Thursday, 30 June 2005


Access Job Centre Plus vacancies with Firefox

When it's your responsibility to keep your nearest and dearest's computers free from spyware and other minacious garbage, getting them to ditch Internet Explorer should be your number one priority. This is easier said than done if one of the sites they visit most frequently happens to be the official, UK job centre home page - because the search engine only works with Internet Explorer. I wouldn't let it needle me so much if the site was spectacularly difficult to rework to make it standards compliant, but we're only talking about a series of poxy text selection boxes!

To keep him safe from internet nasties I tell my dad - who is a total computer novice - that he should use Firefox for day to day browsing, and only revert to IE when viewing sites designed by lazy, stuck-in-the-past Microsoft puppets. This will remain good advice until Firefox and other alternative browsers eclipse IE's share of the market.

For now Worktrain makes my life a bit easier at least as it taps into the Job Centre Plus database without forcing users to navigate through the defective main site.

He has yet to come across another site he visits regularly which doesn't get on with Firefox. This is great news all round because he is gradually forgetting that IE exists at all, and I'm finding that the time it takes for me to cleanse his PC has plummeted.

I make no apologies for being a browser Nazi.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

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Disposable email take two

Not so long ago I recommended submitting a 'throw-away' email address whenever you suspect that the recipient of your contact information may use it to foist adverts for blue, diamond-shaped pills and other organ-enhancing doodars upon you.

I hereby take back my advice. Not because pumping up your delicate parts with legally dubious devices and pills has all of a sudden become a great idea, but because I've found a more convenient junk email address provider I want to share with you.

Mailinator allows you to create any username you like simply by arranging for an email to be sent to your desired address. After submitting your anti-spam email address via a web form you can login to your new inbox to verify your account or respond to any messages sent there... all without the hassle of setting up an account with Mailinator.
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Rootkits; another day, another security threat

A rootkit is a piece of software used to gain privileged access to a system for the purpose of camouflaging malicious code such as viruses, Trojans and spyware, allowing them to wreak havoc upon the host system undetected.

Once a hacker gains a foothold in this way, it is perfectly feasible for them to steal your login details, log key strokes, monitor traffic, open the floodgates to further attack from internet miscreants and so on.

It's not my intention to alarm you, but this is ...erm, bad. Luckily it's also avoidable. Rootkits are specifically designed to operate without arousing the suspicion of your anti-virus and anti-Trojan scanner, which is why to you will require a special kind of detection tool to stop them in their tracks. F-Secure have developed such a tool - it's called BlackLight and the beta version is available to try free of charge until 1st July.

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

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Read Word (and other text) docs with your eyes shut!

Despite first appearances my latest party trick involves no risky eyelid surgery or telepathy of any kind. Rather, this feat can be achieved by running your documents through a text to speech synthesis tool capable of saving the output to an audio file (MP3 being the optimal format for maximum compatibility). These MP3s can be transferred to your portable player allowing you to 'read' web site articles, ebooks, Word documents, emails and so on, on the go.

The Mac is the ideal platform on which to make such conversions since OS X includes as standard very capable speech synthesizer technology incorporating 22 different voices. These range from conservative male and female dialects to wacky robotic and funeral overtone-infused vocalisations.
Because Apple has already done the hard work, it's very easy and cheap for software authors to piggyback this technology in creating text to speech conversion tools. Vox Machina proves my point - it can generate audio files, read text aloud directly and even map the spoken text to an animated representation of a mouth - a technique known as lip-syncing. It's a totally free download of Lilliputian proportions.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

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Too posh to push

In my home suburb of Manchester I'm used to seeing hair-brained, it'll-never-work enterprises spring from nowhere, only to vanish again as quickly as they arrived. People get fed up with kowtowing to their superiors and decide to become their own boss. Rather than research the market to find out what goods and services the local community really need, or at least really want, they set up shops that cater for the limited number of people who happen to share their own fascination with one niche hobby or another.

Unsurprisingly enough there aren't enough customers interested in, for example, solar-powered, Peruvian model aeroplanes of the 18th century to keep these businesses afloat. I assume that, after these dream-fulfilling forays into proprietorship fold, the misguided owners go crawling back to their ex-bosses to beg for forgiveness... and their old jobs back.

The latest addition to my high-street is one of these new-fangled eBay shops. I think this one may just outlast its predecessors, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.

When I say 'eBay shops' I'm referring to the likes of Auctioning 4 U, SellStuffEasy and iSold It; companies who either pick up or take delivery of items you wish to get shut of, list them on eBay and then pass the final sale fee onto you once sold... minus their exorbitant, money-for-old-rope, between 20 and 40 per cent cut of course.

I did a double-take when these shops first breached my cognisance. I mean, could eBay beeee any easier to use? ...which is I'm sure what Chandler Bing would have to say on the matter. Why are these shops even necessary? Who on earth uses them? You Google the tech (or otherwise) specs of your junk, copy and paste them into your advert and submit it. Wait for 7 days to pass, ship the goods to the winning buyer and you've made a decent return on stuff that was just littering up your home gathering dust.

Even if you go the extra mile to describe the condition of your items and post a picture, how difficult is that? How lazy can people get? eBay is such a colossal, world-wide brand I expect they employ people who's sole purpose it is to newbiefy the selling process to such an extent an ADHD-suffering, mentally retarded rhizopod could get to grips with it. They do a first-class job as far as I can tell - if you laid out all the pages which encompass the eBay help section it would stretch half way around the globe. These burnt-out eBay spoonfeeders must cry themselves to sleep at night knowing they're flogging a dead horse where some people are concerned, poor souls. Is it that the customers of these eBay shops give up before they've started, claiming it's all too complicated for them, without so much as reading the first sentence of an introductory how-to guide?

Money-making aside, I've always thought DIY eBaying was a worthwhile experience in itself. You lovingly sculpt your own listings, answer potential buyer's questions, watch the bids accumulate and finally wait to hear what the recipients of your unwanted items think of them. Your smelly old sock, purported to have belonged to Madonna back in the 80s, could sell for tuppence or thousands of pounds. The winning bidder could be over the moon to have been given the opportunity to get their grubby mitts on the one and only Atari 2600 games console prototype in existence. The uncertainty and interaction is all part of the fun, cultivating a positive 'reputation' page is a matter of pride.

I don't understand who these eBay shops are supposed to appeal to. Highly paid execs with mad, rush-rush-rush lives and little time on their hands don't need the cash so are unlikely to bother. Poverty-stricken types will clearly seek to maximise their income and therefore won't be inclined to throw away up to 40% of the final sale fee of their goods through paying a third party to do something they could do themselves in five minutes with minimal effort. So who does that leave? Poor, stupid, computer-illiterate people? If so, why don't they ring up their local newspaper and place a free ad instead?

It's no good; I can't stop my befuddled mind from wandering. At the moment it's straggling in the general direction of a vague recollection I have of a comedy sketch I saw many years ago. It was one of those *clears throat* 'social commentary vignettes' Hale and Pace had such a talent for scripting.
Somehow one of their many slobby caricatures manages to talk a sexy lady into going to bed with him. In the next scene he's shown hovering above her, while she lies prostrate in bed, held by some kind of makeshift hoist. Red-hot, passionate sex is on the cards, but oh no, it's all too much effort to thrust! What is one to do faced with such a trifling dilemma?

Why, have the hoist automatically raise and lower him onto his partner at a steady pace of course.

Sunday, 12 June 2005


WhenDidSpaces BecomeSoUnfashionable?

With so many blogs, forums and web sites all linking to and discussing the same online content, annoying fads permeate the intehweb (see, there's one right there) like wildfire. "All your base are belong to us", that's another one. Enough said.

How about, "Google is your friend"? I'm fond of it to, but stop parroting that asinine, goofy line!
Goatse - I'm certainly not linking to that one! My poor, brittle mind is damaged enough from my first encounter.

What was that site which let you create your own subtitled, Middle Eastern, mini movies and share them with the world? It was created by one of the big soft drinks companies. Ah wait, I enjoyed that one. Scratch that.

Moving along sheepishly then, the latest craze seems to be to eliminate as many spaces as possible from application and web site titles, trade names, tech terms, online monikers and so on, ad nauseum.
I can see how this might be useful if the merging of words results in the creation of unique, search engine friendly neologisms, but where do you draw the line? Now it's just getting silly - people everywhere are committing space genocide in the belief that it's somehow trendy and cool to litter their prose with chunked words and phrases. Take TiddlyWiki for example (intriguing concept by the way guys). I don't just mean the site's name - that's just the tip of the spaceist iceberg! It appears that three quarters of the content has been purged of text spacing.

There are organisations responsible for representing the interests of ethnic minorities, fat people, thin people, gay people, disabled people, you name it, but who's looking out for the poor, downtrodden space?

A medley of bookmarkworthy miscellaneous links

Note that dead links have been removed as services kick the bucket over the years.

Agnitum is home to Tauscan, one of the best Trojan detection and removal tools available. Its lightweight engine runs in the background to protect your system from all manner of dangerous backdoor nasties. Definitely a must-install if you're a Windows user. - Excellent, minimalist, image search engine much like Google Images. It never hurts to have a backup.

Dropload - Need to send someone a bulky, too-big-to-attach-to-an-email file and don't have an FTP server you can upload it to? Dropload will be happy to host it for seven days giving the recipient plenty of time to transfer it to their own computer.

Email Addresses - You can't so much as amble down to your local corner shop these days without being offered free, web-based e-mail. OK so I'm exaggerating a smidgeon, but you get the idea - it's extremely easy to come by.

Much more difficult to track down are the more convenient, free, pop-3 e-mail providers. has managed to round up - and arrange neatly in alphabetical order - the best ones. The site also includes reviews to help you weigh up the pros and cons of each of them, making it an essential visit for anyone who hates clumsy web mail interfaces, yet needs to stay in touch with friends and family.

HighJackFree - Another first-class Trojan/rogue dialer etc. detection and elimination tool. This one is aimed at more technically adept users.

ICQ Personal Communication Centre - It's a little known fact that it's not mandatory to have the ICQ chat client installed on your computer to be able to send someone an ICQ message. If you know their UIN you can send them a message via this web page, and also find out their email address if you don't already have this information. Even better, if they are online you can chat to them in real time using ICQ's cut down web client.

IX Quick Metasearch | Metacrawler - Two of my favourite meta search engines (those which aggregate the results from a multitude of different search engines and present them in an easy to navigate fashion on a single page). | Worst of The Web | Top Fugly - Since the discovery of the infamous Jimmy T, it seems that people have become obsessed with delving into the deepest, darkest recesses of the net to unearth strange people and their web sites. If you've ever wondered where people hear about these oddballs, you can now put your mind to rest - they're all here, categorised and indexed for your viewing 'pleasure'. Scary stuff!

Net 4 Nowt - Compares and contrasts all the various dial-up and broadband UK ISPs. You don't get 'owt for nowt, but unmetered access is close enough.

Netcraft Web Site Finder - This is a great place to start if you're searching for a web site and only know part of the address.

nLite - Indispensable Windows installation customisation utility, which allows you purge Microsoft applications no sane computer user would allow to infect their system - Internet Explorer, Media Player, Outlook Express and so on. Much like XPLite, but free.

O2 | Lycos (both UK only) - Free online SMS services. SMS allows you to send a brief text message to almost any mobile phone, anywhere in the world. You're normally charged for this service, but not if you use one of these web-based interfaces rather than your trusty mobley.
Non-UK people (and UK people) may like to try The SMS Zone instead seeing as they provide worldwide SMS coverage.

Open Directory Project - Automated data-gathering search engines tend to serve up a hell of a lot of misleading junk, links to more links and especially shopping sites (when what you're looking for is independent information). Not so with ODP - the largest human-edited web site directory in the world. As it's far less susceptible to abuse, the 'hit quality' tends to be superior to unfiltered search engine results in many cases.

Shields Up - Is your PC safe from hackers? Do an on-line test here and find out for sure.

'Suggest' is one of Google's latest experiments in advanced search engine drilling. Begin typing some keywords relating to whatever it is you seek and Google Suggest will attempt to read your mind and auto-complete the rest.

Supersite For Windows - All your Windows questions answered.

Surftp - Web-based FTP access on the go. Many public and commercial computers won't allow you to install a dedicated FTP client - use Surftp and this is no longer an issue.

The Universal Currency Converter - No prizes for guessing what this one does!

Wikipedia - Free encyclopedia - infinite knowledge at your finger tips!

Yahoo TV Guide - If you're anything like me you either lose your TV listing magazine five minutes after it comes through the door with the weekend newspaper or the dog eats it before you have chance to see it. This online version is always only a click away so you'll never have to accidentally stumble across another cookery, DIY or gardening program ever again. Hooray!!

Saturday, 11 June 2005

Attention: strictly no phishing!

The term 'phishing' describes any attempt to trick you into entering your login or bank details into a fake web site for fraudulent purposes. A web site may look identical to, or, and even display an official, 'trusted' web site address in your internet browser's address bar, and still be a clone.

One such browser vulnerability which perpetuates this deception is described here. The same Secunia page allows you check if your browser could be exploited in this way. Other phishing scams are documented elsewhere on this invaluable, security bulletin web site so spend some time exploring it to stay informed.

Sticking up a public information sign won't protect you from speculative scam emails, malformed links or malicious 'hosts'-file-altering Trojans, but the internet browser extension Spoof Stick just might. Spoof Stick integrates itself with your browser to display the true URL of the web site you are currently viewing, regardless of its apparent address as it appears in your address bar, making it painfully obvious when and how you are being scammed.

It's no substitute for common sense (don't click on links contained within emails; type web site URLs into your address bar manually, and so on), but it doesn't hurt to have an extra layer of protection in place.

Friday, 10 June 2005


Abandonware links

Remember the good old days? You thought your top of the range PC would live forever and still be able to run the latest games, 3D graphics cards didn't exist and you never needed to check the minimum specifications before purchasing a game. You could have a day out at the cinema and still have change left over from half a sixpence for your bus ride home... I've gone too far haven't I? OK I'll shut up.

Well anyway, these sites will help you to re-live those magical days of your lost youth with a spot of retro-gaming.

Abandon Games
Abandonware Ring
Bunny Abandonware
Classic Games
DOS Games Archive
DOS Games             
Full Games
Good Old Days
Lost Treasures Fr
Moby Games
Replacement Docs
Video Game Museum
XTC Abandonware

Sites which deserve a special mention...

Fate of Atlantis 2 - The unofficial, fan-developed sequel to one of my all-time favourite games. The following is an extract from the Amberfish Arts home page which succinctly sums up this intriguing forthcoming project...

"Founded in 1998, IndyProject set out to create a sequel to the 1992 LucasArts adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. FoA2 will resume where the original game ended, and tell its story to the end. It will be a faithful recreation of the feel and atmosphere of the original. While embracing modern features such as 3D animation and light sourcing, FoA2 is primarily designed as a retro-gaming project. That means trusty low-res graphics, 2D backgrounds, and an outdated interface. We want players to be able to play FoA2 just like they experienced FoA. However, there will be a bunch of optional features, such as improved graphics (smoothing and higher resolutions), as well as a more modern interface. Quintessentially, FoA2 will become the product that LucasArts would have released in 1993 or 1994, had they ever produced a sequel to FoA."

King's Quest remakes - When the original King's Quest game first saw the light of day I was dabbling in the fine art of making Plasticine aliens and learning how to spell complicated words such as dog and cat... and at 36 years old I was considered a fast learner amongst my trailer trash community *tee hee*.

But seriously, I was born in the wrong era so missed out on this series completely. Even so, having compared past and present embodiments I can't fail to be impressed by the breathtaking beauty of these carefully crafted overhauls. The lure of old-school gameplay coupled with modern graphics and sound is more than enough to convince me to acquaint myself with this genre-moulding classic. Check out Tierra Entertainment's links page for more Sierra remakes.

Return of the Tentacle - If my German wasn't so dire I'd be able to tell you more about this project. From the title I gather it's the proposed (unofficial) sequel to Day of the Tentacle, another LucasArts adventure game to have achieved legendary status. One to watch! (and translate).

ScummVM - Scumm (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) is the name of the engine used to bring to life classic LucasArts adventure games such as the Monkey Island series, The Dig, Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle. VM is an acronym for virtual machine. Put the two together and we have an emulator specifically designed to cater for LucasArts (and now Adventuresoft's Simon the Sorcerer 1 and 2) adventure games.

If you've ever tried to run old DOS games using a modern operating system you'll know that it's not quite as straight forward as running the game's main executable file for reasons explained in the gaming section of my FAQ. VDMSound makes it feasible to flawlessly recreate the look and feel of these original games, while ScummVM takes the joy of rediscovering classic PC games of yesteryear a step further by actually improving the originals by offering better sound support, various levels of anti-aliasing and higher resolutions.

Zak McKracken 2 - I haven't yet had the pleasure of playing the original so I'm not in the best position to sell this one to you, although based on the fact that it's made by LucasArts and LucasArts make the best adventure games the world has ever seen I'd say it's worth a look. Again this is a fan creation though by no means is it an amateurish effort - check out those screenshots! This is what 2D adventures would look like if the big players hadn't abandoned the genre many moons ago.