Tech – for Everyone

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

U.S. Air Force blocks blogs

The First Amendment does not give you the right to yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. It does not protect you from prosecution if you use “hate speech”. Threatening to harm or kill someone — even in jest, or said when drunk out of your mind — is a felony (4 yrs.) called “terrorist threats”, and if said by a man to woman, will be vigorously prosecuted. Uttering a racial epitaph can result in severe bodily injury or death.
We Americans cannot say whatever we want, whenever we want– First Amendment or no.

We have much more freedom when it comes to reading. (Which implies that we can print more than we can say, btw.) Sure, we might not find the book and magazines we’re interested in on the shelves of our public library. We might have to go into special, “adults only” bookstores. We might have to ‘subscribe’, and have our ‘literature’ sent to us in the mail.
Or, we might have to search the Web.

The Internet has literally billions of published pages (on a million topics) and, as I mentioned in my article on “Web 2.0”, practically anyone can publish them. If you wanted, you could create and host a website (or use the free one your ISP gives you); you could post a blog; you could post your thoughts and pictures on MySpace or Facebook ect., et al, and so forth and so on. And.. you can say pretty much anything (there’s very little oversight).
I could be typing my Great-Aunt Elsie’s dill pickle recipe, or blathering about the S.F. Giants’ chances now that Bonds is gone… or, disclosing secret tricks for getting away with going A.W.O.L. from your Air Force base.
That’s why I’m glad* the Air Force has decided to block blogs. (Click the link for details.)

Now… I don’t know if the Air Force’s policy prevents personnel from viewing Tech–for Everyone or not (frankly, I don’t know that any member of our Armed Forces has ever visited my humble site). The articles I read indicate that the filter used blocks all sites with the word “blog” in the URL, which my URL does not have. I do not want you to think I’m writing this article because I have been “blocked” and I’m sore about it.. I simply don’t know that to be the case.
I just don’t think all blogs are “bad”, and I am concerned by blanket blacklisting.

But I’m willing to concede that there are plenty of blogs that people should simply ignore.
I am willing to concede that there are.. policies that should be applied to members of our government, justice system, and armed forces that don’t need to be applied to civilians (particularly in areas involving national security).
There are merits on both sides of the censorship argument.. what is the “right thing” to do?

Personally, I have faith in the caliber of individuals serving in the Armed Forces and I feel that they should have access to information. I believe they are smart enough to discern the “legitimate” from some kook’s rantings.. and don’t need some mechanical blinders put in place.

I would like very much if you folks who read this, and either are in the Armed Forces, or who have loved ones serving (and this has affected them), would post a comment in my Comments box and share with us what you think of this restrictive action by the Air Force. Does this help you do your job?
(Actually, all are welcome to comment!)


Today’s free link: I have posted this one before, but I really think it is worth posting again. If you carry any sensitive data on your thumb-drive (logins for example), you really should encrypt it. TrueCrypt simply is the best free data encryption tool that I know of. Encrypt any folder or partition (“drive”), including your boot (C:). TrueCrypt works with Windows, Apple OSX, and Linux.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 29, 2008 Posted by | computers, encrypting files, hardware, tech | , , , , , | 5 Comments

The (hidden) power of Works

The odds are very good that your computer came pre-configured with a powerful tool; and, that you rarely use it, and may not have even noticed in the first place. This tool contains a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a database program. It also has a scheduler (calendar), dictionary/thesaurus, and has many useful templates.. such as greeting cards. It may also have an accounting program.
The best part of all this, is that it is made by Microsoft. (By which I mean it’s compatible with Office.)

The “tool” to which I refer is MS Works. Works is frequently installed by PC manufacturer’s as a “value bonus” (*look for it when shopping) or offered as an optional upgrade for a very modest fee. If your computer did not come with MS Works, you can find the ‘boxed’ version for $50 (or less).
Works is a little different than Office in that it is set up to guide you somewhat. It is organized by what you want to accomplish — called “tasks” and “projects” — and by making selections, it will open the appropriate program for you. (This is particularly helpful for folks who aren’t really familiar with database functionality.) By default, Works opens to the scheduler/calendar program.. as shown above. This works very much like the Calendar and Tasks (To Do) features of Outlook.

What I think is the most useful feature of Works is the word processor, and mainly because it allows me to open, and create, Word documents. The recent version of Works (9.0) has full compatibility with the new Office 2007 formats, and so offers you another method of opening those documents if you don’t own the latest version of Office.

Opening a .doc (Word 97-2003) or .docx (Word 2007) file with Works happens automatically and requires no special actions on your part. But (text) documents you create in Works will, by default, be saved as .wks or .wps (Works) files.. and if you send them to someone, the recipient might not be able to open them. However, Works allows you to “Save As” your document in a few other formats..
…and you can select the more common Word format (.doc), or even the new 2007 format. Create a Word document without Word! (This works with spreadsheet/Excel as well.)
And if you do a lot of document creation, you will (probably) appreciate the built-in Dictionary and Thesaurus.
As I mentioned earlier, Works likes to help organize your tasks with “Projects” and includes quite a few templates to help you get started. I have clicked on the “Templates” button on the top menu bar in the screenshot below. In the left-hand column, Works lists a range of categories (I have selected “Home and Money”) and displays sub-categories in the right-hand window. Clicking on the task/template that matches what you’re trying to accomplish will launch the appropriate program for the job: word processor, spreadsheet, database or MS Money Essentials.

I frequently use Works to create greeting cards with the templates, but if you poke around and explore a little, you will discover many useful options for getting yourself organized or managing your affairs– whether that be coaching a youth team, or organizing a fundraiser, or sending  a newsletter for your favorite civic organization, or balancing your checkbook.. you’ll find a “Project” or “Template” that will help.

But wait! There’s more! Not only is Works either free or very affordable (a full version of Office can run you $350), but it’s small. (Works is essentially a “Lite” version of Office). Now, why is that “cool”? Because at 256 Megabytes, it can be installed on a thumb-drive, thus giving you a portable Office (Lite). (You will need the Install CD, however.)
For the How To on installing “regular” programs onto a thumb-drive, and making them “portable”, click here.
And for info on other portable Office suites, click here.

To find out if you have Works, just open Programs and look for a folder called “Works” (or, “MS Works”). Use the dollars you would’ve spent on Office for something else.

Today’s free link: I sorta ran short on space and so I did not spend much time on Works’ integration with the accounting application, MS Money Essentials ($20). For those of you who don’t need all the bells-and-whistles of Money, you can download Microsoft’s free Accounting Express. This program is quite similar to the well-known Quicken and Quick-Books.. and it is a free download.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 28, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, MS Word, PC, tech, Windows, word processors | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lingo: can’t decipher texting (updated)

I apologize folks, for reposting two days in a row (I’m doing my taxes, on top of everything else). This article discusses the Internet shorthand known as “lingo”. It appeared 6/15/07–

I have an embarrassing confession to make–I don’t always know how to translate what someone has text-ed into English. I need a Text-to-English dictionary. This is just one more fact, added to an already long list of facts, that tells me I’ve gotten ‘old’. We didn’t have texting when I was a teenager.

I think part of my problem stems from the fact that we have had an explosion of an “extreme” (or maybe I should say “X-treme”) phenomenon in this country. Everything has become X-treme this, and X-treme that. There are the X-Games featuring X-treme Sports, X-treme Motorcross, X-treme Snowboarding…we even had X-treme Football for a while. Guys are no longer content jumping their motorcycles across small creeks, they want to fly, and they do loop-the-loop’s now.

At first I thought texting was simply X-treme Abbreviation. And then I thought it might be a combination of Vanity License plate Language and X-Abbreviation. This thinking allowed me to read some of what I saw, but not all. I could decipher “gr8” and “l8r”, but not “b4n”. It didn’t help that I wasn’t a “texter” myself (Use a cellphone and give myself ear cancer? Not this fella!).

And then it dawned on me: these kids are using an Adult-proof secret code. They don’t want me to decipher it. The world suddenly made a lot more sense. My friends and I had used code too. This code is known as “lingo”.

Fotunately, there are resources available online for those of us who are “lingo”-handicapped. If you see “A/S/L”, but don’t understand what it means, you can find out (age/sex/location?) — and if you are a parent concerned about your kid and what they’re doing and saying on the Internet and in chatrooms — I suggest you do. If you’re like me, and just want to try to increase your “hipness” quotient (or just avoid some terrible faux pas), you will also find these translation resources useful and interesting.
Use your favorite search engine with this search string: translate lingo
My favorite is below:

Free link of the day: Lingo2Word. “Lingo2word is devoted to demistifying the new Internet shorthand language of Text messages, Chat rooms and Emails. We are devoted to the fun of text messaging in all forms, there is a whole new fun language out there just waiting for you!”

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 27, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, kids and the Internet, tech | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strong passwords, hidden Admin

Some basic security pointers–#1 was one of my first articles and it appeared 6/9/07– 

Is your computer a zombie? You can never be too secure, and neither can your PC. These few steps will go a long way in keeping your private information away from prying eyes, and prevent your machine from being used as a “zombie” by tech-savvy evil doers. (Most owners of zombie PCs are totally unaware that their computers are being used in this way.)

Tip of the day: The two basic steps I will discuss today– password protecting your User Accounts (and requiring logging in), and renaming your Administrator Account– should be prefaced with a quick description of what is, exactly, a strong password.

Strong passwords should be “complex”. That means that they should contain both upper and lower-case letters, special characters (!@#$%^&*(){}[]) and numbers, and be at least eight characters long, and–most definitely–not be a word found in the dictionary (or a name). Your passwords (notice the plural. It is not wise to use the same password for everything.) will be easier to remember if you make them into a ‘passphrase’. An equestrian might use a passphrase of 1Lu^h0rsez, for example.

Now that you have a good password, it’s time to require authentication to use your machine. Start by clicking on Start>Control Panel>User Accounts (or Start>Settings>Control Panel>User Accounts. Depending on your version and preference setting). Then click on “Change an account,” and then click on “Create a password for your account.” Enter your password, twice, and if you’ld like, a password “hint” that will remind you (but not clue in the whole world) of your new password. Click “Create password.”

Now, since knowing your User name is half the battle, click on “Change the way users log on or off.” Deselect (by unchecking the check in the checkbox) “Use the Welcome screen.”

Unbeknown to most folks, Windows has a hidden Administrator account (this becomes vitally important when troubleshooting failing systems, or when User accounts get “locked out”) named “Administrator”. Hackers are well aware of this, and it is their favorite method of gaining access (and control over) your machine; since they know the User name (Administrator), all they have to do is guess the password–which by default, and unless you set one, there isn’t one!
Remedy this in XP Professional by going to Control Panel>Administrative Tools (you must use Classic View) and clicking on Local Security Policy. Then in the left column click on the plus sign next to Local Policies, and then click the Security Options folder (If you receive a warning about Group Policy, just ignore it) and a series of policies will appear in the right pane. The 4th or 5th one from the top should be “Accounts: Rename administrator account”. Double click on it and a dialogue box will open. Enter a new name, and click Apply, and OK.

In XP Home, the method is to click Start>Run. In the Run dialogue type in “Control userpasswords2” [no quotes] and click OK. From the User Accounts dialogue box, select the Administrator Account and click Properties. Enter the new name in the User Name text box, and click OK.

(For other versions of Windows the methodology is similar, but I recommend Searching Microsoft’s website for the specific steps.)

The last step is to congratulate yourself, because you have just made your computer much, much harder for a determined cracker to penetrate, and practically eliminated access to the casual browser.

Today’s free link: Steve Gibson’s ShieldsUp! This free scan, offered by a true giant in the computer field, analyzes your computer for vulnerabilities coming from the Internet, and tells you how your private data may be visible to outsiders. This link will appeal to the more tech-savvy, and be an eye-opening experience for those of you who have not learned about firewalls yet.

Copyright © 2007-8 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 26, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, passwords, PC, privacy, security, tech, User mode, Windows, XP | , , , , , | 2 Comments

What is a “homepage”?

How do I make Google my homepage? That’s a question that’s come my way quite a bit recently, and in the spirit of “it’s the simple things which make the best articles”, today I am going to tell you how to set your browser so that it opens to your favorite website.. or webmail Inbox.

Tip of the day: Set your browser to your favorite website.
When you first open your web browser (or, sometimes, when you open a new tab in your browser) it will go to a predefined website. This “default” website may be the Big Fix, or Sign up for AOL; or more probably, the MSN portal. Whatever the site, your browser was set to behave that way at the manufacturer’s, or the retailer’s. Sometimes installing a program can change this page, too (if you don’t pay careful attention to the little checkboxes during setup). But this choice of page is not set in stone, and you can change it to whatever page you like, whenever you like.

This default opens-to page is your browser’s “Homepage”, and changing it is simple to do: basically all you’re going to do is erase what is there, and type in your URL (web address).
In IE: Open your Internet Options by clicking on “Tools” and selecting “Internet Options”.

In the screenshot above, I have just set my default open-to “homepage” to Google. All I have to do now is click on the “OK” button. You can, of course, choose any website you like.. I just used Google as an example.
[Note: this is a complete URL. I did not just type in “Google”, or “Google dot com”. You must include the “http://”.]

In Firefox: You will essentially do the same thing, except in Firefox they call your options “Options”. Click on “Tools” and select “Options”.

And again, you will delete the current URL and replace it with your choice.. again I will Google as my example.
*Bonus tip: if you are tired of being asked whether you want to “Make Firefox your default browser”, uncheck the checkbox “Always check to see if Firefox is the default browser on startup”.

For those of you paying close attention, you will have noticed the “/ig” at the end of the URL. That is the address of “my” Google– my personalized Google page. You may have a personalized MSN or Yahoo or AOL (etc.) page yourself, which typically looks like “”. If that is where you’d like your browser to start, you can manually type it into your Options, or navigate there and click in your address bar’s window. Copy the address by hitting Ctrl+C, and then Paste (Ctrl+V) in your Homepage Options.

Now, whenever you launch your browser, or click on the house icon, you will go straight to your favorite website.
*** If you are using a different browser than those mentioned here, fear not: the methodology is the same.

Today’s free link: [for Macs] Need a fun time-waster for your Mac? I have been playing with a true arcade classic, Asteroids, and I regret to say it is (almost) as addictive now as it was lo those many years ago. From site: “Asteroids is a free version of the classic arcade game for Mac. There are few fancy features or special effects, but each level gets more difficult. Definitely good for 30 minutes of endless fun.”

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 25, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, tech | , , , | Leave a comment

Blu-ray disc “wins”, X-Box owners lose

It seems appropriate for me to take a moment to discuss the things in life that really matter. Today I’m going to talk about how gigantic corporations affect your life.. or, maybe not.. I haven’t decided yet.

All over, in all the info-tainment media (those folks who pass themselves off as “the news”) has been the headline that Blu-ray has won “the format wars”. (Yes, folks–there’s been a format war going on this whole time!) The info-tainment geniuses, future-predictors, and PR shills (aka “reporters”) also tell us that it was Target’s announcement of its decision to stock only Blu-ray that ended the war and sealed HD-DVD‘s fate.

The fact is, Microsoft recognized that their Halo 3 blackmail got just about as many of their mediocre Xbox 360’s sold this Christmas as they were ever going to sell, that nobody was buying the HD-DVD “add-on” box, and are (probably) pulling out of the competition.. In essence, surrendering to the PS3 and the Wii (Sony and Nintendo). It was Microsoft that was keeping the HD-DVD format in the picture, so that it could compete with Sony’s PS3 which was enormously (outrageously?) expensive because it included a (proprietary) Blu-ray drive, and MS figured they needed a Hi Def drive too.
The real winner — and the sales figures tell you why — was Nintendo and the Wii (fun, affordable, and not crud.) And, (this is a hoot) the PlayStation 2 sold more units last Christmas than the X-Box or the PS3.

So yes, folks, there was a “war” being waged, but it wasn’t a disc format war, it was a game console war.

Why should you care about any of this? Well, let’s review a little: HD-DVD and Blu-ray are both laser-written disc formats.  For the computer user, this primarily means storage (recording); and for the movie watcher, this means making sure you bring home “the ‘right’ kind”.

Let me first deal with the folks who care because it is what the movies they buy/rent come on, and get them out of the way. Have you asked yourself, why are you even dealing with discs? Can’t you get “Premium” Channels? (I realize some can’t.. or won’t.) Is pay-per-view too convenient? If you have broadband, there’s also IPTV. There’s TiVo. There’s Netflix and iTunes. Before very long, all entertainment “content” is going to be provided “on demand”.. movies, your favorite shows, the “news”, all of it. Download and view, or watch it “streamed”. The discs are already obsolete. You’re going to be storing your shows on hard drives.. if you aren’t already. When On-demand reaches us adequately.. we won’t even store it at all.

For computer users, the keyword is “storage” and (1st generation) Blu-ray can hold 50 Gigs to HD-DVD’s 30: a no-brainer. HD-DVD allowed me to “skin” my face over Harrison Ford’s so I can make it look like I’m piloting the Millennium Falcon??? Pleeeease.
But since we often need to backup more than 50 GBs, and you can get 750GB hard-drives for much less than a Blu-ray burner (which also write faster)…
The technology could have and should have come out 5-7 years ago.

All the media attention to this topic adds up to much ado about nothing (including this article). Both formats were obsolete before they even got started. And I blame the gaming console… and I think it’s worth repeating– the older PlayStation 2 out-sold both of the newer consoles!
Who knew Target had so much power?

*To any dedicated journalist out there: I wasn’t referring to you, but to those other guys.

[update: I read that last month in Japan, the Wii sold 331,627 consoles, the PS3 89,131 (¼ as many), and the Xbox… 14,079.]

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 23, 2008 Posted by | computers, hardware, PC, tech | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

High quality IRS phish

The bad guys just keep getting better and better at what they do, and it is up to us to become ever more alert, wary, and defensive. Regular readers of this series will be aware of “phishing” e-mails, but for a quick recap; phishing e-mails are generally spam (unsolicited) messages containing a “hyperlink” (a click-able link to a website), and the link takes you to the spammer’s/hacker’s malicious website. The idea is (usually) to get you to enter information, which the bad guy can then use to fraudulently pass themselves off as you.. this is a type of Identity Theft.
(Folks, if you haven’t read Wikipedia’s page on phishing, may I suggest that you do? It is very enlightening and interesting. I have included a link in the second sentence– click on the [blue] word phishing.)

The odds are very, very good that you, Dear Reader, have already received –and recognized– a phish. Perhaps it was an <URGENT> email from some bank stating that “your information needed updating”.. and that you needed to hurry, hurry, hurry and do something about it.
Only, you have never banked at that particular bank.
(My example is often used for Pay Pal phishes, as well.)

There is a new phish that is aimed at those folks who are waiting for their tax rebate, and this phish is very well done. None of the ‘give-it-away’ amateurish typos and poor grammar are there; the page mimics the real site very well, and sometimes, the e-mail contains your name.
This is from a report by Message Labs:

“Spammers are taking advantage of the approaching tax season with a new outbreak of fraudulent e-mails about taxes. These fraudulent tax related e-mails appear to come from the IRS’s Web site,, but is actually a fake site hosted by spammers on domains originating in Russia and other former Soviet countries.
“They are working to convince consumers that these e-mails are real by making it seem like a real IRS site,” said Paul Wood, senior analyst at MessageLabs.

All links within these e-mails go to two or three phishing pages. If a recipient clicks on the link and completes the form requesting personal and financial information, the site then redirects to the actual IRS Web site.

“Some of these e-mails we’ve intercepted have a person’s name in them. Having these kinds of personal details make it more convincing,” Wood added.

I would like to remind you, Dear Reader, that reputable institutions do not use e-mail to notify you of “strange account activity”, nor to get you to “update your information”. The IRS is no exception.
I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you not to click on links you receive in e-mails, but to Copy >Paste the link into your browser’s address bar… and if the e-mailed link was unexpected and unsolicited, don’t even do that.

I also recommend you turn on your browser’s phishing filter if you haven’t already done so. My How To is here,

Today’s free link: As my loyal readers know, I like to play games on my computer from time-to-time. While drag racing is not really my thing, I did have fun with the online game Street Challenge. If you’re into fast cars and you like going for the checkered flag, check this game out.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

Share this post :

February 22, 2008 Posted by | advice, Phishing, privacy, security, spam and junk mail, tech | , | Leave a comment