If you own a Palm Pilot, you've probably heard someone comment: "Hey, that's a great toy!" or "What can you do with that toy?" - The operative word being "toy." I don't know about you, but I would take great umbrage at being accused of playing with toys. I'm as serious about my hand-held devices as anyone, and would hold my head up when I flash my Palm Pilot around. Yet, I’m still deciding between Palm and Pocket PC.
This is the first in a short series on buying the ever more popular hand held computers. They help you keep track of information that you need, like phone numbers and expenses. They're a lot neater than scraps of paper - and a lot less likely to get lost, as well. They keep you entertained during boring meetings, plane trips and bus or rail commutes. And "beaming" your name and phone number is a lot cooler than just handing someone your business card! But like with every other tech thing, "they" have to make it complicated by giving you a panoply of choices and possibilities - and platforms, especially since the release of Windows CE on the Pocket PC platform several years ago. WinCE/Pocket PC competes with the granddaddy of PDAs, Palm Pilots, and the vast majority of PDAs on the market are based on one of these platforms. So buying a PDA requires more consideration than buying a digital camera.
I troll Microsoft newsgroups regularly. It’s part of duties. Normally I troll development newsgroups, particularly those involving databases. However, now I’m doing a stint in XP newsgroups. Last week I described a catastrophe in the making that I was able to avert. This week I’m describing one I ran across last night, but too late. Not that I have much sympathy. Just to save $39.95, the fellow I'm about to describe ruined his computer.
When you’ve lost control of your computer to "malware," there are only two things to try. The first I’ll describe below. The second is to reformat your hard disk(s) and reinstall the operating system and all your programs. The second is apt to be painful, with a permanent loss of data unless you regularly back up your important data. I’ve discussed this in previous columns. Here's my advice. 1) Download the following two items...
In an early column I discussed the Windows registry. It holds thousands, sometimes more than ten thousand settings. Some of these settings are for Windows itself, and others are for applications. As time passes, the registry becomes clogged with useless or erroneous entries. These can be left over from incomplete installations, incomplete uninstall routines. Many other problems arise. A user may move an application file without realizing that dozens of registry entries point to the old location. Application errors can leave traces in the registry. Malicious intruders as well, as I’ve discussed on several occasions. When the registry goes bad your problems can vary from annoying to disastrous. The most common ailment is that the computer slows down. Another common problem is that clicking on shortcuts doesn’t start the program. Further down the scale, some programs won’t run at all. More disastrously still, Windows functions only work intermittently or not at all. In the past I recommended Norton System Works. Its one step cleanup is good at setting some minor problems in the registry right. I suggested a utility called JV-16 for a thorough cleanup of the registry. JV-16 is no longer in business. It’s time to choose a new registry cleaner.
Deciding whether to plunk your money down on an LCD or a CRT is tough enough, but if you've decided to "go modern" and buy an LCD, you've got a lot of further choices to wade through. Not all LCDs are created equal, and deciding which LCD flavor to spend your money on means that you've got to bone up on some more monitor information.
At the end of last year, CRT monitors still outsold LCDs by a large margin. More than 60% of monitors sold in 2003 were CRTs. However, there’s no going back; LCD sales have been growing over the past two years, while CRT sales have been dropping. Within the next few years, CRTs will go the way of the eight-track and VCR. There’re still making CRTs, and that’s good news if you’re looking for a bargain; although prices of LCDs have been dropping, CRT manufacturers have lowered theirs proportionally, and the price ratio of CRT of LCD monitors - about half - remains where it was two years ago.
Monitors are replete with mysterious-looking numbers and formulas. We pretend to understand them, but how much do we really know? Admittedly, until I began looking for a new one - I’m still undecided - I knew less about monitors than any other major part of a computer. In looking for a new monitor I’ve tried to fill in some of the blanks. I’ll pass the information onto you.
Computers are so much a part of life. You use them at home and work; maybe you even use a laptop. Chances are your kids have a computer for schoolwork. And of course, you've got a printer. If this is the kind of setup you have, you may be a candidate for a home network.
The main reason I’m researching laptops right now may seem trivial. My favorite cafï¿½ in Jerusalem, Aroma, now has WiFi. One important issue is what to do if your system develops a problem. On a desktop, if your system fails, you would likely just reformat your hard drive and reinstall Windows, after making sure you had taken all the precautions I explained in previous columns. It can be a lot more difficult for a laptop.
The recommended tool for preventing BHOs from infecting your computer is WinPatrol. It (and its advocates) purports to make sure that no BHO gets installed on your system without you knowing it. It also protects against spyware and viruses. “Oh, no!, some of you are mumbling, not another $20. Don’t I have enough protection against all these intruders, especially if I’m running Windows XP and have installed Service Pack 2?” Let’s see - maybe you do.
After you download and unzip BHODemon, navigate to the download folder. You’ll see the help file and the icon for installing the program. Double-click the icon and the program will install in a second. I also suggest you separately double-click the short help file and read it before you start using BHODemon. Once installed BHOD will immediately scan your registry for browser help objects. In my case, Norton and Spy Sweeper notwithstanding, I had seven. Seven, notwithstanding that only a week before I had reformatted my hard disks, reinstalled Windows XP Pro, Norton and Spy Sweeper, configured my internet account, and then installed Microsoft Office 2003, my development tools, and a number of other programs.
A BHO is an add-on program, usually very small, that is supposed to enhance your computing experience. Most of the legitimate helpers are designed to work with web browsers such as Internet Explorer. But there are some really vicious BHOs out there. These reach deep into your PC, so deep that their digital fingers reach your pockets. Recently, a BHO was uncovered that monitors when you surf to one of 50 or so major personal banking Web sites, in order to steal your private information.
Most people buy laptops for their portability, not its speed or upgrade-ability. Laptops let you be productive almost anywhere, and having a ‘portable office’ is an advantage for many. But laptops are generally overrated. Only secretaries, salesmen and engineers make good use of their laptop. Many others play games, surf the internet, check their email, try to work and talk at the same time, or at cafï¿½s work and watch the more attractive members of the opposite sex at the same time. Given the expense involved, laptops are for all intents and purposes un-upgradeable. You are married to whatever CPU, video card (built into the motherboard) , sound card (also built-in) and screen come with the laptop. Laptops are much slower than desktops that have similar CPUs. Slower CPUs, motherboards, hard drives and video systems all contribute to the speed loss. According to reviews I’ve read, the best laptop built-in video card would be lucky to be half as fast as the best desktop video card. Of course, there’s always a better component out there, but it’s going to cost you.
Let’s turn to the free program, Belarc Advisor. After running it, sending the results to my Yahoo account, burning them to a CD, and printing them out, I was shocked to find a glaring defect. Because I’m organized, this defect was only a minor inconvenience. For you it might be a real pain. Let’s take a look at Belarc’s shortcomings, and figure out a way to head off problems in advance.
One reason I’m spending so much time on this topic is that it’s the most important action you’re likely to take on your computer. Some of what I have to say I only learned after I reformatted my own disk. Once you have everything in place, it’s easy to do it again. Every time your computer accumulates intruders you can’t get rid of without editing the registry according to instructions from Symantec or your anti-virus company’s support site, you can reformat and reinstall in hours. If you’ve installed too many programs which slows your computer down, perhaps uninstalling them leaves debris in your registry. Now that I’ve got the procedure down pat, I plan to reinstall every several months.
In my last column I ended with:
Another option with Outlook is to use the Save Settings wizard in the tools folder to backup your settings. For example, settings include your rules, accounts, and the accessibility of your address book. Yes the .pst file will restore it as will the folders above, but the settings will restore them just the way you had them. It worked for me.Since then I found there’s a tool to save your settings for all the applications in Microsoft Office 2002 or 2003. That includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Microsoft Access (for those of you who use this great Departmental-sized database) and Microsoft Excel.
One of the great benefits of membership in To The Point is the exclusive columns of technology genius Dennis "The Wizard" Turner, psychologist Joel Wade, investment guru Leslie Chase, and Nasdaq mastermind Dagny D'Anconia. Many To The Pointers consider any of them alone to be easily worth TTP membership. They are exclusive to To The Point -- you can read them no where else. Dennis Turner’s “Dennis The Wizard” column focuses on how to live better and much more safely with your computer. This week we offer this bonus column (in addition to Dennis' regular colum) in full to the TTP Free List as a clear demonstration of the value of being a member of To The Point. ---JW Snappy title, right? Fortunately, discovering the meaning of Life is simple - if you know where to look. Life is a “characteristic state or mode of living.” And a “mode” is a “manner of performance.” And a “manner” is a “way of acting or living.” Or maybe Life is “the course of existence of an individual”. And a “course”…. I could go on all day like this - if fact, I actually did go on for several hours recently, with one of the best free programs I have ever come across. A friend sent me the reference. I took one look at the web site, downloaded and installed it. I’m taking a break from Bluetooth and security this week because this program is just too good to pass up. It’s called StarDict, the most amazing dictionary you will ever use, online, download, print or otherwise.
A few weeks ago I discussed many of the precautions a person must take to successfully reformat his or her hard disk and reinstall an operating system and applications. I suggested some procedures and aids. However, before I reformatted my own hard disk, I did a little thinking. Was I sure I could recover my Outlook address book, folders, and emails? What about my passwords? Was I certain that I could write them all down? Where exactly did Windows store them? And what about my Windows settings? The screen resolution, the screen saver, and many other tweaks? Same for Outlook, my other Office programs, and those of other applications. Would I have to reconfigure all of them when I reinstall? Or is there a way of finding and saving the configuration files and restoring them after a reformatting and reinstallation? Some of the answers are too geeky for this column. But many aren’t. I snooped around some support forums and asked some questions. I’ll summarize what I’ve learned. If you follow these additional instructions, you’re even more likely to be up and running within several hours.
Radio-wave frequency communication between computers and other devices is increasing and is almost certain to continue increasing. Throughout the first world and in much of the third world transmission stations, antennas and other infrastructure that encourages wireless communication are being steadily put into place. Even Jerusalem is scheduled to be ‘wi-fied’ within two years, including the Arab neighborhoods. The Arab League considers such unregulated access a threat:
Almost all of you have heard of Bluetooth. It refers to devices that are either attached to or built into a computer, cell phone, PDA, and a slew of other devices that allow them to communicate with each other. Let’s look at Bluetooth step by step.
I think I’ve found the best spam killer. Well, actually there are two. You can buy the very same software that Hotmail and Yahoo use to automatically weed out spam, putting it all in a Bulk folder. One click on “empty” and they’re history. The software program is called Brightmail Anti-Spam 5.1. Microsoft will be happy to license it to you for only $1,499.00So I think we should talk about the other one:
If you use Internet Explorer to access the Web, you need to be aware of a dangerous “Trojan horse” that can steal your passwords to banking sites, and thus steal your money.Below is an article describing the danger. Microsoft has not issued a “patch” for it, so if your computer is infected, you must correct it yourself. Here is how:1. Use Search from the Start menu to find img1big.gif. That’s the file name of the Trojan horse. Make sure in the search that you opt to include hidden and system files and folders.2. Delete each copy of img1big.gif, if any.3. After the deletions, notify all financial institutions with whom you have electronic accounts that your account may be compromised.I strongly urge you to do this immediately.Dennis The Wizard
Identity theft is prevalent in the news now. The thieves use Spyware: worms to monitor keystrokes and steal passwords. They’ve advanced way beyond the old fashioned ways, like searching your dumpster looking for discarded receipts. Now they’ve become more brazen than ever, using “phishing,” or emails pretending to come from a known and trusted source. Some of their messages are so silly, that victims who fall for them can only be called willing, given all the publicity about security and identity theft that wafts through the airwaves daily.
Sooner or later we all need to. Perhaps your hard disk fails. All hard disks fail sooner or later. Or you’ve installed too many programs and uninstalled too many trial programs. Your computer has slowed to a crawl because your registry is fractured, full of errors. Maybe your system’s been hit by numerous virii or other intruders that are impossible to get rid of. Perhaps you want to partition your hard disk or add or change operating systems.Are you prepared? How long will it take you to get back up?
Spy Sweeper 3.0 has been released. And it’s quite an upgrade from version 2.6, the version I recommended. Also, I’d like to discuss a different threat. There’s a technique by which a malicious hacker can hijack web sites and insert ads or other features that appear daily. Thus you need to think twice between you click on any ad.
Last week I discussed the shortcomings of web surfing anonymizers. Although they have some use, they are useless against anyone who is targeting you in particular.Another concern of my readers concern emails. Emails pass through numerous way stations on the way from the sending to your mailbox. Also from your email application to someone else’s inbox.One method that can keep emails and instant messages private is strong encryption. The most popular application is PGP. PGP is a tongue in cheek term for Pretty Good Privacy. PGP actually offers strong encryption.
In the last two weeks I received several emails regarding web surfing anonymizers. These critters are portals through which you surf. They are reputed to prevent the sites you visit from identifying your personal computer. In the words of one of the more prominent anonymizers, here’s what they claim:
The Bobax worm is the latest threat spreading across the internet. It won’t get as far, because millions more users have downloaded the latest Windows security update. I detailed how to do that in a previous column. On the other hand its more dangerous and will cause more severe damage to your software.
Those of you who regularly read my column know I’ve been looking for the very best registry cleaner that doesn’t delete important or crucial entries. I’ve discussed this matter in various forums and found one I’m now certain to buy, after testing the trial version. It can be found at Macecraft Software - http://www.jv16.org/ - and the name of the product is jv16 Power Tools. An odd name but a fine registry cleaner.
In my first column I mentioned a powerful tool to protect and ‘clean’ your computer. It’s called System Mechanic Pro. I advised against using it because it was overzealous. Unless you really knew what you were doing, the tool could delete files and registry entries than could render your computer unusable.
It’s rare that I change security programs. I’ve suggested you pay $40 for Ad-aware; I consider it a useful inexpensive program that protects your computer from intruders.
I’m sure most of you have heard of the Sasser worm by now. This vicious piece of code hit the Internet some ten days ago. It’s been on television, newspapers and magazines. Some of you have been infected. Hopefully many of you will have followed the advice of these broadcasts and articles, so won’t need this column. I fear that many of you haven’t.
All of you know of Google as a search engine; you probably use it. For a long while Google also has had a free toolbar for download. It appears as a toolbar on the top of your Internet Explorer page, along with Internet Explorer’s own toolbars. The Google toolbar enables searches without having to navigate to www.google.com. While convenient and useful, I normally wouldn’t mention it in these columns, because it hadn’t until recently enhanced your computer’s security. Google has come out with a second edition, and among several new features, it includes a pop-up killer.
I’ve received a number of emails, all complimentary. I thank the readers for that. I’d like to go a step farther. My column isn’t read by every subscriber to ToThePoint. My writing needs to be tuned to those who do read my column. So please email me about what you like and don’t like. Are the columns too long, or too short? Too technical or too basic? I can’t answer the questions that subscribers have emailed me. It’d take all my time. Some questions are so wed to the user’s installation that I’d have to be at the computer to see what’s going on - or install Spyware to watch! However, I can comment on recurring themes.
Last week’s column ended with methods to ignore low threat intruders, rather than delete them and risk damaging your computer. We learned how to ensure that Ad-watch opens each time we reboot so that the intruders will have a more difficult time invading our computers. Still, we’re left with cookies that pop-up advertisements while we’re surfing, Windows registry entries that direct emails enticing us to click potentially dangerous attachments or web sites, and possibly more. The accumulation of registry entries slows your computer. The registry becomes larger and fragmented. I’ll introduce a few new tools to mitigate some of these irritants.
The week before last I discussed a class of intruders known interchangeably as Adware, Spyware and Malware. At the end of the column I introduced a particularly insidious subset of these intruders known as ‘dialers’. This week we’ll learn how to deal with dialers. There are a number of choices, depending on how much work you want to do, how adept you are around a computer, and the severity of the threat.
Last week’s column ended with a promise: “Next week we can discuss further issues, such as what course of action to take if an intruder is a dialer. You sure don’t want expensive calls made to porn sites off your computer.” I’m going to break that promise. In the last two weeks I’ve received fewer intruders attempting to invade my computer through my email.
The three words are normally used interchangeably. They all refer to intruders placed on your computer as you surf the web. Adware is usually a cookie placed in your C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Cookies folder when you visit a website. It tracks your browsing habits and arranges ads to pop-up on your screen when you open certain sites. Sometimes they appear on your screen when you aren’t browsing, and sometimes they arrange emails to be sent you advertising certain products. The products may be financial, pharmaceutical, sexual, or other.
The most fundamental protection you install on your computer is virus protection. There are a number of major players besides Norton: Mcafee, F-Prot, Kaspersky, NOD32 (a corporate version of Norton), and others. You might think choosing among them is easy. Simply test each one against all the known viruses and select the product that catches the most. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.