Free stuff

Heartbleed – how it works, what to do

By now, everyone has heard of the Heartbleed Bug and how it is affecting security all over the world.

Heartbleed explanation - from xkcd.comHow does it work?

Here is a comic that explains how it works.  It basically asks for various responses from your computer, and then tricks it by asking for something like Hat, but telling your computer that Hat has 500 letters, and your computer responds by giving the word hat, and then the next 500 characters after wherever it finds the word hat.  It then hopes that it gets some good information that you have, that comes after the word “hat”.

How to protect yourself.

Lots of Social Media companies, banks etc are contacting customers about changing their passwords.  Here is a great article from Mashable that gives those companies responses.  If in doubt, ask!

LastPass

If you have many, many passwords and either use the same password or have many and find it hard to remember them all, there is a company called Lastpass as LastPassword (you’ll ever need).  You can get a free version or an affordable version at lastpass.com.

Check sites you use

If you want to check individual sites to see if they have been affected, you can use this tool here.

YouSendIt changes their name

You send it, the program that allows you to send larger files than most of your internet providers will, has changed their name to Hightail.  They felt that their name was holding them back.  This new name gives them a sense of speed, of motion.  It makes me think of old westerns when you had to “hightail outta here”.  But it is a good name.

They launched a new user interface just a month or so ago, in which you were able to drag files over instead of browse for them, which actually was a big improvement and made the process a bit faster.  I’m sure they will be launching other services as well, and perhaps their name wouldn’t entirely make sense if that is the case.

I’ve used this service for years and it has been great when sending files to people before clouds were anything other than fluffy things in the sky.  And I still use it because not everyone knows how to use dropbox or wants to set up an account so that I can send them something.

I’m Pinterested

I had a friend email me last week to tell me that she had posted an image of mine from my website (of penguins) and it had six “likes” and twelve “pins”.  Great, I thought, but what does that mean?

PinterestI’ve heard of Pinterest a few times before, but to be honest, I spend WAY too much at my computer already.  But I did set up an account on the invitation of my friend and pinned a few things from her board to mine, and I have to admit, it is addictive.  It’s like an organized Google/images.  You see hundreds of images that are popular, and if you see one you like, you can pin it to one of your own categories and you can follow people who have similar taste to you, and other people follow you.

If you have a great image on a website and someone sees it, they can pin it to their board and in no time it is generating interest and being “re-pinned” to other boards.  I suppose the hope is that those people will go to the website that had the image on it in the first place.  I felt a little special for a few hours last week when my penguins went “viral” (okay, 12 isn’t viral, but I don’t know any of those people) and who knows where it could lead.

Animations

Recently my niece and nephew were visiting for a few days and my nephew (who is ten) was playing a lot of video games.  But he wanted to download something to my computer and I wanted to check out first what it was.  It was a little animation program called Pivot Stickfigure Animator.  It is a very simple to use animation program that has been around since 2004 and I was quite pleased to let him spend time on it as it felt more that he was creating something, rather than just shooting at something or racing through an imaginary track.  You can download it here.

I’ve looked into this since and there are two other animation programs that are free and then a more advanced one that is fairly inexpensive, but can make some impressive animated videos.  Stykz  is another animator that is free, and is compatible with Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.  Finally there is TISFAT (This Is Stick Figure Animation Theatre).  This is a bit more advanced in that it shows the timeline of each object you create.

Anime Studio Video Gallery

Grampian Horn: Lost in Longmeads from Alex Morris on Vimeo.

This is a video made with the Anime software.  It is a program that you need to pay for, but you can have a 30 day trial to see if you or your kids are interested enough to want to use it.  The website had tutorials on how to use it, and a lot of animations that were made with this software.

I know that summer is coming to an end for kids off school, but this is software where you don’t mind them using as it is teaching them something that they may even use in their careers!

 

What is Chrome and where did it come from?

I am asked from time to time to look at client or friend’s computer and “clean it up” as it has slowed down and they don’t understand what all those icons on their desktop are. Often, they will have numerous different browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, as well as their standard Internet Explorer and they have no idea how they got there, or what they are for.

downloading programsHow they got there

Whenever you install a program from the internet or update a program, it is important to read all the windows that come up during the process. It is often here that you get these programs installed onto your computer. They aren’t viruses and aren’t harmful, but if you didn’t ask for them, it is a bit daunting to wonder how this strange stuff ended up on your computer. Imagine if “stuff” just started appearing in your home when you went to the grocery store, without you actually asking for it!  Not free nice stuff, just more clutter.  That’s often how people feel about it.  And it makes me laugh as they always claim that they didn’t put it there.

When you install an update or a program you are often given the option to do a Standard or a Custom installation. And they usually recommend the Custom unless you are an advanced user. Don’t be put off. It isn’t complicated and most of the options you can just accept (and click NEXT), but this is where you can often cancel these extra sneaky programs. Just take a good look at each window as it advances through the stages. Often those added programs are included with a little box that you need to untick in order to avoid it downloading.

What they are

Often the programs are different browsers. Browsers are programs that allow you to, well, browse the web. The most known one for PC computers is Internet Explorer, but Mozilla Firefox is quite popular now. For Macs it was Safari, but you can download that for Windows now as well. But Google has come out with Chrome. Then there is MaxthonRockmelt  (no, I don’t know where they get these names from either), SeaMonkey, and Opera.

Reasons to choose something different from IE

I first started using Firefox because of the increasing threat of viruses that targeted that browser, and shared files in your computer that made it easier for it to infect more of your whole computer. A program that was separate from the Microsoft operating system was a good idea. Plus, previous versions of IE were just awful at letting me choose how a web page printed, while I could often get the whole page or a page and a quarter to print on one sheet. Each of these browsers work in basically the same way but have different features that you may like better than another. Chrome claims to load faster, has an integrated address bar and search engine (which means if you type in a word in the address bar, and it isn’t a domain it will search for websites and has more space for the screen itself rather than the various tabs and buttons.)

All of these are free, easy to download and if you don’t like them, you can delete them again from your computer. Just know that when they ask the question “would you like “X” to be your default browser?” say no. If you say yes and end up not liking it, every time you click on a link in an email or other linked document it will open this new browser rather than your standard one.

Now you know where those “stray” programs came from.

Cloud Computing

Have you noticed mention of doing things “in the cloud” or just the term “cloud computing”? It’s the new buzz expression. Well, you use the cloud in your every day computer life already. Cloud computing is a system whereby data storage, applications and to some degree processing power are available via servers (or computers) other than your own. Those space hogging office programs not longer sit on your computer using up your finite resources, but online where they can expand and contract depending on how many people are accessing them at once.

We use cloud-based services already to some degree. If you use web based email services (hotmail, gmail) photo sharing sites, chat to friends, and on various machines, phones, PDAs and netbooks.

Benefits

Sharing is easier of documents, video or images, eliminating the need for them to download anything. It allows you to use programs without having to have them on your computer, or purchase anything.

Disadvantages

You have to be careful though. As you don’t really know where your data is being held, there is always the chance of losing it. And if it is sensitive information, security should be a worry. If you use a service like Google Docs, you have to figure that none of your documents are going to be particularly private.
And an important disadvantage is that if your work is online, you are stuck if you need it when you are out of range of the Internet, or it just isn’t working at any particular time.

Examples of Cloud Computing

Email – obvious examples are google mail, hotmail, yahoo.

Data Storage – Rather than backing up to a portable drive, there are internet based systems such as Humyo, ZumoDrive, and Dropbox

Collaboration
– There are sites that you can use that you can use for web conferencing, online meetings or remote support. Your family can have a calendar that everyone has access to in order to co-ordinate events, holidays etc. With services such as Mikogo , Stixy, it makes it easier than emailing back and forth.

Virtual Office – Google’s online suite of office applications (docs,google.com)is one of the companies offering the online creation of word processor, spreadsheets and even presentations. Thinkfree Online, Zoho. and Microsoft Live are other examples of this type of service.

Attaching the attachments

Do you ever do this? You write a long email to someone explaining something and then say that you are going to attach something and totally forget to do it? Yep, me all the time. I’m sure I have hundreds of emails that say “oops” in the title.

Today I was emailing someone via Gmail and said I’m attaching a spreadsheet to show you my figures and clicked on send, and instead of me just sending it and getting a message from someone later saying “Where was the attachment?” instead, I got a message saying “your message mentioned that you were sending an attachment, but you haven’t, do you still want to send the message?” I was amazed!

I didn’t know whether to be thrilled that things are so smart that they are reminding me of things I should do, or that they have put phrases into their coding to search for things that you may write in your emails. I know when I use Gmail that the sponsored ads at the right of the mail always sort of correspond to the subject (sometimes with hilarious result) but I didn’t really think about how much they are reading. What they say is true, nothing on the internet is truly private, so we need to always keep that in mind.

Good thing my email wasn’t something more sinister, the message may have said “we think you are a lunatic, we are calling the police now, are you sure you want to send that message?”

Selling items online

I’ve had a bit of experience lately with selling things online. I’ve had to clear out my Mother’s house after her sudden death a few months ago, and I can now give my own first hand experience with various ways to sell.

I had a dining room suite to sell and was advised to sell it on eBay, as more people would see it and with an auction, may have a few people competing for it. It was a lovely suite and I would have kept it but for the fact that I only bought a table myself last year. I put a reserve on it, as I didn’t want to sell it for a song, and the total cost for selling with eBay was almost $10. I didn’t get one bid on it. There were so many layers of categories I’m sure a lot of people didn’t even see the set. My brother had to get me to give him the auction number so he could refer people to it, and he knew what he was looking for. Now perhaps something more desirable and in a less complicated area would have been more successful. But my experience wasn’t satisfying.

Other things I had were less expensive and so I decided to put them all on Kijiji.ca. I listed them in my own area as well as a few larger cities (in my case Oshawa that isn’t that far a drive for a bargain) so more people would see them. Every item got seen immediately and within a couple of days I could see that I had over 100 views for each item. And the emails started to come in. I sold everything except an ornate mirror, (but it is still up there ) within a couple of weeks of them listing. Even the dining room suite that had no interest at all on eBay, finally sold for my full asking price.

I also used Freecycle to offer some old encyclopedias to anyone who may want them. This was by far my worst experience (not selling on eBay was at least easy!). First of all, to join Freecycle, you must have a Yahoo account which means yet another email address. I already have a hotmail and gmail account so didn’t appreciate having to sign up for yet another one. Then I had to wait for confirmation that this was approved. Then I could sign up and wait for approval from Freecycle in my nearest area (in my case, Peterborough). This took so long that by the time I had emailed them as asked how long it took, I had forgotten my Yahoo account name (I wrote it down somewhere) and had to start again. Finally, I listed the encyclopedias free to anyone who asked. Two people said they were interested, so for the sake of fairness I offered one set to one, and another set to another person. The one person showed up when she said, took the lot of books and said she’d take the others if the second person decided not to take them. The second person sent me no fewer than ten emails with a litany of excuses as to why she couldn’t come (kid’s cold, her cold, then some surgery, then recovery) all the while saying she still wanted them. Finally she said to give them to someone else. I contacted the first person to tell her that she could have them as well, and even met her at the local post office, where she said she’d contact me, but never heard from her again!

I also used CraigsList, and listed a couple of items and got not one response.

All in all my experience with the four sites overall was that Kijiji was the clear winner. I got rid of the one set of books through Freecycle, but it was a hassle to join, and I offered other free things on Kijiji and ended up doing just as well without the hassle.

My experience with people buying is also worth mentioning. In my case, the items for sale weren’t at my home, they were at my Mom’s. So when making an appointment with someone, I had to be at her house a bit ahead to meet them. And people are often a pain in the butt. I’d say 70% didn’t show up when they said, were late and didn’t bother to call the cell number I supplied them with. One woman was half an hour late, walked in, said “oh, that will be far too big for the space” when she was supplied with the measurements, and then left with no apologies for wasting my time. Another treated my Mom’s house like a giant flea market even making an offer on my Mother’s urn (it is a lovely sculptural piece, but still) and trying to negotiate on prices she’d already agreed on. Another fellow said he’d come at 5 pm, had agreed to a firm price and then sent his employee at 12:30 to pick up items (I just happened to be there to wait for someone else) because he decided it would be more convenient for him. And his employee asked if I’d accept almost half of the agreed price! I said no.

All in all my impression is that Kijiji is the best place to sell items overall. If you know the price you want for something, then list it. Keep an eye on what page it is listed on, and re-list it if you don’t want to pay for the top listing. List it in more than one area if you think it is worth people travelling to see it. People will look in other communities’ listings if they are looking for something, but if you don’t mind the extra work, it makes it easy for those who only look in their own area.

Kijiji’s website was the easiest to use and by far, the most graphically pleasant to look at. And like eBay when it first started, I was selling my items to people just like me, not some corporation.

I’ve heard a lot about Craig’s List, but was surprised at how basic it is (i.e. not pretty) and also that I didn’t get any responses.

I used to use eBay in the UK and liked it there, but my overall experience here in Canada is not great. Too many big sellers, and the nice homey feeling of selling to another person like yourself isn’t there any more.

Freecycle is an excellent idea, but it would be nice to see it not associated with Yahoo for ease of use. It is about helping the planet and not throwing things in the dump. And what they say is true, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. I know someone who collects LPs and he has gotten all of his collection for free through either Freecycle or kijiji.

Finally, be careful who you reply to and realise that not everything will sell immediately, but even things I was having trouble selling (a really nice couch) eventually was sold. Also, don’t arrange to meet people late at night and don’t accept anything but cash once they’ve agreed to purchase it (in other words, get the cash, then let them start moving stuff!) I didn’t have any trouble, but a few people’s email addresses (scary names or just numbers) did make me hesitate to even reply to their query. Potential buyers don’t know my email address until I reply. You can report scammers to all of the companies, even if it stops them from doing the same to someone else.

Have a couple of decent photos and measurements of all items. Be honest about the condition an item is in. No one likes their time wasted with items not described properly. And a good photo (you can have three for free in Kijiji) will help sell the item and save time having to describe it to people inquiring.

Even though I’ve complained that people were late, most of the people were really nice, happy to be getting a good bargain and knew that they had to pay cash and be ready to move the items in question. The couple that bought my Mother’s dining room suite were thrilled with it, he carefully unscrewed the table top to move it and I felt really happy that someone knew they were getting a bargain, and would look after it the way my Mom did. May seem silly to care, but I did.

Don’t forget also, you use Kijiji to promote your business. It brings more people to your site and a couple of my clients notice more calls and sales when they put in an ad!

Happy selling!

AVG

Just to mention that AVG has released AVG version 9. You can download it here at Downloads.com. That is faster than the numerous windows you have to go through to find the free version at their own site. Just go to that site and another download window should open. Save it to your computer (desktop is best so you can easily find it) and then double click to install. You can install it without un-installing your previous version of AVG, but if you have any other type of virus program installed on your computer, pleased un-install it and restart your computer before you install AVG.

A client gave me her computer to find out why it was running so slowly. She hadn’t loaded the most up to date version of AVG, but some viruses are easier to delete if you run your virus program while your computer is in “safe mode”. Make sure your virus program has the latest update and then restart your computer. When it is restarting, press the F8 key at one second intervals until a black screen appears. Use your arrow keys to choose “Start in Safe Mode”. What this does is only load on the essential files that Windows needs to operate. This is good as a virus will often masquerade itself as a legitimate program while it is running. Or be able to jump elsewhere as the virus program deletes it. In safe mode, the virus program is easier able to delete it as it isn’t running.

That solved a major problem as trojans and other viruses generally use your computer in some way when they are active. So they are using it’s resources while you are trying to as well! That will definitely slow it down! Another aspect to her slow PC was that a lot of programs that she had installed, were set up to load on start up. This meant that it was taking her PC longer to finish the initial start up as well as using resources on her computer. We went to the options of the various programs and stopped them from loading as soon as she turned on her computer as well as taking many programs off her start up menu.

And if you use Skype (which I do and really like) it is good to know that it takes up quite a bit of bandwidth (on your internet connection) even when you aren’t using it. You can always arrange with friends to email you if they want to Skype you and you can turn it on again. I generally keep it on all the time, as I don’t notice the difference, but if you are on dial up and have Skype installed, it may be making a slow situation even slower!

I found this website as well called My Slow PC and they have this really handy tool that you can download that analyses your computer and gives a report (within a few minutes) of your operating system, what versions you have of IE, whether you have a firewall working. Then it gives advice on what to do about any areas that need work.

To clean up temporary files on your computer in Windows 98 or higher:

1) Click Start, Programs (or All Programs), Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup
2) Choose the correct drive usually C:\
3) Check the boxes in the list and delete the files

Here’s to a cleaner and more efficient computer!

More interesting websites

Finding out information on the internet is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack. You have to be very good at searching, using the right keywords, very persistent, trying different combinations of words or phrases, and sometimes just lucky. It’s nice to hear about sites from time to time that are handy, should you ever need them.

Under the category of “I wouldn’t have even have thought of that” is a site dreamed up by a guy who saw an obscure comment on a site about secrets. From this he created a blog called I Found your Camera What a novel idea. If you find a SD card or an entire camera, and don’t know who it belongs to, you can send a couple of photos from the camera to the blog and the designer will post the images and a little message about where you found it.

Gas Buddy is a site that you can go to if you want to find out what the prices are and whether or not they are going up soon. You can look for the cheapest gas in your area.

The last site is a new one with an awkward name. It’s called Wolframalpha.com. It’s a site where you can put in mathematical formulas and get the answer, put in your birthdate and find out what was happening on that day or how many days you’ve been around. It’s no real competition for Google, but the maker of it claims to cut the haystack a bit and get to the information you want a bit faster. This site is interesting if you are into math and science, but the jury is out on whether the rest of us would find it useful.

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