Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Malware writers getting clever with Java

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

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It appears that Java is being used increasingly in malware attacks.  In this article there is mention of compromised web sites being used to deliver the malware.  It’s sophisticated enough to be able to tell if the payload will be delivered to a Mac or a PC and alter itself accordingly.  Given that Java is pretty much everywhere, malware can be written to take advantage of it and work on pretty much any system.

While it doesn’t happen all the time, many malware require the computer user to do something to allow for its installation.  With Windows Vista and 7, this became more likely with User Account Control popping up whenever something was going to be installed.  My normal advice here is that you should be saying “no” unless you were intentionally trying to install something.  This advice is not often heeded because inexperienced computer users may not have the necessary background to know when to not say “yes” to one of these.

In my opinion, you’re probably better off saying “no” when you aren’t sure and asking someone more experienced to guide you on how you should be responding to these dialogs.

It’s probably another good time to talk about making regular backups of your system.  Since some of this malware can be rather catastrophic to how your computer operates, sometimes the only way to get rid of it is to completely erase your computer and reinstall everything from scratch.  In my experience, malware is either of the “minor annoyance to the expert” variety or the “gotta nuke it from orbit to be sure” variety.  By making regular backups, you assure yourself the ability to recover from the latter if it occurs.

Dealing with a stolen computer

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

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One of the worst things that can happen to a computer is for it to be stolen.  Along with the computer will be data important to the owner.  This data can range from pictures of important events, a music collection, to the credentials needed to log into web sites.  The loss of all of these at one time can be devistating.

In a video posted at this site (note: the video contains strong language throughout and a few questionable pictures), a man details the circumstances surrounding the theft of his computer and what he did to get it back.  The remarkable thing was that he recovered his computer two years after the original theft.

Now, the speaker did say that if he had better security, he wouldn’t have been able to get his machine back.  Plus, he’s quite an expert at what he does and used those expert skills to get the details needed to find his computer.  The person who had the computer was a typical home user.

What can you do?  The first thing is to consider what you do to physically secure your computer.  For the most part, just consider how you secure your home and how easy it would be for a thief to get in.  In general, the more difficult the task, the less likely a thief will get in (further details on home security are beyond the scope of my blog).  However, if you have a notebook computer, you carry this thing with you frequently and it can be lost, stolen, or damaged far more easily than a desktop computer locked in your home.
I’ve spoken before of the importance of backup.  I mention again how important it is in the event your computer is stolen.  In fact, having a backup located somewhere other than near your computer will drastically increase your chances of recovering your data (you’ll see some reinforcement of this idea in the video).  I recommend two services, Mozy and Carbonite (links to the right), if you want a service to do it.  You could also send copies of your data to a trusted friend or relative.

Recovery of your stolen computer can be assisted by the use of some free software or using a commercial service such as LoJack.  Some of the free software includes FireFound, a plugin for the Firefox web browser (FireFound works for free but you can pay for advanced features).  These software options send information to the company that can be used to help locate your computer.

All of these things are forms of insurance.  You have to decide how much insurance to carry on your equipment and of what type.  My personal belief is that your information is far more valuable than the computer and you should look at making sure there is a backup for it both near the computer (for quick access) and away from the computer (for increased chance of data recovery).

No more discs, please

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

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I read an article recently (gee, I read a lot of articles) which suggested that maybe it’s time for discs to be gone.  I actually had to think about this one for a bit before I decided to agree with the sentiment.  In recent years, I can’t think of a time where I used a disc (either floppy or optical) to move information from one computer to another.  For that purpose, I’ve been using a flash drive the vast majority of time.  The remainder of time I download the files from somewhere.

The floppy disc had been a staple of computer storage for many years until one day in 1998 when Apple introduced the iMac personal computer.  It didn’t have a floppy drive.  It did have a CD-ROM drive (and later models would have a CD writer of some kind or another) so loading software and drivers was still possible.  What the iMac really made simple was connecting to the internet.  You only needed a power cable and a cable to connect to the internet (either using the built-in dial-up modem or an ethernet cable to your high-speed internet provider).  Very neat and clean compared to the mass of cables that surrounded PCs of the time.

Now, this caused some great consternation for the consumer who was resistant to this kind of change.  I admit a little trepidation myself at the thought of leaving the floppy behind.

When the portable flash drives (sometimes called thumb drives or by the popular brand of Jump Drives) first came on the scene, I didn’t quite understand what purpose that would have.  Most had sizes of one to four megabytes in size.  Then it was explained to me that they were intended to replace the floppy.  My eyes grew wide at the prospect.  The largest floppies in common usage were 1.44MB in size.  Spend some money on a 4MB flash drive and you have greater storage.  And it has a much faster speed than a floppy drive.

When I got my first 32MB drive, I quickly found use for it in carrying various software tools with me.  My current tools drive is 16GB (about 500 times the size of that first one) in size.

The article suggests another reason for getting rid of discs is installation software.  Major software can almost always be downloaded directly from the publisher.  Drivers for hardware can be downloaded directly from the manufacturer and can often be more current than the disc that was included with the peripheral.

More and more people are downloading music.  Who needs to go to the store and buy a CD when you can download it from Amazon or iTunes from the comfort of your own home?  While the MP3 and AAC formats aren’t as good as a CD (and some would argue CDs still aren’t as good as vinyl) since they are both lossy compression schemes (which means some of the original soundwave is discarded in an effort to make the file smaller), I’ve purchased and downloaded music directly from the artist using a quality setting just as good as a CD (using a lossless compression in the process).

I wholeheartedly agree that the humble disc needs to go away.  It is now nearly antiquated and basically unnecessary.

Musings on pi

Friday, December 10th, 2010

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In the early 1980s a new Guinness record had been achieved of calculating pi out to the millionth decimal point.  It was done by a French team of programmers and they had even written a book on the subject complete with the million digits.  This is noteworthy to me because I had a friend who sought out and acquired this book.  An impressive feat before the internet and the likes of Amazon.com.  Even more impressive when you consider we were both in grade school at the time.

I downloaded a program onto my computer the other day which allowed me to make this same calculation in less than seven seconds.  I don’t recall how long it took the French team’s computer to make the calculation, but I’m sure it was a little longer than seven seconds.  Consider that the computer I used to run the program isn’t even the fastest available.  It’s not even close as it was designed for portability and battery life before speed.

The computers we’ll have available in the future are likely to be even faster.  My computer was able to calculate ten million digits of pi in roughly two minutes.  I’m sure it won’t be long before we have computers able to calculate trillions or quadrillions of digits of pi in a matter of seconds.  We’ll probably be more limited by the ability to display and record the information rather than the raw ability to calculate it.  Mind you, we are improving the recording and displaying technology as well.

I can’t wait to see what technological advances are around the corner.

I’m starting a blog

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

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Just when you thought it was safe to enter the World Wide Web, I start a blog.

My intent is to bring my thoughts on various computer issues, technologies, and news.  I may sprinkle a few other things here and there so don’t be surprised if the content strays a bit from time to time.