[ccc-news] Assorted News 10 🙂
In this edition:
Potential AVG Problem for Dialup or Small Download Limited customers
Firefox 3 arriving soon…
A new Security Scanner – Secunia PSI
Free online First Aid course
Ripoffs of the Month
Oops! I almost set fire to a computer!
That Flat Batt
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 http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/13/avg_scanner_skews_web_traffic_numbers/
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 http://www.getfirefox.com/ . 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 https://psi.secunia.com/ – 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 🙂
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 188.8.131.52). If you want to know more, ask me or check out http://opendns.com/
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 https://www.ambulance.net.au/onlinecourse/login.asp – 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.
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 oztion.com.au where listing is free. (I’ve decided to support http://oztion.com.au 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 http://apcmag.com/how_ebay_trashed_its_brand_for_the_sake_of_profits.htm .)
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 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. http://reddit.com/ – 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? http://readatwork.com/
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