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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Other inquiries should be e-mailed to email@example.com
Just a quick note from me before we kick off. If all goes according to plan, I will be on leave in the U.K. at around newsletter publishing time next month. Rather than skip an issue, I thought I'd prepare one in advance. My worthy assistant Mike Cooper will publish it and e-mail customers at that time as usual. I'm only away for three weeks or so, and I expect things will be back to normal in time for the issue after that.
- Rob Zorn (Editor)
The idea for this article came via a discussion with Steve Trayhorne, the senior supervisor of our support team. Between Support and myself, Actrix receives questions about all sorts of things and most of them are even Internet related! It's reasonably common for a customer to ask a question about something that we haven't heard of before. After all, the Internet is a big place where new things are happening all the time.
The usual practice when this happens is to ask around. Our support room is a thriving intellectual arena (with a bit of mindless gaming thrown in) and together the staff there represent a formidable gallery of stored technical knowledge. If no one has an answer to the customer's question, the inevitable next step is Google (www.google.com).
I am sure that most readers are aware of the search engine Google, and most probably even use it. However, I suspect that even many of those who already use it could get a whole lot more out of it, and those who aren't aware of its uses really should be. In this day and age I would suggest that it is probably one of the most accessible and powerful avenues for learning around.
Or rather, I should say that it is the Internet that is such a source of potential learning. Google is just one of the things that makes the Internet so accessible and easy to use. Google isn't the only search engine around, either, but it is one of the most user-friendly, fast and intuitive. Others include Alta Vista, and Ask Jeeves and New Zealand's own SearchNZ. Each has its own variations on how it stores, searches through and presents results, but I want to avoid those subtleties for now. In general they pretty much work the same way. You put a word or phrase into the field, and then hit Enter (or the Search / Go button).
Google has two buttons you can choose from. The Google Search button will return you a list of links to pages it has found that feature whatever you entered. The I'm Feeling Lucky button will bypass the list of pages and take you straight to the most popular page about your chosen subject.
So what can you use Google for?
You can use Google for all manner of things. What are you interested in, and what do you need to know? Do you want lyrics to a song? Enter the artist and song name (E.g. Dylan Tambourine Man Lyrics) and you'll be presented with more lyrics sites than you can shake a tambourine at. Enter more general search phrases for more general results. Other searches about everyday topics might include "training dogs", "how write press release" or "bechamel sauce recipe".
Finding help with your computer or Internet problems is also something Google can assist you with. If you're confused by an error message you're receiving, enter the error message into Google (or just the keywords if it is a long one) and see what turns up. Chances are someone else has been confused by the same message as you and has written about it on the Internet. Google searches many discussion forums where people ask questions and receive answers from experts or the more experienced. Great results are returned for searches like" Starting Windows 98 in Safe Mode", "XP Explorer crash" and "Outlook Express attachments blocked". Using Google to set about solving your own problems is something we highly recommend, especially as these infernal machines and the Internet become increasingly a part of everybody's lives.
Beware, though, the inquiring mind is likely to be side-tracked as Google returns to you information about all sorts of side-topics and related matters. It's common for a search to start on one thing, and for you to become interested in something else that comes to your attention in the pages returned. You may find yourself starting with one question, and ending up fascinated by answers to 14 questions you didn't even realise you were curious about. Anybody bored could easily find a million things to read or investigate just by entering their interests and following their imagination.
News and Images
Google has another neat feature or two. Every search you do also returns a collection of images and news articles. If you visit www.google.com or www.google.co.nz you'll see that there are a few options listed just below the main logo. These are " Web, Images, Groups and News. If you only want images, and don't care about information, click Images and then enter your search query and click the button.
If you've searched for information on your topic, and you'd also like to see some related images, you'll see that the Images link is there at the top of your page. Click this to be presented with pages of thumbnailed images that Google has found for you. Just click the thumbnails to be taken to the pages containing the original full-scale images. If you want to save these images, right-click on them and then left-click on Save (Windows users).
The News link works similarly. Clicking this link will return any pages Google knows about that contain recent news articles about your chosen topic. While you're there you can sign up to the free Google-Alert news service. This service will e-mail you every day with a list of links to news articles it has found about your chosen topic. This is a great way to remain current on topics that interest you.
Googling yourself can be quite interesting. Self-googling refers to the practice of entering your own name and seeing what results get fed back to you. This can be a lot of fun. I found I was a finalist in a tractor-pulling competition in Indiana. My tractor's name is "Snoopy." I am also a Dutch recording artist and you can buy my CDs for around 17 Euros. Unfortunately, my lyrics aren't in English so I have no idea what I am singing about. If you're googling yourself, it is probably a good idea to put quotes around your name, e.g. "Bill Smith". This forces Google to only return results that have the whole name included, not just any document with the word Bill and the word Smith.
There's even more to Google than all this. You can use the preferences link to the right of the search box, for example, to exclude graphic or offensive content from your search results. You can limit your searches to certain languages or have foreign language sites automatically and immediately translated by Google software (the results of this can be a real laugh). But this is enough to get you started if you haven't discovered the benefits of Google already.
Those interested in learning a little about how to refine searches, how to use Boolean logic etc might want to reference a couple of articles I wrote back in 2000. These can be found at the article archive (http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/byarticle/). Choose Web Searchine (1) and Web Searching (2) from the menu on the left. It was four years ago and the information might be a little dated. If you wanted to find more recent articles on how to do efficient searches, might I suggest you try Google?
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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).
Frank writes: Thanks for the very interesting article on anti-virus, firewalls and spyware. I seem to remember hearing that someone bought an up-to-date antivirus program and installed it without first deleting an older one and that the two programs went head to head. The computer wouldn't work afterwards and he had to call an expert to sort the problem out. Could this happen with these free downloads?
Hi Frank, Yes, this could be a possibility. Anti-virus programs seek to set themselves up between your mail program and the gateway for incoming mail. Without getting too technical, there could be a problem as the two jockey for this position. A lot would depend on the two programs involved and whether the later one was smart enough to remove the settings of the earlier one, or whether the earlier one tends to allow its settings to be removed.
As a rule, it is probably a good idea to uninstall the earlier program before installing the later one. Sometimes uninstalling can be easily done by clicking Start and then Programs. Click the program in the menu list and a box may pop up on the right containing an uninstall feature. If it doesn't, you will need to go to your Control Panel (Start/Settings Control Panel for Win 9X - Start/Control Panel for XP) and then select Add or Remove programs.
Jo writes: Just a quick question - When I disconnect from the internet/checking emails, my computer almost always gives me an error message (with a blue background on the screen) telling me to press any key to continue. Sometimes it even crashes and runs scan disk. Why does this happen? Cheers and thanks for taking the time to give us all that wonderful info in your newsletters.
Hi Jo, What you're referring to here is what is known as the "Blue Screen of
Death." It is particularly common with Windows 98, though other versions of Windows
offer it up from time to time as well. It's sort of like Windows' last resort. Something
has gone terribly wrong and it really doesn't know what to do any more. The error messages
it gives you are usually pretty unhelpful because, as stated, it results when Windows is
really in a mess.
It's most common cause is disk errors and corrupted files. Windows often shuts down under these conditions to protect itself from doing any more damage, and also so that scandisk can be initiated, hopefully to find and fix the problem. Obviously, in your case, the problem is not able to be found and properly fixed.
The best solution for this problem can sometimes be to re-install Windows. This usually takes a while to do, but it is not as drastic as it might sound. I'll give you a few tips below.
Put your Windows CD in and it should auto-run. If it doesn't, explore to it (right-click on Start button and left-click on Explore) and click on install or setup or whatever. None of your existing files or programs will be altered or lost when you do a re-install, though a few settings may return to whatever the defaults were. It isn't usually a big drama. Re-installing Windows is not the same as a re-format.
During the re-install, you may often be asked whether you want to replace an existing more recent file with the earlier one on the CD. You can safely say No. The later files are the better ones.
After the re-install it would be a good idea to visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com to make sure your software is up-to-date again. In most cases you won't have to download any patches or security updates you've already downloaded.
Margaret writes: Dear Rob, Recently, after going out and inadvertently
leaving the computer "online" we found, on our return five hours later, that a
program had installed itself called Gain, or MyGain. Apparently nothing wrong with it, but
we didn't need it. Why did it over- ride the "turn off after period of
inactivity?" The tick was still there. We find your newsletters most interesting and
Hi Margaret, Actually, GAIN is a program that many would lable as spyware. It used to
be known as GATOR, but I think they changed its name after so much bad press. Apparently
it will report your activity back to base so that you can be sent pop-up ads and stuff.
However, it should not have been able to install itself without you somehow clicking Okay. Windows won't allow that as long as you're up-to-date with patches. An article I wrote last year may help explain a few things about Spyware, GAIN etc. Have a look at Along Came a Spyware, if you're inclined.
Actrix connections are set to automatically disconnect after 20 minutes of inactivity, and you probably have your own system set to do the same as a backup. However, inactivity is the key word. These days many of the programs on your computer will be set to do things on the Internet that you're not aware of, even if it is just reporting back top their maker that they're being used. Then of course there's the e-mail program doing automatic sends and receives. Lastly, any spyware on your machine, including your new friend GAIN will be trying to call home via the Internet. All that amounts to activity. Neither your own system, nor the Actrix auto-cut-off is sophisticated enough to know what is useful activity and what isn't, so as long as something happens less than every 20 mins, you won't be dropped.
Alison writes: Hi Rob, I want to comment on PestPatrol which you featured in last month's newsletter. I am a bit paranoid about my computer's security as I have my Family History files on it. I use adaware, spybot, SpySweeper and PestPatrol as well as my anti-virus and firewall programs (AVG and ZA Pro). Each catches or finds things the other doesn't. I have been using PestPatrol now for just over a month, and find it excellent, if a little harder to use than the others. I have it running all the time in the background, and it stops almost everything at the 'door'. It also finds spies that resided in memory, which the other programss didn't I can recommend it. It was not toooo expensive, and I obtained it through the ZoneLabs site. It is not a very new program, there was a version of it around when I first became connected to the net over 4 years ago. I hope this is useful.
Thanks Alison, feedback is always good! And maybe others will benefit from your experiences.
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|Percentage of emails containing viruses:||18.67|
|Percentage of emails containing Spam:||43.4|
|Top 10 Viruses for September 2004|
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.
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."
Customers may notice that spam levels appear to fluctuate. For a while there's very little, and then suddenly there's an increase. Then suddenly the levels drop again. This is largely due to variations in spamming techniques. The complicated rules described above are designed to maximise the filtering of spam and minimise instances where legitimate e-mails are consigned to the Spam folder. Whenever spammers try something new the filters have to learn and be updated. Spammers realise this and that's why they're always trying something new, and that's why it's always a game of catch-up-cat-and-mouse. It would be fascinating if it weren't so annoying.
Please note: To check your Spam folder, you have to go into Web Mail, and then click the Spam link over on the left. Please be reminded that the period for which we'll keep that Spam aside for you is now just seven days, down from 30. See Actrix Announcement Article 32.
The table to the left details anti-virus and Spam catch statistics for the month of September 2004. Check back here in early November for October's figures.
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.
Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.
www.photomeeting.de/astromeeting/_index.htm - These amazing images are not from NASA or the Hubble telescope. They are courtesy of Stuttgart-based Stefan Seip, a humble IT consultant by day and intrepid astronomomer by night. His quest for the best images possible takes him to the depths of the Black Forest where ambient light isn't a factor. From his lonely perch he's captured comets, shooting stars, the aurora borealis, and all sorts of other atmospheric phenomena. Pictures may take a while to load over dial-up.
|Bank Safe Online
www.banksafeonline.org.uk/ - "As well as information about online scams, this site contains a cartoon on how Trojans work, a video, website links and online tests related to Phishing and advice to help you stay safe when banking online. The Internet offers you the opportunity to bank and shop in safety at your convenience. There is no reason why it should not be used with confidence, but you should not relax your guard when online."
http://www.disturbingauctions.com/ - One person's trash is another person's treasure. But sometimes, trash is just trash. This site is dedicated to the research and study of the most bizarre items found for sale on internet auction sites. Not the obviously fake auctions, like the infamous human kidney, but truly tacky stuff that people really, honestly, believed that someone would (and in some cases did) buy.
|Build a Crossbow out of
www.bleacheatingfreaks.com/contest/bricolage/parts/ - "1) Wrap a rubber band around the CD case. 2) Attach the aligator clip to the rubber band. 3) Wrap the second rubber band around the other side fo the CD case." You get the idea? There are even a couple of videos demonstrating The Eradicator. Take your rightful place as the most obnoxious office clown....
|Free Typing Test
www.careerstep.com/free-typing-test - Simply click the Go button and start typing out the paragraph above the input field. You'll be timed, and after a minute you'll see how good you are. You'll get a gross score as well as a correct words score, so speed isn't everything.
|What if the Whole World Could Vote in the U.S. Election?
http://betavote.com/ - "In today's world, all nations are inextricably interconnected. The United States is the most powerful and influential nation in the world. Everyone everywhere will be affected by the upcoming U.S. presidential election. What if the whole world could vote in this election? Please choose a candidate and select your country, then click the VOTE button." It seems not many countries would prefer ole "W".
|Dreamland Resort (aka Area 51)
http://www.dreamlandresort.com - "Take an inside look at Area 51, a.k.a. Dreamland, the world's most secret Air Base. This Web Site is the most comprehensive online source of information about Area 51, the Nellis Ranges, TTR, Black Projects and the ET Highway. The author is a part-time resident of Rachel, NV , right outside the gate to Area 51 on the world's only Extraterrestrial Highway."
www.wordcount.org/main.php - This language experiment looks at how we use words and how often we use them. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonality. Simply type a word, and the site returns its rank in English usage. The site uses data from the British National Corpus®, a collection of more than 100 million words representing a cross-section of English usage. Interesting to see that the word "newsletter" is used only slightly less than the word "fascist".
|Fastfood Menu Comparisons
At these pages you can drag and drop menu items from fastfood outlets onto your virtual tray, and receive an indication of their calories, kilojoules and fat content. Click other buttons for more nutrition information.
http://www.dietclub.com.au/createameal/?menu=2 Pizza Hut;
www.jalopnik.com/ - Jalopnik loves cars. Secret cars, concept cars, flying cars, vintage cars, tricked-out cars, red cars, black cars, blonde cars sometimes, cars just because of the curve of a hood. This site is a car-lover's dream. It is sponsored by Audi, but contains information and pictures for lots of other makes.
|What does it take to lose a
www.healthstatus.com/calculators.html - Here's a few reasonably nifty health-related calculators. Not only is there "What Do You Have To Do To Lose A Single Pound?" bit there are also ones on how many calories are burned by certain activities, how much smoking costs, plus all the usual weight, body-fat and body mass index calculators. There's even one on working out the best time for getting pregnant.
|A Compendium of Crazy Human
www.amasci.com/~billb/cgi-bin/instr/instr.html - Some of these are really silly (as is the accompanying commentary), some are bizarre, and some work, interestingly enough (though, no, I didn't try them all). Also, Actrix can't be held responsible for any damage you do whilst treating your body like it was your own personal amusement park.
Hamstrung by Telecom timing: The problem with Telecom's new broadband plans is not the plans themselves - far from it. The plans offer the sorts of speeds and price points we've been hoping for since 1999 when JetStream was first launched. Click here for more.
Rude to 'spit' says Tanczos: 'It's going to annoy the hell out of people'. Green Party IT spokesman Nandor Tanczos has wasted no time jumping on the latest unsolicited online promotional vehicle, "spit" Spam via Internet Telephony. Click here for more.
Internet society blows its top over broadband: New Zealand is falling behind other countries in internet uptake, according to InternetNZ and it's pleading with Telecom to change its ways. Click here for more.
LV Martin sells first goods off net: The site, which went live last week, is another sign that retailers are returning to e-tailing after going cool on the sales channel in the wake of the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2001. Click here for more.
Govt won't say if porn-bust will extend to NZ: Government officials are refusing to confirm whether they are investigating any New Zealanders in relation to the "Operation Falcon" child pornography ring in which 500 Australians have been implicated. Click here for more.
Hackers' sabotage Waikato food company: A Waikato food company, Aria Farm, faces potential ruin following industrial sabotage, says director Erik Arndt. Click here for more.
Viagra bought online 'often fake': Half of men buying the impotence drug Viagra online are getting counterfeit tablets, study findings suggest. Click here for more.
California to post sex offenders' data on Net: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law on Friday that would post information on sex offenders on the Internet, giving Californians easier access to details on violators. Click here for more.
Can you live online after death?: What you do on the web has a long life, even the things you wish you hadn't said or done. Click here for more.
Search for romance later in life goes online: Sensuous, intellectual woman, 5'3, adventurous, pretty and open, seeks a life partner who is sexy, highly intelligent and cheerful. How old is this woman? In her early 60s. Click here for more.
People still thick despite internet: The lamentable truth about the mind-expanding claims for the internet has finally been revealed - people do not use the bottomless well of knowledge to advance themselves, preferring instead to indulge in casual surfing related to hobbies and music. Click here for more.
Web to get dose of plain English: The Plain English Campaign is stepping up its war against linguistic obfuscation with a new campaign... to promote user-friendly websites... Click here for more.
Can't We All Just Get Along?: The inventor of the World Wide Web told a technology conference on Wednesday that making the web more useful hinges on a familiar challenge: Getting the players behind the technology to agree on standards governing how computers communicate with one another. Click here for more.
Boy's eBay con nets £45,000: He treated himself to weekends in New York, and hired stretch limousines for nights out with friends. Click here for more.
Identify file-sharers, judge tells UK ISPs: The English High Court today gave UK ISPs just 14 days to disclose the names and addresses of individuals the music industry claims have offered "massive" numbers of songs on P2P networks without permission. Click here for more.
The Internet's next big step: The Internet is about to take its next big leap. Imagine being instantly connected anytime you opened the lid of your laptop, anywhere. Click here for more.
My online password jumble: We will never make the online world a reality while we are stuck with multiple user accounts and passwords, argues technology analyst Bill Thompson. Click here for more.
419ers take Aussie financial advisor for AU$1m: A Melbourne financial manager faces a hefty prison sentence after stealing AU$1m from his clients and handing it over to Nigerian advance fee fraudsters. Click here for more.
Top 20 computer threats unveiled: The yearly hit parade of hackers' favourite security vulnerabilities has been published. Click here for more.
Terrorists grow fat on email scams: Organisations such as al-Qaeda, ETA en PKK are copying Nigerian scams to fund terrorism, two Dutch experts told Dutch daily De Telegraaf this week. Click here for more.
Hackers exploiting 'JPEG of Death': Malicious hackers are seeding internet news groups that traffic in pornography with JPEG images that take advantage of a recently disclosed security hole in Microsoft's software. Click here for more.
Americans 'misjudge online risks': The survey, by a US security group, found people were getting more worried about computer security but some vastly under-estimated how at risk they were. Click here for more.
Rapid rise of adware is tailing off slightly: report: The phenomenon of spyware, whose rocketing growth began disrupting millions of computer users in the first half of the year, started to tail off slightly during the third quarter. Click here for more.
First Suit Filed Against Internet 'Spyware': The U.S. government has sued a New Hampshire man in its first attempt to crack down on Internet "spyware" that seizes control of a user's computer without permission. Click here for more.
Phishing websites breed like rabbits: According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), the number of phishing scam websites is rising by roughly 50 per cent month... Click here for more.
Four eastern Europeans charged over phishing scam: In what is believed to be the first ever case of criminal charges being laid for phishing, four eastern Europeans were yesterday charged in a London court with conspiracy to defraud banks of hundreds of thousands of pounds via an online phishing scam. Click here for more.
Phishing e-mails exploit recently patched IE vulnerability: The Australian Computer Emergency Response Team (AusCERT) has issued an alert after discovering a number of fraudulent phishing e-mails that lead victims to Web sites that exploit a newly patched vulnerability in Internet Explorer. Click here for more.
It's up to you to avoid spyware defiling your PC: Spyware is a catch-all term for nasty little programs that are installed on a user's PC without consent. Click here for more.
E-mail turns to P2P technology: Peer-to-peer technology has been used to create an e-mail network said to be free of spam, viruses and snoopers. Click here for more.
Court stops spam envelope-stuffing scam: A US court has temporarily shut down an operation that used spam email to drum up customers for a fraudulent work-at-home scheme, the US Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday. Click here for more.
Microsoft to charge for Hotmail-Outlook link: It's not about the money, says Microsoft: we're doing this for your own good. Click here for more.
Planning to dump IE? Think again: The problem is that many Web developers create their sites so they work best with Internet Explorer (IE), but not to work as well with browser software used by relatively tiny groups of potential visitors. Click here for more.
Gates: PC will replace TV, TV will become a giant Google: What he sees at that moment, we imagine, is a Tellytubby landscape that looks a lot like the Windows XP default wallpaper - perhaps with Chairman Bill himself as the sun. But bouncing across this happy vista are the red, green and blue colored balls that have rolled out of the Google playpen. Click here for more.
Trickle of interest in Linux starts to become a corporate flood: By this time next year you may well be using a Linux desktop at work. It may not be a choice you make but one that is made for you by managers concerned at cost and security issues associated with the Microsoft Windows platform. Click here for more.
Most songs on iPods 'stolen' - Microsoft CEO: It's official. All iPod users are music thieves - according to Microsoft CEO Steve 'Monkey Boy' Ballmer. Click here for more.
Web site offers after-death e-mail: A Spanish Internet company is breaking fresh ground on the Web by offering people the chance to write one last e-mail, complete with video clip or photo attachments, and send it to loved ones, friends or even enemies after the person who wrote it is dead. Click here for more.
Seven die in 'internet suicide' pact: ...cases of "internet suicide" had started to come to the fore in early 2003 and... a total of 34 people had killed themselves in such pacts. Click here for more.
eBay cleans up online: From Britney's bra to souls for sale - what makes eBay click? Click here for more.
The top ten things you don't want to hear from tech support...
for reading the Actrix newsletter. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address
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Take care through November,