Tag Archives: web

Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together

imageLook – every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit – and, in the real world, most organizations generate that income and make that profit aboveboard, and in clear view. But, that’s not necessarily the process on the Internet. In far too many cases, companies generate revenue by staying far below a user’s horizon – in an underhanded and sneaky fashion.

The tool of choice – a tool, which by its very nature is sneaky and underhanded, is the appropriately named Tracking Cookie. A tool, which not only tracks a user’s footprints across the Web but, the data generated is then used to analyze the user’s online behavior.

It’s this behavior analysis (analyzing links I click on, the content I view, searches I make ….) where I draw the line. I find it disturbing that I have little or no say, in the manner in which I’m tracked as I surf the Internet. And, equally as important – how that information is used.

It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked. I wonder though, that if these same unconcerned users were aware of just how insidious and overwhelming tracking has become – if, they’d continue to be unconcerned.

Should an unconcerned user run the recently released Collusion Firefox add-0n – an add-on which graphs in real-time the “following behavior” of tracking cookies, they might feel less confident that their “I don’t care” perspective is the correct one.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, in describing Collusion at the recent Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference pointed out, that Collusion “allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web. It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.”

Kovacs went on to say that “Collusion will allow us to pull back the curtain and provide users with more information about the growing role of third parties, how data drives most Web experiences, and ultimately how little control we have over that experience and our loss of data.”

I’ve been tinkering with Collusion for the past several days, and I must admit to a new level of unease with this “behind the scenes” look at the nature of tracking now been practiced.

Here’s a screen shot of a spider-web of interaction between companies and trackers, from a short hop around the Internet which I made this morning.

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I think you’ll agree, that the connection between and amongst trackers and tracking companies, might be more insidious than you had previously considered.

The graphic below (captured from the Collusion site),  briefly explains the  connections illustrated.

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The Collusion add-on is available for download at Mozilla.

Back to the previous graphic for a moment – you’ll notice that you can export the graph. Should you do so, you’ll end up with data which will look something like the following. What you see is a very small portion of the exported data from today’s test.

javascript”],”news.com”:[2855341,”image/png”]},”visited”:false},”adtechus.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1070986,”application/x-javascript”],”cnet.com”:[2853754,”application/x-javascript”],”thestar.com”:[5351704,”application/x-javascript”]},”visited”:false},”adnxs.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1071838,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”],”baselinemag.com”:[2084558,null],”cnet.com”:[2853938,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”image/gif”],”thestar.com”:[5352178,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”application/x-shockwave-flash”]},”visited”:false},”techrepublic.com”:{“referrers”:{“twitter.com”:[1077104,”text/html;charset=utf-8″]},”visited”:true},”stumbleupon.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1073845,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”pcmag.com”:[1466423,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”webopedia.com

And yes, there are a truckload of free tools which, to some extent, can impact and reduce the effectiveness of tracking – but, the downside in running with these tools is often a less than enjoyable Internet experience.

18 Comments

Filed under downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Opinion, Privacy

Catch Your Online Grammar, Spelling, and Style Mistakes, With After The Deadline

imageChurning out two blog posts every day is hard on the eyes – not to mention the back, the wrists – well you get the point. As a consequence – I sometimes find myself looking (with crossed eyes) at words running into words, gross misspellings (easy to correct), or improper word usage (sometimes, not so easy to correct). Your versus you’re, and its versus it’s, for example, can be particularly difficult to pick up when used incorrectly.

Here’s a good example of this – recently pointed out by a reader.

Comment:

“You’re friends won’t – other than to deny that they watch it – or, perhaps to decry it’s prevalence” You’re means You are – so “you are friends won’t” doesn’t make sense, use “Your friends” instead.

“It’s” always means “It is” – so “decry it is presence” doesn’t make sense; use “decry its presence” instead.

Not a big deal, you might be thinking. Maybe not – but as often as not, common errors, particularly punctuation errors, can change the meaning of what you meant to say. I’m sure you’ve seen this example – Let’s eat, Mother. versus – Let’s eat Mother.

I write all my blog articles in open source LibreOffice (with grammar checker turned on), and then copy the articles to Windows Live Writer prior to posting into WordPress.

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Despite an active grammar checker, proofreading, as time consuming as it can often be, is unavoidable. Still, I’ve learned that proofreading is no guarantee that the odd mistake will not slip through.

There is a partial solution (no technology is perfect), that can help you (and me), avoid the most common grammar mistakes, spelling errors (including contextual spelling errors), and style mistakes, in online interactions – including blog postings, emails (mistakes here can be deadly), Facebook, Twitter, etc.

After the Deadline – developed by the people behind WordPress – is an open source (free), language checker for the Web which is available as:

An add-on for Firefox.

An extension for Google Chrome.

A plugin for Windows Live Writer.

A plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs.

An extension for OpenOffice.org Writer (still in Beta).

Following installation of After the Deadline on my system as a Firefox add-on, I found it to be reasonably accurate – but not perfect (more on this later). Nevertheless, I’ll keep it on my system – at least in the short term (for the second time).

Installation, in my case, was the usual automatic Firefox add-on install, followed by an easy Options set up as the following screen capture indicates.

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The following screen shots (click to expand) show spelling errors (an unrecognized word), and style recommendations – in a previous post.

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The type of recommendation shown in the screen shot directly above (change “terminate” to “end”, or “stop”), is the primary reason I deleted this add-on previously.

Consistently, higher level words were marked down as “complex expressions”. It may be popular to assume that “dumbing down” is in vogue, but not from where I’m sitting.

Fast facts:

Checks Spelling – Spell checker looks at context and uses artificial intelligence to make recommendations.

Detects Misused Words – Most spell checkers assume any word in their dictionary is correct regardless of context. This means all misused word errors go unnoticed.

Checks Style – Style checker has thousands of rules and uses context to choose the best suggestions.

Checks Grammar – The grammar checker in After the Deadline protects you from common writing errors. After the Deadline uses statistics to automatically find exceptions to its grammar rules, making it one of the smartest grammar checkers around.

Explains Errors – The misused word detector, grammar checker, and style checker explain the mistakes and suggestions to you. Click an error and choose the “Explain …” option.

Download at: After the Deadline

After the Deadline checks English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish text.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome Add-ons, downloads, Email, FaceBook, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google Chrome, Interconnectivity, Software, Twitter, Windows Tips and Tools, WordPress, Writing

Surf Smarter – Take A Sneak Peek At Links With CoolPreviews Firefox Add-on

imageI carry a total of eighteen Firefox add-ons; some – including NoScript, Adblock Plus, WOT, and BitDefender QuickScan – beef up security. Others, such as DownloadHelper, WebMail Notifier, and Google Shortcuts, help me keep the productivity curve trending upward.

The security add-ons are an absolute necessity – interacting with the Internet without them would be akin to traipsing through a minefield – just waiting for the BOOM! The productivity add-ons are less critical – I could (if I had to), get along without them – except for one –  CoolPreviews.

I love CoolPreviews – a Picture-in-a-Picture free Browser add-on, that lets me preview links and rich media content, without clicking the link, or leaving my current page.

With CoolPreviews, I just place my mouse cursor over a link, or over the CoolPreviews icon, and a customizable preview window of the website that the link points to instantly appears with the content; page view, image view, or even video.

I can fully interact with the preview window; play the video, click on links, fill out forms, and more. In fact, I can interact with the preview just as if I had the full page open. If I need to, opening the full page is easy; a simple click on the CoolPreviews full page icon, and I’m there.

I find that by using CoolPreviews, I save time and reduce the drudgery involved in trying to determine which sites are worth investigating. CoolPreviews lets me take a quick look at each link to see if it’s worthwhile investigating further.

I use this tool every day to confirm that the links in my “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News” column, are live. The screen capture below illustrates how this works. Click on the graphic to expand to original (1157 x 490).

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It takes me less than two minutes to check 20/25 links this way, as opposed to – open a link, close a link; open a link, close a link; open a link, close a link; ……. Well, you see the point.

A final example:

Every day, I visit each of the sites in my Blogroll (gotta see what my friends are up to!), and rather than click through to the site, I use CoolPreviews. If the content is a “need to read”, like my good buddy Paul Lubic’s most recent article is – clicking on the “open to Tab” button in CoolPreviews, does just that.

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It’s no wonder Mozilla lists this neat little tool as a recommended Firefox add-on, and also includes it in its most popular list of browser add-ons. CoolPreviews definitely increases productivity; what a time saver!

Fast facts:

Preview links without clicking

Preview images and videos

CoolPreviews 3-D Wall or slideshow mode for Google Image Search

Works on Google, Yahoo!, MSN, YouTube, Flickr ……….

Works on just about any website, blog, forum

Stack temporarily bookmarks (this is a very cool feature)

Instantly email links

Zoom in/out functionality

Sub search any phrase by right-clicking

Customize preview activation method and themes

Enable/disable previewing on customizable choice of sites

Unfortunately, CoolPreviews is available only for Firefox. Previous support for IE, Safari, etc., has been discontinued.

Requirements: Firefox 3.6 – 4.0. Supports Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Download at: CoolPreviews or Mozilla.

Update: February 4, 2011. My good buddy Rick Robinette, whom I often refer to as the “Great Freeware Hunter”, has just posted on a similar add-on designed for Chrome. If you’re a Chrome user, then be sure sure to checkout Rick’s article over at What’s On My PC.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

16 Comments

Filed under Browser add-ons, downloads, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Linux, Mac, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

After The Deadline Catches Grammar, Spelling, and Style Mistakes

imageHave you ever written a Blog comment, for example, and after you’ve clicked “Submit Comment”, had the distinct impression that what you just wrote could have been improved?

Maybe you threw in a few grammar errors, and since punctuation is not your thing, there were a couple of misplaced punctuation marks, as well. I know, I’ve made more than the odd mistake.

Not a big deal, right? Maybe not – but as often as not, common errors, particularly punctuation errors, can change the meaning of what you meant to say.

I’m sure you’ve seen this example – Let’s eat, Mother. versus – Let’s eat Mother.

There is at least a partial solution that can help you avoid the most common grammar mistakes, spelling errors (including contextual spelling errors), and style mistakes, in online interactions – including emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

After the Deadline, is an open source (free), language checker for the web which is available as:

an add-on for the Firefox web browser.

an extension for the Google Chrome web browser.

a bookmarklet for other browsers.

a plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs.

an extension for OpenOffice.org Writer, a popular open-source word processor.

a plugin for bbPress forums.

Following installation of After the Deadline on my system as a Firefox add-on, I found it to be reasonably accurate – but not perfect. Nevertheless, I’ll keep it on my system – at least in the short term.

Installation in my case was the usual automatic Firefox add-on install, followed by an easy Options set up as the following screen captures indicate. You’ll notice in the second screen, that you have a wide range of proofreading options.

image

image

Fast facts:

Checks Spelling – Spell checker looks at context and uses artificial intelligence to make recommendations.

Detects Misused Words – Most spell checkers assume any word in their dictionary is correct regardless of context. This means all misused word errors go unnoticed.

Checks Style – Style checker has thousands of rules and uses context to choose the best suggestions.

Checks Grammar – The grammar checker in After the Deadline protects you from common writing errors. After the Deadline uses statistics to automatically find exceptions to its grammar rules, making it one of the smartest grammar checkers around.

Explains Errors – The misused word detector, grammar checker, and style checker explain the mistakes and suggestions to you. Click an error and choose the “Explain …” option.

Download at: After the Deadline

After the Deadline checks English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish text.

After the Deadline has been developed by Automattic, the people behind WordPress, PollDaddy, and Akismet – to name just a few.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

9 Comments

Filed under Browser add-ons, downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google Chrome, Interconnectivity, Open Source, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

News From Symantec Hosted Services

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We know, only too well, that cyber criminals take advantage of every opportunity that new and emerging technologies provide to expand their trade – data theft.

So, with the huge adoption rate in smart mobile devices, and our increased reliance on these devices (which are literally powerful computers), there is a more pronounced sense of urgency to protect the data stored on these sophisticated mobile devices from the threat of cybercrime.

Symantec Hosted Services, recognizing this need, recently announced enhancements to its MessageLabs Web Security Service roaming support options, that will allow organizations to further support the security needs of their mobile workforce.

According to Symantec – “The new enhancements will monitor and secure the online activity of a highly distributed workforce.  Drawing on findings from the recent MessageLabs Intelligence report highlighting the inappropriate web usage of mobile workers, SmartConnect and RemoteConnect for MessageLabs Hosted Web Security protect against malware, and enforces Web acceptable use policies for teleworkers, or employees, at remote offices.”

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If you’ve noticed a significant drop in Spam in your inboxes lately, like I have, there’s good reason – according to Symantec Hosted Services.

On Sunday, October 3, Symantec Hosted Services noticed that global spam levels dropped to their lowest in a while. Symantec Hosted Services believes this drop was due to a decrease in output by the Rustock and Cutwail botnets.

For additional insight on how Symantec Hosted Services tracked last weekend’s spam drop via sophisticated botnet intelligence, what contribution to global spam each of the major botnets makes, and what factors influence botnet output, check out the MessageLabs  Intelligence blog report here.

About Message Labs Intelligence:

Symantec’s Message Labs Intelligence is a respected source of data and analysis for messaging security issues, trends and statistics. MessageLabs Intelligence provides a range of information on global security threats based on live data feeds from our control towers around the world scanning billions of messages each week.

About Symantec:

Symantec is a global leader in providing security, storage and systems management solutions to help consumers and organizations secure and manage their information-driven world.  Our software and services protect against more risks at more points, more completely and efficiently, enabling confidence wherever information is used or stored. More information is available here.

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Filed under bots, cell phone, Connected Devices, Email, Enterprise Applications, Malware Reports, MessageLabs, Software, spam, Symantec, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Download Free PC Fixer – Fixes Common PC Problems

imageOften, new and casual computer users get left behind when it comes to PC utility software. Developers of this type of application are prone to designing tools that require more than just a passing knowledge of how computer operating systems really work.

New users are very often unfamiliar with both the technology itself, and the technical terms involved in using this type of application. For many users, a simple set of tools that does not require the user to be geek inclined, is more appropriate than a suite of tools that does everything but clean the kitchen sink.

While it’s generally true that more advanced users want/need much more control than a one click system utility provides, a one click system utility can often be the ideal solution for a new user.

PC Fixer 1

PC Fixer is a relatively simple, but nonetheless, powerful set of tools for new and casual computer users that includes the following comparatively basic modules:

Install – assists in the setup/installation of applications, internet, email, printers, wireless network and more.

Fix – diagnostic applet with comprehensive solutions to common problems.

Optimize – a configuration utility with surprising functionality.

Secure – as well as the ability to remove malware, this module allows the user to configure Windows security settings.

Data Recovery – provides the user with the tools required to recover data in specific applications including MS Word, Excel, Access, and Outlook and so on.

Tune up – this feature is essentially a Registry cleaner.

PC Fixer 2

A sample of repair issues addressed by PC Fixer:

CD or DVD driver is missing.

CD burner does not work.

Printing service is disabled.

Cannot open Task Manager.

Additional functionality included in this neat little application:

Windows XP & Vista – Diagnose and fix common desktop issues, repair corrupt files, and resolve configuration conflicts in Vista and Windows XP.

Microsoft Office – Provide automatic fixes for problems related to Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, Access, and Outlook for your email.

Security – Improve security and privacy by recognizing and fixing configuration flaws in system/device/software settings and removing virus and malware.

CD/DVD, Printer, or USB – Fix issues related to CD/DVD, Printers, USB, etc. where conflicting device software and configuration make them inaccessible.

Performance Tuning – Improve overall performance by fine tuning various system and network settings, improve startup time by turning off unnecessary programs in your startup and services.

This application is not a panacea for computer problems of course, but for less experienced Windows users, it should prove to a valuable addition to their computer toolbox.

Interestingly, CNET’s (Download.com), editors rated this application as a 4.5 Star, out of 5. This is a significant rating, since the number of applications that have earned a 4 Star rating on CNET, is quite limited.

System requirements: Windows XP/Vista, Windows 7

A note on Windows 7: While the developers site does not make mention of Win 7  compatibility, PC Fixer ran perfectly on my Win 7 test system.

Download at: Download.com

Video Tutorial of how to use PC Fixer

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Filed under Computer Maintenance, computer repair, Computer Tune Up Utilities, downloads, Freeware, Hard Drive Problems, New Computer User Software Tools, Software, System Tweaks, System Utilities, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Serif DrawPlus SE – Outstanding Free Vector Graphics Application

image SerifSoftware puts an interesting and unusual twist to the common “try this application for free for 30 days”, something with which we are all pretty familiar.

Serif releases free, older versions, of their current software for download – to entice at least some users to upgrade to current versions of their popular software. In my view, this “creative marketing” is something more software developers should consider.

I have used, and tested, Serif’s free editions for 10+ years now, and I have found that even their older software is more than up to the tasks I set.

Sure, the applications may be older than the current versions, but in terms of functionality and features, generally you are not missing much. In these older free versions there are not as many tools as one might find with more recent versions of Serif’s products, but those that are there, tend to be the ones that are most used by typical users.

Despite the slightly “older” appearance of DrawPlus SE , this is not an old program that’s been revived just for give-away. DrawPlus SE is still an amazing free drawing and graphic application, with which you can turn out vector graphics, high-impact graphics, and even web animations with tools usually only available in high end applications.

Serif SE

On top of that, DrawPlus SE is also a graphics design program that allows you to create logos, high quality print graphics, artwork, drawings, animations, labels and more.

Serif SE 2

The straightforward and intuitive interface is simple, but surprisingly powerful, so even first time users will get professional quality results.

If you like special effects, DrawPlus SE is loaded with them, so it’s easy to create high impact text for headlines, logos, banners, Web pages, or wherever your imagination takes you. You can add bitmap, conical, ellipse, plasma, radial and linear fills to your creations to produce spectacular results.

DrawPlus SE supports industry standard bitmap and vector formats including: JPEG, BMP, EMF, WMF and PNG for the Web.

Fast facts:

Drawing & Sketching – Say goodbye to complicated tools and ‘shaky hand’ drawings. DrawPlus makes drawing simple with easy to use Quick Shapes, Natural Curve Editing and Curve Smoothing.

Export Optimizer – Easily export your drawings and images optimized for email, websites, printing, or to your specific requirements in any supported image format.

Studio Resources – Choose from hundreds of pre-set lines, fills, transparencies, fonts and Wizard elements from the Studio tabs to save yourself time and still achieve amazing results.

Color Selection – Apply color fills to backgrounds, shapes and your own drawings from the simple on-screen studio palette.

Animation Mode – Bring your designs to life with the fun animation tools, which include easy-to-use, yet advanced features like onion skinning, backgrounds, overlays and frame management.

Blends – Use the blend tool to automatically ‘morph’ two images into one another. You choose the number of steps and let DrawPlus do the rest – easy!

If you’re looking for a free drawing and graphic application to test your creative skills, then DrawPlus SE will fill the bill admirably.

System Requirements: Windows XP (32 bit), Vista

Download at: Download.com

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6 Comments

Filed under Arts and Crafts, downloads, Drawing Software, Free Full Versions, Freeware, Photo Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools