Category Archives: Point of View

Merry Christmas –Joyeux Noel (2013)

Dear readers and subscribers,

christmas-message

It’s been a worrisome year for many, I know – but the Christmas season is now upon us and perhaps (just maybe), we can put aside the worries of the moment and reflect upon the joy and the beauty, the giving and the sharing, that Christmas brings to so many of us.

Despite the push and shove of various societal elements, Christmas – remains wonderfully inescapable. Its traditions and rituals, established in simpler times, continue to remind us – that those we hold close, (including neighbours   Smile  ) are the greatest gifts of all. The Grinch was on to something when he pondered – “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.”

May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,
The happiness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love.

Have a wonderful Christmas, however you define it.

Bill

Tech Thoughts is winding down for the Christmas break – so, you might find us fairly quiet the next several weeks. Regular posting will begin again on Thursday, January 2, 2014.

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Filed under Opinion, Point of View

The Suitcase Internet – The Internet Free Of Government Control (Updated)

imageOver the past few years, as I’ve compiled the Daly Net News column here, it became obvious that many of the major tech sites retitle and repost previously published articles. I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing. In fact, it can often be a very good thing.

A particularly good case can be made for the reposting of information designed to educate computer users relative to system and Internet security, for example. So too, with data that addresses issues surrounding the ever evolving threats from governments designed to curb both privacy and freedom of expression, on the Internet.

The threats to twist and bend our civil liberties into unrecognizable shapes, hardly stop there of course. Still, I’m ever hopeful that we (assuming the average person finds the courage), will force governments to park the fascism bus and address the real needs of real people.

At one time, my programed response to the latest and greatest government threat would be to jump up and down like a lunatic (I keep this posture in reserve for those important moments in life). More seriously though, I’ve learned to handle the ever increasing bizarreness that’s coming out of the mouths of politicians, who seem intent on reducing me to a character in Orwell’s, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I simply reaffirmed my view that no matter the technology that’s developed to attempt to “control” us – a techno solution will always be found that will reverse the field. A pipe dream? Maybe – but, I don’t think so.

It may well be that many of you have read the following article, originally posted here early last year – but, a little repetition when it concerns an issue that impacts us all at such a fundamental level, seems appropriate.

The Suitcase Internet – The Internet Free Of Government Control

“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself………….. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it.”

H. L. MenckenDecember 1919

Despite the fact that Mencken wrote those words almost 100 years ago – he might well have been describing current views held by “the man who is able to think things out for himself.” – Generally, governments are increasingly being seen as dishonest, and corrupt.

In recent years, particularly through events loosely termed “The Arab Spring”,   we’ve been witness to the inevitable clash between those who’s views run counter to the status quo (the thinking man), who stood in defiance of corrupt governments who’s very existence relied on violating the most basic tenets of human rights. Dishonest, insane and intolerable governments.

The Internet played some role, in broadcasting the desperate voices of those engaged in violent encounters against regimes who were intent on eliminating those who fought for the right to condemn the repugnant conditions of their existence. How much of a role, is the subject of continuing discussion.

At the height of those conflicts, countermeasures taken by these repressive regimes included, cutting off access to the Internet in an attempt to slam the door on the free flow of information. Information which, to some extent, ultimately led to the “the people”overthrowing unsustainable governments in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

There are of course, an accumulation of lessons learned (and, still to be learned), by the successful outcomes of the Arab Spring. One rather obvious lesson it seems to me is – those who cherish the right to freedom of expression, and the right to have those views disseminated, will continue on a collision course with the undercurrent of repression circling the Globe.

Attempts are now underway, in Canada, the US and the UK, to limit, by way of regulatory controls (repression by any other name), the rights and freedoms we’ve come to expect when connected to the Internet.

Controls which effectively reduce, or in some cases, obliterate freedom of choice. Controls which could conceivably be used to slam the door on the free exchange of ideas, and political dissent. In a word – censorship.

It might surprise you to learn just how much Internet censorship is already in place world wide. The following graphic from Wikipedia is illuminating.

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The graphic is based on 2009 data. You can bet that the situation has not improved.

It’s a fantasy, in my view, to believe that governments will learn to self regulate their persistent push to impose restrictions on how users travel the Internet. That, they will take the high road – based on an understanding that there is an undercurrent of hostility to interference with what many Internet users now believe is a basic human right. The right to surf the Internet without obstruction.

Instead, it’s much more likely that we will see a progression toward increased censorship and surveillance. Governments just never seem to “get it” – that there’s always a point beyond which people will push back. And, there are those who are pushing back against government Internet control – in a technical manner.

A recent article in Scientific American Magazine – Internet Freedom Fighters Build a Shadow Web – describes one such “push back”. (I’m sorry to report that this article is now a fee article at Scientific American Magazine. Rats!)

“Governments and corporations have more control over the Internet than ever. Now digital activists want to build an alternative network that can never be blocked, filtered or shut down.”

I’m neither a romantic (as Mencken suggest one might need to be to effect change), nor do I have a Don Quixote complex – but, I’m convinced, that in order to safeguard freedom of though and expression, the  transmission of information without government interference and restriction – then, the creation of a  decentralized mesh network (as described in the Scientific American article), that can’t be blocked, filtered, or silenced, is in our best interest.

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Filed under Opinion, Point of View

My Phantom Followers – Who Are These People?

There are any number of ways to measure success for those of us who write for the Internet. The number of daily readers seems to be the key criteria most often used as a yardstick.   *

One would expect, that the addition of a substantial number of “followers” (the number of readers following blog posts and post comments), should impact a site’s number of daily reads/visits – in a positive way. I suspect that WordPress had that outcome in mind when, a year or so ago, it introduced a meshed WordPress follow system.

Ostensibly, there are some 8,000+ followers here – at least according to WordPress. And typically, this number bumps up at the rate of 10/12 daily.

Graphic: A slice of the Dash Board from today.

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So happy days, yeah? Maybe not.

The quandary:

Despite the exposure which one would expect should be gained by an additional 8,000+ followers – the number of daily readers here has gone down and, continues on this downward trend. A curious state of affairs, no?

This is a quick post simply to fill in some blank time (a rare commodity around here) – so, I won’t get into the mathematics of this puzzler. Suffice it to say (for the moment), that something stinks here. The real stinker is – are these people real, imaginary, spammers/scammers – or, the real McCoy  – a cybercriminal?

It’s illogical, at least to me, that a significant number of individuals would take the time to subscribe to a site and then, the majority mysteriously vanish – in most cases never to be heard from again. It’s kind of like throwing a party and nobody shows up.   Smile

I should point out that most new followers seem to have a WordPress connection – a blog, or a Gravatar. So, what’s underway here? What’s the scheme – or, is there one?

I’m more curious about this than I am confused. There’s not much to be confused about in terms of the mechanics. But, I’m more than a little confused at the lack of repeat visits from 8,000+ followers.

As Butch Cassidy remarked to the Sundance Kid, as they focused on their pursuers from a cliff top – “Who ARE these people”?

Me? I’m asking the same question.

Update: May 11, 2013.

Good friend (and very smart fellow) Michael Fisher, was kind enough to pass on the following link to an article – Beware the Followers Made of Spam – which proves beyond doubt, that this follower thing is not what it seems. It’s simply a new type of spam. The author has crafted a very funny article and still manages to make his point very cleverly. A highly recommended read.

Thanks Michael.

A quick outtake on numbers:    *

Numbers? Followers? It may surprise you to know that I have little or no interest, in either one. Numbers or followers, don’t make me a better IT professional. My self-esteem is not impacted by activity, or the lack of activity, on this site. I write here because it’s fun – as it should be.

You’ll not be surprised to know, I’m sure, that the pack that I hang with on the Net (almost all bloggers), hold a similar view. Despite a seemingly lack of concern for numbers, these bloggers run some of the most successful one person sites on the Web.

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Filed under blogging, Point of View, Writing

A Reader Wants To Know – What’s On My PC?

With due apologies to my good friend Rick Robinette – whose blog is aptly called – What’s On My PC.

imageI get a wide variety of questions here, from the very simple to the complex – all of which are equally as interesting. The following question was recently posed by a reader.

“Could you give your readers a list of the programs you run on your computer. I often wondered what the computer experts really use on their personal computers, so we newbies can make better decisions on which to keep or which to delete.”

Seems as if that’s an easy question to answer – just take a screen shot of my Desktop (as the reader suggested) and send it on. But, the question is deeper than that – a little more complex I think.

You’ll note, in the following screen capture, that many of the applications I run on my personal machine, are “old.” For example – WinPatrol, was the second application I installed on my first Internet connected machine (after the free version of ZoneAlarm Firewall). I continue to rely on WinPatrol today, as much as I ever have. CCleaner, Glary Utilities, ImgBurn, are other applications that fit into the “old” category.

Sure, in the interim, a ton of freeware applications have been released that duplicate and perhaps, in some cases, even exceed the capabilities of the applications I have come to depend on. But, I’m not into the “latest and greatest” – which, often enough –  are frequently lacking in the “greatest” department.

No, I’ll stick with the applications I’ve come to know that perform as advertised; that do the job I need done, with as little fuss as possible. Remember of course, that it is the latest edition of these “old” applications which run on this system.

The following screen shot illustrates the applications currently installed on my home system. Those that are annotated with an arrow icon, have been reviewed here previously.

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A selected few previously reviewed applications.

Zemana Antilogger – I’ve long considered Zemana AntiLogger a must have security application for my Internet connected machines. In fact, I would never connect my web cam without first ensuring that Zemana AntiLogger was up and running. To drive home that point (and others), I’ve reviewed this application several times.

AVG – I’ve been running with AVG AntiVirus Free 2013 on a primary home system (a Windows 8 machine), since September 5, of last year. The verdict? I’m impressed – very impressed.

CCleaner – What can you say about CCleaner (the granddaddy of all system cleaners – it’s been around since 2004), that hasn’t already been said of this freeware system optimization, privacy, and cleaning tool.

EULAlyzer – This free application quickly scans a EULA, and points out words, statements, and phrases, that you need to consider carefully. Results are rated by “Interest Level” and organized by category, so it’s easy to zero-in on the issue that concern you the most.

Glary Utilities – Glary Utilities Free, is a reasonably complete set of system tools with which even a relative newcomer to the computing game can tweak, repair, optimize and improve system performance. Since discovering Glary Utilities years ago, it has remained my go-to application for system maintenance and cleanup.

History Viewer – Here’s a little freeware application – History Viewer – which doesn’t approach the robustness of  SForensics Beta – but nevertheless, will let you take a peek at various Window’s histories.

ImgBurn – I’ll jump ahead here – directly to my conclusion. ImgBurn is a superior CD/DVD burning application. No hesitation – this application ROCKS.

IrfanView – IrfanView which is one of my favorite photo applications (not just mine; there have been over 34 Million downloads), is not just an image viewer, but an image browser, converter, and an editor as well. Best of all, you’ll find the interface intuitive and very easy to use. If you’re curious, this application is named after its developer Irfan Skiljan.

MakeMKV – MakeMKV is the best one-click free solution to convert owned video that I’ve found, to date. This is a very impressive application – straightforward, and easy to run –  even for a relatively new computer user.

MalWareBytes – I run Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware every day, as a secondary malware scanner, since I have absolutely no faith that a single security application offers adequate protection. The free version of this speed demon (it’s faster at scanning than any anti-malware program I’ve tested in the last 2 years), is used by millions of people worldwide to protect their computers.

MozBackup – In addition to backing up a Firefox profile, MozBackup will create profile backups for the following applications – Mozilla Thunderbird, Sunbird, Flock, SeaMonkey, Mozilla Suite, Spicebird, Songbird and Netscape.

MWSnap – MWSnap is a highly rated small, yet powerful, Windows program for snapping (capturing) images from selected parts of the screen. I use it daily to create high-quality screen captures for presentations, documents, and most particularly – application screen captures for my Blog.

NirSoft Wireless Network Watcher – This free utility scans your wireless network and displays the list of all computers and devices that are currently connected to your network.

There are additional applications, including specialty applications, which I run occasionally from either a USB flash drive, or a CD/DVD – but, these applications are generally outside the scope of an average user’s needs.

For example – an application which you will not see here is CurrPorts – a portable application which allows a user to view a list of ports that are currently in use, and the application that is using it.

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Filed under Computer Tools, Point of View

Weathertainment – The Snowstorm Apocalypse

Who would have thought – a snowstorm in Toronto. In the Winter; no less!

Jumped out of bed this morning at my usual five AM – looked out the living room window, and there it was – SNOW! Not that I was surprised of course, since the Weather Channel, the Toronto Star newspaper, and virtually every form of new media imaginable, has been intent, in the past few days, on cranking up my fear index to new heights.

In Toronto, Twitter is currently abuzz with the likes of this – RosaHwangCTV @RosaHwangCTV – Miserable in #Toronto. Worst snowstorm in years. Anyone who tweets today about sunny weather where they live, I’m unfollowing. #TOstorm – which leads me to conclude, that Rosa needs to get a life.

Perhaps Rosa’s Twitter followers might prompt her to come to grips with the nuts and bolts of a Canadian Winter. And, help her to understand that her views are in sharp contrast to the not so mythical “rugged Canadian” who by all accounts, does not live in Toronto. Toronto, it seems is reserved for pussies.

Not to be outdone – The Star newspaper ramps up the angst  with this – Send us your snowstorm photos, tales of woe – “tales of woe” no less.

How is it, that Torontonians became a pitiful bunch of whiners and complainers over a rather natural event – snow in Winter? Where have the days gone when we embraced winter (as we should) and snow, for what it had to offer?

Where have the days gone when each of us made sensible preparations for snow events? Or, the days when we strapped on a pair of cross- country skis and frolicked through the neighbourhood following a major snow storm. The days when we celebrated the shutting down of life’s intensity for a brief respite.

Roosevelt didn’t have it quite right when he mused “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” No, it’s more than fear that we need to fear. As well, we need to fear the professional fear mongers.

Long gone are the days when we could trust the media (the new fear mongers), to provide us with relatively unbiased concrete data, designed to inform and educate. We now live in an environment in which so called “news”, is coloured and flavoured to meet the needs of the bottom line.

Truth, and accuracy be damned – potential sales, potential readership/viewers, drives the corporate wagon. And fear, is often the man holding the reins.

Rick Mercer – one of Canada’s premier comics – well know for his charming wit and social consciousness – covers the weather fear issue nicely, in his 2007  “Rick Mercer Rant – Canadian Weather.”

It’s worth a watch –even if you’re not Canadian.   Smile

Click on graphic to view on YouTube.

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Filed under Opinion, Point of View

The Tool Designed To Fool – We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Toolbar! (Revisited)

In today’s Tech Thoughts Daily Net News column, you’ll find a link to Ed Bott’sHow Oracle installs deceptive software with Java updates. So, what’s new here? Not as much as you might think – unfortunately.

I first posted on the issue of unwanted Toolbars – or, PUPS (potentially unwanted programs) – in March 2010. Based on the indignation shown by the majority of commenters – it just might be worth another read.

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MEMO TO: SNEAKY FREEWARE DEVELOPERS

imageYou give me your software for free as a marketing tool, with the hope of course, that I’ll upgrade to the commercial version of your application.

That’s cool, that’s smart, (it cost you nothing by the way) – nevertheless, I’m appreciative.

But you don’t stop with just the free use of your application, you piggyback a toolbar, or some other non-essential item, as part of the install package. Listen, I understand, you want to install a toolbar because you get paid by the toolbar developer. Even that’s OK – but you do it in such a sneaky way that it really pisses me off, and that’s not OK.

Worse, if I don’t like your application and uninstall it, you open your Internet site, following the uninstall, using my Internet Browser – even if I don’t give you permission by allowing the connection. In my view, that’s a form of hacking. You need to take a refresher course in ethics.

I’ve been around the Internet for a few decades, so it’s not often I get caught in your schemes to install unwanted software on my machines, but less experienced users are often caught in your carefully laid traps.

Here’s a sample of the outrage a typical user, who got trapped by unethical behavior, feels – a comment on my site left by an outraged reader, several days ago, following her installation of Miro.

I thought I’d give this a try, since I watch Hulu quite a bit, and I’m sooo angry I did. Miro installed Bing Search toolbar, which I didn’t want or agree to install (using firefox) and it wiped out all my default search engines for Firefox.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to get Firefox back to normal. Beware!!!!!!!! I don’t trust companies that install things without your consent or knowledge.

In this particular instance it’s true that the EULA covers this situation, but here’s the question. Why does an average user need to read a Eula in order to find an alternative installation solution?

An accusation of unethical behavior doesn’t begin to cover this case – sleazy; vulgar; dishonest; sordid; are much more appropriate.

You, the unethical developer, are not alone in attempting to profit by toolbar inclusion in freeware applications. More and more, high profile developers who offer a stripped down version of their commercial applications as freeware, are involving themselves in this highly questionable practice.

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So here’s a question for the “ethical” freeware providers. How many toolbars do you think an average user needs? Ten? Twenty? Thirty………….. Just so you know, a Google search for “toolbar”, returns 167 Million results!

I can already hear your answer “ but the user can uncheck the appropriate box when installing the application”. Right! Unless you’re detached from the real world (and, you may well be), you’re more than aware that a typical user does not uncheck this box. Then, over time, the user is at a loss to explain why their machine has slowed to a crawl.

Could it be because your toolbar, along with twenty others, all installed in a furtive way, become active at startup – ya think!!

So, just stop with the crapware already. If you’re pissing me off, just consider what you’re doing to an average user.

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Filed under Adware, Browser add-ons, Point of View

Nader, The Once And Former Raider – Needs to Stay “Former”

imageRalph Nader, was identified as a “former presidential candidate” by CNET several days ago – hardly his claim to fame – old guys like me, remember him more for his 1965 expose – Unsafe at Any Speed – which took a powerful swing at the North American auto industry.

His evisceration of the Chevrolet Corvair (my first car incidentally), established Nader as a rogue consumer advocate. It is fair to say however, that all consumer advocates were viewed as suspicious by the establishment at that time.

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So, was Nader correct in his condemnation of the Corvair as a “death trap.” Not exactly. At least, not according to a 1972 study (completed well after the fact, you’ll notice), conducted by Texas A&M University on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Their conclusion – “the 1960–1963 Corvair possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporaries in extreme situations.” In other words, Nader’s “study” was bullshit.

Taking advantage of the truism that “bullshit baffles brains” – not a detriment it seems, to a media created legend – in the following years, Nader stayed in the public eye pontificating on issues as diverse as -

Ralph Nader on Abortion, Ralph Nader on Budget & Economy, Ralph Nader on Civil Rights, Ralph Nader on Corporations, Ralph Nader on Crime, Ralph Nader on Drugs, Ralph Nader on Education, Ralph Nader on Energy & Oil, Ralph Nader on Environment, Ralph Nader on Families & Children, Ralph Nader on Foreign Policy, Ralph Nader on Free Trade, Ralph Nader on Government Reform, Ralph Nader on Gun Control, Ralph Nader on Homeland Security, Ralph Nader on Technology, Ralph Nader on War & Peace.

Believe it or not, this is an incomplete list. The full list is available at On The Issues.

It’s clear to me, that this man is a studious expert on EVERYTHING. So his observation, that “Video game firms are ‘electronic child molesters’”, recently spewed out during an interview at Politico, must have value. It must be an astute and educated observation – one that’s denied to the average person.

We just don’t have the background I suppose, to be able to digest a complex set of issues like video games –  gun violence – and, the existence (or not), of a link between them – readily identified by Nader.

We just don’t understand as Nader puts it – that video games producers “odious fare is becoming more coarse, more violent, and more interactive to seduce these youngsters into an addiction of direct video game involvement in the mayhem.”

It’s extraordinary that none of this has anything to do of course, with the ready availability of sophisticated weapons, a culture of gun insanity, a heritage of violence as a method of settling grievances, in the United States – a set of circumstances shared virtually nowhere else in the developed world.

Nader would have us set all that aside (along with our common sense), and have us instead, be guided through the forest of his misconceptions, distorted studies, and outright lies (most particularly on this issue) – by an expert at everything – Ralph Nader.

Just thinking about this moron makes my head hurt. Why, for the love of all we hold sacred, does the media give this idiot a forum in which to push forward his nonsense – his facts – his simple solutions to complex issues. Poorly identified issues at that. But, then it’s the media – isn’t it?

The media and the “facts” – an oxymoron if there ever was one!

As regular reader and occasional guest author Mark Schneider remarked here yesterday – “Ralph Nader – desperate for attention and relevance. I’ll continue to ignore him as I have for 40 years.”

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Filed under Games, Myths, Online Gaming, Point of View