Monthly Archives: July 2007

Anti-virus performance

Even if you avoid putting multitudes of security packages onto your computer, you need to be careful choosing what you do install. For now I’m going with Windows Firewall because it’s easy and cheap and seemingly fast. (Yeah I know it doesn’t block outbound connections.)

And anti-virus? Well I’m beginning to think, despite what I said last month, that CA AntiVirus may be helping to cause my Media Center problems. It’s also continuing to bug my kids (non-Admin users; and I plan to join them in that group) with pointless error messages.

Kaspersky gets a good rap from C/Net, so I’ve downloaded a trial version. I don’t have any hard data, but the machines already seem more responsive.

By the way, reading an APCMag anti-virus review (Feb 2007), it noted that Norton takes up over 300Mb of disk space! 300Mb?!? For anti-virus? That’s insane.

Protection rackets

Just how much PC security do you need?

Ryan Naraine notes that all the various protection software for Windows is getting out of hand: “Here’s a list of the products sitting on your machine, sucking valuable system resources under the guise of protecting you from hacker attacks: Anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-rootkit, anti-spam, drive-by browser protection, etc., etc.”

I mean, the evils of viruses and other nasties are that they take your computer’s resources and waste them for their own purposes, depriving you of using them.

But anti-virus and other products do the same thing: they also take your computer’s resources and use them for their own purposes, and you pay for the privilege!

It’s like the over-zealous spam filter than zaps legitimate emails. The purpose of these products should be to make your life easier and save you time. If they slow everything down and make life hard, are they really worth the trouble?

How about some common-sense, appropriate security privileges for everyday computer use, and protection only for attacks that can arrive genuinely unannounced and without the user causing it?

Obviously you need some defence against stuff that can get in unannounced. Firewalls and virus scanning on emails and downloads would seem to be appropriate here, but I suspect anything else is going over the top.

(All this is assuming you don’t adopt Josh’s model and disconnect your Windows computer from the Net entirely. Few of us would be willing to make that sacrifice. The network is the computer.)

Spot the phish

McAfee have a great ten question quiz to challenge whether or not you can spot phishing sites. Give it a go. I got 9 out of 10.

Once you finish, it shows you the answers, and how to spot the fake sites.

Of course, one of the problems is that a prime indication of a fake site is awkward or badly phrased wording. This, unfortunately, is not limited to fake web sites. While it isn’t generally a trait of big corporate web sites, that have professionals working on them, there’s any number of smaller businesses that have badly designed, misspelt or awkwardly-worded sites.

In most cases, it’s careful inspection of the URL that will indicate for sure if you’re talking to the right people. Some of the quiz examples excluded this information, to make you look for other signs, which was good. But in practice all browsers should be displaying the URL. Some older versions don’t do this on popup windows and so on, which is a problem… you can see it by right-clicking and looking at the properties of the page, but most people wouldn’t remember to do this consistently.

A few brief things

Tony’s talked before about Mozy online backup. Now Ars Technica have a comparison of Mozy and three others. Worth a look.

I’m sure I remember posting a link to a PC inside a C64 case. Here’s a couple more: inside a Commodore 64 SX case, and inside a BBC B case.

Cam’s looking for geeks to help run The Podcast Network.

Top games

Edge 100 best video games For Aussies wanting to grab a copy, Edge’s 100 Best videogames of all time (air freight) has landed in newsagents (well, a few of the better ones), though all but one copy had been snapped up by the time I visited MagNation today at lunchtime, so you’ll have to be quick. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a couple of months for the sea freight edition to arrive.

The release of the list of games made the news worldwide, with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina being awarded the top gong.

Meanwhile, GameTunnel has named the top 100 indie games of the last three years.

Web server certificate perils

The replacement of web server certs is easy in theory. You should be able to use the old cert request with the CA to simply get a renewal of the existing cert.

Should be able to. I found out to my peril this week that it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Using a corporate Certificate Authority, the new certs were ready to go, so on Wednesday night I arranged to get Admin access to the Win2K servers to put them in. Alas I was running late and missed the window in which I’d been given access! A consequence of the facilities guys being a little too efficient, I suppose.

No matter: attempt two was made the following night. Following these steps to import the cert all worked fine. Then use the IIS config applet to replace the old cert. Done.

Except it didn’t work. Browsing to the server on HTTPS failed with the usual kind of useless browser error: it claimed a DNS error/server not found, which made no sense. Nothing in the IIS log that told me anything.

Talked to the CA guy the next day. Very puzzled. Any amount of inspecting the old and new certs showed nothing.

On a whim, I decided to start from scratch: re-generate the cert requests and get the certs re-done.

Somehow, it worked. Still don’t know why, but it did. Memo for next time: just do the extra requests; don’t try and take a shortcut by re-using the old ones.

Amusing aside: While talking to the contact in Facilities Management, my other phone beeped. It was the coin sound from Galaga. “Hey… isn’t that from Galaga?” Yep, well spotted!

Pinnacle TV viewing software

A followup on the Pinnacle 310i tuner I got last year.

Pinnacle TV Center ProIt gets some brilliant results when capturing, especially from digital TV transmissions. Playing back a recording on the MG35 media player is a joy to behold (and that’s off the SD signal… the HD signal, from a true HD programme, is incredibly nice when playing back on the PC, though it appears the MG35 can’t handle that high a data rate very well).

But the software it came with is a steaming pile of crap. When I installed it I noted with caution its use of SQL Server Express Edition and its probable load on the PC, and the clunky interface, but didn’t really mention the response times. It’s slow. Really slow. To start up the app takes what seems like an age (and is probably about a minute). To change the channel or start/stop recording also takes ages. It makes it a poor substitute for a twenty year-old VCR you might have lying around — at least if you see something appear you can get that recording quickly.

Pinnacle have apparently seen the light on this, and launched what they claim is a lightweight “TV Center Pro” with a lot of the fat taken out.

Having zapped the MediaCenter from the box and installed the latest drivers, I can see a clear difference. It’s not superfast, but it’s an improvement. I’m still having issues with capture from analogue though. Okay so I can defrag my drive, but that’s only going to help to a certain extent. And annoyingly, capture inside Pinnacle Studio or MS Movie Maker doesn’t suffer from the same sorts of problems. There’s just something in the overhead of the TV viewer software that slows it all down.

I did try the open-source Media Portal, but couldn’t get it to work. Kept crashing. Windows Media Capture is also worth looking at for just capturing (as an alternative to doing it from within the video editing software).

ArsTechnica has an interesting article that should provide some tips; they use VirtualDub VCR+Sync.

Social networking behind closed doors

Jeff Attwood writes about the perils of Walled Gardens — basically free-to-access Intranets which hide their useful data away behind registration where search engines can’t get to it.

I did join Facebook, but like Jeff, I’m wary of it for another reason: should one rely on it for keeping in contact with people when it could (theoretically) all go bellyup tomorrow?

Who remembers SixDegrees.com? A lot of people (myself included) got onto it and put in a bunch of data about ourselves, and tracked our friends, and got involved… and then it shut down.

Remember Friendster? Similar story. It’s still out there, but has fallen out of favour (for whatever reason). Which is a problem, because as people abandon their profiles, the data becomes out of date, and therefore useless.

Who’s to say this won’t happen again at some stage with Facebook, or Orkut, or Twitter, or any of the others?

Can anybody get an open, futureproof social networking tool running? Or is Jeff right — that the best we have is the Internet itself. It’s open, it’s timeless, it’s universal. Search for me on any search engine and you’ll find me. You won’t find my Facebook entry though.

Okay, okay, so Google works better for looking for specific people. It’s not so good for browsing for old contacts (Oh! I remember him!) or when you can’t remember the name. For many Aussies, Schoolfriends (aka Friends Reunited) has a critical mass of old school contacts, though many people don’t visit it very often.

Maybe one day somebody will create an open, useful, perpetual and commercially successful social networking service.

A few good links

Last night I upgraded this site to the latest version of WordPress 2.2.1. Thank goodness it always seems to go smoothly. To my surprise, even the template (which dates back to WP 1.5) didn’t need modifying (well, not for technical reasons, anyway — I’m considering tweaking it on aesthetic grounds!)

Anyway, here’s a few good links from this week:

How Google Earth Really Works.

You’re used to the Mac/PC adverts… here’s the Parallels adverts, highlighting their virtual PC for Mac “Parallels Desktop” product.

Something I’ve talked about before highlighted again: The growing problem of accessing old digital file formats is a “ticking time bomb”, the chief executive of the UK National Archives has warned.

MODM, NAS, APC and other acronyms

I’m sorry Cam. I was intending to go to tonight’s MODM (Melbourne’s Online Digital Media) event at Fed Square, but after a bugger of a day at work (that started before I even left the house, and got steadily more frenetic) frankly, on a cold night like this, I just wanted to get home to my warm house and a bowl of soup. Hope it went well though.

In my spare moments today, I’d been eyeing off today’s Zazz offer — a basic desktop machine for A$453 (inc shipping). Basic it may be, but it’s actually got more grunt than my secondary desktop machine, which is getting old and is far from dazzling in its speed, and sometimes frustrating compared to the faster PC. (Also its USB ports don’t work, and I haven’t got the energy/expertise to figure out why.)

I was finding that tempting enough, then I found myself reading this month’s APC on the train home, an article about setting up a NAS on an old PC. Ooh. Now there’s an idea. Glenn isn’t the only Geekranter who’s been looking at options for this — it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. (I did try leaving files on the MG35, but it’s not ideal, and it’s very slow via Ethernet.)

So I’ve ordered the Zazz deal for a new secondary desktop, and while I wait for that, I’ll try and figure out how to swap the Windows XP licence off the old PC and onto the new one (and Ubuntu onto the old, to run the NAS as per APC’s suggestion — though NAS-specific OSs such as FreeNAS also look like a good option).