. Suppose you want to see all the blog posts specific to one label (i.e. Firefox or security).
  1. The URL to view all the Firefox blogs is: http://the-cream.blogspot.com/search/label/Firefox. Create a bookmark with this URL.
  2. Go back to the Properties and add your keyword as before.
  3. Remove Firefox from the end (this was the label), and replace it with %s.
  4. Save it (OK).
  5. Go to the Address bar, enter the keyword, followed by a space, and the label of choice. If my keyword was skim and the label I want to see is security, then I would type skim security in the address bar and I would be taken to http://the-cream.blogspot.com/search/label/security.
Let's do one more of these.
  1. Open the Bookmark Manager and click New Bookmark.
  2. Give it a Name, say Dot-Com. Enter a Keyword, perhaps dcom.
  3. In the Location field enter: http://www.%s.com and save.
  4. Go to the Address bar and type dcom mozilla and you will be taken to http://www.mozilla.com/. Try it again, enter dcom lifehacker and you will end up at http://www.lifehacker.com/.

That's all there is to it. Use the Keyword field to quickly recall a bookmark in the Address bar. Add %s to create a variable that you can add after your keyword (and a space) in the Address bar.

10 October, 2006

Microsoft Patch Tuesday Troubles

Occasionally we all have a bad day -- maybe we send an email with some embarrassing typos, or we get a flat tire, or maybe an argument with our boss. But when millions of people count on you for their PC to be secure, you cannot afford to have a bad day. Unfortunately for Windows users, that is what Microsoft had today (and here). Microsoft was supposed to automatically send 11 fixes, 6 categorized as critical.

You already know how I feel about Internet Explorer -- do not use it. And recently, I have changed to Thunderbird for my email. If you are on the Internet, do not expose yourself with Microsoft tools. In some future post, I will talk more about Thunderbird -- for now, know that the upgrade went without a hitch plus I found that I like the RSS reader included, too.

So depending on your level of risk taking and the security measures you have in place, you can wait fro Microsoft to fix their distribution problems, or you can go to their website and manually get all the patches. If you go through the effort to manually update, then be sure to go through the effort to switch to Firefox (or Opera) and Thunderbird (or Eudora).

Oh... I forgot to point out: if you want to manually update your system, you must use Internet Explorer. Doh!

08 October, 2006

Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts

I had so much fun assembling the Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts, and they proved to be so popular, that I put together another one just for Firefox. In addition to the shortcuts, I included additional reference information for configuring Firefox.

Download the Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts tri-fold. Just as with the latest version of the Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts, do not forget to print double-sided on a single sheet of paper. Also be sure to validate the driver is set to print in landscape.

07 October, 2006

XP Keyboard Shortcuts: version 2

The prior XP keyboard shortcuts was so popular, I decided to update it. The new Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts file has 23 new shortcuts. In addition, it is now in a handy tri-fold format. Print the two pages on a single sheet of paper, fold it up, and you have a very handy desk reference. Though it is in color, it looks good in black and white too.
Download it today!

Speaking of shortcuts, here is a good reference for PowerPoint keyboard shortcuts courtesy of Florida Gulf Coast University.

05 October, 2006

Setting Classic Windows Explorer on XP

Seems like every time I work on a new XP system, I have to re-figure how to get the folder settings the way I like it - the way it worked in prior versions of Windows. So for the benefit of others, here is how you do it.
  1. Open Windows Explorer (Windows key + E)

  2. Choose the View menu (alt + V)

  3. Select Details from the menu (alt + D): This may already be set -- it will make sure that the Detail option will be the default display option

  4. Choose the Tools menu (alt + T)

  5. Select Folder Options from the menu (alt + O)

  6. Make sure you are on the General tab, and click the Use Windows classic folders radio button within the Tasks area (should be the second radio button on the tab)

  7. Select the View tab

  8. Check the following boxes in the Advanced settings area:

    • Display file size information in folder tips

    • Display the contents of system folders

    • Display the full path in the address bar

    • Show hidden files and folder

  9. Uncheck the following boxes in the same Advanced settings area:

    • Hide extensions for known file types

    • Use simple file sharing: This enables the Security tab when you view the properties fo a folder

  10. Click Apply to All Folders (above the Advanced settings area)

  11. Click OK

  12. Check it out -- close your Windows Explorer windows and re-open one (Windows key + E)

04 October, 2006

Problems managing your email?

I occasionally speak with people that are having problems managing their email -- usually these are the people that do not respond to your email or miss an occasional meeting. I started recommending a series from 43 Folders on managing your email, and these folks are having success. The series is called Zero Inbox. 43 Folders' Zero Inbox takes you through a fairly simple 10 step process that will lead you email success.

If you find Zero Inbox helpful (or maybe you do not need it), checkout other "life hacks" such as building a smarter to-do list or procrastination dash. Procrastination... hmm... maybe that is a better place to start.

What are you waiting for? Give 43 Folders a try.

New Beta Blogger

Wondering why you just received the last 25 posts in your RSS feed? I just moved Skimming the Cream Off the Top to Blogger's new beta, and apparently that triggered some feeds to think I posted 25 new articles. Sorry for any confusion.

01 October, 2006

Firefox Security Issue

Update Oct. 3: A recent article from eWeek suggest that the claimed bug in Firefox may be just a hoax. Naturally the Mozilla folks are taking this seriously until they can absolutely rule out that their is no issue.
Just to be fair, since I have hammered Microsoft quite hard because of their security holes in Internet Explorer (IE), there are new reported security problems with Firefox. The basic issue is related to how Firefox handles JavaScript -- this is one of many areas we have seen exploited in IE too.

Despite this, I am still sticking with Firefox for three reasons:
  1. Firefox is less of a target by hackers than Microsoft
  2. Firefox has a history of fixing bugs faster than Microsoft
  3. Using the Firefox NoScript extension is a much easier way to manage JavaScript access that through the Microsoft security options

The Power of Excel

Many of us have used Excel for things where a better tool is available, such as using it for a database. We have also not done a good job in learning about all its powerful functions, nor how to leverage its powerful programming language. Well, I have found a site that has used Excel in a non-traditional way, but surely in this effort, learned how to use the powerful programming language. Of course I am talking about using Excel to play Pacman. I cannot read Japanese, so I cannot give you any more details, but this is truly a novel approach.

Have fun!

29 September, 2006

More Sony batteries are recalled

If you are still counting, Sony has had to recall over 7 million, yes 7 million, laptop batteries. This has affected Dell, Apple, Lenovo/IBM, and Toshiba. According to ZDNet and CNet, Sony's stock has dropped 8.2% since the first battery recalls in the Dell laptops. Of course the stock drop also takes into account the long delay to the PS3 game console. Analyst Masahiro Ono from Morgan Stanely:
Sony's battery business is expected to have an operating profit margin of about 5 percent in the current business year to March. That compares with Sony's own estimate of its overall operating margin of 1.6 percent for the year.
This seems a bit odd with the battery problems -- perhaps there are some financial creativity to handle the expenses related to the recall.

I know that the techies, such as myself, pay attention to this stuff, but it will be interesting to see how big of an effect the battery recall and PS3 delay has on Sony's overall business.

On top of this, we heard rumors of Apple buying Sony in July and now Microsoft. Neither makes too much sense, though we know that Microsoft is not afraid to buy up their competition.

The patch of all patches for Internet Explorer

Today ZDNet and other news agencies reported yet another security hole found in Internet Explorer. For only the third time, a third-party has provided an immediate fix, so that users do not have to wait on Microsoft. Microsoft expects to release the fix as part of their monthly "patch Tuesday" distribution, which occurs the second Tuesday of every month.

Do not forget we have another patch that is the patch of all patches -- Firefox.

28 September, 2006

Safer Browsing

Recently I posted about another security issue with Internet Explorer -- Microsoft has since released a patch -- a rare case for Microsoft to release a patch outside their monthly "patch Tuesday" cycle. I also push Firefox fairly hard as an alternative to Internet Explorer. To be fair, Firefox has had as many issues as Microsoft, but it still is a better alternative for two reasons: 1) Firefox does not have the same tight integration to Windows as Internet Explorer, therefore the problems are typically not as severe; 2) Firefox releases fixes much faster than Microsoft.

All that aside, if your machine gets a virus, spyware, or other malware from browsing, it is more difficult than ever to remove. So of course you need to be diligent in keeping your browser and operating system (OS) up-to-date, as well as your security applications. If your system is compromised, you might as well just plan on re-installing your OS -- a very time consuming effort -- and consider yourself lucky if that is all you need to do.

There are actually other alternatives to help protect yourself. Yesterday I installed a "virtual appliance" for web browsing. I'll try to make this as simple as possible -- using the free VMware Player from VMware, I loaded a Linux OS with Windows, and in turn the Linux OS loaded the Firefox browser. VMware provides many "appliances" to work with their free player -- I used their Browser Appliance.

VM means virtual machine. The Linux OS that loaded thinks that it is running directly on computer hardware, where in fact it is just another Windows application. The power behind this is that I can configure the VMware to never save any settings. Why is this powerful? Well if I were to go to a website that loaded spyware or a virus (which would have to be written for Linux by the way), once I close my VMware application, all that would be gone.

Think of the last time you inadvertently closed Word or Excel without first saving the file -- you had to go back and recreate your document all over again. For spyware and viruses though, that would be a good thing. So using the VMware Player with the Browser Appliance to do your web browsing, can keep your computer free of spyware and viruses, as it would never be saved to your hard drive and therefore it would never infect your computer.

As I said, I loaded this last night, and it worked flawlessly -- I had no install issues and no trouble making it work. Understand that the VMware Player is a 30 MB download and the Browser Appliance is 260 MB, so it takes a bit to download and install it. Also, since you are loading another operating system (Linux Ubuntu 5.10), launching it takes longer than just opening a web browser. But once loaded, it performs fine -- I did not experience any detectable lag time. (This is also a great solution for web developers who need to test their applications on Linux -- you do not need a separate box or a dual boot machine any more.)

25 September, 2006

Internet Explorer Security Issues Affect More Than Just Internet Explorer

As yet another security issue is found in Internet Explorer, it is a good time to remind you that Internet Explorer is used for more than web browsing. A few months back I pointed out how Microsoft Project had problems due to the ActiveX security settings I had set too high. Another such program is Outlook and Outlook Express.

With the latest issue, you could receive an email with embedded code that would exploit your computer. This problem is big enough that Microsoft may actually release it outside their normal monthly patch cycle -- they have only done this once -- to fix a problem with their DRM. This problem is big enough, you can actually get a fix from a third-party.

Perhaps a better fix, in addition to using Firefox (or Netscape) instead of Internet Explorer, use an alternate email program such as Eudora or Thunderbird (from the makers of Firefox).

24 September, 2006

Discover Free Music on the Internet

Contrary to what you might hear, there is a lot of free music available on the Internet. A good place to start is with podcasts. There are a few different licenses available to podcasters, such as Creative Commons. Podcasters are often also granted rights to play music from smaller labels. In some cases, because the podcaster is not in the U.S., they can also play artists that would never be approved for play within the U.S. Here is three to get you started:
  1. The Roadhouse
  2. Raven n Blues
  3. IndieFeed
Another option is to try services such as Pandora or Blogmusik. With Pandora, you can suggest an artist or sing that you like, and Pandora will play it. From there, Pandora will play other songs that they believe you will like based on your selection and others before you. This is a great way to discover new songs and new artists. With Blogmusik, you can search on artist or song, and it will return sources for you to select and listen to. Both services play the music through Flash, making it difficult to copy unless you capture the output of your speakers.

Perhaps you have an old vinyl collection, but do not have the tools to convert them to digital. With ourTunes, find others who have the same music on iTunes, and you can copy the files across the network.

If that is not enough music, try Podbop. Podbop helps you find live music in your area, plus if the artist has made it available, you can download tracks from the artists off of the Podbop site.

Of course there are many more music options on the Internet, some free, some not. Using one or more of these options, you can get access to artists from local to international for no cost and DRM free.

iTunes : Movie Studios : Wal-Mart

The New York Post reported September 22nd that Wal-Mart has threatened movie studios if they sell movies through the iTunes store. Consumers want to see several improvements in the online movie distribution business:
  1. Quality needs to go up
  2. DRM removed (or the same DRM across all platforms)
  3. The ability to watch a video without going to the store
  4. Access to a larger selection
I think Wal-Mart's position works against the consumer and is giving the movie industry one more reason to continue to be scared of online distribtion.

The fact is, we are a long way away from having the quality through digital download that you can get off of a disk, because bandwidth limitations. And for DRM consitancy, that will take even longer. Did I mention people are getting a larger selection ofmovies and other entertainment without going to the store, than ever before? So what is the big deal Wal-Mart? Seems like there is a more logical approach -- make a better offer to consumers.

Instead of bullying the movie studios, Wal-Mart could develop NetFlix and iTunes equivalents. Using their buying power, they can undercut pricing, making it more attractive (just like they do in their stores). But here is the real way to get consumers to buy from Wal-Mart: really flex their buying power muscle and insist on non-DRM movies from the movie studios -- now that would bring consumers over from iTunes.

21 September, 2006

Internet Explorer: Security Fix Breaks Applications, Again

Yesterday my organization announced that they are still unable to get a fix from Microsoft for the security patch MS06-042 from August 15 that broke our ClearQuest web interface for creating queries. The August 15 patch was actually the third release of the MS06-042 patch from Microsoft, as each time they have introduced new problems. The original release of the patch actually introduced security problems.

This is the recommendation from my company to fix the problem, "Internet Explorer is the only browser impacted by the Microsoft security patch. The only known workaround at this time is to use one of the other supported browsers; Firefox version 1.5 is suggested."

20 September, 2006

iTunes Problems

I listen to the Buzz Out Load from CNet on a regular basis, and there has been recent discussion about the new iTunes 7 and problems with it. Here is some help. Note, this is based on version 6.x of iTunes, as I have not yet installed version 7 (see item 1).
  1. Do not be the first to upgrade to the latest version of any software -- wait and listen to the experience of others. If you really want the latest version now, make sure you have a sandbox machine to thoroughly test it out yourself. Oh, and when you install it on your primary machine, make sure you have your data files backed up.
  2. Many folks had complained about iTunes moving their files around. iTunes has a feature to let it manage your files (Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized). Likely version 7 just shipped with this featured turned on. I actually use this feature -- I remember having the same experience when I first turned it on.
  3. iTunes and QuickTime will run in the background and in your System Tray. And when you think you have removed them, they come back after the next time your start one of the programs. Get a program such as Microsoft Windows Defender that allows you to disable startup programs. Disable over delete is very important -- if you delete, they will re-install and re-appear. Disabling will not remove them from the install, therefore they wont re-install, but they still will not start. This also works real well for Acrobat and Real Player.

17 September, 2006

New Blog: Web Support Blog

I started a new blog today, specifically focusing on my experience in web support over the past 10+ years. I will cover things such as web analytics, knowledge management, and tricks to help drive change in the organization.

In turn, I removed from this blog any reference that may have conflicted -- most specifically the blogroll of web analytics web sites.

Since I have not been completely happy with the flexibility in Blogger, I thought I would try WordPress as the host this time. Please stop in and check out my new blog at: http://websupportblog.wordpress.com/

How to Be a Better Developer

Steve Bayzl writes in his blog Petit ecureuil, 5 Easy Ways to be a Better Developer. Steve makes some very good points. Here is the list with my comments:
  1. Learn Ruby and Ruby on Rails: Steve's point is that you need to learn how to write clean and maintainable code. He is right on the money. It is simple: bugs need to be fixed, you will want to extend your app, and/or someone else is going to work with the code too.
  2. Read The Daily WTF?: I think the lesson here is learn from your mistakes and of others.
  3. Learn something new every week: Someone is doing something new and better everyday. I joked the other day that the Internet is moving so fast, we are now on Web 4.0. The point is that if you want a career as a developer, you need to be constantly learning.
  4. Understand customer wants != customer needs: A very wise observation. I have two comments -- First, one common situation is your customer comes to you to get a new tool to solve their business problem. What they really need is better management, better communication, and better processes. The best application in the world will not fix a management problem. Second, prototype solutions so you can test the viability before building. Usually customers cannot see the pro and cons of what they want until they can put their hands on it.
  5. Find some passion!: Having passion will definitely make 1, 2 and 3 easier. It will also help you find better solutions than the next guy. When hiring, you need to look past education and skills to character, including passion. These are the people that I want working on my team.

16 September, 2006

Nintendo Wii: The Other Game Console

Nintendo announced this week that their U.S. launch for the Wii (we) is scheduled for November 19th, selling for $250. This is $50 more than expected by industry analysts, but makes sense with the price of the Xbox 360 and PS3 being so high. If you have not seen the Wii, it offers an innovative controller worth checking out.

Take a video tour of their event from September 14th on TechEBlog and then go over to IGN and get a first-hand look at Zelda. You wont want to miss the Zelda videos, they are truly awesome.

15 September, 2006

Apple's Designer, Jonathan Ive

I was not the first to find this article, but it is worth passing on. Business Week wrote a great article on Jonathan Ive, the Apple Senior Vice-President for Industrial Design. This is probably one of the few guys that has been actually able to work closely with Steve Jobs, and the results have been great over the last 10 years.

This line really resonated with me, "He talked about focusing on only what is important and limiting the number of projects", because I see too often people trying to do too many things at once. But what should really get you to read this is we rarely hear much about Apple's people, so this is a rare glimpse of Jobs' partner, who has helped to raise Apples stock over 225% in the last 10 years.

14 September, 2006

Technical Support - Try Google

How do you solve technical problems with your computer? I have 6 PCs on a wireless network at home, plus my work laptop. In addition I support family and friends on occasion. There are so many things to know and learn, it is nearly impossible to have an answer all the time. (I did get A+ certified once, but that was a long time ago.)

Amazingly enough, if you have an error code or message, or you can describe the issue in 3 to 6 words, you can often find the answer through Google. I even use Google when I know that it is an answer that I will likely find at Microsoft -- Google is easier. If you are not doing this already, it is time to start.

Take for example when my firewall tells me I have a new program trying to access the Internet (You do have a software firewall, right?!). Recently compaq connections.exe came up -- I entered it in Google and found many results. Within the first three, I had found enough information to feel comfortable about the action to take. This part is important -- do not believe the first entry you read; look for another result to confirm the first. In this particular example, I learned this was one of many HP-ware programs on my PC that I really did not need. (HP, like most hardware manufacturers, add little programs to call home for checking for new drivers or so that you use their photo service or game portal.)

I use this same technique when I am trying to remember the syntax when I am programming too. Since I do not do a lot of programming these days, I know what I want to do, but often do not remember the exact syntax. Going back to Google, I can usually find the answer faster than pulling a book off of my bookshelf.

At work today, I was reading survey results on how technical engineers and designers (primarily electrical engineer types) find technical how-to information. Fifty-nine percent said through a search engine first, and the vendors website second. (Another 21% said the vendor website first.) In the same survey, 60% of them used Google as their first choice for search engines. My point is that for solving technical problems, technical people use Google (or another search engine) most often.

If you are not doing this today, I think you should give it a try next time, before you call your friend, family IT guy, or the help desk at work.

Now that I have written all this, I have a few more related thoughts... First, as you can see from many of my posts over the last few weeks, it is not fool proof. With some tough problems, even the more technical guys such as myself either cannot find the right answer (i.e. my connectivity issues as of late) or understand the answer (i.e. Technorati ping for this blog).

So with those caveats, here is a couple other good uses for Google:
  • Confirm a definition. Enter Define
  • Find a friends address. Enter their phone number: xxx-xxx-xxxx
  • Find function help for Excel. Just like I share in relationship to finding code syntax.