Archive for August 2008

Speed Up Your Computer Tips

I found this page on the Microsoft web site. They have five quick tips for speeding up your computer. The handiest are the Disk Cleanup and Defragmenting features.

Both of these tools can be found by clicking Start >> Programs >> Accessories >> System Tools.

If you and your household spend a lot of time on the Internet browsing, I recommend running disk cleanup once every week or two. The more often you do run disk cleanup, the less time it will take to complete.

Disk cleanup eliminates “temporary files”. These temp files are junk files that the computer accumulates as part of its normal operations. You need not work about losing anything that you saved. Anything you save isn’t considered a temporary file, no matter how long you intend on keeping it. Think of temp files as being scratch pads that the computer allows to pile up inside the hard drive.

Disk defragmenting can be run once every month or two.  It’s also handy if you save and download large files such a videos and music.  As with disk cleanup, the more you run it, the less time it takes to complete. In most cases, if you use the Analyze feature before the Defragment feature, it will let you know if the hard disk needs to be “defragged” or not.

Not familiar with the term defragmenting?

When your computer saves files it tries to save them near the center or the start of the disk so they can be accessed faster. In many cases the computer will chop the file into pieces and scatter the pieces wherever they fit. Your computer may run slower when it needs to access these files later becuase the computer must search for and reassemble the pieces.

When you defragment the hard drive, the computer reassembles all the files and rearranges them so the files are stored whole instead of in fragments. Also, it will put important programs near the start/center of the disk so they load fast.

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Another iPhone Upgrade. Privacy at Risk

Courtesy of Apple

Courtesy of Apple

Gizmodo released a video today illustrating a security flaw in the iPhone 2.0.2 upgrade which was released on August 15. The video demonstrates how to bypass the passcode needed to unlock a locked iPhone.

To bypass the code anyone can move the locking slider, and when asked for the passcode they need only tap the “Emergency Call” button once, and then double tap “Home”. The video below demonstrates the technique.

Once unlocked they have full access to the phone and can make calls, send and read emails, make online purchases and more.

Apple had addressed the issue in an email released today, but no date for a patch to this security risk has been mentioned. Instead Apple suggests users modify their settings so that the Home button goes to their music collection instead of their Favorites.

Back on August 5, I reported on Apple’s release of a firmware upgrade (v2.0.1) which was designed to remedy widespread problems experienced by iPhone users who upgraded to the iPhone 2.0 operating system after July 11. Problems addressed were instability issues, application crashes, responsiveness, and speed.

13 days later, August 15, v2.0.2 was released to address connectivity issues with the faster 3G wireless networks and a few other minor problems with the App Store and the Safari Internet browser.

It’s been yet another 13 days and now Apple has yet another hole to fill in their popular devices operating system. A date for release is pending.

Apple projects sales of the iPhone are to reach 10 million by year’s end.

Update Aug. 29: Still no exact date for the update, but word from Apple has it that it will be some time in September.  My guess is they’re all off for Labor Day weekend, so they’ll tackle late next week.

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Internet Explorer 8 Coming Up!

Back in October 2006, IE7 was released. Chances are your reading this page with it right now. (Maybe, maybe not, you know who you are). It had been 5 years since IE6 was released in August 2001 just two months prior to Windows XP’s release in October of that year.

It won’t be long before IE8 becomes available. Just yesterday, August 27, 2008, Microsoft made the second test version (Beta 2) available to the public. Please note this is still a test version. The purpose for releasing it is to get it out of the lab so people can try it in the real world and help Microsoft “shake out the bugs”. This is common practice in the computer and software industry. These test or non-final versions are called “Beta” versions. For example, Google Mail (Gmail) has been in Beta for over 4 years now, and still is today. See for yourself.

IE8's Accelerator Features

IE8s Accelerators

IE8 looks pretty much the same as IE7, but they smoothed its looks a bit, and put some new items under the hood.  My favorite tool, the right-click.  And if you ever wondered what that key is just to the right of the spacebar and ALT, you know, the one that looks like a tower with an arrow on it?  That’s the right-click key.  It does the same thing as the right mouse button. It brings up a shortcut menu.

Here’s a list of some of the new features in IE8.

Accelerators: Common everyday tasks can be performed faster and hassle free with the new Accelerators feature. For example, you’re looking at the address of a restaurant you’d like to go to, and you want to see a map of the location, just highlight the address and an arrow will popup over the highlighting. Click the arrow and choose the “Map” option to see a map of the location. Or you could choose the “Email” option to send it to a friend. Choose “Search the NY Times” to see if they’ve reviewed the restaurant. You’ll even be able to use accelerators with social networking sites such as Facebook.  More accelerators will become available after IE8’s release. Visit the Accelerator’s Gallery for more information.

Instant Search

Instant Search

Instant Search: IE8 is linking with top search sites such as Live Search, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Amazon, Google, The NY Times and others. With Instant Search a list of suggested or similar searches will appear as you type. If a search suggestion matches what you were going to type, you can click on that suggestion to execute the search without having to finish typing. The results come from your chosen search provider and are influenced by your browsing history. Images will appear along with your search results, too.

Favorites, The Links Bar, and Web Slices: The Favorites and the Links bar has been a common feature on Internet Explorer for many years now. This is the row of buttons just under the address bar that list the names of web sites. Currently you can click “grab” the icon to the left of an address in the address bar and drab and drop it to the links bar. A little arrow will appear on the Links bar wherever you can drop it.  That enables you to click the name associated with that web site to quickly jump to that site.

Web Slice

Web Slice

IE8 adds a new quick use feature to the Links bar.  It’s called the “Web Slice”. If the page associated with that Link bar button gets updated, the button will become highlighted. Now you can click the button and a drop down window will appear revealing the “slice” of the page that has been updated. See the picture at right. (Read more about web slices at the IE8 Beta site.)

InPrivate Browsing: Ever wanted to erase your browsing history or cookies? With InPrivate browsing in IE8 all traces of your browsing activity can be erased just by closing the Internet Explorer window. Or you can set the Internet options (under Tools) to determine what information you’d like InPrivate browsing to control or conceal for you. I suppose parents will be able to disable this feature when their kids use the computer so you can keep tabs on how your children use the Internet.

Smart Screen

Smart Screen

SmartScreen filters: Fake or spoofed web sites, phishing schemes, and other attempts to trick the unwary will continue on the web, but IE8 has added features to protect you and make your browsing experience safer. One feature is called “Domain Highlighting”. This feature will apply boldface or highlighting to the main address (also known as an URL or domain name) of the site in the address bar. So if you think you’re looking at a Yahoo site, you can check the address bar to see if that’s true.  The page might look like Yahoo, but does the address bar say Yahoo?  (After all, my living room may be covered in copies of the Wall Street Journal, but that doesn’t mean I live in one of their offices.)

Other safety features include phishing and malware filters that block documented scams or infected sites. Microsoft’s update service will automatically update your browsers list of danger sites. This isn’t a substitute for antivirus software, and it’s not meant to be.

Compatibility mode: The internet is changing fast, and not even the web designers can keep up with it. SOme web sites might not work well with IE* as a result. With compatibility mode you can switch to IE7 mode to see the site as it would appear in the earlier version of Internet Explorer.

Video Demos

Microsoft has a series of video demonstrating the new features of IE8. Here’s a list of some of the avaiable videos you can view online.

Read more about IE8 at the IE8 Beta Home page from Microsoft.

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Microsoft Office Tips, Tricks, Shortcuts

When I teach courses for using Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher, I always provide my students with a handy sheet of tips, tricks, and keyboard shortcuts.

This handout, which I am providing here as a downloadable PDF is particularly popular in my Microsoft Word classes.  Since Word is naturally a keyboard intensive program, people enjoy knowing that many of the tasks they often perform with a mouse can also be performed with the keyboard.  Such shortcuts include boldface, italics, copy and paste, printing, and doublespacing of paragraphs.

Some useful tricks include creating a double underline, copyright symbols, and arrows, along with the Word calculator for performing calculations.

The tips will work with most versions of Microsoft Office up to and including Office 2007.

If you know of any other shortcuts or tricks, feel free to post them here as a comment. Want to know if there’s a shortcut for performing a particular task? Just post your question as a comment as well.  I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Right click and “Save As” to download or click to open: Microsoft Office Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts (PDF)

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Got GPS? Get Garmin nüvi 270 now for big savings.

Friends are always contacting me for deals on gadgets, and this past weekend was no different.  While attending a barbecue on Sunday, I was asked to recommend a GPS unit from Garmin and where to buy.

Since we were talking face to face, I often recommend shopping at Best Buy or BestBuy.com, but I told them to give me their email address and I’d let them know in a day or two where to go.  I like BestBuy.com because I can often pay online and then go to one of the local stores in my area and pick up my purchase, but I also like to shop at Amazon.com, too.

First I checked out BestBuy.com, and I found several Garmen units. Some were primarily for the car, like the Garmin Streetpilot C340 for $180; some were portable and could also be carried in your pocket or handbag, like the Garmin nüvi 270 for $349.  Very nice for getting around, but my friend wanted to spend between $200 and $250, so there was no getting around the price tag.

Garmin nüvi 270 GPS

Garmin nüvi 270 GPS

Next, I went to Amazon.com, and was amazed to find the nüvi 270 for only $185! With free shipping.  It always amazes the difference in prices you can find some times.  Furthermore, Amazon would allow you to use their Bill Me Later service to save an additional $20 (pending credit approval of course) by entering BMLDEALS as the promo code at checkout.

Amazon: Garmin nüvi 270 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator with US, Canada & European Maps

Read on for more info from Amazon.com

Amazon.com Product Description
Navigate both North America and Europe without loading more maps with the affordable nüvi 270. This entry-level Personal Travel Assistant makes traveling so simple. For even more mapping options, nüvi 250 and nüvi 200 offer less map coverage at a lower price. Like all nüvi 200-series members, the 270 features an easy-to-use colorful touchscreen and ultra-slim design–perfect for everyday navigation.
The nüvi 270 comes preloaded with maps for North America and Europe, and features an easy-to-use touchscreen and ultra-slim design.
Configurable vehicle icons let you select car-shaped graphics.
nüvi 270 accepts custom points of interest (POIs). View larger.

Smart, Powerful Design
The nüvi 270 is built with a high-sensitivity WAAS-enabled GPS receiver for extreme accuracy, as well as an SD card slot for storing your media and additional navigation tools, and a USB interface for loading data. All this is wrapped up in a package that measures 3.8 x 2.8 x .8 inches (W x H x D) and weighs just 5.2 ounces. The nüvi 270’s 3.5-inch (diagonal) display is touchscreen-enabled, making it a cinch to control the device with your fingertips. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides up to five hours of battery life depending on use.

Navigate with Ease
nüvi 270 comes ready to go right out of the box with preloaded City Navigator NT street maps, including a hefty points of interest (POIs) database with hotels, restaurants, fuel, ATMs and more. Simply touch the color screen to enter a destination, and nüvi takes you there with 2D or 3D maps and turn-by-turn voice directions. In addition, nüvi 270 accepts custom points of interest (POIs), such as school zones and safety cameras and lets you set proximity alerts to warn you of upcoming POIs.

Go Beyond Navigation
Navigation is just the beginning. nüvi 270 features many travel tools including JPEG picture viewer, world travel clock with time zones, currency converter, measurement converter, calculator and more. It also comes with Garmin Lock, an anti-theft feature, and configurable vehicle icons that let you select car-shaped graphics to show your location on the map. Optional plug-in SD cards for our line of Garmin Travel Guides and Garmin SaversGuide provide detailed data for attractions and information on nearby merchants offering discounts, so you can customize nüvi for your travel needs.

Note: Like most USB Mass Storage Devices, the nüvi is not compatible with Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows Me.

What’s in the Box
nüvi 270, preloaded City Navigator NT for North America and Europe (full coverage), vehicle suction cup mount, vehicle power cable, dashboard disk, and set up and go guide.

Product Description
GARMIN Nuvi 270 Auto Navigation North America/ Europe. Features a sleek, ultra slim design with automatic routing capabilities. With an easy to use touchscreen display, nuvi can route to addresses, restaurants, hotels and more with turn by turn directions and voice guidance. The nuvi 270, nuvi 250 and nuvi 200 GPS navigators offer all of the functions of a premium in dash system at a fraction of the cost. The nuvi 270 comes preloaded with highly detailed City Navigator NT road maps for North America and Europe. The nuvi 250 offers full coverage mapping for the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. For additional cost savings, nuvi 200 is available with coverage of the lower 48 states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Garmin is able to provide the nuvi 200 at a jaw dropping price by reducing the amount of preloaded mapping. The preloaded map data features nearly six million points of interest, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, and attractions. The map data is provided by NAVTEQ, a world leader in premium quality mapping.


Power Saving PC from Hewlett-Packard

Anyone who’s purchased a large home appliance such as an air conditioner or refrigerator has probably seen or looked for the EPA’s Energy Star logo. Personal computers are also rated by EPA Energy Star standards, and in July 2007 the EPA revised those standards, with the PC in mind, for the first time in 15 years.

The result: Energy Star 4.0, which indicates a computers positive effects on the environment due to reduced energy consumption.

If you’re a home owner or small business owner looking for a new computer, and you’re concerned about your energy bills, you might be interested in checking out Hewlett Packard’s Compaq dc7800 Ultra-Slim Desktop PC. The base unit has a Intel Pentium Dual-Core CPU, 1 GB RAM (memory), and a 80 GB hard drive (storage), with Ethernet, and the robust and stable Windows Vista Business edition operating system. The base model starts at $789, but Buy.com is offering it for around $690. Neither price includes a monitor, but you can use your existing monitor.  (If you’re looking for a flat-panel monitor, I’ll include some links at the end of this post.)

My minimum recommendation is the package priced around $870 which doubles the hard drive size to 160 GB, and the memory is increased to 2 GB. The lower priced package played CDs and DVDs, while this package adds the ability to burn DVDs. If your budget is tight, or you have no need to burn DVDs, go with the $690 package. You can always upgrade the parts further down the road if needed.

Apple’s MobileMe: A New Spammer Resource

Users of, that is, subscribers to, Apple’s MobileMe service have found themselves getting more spam than usual, as well as some “phishing” scams aimed directly at them.  And spammers are getting fewer bouncebacks.

The problem lies in the iDisk online file storage service every subscriber is provided with. The service comes with a “public” folder which cannot be hidden or deleted. Every public folder starts with the address http://idisk.mac.com/ and then it’s followed by their username and “-Public”. A programmer can write code to automatically generate random user names using words and names straight out of a digital dictionary.

“Why do this with iDisk’s public folder space?”, you ask.

iDisk: A Sample Public Folder

iDisk: A Sample Public Folder

The username associated with a public iDisk folder is also the first half of their email address assigned to them with the MobileMe service.  The second half of their address is either @me.com or @mac.com.  This hack allows a spammer to determine the validity of email address. Any http://idisk.mac.com/username-Public address that doesn’t result in a “Account Error: Inactive” message — as the link above probably will — means that they’ve found a legitimate account. A legitimate account would come up with a page as shown in the picture at right.

Furthermore, if the public folder shows that there are files stored in that location, as the sample picture shows, a spammer could tailor a message referring to that file in an effort to get the user to reply and reveal personal information.

Imagine if you used this service: You upload some of your files or photos to it, and then, a few days or weeks later you get an email mentioning one or more of your files by name. If you hadn’t thought about your “public folder” being “public”, you might take the message very seriously. Even more so if the sender claimed to represent Apple. (Of course that spammer would be breaking the law by falsely identifying themselves. See my article “Spammers Get CANned”.)

Anyone Can See The Files?

Anyone can see or read the names of your public files, assuming they find your public folder, but they won’t be able to access, open, or download them unless they take a guess at your login information, too; so make sure you use a good password and not your birthday or pet’s name.  They can’t upload anything to your folder either, unless they figure out your login info.

Simply said, Apple’s MobileMe iDisk service gives spammers a handy way to determine valid email addresses, so they get fewer, if any, bouncebacks and undeliverable messages. The names of files stored on iDisk could be used to make the spammer or phishers message appear legitimate.

Phishing. For those unfamiliar with this term, simply stated, it is an email message designed to get the recipient to reveal personal information such as account numbers or login information. The sender poses as well-known service or someone offering an enticement to respond. Popular targets have been eBay, PayPal, and online banking users.

In the iDisk problem discussed here, the phisher can determine if a username and email address exists. Furthermore, If the account owner stores files publicly on the service, the names of files can be referred to in a phishers email message to shore up their credibility.

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Seinfeld in New Microsoft Commericals

Microsoft has signed Jerry Seinfeld to a $10 million dollar deal to appear in a new series of commercials promoting Windows Vista. Jerry will appear alongside Bill Gates in the new $300 million promotional campaign.

Microsoft will be riffing on the well-known “Mac vs. PC” commercials run by Apple. Those commercials haven’t helped  popularize Microsoft’s image any, so they will be launching an aggressive new ad campaign of their own starting September 4.

Actors such as Will Ferrell and Chris Rock were also considered for the new commercials. It’s possible that other actors will be appearing in the commercials as well, but Seinfeld is going to be the anchor of the new series.

Jennifer Aniston anyone?

Ben Worthen at WSJ also recalled Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry’s involvement in a Microsoft Video Guide to Windows 95. The guide was not a commercial but a “educational introduction” to the then new OS in 1995/96. You can see a clip of that video here.

In a related story, InfoWorld reports that 35% of new Windows Vista computers are downgraded from Vista to XP.

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Q and A With FBI’s Cyber Division Chief

James Finch

James Finch

Brian Krebs, a Computer Security blogger and reporter at the Washington Post, recently interviewed James Finch of the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division.

At the end of the Black Hat hacker convention in Las Vegas a week ago Thursday, I had a few minutes to sit down with James Finch, head of the FBI’s Cyber Division. What follows is an excerpted Q&A from that discussion, in which Finch describes himself as a serious geek who refuses to be spooked by organized cyber criminal gangs that target online banking customers and other ‘Netizens.

Click to read the rest of the excerpted interview.

In addition to his thoughts and experiences in fighting cyber crime, James Finch discusses his computer and Internet habits from online banking to computer games. He also shares his thoughts on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and legal and economic ramifications of cyber crime and ID Theft.

Some readers of the interview have posted comments of their own on the subject.

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Another Computerless Email Service

Mailbug

Mailbug

I was looking through Walt Mossberg’s Mailbox and read about yet another computerless email service.  It’s Mailbug from Landel. The service uses their Mailbug device (shown at right) which costs $125 to purchase (or give as a gift), and there is an additional $9.95 monthly fee.

You can send and received messages with this device, but attachments and photos cannot be viewed with it, though they can be accessed if you have a home computer with web access.

  • Sends email automatically. No need to log on, just type a message and walk away.
  • Retrieves email without logging on, and alerts you with a red LED.
  • It’s an email device, not a PC so it can’t get a virus, can’t be hacked, can’t crash.
  • Sends messages to fax machines, so you can send a fax or print without a computer.
  • Provides access to news, weather, sports and more.
  • Converts PDF attachments to viewable text without graphics.
  • Comes with everything ready to plug in and go in five minutes.
  • Connects to any standard phone line, and doesn’t interrupt your calls.
  • Comes with its own email address, no Internet Service required.
  • Free, friendly customer support by phone or email.
  • Standard full-size keyboard.
  • Email address book holds up to 100 names, addresses, and phone numbers. It even dials for you.

For more information on this service: http://www.mailbug.com/mb1.html

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.