Free ISPs, Please

July 30, 2009

I’ve been a long-time member of Internet service provider (ISP) Netzero (and their sister company Juno). Basically, since my days out of college to today, I’ve had them in my bag of tricks. In the early days, I had upgraded to the “premium plan” and used dial-up as my primary way to access the Internet. Those were sad slow days, but they were also cheaper days than with the cable company plan that I have now.

However, after I upgraded to a real connection, I did keep Netzero around. Why? Because they have a free service available for dial-up. It serves as a wonderful back-up if I’m at a hotel or visiting family that doesn’t have Internet access and I need to get my fix.

I was reminded of this when I saw a blog post from makeuseof.com for all-free-isp.com. The way this site work is basically as a search engine for dial-up spots in any give city or area code. You type in the data and it will spit out a list of free ISPs in that area, what systems they are compatible with, and even reviews of the services. It’s a pretty useful site.

The other option is to try and find free wi-fi in your area. The best site for that is http://www.wififreespot.com/. I’ve used this site a few time to help people who needed to get to wi-fi quickly. Unfortunately, it basically only provides a list of location. While this is useful, I’d love to see this implemented on to something like Google Maps.

On this site, you simply click on the state that you want and out pops a list. You are probably best off using the find function on your browser to type in the city that you are looking for, and then you’ll find a list. While it isn’t the most technically advanced site, I’ve found the information to be pretty accurate and helpful. The site claimed on its blog that it has increased its database by 5,000 hotspots in just the first half of 2009, so it has a pretty impressive collection.

Anybody have their own tricks for getting on the net? Let me know in the comments.

Note: This post is coming out early this week, since I’ll be out of town this weekend. This will probably happen a couple more times this summer, so I hope you won’t be too upset with the break up of continuity.


The Good Ol’ Days of Tech

May 23, 2009

Nostalgia isn’t a huge part of the technology world. Outside of the realm of video games, it is almost always about the newest and latest thing on the block. It occurred to me the other day that on some of my computers I am using ancient software that I would have a hard time replacing if I were to ever have a system failure. Why was I using such outdated software you might ask? The primary answer was speed.

The best example of this is in a program that I thoroughly dislike, Adobe Acrobat Reader. Since the early days, I always thought this was a bloated, slow to load, useless program that deserved to go away. However, it continues to grow, and instead of getting faster with newer versions it got slower. So, I decided to stick with version 5 of the software. It actually got faster as time went on, however, Adobe was able to one-up me by making certain PDFs incompatible with previous versions with new features, but most of the time Adobe Reader 5.0 worked just fine. (As a side note, since I’m usually looking at PDFs as I’m browsing the Internet I now use Foxit Reader to look at PDFs.)

Well, how would I replace it if I needed to today? There’s oldversion.com. A website with a treasure trove of download-able old versions of a variety of programs all in one place. From chat engines like AOL Instant Messenger to old security programs. Maybe you have an old machine that you want to serve as an FTP server, but only has Windows ’95. Here’s a place where you can find an FTP client for that operating system.

This website suggests other reasons why old versions can be an improvement on the “upgrades” of newer versions including, digital rights management functions of Windows Media Player, advertising in chat programs like ICQ and programs that have disappeared.

So if you adhere to the adage “Newer is not always better.” You’ll be in good company at oldversion.com. Let me know in the comments what old version of programs you still use.


Was That Photoshopped? (For the true techs)

December 14, 2008

I hesitated posting this because a lot of the surrounding information is technical, so technical that even I didn’t understand all of it. However, I think this information is so interesting it is worth putting out there and letting you decide what it is worth to you.

As I understand it, here’s one method some of the experts use for figuring out if a picture has been digitally offered. This PDF written by Neal Krawetz describes the process of analyzing JPGs in a couple of different ‘spectra.’  These spectra are actually an analysis of the error level of an image.

When you save a file in the JPG format you are losing some of the data. Different quality JPGs mean that more or less data from the original image has been saved from the file. During the process of making edits to an image, the material that is inserted is almost always at a different error rate than the orignal file that existed.

This, however, is not something that would be readily recognizable to the naked eye. There is a program that will allow you to analyze the different levels of error by implementing it on a heat map. Take a look at the link for an example. This program is pretty simple to operate simply open the program. Click on file –> open. Select your picture, and then adjust the bottom bar to a few different locations. It may take a couple of different settings to be able to find the right setting to get the best view of it. Finally, concentrations of unusual color will be suspicious, and are the most likely areas to be altered.

I should mention that I did have some stability problems with this program on Windows Vista, so I’m not sure if that’s a problem with the operating system or the program. It is something to keep in mind.

Wired also has an excellent post and was able to speak to Neal Krawetz about his method.

So beware when you alter that image, most likely someone out there can call you out on it, and now so can you.


Really Delete Your Hard Drive

November 22, 2008

Have you ever wondered where your data goes after you drop a file in the “Recycle Bin” in Windows and you empty out? The answer, really, is nowhere. It is still sitting there on your hard drive waiting to get written over again. What the Windows deletion process really does is eliminate the index file for it. The index file on the hard drive contains the information of where each file is located on the hard drive. No index data for your file doesn’t mean that your file has been deleted. If you never write to that section of the hard drive, it is still sitting there waiting there possibly to be recovered, by anyone who happens upon it.

As a New York Times article pointed out a couple years ago, one of the most important times to consider this fact is when you are selling or discarding your old computers. If you aren’t careful, all of that potentially sensitive personal data can be recovered. So what’s a Techeap user to do?

The New York Times article recommends DBan, which comes highly recommended on the net, but you want to be very careful with that program because it will delete your entire hard drive. I recommend starting with a nice program I found on CNET’s download section, called Eraser. This I would recommend as your first line of defense when you have sensitive data you want off your machine. Simply drag the files you want deleted into the program, use the menu function for run all, and the program will blast those section of the hard drive with 1s and 0s until the data is unrecoverable.

Both of these programs are good options and it is even more important given some new data (no pun intended) from a study reported in Science Daily. Only a third of hard drives that end up in the secondary market have had their data sufficiently deleted. This is pretty scary, considering the researchers found that many of these drive did have data sensitive to the companies or people who had owned the drives previously. It’s your data make sure you protect it.


Back It Up, Back It Up, Back It Up!

October 21, 2008

You know you need to do it. I urge you to do it now. Don’t wait. (Well, you can wait to you finish the article to see good ways to do it.)

Backup your data!

If your hard drive failed right now, what would you do? I want your answer to be to calmly go to your collection of backups and be thankful that you do frequent backups. There are a variety of ways to do this. Most likely the simplest and cheapest method for you is to burn your data on to DVDs or onto an external hard drive.

However, this does not protect you from the most serious of tragedies where your residence is destroyed. As the past few years have shown, nowhere is completely immune from a devastating natural disaster that can destroy everything you own. For that reason, it is important to have some sort of “off-site backup.” One solution that I use is to have one of your backups at another location. I keep one at my parent’s house in another state, but since I can’t update that all the time, it is important to have another solution.

Another good answer is to store your data online. As this blog entry shows, there are a variety of free online places to store data, however, many of these places have public accessibility, so that may not be the best possible solution for you.

One tool that I have been using is a Firefox plug-in called GSpace. It also has a desktop version, but I find the Firefox plug-in is adequate to my needs. One drawback to this method is that you will get an e-mail message for each file you upload, but it is pretty easy to archive bulk amounts of mail. Now, your data is in a relatively-secure password protected area that you have pretty easy access to, if the worst should happen.

So be prepared and backup today!

UPDATE: I did forget to mention when using GSpace, you will need to do this process over a length of time. Gmail will freeze up if you receive too many messages in a short period of time. I tend to do it this one folder at a time, but you can experiment and see what works best for you.


New Computer ≠ Trialware

October 15, 2008

With basically any new computer, (I’ll talk about the exceptions later on) you have to deal with trialware. Programs and demos you did not ask for pre-installed on your brand new computer. Not only do they take up hard disk space, some of these are “Start-Up” programs that boot when ever you start your PC. They take up valuable RAM and make your whole system run more slowly.

Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do. My first recommendation when you buy a new computer is to seriously consider a full formatting and re-installation of your operating system. While this is something every person may not be able or want to take the time to do, you get a lot of benefits out of electing to take this route. One, you’ll create a system restore point that is absolutely pure of any errors. You simply have your operating system and nothing else. Now, you can add elements one at a time and figure out which ones are causing problems as you install them. A second advantage is that you know you have gotten everything off your machine. Unfortunately, this is the most time consuming method and requires the most technical knowledge.

Assuming you are using a Windows machine, you can manually select items that you want to eliminate. Just go into you Start menu and use your control panels. Depending on which version of Windows you are running you’ll want to pick “Add or Remove Programs” or “Uninstall Programs.” Once you have done that you’ll see a list of items from which you can pick and choose what you want to remove. I would then suggest you go into your Start Menu again and go to the “Startup” programs folder. Make sure there is nothing in there that you do not want to open automatically when you boot your computer. Finally, check your System Icons in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Make sure each one is an element that you want to have. If you find one you don’t want, you can right-click the item, and usually through the properties menu, you can find a way to remove it from your “System Tray.” This method does give save you some time over installing everything from scratch, but you do have to know what programs you want and can require a bit of savvy.

The final method is a program that I have never tried myself but have heard and seen recommended in a variety of places. That item is PCDecrapifier. What this program does is automatically go through your new system and remove a variety of unnecessary programs and trialware. While it does not get everything, I am told it does remove enough to make it a worthwhile application. You are allowed to download it for free, but the programmer does ask for a $5 donation to keep it updated.

Finally, I’ll mention a couple of companies that do not have this ugly habit of loading up our PCs. The first would be Apple. I have not heard or seen any complaints of trial software coming with a new Mac. Dell has also come on board with a number of computers that do not include these programs. I’ve seen offers from HP to ship computers without trialware for no additional cost, and I have seen a plan by Sony to remove them for a fee.

In any case, by hook or by crook, you want to get the programs off your computer and hopefully you’ll find a Techeap way among these to make that happen.


Tips to Save on Printing

September 8, 2008

I was heavily influenced to write on this topic, since I’m always amazed at how much people are still printing in this “digital age.” While I was musing on this, I saw an excellent article in PC World on some tips to save some money during the printing process. (http://www.pcworld.com/article/129141/six_savvy_ways_to_get_more_prints_for_less_money.html)

While those tips are great, there are a few more that I wanted to touch and a couple I’d like to augment.

First off, I’d encourage you to consider cutting back on printing in situations where you don’t really need to print. Especially, if you have some sort of digital device that you can carry the information you are printing with you, there’s no need for you to have it on a piece of paper. This obviously won’t work for everything, but pause just before you print and consider whether you really need what you are about to print in a hard copy.

While PC World’s article focused on ink, and with good reason since that is the most expensive part of printing, you can save money by thinking about the paper as well. The most effective one for me is to print on both sides of the paper. I see a lot of paper wasted that is only used on one side. If you are just printing out directions or something you won’t need for very long, why not print it on the back of something you were going to throw away anyway. I keep a box of discarded paper ready for printing near the printer and when I’m printing something for my own use, that is where I go first. I’ve saved a lot of money on paper just by using that very simple tip.

Finally, while PC World recommends FinePrint, many of your programs will do this for free without having to pay $50 to a software company. In Firefox, you can use the Shrink to Fit option in Print Preview to get started to try to fix the text in one page, however, I usually have to manually customize the size to get it just right. In Microsoft Word and in OpenOffice (which I plan on discussing in a later entry), you can print multiple pages to a single page using the page preview options. It takes a little bit of practice to get the settings right, but it should pay dividends in the long run.

Finally, I will re-emphasize PC World’s suggestion of draft mode. If you aren’t printing out something for presentation, this switch alone will save you quite a bit of ink depending on what model printer you have.