The Personal Computer Radio Show  WBAI-FM 99.5
New York City


August 2005  Show Summaries

Show Summaries Below
August 31, 2005  August 24, 2005  August 17, 2005  August 10, 2005  August 3, 2005


 August 31, 2005 Show

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In The News 

AOL agreed to pay a $1.25 million fine for not canceling the accounts of customers when requested to do so. 

  • AOL To Reform Customer Service Procedures Press release from the New York State AG. Settlement Requires Company to Remove Obstacles Consumers Face When Seeking to Switch or Cancel Service 
  • Canceling AOL? Just Offer Your Firstborn by Tom Zeller in the New York Times. August 29, 2005. 
  • Fifty Ways to Leave AOL By Ed Foster August 26th, 2005. 
  • AOL Settles Case Accusing It of Thwarting Cancellations by Jennifer Bayot in The New York Times August 25, 2005. AOL was sued by Eliot Spitzer, the New York State attorney general for "making it unduly difficult for customers to drop the service."  Mr. Spitzer claimed that employees could earn a bonus up to $3,115 a month by recording 975 "saves." AOL agreed to pay a fine of $1.25 million and said it would no longer award bonuses to employees that talked customers out of quitting. The article points out that AOL is constantly losing customers to other Internet Service Providers that offer faster connection speeds for less money. If you tried to cancel your AOL service but couldn't, you can file a claim for up to four months of charges at www.oag.state.ny.us/internet/internet.html

RIO is getting out of the business of competing with the iPod. 


Topic

Our topic was The Convergence of Personal Computers and Consumer Electronics. Where have we come from and where are we going... computer trade show shows and flea markets are going out of business, computer clubs and user groups are shrinking... whatís happening to the personal computer industry and technology, and why? 

Our guest was Marty Winston, Industry Analyst and Guru. Marty runs newstips.com

Update

As a result of the discussion during his appearance on our August 17th show, Alex Eckelberry, President of Sunbelt Software, added an entry to his blog called Security on the cheap  (August 25, 2005). Quoting Alex: "I make my living making and selling software, so my interest is always to have you pay for it. But for those who want to save a buck or two, Iíve got my Security on the Cheap guide below. Getting these (mostly) free basics in now will make your internet experience dramatically more secure..."  He recommends free and cheap programs for antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing, etc. etc. 

  

 August 24, 2005 Show

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In The News

Ever thought about obtaining a free credit report? You can do so from www.annualcreditreport.com. All states are not yet on-line but should be by September 2005. You can also get it at the web site of the Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov. Do not use consumerinfo.com or freecreditreport.com. They are scams and were fined by the FTC. See also A Fine Print Fine by Scott Reeves at forbes.com, August 17, 2005.  

For help in dealing with your credit report see Deciphering A Credit Report by Scott Reeves at forbes.com. August 22, 2005. Back in December 2004, Forbes wrote about this, see Get Your Free Credit Report Now by Scott Reeves, December 1, 2004. 

Not a computer user? You can also order a free credit report by calling (877) 322-8228 or by mail to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, Ga., 30348-5281. 

Verizon has launched a new low-end, cheap DSL service. For only $15 a month, they offer DSL with a download speed 768 kilobytes/second. While this is not fast compared to their regular service or to cable service, it is much faster than the 50K that a modem user maxes out at. Over half of the on-line households still connect with dial-up, so Verizon is hoping to grab these customers before they sign up for cable service. Verizon is following in the steps of SBC, which has done the same thing.

This service is cheaper than many dial-up accounts. Someone who uses dial-up and also maintains a second phone line for Internet use, will find this saves in two ways, as DSL does not require a separate phone line.

Apple released bug fixes to their previously released OS X Tiger (10.4.2) bug fixes. The bug prevented the OS from running 64 bit applications. 

The next generation of DVDs will hold a lot more data. The bad news is that a new VHS vs. Beta war seems to be in the offing. Sony leads a group of companies backing the Blu-ray standard. Toshiba heads a group that prefers HD-DVD. Talks aimed at a compromise just fell apart. Blu-ray disks have a more sophisticated format which will be more expensive to produce but will hold 25 GB of data. HD DVDs only hold 15 GB of data but will be cheaper to produce. Toshiba expects to release HD DVD players by the end of 2005. 

Microsoft released a new version of their Malicious Software Removal Tool, one that can remove 10 variations of the Zotob worm. A number of anti-virus companies beat them to it. This is malicious program that garnered a ton of publicity last week for attacking a bug in the Plug and Play component of Windows, just days after Microsoft released a fix for the bug. 

When publicity was greatest about the Zotob worm, Microsoft claimed that only Windows 2000 was effected. Oops. Some anti-virus software vendors proved to them that other versions of Windows were also effected. XP SP1 is vulnerable to the Plug and Play problem is the Guest account is enabled and you are running as an Administrative class user. In their description of the Zotob.C variant, Trend Micro says it effects Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP and Server 2003. 

If you use the Adobe Acrobat Reader (and pretty much everyone does) be aware that Adobe released two new versions recently to fix a bug. See www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readerupdate082005.html 

Reviews

Alfred reviewed Music Maker 10 DeLuxe by MAGIX. He liked it. It lets you make your own music and much more. You can create your own drum riffs, edit WAV files, use a host of royalty-free sounds, add audio special effects, make videos to accompany your music and burn it all to a CD. It sells for under $60.

Joe discussed ZoneAlarm version 6 Security Suite which seems not ready for prime time. ZoneLabs, the vendor, expects to issue a large update to ZoneAlarm 6 Security Suite next week. 

Calls

One caller had a digital camera that used to happily connect to his computer via FireWire. After installing the Microsoft patches from August 9th on two computers, the camera no longer is recognized on either computer. After the show a listener suggested that it might be the camera's configuration. If the USB mode was changed from Mass Device (flash card) to WebCam mode, the card won't be recognized by the computer.  

  

 August 17, 2005 Show

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In The News

The big news this week is the exploitation of a bug in the Plug and Play component of Windows. The bug fix for this problem was released by Microsoft on August 9th. By the 12th software was posted online to attack and exploit the bug. At least four different malicious programs have been released. Microsoft says the problem only exists in Windows 2000, but anti-virus companies have said that it affects many other versions of Windows too. 

Apple released 40 bug fixes to OS X Panther and Tiger (the current and prior releases). Security firm Secunia describes them as highly critical.†

When Apple announced they were converting to use Intel processors, their OS X was supposed to run only on special Intel hardware provided only by Apple. Their security scheme enforcing this was cracked very quickly and knowledgeable computer nerds can now run Mac OS X on any Intel based computer. 

IBM is making accessibility code available to Firefox users. This is software to enable computer use by people with assorted disabilities. It includes a web page reader and more. 

Is the Intel Pentium 4 at the end of its life? The maximum speed is now 3.8 GHz and it generates a lot of heat. Too much heat, it turns out. In contrast, their mobile Pentium M uses less current and generates less heat. Intel just cut the price of Pentium 4 processors by a third. 

Spyware

Our topic was Spyware and our guest was Alex Eckelberry, President of Sunbelt Software, the makers of CounterSpy. Joining Alex was Eric Sites, the VP of R&D at Sunbelt. Sunbelt was in the news recently for their discovery of an identity theft ring. 

In the normal course of their anti-Spyware research, Sunbelt stumbled across key logging software that was doing identity theft. True Spyware. 

Eric led the team that made this discovery. He said that Patrick Jordan, another Sunbelt employee, was researching a very malicious piece of software called Cool Web Search (CWS). Towards that end, he purposely infests computers to test CounterSpy. He found a remote callback to a server on the Internet. He traced it back, poked around on the server, and was amazed at what he found. Every 30 minutes about 200 K of data was being uploaded to this machine. The data was coming from all over the world. Sunbelt contacted the FBI. 

Sunbelt could read this data and even called a potential victim to warn them of the identity theft. This person's computer was not only infested with a key logger, it was also a spam zombie, being used to send out tons of spam email messages. Comcast had already warned her that she was sending too much email, but she wasn't doing it herself. She did notice a lot of pop-ups on her computer. 

Sunbelt found megabytes of detailed personal information on scores of people. The key logging program took advantage of the AutoComplete feature of Internet Explorer. When using this default feature, IE remembers usernames and passwords entered into web pages and records them in the Protected Storage Area (part of the Windows Registry). The key logger stole all your passwords from the not-so Protected Storage Area. It was also logging the kinds of things people were searching for and their bank account numbers. 

Sunbelt contacted the web hosting company that was hosting the server collecting the data. Alex said it was a large company and the tech person they spoke with was not very well trained. Alex did not identify the company, and they did take the server off-line. 

Alex said this particular Spyware program was very small, very sophisticated and was a version of an existing Trojan Horse program. At the time they found it, only one anti-virus program could detect the program (now they all can). 

One aspect of its sophistication was that it could get through firewalls. This is because the Spyware installed itself inside Internet Explorer. To the outside world, and to a firewall, it appears to be, and is, Internet Explorer. The fact that it's an infected version of IE is not noticeable. Technically, the program ran as a Browser Helper Object (BHO). Firefox does not support BHOs, which is one reason it is safer to use than IE. 

Speaking of firewalls, Joe mentioned that he does not like the latest version (6) of ZoneAlarm at all. Alex too, felt that it suffered from too many false positives, the same point Joe made recently. The problem with false positives is that many computer users will not understand the message and question from ZoneAlarm. If you answer a question from a firewall wrong, it is not protecting your computer. 

To protect yourself from bugs in Windows and IE, either visit  update.microsoft.com or turn on Automatic Updates in Windows XP (and 2000). Your computer can get infected with Spyware in many ways and at many web sites. 

A caller asked if someone using a Mac but running Windows in a virtual machine can get infected with Spyware. Yes. Windows is Windows whether running in a real or a virtual machine. 

Web sites mentioned on the show 

  • At ihatespyware.com Sunbelt has made available a free utility to get rid of the Spyware they discovered. You can also download a free trial of Counterspy from Sunbelt Software.  
  • sunbeltblog.com is Alex's blog. It covers security issues and has an RSS feed. Alternate Link. Alex lies RSS Popper for reading RSS feeds, but it only works with Outlook.   
  • Olivia was enthusiastic about the web site mybodylanguage.co.uk about nutrition and food and what your body is telling you.

Being safe on the Internet requires: 

  • A Firewall 
  • An Anti-Virus program  
  • An Anti-Spyware program 
  • The latest bug fixes from Microsoft for Windows 
  • Luck 

Alex recommended the free AVG anti-virus program from Grisoft and two free firewalls, ZoneAlarm and Sygate. Besides being partial to his own anti-spyware product Counterspy, Alex said SpySweeper from Webroot is also a very good product. 

Our webmaster, Michael, teaches a class on Defensive Computing

As a result of the discussion during his appearance on our August 17th show, Alex Eckelberry, President of Sunbelt Software, added an entry to his blog called Security on the cheap  (August 25, 2005). Quoting Alex: "I make my living making and selling software, so my interest is always to have you pay for it. But for those who want to save a buck or two, Iíve got my Security on the Cheap guide below. Getting these (mostly) free basics in now will make your internet experience dramatically more secure..."  He recommends free and cheap programs for antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing, etc. etc.  

 August 10, 2005 Show

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Our topic was Podcasting: The Hottest subject on the Internet. Our guest was Todd Cochrane, author of Podcasting - the do-it-yourself guide published by Wylie. Todd is the chief geek behind www.geeknewscentral.com and the host of one of the more popular podcasts on the web with over 10,000 subscribers. 

 

 August 3, 2005 Show

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Catching up news stories from the last couple weeks. 

If you are using Windows 98 SE, there is an unofficial "service pack" available for it. That is, you can download a single file, run it, and apply all the bug fixes (over 100) issued for Windows 98 SE at once. This is a free download, maintained by Alper Coskun (a Turkish computer engineering student)  and is not sanctioned by Microsoft. The "service pack" includes only fixes for Windows, not the fixes for Internet Explorer v6 or for Windows Media Player v9. It is available at exuberant.ms11.net.

Hank warned against using the just released version of ZoneAlarm, version 6. Apparently the number and quality of warnings issued by the "smart defense advisor" can be confusing to naive or non-power users who can't interpret them and may make a wrong decision. Michael noted there were also assorted problems back when version 4 and version 5 of ZoneAlarm were first released.

The only product mentioned was the peel-n-stick Laptop LegsT for PCs and Mac FeetT for Macs. They attach to the bottom of any standard notebook (2 per computer), then flip down to elevate it to a choice of two heights - 1" or 1 3/8" - for improved typing ergonomics and increased cooling and ventilation underneath the laptop. 

The legs sell for $19.95 in packages of four (two sets) each of either the Laptop Legs or Mac Feet. The Laptop Legs are PC gray and the Feet are Mac white and available direct from LapWorks at www.laptopdesk.net

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