Tuesday, December 28, 1999

It's good to talk - IRC and instant messengers make it possible online

Tuesday, December 28, 1999 0

Despite IRC and instant messengers being entirely different breeds, I'm going to lump them both together in the same tutorial, the very flimsy connection being that they can both be used to send private messages to users, much like email only instantaneous. Hey, that will be why they're called instant messengers! Ahem, moving swiftly on...

So what exactly are instant messengers? Instant messengers are installable chat programs embodying a desktop interface or front-end, which allows you to communicate with other users whenever you are online simultaneously. When you first install an instant messaging client you are prompted to choose a unique nickname by which to identify yourself. These nicknames can be stored in a similar way to web site favourites allowing you to keep an address book of friends, family and work colleagues. Whenever someone who you have listed in your address book runs the client, you are informed that they are online and are available for a chat. If you click on their name, a window will appear into which you can type a personal message, which once sent will popup on their screen instantaneously. This is known as real time chat because there is no delay in sending and receiving replies just like when you speak to someone face to face only in text format.

When not in use, IM clients can be minimised to your system tray while still remaining in contact with the server through which communication is orchestrated. This allows you to get on with other things whilst maintaining your online status so that people can get in touch if they so wish. While both instant messengers and IRC provide you with the means to converse with other users online, the fundamental difference between the two protocols is their file swapping potential. While instant messengers such as ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger aren't going to be of much use to you when searching for new files to downloads, they are extremely useful for staying in touch with friends and family, sending small files and checking your Yahoo or Hotmail email accounts for new messages. IRC, on the other hand is perfectly suited to exchanging files, both privately and in a free for all, public manner.

Where communication software is concerned, having too much choice can be a handicap. Your friends and family will each no doubt have a predilection for one instant messenger or another, and because the various competing mediums are unable to communicate with each other, you have to setup separate accounts for each if you wish to stay in touch with everyone. This is entirely possible and remains free no matter how many accounts you register, yet it does make it necessary to run a conglomeration of different clients simultaneously, possibly causing conflicts, and most certainly hogging a ridiculous amount of system resources. Now if it were possible to create a single program capable of incorporating the features of all these networks that allowed you to talk to anyone no matter which protocol they happened to be using you'd probably be a happy bunny, wouldn't you? Thank Cerulean Studios for Trillian!

I Seek You

ICQ, while still in the beta stage of development is constantly being improved and updated so is well worth the download even if you don't intend to use it for sharing files - one of my favourite options is the 'find random chat partner' button, which probably doesn't need any more explanation from me. Unsurprisingly enough you can download the client from www.icq.com.

If you do plan to use it to for file swapping, what you'd do is simply drag any files you wish to send to a friend from your hard drive onto their username entry in your contacts list. No more input from you is required - a dialog box will appear on your friend's computer giving them the option to accept or decline your gift. The transfer process begins automatically when they make their selection.

Adding friends to your contact list is straightforward to. People often list their ICQ number in email or forum signatures to make it easy for you to message them. If you don't know their email address or which forums they hang out on, you can use the 'people search' tool on the ICQ home page to track them down - also particularly useful for finding strangers who share similar interests. Make the effort to create a comprehensive profile for yourself and other people will be able to seek you out too. Soon enough you'll be making new friends from all over the globe.

Another versatile feature of ICQ is the ability to join 'active lists'. These are much like email mailing lists; you find the number of an active list that interests you and enter it into your ICQ interface. From then on, messages will appear whenever someone makes a post to that list. If for instance you joined the active list of your local football team, every now and again messages would appear on your screen containing details of upcoming fixtures, club news, ways to get involved in the community and so on. To get started, venture over to the ICQ home page and have a browse through the active list database.

What are waiting for? Go fetch - you'll be amazed!

Internet Relay Chat

Of all these protocols, Internet Relay Chat has been around the longest and is your best bet for sharing files with friends and family. Briefly, IRC is a virtual meeting place where like-minded people can gather together to discuss common interests. Not only is it a superb vehicle for transmitting data, it is considered the ultimate chat portal bar none. In no other corner of the web will you find such diversity or the sheer number of willing participants.

To take part you will first need to get hold of an IRC client. This is a piece of software that allows you to connect to the IRC network and begin chatting. As usual there are a plethora of options available to you. Pirch and Virc are two of the most popular chat clients for Windows, but I'm particularly fond of Mirc. This is child's play to use and so is an excellent starting point for the IRC newbie. Some of the most highly esteemed Mac IRC clients include Colloquy, Snak, Ircle and X-Chat Aqua.

While browsing through community web sites you have probably come across messages similar to "join us on #whatever @ somewhere". If you've always been baffled by such tech speak, hopefully I can help to shed some light on the matter. This is a bit like a web site address, which enables you to find a particular site. If two people use the same address to reach a site you can safely assume that they are viewing the same pages. Similarly, if two people enter the same IRC address (known as a channel), you can be fairly certain that they will be able to converse with each other. An IRC address will also include a server name (the part after the @ symbol in my example above). To ensure that you enter the correct chat room you must use both the correct channel (the name after the # symbol) as well as the correct server.

As Mirc is the client I'm most familiar with I'll be using it to exemplify the process of setting up and using an IRC client for the first time in the following very quick 'how to' guide. Mirc constitutes one of the few Windows applications that are completely standalone - no files need to be copied to your system directory for it to run correctly, making for an effortless 'installation'.

If you double click on the program's icon we can get the show on the road. When the Mirc GUI pops up you will be presented with the options dialogue box where you will be asked to fill in a few personal details. These include your full name (I would suggest fibbing to protect your anonymity) and your email address (again, tell a few porkies, this time to avoid being spammed) and your chosen username. It helps if this is the same as the name you use on the bulletin boards you visit so that people will be able to recognize you when you enter a channel. You are also required to provide an alternative username just in case you enter a channel where your first choice has already been claimed.

Next you need to enter a server name. If the one you wish to use is not already in the list, click on the 'add' button, type it in yourself manually and hit 'OK'. Now go to the 'file' menu and select 'connect', and voila, you've joined the IRC network! That wasn't so difficult was it. To quickly enter a channel you would type /join #channel-name, or alternatively you can open the 'channels folder' and select a channel from there instead. Things should now start to look more familiar. You will find a list of users who are already in the room on the right hand side and you can type whatever you want to say in the box at the bottom of the screen and press enter to send it. To close the chat window, simply click on the x button as you would to close any other window. That's all there is to basic chatting. There are many other commands for you to pick up along the way as you become more experienced, but at least for now, dive right in, start chatting and enjoy yourself!

Once you become competent at using Mirc to chat, you may want to learn how it can be brought into play to exchange files. One method would be to just type in, "does anyone know where I can find...?", press the send button and wait for a response. If some kind soul says, "yes, I've got that, I'll send it to you", you can receive the files via a direct client to client (or DCC) connection. Whenever someone offers to send you a file, a new private message will pop up containing the username of the person who has made the offer, in addition to any personal message he or she wishes to convey. You now have the choice to either accept or decline the offer. If you should choose to accept (this is starting to sound like a Mission Impossible scenario isn't it) the file or files, you will then be asked where you would like to store them. Subsequent to choosing a suitable directory, the file transfer will begin. Remember it's always nice to give as well as receive, so when someone else requests a file that you possess, offer to send it to them. To do this, select 'DCC' from the Mirc menu bar and click on the 'send' option. Now type in the nickname of the person you wish to send a file to, select the files from your hard drive using the Explorer style interface and press the 'send' button.

Unsurprisingly these pleas for help can become lost in the melee of banter and hence go unanswered, or even unseen. Luckily, there are better ways to go about transferring files using IRC, one of them being to allow the data to come to you rather than seeking it out yourself. It sounds too good to be true doesn't it?, but this is generally the way things are done using IRC. So for example, while you are happily chatting away about your latest knitting pattern or muffin recipe, a colourful line of text may pop up to advertise a new 'Fserve'. This text will contain other useful details such as the trigger code, the number of users connected to the server and the total number of files sent.

I'm jumping ahead of myself here and have probably lost you along the way so I'll backtrack now and try to explain what some of these terms mean. Firstly, Fserve stands for file server. An Fserve is an IRC script used to enable people to access the files on a remote hard drive in a similar way to connecting to a file server using an FTP client. A 'trigger' is a code typed into an IRC chat window in order to join a file server. When you type in this code you will be given the option to join the Fserve via a DCC chat request. By accepting the kind offer you can join the Fserve and begin downloading whatever is available. As the session opens you will be presented with a list of available commands. The person who wrote the script for the Fserve you have joined decides which commands are incorporated into it, but many of these are fairly standard and so can be used in most Fserves (tip: if you want to know which commands are supported within a particular Fserve type 'help'). For this reason it is worth learning the most common ones that will crop up over and over again. If you can cast your mind back to the days when real DOS still existed and dinosaurs roamed the earth, the majority of these commands will already be familiar to you. Here's a list of the most common ones:

dir = This will give you a list of all the files and directories that are present in the current path.

cd = Shorthand for change directory. Can you guess what it does? Just type 'cd' followed by the name of the directory you wish to enter.

cd.. = This one will place you back in the previous sub directory.

get (followed by a filename) = Used to download whatever file it is you have typed in after the 'get' command.

stats = This will list the statistics of the current Fserve. Number of users connected to it, number of files available and the number of people in the file queue for example.

who = Lists the usernames of the people who are currently online.

read = If the current directory contains any text or info files they can be displayed by typing 'read' followed by the filename.

exit = Allows you to leave the current Fserve.

An even more straightforward method than this, however, is to use 'triggered sends', known as TDCC or XDCC transfers. These are much quicker than trawling through directories and are often used to make requests for individual files. Each file that is available will have been allocated with its own trigger code. When this code is typed in, the file it is associated with will automatically be sent to you. TDCC servers are used to advertise single files whereas XDCC servers are capable of hosting anywhere between two and forty files.

And that, boys and girls is the end of today's introductory IRC lesson. Remember, practice makes perfect so if you've got time to spare see if you can put your new found skills to the test. With a bit of luck the next time you enter an IRC channel you won't be so confused when Fserve adverts start to appear left, right and centre.

Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Can I resume my downloads without using a download manager?

Wednesday, December 22, 1999 0
Yes - if you are using one of the later versions of Internet Explorer, partially downloaded files are stored in a hidden directory called 'MSDOWNLD.TMP'. Whenever you cancel a download before it is finished and then click on the link again at a later date, the transfer will continue from the point where it was interrupted providing the server supports this function.

Friday, December 17, 1999

Data shoehorning

Friday, December 17, 1999 0

Whenever I burn a data disk compilation I am either left with a lot of wasted space, or I find that there isn't enough room to accommodate my files. Any practical suggestions would be appreciated.

Well you could go back to school and brush up on your math technique... or you could let Fill CD do the calculations for you. What this program does is work out the best way in which to arrange any given selection of files to make optimal use of the available space on a CD-R. The 'best fit files' can then be moved to another folder to remove them from the candidate list before being written to a CD-R. Admittedly it's not the most groundbreaking of utilities by a long shot, but still, it's quite useful for lazy and/or stupid people. ;)

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Defragment that swap file. Go on, you know you want to. Ah go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on...

Wednesday, December 15, 1999 0

To improve the efficiency of Windows you can change the size and location of your swap file. Very often you will find yourself using several memory intensive programs at once and you will simply not have enough physical RAM to cope with the strain. It is at this point that Windows creates what is known as a swap file. This is a substitute for physical memory and will contract and expand contingent on how many memory demanding programs you use simultaneously.

This swap file can soon become fragmented to the detriment of your PC's performance. To prevent this from happening you can alter the way Windows manages your swap file by editing your virtual memory configuration (the relevant control panel applet can be located by browsing through your start menu items in the order: control panel > system properties > virtual memory). From this window you should modify the settings so that your swap file occupies a fixed proportion of hard drive space and resides on a separate partition or drive to your Windows installation.

Just to clarify - moving your swap file to a non-Windows drive or partition prevents disk defragmentation tools from having to restart each time data is written to your swap file, hence accelerating the process. In addition, because your non-Windows partition is written to far less frequently than your Windows partition, it will be less prone to fragmentation in the future.

Smug Mac-owner's fascinating fact no. 438: defragmentation tools are superfluous on systems running OS X because the Mac OS file system is designed in such a way as to prevent data from becoming fragmented in the first place!

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

What's a good program to use to make customized disk labels?

Tuesday, December 14, 1999 0

I've always liked 'Sure Thing CD/DVD Labeler', which surprisingly enough you can find at www.surething.com. With this you can create some really impressive effects effortlessly. It includes lots of templates, clip art and text effects, and you won't even have to worry about measuring your jewel cases/DVD boxes because that has been taken care of too.

Even if you plan to download ready-made covers from the internet rather than design your own in Sure Thing CD/DVD Labeler, it's still worthwhile importing them into an empty template as this ensures that they will be resized correctly. Without a template or a dedicated label creation application, this often has to be done manually because the covers are far too large to fit inside a standard jewel case or DVD box.

If you still need convincing that this is the best tool for the job, perhaps you'd be interested to know that it won a People's Choice Award for 'Best Application 2001', so I'm not the only one who appreciates it.

It's free to download the 'try before you buy' version and this allows you to test it for 15 days.

Just time for one more tip before you go - what I do when I'm making a cover for a DIY music CD is use one of the freeware utilities mentioned in my 'data cataloguing' blog entry to create a list of all the tracks on it, and then copy and paste them into Sure Thing. The latest version of Sure Thing may even have a similar built-in feature, I can't be certain, but if not, this is a huge time saver!

Friday, December 10, 1999

Is there a way of checking my DIY CDs for corruption once I've burnt them?

Friday, December 10, 1999 0
Yes, there are many utilities available which will perform such a test for you. My favourite is 'CD Check'; a freeware tool which be found lurking amongst Fusion's apps collection as well as on its very own home page located here.

Tuesday, December 07, 1999

What is over-burning, and how do I do it?

Tuesday, December 07, 1999 0

Over-burning is a term used in reference to cramming more data onto a CD-R than the capacity should theoretically allow. It is used when the CD you wish to copy has marginally more data on it than will fit on a 74 or 80 minute CD-R. Often this is done in a deliberate attempt by the software manufacturers to make duplication of their products more difficult. If an original CD has been over-burnt you will have to follow suit in order to make a backup and get everything to fit. Note that I use the word 'marginally' above; you cannot go on expanding the capacity of a CD indefinitely. A good rule of thumb is to set the limit at about an extra 4 minutes when using a standard 74 or 80 minute CD-R.

Not all CD writing software supports the over-burning feature, but I know for a fact that Nero is definitely one of the ones that does. OK, enough rambling. Here's the procedure you need to follow: open Nero and select 'options' from the 'file' menu followed by 'expert options'. Now check the box that says 'allow over-burn' and set the maximum capacity of the CD you wish to oversize. When you attempt to over-burn your next CD, Nero will check to see if you really want to go ahead with this. Just tell it, "yes, I'm not mad and I know perfectly well what I'm doing", and commence burning while singing, "burn baby burn, disco inferno!" (OK, so the last bit's optional, ahem!).

Sunday, December 05, 1999

How can I apply copyright protection to my home made CDs?

Sunday, December 05, 1999 0

There are one or two programs available which will allow you to do this, but Free Lock is the one that stands out above the rest. It runs from a deliberately damaged floppy disk, altering the layout of a CD image prior to recording and thus making the resulting copy very difficult to duplicate for the average end-user (no copyright protection system is unbreakable, no matter what the authors would have you believe). What's more, it's not called 'Free' Lock for nothing! For other alternatives I'd suggest performing a search for 'copy protection' at Game Copy World.

Monday, November 29, 1999

Anonymity - a healthy dose of paranoia

Monday, November 29, 1999 0

I can see you hiding in the shadows over there and so can the logs of all the web sites, FTP servers and other nooks and crannies you visit online. The sort of information gathered by these logs and made available to the webmasters of the sites you visit includes the address of the referring web site, your IP address, your computer's ID name, your physical location and the name of your ISP along with less personal details such as the operating system you're using and your screen resolution. If someone was snooping through your dustbin or surreptitiously tracking your every move to gather information on consumer trends, you wouldn't be too chuffed would you? Well the web is no different - it's still an invasion of privacy and a threat to security and you don't have to put up with it.

Proxy servers

Every time you visit a web site, detailed information about your system is automatically supplied to the webmaster. This information can be used by hackers to exploit your computer or can be forwarded to the market research departments of corporations, who by tracking your activities on the internet are better equipped to pelt more relevant spam at you. Your best defense against such chicanery is to use what is known as a 'proxy server'. These are designed to conceal revealing information from the web sites you visit, allowing you to surf the web anonymously. Proxy servers work by altering the way in which your browser retrieves web pages or connects to remote servers. With a proxy server set up, whenever you ask your browser to fetch a web page, the request is first channeled through an external server - one that is completely independent of your ISP's servers. This third party server then does the requesting on your behalf making it appear that the request came from them rather than you. The upshot of this maneuver is that your real IP address is never disclosed to the sites you visit. There is nothing to download and the whole process takes less than a minute.

There are two different ways you can use proxy servers. The first method is to use a web based service. This involves visiting the proxy's home page each time you want to browse a web site anonymously. The core component of such a system is the dialog box where you enter the address of the web site you wish to visit. Each time you surf the net in this manner, your personal identifying information is encrypted making it indecipherable to its recipient allowing you to preserve your anonymity. Two of the best examples of this type of web based proxy service are Proxify and W3 Privacy. Clearly one disadvantage of using a web based service is that you have to visit the proxy's home page each time you want to surf anonymously. The second main 'con' is that you often have to put up with extra adverts on the pages you visit. These are automatically inserted by the proxy script - they have to pay for the service somehow after all. Note that more sophisticated and convenient solutions are usually made available by free web based proxy server providers if you don't mind paying a premium.

The second method you can use to protect your privacy via a proxy server involves adjusting the settings of your web browser. This will allow you to surf anonymously without having to visit the home page of your proxy at all. To do this you will first need to know the name of your proxy server and the port number it uses. This information can be gleaned from either a public proxy server list or the FAQ referring to a private subscription based service. To achieve this with Internet Explorer, for example, once you have the name of the proxy server you wish to use, select 'Internet Options' from the 'Tools' menu of your browser. Now choose 'Connections' followed by 'Settings' and tick the 'use a proxy server' check box. To finish the job all you have to do now is enter the name of the server in the 'address' box, the port it uses in the 'port' box and go forth and surf anonymously.

Free, manual proxy servers as advertised on anonymity sites, if you can find one at all, are likely to be highly oversubscribed, and as a result the speed at which they retrieve web pages can leave a lot to be desired. One work-around would be to set off in pursuit of a public proxy server list and select an alternative from it. To locate such a list you can investigate dmoz's hand-picked selection of proxy collation sites. Not that this strategy is caveat-free either - before you get too carried away and go jumping on the anonymity bandwagon there are a few things you should be aware of. It's very easy to use proxies to protect your privacy, but often the disadvantages of using them far out weigh the benefits. You see, the problem is that like the proxy servers provided by Rewebber et al, free, public proxy servers are nearly all oversubscribed and so can slow down web browsing considerably. Unearthing fast, reliable proxy servers is an art form in itself - one which takes considerable practice to perfect. If you have abundant time and patience you could find a list of public proxy servers and then experiment with each one until you strike gold. Instead, your search would be much more efficient if you arranged for a dedicated program to carry out this task for you. There are literally dozens of proxy seeking programs available capable of doing just that, and many of them are available as freeware. What these do is scan the internet for public proxy servers and test them for speed and anonymity (not all of them are truly anonymous, even if they claim to be!). Once you find one to match your requirements you can select it as your default proxy with the click of a button.

The best thing about using an automated tool to locate proxy servers is that you do not have to keep editing your proxy settings manually each time you wish to try out a new one. Instead, what you do is enter 'localhost' or '127.0.0.1' into the 'address' box and '8088' into the 'port' box of your browser's proxy settings menu and then forget about it. All future proxy switching is then orchestrated from within your proxy seeking software, which subsequently relays the information to your browser or whatever type of application you are attempting to make anonymous. For those of you who are curious, 'localhost' and the IP address '127.0.0.1' are the names by which every computer on the internet refers to itself.

Free proxies are fine for a quick and dirty shoehorn into the world of online anonymity, but if you're really serious about protecting your privacy and aren't ecstatic about continuously having to switch servers you'd be best advised to invest in a dedicated, stable proxy such as the ones offered by Ultimate Anonymity.

Before splashing out though it may be worth checking if your current ISP has a proxy server of its own you can use. These aren't there to help you to commit cyber crimes and get away with it; they actually have a legitimate purpose as well - otherwise they wouldn't exist. Let me explain: proxy servers were originally designed to help speed up web page loading times. Proxy servers contain a cache of all the web pages that have been requested by anyone utilizing the proxy. When someone surfs the web using a proxy, the proxy first checks to see if it already has a copy of the web page stored in its cache. If this version of the page is bang up to date it is sent to your computer and appears in your browser. If the page found in the cache of the proxy server is older than the one stored on the server hosting the page, a new request to the web server is made and the page is updated in the cache of the proxy before being relayed to you. Because these servers use very fast internet connections they can retrieve web pages at much greater speeds than you can via your modest home setup. If these servers are located physically nearer to your home than the web host servers you wish to retrieve web pages from, the speed at which you browse the web will be accelerated.

One last important point you need to be aware of before jumping in with both feet is that different programs have to be setup in different ways before being able to make external connections via a proxy server. For example, you can surf the web anonymously by modifying the settings in Internet Explorer or Firefox as explained earlier in this tutorial, but this will only affect your web browser. If you then used Flash FXP to transfer your web site from one server to another or to distribute your latest home brew movie, you wouldn't benefit from the potential speed boost engineered by the proxy server. What you have to do is enter the name of the proxy server into each application you wish to make anonymous before making any external connections. This can usually be done by browsing through the preferences of your program to see if there is a 'use proxy server' option available.

Cookies

You have little to fear from the edible variety, but the digital ones can be a major threat to your security and privacy. A cookie is a tiny text file (usually less than 1kb in size), which is created and stored on your hard drive whenever you visit a dynamic (or an interactive if you like) web site. These are used to log your personal details so that you can access members-only areas of web sites without having to re-type login details, or to retain your customized preferences for future use. If you're using a shared computer, anyone who visits the same site that you have previously logged into can access your accounts. This can be particularly worrying if you have entered your credit card details into a form on an e-commerce site. If your browser is set to automatically fill in these details whenever you return to a previously visited site, this information could be clearly visible - you don't need me to explain the problems this could entail.

The solution is to delete any cookies containing sensitive data once you have completed your transactions. Your cookies will be stored in a different place depending on which operating system you are using so you will have to use your detective skills to find them. As an example, in Windows XP they are located in your 'c:\Documents and Settings\Kylie Minogue\Cookies' directory (that is if your name is Kylie Minogue. Mine isn't in case you're wondering). If you peer into this directory, in some cases it is easy to identify which cookie is associated with which web site. In other cases it's not so obvious. The cookie created when you visited Yahoo.com to check your email may be called kylie minogue@yahoo.txt for example. Unfortunately some cookies refer to the IP address of the site you visited and so look more like kylie minogue@145.147.25.21. These cookies can be selectively deleted one at a time if it's obvious which ones are causing a threat to your security, or you can just wipe out the whole lot in one fell swoop and have them recreated as and when they are required. However, if you're really struggling to find your cookie jar, you could delete them via your browser's tool bar instead. In Internet Explorer this can be done through the 'Tools' > 'Internet Options' menu items. In Firefox cookies can be managed by navigating through the following menus: 'Preferences' > 'Privacy' > 'Cookies'.

If all this sounds like too much hassle you can always find a labour saving application which will be happy to take the job off your hands. These 'cookie crunching' programs allow you to be more selective when editing, viewing and deleting cookies from your system, and some of them will even prevent cookies from being created in the first place.

Email

Nope, that's not safe either! Each time you send an email, an ID header is attached to it and sent along with your message. This header contains your IP address, your computer's name (did you even know it had one?), the name of the client used to send the message amongst other less crucial information. If you sent a nasty email to someone, all they would have to do to track you down and get their revenge is find out your IP address from the header of your email and then launch an attack. The moral of this story is obvious - don't send nasty emails to people! Or if you really must, make sure you use a proxy server. If you've already arranged for Internet Explorer to connect to the net via a proxy server, Outlook Express will also be protected because they share the same settings. However, if you're using a different browser and/or email client you may have to set your proxy options independently for each application - so using IE does have some advantages after all!

Another way to protect yourself when sending email is to use an anonymous email address rather than the one provided by your ISP. In fact, this isn't just a recommendation, it's a necessity. What you should do is sign up for an account at Yahoo or Hotmail and then have all your mail forwarded to your real address, or simply check your free account using the web interface provided. So what's wrong with giving out your real address? Well, if you tell someone to get in touch with you using the address yourname@freeserve.net for example, they will instantly know that your ISP is Freeserve. They could then go along to the Freeserve home page and look you up in the user database to find out your full name and address. Worse still is the fact that many ISPs will pass their user's contact information onto independent database listing companies such as Info Space, Big Foot and Who Where. If possible it would be wise to have these entries removed altogether. Otherwise you will just have to make do with just using your anonymous email account.

Even if you're using a free pop 3 email account, your real IP address will still be included in the headers of every message you send. If you're very security conscious you may want to prevent people from seeing these headers by making use of what is known as a remailer. Whenever you send an email through a remailer, it is first sent to various random mail servers before being dispatched to the final recipient using the anonymous Mixmaster remailer system. Although the process can take up to 12 hours, your messages will be encrypted and all trace of your IP address and computer ID will be removed from the headers granting you complete anonymity. While you can send anonymous messages in this way using your email client, it is much simpler to go along to a web based remailer and relay your message from there. If you wanted to send an email which requires a reply while maintaining your anonymity, what you would do is type your Yahoo or Hotmail email address into the 'from' box. On the other hand, if you do not require a reply you can enter any address here and the message will still arrive safely. Some remailers will even allow you to enter fake information into the header section to confuse the recipients of your messages even further! A similar service is offered by Advice Box who also provide the means to receive anonymous replies without revealing an email address of any kind.

If you suspect that miscreants might be able to intercept your email, a good way to bring the shutters down on their prying eyes is to use a Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) key. This is fundamentally a ridiculously long password no-one could possibly decipher in a million years (well not without a NASA ninja PC anyway!). To make use of PGP you would encrypt any messages you wish to send and then (in a separate email) selectively forward the PGP key used to decrypt the message to anyone who is on your 'trusted' list. Unless the recipients of your messages have this key in their possession they will not be able to make sense of your correspondence - all they will see is gobbledegook ascii characters.

Yet another option is to sign up for a free email account with Hush Mail. Hush Mail supports both web mail and the pop 3 protocol used for sending mail via your email client, and protects your anonymity by scrambling the headers of all the messages you send so as to ensure that they cannot be traced back to your computer.

Spyware

Fairly recently it came to light that certain shareware and freeware programs contain modules capable of monitoring your activities on the net and then sending the information they gather back to the producer of the software! Many of the programs you assume are completely free are actually being funded by the revenue generated from the sale of your personal information to market research companies. As if that wasn't bad enough, there are also rumours circulating to suggest that it is this spyware causing many of the operating system crashes experienced whilst surfing the net. Obviously we're not going to take this lying down. The solution is to use a spyware remover to eradicate the dubious files responsible for this invasion of privacy. More often than not this causes the programs utilizing these files to cease functioning. Who cares? Why would you want to use software made by such unscrupulous snoopers anyway when there are plenty of 'clean' alternatives available? People are literally falling over themselves to create anti-spyware programs at the moment so they shouldn't be too difficult to locate. Some do nothing aside from look pretty. Others are actually spyware or malware delivery mechanisms masquerading as anti-spyware tools. One you can certainly trust unreservedly is Ad-Aware. This is the number one spyware removal tool recommended by those in the know.

Another option is to make sure that whatever software you install contains no spyware before you download and run it. You can do this by typing the name of the software into the spyware lookup database at Spy Checker. If clean file sharing clients are what you seek, try searching Google using the keywords "Dr Damn" and "clean clients".

The full monty

I can't promise you naked men, sorry. I'm talking about all-in-one utilities used to cover your tracks both on and offline. Typically if someone comes up with a great idea it's replicated many times over until you become completely lost in an ocean of seemingly identical products. Well fear not, I'm here to separate the wheat from the chaff, to steer you towards those worthy of a closer look. Window Washer is one program which stands head and shoulders above the competition. It excels at both preserving your privacy and conserving disk space by automatically cleaning up your browser's cache, cookies and history. It also spruces up the Windows document menu, temp directory, recycle bin, ICQ history, and much more. You can even define your own list of files, folders and registry entries and then have them swept clean at periodic intervals.

Another exceptional program that springs to mind is Evidence Eliminator. This security tool eliminates all evidence (you'd never have guessed would you?) from your PC in a single click of a button. According to the web site blurb, "in tests, Evidence Eliminator defeats forensic analysis software as used by investigators, law-enforcement etc." and what's more, "it protects you from unwanted data becoming permanently hidden in your PC." Furthermore it includes 'Stealth Mode' invisibility and securely under-writes your existing files to defeat forensic hardware analysis. I'd dread to think what you might have been using your computer for if you have to go to these lengths to cover your tracks, but nevertheless this program seems to be the best of the breed so if you can find a use for it, go fetch! You won't be disappointed.

I suppose I should really conclude this tutorial by saying something mature and responsible. OK, well I'll give it my best shot - cyber crime isn't big and it's not clever girls and boys so don't do it. Do you think that covers it? Seriously though, all this information isn't intended to provide the means to allow you to get away with hacking into other people's computers. In fact it's here to serve as the antithesis to such malicious activities - to reveal the ways in which you could be hacked so that you are better prepared to counteract other people's attempts to hack you.

Saturday, November 27, 1999

A monagerie of movie media merging methods

Saturday, November 27, 1999 0

How do I join two or more MPG files together?

First of all you need to download Camel's MPEG Join. Open up the program and click on the 'add' button. Now browse through your directories, locate the files you want to combine and select them. Press the 'join' button, tell the program where you would like to place the output file and then OK your decision. That's all there is to it!

Note that you can only use this program to join MPG or MPEG files - it won't co-operate if you ask it to combine any other file type.

Before getting started make sure the files you are attempting to merge possess exactly the same properties (check that they use the same screen resolution, video and audio systems for example). The program will not compare your files for similarities before combining them, so it may appear as though the process has gone according to plan even if errors have occurred. However, if the original movies were not identical, the composite file will not play correctly, if at all.

How do I join two or more AVI files together?

For this task you will need to get hold of the freeware tool, Peck's Power Join. Exactly the same principles apply to this process as in the previous entry, so instead of repeating myself I'll let you refer back to that if you're still struggling to get it working.

The bad news is that it appears that PPJ is no longer being supported by its creator and his former home page has now vanished without trace. If you want a copy, feel free to contact me and I'll send it to you (it's just over 2.0mb).

Alternatively, have a wander over to the AVI Join home page. This is a more advanced program, which was originally inspired by Peck's Power Join and therefore shares the same basic functions.

Monday, November 22, 1999

Why do the icons on my task bar spontaneously turn black whilst using Getright?

Monday, November 22, 1999 0
This problem is caused by running more applications than your system resources will allow. If you do nothing to counteract the problem your PC becomes unstable and is likely to crash. To avoid this, simply close down one or two memory hogging programs. If the colour doesn't flood back into your icons you can drag your task bar out of view and then bring it back on screen again to refresh it. If you're still experiencing a blackout, keep closing windows until you see the light!

Saturday, November 20, 1999

How do I set multiple download locations in Getright/Gozilla/Flashget?

Saturday, November 20, 1999 0

Configuring your downloads in such a way ensures that if one set of links goes dead, you still have a second, third, fourth and so on, chance of downloading the same files from a different server.

In Getright all you have to do is drag the second set of files into your download status window and choose to save them in the same folder as your first set. Whenever you do this, a prompt window will appear to offer you the option to add the new location as a secondary link. Just accept the kind offer and click on the OK button.

In Gozilla, click on the second set of files one by one, and in each case select the 'add mirror' option.

Finally, in Flashget you are simply required to click on each alternative download link to add it to the list of possible sources.

Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Why do I receive 'forbidden' messages when I try to download a file using Gozilla?

Tuesday, November 16, 1999 0
This is caused by the way in which Gozilla identifies itself to the servers it is attempting to download files from. If Gozilla is refused access to a particular file or server you can try using Getright or Flashget instead, or even simpler, temporarily disable your download manager's shell integration system by holding down the shift key, right-click on the file you wish to download and select 'save as'. When the save menu pops up, select a location and a filename and click on the save button to begin transferring the file. Note that the right-click method does not support the resume function unless your download manager's browser integration system is enabled.
 
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