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to Lou's Day, the archive of Newsday.com's column on computing
by Lou Dolinar.
To regular readers of my old Newsday column:
Yes, I'm alive and well, retired but occasionally writing for National Review. What follows are links to a collection of some of my 2010-2011 stories and online posts:
My major work for Rich Lowry and the rest of Bill Buckley's crew followed the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I got involved late in the game, shortly before the well was capped, mostly out of curiosity. After my experience with Hurricane Katrina, I had a fair number of sources in the Gulf who were giving me a very different picture than the panicked overreaction of the media. This first story for National Review Online, “Oil Spill Update: The Crisis Is Over” presented the alternate view, one that the rest of the press reluctantly came around to almost a year later.
In a major article for the magazine, “Our Real Gulf Disaster” I shot down some of the overblown myths of the crisis, including the “threat” of oil to East Coast beaches. Other stories for NRO included what scientists were saying about press coverage (nothing laudatory), a skeptical look at the controversy over estimates of how much oil was spilled; how marine life flourished during the spill because of the fishing ban; a critique of the president's Oil Spill Commission and how and why trial lawyers were settling rather than suing as the crisis wound down.
A year after the spill, I compared the effects of Deepwater to far more deadly, long-running environmental issues in the Gulf and elsewhere, all of which were, surprise, mostly the fault of incompetent government.
Other NRO stories:
And one last bite at Hurricane Katrina, a review of a book by historian Douglas Brinkley, who mostly agrees with me on the subject of what went right.
A couple of readers wanted to know, since I'd recommended Password Safe at www.schneier.com, as a way to store encrypted passwords. You type in the passwords, store them, then just use your mouse to cut and paste the password into the relevant program. Thus, is it possible that if you don't type, the keylogger does not pick up your trail? I've it both ways, some do, some don't, so I went directly to Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned security guru who wrote the program and put it in the public domain. He always returns my phone calls, since his parents subscribe to Newsday. He says, no, neither keyloggers nor console monitors ( a somewhat more exotic genre of spyware) can get at passwords cut and pasted from Password Safe. The only time you're exposed is when you type in the password for the first time.
Charles Farrell wants to know whether it possible to install and start up Windows from a USB drive. The general answer is maybe. Windows was never designed specifically to start from USB devices, be they hard drives or the little solid state pen drives. Some manufacturers do build this capacity in via the BIOS, though it is rarely found on older PCs. You have to get at this before Windows starts, usually from a prompt that flies by quickly and says something like “Press Del to Enter Setup” or some other key. When you do that you get a menu that enable or disable dozens of PC functions that start up before Windows does. You may have an option in there somewhere to enable USB booting, and then you'll also have to set another option to make the USB device the first boot device the system looks at when it start up. Frank Langa does his usually exhaustive thing here.
Several readers, including Adam Dale-Harris, saw our piece on portable apps in the mothership and wanted to know if they could run regular Windows applications from a thumb drive. The short answer is no, the majority won't work, but some, usually open source or public domain, do. You can only try. Our old favorite IrfanView, the ultimate file viewer, is one example.
There may eventually be a standard solution. One company, Ceedo Technologies Ltd., demoed a program at the last CES that would let you install any regular Windows program on a thumb drive. There's a beta version available at www.ceedo.com; Early reports I've read suggest it is promising, but not quite there yet. I'm going to take a look at it next week. (If any readers want to take a shot at installing it, we'll let you write up your experience and print it here, just like reader Scott McVicker told us how to deal with Apple formatted music in Windows here) There's more on portable apps here.
Speaking of IrfanView, in the course of working on my web pages, and accompanying photos of Katrina rescues, I realized it made sense to ditch the Windows viewer and switch to IrfanView. IrfanView does everything that the Windows viewer can, including slide shows, and loads files just as quickly. But it has many more functions, for example, cropping and down sampling big pictures to web-appropriate size. Even if you use one or another version of PhotoShop for the heavy lifting, you want to download free IrfanView as your basic graphic file viewer.
Once you've downloaded the program, you'll be given the option of which kinds of files IrfanView will open when you click on them. I would make it the default viewer for most everything. You can always use the right click “open with” function to select a different image editor. If you even want to change these association, open up the My Documents folder, select Tools/Folder Options, and then the File Types tab. Just select the file type, and then the program you want to use to open it when you click on it.
Cookies: Food for thought
Longtime reader Steve Matza at Consolidated Aircraft writes:
" I clean out my cookies folder on a regular basis. I leave the CNN and other recognized cookies alone, but I constantly keep seeing 2o7, atwola and tribalfusion cookies. A Goggle search gives some info, but I want to know definitively who is generating this nuisance, then we can all call and complain! Is there a website that identifies cookies and their source? I oversee 20 PCs and most of them have at least 4 anti-spyware programs in them. (SpySweeper seems to be the most thorough and gets a lot of the crap the other spy programs miss.)"
Well Steve, the cookie problem is like the weather, everyone talks about it and nobody does anything. You might as well try to legislate against rainy days. Cookies are so embedded in Internet commerce at this point, they can't be abolished, and probably shouldn't be.
Webopedia has a pretty good rundown, but I had another insight into the issue since I began running a web site that depends, in part, on revenues from commissions. (Check out the Instant Gifts pages, where I hawk my wares and explain how it works.)
Basically if you click on any of the merchants that I've gone to so much trouble to collect, they set a cookie on your computer that lasts a certain time, usually 30 to 90 days. If you buy something from them in that time, the cookie tells 'em that old Lou sent you, and I get paid. True, this income right now is entirely theoretical, but eventually cookies may enable yours truly to resume the posh lifestyle I enjoyed before descending into retirement, decrepitude and living in a large cardboard box with a pirated Wi-fi signal. Cookies are all that stand between millions like me on the Internet and that fate.
But it's OK, Steve, get rid of the cookies. My new dog Nicky is a big expense, and I can just shoot him or give him away to make up the difference in my income if you do.
Seriously, the simplest thing to do if cookies bother you is just delete 'em. Easy Cleaner works as well as anything, and it is free. There are probably some low-security sites that set passwords with cookies that you want to keep as you noted. As for looking up specific cookies, always include the phrase “spyware” in the search. This will drop you into some the anti-spyware sites and forums. You'll get a better feel for how bad or not the individual ones are, and whether they're associated with spyware, adware etc.
BTW, I also get the feeling that you may be just an eensie weensie teeny little bit concerned about how your employees are accumulating all these cookies on your time. There are direct solutions to that problem in our series Hacking for Dummies, which describes in lurid detail how easy it is for parents, kids, co-workers and yes, even bosses to spy on computers to which they have access. One solution, in your case, might be to post a copy of it on the company bulletin board. I guarantee that the cookie situation improves. Besides I've always preferred social engineering to software.
Speaking of Spyware
Brian Milligan of Oakdale writes: My work PC has become infected with adware.iefeats and adware.cwsiefeats. This causes my home page to be changed and also results in Internet Explorer sessions being shut down sporadically. I do have Norton anti-virus on this PC and it does catch these files (loads of them) but does not seem to be able to get rid of them permanently. Is there anything you can suggest to help eradicate this annoying stuff?
I can't say this often enough: The current generation of spyware and viruses is like penicillin resistant bacteria; you can usually knock infections down with standard anti this and that, but you may not be able to get rid of them altogether. It will very often require manual intervention. Don't just rely on your software, even if it is up to date. You have to do your homework, e.g. Look up the particular problems with Goggle, and maybe search your vendor's web site.
In your case, Symantec has the needed information. Go here for how to remove adware.cwsiefeats (a variant of Cool Web Search trojan) You need to delete a bunch of registry entries by hand. I have a short intro to the Registry here, and more links to details at other sites. For the other one, Symantec has a special software tool you need to download and run here.
I'm gonna make you a star, kid
One of our regular readers asks an interesting question, then answers it himself with a little help from yours truly: How to use Apple's AAC codec with Windows. The story (yep, my first contributor) is here.
The NSA: Back, and bigger than google
More on portable apps
Most of our readers can figure out where they want to go after reading our second Newsday column on portable apps, but a few additional points are worth making for the less skilled.
The Thunderbird email program (at portableapps.com) potentially solves problems inherent in working from both home and office. A lot of businesses (Newsday, for example) block access to their mail servers from outside the building, and in some cases, try to block access to external servers too. Usually web based email can get through. We looked at some other workarounds in Stupid Email Tricks. The biggest problem is that you end up with two batches of mail, and addresses, in two places, either your home and office computer, or one on the web, and another on your office PC. Not good.
Switch to portable Thunderbird and your problems are solved. Configure Thunderbird to open up both home and office accounts, and carry it with you. Plug in at the office, do your email thing, unplug at the end of the day, go home, plug in and check your home mail account. Your email is now all on the thumb drive, to which you also export and save your address books, and auto save all future addresses to which you reply. When you want to check home email during the day at the office, use web based email (most email systems, including Verizon and some private business systems, offer this feature). Just leave the important mail on the server and download it to the thumb drive when you get home.
I've been playing with AbiWord, a free portable word processor, and it is what a program should be: fast, simple, with feature 99 percent of people need. Much as I like OpenOffice.org, it is a tad slow on underpowered hardware. Abi also run rings around the free program you most likely got with your PC, Microsoft Works. Definitely worth a look, and the price is right.
If you end up installing more than one or two portable apps, you may want a program to manage them. That's Pstart, which lets you a set up a menu of installed programs. You can also use Pstart to automatically load programs at startup.
Questions on Nvu: really free?
Our last column (this is like hyperspace, that means the one that ran in Newsday and the LA Times on Sunday, February 19) generated a few questions about Nvu, the open-source web-page editor:
Reader Tim Flynn was turned off by the fact that the first link on the Nvu download page took him to the Linspire web site, where it appeared he had to sign up for a $19.95 subscription service before he could get a copy. Not really. Here's the deal:
Linspire is a proprietary version of Linux, e.g. it costs money, in exchange for which you get some level of support. Linspire, as many commercial Linux vendors do, tweaked Linux to their own taste. They then created their own software libraries that are also customized to work with their modified version of Linux. They charge an annual fee for this "CNR" (click and run) service, which is designed to get you around potential manual installation hassles. You're paying for convenience, not the program. You can use standard Linux utilities to download a non-CNR version of Nvu for Linux for free. Absent your own copy of Linspire, there's no reason to download the file that costs money. In fact, even if you own Linspire, you can probably get a free version of Nvu to run on it. Those are also listed on the site, as well as free versions for Mac and Windows.
Anything unethical here? I don't have a problem with it. Linspire has donated time and money to the development of Nvu and a fair number of other open source projects, including a replacement for AOL Instant Messenger. This is how their business model works and they have a pretty good rep. I think this is one of those instances where everyone in charge assumes the rest of the world knows as much about Linux and open source as they do, which of course is not true. It got past me, too.
HTML vs. WYSIWYG
Another budding web page designer had problems getting a flashing logo to work in Nvu. He copied it, pasted it onto the page, and instead of artwork, got a text link. What gives?
This is one of those AHA! things that will send you 'round the bend if you haven't taken a formal course on the web page layout program you're using.
A "real" web page, e.g. the file that your browser reads, is pure text, with gazillions of little tags and commands sprinkled through it that specify type sizes, fonts, locations basically everything including the locations of pictures. Like real programming, some of it even does stuff (like flash). Real men write pages in raw HTML, CSS and XHTL, all standards of web programming that allows your browser to create the page you see.
Now, programs like Nvu use a graphical interface that looks more or less like a web page, to generate the same code. Such systems are never perfect. Load 'em up with too many typefaces, too many style changes, and they start misbehaving--they might, for example, simple refuse to change any more type sizes.
They also have problems dealing with images that are hosted on another computer and that are updated or changed in some way, typically ads (see my virtual gifts pages) or logos like those on the Weather Underground. which are designed to update weather forecasts regularly.
Now if you just copy or save the picture you're interested in, you get a static image .
It doesn't update, and it doesn't do anything else.
If you actually read the directions on the Weather Underground page, they'll tell you to copy raw HTML text (take a look on the Weather Underground HTML page) and paste it into your document. Unfortunately, they mean a raw HTML document, not the WYSIWYG representation you see in Nvu, Microsoft Front Page, or Dreamweaver. If you paste one of these "scripts" directly where you want to have the image, you'll get plain text, and it may screw up your layout.
What you have to do, and all WYSIWYG programs have this function, is use a special menu command that inserts the raw HTML directly in the raw HTML that the page produces. In Nvu, you got to Insert/HTML and up pops a window. You paste your HTML in there, and hit the insert button. At that point you have an HTML object linked to a remote server that updates it regularly.
Meanwhile, some code doesn't even produce an image within Nvu., but does show up when uploaded to the web. In these cases, you probably want to put the code inside a table, otherwise it is quite possible to lose track of it and be unable to delete it. Google Adsense ads have this problem, as did my correspondent's ticker.