Sunday, January 29, 2012

Article: Five Best Tax Preparation Tools

LifeHacker reports: "It's tax time, and here in the United States you're guaranteed a faster refund if you're due one by filing your taxes electronically. The trouble is that there are dozens of tools that can help you e-file. Some of them help you maximize your deductions and make sure nothing's overlooks, and others just make the filing process quick and easy. Here are five of the best tax preparation tools, based on your nominations." (read the rest of the article)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Software: Free BarCode Generator

The Bytescout BarCode Generator is a free program that is able to create and export barcodes into several different image formats (e.g. EMF, PNG, JPG, TIFF, GIF).  The application supports several different 1D and 2D barcode types (e.g. Codabar, Code 39, Interleaved 2 of 5, Code 93, Code 128, EAN-13, EAN-8, JAN-13, Bookland, UPC-A, UPC-E, Postnet, PDF417, Truncated PDF417, DataMatrix, QR Code and others)

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: MS Windows 95/NT/98/Me/2000/XP/Vista/7/x64, Microsoft NET 2.00 or higher installed

Monday, January 23, 2012

Windows 7: Backing up EFS certificates

Do you use the Encrypted File System (EFS) that's built into Windows 7 (which is included in Pro, Enterprise and Ultimate versions of the OS) to protect your data on your local hard drive?  If so you should make sure that you back up the EFS certificate so you can recover your encrypted data if the stored keys on your hard drive get accidentally corrupted or deleted.

To backup the EFS key, use the following procedure:

  • From the Start menu in the Search field, type CERTMGR.MSC, then press the ENTER key to open the Certificate Manager.
  • Expand the Personal node, and click Certificates.
  • Scroll down to find the certificate that shows "Encrypting File System" in the Intended Purposes column, and click it.
  • Click Actions > All Tasks > Export...
  • On the first page of the Export Wizard, press the Next button.
  • Click Yes, export the private key and press the Next button.
  • Click Personal Information Exchange and press the Next button.
  • Create a password to encrypt the private key file, then press the Next button.
  • Enter a file name and location (or press the Browse button to navigate the local drives) to store the certificate.
  • Press the Finish button.

Notes: In the Certificate Manager if there is more than one EFS certificate make sure to back them all up on some type of removable media (such as a USB key or external hard drive). Then store that device in a safe physical location.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Article: AWS offers free Windows on EC2 (kind of)

GIGAOM reports: "Amazon will let customers run free micro-instances of Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 on its EC2 service starting now, according to a new post to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) blog.

Such try-before-you-buy tactics have helped Amazon win converts to its cloud platform by letting them test new or existing applications in its cloud for free. While Amazon offers a choice of operating systems, Microsoft licensing constraints have made running Windows workloads on AWS more expensive than running them on Linux." (read the rest of the article)

If you want to learn more about AWS and EC2, this might be a great opportunity to get started without costing you any money.

Article: Microsoft revives flight sim by giving it away free

The Register reports: "Microsoft has said that it will be reviving its Flight Simulator franchise this spring with a free version of the game entitled simply Flight.

Redmond is making the game available in a private beta at present, but plans to release it as a free download eventually. The game needs a minimum of 10GB of hard drive space, a dual-core 2Ghz processor, Windows XP SP3 and 2GB of RAM, according to the video trailer. Initially Flight will only have one plane – the ICON A5 flying boat - but Windows Live users will get access to extra missions and plane types if they sign in." (read the rest of the article)

Monday, January 16, 2012 (Unicode Character Finder) helps you to find the right Unicode characters.  All you have to do is draw the Unicode character you're looking for, and the site will show you the closest matches in their database. Currently, there are 10877 Unicode character glyphs in their database.

Note: The site currently doesn't support Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters.

If you don't know what Unicode is, per Wikipedia it's "a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. " (read the rest of the article)

Play Cut the Rope for the your Browser

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team partnered with ZeptoLab to port their popular game Cut the Rope in to  HTML5 to demonstrate its robustness as a development platform. The game was  primarily designed to demonstrate Internet Explorer 9 capabilities, but it works in other browsers (like Chrome).

Emperor 1510 Workstation from MWE Lab at CES 2011

At CES 2012 MWE Lab introduced the Emperor 1510, which is the ultimate computer workstation chair for around $6000 USD.

Check out the site for more information.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Speed Up Your SSD By Correctly Aligning Your Partitions

If you have a newer SSD drive you have to make sure that the partition alignment is setup correctly. Otherwise, you might be sacrificing some of your performance.

LifeHacker did a great article called "Speed Up Your SSD By Correctly Aligning Your Partitions", here is an excerpt: "To see if your partitions are aligned correctly, hit the Start menu and type in msinfo32. Enter Msinfo32 and go to Components > Storage > Disks. Look for your SSD on the list and find the "Partition Starting Offset" item. If this number is divisible by 4096 (that is, if dividing it by 4096 equals a whole number and not a decimal), your partition is correctly aligned. If not, you need to realign it. " (read the rest of the article here)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Privacy: Introduction to Publicly Available Information

As the Internet grew over the last few decades, people and companies would make information publicly available without realizing how it can be exploited if used improperly.

Criminals have learned how to take advantage of this information by having computers crawl the public web looking for it.  For example, they first started looking for email addressees for sending SPAM, and later evolved into searching for other types of data.

Have you ever wondered how much can someone find out about you on the Internet?  There is an amazing amount of public information available about most people that they might not realize is there.

Below is a brief description of some of the more popular examples:

  • Do a web search on your whole name or email address and see what you pull up. 
  • There are companies that compile public databases into a central location, and sell that data.  This information is public (e.g. from tax records, DMV, etc.), so in most cases you can't request that you're information be removed.
  • There is also information that we publicly post through social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), that you might be making publicly available without realizing it.  
  • Go to a site called IPFINGERPRINTS, it will show the geographical location of where it knows IP address is located.  Companies regular use the IP address information to track the location of where visitors are located.  This information is generally used to more accurately target advertising for products and services.
    • Note: Depending on the service provider you're using, the location information may vary.

If you're wondering what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Without the right privacy settings on your personal and friend's accounts on any of the social networking sites, any information that is posted will be indexed and made publicly available.  Most of these sites use "public" as their default privacy settings, which means anyone can view it including the search engines.  If you don't want your data to be publicly available, learn to lock-down your privacy settings.
  • If you find information on a web site that is posted about you, you can contact the web site and ask them to remove it.  You do need to understand that in most cases there is nothing to force any company to remove information (this can vary depending on local or country laws).
  • Use common sense, it doesn't matter how good your privacy settings are, don't post information on any site, including social networking sites that you don't want other people being able to find out about yourself.
  • In general it's a good idea to lock down all your online accounts with strong and unique passwords.  Criminals have recently been targeting people's email and social networking accounts to target their friends, family and business associates with different types of scams.  For example, they pretend to be you and tell everyone you know that you're stuck in a foreign country and you need their help by sending money.