Hardware Software

Are you crash-safe?

No one ever wants to believe their computer will fail them.  You can try to make yourself feel safer… your computer is new, it’s under warranty, you take good care of it… but make no mistake, your computer will fail, and probably at a really really bad time.  Here’s something that may help you make up your mind: I received a brand-new laptop at work in July of 2002, by September of 2002 the hard drive had failed completely.  Brand new hard can fail and older drives will fail. You must have a back up solution.

I can hear the whining already: Back ups?  Are you sure?  Making backups is such a pain.  It’s too hard.  I don’t know how!

a) Backing up your data can be easy
b) You aren’t safe

People who have tried back up solutions in the past which require swapping floppies in and out or copying data to CDs will no doubt agree, backing up data can be a long tedious process.  Corporate backups used to be made to tape drives, also time consuming and definitely expensive.  There is good news: the plummeting price of hard drives has made back up much simpler and cheaper.  Couple an inexpensive external drive with some inexpensive software and you have yourself a backup solution.

This past winter vacation I set up a very simple backup solution on both my parents computers.  I used an external hard drive connected via USB (yes, simple plug in, just like a digital camera) and some straight forward software from Symantec called Norton Ghost 9.0.  It took a bit of time to format the hard drive (not difficult, just had to wait, it takes time) and no time at all to set up Ghost.  The software will automatically back up a computer on a schedule you specify.  It couldn’t be more simple.

The best back up systems will protect you from:
1. Hardware failure (the inevitable drive failure)
2. Theft (it happens)
3. Hardware destruction (house fire or clumsy nephew with a can of Coke)

You love your digital camera, don’t you?  You take a whole mess of pictures.  Now… what happens if your hard drive crashes?  The hard drive contains what amounts to negatives for all your digital pictures.  Having your hard drive crash is really like having your digital house burn down.  Eeek!  If your real house burns down you will loose all your pictures and the negatives, but you can easily protect your digital negatives.  Take your external back up hard drive to work with you for added data security.

So, here’s the recipe:
1) Determine the size of the hard drive inside your computer
2) Find an external hard drive equal to or larger than your computer’s drive (try Price Watch for good prices)
3) Select some backup software (list of options at bottom)
4) Install both and set the software to run automatically

Most computers have hard drives smaller than 80 gigabytes, an 80 gigabyte USB drive found on price watch: less than $70.  Backup software can be had for less than $50.  I’m sure the data on your computer is worth more than $120 and an hour of your time.

Here are some possible back up software solutions:

Microsoft Software Video Games

I can quit any time I like

Normally I don’t like it when my honey goes out of town… I get lonely and sulky, I don’t shave and I eat way more cereal than any human should. 

Tuesday was the release of Halo 2.  Thursday Paula went to New York to attend the bar mitzvah of a good friend’s son.  Since she left I haven’t shaved, I’ve bathed infrequently and I’ve eaten cereal for dinner… but I haven’t been lonely.  Halo 2 is by far the best online game I’ve ever played, esp. when playing with friends.

Since Paula’s been gone I’ve had my Xbox connected to Xbox Live for most of my waking hours, but when she gets back I’m going to spend much less time online.  But what’s an addict to do?  I can’t miss a game.

Now I don’t have to.  I’ve signed up for Xbox to send me either an IM if I’m signed into MSN Messenger or to send a message to my cell phone if I’m away or offline.  I never have to worry about missing a game again!

The easy way to find the sign up is to sign into MSN Messenger (Windows Messenger won’t work) and click the Xbox tab.  Once the Xbox tab loads click the Live tab and look to the bottom of the frame for the “Add Xbox Live Alerts” link.  Follow the instructions and you’re golden.  Note: you will need to associate your messenger account (Microsoft .Net Passport) with your live gamer tag in order to get this working, but after you’ve gone through the effort you’ll be able to see who’s online and what they’re playing right from MSN Messenger (pretty cool, huh?).  Oh, if you’ve turned off the tabs in options, go turn them back on again (I won’t tell you how, you figured out how to turn them off, after all).

Now… if I can just find a clever way to distract my wife for hours on end…

Blog Software

RSS Readers

I’ve found that without an RSS reader I don’t get around to checking out my friend’s pages, so I need to get myself a reader and am now going to make a concerted effort to find one that fits my needs. Throughout this process I’ll keep you updated with my impressions of the various clients I try out. Note that I may end up finding a great client and/or get bored before I can try out every client out there, so don’t be disappointed if I peter out.

So, what are my criteria?

Must Have:

  • Offline Reading – I tend to live most of my life on my laptop and if I can’t take care of some of the reading while on an airplane or sitting in a waiting room it won’t work for me.

  • Comments API – The original post is not all of the interesting content related to a post, I need to be able to read the comments on my blog and the blogs of my friends without having to navigate to the blog and dig down to the comments page.

  • Windows application – I use Windows, if it runs on another platform it obviously won’t work for me (and please don’t start any religious Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux discussions with me, I can’t be bothered).

Like to Have:

  • Saved Searches – When part of my feed base relates to work it’s great to have a “feed” which is a view of all posts which contain a particular keyword (e.g. Hotmail).

  • Outlook Hotkeys – I use keyboard shortcuts in Outlook to speed up reading of messages. If my RSS reader were to use the same keys I’d be able to quickly mark things read, delete and forward posts without having to learn a new set of keys (which would potentially get confused with other applications).

I’ve started an initial list of readers with my main requirements: If you have an app you really like, please let me know.

Movies Software

Took a break yesterday

Click for a larger version.


This week’s contest at b3ta is to add one word to a movie title. I needed a break and couldn’t resist (Turns out shortly after taking the Harry met Sally picture she bumped into him and he took a swing at her).

Net Software Tech

Some geeky fun

I was chatting with Omar over lunch the other day and he was telling me about his latest wireless network setup and his frustration with trying to troubleshoot connection drops.  I feel his pain… my wireless network is a combination of one Microsoft base station (naturally) and two Linksys bases (two totally different models, of course).  I was unable to connect to the network when in my bedroom for about 6 months.  Everything worked everywhere else… but in the bedroom?  No.  Gah!  I think I solved the problem, but I’m not sure.  I’ll have to document that later after I’m sure I understand it (no use posting embarrassingly wrong advice… I know I’m an idiot, but why tell others? I’ll keep the illusion up as long as I can. 🙂 ).

So… where am I going with this rambling post with zero useful content thus far?  NetStumblerOmar commented that he wished he has a tool to tell him all the networks in his area and on what channel they communicated (yes, you can change the channel on your wireless base station for better connectivity).  There are probably a bunch of tools, the one I’ve found useful is NetStumbler

Netstumbler is a fun little app that can provide hours of entertainment for geeks.  This software will look for WiFi networks in range, document their SSID (essentially the network name), if they are encrypted, their channel, the signal to noise ratio and, if you have a GPS on your laptop, the coordinates.  It’s a very useful tool for working out network issues… or for finding open networks (war driving is apparently a popular hobby).  Check it out if you have some time to kill or feel like living out your hacker fantasies.

Oh, war driving… Do you remember War Games with Matthew Broderick?  If you don’t, rent it, it’s a fun movie.  In War Games Matthew’s character was trying to find a game company’s mainframe by having his computer methodically dial every single phone number in a given area code and logging the phone numbers connected to computers – he was war dialing.  War driving is the modern equivalent where people put a WiFi-equipped laptop in their car and drive around logging open wireless networks.  Using software like NetStumbler you are able to drive around then dump the results to a program like Microsoft MapPoint to graph out all the open networks in your area.  Why?  Geeky fun, mischief or whatever reason doesn’t really matter, it just reminds you that you shouldn’t assume that because your computer is in your house that your data is safe.  My advice: turn on some form of encryption (WEP for most), hide the SSID and enable MAC filtering.  If you don’t know how to do that, check your manual, it’s worth learning how.

Microsoft Software

Windows tip

Here’s a helpful tip that is quite simple but, surprisingly, quite under-used.

When you go to your Start -> All Programs menu to you find it’s difficult to location a particular application?  Chances are it’s because your programs menu isn’t sorted alphabetically. To fix this:

  1. Click Start -> All Programs
  2. Right-click on any item
  3. Choose “Sort by name” from the pop up menu

Voilà, your applications and their containing folders are now sorted by name making it much easier to find that calculator program buried 3 levels deep.


Net Security Software

Google, say it ain’t so!

Update: obligitory slashdot link

Wow, who’d have thought this would happen? 

And before any conspiracies start… no, Microsoft didn’t do it. 😛

The problem is a new worm on the loose is causing a distributed attack on search engines in it’s quest for new e-mail addresses to which it can send itself (my English teacher just rolled over in her grave).

Okay class… repeat after me: “I will update my anti-virus software once a week if not more often.” story…

Google, other engines hit by worm variant
By Richard Shim and Michael Kanellos
Staff Writer, CNET

update Major Internet search engines were crippled Monday morning by a variant of the MyDoom worm, rendering Google inaccessible to many users and slowing results from Yahoo.

The attack also affected smaller engines, including Alta Vista, a Yahoo subsidiary, and Lycos.

A Lycos representative said the company is aware of the problem and is working to block the performance obstacles. A Google representative said the company was working to figure out what was happening.


Net Software

Interesting article on PC Myths

PCWorld has a good write up on PC myths… but read carefully as their ratings seem to contradict the text at times.  They rate the responding to Spam myth as a level 4 out of 5 on the bogus meter but then include this quote:

“Knowing who to opt out from is key,” says Schwartz. “Opting out of legitimate companies drops you off their lists, but when you do that with ‘real’ spammers, the results are unclear.”

So, what is it?  A myth?  If the results are unclear can you be sure?

A summary of the myths (go to the article for full details).

Busting the Biggest PC Myths
We expose the bad advice that wastes your time and money.

  1. Magnets zap your data.
  2. Using a cell phone on a plane interferes with the navigation and communications systems of the aircraft.
  3. If you don’t ‘stop’ a USB device before unplugging it from a PC, you’ll screw things up.
  4. Cookies track everything you do on the Internet.
  5. Windows’ Japanese edition uses haiku error messages.
  6. Terrible things happen if you turn off your PC without shutting down Windows.
  7. Opting out of spam gets you even more spam.
  8. Hackers can destroy data on your computer’s hard drive.
  9. Turning off your PC daily to save power shortens its life.
  10. The government reads everyone’s e-mail.
  11. Saddam Hussein bought PlayStation 2 consoles to use in Iraq’s weapons program.
  12. DOS is dead.
  13. Only a pricey surge protector can keep your devices safe.
  14. If you don’t periodically run your laptop batteries down to zero, you’ll lose battery life.
  15. If you don’t use an antistatic wrist strap while tinkering with a PC, you’ll ruin hardware.


I stand corrected

So, after being all annoyed and stuff by the overly-complicated error message given to me by the OneNote updater I decided to follow the directions.  Guess what?  It helped me fix my problem.

Could my Mom have done this?  No (i.e. I can maintain some small amount of righteous indignation).


You’re joking, right?

Ah… a well thought-out dialog is a thing of beauty…