Sunday, October 30, 2005

Spring Clean the laptop

You know, I thought they had it tough in the Six Million Dollar Man. They had to take a wreck of a man and make it all high-tech and shiny (and nuclear powered!)

They probably never had to content with rebuilding my laptop! There's a day of my life I'll never get back - but in the long run it's worth it, and I'd suggest everyone should put aside a little time each 6 months or so to go through the pain... it's as good as new again !

There are a few very important things to do before you start....
  • Make sure you know where all your vital files and data is (so you can back it up) - don't forget things like Outlook PSTs or Outlook Express folders
  • Make a list of all the handy utilities and programs you've grabbed off the web
  • Make sure you know where all the install CDs are
  • and don't forget the serial numbers
  • Oh, and did I mention back up all your data!

Then it's off on, what may at times, a big adventure !

Backup for me is fairly simple. I'm quite strict about where files live - My Documents is pretty much the root for anything I need to move. Dragging that across to the Maxtor was an easy (but time consuming) process.

Next step with the Vaio is a fairly simple task - run the system recovery disc and reformat everything (moments of cold sweat - had I backed up the latest draft of my masterpiece?!) and then go through the Windows XP setup. Luckily the machine was a post service pack2 so the Windows build included all of that. Also as it's a supplier provided recovery disk (as opposed to a raw OEM or commercial install) it knows what drivers it needs to get everything working - my contribution to the process was to name the machine, provide some passwords and give it a timezone (and for this I'm a technical wizard!)

Then the fun really begins..... re-installing everything that makes the laptop a tool rather than a paper-weight and making sure my data is still usable....

More on that later.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

First impressions (be careful with those domain names)

Be very careful when you choose a domain name.... what exactly are you saying ?

Some examples of what not to do !there are probably many other examples, but I'm scared to keep looking !

Friday, October 28, 2005

diagnosing WiFi problems over the phone !

I like a challenge. It's a bit of a character flaw but it's just how I'm wired.

Setting up a wireless router when you have a PDF of the manual in front of you but the actual hardware is in another state - and of course at this point not set up so remote admin access is via phone using a human as an interface - is an interesting way to work. Luckily sometimes the remote interface is smart !

Cat very bravely decided she needed to cut the cord and put her iMac the other end of the building to the cable connection. WiFi is an excellent technology... I wonder how many fatal Cat5 related falls have been avoided since adoption became widespread....

At first everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The iMac could connect to the Linksys WRT54G via a wired or unwired connection... however moving it more than a few feet caused a very rapid drop-off in signal strength....

We tried all sorts of things... different placements of the iMac and the router, changing channel for the WiFi link, adjusting WiFi settings to try and improve the connection, turning off microwaves, cordless phones and tearing out hair.... all without any luck. The router even went back to the nice folks at HT for them to test - and all was fine.

Luckily there was a solution to hand. Sometimes thinking inside the box helps more than outside it...

In this case the problem was one of snugness of fit. When installing an Airport card inside an iMac you have to make sure that the card is firmly in place and, even more importantly, the antenna flylead is firmly pushed home.

Alls well that ends well. And if you're planning on rummaging around inside an iMac here are some very handy documents.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Follow the Flock !

Combine an open source Browser, with Web 2.0 and some Venture Capitalists, throw in the Browser Wars, simmer and pull out.... Flock.

Flock takes a slightly-behind-the-bleeding-edge version of Firefox and integrates into it the idea of a socially interconnected web - your Favourites feed straight from you account and it integrates from the browser with your Blogger (or other preferred) blog spoting site and Flickr photo library (helping along the way to add an extra level of integration to these sites).

Flock is, without a doubt, very neat (by which I mean too funky for it's own good and not quite ready for the prime-time !) and the fact that it's available on Windows, OSX and Linux is a real point in it's favour. I think as long as it doesn't loose direction and really does try to push the integration to become more and more seamless (and hey, I'd love it if they could find a way to support IE rendering as well as Mozilla on Windows if they detect a page needs it) I suspect that unlike Opera they have a clear differentiator in the browser feature wars (at least on traditional computer platforms as opposed to PDA and cellphone devices)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Web 2.0 - a whole new meme

Web 2.0 Meme Map
web 2.0 meme map
Originally uploaded by rufan-redi.
Riding in on a tsunami of blog posts, inaccurate wikipedia entries in Klingon and Flickr photosets of the latest meme to make the front pages of the Fourth Estate comes Web 2.0.

A marketeers dream of what venture capitalists want now that they've recovered from the '00 crash where the masses do all the work and then the mailing list gets bought by Google|Yahoo!|Microsoft|Murdock and the perpetual beta (which I can only hope means that old chestnut of continual improvement that old skool developers like me where brought up to believe in) suddenly stops being driven by a caffeine fuelled bright social engineers and falls instead under the remit of the iced-strawberry-mochaccino-latte drinking folks with deck shoes and no socks.

Apparently the use of an immersive Ajax experience driven collaborative interface gives the sensation of deep and meaningful interaction with the underlying paradigm of the communications metaphor. Or something like that.

Sure, it's neat and finally it's about using the technology to actually reach out and communicate, connect and empower people but it's an evolution that's reached a tipping point, and we shouldn't be suckered into thinking it's a revolution.
Don't get me wrong. I think Flickr,, Flock and GMail are all huge steps in the right direction for making the web a much more friendly and user-accesible place but even within the Google properties there's still a lot to be done to bring it even to the level of a Windows or OSX desktop application (with the collaberative aspects of the best groupware apps). Then the bragging rights can really begin.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Jabra BT800: whisper sweet nothings in my ear

I got a new Bluetooth toy today (I love the idea of a world without wires) - a Jabra BT800 headset. It's very shiny !

Even though it looks a little strange it's surprisingly comfortable and easy to use on the ear, and the built-in LCD which can show callerID or be used to configure the earpiece is very cool (in fact goes a long way to answering my critisisms of most BT headsets that you don't actually know what's going on !)

Even though I hate wires I've resisted the whole headset idea, not because I hate the thought of looking like a cyberman (I'm a geek after all !) because most of the previous headsets I've tried have had very avarage quality (the same applied to most of the wired ones as well, leaving aside the fact that I usually managed to snag and break the cable within weeks of getting it )

As well as a mains charger the BT800 comes with a USB connector for charging (as, we still dream of SplashPower). Of course because it's yet another variant on the mini-USB connector it means yet another cable to carry. According to the manual the BT800 is capable of firmware upgrades so hopefully the cable supports that as well (even though Bluetooth would be the logical connection !)... we'll see if a firmware upgrade ever eventuates (mine is currently V0021). The very fact that the firmware is apparently upgradable and the device doesn't require an expensive custom cable does fill me with hope though. Update (Dev 2005): New firmware available - they're as goods as their word

The BT800 pairs just fine with my aging SE T610 although the phone itself needs a firmware upgrade (something SE seem to make hard, but maybe TOTAL MultiServer can resolve for me) - although, like the Nokia bluetooth headset I had before this one the phone tends to drop the connection and isn't always clever about transfering incoming calls to the headset.

The BT800 pairs like a charm to my Powerbook (running OSX 10.4) and I was able to use the headphone both with Skype flawlessly as well as listen to iTunes (admittedly in only one ear) as I wandered about.

Under WinXP on my Vaio it's however a different matter. The WinXP SP2 Bluetooth drivers while nice and stable are not exactly feature rich. They let you connect a to a cellphone to use it as a modem but don't seem to support any audio/headset profiles. I can only hope that will be improved before Vista rolls around.

All in all, first impressions of the BT800 are very positive. Hopefully it's a sign of a new breed of slicker Bluetooth products starting to come to market. Who knows, maybe one day an interoperable wireless world may be a reality.

But I still think implanting the things so you don't look like a Blade Runner renegade is the way of the future !

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hailstone holes in the veranda roof

I was sitting out in the garden today. Lovely weather. A good WiFi connection. Minding my own business and checking a few emails.

The sky darkened (unusual for the Gold Coast in October) and about 10 minutes later golf ball sized hailstones punched throught the veranda roof landing where I had been sitting.

For some reason the power supply at home was a bit average for a while, and there was not a cellphone connection to be had !

Nature still beats Technology without really trying ;)

Of course, what's so amazing in this modern connected world is that my first thought was to grab some digital shots, upload them to my Flickr library and IM my friends to tell them about it !

Be safe out there

The internet is a scary place (especially for Windows users), and there's lots of folks out there who want to mess with your machine - either because that's how they get their kicks, or because they've worked out a way to make a dollar at someones expense (usually yours).

There are three things you need to worry about when you connect to the internet. It doesn't matter if you're on dial-up, DSL or a corporate network either you, or you systems admin, need to take care of it.

Those things are Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware and a Firewall.

Anti Virus... If you have an antivirus package installed make sure it's up-to-date. If it's not then you're at risk to all the new good infections. If it's out of date, or you don't have one at all then the first thing to do is run an online check to see what state your machine is in. It's a good first port of call to see if you have a problem. Another really good place to start looking for trouble is DoxDesk Parasite Detector - a very quick test to see if your browser is infected (note: a clean result here means that just a subset of malware has been checked for, you should still visit Housecall for a more in-depth investigation.

If you do have a problem (or even if you don't but you've not installed an up-to-date Anti Virus package yet) then I'd suggest you go and download either a trial of PC-cillin, CAs eTrust Suite or NOD32 (my favourite anti virus programs) they're all very effective and, unlike some others, don't use too much of your system resources while doing a very good job of keeping you safe) and use that to keep your system clean.

These products are not free, and you do have to pay for it after the trial ends but for the peace of mind it's well worth it (if you get a virus infection it can cost you thousands of dollars to recover your machine, and some data may be irretrievably lost). If paying for anti-virus isn't your thing GRIsoft have a free version of their reasonably good AVG package - but it's not quite as "out of sight, out of mind" as either of the others, and simply based on the adage "you get what you pay for" I'm not sure I'd trust critical data to it.

The next problem you need to counter is Spyware also often refered to as Malware. This encompassed programs that spy on what you do, deliver ads or otherwise subvert your machine (for instance using it to deliver spam).

Just as annoying as a virus and can cost you just as much in terms of hijacked resources and unwanted pop-ups. Trend Micros PC-cillin Internet Security Suite or CAs eTrust Suite both include anti-spyware and anti-virus protection in one easy-to-use package.

A second alternative is Spybot - Search and Destroy, apply any available updates and let that scan your machine for nasty programs and remove them. You can also set it to Immunize Internet Explorer against some of the most common mechanisms used to infect your machine.

A third, equally good, anti Spyware solution is Ad-Aware. You can use one, or both of these, to keep your machine free of Spyware.

One word of caution about Spyware. Some 'free' applications you can download from the web or get from PC Magazine cover discs often are supported by the adverts they deliver (or the demographic data they on-sell) - be careful when installing anything that it doesn't slip one of these in without you knowing as using a tool to remove the advertising component may well disable the application.

Keeping it clean
On a shared machine (or a work machine you use at home) you don't always want people to know where you've been on the net or what you've been doing (you wouldn't leave your bank PIN in plain site, so why risk leaving it on your machine). There are a number of 'cleaner' products such as Xblock which encompass spyware protection with tools to erase any records which could be used by Malware/Spyware programs as part of an Identity Theft attack.

Firewalls help to keep your machine safe from prying eyes and invaders who try to take advantage of trojan horses (either installed via a virus infection or a spyware install) or flaws in Windows itself. Current versions of Windows XP come with a built-in, pretty good firewall. It's easy to set up and very easy to use. If you've not got it turned on.... do so now.

There are a number of third party firewalls that can provide additional levels of security for your machine. Again PC-cillin or CAs eTrust Suite include a robust personal firewall (for wired networks and WiFi connections) that complements the built-in WinXP firewall while adding extra levels of protection. A third well respected personal firewall solution is from Zone Labs. With a long history and a very good reputation it is another tool that you can trust to keep your machine safe and secure.

Being wary

Outside these services you should subscribe to anti-phishing alerts, and also add smart, safe search tools to your arsenal of tools.

These things can help keep your machine safe. It's important not to blindly trust everything you see on the web or every email attachment you receive. Agreeing to install something on your machine can have very serious consequences - so be careful what you agree to.

Equally important is to make sure that your machine has the latest patches to help prevent attack. Go to the Microsoft Update site and make sure that both your Windows System and MS Office programs are updated to the latest versions. You should also allow Windows to run it's update on a regular basis to make sure critical fixes get delivered. Thanks to some clever folks you can now connect to Windows Update using browsers other than Internet Explorer.

If you're using an operating system older than Windows XP (with service pack 2) and your computer can run it ... you should consider upgrading as some security updates / fixes are only available for newer machines.

It's important not to trust everything you read on the internet about spyware/malware and virus protection... especially when people try to sell you stuff. I trust all the products I mention above but for a second opinion on ones to avoid check out the Spyware Warror: Rouge Anti-Spyware sites.

For Mac users... OSX is pretty robust and free from most of these issues, although a firewall (again, the internal operating system provided option is a good choice) is essential. Just because it's not been compromised yet as it becomes more popular the incentive for it to become a target grows...