gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

"Gizmo's top picks of the best
tech resources and utilities"

Premium Edition
Issue
149, 13th September, 2007

If you experience problems reading this issue in your email program you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here: http://www.techsupportalert.com/members/index.htm

IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: Gizmo's guide to protecting your PC

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Major Update to Tech Support Alert Website
1.2 Test Suspicious Files for Malware
1.3 Free Online Service Offers Alternative to Powerpoint
1.4 Website Identifies Mystery Files
1.5 13 Reasons Why Linux Won't Make it to a Desktop Near You
1.6 Free Service Lets Know how you are Using Your Time
1.7 Missing Out on Social Bookmarking? (Premium Edition)
1.8 How to Check Your Surfing Anonymity (Premium Edition)
1.9 Two Gigabytes of Free Online Backup (Premium Edition)

Alert! Extend Your Security Reach Beyond The PC (sponsored link)

2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Program Removes Ugly Wires from Your Digital Photos
2.2 The Best Free 3-D Graphics and Modeling Programs
2.3 Tiny Free PDF Reader
2.4 Firefox Extension Attaches Sticky Notes to Webpages
2.5 A Portable Email Checker
2.6 Free World Time Clock Impresses
2.7 Extension Sorts Firefox Bookmarks
2.8 Freeware Replacements for Excel and Visio (Premium Edition)
2.9 Improve Your Network Security on the Cheap (Premium Edition)
2.10 Free Utility Converts Video Files for iPod Use (Premium Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Microsoft Shuts Down AutoPatcher
3.3 Multiple Flaws in Yahoo Messenger
3.4 Security Update for Apple iTunes
3.5 Details of Vista Service Pack 1 Released
3.6 A Caution About the FileHippo Update Checker
3.7 A New Way to Check Out Downloads for Potential Malware
3.8 Malicious Websites Threaten Normal Users
3.9 New Improved Version of HxD Hex Editor /Disk Editor
3.10 An Apology from Gizmo
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Disk Drives Hit 1000GB
4.2 How to Track Changes in Web Pages
4.3 New Study: Cell Phones Fry Brain Cells
4.4 PC in a Keyboard
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Print Your Own Calendars (Premium Edition)
4.7 Waste of Time Department Compilation (Premium Edition)
4.8 How a Subscriber Got RoboForm for One Cent (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Convert a U3 Flash Drive to a Normal Drive
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A New Way to Find Out What's Eating Up Your Disk Space
6.2 The Best Way to Surf Anonymously (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
0.0 EDITORIAL

What security software do I use on my own PC?

It's a question I often get asked. Usually the unstated motivation behind the question runs along the lines "if I find out what Gizmo is using then that must be a good guide to what I should use."

There is some truth in this but the story is complicated by the fact that some of the security software I use is there because it is being evaluated.

That said, I wouldn't be evaluating it on my own personal PCs unless I though it was good now would I? :>)

I have three PCs in my office. Across these machines you will find the following front-line security products in use:
 
Firewall / HIPS Comodo, ZoneAlarm Pro
Anti-virus scanner AntiVir (paid version), NOD32, Kaspersky AV
On-demand scanners SpySweeper, CounterSpy, AVG Anti-Spyware, Panda Anti-Rootkit, GMER Rootkit detector, DarkSpy
Virtualization VMWare, SandBoxie


I also have a few other goodies that I'm not publicly disclosing. That's because I don't want to reveal all my defenses; that might allow someone to make a targeted attack on me personally.

Now there are several notable aspects to the security products I use:

First, the three AV scanners I use are all commercial products, not freeware.


Why? Because AV scanners are of critical importance and I only want the best. (Note: I do not sell or carry ads for any of these products. Indeed, I personally paid for the actual products I use)

Second, I only use anti-spyware scanners for on-demand use; I have their active monitoring disabled.

Why? These scanners, while useful, have in the last year never detected anything on my PCs apart from cookies and they just slow down my PCs too much. If they were actually finding things my view would be different.

Third, I only have relatively few layers of defense.

Why? Because I now rely more on preventing malware from entering my system in the first place, rather than trying to detect it on my system.

Fourth, the mix of products I use today is totally different from what I was recommending just a year ago.

Why? In the last year the whole security game has changed. The threats are different and the security products themselves have also evolved.

I know a few readers are going to be shocked at the relative sparseness of my defenses but I regard my PCs as better protected today than they were a year ago when I had six different layers of active defense.
Not only are my computers better defended, they run much faster because they are not bogged down by layer after layer of security products.

Don't get me wrong; layering your defenses using multiple security products is still important. Indeed, if you are not using sandboxing or other measures to prevent malware from getting into your system, layering is as important as ever.

Similarly, if you can't afford to use the best security products, you really should use layering.
The preventative approach I use also requires some discipline. If you or the users of your computers are not prepared to exercise that discipline, then stick with layering your computer defenses.

The computer security products I use today directly reflect my current view on how to best protect your PC from malware.

I have expressed that view in this newsletter throughout 2007. For those who missed the issues or simply missed the message, I've written a short article called "Gizmo's Guide to Protecting Your PC." It's possibly one of the most useful items I've written this year. If you have time, you should read it.


Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com



1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Major Update to Tech Support Alert Website
I've been a busy boy in the last month updating the "46 Best-ever Freeware" list [1] and the "Extended List" [2]. The "Extended List" now has 71 items including 14 brand new entries. Even the home page [3] has seven new "how-to" guides.
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_free_tech_support_sites.htm
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm
[3] http://www.techsupportalert.com

1.2 Test Suspicious Files for Malware
It's a good practice to run any file you download (or borrow) through a free web based file testing service that will check it for malware using multiple anti-virus and spyware engines. Here are two of my favorites: Jotti [1] currently uses 20 different anti-virus scanners, while Virus Total [2] uses 32! Using one of these services can't guarantee that a file is 100% free of malware, but it's a lot safer than installing an unknown program on the blind faith that it's OK.
[1] http://virusscan.jotti.org/
[2] http://www.virustotal.com/flash/index_en.html

1.3 Free Online Service Offers Alternative to Powerpoint
These free online apps just keep coming. Preezo allows you to create and use presentations directly from their site. Presentations can also be mailed directly to clients. Collaborative working is fully supported.
http://preezo.com/

1.4 Website Identifies Mystery Files
Usually you can identify the program you need to open a file by the file type, but what if it hasn't got one? This free service allows you to upload the file and have it identified. I tied it with a PDF file with the .pdf extension removed and it worked just fine. Thanks to subscriber Christian Dorfmair for the suggestion.
http://mark0.net/onlinetrid.aspx

1.5 13 Reasons Why Linux Won't Make it to a Desktop Near You
This short and whimsical article by regular contributor "Briard" is so accurate it's painful.
http://www.technoledge.com.au/pdfs/linux_desktop.pdf

1.6 Free Service Lets Know how you are Using Your Time
RescueTime is an online application which gives you a breakdown of how you spend time on your computer. The broad stats for me were email: 51%; surfing: 23%; reviewing: 11%; writing: 9%. However, much finer breakdowns are possible by tagging your activities, and this could prove useful to those who bill out their time to clients. To use RescueTime you need to install a small utility on your PC that collects the usage stats for the RescueTime server.
http://www.rescuetime.com/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.7 Missing Out on Social Bookmarking?
There are now over 200 online social bookmarking services along the lines of Del.icio.us. This site lists most of them along with short reviews and feature tables.
http://3spots.blogspot.com/2006/01/all-social-that-can-bookmark.html

1.8 How to Check Your Surfing Anonymity
How much information does your browser reveal about you and your computer? Run the tests at this site to find out.
http://www.all-nettools.com/library,privacy,4

1.9 Two Gigabytes of Free Online Backup
Third time lucky. After two previous attempts I've finally got the much reader-recommended Mozy online backup service to work. It's a nice system: easy to set up, secure, provides scheduled backups, incremental operation, two gigs of free space or unlimited space for $5 a month plus a lot more. What's not to like? Just the idea of online backup. It suits some folks, but I'd rather backup to a USB drive any day. Faster, more reliable and I have control of the data. That said, Mozy is a terrific free service. https://mozy.com/home

Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to:
supporters@techsupportalert.com


2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Free Program Removes Ugly Wires from Your Digital Photos
If you take a lot of digital photos you will really appreciate this free utility suggested by subscriber Ken De Pree. Wire Pilot is photo retouching software, available as a stand-alone program or Photoshop plug-in, that's specially designed to allow the easy removal of unsightly wires, poles, antennas and other linear objects from your digital photos. I found it worked particularly well where the background behind the wire or pole you wanted to remove was sky, snow or other untextured surface. In these circumstances Wire Pilot was quicker to use than Photoshop's own tools and the results were just as good. The results with textured backgrounds were not quite as acceptable and clearly looked "processed." That reservation aside, this is a really useful free tool that can greatly improve the appearance of some of your favorite digital snapshots. You can either download the stand-alone program or a plug-in that works with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements 4, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, Corel PHOTO-PAINT, Macromedia Fireworks or XnView. Freeware, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 1.9MB.
http://www.colorpilot.com/wire.html

2.2 The Best Free 3-D Graphics and Modeling Programs
Subscriber David Bruce recently sent in a series of suggestions in this category. I suggested he write them up as a webpage and he's done just that. Check out his suggestions at:
http://scoobysnacker.googlepages.com/3dartandgraphics

2.3 Tiny Free PDF Reader
I've used the free Foxit PDF reader for more than a year because it's smaller and much faster than the Adobe Acrobat Reader, but recently I've been using the free Sumatra reader that is even smaller and faster. It's also Open Source and portable. Yes, the interface is a little cruder than Foxit and no, it hasn't got quite as many features, but 99.9% of the time all I want of a PDF reader is to be able to read PDFs. I guess I must be strange :>) Free Open Source, Windows compatibility unstated, 802KB
http://blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/

2.4 Firefox Extension Attaches Sticky Notes to Webpages
I don't like sticky note utilities much but for this one I make an exception. Internote allows you to attach notes to webpages so that when you revisit the page the sticky note is automatically displayed. Neat eh? Free Firefox extension, Firefox 1.5 -> 2.0, 118KB. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2011

2.5 A Portable Email Checker

Recently a subscriber wrote asking if there was a free program that would run from her work PC (which had no administrator rights) that would let her check her personal email accounts. She wasn't looking for a full fledged email client but just a program that would let her know if she had new and possibly urgent personal mail.

There are several free portable POP email clients, including the excellent portable Thunderbird [1], but this was overkill for her needs. What she needed was simply an email notifier that would let her know if she had new personal mail. Happily she has two excellent choices available.

My favorite email notifier for normal (as opposed to portable) use is PopPeeper [2]. It not only supports POP mail but IMAP and all the common webmail services including AOL. It also can handle HTML mail as well as plain text, offers full support for attachments and allows you to reply to mail from within the product. Installation is easy as it allows you to import your mail account data from several common email clients.

PopPeeper is a great productivity tool. It just sits in your system mail, quietly checking all your email accounts at regular intervals. When new mail arrives it lets you know and you can quickly check the new mail by clicking the PopPeeper system tray icon. It's an effective way to quickly scan for something of importance without disturbing your normal work too much.

PopPeeper is not normally portable, but if you go to the download page [3] there is a special version that doesn't use an installer. To set this up as a portable app just download the zip file and unpack it to a suitably named folder on your USB flash drive and run it from there. Simple as that.

A good though more basic alternative to PopPeeper is nPOPuk [4]. It's a tiny 143KB file, but it packs quite a punch for the size. Sure, it only displays HTML email as plain text and lacks some of PopPeeper's fancier features, but it provides everything that many POP mail users will ever need from a notification program.

[1]
http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/thunderbird_portable
[2] http://www.poppeeper.com/ Freeware, All Windows versions, 1.31MB [3] http://www.poppeeper.com/download.php
[4] http://www.npopsupport.org.uk/ Freeware, all Windows versions, 143K.

2.6 Free World Time Clock Impresses
Subscriber Scott Youngman writes "Gizmo, with a son now stationed in Japan and everyone wondering what time it is here or there, I've reinvestigated free "world clock" utilities. As you probably know, a world clock displays the time and date simultaneously in multiple time zones. The current generation of software also adjusts automatically for daylight savings time, and can optionally synchronize to an NTP (Network Time Protocol) server over the Web. After searching the web for available programs, I ended up with the latest version of Wim's clock [1] (now v3.1.26). It is now much easier to configure and use -- just install, pick the time zones to display, and set a few other options including time and date format."
One thing I like about this world clock is that it sits unobtrusively in the System Tray (Notification Area). It is also small: only 134 Kb zipped. It is a simple program that accomplishes a focused task. Times are shown in a tool tip over the tray icon, or click the icon to open a small box listing the selected time zones. You can have it auto-start with Windows but unless you are a frequent user it may be better to set up as a desktop icon and start the program only when needed.
[1] http://www.wimsprograms.com/programs.html#wclock30

2.7 Extension Sorts Firefox Bookmarks
One of the features missing in Firefox's otherwise excellent bookmarks system is the ability to sort bookmark lists alphabetically. I used to use Torisugari's "Sort Bookmarks" extension for this but it doesn't support Firefox V2. Thankfully someone has updated the extension to work with the latest versions and even improved the interface.
http://www.oregontechsupport.com/sorting-bookmarks-in-firefox/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.8 Freeware Replacements for Excel and Visio
Subscriber Allan Marillier writes "Gizmo take a look at GNUMeric [1] as a free alternative to MS-Excel, and DIA [2] for a free alternative to Visio. DIA is not yet as advanced as Visio, but it is still good for a freebie. GNUmeric flawlessly opened some of my large Excel spreadsheets with all kinds of formulas, charts, custom conditional formatting etc." Nice suggestions there Allan. Both these programs form part of the Linux Gnome Office Suite, though the versions I tested ran on Windows. DIA is not quite there yet, but it's highly usable for simple charting. Indeed, I preferred it to the online charting service Gliffy [3]. Its limitations noted, DIA is a "must-have" for students who can't afford Visio. GNUmeric is a very different animal to DIA. This one really impressed me; it's probably the best freeware spreadsheet program (or web app) I've tried. Indeed, for most users it's a totally usable substitute for Excel. To test its limits I gave it to a friend who works as an actuary. His comments: " ... flawless, it correctly ran all my standard macros and even handled a complex 1100 line derivative macro that chokes on early version of Excel." He did note that he won't be abandoning Excel anytime soon.
[1] http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric/ Freeware, Win2K-Vista, 16.2MB
[2] http://live.gnome.org/Dia Freeware, Win2K-Vista, 12.2MB
[3] http://www.gliffy.com/


2.9 How to Improve Your Network Security Without Paying a Ton of Money
If you're looking for a free open source alternative to SonicWALL and WatchGuard for blocking spam, spyware, viruses, adware and unwanted content on the network, download the Untangle Gateway Platform [1]. It's built around more than 30 open source projects including SpamAssassin, ClamAV, and Snort - and can be downloaded, installed, and configured in less than one hour. For 4 minute product demo, go here [2].
[1] http://www.untangle.com
[2] http://tinyurl.com/yt75mu (untangle.com)

Editor's note: The entire item above, including the title, is presented exactly as subscriber Ray George sent it to me. Nice suggestion, Ray, and submitting it in a form that emulates my shorthand writing style and item format was a fiendishly clever way to improve the chances of publication. Others please note :>)

2.10 Free Utility Converts Video Files for iPod Use
I've mentioned several general purpose video format converters in past issues, but if you are only interested in getting videos onto your iPod then the simplicity of this specialized iPod converter will appeal. "Free iPod Video Converter" is just a fancy front end to conversion utilities written by other folks but it works just fine. It will convert DVD/VCD, AVI, MPEG, WMV, RM, RMVB, DivX, ASF, VOB video files, it supports batch processing and has user selectable quality settings. Freeware, Windows 98 and later with DivX 8.0, 1.38MB.
http://www.ipod-video-converter.org/

Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to supporters@techsupportalert.com

3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News
It was a quiet month for Microsoft with only four security patches released on "Patch Tuesday" the 11th of September. Only one was rated as "critical." This dealt with a problem with the much-disliked Microsoft agent "Clippy" that could allow Clippy to be co-opted by attackers to help take over your computer.
Further details of the September updates can be found here [1]. All the updates are distributed automatically via the Microsoft Update Service. Dial-up users in particular need to be aware that these updates are large files and you will need a considerable period of time online for them to download successfully. If you have any doubts whether you have received the updates, then visit the Microsoft Update Service [2] now.
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms07-sep.mspx
[2] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Microsoft Shuts Down AutoPatcher
AutoPatcher [1] is a free service that allows users to download a single file containing all Windows monthly updates released since the last service patch. It is an enormously useful service that saves users with a new PC the tedious task of spending hours connected to the web to download patches from Windows Update. Not any more. Microsoft has forced AutoPatcher to shut down.
I just can't understand Microsoft. The company is already widely disliked for its business practices and moves like this can only further antagonize computer users. No wonder Apple is doing so well. Now for some good news: The last AutoPatcher releases are still available via BitTorrent from here [2] and elsewhere. I suggest you go grab a copy while you can. I just downloaded the core August 2007 update for XP SP2 and have all 248MB burnt to a CD and safely stored away for future use.
[1] http://autopatcher.com/
[2] http://autopatcher.m2ys4u.co.uk/mystats.php

3.3 Multiple Flaws in Yahoo Messenger
Two separate serious flaws were disclosed in late August. Check your version number and if less than 8.1.0.419 then update now from here:
http://messenger.yahoo.com/download.php

3.4 Security Update for Apple iTunes
A buffer overflow flaw has been discovered in both the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes that could allow the host computer to be compromised simply by playing a maliciously crafted media file. Users should upgrade to the latest V7.4 release from here:
http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/

3.5 Details of Vista Service Pack 1 Released
Like a lot of other users, I've decided not to use Vista on any of my production PCs until Vista SP1 is released. Well that date is fast approaching. Microsoft has just released details [1] of the SP1 release. Beta versions will be available to a restricted group of testers in the next few weeks and a full public release is tentatively scheduled for the first quarter of 2008. SP1 looks to be more than bug fixes; it will include a number of security and product enhancements plus support for a wider range of hardware. Full details here:
http://tinyurl.com/2p2yks (windowsvistablog.com)

3.6 A Caution About the FileHippo Update Checker
In recent issues I've strongly advocated that all users should regularly use the free Secunia Software Inspector Service [1] to check whether any software on their PC has known security flaws and needs updating. This prompted a number of subscribers to write in about the FileHippo Update Checker [2] that also scans the software on your PC and advises if a new version is available.
But there is a big difference between the products. The Secunia service will only advise of programs that need updating because they have security flaws and a patched version is available. In contrast the FileHippo program is not looking for security problems at all. It's only interested in letting you know if new versions are available.
Now clearly there is some overlap but frankly I prefer the Secunia Program. First, because it has a specific security focus and second, because it generates many fewer update suggestions. Indeed, the first time I ran the FileHippo program on my laptop it suggested 71 programs needed updating! Not one of these updates was security related.
Sure, if you are the kind of dude who always wants the very latest software versions and you also have a lot of time on your hands, then by all means try the FileHippo updater. Me, I only update utilities when the new version has a feature I want, or patches flaws in the old version that were annoying me. In the world of software, newer does not always mean better.
[1] http://secunia.com/software_inspector/
[2] http://filehippo.com/updatechecker/

3.7 A New Way to Check Out Downloads for Potential Malware

In item 1.2 I mentioned that it's always a good idea to check downloaded programs for malware by using one of the free online services that will run the file through multiple scanners.

That approach, while highly useful, won't catch new malware that's not yet in the signature database of the scanners. Here's another way you can test programs for malware, one that doesn't rely on signatures.

Mandiant Red Curtain is a free program that looks at a program and assigns it an "interest" score based on certain characteristics of the file. The higher the score, the more suspicious.

According to the website, Red Curtain looks at "... multiple aspects of an executable ... such as the entropy (in other words, randomness), indications of packing, compiler and packing signatures, the presence of digital signatures, and other characteristics."

The scoring system is as follows:

0.0 - 0.7 Typically not suspicious, at least in the context of properties that MRC analyzes.
0.7 - 0.9 Somewhat interesting. May contain malicious files with some deliberate attempts at obfuscation.
0.9 - 1.0 Very interesting. May contain malicious files with deliberate attempts at obfuscation
1.0+ Highly Interesting. Often contains malicious files with deliberate attempts at obfuscation

I tried it on a set of 10 files known to be safe and 10 known to contain malware. Seven of the safe files rated below 0.7 while eight of the infected files rated above 0.7.

Now that's not perfect detection by any means, but for a non-signature based program it is reasonably impressive. Certainly good enough to suggest that in experienced hands this is a useful new tool that can be used to complement the signature scanning of suspicious files.

I say "experienced hands" because the results need interpretation and the high rate of false positives may cause unnecessary concern among novice users.

http://www.mandiant.com/mrc

3.8 Malicious Websites Threaten Normal Users

Until recently the chances of an average user encountering a hostile website was very small. Those at risk were mainly adventurous surfers who roamed to the nether regions of the web.

Not anymore. Take this letter from subscriber Roy Waidler as a warning:

" Gizmo, the proliferation of drive-by spyware downloads has expanded to places where you'd least expect them. My daughter went to a recipe site - yes, a recipe site - and when she closed out the window after getting her recipe a drive-by installer for EraseSure got in so fast that she didn't have a chance. It got our OS big time. What impressed me was the speed in which this thing got into our computer, I've never seen the like - and it ate ZoneAlarm's firewall like candy in the process. Two other people with whom we have frequent contact have reported getting drive-bys at Xanga PC Optimizer and another at an unnamed guitar information site; the latter had SpySheriff waiting for him. Those who are in your words "adventurous surfers" have classically been the ones at risk for drive-bys but the expansion of them into "normal" websites is somewhere between amazing and appalling."

Roy's letter underscores the risk. It also highlights that even the best security software is vulnerable to a malware program that is allowed to run on your PC. That's one of the reasons I've moved away from running ever more security products. Instead I put more effort into preventing these nasties getting a foothold on your PC in the first place

Here are two free preventative measures to protect against hostile websites:

First, install McAfee Site Advisor [1]. It's a free browser plug-in that appends site security ratings to search engine listings. This will help to prevent you from accidentally surfing to a hostile site while sifting through your search engine results.

Second, always surf in a sandbox or with your browser running with limited user rights. You'll find full instructions [2] as to how you can do this on my website. It won't cost you a cent either.

[1] http://www.siteadvisor.com/
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/safe-surfing.php

3.9 New Improved Version of HxD Hex Editor /Disk Editor
Last month I gave a strong recommendation for HxD, the free Hex editor that also includes a raw disk editor and memory editor. One feature I mentioned that was missing was binary file comparison. Not any more; the program author Dario Valenzo has just let me know that the latest beta version now has this capability. Nice work Dario. It's great to see a software author so responsive to suggestion. Nice change for me too. Often, when I say anything negative about a product, the usual response of the author is to attack me personally rather than address the problem. Ah, such is life.
http://www.mh-nexus.de/hxd/

3.10 An Apology from Gizmo

I've been having terrible trouble delivering this newsletter in recent months because certain webmail providers, notably Yahoo, have been blocking delivery of the newsletter from my list server.
In frustration I wrote at the end of August to all affected subscribers telling them what they could do to ensure future delivery.

Unfortunately I made an error and the email was sent to a much wider group including a number of subscribers who had never had problems receiving their newsletter.

I apologize to these subscribers for having caused unnecessary concern. The error was no one's fault but mine.

At least something good came out of it. You now have a healthier appreciation that when it comes to computers, I can make as many mistakes as other folks :>)

One of the suggestions I mentioned to ensure delivery was to use my free RSS notification service [1] to let you know when each premium monthly issue is published. For those without RSS I suggested they make use of a free third party notification service [2] that's email based.

Even if you have been reliably getting this newsletter I still recommend you use a notification service. It's a useful backup and it doesn't cost you a cent. You can subscribe using the links below.

[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/rss/monthly-issue-premium.xml => RSS
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/feedburner.htm => email notification


4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Disk Drives Hit 1000GB
Who would have ever though we would see terabyte drives arrive so quickly. The Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 not only gets 1000GB into a single 3.5 inch drive but Hitachi can somehow manage to retail it for $400. It's fast too. Now one terabyte, folks, is one thousand thousand megabytes. By comparison, my first PC hard drive was 10 megabytes. People talk about Moore's Law and how quickly computer processing power has gone up, but the increase in disk capacity is proportionally thousands of times greater and shows no sign of stopping. When will we have terabyte USB flash drives? My guess: within five years.
http://techreport.com/articles.x/13034/1

4.2 How to Track Changes in Web Pages
There are several web services, both free and paid, that will alert you by email when a nominated webpage changes. An alternative approach to using these web services is to run a special stand alone "alerting" program on your own PC. Both approaches work fine and offer a great way to keep track of what your competitors are doing or simply to keep an eye on a site that interests you. You can find a good summary of both the web service and software options available at this site.
http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/monitor.htm

4.3 New Study: Cell Phones Fry Brain Cells
A report [1] on a research study from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel claims they have found that human brain cells show pre-cancerous changes with as little as ten minutes exposure to cell phone radiation. These findings come at a time when a number of other recent studies suggest that using cell phones may have adverse impacts on users. It's hard to know what to conclude but it would seem prudent to avoid buying phones with a high level of radiation such as those listed here [2].
[1] http://tinyurl.com/ywksgd (dailymail.co.uk)
[2] http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-6602_7-5020357-1.html?tag=txt

4.4 PC in a Keyboard
Or in a monitor if you prefer. Nice idea where space is a premium. Thanks to Callie Jordan for the link.
http://www.cybernetman.com/default.cfm?DocId=602

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
This shadow puppetry video, suggested by subscriber Alan Hall, will have you smiling in wonder and at times, gasping in admiration. Simply stunning. You'll need broadband for this.
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/774922/great_shadow_puppetry/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 Print Your Own Calendars
Regular contributor Tony Bennett writes "Gizmo, I thought I would pass this list on as I think I have found all the free photo calendar software that's around. My favorite is Kalender [3]."
[1] http://tinyurl.com/youk7c (softpedia.com)
[2] http://www.waseo.de/download.php?lng=en
[3] http://www.tkexe.de/kalender/index.htm

4.7 Waste of Time Department Compilation
Regular contributor Callie Jordan has put together a compilation [1] of the best "Complete Waste of Time Department" items from this newsletter for the last year. Looking at the list you could wipe out days with this stuff. But hey, it would be fun.
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/waste-of-time.php

4.8 How a Subscriber Got RoboForm for One Cent
In last month's Premium edition I mentioned the CheckOutFree system [1] used by many sites [2], [3], [4] where you can get free copies of premium software by agreeing to buy or take out trial versions of other products that are being promoted . Now I'm well aware that you subscribers are a smart bunch, but this email from subscriber Brad Hayashi had me smiling in admiration. "Gizmo, I used CheckOutFree to get a free RoboForm. One of the offers was to give eBay a try. I gave it a try by creating a new user ID, and I did a search for anything with a starting bid of $0.01. I found one that was ending in 3 hours for an electronic download of a Dickenson novel (public domain, of course). Bought it for $0.01 and got RoboForm for free. Of course, I didn't even bother to download the novel."
[1] http://www.checkoutfree.com
[2] http://www.321download.com/LastFreeware/page7.html.
[3] http://tinyurl.com/ytxzht (www.oscandy.com)
[4] http://www.fatcash.com/t/18/740093/


5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Convert a U3 Flash Drive to a Normal Drive

U3 smart drives are USB flash drives which comply with the U3 mobile computing standard set down by U3 LLC (www.u3.com), a consortium of vendors lead by Sandisk.

The main idea behind U3 was to develop a platform where programs could run independently on USB drives without leaving any trace on the host PC. The U3 standard also provides for a user menu (the Launchpad) that pops up when the USB drive is inserted into a host and it also mandates password protection.

It's a great idea, in principle, but in practice there are not a lot of programs around that are written for U3. Indeed, some software authors have avoided writing for U3 because they feel that it's a proprietary standard. Furthermore, there have been a lot of reports that U3 drives simply won't work with particular host PCs.

Another limitation is that U3 drives will only work with Win2K SP4, XP and Vista. Older Windows operating systems, Mac OS, Linux, and UNIX are not supported. That's quite a limitation, particularly when using public terminals.

Don't get me wrong; U3 applications on U3 drives can work wonderfully well. It's just that you don't really need U3.

I had a couple of U3 drives but have since removed U3 from both. U3 removal is not hard. In essence, what you need to do is remove the LaunchPad.

Removal may not be hard, but be aware that it is irreversible (apparently it can be reversed on SanDisk drives). That said, it is essential that you backup your flash drive data before proceeding.

The best way to remove the LaunchPad is to use the removal tool provided by the manufacturer of your flash drive. With some drives this option is available from the LaunchPad menu itself under the item "Status and Settings". More likely, though, you'll need to download the removal utility. You can locate the utility for your drive by filling in this form at the official U3 site:

If you can't find a utility for your drive then download the generic utility provided by U3.

Before running the utility, ensure your U3 drive is the only USB device plugged into your PC.

After running the U3 removal utility you may find your drive is formatted using the FAT system. I suggest you re-format it using FAT32. You can do this by right clicking on your flash drive in the Windows Explorer window and selecting "format." Then check the FAT32 option.

Before proceeding with the reformat, double check that you have selected your USB flash drive and not your hard disk. Remember the carpenter's motto "measure twice, cut once" :>)

Once it's reformatted, your drive will be just a stock standard USB flash drive with nothing on it. But hey, who wants an empty drive? Go to www.portableapps.com and load it up with a whole bunch of free non-U3 goodies.


6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 A New Way to Find Out What's Eating Up Your Disk Space

When your hard drive fills up, the quickest way to find out which files are hogging the space is to use a specialist utility that displays your disk space usage visually. There are a number of excellent free contenders that differ mainly in the way the disk space usage is portrayed:

SequoiaView displays the space usage in a pretty manner using a technique called "Squarified treemaps", while the open source program WinDirStat uses just ordinary rectangular treemaps not squarified. It also offers a regular directory listing as well a summary chart showing usage by file type.

Now treemaps, squarified or otherwise, may be fine but my favorite until now has been SpaceMonger. It's visually cruder than the other two yet very effective and runs directly from the executable without the need for installation.

But now there's a new contender suggested by subscriber Marco Borgna called TreePie [1].

Basically, TreePie represents disk usage like a pizza with the size of each slice representing the space taken by each top level folder. Clicking a folder "slice" will then display a similar "pizza" breakdown of the sub-folders and files in that folder. It sounds complicated when I describe it but it's simple and intuitive in use.

It's also highly effective. Add to that the fact that it's also portable, has an alternative Windows explorer view and is free open source software and you have an easy "top product in class" recommendation.
My only complaint is its rather slow scan time. Still, this is not the kind of program you will be using everyday so a short delay is quite tolerable

[1] http://treepieblog.blogspot.com/ 125KB including source code

*** Bonus Freebie in this Premium Edition ***

6.2 The Best Way to Surf Anonymously

My top pick here has long been Xerobank (aka TorPark), a special version of the Firefox browser that comes pre-configured to make use of the Tor anonymizing network. Now having looked at Opera Tor [1], suggested by subscribers Rob Fuller and Allan Marillier, I'm not so sure.

As you might have guessed Opera Tor is a special version of the Opera 9.21 Browser configured to use Tor. It's got some good things going for it. It's portable, it's smaller than Xerobank, it loads faster, it connects faster to the Tor Network and seems to run a little zippier as well. The Opera browser used as a base is more than a match for Firefox, with many features (including BitTorrent) built into the basic browser; features that need to be added as extensions to Firefox. On top of that you get the excellent free mail client that comes with Opera.

And it has another feature not available in Xerobank: the excellent Privoxy proxy server that provides powerful ad filtering, security screening and more.

So with all of these pluses am I making Opera Tor my top recommendation?

I would, except for a strange message that appears on eSnips, one of the two Opera Tor official download sites. The message says "This file has been flagged by our users as inappropriate and is under review." I have no idea what this means and my attempts to have eSnips clarify it have not been answered. What I can say is that Opera Tor has passed all the malware tests on my PC and is also rated 100% clean by Softpedia. A Google search also came up with a blank.

Draw your own conclusions, but Opera Tor is now the product I'm using on my personal USB flash drive. Freeware, all Windows versions 6.4MB.

[1] http://letwist.net/operator

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The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

The Extended List of the Latest Freebies
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm>

For lots more free IT newsletters see
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Thanks to subscriber Roger Keeny for proofreading this issue..

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Support Alert
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Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2007

See you next issue. Next month's issue will be published on the 13th of September.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com