Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How to block ads (updated)

I have to confess something to you, Dear Reader — I am not a fan of banner ads. Those of you who are loyal readers will remember my recent post on this topic (hint: laser hair removal. I am pleased to report that someone at Hotmail Command read my post and removed that omnipresent ad… or, those folks finally ran out of money). In twenty years of using computers and the Internet, I have clicked on (maybe) two of them.

Tip of the day: Fight back; take steps to eliminate (or reduce) advertisements in your web browser. First of all, I need to point out that there are a few different “types” of Internet advertising presented when you browse the web. The most well-known type is the “pop up” ad, which is relatively easy to block. And there’s an ‘imbedded’ type, which frequently uses Flash animation and is a type of ‘feed’.

To deal with pop ups (and “pop unders”) in IE, make sure the pop up blocker is enabled. Click on the grey gear icon’s (“Tools”) down-arrow and select (click) “Internet Options” and then click on the Privacy tab.
popup.jpg
Make sure there is a check in the checkbox labeled “Turn on Pop-up Blocker.” By default, this tool is set to “Medium” strength — which is designed to let you browse as you’re used to (ie: pages/tabs open when you click on links), and yet catch and eliminate advertisements. This is somewhat effective; if you want to crank up its power, click the Settings button.
settings.jpg
You can use the down-arrow to set the level to High. This will vigorously limit Java Script calls, and will be perhaps a little too effective… you will have to get into the habit of holding down Ctrl+Alt when clicking (hyper)links.

For those of you who have installed a toolbar, you probably have a pop-up blocker working here too. (See my post “toolbar madness”) The Google, Yahoo, and your ISP’s toolbars all have them. These can be “toggled” on and off, and some of them let you adjust the setting (High/Med/Low) somewhat too. That is one of the ‘selling points’ of these toolbars — “protection”. You may want to try one, if you’re not already using one.
But none of these suggestions work tremendously well (unless you set them too high, which quickly becomes annoying) at removing advertising, and do not even try to deal with imbedded ads, but are certainly better than doing nothing. If you have done the above, and are still getting pop-up ads, or if your machine(s) are in an area where the kids can use them, you should consider downloading a 3rd-party app dedicated to pop-up blocking — such as CleanMyPC Popup Blocker 2.1 (free).
For more on Pop-ups, click here.

The other (major) type is much more difficult to thwart, (which we geeks call “ad filtering”) which is understandable from an advertiser’s or marketer’s point of view. I know of no free program that does a good job of this for IE.* (If any of you, Dear Reader does know of one, please let me know.) Firefox user can download the Add on called “AdBlock Plus”. This gives a “blacklist” feature to block known ad servers (like ad.doubleclick.com), and the ability to right-click on an ad, and add it to the “block this” list. This embedded ad blocking is a big factor in Firefox’s popularity!

There are alternatives, if you’re willing to pay. Google (search) “ad filtering” to get some direction. There’s also a method that uses a “proxy”server to download your page request, strip out the ads, and then send it to your browser. For more on that, click here, and scroll down to “External Programs”.

Today’s free link(s): If you were expecting a listing here, you didn’t read the article! Please scroll up two paragraphs.
* update: at the time I wrote this, I wasn’t familiar with SelectView, which is a  free plug-in for IE that simply performs ad-blocking miracles. If you prefer to stick with IE, this tool is for you. It is configurable, and can enable/disable on either a page, or Site basis.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved

Share this post :

August 31, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, privacy, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 6 Comments

Run old programs on a new machine

So you went out and bought a new computer — congratulations! You got a good one, too: it has everything, including a dual-core processor. You have installed your favorite programs, and by that, I mean your games–great!
There’s just one catch — now some of your games misbehave and act like they’re in hyperdrive, everything moves at warp speed, and instead of three bloodthirsty hobgoblins, there’s thirty. You’re getting killed faster than you can press your S key… and that isn’t any fun!
I first noticed it on Battlefield 1942 (the whole series, actually). And then I noticed it on Call of Duty, but not so much on Call of Duty 2. And it was really bad on Quake. It became clear to me that the older the game, the more susceptible to this unplayability it was. 

If this has happened to you, the odds are good you have a dual-core CPU. These processors weren’t available when these programs were written, and so the writers didn’t factor in their ability to process multiple “threads” — basically what’s happening is these new processors are making two (or four) ‘events’ occur at the same time, where they are meant to happen one at a time. But don’t worry… you need not say goodbye to your favorite games!

Tip of the day: Getting older programs to run smoothly on a new machine is just a couple of clicks away. Some of your programs are going to require you to “turn off” one of the ‘cores’ before it will run right. To do this, launch the program and let it load (but don’t start using/playing it yet). Now launch the Windows Task Manager by doing the “three fingered salute”, combination-press the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys (or Start >Run and enter “taskmgr” no quotes). Click on (select) the Processes tab.

tm.jpg

This shows a list of all the running processes on your machine, and how much RAM and CPU cycles are being used by each process. I have launched Battlefield 1942, which shows as the top (most recent) process. Right-click on the app that you want to adjust, in our case “BF 1942”.

setaff.jpg

(To see this larger, click on it) For some reason, the program-to-processor linkage is called “affinity”, so from the menu of choices that appear due to our right-clicking, we want to click on (select) “Set Affinity”. When you have a dual-core CPU, two CPU’s will be shown and checked. We want to uncheck one… as shown below.

affin.jpg

Now your program will run like it should. Unfortunately, you must do this each time you want to launch your game/program. Sometimes, the game manufacturer’s will issue a “patch” that will mitigate this issue. Visit their website and look for downloadable “patches” and/or “updates”.

For really old programs and games, you may need to set them to run in something called “compatibility mode“. Mostly these will be items you have left over from your Windows 98 (or Me) days… but if you’re running Vista, you may need to do this for programs that ran fine on XP.

Right-click on the program’s shortcut (desktop) icon and select (click) Properties. Now click on the Compatibility tab, as shown below.

compat.jpg

Use the drop-down arrow to select the operating system you would like the program to run in as if it were installed. Here I am telling a Vista machine to run a XP environment, but you may need to set it to “Windows 98”. A little experimentation will determine your best choice.

Today’s free link: There’s a program similar to the 3D Google Earth, except it is focused in space and on the stars (and other celestial bodies). Visit nearby galaxies or fly around the moon with Celestia.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved

Share this post :

August 30, 2007 Posted by | advice, Compatibility Mode, computers, dual-core processors, Gaming, hardware, how to, PC, Task Manager, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

Repost: tips for a faster PC, defrag your hard drive

 Today is one of those days, Dear Reader, when prior obligations prevent me from writing a new article. This article appeared June 12th, and it teaches the Scheduled Tasks tool, and how to optimize your hard drive for a faster running PC.

I am continuously surprised at how many PC users have let a year or more pass since their last defrag, or never have defragged at all. “Why is my machine slower than it used to be?” That is a very common question. It is a question with no single, or simple answer. Yet there is a single, and simple, step you can take which will improve the speed at which your machine reads and writes data, and which, if done regularly, will keep it at near the speed it had when it was new–it’s called “defragging” (short for defragmentation). Defragmentation remedies file fragmentation, which occurs, invisibly to you, over the course of time.

Tip of the day:It is commonly suggested that you run a defrag at least once a month. I recommend that you schedule your defrags to run automatically using Windows Scheduled Tasks tool. Set it and forget it, as the old saying goes. Here are the steps to do it:

1) Start>Control Panel, click Performance and Maintenance and then click Scheduled Tasks.
2) Double-click Add Scheduled Task to open the Scheduled Task Wizard, and then click Next.
3) Follow the wizard to set a schedule for when to run the defragmentation program (I recommend running it late at night, as it can take a while to complete), and be sure to supply a password for the account on which you want the task to run, and mark the checkbox “wake the computer to perform this task.”
4) Check the box for Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish. On the Run line, add the drive letter for the drive to be defragged. For example, %SystemRoot%\System32\Defrag.exe c:

(This example is for XP, but you can do it in earlier–all the way back to Win 95–versions as well)

Another thing you can do is get rid of the files on your hard drive that you no longer need: such as emptying your Recycle bin and deleting your temp files (a quick, safe, and simple way is Windows Disk Clean Up tool) and there are some nice applications to automate and/or simplify this for you, such as today’s free link. Also, use Add/Remove Programs to remove applications you no longer use. Go to Start>Settings>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and wait for the list to “populate”. Click on those programs you are certain you have no more use for and click on the Remove button.

Today’s free link: CCleaner CCleaner is a freeware system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused and temporary files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster, more efficiently and giving you more hard disk space.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

August 29, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, tech, Windows, XP | 5 Comments

I’m gonna claw my eyes out if

I think I’m going to claw my eyes out if I see this one more time!
bnradofdeath.jpg
Somebody is spending a king’s ransom on this ad. I see it all day every day. Why? Because I am always looking into my Hotmail. This… this… this (sigh; must remember, this blog is Rated G) advertisement is truly omnipresent and always reigns supreme across the top of my page. The number 1 spot.
It must be costing them multiple, multiple-thousands of dollars.

This ad surely must be gaining them gazillians of new ‘patients’ for their ‘clinics’… right? I mean, it wouldn’t make any business sense if it wasn’t… right? (Are we Americans that hairy? Sorry. I digress.) But… it’s only a chance to win free hair removal… right?
Hmmm… I’m confused. Why are they spending so much and trying so hard to give something away? Can someone out there help me understand?

Way back in the days of Ancient History when the “dot com bubble” was our 
reality, circa 1997 or so, one of my jobs was to create animated “banner ads” and purchase their placement and monitor their results (I’m not real proud of that, but…). Back then, it wasn’t cheap — and if you wanted your ad to be seen on the “good” websites (the ones with the most “eyeballs”), you paid premium.

Back then, results (ie “clicks”) were irrelevant to your cost; you paid for a 
certain number of airings, regardless of whether you ad was being ignored or not. This was OK with us (to a degree) because of the concept of “Branding”… and because that’s what everybody else was doing. But we really wanted clicks: we wanted visitors to our store’s website. I don’t think that has changed over time. It’s all about the clicks.

Oops! My banner ad has changed position today — it’s in the number 2 spot. bnradofdeath2.jpg That move will save them a few pennies.

Perhaps one of my readers, who is involved with Internet advertising, could set me straight and get me up to date. Perhaps, Hotmail has promised to run this ad until a certain number of clicks has been reached — and nobody’s clicking, and that would explain why this ad runs 24/7 for over two weeks? (It would also mean that if I want it to go away, I would have to click on it several times a day, and get all my friends to do the same…) Is it possible that this laser hair removal company simply has a TREMENDOUS ad budget? Is owned by Bill Gates? What is going on (and I wish it would stop)? I truly am looking for some feedback here. (Click on About Tech Paul for my email.)

Tip of the day: As you may already know, the number one problem solver is the reboot. When your computer seems frozen, when your printer seems to be disconnected or your scanner isn’t recognized — reboot. It works on the devices as well. If your trouble is with a USB connected device, unplugging and re-plugging (oftentimes, a different port will make a difference) acts much like a reboot. If you lose your Internet connection… reboot your router (or modem). The simple reboot will resolve the majority of troubles. Don’t forget.

Today’s free link: SpamIntelligence for Outlook is a free add on that brings features found in Thunderbird to Outlook — Spam Assassin, AV, etc. — and audible new mail notifications.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved

Share this post :

August 28, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, PC, tech, Windows | Leave a comment

Managing junk mail in Outlook/Thunderbird

Today I will continue with the topic of managing your Inbox and fighting spam. I am going to describe a strategy similar to what I discussed in yesterday’s post, but aimed at those of you who use an application to access your Inbox(es) — Outlook, Outlook Express, and Thunderbird.

Tip of the day: Put your spam filters to work for you and stop the junk mail. I’ll start with the steps for Outlook, as I’m discovering that there are quite a few of you who use this for accessing all your various Inboxes. First access the spam control settings. These can be found under the Actions menu (yes, Actions; I think that’s odd too).

 actions1.jpg
And then click on (select) “Junk E-mail” and then “Junk E-mail options”.
junkopts1.jpg

We’ll make a couple of quick adjustments to this tab, and the Safe Senders (the “whitelist”) tab. The Blocked Senders tab (the “blacklist”) is where you go to block senders on a case-by-case basis… like the annoying newsletter in yesterday’s article.
Change the radio button from “Low” to “High”. This action will tell the learning algorithm to be more proactive and sensitive. Early on, you will need to check the Junk folder to see if it has taken action on a sender that you really do want to see — when it does, click on “Mark as safe”, which will whitelist that sender for the duration.
To make sure that none of your regular correspondents get “junked”, click on the Safe Senders tab and verify that there is a check in the checkbox (down toward the bottom) labeled “Also trust e-mail from my Contacts”. This whitelists those folks in your address book so they will always be allowed… even when they forward you “jokes”.

Outlook Express is a less capable program, but you can blacklist spammers using the Blocked Senders option. This is located under the Tools menu.

Thunderbird is a very capable email organizer brought to you by the same folks who developed Firefox. It is a direct competitor with Outlook, and I think it has better spam fighting abilities (see Today’s free link, below). The methodology you will employ, whitelisting and blacklisting is the same.

tbird1.jpg

In this program, you’ll find the spam filtering settings under Accounts, and you will need to make these changes for each mail account (address) that you use… if you use more than one. Also, please note that there are two “Junk settings”, and in the picture above, I am looking at a sub-category; folders. The main setting is above that, in the Account tree of menus.

By reading yesterday’s and today’s articles, it is my hope that you should have a very good idea of how to use the built-in tools available and get them started on “learning” how to keep the crud out of your Inbox. I want you to know that these filters get better with time, and require less hand-holding.

Today’s free link: Thunderbird 2 email client from Mozilla. Seek out and destroy spam. From site: “Mozilla’s Thunderbird 2 email application is more powerful than ever. It’s now even easier to organize, secure and customize your mail.”

You can help improve this blog by answering a 5-question opinion survey Click Here to take survey

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

August 27, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, spam and junk mail, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

Managing your email: eliminating the junk

I hate spam. Today, I’m going to tell you how to fight it.

And I don’t mean just the random mass mailings of the F@rmis_UtiCal come-ons. I mean unwanted newsletters a well-meaning friend signed me up for… that just won’t let me “unsubscribe”. I mean the “pass it on” jokes (which, allow me to take a moment and ask, does anybody ever find them funny???) and chainletters that some clown forwards to EVERYONE in their address book. I mean the “please take a survey” and “Win a free iPod…” come-ons. I mean the friend/relation who’s trying to convert your politics, and sends you official-looking kook propaganda from Kook HQ…you with me?

Tip of the day: Take a few steps and configure your machine to ‘filter’ out the garbage. The first thing to do is start “training” the spam filter that comes with your email account. If you use a free mail service, like Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail — or your ISP’s — you can teach your mailbox what to filter (somewhat; it will never be perfect) automatically simply by using the “mark as spam” option or, in some services, the “move to” (and move the offending items to the Junk folder) tool.

If you simply delete the junk, the learning algorithms back at Hotmail Command will not be able to determine why you deleted it (maybe you’re done reading it?), and will make no improvements to your filtering. But if you mark it — this is spam! — notice will be taken of the Subject, Sender, and Sender URL, and that info will be analyzed for ‘spam patterns’. When enough people mark “Great Deal, Act Now!” from “Joe Blow” at “Shady Company.Com” as Junk and as spam — they will, first, mark all email from that source as “suspected junkmail” and deliver it to a different box than your Inbox, and then (and this is the point), with gathering confirmations, block it at the source, essentially putting Mr. Blow out of business (temporarily). Hitting “Junk” instead of “Delete Message” is a public service and, over time, will keep a cleaner Inbox.

The next step is to start working on your blacklist. This is usually done by clicking the Block Sender option. A “blacklist” is a list of senders, or sender URLs, that will not be accepted. An excellent first step is to add anything you receive from the Domain “.info” to your Blocked Senders list. Then add that newsletter that just won’t go away.
I will demonstrate with Hotmail, but these general steps apply to all email accounts… the names and locations of the Settings may be slightly different, but the principle’s the same. (If the Block This Sender option is presented, use it) Click on the mail Options button (in some cases, this will be called “Preferences”) mlopt.jpg and then you will be presented with a list of optional settings you can “tweak”, as shown below.
mlopts.jpg
In today’s lesson, we’re looking to out-and-out block a newsletter, so we’ll click on “Safe and blocked senders” (our “white” and “black” lists). Then click “Blocked Sender”.
bsndrs.jpg
As you can see, Hotmail Command has already blacklisted many senders. This is because enough people marked these folks (instead of just deleting) as junk mailers. You can also see how to block the newsletter I want to stop. I typed in annoyer@newsletter.com (or copy>paste the URL from a newsletter in my mailbox) and click “Add to list >>”. This is actually a smarter way to deal with unwanted list-mailings than clicking on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the newsletter itself. Why? Because, while they’re required by law to post such a link, they’re in no way truly obligated to honor it (there’s no enforcement), and you are telling them that your address is valid (and thus valuable to other list users). Add as many junk mailers to this “black” list as you like.

Since there are more steps you can take — the technique described above is a good start, but not the end-all-be-all — to control what appears in your Inbox, I believe I will make this a series of articles, and stop here for today.

Today’s free link: Have some fun and add useful doohickies to your desktop with Yahoo Gadgets (formerly Konfabulator). From site: “The Yahoo Widget Engine is a JavaScript runtime engine for Windows and Mac OS X that lets you run little files called Widgets that can do pretty much whatever you want them to. Widgets can be alarm clocks, calculators, can tell you your WiFi signal strength, will fetch the latest stock quotes for your preferred symbols, and even give your current local weather.”

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

August 25, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, PC, spam and junk mail, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 6 Comments

So…what is that Spam Blocked thing?

This past weekend I managed to find the time to add a couple of new features to Tech–for Everyone, which are visible in the column on the right. And I explained how to take advantage of them (particularly the Tag Cloud) in this article.
For those of you who checked in that day, you will remember that there was a “glitch” that day and my first posting vanished into the digital ether and was gone forever. So — after I calmed down — I wrote a second, shorter, version.

In the gone-forever version, I took the time to explainspamblocked.jpg the Akismit Blocked Spam counter visible in left column. This screenshot shows the stat as of this moment: 279 comments blocked as “spam”. I want to assure you, Dear Reader, that this does NOT mean that I have blocked your comments… because I did not like them… or felt spiteful.

We here at Tech–for Everyone (me) welcome and encourage reader comments, questions, and suggestions — all the time, every time. I don’t even mind being corrected.
I have no restrictions or filters on the Comments area but one — vile and/or insulting language is not tolerated here. Period. This series of posting is, after all, published for everyone, and some people find offensive language, well, offensive. This site is rated G.

So, what is being blocked? Spam. I have mentioned in prior articles a disturbing statistic — 80% of all traffic on the Internet is email (POP3 and SMTP packets) spam. In an effort to sell us stuff we don’t want, and (sometimes) to get our credit card number, spammers have taken to posting their spam email as a comment on a blog. The picture below is a small sample of my Akismet spam report.

spam2.jpg

(To view this whole screenshot, click on it.) The top example is of the type that encompasses a full 97% of the spam people post in my comment boxes. A string of randomly generated words, with medications available as links.

I have never clicked one of these links, ordered medication online, or linked any publication of mine to any medical website or organization. Heck, I avoid doctors and hospitals like the plague! So, what could possibly make these spammers think that here would be a good place to advertise medications? A: Readers. This blog has readers.

I repeat, 80% of all the zero’s and one’s flying across our communications wires (our “bandwidth”) is generated at a fly-by-night dot info web address (I mean, who else would name their mailbox gihonive@ajrq.info???) and vomited onto us folks who are just trying to go about our daily lives. This is one, very good reason your Internet is slow. I would like to hunt these folk down. I won’t tell you what I’d to them when I found them.

Tip of the day: I would like to tell you that you could spam the spammers, and give them a taste of their own medicine. I would like to tell you that you could forward your spam to the United Nations’, or Interpol’s crack Anti-Spam unit and a commando unit would be dispatched to shut the perpetrator down, mindless of borders or laws. I would like to tell you that there’s an effective way to combat spam. But there is none. All you can do is use rules and filters and 3rd-party applications to automatically ‘block’ this stuff from making it into your inbox — like Akismet does for this website.

I will discuss rules, and “white lists” and “black lists” soon … I hope you’ll stay tuned.

Today’s free link: The spam blocking program I like best is the free version of Mailwasher. It includes a ‘bounce-back’ tool that causes the spammer to believe your address is invalid. To download the free version, click here, and scroll down a little ’till you see the blue button.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

August 24, 2007 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, computers, how to, PC, Phishing, privacy, security, tech, Windows | 1 Comment