Oct 28

phone

I seem to get more than my fair share of ‘junk’ phone calls usually wanting me to invest in stocks and shares but this week I got my first scam ‘tech’ phone call. Thankfully I’d heard about it already on some tech podcast, but I think I would have seen through it anyway and hung up before it went too far. Here’s what happened and why my alarm bells were ringing pretty much straight away and hopefully this heads-up will alert you if you haven’t experienced this type of call yet.

The phone rang in the evening. My phone has caller ID so it displays the incoming caller’s number; in this case, the number was ‘unavailable’. So the caller was hiding their ID – always a bad start for them. I picked up the phone and there was a 2 second delay where I could hear that the caller was in a call centre. She spoke with an Indian accent so probably an Indian call centre. I probably should have hung up at that point but she asked to speak to my wife calling her by her real name saying that my wife was a registered Microsoft user and she was calling from a tech support centre. The game was definitely up at this point as I’m the registered Microsoft user at home. When I challenged her on this, she just said she wanted to speak to whoever was the registered user. I guess she was working from a sales database of names and numbers freely available in India or she’d got hold of our local phone directory. I let her go on for a little while to see where it would go. She said she wanted to do a security check on my PC and asked me to click on the Start button…

And that was enough for me. I politely said I was a fairly experienced Windows user and I didn’t have any PC problems and hung up. Doubtless she then went on her way and phoned the next number on her list. I wondered if she was paid on a commission only basis with payment only on calls with a ‘result’ for them. But I guess it doesn’t take many results for this to be a worthwhile business proposition for the scammers.

Anyway, I knew from what I’d heard already that if I followed her instructions she would have taken me to Windows Event Viewer and shown me folders of (usually unimportant) errors which Windows logs while it proceeds on its merry way. It’s a great scam as many people are alarmed by these errors even though their PC is running fine and they follow the scammer’s instructions for their removal with both a financial cost and with security implications as they let the scammer gain remote access to their PC. There’s a good write up here on the Guardian website. Apparently, this scam has been doing the rounds since 2008. I mentioned it to my wife later and thankfully, she said she wouldn’t have fallen for it either. When she mentioned it at work the next day, two of her colleagues had also received scam calls like that and neither had been conned.

Some of you may be reading this after it’s already happened and are searching for information about it.  If it’s happened to you, warn your family and friends. The scammers may be working from a local phone book so you may all get these calls in the same period. And don’t think that because you use Linux or a Mac you won’t get the call. Despite what they say, they only have a list of names and numbers and don’t know if you have a Windows PC. Best advice is to politely hang up or if you have the time, waste their time so they won’t be scamming someone else when you’re on the line.

Have you come across this phone scam or anything like it? How did you deal with the caller? Drop a comment below.


Oct 25

silhouette

So you’ve uploaded all your photos to a social network and they’ve been tagged. Your profile picture is on Facebook, Twitter and now Google+ and your picture avatar follows you everywhere online from forums to blog comments. That’s okay isn’t it? There’s nothing to worry about, everyone else is doing it so it must be fine… I’d rather this than a cartoon or clip art for my avatar.

And it may well be okay, but there have been recent developments which may just start the alarm bells ringing. But first, can I take you back to a time before Facebook and social networking. In the early days online it was fine to have a cool username and cartoon avatar as part of your online persona. I came across this post on identity management in cyberspace (written in 2002 – pre-social networking) which brought that home nicely. It wasn’t necessary to bring your real personal identity online in those days. In fact there are even a bunch of terms used to describe your online persona: handle, alias, nickname, moniker, alter ego. But with the rise and rise of Facebook, Twitter  and now Google+, they want real names, with profile pictures encouraging real identity aggregated between online services. It seems now it’s time to be real online – real names and real tagged photos to identify us. But as I’ve said before on several occasions, we’re still breaking new ground with online social networking. We’re only about 5 years into this fledgling phenomenon. It’s not been done before and it remains to be seen whether being so open with our real names and photos will have a scary downside in say 10 to 15 years time when so much information has been released by us and gathered by… who knows who? So I’ve always been a little reluctant to put too much personal information out there. But not so for my business – online directories with real names and business details is surely okay. But hear me out, particularly on online photos of yourself.

Facial recognition

It’s not very hard to imagine that in the next few years our mobile devices will feature facial recognition technology – software to put names to faces in photos. Trial facial recognition software, PittPatt,  developed at Carnegie Mellon University can take a photo of a stranger and, using information from the cloud (Facebook, etc), can track down their real identity in minutes. It’s only a short hop from there to search and dig out other information like address, email and mobile phone numbers linked to the photo and identity and we surely have the scary possibility of some stranger snapping you with their mobile phone and fairly quickly getting hold of a lot of useful personal information about you.

Pseudonymity

But then I could be totally wrong, and judging by the millions  of people quite happy to put so much information online, I probably am. But at least spare a thought for those of us who continue to operate under pseudonyms and don’t want to put up photos of ourselves. It’s not because we want to hide behind a front and dish out stuff without fear of recrimination. There may just be a good reason now for trying to preserve our anonymity.

Have you every googled your name and been surprised at how much detail comes up? Even though some of it is out of date and quite misleading, it’s all virtually impossible to remove once it’s out there. But people are making judgements of you based on what they find. You could also try googling your phone number + city/town and see if that brings up other aspects of your identity for all to see.

You don’t have to go the real name route online. After a lot of pressure, Google has finally backtracked on the real name requirement for Google+ and soon you will be able to sign up under a pseudonym. So perhaps it’s time to think again about online photos and online identity before it’s too late. Or am I just being way too paranoid? Drop a comment below.


Oct 18

Dual monitors

There are a host of commercial utilities for managing windows on dual monitors but here are three free programs which may cover most of what you need. I use all three and they work fine for me and are easy to set up.

Dual Monitor Taskbar

This was the first utility I installed after setting up my dual monitor system. Dual Monitor Taskbar gives you a taskbar on the second monitor showing just the windows open on that monitor.

WizMouse

I’m indebted to Rich Menga of PC Mech for blogging about this great mouse utility. If you’ve worked with dual monitors you’ll know that, if you have a document open on each monitor, to scroll the document on the second monitor you have to move your mouse over that window, click to select that window, then you can scroll the document. WizMouse allows you just to mouse over the window on the second monitor and it will scroll immediately without any clicking. Works on multiple windows open on one monitor as well. A very useful little utility.

DualSwap

If you drag a full screen window to your second monitor, you’ll probably find it is resized and you then have to maximize it again if required. DualSwap adds a button to the top right of the active window (to the left of the minimise button) which, when clicked, will move the window to the other monitor and retain it full screen or the same size as on the first monitor (so long as both monitors are set at the same resolution). One thing to watch is, if you are running Windows 7, install the file called DualSwap-Win7theme.exe not DualSwap.exe, otherwise the ‘move window’ button will sit right over the maximize button so you have to be careful where you click.  A hotkey combination to move the window to the second monitor would be a nice addition to the program.

The other problem is that this program adds itself to your startup programs without asking. If you’d rather not have that, remove it from your startup programs – click Start, then Run and type ‘shell:startup’ in the Run box. This will open the start up folder. Drag the DualSwap program out of there to where you want to start it from, for example the desktop. Then click Start, then Run and type ‘msconfig’ in the Run box. Go to the Startup tab and uncheck DualSwap.

Well, there are three free utilities which will make managing windows on dual monitors easier. Do you have any favourite utilities for working with dual screens? Drop a comment below.


Oct 13

Delicious

Most of you will probably know that Delicious relaunched under its new owners back in September promising an improved bookmarking service. First thing I noticed after the launch was that there wasn’t much buzz or enthusiasm in the tech blogosphere so that didn’t bode too well. In fact there was a lot more buzz when the sale was announced with people rushing to export all their links.  Anyway, if you’re a regular Delicious user, you’ll know that the service has been an utter disaster since its relaunch and is only now slowly starting to take shape – however it’s still lagging well behind the service I used to know, which wasn’t that great anyway and had stagnated for years. I have to say I’m surprised they launched when they did. They could at least have a taken a leaf from Twitter’s book running the old and new services side by side and giving users a choice until the problems were ironed out. Or just waited until it was right.

At the moment, it’s not possible to bulk rename tags, but doubtless that will come in time.  The old Delicious used to list all tags alphabetically on your ‘my links’ page which I liked. But now we have a truncated list of your most popular tags instead – not good. You can still get an alphabetical listing but it takes a couple of clicks so I’ve resorted to adding the link with all tags sorted alphabetically to my bookmark bar for quick access.

(Update – December 2011: It’s now possible to get an alphabetical listing of tags on the Links page. Thanks Delicious.)

Diigo

In the light of the lack of development of Delicious over the years, I’ve actually been using Diigo as my main bookmarking site for over a year now with Delicious just a backup of those links. It’s possible to save your links on Diigo to Delicious and although this didn’t work for a while after the Delicious relaunch, I note that it is back working again now.

One thing that bugs me in Diigo that I’ve noticed recently is that it’s been set up to display a maximum of 5000 tags. Although it will store more than 5000 tags, when you list your tags sorted alphabetically, it will only list the first 5000. In addition and probably linked to this, annoyingly, the Diigo browser extension won’t auto-complete tags which have names beyond the 5000th in your tag list. So if you want to use a tag say ‘zoho’ that you’ve used in the past, type in ‘zo’ and it won’t autocomplete. Okay, you might say 5000 tags is a bit much but if you use multi word tags, you’ll soon get up there.

(Update – December 2011: This flaw has now been fixed! Thanks Diigo.)

So that’s a quick look at some problems in Diigo and Delicious – if anyone’s interested. Judging by social networks, blogs and podcasts, probably not.

Do you use bookmarking sites any more? Or just search for the information you’re looking for? Drop a comment below.


Oct 11

I listened to a podcast recently which got me thinking about free versus paid software and online services. I’ve blogged about free software and alternatives to commercial programs before but Tracy Holt made a great point on The Techie Geek Podcast 90. Tracy and Russ were discussing freeing up space in web email accounts rather than paying for unlimited storage. Tracy ran through his lengthy routine for archiving emails then admitted he would have been better off paying $50/year for unlimited email storage which he does now:

‘My time is probably worth more than all the time I spent trying to free up space’

He’s right and that applies to software as well as online services, particularly if you run a small office/home office (SOHO). If buying software or online services or upgrading from free to premium versions is going to save you time in the long run, that precious time saved is also going to make you more productive and you should earn more in the same time available. So far this has definitely applied to me in my day job as a freelance copy editor. For example, I’ve invested a small amount in two commercial macros for MS Word which both save me a lot of time in the long run.

MegaReplacer is a batch search and replace macro for Word. You add a bunch of words you want to search for in a file and their replacements, for example, commonly misspelled words and when you run the macro it  goes through the file prompting at each occurrence whether you want to replace it. It’s essential for an editor. Without the macro, you just can’t do that quickly and you’ll most certainly miss some words anyway.

ReferenceChecker is a macro for Word to spot inconsistencies between reference citations in text and the reference list. It’s not important to understand exactly what the macro is doing unless you’re a copy editor, but believe me, it’s a lot quicker than going through the text manually and checking each citation against the reference list, and vice versa.

So particularly if you run a small office/home office, consider investing in commercial software or add-ons and weigh up the differences between premium and free versions of software and services and see if the increased productivity they’ll bring will save you money in the long run.

Have you invested in commercial software or add-ons, or paid for online services to increase productivity? Let us know below.


Oct 4

Canon MP280

I wrote about the gradual demise of the office printer  a while ago. I rarely print anything on paper these days but I do occasionally need a copier/printer facility, so a year ago, after a history of six or seven Epson printers starting with a dot matrix machine back in 1988 and ending with blocked inkjet nozzles on my final Epson D88, I decided to finally change brands and try Canon. Both my kids have Canon printers (MP190 and MP272) and they’ve never given any trouble. Cartridges are expensive but hey, what’s new! About a year ago, I went for a cheap Canon MP280 multifunction inkjet and I couldn’t be happier. It does copying, occasional printing, scanning, and scanning directly to Evernote without any problems. No printer jams since I got it and importantly, the cartridges don’t seem to be as prone to clogging with just occasional use – unlike the last Epson I had.

Lifehacker blogged recently on better inkjet printing  which you may also want to have a look at. They recommended getting a laser printer instead of an inkjet, or if you stick with your inkjet, print test pages regularly to avoid clogged nozzles, use the manufacturer’s ink cartridges not third party ones, and use good quality paper.

Coming back to Canon, I’ve also had a Canon PowerShot A570 IS digital camera for about 4 years now – again no problems. I like Canon. And I’m not sponsored by them, or anyone, to write reviews.

Which brands do you like or do you have no particular preferences? Have you have good experiences or bad ones with any particular brands or do you feel brand isn’t important in terms of quality and reliability? Drop a comment below.


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