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March 2003 Archive
For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.
We were pre-empted this week.
Louis asked by email for advice regarding safe, low radiation emitting computers. Joe suggested he find monitors that comply with MPR II - A green standard published by SWEDAC (the Swedish Board for Technical Accreditation) that limits the maximum amount of ELF and VLF electromagnetic radiation a computer monitor may emit. Most personal computer monitors comply with this standard or the more stringent European TCO requirement. You also might be interested in Microwave News - Dr. Louis Slesin has been following this field for many years. While there is no hard evidence that computer monitors (as such) expose the user to specific danger, there are some disturbing areas that require further research... most of the questionable radiation comes from the rear of the monitor... some people avoid the whole problem by using flat panel LCD monitors.
Another email question came from Bernd, who asked about getting rid of an old Windows 95 machine. Joe said: "There are numerous local groups that refurbish and recycle older computers." Since this question has come up often, we now have it as a topic in our Links and Downloads page.
Adam Osborne, whose successes and failures in pioneering the first portable computer became one of the Silicon Valley's great cautionary
tales, died in his sleep in a village in southern India, on March 18, 2003, from cancer of the brain, at the age of 64.
Osborne was a British immigrant and longtime resident of Berkeley, California. His death ended a decade-long battle with an organic brain
disorder. His company failed after it announced a new forthcoming computer. The
new computer was not ready and in the mean time, people stopped buying the old
Ariel emailed with a question: "I have AOL and Netzero installed on my computer. Microsoft-Outlook is compatible with Netzero but not with AOL. Do you have a list of providers that offer e-mail compatible with Ms-Outlook?" Joe replied that Outlook adheres to the POP3 and SMTP standards for sending and receiving email on the Internet . ALL Internet Service Providers (ISP) adhere to these standards, except for AOL which is not so much an ISP but rather is a "value added gateway"... National ISPs such as AT&T WorldNet, EarthLink, Mindspring and many others provide standard Internet email that is usable with Outlook. On the local scene, some ISPs are PANIX and Escape. Additionally, some services such as mail.com, netaddress.com, Yahoo provide POP3 email for a small fee...For free ISP's and email, see out Links and Downloads page.
In The News:
Last week, we were asked by a caller for advice on getting into the computer
business. It is not the best field for employment opportunities. Joe suggested
getting a graduate degree, learn a specific business and get some experience.
Alfred pointed out that there are ads for entry level positions but they don't
pay well and may not have much of a future. Joe was quite discouraged regarding
the outlook for the technology field. Alfred suggested going to the people who
are offering jobs and talk to them. Hank suggested going into another business
which hopefully will be using technology as a tool.
Alfred mentioned that the recording industry is now after corporations. The
RIAA sent letters to 300 companies citing specific examples where their network
equipment was used to download music files illegally. The companies are legally
liable for the misuse of their equipment by their employees.
Yet another Microsoft security patch was just issued. This is not news. All
Windows users are urged by the company to download a bug fix. Nothing new here.
Hank complained that the size of these patches (bug fixes) is such that dial-up
modem users can barely download them.
A former Sun Microsystems employee threw another log on the H-1B visa fire earlier this week, filing suit against the
company, which he alleges violated age and race discrimination laws when it sacked American workers and replaced them with
cheaper H-1B workers.
Anson Lee, from Symantec, discussed online income tax filing - the benefits, dangers and protection. Symantec does not have products specific to filing, but the Norton AntiVirus and Norton Personal Firewall products are one way to protect sensitive documents -- such as stored tax returns -- on a personal computer.
Anson has been involved in rolling out (applying) today's bug fix from Microsoft. He said the current fix is under one megabyte and applies to all versions of Windows back to Windows 98.
Regarding taxes on a computer, Anson noted that they are great at addition and subtraction - fast and no mistakes. You can also file it online and transfer the information directly to the IRS. This saves the IRS the trouble of manually entering your tax information into their computers and speeds up a refund which can be sent directly to your bank account.
Last year 36% of tax returns came in electronically. The IRS hopes to get 100% in a few years. Anson is going to file his own taxes online, feeling that the convenience outweighs the possible dangers. The first danger, of course, is a virus. A virus can take specific files off your computer and send them out.
Hank mentioned that cyber terrorism might be used to infect networks and effect the whole economy. The slammer worm caused such an increase in traffic on the Internet that it prevented some people from withdrawing money from their ATM machine. If people were more informed and took some pro-active steps, the spread of viruses could be greatly decreased. Also, every computer on the Internet should be running a firewall.
What can an end user do to protect themselves if they want to file taxes electronically? Anson made two suggestions: (1) get a good anti-virus program installed and keep it up to date (2) install a personal firewall program to control exactly what goes in and comes out of your computer. Note that these and other related topics are covered in a Defensive Computing class taught by our webmaster.
Joe pointed out that there are free anti-virus programs. Alfred mentioned that there are also hardware solutions. People who install a router to share a broadband connection can get a router with some firewall functionality built-in.
A caller has a computer with Norton Anti-Virus pre-installed. She had a virus and was asked by a friend whether Norton was enabled. Her question to use was how do you turn on Norton Anti-Virus. Michael said there two answers, first you have to configure it so that the program runs automatically when Windows starts up (boots). Then you also have to enable auto-protect mode, in which, Norton Anti-Virus automatically scans every file you use for viruses. These two options are configured, just like many other options, using the Options button (in NAV 2003). Joe suggested enabling automatic Live Update so that the program downloads new virus definitions on its own. Alfred warned that all anti-virus programs expire, after which you are not allowed to download new virus definitions until you pay for what Norton calls a "subscription".
A caller asked how to find a computer user group. Right here on this web site, the Announcements page has a list of some user groups and a link to a much longer list.
Sam asked about computer fields less likely to be exported. He is a recent college graduate in computer science and says it is hard to find a job in and around the city. Joe said jobs where you have to get your hands dirty, doing things like installing boards, can't be exported. Hank suggested focusing on the business in a particular industry. The computer is then used as a tools rather than as the career itself. He also said to be adaptable.
Ken complained that Outlook Express was not showing files attached to email messages. This is a known issue that was introduced with the Service Pack 1 version of Outlook Express version 6. To get around it, start Outlook Express, then use Tools -> Options -> Security Tab -> uncheck the box next to "Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus." Joe also advised changing your folder options to show all file extensions. Only with this enabled can you be sure to see the file type of an attached file. You do this in Windows 2000 and XP from Windows Explorer with Tools -> Folder Options -> View tab -> turn off "Hide file extensions for known file types". In Windows 98, the procedure is the same except that you start with the View menu option from Windows Explorer. More information on this can be found at:
Trend Micro and Mark Lautenschlager, the co-host and webmaster of the Computer America talk show. The topic was viruses, worms and firewalls. Trend Micro makes the PC-cillin anti-virus program and runs the antivirus.com web site.
In The News:
Wi-Fi Gets 'Super Sized InternetNews.com March 11, 2003. McDonald's will start offering WiFi Internet access in some stores in Manhattan. You have to purchase an Extra Value Meal at participating McDonald's restaurants to get one hour of free high-speed wireless Internet access. You can also purchase a single session of 60 minutes for $3. There network will be open for all wireless users, so customers do not have to set up an account. See www.mcdwireless.com for details, including the location of the participating McDonald's.
Microsoft to sell stake in Corel at deep loss. Reuters, March 11, 2003. Hank pointed out that Corel makes WordPerfect. Alfred said WordPerfect still has a devoted following, even if it is a niche product.
Microsoft just released a beta version of the next edition of Office. It is a 183 MB download. Hank said the software is time locked, it will not run after November 30, 2003. From this, he surmised that we can expect the next version to be released around November 2003. Joe said that 30 - 45 days before a new version of Office is released Microsoft offers a technology guarantee. If you buy the old version during this pre-release period, they will send you the new version for free. Since a new version is on the horizon, Joe advised not to buy Office now. Despite the inevitable wave of bells and whistles in the new version, Hank said that for a typical home consumer user, Office 97, Office 2000 and Office XP are just fine.
The slammer worm infected computers running SQL Server, the high end Microsoft database. It exploited a bug that was known about and fixed months ago. System administrators are wary of running Microsoft patches (bug fixes) for two reasons. First, there are so many of them. Hank noted that in 2002 Microsoft released 72 security related patches, over one a week. If administrators installed every one ASAP, they would do nothing else. Also, the bug fixes (patches) often cause new problems. Slammer was a worm, not a virus. It did not write anything to the hard drive. It simply propagated itself to other computers. The increase in data traffic from its searching for potential victim computers is what caused so many problems.
Joe uses PC-cillin as his anti-virus program. He configured it to check for updates every three hours. Recently, it popped up a Yellow Alert message. we recommend you download this yellow alert notice. David Perry said that trend uses red, yellow, green to indicate virus alert levels. Some things users need to do to protect themselves are not possible with simple updates to an anti-virus program. Trend used to send out emails to their customers advising them of other actions (such as applying the fix for the slammer worm) that needed to be taken. David said that people get so much spam, these advisory emails were being ignored. Now they have PC-cillin issue alerts when you need to take some preventative action.
Hank noted that he and Joe have often advised people to use the free online Housecall utility from Trend Micro to scan their computer for viruses. He used to tell people to go to www.antivirus.com and click on Housecall. However, there is no longer a link to Housecall on the home page. David said to go to housecall.antivirus.com.
Joe warned that Eudora and PC-cillin users may have found that their email filters have recently stopped working. The fault lies with Trend Micro, they are aware of it and are working on a fix.
A caller asked about his firewall program which keeps popping up windows. These windows mean one of two things. Either someone outside of your computer is trying to get in or a program on your computer is trying to get out. In the first case, always say no, unless you are playing an online game. In the second case, Mark suggested that if you didn't do something that specifically caused your computer to contact the internet, then say no and see what software complains.
Ryan said "ice" stands Intrusion Counter Electronics.
Joy asked what a virus is. It's a program written in order to make copies of itself. In addition, and the reason most people care, is that many viruses also are malicious. Some are just annoying, but the dangerous ones will erase the files on your computer hard disk. Everyone using a personal computer should run anti-virus software to protect themselves from viruses. In addition, be careful never to click on a file attached to an email message.
Joy also wants to write a book on her computer and asked about how best to protect the book while she writes it. Joe said to be sure to back up the computer every hour on the hour. When the machine crashes (techie lingo for dies) you want to make sure that a copy of all your important files exists somewhere outside of the computer. She is a perfect candidate for the Defensive Computing class taught by our webmaster, Michael Horowitz.
John asked about a career for a young person in the computer field, one that would be relatively secure for the next few years. Alfred said there are lots of types of jobs that will be around for a long time, but they won't pay well and there will be many people qualified to fill these jobs. Hank said he learned two important things in his 44 years in data processing: 1) Be adaptable to a changing environment. You can always make a living as a computer programmer. A real programmer, said Hank, is one that can pick up any programming language and not be limited to a single language. 2) Learn a business - be it financial, retailing, military or whatever. Companies look to hire someone who knows the business, rather than hiring techies. Joe advised to look for jobs that can not be moved overseas. Whereas help desks can be moved, system administrators can not. Security has also been stable and is expected to be so in the future.
Solomon leaves his computer turned on constantly for 2 or 3
weeks at a time. He asked if this was safe to do. Since he is running Windows
XP, Joe said it was OK from a software point of view. Joe, Hank and Mark felt
that if the computer was doing some task for you, there is nothing wrong with
Solomon also asked if the computer used a lot of electricity. Hank said that if the machine and the monitor have power saving modes, the electricity used is very little, like that of a 60 watt light bulb or even less. Mark said "If you are not using the computer or it's not doing anything unattended, go ahead and turn it off. Why use up the power for no reason?" Joe said that with Windows XP there is a hibernation mode where the computer really goes to sleep and uses no power. This is also true for other versions of Windows. However, waking up a computer from hibernation mode is slower than waking it up from other low power (sleep) modes. Also, hibernation mode requires file on your hard disk equal in size to the amount of RAM in the computer.
Mohammed asked about using credit cards on the Internet. Master Card or Visa had a card that could be purchased with a specific amount of money on it and could only be used one time. David got a secured credit card just for use on the net. Joe said American Express has a single use credit card number. Go to the American Express web site and they will issue you a one time card number. After you use it on a web site to buy something, it can never be used again. Joe said it was promoted a lot last year, not so this year. Alfred said that you can research this online by searching on Google for "prepaid credit cards".
Tanya asked about finding the best printer. Alfred said to buy the most expensive HP printer your budget can support. Joe warned that you should research the cost of replacement ink cartridges. He bought an HP printer for less than $100, something Alfred recommends against, and the two cartridges were $55 to $65. Alfred's point about buying an expensive printer was that as the cost of the printer goes up, the per page cost of each printed page goes down. They are going to get your money one way or the other. For a low budget, Mark suggested the Canon 520, both because it has separate ink tanks for each color and because it is well reviewed. When you run out of red ink, for example, you only need to replace the red ink, not all the colors. Alfred however, had a contrary view on Canon printers. He noted that they have a separate print head which could be an expensive repair someday. David suggested the HP G85, last years model of an all-in-one printer, scanner and fax machine. It now sells for only $200. The printer cartridges are about $200 but Alfred said they last forever.
The topic this week was Identify Theft. On the air tonight were Joe King, Hank Kee and Alfred Poor.
In The News:
Hank announced that we raised about $3,500 during our two hour fund raising show on February 12th.
The Supreme court will be reviewing Internet access in public libraries. In order to get federal funds, a library must use a filter program to prevent access to pornography on the Internet. Joe used a library computer with a filter and found that he could not get to the home page for Sussex county in New Jersey. Why? The name contains "sex". The American Cancer Society is also blocked because of references to Breast Cancer. Joe said that filters don't work.
Palm has a new product, the i705, a color unit with a standard QWERTY keyboard. There are two wireless communication services available with the i705. For $30 a month you can download 10 megabytes of data, for $100 a month, you can download 100 MB.
Microsoft just released Beta 2 of Office 2003 (the next version of Microsoft Office). It includes Digital Rights Management (DRM), but since DRM has gotten a bad name, they now call it Information Rights Management. Joe pointed out that Microsoft wants their standards for DRM to become the de-facto standards.
Intel released a new processor for laptop computers, the Pentium M. They
bundle the processor with WiFi hardware and call the bundle Centrino. The guys
are wary of having too many things built into the motherboard. Sure enough,
after the show aired, there was an article in the New York Times that pointed
out a problem with WiFi being built into the motherboard.
IBM is recalling 56,000 computer monitors, the G51 CRT and the G51T, a touch screen version. They generate too much heat and as a result might catch fire. For information, see IBM's web site or call 866-644-3155.
Toshiba will demonstrate a prototype of a methanol fuel cell for use with laptop computers. Methanol burns with a hot blue flame. Only 12 ml of methanol are used to produce 5-7 hours of power. If it works out, this could be the end of laptop batteries (which have environmental impact problems). It was pointed out that while everything else about laptop computers has changed drastically over the years, the batteries are pretty much the same as they were in 1930.
Alfred reported a scoop. Last November NEC-Mitsubishi filed a lawsuit in circuit court against Viewsonic for deceptive advertising (lying) about the contrast ratio of their LCD (flat panel) monitors. Alfred pointed out that many things in the computer field have had their specs stretched.
Hank mentioned some recent cases of Identity theft that were in the news
Hank warned about giving out your social number so quickly. He often challenges requests for it and finds that the requestor can sometimes live without it. Alfred told of a woman who sold a car on eBay and accepted a cashiers check for payment. The bank cashed the check, gave her cash and she gave up the car. Two weeks later however, the bank came after her because the check was counterfeit.
Alfred also pointed out that identity theft is often done through mundane means, such as looking over someone's shoulder or social engineering. He also noted that many colleges still use social security numbers as student ID numbers, a bad idea, making them prime targets for identity theft.
If you detect fraud, act on it immediately. Contact the police and file a report. Keep good notes of everything you do - every call you make, letter you send, person you talk to. The average person spends 175 hours and $808 to clear their name after an identity theft.
The three credit bureaus are: Experion (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285) and Trans Union (800-680-7289). Check with all three of them to see if new accounts were opened in your name. Depending on the state you reside in, you may be entitled to one free credit report. Also call the FTC and the Social Security administration.
Hackers steal students' personal info March 6, 2003. Associated Press. Hackers broke into a database and stole the names, Social Security numbers and e-mail addresses of more than 55,000 students, former students and employees at the University of Texas at Austin, university officials said.
John has been using a prepaid credit card as protection from identity theft. These cards work like prepaid long distance telephone cards - there is a maximum amount that can be spent on the card, the amount you pre-paid. If the card is lost or stolen, no one can use it spend any more than the pre-paid dollar limit.
Dennis asked about using an old 5.25 floppy disk drive with Windows XP. It is not supported. Alfred has read about utilities that work around this XP limitation but no one on the show had any experience doing this. Joe suggested networking the computer with the 5.25 floppy disk drive to the new computer running Windows XP. Alfred suggested copying the files to a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive on the old machine. Then again, 3.5 inch floppy disks are themselves on the way out, so Alfred suggested burning the files to a CD.
Ron is a computer novice and asked for advice on a school for introductory computer classes, things like how to send email and get on the Internet. Since he lives in Queens, Hank suggested the New York Public Library in Flushing which has many computers and offers free classes. In Manhattan, Joe suggested the Science and Industry branch of the New York Public Library on 34th Street and Madison Ave. They too, offer free classes.
Irving is using Juno for free Internet access and email and can't get files attached to email messages. This needed more attention than could be offered on the air. Irving is a computer novice and therefore more likely to need help when things go wrong. With a free service you can't expect technical support, so it might not be the best option for beginners.
Rich was told to run Scandisk on his Windows XP Professional computer but can't find it. He looked in Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools. Scandisk is a disk error checking program. It is normally invoked by double clicking My Computer, then right clicking on the drive letter you want to check (usually C) and getting its properties. Go to the Tools tab where error checking invokes the scandisk utility.
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