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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Your Laptop Could Predict Earth Quakes

The concept of distributed computing using personal computers has been around for a while. There have been fun applications but now we have one that could have mass appeal and actually save lives. A joint project between Stanford University and University of California at Riverside called the Quake-Catcher Network shows some real promise.


The most popular distributed computing project for personal computers has been SETI@home. The goal of this project was to process all the narrow-bandwidth radio signals collected by SETI radio telescopes looking for specific patterns.

“In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.”


SETI@home created a screen saver application so it was only active when your computer was idle so computation wouldn’t conflict with other activities. Like many, I participated for a while in hopes I might be the one to prove there was intelligent life in space.


Enter the Quake Catcher NetworkQuack Catcher Network Logo


The Quake Catcher Network would work in a similar distributed computing manner using an open-source platform called BOINC. QCN would take advantage of accelerometers which are commonly built into new laptops. The purpose of the laptop accelerometer is to detect if your laptop has been dropped so it can lock up any moving parts like your hard drive head. Accelerometers detect changes in the rate of motion. Last year I wrote how accelerometers are used in the Wii Remote.


The Quake Catcher Network is still being alpha tested but I predict we’ll be hearing more about this innovative project more this year. If you don’t have a laptop with an accelerometer QCN will make them available for purchase. We don’t get much seismic activity here in Scotia, NY but I can’t wait to participate.


Screen Shots:
http://qcn.stanford.edu/qcnalpha/img/qcn-earth-day-nz-quake.jpg
http://qcn.stanford.edu/qcnalpha/img/qcn-sensor-3d.jpg
http://qcn.stanford.edu/qcnalpha/img/qcn-earth-night.jpg




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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Apple Bad Habits Punish Windows Users

It seems like Apple just wants to punish Windows users while they make deals and slowly infiltrate our machines. I haven't used an Apple computer for years but I don't remember them treating their own customers so badly.

  • One bad habit has been around for a while in the QuickTime video player. Anytime you view a Quicktime encoded video, Apple automatically adds the program, qttask.exe to the Windows registry so it will automatically run anytime you reboot. This was one of the reasons why I created the "Disable" button in WinPatrol so it could automatically be removed.

  • A recent bad habit getting a lot of attention is their effort to sneak the Safari browser on to your machine when you update your iPod/QuickTime software. There have been many cries that Apple Safari is Malware. Just like your typical adware company Apple claims “it's an option” but when the option is pre-checked we all know most people won’t even notice it. That’s considered a user decision to accept it.

The option to install Safari is prechecked
It’s especially disrespectful since Apple Human Interface Guidelines put the “action” button on the far right where Windows users are accustom to a Quit,Close or Cancel button. If you’re doing a Windows application then use Windows UI guidelines. (BillP Pet Peeve)
Apple Human Interface Guidelines are different from Windows.




Fun Side Note
: According to the Safari EULA, “Apple forbids Windows users from installing Safari for Windows”

  • This morning I realized most people will receive QuickTime whether they want it or not. Much to my surprise I was told I should install QuickTime when all I wanted to do was look up my credit card balance.

I just wanted to check out my credit card bill and needed Quicktime?

It didn’t matter what I said.

One of the features I’m working on for WinPatrol 2008 is monitoring and control of ActiveX controls. It seems like once a week we’re hearing about vulnerabilities in ActiveX components so I want to give users immediate control instead of waiting for the next patch. The alert below appeared when I was just checking my credit card bill.


New ActiveX control from Apple


After digging a little it turns out the QuickTime component was part of a Google ad-sense box which was located on the main chase.com page. So not only is my credit card company charging me for my card, they’re trying to make money advertising to me. I’m getting off topic now but you get the idea.

I guess I really need to get WinPatrol 2008 released soon or it will be time to dig my Mac programming manuals out of the attic. How does “QuickPatrol” sound?

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Monday, March 24, 2008

Still Twitterpated Every Day

Twitter

Last fall I wrote about Twitter.com and I’m still using the service regularly. I have actually met some interesting new friends and great sources. It’s hard to explain what Twitter is and why anyone want to use it. It’s often called a micro-blog but that description doesn’t do it justice.

PC World’s Editor Harry McCracken recently posted seven tips for Twitter that might help you understand a little more. It’s something you’ll want to read before you get started.

What you get from Twitter will depend on who you follow, who follows you and how often you check it out. Find a few people to get started, look at who they follow and just add people who look interesting. Some kind folks will automatically follow you if you follow them.


So what is Twitter?

It’s like a Blog in that you can speak your mind but you only get 140 characters or less. It’s much easier than taking the time to compose a long blog post.

It makes for a great news feed if you chose to follow the right people. Many of my blog topics are from news I heard first on Twitter.

In many ways it provides what used to be cool about chat room. Yes, many years ago chat rooms were actually fun and safe. Twitter is like an on-demand chat where you can communicate with only those people you care about.

It’s also considered social network but that term is already over used. You can easily keep in contact with friends and even get to know new associates who may share your interests or humor.

I just found another recent post by Twitter evangelist, Robert Scoble. Click, “The secret of Twitter” to learn more. “Scobleizer” is a good person to follow and while he’ll usually follow you back, you may get lost in the over 15,000 people he follows.

Your twits will also get picked up by various Twitter search sites like http://twittertroll.com/ or http://twittersearch.com/search/. I was contacted for a quote by the NY Times after they found one of my Twitter comments.

It’s free and easy to get started. To register, follow my Twits and find some folks to follow go to http://twitter.com/billp.


Also see: Wayne’s Top Tactical Twitter Tips

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Friday, March 21, 2008

Weak Points in Keeping Personal Data Safe

I’m frequently asked if it’s really safe to use credit card data on the Internet. My answer has usually been it’s as safe as using your credit card anywhere else. The weak point in data security isn’t the internet. It’s at the bank, credit card company or at the retail store storing your credit and personal information. These folks need to do more than required by current laws to encrypt and secure our data.


Hannaford BrosThis week one of our local grocery stores warned that credit card and bank debit card information has been compromised for all its Northeast and Florida customers. Hannaford Bros Co exposed approx 4.2 million card numbers between Dec 7th and March 10th. They still haven’t figured out how the data was stolen but Secret Service investigators acknowledge at least 1,800 cards have been used fraudulently already.


Meanwhile, we’re all hearing how temp workers for the State Department were peeking at Passport files of presidential candidate Barack Obama. It just goes to show how many people have access to all your personal data. It’s nice to know that monitoring may be done for high profile people what about the rest of us? I’ve never been overly paranoid about Big Brother having my data. It’s all the little brothers who now can access it that worries me.



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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Speed up Internet Access with OpenDNS

There are a lot of tweaks around to speed up your internet access but today I’d like to share one that includes many other features you won’t believe you lived without.

When you enter a web address into your browser you don’t go directly to the destination. The text based web address is first submitted to a DNS(Domain Name System) service. A DNS service converts this friendly text name URL to a numeric address that might look something like 192.168.1.112. Once you receive your web page, every component on the web page that includes a web address must also go through the DNS to convert the address before rendering the image or other object on the page.

The DNS you’re using is determined by your local ISP. If you’re using Verizon, Road Runner, Comcast or dialup, they pick the DNS for you. Did you know you can actually pick your own DNS. The results may be faster browsing and some custom features including the ability to filter unwanted websites.

I’ve been using the DNS service, OpenDNS and I’m very happy with their speed and service. You can learn more at https://www.opendns.com/

For the average user the DNS can be changed for just one computer or you can make a change to your router so it all the computers in your home or office will benefit from a single step.

To make the change on a single computer here are the screens for Windows XP modification. Open up your Network device and select the Properties for the Internet Protocol.

Click on Properties

Next just choose to use your own DNS and enter the IP address for OpenDNS. The magic numbers are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.

Click to use an new DNS


Instructions are provided on the OpenDNS website to change other operating systems and they also have instructions on how to just make a single change on your router. Click Get Started and see what you think. You’ll need to create an account to benefit from the custom features.

Click Get Started

Click to Get Started

Speeding up internet access is a plus but you’ll find many other advantages in using OpenDNS. One popular feature is the ability to block complete categories of web sites. You can still add sites to a white list if one of your favorite sites is included in one of the categories.

A list of catagories which can be blocked using OpenDNS
OpenDNS Categories

There’s more! How about Internet Shortcut? Type in a single word intoyour browser and OpenDNS will return the web site you specify.

A list of my current OpenDNS shortcuts
My current personal shortcuts.


OpenDNS is free and has been around for so long I can’t believe I haven’t used it sooner. If you’re like me you’re probably wondering about privacy concerns. OpenDNS has a posted privacy policy but they’ll have access to every web page I visit right? Well, it’s no different than my current DNS and IP having access to this information. It’s the nature of the beast called the Internet. I’ve talked to users who haven been with OpenDNS and they’re still very satisfied.

Another method some of you may already use to speed up domain name conversion or to block sites is by editing the HOST file on your system. I’ve written about HOST files before and you can click here to learn more. I generally recommend against adding to the HOST file because of performance issues when the file gets too huge.

Update: Thanks to Jeber to pointing me to another OpenDNS post.
OpenDNS - What it is and Why you absoluately need it


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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Friday, March 14, 2008

Internet Explorer 8 Beta: New Names for Old Ideas

It has been a year and a half since IE7 was released but I was still surprised to see Internet Explorer 8 was getting ready to make its debut. Microsoft has put a lot into making IE the number one browser although they haven’t been able to monetize this advantage by sending more folks to Microsoft properties as planned.

They may have noticed that Firefox is starting to get a bigger share of the market. It could also be that Microsoft is trying to fend off concerns of the European Commission. Either way, IE8 beta is available now. I don’t recommend it but if you’re experienced enough you can try IE8 out by visiting the Microsoft IE8 Readiness Toolkit site.


The most important new feature you’ll want to know about is the “Emulate IE7”. I quickly found many sites failed to work in the default IE8 mode including most Blogspot sites like Bits from Bill. Luckily, many of the new features will continue to work in Emulation mode.Emulate IE 7 Button



The other good news is when a particular site fails, it won’t kill the browser, just that particular tab process. The browser will try to recover but unfortunately, if it fails once, it will continue to fail.Eror message letting you know IE8 is trying to recover



Let me repeat again, unless you need to write a review or you’re a serious web developers, don’t rush to download IE8 Beta. While I haven’t had serious problems, I’ve read a number of horror stories that are typical with beta software. Chances are some of these people never bothered to read the release notes to see if they had compatible machines. For me it’s been impossible to use IE8 in anything but Emulate IE7 mode. Some bugs are minor like having a Yahoo icon being displayed on my sites. Others cause the browser to hang and can’t be duplicated.Wrong icons being displayed on IE 8


Browser Chrome
Microsoft has always been an advocate for cool new names for things and they’ve put in a lot of creativity into this new version. My favorite is a new name for toolbars. A toolbar is now just a part of your “browser chrome”.


WebSlices
This feature isn’t a bad idea but has limited applicability. It will be good if you spend a lot of time with your browser open and you’re interested in watching a portion of a website that might change regularly. Basically, it’s like adding a favorite to your “chrome” that displays only a portion of the web page you’re interested in. Essentially it’s a new way to do what used to be called Channels and takes up space on your browser chrome. Unless you’re a stock watcher or Ebay professional you might want to find a better use for this space.
On the web side, WebSlices are easy to add. If anything the web based code of this feature would be great for mobile devices. I could definitely see accessing webslices from my phone.


Add Web Slice


You may find that just adding a slice will cause a new program to be added to your Scheduled Tasks. MSFeedSync says it’s used to update out-of-date system feeds. Oddly, while WinPatrol reports this new job, it doesn’t appear in my Control Panels Scheduled Task applet on my XP test machine.
Alert of new msfeedsync task being scheduled



Activities
This seems to be a new name for copy and paste. Well, in fairness this combines the features of copy, paste with SendTo. Most of the examples I’ve seen have already been available by just using JavaScript.
According to Microsoft:


“Activity providers enhance your ability to work with text that you select on a webpage, enabling you to map addresses, define words, and more.”
For a list of currently supported Activities check out http://ie.microsoft.com/activities/en-en/Default.aspx


Developer Tools
While I may be a little critical of IE8 they have added many features I love. The new developer tool is very useful to anyone developing websites, especially folks like myself who still hand code most of our sites. This is something I’ve had on Firefox, thanks to a plug-in, but it’s very important to have this feature on IE.


JavaScript
I’m very pleased that Microsoft has continued to make improvements in their JavaScript engine. There’s even a new JavaScript debugger available. YAY!! I really love how Microsoft insists on calling it “JScript”. It’s reasonable because JavaScript has no connection to Java, but I can’t help thinking Microsoft just thinks Java is a dirty word.


Open Standards
Microsoft claims that IE8 will “interpret web content in the most standards compliant way it can”. This will be the default mode that IE8 uses. One might think this is a ploy to pacify regulators but IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch denies this in the IE Blog.

“While we do not believe any current legal requirements would dictate which rendering mode a browser must use, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue.”


Translation: There was nothing wrong before, but we fixed it anyway so shut up.

Address Bar
Some good common sense improvements have been made to where you enter your web address or URL. IE8 will now handle URL’s that might have been fragmented. This solves a problem that happens when you try to copy and paste long URLs that may have been Emailed to you. This seems like a no-brainer but I can’t help thinking there could be security concerns. You’ll also see the a colored background in the address bar to help identify real and potentially dangerous sites. In addition, you'll see the actual domain will be a little bolder so users can see who they're really connected to.

New URL formatting


Favorites Bar
One more name change came to the Links toolbar. It’s now called the “Favorites bar”. The area above the web page now takes up five rows counting my Google toolbar and unlike older versions of IE it can not be customized. I guess I should be happy they haven’t added an Office 2007 style ribbon.


For those brave souls who are trying IE8, I look forward to hearing your feedback.





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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Faster Computing by Disabling Services

Disabling normal Startup/AutoRun Programs can really speed up your system. Picking and choosing some programs that aren’t needed to run all the time is a straight forward decision. Versions of Windows based on NT technology like XP and Vista include programs called “Windows Services”. These programs may also be set to run on bootup or automatically when other programs launch. Deciding what Services can be disabled or set to manual may not always be obvious.

Many of the services from Microsoft are integral parts of the Windows operating system. Some services that may not sound needed could be required by other Microsoft services. Some Services that don’t seem necessary today could be expected by new software or hardware components that you add in the future.

Bill Detwiler at Tech Republic has created a list of common Windows Services and included recommendations for which services can be disabled. The six page white paper also includes suggested settings along with special considerations. If you really like the minimum programs running on your system check it out by clicking here. (update: Registration is required)


WinPatrol Services
Services Tab using WinPatrol

When I first added the Services tab to WinPatrol there were very few non-Microsoft service components. Now, many new programs include one or more Services. You’ll find many of the autoupdate programs these days are Services. The options for services are Automatic, Manual and Disable. When I’m not sure if something can be Disabled, I’ll set it to manual so it’s still available when needed but won’t run on boot up.

Update 03/16: Some comments have been left with tips on other sites that provide information on Windows Services.

Black Viper: http://www.blackviper.com/WinXP/servicecfg.htm

Speedy Vista: http://www.speedyvista.com/services.html


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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Saturday, March 08, 2008

User Feedback Keeps Me Going

I'm sometimes asked what motivates me to continue working on WinPatrol. It's great when I get mentioned in magazines like PC World and even local news like the Cape Code Times but it’s especially nice to receive feedback from average WinPatrol user.

Most of the support Email I get comes from folks who forget their code but occasionally I get an Email like the following. I thought I’d share what I hope is a typical experience.

I never knew about WinPatrol until several years ago when it became a comment in an editorial from one of the on-line computer magazines. It simply mentioned the barking dog as if everyone knew what he was talking about. I did some searching and found Scotty. I installed the free version. It installed like it knew what it was doing and didn't pester me with questions. A scotty dog appeared in my task bar, and that was all there was to it.

Almost a week later a barking dog half-scared me out of my wits and a dialogue box appeared telling me some program I didn't know I even had was trying to install itself in the registry. I said no. The WinPatrol dialogue box disappeared and nothing happened.

A few days later I installed a program. Scotty barked and told me a new program was trying to install itself in the registry. This time I said yes. The dialogue box closed and nothing else happened.

I soon began to trust Scotty to keep me warned about things. He always did. After a year of having the dog on my task bar and no newsletters, no requests to update, no problems, especially no problems, I decided it was only fair to actually buy WinPatrol Plus. I still wouldn't know it was on my computer if the damn thing didn't bark to make me jump in my chair whenever some sneaky program I didn't invite decided to put itself on the start-up menu.

I've updated the versions from time to time. They download, hopefully, for I wouldn't know about it, nothing seems to happen very much. I mean there are no banners, no persistent questioning, no pain-in-the-ass procedures I have to follow. I don't find that my registration is no longer valid and that I have to go and find where I have put it so I can re-enter it on the updated program. Nothing, the little dog just sits there on the task-bar minding its own business and, apparently, looking after mine. The program has never become corrupt despite being transferred to newer machines and, somehow, it always manages to find its own registration validation. That part is just bloody marvellous.

I have some software that helps keep my machine clean. It has undergone several updates to the point where it controls my machine, not me. I can no longer tell it what to do, especially as regards cookies cleansing. I don't bother anymore. I just open WinPatrol and clean the cookies from there.

The only complaint I have ever had is that the icon was changed to favour Vista. It appeared as a blue circle with something in the middle. I missed the little dog. Today I happened to open the options window to check for a latest version of WinPatrol. And there was the check box saying 'use the old icon'.

I am now 100% per cent happy. Of course, I should have expected that my most favourite program would have thought of that. Silly me.


Thanks people. WinPatrol is all that a good program should be.

David Edwards


So with motivation like this I’ll be spending my weekend working on WinPatrol 2008.


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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Using Unigray Antivirus To Fix MonaRonaDona

I’ve often written about Rogue AntiVirus/AntiSpyware applications which claim to help remove malware but instead force you to pay before they’ll do what they claim.

This time to increase sales of a rogue application Unigray AntiVirus, they’ve actually distributed a virus called MonaRonaDona and have seeded many popular sites with the claim that only Unigray will fix it. Surprising Unigrey Antivirus has only been on the market since the end of February 2008 and requires a payment of $39 USD.

A few WinPatrol users have reported files trying to infiltrate their systems but have been successful in keeping them from being installed. So far the primary files are “RegistryCleaner2008.exe” and “Srvspool.exe” but I’m sure this will change with the next version. One of the characteristics of MonaRonaDona’s is to shutdown many programs including Windows TaskManager and RegistryEditor. Luckily, it doesn’t try to shutdown WinPatrol.

So, you don’t have to pay $39.95 and purchase Uniqray Antivirus to remove it. The free version of WinPatrol will do the trick as will many other free programs. Either way, never believe what you read in a few posts you find online when searching for a solution. Go to the help forums who have been celebrating years of helping users online.. When you read someone's post also take note to how long that user has been participating in the online forum.


Example of Forum Member Credentials
More Info:

TreatFire Research Blog:
MonoRonaDona Mystery Solved


Security Fix:
The MonaRonaDona Extortion Scam


Forum Member Credentials can help you decide who to trust. Clicking on a member name can link you to more information and links to previous posts.

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit


Saturday, March 01, 2008

IAC may say Good-Bye Ask.com Toolbar

Late last year I attracted a lot of attention by blogging about an offer by Ask.com to include their toolbar with my WinPatrol program. It looks like my choice not to include the toolbar may have been a good business decision after all.


According to Silicon Alley Insider, IAC may be ready to scrap Ask.com, powered by Teoma, and move their business to Google. IAC already signed a 5 year sponsorship deal with Google last November. Given IAC has an advertising relationship with Microsoft they could also to cut a bigger deal with MSN. Either way, it’s nothing I want to celebrate. Other sources report a large number of Ask.com employees have been told to look for new employment by April.


I would really be happy if IAC considered separating their “FunWebProducts” line into separate applications. That way users who ask for one application won’t get a dozen along with their toolbar. Unfortunately, I’m guessing they’ll just replace their MyWebSearch toolbar with a Google or MSN toolbar.


Everyone is making so much money distributing toolbars that consumers have to be careful installing any application these days. I saw yesterday that AVG Anti-Virus is now installing a Yahoo based toolbar calling it a security toolbar.
AVG Installation Screen


Some folks chatting on the Calendar of Updates forums report the toolbar is installed even if you uncheck the option.


Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m not a fan of toolbars but my fear goes beyond the obvious. Anytime you install a new peice of software you run “some” risk of a system conflict. By installing multiple programs at the same time, the risk increases exponentially and chances of fnding and fixing the problem becomes more difficult.


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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit