Archive for Online with The Techie Guy

Internet Trolls

If you have more than scratched the surface of the internet, you’ve seen evidence of the passage of internet trolls. They lurk in online forums, chat rooms, and blog comment sections waiting to drop their bomb and move back into the shadows to watch the fun.

internet trollWikipedia defines the internet troll as a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or otherwise upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off topic messages. Their deliberate intent is to provoke readers into making an emotional response. Trolls love this sort of thing, it’s actually entertainment for them. Sadly most people don’t realize they are being manipulated, making it all the easier for the troll to get things started.

A Canadian study conducted by the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, and University of British Columbia researchers concluded online trolls were akin to “prototypical everyday sadists”, as reported by Doug Cross of CNN. Sadism is the tendency to take pleasure in other people’s pain or discomfort.

A troll’s efforts will be more successful depending on the maturity of the audience. Maturity does not necessarily equate to age when we consider it is adults who make Gerry Springer and his ilk successful. Your children may be the unwitting victims of the trolls if they frequent online community pages. They don’t have the emotional maturity to refrain from taking part in the online battles raging on their screens.

The best way to shut down a troll of course is not responding to their inane comments, but most people can not help themselves, they wade right in, with gusto. So, it begs the question, if these trolls are truly sadists, does that make the rest of us a little masochistic for enabling them?

 

*Masochistic – The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from being humiliated or mistreated, either by another or by oneself.

Should I Buy a New Computer?

I am asked this question all the time. The simple answer is No.

Does your computer do everything you need it to do? Is it holding you back in some way? Most of the time, the things about your computer that keep you from enjoying it are that is has slowed down, or it crashes often, or has in some way become unreliable. Most of the time.

Almost any computer sold within the last 3-5 years has more than enough performance to keep the average consumer happy. But, people tend to think that the computer itself, the hardware, has somehow degraded over the course of their ownership. Most of the time, this is not the case. Most of the time, what is making it unreliable is malware infesting your computer, serious file fragmentation on the hard drive, or other hard drive file system errors. This can usually be cleaned up, and your speed and reliability restored. Compared to these problems, hardware issues are relatively uncommon.

If you hire someone to do this job for you, the cost will be a fraction of the cost of a new machine. At this point, if you run your two favorite security programs every week, your computer will stay cleaner longer, helping you to avoid the cost of a professional to clean it up for you.

Some people need the highest performance in a computer, so upgrading more often is definitely reasonable for them. Others have held onto their computer for so long that they can’t get updated software for it, which is also a good reason to upgrade. Some people just want a new computer, and no reasoning will dissuade them. Nothing wrong with that either.

So, should you buy a new computer?

Phishing

No doubt you’ve heard of this type of computer scam, but what is phishing?  In the computer world, phishing is email sent to you by criminals, which appear legitimate in a vague sort of way, but with very specific consequences to you if you are duped by them.

An email lands in your inbox, and at first glance it appears to be legitimate.  Supposedly from FedEx, it says that your ebay.com purchase is being held at customs, please click here for details.  Or an email from XYZ Furniture, stating that your payment of $4096.69 has been processed successfully, thank you for your business.  Please click below to confirm your shipping details.  These emails are cunningly designed to illicit a quick reaction from you and almost without thinking, you click on the link.   At this point you are Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

If you are lucky, your security software will recognize the link and block you from connecting, but the sad truth is that the Phishermen change their emails many times a day and security companies often can not keep up with the changes.  What about your firewall, can’t that keep them out?  Well, if they were trying to connect to you, it probably would.  But, now that they are inside your computer, they get your computer to contact them.  Many consumer firewalls do not watch the outgoing traffic from your computer very closely.

So, what if my computer is now compromised?  The bad guys will have complete access to your computer in short order, and you won’t have seen anything untoward on your screen to alert you.  What do they want with you?  You are a very valuable commodity on the black market, or at least your identity and financial information is.  Also, having control of your computer lets the bad guys use it for other nefarious purposes.

The best way to avoid this fate is to be patient while you read your email.  At first glance these messages look legitimate, and, as you start to stress about the contents of the message, you look around desperately for a way out of this mess, and there it is, a link to all the answers,  if you just “click here”.

If, instead, you take a breath and look closely, you will begin to notice clues that there may be something phishy going on here.  The FedEx email has capthighliner@phishermanscove.com  as an email address, strangely not from someone at FedEx.com.  And the XYZ Furniture company?  Well, you’re pretty sure you didn’t order any new corinthian leather deck chairs, aren’t you?  If you are still concerned, don’t click their link, instead phone your credit card company and explain your concern, or your financial institution, they will be happy to look into your account for you.  Google up current phishing scams, chances are the ones you received will be listed there, and others you haven’t seen yet.  For-warned is for-armed, as they say.

And as always, scan your computer at least once a week with your two favourite security programs.  This will keep your Windows computer as clean as possible.

Auction Madness

You know the old saying, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Recently I happened upon an auction site called QuiBids.com, and I was amazed at the smoking good deals. How about an HP LA1951G 19” LCD monitor, brand new in the box, full warranty, for $ 6.41?  Yeah, that got my interest too.

So I investigated further, and found that in order to bid on something, you had to buy bids. Bids cost $0.60 each. Every time you click on a Bid Now button, your total of available bids goes down by one, the bid price of the object goes up $0.01 only, and a few more seconds are added to the auction clock.

It’s not always the same amount of time added either. After a certain number of bids, (and we don’t know how many bids it takes, QuiBids says it’s not the same for every auction) the timer will only reset to 15 seconds, and then 10 seconds some amount of bids after that. When the timer does finally expire, the last person to bid has the right to buy the item for the final auction price.

I quickly realized that for the person who really wants the afore mentioned HP monitor for a good deal, this could drive you crazy.  You click and you’re the high bidder, seconds later someone else clicks and they are the high bidder.  The clock runs out at what almost seems the whim of QuiBids.com, so the auction may not end until people either get such bad carpel tunnel that they can’t click anymore, run out of bids, or just get fed up with the process.  Meanwhile, the bids are being burned on this monitor.

Let me break down what’s happening here to show you why this company can afford to do this.  They walk downtown, or go online, an pay full retail for the HP LA1951G 19” monitor, which Amazon sells for $ 172.90 USD.  At the end of the auction, the price was $10.25, leaving an apparent loss to QuiBids.com of $162.65.  Seems like madness, I know. But don’t forget those bids you bought so you could participate in these “Start the Car!!!” type of deals.  They cost $0.60 each and increase the auction price by $0.01 as they are used.  This monitor has been bid up to $10.25 which means that it has been bid on 1,025 times.  At $0.60 per bid, that amounts to $615.00 spent via pre-purchased bids. Now we actually see an apparent gross profit on this item of $452.35 . All they have to do is keep desirable merchandise on their site and they are making money hand over fist.

After doing all this math, I felt like this was a shady business, I just couldn’t put my finger on why. I was forced to admit that their business model is actually very clever. Smart buyers, with some time on their hands, can get a decent deal on their merchandise, the company definitely makes money, who is the loser here?

All of us, one bid at a time, that’s who. They take a little, from a lot of people. You have been manipulated, by the lure of a great deal, into spending $0.60 per bid, and you keep bidding because if you lost that monitor for the cost of only one bid, you would be devastated, you might even think less of yourself, and you don’t want to feel that way.

So, in the end, I think the cost of those cheap items is ultimately too high.

Minty Goodness?

Mint .

I love it, and I’m scared of it.

In case you haven’t heard of it yet, Mint is an online personal financial management service that has been available to Canadians since December 2010. You provide your login credentials to all of your bank accounts, credit cards, investments and mortgage accounts, and Mint aggregates your data and presents a consolidated view of your account activity. It categorizes transactions and provides budgeting tools.

Being able to aggregate all my financial information into one application on my computer, an application that will analyze my spending data, create a budget and many more things from the info, makes me want to use this service very much.

Providing the login information for all my online financial data, to a third party to do this aggregating, scares the hell out of me. Not to mention that giving your login credentials to a third party violates some providers account agreements, which could leave you on the hook for fraudulent transactions. Large holders of private financial info have been compromised before (ala Target  ) and if your login credentials to your complete financial world fell into the wrong hands, your whole identity could be at serious risk.

The fact that Mint is free to use brings out the cynic in me. They are using everyone’s anonymous spending information for marketing trends, etc etc which they no doubt sell.

I haven’t looked around for one yet, but I would love to have an app on my computer or smart phone that had the same functionality, but kept my data on my computer, and not some faceless third party’s server. What if that server resides in the United States, or falls under the American Patriot Act legislation in another way? That gives the US government carte blanche access to the data, if it resides within their borders. I don’t want that either.

Now, it is true that more and more financial institutions are offering this kind of service to their clients.  I suppose even a financial institution could be compromised, and its clients personal information spread to the multitudes of unsavoury characters lurking in the dark recesses of the internet, but at least you would have some recourse in that situation.

For myself, there are too many potential negatives to using Mint, or any other third party service like them.  I’ll wait until my financial institution brings this functionality to its internet banking product.

Your Essential Utility Kit

Every owner of a Windows computer should have an essential software utility kit.  These utilities will help keep your Windows computer running faster, and smoother, for longer.  Disk defrag, registry cleaning, unused or orphaned files removal, a trusty anti-virus, and at least two anti-malware scanners.  With so many choices in each category we can’t possibly go over them all here, but I’ll give you a run down of the ones that I am using at this time.

For disk defrag, I like to use Defraggler by Piriform software.  It’s a small download of around 3 MB, like the size of an MP3 music file.  It’s light on system resources, so you can continue to work with the machine while Defraggler works in the background, if need be.  I usually schedule mine to run weekly, late at night when I won’t be using the machine.

For registry maintenance and cleaning, I like to use Comodo System Utilities.  Cleaning and maintaining your Windows registry is very important.  The reliability and performance of your computer is directly related to the health of the registry.  This software also helps maintain your privacy by cleaning up your digital trail in browser histories, cookies, and your browser’s cache file.  In addition, it is a smart disk cleaner, looking for duplicates and other unneeded files.  I schedule a complete scan with this software once a week.

For Anti-Virus I am using Comodo Internet Security.  This is a very complete security suite, including Antivirus, Anti-Spyware, Anti-Rootkit, Bot Protection, Defense+, Auto Sandbox Technology, Memory Firewall, and Anti-Malware.  I schedule a complete scan with this software once a week.

Rounding out this essential kit is MalwareBytes Anti-Malware .  This has proven to be very effective software in cleaning out your computer of malicious software, well worth having.  Combined with the Anti-Malware in Comodo Internet Security we have a very good chance of remaining clean of these pests.

If you use these utilities, or others like them, on a weekly basis, your Windows computer’s health and performance will remain as close to “factory new” as possible, making your use of your computer far more enjoyable.  Oh, and I think I forgot to mention that all of these utilities are FREE for you to use.  Icing on the cake, what could be better?

Back it Up Jack

Backing up Your Data

If you are like most people, backing up your data is probably something you rarely do, and most likely you have never backed up your data from your computer’s hard drive. Burning multiple CD/DVD’s, labelling them, storing them somewhere safe, it’s a study in tedium at best. However, there is a day in every computer owner’s future where they will wish they had a backup of their essential data.

There are many reasons why you might not be able to access your hard drive where you store your data. Maybe you get hit by a virus, maybe you need to wipe your drive and re-install Windows, or, maybe your hard drive physically crashes and you require a replacement. In the case of an actual hard drive failure, you may never get your data back! The programs you use can easily be reinstalled from the original media, but your data was collected or created by you, likely from many different sources, and unless you have it backed up, it could be gone forever.

In the modern world there are many ways to back up your data, other than burning multiple CD/DVD’s, although for small amounts of data that is still a viable option. For larger amounts of data, or to have your data more seamlessly accessible, you can consider Cloud storage. Cloud storage is data storage provided by multiple vendors via the internet.

“justcloud.com” offers to store your data, and synchronize it between your computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The free account allots you 15mb of storage, which is practically useless even to the most humble computer user. If you whip out your credit card though, you can sign up for the Home account which provides 75GB of storage, and for one month you are looking at $8.95. If you pay up front for six months, one year, or two years, the monthly price drops considerably.

Apple, Inc. offers its own service, called iCloud, allotting you 5GB storage and file synchronization for free when you purchase a Macintosh computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. The service is slick and relatively seamless. It even works with Windows computers. 5GB may sound low, but that’s free, and storing your purchased movies, music, tv shows, apps,books, and even your photos that you upload, doesn’t count against your 5GB. Mail, documents, application data and settings, do. Why does Apple store all those apps, movies etc. for free? Other than your own photos, it’s all things you’ve purchased from them already via the iTunes Store or the App Store, so they already have it stored anyway. They just send you a new digital copy if you need it.

With convenient options like these, backing up is much less of a chore than ever before. Even if you want to burn those CD/DVD’s, or just throw some of your data onto a memory stick, some form of backup is still better than none. There will come a day when you will be glad you did.

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