Sunday, July 31, 2005

Use your Gmail account as a backup drive

Sunday, July 31, 2005 0

With the storage space available to Gmail users currently approaching 2.5 gigabytes, you wouldn't be alone if you've begun wondering what purposes (other than email warehousing) you can put your account to. My inbox is relentlessly inundated with exciting job offers and marriage proposals from beautiful women, and even I can't utilise such a generous allocation of web space.

You may be accused of being a cheapskate for using your Gmail account to backup your treasured, irreplaceable documents and whatnot, but I think that's unwarranted unless this is your only backup solution. I use a mini, external, USB, Lacie hard drive and a USB thumb drive to stash away my preciouseses, though stupidly leave them lying right next to my computer, usually permanently connected.

This is stupid because if someone broke into your house they'd swipe the lot, or if your house went up in smoke, similarly, your original files and backups would be lost. It makes perfect sense to take your backup drives with you whenever you leave the house, or at least keep them somewhere other than on your computer desk, but how many of us make a habit of this? It's just so much hassle to have to keep disconnecting, reconnecting and hiding your failsafe devices.

Gmail provides the ideal second backup solution because their servers don't live in your house... unless maybe you're a down on your luck Google employee sleeping under the desk in your office. Gmail accepts attachments up to 10mb in size, so what you can do to safeguard your important documents is zip them up, attach the compressed archive to an email and send it to yourself.

I did this recently with all my HTML document blog entries. The file arrived safely and I archived it for future reference (Gmail cunningly established that the message was from 'me', and so excluded it from the mail available to be downloaded by my email client, which I thought was quite nifty).

When I tried to do this with a batch of Word and Excel documents, the zip file was rejected by the Gmail server. With a bit of investigation I discovered that this was because Gmail automatically scan inside zip files to check if they contain anything which could be construed as malicious. Office documents can contain macro viruses and so Gmail wrinkles up its nose and looks at them as though they're something squidgy you might step in on the pavement.

One way to avoid Gmail's scrutiny is to compress your documents using a lesser known format. Being primarily a Mac user at home, the first one that sprung to my mind was Apple's disk image format. I downloaded FreeDMG and used it to create an archive of my documents and tried again to send it as an attachment. This time Gmail lapped it up without protest. Hoorah!

When you've found a file format Gmail can't look inside, you might like to make some changes to your account so as to better manage your backups. You can do this using the 'create a filter' page, linked from your inbox. Filters are designed to allow Gmail to recognise and process emails bearing predefined characteristics. For instance, if you ticked the 'has attachment' checkbox and typed 'backup' into the 'subject' box, you could arrange for any emails carrying an attachment and containing the keyword 'backup' in the subject field to be assigned a helpful label and automatically archived - the latter two options are available from the page you are taken to when you press the 'next step' button.

Gmail labels operate much like folders in that they allow you to group together collections of emails making them easier to retrieve at a later date. The main advantage they offer over traditional folders is that emails can be assigned with multiple labels without having to duplicate them. Any labels you create are displayed below the links to your inbox, drafts, trash etc. folders for easy access. Whenever you click on one of these labels you are presented with a list of all the emails previously allocated to that category.

If you want to reduce the chance of emails being wrongly assigned to your new backup area, you could beef-up the precision of your filter using 'plus addresses'. Plus addresses can be created 'on the fly' by appending a + symbol and a series of numbers or characters to your username, like so: tom.cruise+backup@gmail.com.

Whenever you send yourself a backup, use this address and remember to edit your filter so the 'to' address matches your +backup address and it will be labelled and archived accordingly. Of course, if disaster struck and you needed to recover your files, you'd have to contact the kooky scientologist and ask him to hand them over. ;)

Plus addresses have many more practical applications besides. You can use them to split invitation replies into 'accept' and 'decline' categories, trash spam or monitor how your email address is used by the companies you submit it to.

Windows users might like to skip all this emailing yourself malarkey and instead use their Gmail accounts as they would any other drive from within Explorer. If this appeals you'll want to check out the Gmail Drive shell extension.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Customise your Google home page

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 0

You've already set Google as your home page (just call me Mystic Meg), so why not personalise it to suit your preferences? Once you've registered a Google Account (you will already have one if you've used one of Google's better known services such as Gmail) you can get started by visiting www.google.com/ig.

'ig' ushers in a radical, new epoch for the eponymous info-foraging giant - like the 'i' in iMac, the 'i' in 'ig' stands for 'internet' seeing as Google is, for the first time, now available online. ;)

Whatever an 'ig' may be, the technology allows you to tart up your vanilla Google start page to include news headlines, the subject lines of your most recent Gmail emails, local weather reports, quote of the day, word of the day, bookmarks, and best of all, your own custom RSS feeds!

RSS - or really simple syndication - provides the means to grab the latest updates from your favourite web sites and inject them into a single interface so that you no longer have to visit each one to find out what's new. This is ideal for low traffic sites because the news is dumped in your lap as it breaks, even if you've long since forgotten about the originating site you subscribed to. Every time you visit Google to perform a web search, a new nugget of information could be there waiting for you to digest.

It seems that Google (peace be upon her) can't put a foot wrong at the moment.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Get paid to surf (at work)

Saturday, July 23, 2005 2

Aside from not having to show up at all, it's every office worker's dream to be able to loaf around all day surfing the web, sending personal emails, managing online accounts and so on. Based on entirely unreasonable grounds (something to do with productivity I imagine) most bosses object to this. That's the end of that guilty pleasure then, or is it?

Ghostzilla provides one possible work (ha ha) around. It's a web browser with a difference - an 'invisible' web browser - invisible in that it operates covertly within more business-like applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook without initiating a task bar or task tray presence of any kind. The Mozilla-inspired application takes any web page and strips it of its garish, attention-grabbing images, tones down the text and presents it in the least conspicuous application of your choice. Performing a couple of sweeping mouse gestures brings the forbidden web page into view, while moving your cursor away from the page makes it vanish again.

More interesting than the time-wasting potential Ghostzilla exerts is the anonymous author's admonition of its use. Apparently one day he was struck by a sudden epiphany after reading Michael Crichton's novel, Prey, and decided that switching jobs - rather than meandering aimlessly throughout the web - was the road to salvation.

If you do choose to use it - which you certainly shouldn't for your own sake - keep in mind that Ghostzilla cannot conceal the addresses of the sites you visit from your company's network administrator, and you could be publicly flogged if caught. So feel free to read about it - but don't download it. Look at the screen shots - but don't install it. If you do, don't, because it's wrong. In fact if you wouldn't mind un-reading this post entirely, it would be much appreciated.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Whah ah lurrrve mah Mah-ac

Thursday, July 21, 2005 0

When I tell people I've detracted to the light side of computing (aka buying an Apple Mac) people tend to react in the same way. They squint at me in bemused wonderment as though I'd just suggested that volunteering to be chased down a narrow, cobbled street by a 3600kg herd of raging, blood-thirsty bulls is an amusing way to while away a Saturday night. For Spanish readers: they think I've lost the plot, gone gaga, am a sandwich short of a picnic.

By listing below some of the main advantages Macs offer over PCs I aim to, in future, be able to more efficiently harangue them into accepting my point of view - the only sane perspective. It's not that I'm a Mac zealot; far from it. I just happen to know for certain that every single project Apple undertake represents the epitome of pioneering ingenuity, while Microsoft is a lame duck with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even Steve Jobs' jumpers are nicer than Bill Gates'. Look Bill, tell your gran you don't like her homespun knitwear and be done with it. See, I'm a reasonable chap. Who could argue otherwise?

So with a deep breath I'll begin...

- While there are well over 97,000 known viruses, worms and trojans for the Windows platform, there are virtually none for OS X. Furthermore, the Mac OS is virtually a spyware-free zone. These are primarily Windows problems because its 'security' model leaves it wide open to attack.

One reason for this is that most Windows setups are configured by default to run in administrator mode, and this means that you are able to make high-level, system-wide changes (you can install applications for instance) without being asked to confirm your identity. Microsoft designed Windows this way so as not to inconvenience users by repeatedly asking them for their administrator password - they wanted people to be able to hit 'yes, yes, yes, yes' and get on with their work with minimal fuss.

This may save time, but it's a false economy. Because no safeguards are in place to protect your Windows system, maliciously coded web sites or inadvertently executed email attachments are able to install and run applications which can seriously foul up your computer. These could be trojans which aspire to turn your computer into a spam-generating zombie, back-door exploits, data-mangling viruses, key-logging software capable of transmitting your passwords to hackers behind your back or much less troublesome, but still infuriating, ad-ware and habit-monitoring spyware.

OS X, on the other hand, uses identity verification procedures as standard before granting the user 'root access', so even if an exploit found its way onto your Mac, it wouldn't be able to do much damage without cracking your password first.

I know what you're thinking - you've used Windows for years and your system has never been seriously compromised by any of the above. That may be true if you're a wary, clued-up technophile, but what about the computers of the novices you support? How often has a relative, friend, partner or colleague called upon you to fix their malware-infested computer because they've been running Windows without taking the necessary precautions? Every couple of weeks if my experiences are representative of the wider community. Some people never learn from their mistakes. You can spend hours getting their systems up and running again following a virus meltdown, and then go on to explain to them how to avoid falling victim to similar attacks in future, and your advice will be deflected like water off a ducks back. If they were using a Mac they could be, by and large, as foolhardy as they like and still remain safe - and you wouldn't have to give up your free time to bail them out.

Passwords aside, securing a Windows system requires a tonne of work, whereas OS X, which is based on the extremely robust UNIX-like Darwin core, is relatively secure out of the box.

- Low-end Macs such as the iBook and Mac Mini are virtually silent, making them perfect companions for serenity-seeking techies and anyone wanting to create an intrusion-free media centre. On a related note, they consume far less electricity than your average PC.

- All the best, can't-live-without-it software has already been ported to the Mac platform. Mac users benefit from an impressive array of exclusive software besides. If PC software X isn't available, it's because the Mac community have developed an equivalent which is as good if not better, so feel no compunction to badger the developers to support them.

Apple computers are supplied fully-equipped with an impressive array of top-notch software, so very often it's unnecessary to scour the plethora of third-party alternatives available from Mac software database stalwarts such as www.versiontracker.com or www.macupdate.com.

There's no denying that there is less software available for the Mac, but this isn't to say that Mac users are missing out in any way. Having one hundred extra mediocre Windows programs at your disposal to carry out the same task is neither here nor there. People will home in on the most exceptional software in each category and stick with it regardless of the platform they favour. For example, the VLC media player is available for Linux, Windows and OS X. Quality beats quantity every time.

- In OS X you are able to 'print' any document to a PDF file without the need for third-party applications or plugins. This is especially useful for distributing standardised documents that retain their formatting no matter which platform or application they are viewed with. Did you know that Word re-formats your documents from one computer to the next depending on the specifications of the printer you have installed? This can break your carefully constructed page boundaries, tables, diagrams and so on. Also, to be able to display non-standard fonts within a Word document on a client's/friend's computer you would first have to email the fonts to them and explain how to install them. With PDF files all fonts are embedded and transmitted by default.

OS X is replete with such examples. Windows freebies compensate for these deficiencies, but nothing beats having everything included in a ready-to-roll, single package.

- Mac users dote upon their computers much like they would with an adored family pet. This shared passion creates a cosy community cohesion last experienced between Amiga fanatics in the early 90s. Being part of the Cult of Mac is not simply a matter of using the same tool to accomplish one mundane task or another - Mac users feel an affinity towards the hardware because using it is a pleasure, rather than a daily, unavoidable chore. Faced with the prevaricating, intangible alternatives; scientology, the Moonies and so on, what do you have to lose? ;)

- OS X allows you to install most programs by throwing a single file in the applications folder (or running it from a location of your choice). Uninstalling applications is just as simple - chuck the file in the bin and your system is as fresh and clean as it was before you installed it. Some applications require supporting preference files, but as they are stored in a single location and named appropriately, they are just as easy to remove.

- Hard drive defragmentation isn't necessary in OS X. Similarly, clean-up programs are superfluous seeing as the Mac OS does such a superb job of keeping everything neatly organised; hurling random - and often duplicate - DLLs all over the show when installing applications is unheard of. OS X is virtually self-maintaining.

- Mac software is less bug-prone as programmers are coding for a limited number of hardware configurations. Windows programmers are fighting an uphill battle by trying to take into account each and every motherboard, video/sound card, RAM, optical drive etc combination. Sometimes less is more. Even so, if you wish to swap the peripherals in your Mac tower, you are able to do so using generic PC hardware.

- The Mac OS and hardware is aesthetically stunning. While this shouldn't be a be-all and end-all factor, it's a welcome bonus, all else being equal. Some people are willing to pay through the nose (whatever that means) for a visually appealing car and few onlookers find that strange, yet they spend a tenth of the time using them as they do their computers. Why then is it considered unreasonable for Mac users to refuse to settle for an ugly, beige box?

- Granted, major game releases are ported to the Mac long after they appear on the PC, if at all. Personally I couldn't care less - I'd rather read a book, watch a movie or surf the net than play some cookie-cutter FPS, RTS or sim knock-off.

- Yes, it's true; Macs are intentionally designed to ease the metamorphosis of technophobes into competent computer users in a matter of minutes, but that isn't to say they don't have much to offer geniuses like myself. :| I know my way around Windows thank you very much - I've used Microsoft operating systems since I was knee high to a vertically challenged grasshopper. I know perfectly well how to troubleshoot its inherent flaws and incompatibilities, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not have to bother. Using OS X instead affords me this option. As cheesy as it sounds, Apple are right; it does 'just work'.

- Windows XP was spawned by melding together layer upon layer of jumbled legacy code, some of it dating back to ye olde DOS days. Consequently it is a horrendously inefficient, bloated, insecure and unreliable, interbred monstrosity. When Apple began developing OS X they decided that merely slapping a plaster over the flawed OS 9 code and re-releasing it as an entirely new operating system was a dirty trick they weren't prepared to pull on their loyal followers. Instead they had the foresight and resoluteness to set about re-writing it from the ground up. The result? OS X is the anti-thesis to all that is wrong with Windows.

- One charge commonly leveled at Apple is that their hardware is unjustly expensive. It's true that you pay a premium initially for high-end Macs, but this doesn't account for the total cost of ownership. When TCO is factored in, many people believe a totally different picture emerges. This, of course, remains a contentious issue. I'm still making my mind up too.

More clear-cut is the price distinction between low-end Macs such as the Mac Mini, and its PC counterpart, the Dell 2400. Comparing Apples and oranges only serves to obscure the matter.

I'm delighted with my Mac Mini and feel I got a very good deal, but even if I had paid more than I would for a PC, I'd consider it money well spent. If you get more (see my list above) you expect to have to pay more.

Even Bill Gates is a starry-eyed Mac disciple. That's a wrap then; Macs good, PCs bad. If you hurry you may be able to get to your local Apple retailer before they close up for the night. Meanwhile I'm off to provoke an especially savage, and already seriously miffed bull into making a human kebab out of me.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Home networking is child's play

Saturday, July 16, 2005 0

Low-end, though perfectly adequate, computers are so cheap these days it's feasible for each member of the household to have their own, dramatically reducing incidences of arguing, hair pulling and death threats.

Even so, shelling out for one-off hardware purchases is only the beginning - everyone will want to have unfettered access to the internet, and this is where your running costs can truly begin to spiral if you're not prudent. Only a few years ago, making this a reality would have involved having a separate phone line installed, and setting up individual ISP accounts, for each computer.

Not any longer! This being the age of inexpensive broadband, it makes sense to do away with personal net access in favour of sharing a high-speed connection via a single ADSL-enabled phone line. See, there's a communist in all of us if you look close enough!

You'll need to splash out on some more kit - a router and several network interface cards (NICs) / network adapters - but don't worry, these will pay for themselves in no time at all. If you already have a modem you may like to save some money by buying a stand-alone router. On the other hand, if you haven't yet taken the broadband plunge, you'd be better off getting a combined modem-router unit. Actually this is recommended either way since most ISP-supplied modems are of the more troublesome USB variety, while a good modem-router box will be ethernet-based. Ethernet-based routers are more robust, partly because they do not require the installation of drivers.

As strange as it may seem, security experts advocate the use of a router even for independent, non-networked computers. This is because they come equipped with a sturdy, built-in, hardware firewall which cannot be remotely disabled by hackers, unlike flimsy, largely superfluous software equivalents such as Zone Alarm. Sorry to shatter any cosy illusions of online safety you may have invested in such protection mechanisms, but they are practically useless - the first task any self-respecting trojan or virus will perform is to shutdown your software firewall.

Routers can be either wired, wireless, or both. Whichever type you settle on you will need to equip each computer in your network with either an internal PCI network card or a USB network adapter. Taking the internal route is more efficient as NICs communicate with the router without hogging a precious USB port. The USB adapter method is ideal for people who aren't comfortable tinkering with their computer's innards (or can't because they are laptop or Mac Mini users) or who regularly transfer network connectivity between different systems. PCI network cards can be hooked up to both wired and wireless networks (some are outfitted with an ethernet port, others have an antenna, some have both). Most USB adapters are designed only to provide wireless support, though it is possible to purchase USB ethernet adapters which mimic the modus operandi of wired NICs.

Wired networks are strung together via RJ45 network cable - one end is inserted into the ethernet port of your adapter while the other is inserted into one of your router's free LAN ports. Conversely, wireless nodes talk to one another via radio waves based on the 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g WLAN standard. Briefly, these differ in terms of transfer speed, wireless range and frequency, 802.11g (Super G even) being the most advanced to date. The precise specifications of each are detailed in this Speed Guide article.

What prompted me to write this post was getting my own home network established. My challenge was to provide high-speed internet access for two Dell PCs and a Mac Mini sharing a single ADSL internet account. Because the computers are situated in opposite corners of the house, up and downstairs, going wireless was the only sane option. I thoroughly researched a raft of viable solutions and came to the conclusion that the Netgear DG834GT router coupled with two Netgear WG111T USB adapters was the best way to go (the fact that one adapter came free with the router helped to swing my decision somewhat).

As the router requires no drivers, it can be considered 'platform-independant'. The USB adapters do require drivers and only Windows ones are available. This meant that the router would have to be attached to the Mac. The router is connected to the Mini's ethernet port via a length of RJ45 network cable. Subsequently communication with my ISP is mediated via a phone cable - intercepted by a DSL filter - plugged into the phone socket. The broadband filter allows you to connect a phone and computer to the same line, use both simultaneously, and filter out the distortion introduced whenever a phone line is converted to accept broadband connections. Power is sourced via an adapter plugged into a mains socket. Conveniently all these components are included as standard in the router kit.

The router is configured through a web page, located by entering a series of digits separated by dots known as an IP address (192.168.0.1 for Netgear and several other routers). There are many baffling ISP-specific settings the router needs to take into account before you can get onto the net, but luckily, if everything goes according to plan, these can be automatically detected. In my case the procedure executed flawlessly - impressive stuff! All I had to do was enter my ISP username and password and apply the changes.

Getting the two Dells online was just as simple. I installed the drivers, plugged in the USB adapters and they sniffed out the router pretty much by themselves. Providing you (initially at least) choose to broadcast the name (SSID) of your wireless network, your adapters will automatically detect and connect to it. If for some reason your neighbour's wireless signal is stronger than yours, you could even find yourself 'borrowing' their bandwidth - assuming they haven't enabled their router's security features. Tapping into open wireless networks (knowingly or otherwise) is illegal in some countries so paying attention to the name of the network you are joining is advisable.

Once you have established a connection to the net, to prevent other people piggybacking your internet account, getting up to no good and leaving you to face the consequences, you must take the time to lock down your network. The first thing you should do is enable 'access control'. This allows you to selectively permit access to your router by specifying the MAC (Media Access Control) addresses of your USB adapters/NICs. These are simply serial numbers used to identify each node in a network.

Having determined that each computer in your network is on good speaking terms with your router, it is also recommended that you disable SSID broadcasting. This prevents snoopers from automatically detecting your signal and exploiting your resources, advancing their nefarious schemes and whatnot. If you opt to obscure your internet access point in this way you will have to manually enter the SSID of your router into the configuration menu associated with each of your nodes.

Remember to change the default SSID - disabling SSID broadcasting is useless if anyone with half a brain can guess the name of your router!

While you're at it, remember to change your router's default password to prevent people from tampering with your settings, disabling your firewall and so on. Tip: use a random password generator to create a super-secure, long-winded, unguessable string of gibberish.

Changing your SSID and disabling SSID broadcasting does not provide uncrackable protection, however, will deter casual, amateur delinquents from throwing a spanner in the works.

More sophisticated security features I would urge you to take advantage of (or at least familiarise yourself with) include:-

WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)
WPA-PSK (Wi-Fi Protected Access Pre-Shared Key)
WPA-802.1x

Each of these techniques offers varying degrees of encryption for data transmitted over radio waves.

WEP is a first-generation wireless security mechanism which has been rendered worthless by the widespread availability of idiot-proof hacking tools. Don't give it the time of day.

Second-generation WPA wireless protection is much more dependable. It comes in two flavours; PSK for home users and 802.1x for larger scale business deployments. All you really need to know is that by generating a string of ASCII gibberish between 8 and 63 characters long and saving them in your router's control panel you can protect yourself from the most dedicated eavesdroppers. Again, use a random password generator to ensure your WLAN is super-secure. Don't forget to enter the same key in the security control panel of each node before attempting to connect to your newly locked down network. That'll be why it's called a 'pre-shared key' then. Clever!

802.1x won't be of much interest to you unless you're a network manager or ISP administrator. Even if you wanted to employ this higher grade authentication system on your home network, you'd be out of luck unless you happened to have a spare 'RADIUS' (remote authentication dial-in user service) server kicking around. Checked the closet? None to be found? OK, let's move on.

Of course if your router supports both wired and wireless connections, but you only intend to use it as a wired base station, you can bypass all of the above by simply disabling your router's WAP (wireless access point) capability. Wired networks are inherently more secure than wireless ones, though are nowhere near as versatile. For instance, connecting your laptop to your network via a 100m coil of network cable so it can be used out in the garden isn't exactly ideal. Similarly, lugging about a cable so you can plug your laptop into Starbuck's network isn't very practical either - do they even support that?

Whoa horsy, now there's a wacky phenomenon. Personally I've never understood the attraction of public, mobile computing. How are you supposed to get any work done when you're forever looking over your shoulder to check if anyone is approaching you with a swag bag? If conveying some piece of information or other is so earth-shatteringly critical to their continued existence people feel compelled to setup their office in a coffee shop and go online on route to their highfaluting business meeting, why wouldn't they simply use their mobile?

Then you've got the ones who's world won't crumble if they don't send someone an email there and then while they slurp their overpriced Slopuccino, yet somehow feel it necessary to surf the web for, oh I don't know, to shop for new sandals. It won't kill you to detach yourself from the net while you take a fifteen minute break you know! You may miss the opportunity to be the first person to comment on Slashdot's latest 'hamster learns UNIX' exclusive, but believe me, you'll survive.

Even Bill Gates takes time out to reacquaint himself with reality from time to time. He uses his downtime to whip the army of Philipino children enslaved in the rat infested Microsoft dungeons, but you get my point.

I'm convinced the only people who sit in coffee shops and McDonalds 'restaurants' tapping away on their laptops are either models posing for hi-tech magazine photo shoots, or exhibitionists who want the world to know they've just bought a top-of-the-line Sony XZS569 laptop with built-in plasma screen and dishwasher.

Phew! That rant has been brewing for a while. I feel much better having got it off my chest. Now where were we?

With the preliminaries taken care of, you may like to setup a shared drive or enable remote access to a printer. To share a printer, open the 'printers' window from within your control panel and right-click on the icon representing the printer you wish to share. Now select 'share this printer' and when the printer's properties dialog box puts in an appearance, select the 'sharing' tab. From this menu click on 'share name', enter an appropriate moniker and OK your decision.

To send data to your new network printer from a remote computer you would add a new printer in the usual way, but rather than selecting a local device you would browse the network for connected printers and select the one you've just elected to share.

Sharing folders is just as simple. You would locate the folder or drive you wish to make available, right-click on it and select 'sharing and security'. From within the 'sharing' tab you would opt to 'share this folder'. You are given the option to name the shared folder or drive at this juncture - whatever you enter will be used to identify this area of the hard drive within your network, without actually changing the label on the host system.

See, child's play like I said. I accomplished all that without an MCSE certificate, or safety net! I can tell you, I felt pretty silly canceling two dial-up ISP accounts online and ringing up BT to arrange for two phone lines to be disconnected. Wireless networking wasn't invented last week, but until now I've been too busy watching knee-slappingly frolicsome movie clips of dolphins getting hit in the crotch with a football to make the transition.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Allah must be very proud

Monday, July 11, 2005 0

Payback for supporting Bush's Middle Eastern tantrums struck Londoners with full force on Thursday 7th July. As a reward, sooner or later, the callous, murdering filth who perpetrated this act of vengeance will of course be sauntering off on their summer hols; awaiting them in Jannah are 72 Houri. What planet are these brainwashed dullards living on? If the Quran also taught that Santa Claus is real and will bring you a stocking full of presents if you be a good boy/girl all year, I expect we'd see full-grown, Muslim adults posting their wish lists to the North Pole at Christmas and waiting with trepidation for the big red dude to put in an appearance. News flash: when you kick the bucket, if you haven't already blown yourself to smithereens, you're going to end up as worm fodder just like the rest of us. Sane people have to face reality and deal with it, so why shouldn't you?

In the region of 75 innocent people have perished and a further 700 have been maimed, but not to worry - Tony Blair and the queen have declared that the terrorists will not get the better of us - they won't change "our way of life". Well that's a relief! I'm so glad queenie and Ant won't be deterred from using public transport to travel between their assorted, fortified palaces and whatnot. They're an inspiration to us all.

That's not the only thing that put my nose out of joint this week. Considering we're supposedly now America's bestest buddy I was aghast at the American media's reaction to the bombings. Many TV stations reluctantly and cursorily covered the London bombings and then desperately scrambled around for a way to divert the focus to what wasn't happening in New York. The governor and mayor of New York hastily organised a press conference to urge the people of their 'great' city (incidentally whose emergency services are the 'greatest in the world') not to panic faced with the prospect of a terrorist attack taking place in an entirely different country 5000 miles away! For crying out loud, people in London were running around like headless chickens with half their faces blown away, yet CNN were showing coverage of some self-obsessed suits in New York yammering away about how wonderful their capital city is and whether or not its inhabitants are feeling anxious about riding on the local subway system. This wasn't several days after the event, it was segwayed into the breaking news broadcast! Unbelievable!

People on both sides of the Atlantic are predictably clambering to bomb the terrorists without knowing who they are or where they're based - as long as they're brown and bearded they're fair game. Interestingly their blood-lust wanes when you point out that vast numbers of Muslims are living on their doorsteps and would need to be obliterated too if we're to conduct a thorough clean-up of the 'evil-doers'.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Google Maps Pedometer launched

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 0

You've all heard of, and a great many of you probably use Google Maps on a regular basis, but have you checked out some of the indie hacks? My current favourite, without a shadow of a doubt, has to be Gmaps Pedometer.

While Google Maps allows you to zoom into your neighbourhood and get directions, it doesn't let you plot customized way points and tot up the distances between them. Gmaps Pedometer does, making it ideal for joggers and walkers who like to know precisely how much ground they're covering on their daily pavement-pounding excursions.

Not only that - your favourite circuits can be bookmarked for future reference, or shared with friends. You have the advantage of local knowledge, and so your tailor-made routes are likely to be more efficient than those an automated route-finder could construct. Moreover, an automated journey plotter won't take into account the 'Kodak moments' you may pass along the way. An emailed link is worth a thousand words!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Disable unnecessary Windows services and speed up your system

Monday, July 04, 2005 0

To keep Windows slaves - hardcore, geek power users and fledgling AOL-ers alike - happy, Microsoft enable well over 100 background services by default in each fresh installation of their operating system. The majority of home users will see no benefit from processes which cater for corporate environments, web server administrators and so on, yet these processes continue to covertly drain their system resources.

Disabling them is easy enough - typing 'services.msc' into the 'run' box and haphazardly hacking and slashing them out of existence will do the trick... assuming maintaining a functional system isn't at the top of your agenda! The problem is that it's not immediately obvious which services perform which tasks, if those tasks are fulfilling a real need for you personally and if it's safe to disable them. Since Microsoft's descriptions are woolly and unhelpful at best you will need to look elsewhere for sound explanations and guidance.

Black Viper's services configuration guide plugs the gap very nicely. By following his advice you will finish up with a more secure and better performing system... or your money back!

 
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