Archive for November 20, 2010

Untitled Newsletter

In this edition:

An assortment of news, nothing too serious.

Assorted News:
AlternativeTo – find alternatives for programs you like.
Bundled Crap – it affects us all.
Time to Get Rid of Java?
How to recognise a fake virus warning.
Block Those Ads 🙂
Tips for buying a new laptop.
New plans again at Exetel.

General Ramblings:
Bunnings for Lunch?
Why I use the NECU
Three way VoIP calling
Turn your Nokia mobile into a wireless router.

Bluebirdy Blues.
The Skype Wall?
Weekend Woodies.

AlternativeTo – Find alternatives to the programs you like.

This tip is particularly handy for tinkering types who like to try out new programs.

If you’ve ever gone looking on Google for something like “dvd copier” or “convert wav to mp3” or some other thing you think must exist, odds are you’ll be given the same answers repeatedly, but the websites that you go to will instead try to give you everything else that you don’t want including registry cleaners (which are all snake oil by the way) and driver updaters. In short, it’s a complete disaster that Google seems to have no interest in dealing with.

Instead, there’s a great site called AlternativeTo.

As an example, if you type in “DVD ripper” (which is any program that stores a copy of a DVD on your computer) you’ll first get a number of programs that seem to be DVD rippers. Click on one of them and you’ll be given a list in descending order of popularity for all the DVD ripping programs that are known to exist.

The trick to this site is knowing that the program you click on then appears at the top of the list, and you need to read the area in black to find out all about that program. It doesn’t tell you which are free and which are commercial, but at least it helps keep you clear of the fake pages that Google gives you which only exist to make money for the page authors.

Bundled Crap – it affects us all…

Many companies that provide free programs on the Internet have a nasty habit of trying to trick you into installing things you don’t need. The biggest culprit at the moment would have to be Adobe Flash, with Java a likely second. When installing updates from these companies, watch carefully so you can untick these unwanted extras. (Example at )

Things that commonly hitch a ride are
OpenOffice, Yahoo Toolbar, Toolbar, Google Toolbar, Google Chrome, McAfee Security Scan, Norton Security Scan.

If you do accidentally end up with one of these things and you don’t want it, you can remove it from your computer via the Control Panel section.

By the way, the reason you should keep Flash and Java up to date is because the majority of ‘viruses’ written at the moment use faults inside these two programs to take over your computer – usually but not always via poisoned advertisements.

Time to Get Rid of Java?

Java appears to be becoming a dying technology. It is now rarely used. The only programs I regularly see that use Java (not to be confused with the more popular JavaScript) are Limewire (now defunct), FrostWire (its open-source freebie equivalent) and the ATO’s E-Commerce site. Oh, and if you use OpenOffice you need to keep it.

If I read correctly, Microsoft has encountered more than six million computers infected so far this quarter by virsues that use Java to get into the computer.

So, if you’re not using it, it might be time to get rid of it. It’s in Start –> Control Panel –> Add/ Remove programs or Uninstall a program. You might have several copies too by the way.

If you do need it, just make sure you run the updates every time one is offered.

If you get rid of it, then find you need it again, most programs that need it will automatically go and fetch it again.

How to recognise a fake Virus warning…

Here is an example of a fake virus warning.

What it actually is, is just a picture on a web page, designed to look like a legitimate warning from Windows.

If you were to actually click on the “Remove” button, your computer would then download a ‘virus’ – or technically a fake antivirus program which will then incessantly nag you to buy it, and most likely prevent you from opening any programs on the computer.

Probably the biggest giveaway to watch out for is that this fake warning does not bear the name of your antivirus program. If you have Avast for example, any message warning of a virus would bear the Avast logo. Similarly, a Microsoft Security Essentials or Norton / Trend window would bear the name of that program. It’s also very unlikely you’d suddenly get ten different viruses at once 🙂

Anyway, how could you avoid getting this type of bogus warning in the first place…. read on…

Block Those Ads 🙂

When I set up a new computer for a customer, I almost always put “Mozilla Firefox” on it. Why? Well, because it can be easily customised.

Once of the customisations available is a feature called “AdBlock Plus”. This blocks almost all advertisements on all webpages.

As mentioned earlier, many viruses come through malicious advertisements – either advertisements that take advantage of a fault in the computer to get in – or play a trick by popping up a fake ‘you’ve got blah blah viruses click here to remove’ message.

By blocking these ads, you also block that risk. (For added security, you can run FlashBlock as well, or for really high security run NoScript as well.)

Of course, by blocking ads you are denying a small amount of money to the website you visit; so if it’s a site you trust you can disable it for that site. For those of you on expensive Satellite connections, it saves you a fair bit on downloads too 🙂

You can get firefox at and once installed click Tools – Add-Ons, Get Add-Ons and search for AdBlock Plus. When Firefox restarts select the English ad blocking list subscription and you’re done.

Tips for buying a new laptop.

This is a question I get asked every week. Generally speaking, for those of you that just do basic accounting work and use the Internet, there’s not much need to buy a particularly expensive laptop. Also, as far as brands go it’s hard to really pick one over the others these days for reliability.

My general advice is to duck in to Harvey Norman, RetraVision and Dick Smith to see what’s there. See what appeals to you design-wise. The general tips are to look for at least dual core processors, or the i3, i5, i7 range. Hard drive at least 320G and RAM at least 2G. You might also care about things like whether it has a webcam built in, how heavy it is and what the battery life is like. Whether or not it includes Microsoft Office (Word and Excel, etc) might also matter to you.

One handy resource for comparing multiple laptops at once is

Oh, and if you want an Apple – that’s OK too. Provided you don’t need to run any Windows-only programs. (Accounting programs in particular are a concern here.) It is possible to run Windows on an Apple with some fiddling. Some printers may not work on Apple computers.

New Plans again at Exetel.

Once again, Exetel has played with their plans a bit, so it might be worth having a look to see what plan you’re on now and what you could be getting for the same price. For example with ADSL, $38 a month will now get 50GB a month, or $53 will now get you an unlimited downloads plan – both at 1500kbps, but only if you change from your existing plan. They also have some new wireless plans at $30 for 3GB or $45 for 5GB, and a more reasonable $20 per GB over. More details: and

Telstra’s wireless plans are still fairly good too – see

Bunnings for Lunch?

It’s funny talking to customers about the recent appearance of Bunnings in town. Some love it, some hate it. Some never leave Guyra 🙂

In my opinion, it’s just more competition; so it doesn’t really worry me. They have some stuff I can’t get elsewhere.

When lunch time comes around, I’m usually to be found grabbing a quick pie at the North Hill bakery or the Guyra bakery. However, thereafter it’s usually time to, ahem, spring a leak somewhere. Guyra is well catered for in terms of toilets for travellers; but Armidale is far less so. As a result, depending on the day I sometimes sacrifice a little on the pie quality for the convenience of a generic plastic-wrapped reheated Bunnings pie followed by a Bunnings Dunny. (The public ones that is, not the ones that are waiting for a new home.)

I guess this is one of the reasons Maccas does so well – people know they’re going to be able to eat and leak. Bakeries rarely do. I don’t mind the occasional Maccas meal, but since the food there is so cheap, I worry about what conditions the donor animals lived in before becoming my Quarter Pounder – that information is not printed on the placements. Admittedly, a Bunnings Pie might also have come from a battery cow so perhaps that’s a slight double-standard on my part…

Why I use the NECU?

.. or whatever they’re called these days.

There were two things that first made me change to them years ago. Bank fees, and opening hours. I get very frustrated when I go to any retailer and they’re ‘closed for lunch.’ Surely lunch time is often the only time people have free to go to these places in the first place?

However more recently I was saved by another default feature of their accounts.

With traditional banks, each account is a distinct entity, and if it gets overdrawn you generally get whacked some nasty fees. However, with the NECU you have one master account and many sub-accounts. If you overdraw the master, it can automatically raid the sub-accounts.

Earlier this week I was slack and didn’t check the balance at the end of the month in the master account. Sure enough, Exetel’s direct debits hit it and it goes overdrawn. About 10 transactions automatically came out of the tax reserve sub-account rather than whacking me for big ‘failed transaction’ fees. I don’t know for sure, but that probably saved me about $300 or more had I been with a different bank.

I suspect this feature might be optional at banks as well, but haven’t looked. I should give the CBA credit for supplying me with a Merchant Facility many years ago that I still use today, and the NAB for the first home loan before it moved over to the CBA.

Three Way VoIP calling.

For those of you using Exetel VoIP still, just thought I’d let you know that it’s possible to make three way calls with this service if your modem supports it. (All Billions / Open Networks ones do I believe.) In my case this is handy if needing to speak to Telstra and an account holder simultaneously. has more details.

These calls are at the usual VoIP rate, so for 20 cents you can talk to two people in Australia for as long as you like.

Turn your Nokia Mobile into a Wireless Router.

If you have a reasonably capable Nokia mobile – for example the E51 or something more recent that has WiFi built in, there’s a free program you can load onto it that will turn it into a wireless router. (Note, some modern fancy phones like the iPhone, some Android phones, etc, also have this capability built in.)

What does that mean?

It means you can stick your phone somewhere that it gets reception, press a couple of buttons, and then get online within about 20 metres of it using your Laptop. No wires needed.

This could be really handy in the following situations:

1 – You’re on Satellite, and it’s a cloudy day. Your Internet won’t connect. Your phone only works in the window, and you need to send some emails.

2 – You’re in the car and want to look up something on the ‘net.

3 – You’re on wireless broadband at the edge of reception and it’s having a bad day. Your phone gets reception in the window or in the car.

4 – You’re somewhere that has no internet at all, but your phone works.

(Note: Mobile phones generally have stronger antennas built in than those inside USB sticks.)

You might even already have some free downloads on your plan and not know it. To check, press the “Telstra” or “My Place” button on your phone, go to “My Account” and “Data Usage” to see how many MB you have.

A big warning however – these plans still have super-high excess usage fees on them, so you need to be careful not to go over the limit. They will SMS you when you get close however so it’s not extremely dangerous.

The pricing for doing this (if it’s not included on your plan) is at

One good bit of news is that there is no contract on doing this, so you can arrange for a browsing pack before going away and cancel it when you get back, etc.

For the Nokias, the free /program is at – or you can install it on your phone directly by going to with your mobile’s web browser. (You can buy a fancy version as well, but in rural areas it’s probably not necessary.

Bluebirdy Blues?

Modern cars use computers to control the motor. Mine doesn’t. Instead it uses a funny arrangement of levers, sprays, wires, pumps and holes to get the juice in it to make it go. A couple of weeks ago it decided that it would try to save fuel by stalling whenever I stopped. A Guyra mechanic had a look for me but sadly only made it worse so sometimes it would die, and other times without warning it’d try to take off again. Predictable I can handle, unpredictable not so much 🙂

Anyway, so it went to an Armidale mechanic who tamed it again somewhat – not quite perfect but better than it was before it went to the Guyra mechanic.

Modern Mechanics are not the same as old ones. Modern mechanics have the luxury of computers that tell them why the car won’t go 🙂 It’s getting harder to find mechanics who fully understand the older style – particularly when it comes to the ‘fancy’ ones like this; so I’ve had to teach myself just what all the bits are for on the ol’ bugger. One handy resource has been which explains what most of the weird add-on bits are.

Of course, some of you wonder why I persist with an older vehicle? The main reason is because it sat in a shed for 8 years, and had a new motor not long before that; so in my mind at least it should still have some useful life in it. (Unfortunately rubber ages irrespective of use, which is bad news for vacuum-driven thinggies.)

Of course, rego’s nearly due now, and it failed a safety check because of a small transmission leak, and amusingly also because the drivers side door hinges are worn out. (I guess my sticker “pull door towards you to open” stuck above the handle as a courtesy to the mechanic might have given that away.) I have ordered new hinges for it (since there are none left in Guyra / Armidale wreckers) and am getting the very last original door hinge to come off the production line. A new TVV is on its way too so I can get the scavenger tank working again.

Anyway, so I’m back on the road again – hopefully for another year. If you know anyone who specialises in dual-throat carbies with Hot Idle Compensators, EGR, Positive Crank Case Ventilation, Fast Idle cams, dual ignitions and a BCDD, let me know 🙂

The Skype Wall?

Here’s an idea that would have been Sci-Fi years ago. It would now be possible to set up a projector (or big TV) and a webcam in two premises and have a skype video conference open between them. Imagine for example that you and your family had to be split up for a few months. You could pick a wall in each house and use it to link to a wall in the other. You could meet up at brekkie time for example, or just glance over in the afternoon for a chat. In these days of relatively cheap unlimited Internet plans it is a possibility 🙂

Weekend Woodies!

The Weekend Woodies is not yet available as a traditional PodCast, but you can listen to the last week’s episode at – if you don’t know what it is, it’s a comedy radio show for DIY renovators who call in with assorted questions.

Well that’s it for another newsletter 🙂 Thanks for reading 🙂
Cheers, Mike.

Old Editions
You can find old editions of this newsletter on the CCC Blog.

You can also subscribe or unsubscribe at

How to make conference calls on Open 824RLW and Billion 7404VGP

How to make conference calls on Open 824RLW and Billion 7404VGP

OK, so today I needed to make a conference call to Telstra and a customer. Thought it was time to work out how to do it.

First note that not all VoIP carriers allow multiple simultaneous calls by default. PennyTel doesn’t. Exetel (my ISP) did. If yours doesn’t you’ll know because when you go to make the second call you’ll probably get a recorded message saying the service is already in use. It’s probably easy to get that changed with your Voip provider.

Next, log in to your modem. (Normally username and password are admin.)

Next, click Configuration –> VoIP –> Call Features.

Click “Enable” for Conference call on the line(s) you want to use. (Might as well click both Line 1 and Line 2 while you’re at it.)

Next, click Apply; and if you want this to remain as a setting after the next power outage, also click the blue “Save Settings” button.

Now, to test it

1 – Dial the first person. When they pick up, and you’re ready to get the next person, press the Recall / Flash button on your phone. You’ll get another dial tone, and the first party will probably hear some piano music.

2 – Dial the second person. If this step works, you can now talk to the second person.

3 – Now, press the Recall / Flash button. You’ll probably just end up talking to the first person again.

4 – Now, press the Recall / Flash button once more and *hopefully* you’re now in a conference call!

If you have sufficient phones at home you might want to practice this a few times first.

These instructions adapted from but differed in step 3 and 4 above.