Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Frozen Zune

At 2AM this morning (CDT), mass amounts of Microsoft Zunes froze. Zune players reset and go to reboot but get stuck at the booting screen. Although most reports say that 30gb models have only been effected, I have seen many people having the same issues with the other sizes as well. I do not have much information nor a fix right now, but I will have one posted as soon as I know. I would appreciate it if anyone reading this that has any more information can please comment it here or contact me. I would like to get my Zune fixed and I would like to help spread more information on this mini-crisis.

According to THIS, Microsoft has no fix yet. It will probably be a long wait.

As a side note, many people are saying that you can stop the infinite boot up screen by taking your Zune apart and disconnecting the battery for over 10 seconds. I have not tried it myself but it appears to work. I do not recommend it though, seeing as it would void your warranty.

What a great way for Microsoft to say goodbye to 2008!

Edit:

Apparently the frozen Zune issue is due to a problem with the Zune's internal time. Zune thinks that each year has 365 days and did not account for a leap year, so theoretically, when Microsoft gets up off their asses and finds out this is the problem, it will have already corrected itself... (tomorow) Ill be posting at midnight to see whether the new date fixed anything.

Edit:

It is midnight where I live, or a little past it. I checked my Zune. After running out of batteries and recharging, still doesn't work. I will wait a few hours to check again. The internal clock could be calculating a different timezone or something. I just hope it works.

Edit:
According to THIS new support article, I need to wait until 7AM my time for it to work. Oh well...

Edit:
Works fine now. Microsoft better make up for this some how.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Useful Firefox Add-ons for Bloggers/Website Owners

Firefox, in my opinion, is the best browser out there. If you are a blogger or a website owner, you may find the following add-ons useful. (Some may even be useful to you if you are just a regular user)

  • NoDoFollow: NoDoFollow is an add-on that highlights all links on a web page that are DoFollow links. This can be toggled off and on via the right click menu. This is useful for checking your links or for looking for DoFollow links on other websites. (Thanks to Ceri Shaw for recommending this one)
  • Clipmarks: Clipmarks is a Firefox add-on that lets you "Clip" up pages instead of copying and pasting. It preserves formatting (in most cases) and allows you to post directly to many blogging platforms.
  • Copy as HTML Link: This handy little add-on allows you to select text and create an HTML Link containing the selected text to the page you have selected it from. It is then stored in the clipboard.
  • HTML Validator: Checks the validity of the HTML code on a selected page. Pretty simple and especially useful if you are going for valid HTML. However, this does not work in Linux
  • IE Tab: This nifty little add-on allows you to view your page in an IE tab while still being inside Firefox. Great for checking how your page looks in IE without having to actually use that garbage browser!
  • MeasureIt: This tool allows you to use a ruler to measure out elements and other parts of web pages. It comes in really useful when trying to clean your HTML code.
  • Web Developer: This is by far the most useful addon when messing around with your Web Pages. This add-on creates a toolbar that allows you to change parts of your page, view source code, resize things, validate code, and much more.
  • Adblock Plus: This is a great tool to stop those annoying advertisements that get in your way of viewing content. You can even use wildcards so similar ads will not be loaded again. (Please note that I do not condone blocking banner advertisements or other ads that are not making it hard for you to view content. Many websites are supported by these advertisements and they deserve the ad revenue.)
If you happen to have any more add-ons that should be added to this list, please comment with a link to it. You will be credited for the contribution.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Transferring Files: Many Ways To Do So

Every once in a while you will find that you need to transfer a few files (or a shitload of files) from one computer to another. Depending on what you are transferring and the situation you are in, it can be a pain if you choose the wrong methods. Here is a basic list of common methods of transferring files. Please note that this list is just for reference. If you have no idea what to do, please read up some more on each topic.

  • Crossover cable: If you are transfering files from one computer to another, the most direct method is to use a crossover cable. This creates a connection between two computers through the Ethernet port. You should be able to pick one of these up at your local Staples or Officemax. If not, take a spare Ethernet cable and make one. After creating the connection, you need to set up an FTP connection or use some other file sharing program to transfer the files between the computers.
  • LAN: If you have a local area network setup, it is really simple to transfer files from one PC to another PC on the LAN. If you have windows, you can make use of the shared folders feature simply drag and drop. For Linux, setting up a Samba share on your host computer will allow you to transfer from Linux to Windows, Windows to Linux, or Linux to Linux.
  • P2P: If you need to transfer files over the internet to another computer(s), you could use a Peer to peer networking program. My program of choice for establishing P2P connections is ĀµTorrent. Use your P2P program to make a torrent file (basically a text file) and send it where you need to (via Email, IM, etc.) The receiving computer(s) can open that file and start receiving the file from your computer. Please note that your computer must still be on for it to work, but all downloads can be resumed.
  • IM Clients: Alot of IM clients allow you to send files to other users. If your IM service supports this feature, you can send your files using your IM client. Quick and easy.
  • Email: Many email hosts nowadays give users tons of storage space. Consider emailing someone else or yourself the files as an attachment (don't forget to put them in a single archive file if there are alot of them) and then downloading them when you need too.
  • Storage Websites: Sites like RapidShare, SendSpace, and Megaupload allow you to upload files and generate links to download them later or send to friends. However, these sites tend to have lots of restrictions (file extensions and size) and will delete files that have not been accessed in a certain amount of time.
  • Burning to Disk: If you need to transfer a file (and would like to have a nice copy to save as a backup) between two computers that are easily accessible, burning the needed files to DVD or CD (or Blu-ray if by some chance you have two computers that have Blu-ray readers and one with a writer) would be the easiest. Just make sure before burning the disk that the recieving computer can read the media that you intend to write it on.
  • Portable Storage Devices: Portable storage devices (Pen drives, USB sticks, SD Cards, Portable Harddrives) work really well for quick and easy file transfer. Depending on the files you need to transfer, it could take multiple transfers to get what you need moved. Personally, I use an 8gb Flash Drive that has always been enough for me to transfer.
I hope this helps the next time you need to transfer some files.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! And a happy new year!

(once you exchange gifts, comment what you got. One random commenter will get 50 EC)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Windows Security Programs

Securing your computer can be tedious and expensive (if you don't know what you are doing) or cheap and easy. I know I, myself, did not pay one cent to secure and maintain my Windows based computer. Before I get started, please make sure that you do not have Norton or McAffee. Both of these programs and all programs named under them are garbage and should be removed.

AVG Free - AVG Free edition is a high quality virus scanner. If there is a virus on your computer, AVG will know it. AVG Free is of more value than Norton or McAffee for the following reasons: Everything.
Spybot: Search and Destroy - In my experience, Spybot is the most effective tool for removing malicious programs, etc. from your computer. Spybot also has the ability to lock your registry and startup. This makes many pieces of malicious code easier to remove and allows you to approve all registry and startup related changes. If a piece of code can not be removed in windows due to the way it is designed, no problem! Spybot can run after a restart before the malicious code gets a chance to protect itself again. As an added bonus, Spybot is extremely simple to use.
HijackThis - HijackThis is a program which will scan your computer (rather quickly) in some known problem areas and makes a log of all the non-default values or changes and alows you to delete them. However, Hijack this does not determine what is bad or good. If you know what you are doing, feel free to go through and 'fix' what you want. If you are not sure, look up the item names that look suspicious on the internet or post your log on a tech forum. They will be sure to help.
CCleaner - Not necessarily a security program itself, but can be used to help you clean up some evil out of your PC. CCleaner scans your computer for wasted space (temp files, cookies, cached web pages, etc.) and cleans them out. It also has a tool for repairing your registry (be sure to make a backup first) and tools for editing your startup. This program can really make a difference.
Defraggler - A faster and easier to use version of Windows' defragmenting tool. Unlike the default tool, Defraggler lets you defragment specific files or folders and gives you alot more details. Like the rest of the programs on this list, it is completely free. Why not give it a shot?

All of the value and ease of a paid setup for no cost at all. What more do you want? (Don't forget to keep your windows firewall ON at all times)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free Alternatives to Photoshop

Photoshop is almost ubiquitous when it comes to graphics designers, but many people who do not specialize in the field do not have Photoshop or an equally powerful graphics program. If you are one of these people, here's what you can do:
  • Download the Photoshop Trial: Photoshop, in my opinion, is the best graphics editor on the market. You can get a free 30 day evaluation copy HERE (works on Mac and Windows natively. Runs on Ubuntu with an emulator). If you feel comfortable with Photoshop, you can dish out a large amount of cash for the full version or purchase a student liscense.
  • GIMP: Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is arguably the most powerful open source graphics editor. Although Gimp's layout and settings are a lot different than most conventional graphics editors, Gimp can be used just as fast (or faster) than Photoshop after getting used to how things work in Gimp. If you have time to learn, download Gimp. If not, you may want to pass and try another solution.
  • GIMPShop: GIMPShop is a modification of Gimp that makes Gimp look and feel more like Photoshop. This is probably the best program to use if you are used to Photoshop or Photoshop-like graphics editors.
  • InkScape: InkScape isn't really a full alternative to Photoshop. It is mostly used for vectors and creating graphics from scratch, but depending on your needs, can replace photoshop for you. As an added bonus, InkScape can be downloaded for free.
  • Aviary: Aviary, unlike all of the previously mentioned solutions, is a browser based alternative to Photoshop. The free version is almost a complete replacement to Photoshop, only lacking a few filters that could be replaced by hand. The paid version ($9.99 a month) has everything Photoshop has plus loads more. This would be the best solution for you if you don't consistently use the same computer.
  • SplashUp: SplashUp is another browser based alternative option to Photoshop, just in a different flavor. One thing that makes SplashUp different than Aviary is the SplashUp Light version. This version can be downloaded for mobile PCs and some types of portable devices. SplashUp, in my view, is just as good as Aviary's free version, so choose whichever you feel more comfortable with.
Please remember that there are other alternatives out there and these were the only ones that really stood out to me at the time of writing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bypassing Internet Filters

Many times you will catch yourself in a situation where website access is restricted, and for some reason, you need to access a restricted website. In my experience, I have been able to get around all types of filtering. However, sometimes setups and restrictions can be extremely tricky to beat. I am going to briefly describe my methods of circumventing filters.

  • Web Based Proxy - There are many web based proxies on the web today, such as HideMyAss.com. While these web based proxies are easy to use, many times they will be slow, display or omit content. Alot of proxies have trouble displaying video or flash. Also, when going through a proxy, you run the risk of someone stealing your information. All and all, web based proxies are good for quick little work arounds you need, such as downloading a file or getting your hands on some quick information.
  • IP Proxy - An IP proxy is a proxy that you access by directing all of your requests through without having a web page reformat and display the data. Most browsers have options that allow you to connect to the internet through a proxy. If your current browser supports that, it is just a matter of copying and pasting a proxy and its port from a list (like this one). Please note that it is a good idea to search for the list on a computer that is not monitored, or that website may be blocked by your system/network administrator.
    Setting your browser to connect through an IP Proxy:
    Internet Explorer - Open 'Internet Options'->'Connections'->'LAN Settings'. Enable the 'use a proxy server'. For address, you need to put in the IP address of your proxy (everything before the ':') and the port number (everything after ':'). Click OK.
    Opera - Click on Tools->Preferences. A new window will pop up. Click advanced, Network, and then Proxy Servers. Check off HTTP, HTTPS and FTP and fill in all fields with the same proxy and port number. Press OK.
    Mozilla Firefox - Open Tools->Options (or Edit->Preferences), click on the Advanced Tab, then General->Settings. From this menu, select Manual Proxy Configuration. Paste in your proxy info and click okay.
    IP Proxies are normally a better option for connecting to websites. All content being displayed should be the same as if you were visiting it on a direct connection (just a bit slower). Once again, there is still a security risk and you should be weary of what you do while connected to a proxy.
  • Using An Alternate/Portable Browser - If you can, try installing an alternate browser. Some connections are restricted on a per browser basis. If installing another browser is not a possibility, try downloading a portable browser. (my favorite place for portable applications)
  • Using An IP Address - Some rather 'Stupid' network administrators will block websites by domain name and skip blocking the IP address. Open up your command prompt and type in 'Ping www.example.com' (replacing www.example.com with the website you want to visit). The command prompt should give you an IP Addrress. Try entering it into your url, it might just work.
  • Using Another Operating System - Alot of the blocking I see is client side or dependent on the OS you are using. Download Slax or Ubuntu and pop it into the computer. If your boot order loads from your disc or flash drive before the hard drive, you are in the clear. You should have no restrictions on what you can do on your computer. As for internet, depending on the method used to block or restrict access, you may have an easier time getting around the filters.
Please remember that this article is just here for informational purposes and your network administrator probably has a good reason for you not to visit certain websites.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Changing your user agent

For those of you who do not know, every time you visit a website you are giving out some information. In most cases, a website can record your IP address, the time of viewing, the amount of bandwidth you used, and the browser you are using. Giving out this information is fine, but some websites will display different content or restrict access to content based on the browser you are using. You could always just switch browsers. But then again, why should you switch browsers when you can just modify your user agent?

A basic user agent is a string of text allows the web server to know what browser, operating system and rendering engine you are using. Since this information is just a simple string of text, you can easily change it and fool websites into thinking you are using the browser they want you to. (Please note that some websites may have a good reason to change content based on browser, such as changing a stylesheet to make the website appear best as possible on each browser, etc.) Click HERE to find your user agent. (You must have JavaScript enabled) On some browsers, changing the user agent is extremely simple. However, some browsers have made it difficult or nearly impossible to do it without some clever trickery.
  • Firefox - Firefox is one of the easiest browsers to change the user agent on. There are two main ways to change your user agent on Firefox. You can download an addon to manage and easily switch between multiple user agents, or you can switch by hand each time you feel you need to. For the latter, type in "about:config" (without the quotes) into your URL bar. Into the filter, type in "useragent" (without the quotes). You should have a list of 5-7 options which you can now edit to your liking. You may have to restart Firefox for changes to take effect using this method. If you do not like manually editing, you could also try using User Agent Switcher. After installing the User Agent Switcher addon for Firefox, simply click on Tools and locate the User Agent Switcher. It should give you a list of default user agents to use. You can also import lists of other user agents from an XML file on your computer.
  • Internet Explorer - Changing the Internet Explorer user agent can be somewhat risky if you do not know what you are doing. To change it, you need to open up Registry Editor (Start -> Run, then type in "regedit" without the quotes.) Navigate to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\5.0\User Agent" (without the quotes) and you can change the values. Not everything can be changed in here depending on your browser version. As an alternative, IE8 users can download Bayden UAPick. Please note that this addon can only fool some methods of changing your user agent and others are able to detect your real browser.
  • Chrome - Editing the user agent in this browser is impossible without modification to the Chrome.dll file. (C:\Documents and Settings\(your windows username)\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\(your chrome version) Close Chrome. Make a backup copy of Chrome.dll. Open up Chrome.dll in a hex editor. (I recommend XVI32, its free!) Search for a string that starts with "Mozilla" and overwrite it with your new user agent. Search for a second string starting with "Mozilla" and overwrite it with the same user agent. (Don't ask me why, but it shows up twice in Chrome.dll) Save the file, and open up Chrome. If Chrome refuses to open, replace it with the backup and try again.
  • Opera - For users with earlier versions of Opera (before version 9), your user agent can be modified by simply going to Properties, Advanced, Network, Browser Identification. From there you will be able to edit your user agent for your browser for all pages that you view. However, in version 9 and above, you can only edit preferences on a site by site basis. Press F12 (or Tools->Quick Preferences), then click on Edit Site Preferences and finally Network. At the bottom of that screen, there is a drop down box which lets you pick from a list of user agents.
Hopefully, in the near future, sites that restrict access to content based on your web browser will disappear and you should not have to change your user agent. But for now, at least you know how!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Breakdown of a URL

If you use the internet often, you should know what a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is. However, what most people do not know is what URLs are comprised of and how they are generated. Prepare to be educated.

Lets take an example URL. http://www.example.com/home.aspx?var=101. What does each part of this URL mean?

Http://
This first part of the URL specifies what protocol to use when opening the connection. When browsing the internet, most times this value will be http. Http stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This tells your browser to use a specific method to open the rest of the URL. Most likely, while browsing the internet, you will find 3 main protocols: FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS. Ftp is the file transfer protocol (for downloading files) and Https is a secure website.

www.
This part of the URL is called a subdomain. In most cases, when the subdomain is "www", it can be omitted and the desired web page will still be shown. However, other sub domains will not work in the same manner. For example, mail.example.com, www.example.com and example.com are three totally different places.

example.com
Example.com would be this URL's hostname, or more commonly known, domain name. Your computer takes the domain name, looks at a DNS (Domain Name Server), and retrieves the IP (internet protocol) address of the server/computer you are locating. This basically tells your computer which server/computer it should request the page/file from.

/home.aspx
home.aspx is a file located in the root level directory of the website. The .aspx section of the filename is the file's extension. The extension tells the Computer/Server how to handle the file. In this case, the .aspx would tell the server to use ASP.Net to compile the page before sending it to you. Here is a list of some extensions and their uses:

ExtensionDescription
.htmlNormally a static HTML page, sometimes is mapped to another language and creates the appearance of a static page.
.phpA dynamic page generated using PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor)
.plA dynamic page generated using PERL (Procedural Language), can also be used to denote a polish page (not common)
.aspA dynamic page generated using Microsoft's ASP (Active Server Pages)
.aspxA dynamic page generated using Microsofts ASP.Net (Active Server Pages .Net)
.cssA Cascading Style Sheets file
.shtmlAn HTML page with a server side include
.jsA Javascript file
.jspA dynamic page generated using JSP (Java Server Pages), also (incorrectly) used to name a Javascript file.
.rssA Really Simple Syndication file (RSS)
.xhtmlA static xHTML page
*Please note that any of these extensions can be mapped for different uses by the server administrator, but these are the most common uses.

?var=101
The ? part of this URL denotes the end of the filename and location and the beginning of a list of variables. In this case, we have one variable, named var, and it is set to have the value of "101". More variables can be listed here and can be changed manually (maybe even to your advantage) when browsing the internet. If a page is dynamic, the parser on the computer/server you are connecting to may use these variables to process the page you are requesting or collect information about you. In most cases, variables are entered by a user through a form (using the GET method). However, static links and HTTP redirects can lead you to a URL with these variables in them.

I hope now that you have a basic idea of what a URL is made of and have learned something from this post.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Useful programs and websites to help you complete your project

Educators are shifting away from assigning individual projects and group projects are being assigned more and more. Years ago, getting together to make a group project happen was a pain in the ass. However, more and more projects are becoming digitized and more people have access to the Internet. Getting together in real life may be hard to do, but who said that you need to get together in real life?

E-Methods of 'Getting Together'
  • Instant Messaging/IRC: Text based chatting services such as AIM, MSN Messenger, and even an IRC server all useful ways of communicating with other group members. These technologies do not require a user to have a fast internet connection, making instant messaging one of the most popular methods to use. Most instant messaging services and programs will allow group chat, therefore allowing you and your group to 'meet up' online and share ideas and links. As an added bonus, you can also look at what you and others have said previously in the conversation so it is not neccessary to repeat yourself.
  • VOIP/Webcams: Voice Over IP and webcams allow you to communicate hands free over the Internet with other group mates. Webcams can also be used to display and get critique in real time on a material project. VOIP programs (such as TeamSpeak or Skype) may be used at the same time as instant messaging if needed. VOIP requires a medium or fast internet connection and requires slightly more RAM and CPU than instant messaging. Webcams require a fast connection and significantly more RAM and CPU than instant messaging.
  • Google Docs: Google docs, a web based application, allows you to upload many files, such as powerpoint presentations, spreadsheets, html files and word documents. These files can be edited or created in your web browser without the need of downloading and installing another program. One of the most notable features Google docs is the ability to work on a document realtime and simultaneously with other group members, as well as allow other members to edit files regardless of whether you are offline or online. A simple instant messaging-like window is built into Google docs as well, reducing the need for having many windows open. Google docs requires only an internet connection (almost any speed will do) and is probably the best choice for Powerpoints, Rich text documents and spreadsheets.
  • 3D Chat Rooms: Progams such as Second Life and IMVU offer mostly the same benefits as Instant messaging plus a small feeling of togetherness. Users can use text based chat (or in some cases, VOIP) in 3D envoirnments and navigate through worlds or scenery. (mostly with no benefit whatsoever) Connecting through 3D chat rooms requires a medium to fast internet connection and ALOT of RAM and CPU. This method is not the most efficient, but the novelty of it makes it alright.
  • E-Mail: Electronic mail. Good for almost anything, but slow. If you do not know what this is, you are not ready for the internet. Get off. Personally, Gmail, Mail.com, and Hotmail are the best free E-mail hosts.
In conclusion, do not go out of your way to arrange real life gatherings when you can use technology much easier.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free Microsoft Office alternatives

Scenario: Your teacher tells you to get finish a Powerpoint presentation started by your partner by tomorrow. The only problem is, you do not have Powerpoint. (or any part of the office suite) What are you supposed to do?

There are many free alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite, but a few stand out above the others:
  • OpenOffice Suite: OpenOffice is a freeware open source alternative to Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Equation editor, Frontpage and Access. The OpenOffice suite has the ability to open and save into Microsoft Office formats, as well as PDF (which Microsoft still fails to do) and it's own format. Almost every feature of Microsoft's product is available in OpenOffice, as well as some new features and access to a multitude of plugins. OpenOffice is available for Windows, Linux, Mac and even Solaris.
  • Google Docs: Google Docs is a browser based alternative to Powerpoint, Excel, and Word. The basic features of Microsoft's suite are available in Google Docs. It is quite lacking in some respects. On the other hand, you can edit documents simultaneously with others
  • Zoho: Zoho is very similar to Google Docs. You can even sign in with your Google account! Zoho has basically everything covered, less a few conversion issues.
  • Thunderbird: Thunderbird, from Mozilla, is a replacement for Microsoft Outlook. It is quick, easy to use, and has alot of bells and whistles that make it one of the best choices to replace Microsoft's E-Mail client.
Why spend hundreds of dollars on Microsoft's Office Suite when you can use free alternatives that do the same thing?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ubuntu PWNZ Windows and Mac

No matter what version of Windows (Xp, Vista, ME) or Mac (Leopard, Tiger) you choose,they both cannot compare to Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a free, versatile, open-source operating system that is easily installed onto many computers.

Unlike Windows and Macintosh, Ubuntu can run live (that is, without being installed onto your computer. Take note that running Ubuntu live is alot slower than it would be when actually installed.) to try it out before having to install it. You can choose Ubuntu to be your primary OS (getting rid of Windows or Mac) or you can set it to dual boot, giving you a choice of whatever OSes you have and Ubuntu each time your computer restarts. More information about the installation can be found on the Ubuntu homepage.

The advantages of Ubuntu greatly outweigh the time it takes to install it. (10-30 minutes on average) The current release (8.10) of Ubuntu comes with a multitude of free software (Open Office, Firefox, Pidgin, + more) and tends to run alot faster than Windows and Macintosh. Don't worry about leaving your favorite Windows or Mac based programs behind, many emulators can be installed into Ubuntu to allow you to access those programs.

You can get Ubuntu through the official website (please note that you will need to download the disc image and then burn it to a CD) or ordering a live CD from many online retailers. (google is your friend)