Main Line Computer Users Group


July 2003 Issue 254

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110 MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - JUL 12 th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
MAIN LINE COMPUTER USERS

Well, at last, the rubber meets the road! After some long discussions at our recent steering meetings, the forum at the June meeting and much on-line research by member John Murphy, we purchased a new club computer! Its configuration is shown on p.2.

Our strategy of purchase was NOT to buy a commercial PC (as we did in 1997), but to try to involve the members in some sort of "hands-on" and "put your computer together", while still having some type of warranty protection. So, the unit we got is built-to-order (BTO) by the vendor who assembled and tested it before shipping. The computer still needs additional components, etc.; so that is what we'll do for the July meeting!

After our opening round of announcements, we'll start the finishing process, which will involve two main steps: 1) install the two hard drives (one 20 GB and one 80 GB); 2) install the operating system (which will be Windows XP Home Edition). Hopefully, we will have time to make a drive image at this point in the process - to begin!our regimen of backup protection.

We think this will be a golden chance for members to get in early on the life of our new system!!


MORE SECURITY FOR ALL?

New "spyware"? It appears that the TiVo TV recording system has its own spyware built in! It apparently connects via the internet to the TiVo HQ and reports what folks are watching, recording or skipping (like in commercials).

The TiVo folks say they do not keep individual data, just aggregate it and sell the info to advertisers and networks. While they may not keep individual data now - they obviously could do so if they choose to!

So, remember if you are a TiVo owner/user - Big Brother is keeping track of everything you do.....

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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SECURITY & PRIVACY CONSIDERATIONS - our page one highlight this month, and last, focuses on some aspect of internet security and/or privacy. More and more folks are using the net, while more and more other folks are doing their level best to find out all about the former to take advantage of them. It may be to sell worthwhile stuff, worthless stuff or simply to swipe as much as they can.

You, as a net user can help your personal cause by being alert to what you do while on the net and how you respond to various things which transpire while you do so. Also, you can become more knowledgeable about the dos and don'ts of good net practices to aid you in remaining safer and more private.

Here is one place that MLCUG and its members can help! I'm asking each and every member to share information you may pick up about scams, malware and such. AND, to pass on what you may learn about tools to help folks protect themselves. Examples of what I mean by the latter include: anti-virus software, firewalls, spyware checkers, spam killers, popup stoppers, etc. Our listserv, the meeting discussions and this newsletter provide ample opportunities to share your new knowledge. So, PLEASE DO!

MUSIC & VIDEO FILE SHARING - another piece of this net behavior situation is the markedly increased activity by the publishing industry to successfully identify and prosecute folks who engage in egregious copyrighted file sharing.

You'd have to be a hermit to have missed the recent successes in the courts to have ISPs disclose the identity of their users who engage in "file sharing" or winning suits against those same identified folks. More will be coming in the near future - so, user beware!

COMMODORE HARDWARE & SOFTWARE - as mentioned in last month's newsletter, we have not published these lists for some time; but we still possess a rather large inventory of Commodore stuff. We are in a bit of a quandary about it, as the items are getting older and therefore less reliable; but we have had little-to-no success in disposing of the items, beneficially.

We will have to wrestle with this problem before too long; so we are soliciting member input on the problem. If you are still using a Commodore system, or know someone who is, then this may be an opportunity to acquire missing items at yard sale prices. Or, if you know of some other place that might be interested in these, please be sure to let us know about it.

REGULAR REMINDERS: - 1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

2) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room! So, if you have a very large download, you could bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done there, either before or after the main meeting.

3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

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MLCUG's BTO PC

The new club computer purchased since the June meeting has the final component lineup shown below. The system is complete, except for having no hard drive, nor an operating system. Those two items, a pair of 20 and 80 GB Maxtor hard drives and Windows XP Home Edition, respectively, are on hand and ready for installation at the July meeting [see the meeting notice on p.1].

The vendor was the on-line outfit, AccessMicro, who sold the system assembled and tested for about $700 (including shipping).

We hope to see YOU at the July meeting to observe the hands-on show!

BTO PC:

CHASSIS =Apex TU-150 Black Mid Tower
     Case w/400W Power Supply

CASE FAN =Thermaltake A1357 Smart Fan 3
     Fan Functions in 1 Case Fan

MOTHERBOARD =Asus A7N8X Deluxe AMD
     333FSB Dual LAN S-ATA 1394 6-CH ATX

PROCESSOR =AMD Athlon XP 2500+ Barton
     512K 333FSB Socket A OEM CPU

CPU FAN =Thermaltake A1671 Volcano 10+
     370/462 3400+ heat sink fan

MEMORY =APACER 256MB PC3200 NONECC
     DDRAM MEMORY x 2

VIDEO =XFX G4 MX440 8X AGP 64MB DDR w/TV

SOUND =None Selected (on-board)

CD/DVD =Toshiba SD-R5002 2X DVD-R/1X
     DVD-RW Drive black Bulk

FLOPPY =1.44MB 3.5" GENERIC FLOPPY DRIVE
     - BLACK COLOR

NETWORKING =None Selected (on-board)

KEYBOARD =Generic Wireless Black Keyboard
     /PS2 Mouse Combo

MOUSE =None Selected (in KB combo)
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SPAMMERS WIN??

If you think the spammers have run out of tools to annoy us, think again! Here's a notice that went out to the Bee.Net ISP subscribers. Bee.Net has been using a spam filtering service, called Postini, for some months. Here 'tis:

"Dear Bee.Netters,

I recently noticed an increase in the amount of spam getting through to my inbox. I suspect that many of you may have noticed the issue as well.

My investigation into the matter revealed that spammers have discovered the "secret" list of domain names which Postini has by default in a global allow list (similar to your personal "allow" list, but impacts all users. To eliminate the additional spam issue from escalating any further, I removed all of the domain names from the global allow list. As such, you may notice that some items from major Internet companies such as ebay and amazon are being quarantined because they meet the filter criteria for one reason or another. If that happend, simply add the e-mail addresses to your own allow list as you deliver such items to your inbox."

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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

We had 16 folks at today's meeting, including one guest (first one in quite a while!).

We had a pretty long Q & A to get going (like an hour's worth). So, there was plenty of news to discuss, especially the security problems with new viri/worms. And associated discussion around Norton Anti-virus and its install, update and subscription ramifications. Hopefully, everyone came out on the same wavelength.

Following that discussion, I introduced the main topic - the planned purchase of a new club computer. As all of you are aware, we have been mulling this one over for the last 3 months or so. And, the steering committee has had many hours of discussion of just what attributes are needed, or will be needed or desirable; and how to go about getting one. And, of course, how much to spend!

On the latter point, we established an upper limit of $1K; so as to leave a reasonable cushion in the treasury, which stands at about $1500 today. We'll need to give some thought to building it back up in the future, but we're OK for now.

John Murphy has carried the primary torch; so I turned the meeting over to him and he spent the rest of the meeting while on the internet filling the group in on just where we have come out. John had connected to an outfit called "AccessMicro" (www.accessmicro.com/), from whom we'll order. John has dealt with this vendor for about 5 years now; so we have some basis for working with them.

John entered their configurator and stepped thru the process of building an order. At each step, he described our reasoning process for the choice(s) being made - from what kind of fan(s) to the case, CPU and so forth. Our next newsletter will have the results of the final order; so I won't try to describe it here. Meeting attendees got a listing which is essentially where we expect to be.

It looks like the new box will run around $650 plus shipping; so we are within our budget - allowing for the fact that we need to get a hard drive and operating system, which are not part of the order (for reasons that John went thru in his presentation).

It is my impression that folks got a pretty good insight to the process, the whys and wherefores and what to expect when they have a box to peruse. We hope to have the unit in time for the next meeting. Assuming that happens, we would plan to use the meeting itself to complete the system setup and install the operating system. See you next month!! [Emil Volcheck]

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Those BIG Images Again!

While there is no universal solution to handling bigger-than-screen images that typically come to you via email, one approach is to use an image viewer that will let you see the full view - without special effort on your part. As an example, we recently posted to the list the following tips for the freeware viewer, Irfanview. You need to make two settings, as follows, after you open Irfanview:

Setting #1:

 click "Options" on the menu bar
 click "Properties" on the submenu
 click the "Viewing" tab
 in "Fullscreen/Slideshow Options" box
 click "Fit to screen large images only"
 OK your way out

Setting #2:

 click the "View" item on the menu bar
 click "Display options"
 click "Fit only big images to window"

With these settings, any image file you open will be displayed in original size, if it is smaller than your screen, OR in screen size, if it is larger than your screen.

NOTE: what is displayed on your screen does NOT change the image file itself in any way. So, a 3 megapixel image, which is around 2000x1600 (or around 6X bigger than your screen) will show fully in Irfanview; but will be fully there when you go to print that glowing pix of the latest grandchild (or newest computer )!!

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Windows XP Tweaks

[Adapted from an InformationWeek article by Fred Langa].

Some of you are now users of XP and the rest of you are likely uo become users, if you ever get a new computer. One thing that is evident with this latest child of Microsoft is that it can be an enormous disk space hog - and other similar offenses. The referenced article covers ten things you should consider doing to improve the efficiency of the OS and save on space!

Here are two to chew on:

#1) Tune XP's Visual Performance
Depending on how you set it up, XP may have reserved a substantial amount of your CPU horsepower for things like animating various desktop elements, placing shadows under menus and cursors, and rounding the upper corners of open windows. In the aggregate, these visual effects can slow down screen-drawing operations significantly. Also, XP may have selected a "color depth" for your video system in excess of what you really need; this, too, can slow down screen operations.

To adjust the color depth, right click anywhere on an empty portion of your desktop and select Properties/Settings. For most normal business users, the Color Quality setting should be set to Medium (16 bit). Higher settings do matter in photo/video editing and similar applications, but for mundane things like Web browsing, E-mail, and word processing, the Medium setting is fully adequate, and it's faster.

To adjust XP's desktop animations and visual effects, right click on My Computer and select Properties/Advanced/Performance Settings. You can choose to activate/deactivate individual items or use the general "best performance/best appearance" buttons. When you've made a!change, click Apply, and you'll see the effects almost immediately. (By the way: Selecting Best Performance makes your desktop look very much like the classic desktop in Win98/Win2K.) Experiment until you've found the mix of speed and visual effects that works best for you.

#2) Improve XP's Folder Views
Windows XP's default folder view, with its giant icons, makes me feel as though I'm staring at a coloring book instead of a business computer. But you can easily change the folder view to something more!restrained, space-efficient, and useful.

Open My Documents. In the View menu, select Status Bar, List, and Arrange Icons by Name. Next, right click on an empty spot in the My Documents toolbar and select Customize. Choose any of the Available Toolbar Buttons you wish and click Add. (I select the Undo, Delete, Cut, Copy, and Paste buttons.) Exit the dialog.

Now click to the Tools menu and select Folder Options. Under the View tab, tell XP to show you the full path, to show hidden and system files, not to hide any file extensions, and not to hide protected folders--plus any other settings you want. When you have the folder options set the way you desire, click the "Apply to all folders" button at the top of the dialog. This adjusts all windows opened by Explorer, so they'll inherit the visual choices you made for this one window.

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Wireless Security

by Emil Volcheck

I'm in the process of installing a multi-computer wired/wireless network at the observatory!in Greenville DE, where I work. Not having experience with security considerations for wireless networks, I called on John Murphy's experience. Only to learn the following not-so-comforting news:

In commenting on folks attempting to get the use of your wireless network, he noted that, if "they" put their wireless card in promiscuous mode, they can pick up every packet that is sent. This is why WEP encryption is not considered to be real security for a wireless network. It is better than nothing, but it won't stop someone who is determined and has the right tools.

The problem with WEP is that it broadcasts the key fairly frequently, about once for every 100K of data sent. On even a slightly busy wireless network this means that it won't take long for a sniffer-type program to isolate the key from the rest of the data. At that point the "war driver", as they are called, can use the key to gain access to the network or to decrypt data flowing between nodes on the network.

There are three basic things that you can do to secure a wireless network:

  1. Name the network: Most wireless access points and other wireless devices default to a name of "ANY". This does not secure the network, because the access point will broadcast the name of the network. However, it does increase the time it takes to find the network because the software has to receive a number of packets before it finds one with the network name.

  2. Enable WEP on all of your wireless devices: As with the network name, this doesn't really secure the network, but it increases the amount of time that a hacker has to spend cracking the network.

  3. Turn on filtering by MAC address: This is also not foolproof, because there is software available to change the MAC address of a device. The MAC address is broadcast with every packet that a device transmits. However, it takes more work to spoof a MAC address and that increases the time to crack the network.
The major theme of all of these measures is to increase the time it takes to crack the network. Just like in protecting a house from burglary, anything that you can do to make it more difficult to enter will increase your chances of not being burgled or infiltrated. [John Murphy] ****************************************
The Little Step Image

In an email message that went to members on our list, Emil said: Here's the little 17-step gray scale image that I showed. Just download and display and see how your monitor does.

Check that:

  1. you see 17 steps of white -> black !
  2. the whiter end shows no color cast
You may get some help from adjusting your monitor's controls.

Layton Fireng's comment: Emil, this is indexed color. All colors read equally in RBG, and appropriately in CMYK. Looks like a good test.

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Truth or Fiction?

There are a number of sites on the 'net that you can check with about hoaxes and other urban legends (www.urbanlegends.com itself, as I recall). But, one I recently heard about was:

www.tsuthorfiction.com

They have a huge store of stories and their assessment of their accuracy. You may want to use them as another check site. Let us know if anyone finds them of value (or NOT so!)...

DIRECTIONS FOR ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER MEETING ROOM Meetings are in the St. Augustine Center at Villanova University. The regular monthly sessions will be meeting in Room 110.

[Map goes Here!]

Enter from the ITHAN AVENUE main gate, then proceed to the 2-level parking building adjacent to St. Augustine Center, on the Ithan Avenue side of the building.

NOTE: maps on our webpage - http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/

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PC/128/64 Meetings  2003  Steering Committee Meetings

                      July 12                           July 16 **
                      August 9                          August 20 **
                      September 13                      September 17 **

     * = first Saturday     ** = iTHIRDi Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
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EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced with C-128D/SCPU 128, RAMlink, HD-40/85, 1571, FD-4000, THE WRITE STUFF 128, XETEC Super Grafix, Canon BJ-200ex, Swiftlink and Motorola 288 modem)

      MLCUG LISTSERV: Members only...
                 WWW: http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/
           PUBLICITY: Robyn Josephs 610-565-4058
   VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy

MLCUG STEERING COMMITTEE:
PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck      610-388-1581   SECRETARY: Charles Curran    610-446-5239
TREAS/MEMBERS: Dewitt Stewart 610-623-5145   SYSOP/AMIGASIG: John Deker  610-828-7897
INTERNET/Linux:Peter Whinnery 610-284-5234   DATABASE: Layton Fireng      610-688-2080
AT LARGE: Tom Johnson         610-525-3440   AT LARGE: John Murphy        610-935-4398