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opera

Operacomes from a small software company based in Norway and is one of the fastest loading web browsers around!  While my personal bias is in favour of free and open source software, Opera is one commercial product I have a "soft spot" for.   Opera is available for for Windows, Unix/Linux and MacOSX and is freeware.   Opera makes their money selling their web browser for use in web-enabled mobile phones primarily in Europe.


As of this writing, Opera Version 9.5x has just been released.  Opera is one of the few web browsers that passes the "acid2 test" for rendering webpages and the only one that runs on Window$.   The other browsers that pass the test are Safari and iCab (for the Mac) and the lastest version of Konqueror (Linux/Unix). UPDATE:  Firefox 3.0 now passes the acid2 test!

Opera includes a bittorrent client, RSS feed reader and a built-in e-mail programme.   In version 9.2 they've included a feature called "speed dial".   It's sort of like "bookmarks on steroids".    You can pick nine of your favourite websites that will appear on Opera's "opening page".   You'll then have "one-click" instant access to nine of your favourite websites!

UTILITIES

DBAN -
"Darik's Boot & Nuke" - is a free and open source programme that will boot either from a floppy disk or a CD-R disk and will completely and securely wipe out all data on a hard drive to U.S. Department of Defense standards.

Lot's of folks toss or give away old hard drives without giving any thought at all to personal information that may be stored on the drive.  Contrary to what you might think, reformatting a drive does not delete your old data.   Any "off the shelf" drive recovery software will recover it!

But if you wipe a drive with "DBAN" you'd need some very expensive diagnostic equipment to recover any data from the drive.   That's "good enough" for most of us!

Spybot Search & Destroy -   Arguably the best anti-spyware programme around...and it doesn't cost anything.

Ad Aware - From Lavasoft.  A pretty good anti-spyware programme but not as good as it used to be.  This software comes in both "free" and "paid for" versions.   Stick to the freebee version.

Grisoft - Home of the "AVG" anti-virus software from the Czech Republic

Avast - Another free anti-virus programme from the Czech Republic.

Anti-Vir - A free anti-virus programme from Germany.

Note:  While it's perfectly okay to run more than one "anti-spyware" programme you should not run more than one "anti-virus" programme.

Zone Alarm - If you have a highspeed internet connection you should be using a firewall.  If you have a router that will help but it's best to have both a "hardware" and a "software" firewall.   The "free" version of Zone Alarm should suit your needs.

During the installation ZoneLabs will try to hook you into purchasing the "paid for" version.   Just watch what you're doing and install the freebee version.

Bootdisk.com -   Got yourself stuck and don't have a boot disk handy?  This site has bootdisks for DOS, Windows and various GNU/Linux distros. 

WHAT'S WRONG WITH WINDOWS VISTA?

Article by John Sullivan on the Free Software Foundation's "Bad Vista" site.

FREE (as in freedom) SOFTWARE FOR WINDOWS COMPUTERS

click here!

VOICE OVER IP (VOIP)

Skype
Skype allows you to make "computer to computer" voice-over-IP calls to anywhere in the world for free.  You can also make "computer to telephone" calls (they call it "Skype-Out) at fairly low rates (1.7 Euro Cents per minute to most parts of the world).

Skype runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and Pocket PC operating systems.

Skype started in Estonia but has since been bought out by Ebay.  Now that Skype has "hit the big time" they've made at least one of what I would call a "dirty deal".   Skype recently teamed up with the Intel Corporation to cripple some of Skype's features on computers that are running non-Intel processors.

Here's a story on "CNET" from February, 2006 that explains:
Intel's mantra: Let's make a deal

Here's a story from "Security Focus" from September, 2005 that raises questions about Skype's security.  Skype uses "closed source" security protocols so essentially we have to take them at their word that they're secure.
Skype Security and Privacy Concerns.


OpenWengo is one up and coming VOIP service.  Unlike Skype, Open Wengo uses open source protocols and is designed to be used with many different VOIP services.   Open Wengo is currently available for Windows, MacOSX and Linux.   "Computer to telephone" calls are slightly cheaper than Skype.

VOIP Products.eu - A European-based site that compares rates, services etc. of various "VOIP" providers.  From the looks of it generally speaking (depending on the destination) Open Wengo offers the best rates on computer to telephone calls.

COMPUTER HARDWARE INFO

Anand Tech
Tom's Hardware Guide
The Tech Zone
Karbosguide
PC Mechanic
CPU-Collection - This is a great site with lots of information to help you identify old CPU's

ASUS EeePC Help!

The "Asus EeePC", released in the fall of 2007 helped "jump start" a revolution in "ultra mobile PC's" that makes portable computing truly portable.   Most UMPC's have somewhat small screens, (seven or nine inches) and weigh around one kilogram (two pounds).    Since the spring of 2008 a number of other UMPC's have hit the market...namely the HP 2133 Mini-Note, the Acer "Aspire One" and the MSI Wind.

Expect more of these machines to hit the market over the rest of 2008 and into 2009...particularly with Intel releasing their new "Atom" processor.    A word of advice?    Avoid UMPC's with pre-installed Windows.   By the time you install anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware software your UMPC will slow down significantly and you'll wonder why you bought it.

Stick to UMPC's with a GNU/Linux operating system.

Eeeuser.com is the site for help with your Asus EeePC.

DON'T THROW OUT THAT OLD HARD DRIVE!

First of all, it's very easy to recover old data off your old hard drive using off-the-shelf data recovery software.   That is unless you've wiped it with DBAN (mentioned above!).

You can always install your old hard drive in your "new" computer as a secondary or "slave drive" in your new machine.   You just need to change a "jumper" setting on the drive to switch it from being a "master" to being a "slave".   There will usually be a little diagram on the hard drive that explains how to do this.   If you can't figure out the diagram, just go to the website of whoever manufactured your hard drive.    Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital are some of the more common hard drive manufacturers.

Even better, you can buy a USB drive enclosure and turn your old hard drive into an external hard drive!  I've seen USB drive enclosures for IDE hard drives for as little as $10 these days.   You can even get drive USB enclosures for old notebook hard drives.   And, they're now available for the newer SATA drives (Although a bit more expensive).

Even better (although a little pricier) is that you can buy empty "NAS" (network attached storage) enclosures.   The beauty of a NAS drive, is that you don't have to connect it to a computer.   You can simply connect it to your router or a hub/switch, it'll grab an IP address from your router and you can access the data on it from any computer on your home network!

One caution though, if you are connecting Windows and Linux machines on your home network do not format the drive using the NTFS file system.   Use the FAT file system instead.   Linux can read disks formatted as NTFS but can't easily write to them yet.   With the older FAT file system there is no problem.

If the hard drive is larger than 32 GB, you won't be able to format the drive as FAT using Windows XP's built-in partitioning utility.   You'll need to use the partitioning utility from your hard drive manufacturer.

UPDATE (Summer, 2008) If your GNU/Linux operating system is new enough that it has "ntfs-3g" installed or you can install it through your distribution's package manager,  support for the NTFS file system on GNU/Linux is now pretty good.

WHAT IF MY HARD DRIVE HAS A MECHANICAL FAILURE?  (THE FREEZER TRICK!)

If your hard drive has a mechanical failure (as opposed to simple data corruption) there is one possible last-ditch way to recover your data short of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a data recovery specialist service.  This doesn't always work....but it's worth a try!

You can often recover data from a mechanically damaged hard drive by sticking it in the freezer for awhile!

Remove the hard drive from your computer and let it sit for a while so that it returns to room temperature.   Then place the damaged hard drive in a freezer or ziploc bag making sure to squeeze as much of the air out of it as possible.    This is necessary to prevent condensation from forming on the hard drive.

Then, put your "packaged" hard drive in the freezer for awhile.   One report I've seen suggests that about 12 hours is best.

You'll need to have another hard drive to boot your machine from and then set the "frozen" hard drive up as a "slave" drive.   You'll be able to quickly copy your data from the "bad" hard drive to the "good" one.    Your damaged hard drive will likely work for not much more than 20 minutes to an hour so you'll have to copy over your data quickly.

On large drives where you have a lot of data to recover you'll need to repeat this process till you get all of the data copied off.

Then if your drive is still under warranty, you can arrange to return it to the manufacturer for replacement.  Hard drive manufacturers will replace defective drives under warranty but they won't do anything about your lost data.   That's your problem!

Hard drives are mechanical devices and are prone to failure.   I've had old hard drives that have kept chugging away for ten or fifteen years and others that have died within a couple of years.   The bottom line is that if you have data that's important to you, back it up on external media!

Have I tried this trick?   No, not yet!   But I've seen enough credible postings to believe that this can work.   In fact I will be testing it soon and revising this article with my results.

I have a Hitachi "Deskstar"
hard drive that is emitting the tell-tale "click click" noise of a drive that's gone south.

These drives (first manufactured by IBM and then by Hitachi) are better known as the "Deathstar" because of their incredible rate of premature failure.

Mine was included in an external USB hard drive purchased in a Boxing Day sale at the Future Shop.  It looks like this was a way for Hitachi to "dump" their bad drives on the market to unsuspecting customers.  Now I know better.   If you're buying an external hard drive, make sure you know the make and model of the drive that's in the USB box.    Better still, just buy your own USB case and hard drive (as above!).




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