Spam FAIL of the Day

Today I deleted a spam comment from this blog. That is not very memorable. What was different was that the first line stuck with me.

This is a very funny blog! I loved the way you …

One of the techniques of comment spammers is to include generically congratulatory text on the grounds the bloggers want encouragement. But considering this is a technical blog, where I post notes that are used mostly to pass to my customers … well, humor is not my goal!

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How to Spot Phishing E-mails

I’m frequently asked how to do this, and the simple answer is that if an e-mail isn’t from someone you know or someone you do business with, don’t open it. Further, if the e-mail doesn’t seem in character for that person or business, don’t open it. If you’d be suspicious of the content if your received it in regular mail or were told it by a stranger on the street, don’t open it. For those with the patience I provide some more detailed ideas.

Now I can just refer them to 10 tips for spotting a phishing e-mail on TechRepublic. It was 10 for 10 things that I would agree with.

The key, for better or worse, is taking the time to observe and think before you open an e-mail attachment or allow the e-mail to display external content. (Oh, did I mention always having your e-mail client block external content until you know you want the e-mail?) The reason I say “for better or worse” is that many busy people simply won’t take the time to check these things carefully.

For my contract clients, help is only a phone call away if you’re in doubt. If you want that e-mail badly enough, call me and I’ll look at it. But I’d suggest that generally if you’re suspicious enough to call me it would be best to delete it.

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Powerline Ethernet: D-Link PowerLine AV+ Mini Adapter Starter Kit

I recently reorganized the way we connect our home and my office, which is across the yard. “Across the yard” became about 100 feet further than it had been, and it looked inconvenient to connect this via a cable.

So I didn’t.

I have tried a couple of power line ethernet adapters for clients and have had good success with them. I was concerned in this case because we’re in two separate buildings and there is about 150 feet of underground power cable that separates the two. In addition, there would be another 50-60 feet between the transformer  and the breaker for both buildings, which would matter (if I understand correctly) if I happened to plug into outlets on the opposite phase.

In this case I bought the D-Link PowerLine AV+ Mini Adapter Starter Kit, DHP-309AV, for just $49.99. Since it’s connecting into a 100 Mbps system, the 200 Mbps limit seemed acceptable. The two units are small and barely noticeable, which my wife appreciates. They do provide only one Ethernet outlet at either end, but I was planning to plug a router with wireless and four Ethernet ports on our house side.

Setup was trivial. I just plugged one adapter into an outlet in my outbuilding/office, and the other into an outlet in the house, and they lit up green. I find the description of the colors the the PowerLine status amusing:

Green – Link rate/quality is the bestAmber – Link rate/quality is better
Red – Link rate/quality is good.

I guess “light out” is the only bad option!

I did encounter that. Take the installation instructions seriously when they say not to plug this into the same outline with appliances. I plugged it into the same outlet as one of the computers, and it went right out when the computer came on. I then plugged it into another outlet and also plugged the router into the same outlet. It went immediately to red and the network performance was slow. I don’t mean we measured it a few Mbps less. I mean it crawled, with minutes to load a web page. It was effectively non-functional for the LAN. I couldn’t load a document. As soon as I plugged the router in elsewhere, an outlet just a few feet away, everything sped up.

Since then I have not noticed any speed issues, though we do see Amber on the LGL quite frequently. The only measurement I’ve taken on speed gave it around 25 Mbps, though notes on that method indicated it tended to read low. I’ll post here if I get a better speed indication.

In the practical speed test department, however, I have been remote controlling clients computers through CrossLoop without any problems or noticeable difference in perfomance. I stream movies with it, though only on the computer or portable device, and I do page layout for books on my laptop in the house while using the drive on my office computer for all files, again without any noticeable delays.

I am very happy with this adapter set, both in terms of price and performance.

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Still Getting WordPress Comments while Using Disqus?

After I started using Disqus for comments on another web site, I was still getting huge amounts of spam. None of it showed on the web site, which is good, but it was getting to be a sizable portion of the database.

After seeing several responses to different problems that produced similar keywords, I found this post: How to stop WordPress comment spam when using Disqus. It provides two solutions, one kind of a hack, and one elegant, but both perfectly workable.

I actually prefer the hack, as I believe it uses less processing time.

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Creative Cloud with Photoshop and Lightroom

While I absolutely have to have the full creative suite for my publishing work, this offer for just Photoshop and Lightroom  (plus minor goodies) should be of interest to photographs and artists who just use Photoshop. (HT: Digital Photography Review)

I’m planning to write up some notes on working with the Creative Suite, especially Photoshop from the point of view of a non-photographer who also uses open source projects like GIMP, and InDesign, from someone who has laid out books of 200+ pages using Scribus. I think the comparisons might be helpful.

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Avoiding Facebook Hacks and Fakes

Top 3 Myths about Hackers on Facebook from provides some good information, though in my experience trying to explain to people the difference between being hacked and having installed rogue software is usually futile. All they know is their computer is doing something they didn’t plan, and they want it to stop.

It’s difficult to be absolutely safe while still making use of the internet, but I have several suggestions.

  1. Don’t add any Facebook app that you don’t actually need. The vast majority are harmless, and Facebook does a quite good job of weeding out the bad ones, but it’s still quite possible to get caught by a bad one. Often people install apps or other programs because they look mildly interesting, but never really use them, then they don’t uninstall them. It’s a good idea to know what’s on your computer and remove things you know you aren’t going to use.
  2. Only add a limited number of browser add-ons, such as toolbars. I’ve gotten calls from people who say their internet has slowed to the point of uselessness, where I find that they have six or seven toolbars installed. You need one toolbar at most. I don’t even use that many.
  3. Watch your installation programs. A number of installation wizards add toolbars or additional programs, and have these checked by default. Recently I’ve observed these on installation of Adobe Flash Player and a Java update. In both cases the additional item was checked by default. Unless you know you want it, uncheck it. That means actually reading all of those messages before clicking “Next.”
  4. Know what antivirus you use. Know what its logo looks like. It’s not absolute protection, but there are fake antivirus programs, and you can often catch on to an attack early if you recognize that you are getting messages that aren’t form your antivirus.
  5. It’s tempting to delay scanning your computer. Don’t! Scan regularly.
  6. It’s tempting to delay an update to your antivirus. Don’t! Update as often as you can.
  7. And … obviously underlying points 5 & 6, make sure you do have antivirus and your firewall is turned on. There are a number of free options available, such as Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG Free, Avast (free edition), and ClamAV.
  8. A link checker such as McAfee Site Advisor can prevent many infections as well.

This list is by no means complete, but following these rules would have prevented the vast majority of the infections I’ve been called on to clean up.

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Adobe Creative Cloud with Virtual Box on Ubuntu

I don’t know that there are many people who want this arrangement, but since I’m using it, I thought I’d write a few notes.

I use Creative Cloud for book layouts and graphics design for my company, Energion Publications. I have done layout with Scribus, and I intend to post on some of the differences now that I’m using InDesign. Creative Cloud made use of Adobe’s products practical for my small company.

I use a laptop computer most of the time. I’ve been using InDesign, Photoshop, and occasionally other products from the suite for several months on the laptop. I do use an external mouse, but otherwise I’ve found that they work wonderfully well on that system. On my desktop, however, I run Ubuntu Linux, and so I don’t have the option of using Creative Suite applications.

Enter Virtual Box. You can install it from the Ubuntu Software Center, and setting up a usable computer in the box is not too difficult. I had an unused Windows XP Professional install, and so I’m working with that operating system. I’ve been thinking about upgrading that to Windows 7 or even trying Windows 8 in that box, but thus far have resisted the temptation to experiment.

While I do most of my work from my laptop, occasionally, especially when I’m entering corrections into the final stages of a manuscript, I find myself wishing for my larger monitor, actually two monitors, my larger physical desktop (the real desk, not the computer desktop), and various other conveniences.

Creative Cloud allows installation on two computers, provided they are not used simultaneously, so I went ahead and did the installation on the Virtual Box computer. I’ve found that while the installation was slower than on my laptop, the programs run just fine. I haven’t really stressed Photoshop yet, but I’ve done the basic kinds of work I need to do.

So the Virtual Box environment is doing well!

I will write later comparing work on GIMP and Photoshop, both of which I continue to use, and Scribus to InDesign.

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Google+ Is Getting Better

When I first started using Google+ it was largely because I really need to be on various social media platforms to reach whoever I can and also so I know what they’re like when others ask.

At first I thought Google+ was just a somewhat less useful Facebook imitator. That is starting to change. The new navigation helps, I think, though many will be sorry to see change. Integration is getting easier. I think the main problem remaining is that Google continues to try to lock people into their empire of products. I will not be changing to Blogger, not now, not ever. I hope that the API will allow good integration with other services.

In the meantime, I am contacting more people through Google+, though there is still a large overlap between my Facebook friends and those in my Google+ circles. It will be interesting to watch developments.

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Security and Perfomance Tip: Installing Software

I cannot think of anything that will spare computer users more annoyance and hardship than being careful of what they install on their computers. I’ve cleaned up several machines recently, and in every case there were multiple toolbars, numerous search providers, and a number of utilities. In each case the users could not tell me whether they used the software or not. In fact, they were unaware that it was on their computers.

But none of these items was actually malware. They don’t install themselves. They don’t do anything dangerous to your computer. By themselves, that is.

Any time you have more than one toolbar on your browser, however, you’re asking for trouble. The more programs are monitoring your browsing and providing you with suggestions, the slower things get. Many utilities must be started when your computer is started, and this makes your computer take longer to get going.

The main source of these utilities is the add on installations offered by some popular, and often necessary, programs. Frequently updates to Adobe Flash Player will offer to install a toolbar or the Chrome browser. Now the Chrome browser is a great thing. I have no problem with it. But you don’t need to install it unless you’re going to use it. At least it doesn’t slow anything down. But that toolbar you install because it’s pre-checked to “also install” along with that utility–it’s going to slow your browsing down.

Two points:

1. Always read each window of data when installing software. You’ve already given the installation program permission to install things. You need to make sure to uncheck anything you didn’t plan to install.

2. Don’t install anything that is an add-on or any piece of free software unless you know you want it and are going to use it. If you’re unsure, search the web for reviews and other information. Try to find reviews from well-known sources. If you’re one of my customers in the Pensacola area, pick up the phone and ask me. I don’t charge for such short phone calls for established customers.


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The Humor of Customer Support – Seriously!

TechRepublic has been running some of the humor of customer support, most of which has to do with clueless users and how funny some of their responses are. I am acquainted with this kind of humor and occasionally pass some of it on myself. I also know some stories of really dumb tech support guys, such as one to whom I provided the part number (his company’s part number) and the precise problem with that part at the beginning of the conversation. Three hours later, he finished his diagnosis and agreed to send a technician out—to replace the part I’d specified at the beginning of the conversation. Yes, I could have been wrong, but I provided the evidence as well.

So it doesn’t all go one way. In fact, I’ve found that the vast majority of problems in providing telephone support involve different vocabulary and a different way of looking at the situation. One very common source of confusion is the meaning of “CPU.” To me, that’s a chip on the motherboard that does the processing, i.e. central processing unit. To most of my clients, it’s the whole tower.

But it can get much worse than that. For example, one customer called me and when I asked what the problem was, he told me that he couldn’t get on the internet. So I started to ask him questions related to the browser, cables, lights, and so forth. The problem was that the computer wouldn’t turn on.

Well, that was the problem as I saw it. For him, the primary use for the computer was to get on the internet, and his problem was that he couldn’t do that. We very quickly solved our communication problem, because he was a smart guy and I like to think I’m pretty swift myself.

Now that one could be called a stupid user story. The average support tech would think that was a pretty silly way to look at it. But it could equally well be a stupid support tech story. I, the support tech failed to bridge the gap to my client’s situation. If one is trying to provide support and getting money for doing so, one needs to actually listen to and comprehend what the client is saying.

We don’t think of it as translation when we’re dealing with the same language. We were both speaking English, weren’t we? Well, not precisely. Besides dialects, we have specialized vocabulary in different fields and we also have our own way of looking at problems. I’ve learned a great deal from helping my wife do things with her computer.

Jody is a very intelligent woman and she is also systematic. It’s difficult to help someone who actually can’t follow directions, but she can. (Note that I don’t mean someone who misunderstands directions; I mean someone who doesn’t follow them.) When I was helping her yesterday in working with an image in GIMP, involving some work with layers, it quickly became clear.

To me, each of these processes is a series of steps. To her, they are combined goals. At the same time (almost perversely) to me some of those steps are so automatic that I don’t really think about them, and might forget to mention them. I often have to go back and add a step that I’d forgotten to mention. One thing that would catch me regularly was stating the location of a particular command. I have clearly in mind which GIMP commands are done from the menu and which from the toolbars. This is complicated by the fact that many might be done either way, but I have deeply ingrained habits as to which way I do them. Then I forget to actually state these things.

The only solution I know to these things is to learn how to listen and how to see what the other person wants to accomplish and how they view their work and their computer. In general, you’ll find that they are quite skilled in their area, and that the only thing that needs to be bridged is that communication gap.

That leaves those people who really are stupid, or the small number who will lie to you about what they’ve done or not done, and I don’t know what to do about them, but they are actually mercifully small in number.


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