Friday, December 29, 2006

Software: Installing DirectX

If you play games or watch videos on your computer, you may want to make sure that you download and install the latest version of Microsoft DirectX software. DirectX is a group of technologies designed to give you best performance from your graphics and sound hardware. Its also a standard among developers of multimedia applications.

To find out what version of DirectX your system is using, from the Run... command type "dxdiag" and press Enter. This will run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool, and display information about your computer's hardware and the version of the OS and software that its running.

To obtained the latest version of DirectX visit the Microsoft DirectX site.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Internet Radio Sites

When you're working on the computer, do you like to listen to music but are tired of the stuff on your CDs, MP3, or DRM'd music (such as iTunes, and others) collections. There are several Internet Radio sites that you can listen to for free:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Internet Explorer: Automatically Clearing the Cache

Internet Explorer (IE) automatically keeps a local copy of all the web pages, images, and other objects that you view in your browser. The reason for doing this is to speed up the browsing experience by keeping local copies of the content that has not changed when you revisit a web page.

There are two reasons some people don't like these file stored on their hard drive. First and foremost for privacy reasons, and second because it can consume a lot of space.

You can manually clear the cache from the Tools menu, by selecting Internet Options. Then on the General tab, pressing the Delete Files button. You can also configure IE to automatically clear the browser cache when you exit the program.
  • From the Internet Options dialog, select the Advanced tab.
  • In the Setting listbox, under the Security section, check 'Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed'.
  • Press the OK button.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Free (and low cost) Privacy Toolkit (Updated)

In my previous article I talked about some basic tools and services that you can use to protect your privacy when you're online and in the real world. Now I am going to explain how to protect the data on your local computer, and your privacy when you surf the web.

File/Disk Encryption
What privacy toolkit would be complete if I didn't talk about encryption. There are several tools available that allows you to encrypt your data. One of the best tools for encrypting your data is GnuPG, it uses strong encryption to protect your data. (Note: This tool is difficult to use so make sure that you download one of the the GUI interfaces for it.)

If you own Windows XP Professional, it includes a built-in file encryption function called EFS that is part of the OS. EFS will automatically encrypt and decrypt your files for you.

If file encryption is not enough, and you want to encrypt the contents of your whole hard drive use a program called TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt works by creating a virtual encrypted disk within a file and then allows you to mount it like a real hard drive.

Other privacy tools and resources:
  • SDelete: Completely erases a file on the hard drive by writing data over it several times.
  • DBAN: Completely erases a whole hard drive by writing data over it several times.
  • CCLeaner: Windows privacy and optimization utility, read this page for a list of features.
  • Firefox: Clearing The Cache: Explains how to clear the private information from the Firefox browser.
  • Internet Explorer: Clearing The Cache: Explains how to clear the private information from the Internet Explorer browser.

Find Out What Web Sites Know About You
Check out the following sites if you want to see the data someone can learn about you, just by querying your IP address or your browser's information.
  • GeoBytes: Once someone has your IP address, then they can use it isolate where your ISP is located. So if you live in a close proximity to your ISP then someone can roughly narrow down where you live.
  • CGI Environment Variable Viewer: The information shown on this page, displays what just about any web server can learn about you based on HTTP header information your browser sends every time you visit a web site. Things to notice are the REFERRER and USER AGENT information. The referrer can display the web site you were previously at before visiting the site. The user agent shows the site the type of browser you're using.
    • HTTP Header Viewer: See the HTTP headers supplied by your browser to every web site that you visit.
  • BrowserSpy: This web site will show you just about everything that a web site can query about your browser.
Surfing the Semi-Anonymously
If you would like to browse the web semi-anonymously, check out EFF's Tor tool. This tool protects your privacy by, using a technology called 'Onion-Routing' which basically means that it adds several 'layers' of extra network routing to obfuscate the origin of the traffic.

If Tor is too complicated to use a good alternative to browse anonymously is a service called Anonymizer (Note: this is a fee-based service). This service works by performing your HTTP requests for you, then sending you back the results. The only thing that the visiting web site sees is the Anonymizer servers.

If you want to test if these services are really working, go to a site called before turning on the service. Then visit the web site again after you enable the service. Your IP address should be different, if not then the service is not working for you.

Other privacy tools and services:
Privacy Tools for Firefox
  • TrackMeNot: Help protects against data profiling popular search-engines by issuing randomized queries with fake data.
  • PrivacyBar: Provides a set of privacy and security tools for Firefox.
Other articles and resources on Privacy:
"Ultimately, as technology increases, privacy decreases." -- Jason Savitt

Monday, December 25, 2006

Web Site:

Here is a web site that I recently came across that called It's dedicated to warning people about 'bad software ' that contains malicious code (aka malware), such as: viruses, spyware, etc.

Currently there are 412+ reports of 'bad software' on the site. I hope to see more added soon, this could be a valuable resource if people contribute to it.

Below is an excerpt from the site: " is a "Neighborhood Watch" campaign aimed at fighting badware. We will seek to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers. We aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware." Read more.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Free (and low cost) Privacy Toolkit

Sometimes you might feel that you're forced to give out your personal information (such as your phone number, home address, e-mail address, etc.) in order for someone to contact you. For example if you sell things online, in newspapers, etc.

Then there are the web sites that force you to register your personal information in order to access content on it. If you're not a regular visitor of that site, or it's a site that you don't trust then you might be leery of giving out this information to them.

What if I told you there was a way to protect your privacy, while still allowing people the ability to contact you when they want to. There are several web sites on the Internet that offer free or low-cost services that can help protect your privacy.
Disclaimer: Use the tools and services listed below at your own risk. I do not recommend or endorse any of the companies, services, or software listed below. The information on this site is provided for general reference purposes only.
Creating a Public E-mail Address
The first thing that you need in your privacy toolkit is a public email address, one that you don't mind giving out to people, companies, web sites, or publishing on the Internet. This address is basically going to be your first line of contact for people whom you don't know and web sites that you don't trust.

Several companies such as Google's Gmail, Yahoo's Yahoo Mail, Microsoft's Windows Live Mail, etc. offer free email addresses with SPAM filtering, file attachment virus scanning, etc. The main issue about having this extra account is that you're going to have to check it on a regular basis in order to maintain it.

Avoiding Web Site Registration
If you hate registering at web sites that you almost know that you will never visit again or visit infrequently there are two tools that I would suggest. The first is called BugMeNot, this site has generic user names and passwords for popular web sites that you can use so you don't have to register.

The second web site I want to suggest is one called 10-Minute Mail. This site gives you a disposable e-mail address that only lives for 10 minutes. After the time expires the email address and messages are automatically deleted.

Real World Privacy
What about those times when you need to receive or make a phone call, or fax. There are a few sites that can offer you a solution.

The first site is called PrivatePhone, which offers to give you a free local phone number that people can leave you messages. The voice mails that you receive through this service will be mail to your email account.

If you need to receive faxes there is a service called jConnect, that gives you a phone number for people to send faxes to. The faxes that you receive through this service will be mail to your email account.

If you need to make calls to other people, check out Skype's SkypeOut service. If you need a public phone number to receives calls use the SkypeIn feature. Note: there is a cost associated with sending and receiving calls using this service.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Firefox: Critcal Patch Released Today...

Mozilla released a set of 'critical' security updates for its Firefox Web browser (v1.5.x & 2.0.x), Thunderbird (e-mail client), and SeaMonkey (chat client and web development tools).

This update fixes flaws with the RSS feeds, and problems JavaScript in e-mail. Also as part of the Firefox update several bugs have been fixed to improve the stability of the software.

Note: Mozilla recommends that users disable JavaScript in Thunderbird to prevent unauthorized code from affecting their systems.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Windows XP: Swap File (Virtual Memory) - Part 2

Last week I started a series on the Windows Virtual Memory feature, in the first part of the article I explained the swap (or paging) file. In this part of the article I am going to talk about how to optimize it.

Optimizing the Swap File
The default Windows VM settings will work fine for most people. Although, there are still a few ways to optimize the swap file, but in reality they will only offer small amounts of extra performance. So for most people the time required to make these changes might not be worth the effort.

For the real system performance fanatics, I will show you some ways to make your system work more efficiently.
  • Note: None of these changes should cause irreversible damage to your system, but I aways recommend that you have a good back up of your data before proceeding with system changes. Also as always proceed at your own risk.
To configure the Virtual Memory settings:
  • From the Start Menu, right-click on My Computer and select Properties
  • Click the Advanced tab, and press the Settings button in the Performance section.
  • Click on the Advanced tab again, then press the Change button.
Trick 1: The swap file can shrink or grow automatically, consider turning off this feature by setting the 'Initial size' and 'Maximum size' to an equal value in the VM dialog. This should prevent the system from wasting time by trying to manage the size of the swap file.
Note: The general rule of thumb for setting the size of the swap file is about 1.5-2 times the size of your physical RAM.
Trick 2: After turning off the automatic growth feature (in Trick 1), defragment swap file. This can be done using the Windows Defragment tool. This will make the file contiguous and prevent your computer from having to seek all over the hard drive to get the data it needs.

Trick 3: If you have multiple hard drives (and I don't mean multiple partitions on the same drive) installed on your computer. Consider moving the swap file to the non-system drive. This way the computer can access multiple drives at the same time.

Trick 4: If you have enough physical RAM installed on your computer (generally 2GB or more), you might want to consider turning off the VM feature. This will help your computer's performance because it doesn't have to manage the swap file. In the VM dialog, select the 'No paging file' radio button, and press the OK button.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Windows XP: Swap File (Virtual Memory) - Part 1

Do you know about the swap (or paging) file, and what it's used for? Every version of Windows since version 3.1 has included the Virtual Memory (VM) feature. VM is a pseudo-type memory that computer can use when it runs out of physical RAM.

The way the VM feature works is by moving non-critical chunks of data out of the computer's RAM, and on to the hard drive thus free up memory for other things. This process known as 'swapping' or 'paging'.

The benefit of VM is that it gives you more memory to run your applications if you don't have enough physical RAM. The problem is that in order to get the extra memory, VM has to store the data from the faster RAM on to the slower local hard drive.

All hard drives are much slower then real physical RAM. So when the system requests a chunk of memory from VM, the computer has wait for data to come from the hard drive. This will make your seem much slower then it actually is.

When the VM data is written to disk, its stored in a file called C:\PAGEFILE.SYS. This file is generally x1.25 to x1.5 the size of your RAM. So if you have 1GB of RAM, the swap file will consume about 1.25 to 1.5GB of hard drive.

Over the next few days we will discuss options for managing and optimizing virtual memory.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Article: Skype Replaces Free SkypeOut Calls With Flat Rate

I have been a user of Skype for a few years, and I have been playing with VoIP (Voice Over IP) since it first showed in the late 1990. Back then they were unable and unreliable, well at least the ones that I used.

Skype as has always been a pretty good deal, but it has just gotten better when I read this article. PC Magazine reports: "On Wednesday, Skype announced it will be offering U.S. and Canadian customers a new unlimited calling plan at a flat rate of $29.95 per year, or, for those who decide to subscribe before January 31, 2007, $14.95. ... The Skype Unlimited Calling plan will let users make 12 months of unlimited SkypeOut calls to any phone in Canada or the U.S. and, according to the company, is the first time that Skype is making an annual calling plan available anywhere in the world."

So, if you frequently call people within the United States or Canada (even if you live in other parts of the world), you can call any phone in that region, for an unlimited amount of time, as many times as you want for $14.95 for the first year (if you sign up before January 31, 2007). The catch is that you have use your computer to make the calls.

I expect that this could cause a price war with the other major VoIP carriers such as Vonage, AT&T, etc.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (December)

It's the second Tuesday of the month again, 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. This month there are three patches that are marked critical, and four patches that are 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 applied to your system. If you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system rebooted if necessary.

Warning: Before you leave your computer at night make sure you save all your work or it will be lost if your system has to be rebooted.

Enabling Automatic Update
If you don't have 'Automatic Updates' turned enable I would suggest that you turn it on as soon as possible. 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.

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.

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Software: NASA World Wind (3D Interactive World Viewer)

World Wind is an open source 3D interactive world viewer that was originally released in mid-2004, and created by NASA's Learning Technologies project. It's still be being updated and enhanced by NASA staff and the open source development community.

NASA World Wind 1.4 Promo Video
This video only uses graphics from within World Wind no post processing has been done, except for joining video clips together and adding audio.

Note: NASA World Wind 1.4 is not yet available, currently 1.3.5 is available for download.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Software: FreeBASIC compiler

In 1995 Microsoft released QuickBASIC for MS-DOS. Now there's a free, open-source project called FreeBASIC. They have created an MS-QuickBASIC compatible compiler for Windows and other platforms.

For more information check out the web site, or click the following link to see a list of features.

Happy programming...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Software: AudioShell

Do you need to access the metadata in your audio files, for example the ID3 tag information in your MP3s? AudioShell is a free Microsoft Windows Explorer shell extension that allows you to view and modify music files tags directly. AudioShell supports MP3 (all ID3v2 tag versions), WMA, ASF, WMV, Apple iTunes AAC (M4A and M4P), MP4, OGG, FLAC (vorbis comment tags), MPC, MP+, monkey's audio, WAV pack, optim frog (APE and APEv2 tags).

If you want more information about audio file tags (such as: ID3), check out the following site. Below is a excerpt from the site: "Digital audio files can contain, in addition to the audio track, related text and/or graphical information. The information you're probably familiar with take the form of Song title, Artist name, Album name, Year and Genre. This is the information displayed when you playback a digital audio file on your computer or portable device."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Article: Hands-on with Belkin's Cable-Free USB Hub

Engadget reports: "So we snagged our lucky selves a Belkin Cable-Free USB Hub, one of the first ever wireless USB devices, as well as one of the first consumer Ultrawideband products. Luckily for us there wasn't a lot to test, but we can tell you this: the hub is small, the dongle is massive, and the speed and range aren't quite what they're cracked up to be. Click on for the usual unboxing, a load of high res product shots, shots and details on setup and performance."

I generally don't cover hardware in this blog, but this is one of those new technologies that I have been waiting to come out. I never thought I would like using a cordless mouse or keyboard until I started using one at work. I like not having deal with those wires.

At home I am primarily a laptop user, so if I have to hook any wires up to the computer on a regular basis its a pain. Although if I break down an get a docking station it would solve a lot of problems.

Now the point, this technologies may one day help reduce the rat nest of wires that most computers have hanging down behind them. If would be nice if everything was just wireless. Although this could create a lot of security issues that I don't even want to get into.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Security: NSA Windows XP Security Configuration Guides

Are you concern about how secure your computer's configuration is? The NSA developed and distributes security configuration guides and templates to help government agencies, companies, and individuals to lockdown their computers. All the files (.PDF and .INF files [security templates]) are available for free from the web site.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Windows XP: Disable or Enabling Windows Shares

Windows Shares provide network access to the files on your local computer from a remote system. This is a handy feature if you need to move files from one computer to another, or if you need to make files available to other users on your network.

The problem with network share if you don't manage the security permissions on them properly, you can accidentally expose files to others you may not intended to. In this article I talk about how to disable this feature for those who don't want to use it. Or by using almost the same procedure you can enable this option if it has been disabled.

To enable or disable Windows shares:.
  • From the Start menu, open the Control Panel folder.
  • Open the 'Network Connections' folder.
  • Right-click the active network connection (i.e.: 'Local Area Connection') and select Properties.
  • To disable this feature uncheck (or to enable it check) the 'File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networking' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button when done.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Article: Recycling E-Waste

PC Magazine reports: "The waste that results from disposing of electronics such as computers and mobile phones, called e-waste, can be highly toxic. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that, each year, 20 million to 50 million tons of e-waste is dumped into landfills around the world. That works out to about 4,000 tons per hour. ... Almost every component is built with some kind of toxin. Computer circuit boards hold lead and cadmium. Monitors' cathode-ray tubes have lead, cadmium, phosphorus, and barium. In fact, a large CRT may contain as much as 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Even cables are bad for the environment, as they are sprayed with brominated flame retardants. Such chemicals can leach into the soil and groundwater."

I have been wanting to write an article about this subject for a long time but have not gotten around to it. The author of this article did a great job of emphasizing the problem.

The problem is that our society has such a deposible mentality, that we don't think about the consequences of throwning that piece of old electronics in the garbage. We need to change our views on this issue, out of site and mind doesn't mean its not our problem.

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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Windows Media Player 11 Hits the Street

Microsoft Watch reports: "Microsoft has released the final version of Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP, which brings a new user interface, greater online store integration, and improved navigation for larger music libraries."

Windows Media Player 11 is finally here. It has a slick new interface and lots of new features. Read the article to get a quick run down of some of the new functionality.

The player is available for download here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Free and Low Cost Office Suites (and other stuff)

In a previous article, I talked about how to create a low cost virtual office. Now I am going to show you where you can find free or low cost office suites for personal or business use.

There are several options available to you. Some of these suites require that they be install on your local computer, and others can be run from within your browser.

Personally I am a big fan of Microsoft Office, and I have a hard time using anything less. The one problem with Office is that its not free or low cost.

If you just have basic word processing needs, such as writing letters to your friends and family, or creating simple spreadsheets or presentations. Then Microsoft Office might be over kill for you, there several other choices available that might be a better fit for your needs.

Out of all the free, low cost, or online office suites available, is the best IMHO. Then after that I would start to look at everything else and see what fits your needs. Whatever you look at, make sure its has the features that you're going to use.

All these tools are pretty good for doing basic things like creating a document, managing numbers, etc. Although, for tasks that are more complicated, you're going to need a real office suite like or Microsoft Office.

Office Suites

Browser Based:
  • ThinkFree: A Java-based browser office suite. Includes word processor, presentation and spreadsheet application.
  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets: An AJAX-based browser office suite. Includes a word processor and spreadsheet application.
  • ZOHO: An AJAX-based browser office suite. Includes a word processor, presentation spreadsheet application, and more.
Software Based:
  • One of the best office suites available. Includes a word processor, presentation and spreadsheet application.
  • AbiWord: A free word processor application.
Drawing and Page Layout:
  • Dia: An open source vector graphic program.
  • GIMP: An open source bit-map drawing program.
  • Scribus: An open source page layout program.
Instant Messaging Client
  • Meebo: A browser based universal instant messaging client. Supports: AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber and GTalk.
  • Trillian: If you have multiple accounts across several IM services this is a great IM client. Supports: AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC.
Email/Calendar/Contact Manager

Browser Based:Software Based:
  • Thunderbird: An e-mail client, with spam filtering.
  • Sunbird: Calendaring with a task manager.
Other Useful Stuff...
Below are some extra resources that you may need in your day-to-day activities.

  • GnuCash: Personal and small-business financial-accounting software.
  • Free Templates: Free label templates for: Avery, CDs, address, mailing, shipping, etc.
  • 1001 Free Fonts: Thousands of free fonts are available for download.
  • Need information about a word or subject, this site includes dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia (uses Wikipedia), and more.
  • Currency Converter: Lookup current exchange rates for just about any currency.
  • Martindale's Reference Desk: A great collection of links to different types of references available on the web.
  • Martindale's On-Line Calculators: A great collection of links to different types of calculators available on the web.
  • RefDesk: A great collection of reference resources that are available on the Web.
  • Unit Converter: Convert just about any numerical data from one unit type to another.
  • World Clock: A web-based world time clock.
  • Yearly Calendar: A web-based yearly calendar.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Network: Error Message - "Network Cable Unplugged"

Home networks have become very important these days. Most people who use a computer might know how to hook an Ethernet cable from their computer to their switch or broadband router but that's generally all they understand about networking or even care to know about it.

Until the day they get a message that says 'Network Cable Unplugged.' It sounds simple and could be but this same message could also mean something more then the cable is unplugged. This same message could mean that you have a short in your cable, your network card has stopped functioning, etc.

Follow the steps below to help diagnose this problem:
  • Verify the cable is plugged in at both ends, press it in see if you hear a click. Check your computer and see if the message goes away. If it doesn't unplug the cable at both ends, then plug it back in.
    • If this is a new cable, make sure that its not a crossover cable (check the bag that it came in) you need a straight through network cable. Also some network switches have an uplink port or a button to make a port an uplink port. If the uplink button is enabled disable it, this is only needed if you're hooking two switches together without a crossover cable.
  • When the cable is plugged in you should see a green light (or even a flashing green or amber light) on the switch and on your computer. If you're not getting these lights after you check the cable in the previous step, try changing out the cable.
    • If you're not getting any lights on your network switch, make sure its plugged in and getting power. Most switches have some type of diagnostic lights, if you don't see them the wall plug, power transformer, or network switch could be bad.
  • If you know your switch is working, try plugging the cable into a different port on it. Its not to uncommon for a port to go bad on the network switch or an Ethernet card. If you have another computer that you can plug the cable into try that. If you know the port is working on the network switch, try using a different Ethernet card in your computer.
    • Before you switch out the Ethernet card in your computer, check to see if you can find it in your Windows Device Manager. If you do see it you can try to uninstall and reinstall it again (this will require that you already have the driver for this device on your computer). If you don't see your network card in the Device Manager try downloading the driver from the manufacture's web site.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Software: Microsoft Windows Defender Released

Microsoft's free real-time anti-spyware scanner Windows Defender has officially been released from beta today. Personally I like this scanner, it has a very clean interface and its easy to use.

So far, I have not been infected by any virus or spyware, but I can't give all the credit to the scanner. I avoid downloading stuff from the Web that I shouldn't, that is the best way to prevent getting any type of malware.

Below is a list of some of the new features of the scanner:
  • Enhanced performance in the new scanning engine.
  • A simplified user interface and alerts.
  • Globalization and localization features, with multiple language support.
  • Support for Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.
  • Automatic cleaning according to your settings during regularly scheduled scans.
Plus as an added bonus Microsoft is giving away two free support incidents for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Article: Firefox 2.0 Scheduled For Release on Tuesday

PC Magazine reports: "The Mozilla Foundation will release the Firefox 2.0 browser on Tuesday, Mozilla Foundation officials confirmed Monday. ... The new release promises several new features, as well as a solution to a annoying memory leak that has troubled earlier versions, according to Mozilla."

I have been playing with the release candidate of this browser for a few weeks now. It has some nice new features, but their not revolutionary.

I have one major complaint about this version of Firefox, several of my favorite extensions stopped working. So be prepared to be disappointed here.

Personally, I believe that the ideas for most of the new features in the browser were borrowed from the more popular extensions. Below is a list of some of the new features:
  • Phishing filter warns you when you're visiting a fake web site.
  • A new search feature that displays suggestions as you type your search request.
  • A session manager that restores the windows and tabs you had opened before a crash.
  • A spelling checker that spell checks your input into web forms.
  • Better RSS support.
To download the new Firefox 2.0 browser go here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wireless: Optimizing and Troubleshooting a Wireless Network Connection

Whenever you use your notebook computer to connect to a public or private wireless network,
it adds an entry for that network in to the 'Preferred Network' list. This list is meant to remember your network settings when you move from wireless network to network. The problem is that if you move between a lot of different wireless networks this list can get really filled up with a lot of junk that can slowdown your network connection time.

Another problem that happens often is that you can find yourself constantly being connected to a wireless network that you don't want to be connected to. This problem is caused by the fact that the entry for the wireless network that you don't want to be connected has a higher order of preference then your preferred network.

To fix both of these problems:
  • From the Control Panel folder, open the Network Connection folder.
  • Right click on the Wireless Network Connection icon, and select Properties
  • Click the Wireless Networks tab.
  • In the 'Preferred Networks' list, highlight and delete any wireless networks that you don't use. If there is a network that you use more often then others. Highlight the network and press the 'Move Up' button to move it to the top of the list.
  • Press the OK button when don't

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Windows XP: Internet Explorer 7 is now available...

Microsoft just made Internet Explorer 7 available for download. This is the latest version of the IE browser, and its only for Windows XP SP2 . If you're running an earlier version of the Windows OS, you're out of luck.

Some of the new improvements in the browser include: security protection, a redesigned user interface, and a development platform. Below is a high level list of the major new features:
  • Phishing Filter (reports if a web site is not who it really is)
  • RSS Reader (allows you to read RSS feeds in the browser)
  • Tabbed browsing (open multiple web pages in a single window)
  • Toolbar search box (quickly search from the toolbar)
  • Advanced printing (optimized web page printing)
  • Security Status Bar (displays different colors in the status bar to notify you how safe the web site might be)
  • Privacy Cleaner (quickly deletes your browser cache, cookies, and other data that might contain personal information)
  • And more...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Security: Rootkits Tools

There are several types of malware (viruses, Trojan horses, rootkits, etc.) that are in the wild on the Internet. Some types of malware will find and infect you if you're not running a firewall, others will disguise themselves in the form of an attachment. You can even get infected by visiting the wrong web site if your browser is vulnerable.

Rootkits are the type of malware that doesn't take no for an answer, they will try to exploit every trick they can to get administrator access to your computer. Then once they become an administrator they will deploy their payload.

Most anti-virus and anti-spyware scanners don't properly find rootkits, because they're generally very difficult to detect. Below are some anti-rootkit tools (some free, and others are fee based) that you can run to see if your system is infected by this type of malware.

  • Sysinternals: RootkitRevealer (free) - I have talked about this scanner before in a previous article. Although its still a good tool for detecting this type of malware, but it can't remove it.
  • F-Secure: BlackLight (free trial until 1/2007) - This application seeks out and tries to remove any rootkits it finds installed on your computer.
  • Sophos: Anti-Rootkit (free) - I have talked about this scanner before in a previous article. This application seeks out and tries to remove any rootkits it finds installed on your computer.

Windows XP: Automate the Disk Cleanup Tool

In a previous article I talked about the Disk Cleanup tool, which is designed to remove unnecessary temporary files from your computer. These files are created by applications to temporarily store data, but sometimes they don't get cleaned up correctly.

Now, I am going to show you how to automate this process. Its relatively easy to do, all you have to do is follow the instructions below:

Configuring the Disk Cleanup tool:
  • From the Run... command, type "cleanmgr /sageset:1" and press the OK button.
    • You can have up to 0 - 65535 profiles, all you have to do is change the number after '/sageset'. Make sure you remember the number you selected for the profile you will need it for the next section.
  • When the Disk Cleanup dialog displays, select or unselect the type of files that you want to remove when the tool is run.
  • Press the OK button.
Running the Disk Cleanup tool:
  • From the Run... command, type "cleanmgr /sagerun:1" and press the OK button.
    • Make sure to use the session number (i.e.: 1 in the example above) for the Disk Cleanup profile you created in the previous section.
The Disk Cleanup tool will now remove all the files as define by the profile you created.

The 'cleanmgr /sagerun:1' command can be run from the MS-DOS prompt, added to a script, or run from the 'Scheduled Tasks' feature on a regular basis.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Software: Changing the World with Your Screen Saver

Do you want to help cure cancer and other diseases? By installing special screen savers on your computer, you can donate your spare computing cycles to cure AIDS, cancer and solve other more complex problems.

The screen saver utilizes the unused processing power of your computer, as a part of a large distributed computing cluster. These clusters can be composed of thousands (or more) of computers working together for a common goal. The way these large clusters work is each computer downloads a small part of a larger problem, and computes the data and sends the results back to the master computer.

Below is a list of some of the projects that are available:
  • Stands for 'Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing', here is a brief list of some of the current projects:, Seasonal Attribution Project, BBC Climate Change Experiment.
  • Searches for treatments for Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and other related diseases.
  • Searches for treatments for cancers, and other diseases.
  • SETI@home: Analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial life.
  • Searches for treatments for cancers, and other diseases.
To donate your spare computing cycles. All you have to do is download the software, set how much of your systems resources that you want to donate, then leave your computer alone.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Windows XP: Disabling Services and Devices Based on Hardware Profile

Did you know that services and devices can be enabled or disabled as part of a Hardware Profile? A hardware profile allows you to enable or disable certain features under certain conditions, such as when you dock or undock your notebook computer..

To disable services based on a hardware profiles:
  • From the 'Administrative Tools' folder, double-click on Services.
  • Double-click the service you want to modify
  • Click the Log On tab in the properties dialog
  • Click disable for the selected Hardware Profile.
To disable devices based on a hardware profile:
  • Open the 'Device Manager'
  • Double-click the device you want to modify.
  • In the General tab under the 'Device Usage' label select 'Do not use this device (disable)' option
  • Press the OK button.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Windows XP: Recovering from a Failed Driver Installation

Sometimes when you install a device driver the installation can fail, because of corrupt files, problems with the installer, resource conflicts, etc. To fix this issue, below is a list of some common solutions that might help you to recover from this problem:
  • Uninstall the device driver, restart the computer and try reinstalling it again.
  • Try using the Driver Roll Back feature.
  • Try using the System Restore feature.
    • From the Start menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. Follow the instructions in the wizard.
  • Reboot the computer, press F8 at startup, and select 'Last Known Good Configuration' and press the Enter key.
After following the advice above, if your system is still giving you some problems (such as displaying errors, rebooting, etc.) you can also try the following:
  • From the MS-DOS prompt, type "sfc.exe /scannow" (this runs the System File Checker). It verify the protected system files, and if problems are found it will revert them to a previous version.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Windows XP: Driver Signing

Microsoft's Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) digitally signs device drivers to certified that the driver was tested for compatibility with Windows and has not been altered since its testing. This program was implemented by the company to improve the quality of drivers that are available and increase the stability of the operating system.

Drivers can come from many different sources, like an installation CD, a web site, or other various sources. Some device drivers are not digitally signed by Microsoft, which could mean that they may not have been tested as thoroughly as they could have been. There's a greater chance that they could effect the stability of your system because of unknown compatibility issues.

To configure how these signed and unsigned drivers are handled by the OS, you need to open the 'Driver Signing Options' dialog:
  • Open the Control Panel folder.
  • Double click the System applet.
  • Click the Hardware tab.
  • Press the 'Driver Signing' button.
In the dialog, you have three options:
  • Ignore (Allows the installation of any files, signed or not.)
  • Warn (Displays a warning message that the driver being installed is not signed.) [Default]
  • Block (Prevents the installation of unsigned drivers).
Select the option you want, and press the OK button.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Windows XP: Ways to Install New Device Drivers

Anytime that you install a peripheral on your computer, the operating system (OS) will need a device driver to know how to use it. Windows has four different ways that it handles detecting and installing new device drivers into the OS:
  • Setup Program: This is software that comes with your new device. To install this software, generally requires putting a CD/DVD in your computer or downloading the setup application from the device manufacturer's web site.
    • Note: Some devices require that the installation software is installed first before you hook the hardware up to your computer. This is done to make sure the device is properly detected.
  • Booting Your Computer: Every time Windows starts it scans the system for new hardware that might have been added or removed since it was last on. After the system is fully booted, if new hardware is detected it will check if the system already has the appropriate driver for it. If not, it will request that you provide the location of the driver it needs.
  • New Hardware Scans: Sometimes after you boot Windows, you may not have the right drivers for new hardware that was added at that moment. After you get the right driver, you use the Add Hardware Wizard (select the Add Hardware icon in the control panel) to manually perform the hardware-detection and installation process to install the appropriate device driver.
  • Manual Installation: Sometimes device drivers don't come with an installation program, but instead they come with .INF files. You can right-click these files and choose Install to add these new drivers.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Security: Simplifying Web Site Logins

About a year ago, I wrote an article about how to create a strong password. In this article I discussed some of the techniques needed to create a password that someone can't easily guess or break. I also recommend that you don't use the same password for every web site that requires authentication.

I recently came across a very cool browser-based utility that simplifies using, creating and remembering strong passwords across any web site. All you have to do is create a master password that only you know, and give the site a URL (such as:, it will then create a unique password for that web site. You can also create a bookmarklet (JavaScript embedded in to a bookmark) that you can store in your browser links bar, that can automatically generate a password for a site that your visiting based on your master password.

The way this utility works is by using JavaScript on a local web page loaded in your browser (no information is sent to the remote server). The script then uses MD5 to create a one-way hash based on your master password and the domain of the web site that you're going to use it for. Only the first eight (or more) characters of the hash are selected, so its impossible to break the hash because not all the information is used.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Windows XP: Turning Off the Language Bar

Do you have the Language bar taking up real estate on your screen, or in your taskbar and you want to get rid of it? Follow the procedure below to turn off this feature.
  • Open the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click 'Regional and Language Options' applet.
  • Click the Languages tab.
  • Under 'Text services and input languages', press the Details button.
  • Under Preferences, press the 'Language Bar' button.
  • Uncheck the 'Show the Language bar on the desktop' checkbox.
  • Press the OK button twice.
Note: By following this procedure you will be turning off handwriting recognition, speech recognition, and some other accessibility features.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Security: Internet Privacy is an Oxymoron

Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman of the Board of Directors Scott McNealy once said, "You have no privacy, get over it." That statement is more true today, then when it was originally said. Everyday, we are losing more of our ability and rights to protect our privacy.

Did you know that there is no such thing as true anonymity or privacy on the Internet? All you can do is mask your identity, and make it difficult for someone to know who you are. Although, in most cases its still possible for someone to track and identify you with enough work.

There is a lot of information about you that is leaked by your own personal Internet activities (such as surfing a web site, posting on forums, etc.). Then your computer and its applications (such as your browser, IM client, etc.) are doing their own fair share to help leak more information.

Anything that contains your name, address, etc. Is known as 'personally-identifiable information' (PII), because it can personally identify you directly. This information is generally provided by you to some web site or service (such as Amazon, eBay, etc.) that you may use regularly.

Any of the information (PII or not) is used to profile how you surf the web, what you buy, and other types of demographic analysis. All most all of this tracking is perfectly legal, and you even grant companies permission to do this when you agree to use a web site through its 'terms of service' or 'privacy policy' that you don't read.

Information Leaked by your Applications
As I said earlier, when you visit a web site there is certain types of information about you that is revealed by your computers applications. A lot of this information (such as your browser cookies) are needed by web-based applications to be able to customize your experience.

Below is a brief list of some of the information a web site can know about you, just by visiting it with a regular browser and Internet connection:
  • The type of browser you're using, a long with information about its features. For example: what version of: Java, JavaScript, Flash and other applications you have installed (see: BroswerSpy).
    • This doesn't include the information in the HTTP header, which includes information about your browser and the web page you requested from a web site (see the following article for more information).
    • There is information in the HTTP header called the 'referer', that also gives the web site your visiting, the last URL of the web site you're coming from. Here is an example, of some of the information a site can see about you.
  • Browser cookies and web beacons (an invisible 1x1 graphic on a web page with a unique id embedded in to its name), which can be used identify your computer across different web sites. This technology is generally used by advertising and marketing companies to track and profile your browsing activity to better serve you ads.
    • As more web sites become interactive, browser cookies are used to track your web site session information. If you turn off the cookie feature, you can prevent certain web sites from working properly for you.
    • Web beacons have been used by spammers to track if you open up an email message, and to see if a email address is valid. Although, most modern email clients prevent images from being downloaded automatically which help prevent information about you from being leaked.
  • Your browser keeps local copies of all the web pages you visited in its cache, along with a history of all the URLs you visited. Some browser's like Firefox keep track of the files you downloaded, and the keywords you typed into the search toolbar. Then there is the saved forms information (known as AutoComplete in IE), and saved password feature. This information is used to improve the broswer's user experience, but also can become a privacy issue in some cases.
Then there is all your other Internet applications such as your e-mail client, instant message client, VoIP client, etc. Each of these programs have their own type of logging or privacy issues, that you might be or might not be aware of.

For example, your instant message client may keep logs of all your conversations. Your e-mail client, keeps all the messages that you received and sent. Your VoIP client keeps a log of all the calls that you make.

Even if you clean all this information off your local computer, your application's service provider has logs and/or copies of it in their servers and databases. Its not uncommon for them to use this information to profile usage habits of their users. All this information is also available to local and federal law enforcement generally with the use of a search warrant.

Generally, no matter what network enabled application your using, the following information is always going to be left about you on some server somewhere.
  • Once someone knows your computer's IP address, its possible to isolate the ISP, and therefore the city, state/province, and country your computer's from (see: IP Address Locator).
    • Local and federal law enforcement with the use of a search warrant can force the ISP to release your identity, based on your computer's IP address.
  • When you visit a web site, information is stored in the web server logs of the time you visited the site, your IP address, which pages you viewed, and sometimes what you searched for on that site (see: Omniture).
    • Think about this, all your favorite search engines keep all the information that you searched. If you have a personal account on a site like Google, Yahoo, etc., they can directly tie this information back to you.
    • For example: "On August 4, 2006, AOL released three months of search history for 650,000 users to the public. Although the searchers were only identified by a numeric ID, the New York Times discovered the identity of several searchers." (excerpt from the Wikipedia)
  • Anytime you visit a web site using it's domain name your computer needs to lookup the IP address of the remote server through some DNS server request. This information is then logged on that computer.
  • When you're at work, and you search the Internet your companies web proxies and firewall can track all types of Internet activity. Plus in the U.S.A. any information on your computer, or in your e-mail is property of the company.
Digital Forensics
With all the data stored on computers these days, a new area of computer criminal science has been created called 'digital forensics'. These are law enforcement personnel specially trained to find and retrieve specific information off a computer.

The tools that these people use are good at extracting the data they want. Generally the programs we use everyday are really good at leaving digital bread crumbs all over your computer's hard drive about everything that you do. These digital forensics tools are designed to leverage this information

On a side note, about digital forensics tools. Did you know that by using a pattern analysis program you can predict if something was written by a man or a women with almost 70% accuracy.

The way this technology works is by analyzing the words used in a message and assigns different values to them to determine if the text was written by a man or women. More information can also be determined by your writing style beside gender, such as your nationality based on the words that you use.

To see this tool in action, check out Gender Guesser or Gender Genie. With technology like this, it means that any of those anonymous posting or e-mail you might have created are becoming a lot less anonymous.
Note: This technology was created by Dr. Neal Krawetz of Hacker Factor Solutions.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Article: Firefox Zero-Day Code Execution Hoax?

eWeek reports: "A public claim by hackers that Mozilla's Firefox browser is vulnerable to multiple code execution vulnerabilities may be an overblown hoax."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Windows XP: Accessing the Windows Update Catalog

Do you need to download specific updates from Microsoft without using the Windows/Microsoft update site (i.e.:

There can be several reasons why you would want to do this, for example: you have a slow modem at home and you want to get your updates from a faster computer. Or, if you're a systems administrator at a company, and you need to update Windows clients or servers.

Whatever the reason, here is how you can do it.
  • Open Internet Explorer (this won't work from Firefox), and go to ""
  • Click the link "Find updates for Microsoft Windows operating systems" or "Find driver updates for hardware devices"
  • If you selected the find updates for operating system, you will need to select the OS which you're looking for the updates. Press the Search button to continue.
  • Select the category, and then select updates that you want to get.
  • Click the "Go to Download Basket" link.
  • Press the Browse... button to select the download location on your local computer.
  • Press the 'Download Now' button.
  • Choose if you want to accept the licensing agreement, then press the appropriate button.
After the files finish downloading, they will be available in the location that you selected.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Firefox: Open Multiple Home Pages

Just about anyone who uses a browser, generally has a favorite web page selected as their default home page when they open up this application. Firefox has a cool little trick that you might not know about. It can open multiple default home pages when the browser is first opened, all you have to do is separate each URL with a pipe ("|").

For example: |

To set the home page in Firefox (I am assuming you already have it open):
  • From the Tools menu, select Options...
  • In the Location(s) field, enter the URLs you want to use and separate them with a "|" (no quotes).
  • Press the OK button when done

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Security: Patch Your System Now

Microsoft recently released a new out-of-band patch (which means its out of their normal release cycle), that fixes a serious exploit in the Internet Explorer browser. This exploit allows a web site to execute code on your computer without your permission. This means if you visit the wrong web site you can have your computer infected with some type of malware.

If you have not patched your system, do it now at Microsoft Update. If you have the Windows Automatic Update feature enabled to download and install the patch, you should have it by now. If you don't have this Automatic Update feature enabled on your computer and want it, the instructions for setting it up are available in this article.

For more information on the patch see the following page.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Windows XP: Microsoft Guided Help

Microsoft has added a new feature to some of its Knowledge Base articles (MSKB), its called Guided Help. Basically its an application that you download and execute on your local computer that will walk you through the steps outlined in the instructions.
Note: Currently there only about 20+ MSKB articles that support this feature, although I hope more will be added soon. Look for the following icon: Guided Help in the search results to find articles that contain this feature.
If you're an advanced user, this feature will not be too helpful. These tutorials are targeted at the novice user who wants some one to show them what to do, and how to do it. Although if you know someone who can benefit from this feature, I would email them the link to the article.

When you find an MSKB article that contains the Guided Help feature. All you have to do is download the program from the article and then execute it. After accepting the licensing agreement, the program will give you screen clues on what to do and what to click.

For more information about Guided Help check out this MSKB page.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Software: Sophos Anti-Rootkit

Here is another tool in the ongoing battle to fight rootkits and other types of malware. If you don't know what a rootkit is, its a program that tries to hide its presence (i.e.: files, processes, registry keys, and network port) and tries to gain administrator access to your computer. Generally a rootkit will contain a malicious payload like some type of spyware that it will try to install in your system.

Sophos is offering a free Anti-Rootkit scanner, that will seek out and try to remove this software if its installed on your computer. The Sophos Anti-Rootkit scanner can be run from the GUI (Graphical User Interface), or the command line.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reference: Types of Memory card

Are you confused by all the different types of media cards currently available for your camera, cell phone, PDA, etc? I wanted to provide a quick reference to all the media card form factors that are out there. Every card type has its advantages and disadvantages.

For example the SD form factor is the most popular, while the CF-II allows you to use Microdrives. Some media card types such as SmartMedia never took off.

Personally, one of my selection factors for buying new electronics is that the device needs to support SD cards. I hate having devices that can't support the same type of removable media. This is handy when you need to be able to off load the media to another device quickly.

Below is an excerpt from an Wikipedia article on the different type of media cards available. You might notice some media card form factors that you may never have heard of before, I know I did. If you want more information on any of them just click the link.