Archive for June 28, 2008

[ccc-news] Assorted News 11 :)

[ccc-news] Assorted News 11 🙂

In this edition:

This is an out-of-sequence, special edition.

Important News
VoIP Users – Reminder on dial tones.

Multimedia Special
Free Discovery Channel, Sports & More
The Match Game – remember Blankety Blanks?

VoIP Users – Reminder on Dial Tones

A new VoIP customer has somehow managed to rack up a big Telstra bill despite having a brand new VoIP service. Just as a reminder to those of you using VoIP – please pay attention to the dialtone that your VoIP phone produces. If your VoIP modem is unable to connect to the Internet at any time, it may connect you directly to Telstra instead. You’ll be able to tell this because the dial tone will be Telstra’s. Also, the lights on your modem tell you if you’re connected to VoIP or to the Telstra line – so if you’re making a long call, and you’re not 100% sure that you’re on VoIP, check the lights to be sure. (The ‘Line’ light is on if you’re on Telstra, whereas handset 1 or 2 is on if you’re on VoIP.) On some handsets, especially Uniden cordless phones, pressing the talk button twice will also switch your call over to Telstra.

Free Discovery Channel, Sports & More.

Last week a customer signed up with me for Broadband in order to watch motorbike racing via the Internet. He’d paid for a subscription service from an American company, but we were unable to get the information through the Internet fast enough to be watchable in real time. We could pull in information at full speed in Australia, but traffic from America was not coming through fast enough.) Anyway, while waiting for a response from that company, I set off on a Google quest to see if there was another way…

I’ve mentioned Orb before – a program that lets you watch your TV from anywhere on the Internet. This works well if you have friends with pay tv and a suitable computer as you can watch their pay tv at the same time that they are – provided you both want to watch the same channel! To learn about this program go to

This wouldn’t work for this particular customer because his friends use satellite internet which is just too expensive for watching video with. So, I did another hour’s research and eventually stumbled upon information about a program called Sopcast. It’s a program that allows people to stream live TV / Video to multiple people at once. Once loaded, it lists multiple channels that it knows about – and I believe there are other channels available via the Internet but I haven’t researched this. The channels in the list seem to come from Singapore because the ads tend to show starting times for South East Asia, Bangkok and Seoul – and naturally many of the shows are not in English. However, a number of them are in English with Chinese (I think they’re Chinese) subtitles. The current list has ESPN Sports, National Geographic and Discovery channel, along with about 100+ others that I don’t know what they are.

Now, of course there’s a question as to whether this is legal. Google seems to show that it is – or at least the program itself is. After all, the program simply takes video from one place and sends it to other places. How the broadcasters could prevent it is hard to know – because of the peer to peer nature of the program (each watcher also sends to other watchers) it’s probably hard to trace the source – and if the source is in a country like Sweden where there are few copyright laws then killing it is probably impossible. Use it at your own risk of course.

On the technical side, you need to have a fast broadband plan of at least 1500k/sec (which is $40 a month with me / Exetel or $60-$80 a month with BigPond) or else the video won’t play. (It might almost play on 512k but I’m not sure about that.) It’ll also count as a fairly big download while you’re watching it – probably a couple of hundred megabytes per hour – and it uploads about half that at the same time. It doesn’t seem to use any downloads or uploads when it’s not running.

So, if you want to check it out – it’s a free download from .

Oh, and if you have a new TV and a laptop, many new TVs let you connect your laptop to them so you can have the big screen experience.

The Match Game

Some of you might remember a show called Blankety Blanks. Well, back in the ’70s there was a show in America called The Match Game, which was much the same. Recently a number of episodes (or parts thereof) have been turning up on YouTube – see – so if you want to relive your childhood, or the simpler days of TV, enjoy!


[ccc-news] Assorted News 11 – Addendum

An addendum to the last newsletter.

Sopcast & Spyware

Sopcast doesn’t contain spyware. However, one of you has just advised me that some of the sites that are accessible from the ‘home’ tab in the SopCast player do have spyware. (I hadn’t looked at that page – guess I’ve been on the ‘net too long and am blind to advertising!) The channels I mentioned in the newsletter are on the Live Channels tab, so please ignore the advertising on the Home tab and stick to the channels already in the player to be on the safe side.

Match Game – new address

I found a better link for The Match Game –

[ccc-news] Assorted News 10 :)

[ccc-news] Assorted News 10 🙂

In this edition:

Important News
Potential AVG Problem for Dialup or Small Download Limited customers

Firefox 3 arriving soon…
A new Security Scanner – Secunia PSI
Reminder: OpenDNS

Free online First Aid course
Ripoffs of the Month
Oops! I almost set fire to a computer!
That Flat Batt
Reddit Imroved.
Read @ Work

Potential AVG Problem for Dialup or Small Download Limited customers

There is a new feature in AVG called “AVG Safe Search.” It’s designed to give you a warning when you go to Google, Yahoo, etc if any of the resulting pages are malicious. However, their approach to this problem is a little unique! In the background it invisibly opens up each page in the search results to check if there are any nasties on it. This has some side effects.

1 – If you’re on dialup, you know how long it takes just one page to load. Opening 10 pages at once in the background will take an unpleasantly long time.

2 – For any Internet connection, if you’re paying by the amount you download; opening 10 pages at once could eat a fair chunk of your allowance each time you go a’googlin!

Fortunately it is quite simple to turn off this feature if you don’t want it.

For Internet Explorer 7, click the Tools menu and choose “Manage Add-Ons.” Click on AVG Safe Search, and then click Disable, OK.

For Firefox 2, click Tools and choose “Add-Ons.” Click on AVG Safe Search, and then click Disable, OK.

In rare cases, it is rumoured that this feature can go completely nuts and repeatedly download the same page over and over in the background – one report on the net showed someone’s computer downloaded the same page 20,000 times in a day. More information about this new feature and it’s side effects are available at

Firefox 3 Coming Soon…

Mozilla has made some significant improvements to their Firefox web browser, and is expected to release their newest version on Tuesday. They’re aiming to set a world record by getting at least 1.6 million downloads in 24 hours, so there’s a chance that your computer might automatically fetch it if you’re a Version 2 user.

The biggest improvements are in speed and memory usage, along with a nice new address bar that automatically searches for things you’ve been to before when you type words into it.

As usual, for safer browsing I recommend you download it and also install the Adblock Plus and Flashblock add-ons (by clicking Tools –> Add-ons), since malicious advertising is a major source for viruses and spyware. You will be able to get it from . It also appears to be faster than Firefox 2 on Dialup due to less precacheing. (I’m using a preview version.)

Oh and of course, my absolute favourite feature of this new version is that it can remember the zoom level of each website you’ve been to. The writing on laptops is after all usually too small, so by having it remember the zoom level for each site, it saves the hassle of doing Ctrl + or Ctrl – each time you go to a new site. There’s an add-in called “NoSquint” which also allows you to set a default zoom level for every new page.

A New Security Scanner – Secunia PSI

Many viruses and spyware programs take advantage of known vulnerabilities in programs on a computer in order to infect them. Most people use virus scanners, etc, in an attempt to catch these things when they happen. For example, there are some bugs that spread by sending a poisoned PDF file to Adobe Reader. When an older version of Adobe gets one of these, it dies, giving control of the computer to whoever wrote the bug. Likewise, QuickTime can be poisoned. So too can that Adobe Flash player thing that you might have seen at some point. Java, too, can be attacked. So can Windows itself, which is why every second Tuesday your computer (hopefully) updates itself with that little yellow shield thing near the clock, taking care of Microsoft’s own vulnerabilities.

Of course, not all viruses and spyware work this way – lots of them use lies and trickery instead 🙂 (For example, popping up a box saying ‘spyware found on your computer – click here to fix it’, which translates to ‘click here to download a spyware program which will pretend you have a virus and ask you for some money to buy a program to remove it.’ etc.)

If you’re a paranoid or techy type, or even just curious to see what out-of-date vulnerable programs are on your computer, there’s a great new program called Secunia PSI which scans your computer and tells you what’s out of date, as well as giving you one-click buttons to update the relevant programs. It’s free from – although it’s still quite new and occasionally sits there for a minute looking like it’s doing nothing, so don’t worry if it seems momentarily lifeless – it’s just distracted 🙂

Reminder: OpenDNS

Many of the more expensive antivirus programs will check the webpages you visit against lists of known bad sites – but this slows down your computer as it has to look up each page each time. You can offload this task to a company called OpenDNS for free by changing one setting on your computer. (Changing your DNS server to If you want to know more, ask me or check out

Free Online First Aid Course

I’ll admit I haven’t actually done the course myself yet – but I really should as it’s been 14 years since I last did one. St John Ambulances is running a free online First Aid Course website at – so if you’ve got 30 minutes spare it might be worth a look. (Fortunately no customers have tried to die on me – at least not while I’ve been on call!)

Rip-Offs of the Month.

How Much

A customer called me because she had a virus on her computer and she’d been quoted $700 by a local franchise competitor to repair it – that price apparently including $120 just to make a backup before doing any work, plus a new copy of office since she’d lent her disk to a relative. $120 for a backup? Blimey! It’s really not that hard for us techs just to hook up a removeable hard disk and copy the Documents and Settings folder – takes about 10 mins of our attention max, then we just leave the computer for an hour and come back to it when it’s done.

It turned out to be a typical sypware attack and I had it gone in about 40 mins. Total cost after other work to tidy up and help protect the PC: $65.

I get mildly burnt on eBay

A customer had a bad screen on his laptop. Buying a replacement screen is about $200 to $300 normally. In this case there was a matching model laptop on eBay with an apparent intermittent fault with the laptop turning off without warning. (Not unusual for that older model of Toshiba.) So I ended up getting it for $350, figuring I’d have some valuable parts left over after swapping out the screen. None of that quite went to plan this time around.

1 – The laptop would not power up at all when it arrived – no power light at all.
2 – The screen, when swapped, didn’t fix the problem so the customer’s laptop had a more serious fault that would be beyond repair.

I soon discovered why the laptop was sold. Some bugger had spilt water on the touchpad area, and by the time it had arrived here the water had rusted through parts of the mainboard. A reminder to you all, of course, that if you get anything electronic wet, remove all batteries so this doesn’t happen!

In the end, I’ll probably not make a great loss as I’ll be re-selling most of the parts on where listing is free. (I’ve decided to support over eBay for the time being since I don’t like eBay’s strategy of forcing people to use PayPal. Nor did the ACCC – more on that at .)


One nice thing about computers is that they’re normally standardised. However, this isn’t always the case, and I had a reminder of that recently. A very early model Optima computer had a fault that would not allow it to take more than 256M RAM, so it was decided to replace the motherboard. However, the front panel USB connector turned out to be wired in an unusual matter despite the connector being keyed to fit a standard motherboard connector. As a result, when it was turned on, it short circuited 5V through the thin wire, burning off the insulation and creating an impressive cloud of smoke. No real damage fortunately, although the owner did hurry to turn off the smoke detector! Similar traps have existed throughout the years – such as early Dell computers which had power boxes that looked identical to standard ones, but which were wired differently. Connecting a Dell motherboard or Power Supply to a standardised (non-Dell) part usually meant the sudden destruction of one or both components!

The Flat Batt

In the Kingswood there is a box called an Inverter. It takes power from the cigarette lighter and gives you a working power point. (Or in my case a 6 way power board.) Very useful. However, occasionally it catches you. The Friday before the long weekend was a long day, with lights, heater, etc, running, and also a laptop hard disk replacement which was done under battery power while I had lunch. (Takes about an hour to copy a hard disk.) Then there was a long weekend. Then Tuesday. The first job was a long one and flattened the battery of the laptop. So, during the next job, the car charged the laptop, and flattened itself instead! (50 watts for one hour is not normally a problem for the battery, but after Friday and the long weekend, it was.) Fortunately I was parked on the highway and it wasn’t hard to push the car up to 5k/h and then rolling start it in second. I guess it really is time I bought that high capacity battery for the laptop!

Reddit Improved!

Reddit is a site that lists sites that are most popular at any point in time, much like Digg and others. It’s a bit America-centric by default, but now has an easy to use section where you can choose what sorts of stuff you do or don’t want to know about. A warning of course that it might take up a fair bit of your time if you get addicted. – Also in case you don’t know, if you ever see something that says NSFW, that stands for “Not Safe For Work.”

Read @ Work

OK and now for the final story for this newsletter. Someone with too much time on their hands, has created this ‘read at work’ website which takes the contents of a few books, and makes them look like typical office work! Good for a laugh, might get you fired?

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[ccc-news] Assorted News 9 :)

[ccc-news] Assorted News 9 🙂

In this edition:

Important News
Reminder: End of AVG 7.5
HP / Compaq laptop fault (HP DV series, Presario V series)


VoIP Maturing.
The Odd Jobs of the last month.
Petrol Prices
Ubuntu / Unix / Linux

Reminder: End of AVG 7.5 in 6 days.

Just a quick reminder for those of you using the old AVG that you need to upgrade to the new free version in the next few days.

You can get it from

If you want to try a different free virus scanner instead, there is another one called Avast – free from – but don’t forget to uninstall your current virus scanner before installing one of these since computers with two or more virus scanners often crash.

HP / Compaq Laptop Fault.

HP has made a number of laptops that are suicidal. It appears they have set them up with insufficient cooling and so they barbecue themselves to death. (No fire hazard, just a somewhat diminished lifespan.) I’ve seen a couple of laptops fail from this already in the last two months. The update causes the fan in the laptop to run for a longer time to prevent an early death.

If you have an HP laptop, look for the model number – usually on the top right corner of the screen. If it says dv-2000, dv-6000, dv-9000 or similar, you might be affected. The actual model number is underneath – so check it against the list on to see if you need to update the laptop.

This issue also affects Compaq V series laptops (V3000/V6000)

It’s really hard to know what’s a good laptop these days! Every brand has it’s good and bad runs. Toshiba had a bad run in 2005-06 with some laptops, HP has had issues like this, Dell has had issues. Ironically, the laptop I’ve seen with the least issues of late are the cheapest $600 Acers!

Email2Fax, Fax2Email

Faxes are slowly dying out. There are a number of services on the Internet which offer to replace your fax machine and more importantly your fax line. If you’re an Exetel customer you can get this service already. UTBox is another company that offers a similar service, but quite expensive compared to Exetel. (

It works in two ways:

– Email to Fax: In this case you simply email whatever you want to fax to and put your password in the subject line. It costs 3 cents per fax (up to 10 pages) anywhere in Australia.

– Fax to Email: In this case, you pay $1 per month for a dedicated fax number, and any fax sent to that number is delivered to you via email. The only issue here is that the fax number you get is going to be a Sydney / Brisbane / Adelaide or similar number, not a local regional number.

Of course, if you want to fax something that’s on a sheet of paper, it’s hard to beat an old fashioned fax machine. You can still use it on your main phone line to send such faxes, or use your fax’s ‘scan for email’ function instead.

If you’re a business user, if your accounting software has an option to email accounts, and you can get the subject line to stay the same on emails, then you could use this service to add fax capability to your existing software.

Sorry – this newsletter’s a bit short on content, but I wanted to get the HP notice out to you so those affected can get your laptops fixed before they die on you! The remainder of the newsletter is the ‘rambling’ section 🙂

VoIP Maturing

After much trial and error with different equipment, I’m now reasonably satisfied that I’ve found some reliable combinations of VoIP providers and equipment. A $125 integrated ADSL VoIP modem with Exetel or MyNetFone WhirlPool Saver is the way to go. I am doing discounted exchange / upgrades for some clients with older equipment that is not performing as it should.

The Odd Jobs of the last Month

Super Slow Laptop

I’ve actually had three of these this month. The symptom is that it takes your computer literally 1 minute to do the most basic thing. Click Start. Wait a minute. Start menu appears. Some have reported that it only happens when their internet is connected. Turns out it’s an unexplained occurence of the Windows Update service breaking down. If your computer suddenly develops this issue, try clicking start, choosing run, and typing in ‘net stop wuauserv’ and pressing enter. If your computer is suddenly happy again, you’ve got the glitch – which incidentally is easy to fix but involves deleting a few files so get in touch if you need a hand.

Where’s the Black?

The printers seem to be breeding in the office! I’ve had three printer repairs this month where the black simply stopped working. This usually happens with bad cheap inks – especially pigment inks. Fortunately I have some specialised cleaning equipment that has a moderate success rate. They’re frustrating buggers to fix at times ‘tho – typically you get one colour sorted and another one buggers off!

The Accounting Dilemma.

I know a lot about computers. I know somewhat less about accounting software although I have done a course in both. What I do know is if you have a problem with your MYOB or QuickBooks, they want to charge you through the nose for help. In one job I tried to help a customer move from a very old QuickBooks version to a new one, and after a few hours we had to give up since neither us nor Quicken could work out how to get the old info into the new version. (It didn’t like provisional tax, etc.) Fortunately they didn’t charge us for their time although they did sell us an upgrade we later found we didn’t need.

Later, another customer job took almost 6 hours of experimenting to try to migrate from one system to another while selectively retaining information. It’s always a bit of a dilemma to me when these sort of jobs come around – because you have in your mind that if you knew the system well, the answer might be simple; but finding someone who might know those answers (and might not) is prohibitively expensive and the customer has asked you to see if you can work it out instead. Generally I don’t charge the full time on these, since it’s an involuntary learning experience.

My preferred answer, of course, is to get the customer to deregister from GST and / or use the free tax office software E-Record instead since it doesn’t have all this licensing, closed system rubbish that comes with these unwieldy accounting programs – but of course that doesn’t suit many of these customers because of their requirements.

(I was particularly surprised one time when a customer had a friend get them started with MYOB, setting up the information on her own computer, and later giving it to said customer when they were ready for it – only a few months later to be told by MYOB that they have to pay a fee to get the license of the data file transferred because the data file (not the damn program!) belonged to the customer’s friend and not the customer. It didn’t matter to them that the customer had bought their own copy of the program.)

Schni schna schnappi schnappi schnappi schnapp

I wonder how many of you remember that viral song? – A young girl sang it in the radio in Germany and for a little while there it was one of those worldwide internet / radio phenomena.

I mention it here as a segway to the next story. A customer called to say their kids had snapped their screen half off their laptop. (In this case, an ASUS laptop.) Laptop hinges are quite prone to failure as they get older – either through screws getting loose in the hinge area, or through the hinges tightening to the point that they cause the plastic to break instead. In this case, the kids weren’t entirely to blame even tho it appears they did drop it. Some of the screws had come loose and the remaining screw holding a nut into the plastic casing broke away from the plastic, causing the screen to come away from the laptop. A couple of small modifications later and it was back together albeit not quite a strong as before.

The said kid who dropped it was pleased to have me back up her story that she hadn’t been overly rough with it!

So, if your laptop had developed a wobble in the screen – feels a bit loose – it might be a good idea to either tighten the screws yourself (which are usually hidden under rubber covers) or get someone to do that for you 😉

Petrol Prices

I often read about why Petrol prices keep going up. There seem to be two arguments at this time. Some claim it’s Peak Oil (where they can’t find and extract enough oil to cover the demand, so prices rise) while others are claiming it’s Futures Speculation by Hedge Funds. is the last item I read to this effect. If it is the latter, then we’re probably going to be happy soon when they over-gamble (or whatever it is that these people do – I’m not knowledgeable about this stuff yet) and their system crashes bringing the price down with it. If it really is Peak Oil instead, then I guess it’s never going to come down. So, I’ve been thinking to myself at what point does this really worry me, and at this stage I think $3 per litre is the point where I’d start to look at alternative means – or at least have to increase the minimum callout rate.

How about an electric car?

If I had the $10,000 to $15,000 to spare I’d be converting either the spare Nissan Bluebird or the Merc 190b to electric. It’s such an easy thing to do once you have the parts – as you can see by watching the New Zealand series at – and the 70 mile per charge maximum range would suit most of my days, with about $1 of electricity max to recharge – somewhat less with offpeak. (Besides, it’d just be fun to do.)

Unfortunately my disposable income budget doesn’t stretch that far (yet) so how about…

An electric bike?

I recently bought for $120 a 200 watt electric scooter just for a bit of fun and to see how they’re made – because I can use most of the parts anyway if it turned out to be cr*p. It will run 8km on a charge in the hilly Black Mountain terrain and could easily be upgraded to go further – but it’s not entirely practical for on road use out here, and of course I later found out that they’re illegal in every state except Victoria – so now it’s only used for exercising the dog.

It is, however, legal to put an electric motor on a bicycle, although the Australian laws are somewhat backward in this regard only allowing 200 Watts ass opposed to the UK 300 Watt limit and the US 750 Watt limit. As those of you in Guyra have probably seen, you can get away with putting a petrol motor on a bicycle at higher power levels than that legally – so the disparity is unfair and certainly doesn’t encourage green electric transport on this scale. (I might have to learn how to get political on this one – any tips? The Tory party in the UK is working on changing the laws there since they, like Australia, currently also ban Segways.) Nonetheless there are a few legal low-powered kits available but with a starting retail price of $1,000 they’re not exactly cheap. I don’t mind peddling, and ran my business for a few years on abicycle in Bourke where hills were a novelty; but hills here are a bit of a pain 😉

There are of course other more common options with price tags to match – from Vectrix scooters to the Tesla Roadster. For now the Kingswood’s still the roost ruler, although the scooter may yet be ‘grafted’ onto the bike one weekend!

Ubuntu / Unix / Linux

You might have heard of one of these at some point. They’re usually mentioned by ‘geeks’ as a way of getting rid of Microsoft.

I’ve tried a few out of curiosity, and they are certainly improving. Basically instead of running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you run something else that is free, and does the same things as Windows does without all the licensing costs. The latest Ubuntu can also be installed in Windows without having to wipe your hard disk etc so you can try it without risking stuffing up your computer.

I have it running on my laptop so if you’re curious to see what this third option (as opposed to Windows and Mac) looks like, I can give you a demo.