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My technical life, day by day.

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Category Archives: Tips, Tricks and Modifications

I don’t know why people do it, but for some reason when they setup a new wireless network they choose not to secure it either because they are to lazy to, or they don’t know how. This is the same as leaving your front door unlocked and putting a sign up that says “free stuff inside”. If you don’t secure your wireless network, anyone with in range of your networks signal can connect to it and leach off your internet, probe your network and if they are canny enough, steal information from your computers and hijack networked peripherals.

You should secure not only your network, your router as well. Securing your wireless network means nothing if anyone can log into your router and change the security settings. When setting up a wireless network use the following check list to make sure everything is in order.

  • When you create a SSID (your networks name) name it something short and sweet that is easily recognized by you.
  • When securing your network, use WPA2-PSK (this option allows you to choose the network passkey yourself so make it strong but easy to remember, you will need it to connect any computer or networkable device to your wireless network).
  • Enable TKIP and AES
  • Enable MAC filtering so that only devices with MAC’s listed in the router config file will be able to connect to your wireless network
  • Use your computers built in firewall for added security.
  • Create a new user name and password for your router. Make the password strong and write down your user name and password and keep it in a safe place.
  • Memorize or write down your routers IP address for easy access to the routers configuration page.

If you take the time to secure your network properly, you will probably never have any problems with people leaching off your internet or poking around on your network. Hope this helps. If you need help with setting up your network, hire professional help. If your in the Tampa Bay area, I am available for all your computing needs: www.ocstampabay.com

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No body likes to be sick, and your computer doesn’t either. Just like you take precautions to avoid getting sick, you should do the same to keep your computer virus free. Below are some tips to do just that, its pretty simple to stay away from viruses if you use some common sense.

  • NEVER open spam email. NEVER. If you don’t know who its from, don’t open it.
  • Scan every email you want to open, I don’t care if its from the President, just do it.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date, its worthless if its not.
  • Back up your data regularly. Just in case you do get one, your not up the creek with out a paddle.
  • If you do not recognize the file extension of the attachment in an email, delete it. Best to play it safe.
  • Never click on pop ups unless its a pop up you expected. If its an ad for something, don’t click it.
  • Do not download programs that come from any kind of pop up. If you want the program go to the vendors site directly.
  • Keep your operating system up to date. Turn on automatic updates.

Keep these things in mind while you browse the net and open email. It will help you stay clear of viruses and other pests.

With everything and everyone being online, keeping your private personal information away from people you may not want to see it is imperative. People so easily give out their personal information on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. This is dangerous because there are plenty of creeps out there that would love nothing more to either steel your identity, bully you, or cause other problems you just don’t want.

So, what can you do to reduce your risk and stay safe online? There are many things you can do and I will go over some of them

  • Create strong passwords to every website you have to log in to. Change them often.
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites to keep personal information visible to people who you want o see it.
  • Stay away from warez sites, or sites that have illegal software, music, or video downloads.
  • Play it safe and NEVER EVER click on pop ups, if the product or service that pops up is something your interested go to the website directly instead.
  • Only open email from people you know, and always scan the email with a anti-virus program before opening it.
  • Clear your browsers cache and history from computers that are not secured with a log in password.
  • Never do any kind of online banking, trading, or other sensitive activities on public computers.
  • Do not let other people use your computer unless you absolutely trust them.
  • To avoid spam, only give out your email address if you really need to. Don’t freely give it away to website that ask for it or sign up for newsletters.
  • NEVER EVER post any kind of financial information online. You should only do finances with the bank or institution you do business with.
  • Do not respond to SPAM emails, once you do they know your email is active and will spam you even more!

You can find more helpful tips from tips from the following:

Microsoft

EFF

I am not a huge Twitter user, I use it from time to time to post updates about myself and my blog posts, but recently while reading my RSS feeds from Lifehacker, I came across an application called TweetMyPC. This program allows you, through Twitter, to shutdown, reboot, lock, logoff, etc via your mobile phone.

It basically works like this:

  1. The application is installed on your computer and you enter your Twitter username and password. I suggest setting up a separate Twitter account to use with TweetMyPC so that others can’t see your commands that you tweet.
  2. Once the application is installed, run the program and you will notice a Twitter icon in the task bar.

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3.   Enter your Twitter username and password and click Save and Close.

That’s all there is to it, simply enable your Twitter account to use text messaging or install a Twitter app to your mobile device if your device supports one that is currently available. Once you have that setup, just tweet the command and TweetMyPC will make it happen.

Go here for a list of commands to tweet to control your computer.

This is a pretty neat application, heck I would use Twitter just to be able to use this program. If you have a Windows Mobile device or your device supports Remote Desktop, the combination of that and TweetMyPC will surely give you more control of your computer remotely. One of the best features of this program is creating your own commands! Anyone have an custom commands they created for this program? If you do what are they?

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The famous Blue Screen of Death

There are a lot of people out there who do not back up their hard drives. Many novice computer users simply do not know how to back up their computer and others say that they don’t have the time. I was one of those that said they didn’t have the time to do it, and guess what? My laziness bit me in the ass the other day.

My installation of Windows Vista became corrupt. My computer would randomly BSOD (blue screen of death) with all kinds of stop errors and what not. If you ever got a BSOD before, I am sure you have noticed that it goes away quickly before you can write down the error numbers so that you can research the problems. Well there is a solution for that:

  1. Left Click on the Start button, Right Click My Computer and select Properties
  2. Select the Advanced system properties tab
  3. Under Startup and Recovery click on the Settings button
  4. Under System failure, uncheck the Automatically restart option
  5. Click OK in the Startup and Recovery window, Click OK in the System Properties window
  6. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to reboot after you have written down the error number

After researching error numbers given to me, I basically came to the conclusion that the inner workings of Windows were messed up and was beyond repair. So, I rebooted my machine after yet another BSOD but this time it wouldn’t boot, it went straight to the BSOD. Game over. I didn’t have a back up of anything, not one thing. So the lesson here, folks, is to ALWAYS back up your hard drive, you never know when a problem could strike and make your computer unusable.

I got my computer up and running by using the Recovery Disk I burned when I first got my laptop. Let me just say right here and now so that you don’t make this mistake; most computers come with a partition on the hard drive with recovery data and a piece of software to burn that data to a disk. You should ALWAYS burn that data to the disk via the recovery software provided by your computer manufacturer. Once you do, keep it in a safe place because you never know when you will need it and computer manufacturers usually do not provide you with a recovery disk. For the novice, a recovery disk basically reformats the primary partition on your hard drive and reinstalls Windows back on your computer the way it came from the factory. The recovery disk is basically an image of the hard drive before you put anything on the computer. Pretty neat, huh? Wouldn’t it be even better if you can make your own “recovery disks”? Well, its possible and I will tell you how.

There are many commercial disk imaging programs out there that do a great job, like Norton Ghost for example. However being the cheap collage student I am, I wanted something that could do the job for free. My solution was Clonezilla. Here are the no frills instructions on how to get started. Once you have the disk burned, make sure you understand and follow ALL the instructions given in the links provided. I am NOT responsible if you hose your computer. 

 

  1. Download ImgBurn, you will need this program to burn the .iso file for Clonezilla to a disk
  2. Download the Clonezilla .iso file
  3. Use ImgBurn to burn the Clonezilla .iso file to a disk, you can find instruction on how to burn an iso file to a disk with ImgBurn with this handy How To Geek article here
  4. Now that you have Clonezilla burned to a disk, it’s now time to read about how to actually use this program.

TIP: If you just bought a new laptop, I highly recommend that you uninstall all the bloat ware programs that came with your computer that you don’t want. Then install all the current updates for Windows, and install all the programs you will be using often on your computer. Once you’ve done that, make a image of your hard drive so that if you ever need to recover or you just want to wipe the slate clean, you can with a clean image.

NOTE: In order for Clonezilla to work, make sure that you set your boot order in your computers BIOS to have the CD drive be the first drive it tries to boot from. Also, make sure you use another program to back up your User File Folder periodically, I recommend Cobian Backup 9. There will be a post later on how to use this program to make periodic backups of your user file.

So now I have a Recovery Disk that puts my computer back the the factory default when I bought it, and a disk image that will put my computer back the way it was when I got all my programs, updates and what not installed. Life is good. I hope you found this useful, and that this tutorial will motivate you to back up your hard drive as well. Does anyone else use Clonezilla? How about another imaging program, free or not? I would love to hear your experiences.

 

Most people keep all their important files in their User File Folder and when your computer takes a dump it’s that User File Folder that they wished that they backed up. Well, wish no more. I am going to show you how to back up your files so that if you ever have to reinstall Windows or reimage your hard drive, all your User Files will be sitting pretty on a removable drive or a FTP server.

NOTE: I am some what sure this same method will work in Windows 7; however I have not used Windows 7 yet, so I am not totally sure it will. If anyone gets this working right in Windows 7 please feel free to comment.

So, what is the User File Folder anyway? Basically, it’s a folder that holds all the pictures, music, documents, downloads, etc for a particular user on Windows Vista. Each user account has its own User File Folder. See the images below, click on them to enlarge them.

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My program of choice to back up my User File Folder is Cobian Backup 9. This program will back up any file or folder you tell it to. It will store the back up on any removable drive you select or even a FTP server, and will compress the back up in .zip file to save space. To back up your user file with Cobian Backup, do the following:

Install Cobian Backup, when asked tell it to install as a service

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Once installed, double click on the mushroom icon in the task bar.

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Right click in the white space to the left and select New Task.

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Under Task Name, put User File Backup. Check off all the check boxes shown and select Full under Backup type. Under Full copies to keep, enter the number of full copies that you want to keep. I keep one.

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Click on Files to the left, under Source, click the Add button and select Directory. You can also click on Drag ‘n’ drop from Explorer to drag and drop files you want to back up into Cobian Backup.

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Select you User File Folder, mine is Omega. Then, select the file folder you want to back up, I will select Documents, then click OK. You could just select the whole User File Folder and click OK to back up the entire folder. Repeat the same steps to add more User Files. Do the same to add the Destination folder for your back up to be stored. I chose my portable hard drive as the destination. 

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Click on Schedule to the left. Under Schedule type, select how often you want to back up your User File.

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Click on Archive to the left. Under Compression, choose what compression format you would like to use. You can choose not to compress the archive if you wish. Here you can also add a password to your archive or encrypt it. When finished, click OK.

Now your User File Folder or the User Folders you choose in your User File Folder will be backed up according to the schedule you selected. When your computer starts Cobian Backup will start and sit idle until its time to backup. I should note that when Vista starts up, it will block Cobian Backup from starting. Vista will notify you that it has blocked the program and will give you the option to unblock it. You will have to do this every time you start Windows. If you want, you can double click on the mushroom icon and double click on the User File Backup icon in the white space to the left to start the backup anytime you wish.

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Notification Vista gives when it blocks a startup program

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Simply right click on the Blocked Startup icon in the taskbar and select Run blocked program and select Cobian Backup.

So there you have it, a easy way to backup your User File. Does anyone have another program or method to back up their files? If you do I’d love to hear about it.

I often found it hard in the past to plan out things and get things done. I would put things off, or I would just forget because I didn’t write them down or schedule them. This led to all kinds of problems and productivity was never at its full potential with me. I realized that I had to do something to get myself on track and be more productive in my day to day activities. I started to search around on the internet for any kind of tips or tricks I could use that could help me and what I came across was a method of planning activities and projects that really appealed to me. GTD is the creation of David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. I HIGHLY recommend you give this book a good read, and read it more than once so that you really understand how this system works and if its right for you. Once you do, you will find your self more productive and finally being able to get things done!

To implement GTD, I searched the internet for tools that could help me. What I found was a application called Tracks. It pretty much sets up the whole GTD system up for you. You can learn more about it here. As you can see from that link, its pretty difficult to set up tracks on your own and run it from your computer but there is a package you can download that will do it all for you. It allows you to pick the Apache server port and set a user name a password. You can set up the Apache Server so that you can access it anywhere on the web. While I liked this package, which can be found here, I didn’t like the fact that I had to have my computer running 24/7 to access Tracks so I found www.GTDify.com. This place has Tracks all set up, all you have to do is create a username and password and voila! You’re in! Not only that, but it has a mobile site as well, you can’t beat that. I just started using this GTD system, so I haven’t tested it out fully but so far so good.

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What I love about this system is that I can input all the tasks, projects, appointments that I have and then schedule them accordingly following GTD’s workflow pictured below. Doing this allows me to be much more productive. It gives me a place to see my work flow, to see what needs to be done now, tomorrow or three years from now. It utilizes a Tickler so that I will be reminded to attack the task again later on if I have to defer it. You can read more about Tickler Files here. I use Exchange Server to input all my Tasks and Calendar appointments so that I have the with with me where ever I go.

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If GTD interests, you search the web. You will find all kinds of information on GTD, how to use it, tweaks, and tips on making it fit your lifestyle. I highly recommend Lifehacker, they constantly post GTD tips and tricks.