In To Africa … a Computer Geek in Lagos

By Lyle Bateman
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Its been too long since I wrote something for Geeks Are Sexy. I’ve been in a fairly non-geek period of my life recently, focusing on my stand-up comedy side rather than my techie side. In that spirit, I thought I might combine the two sides a bit with some (hopefully humourous) recollections of my life as a system administrator in Lagos, Nigeria from 1993-1998.

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Turn webpages into iPod-friendly reading files

By Mark O’Neill

In case it isn’t glaringly obvious yet, I love my iPod. So I am always looking for ways to expand its use beyond just playing music. It is an excellent device for carrying your email address book, reading e-books and for consulting Wikipedia. But you can also apparently turn webpages into text files for iPod reading with iPodulator.

The only downside to this plan is that it doesn’t show any images on the page and you obviously can’t visit weblinks.   All the service does is takes a webpage and turns it into a text file which you can then read on your iPod screen.

All you need to do is visit the website and insert the URL of the webpage you want to convert.   It will then give you a page which looks like gibberish but in actual fact it looks perfectly fine when you see it on the iPod.    Save the page to your computer then transfer it to the “notes” section of your iPod.

There’s even a bookmarklet available which you can click on to instantly turn any page you’re on into iPod format.   Webmasters can also create iPod-friendly content which they can advertise on their site.

When you die, go out geek-style

By Mark O’Neill

My favourite Star Trek movie by far has to be The Wrath of Kahn.   Not only do we get a good story but we also get Spock selflessly sacrificing himself for the sake of the ship.   As the movie ends, Spock gets shot out of the Enterprise torpedo tubes in his coffin.    As a Scotsman, I especially liked Scotty with his bagpipes.

Now you can have a Spock death too.   OK, you won’t be able to save the USS Enterprise from Ricardo Montalban but at the very least, you can be buried in a Spock coffin.

No word though on whether you can also have a Vulcan burial robe to go with it.    Or whether it’s possible to be shot by torpedo tube onto unstable planets with homicidal Klingons on the loose.   Ah well, you can’t have everything.

New Indiana Jones movie trailer released

By Mark O’Neill

indianajones.pngThis was going to be a good movie year for geeks but there has been one major set-back to ruin the party. The new Star Trek movie has been delayed from a Christmas Day 2008 release to a May 2009 release. God dammit Bones!

But as usual, Indiana Jones rides to the rescue! A new trailer has been released for “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” which is still slated for a May premiere.

Despite being an old man, Harrison Ford still looks as good as ever, running about and crashing into truck windows.   Then he runs down to the post office to crack his whip at the evil postwoman who tries to scam him out of his pension check.

This is going to be a good installment to the Jones trilogy and as usual, it makes archaeology look downright sexy.

I am really disappointed in the delay of the Star Trek movie.   I don’t understand the logic of moving it to a time when it is competing against two other major movies – X Men Origins : Wolverine and Angels and Demons.

10 Reasons Why Bloggers Hate Blogging

So you’ve been blogging for a while but you’re starting to hate it? You thought you could make easy money and order a brand new 24″ iMac to replace your old Windows box in less than a month or two? Don’t wait for the south pole to melt, drop it, there are better things to do.

I came up with different statistical patterns observed through researches I’ve made on the subject and you might be suffering from the Bloginozia virus. It gets transmitted by either visiting Wal-Mart too frequently, or by falling into one or more of the following clinical observations:

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Use F-Secure’s HealthCheck to Find Security Holes

In my last post, I urged readers to patch weak applications. How do you know which ones to patch? The hard way to do it would be to go through your program files and open each application, check the version, and then see if there is an updated version at the vendor’s website.

Or you can use F-Secure’s HealthCheck application here. It automatically enumerates your programs and tells you which ones are unsupported, out of date, insecure, and unpatched. When possible, it provides a way to fix the these apps too. Unfortunately, it only works on Windows hosts using Internet Explorer 6.x or later. After running the application, I realized that my version of Java was outdated. Being a security expert, I always religiously patch my apps, so I could have sworn it was already up to date. If you are surprised by the results you found after running the HealthCheck, let us know below, and Happy Patching!

Doing a clean re-install of Mozilla Firefox

Today, my Firefox died on me. I don’t exactly know the exact cause of death (an initial autopsy proved inconclusive) but for some reason it refused to do whatever I told it to do. It refused to download anything, refused to load images and the menus had a long hard think whether to open up or not. After a long time doing online CPR, I eventually called the time of death and prepared for its resurrection.

Just like you should always defrag your PC on a regular basis, a complete reinstall of Firefox is also probably a good idea every 6 months or so. I had noticed for quite some time that my Firefox profile had tons of crap accumulated from extensions I had uninstalled up to a year ago. It seems that when you uninstall an extension or a Greasemonkey script, not everything is completely erased.

Funnily enough, the biggest offender in this area seems to be Google – months after uninstalling the toolbar and Browser Sync, I found temp files in my Firefox profile today with old settings for these programs. Take a look at your own Firefox profile and see if yours is the same.

But if you want to re-install Firefox from scratch, you need to make sure you delete everything, otherwise the new installation is going to detect those old settings and nothing will really change. So although this may be obvious to some of you, I thought for the sake of reference, I would jot down everything I had to do to achieve that complete clean re-install :

  • First, take detailed notes of all your extensions, Greasemonkey scripts, browser theme and search plug-ins (you don’t want to forget them later!)
  • Backup your bookmarks to your PC. The bookmarks manager has a handy export function for this.
  • You might also want to take a screenshot of your Firefox browser so you can refer to it later while putting everything together again. I did this but it’s not absolutely necessary.
  • Now uninstall Firefox from the PC by going to the software list via the start menu.
  • Delete the Firefox folders from Windows Explorer. There are two – the one in Program Files with the installation files and the other one in your Documents and Settings which contains your profile. The profile one is probably the most important one to delete because it contains all your settings and tweaks.
  • Make sure all Firefox shortcuts are deleted from the desktop, quick start menu and start menu.
  • The last stage is to wipe any Firefox traces from the Windows Registry. The easiest method is to use a Regsitry cleaning program such as CCleaner.

Once all these steps have been done, the computer should now be completely clean of anything Firefox. You can now re-install Firefox and then go hunting for your extensions, Greasemonkey scripts, browser theme and search plug-ins again. Don’t forget to import your bookmarks which you had saved to the PC.

After starting up the newly-reinstalled Firefox, I noticed a huge improvement in its speed and responsiveness. So it seems that doing a clean re-install is the equivalent of defragging your hard-drive after all.   The profile folder has never been so clean and orderly before either.    I wonder how long that will last for.

Epson CX9400Fax: Home office on the cheap

Working from home is fun. There are plenty of distractions, and you rarely have to excuse your own flatulence. This growing in-home-office trend, combined with the paperless-office myth, has created a strong demand for inexpensive, easy-to-use all-in-one printer/fax/copiers. Average consumers don’t need excessive features or complicated button layouts; a successful product is one which is simple, yet effective, and Epson’s Cx9400Fax has accomplished this task flawlessly.

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Patch Your Non-OS Applications

Love them or hate them, Microsoft has come a long way in making their Windows operating systems secure, mostly by employing built-in firewalls, default security settings and auto-patching features. Despite this, Windows is still the most-targeted operating system on the part of attackers, simply because it is the most ubiquitous. Now, instead of targeting flaws in the stronger operating systems, attackers have been hammering the weaker, unpatched, third-party “helper” applications.

In the past year, hackers have exposed vulnerabilities in the following programs to insert malware on Windows systems:

  • Skype
  • Flash Player
  • QuickTime
  • Real Player
  • Microsoft Office
  • Java
  • Acrobat Reader
  • Firefox
  • Symantec Anti-Virus
  • AOL Instant Messenger

Some of these programs, like Skype, do a pretty good job keeping themselves updated. Lately, QuickTime updates so often (as new vulnerabilities are found), I am beginning to think it has nagware built in. And while Symantec’s Norton Antivirus will automatically download new signatures, it won’t upgrade itself to a better, more-secure version.

Brian Krebs at the Washington Post sounded the alarm today about attackers using the latest vulnerabilities in Acrobat Reader to install malware and urges his readers to patch immediately. Krebs reminds us that Acrobat Reader would be an easy target:

It’s an interesting target for criminals because Adobe Reader has a truly enormous install base, yet it is one of those applications that so few people even think to update regularly. According to Adobe, more than 500 million copies of Adobe Reader have been distributed worldwide on 23 platforms and in 26 languages. The product also is distributed by the top 10 PC manufacturers.

It has been a while since a blended-threat worm such as Nimda or Code Red has circulated on the internet. And with most of the critical holes in Windows actually belonging to third-party applications that are not patched as often, the risk of a new blended threat emerging has never been higher.

Dubai to start building world’s largest arch bridge next month

Dubai, one of Earth’s most futuristic cities, has begun construction of the largest arch bridge ever built. With looks right out of a sci-fi movie and a hefty 817 million dollar price tag, this modern monument of architectural genius will span one mile and be 670 feet tall. Look for it in twenty twelve.

[Via World Architechture News]