Assorted News 34 – My laptop is a shovel. Made by Toshiba 🙂
In this edition:
Discussing recent scams, how to spot a fake virus warning, new wireless broadband plans, where to recycle old computers, and a new currency that looks interesting.
Recent Phone “Windows Virus” Scams.
New cheaper wireless broadband plans.
How to spot a fake virus warning.
Where to recycle old computers and TVs, buy parts for old computers, or get a cheap computer.
XBMC – Media Player software
BitCoins – an interesting new ‘open source’ global currency.
New way to do your tax
Paragon Go Virtual – save $$$ by putting your old computer inside your new one.
My thoughts on people who “Won’t Use a Computer”
Bluebird Upgrades III
I’m Getting Old – radio station for over ’30s…
Recent Phone “Windows Virus” Scams.
Some enterprising ‘so and so’s have figured out another way to get money out of people. So far only one customer has fallen for it, but many others have heard from them. Basically, out of the blue someone will call you saying your computer has a virus, and that they can fix it for you. They’ll probably direct you the “Event Viewer” (Start – run – eventvwr.msc) where there are almost always a few red ‘error’ messages that are almost always nothing to worry about, but are easily used to convince you there’s something wrong. They’ll then get you to allow them into your computer to rummage around remotely.
Some of them will sell you unnecessary software. Others will pinch your personal data and saved passwords for their own purposes. Some may leave your computer set up so they can acess it again at a later date, so be sure to get it checked by a real tech of you’ve been bitten.
I’m pleased that so many of you have heard from them and not fallen for it. I really recommend not answering the phone these days – use call screening on your answering machine instead. Resist that urge – be rewarded with less telemarketers 🙂
Some new Wireless Broadband plans.
Exetel has just released some new Wireless Broadband plans that will suit those of you who are heavy users of wireless already and keep running into your limit. The new plans are:
5GB per month for $25, 9GB per month for $35, 12GB for $50 and 18GB for $75. Excess is $60 per GB.
These compare reasonably well against Telstra’s NextG browsing packs at http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/browsing_packs.html and even the playing field again…
All come with a one year contract unfortunately, but you know me – I’m usually happy to let you try before you buy for a short time. Outdoor Antennae are available but pricey at $150.
The speed is likely to be 5-10% slower than the premium plans as they are routed differently. I have one on order for testing so I can confirm this next week if anyone’s interested.
How to spot a fake virus warning.
About once a week I’m called out to someone whose computer is telling them it has 18 viruses and won’t let them open anything.
This is almost always due to a ‘fake antivirus’ product that they’ve been tricked into installing.
You can see hundreds of examples of these at http://www.google.com.au/images?q=fake+antivirus&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1113&bih=605
Of course, the best way to avoid these is to use some form of ad-blocker such as AdBlock Plus on Firefox.
However, the easiest way to spot one of these fake warnings is because it doesn’t mention the name of your antivirus product. If you get a real virus, your antivirus program will pop up a warning, and the warning will bear the name of the antivirus product you’re using.
Here’s an example for Microsoft Security Essentials (The “Green Castle” one.) https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TXHbuTwXhBI/AAAAAAAAFDM/Lh46DpIPNVk/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%205032011%2054328%20PM.jpg
Here’s an example for Avast (The “Orange Spinning ‘a'” one) https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TXHcbbw2kCI/AAAAAAAAFDY/6KD231EM7vQ/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%205032011%2054639%20PM.jpg
Notice how in each case, the top left window title shows the name of your antivirus product, and not something they’ve made up 🙂
If you see one of the fake ones, just close that window without clicking on the message.
The good news is that most of these fake antivirus products are relatively easy to kill by restarting in “Safe Mode” (Pressing F8 repeatedly when turning the computer on), clicking start – (run) – msconfig; and unticking the last entry in the “Startup” tab.
Where to Recycle old computers and TVs for free, buy secondhand computers and replacement parts cheap.
Recently the garage, and part of the car port, reached critical mass with old computers that were beyond their useful lives; so I decided to research where to dispose of them. I had heard of some place in Uralla, but a quick Google search turned up the Armidale branch of “Computer Bank New England.” – see http://users.tpg.com.au/cbne/ (There’s also one in Inverell and Uralla.)
This place could also be referred to as the TV graveyard. Imagine an area half the size of a tennis court covered in pallets of old TVs and stereos basking in the sun before being stripped down by volunteers for recycling. (Pictured in the video below 🙂 ) Into electronics? Go there, buy most things $5 each… There are things in the sun that shouldn’t be.
If I was older and retired, I think I know where I’d be 🙂 Lots of stuff to fiddle with there. But I have to earn a substantial crust still, to pay off the house…
Anyway, if you have old computers, printers, laptops, TVs, DVD/VCRs and small appliances with motors that you’re pretty sure are past their useful life; this is probably the place to go.
They are also worth a call if you need a replacement power cord for your laptop / router, some more RAM for your old clunker at a really cheap price, etc or you want a cheap secondhand computer faster than 2GHz. (Computers priced from $30 to $100, and flat screens for $50 or less I think.)
I’m a regular visitor there now so feel free to ask me for more details and I’ll found out when there dropping off more old TVs and the 20 remaining 486/pentium1s that are currently nesting near the Kingswood.
One thing they really lack is decent signage; so here’s a youtube video (straight off the DashCam) that shows you how to get from the front gate around to the CBNE office. (Mon, Wed, Fri.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmLjHcvtnZ4
XBMC – Media Player Software.
I’m currently mucking around with XBMC on the home “TV” computer. It’s a free program that turns your computer into a media centre. The two best features are the ‘already watched’ list that keeps track of the shows you’ve already seen, and the ISO playback feature that lets you play a copy of a DVD directly from an ISO file. It’s available for Windows, Mac and Xbox. – http://xbmc.org/download/ . Reminder: Almost all new laptop have an HDMI port so you just need an HDMI cable to connect it to your TV for that big screen experience. HDMI Cables should cost no more than $25 – try Jaycar, opposite Dick Smith for the cheapest HDMI cables I’ve seen so far. (5 metres, $25 from memory.)
BitCoins – an ‘Open Source’ global currency based on Cryptography.
Here’s an interesting concept. Transfer money direct to other people without using a bank. No fees. No regulation. No controlling body.
As you probably know, Banks can print more money if they feel a need to, potentially devaluing a currency.
People also mine Gold, and it has a value.
Well, some smart buggers have written a new distributed computerised and secure system called “BitCoins”
Practically, you can buy, sell and trade BitCoins which are stored on your computer.
These BitCoins are protected by Public Key Cryptography, which is similar to the stuff you already use to safely access Internet Banking sites, etc – technology that is known to be extremely secure.
Of course, it’s early days yet and the value of these coins has not settled down. At present, they’re about $1 each.
The system is also completely anonymous – something I couldn’t care less about but which will likely interest money launderers and really irritate any government that wants to charge taxes based on financial transactions.
If I understand it right, a BitCoin is basically a ‘calculation’ that took a computer, typically many days, to create. As a result it would take an almost impossibly long time to reverse it – and mathematically it may not be possible at all. The BitCoin system currently generates about 50 new ‘coins’ every few hours – with each average computer (my laptop) currently taking ten years of constant running to make a bundle of 50. The system is designed to max out at 21,000,000 BitCoins around 2032, with the growth rate declining to that point. (The days of easy mining have probably passed – I’m late to the game.)
21 million doesn’t sound like enough for a worldwide system, but they are divisible down to eight decimal places which should resolve that problem. It’s up to about six million so far in its seeding phase.
There’s a lot of interesting discussion about this online – see the FAQ page at http://www.bitcoin.org/faq and read articles and comments at http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/ and http://www.bitcoin.org/smf/
For the time being, you can think of it as being a worldwide “PayPal without Fees” as that’s probably the easiest way to relate to it.
Oh, and since a modern computer with a fast video card can “Mine” for BitCoins at least an order of magnitude faster than my laptop; this is where my comment “My Laptop is a shovel.” came from – see http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/fxrse/generating_bitcoins_now_financially_impractical/ for more on my own thoughts to that end.
One other thing this might revolutionise is the concept of Micro Payments – paying small amounts for low value high frequency services where existing systems are too expensive due to fees, etc. (Pay 10 cents for a song, 50 cents for a tv show, etc – things that attract too many fees and headaches at the moment.)
Want to try it out? My BitCoin address is 1PB9eRmPHp8sMKRGYqYMzefYBmbFU67KMN – what’s yours? 🙂
New Way to do your taxes?
As you probably know, I don’t like paper. I don’t like books. They flop around. I can read a screen better than a book 🙂
Luckliy, most of my work and transactions happen online, so I already have most transactions taken care of.
There are however, a number of transactions – post office, groceries, small items, etc that I pay for in cash and thus don’t leave me an electronic trail.
This year I’m trialling a different system – each receipt is photographed using a digital camera, then summarily dumped in a tub. These are then relatively easily (for me) sorted on the computer by date, shop, etc making for easier retrieval and transcribing. Even then, I’m a bit behind the times doing it manually because …
Yes – there is software out there now for the iPhone, and probably others too, that will automatically read the receipt using the camera and store it in your accounting software for you – see http://www.iphoneappindex.com/2010/05/28/receipts-2-0-released/ as an example.
Paragon “Go Virtual”
One thing I detest is over-priced software with lock-ins to keep you paying exorbitant amounts to keep using it or put it on a new computer. Common culprits are accounting programs and some farm management software. Case in point – a customer with an 8 year old laptop that’s battling on running some farm mapping program. Same customer has a brand new computer, but the people who wrote the farming program want about $3,000 to sell a new version that will work on his computer.
Well, I’ve done it manually several times before, but now Paragon has released a program that makes the process of converting a real computer into a virtual one much easier – called Paragon Go Virtual. See http://www.paragon-software.com/home/go-virtual/ for more on that.
Basically, the process involves removing the hard drive from the old computer, connecting it to a new computer, running the process to copy the drive to the new computer and modify a few settings so that it will still boot as a separate ‘virtual machine’ on the new computer.
There can be complications of course, such as not being able to print if you have a really old version of windows and a really modern printer – although there are many workarounds. Typically it takes about two hours for me to convert a real machine to a virtual one – with occasional failures in the process that can take ages to sort out. (Blue screens are a possibility if the old computer uses unusual system drivers.) Some software is also smart enough to spot the change and refuse to work, but most don’t notice the change.
So, if you’re stuck with a legacy program that you want to use trapped on a computer that’s near death; it might be worth a shot 🙂
My thoughts on “I won’t use a computer” people.
There is a very simple analogy for people who say they won’t use a computer, and don’t want to learn.
The same thing happened with cars.
Even today you can choose not to learn how to drive a car; and in many cases you can get by just fine. The same is true with computers. However, the world has evolved to the point where it would be quite hard not to have a vehicle to get around – and just as we can walk 15km town if necessary, they can walk to the bank for every transaction they want to make in the modern world. It is a valid choice; and I’ll readily admit that many people don’t need a computer. If I lived and worked in Armidale, I wouldn’t need a car either.
Bluebird Upgrades III
Now with a rebuilt carbie and a new (much quieter) starter motor, radiator, serviced transmission and a dodgy-brothers resprayed bumper, the Bluebird is approaching Grandad’s Axe status 🙂 Excluding the carbie rebuild that was necessary due to rubber diaphragms perishing over the years, the rest are preventative maintenace and reinvestment. Since then, all’s good. I must say, the Old Armidale Road and Toms Gully Road are getting entertaining ‘tho – the recent rains have made holes that are almost too deep to pass – but it’s fun picking your way around these scenic obstacles. Shiny Carbie pic at https://picasaweb.google.com/CCCMikey/Assorted02#5580501825693521778
I’m Getting Old – Radio Station for the Over ’30s.
It’s funny how as you get older you tend to stop wanting new music. For those of you with a proclivity for older music, try this Adelaide radio station – http://player.arn.com.au/cruise1323.aspx – you might hear some of the songs that were on the radio as you were growing up – admittedly peppered with Adelaide news, ads for water filters, dementia and funerals.
Not sure if you can get these in Australia yet, but nonetheless they are a guaranteed way to make yourself unpopular: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/c427/
This fiendishly small device features six creepy sound choices perfect for frightening your “friends” and co-workers. Simply choose your favorite sound (or use the random mode), place it in a dark hiding spot and watch the madness begin. Sounds: # Something unsettling creaking # Unidentifiable scratching sounds # Gasping last breath # Sinister child laughing # Eerie whispering of ‘hey, can you hear me?’
Isn’t technology fun 🙂
2011 is a busy year so far as usual 🙂 Response times are still under 48 hours for most jobs excluding set top boxes and other complex or uncertain outcome jobs. I am considering setting up a daily SMS message broadcast for people who have called an not received an answer as some days it’s hard to get back to everyone in time.
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