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Showing posts from 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…

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

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.

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

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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 spa…

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.comnotyourname).

If you have not made the switch to Thunderbird yet, this is the time. In addition to the WebMail Extensions, you get …

Firefox Doesn't Work on Vista

The new release of Firefox, version 2.0.0.1, 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.

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…

Restrict Third-Party Cookies in Firefox

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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 cookies1: Allow cookies from originating server only2: Disable all cookies3: Use P3P policy to decide (see MozillaZine Knowledge Base, network.cookie.p3p)

Net Neutrality Explained

StopBadware.org

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: If the application acts deceptively or irreversibly.If the application engages in potentially objectionable behavior without: First, prominently disclosing to the user that it will engage in such behavior, in cle…

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 …

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 f…

Excel Quick Sum

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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.

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.

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 caseI then performed the following on each worksheet (only 2 in my case):
Select a cell and press F5Click the Special... buttonClick the Blanks radio buttonClick OKSelect Edit | Clear | AllManually go to the last row in the worksheet (do not use Edit menu shortcut)Select the entire rowPress Ctrl + …

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.

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.

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.

Take a Third Look at Google Desktop

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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 pr…

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 ite…

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.
The software is difficult to install; it has crashed for many people.Does not support Microsoft's PlaysForSure music platform, including Windows Media Player.Therefore, you cannot play music you bought from other stores that used the PlaysForSure music platform.Microsoft closed their music store and opened a new one specific to Zune (Zune Marketplace).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.
Yet another DRM in isolation.Supports video, but there is video available from Microsoft's Zune Marketplace store yet.Does not support podcasting.Paying Universal an undisclosed sum for each unit sold since all users are pirating music.Wireless only works between 2 Zunes with DRM music. Does not allow you to sync with your PC or Xbox over your o…

PowerPoint Keyboard Shortcuts

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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.
Download

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 acce…

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 Neutrali…

Web Analytics

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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 We…

Configuring Firefox with About:Config

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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…

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 Kalamazoomore...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…

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:
Set your Internet Zone security to HighWhen 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.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 sa…

Testing / Improving Your Wireless Connection

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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).

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.

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.

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

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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 …

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.
Dell, December 2005 and August 2006Apple, May 2005 and August 2006
Lenovo / IBM, September 2006HP, October 2005 and April 2006Battery-Biz, June 2005
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.

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:
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.)Use the VM Player and run the Nostalgia appliance. This appliance comes pre-installed with OpenDOS and 8 old DOS games.
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. Start…

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 KasperskyAntiVirus for WinGate and modifying it to skip over itself.

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 ExplorerUse Thunderbird, not Outlook ExpressAny questions?

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.

Old PC Ads

Here's some fun, old PC ads put together by PC World.

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.

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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.

Cool and Quick Firefox Bookmark Feature

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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.
First bookmark a site, say this one: http://the-cream.blogspot.com.Now open up the Bookmark Manager (or find the bookmark in your list) and open the Properties field.Add a keyword and save it (OK).Go to the Address bar, type in the keyword and hit enter.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).
The URL to view all the Firefox blogs is: http://the-cream.blogspot.com/search/label/Firefox. Create a bookmark with this URL.
Go back to the Properties and add your keyword as before.Remove Firefox from the end (this was the label), and replace it with %s.Save it (OK).Go to the Address bar, en…

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 y…

Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts

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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.

XP Keyboard Shortcuts: version 2

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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.

Setting Classic Windows Explorer on XP

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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.
Open Windows Explorer (Windows key + E)
Choose the View menu (alt + V)
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
Choose the Tools menu (alt + T)
Select Folder Options from the menu (alt + O)
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)
Select the View tab
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
Uncheck the following boxes in the same Advanced settings area:

Hide extensions for known file types
Use sim…

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.

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.
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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:
Firefox is less of a target by hackers than MicrosoftFirefox has a history of fixing bugs faster than MicrosoftUsing 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!

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 rumo…

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.

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…

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).

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:
The RoadhouseRaven n BluesIndieFeedAnother 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 diffi…

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:
Quality needs to go upDRM removed (or the same DRM across all platforms)The ability to watch a video without going to the storeAccess to a larger selectionI 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 movi…

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."

iTunes Problems

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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).
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.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.iTunes and QuickTime will run in the background and in your System Tray. And when you think you have r…

Geek Humor

I ran across this site, BBspot, that is full of geek humor: A good place to start is Top 11 Signs Your Computer Was Drinking Last Night.

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:
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.
Read The Daily WTF?: I think the lesson here is learn from your mistakes and of others.
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. 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…

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.

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.

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…