Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bad Computing Habits-Slayed!

Good day, citizen. The Slayer has returned yet again to protect and show you how to protect yourself when the Slayer isn't near.

Today the Slayer will arm you with ancient weapons handed down to him from one of the original Slayers. His name is Leo LaPorte. He has a show called "The Tech Guy" that can be heard on weekends throughout this fair land. Do not let his innocuous moniker, "The Tech Guy", fool you. He is indeed one of the mightiest of Slayers.

The Slayer first heard Slayer Leo on a computer-based talk show on Saturday mornings on KNBR in San Francisco. Back then the Slayer was a mere innocent, like yourself. Slayer Leo spoke of many things the Slayer did not fully comprehend, but as time passed the Slayer began to understand more and more. The Slayer followed Slayer Leo to the TV screen. He had a show called "Call for Help" on a channel then known as TechTV. It has sadly evolved into the GAME network known as G4.

Slayer Leo has handed down a very powerful weapon. They are his rules for safer computing. An innocent such as yourself is expected to know these things. The evil mastermind, PC, lies in wait for innocents ready to unleash a tidal wave of spoofed websites, Nigerian money scams, and helpful-looking pop-ups saying "you have been infected! click here get your antivirus" and "click here to redeem a free $100 gift card for Red Lobster".

Without further adieu, here are:

Leo’s Six Rules for Safe Computing

1. Don’t open email attachments; even if it’s from someone you know. If you do get something from someone you know, make sure that they really sent it to you. Email attachments are the number one way viruses and trojan horses get into your email. You might also want to turn off HTML email in Outlook and other programs. HTML emails are just as dangerous as rogue web sites, and can spread infections just by previewing them.

2. Don’t click links in email. That link could lead you to a phishing site, or the link may lead you to install malicious software. Copy and paste links into your browser, or type them in by hand instead. Another reason to disable HTML email - the HTML hides the real destination of that seemingly innocuous link.

3. Don’t download files from places you aren’t absolutely sure are safe. Stick with the well known sites. Teeneagers who use filesharing software like BitTorrent, Azureus, Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster, and Limewire, often unwittingly download spyware and trojans. If you must, quarantine all downloads then scan them a few days later with an updated anti-virus.

4. Update your OS regularly! Turn on automatic updates in OS X and Windows. Apply all critical updates immediately. Criminals often create hacks within 24 hours of Microsoft’s patches (these are called zero day exploits), so you need to protect yourself the day the patches appear.

5. Use a firewall. The best firewall is a hardware router - the kind you use to share an internet connection. Even if they’re not billed as firewalls, they are, and they’re quite effective. I also recommend turning on your operating system’s firewall - even if you have a router - but I don’t recommend third-party software firewalls. They cause more problems than they solve.

6. Never run as an administrator in any operating system. Administrators have way too many priveleges that malicious people/code can take advantage of. Run as a limited user as much as possible. Windows Vista, Linux, and Mac OSX allow you to run a majority of features, but with some additional safety, as a limited user.

Slayer Leo's wisdom can still be learned by visiting Slayer Leo has numerous podcasts available to listen to online or for download.

What's that, citizen? What's a podcast? Citizen, how much time do you think the Slayer has? Please make use of Slayer Leo's rules and wait patiently for the Slayer to return.

Until then citizens, be strong, be safe, and pass on what you have learned...

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Tell us how you did it, Tech Slayer...

For simplicity's sake, everyone should have a Google account. There are now so many online tools that Google has to offer it's likely you'll use more than one on your path to slayerdom. Why not just have one login for all those tools.

The first thing everyone should use is Google's email service, Gmail. As of this writing Gmail makes over 7GB of storage available. Gmail will also work with a email client like Microsoft Outlook. Other popular free providers like Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail don't offer this ability without a paid upgrade.

"But wait, Tech Slayer, I already have email through my internet service provider (i.e., AT&T, Earthlink, Comcast, etc.)"

No, my friend. Don't. It's a trap!

It's a common novice mistake to use the email address provided by their internet provider (ISP for short) and make it their main address, the one everyone knows. The trap is that the novice becomes so tied to that address that they become tied to the ISP as well. The Slayer knows of many people who are still paying AOL because they fear they'll lose their AOL-based email address.

By using Gmail you'll be empowered to move freely from ISP to ISP and never have to give up your Gmail address. Sure, you could use another free email service like Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail, but you'll have to create separate logins for those. Why subject yourself to the hassle?

The Contacts folder in Gmail is also the best place to store all your addresses and phone numbers.

Google also owns the phenomenon known as YouTube. This is currently the most popular video sharing website on earth. From homemade videos to movie trailers to replays of news clips YouTube has the largest video library on the internet.

Google Maps is the best way to find driving directions. You can play around with alternate routes and multiple detours. It will also remember your home address, the addresses of other places you ask for directions to, give you estimated driving times, and give you a real-time view of traffic.

Google Earth is a program that utilizes satellite photos from all over the planet and has some integration with Google Maps. Using Google Earth you can see what your house, workplace, or local dog park all look like from space. The Tech Slayer even found the Hawaiian home of his late grandfather, The Rebar Slayer.

Google Calendar integrates easily with Gmail. It can send you a text message reminder to your cell phone of upcoming appointments. You can even subscribe to things that will automatically be added to your calendar like DVD releases or your favorite team's schedule.

Google Docs is a great substitute for those that cannot afford the full Microsoft Office suite. Docs offers a word processor, spreadsheet, and a presentation program, akin to PowerPoint. It's not as rich and full-featured as MS Office, but the everyday user will find it sufficient. Documents can be imported and exported to MS Office as well.

Google also happens to have one of the best photo sharing sites, known as Picasa Web Albums. A common novice mistake is attempting to email pictures. Email messages with photos attached often results in an email that takes up large amounts of the recipient’s storage space, not to mention it takes longer to download, and is almost impossibly too large for a recipient that doesn’t have broadband internet access.

Instead, you can just post your photos on Picasa Web Albums and rather than sending them a large email with photo files the recipient may not even want, simply send an email with a link to the website. The recipient can then review the pictures and have the freedom to pick and choose which ones to download. There are settings available that can make it so that only certain people may view the photos if privacy is a concern.

Hand-in-hand with Picasa Web Albums is a free downloadable offline program called Picasa. The Beta of version 3 was just released last week. This program will organize all your photos. It gives you the ability to add tags to each photo for easier organizing and indexing. There’s a built-in photo editor that’s powerful yet easy for novices to understand. You can also make slideshows, collages, and a customized screen saver. You can even select pictures to be professionally printed and sent directly to your home or for pickup at many local Wal-Marts or Walgreens.

Blogger is another Google franchise. This free service gives you enough tools for even novices to turn out very professional-looking blog sites.

One of the Slayer’s favorite Google features is Google Reader. Reader is a sort of Grand Central Station for all your favorite feeds.

“Feed? What’s a feed, Slayer? Oh, no, I’m confused,” I hear you saying.

Do not fear, citizen. The Slayer is here to protect you.

A “feed” refers to something known as an RSS feed. This master of confusion is commonly seen by its telltale orange symbol. You’ll frequently find this on sites that are updated often, like news sites, for example.

The feed itself is actually a tool. You can use it to have updates automatically sent to an RSS reader like Google Reader. This saves you from the hassle of having to navigate to those sites looking for what’s new. Instead of going to them, they come to you. Neat concept, isn’t it?

What’s that? Sounds confusing? Sounds like a hassle? Again, fear not. It’s actually quite easy. Simply click on either the “RSS” icon or that little orange symbol. You’ll be given to option to send to different readers, Google being a common option. Just click on the Google icon, then indicate that you want the feed to be sent to Google Reader. That’s it. Slayed!

From then on, updates to the site will automatically be sent to your Google Reader page. Even this site can be subscribed to via RSS feed.

At the Google Reader site itself a wealth of other feeds are listed giving you the option of seeing the latest in all of your different interests. Some of the feeds the Slayer subscribes to include Lifehacker, Instructibles (DIY sites), latest news from PC Magazine and PC World, and today’s Garfield cartoon strip (no, the Slayer really doesn’t subscribe to Garfield!).

The Slayer grows weary from all this typing and must leave you now. But he will never be far away. The Slayer dispenses with such antiquities like a Bat-signal or a hotline. Use the RSS feed.

Until next time, my friends, have faith, be strong, and pass on what you have learned…