Friday, December 07, 2007

Security of personal info

Next time you open up a bank account or apply for a credit card and they ask for a security question DO NOT use mother's maiden name. That has long been the default security question, but it is most definitely not a good idea.
For most people this information is too widely known to be an effective security question.

I took down all genealogy info from my website a few years ago when I came to the realization that web sites, including banks, were still relying on this little tidbit of info to "prove" that someone had a legitimate claim to change or discover passwords and other secure info under the trust of the website.

Just as bad as that is "What brand was your first car" For quite a large number of people
that will be one of the following: Dodge, GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Chrysler
...even if you add in some more obscure brands and all the luxury brands that are not likely to be first cars, that's not that many permutations to try before the attacker hits paydirt.

The best option of all when choosing a security question is if they give you the option of making the question up, then you choose a question thatyou think ONLY you would know the answer to and you won't forget. Again, try for something that can't be guessed in a limited (small) number of tries and that is not easy to look up on the internet or ask one of your relatives for the answer. "How many kids did Aunt Sue have?" would be a bad choice. "What song did your ex love that you secretly hated?" is better.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Computer Pet Peeves

Here are a few pet peeves of mine to do with computers.

1. Google nabbing the cursor. I have used Google as my start page in every browser I use for years and I've been annoyed by this again and again. You open the browser, start to type into the address bar then google finishes loading and steals the cursor. So I end up with www.slashd in the address bar and in the google search field. Grr! ...and it's more annoying if you have iGoogle enabled because that wait time is much longer so you manage to get more typed into the address bar before it flips the cursor to the search input field. I have started to solve this by making a Google Search enabled page in my own domain and using that as my start page because strangely enough that doesn't steal my cursor away, and when someone uses a computer that I've set up that way and clicks on the sponsored links I think Google's adsense tosses me a penny or two.

2. When you open a couple of programs, one loads first, you click on it and start working with it and the other loads ON TOP OF IT! If I have started working with another program I don't want something I asked for a few seconds before I started working to interrupt, it should load BEHIND what I'm doing, and I'll get to it when _I_ am ready. If I've moved on to do something else it's too late, load in the background.

3. Vista's nagging. I know everyone complains about this, but I don't mean it shouldn't ask for admin passwords at all, just that it shouldn't ask for it when I'm doing something that shouldn't need admin permission ... like "ipconfig /renew" or connecting to a new hotspot at some restaurant or airport. C'mon Microsoft, you have to realize that CEOs and managers don't generally travel with the IT dept. let them connect to a hotspot without asking their geek to do it for them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September is National Preparedness Month

In the USA September is now National Preparedness Month thanks to the disaster on Sept. 11 a few years back.

Everyone (not just US residents) is encouraged to take a look at how prepared you are for an emergency. Would you do OK in a week long blackout like some folks had in 2003? what about if the roads were closed too?

Some good tips are make sure you have an emergency kit including first aid gear water and food (and a can opener to get at the food), a fire extinguisher, cash, prescription meds, matches ...and of course the techy stuff...

  1. Have a radio for communications (at least an FRS/GMRS radio, they are cheap and you can contact your neighbors on the emergency calling channel (#1).

  2. Have a phone that doesn't need power. (an old fashioned touch tone/rotary one with a cord).

  3. If you already have a CB and a GMRS radio look into learning enough about Amateur (HAM) Radio to get a license and pick up one of those too. HAM Radio allows much longer distance communications than either of the unlicensed radio bands.

  4. Get involved with CERT, ARES, RACES, Red Cross, Neighborhood Watch, or some other organization that might be talking about emergency preparedness right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Buying a digital Camera

I've been asked by a few folks recently what camera to buy, in most cases the budget is about $200 Canadian and they don't want to have to learn something too complex. Well, with those constraints my opinion is that while you could buy a camera from just about any company in that price range and be reasonably happy if you are just shooting snapshots of friends and family in well lit situations (out doors or with flash in the standard boring on-camera setup) You might as well look at something by Nikon or Canon in that range or a bit higher (up to $350) to get something that you can set a few other options and grow into a little, rather than grow out of too quickly.

Look for one that has A and S (AKA Av and Tv, Aperture and Shutter priority) modes... and one with a setting for ISO sensitivity. These will be the features that make the most impact on your photography. These will give you control over how dark it can be before you need to resort to turning that flash on, which will let you be a little more creative, and get some images that don't look like everyone else's "deer in the headlights" shots.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Democracy is now Miro

Democracy, the awesome video podcasting client that I talked about a few months ago here just changed it's name to Miro because there were a lot of folks who thought that democracy was just about politics. check out the new website at

Along with all the great features that Democracy had before the new Miro client allows you to search and download videos as well as the youtube ones you could do before.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ubuntu Linux 7.04 - Feisty Fawn

Today Ubuntu 7.04 was released.

7.04 brings with it Ubuntu's new live install. Previous versions of Ubuntu used to ship 2 CD-ROMs, one for demos, the Live CD, and one for installs. Now these are combined to create what I think is the ultimate installer. Ubuntu now boots up a full working version of the OS from CD with an icon on the desktop labeled "install" you can play around with most of the Ubuntu software including games and the Firefox web browser before or DURING the install process. This is a huge leap forward and I'd love to see windows and MacOS follow suit and give the techies the ability to browse the web at least while the OS installs.

Also new in the installer is the migration assistant that looks for compatible previous OSes on your hard disk and attempts to import users and data from them into your new Ubuntu install. That is also a nice feature that I'd like to see replicated on other OSes.

7.04 server edition also includes optimized Virtual Machine support for Kernel-based Virtual Machines (KVM) and VMware.

I may write a bit more about Ubuntu 7.04 later as I get a chance to use it more, but for now I just wanted to say I LOVE the new installer.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sony "DVD" discs not even compatible with Sony players

A number of Sony customers are reporting problems with several newer Sony "DVD" discs. Why the quotation marks you ask? because they are not designed to be compatible with the DVD-Video standard, so like the Sony CD-like discs that are not designed to the CD Digital Audio specs I'm not sure I can call these things DVDs in good conscience.

Take a look at this Blog for one gentleman's story about his encounter with these discs and Sony support.

So far the list of effected discs is:

Stranger Than Fiction
Casino Royale
The Pursuit of Happyness

...but I'm sure we can expect more of these.

My advice is :
Don't buy SONY DVDs
If you must buy them, test in as many DVD players as you can before you lose the reciept and take it back if it fails to work in even 1 tested machine.
If you really want to stick it to them buy, return, repeat. many times as you can. ...and do it at Walmart just to kill two birds with one stone.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Star Office

If you live near Oshawa Ontario and need a cheap office product with support from a big company (Sun Microsystems) go to the Liquidation World in the Midtown Mall, they have stacks of Star Office 7 for Windows, Linux and Solaris on sale for $7 each.

Check here to see all the features of Star Office :,4149,1435597,00.asp

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Windows Vista - Parental Controls

Windows vista has some nice parental controls. I have always thought that the Macintosh had nice controls for restricting a child's ability to run certain software, and visit certain sites on the internet built in, and I always wondered why they didn't promote that more... now it's too late beacause that's no longer an advantage they hold over MS.

Vista allows an administrator to further lock down a regular user account so that that user can only access programs from a specified list, or only games with a certain rating (and you can pick which rating system you prefer from a list of several.) or only access the internet between the hours of X and Y. you get the idea. It's cool and it's free the only catch is it gets turned off if the PC is being run in a domain environment (corporate installs) . I think it would have been handy to have there too. I would love to be able to restrict access like that on some of the Point of Sale machines I work on, maybe it'll happen when Longhorn server comes out and Active Directory gets updated.

Windows Vista - Users

Windows Vista changes the way we use Users and the Administrators group.
As always you should create an administrator account and then immediately create a standard user account that you will use for day to day work, the difference is that the standard user is not quite as crippled when it comes to installing sfotware as it was in XP.

You still need to know the administrator's password to install, but you don't have to log out of the standard user's session or fast switch between users to install programs, instead if you try to do any sort of administrative function when you are logged in as a non-admin user windows will just prompt you to enter the username and password of an administrator.

This means that while you are working away in a safely non-admin account you don't have to stop your work to install some piece of software or change some configuration option that Windows considers to be in the domain of the administrator.

On the other hand, while you can log in as an administrator and work that way, and you will only be prompted to click OK when you do an admin function, you'll find that the administrator's ability to map network drives and run startup scripts has been crippled this is a security feature that has the side effect of making it just inconvenient enough to run as admin all the time that you will prefer to be a standard user.

Also of note, there is no more power user, the new standard user with the ability to escalate privledges with a password replaces that role.

It may take a little getting used to but this new way of working makes Vista much closer to the Unix/MacOS security model, which has been proven to be more effective against viruses and intruders.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Windows Vista - do the upgrade

I've been working in Vista for the past 2 weeks as I didn't have time to really explore it's ins and outs, so I decided to set up my laptop to dual boot and try to use Vista as much as possible.

So far, as a Network Geek, I like it!

Sure it's flashy and anything looks better than the XP default "Fisher Price" theme, but that's not what I mean.

MS has taken the time to do many many things right. Things that drove a lot of folks away to Mac and Linux because it didn't look like Windows was ever going to get there.

That said, they failed miserably on IE7, and since that is the browser for Vista we'll be stuck with it for the next 6 years or so. They did manage to get PNG graphics to work right in it though, so all you web heads get working on your PNG based designs.

I'll be devoting the next few posts on here to several different areas that I think are worth noting in the Vista upgrade, starting with the new User model, Parental Controls, and IPV6 support. Check back often, unlike the past these updates will be sort of rapid-fire, I think one a day for a little while.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Get Democracy

For anyone who's loving the whole YouTube and podcast phenomenon that's currently revolutionizing the way we consume entertainemnt products and from whom we get them... if you haven't heard of democracy (the video player) go right now and check it out.

Democracy is more than just your average media player. It is a TV platform for the internet age.

When you first get it you will see a few sample channels in your subscriptions one of which is the channel channel. (previews of some of the other channels) Once you are done looking at those move into the channels pane and find some channels that really interest you. My current favorite is PixelPerfect with Bert Monroy. (from, the guys who used to do the Screen Savers on the old Tech TV channel in the old fashioned Cable and Satellite universe.)

Some of these are StandardDef, some are HighDef. (Pixel Perfect is a good HD example. ) Whether a show is low def or high def usually has more to do with budget and whether it is suitable for HD treatment (will the viewers gain some value from the bigger download) not based on advertising revenue. (of which there still isn't much in the new IPTV world. )

Democracy doesn't stop with the channels though (which use a combination of podcast and bittorrent technologies) it also extends to making You Tube and Google video (as well as a few others) more useful too. You can search these video sites from right inside Democracy and then download (yes I said download, as in you get a copy that you can keep or burn to a DVD to watch on an oldfashioned TV) your favorite videos and get this, the quality is better than if you went to YouTube to watch it and there's no animated banner ads for Home Depot to deal with.

Oh, and worry not, Democracy is Free and OpenSource and available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Mac users get a bonus in that if it is running in your Dock you get a little green button added to the icon to tell you how many new videos it has downloaded for you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Virtual Machines

Today Microsoft released the latest version of its virtualization software, Virtual PC 2007, now optimized for Vista.

Virtualizing software like Virtual PC and Microsoft's rival in this arena, VMWare, allow users to run older operating systems, or alternate operating systems from within Windows.

Volume license customers running Windows Vista Enterprise Edition are allowed to run up to four additional virtual instances of Windows on their PC. Other users can download Virtual PC, but need to license any other copies of Windows, however, MS offers a version of XP with IE 6 for free download that will expire in March. This is meant to allow web designers to upgrade their current XP to IE7 while still maintaining a way to test for the old browser.

VMWare, my personal preference, also provides a tool to convert an existing windows installation into a virtual machine, so if you want to keep you old computer because it's got everything installed already, but it's just taking up too much room in your home office you could try virtualizing it.