Actrix Newsletter December 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

Welcome to the December newsletter. If all has gone well, and I'm sure it has, I'm overseas and Mike Cooper has released this month's edition in my absence. Thanks very much, Mike. It's probably a little early to be decorating the newsletter with Christmas trees and santa hats, but on behalf of everyone at Actrix I'd like to wish all customers the very best for the impending holiday and festive season. Thank you for your custom over the last year.  - Rob Zorn.

Customer Web Site Survey

0412webpage.jpg (11793 bytes)We're interested in what you think about the Actrix home page. Our web site is an important interface between our company and our customers, but it's always a good idea to give it a revamp every now and then. We've always sought a look that is pleasant and functional, leading to intuitive use. We want information to be easy to find, easy to follow and easy to digest and act upon.

We've tried to avoid the overwhelming nature of the web sites of some of our competitors where so much information is thrown at the visitor that it's hard to know what's what. Instead we've tried to have information that changes a little each day, but that can also be apprehended at a glance.

How successful have we been? This is your chance to have a say as we plan our next web site upgrade. As a gesture of thanks, anyone who responds can choose to go into a draw for one of five prizes of 300 free Internet hours per month for six months.

If you're willing to help us out by sharing your thoughts, clink the link below.   If you'd like, you can enter your e-mail address to go into the draw. Those who choose to enter their e-mail addresses will be included in the prize draw. E-mail addresses will be collated separately from the returned survey responses so all responses will continue to be completely anonymous. Winners will be contacted by e-mail and their names mentioned in the next newsletter.

You can find and complete the survey here.


Rediscover the Web with Firefox

by Mike Cooper

Latest survey figures indicate that most people using the web (over 92% world-wide) use Internet Explorer for their surfing (also known as web-browsing). It's not surprising that Internet Explorer is the incumbent heavy-weight amongst browsers. It comes bundled with Windows so it's all ready to go. All users have to do is click the little blue e at the bottom left of their screens. Most don't even consider the possibility of using an alternative, but they are out there.

Downloading an alternative browser won't harm your PC and you don't have to uninstall Internet Explorer first. They can exist side by side. In fact, you can even have them open and working at the same time while you're online.

Why would you want an alternative browser?

Some people assert that there are a number of good reasons. The first revolves around security. Because Internet Explorer is so bound up and intertwined with the Windows operating system itself, any security holes it has can tend to open your whole system up. Also, because Internet Explorer is so popular, and its weaknesses so well-known, most hackers concentrate on it and don't bother too much with the alternatives that have, as yet, a small percentage of market share.

Other issues involve functionality, simplicity and speed. Good alternative browsers include Opera, Mozilla and Firefox. This article touches on a number of the issues mentioned above in regard to Firefox, my own personal browser of choice..

Originally nicknamed Phoenix, this new browser is “rising from the ashes” courtesy of the Mozilla Foundation, and is based on the flagship Mozilla browser.

Firefox is out!

Firefox v 1.0 has been officially released this month. It is a completely free, community developed alternative to Internet Explorer. Firefox has been in popular use by Actrix staff, and indeed many Internet users during its development, and is proving extremely popular. Visitors to the Actrix web-site using Mozilla based browsers have more than doubled in the last 12 months.

Firefox puts web browsing in a refreshingly different light. It sports a number of advanced features including built-in pop-up blocking, search as you type, a built in Google search service and the ability to browse in tabs – one program for all your web sites. Tabbed browsing is such a convenience that you will wonder how you ever put up with not having it.

The Firefox Browser: Note the three tabs in use (Actrix, Actrix Newsletters, Google).

If you have a middle-button on your mouse, clicking a link with this pops the link open in a new tab – great when looking through search results or browsing news sites. Firefox is also fast. Its small footprint and custom rendering engine display web sites quickly without chewing up resources on your machine the way that Internet Explorer tends to do. Of course all the standard features are still there such as Bookmarks, History etc.  

Firefox also has a variety of extensions (or plug-ins) which can provide a host of other features to add to the browsing experience – far too many to explore here! If you'd like to learn more, have a read of the Firefox web site: http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/. You can read more about Firefox's rising popularity in the news article in this month's news snippet's (under Mainly Microsoft) - Microsoft browser market share slips slightly.

Security is a prominent issue on today's Internet, and Firefox is a big step up in this department. As an independent program, Firefox isn't "blended in" with your Windows operating system. This greatly reduces its potential as a doorway into your PC's inner sanctum that may let your computer become compromised as a spam relay or a remote controlled virus distributor. A team of community developers are on the watch for any security flaws, and these are amended often within hours of being discovered (Firefox comes with a built in update utility).

The only point of note is that Firefox may not display some sites the way they were intended. The net is strongly focused on Internet Explorer, so the odd site or two may use IE specific code which might make them look a little odd in other browsers. Incidentally, this is another good reason why some say that, on principle, we should throw our support behind programs like Firefox. Alternative browsers tend to base the way they interpret the HTML code behind web pages on internationally developed and approved standards. That's why they are sometimes referred to as "standards-based browsers." Internet Explorer prefers to do things its own way, sometimes without regard to internationally accepted standards. This is frustrating for a lot of designers who code their web pages correctly, and find that 92% of people visiting their sites don't see them the way they were intended.

The end result of this is that most designers, despite the fact that they value internationally developed standards, end up designing for Internet Explorer, purely for pragmatic reasons, and the standards-based browsers, such as Firefox, end up having to struggle occasionally.

How important this is to individuals will vary, but to get back to the point, Firefox users will not usually notice anything different. Oddly displaying pages will be very much the exception, rather than the rule.

A sister project to Firefox is also underway, known as ThunderBird. ThunderBird is an e-mail client that could be used as an alternative to Outlook or Outlook Express for much the same reasons as one might consider using an alternative browser. We might have a look at ThunderBird in a later newsletter.

The Firefox browser has come ahead in leaps and bounds over the last few months, and this official release provides an extremely viable and secure alternative for web-surfers everywhere. Firefox is available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux from www.mozilla.org/firefox.

Windows users can grab a copy directly from Actrix: http://files.actrix.co.nz/show.php?id=16

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Actrix Friend Get Friend Promotion

Don't forget our Actrix Friend get Friend promotion! If you get a friend to sign-up for a dialup plan with Actrix, we'll give you a credit to the value of your friend's first monthly payment as soon as they pay their first bill. 

You can get as many friends as you like to sign up. The only proviso is that your friend has to stay with us for at least three months (or else we will rescind the credit). And remember, the credit comes through to your account only after your friend has paid their first bill.

We've added a referrer field to the sign up page.  All your friend has to do is put your main account user name into that field when they sign up. (Your main account user name is the first part of your e-mail address before the @ sign.)

So why not go ahead and encourage your friends to sign up with Actrix? We don't think they'll ever regret making the move.

To sweeten the deal even more, every month all new customers who have been referred by a friend will go into a draw for six free months on whichever plan they've chosen.  Winners will be contacted by e-mail and mentioned on our web page and in the newsletter around the first of each month.  

Click here to access the promotional page and find out more.


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).

Mary writes: Hi A couple of weeks ago Spyware Stormer installed itself on my computer. I haven't gone on to register my name etc yet, but wonder if it is kosher, and if I don't want it HOW DO I GET IT OFF??? I am pretty new to all this. Thank you, Mary

Hi Mary, I would avoid this particular program, especially if you say it installed itself on your computer. I did a quick Google search and found a review page where 74% of respondents rated it as an undesirable program. I haven't experienced it myself, but many said it seemed to be a sham and actually contained spyware. You can read the page yourself at http://www.download.com/3302-8022_4-10297449.html?pn=1&fb=0.

If it is already installed, you should be able to remove it. The first method would be to look for it in your Programs list (by clicking Start and then Programs. Sometimes there will be an uninstall feature in the Programs menu. If not, you can go to your Control Panel (Start/Settings/Control Panel, or Start/Control Panel if you have XP) and then click on Add/Remove Programs. Select it in the list of programs and click the Remove button.

If that doesn't quite answer your query, let me know and give me whatever other information you can and I'll see if I can investigate it further.

Ivan writes: I have on my list of XP programmes one called Gator. Not sure what it is or does but would like rid of it. When I press Change/Remove I get a message saying Wise Uninstall can't find programme "Uninstall.Log File". So how do I find it or what do I do next? I must also in my green days have downloaded Gain believing it was something to with keeping the computer at the correct time. I have since removed it, but got a message saying something like "This action might cause problems for this and other computers or users". Is this just a scare?. Even if the programmes are removed is it still a possibility that they are still operating and spying once downloaded ?

Hi Ivan, there's a lot here! First of all, Gain is just a later incarnation of Gator which is well-known spyware that does its best to resist removal. GAIN is an acronym for (Gator Advertiser Information Network). I wrote a little about these two in my article Along Came a Spyware back in June 2003. A quick search using the phrase "Uninstalling Gator" using Google provided lots of pages of instructions for its removal that were reasonably easy to follow. Most just suggested the the Add/Remove Programs feature of the Control Panel that is dealt with in the answer to the question above. However, some went on to describing how you could edit your registry to remove both Gator and GAIN.

I don't recommend registry editing for anyone other than comfortable PC experts and geeks. A lot of damage could be done if you make a mistake.

The best option then, in my opinion, would be for you to download and use either (some recommend both) Spybot and Adaware. These programs should be able to locate and remove both Gator and Gain, and this might circumvent the problem you're having with the missing uninstall program. I am not sure whether this program really is missing or whether this is just part of its resistance to removal.

I suspect the second message troubling you is also just a scare, and I wouldn't let it stop me uninstalling the spyware. But again, using Adaware or Spybot will probably get around this problem as well.

You can download Spybot straight from Actrix here: spybotsd13.exe.

You can download Adaware here: http://lavasoft.element5.com/software/adaware/.

Ivan also asks: Is it best practice to disconnect the modem when not using the computer to avoid out of in use hours spyware and should this be recommended by all experts?

If you mean is it advisable to pull the modem plug out of the back of your computer when it's not in online? I certainly think so, but only if you suspect you might have a rogue dialler on your machine. Of course, when your machine is switched off, the modem will be unable to dial out or do anything as it won't have a power source, for a start.

When you're working on your computer, but it's not online, a rogue dialler could dial up without your knowledge, but the best thing you could do in this regard is use the anti-spyware programs listed above, and keep them updated. These will detect and usually remove the rogue dialler. More information about these can be found in my article Another Day, Another Dialler.

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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!

Dolphins: Close Encounters
www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/dolphins/ - Dolphins have always had a lot of admirers, and it's not difficult to see why. They have a nice smile, they're highly intelligent, and they're natural entertainers. Most people can't even boast that. This site from PBS explores lots of dolphin-related issues. You will not only learn the reasons behind the dolphin's tendency to help people in trouble, but also discover the secrets of the distinctive dolphin language.
Astro Dienst
www.astro.com - This site was suggested by Sue [surname withheld]. It contains lots of information at an introductory level about how astrology is supposed to work. You can also get your personal horoscope done for free, worked out right down to your place and time of birth! Thanks Sue. Actrix chocolate is coming your way.
Google Images Quiz
http://blog.outer-court.com/quiz/ - This one is quite fun, and not as hard as it might first appear. A page of pictures is displayed from Google Images. As soon as they finish loading the countdown starts and you have 4 seconds to guess what the search term was. If you get it right, your prize is a quote from a famous person. Your points accrue.
Cuisine
www.cuisine.co.nz- Here's a great site for food and cookery lovers, and it's based on Cuisine Magazine from right here in New Zealand. There are all sorts of articles, recipes and ideas under the various sections: Food, Wine, Travel, etc. One excellent feature is the Meal Maker page under the Food section. Enter a few ingredients that you have, and Cuisine will suggest something you could cook.
The World's Daily Consumption-o-meter
www.worldometers.info/ - Here's a list of astonishing and sometimes depressing figures about Earth's consumption, production, deaths, diseases etc. It's listed in tons, ohms, dollars, acres, hectares, grams and some of the totals change pretty rapidly. It's interesting, but also a little disturbing, almost like you're sitting there watching as people become infected with AIDS, get born, die, or smoke another million cigarettes.
Cult Vampire Magazine
www.bbc.co.uk/cult/vampires/ - This BBC Cult Television site takes a timely peek at these always popular predators of darkness. It features new and old spine-chilling tales which you can read or download to listen to. They're equally creepy either way. There are also articles by and interviews with "experts" who analyse the whole vampire scene. Some great artwork is included along with a whole lot of other goodies from the realms of the blood-sucking undead. You can even find out whether or not you're a vampire yourself (this is the sort of thing one should really have some surety on).
Herbal Safety
www.herbalsafety.utep.edu/default.htm - Just how safe are the herbs we take on a daily basis, particularly for their therapeutic or medicinal value? This site is not an anti-herb or anti-homeopathic web site so much as it seeks to provide the basic scientific facts about what we know about the effects of certain herbs, as well as what we suspect about them. The most interesting page may be the herbal fact sheet. Click each herb listed for a short essay about what's good and bad (as far as we know so far) about using that particular one.
Bully Online
www.bullyonline.org/ - This site is designed to "help you recognise bullying; for many people it will help them understand unpleasant events in their lives (at home, at work, at school, and in childhood), put them into context, and finally let go of them." There are all sort of sections and extra links dedicated to questions like: what is it bullying, what are the myths, how do I recognise it, and why me?
The Advertising Artwork of Dr Seuss
http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dsads/index.shtml - These pages present a collection of early advertising illustrations by a young Theodor Seuss Geisel. Right in the middle of the Depression, Dr Seuss got his start drawing charming and goofy ads for corporate stalwarts like NBC, Ford, and General Electric. You'll see some familiar faces here (including the Cat in the Hat) and even an early prototype of the star bellied sneetch machine running Standard Oil. You can browse the collection by product name, but the Flit Mosquito Repellant Gallery probably tops the bunch.
The Spam Letters
www.thespamletters.com/ - The Spam Letters web site features lots of letters from spammers and the unique responses that writers have sent back. It's good to see some people going to extraordinary lengths to do something fun with this annoying scourge, though one wonders where they find the time. If you find one you particularly like, click the "Related Letters" link to the bottom right of each letter. Warning: occasional coarse language and adult concepts.
Truth or Fiction?
www.truthorfiction.com/ - "Internet eRumors that are circulated from person to person through forwarded emails have become the way that we all inform each other of something that is not in the headlines but seems important, funny, shocking, or helpful... The problem is that many of them are not true. At the least, that causes embarrassment to the person who forwarded the false eRumor. At the most, it spreads misinformation that can cause harm on a national or global scale. That's why we say before you forward an email...check it out on TruthOrFiction.com."
The Shadowlands
http://theshadowlands.net/ - The Shadowlands is dedicated to informing and enlightening visitors on such topics as ghosts and hauntings, mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot and Sea Serpents, UFOs and Aliens, and many other unsolved mysteries. Included are text files, videos, sounds, pictures, eye witness accounts and more!

Cyberspace News Snippets

New Zealand

Hospital computer failure could be hackers: Hackers may have been responsible for a major computer failure at Waikato Hospital two weeks ago. Click here for more.

NZ surfers persisting with dial-up: The Ericsson study, which was compiled with the help of the Melbourne Business School, says broadband is not expected to become the preferred method of internet surfing in New Zealand until early 2007. Click here for more.

Firefox launches with a Kiwi boost: Much of the credit belongs to Firefox's lead engineer, Aucklander Ben Goodger, who talked to Computerworld on a recent visit home. Click here for more.

Ihug takes action against Telecom: Auckland-based internet service provider ihug is dragging Telecom off to the Commerce Commission, saying Telecom is showing no interest in wholesaling its high-speed internet service. Click here for more.

General

Internet the future of phone calls: Swedish software guru Niklas Zennstrom...talks to CNN's Charles Hodson about his software, which allows Internet users to make free PC-to-PC phone calls to anyone in the world. Click here for more.

Website on tobacco giant launched: "The website gives us a unique insight into how BAT has prevented the spread of anti-smoking strategies." Click here for more.

Progress on new internet domains: By early 2005 the net could have two new domain names. Click here for more.

Fat pipe love: We are reaching the point where broadband is a central part of daily life, at least for some, argues technology analyst Bill Thompson. Click here for more.

Child porn fight 'lacks funding': More money and technology are needed to catch and prosecute net paedophiles and protect child victims of cybercrimes, say children's charities. Click here for more.

Broadband in the UK growing fast: High-speed net connections in the UK are proving more popular than ever. Click here for more.

Viruses

Virus experts fret over Myfip: The worm assumes the guise of an email from a webmaster at eBay. The email asks the recipient to take part in a 'Multiple Item Auction' with the chance of winning a prize. Click here for more.

Joke e-mail virus tricks users: A virus that disguises itself as a joke is spreading rapidly across the net. Click here for more.

Worm breaks speed record from discovery to life: A new computer worm emerged on Tuesday which broke the speed record from the announcement of a security vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer to a full-blown virus that spreads in the wild. Click here for more.

Security and Safety

Too many users fall for cyber security urban myths: The 'Top Ten Cyber Security Urban Legends' released by Secure Computing Corporation warns that, while such improbable stories circulating on the internet are amusing... Click here for more.

Cyber conmen 'hijack desktop PCs: Analysis by mail security firm Ciphertrust reveals that the hijacked computers are unwitting accomplices for almost all so-called phishing attacks. Click here for more.

Consumers hit by net security jitters: However, where consumers used to be primarily concerned about hackers stealing their credit card details, security concerns have become even more personal. Click here for more.

Home PCs Plagued With Problems: Internet users at home are not nearly as safe online as they believe, according to a nationwide inspection by researchers. Click here for more.

Spyware: Sneaky, annoying threat: David Eckstein turned on his computer one day and launched his Web browser, just as he had every day. This time, however, CNN.com did not automatically open. Instead, the page was a search engine he'd never heard of. Click here for more.

A spyware mystery: Who's behind it?: In less than two years, CoolWebSearch has become the bane of the computing industry. Its programmers have managed to reset Web browsers so that searches get rerouted to the CoolWeb search engine. Click here for more.

IE exploits top web security threat list: Internet Explorer exploits posed the fastest growing web security threat to enterprises in the last quarter, according to web security services firm ScanSafe. Click here for more.

Covert phishing scam lies in wait for its victim: A phishing scam has been detected which doesn't even require users to click on a link in order to jeopardise their personal data while banking online. Simply opening the email may be enough. Click here for more.

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

Microsoft revises anti-spam standard: Microsoft Corp. Monday said it had revised its proposal to weed out "spam" e-mail to win over skeptical Internet engineers who have been reluctant to adopt technology owned by the dominant software company. Click here for more.

First U.S. felony trial over spam begins: Three defendants face up to 15 years in prison. Click here for more.

Brits feast on SPAM in Hormel ad frenzy: The campaign seeks to promote British sales of the pork, ham meat, salt and water brick, compressed into an eccentrically shape tin, which, astonishingly, reached an all-time high last year. Click here for more.

Mainly Microsoft

SP2 update slows surfing: Home computer users may find themselves surfing the net in the slow lane for a while as PCs automatically download Microsoft's Service Pack 2... Click here for more.

Microsoft browser market share slips slightly: Microsoft Corp.'s share of the browser market slipped slightly in recent months but still dominated with 92.9 per cent, an internet analytics firm said. Click here for more.

Unix/Linux Line

Windows v Linux security: the real facts: ...Microsoft's determination to demonstrate that Linux is less secure than Windows shows a certain chutzpah. Click here for more.

Is It Time for Linux?: Many business users feel increasingly comfortable running complex and mission-critical applications on the Linux operating system (OS). Others are not so sure. Click here for more.

Security Report: Windows vs Linux: Much ado has been made about whether or not Linux is truly more secure than Windows. We compared Windows vs. Linux by examining the following metrics in the 40 most recent patches/vulnerabilities listed for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 vs. Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS v.3. Click here for more.

Germans claim Linux lowers costs: LINUX EVANGELISTS will be pleased that a second analyst report which says that the use of open source software can result in savings of about 30 per cent has just been published. Click here for more.

UK report says Linux is 'viable': A UK government study finds the open-source Linux operating system is a "viable" alternative to rival products. Click here for more.

The Weird, Weird Web

A tangled Web of procrastination: The most difficult part about writing a column is getting started. It's like cleaning; all of a sudden your skills of procrastination are of Olympic proportion, and your ability to organize random trinkets and old photographs is so keen... Click here for more.

Nuclear bomber for sale on eBay: Vintage cars, old guitars, retro clothing or rare coins -- there's not a lot you can't buy on the popular Internet auction site eBay. But an Avro Vulcan nuclear bomber aircraft? Click here for more.

Prince of scam rips himself off: Many of us have been angered by endless scam emails and letters offering millions of dollars if you send details of your bank account and some money to clear the way. But a computer operator in the UK decided to do something about it. Click here for more.


A Little Levity

The Top Ten Signs Your Computer is Possessed:

  1. Instead of flying appliances, your screen saver shows horned demons torturing members of your immediate family.
  2. The monitor spins and spews pea soup whenever you access the Vatican website.
  3. The eyes on the screen-saver follow your every move.
  4. It keeps throwing priests out of Windows.
  5. Green slime oozes out of your keyboard but your children haven't used it in weeks.
  6. The tech support crew brings Norton Utilities and a crucifix.
  7. The little silver sticker on it says: "Satan Inside."
  8. No matter what URL you type in, your browser opens up the www.hell.com web site.
  9. Dr. Watson has been replaced by Dr. Kervorkian.
  10. Contrary to the startup screen, you're fairly certain Microsoft hasn't released Windows666 yet.

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).

Remember, too, that I'm on leave overseas until December 7, and my access to e-mail will be occasional at best. If you would like to comment immediately, or contact Actrix about the newsletter, try e-mailing Mike Cooper instead: m.cooper@actrix.co.nz.

Take care through December,

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