Thursday, November 30, 2006

Windows XP: Stupid Notepad Tricks

Windows Notepad has a little known log function that will insert the date and time into the file every time a specially created document is re-opened. All you have to do is open a new instance of Notepad, and type .LOG as the first line of the file. Now save the document and close it, and re-open the document, the current date and time will be appended to the end of the file.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Software: Download Windows PowerShell 1.0

Windows PowerShell 1.0 is Microsoft's next generation command line shell and scripting language which comes as part of Windows Vista. It's also available as a separate download for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003.

Windows PowerShell includes more than 130 standard command line tools, with a consistent syntax across all the utilities. To find out how to use PowerShell you can download the Documentation Pack. This documentation includes a 'Getting Started Guide', 'Quick Reference chart' and a 100+ page PowerShell primer.

Note: To install PowerShell, you will need to install the .NET Framework 2.0 on your local computer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Firefox: Clearing Your Browser Information (Privacy)

Yesterday I talked about clearing the browser's cache in Internet Explorer (IE) for troubleshooting and privacy reasons. Now, I am going to tell you how to do this same operation in Firefox 1.5 (and higher).

Firefox and IE have similar caching features, but Firefox has a few extra. Below is a list of Firefox's caching features, and the type of information it tracks:
  • File Cache: Stores local copies of web site elements, such as: images, text, etc. This data is used to speed up the browsing experience if you revisit a web page you have already been too.
  • Cookies: Small amount of text data that can be placed on your computer by various web sites. This information is used by the web site to hold user information (site preferences, account information, etc.).
  • Download History: Tracks the files you downloaded from a web site, and where they're located on your system.
  • Web Site History: A list of Web sites that you visited, including the date and time you were there.
  • Saved Passwords: When you enter your username and password for a web site, you will be given the option to have the browser manage this information.
  • Saved Forms: When you enter information into an online form, this feature tracks your input so that you don't have to enter the same information twice.
  • Search Bar History: Tracks all searches you perform with the Firefox search bar.
Firefox provides a quick and easy way to purge this information (i.e.: cookies, passwords, browsing history, etc.). From Firefox's Tools menu, select 'Clear Private Data...'. Select the items you want to delete, then press the 'Clear Private Data Now' button.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Internet Explorer: Clearing Your Browser's Cache

All browsers have a cache, where they store local copies of web pages, and files that you download. Most of the time the browser's cache is very helpful, because it prevents you from having to wait for a web page to download that you have already visited. Although there are times that you need to purge this area for one reason or another.

Generally, there are only three reasons to clear your browser's cache. One, if you're trying to download a file and you keep getting the corrupted version of that file. Two, to free hard drive space. Three, for privacy reasons, to prevent others from viewing the web sites you visited or files that you downloaded.

In Internet Explorer v6.0 to clear the cache follow the instructions below:
  • From the Tools menu, select 'Internet Options...'
  • In the General tab, under 'Temporary Internet Files' press the 'Delete Files' button to clear the cache. You can also press the 'Delete Cookies' button to purge your browser's cookies..
  • For extra measure
    • In the History section you can also press the 'Clear History' button to erase your browser's history of all the web sites that you visited.
    • Click on the Content tab, under Personal Information is the AutoComplete button. From here you can delete any saved form data by pressing the 'Clear Forms' button, or erase your saved passwords by pressing the 'Clear Password' button.
  • Press the OK button when done.
In Internet Explorer v7.0 to clear the cache follow the instructions below:
  • From the Tools menu, select 'Delete Browsing History...'
  • In the dialog you can individually delete the browser's cache, cookies, history, saved form data or passwords. You can also delete everything by pressing the 'Delete All' button.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Software: Sysinternals Suite Now From TechNet

In the past I have talked about some great utilities that are available from Sysinternals that you could download. I have also talked about how Microsoft recently purchased the site in July 2006, and hired the authors (Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell) of these tools. If you now go to the Sysinternals site, you will now be redirected to the Microsoft version of it.

Microsoft is continuing the Sysinternals legacy of utilities by keeping them available for download on their site. They have also rolled them up into a single suite, this suite contains all the individual tools and help files in one file (8MB in size).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Free eBook: Defending Yourself in the Information Age

Most people know how to protect themselves in the real world, but do you know how to protect yourself in the virtual world? Download my free ebook, 'Defending Yourself in the Information Age' and learn how.

This book explains how to protect your: computer, data, privacy and identity from being stolen. Learn about the latest digital scams, and threats that you will face everyday whether your surfing the Web, or sitting at home reading a book.

Download the book here (1.3M PDF).

Happy Thanksgiving....

To all my readers here in the USA, I just want to say to you 'Happy Thanksgiving...' to you...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Internet Explorer: Saving Files from the Web

Some web pages have links directly to files that you can download, such as: executables, pictures, video, audio, etc. To save this content to your local hard drive, all you need to do is:
  • Open the Internet Explorer to the web page that has a link to a file that you want to download.
  • Right-click the link and select 'Save Target As...' (in Firefox select 'Save Link As...').
  • When the 'Save As' dialog displays, choose a name for the file, and the location to save it to.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Windows XP: Microsoft Hardware Drivers

If you're running Windows XP (or Windows Vista) and using Microsoft hardware (i.e.: keyboard, mouse, fingerprint reader, etc.) you can download the latest drivers for it from this page. These drivers will allow you to take full advantage of all the features built in to these devices.

Note: The final version of the Windows Vista drivers are supposed to be available in December. If you want to use beta versions of the keyboard and mouse drivers they're available now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Internet: Zamzar - Free online file conversion

Zamzar is a free file conversion service that supports the ability to convert a file from one format (i.e.: Microsoft Word) into a wide variety of other formats (i.e.: Adobe PDF). There are four categories of file formats that this web site supports: document, image, music and video.

All you do is upload the file, select the format you want to convert it to, enter your email address , and press the convert button. In a few minutes you should receive an email with a link to download the converted document when the process is finished.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Diagnostics: Fixing Problems with your CD/DVD Drive

Are you having problems with your CD/DVD optical drive? For example, maybe its not reading or writing a disk correctly. If the drive is still spinning a disk, and you can hear the head move there is a chance that the drive might still be functional. Below are some troubleshooting tips that might help you fix the problem, or at least identify what is causing it.

When troubleshooting any type of computer problem, there are generally two things that you have to do. First, find out if the problem was caused by any recent changes that were made to the system. If so, reverse these changes and see if the problem goes away.

If no modification were recently made to the system, or reversing the change didn't fix the problem. Then the next thing that you need to do is find out if the problem is hardware or software related?
  • Hardware related problems:
    • Try booting your computer with a bootable CD (such as your OS's installation disk). If you can do this then its a good indication that your drive maybe working properly and the problem might be software related.
    • If you're still having problems, open your computer and check your drive's cable and make sure they're properly plugged in correctly on both ends.
      • Note: before you open a computer make sure that its unplugged, and that you take appropriate safety precautions before preceding.
    • On notebook computer the drive's laser lens could get dirty, from dust or finger prints. On a desktop computer, dust can get into your drive. These contaminants can prevent the laser from being able to read/write to the disk properly. You can try blowing out the drive with compressed air.
    • On a notebook computer, place a disk on to the drive's spindle and spin it to see if the disk is spinning correctly. If it doesn't spin easily and/or wobbels, there could be a problem with your drive.
  • Software (or system) related problems:
    • When burning CD or DVDs its a good idea to make sure that there are no background processes running, they can cause some buffering problems because they're eating up to much CPU time and/or RAM. Check the Task Manager and make sure that you have enough memory and CPU cycles available.
    • Did you recently install some new software on your system right before this problem started happening? If so, try un-installing it and try to burn a disk again.
    • Did you recently modify the drive's parameters in the Device Manager or your computer's BIOS? If so, revert the settings back to their original state.
    • Try un-installing all your CD/DVD burning software that you're using, and use Windows XP built-in CD writer feature. If this works and you're able to burn CDs, then there is a software compatibility problem with your burning software. Check the software manufacturer's web site for updates.
    • Try using an alternative CD/DVD burning program like CDBurnerXP Pro. Check if you still have same problems creating a disk using this software. If so, it could be a hardware problem
    • If the disks you're creating are only readable on your computer and not any other system, the problem could be with your CD/DVD burning software. If you're software doesn't close the session on the disk, it may not be readable on another computer. Check how your CD burning software is configured to create disks.
  • Other suggestions
    • Search the web for your drive's model number and the keyword "Firmware", sometime manufactures will release updates to their drive's firmware.
    • Try another brand of media, you might have gotten a hold of a bad batch of disks. If you use really cheap disk, this situation is not too uncommon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Software: Process Monitor v1.01

Microsoft recently released a tool called 'Process Monitor', which is an enhanced version of the Sysinternal Process Explorer utility (which has been retired). Microsoft recently acquired the Sysinternal web site and tools, and hired its creators.

Process Monitor is a great utility for performing advanced system monitoring and getting real-time file system, Registry and process/thread activity. The utility now incorporates the features of two other Sysinternals utilities, called Filemon and Regmon.

Process Monitor runs on Windows 2000 (SP4), XP (SP2), 2003 (SP1), and Vista. Its also supports both x86 and x64 versions of Windows. Check out the web site for more information

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Software: Sysinternals New Home...

I am a big fan of the Sysinternals utilities, these are some of the best free utilities available for Windows. In fact, I liked these utilities so much that I have published a few articles on these programs in the past, such as: Process Explorer and AutoRuns.

Microsoft recent acquired Sysinternals, and hired its creators Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell in July, 2006. Now they have publish the Sysinternals tools on their web site. In fact the old Sysinternals web site now redirects people to the Microsoft version of the site.

Since joining Microsoft, a new generation Process Explorer has been released called 'Process Monitor' which in fact combines a few utilities into one package.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (November)

It's the second Tuesday of the month, which means that Microsoft just published another round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that companies only have to patch their computers and servers once a month.

Microsoft generally rates the severity (such as: critical, important, etc.) of each of the patches. This month there are five patches that are marked critical, and one patch that is marked important.

For the average user, if you have Automatic Updates enabled your computer will download these updates for you in the background. Then when you shutdown these patches will be installed, or if you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system rebooted.

Warning: Any unsaved work will be lost if your system is rebooted...

To keep your computer updated, if you don't have 'Automatic Updates' turned on I would recommend that you enable it as soon as possible. Also if you have enabled this feature, and you leave your computer on overnight I would save all your work before you leave for the day.
To enable Automatic Updates:
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.
If you don't want to enable Automatic Updates, you can always update your computer by visiting the Windows Update site and downloading and installing the patches manually.

Note: For the latest Microsoft Security Bulletins, check out this site.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Article: Alarm Raised for Critical Broadcom Wi-Fi Driver Flaw

eWeek reports: "Computer security analysts are raising the alarm for a critical vulnerability in the Broadcom wireless driver embedded in PCs from HP, Dell, Gateway and eMachines."

This seemed like the hot topic of the day. Basically there's a stack-based buffer overflow exploit in the Broadcom BCMWL5.SYS wireless device driver. Basically if you use your Wi-Fi card to hookup to the Internet in a public place, you could theoretically have your computer taken over by this exploit.

Broadcom has released a fixed driver to its partners, but the availability of fixes appears to be limited. Check with your Wi-Fi card manufacture to find out if you're affected.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Article: Microsoft: Vista RTM a 'Significant Milestone'

eWeek reports: "The code for Windows Vista has finally been released to manufacturing, Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platforms and services division, announced in a media teleconference on Nov. 8."

Windows Vista and Office 2007 will be coming soon to a store near you. Windows Vista is the most significant upgrade to this OS since Windows 95. The desktop, and Windows Explorer have several new features that may take some time to get use to.

Overall, I really like Vista it has been a very stable OS. When it first ships the greatest problem I would expect that most people will have is driver availability for certain devices.

There is a lot of driver support build into Vista already. Although, for some devices you might have to wait for manufacture to release updated drivers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Windows XP: Turning off the 'New Programs Installed' Notice

Whenever a new program is install in Windows XP, the Windows Explorer highlights the new program shortcuts in the Start menu under the 'All Programs' sub-menu. Some people may find this feature useful, while others will find it really annoying.

To disable this feature, follow these instructions:
  • Right-click the Start button, and select Properties.
  • On the Start Menu tab, press the Customize button.
  • Click the Advanced tab.
  • Under 'Start Menu Settings,' uncheck the 'Highlight newly installed programs' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button.
Note: To re-enable this feature, just follow the instructions but check the 'Highlight newly installed programs' checkbox.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Internet: Live Search 3D Maps

Microsoft recently added 3D maps of some popular cities in the US to their Live Search site. I am and have been a big fan of Google Earth for a long time, but I have to say that the quality of Microsoft's 3D maps are better then those available from Google.

3D views are available for the following cities:
  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Fort Worth
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
To use this new service and see the new maps you need to install the Virtual Earth 3D plug-in for Internet Explorer 6 and higher.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Software: Firefox is Now Available

If you have not upgraded to Firefox v2.0 just yet for one reason or another and you're still running v1.5.0.7 (or older) of the browser, you will soon be getting a notice that you need to upgrade v1.5.0.8. This new version of the Firefox browser contains security and stability updates, below is a brief list of the fixes:
  • Running Script can be recompiled
  • RSA signature forgery (variant)
  • Crashes with evidence of memory corruption
If you're curious how long will support v1.5.x version of their Firefox browser, here is a quote from their web site, "Firefox 1.5.0.x will be maintained with security and stability updates until April 24, 2007. All users are strongly encouraged to upgrade to Firefox 2."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Security: ShieldsUp and LeakTest

Did you know that the Windows Firewall that comes with Windows XP is only a one-way firewall? Which means that it can prevent threats from the Internet from harming your computer. Although, if your computer is infected by some type of malware (i.e.: virus, worms, etc.)., then you won't know about them.

Most commercial firewalls that you can buy today are two-way firewalls which means that they block threats from the Internet, but they also alert you to programs that is trying to communicate with the Internet. Most of the time you're only going to see legitimate requests from applications (such as your browser, IM client, etc.) requesting access to the Internet.

Although there are times that you might find that there is a rouge application that is installed on your computer making a request. This is when you should suspect if your computer is infected by some type of malware.

Gibson Research offers to great utilities that can help you evaluate how well your computer's defenses are protecting you. The first utility is called ShieldsUp which checks your firewall for open, closed and stealth ports.
Quick lesson about TCP/IP: When communicating with the TCP/IP protocol (everything on the Internet uses this protocol to talk to each other) with another device there are two things that you have to know. The remote device's IP address and the TCP port that you want to communicate with. A TCP port is like a port hole on the side a ship, when its open it can allow something in (i.e.: air, water, birds, etc.), when its closed then nothing can get in.
Ideally you want all the ports on your computer to be stealth which means when hackers and malware are scanning for vulnerable computers they won't be able to find you. While closed ports are not as good as stealth ports because they tell the hacker or malware that there is a computer at a specific IP address. Although, since the port is closed, there is nothing that they can do with it.

The second utility is called LeakTest, which is a very simple program that makes a request to the GRC's web server. If your firewall let's the program make the request without alerting you then your firewall doesn't block unknown outbound connections. These connections can be used by malware to 'leak' data about you out of your computer without you knowing about it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Software: EverNote (Note Organizer)

Do you take a lot of notes and keep them in various places? If you're like me I like to track lots of data on several different subjects so its important to me to be able to keep all my notes in one place and make them searchable.

There are several different programs available on the market to do this, but there are two I would suggest that you check out. The first one is called OneNote from Microsoft, its part of their Office suite. The second program is called EverNote. Both of these programs can capture, search, and allow you to organize several different types of data (i.e.: text, web pages, e-mail, images, video, and more.)

EverNote comes in two versions, free and paid. Both versions are featured pack, but he paid version has three main features that the free version doesn't:
  • Synchronizing your notes with a USB flash drives or other types of removable media.
  • Handwriting, and shape recognition.
  • The ability to search in handwritten notes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Video: First look at Microsoft Office Live

CNET reports: "CNET's Elsa Wenzel shows off Microsoft's new Office Live service. In addition to giving you a free Web site, Microsoft Office Live will soon enable online keyword marketing campaigns for your company while integrating its various Web-based tools with the desktop Office Accounting and, of course, the impending Microsoft Office suite."

The video production quality is sub-par, but it gives you a quick introduction to the Microsoft Office Live service.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Software: Microsoft is Giving Away a Free Accounting Application

According to Microsoft's web site, they're giving away Office Accounting Express 2007 software absolutely free, with no strings attached.

Some of the new functionality includes: creating invoices, quotes, receipts, and expense tracking. Some of the other features of the program include:
  • Enter data once and share it seamlessly with other Microsoft Office system programs
  • Manage payroll and taxes with ADP's integrated payroll service
  • Store and organize all your customer, vendor, employee, and financial information in one place
  • Get business insights with over 20 customizable reports
  • List items on eBay, track sales activity, and download and process orders
  • Monitor your customers' business credit in real-time through Equifax
  • And more.
Office Accounting Express 2007 also includes links to third parties that offer additional fee-based services, including ADP for payroll, eBay for online sales, Equifax for credit checks and PayPal for online payments.