Actrix Newsletter October 2004

This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet,
and to keep you, as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.co.nz/
Newsletters are now archived by article at http://editor.actrix.co.nz/byarticle/
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be e-mailed to editor@actrix.co.nz
Other inquiries should be e-mailed to support@actrix.co.nz

Three Programs You Probably Need

To keep yourself secure whilst online these days, there are three types of programs you should probably consider having on your Windows machine, particularly if you don't consider yourself an expert, and especially if different people use the machine and you're not always sure what they're doing.

These three types of programs are, of course, an anti-virus application, something to help with spyware and a firewall.

The importance of an anti-virus program should hardly need underscoring in this day and age. The media is often abuzz with stories about new threats, though the recent mass proliferation of new viruses and variants has, admittedly, made the whole subject a little ho-hum. Nevertheless, they're an ever-present threat.

To guard against viruses the first thing you have to do is visit the Windows Update Page regularly. This will help ensure in the first place that you don't have the program bugs and vulnerabilities that viruses use in order to wreak their havoc. Secondly, you need to be with an ISP that filters your e-mails for viruses. This will remove 99% of the threat, but viruses can still get to you in other ways. These days viruses can connect to you straight across the Internet (bypassing your e-mail) and they can also arrive via floppy discs.

Some very good anti-virus programs are available free on the Internet. One we like to recommend is ClamWin which can be downloaded at www.clamwin.net. Choose Download from the menu on the left. You will be forwarded to a page where you can download the latest version. Click on the one nearest the top of the list that ends in set-up.exe. You don't need to download the src.zip files. The good thing about ClamWin is that its default installation settings don't need much in the way of tweaking. You can install it and forget it's there.

Another free anti-virus program often recommended is AVG AntiVirus. Click Download at the top of the page, and then click on Free Edition Download.

Spyware is also a clear danger present on most machines in one form or another. Spyware sneaks onto your machine often via programs that you or your kids have downloaded from the Net. It reports back to its maker about your online habits (as part of their market research). It may also cause ads to pop up at you (even when you're not online). It can mess with your settings and home page, and one of the most annoying things it does is use your connection to the Internet, slowing down the rate at which you can download the pages you really want. You can read a lot more about Spyware in an article from the June 2003 Newsletter: Along Came a Spyware.

There are several spyware removal tools available, and a couple are even free. Spybot Search and Destroy is available to download for free straight from Actrix at http://asgard.actrix.co.nz/files/security/spyware/spybotsd13.exe and it gets pretty good media reviews. The writer wants nothing more than that you say a prayer for him and his girlfriend.

It would be a good idea to read the quick tutorial once you have downloaded and installed Spybot Search and Destroy (roughly 3.5 MB in size). Open the program, click the Check for Problems button, and you're away. Spybot will search your system for most known spyware. It will then report all that it found in a list. The list is pretty good. You can click on each item to see what the piece of spyware is, who made it, and what it is designed to do.

Click the Fix Selected Problems button, and it will go and take care of as many of the problems as it can for you. Note that you may need to restart before it can finish getting rid of them all. An update button also features when you first start the program so you can get the latest spyware definitions just like with an anti-virus program. It is recommended that you run Spybot Search and Destroy once per week, and update it before you do.

Ad-aware is another free spyware removal program that gets good media reviews. This program's homepage is at http://lavasoft.element5.com/software/adaware/ and you can find download links at nearby locations there too.

Firewalls such as Zone Alarm are becoming more necessary these days, too, especially for people with broadband connections who are a specific target for hackers. Firewalls act like gatekeepers between your computer and the Internet. They are designed to only allow traffic and connections to or from your machine that you authorise.

Zone Alarm, for example, won't reply to hackers who are scanning the Internet looking for vulnerable machines, so most won't even discover you are there. This makes you much less of a likely target. Also, each time a program on your computer wants to make a connection to the Net, a warning pops up on your screen and you can choose whether to allow or disallow it in or out. This makes it very hard for spyware to report home undetected, and leaves you feeling reasonably secure. As long as Zone Alarm is quiet, you're probably surfing unmolested.

Again, Zone Alarm has free version. To download it, go to the Zone Labs web site (http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp). Click on Zone Alarm. This will take you through to the Security Suite page. Over on the right there is a list of variations on Zone Alarm ranging from Zone Alarm Pro to Zone Alarm Anti-Virus. You can purchase these if you want but the free one is available under the simple heading Zone Alarm. 

Downloading and installing programs shouldn't be too much of a drama. When you click on the download link, your computer should pop up a box asking whether you want to Run or Save the program. You should choose Save. Your computer will then ask you for a location. Use the drop down box to choose the desktop. This will make the program easy to find.

Once the download is complete, you should see a new icon on your desktop which you can then double-click to run and install. The makers of the programs in question want them to be easy to install, even for novices, so at any time you're asked a question during the install procedure, and you don't know what it means, you are fairly safe just clicking on Okay or Next. The recommended or normal option will be selected by default, and a default installation is exactly what you want.

Once any program is installed and you've opened it, have a look (usually under the File menu) for any tutorials that come with the program. These are designed to make it all simple to understand. If there isn't a tutorial, have a look under the Help menu (somewhere at the top of the program).

Happy safe surfing! 

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Readers' Forum

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and answer your question by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Barbara writes: Hi There Rob, When looking at a cursor fun web site, they ask me to fill out a survey before allowing me to download. Are these surveys safe? They want name, email address etc, do you know if it's ok to do this please. Again my thanks for your help, Regards, Barbara.

Hi Barbara, This is a good question, and one that touches on issues beyond just the survey. How safe it is to fill out an online form all depends on who is gathering the information and what they are going to do with it. If you know nothing about who will receive the information, then there is no guarantee that they won't share or sell your information, especially your e-mail address. Look for any privacy statement that might promise not to give away or sell your details, but even then, how much can you even trust such a statement? The Internet is one of the easiest places in which to lie and get away with it. I guess it depends on how badly you want these enhanced cursors as to what risks you want to take.

However, I have even greater concerns about your downloading the cursors themselves, especially if they're free. I don't know which ones you're referring to, but enhanced cursor downloads in the past have been known to contain spyware that will track your movements online and send that data back to someone else. Most free programs for download contain this sort of thing. This is the way the provider makes money - by gathering data and selling it to others.

If you do decide to download, then you will probably be asked to read and agree to a user license as part of the install process. If so, I'd almost be willing to bet my firstborn that there'll be some legal gobbledegook in there about giving them the right to track your data. It may be cunningly worded so that you'd have to read it carefully to spot it, but that's the way these guys operate. Of course, you may not be asked to agree to a user license agreement, and spyware might be added anyway.

I guess this all adds up to me advising you not to download the free cursor program. If you want to download something funky like this, look for a reputable company that provides some sort of privacy guarantee that you trust. I'm just not sure where you'd find one. When it comes to the Internet, you should definitely look a gift-horse in the mouth!

--

Pat writes: Hello Rob, I have just received a virus warning, telling me to send it on to everyone in my address book, about a virus disguising itself as a story on a 9-11 survivor. Do you know if this is genuine, or should I just not go on-line that day?

Hi Pat, I haven't heard of this particular one. However, there are a million such hoaxes. By fooling people into sending the warning on to everyone in their address book, the hoax writers are able to imitate the effects of a virus which also send themselves out to everyone in address books. The warning about the virus becomes the virus. Quite a laugh if you're demented, I suppose. Of course these hoaxes aren't as serious as real viruses as they don't harm your system, but they're a pain in the neck and just add to mail-server loads around the world. 

A good site to check regarding viruses (if you're unsure of veracity) is www.vmyths.com. See especially: How to Spot a Virus Hoax at http://vmyths.com/resource.cfm?id=19&page=1.

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Actrix Anti-Spam/Anti-Virus Update

September
2004
Emails scanned: 5,285,301
Viruses found: 986,918
Spam found: 2,294,149
Percentage of emails containing viruses: 18.67
Percentage of emails containing Spam: 43.4
Top 10 Viruses for September 2004
Worm.Zafi.B 785,888
Worm.SomeFool.P 61,066
Worm.SomeFool.Gen-1 34,665
Worm.Lovegate.X 20,962
Worm.SomeFool.Z 18,922
Worm.SomeFool.Gen-2 10,784
Trojan.Dropper.VBS.Zerolin-6 9,520
Worm.SomeFool.Q 4,958
Worm.Bagle.Z 3,496
Worm.MyDoom.M 3,421

The Actrix Spam-filtering system is humming along nicely. We trust that customers have noticed great improvements over the last few weeks as the filters have developed and learned.

An e-mail was sent to all customers on Monday 19 July explaining how the new filters work, how to opt out if you don't want them, how to check your online Spam folder, how the filters work with CyberFilter, etc. A copy of that e-mail can be found here: http://www.actrix.co.nz/whatsnew.php?articleid=27.

Please note: To check your Spam folder, you have to go into Web Mail, and then click the Spam link over on the left.

We'll be reporting on both Spam and virus catch figures each month. The table to the left details anti-virus and Spam catch statistics for the month of September 2004.

The Actrix Spam filters run on a points system. Each e-mail that passes through our mail servers is assessed for Spam-likelihood. If it gets enough Spam points it is filtered off into a separate Spam folder stored within Web Mail for each customer mailbox. We're continuing to update the Spam criteria by which e-mail is judged, so the system is becoming "smarter everyday." Currently we're successfully catching around 90% of Spam. This should improve as we refine the filtering criteria over time.

Thank you to all those customers who have given positive feedback. This has been appreciated and shared around the office. There have been far too many to answer individually.


Interesting Sites (Click the picture links to access the sites)

Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.

Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers? Click here to e-mail and let me know and receive a free Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar courtesy of Actrix!

Death Online
http://www.deathonline.net - Throughout the world, death and the rituals that surround it are steeped in taboos. Death is celebrated, embraced and feared. Around death and the dead, cultures put in place diverse restrictions and practices associated with clothing, food and ritual. This web site explores what happens to us when we die and the different ways we deal with death.
Online Stress Relief
www.bullguard.com/curiosities/default.aspx?id=21 - This site was suggested by Judith Harper who was sure it would be of enormous benefit to any readers who may feel a little (or more) stressed out by the daily round. "Hours of soothing fun to be had!" Try manic mode if you're really having a bad day.
Word Gizmo
http://gocreate.com/tools/wordgizmo.htm - This "exercise in finding meaning in nonsense" is another great site for word and language lovers. Keep clicking the Generate button to make words until one emerges that suggests meaning to you. Make up a definition and submit it. You can choose to leave your name as a contributor. Use the Dictionary link to check all words submitted so far.
The Time Travel Fund
www.timetravelfund.com/ - Invest a little money now, and in 100s or 1000s of years when time travel is possible, the power of compound interest will hire someone to come back in time and snatch you from the here and now. Make sense? I'm no physicist, but if this were possible, wouldn't we be seeing people disappearing now anyway? Aren't we living in the time the snatchers will come back to? Hey, don't let me stop you from investing....
Waste Paper Game
www.sticky.tv/game/cyrkam_airtos/ - This one is really addictive! It takes a little while to load, but it's worth the wait. Don't expect to get much work done once you start. Use your mouse to catch the waste paper ball. Throw it in the waste paper basket. It's much harder than it looks!
Pest Patrol
http://pestpatrol.com/pestinfo/ - Pest patrol is a new programme you can buy for your computer to help in the war against spyware, autodiallers, trojans, and all those other nasties. I'm not necessarily recommending the program yet, because I don'yt know anyone who's tested it. However, what I love about their web site is the incredible amount of information about all the different sorts of net-based pests and how to get rid of them. There is also a free spyware test you can do for your machine.
100 Photographs That Changed the World
http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0309/lm_index.html - Featured here are 28 of the photos from Life Magazine's new book, 100 Photographs that Changed the World. Most are in black and white, and some are none-too-pleasant. Nevertheless, it is hard to find a collection of images so powerful, or one that presents humanity in all of its extremes.
Do I Have It?
www.doihaveit.com/ - Worried about being sick? You will be after reading some of this. The site is dedicated to providing the average-joe with information about common diseases and health problems from heart attacks to menapause. Information is aimed at individuals without any prior knowledge of medical terminology with the goal being to inform and provide an educational resource.
Mysterious People
www.mysteriouspeople.com/ - Strange powers, occult personalities, poltergeist girls, feral children, eccentrics, tricksters, spies, multiple personalities and so on; all manner of strange and interesting people feature at this site which is devoted to the lives of mysterious, strange and unusual people. It consists of a series of biographical articles, with sources and further reading listed at the end of each piece. Check the Links section for more information.
Longevity Calculator
www.nmfn.com/tnetwork/longevity_game_popup.html - This is a pretty cool longevity indicator. You can make choices in the relevant fields to describe your life and habits, and your expected age of death will appear in the tabulator to the left. It changes as you change your selections indicating things you can do to help yourself live longer. I'm gonna make it to 79, but our Product Manager Dave should last about another 15 minutes... 
The Number of the Beast
http://users.aol.com/s6sj7gt/mike666.htm - "The number 666 is cool. Made famous by the Book of Revelation (Chapter 13, verse 18, to be exact), it has also been studied extensively by mathematicians because of its many interesting properties. Here is a compendium of mathematical facts about the number 666. Most of the well-known "chestnuts" are included, but many are relatively new and have not been published elsewhere."
Shakespearean Insult Generator
www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker/index.html? - Click the "Insult Me" button to generate a new insult. The providers of this service dont' "intend to offend or discriminate against anyone on the basis of age, sex, color, race, creed, national origin, religious persuasion, marital status, political belief, or disability -- we like everyone -- these are just randomly borrowed insults from the Bard's works -- and you ASKED for it!"

Cyberspace News Snippets

New Zealand

Police gear for sale on eBay: Police are talking to the American website eBay over the auction of a New Zealand police hat and badge. Click here for more.

Case against Telecom may go ahead next year: The Commerce Commission's legal action against Telecom for alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the use of internet access code 0867 may advance to a substantive hearing next year. Click here for more.

TradeMe - slow burner to online sizzler: Five years ago, when Sam Morgan was looking to buy a second-hand heater, little did he realise what a hot item he would end up with. Click here for more.

Kiwi punters bet $100m over net and through TV: Gambling on horse racing and sports events via the net was worth $94.5 million in the year to July 31, up from $86 million the year before... Click here for more.

ISPs saved from negative effects of censorship Bill: Providers won't be liable for distributing objectionable material unless they are aware of its content, says amendment. Click here for more.

Kiwi helping build browser: Firefox has generated an enormous amount of interest among hardcore internet users around the world and for the first time has taken market share away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Click here for more.

Meridian to trial online power meters: Meridian Energy hopes to revolutionise electricity metering by installing intelligent online terminals that can read and control electricity meters in homes. Click here for more.

Telecom leaves bar on Pacific toll calls to Irish: A move by Ireland to block direct telephone calls to most Pacific Island countries because of internet scams will not be replicated in New Zealand, where Telecom tackles the fraud on a case-by-case basis. Click here for more.

Otago hacker in court: The first person to be charged with hacking under the Crimes Amendment (No 6) Act will appear in Dunedin District Court today. Click here for more.

General

Google me: Neighbours from hell: The story this week of a monkey apple hedge that caused such friction between Herne Bay neighbours that it took a High Court judge to lay the matter to rest would resonate among all of us who live in homes next door to other people. In effect, everyone. Click here for more.

Internet and texting blamed for divorce increase: The growth of text messaging and the popularity of internet reunion sites were blamed yesterday for fuelling a rise in divorce rates, which have reached a seven-year high in Britain. Click here for more.

Back in the Internet saddle: It's amazing how quickly we adapt. I never thought I could go two months without Internet access at home. Click here for more.

Pornsters face life in China smut crackdown: Ne'er-do-wells involved in the production and distribution of online adult content faces a range of punishments including compulsory surveillance and imprisonment. Click here for more.

Tucows to Launch Auction Service for Expiring Domain Names: Presently, most registrants of expiring domain names are unaware of the potential value of their name and do not share in any revenue from the resale of their domain name," said Elliot Noss, President and CEO... Click here for more.

Iraqis seek a voice via blogs: Nearly all the information from Iraq is filtered by politicians or the media. But there is at least one way to get the news straight from Iraqis themselves, via online journals or blogs. Click here for more.

Be careful what you say on the net: Online publishing is not outside the law, argues technology commentator Bill Thompson, and nor should it be. Click here for more.

Why we should be under the influence of science fiction: "So far cyber crimes have generally been the work of individuals but eventually that will change and groups will start working hard on the development of cyber-war or cyber-terrorism. We have to be prepared for that." Click here for more.

UK consumers ditching high street for web shopping: UK consumers are becoming increasing savvy to the benefits of shopping online, according to research from Alliance & Leicester Personal Loans. Click here for more.

Combating seven deadly e-mail sins: E-mail can hurt relationships and slow down business, a survey has warned -- and one psychologist says a lack of e-mail etiquette is to blame. Click here for more.

Internet is a work in progress: Thirty-five years after computer scientists at University of California, Los Angeles linked two bulky computers using a 15-foot gray cable, testing a new way for exchanging data over networks, what would ultimately become the Internet remains a work in progress. Click here for more.

My Kingdom for the Internet!: A just-released Yahoo!/OMD study finds that life without the Internet causes users to experience withdrawal symptoms in only two weeks. Click here for more.

Viruses

Sasser kid charged with computer sabotage: The self-confessed author of the infamous Sasser worm has been charged with computer sabotage. Click here for more.

Virus writer hides job ad in MyDoom Net worm: Technicians at British anti-virus firm Sophos said on Friday they had discovered a plea for work inserted deep in the lines of code for two new computer worm outbreaks, "MyDoom-U" and "MyDoom-V". Click here for more.

How do I protect myself from viruses online?: You can protect your computer from computer viruses using a few simple e-mail and web browser functions and some anti-virus software. Click here for more.

US researchers study real viruses to thwart virtual: US university researchers will soon begin a $US13 million study of the spread of internet viruses using methods pioneered in tracking the outbreak of human epidemics. Click here for more.

Security and Safety

Hackers hijack federal computers: It adds another wrinkle to the use of so-called zombie PCs, which number in the millions and have bedeviled consumers and universities the past year. Click here for more.

Cyber-crime man's wakeup call: He used to present top-secret briefings to the United States President on the threats of cyber-crime. Click here for more.

Spyware interferes with Microsoft patch: Though Microsoft Corp.'s new security update package is all about protecting systems from worms, viruses and spyware, it can't do much about what's already on computers - and that could pose a problem. Click here for more.

Are Hackers Using Your PC To Spew Spam and Steal?: Last Christmas, Carty purchased a Dell desktop computer, then signed up for a Comcast high-speed Internet connection. But her new Windows XP machine crashed frequently and would only plod across the Internet. Click here for more.

Online fraud: We got law, but no enforcement: Plenty of laws exist to prosecute online identity thieves and fraudsters, and also to co-opt ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and online auction sites into the fight against fraud, but enforcement is lacking... Click here for more.

Back door found in Dynalink DSL router: Dynalink is warning customers of a possible security issue with its popular RTA-230 DSL router and is taking action to remove a second management account with a recently-cracked password... Click here for more.

Image flaw exposes Windows PCs: Computer users could be open to attack from malicious hackers because of the way that Windows displays some images. Click here for more.

Windows besieged by hackers: The number of new viruses and worms aimed at Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous Windows operating system rose 400 percent between January and June... Click here for more.

More attacks originating from Australia: The number of internet attacks originating in Australia is on the increase, according to a report which looked at trends in internet attacks, vulnerabilities and malicious code activities. Click here for more.

Spam, Eggs, Baked Beans, Spam, Spam and Spam

Spammers embrace email authentication: Spammers have adopted a new standard for email authentication much faster than legitimate emailers, according to a study... Click here for more.

419ers launch online educational facility: Research has proven that .001 percent of the world population is completely stupid, ignorant to the world around them, and will believe anything. Click here for more.

Federal bounty may nab e-mail spammers: What would it take to get someone to turn in one of those spammers who send millions of unwanted e-mails? At least $100,000, the Federal Trade Commission figures. Click here for more.

Mainly Microsoft

Get Ready To Patch: It's merely a start in what's shaping up to be the most far-reaching and complex software patch ever attempted. Over the next three months, Microsoft's goal is to push SP2 out to more than 100 million PCs. Click here for more.

Microsoft can read your fingerprints: Microsoft Corp. ...unveiled a new array of keyboard and mice, with some featuring built-in fingerprint readers to make it easier for users to log on to personal computers and Web sites. Click here for more.

AOL Won't Use Microsoft Anti-Spam Standard: AOL, a division of Time Warner, said it would not adopt Microsoft's SenderID protocol because it has failed to win over experts leery of Microsoft's business practices. Click here for more.

Microsoft: To secure IE, upgrade to XP: If you're one of about 200 million people using older versions of Windows and you want the latest security enhancements to Internet Explorer, get your credit card ready. Click here for more.

Unix/Linux Line

Linux not getting it all its own way, says Microsoft: Linux converters sometimes quietly switch back to Windows, executive tells Microsoft partners. Click here for more.

Dell, prisoner of the Beast of Redmond: If you have a 2-year-old child, as I do, you know that teaching the concept of sharing can be difficult. One day, he'll happily share his toys; the next day he's yanking them out of a playmate's hands. Click here for more.

To Share Or Not To Share?: Dell has a long history - regularly documented in these pages - of not quite getting behind Linux on the desktop. Click here for more.

Linux vendors warn of security holes: Major Linux vendors, including Novell, Red Hat, the Gentoo Foundation and MandrakeSoft have warned of potential security holes in two Linux components. Click here for more.

Mac News

New iMac - all screen, no box: Apple Computers has unveiled its new iMac desktop computer design, which integrates all disk drives and processors into a flat display less than two inches thick. Click here for more.

Apple Issues Mega Security Update: Computer maker Apple has released a security update to fix more than a dozen flaws in the Jaguar and Panther versions of its flagship Mac operating system. Click here for more.

The Weird, Weird Web

Those Viagra e-mails? They weren't from us: Tired of seeing Viagra ads in your e-mail in-box? Think how Pfizer feels. Click here for more.


A Little Levity

Things to Say When You're Losing a Technical Argument (for the truly desperate only...)

  1. That's been proven to be O(N^2) and we need a solution that's O(NlogN).
  2. There are, of course, various export limitations on that technology.
  3. Trying to build a team behind that technology would be a staffing nightmare.
  4. That can't be generalised to a cross-platform build.
  5. Our support infrastructure simply can't handle the volume that change would involve.
  6. I had one of the interns try that approach for another project, and it scrambled the CEO's hard drive. So I think it's going to be a hard sell.
  7. I like your idea. Why don't you write up a white paper and we'll review it at the next staff meeting?
  8. Yes, well, unfortunately the economy is going away from anything remotely like that. Our investors would kill us.
  9. Let's table this for now, and we'll talk about it one-on-one off-line.
  10. I remember that IBM had a project to do that back in the 70s.
  11. Yes, but can this be embedded in a toaster, for example?
  12. The packaging costs will be prohibitive.
  13. That's a good idea -- you should do that on your home page.
  14. Yeah, Linuxcare tried that with the Sourceror project. Ho, man! Are they still AROUND?
  15. That's so cool. I thought that whole idea was discredited years ago.
  16. Well, they're going to do that with the next version of Perl, so we should probably wait.
  17. I heard that the only real application for that technology was child pornography. How did you hear about it?

Bringing It All Back Home

Thanks again for reading the Actrix newsletter. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. Requests for support should go to the Actrix Help Desk (support@actrix.co.nz) or to the Accounts Department (accounts@actrix.co.nz).

Take care through October,

Rob Zorn
editor@actrix.co.nz
http://editor.actrix.co.nz