Yearly Archives: 2009

I thought it would be best to start thinking of this before the season got too far along.  I admit it, my wife (at times) wishes she would never see another ‘old’ computer grace the doorstep of our home.  You see, folks give them to me so they can be passed on to some other person that can use them.  Let’s look at some things you need to think of when doing this wonderful deed.

Is the computer worth re-gifting? If your PC is over 5 years old, it may not be.  Technology has been moving along at a pretty good clip, so your older PC’s may not be a great gift for some (but for others, they work wonderful as a print server or file server).  So ask yourself if this is really something the grand-kids or kids will use.  If not, perhaps recycling is a better option.

Should you erase the hard drive? Probably not – the operating system (OS) is what makes the PC function and the hard drive is where it has a home.  The places you would take the PC probably don’t have the money to invest in purchasing and loading a fresh OS on the system, so if you want it reused erasing the data on the hard drive may not be the ticket.  Granted, your data will be gone, but any value the machine had may be gone as well for an older PC.

Should you erase your data from the hard drive? Absolutely. This is different from erasing the entire hard drive, but sometimes it seems like the lines blur.

“Personal information” includes your Internet browser’s cache, cookies, history; your email contacts and messages; your documents; your recycle or trash folder; and all nontransferable software. The best way to clear this is with a disk-cleaning utility that overwrites all the sectors of your hard drives, making your data unrecoverable. Listed below are examples of recommended disk-cleaning utilities.

Commercial Windows Disk-Cleaning Software:

Freeware Windows Disk-Cleaning Software:

Macintosh Disk-Cleaning Software:

  • Disk Utility (built-in in Mac OS X, under “Security Options”)
  • WipeDrive for Mac

If the computer is still under a manufacturer’s warranty, you can also call the company’s technical services department and ask for specifics on how to delete personal files.
(an excerpt from Ten Tips for Donating a Computer)

To add to this, many computer manufactures make hidden partitions so you can restore your computer to the factory settings.  This could be used to effectively remove your personal data – but I’d recommend you get rid of it yourself if at all possible.  That way it won’t be in someones hands down the road who may use it for less than noble purposes.

Lastly, don’t forget any disks / software and other items needed to make the computer useful (keyboard, mouse and monitor come to mind here…).  It gives you the opportunity to clean out some clutter as well as the needed disks in the event the person using the PC ever needs them.

I don’t mind PC’s coming to my house because I can spruce them up and find a home for them (many times it is to a local organization here that places them in homes of kids who can’t afford a PC yet need the ability to get online and the skills that come with using a PC to better position themselves in today’s job market).  But what if you aren’t near me?  Here’s a thought – RECYCLE!

You can start on that quest by reviewing the page Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Old Computer and Other Electronic Products?  This is part of the US EPA’s web site and offers you some national options for recycling.  There are also some manufacturer’s options (Dell, HP and others have them) that could help you, or you may have some local shops in your area that do this as well.  Search and help others – while helping yourself get rid of unwanted clutter.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have ideas or locations for eCycling, feel free to leave a comment.  God Bless you and your family this joyous Christmas season!


 

This post is really just giving props to a great resource.  I mean, I could start to discuss all the implications of spam, how spam bots go about harvesting e-mail addresses to add to their growing list of spam addresses, or even if there is a way of keeping your e-mail address from being harvested.  But, let’s be realistic.  Once one way is figured out, normally there are ways that can be worked around to find out the address, especially if you are just typing the e-mail address in as plain text through your web software or blog.

That’s where this great page comes in.  Before I give you the link I must give props to Will Bontrager.  I would certainly recommend signing up to receive his weekly newsletter and any of the many software offerings he has in his growing library.

Now for the promised link.  Will has provided a great resource for those of you wanting to cut down on spam harvesting of any e-mail address or e-mail link you may want to post.  It’s called the Advanced Email Link Generator with Anti-Spam Encoder. Now I want you to know(as does Will) that this method is not perfect, but it is better than a plain text e-mail address.  In fact, there are links to other resources you can use for harvest proof links.

My intent is just to give you some tools to help you when developing your information – and that includes giving folks an e-mail address to contact you with!  So I hope this starts you down that path.  Take care – if you have other helpful resources feel free to leave a comment and rave about it!


 

It’s the season of giving again.  And all the techie folks want techie stuff!  And it is a good season to find lots of bargains, so let’s talk about how to find the best gear for your hard earned money.

Before we get to all that Black Friday sales and good findings, ask yourself a question (especially if you are buying this for yourself, but it is just as important to ask the question if you are purchasing the gear for someone else) – what is this going to be used for?  It sounds like a silly question, but if all you will be doing is ripping / purchasing music for your iPod, surfing the web and reading composing e-mail, do you REALLY need the top of the line processor, video card and maxed out memory gaming laptop?  Probably not…

So how do you know what to shop for?  Well, once you know what you are using the gear for, that should make your shopping a bit easier!  If you are gaming, you will need some beefier gear than the casual computer user (same goes for those doing heavy graphics work, animation, CAD work, video editing and other processor / memory / hardware intense programs).  For those just surfing the web and working with word processing, you can probably do with a very capable machine for many dollars less than that top of the line option.

OK, so we figured out what we want to do with our machine.  Where can I find a good deal on one?  One of the often overlooked areas is Consumer Reports.  I bring that up because they offer good information on various models, and the latest issue has a slew of ratings on the latest Desktops, Notebooks and Netbooks.  I would recommend looking this over for sure.

If you know what you have been hunting for, or are working in a tight budget bracket, the site I would highly recommend is TechBargains.  They allow you to see the latest sales and coupons for Dell, HP and other manufacturers as well as allow you to see the best bargains for NewEgg, Buy.com and loads of other sites.

Finally, don’t forget about the sites that have been around and continue to offer great bargains on gear.  TigerDirect, CompUSA, CircuitCity, Amazon and many others just can’t be beat for deals and convenience.

I hope you have a great shopping season and give gifts that are cost-effective as well as useful.  Take care!


 

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Click Behavior

This is the second part of my series on Click Behavior.  A lot of problems and headaches could be avoided if we had some tools at our disposal to go with the knowledge we are gaining about what to click on – and what not to click on.  In this post I’m going to speak of two tools that I use, but I don’t want you to think these are the only two available.  There are loads of tools that you could use, but I can really only speak to those I trust and use.

Often times we find things using search engines.  And many search engines are available to you and I, so sticking with a single search engine is not our best strategy!  We need something that is looking out for us as search results are presented to us.  This is where my use of tools pays dividends.

Let’s say I happen to be using a search engine to research crack for a paper I’m writing.  Now, the search engine doesn’t know if I’m looking for information on an illegal drug for my paper or if I’m looking for an illegal code for some software or even if I’m looking for information on fixing a crack in my home’s foundation.  So, it just presents information on crack.  Here’s an example of what I found on the first page of results.  (Click on the image for a larger picture to review.)

Clues to Links to Click On

The two tools that you are seeing are (1) WOT (Web of Trust – http://www.mywot.com) and (2) AVG LinkScanner (part of my AVG Anti-Virus package, but you can get it for free here).  Let’s take in WOT first.

WOT InformationWOT is a tool that I use that is part of a community of users keeping the web ‘safe’ upon themselves.  It’s not that they don’t want others to help, I believe it is just that many folks don’t know about this tool.  You sign up and install the application (I use it as a plug in to my Mozilla Firefox browser).  Then, you get warned of dangerous sites and you can contribute to the community by rating the sites you visit.  As you could see in the image I posted up above, I point to one that is red and another with a question mark in it (and you can see the others are green).

If you hold your mouse over that red circle you can see what information others have compiled on this site in 4 areas: Trustworthiness, Vendor reliability, Privacy and Child safety.  You get a visual of how others have rated the site with the red / yellow / green circle at the end of each link, and you can rate the site yourself or see why others rated the site as they did.  A very nice addition to your security / web surfing safety arsenal!

AVG LinkScannerNext, let’s see what the AVG LinkScanner does for us.  Again, in the first screenshot for this post there are two arrows from bubble 2 – one to a green check mark (all is safe) and the other to a yellow with a couple of exclamation marks.  Again, if we mouse over this icon we get more information about why we are getting the ratings we are presented with.  These are green, yellow or red as well – so that eases your thought processes while looking for information.  If something is red, you should certainly stop, yellow should be approached with caution (if at all), and green should be good to visit.

While these tools are not perfect, they are better than having no information at all on the links that are presented to you when you perform a search.  I mean, let’s think about it.  SEO (search engine optimization) does wonderful things for site owners – and some site owners do not have your best interest at heart!  So they can certainly work for top (or near the top) placement on popular keywords and then you click on them.  I mean, if they weren’t the right results, they wouldn’t show up first, right?  That’s exactly what they want you to think!

It’s my hope this helps someone to practice safe surfing.  If you have other suggestions or tools you want to share about, feel free to leave a comment.  Until next time, take care!


 

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Click Behavior

You’ve heard it all before – practice safe computing.  That means (to this writer and many others) keep your software patched and up to date, put a personal firewall on your computer (to control what comes in to the computer and out from the computer) and install anti-virus software (and keep it up to date with current definitions).  And many folks follow this advise – good for you!

But there is an area that still faces challenges even with all of the other items done above – that would be your click behavior.  Some people might put this in with other behaviors that we face everyday, or even in the category of social engineering.  I’m certain there is some validity to these thoughts – however, click behavior I’m talking about has to do with you, your mind, your finger(s) – and how all that comes together to become more than a thought, it becomes the action where you click on … something.

Let me explain.  We sit down to read our e-mails.  Oh, cousin Aaragon sent me all the normal jokes and chain letter warnings – I just delete them.  There’s a message from my friend Legalos, with a link to a news article.  I click on that – oh my, that wasn’t the type of news I expected at all!  Now I have this pop up saying my computer could be at risk because of (fill in the blank here, anti-virus, trojan, spyware, etc.).  Click on the box!

And you’re had.

Often times, these ‘ads’ appear to be legitimate, or at least they look like they may be something that came from our installed protection software.  Be very careful, many are not.  A quick look at Wikipedia reveals interesting names like ANG Antivirus (not to be confused with the product I use – AVG Antivirus).  Or maybe MS Antivirus (or one of the other names it is known by, like XP Antivirus, Vitae Antivirus, Windows Antivirus, Win Antivirus, Antivirus Pro, Antivirus Pro 2009, Antivirus 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 360, Internet Antivirus Plus, System Antivirus, Spyware Guard 2008 and 2009, Spyware Protect 2009, Winweb Security 2008, System Security, Malware Defender 2009, Ultimate Antivirus2008, Vista Antivirus, General Antivirus, AntiSpywareMaster, Antispyware 2008, XP AntiSpyware 2008 and 2009, WinPCDefender, Antivirus XP Pro, Anti-Virus-1, and Total Security).  The name changes all the time, but the intent does not – to infect your machine and to get your money if possible.

Now how did this all begin?  Oh, right – we clicked on something.  So, are there ways we can avoid this problem?  Certainly!

First, make sure you ARE practicing safe computing.  Then, be wary of pop ups that are warning you of impending doom (don’t click OK on them).  If you have that happen, perhaps you should learn to kill that window using Windows Task Manager (for you Microsoft Operating System users).  Here’s an article on how to get Task Manager open (normally by pressing CTRL+ALT+DELETE, and then click Task Manager).  From there you should be on the application tab, select the window you want to end (or shut down or get rid of) and click on end task.  Below is a screen shot of this tool, I circled the tab at the top and the end task button so you could easily see what I’m referring to.

Task Manager (in Vista)

That could be an easy first line of defense.  Another area is that of knowing that your click will take you somewhere – but it may not be where you think it is.  My rule of thumb there is – don’t click.  If you want to see it, type in the URL (if you are reasonably certain it is legitimate).  There are times that you don’t know what the link leads to – you mouse over the text and see!  Below is a screen shot (and click on it to get a larger shot that opens in a separate window).

Link Hints

Here, I’ve numbered these so I can better type to them.  Number 1 is the address bar of my web browser.  That tells me where I currently am, or the page I’m currently viewing.

Number 2 shows me with my cursor over a link on the page.  When I put my cursor there, notice what happens in the bottom right of my web browser screen – it tells me where that link is going to go (if I click on it).  That’s a nice clue to have, even when the link has a URL in there, I’m going to check the bottom of my browser to make sure it is going where it is suppose to go and not somewhere else.  This even works in many computer-based e-mail programs (see below for one).

Don't Click There!

Clicking on that link is not taking me to PayPal…perhaps that is one I shouldn’t click on (actually, I forward these to spoof [at] paypal [dot] com so they can work to stop this type of abuse).  So be smart and use these clues to your advantage.

Number 3 as shown earlier is part of my Web of Trust.  In the second part of this post (will be up later this month) I’ll address this tool and others you may want to use when searching the web as you follow links in search engine results.  Until then, thanks for reading!


 

You bought (or received) a new computer, but it’s been a bit of time now and you may be experiencing some strange things.  Things such as quirks with icons in the system tray, battery readings that are off (but the battery is fine), and various hardware not functioning as well as it should or could.  What could be going on?

I had written earlier about upgrading firmware.  Another area for you to review is flash your BIOS.  This is important because … well, it’s the only way to upgrade this area of your equipment.  And this is an important area!

The BIOS is boot firmware, designed to be the first code run by a PC when powered on. The initial function of the BIOS is to identify, test, and initialize system devices such as the video display card, hard disk, floppy disk and other hardware. (from Wikipedia)

So, the first area of code run is by the BIOS, and it identifies, test and starts up system devices.  Upgrading your BIOS will allow hardware a better interface with your system and take full advantage of software capabilities.  Well, perhaps that is why this can help when upgrading your machine’s capability!

Even if your machine is pretty new, you may need to look for updates to your BIOS.  Why?  Well, much of the software world is written to take over from these basic commands the BIOS stores to get the machine up and running, but there are still areas where good information from the BIOS isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s really a large impact on the hardware / software performance on the machine.

Of course, you’ll need to find out what BIOS is in your machine and how to flash it for the update.  Some manufacturers (like Dell) have all your machine’s drivers and updates available on their website (just by entering the service tag number you can get all of that information).  In other instances you will need to find out all the information yourself, or use something like Wim’s BIOS page.

I hope this gives you a bit more information on BIOS and what it does (and why you need to update yours).  Take care!


 

I have had many occasions to ask customers to make sure they are either connected to their home network.  And I have found out many may not know how to do that – so here’s a post for you.  Using the ipconfig commands (from your command prompt) you can find out many things about your connection (your IP address, MAC address, etc.).  Let’s look at using this.

First, if you want details – I’d rather not reinvent the wheel.  So, below you will find detailed information for your review.

In a nutshell, open up a command prompt window.  To do this, go to Start | Run in Windows XP (or, in Vista, go to Start and type in cmd in the search area and hit enter to make cmd.exe open up).  Once there you will have a black screen with a blinking cursor.  Type in:

 ipconfig

Then hit enter.  Below is a representation of what you will see.

ipconfig using Command PromptNotice the information for IPv4 Address – that would be my IP address (and there would be numbers where the X.XXX is).  Make sure you review what your IP address is, write it down if necessary.

Next we want to release your IP address.  To do this, type:

ipconfig /release

That should give you an IP address of 0.0.0.0, or in Vista it will return blank information and the note that your media is disconnected.  The next step I take is to flush the DNS cache.  To do this you type:

ipconfig /flushdns

The results should be similar to those shown below.

ipconfig to Flush DNS

Once this is done, you would want to type:

ipconfig /renew

This requests an IP address from your router (or other device), and the resulting screen should give you the information as shown in the first graphic (but it may have different numbers in the IP address).

I have found this to be a great way to begin to troubleshoot connectivity issues. If you are receiving a 169.254.x.x address, this is a Windows address that generally means your network connection is not working properly.

I hope this helps you in your troubleshooting.  There are many more things you can do with ipconfig.  If interested, in the command prompt you can learn more about this command by typing:

ipconfig /?

Below is what you will get (and note, you can do that for any of your commands, just type in the command and then a space and /? and you will get all the options available).

ipconfig Options You Can Use

Take care, and thanks for reading!