Computers and Networking for Home Owners
& Micro Businesses
written by Sid Plait
Computers and Networking for the Home Owner and Micro Businesses - by Sid Plait

So long, Fare well, Auf wiedersehen, Goodbye!

About 15 months ago, a number of posts disappeared from this blog.  I tried to find out from the hosting company what happened, but they were unable to help me.  There was no apparent reason for it to happen, so they didn't have a clue. They couldn't even reload the posts since they don't back the blog up!

As a result, I started keeping backup copies of my posts.

Things went back to normal again for a while, but about four weeks ago, I was working on a post, and it went away.  Just disappeared!  When I did an inventory of all my posts, over 40 of the 175 were gone.

While I have backups of most of those posts, it occurs to me that putting them back on the blog site would involve each of you subscribed here getting a mailing of each old post as I reinstall it.  All by itself, that is enough reason for me to not put them back, and not stay with this unreliable host.

As a result, I am going to leave this site and start up somewhere else.  When I have populated the new site with the old posts, I will inform you where that is and ask you to resubscribe.  Whether you do or not, of course, is up to each of you.  If you don't, know that I will miss you.  To those who do, thank you in advance for staying with me.  This has been very frustrating to me, and I appreciate your loyalty (or whatever it is).

TTFN ("ta ta for now")

Sid Plait

How to remove malware from your Windows PC

I spend much of my time removing Bad Stuff (put on your computer by The Bad Guys - TBGs) from Windows PCs.  I'm going to tell you all my secrets (or most of them) here and now.

If you think your computer has become infected with something, know this: your Internet security product (you aren't still running only anti-virus software, are you?) is suspect.  When a computer becomes infected, the first thing the infection does is mask itself from the security product.  Don't bother running a scan with any software that was installed on your machine prior to its getting infected.

The first step in this process is to clean out all temporary folders and unnecessary files.  The best tool for the job is CCleaner, and you can download it here.  Once it's installed, run it.  Let it delete everything it finds.  (If you can't access the Internet from your PC, you'll have to use another one and put the installer on a memory stick/USB drive.)

The second step is to run an online security scanner on your PC.  The best ones I know of are ESET Online Scanner, Kaspersky, and Trend Micro's Housecall.  All of these are free and they will remove whatever they find and provide you with a log so you can see what was on your PC.  Run at least one of them.  You can run more than that if you wish, just not at the same time.

Once your PC is clean, remove your Internet security product (the one that was on your PC when it got infected) using the Add/Remove Programs control panel in XP or the Programs control panel in Windows 7, and then reinstall it. 

NOTE:

If your security product is anti-virus only, don't bother with reinstalling it.  There are at least nine different kinds of malware out there, and viruses are only one of those.  You must be protected from more than just viruses.  You want (NEED) an Internet security product.  I recommend ESET Smartsecurity 5.0, Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 (most of you don't need the more expensive products), and Trend Micro's Titanium Maximum Security.   Avoid McAfee and Norton/Symantec at all costs.  They are hard on your system resources and really don't rank as highly in independent lab tests as the three I mentioned.  Don't be fooled.  McAfee, and Norton are the most popular because they are hyped by system vendors and big box stores.  That doesn't make them best-in-class.

Once the security product has been installed, run a comprehensive scan on your C:\ drive.  There may be some lingering malware, plus this initializes the software and it won't bug you to scan right away.

If these steps don't resolve your problem, I strongly recommend taking your PC to a professional to clean it properly.  There are a number of other products out there that can scan PCs more thoroughly, but they are somewhat complicated and potentially dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.

Good luck!



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New Mac Attack - make sure your security is up to date!

Security News Daily reports that a new strain of an older Mac Trojan Horse has been detected in the wild.  It steals passwords and other information, and is easily prevented.  However, for the unsuspecting soul, it poses as a valid request by the Mac OS for approval by the user, and then installs itself.

To prevent this bug from getting you, there are several things you need to do and know.  Firstly, make sure you have a first-rate Internet security package on your Mac.  I continue to recommend ESET Cybersecurity for Mac.  It's inexpensive and first rate.

Secondly, make sure your Java is up to date.  Go to the apple symbol in the upper-left corner of your screen, click, and select "Software Update...".  When it has finished scanning your Mac, which may take a minute or so, it will either tell you there are no new updates, or it will tell you there are updates to install.  Click the "Show Details" button, and it will give you a list.  If a Java update is listed, make sure the check box has a check mark.



Click the blue "Install" button at the bottom right corner of the window. 

When it is finished, make sure you check again for updates.  Sometimes installing an update requires a second be installed, or one update requires that others are installed first.  Keep checking until you are told there are no more updates available.

Always, ALWAYS run updates if your system pops up a message saying they are available.  Also, make sure all Java updates and Adobe updates are installed when they pop up.  Don't wait.

There is a third way to avoid this bug (and you have to do all three!).  Sometimes you are asked by the Mac operating system to allow or deny some process to access the system.  You will NEVER be asked to allow Apple to make changes.  So, if you see a pop up asking you to allow Apple to make changes, DENY the request.

There are no guarantees, but if you follow these three procedures, you just might stay safe for a while.



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Consumers now can air their (legitimate) issues regarding treatment by corporations!

Somehow I missed this back in 2009, when Dave Carroll's video about United Airlines mishandling of his guitar was released.  I'm disappointed that I didn't see it back then, but got a real kick, earlier today, when I saw it for the first time.  I include the video below, but don't miss the rest of this post, because it's in your own best interest to be aware of where Dave has taken this mess.





According to Red Tape Chronicles (an MSNBC blog), Dave has since created a number of videos (he promised United there would be three, but I think there are more than that), and they are all up on Youtube (click the link to see what's there).  He didn't stop there, though.

Dave has created a website named Gripevine, a site you can use to post your gripe against a corporation for the way you are treated.  He has a clever concept and it's free to the consumer.  I'm not going to describe how it works here (read about that on his site), but know that your gripe must be clean and not mean, and that he somehow rates each griper for relevance, meaning you can't just dump a bunch of gripes out there trying to get some company to pay you something.

His concept gives us regular folk a bit of leverage against the big guys when they ignore us.  It's refreshing to finally see something being done about the helplessness we feel when trying to resolve an issue with Corporate America.  (It reminds me of a scene in Dave, the movie with Kevin Kline, where one of the conspirators, played by Frank Langella, tells Dave that he is a "nit, a nobody, a flea", basically, not important to anyone, even though he is impersonating the President of the United States at Langella's behest.  If you haven't seen it, SEE IT!  It's one of my favorite comedies of all time.)

There are no guarantees, but at least there's a way we can have a voice. Thank you, Dave Carroll and United Airlines (although I don't think they are very happy about it!)


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While listening to Iron Butterfly (who?) one day, (in the merry, merry month of... January??)

I was driving to a client site Monday, when "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (what??) came up on my iPod.  Whenever I hear this 17-minute jewel from the 1960s, I think back, not to my teenagehood, exactly, but to Allan Sherman, one of the greatest Jewish songwriting comedians/satirists of last century.

The connection is not crazy, exactly.  It actually makes sense, but not to you.  Yet.

I can't tell you how many people (of a certain age) I have asked over the years if they ever noticed that "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (GRYMG) is included by the organist in the song.  Almost no one responds affirmatively, but IT IS!!  Right after the drum solo.  Listen carefully, it sort of evolves from a few long chords of the Mellotron (or whatever they used) to the main refrain of GRYMG.  It's pretty cool!

So, you ask, how does THAT take you to Allan Sherman?  Isn't he the guy who wrote and sang "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda"?

Well, I listened to his first four albums quite a lot back then (I do still remember the 60s), and he wrote some of the smartest songs with social commentary, but mostly about Jewish life in parody.  He had a song called "Shticks and Stones" that was made up of a bunch of fifteen-second-or-so songs that were like Henny Youngman routines, and one went to the tune of GRYMG:

God bless you, Jerry Mendelbaum
Let nothing you dismay
This May you had a rotten month
So what is there to say
Let's hope next May is better
And good things will come your way
And you won't have a feeling of dismay
Next May

Now, I don't know if you find that funny or not.  If not, listen to the song sometime and maybe you'll get it.  However, it is one of the most well-written comedic pieces I've ever heard.  Wickedly smart, at least, to me.

Before I really knew of my hero Groucho Marx's complete mastery of the American English language, I knew Allan Sherman's.  He assisted me on the road to understanding the complexities therein (as well as some of those of the Jewish human condition), and the ways it can be twisted to make a totally different point than intended, or change the subject altogether. 

I'm proud of what I learned, and I use it almost every day.  Sometimes it ends up here in my posts (usually in the titles), too.  I taught it to my daughter as she grew up, partially as a defense against people who are too serious.  It helps, sometimes, just to get things back to a lighter tone.  It is also useful in understanding that American English is not only complex, but can give the listener an unintended meaning if not spoken or written properly, which is why the use of grammar and punctuation are so important.

It taught me to appreciate those people who are truly creative and can turn words around without having to really think about it, and there are so many.

Anyway, so now you know how an Iron Butterfly song from 50-or-so years ago brings me back to Allan Sherman, a man who gave me so much, and whose life ended 'way too soon.

Thank you, Allan!

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I have wanted to write a piece on Allan and his influence on me for a long time, but I didn't really know how to go about it.  Then last Monday came along and I had it!

By the way, Allan created and co-produced "I've Got A Secret", one of the most-watched game shows ever.  It ran for about 15 years starting in 1952.

Holey Moley!  I just finished reading the Wikipedia article on Allan, and discovered he lived next door to Harpo Marx and was discovered by George Burns!  Wow!  Lofty company to be around!

Also, by the way, this post does have a relationship to technology and its use.  If you can't figure out how, just ask.  There's a comment section just below the post.

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My recycling event last Saturday - THANK YOU ALL!

While I don't yet know how many pounds of electronics were recycled, I always consider it a success if even just a few people bring their stuff.  Having said that...

...it rained like nobody's business that day through 3pm.  I know the rain kept some people away, but we filled up three densely-packed boxes 4'x4'x4' with electronics that are no longer used.  I also destroyed a few hard drives with my trusty drill.  That's GREAT!

So, thank you to all of you who made it between the raindrops and gave us your old stuff, and thank you to those people who didn't come because of the rain (and boy, DID it rain, and thunder), but had collected stuff for us.  Save the stuff for the next time, which I will post about here, on Facebook, and on LinkedIn.

As soon as I get the results of the event, I will post them here in the comments.

I hope to see you all at the next event!


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THIS is one of the reasons I love Astronomy!

This blog is typically focused on technology and how to use it and how to fix it.  Sometimes I focus on how others use it, and that's what this post is about.  It's also about the wonders of the universe, our planet, and the amazing ability music has to enhance the value of visual art.

Every day or so I take a quick look at MLB's site to see what he has found or has to say.  He is always posting videos that some astrophotographer or other has created, and he has one of the most lovely (yes, I said, "lovely") pieces up I've ever seen.  It's a collaboration between Peter Mayer, a singer/songwriter with a fabulous voice and a wonderful ability to write lyrics, and Mark Ellis, one of the best nature photographers on the planet (this planet, not one of the ones astronomers've found recently).  Their respective sites are excellent and you should visit them through the links here when you get a chance.

Anyway, turn out the lights in the room, and when the video starts, expand it to fit your screen, make sure it is HD, and sit back and take it in.  It'll be worth it. 

I promise.


"My Soul" by Peter Mayer from Mark Ellis on Vimeo.




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Check your bank accounts on a neutral PC (account fraud reaches new lows)

The bad guys (TBGs) keep coming up with new ways to steal our money, and now they have reached new heights of sophistication.

According to this article, there is a trojan horse (malware, but not a virus - labeled SpyEye) that can infect your computer and hide fraud from you when you check your accounts.  A keylogger (a small app that logs every keystroke you make) is dropped on the infected PC.  Once you go to a financial site, enter your login information and any other useful information (useful to the bad guys), the malware then monitors your use of the financial sites.  It also sends the login information to the bad guys.

Here's the kicker:

Once TBGs start taking money out of your accounts, their software on your PC intercepts the financial web pages before you see them and change the data on the displayed page so it all looks normal to you.  In other words, they cut out their transactions (withdrawals) and modify the totals on the page so that you can't see what they've done!  It may be several days before you find out what's happened!

However, their scheme only works if you are checking your financials from the infected PC.  If you use a second PC to check, the bad software isn't on that PC and you will be able to check your accounts unhindered.

SO, when you go to monitor activity for your financial accounts, use a PC that is not the same one you use for actual transactions.  That way, you can be fairly certain you are seeing the account information that is the same as what you bank sees.

As always, you must be vigilant.  Don't leave all security to your Internet security software.  It has limitations and flaws.  Security is up to you.

Be careful out there!

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Rootkits are not forever! How to get rid of Windows 7 AntiVirus!

Two Fridays ago (December 30th), a client called me at about 2PM, saying he had contracted the Windows 7 AntiVirus bug (there's no real such thing as Windows 7 Security - it's called Windows Security Essentials) on his laptop. This is a derivative of the System Security 2009 (and 2008, 2010, 2011, ad 2012).  It pops up messages that say your computer is infected, and, when you click the button to fix the problem, it offers you a chance to upgrade your "security package" for some amount of money, which you can pay by credit card.

Once you make the payment, the bug supposedly goes away, but not really.  Instead, it sits on your PC and logs every single keystroke you make until forever (or you get a new PC - something people seem to be doing these days whenever the old PC gets slow).  Basically, they want your passwords and financial information, some of which you just gave them voluntarily!

So, paying these thieves money gets you into lots of trouble you do not want.

I worked until about 6:00pm, and I thought I had tamed the beast, having fought earlier iterations a number of times.  I got an email Sunday that it had come back.  I went to his office the following Tuesday, worked another hour, and figured out it might be a rootkit.

Rootkits are difficult to detect and even harder to remove.  Some rootkits not only cannot be eradicated, but they also persist after the drive has been thoroughly scrubbed, formatted, and Windows rebuilt (yikes!).

I went to a trusty old friend, TDSSKiller, by Kaspersky Labs, which got the job done, and in a short period of time.  Then I went to ESET's online scanner to make sure all residual infection was gone.  Done!

As of today, it has not reappeared to bother my client.  That's good news.

TDSSKiller is free, and well worth having in your back pocket (on a USB drive), just in case.

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Be careful out there!


Another electronic e-cycle event in Atlanta

In association with the Georgia Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers and Shelf Genie, I announce my first e-cycle event of 2012!

In addition, we will be collecting SHOES!  In pairs or singles.  This is part of the Soles4Souls campaign.  You can read more about that here.  Bring them, please!  It's a great cause!

For those of you in the Atlanta area, it will be in Cobb County on Powers Ferry Road.

Here's the flyer:



If you want to come early, we will be there starting at 9AM.  Even if the truck isn't here, we will take your shoes and electronics! 

Tell your friends!


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Even a consultant can get attacked

Three days ago, my MacBook started acting funny.  It appeared to be a keyboard problem, or, at least, that's how I was leaning.  I have been having trouble with the Caps-Lock key for a few months, so that was on my mind when the trouble began.

Here are the symptoms I experienced:
  • When I clicked on a drop-down menu (e.g., the Apple icon or File menu, the menu would disappear when I released the click or when I tried to drag through the menu to the item I wanted.
  • Any popup request, such as "do you really want to reboot the system" would immediately have its "Cancel" button pressed and the popup would go away.  I couldn't reboot, for goodness sake!  I had to shut down the system manually.
  • I couldn't boot into Safe Mode.
  • I couldn't use shortcuts.
  • When I tried to run the embedded scanner on my Mac, it would drop to the background and I couldn't get the foreground windows to minimize or the scanner window to maximize.  (Starting to sound a little fishy to me!)
  • In a list of items, such as my Inbox in Entourage, I couldn't select a contiguous list using the Shift key, nor could I use the Command key to select multiple, non-contiguous items.
  • When I tried to run Activity Monitor, I couldn't bring the main windows up, no matter what I did.  The application was running, but I couldn't see it.  This is the point where I started to think seriously about it being malware.

The good newses* are:

  1. I backup with Time Machine, so if it is really bad, I can get a new hard drive and reinstall everything.
  2. I have another Mac, so I can run the scan from the iMac but slave my McBook to it as a hard drive.
  3. I have the special Firewire cable required to do the job.

Turns out, my MacBook was infected with the:

Javs/TrojanDownloader.OpenStream.W trojan

It's been removed from my Mac and all is well (or appears to be.  I will be checking my credit card charges more often for a while just to be sure.)

The two takeaways from this are:

  1. Macs CAN get infected these days.
  2. Malware CAN get by security software.
  3. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS back up your data!
  4. Even someone who takes great care can have their computer get infected.  No one is immune.

(There are three types of people in the world - those who can count and those who cannot.)

I don't know how the trojan got on my Mac, so I'll be watching the 'Net for more info.

I used the assistance of the expert computer folks who hang out at Experts-Exchange.com.  As often happens there, I am indebted to "strung" for helping solve the problem.  The thread can be found here (you may need to create an account to see it, but there are free accounts):

http://www.experts-exchange.com/Apple/Operating_Systems/Q_27488418.html?cid=239#a37272849

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* - Yeah.  I know.  It just sounded like that ought to be the word to use.

Apple unveils latest product where I learn yoga!

***Warning***

There is yoga geek speak in this post.  If you don't do yoga, I apologize in advance for the terminology.  Just slog through it to get to the juicy stuff!


I went to my Swaroopa yoga class last night.  Right off the bat I knew something was different. I could hear an unknown female voice coming from the studio.  When I got in the room, I realized our instructor, Cayla, had a new iPhone 4Stm and was showing it off to one of my classmates.  The voice was Siri, a human interface built into the phone.  It was pretty cool, but not why I came to class, so I began to set up for yoga.
I got my pads, blankets, and blocks and built my stack.  Normally, I grab an eye pillow and Kleenextm before I lay down to begin shavasana, but this time I forgot.  Cayla is always asking if someone needs anything before class starts, so I asked for an eye pillow.  I was already relaxed, laying with my eyes closed when she handed me the tissue, which I laid across my eyes.  I heard, distantly (since I was beginning to reach a meditative state), a box opening and plastic wrapping being scrunched, and the next thing I new, Cayla had placed something odd across my eyes. 

I knew it wasn't a standard eye pillow.  When she laid it on me, it was a little rigid, but then it kinda moved and shaped itself to my face.  It became really soft!

Right about then, Cayla tells me that Terri, the studio owner, had gotten hold of some new product for the studio that was being tested for the first time IN OUR CLASS!  Terri had somehow convinced Appletm to use her studio for the testing of their newest product,

The iPillowtm*!!

Oh. My. God.  Thank you, Steve Jobs!!

This thing is state-of-the-art yoga stuff!  It senses when it has encountered a human face and the hardware transmografies the device into a pliable, satin-encased bean bag!  Not only that, but the software releases a wonderful lavender/peppermint aroma that seduced me into relaxing even more.

It was so great that when Cayla told us to move out of shavasana and into the first pose, I didn't hear her.  She had to physically shake me a little to bring me out of my deep meditative state!

Wow!

I went through the rest of the class like I was in a trance.  I couldn't wait to set up and go into final shavasana!

This morning, in the hospital, while they were giving me intravenous fluids (I got dehydrated laying there for the 12 hours it took for them to wake me the second time), I found out that we were a beta site for the iPillowtm (how cool it THAT??) and that it won't be released until January 2012.  It will come in a variety of radiant colors (I think Apple'stm engineerstm must work overtime to create wavelengthstm of light that humanstm have never seen before), and they will add a new aroma that they are still working the bugs out of.  They told me that the aroma will have it's own product name,

iChamomile(c) **

 (pronounced "eye-chi-mom-illee", sorta like iChichuahua {tm Desi Arnaz, I think}).

I can't wait for it to finally come out!  They told me they would provide me with several almost-free ($59 - 25% off list!) iPillowstm just before the official release to make up for the half day or so of my life I lost in the hospital.  VERY cool!  I can give them out to my closest friends and family, and we can all share adjoining private rooms at St. Joe's up on Pill Hill!!!

I'm told my insurance will cover the costs.

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* - I was going to embed a photo of the device, but it's still in development and Apple won't let me.  Sorry!

** - this term is licensed by Apple from Chris Jonestm, currently residing in San Francisco with his lovely and intelligent wife, my daughter.  They were able to buy a nice little home (5000 sq ft) on top of a hill overlooking the city with the proceeds of the license agreement.  'Way to go, Chris!

This blog is written by Sid Plait, owner of Plait Solutions, LLC, a technology consulting company operating in the North Atlanta area in Georgia (tm the United States of America (tm every Native American tribe), working with homeowners and micro businesses to make sure they have the right technology and that it functions properly so that they can go about their lives and businesses as efficiently as possible.  (This paragraph is true.)

GREEN Electronics Recycling Event #2 in the Lower Woodstock area on October 22nd!!

If you live in the North Atlanta area, please come visit us on 22 October, 2011, for this event.  All of the details are listed below.  You'll find directions below the flyer.

I'll be there destroying hard drives, so bring yours, either in the computer or out (there is a fee for this service - see the announcement below).  I'm bringing a drill and a sledge hammer, so you know it will be destroyed!

This one is sponsored by:











The Woodlands Community is located on Highway 92 (Alabama Road) in Lower Woodstock, about 8.2 miles from Highway 9 (on the right) and about 4.4 miles from I-575 (on the left).  Turn onto Woodlands Parkway and go about 0.5 miles or so to where the pool and clubhouse are (you can't miss it) and look for the recycling truck with this logo:



A friend and I were responsible for recycling almost 2 tons of stuff last year at one event.  This year, my goal is 10 tons between the two events (see last post for info on the Dunwoody event on the 24th)!

Come help out Beverly and me, and save some of the planet while you're at it!

Thanks in advance!!!

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GREEN Electronics Recycling Event in the North Atlanta, GA, USA area on October 24th in Dunwoody!!

If you live in the North Atlanta area, please come visit us on 24 October, 2011, for this event.  All of the details are listed below.  I'll be there destroying hard drives, so bring yours, either in the computer or out (there is a fee for this service - see the announcement below).  I'm bringing a drill and a sledge hammer, so you know it will be destroyed!

This one is sponsored by:



&




Come see us!!  Be good to the planet.  After all, if we kill it, where will we live?


A request for feedback

To my readers:

My last post had a link in it to an article on MSNBC about Mac batteries and the possibility that the bad guys could hack the processor in those batteries to attack the computer it is attached to.

Did you know to click the link?  Should I have made it clear that, to get more information, "please click the link"?

Are you getting any benefit from this blog?

I want to be effective in my pursuit to pass along the information I have so that my readers can be aware of how to take better care of their computers and be safe on the Internet.  Am I doing that?

What can I do to entice you to write comments here?  I would like this to be an interactive blog.

Please post comments here so I can improve.

Thank you!


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Mac Hack Attack - Next Stop: Batteries??

It's been clear to many of us propeller heads that practically anything that has a digital processor (CPU) can be the engine for delivery of malware.  It's lucky for us civilians that there are geeks and nerds looking out for us, working hard to determine potential avenues of attack, figuring out how they can be used, and patching those security holes so that we are safer than ever (but never totally safe, unfortunately) from outsiders modifying our computers to be bad against our desires.

So, someone has been looking at computer batteries - those used in Apple PCs in particular.  Thank you VERY much!

It pays to be vigilant!

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Apparently, AOL cares less about you than AT&T - if that's possible

According to this post on The Faster Times, AOL had writers writing short articles about TV shows for the AOL TV listings for the sole purpose of getting AOL subscribers to click through the listings.  AOL would then play an advertisement that they got paid for every time it played.

So what, you ask.

Read the title of this post again.

Basically, AOL is using you (their subscribers) to make money in a fraudulent way.  The actual listings weren't really about the show, so your click paid them and you were inconvenienced for a short time.

The execs at AOL were basically forcing these writers to make up reviews to get you to click.  They admitted it!

For years I have told my clients who use AOL to continue to do so if that's what they want.  Most of them like the format and they are used to it.  While I don't want to inconvenience my clients by asking them to change to a browser client (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, whatever) and an email client (Outlook, Windows Mail, Mail, Entourage), I am certainly going to tell them about this and give them the choice.

I hate being manipulated so that someone else makes money, and I will tell everyone I know about this.  However, sadly, after reading the comments made in Oliver's post, it seems like there are many companies doing this.


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Power Grid Experiment Will Make some Clocks Run Fast

(My apologies to my subscribers who are seeing this for the third time.  My original post was accidentally deleted by my hosting company, so I had to republish.)

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Have you ever noticed that the time on your cell phone is often different than the time on your stove or other electric clock?  There's a good reason for that and it may get worse.

Cell phones and the landline telephone system (you remember Ma Bell, right?) run off of an atomic clock.  So do the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Internet, and many laboratories where timing of events is a critical part of the experiments.  Atomic clocks keep time for the entire world and are used because their accuracy is extremely high, and the systems that keep time by them need the accuracy.  The U.S. atomic clock is maintained by NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology).

The electric power grid helps keep time another way.  Our electrical system in the U.S. operates at 60 cycles per second.  I won't go into the science of all this here, because I don't want to put you to sleep.  You can do research on the Internet if you want more detail.  Electric clock that don't use the atomic clock system rely on the number of cycles in the grid to be 60 per second.  These clocks count the cycles they see and change the time they display accordingly, one second per every 60 cycles.

The power grid has pretty good accuracy, so electric clocks do pretty well in keeping time, but the power grid is not as reliable as the atomic clocks, so that the stove clock doesn't keep time as well as your cell phone does.

OK.  Four paragraphs to get to what I want to tell you:  The people who run the power grid in the U.S. want to experiment with the frequency of cycles they transmit in order to determine whether or not they can make the grid more reliable.  This has nothing to do with keeping time better; it is about making sure that electricity can be delivered more reliably.  The experiment will involve moderating the number of cycles per second generated by the grid, and it will last for a year..

While I don't know the specifics of the experiment or how it will make power delivery more reliable, I know this - it will mess with your electric clocks, making them think time is passing faster than it truly is.  Therefore, your electric clocks will run fast.  This won't affect any clocks that run off the atomic clock.

The experiment is something deemed necessary, so it may very well go on.  I don't know when it is scheduled to start, but at some point you will be very annoyed that your clocks don't all read the correct time more frequently than they do now.

Just thought you'd want to know!

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FBI nabs "scareware" perps

By now, almost everyone has heard about the pop up malware that tells you your computer is infected and then tells you to update your security software.  If you haven't, try reading here, here, and here.

Yesterday, the FBI and police in the U.S. and seven other countries shut down a ring that had placed "scareware" on almost 1 million PCs around the world, netting the criminals $72 million and, most likely, very long prison terms.

MSNBC shared the Reuters story online.

A few weeks ago, U.S. federal officials declared that attacks against U.S. Government and other sites could be considered terrorism and acts of war against the U.S.  Guilty parties would be handled appropriately for that charge.  The U.S. has asked the rest of the world to enact similar legislation and to fight against the criminals. 

Last week, Japanese officials passed a law against individuals perpetrating cybercrime.

Eventually, I think (and hope), all cybercrimes that interfere with computers doing their jobs will be classified as terrorism. In the meantime, take some solace that police officials all over the world are doing what they can to keep this type of crime to a minimum.

You probably are beginning to hear more and more about "cloud" computing.  The term "cloud" is another word describing the Internet in all its iterations.  Cloud computing is about not using what we think of as a PC anymore, but having a simple device that accesses the Internet to do what PCs do now.  The device will be more than just a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, but less than a PC.  What I think this means, at least partially, is that we individuals and small businesses will no longer be subject to infections in our PCs ('cause we won't have them), and the cloud will be the target.  That looks to be a much better scenario for us.  We won't have to fight the fight against cybercriminals anymore.  We won't need Internet security packages anymore.  The fight will be handled at a much higher level.

That's great news.  However, I think it will be many years before homeowners and small businesses really begin to use The Cloud (we capitalize the word "Internet", so I figure we should do the same here) the way it is envisioned by the experts.  This will probably happen in my lifetime, but likely not in my pre-retirement years.

Weird FaceBook Consequences

I have warned in the past about posting stuff on Facebook and other social media sites.  You have to be careful about what you put out there. 

I have a personal Facebook page and a business page, and the other day I posted a comment that I thought was going to my wall, but ended up on my business page.  I didn't realize that, if I log into my business page and then walk away from my Mac, then, even if I log out of my browser and come back to Facebook, I'm still logged in as a business user (I know.  There's a setting for that.  I've already fixed it.).  My fault, and, hopefully, I won't do that again.

I doubt there will be any repercussions from that mistake. It was not that kind of post.

However, the news this morning is that a young lady in Berlin was going to celebrate her 16th birthday with a party, and used FB to invite her closest, real life (not FB ) friends.  Only problem was, she wasn't careful.

Go ahead.  Chuckle if you want.  The only problem is that you may do something like that one day if you aren't careful.  However, no matter how hard you try, there will be a time when you aren't paying attention and you will slip, just like I did.

That's one of the real dangers of social media.  There are people all over the world just waiting for that slip.

Be careful out there.

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