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Issue 97 - 23rd May, 2003
Support Alert is a 100% subscription-only
Quote of the Week
"A computer scientist is someone who, when told to "Go to Hell,"
sees the "go to," rather than the destination, as harmful.”
Most readers of this newsletter know this feeling.
It's the feeling you get when a fiend or relative asks you to
fix their computer.
Flattery, annoyance, resignation; they’re all mixed together in
there and a few more emotions as well.
But when my neighbor Fraser asks me to fix his computer there is
only one emotion.
You see, Fraser is that most dangerous of animals; he's the man
who knows a little bit about computers.
That's why his 20 GB hard drive is set up as 20 separate one
gigabyte partitions - "Why Gizmo, I thought you’d know that
Windows gets very inefficient with large partitions."
And that's why he names all folders and files in the old 8.3 DOS
manner in UPPER CASE. "It’s essential Gizmo, to maintain DOS
And it goes on and on.
So when he asked to come and see why he couldn't order a pair of
golf shoes over the Web, I was less than pleased. I knew what
Surprisingly, the problem was quite simple.
He was trying to buy the shoes through a site that linked to the
commission junction (www.cj.com) site as part of an affiliate
selling arrangement. But the CJ site was being blocked because
it was included as an entry in the infamous Windows "hosts"
The hosts file is a concept derived from UNIX and was intended
to speed up surfing by providing local DNS lookup for commonly
accessed sites. That’s a kind of address book that locally
translates text URL addresses like www.google.com to numerical
IPs like 184.108.40.206 needed for the Internet.
Normally this translation takes place on the DNS servers at your
ISP. By performing the lookup locally, you can save the time
taken for the translation.
But that's only one use for the hosts file. If you enter a URL
in the hosts table like www.cj.com and assign it an address like
127.0.0.1 then you actually block that URL from being accessed.
That's because the special address 127.0.0.1 is reserved for
your computer. Any attempt to access www.cj.com goes nowhere.
This can be useful if you want to block sites that serve banner
ads, porn sites and other undesirable URLS. In fact there are
many downloadable hosts files on the Web that contain thousands
of sites you may want to block. Most of the entries are usually
Some programs like KaZaa Lite give you the offer of installing
one of these large hosts file in order to block banner ads.
And that’s exactly what happened to Fraser.
All I did was delete www.cj.com from his hosts file using a text
editor and he was able to order his golf shoes.
Personally, I think that a lengthy hosts file is a source of
many potential problems and the file is better left blank.
You should check your hosts file. In Win98 you can find it
the windows/system folder. In Windows 2000 and XP, it is located
in windows/system32/drivers/etc. The file has no extension and
should be viewed and edited using a text editor like NotePad.
Don't delete it.
Oh, I should say that I didn’t escape that lightly with Fraser's
PC. As soon as I’d fixed the hosts problem, he gave me the usual
line “while you are here would you mind having a look at this …”
Yes, there was another problem and that turned out to be a real
challenge, but more of that next issue.
NEW CONTEST! Win a free copy of PestPatrol and a free
subscription to the Supporter's Edition!
I've decided that every issue I'm going to run a contest to tap
into the huge collective intelligence of our readers. The prize
this issue will be the excellent anti-adware program Pestpatrol.
Here's the first quiz question so shoot in your answer:
Question of the Week:
"Aunt Mabel is a kindly woman with a modest amount of PC
knowledge. She wants to send you a 5MB video file over the
Internet containing pictures of your cousins but her ISP email
file size limit is only 2MB. She rings you and asks how she can
send the file."
So what do you tell her?
Email your answer to mailto:email@example.com
IN THIS ISSUE
1. TOP TECH SITES
- FAQ Finder
- Free Web Developer Tutorials
- Specialist Site for Systems Management
- Google's Gift to Stalkers
- Free Outliner Shines
- The Ultimate Windows Macro Utility?
- Enhanced Explorer Functions
- Superior Windows File Management
- Free but Good
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
- AOL ICQ Seriously Flawed
- Flaw in Windows Media Player Skins Downloading (MS03-017)
- Cumulative Patch for BizTalk Server (MS03-016)
- Buffer Overflow in Cisco Secure Access Control Server
- New Version of AIDA32 Released
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Combined Wi-Fi/GPRS Card
- High Definition PCs?
- Windows XP Right Click Speedup
- Clean Up the Right Click Menu
- Be the Coolest Kid on the Block
- Pointless Waste of Time Department
5. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
- Accelerate Your Browsing for Free
1. TOP TECH SITES
FAQs are compilations of Frequently Asked Questions. They are a
gold mine of information particularly when you have an obscure
problem to solve. This site has searchable listing of ALL the
UseNet FAQs and believe me, that's a LOT of information.
Free Web Developer Tutorials
Thanks to subscriber Roger Davis for letting me know about this
top site featuring free tutorials and guides for web programming
languages. Many of the guides are in PDF format and can be
downloaded for off line reference. The quality is excellent.
Specialist Site for Systems Management
This site provides hints, tips and FAQs relating to Systems
Management technologies such as Microsoft Systems Management
Server, Operations Manager, Software Update Services and Tivoli,
Google's Gift to Stalkers
Thanks to subscriber Kathleen Gillion who alerted me to this
potentially nasty new service in Google. If you type a telephone
number in the search box, Google returns the physical address
linked to the number along with a detailed map and directions
how to get there. It definitely works in the US, but when I
tried the local Google’s in the UK and Australia, nothing came
up. Readers elsewhere might like to let me know. This is scary
and yet, there appears to be no opt-out mechanism.
Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to
Free Outliner Shines
I'm not a great fan of outliners - my brain doesn't work that
way. Some folks however, swear by them and if that includes you,
then you should check out Keynote, an Open Source freeware
program that has a dedicated band of followers. Its major
design attribute is its ease of use. Words like "natural" and
"seamless" come close to the mark but really don't capture the
essence of what is really a great design. What do you do with
it? Well to quote the web site “KeyNote is used by screenwriters
to draft screenplays, by medical doctors to keep patient
databases, by developers to store source code snippets - and to
everyone it serves as a place to put all the random pieces of
information that have no particular structure of relationship to
other data, and do not fit easily in task-specific applications
such as word-processors, databases or spreadsheets.” (1.7MB)
The Ultimate Windows Macro Utility?
Regular contributor Jeff Partridge writes "Gizmo I know the
macro utility Hotkeycontrol XP you mentioned last issue may be
free but it pales in comparison to Perfect Keyboard Pro. It will
do text replacement, allow you to assign hotkeys to text strings
or any macro. Oh, yeah, it'll record macros as you perform
actions on the computer. It also allows you to WRITE macros,
using the internal macro programming language. It will also do
automated form filling, while online or off. That said, the
program is also easy for newbies to handle and works with any
version of Windows. Is it worth $29.95? You bet, I use it every
day." I agree with Jeff but I would suggest that readers who are
prepared to pay for such features also check out Macro Express
http://www.pitrinec.com/pkindex.htm Perfect Keyboard (1.77MB)
Enhanced Explorer Functions
At the Perfect Keyboard site there's a neat free utility called
MyExplorerBar that adds extra functions designed to speed up
your everyday work when using both Windows and Internet
Explorer. This is done through an additional panel that appears
at the bottom of the Explorer Window. In that panel you can take
shortcuts to common folders, carry out web searches and most
importantly make DOS style, wildcard file name selections. You
can easily turn off the extra panel and re-enable it only when
you require the functions provided. (729KB)
Superior Windows File Management
Windows file managers are promoted as superior replacements for
Windows Explorer (WE). Most are not, which is why most folk
muddle along with WE. Directory Opus is different because it is
genuinely superior to WE in just about every respect. By
combining the WE tree model with dual panes, you get an ideal
environment for effective file handling. For speed, all panes
are operated as separates threads and for power, each provides
functionality totally missing from WE, such as wild card
matching. There's way too much here to explain so take advantage
of the 60 day trial and see for yourself. It's not cheap at $59
but is a real productivity tool for power users. (9.6MB)
Free but Good
If your budget doesn't stretch to the "best in class" Opus file
manager reviewed above, then check out the free 2xExplorer I
mentioned in the Supporters Edition a couple of issues ago.
While lacking the awesome power of Opus it's beautifully
conceived and crafted. And unlike Opus, it's tiny, only 340KB,
a sure sign of clever coding.
Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
AOL ICQ Seriously Flawed
Security company Core Technologies has advised of six flaws in
AOL's popular Mirabilis instant messaging software. Two of the
flaws are serious and could allow an attacker to run code of
choice. The flaws affect ICQ Pro 2003a (the then current
version) and all previous versions. AOL has released a new
version 2003b and all users are advised to upgrade.
Flaw in Windows Media Player Skins Downloading (MS03-017)
MS has announced a "critical" level flaw in Windows Media Player
V7.1 and Windows Media Player for Windows XP V8.0 that could
allow an attacker to execute code of choice. Media Player 9 is
not affected. The flaw lies in the method employed to download
and install new skins. An attacker could exploit the flaw by
offering a suitably crafted skin from a web site or by email. A
patch is available.
Cumulative Patch for BizTalk Server (MS03-016)
This advisory, rated "important" covers two flaws in Microsoft's
Enterprise Integration products, BizTalk Server 2000 and 2002.
The first and more serious flaw is a buffer overflow problem in
2002 that could allow execution of code of choice. The second is
SQL injection vulnerability in the Document Tracking that could
allow the execution of a malicious SQL command. Patches are now
available. More details here:
Buffer Overflow in Cisco Secure Access Control Server
Cisco has released a "critical" level advisory concerning a
buffer overflow problem in it's widely used Systems Secure
Access Control Server for Windows software. The versions
impacted are 2.6.4, 3.0.3, and 3.1.1. The UNIX release of the
same software is not affected. According to Cisco "Exploitation
of this vulnerability results in a Denial of Service, and can
potentially result in system administrator access." A patch is
New Version of AIDA32 Released
Version 3.40 of AIDA32, my favorite PC inventorying program, has
just been released. Improvements are incremental rather than
dramatic but I still suggest you upgrade as the release includes
some bug fixes as well. It remains totally free, even for
commercial use. (2.1-2.3MB depending on version)
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
Combined Wi-Fi/GPRS Card
Now here's a neat idea. Sony Ericsson has just unveiled their
new GC79 PC Card that supports GPRS as well as 802.11b Wi-Fi.
That means you can connect your laptop wirelessly when near a W-
LAN hot spot or using GPRS over the cell phone network when not.
High Definition PCs?
PC monitors have significantly better resolution than TV sets.
So why not feed HDTV directly into your monitor? The folks at
NextVision asked themselves the same question and have come up
with a multi-purpose AV box that is well worth checking out.
Windows XP Right Click Speedup
Microsoft has finally confirmed what many XP users have long
known; that right clicking an icon consumes a huge amount of CPU
resources. This can have consequences on other processes that
range from annoying to disastrous. Anyway, the fix is here:
Clean Up the Right Click Menu
Following on from the previous item, readers should be aware
that they can delete unwanted items from the right click menu.
This article shows you how:
Be the Coolest Kid on the Block
Check out these sunglasses with inbuilt LCD screen. They accept
input from any video source and project a TV-set size image to
one eye. Use them to surf, watch TV or play games while jogging.
Maybe you could attach them to a portable X-ray machine for
superman-style x-ray vision. ;>)
Pointless Waste of Time Department
Waste away vital hours with urban75's growing collection of
useless puzzles, idle distractions and Flash games!
Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in
5. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
Accelerate Your Browsing for Free
There are dozens of products that claim to speed up your surfing
but most have little effect. NaviScope is different - it
actually works! Not only does it speed up your surfing it also
extensive set of diagnostic tools and more bells and whistles
than you can imagine. My only beef is that the tool bar is very
obtrusive so once you set up NaviScope, you should select the
option to turn off the toolbar. If you need it, you can always
bring it up again though the quick launch icon. (614KB)
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This edition of Support Alert was proof-read by subscriber A.
Belile who kindly donated her services. My hearty thanks.
(c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com 2003