Archive for September, 2006

29
Sep
06

A Few Good Apps For the Security Minded

As much as I listen to security-oriented podcasts (by the way, Steve Gibson’s Security Now is great!) and read various websites about protecting yourself while on the Internet, there’s always the lingering fear in the back of my mind that there’s software hidden somewhere on my machine and that someone’s checking out “my stuff”. I read a great article talking about some free and tested applications in the November 2006 edition of Maximum PC and I think everyone should consider using these. (That is, if you don’t have a solution already.)

Just for the record, I haven’t been paid or asked to do this. I just find it unfortunate that spyware and malware are taking over people’s machines and I hope that this might help to counter that trend a bit. But a few preliminary words of caution….

BEFORE ANY OF THESE RECCOMENDATIONS CAN BE OF ANY USE, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT:

1. YOU HAVE WINDOWS XP SET TO DOWNLOAD UPDATES AUTOMATICALLY!! New security breaches are being discovered all the time. (If you are not sure whether or not you’ve been running Windows Update, here’s how you can run it: (Click Start Button — Go to “Programs” — Then click on “Windows Update”). You can also set it to run automatically from within the Control Panel under the “Security Center” applet. (My options are set to automatically download new updates, at which point I can select the option to install them.)

2. YOU ARE RUNNING WINDOWS XP SERVICE PACK 2. Service Pack 2 contains many significant updates to the Windows security structure (including a software firewall.)

3. YOU HAVE A NAT (Network Address Translation) ROUTER ATTACHED BETWEEN YOUR CONNECTION AND THE CABLE OR DSL ROUTER!! They’re cheap (about $30 – $60) and they allow you to split your Internet connection — usually among four other computers. But most importantly, they act as a built in firewall out of the box to provide you a degree of protection against machines that are sniffing for open computers. You can buy practically any brand of router — Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Belkin — just make sure you have one. (I have the Linksys WRT54G — very popular and can be found for around $50 now.)

The above recommendations are the basics. Installing the software below without having done each of those three suggestions above is like putting air in your tires when your gas tank is empty.

Once you’ve done the above, here are some great additional protection solutions:

A-Squared Anti-Malwarescanning.jpg

Practically everyone is familiar with Spybot Search and Destroy and Ad-Aware. And those apps have been my old standbys for quite awhile now and I still trust them. At the same time, A-Squared has been recommended by quite a few people and is said to have detected spyware that Ad Aware and Spybot may have missed.

The interface is certainly much more polished. It’s a free solution and in addition to spyware, it also looks for dialers, trojan horses and worms. And unlike some of the other solutions that I’ve tried with some of my customers, this is one that will actually clean the infection. (Another package that I won’t mention found all of this spyware…. but then they wanted us to pay to get rid of it. Pretty sneaky. I’m running A-Squared myself and it appears to run fine. A-Squared is from EMSI Software and can be found here.

NOTE: On the link, there are several versions. My recommendation is that you download the free version called “a-squared Free 2.0”. The difference between this and the “a-squared Anti-Malware 2.0” paid version is that the free version lacks the “ongoing support” types of features. So, for instance, you won’t have the “Background Guard” (that runs all the time and detects any spyware from sites that you might visit), “Automatic Updates” and “Scheduled Scans”. However, if you find that you really like A-Squared and want the ongoing protection, you can support them and pay for the full version. It’s $39.95 for a one year subscription. (Kinda pricey if you ask me.)

Continue reading ‘A Few Good Apps For the Security Minded’

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28
Sep
06

Is it "Hating" to Expect More??

(Too much Microsoft news lately….like three stories back to back! Gotta break up the monotony.)

From time to time I frequent what I like to call, “Black News” sites (like ConcreteLoop.com and others). They’re a great source of information and since I’ve been out of school for “a little while”, they’re a great place to keep pace with “what the young kids are saying”. (Sadly, they’re also a stark reminder of my aging ways and opinions.)

One trend I’ve begun to notice is somewhat disturbing. Frequently the site hosts will post information about a celebrity that leads to a public debate. For instance, recently folks who frequent the site have been critical of Beyonce Knowles for “media overexposure” on one hand, while her album appears to be somewhat lackluster on the other. The same is true of Janet Jackson. Almost the exact same situation — lots of media coverage, but an album that doesn’t quite reach the level of past efforts. On any message board there will be a certain contingent of people who will complain about anything. But there are occasionally a few folks who have well thought out critical responses to media stories.

Today I noticed that under the posting featuring Beyonce’s “Got Milk” Ad with her Mom (Tina Knowles), there are a lot of critical responses. Some just don’t like Beyonce and truly do want to say something negative just because she’s famous. I’ll agree — those folks are just haters. But a few seem to be fans who realize the negative impact that overexposure (and sub-standard albums) can have on your long term career. And then there are others who just didn’t care for the ad. While personally I thought the ad was pretty tasteful, does it make me (or anyone else) a “hater” just because I have some critical feedback to offer?

I’ve often heard it said by thirty and forty-something folks that “calling older artists ‘Old School’ has driven a wedge between the older generation and the young.” They claim that Caucasian artists who fall out of the limelight are considered “Classic” and are put on a pedestal (like the Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers). But when it comes to older R&B and Hip Hop artists, (Chuck D, Atlantic Starr) rarely do they receive the same respect. Similarly, I think the whole concept of “hate-sighting” is driving a wedge between us. There are times when as older fans of 80s and 90s artists, my opinion may truly be out of touch. But in my honest opinion, “taste is timeless”. If something is done in good taste, it doesn’t matter whether it’s 1906 or 2006 — it will be seen as such. It seems as if the second that someone expresses a thought that is anything short of a glaring compliment about another celebrity of color, the accusation is that, “you must be hating”. “Stop hating.” “Don’t hate, celebrate.” “Don’t hate me cause you want to be me….” and all other variants of the sentiment.

I feel as if I’m all over the place with my thoughts tonight. Put simply, my challenge to the younger generation is this: Understand and be able to discern the difference between someone who’s “hating” and someone who’s seeking a higher standard. Continue reading ‘Is it "Hating" to Expect More??’

28
Sep
06

Reactions: Zune Launch Details

zune_software_1.jpgSo, given the Microsoft’s press release today, how are you guys feeling about the Zune’s chances? Without having seen the device yet (I might be wowed by the video quality), I’m pretty disappointed so far.

I was convinced that Microsoft didn’t announce any pricing information during the official Zune announcement a few weeks ago because they were being revising their original pricing strategy to be more aggressive. Honestly — $249 for a 30 GB player is not “aggressive”. I completely understand that competing on price may put you at a disadvantage and position you as a “cheaper alternative” in the perception of the consumer. But considering the “death grip” that the iPod/iTunes combo has on the digital media device world, you gotta do better than this.

I will say that I am impressed with the $14.99 price on the “all you can eat” option. This sounds somewhat enticing. (Especially since I just canceled my Napster subscription.) But the strategy that bothers me most is the “79 Microsoft Points Per Track”. The Microsoft “Points” system is a really, really bad idea. I have some exposure to the way that the system works, as it’s the same way that I buy downloadable games and other content on the Xbox 360. You buy points at certain intervals — in the U.S. it’s currently:

500 Points – $6.25

1000 Points – $12.50

2000 Points – $25.00

…and so on…

Seems pretty fair. However, there’s a hidden cost associated with the system. When I buy a content on Xbox Live that costs 800 Microsoft Points, I’m not paying $8.75. I have to buy 1000 Points….leaving me with 200 unused Points (basically money spent that could have gone someplace else, but is instead tied up in these “Points”.) This probably won’t be as big a deal with songs as it is with the content on Xbox Live, but it’s still pretty pointless and needlessly cumbersome. Continue reading ‘Reactions: Zune Launch Details’

28
Sep
06

Zune Price and Release Date Official at $249.99 on Nov. 14

ms-zune-3.jpgMicrosoft officially announced today that the Zune price would in fact be $249.99 (and not the $224 that it was previously speculated to cost. Well, I did kinda think that ‘224’ was an odd number. Oh well.) Aside from the player’s pricing were a few additional (and interesting) announcements:

Zune Marketplace

The Zune Marketplace will offer an “all you can eat” option at $14.99, where you’ll be able to download as many songs as you want. Individual songs can be purchased with “Microsoft Points”, and the rate will be 79 points per song, which at the current rate translates into about 99 cents per track. (Hmmm…. more on that in a minute.)

Pre-Loaded Content

The player will have pre-loaded content (just in case you can’t wait to get home to check it out.) Among the content are nine audio tracks, twelve music videos, three movie “shorts” and a collection of images. Details for the audio and video tracks can be found on the press conference here, but chances are unless you are a super indy-head that you probably haven’t heard of any of the bands either. (Well, I do kinda like Grandaddy…).

Zune Accessories

Also announced were the standard array of overpriced accessories. You know…. cases, headphones, bundles of cases, batteries and headphones, etc.

Details on the accessories, pricing, bundled content and all other details can be found here. Microsoft Zune Release Date/Pricing Press Release.

Later on I’ll share my reactions.

27
Sep
06

Microsoft Announces HD-DVD Price in U.S. – $199

Today at their X06 Gaming Convention in Barcelona, Microsoft made a number of key announcements (including exclusive rights to the fifth  version of Splinter Cell, a major announcement that Peter Jackson would be involved in a gaming studio that would create an extension of the Halo universe — that is, in addition to the movie that he’ll be involved in, but not directing.)  But for technology enthusiasts, no announcement would be more telling than the price of the HD-DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360.

According to Kotaku, the drive will be bundled with a universal remote (no images yet).  For a limited time, the drive will also be bundled with the HD-DVD version of Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

There was no mention of a specific release date.  At the press conference the HD bundle was announced as being available in “Mid-November”.

24
Sep
06

Unofficial Guide to Securing a PlayStation 3 on Launch Day

1122sears550x3771.jpgLast year on November 22nd, while many gamers were gnashing their teeth and shaking their fists at EB Games, GameStop, Best Buy and Circuit City, I was home by 9:30 AM setting up my Gamertag on my newly acquired Xbox 360. Was I smarter than the rest? Not really. God definitely interceded. (And yes, I know it’s a material object, but this is my passion and He defintiely made a way.) Anyhow, I digress…. this November presents an even bigger challenge. The PlayStation 3 will probably be the most sought after item this holiday season. And a lot of kids are going to be crying on December 25 when they look under the tree and see EB Games Gift Cards instead of PlayStation 3 boxes bundled with apologetic promises of, “…we’ll get you your PlayStation, honey… just as soon as they have ’em, OKAY?!!!” But there’s still time to act and if you move NOW (actually now is even a bit late) you might end up scoring a system after all.

———————————————

1. When it comes to retail, smaller is better. – Probably the best advice I can offer is the advice that scored me the Xbox 360 last year. If you shop at a mall for any reasonable amount of time, I’m sure you’re familiar with those “mall-based Music CD and DVD stores” (that have to be on their last legs in light of competition from online music sales.) Well, I used to laugh at FYE and Sam Goody… that was until last November. After having waited until August to pre-order my Xbox 360 (more on that in a bit) I was hurting. November 22 was coming and I had no security that I’d be able to get my hands on a system. That was until I strolled on a whim into one of those mall music stores a few days before the 360 launch and desperately asked the cashier, “So what are the chances that I’ll be able to get a system before 2006?” The attendant kinda laughed, but the owner overheard me. He hold me to wait for him while he dealt with another customer. After he was done, he told me to come back on launch day at 8AM. I begged him to take my name and address, but he just told me to show up at 8AM. (Ed note: I was inside the mall at 5AM with the guy who cleans the floors. That’s what you call hardcore.) So I showed up as promised and long story short, I came home with a system that day.

My point is that smaller retail stores can be a great untapped resource. And for a few reasons. First, the store only made me buy one game in addition to the system. Many retailers don’t allow you to buy systems without also picking up a bunch of unneccessary additional peripherals. Secondly, even though these stores have a smaller allocation of units, many people don’t consider these stores on launch day. (I know I didn’t.) And because everyone is crowding around Best Buy and Circuit City, you probably have a much better chance of scoring a system. And the reasons are many more than this…. less risk of theft (because of the smaller crowd), less competition for launch titles, etc. Bottom line, if you’re looking to get a PS3 this winter and you haven’t been able to pre-order a system yet, this might be your best bet.

2. Online – quick, easy, and less hazardous to your health. – I often talk to friends about the most hassle free launch day I ever had — the Xbox launch in November of 2001. Did I have to fight among the huddled masses for a system or wait on long lines? Nope. The UPS guy actually woke me up, I signed for the system and I was up and running within minutes. These solutions are a bit scarce and the chances are that you’ll be forced to buy at least two additional games and at least one more controller (and at $60 per game and $40 per controller, that should bring you right up to around $800 bucks with the shipping and tax.) However, you may have no other choice and it’s definitely a lot better than taking a day off from work and waiting in a line with no guarantee of coming home with a system.

Almost every brick-and-mortar store has an online presence that stocks separately its retail counterpart. During the Xbox 360 launch, WalMart.com created a stir when as new stock would arrive, the site would show up as having systems for sale — that is, for about a half hour until they’d sell out. Same with Bestbuy.com, CircuitCity.com and several others that carry consoles. Also, don’t forget the online only stores. Amazon.com and Buy.com are two of the biggest. Amazon in particular is known for having system pre-orders and they replenish their stock pretty regularly. (Amazon just sold out their Nintendo Wii anticipated pre-order stock last week. I would imagine that the PlayStation pre-ordering has to be coming within the next few weeks.)

Incidentally, there are a number of smaller online retailers that come highly reccomended. I haven’t done business with them before, but Lik-Sang.com is well known for selling imports and having access to launch systems. I’m certain that if you check message boards, you may be able to find other small online retailers that are selling systems as well. Continue reading ‘Unofficial Guide to Securing a PlayStation 3 on Launch Day’

24
Sep
06

PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii Launch Day Camp-Out Guide

sfwinelap_500x375.jpg OK, so even though I told you that there were lots of alternative ways to get your PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii, some folks just can’t stand to be away from the action. After all, launch days are kinda like the Olympics — they only come around once every four years (or maybe more in the case of gaming). And if you’ve ever been a part a system launch, you know the magic. Fifty or sixty hardcore gamers standing outside a store talking ‘geek’ about what games they pre-ordered or what information they’ve heard about the system so far. Anytime you group people together with a similar passion of any kind, it’s a recipe for fun.

But as much fun as launch days bring, they can also bring about the worst in folks. I pray that everyone will be safe and that they’ll make this an experience to remember for good reasons. And with that said, this list was inspired. This is a download of my experience of over twenty-plus years of gaming and having been a part of six console launch days. No, I’ve never had to stand on line without knowing that my system was reserved. But I’ve spoken to enough people and accumulated enough knowledge to share. And with that said, here’s my list of guidelines to insure that your camp-out in front of Best Buy, Target, Circuit City or Toys R Us is safe and not in vain.

1. Bring friends. (The more, the better). It might be difficult to find folks who are this hardcore about gaming — so much so that they’ll take a day off of work and camp out in front of a store in November. But if you’re going to do it, this is the kind of thing that is best done among three or four committed friends. (Basically folks who won’t leave when it starts to get cold or who won’t back out at the last minute.) Why? Well, for starters, you’ll need someone to hold your place in line while you go to the bathroom (or there are alternatives….. calm down, I’m kidding.) But seriously, there are more than a few reasons why having three other gamers with you is a good idea. You’ll definitely want the security as you’re coming out of a store with a shiny new PlayStation box in a big yellow and blue see-through Best Buy bag. (And there are a bunch of other reasons to bring friends that I’ll mention later.) But just trust me on this one. You’ll want to huddle up your crew for this quest. Round up your posse and have them start planning around the date now.

2. Get to know the store manager. Now. – There’s nothing worse (and I mean nothing) than taking all of this time to camp out overnight, only to find out that the store isn’t getting any units. Or perhaps that they have only four (after all of the in-store corruption and holding systems for family members happens.) Your first job is to seek out the store manager. (Things like this are best done in person — not over the phone.) Go during your lunch hour or after work. Don’t be shy. Tell the attendant that you have an important question and that you need to speak to the store manager. I find it’s best to dress respectably (business casual is fine) and have a pen and notebook in front of you when you speak. And keep asking for folks until you get the top girl/guy whose answers satisfy you. You’ll want to know a few things: Continue reading ‘PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii Launch Day Camp-Out Guide’