Whether it’s your home or your work network, it’s always a good idea to block material that should not be viewed. And the best way to keep such material off your screen is to block it before it even gets to your router. A great resource for doing just that is OpenDNS. You can find a guide to setting things up here. I recommend blocking things at the router level, but that can be a bit more complicated. Setting it up on a computer-by-computer basis is not difficult, though, so it’s your choice. Regardless, it’s worth the time to do it!
You may have heard about a new threat to your computer: the Conflicker worm. Over 3 million computers are infected, and the scary thing is, you won’t know if you’ve got it until it’s too late. By too late, I mean tomorrow, when the worm “activates” and starts making a real mess of things. What will happen? NPR has the (slightly oversimplified) details about April 1:
That’s when many of the poisoned machines will get more aggressive about “phoning home” to the worm’s creators over the Internet. When that happens, the bad guys behind the worm will be able to trigger the program to send spam, spread more infections, clog networks with traffic, or try and bring down Web sites.
Technically, this could cause havoc, from massive network outages to the creation of a cyberweapon of mass destruction that attacks government computers. But researchers who have been tracking Conficker say the date will probably come and go quietly.
By “go quietly” NPR means that there will probably not be a massive world-wide shutdown of the internet. That’s all well and good, but your computer may still be infected, and this can and will massively slow down your own internet connection, as well as more significant problems. The best option is to fix the issue by following this excellent guide.
As usual, Mac and Linux users are safe and sound.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think everyone should be using Firefox as their default web-browser. But I’m a realist, and sometimes you just need Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). And if you’re going to use Microsoft, then you should really definitely immediately download IE8, released today at noon.
There are a whole host of reasons to do this—security, speed, eye-candy, convenience, lots of new features—but the most important reason is to support Microsoft in their new not-evil policies. For the first time ever Internet Explorer will be standards-compliant by default. This is good news for browsers, programmers, and Microsoft; it will truly change the web be ensuring that every web page is viewable regardless of Operating System or Browser.
So if you’re running Windows, download today. You’ll be glad you did, and you will be doing something good for all of us!
In the interest of full-disclosure, I should mention that viewing this site in IE7 results in a couple of formatting problems (with 3rd-party widgets and things), but IE8 displays everything perfectly. This is because IE8 is now standards-compliant! Thanks Microsoft!
The times, they are a changing. One interesting, and in my opinion welcome, change is a new push by businesses and institutions to move to Open Source Software. Aside from the fact that most open source software is free, there are a whole host of other advantages worth considering. Two that stand out: (1) interpolability and (2) security. These are things every organization needs—you want people you like to be able to see and use the information you provide and you want people you don’t like to, well, not.
Apparently Obama is considering moving government-run technology to a more open model. Obama asked Sun’s chairman Scott McNealy, an open source advocate, to write a white-paper on the benifits. McNealy’s (admittedly biased) take:
It’s intuitively obvious open source is more cost effective and productive than proprietary software….The government ought to mandate open-source products based on open-source reference implementations to improve security, get higher-quality software, lower costs, higher reliability–all the benefits that come with open software.
Read the whole story here.
In these tough times it will benefit many homes, churches, and non-profit institutions to look into free Open Source software as an alternative to high-priced proprietary solutions. Even just switching from MS Office to openoffice.org could take a significant chuck out of your fixed-costs! Or consider the Gimp instead of Adobe Photoshop, or Zotero instead of EndNote, and Thunderbird or Gmail instead of Outlook.
Several stories have caught my intention of late. We all know, of course, that the proliferation of computers, and especially the Internet, has changed the way we communicate, shop, talk, think, and research. What’s interesting to me is the trickle-up trends that have been occurring more recently. Old and stalwart institutions are often the slowest to change and embrace new technology, and often for good reasons, but two stories indicate that those days are over.
The first involves the Pope. More particularly, the Pope’s new You Tube channel.
The second is more complicated (and therefore interesting) due to security issues. The Obama administration is changing the way the government uses technology. There are quite a few indicators here.
- First, Obama will be getting his Blackberry, despite initial security concerns.
- The official site of the White House has received a significant upgrade, and a good web designer has apparently taken the lead on this one. Finally, pictures of people (one in particular, of course). That’s a pretty firm rule in web development—include pictures of faces. Many churches could benefit from this one—people care more about your people than your building! Of course my site breaks that rule…
- news.USA.gov now has an RSS feed. I’m a big believer in RSS as it helps all of us keep updated without having to constantly visit individual web sites. (If you need a good RSS reader, consider Google Reader).
- Apparently many in Obama’s administration are upset about the suspicious lack of Apple products at the White House.
- Most importantly as far as I’m concerned, Obama is looking into Open Source software as a possibility for government agencies.
All in all, an interesting trend!
This is a post I wrote awhile back, but now includes a significant update (see below) that makes the whole thing worthy of re-purposing. Windows and Mac users should stop reading now lest their heads explode.
A Great Wireless Card
Switching to Linux from Windows is no longer as difficult as it used to be. I hope to post a full-fledged guide on switching to Linux in the near future, but in the mean time I would like to address one difficulty that has plagued would-be Linux users for some time: wireless cards and driver support. The persistent problem with Linux is that hardware manufacturers only program for Windows. The Linux community, with all its hacker ingenuity, has overcome this obstacle for most hardware, and big companies such as Intel and ATI have recently come-around and opened-up their drivers. Two problem areas remain, however: graphics cards and wireless cards.
The latter has given me a problem for some time, particularly with our old laptop. Built in cards usually work fine, but those PCMCIA and USB cards rarely include native Linux support. So, to cut to the chase, for all those Linux users out there, let me recommend the ASUS WL-107G. It redefines plug-and-play, which is not one of Linux’s strengths. Seriously, I removed my old card, stuck this in its slot, and with every expectation of needing to poke and proud, was sorely dissapointed to discover that the card in question “just worked.” OpenSUSE (and later Ubuntu) immediately recognized the card, installed the driver, accessed my WPA2-AES network, and was up-and-googling within 30 seconds. Amazing. If I hadn’t spend 2 months trying to get my Linksys card to behave, I would have said something like “Let’s see Windows do that!”
In short, the ASUS WL-107G is a PCMCIA notebook wireless card that runs in Linux, Windows, and Mac. It supports WEP, WPA, WPA2, with either TKIP or AES. In short, it will meet whatever security needs you have, in whatever Operating System you run, and for about $40 less than most other wireless cards with these specifications. If you are running a Linux box, and have had trouble with wireless, this is the card for you.
Important Update: Increase your Speed
For this and other cards based on the ralink 2×00 chipset (the WL-107G uses the rt2500 chipset), you may run into slow internet speeds when you first install. I did in Ubuntu. This is because the ralink drivers for some reason default to a 1 mbs data rate. To fix this, type the following into a terminal:
sudo iwconfig wlan0 rate 54M
You should be operating at normal speeds. You can use http://speed.io to test your speeds before and after marking the change.
One of the real difficulties with Windows (at least versions prior to Vista) is the reinstall problem. After about 2 years or so your computer starts getting too slugish to be productive, and no amount of tweaking, defragmenting, or otherwise coaxing your computer to behave normally seems to help. Or perhaps something else has gone wrong. The bottom line: you need/want to start afresh, but are worried that you might loose something important in the process.
A Great Guide
Well, you’re right to be worried. Installing Windows is not a problem-free procedure. But there are steps you can take to make things easier and safer. Follow this guide for maximum security and minimum headache.
How to Backup your files (which you should be doing anyway)
One thing the guide does not mention (because it assumes you know to do this) is backing up your documents. You should already have a backup of your important files (Pictures, Music, Movies, regular documents, and program files such as your emails or Zotero database, etc.), so hopefully this step is pretty easy—just make sure that this backup is in a location that is not about to be erased when you reinstall Windows (the reinstallation will wipe your c:/ drive).
If you don’t already have a backup of these files, shame on you. You should. Really you should have 2 backup sets: one on an external hard drive, and one remote (that is, in an encrypted server somewhere far far away). As far as the remote backup set is concerned, Mozy Home and Carbonite are both great unlimited-space automated-backup solutions ($5 /month). Windows SkyDrive gives you 25 gb of free space (though you have to manage your files manually). And Dropbox provides 2 gb of free space and has a lot of great features like syncing across multiple computers.
Obama was hailed by supporters and detractors alike for his tech-awareness (Twitter, Blackberry, a very well put-together web site, etc). It seems, however, that Obama has the same problems with technology that everyone else has. He may have to give up his Blackberry, for example, over security issues.
More interestingly, Obama’s “Open for Questions” website, a Digg-like system that allows interested parties to ask questions of Obama and vote on those of other users, has run into problems. Politico reports:
It was suggested when it launched that the tool would bring uncomfortable questions to the fore, but the results so far are the opposite: Obama’s supporters appear to be using — and abusing — a tool allowing them to “flag” questions as “inappropriate” to remove all questions mentioning Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from the main pages of Obama’s website.
The Blagojevich questions — many of them polite and reasonable — can be found only by searching words in them, like “Blagojevich,” which produces 35 questions missing from the main page of the site. ….
Declaring a question “inappropriate” is different from merely voting it down; it’s calling foul on a question, not just disapproving of it.
Community reporting systems like this are often vulnerable to abuse from committed partisans — YouTube has wrestled with a parallel problem — and the only solution is conscious efforts to remedy it.
So far, Obama’s team does not seem to have stepped in to allow uncomfortable questions to rise to the top, and instead is allowing his supporters to sanitize the site.
Read the whole article.
The Blagojevich question is not the only politely inquiry question to be flagged. Justin Taylor posted a link to his question about the Freedom of Choice Act here, and according to the comments in this post (and my own visit to the site), it was flagged shortly thereafter as inappropriate.
Obama’s tech savvy is laudable, but it may be that in practice his administration will not differ all that much from what McCain’s might have been.
The following is a set of links that will be useful for those trying to set up Zotero on their computers. (Not sure what Zotero is or why you would want it? Check out their site, and don’t miss the demo video).
- Firefox Web Browser. Zotero runs as a plugin within this excellent browser.
- The Zotero Plugin. There are two options here. Pick one of the following:
- Zotero 2.0 Beta (recommended). This is the latest release. It is Beta software, which means you may experience bugs. But I have been using this release for sometime and have not experienced any problems. There are several advantages of this release: online syncing (though see below), rich-text editor, more functionality. Create an account online to store your Zotero database here.
- Zotero Version 1.0. This is the “safe” option, but you loose some functionality, and I have not had any problems with the “cutting-edge” version above. This version will be upgraded soon, so whichever option you pick will be fine in the long term.
- Demo Video
- Tour of Features
- Quick Start Guide
- Dan Cohen’s Blog often has good Zotero-related news
- As does my blog.
- Plugins for Microsoft Word or OpenOffice
- If you chose the Beta version, go here and follow the instructions.
This now runs as a browser plugin, which installs the Word Processor integration utility automatically. Smooth and easy.
- If you downloaded the regular 1.0 version, go here and follow the instructions.
- Customized Bibliography Styles. Zotero comes with a wide variety of default styles, including Chicago. But if there is a specific style that you need, check out this link to see if it is available. Researchers in Biblical Studies might be particularly interested in the SBL Style. Just click and Zotero will install everything for you.
- Use the Sync Preview release (above). It will securely back up and sync all your information and notes online, which can be accessed here. It does not backup stored files or PDFs, however; only text.
- If you are computer savvy, you can set up a WebDAV server to store and sync your entire Zotero database. This is like option (1) but also stores PDFs and other files. Check out this forum for suggestions.
- Use Dropbox. This is the best possible solution. Install Dropbox and then open your Zotero preferences dialog. Go to the Advanced tab, then place your Zotero database in a custom location: your “My Dropbox” folder. Now anytime a change is made the Dropbox software will upload it in real-time. You can also use this to sync your Zotero database accross multiple computers, and it includes all your files (movies, PDFs, images, etc). Your data is encrypted on Dropbox’s servers, so you don’t have to worry about security concerns.
- Update: I should mention one issue I have had with the Dropbox solution. Dropbox cannot save open files, which means it will not upload or download your Zotero database until you close Firefox. If you are syncing your Zotero database across two computers, be aware of this limitation. Make sure you close Firefox on both computers, and that Dropbox has finished syncing all the data, before you switch workstations. Dropbox does save conflicting copies of files, so your data should ultimately be safe, but it may be a lot of work to recover it.
Update: This post was modified from the original on Sept. 17 2009 to bring it in line with the current status of the Zotero project.
Tiny application ShutdownGuard puts Windows automatic restarts back into your control.
I run an automated backup program on my Home computer (Vista) every night at 1am. Well, almost every night. Well, about every other night. The problem is that I have Windows set to download and install all those security updates, and it often decides to restart my computer as a result. When this happens my scheduled programs don’t run, and the only way to fix this is to turn off automatic updating.
I know many of you have had similar experiences. May I therefore suggest ShutdownGuard, a small and low-profile application that prevents Windows from its default “we know better than you” behavior.