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.

download

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!