Back from Oslo, Norway

In case you didn’t hear, I just returned from an exciting vacation in Norway and I created a separate Blog to record my adventure. It’s a work-in-progress but if you’re curious you can check out what I’ve jotted down so far:

Nine Days in Norway blog
The Pictures! gallery

Bill Gates’ Open Letter to Hobbyists

Bill Gates’ Open Letter to Hobbyists

Every once in the while I come across some ancient document that I feel compelled to share with my friends. Here’s a letter from Bill Gates, General Partner of “Micro-Soft,” in which he pleads for computer hobbyists to stop stealing his software and support the cause to “deluge the hobby market with good software.”


Upgrade Your Firefox Browser!

I’ve been following the Talkback forum on the new Firefox release and it seems that the users who are having problems with the new release are those that were using test versions (aka nightly builds) and then installed the new version without first removing the unstable software.

After using the new version for a week I have not experienced any problems. I’m not sure if it’s necessary but I uninstalled 1.0 before installing the new 1.0.1 version. You don’t need to worry about your preferences or your bookmarks, all those things are stored in a separate directory and will not be touched by the upgrade. Version 1.0.1 will use all the same customisations you had prior to the upgrade with the only exception of extensions, if you’ve installed any (extensions are small add-ons to the browser that give it extra functionality, sort of like many of the pop-up blockers or the Yahoo toolbar for Internet Explorer).

So, go to, click on Free Download and save the file to your hard drive. You could just install it over the top of your old version but I recommend going to Add/Remove Programs and uninstalling the old version first (this should only take a minute or two). Once you install the new Firefox you’re ready to surf the web with all your same preferences, stored passwords, bookmarks, etc. If you have any trouble drop me a line (email terry at this domain) and I’ll help you work it out.

Update (3/15/2005): I successfully installed Firefox 1.0.1 over the top of 1.0 just after posting this blog. I’ve been using it daily for just over a week and have not experienced any glitches or problems.

Virus, Malware, Spyware, Adware, Browser Hijacker. How is any PC amateur to make sense of all this?

Frustrated? Me too. A few years ago I was on a crusade to convince all my friends to get PCs. The Web was the coolest thing since Atari. Viruses were rare, you could only get one by downloading an infected program and running it on your computer, and all you needed was a cheap antivirus program to keep you safe.

Now there is malware (malicious software), spyware (software that spies on you), adware (software that annoys you with advertisements), worms (software that leaks through security holes in your Operating System or other programs), and browser hijackers (software that takes over your Web browser and either takes you to sites you never wanted to see or blocks you from going to favorite sites). The bad part is that, in most cases, these work very differently from viruses, which means your trusty $50 antivirus program can’t detect or protect you from these things. It’s like taking antibiotics for a cold — it just doesn’t work that way. So now we have anti-spyware programs, like Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware SE, Spyware Eliminator, Spyware Blaster, Hijack This, etc. (Important note: watch out for Spyware Nuker, it’s not what you think — see below)

So what do you use? Spybot S&D and Ad-Aware seem to be the most popular for finding and removing common spyware infections. Spyware Eliminator claims to be able to remove the about:blank (aka CoolWebSearch) spyware, which happens to be nearly impossible to remove with any other tool. Spyware Blaster (review here) claims to block or prevent most spyware from getting into your PC in the first place. HijackThis is more a utility for advanced PC users: it digs deep into the system, reports everything it sees including legitimate programs, and lets you remove whatever you want. Generally users copy the results and upload them to a news forum for analysis by users that supposedly “know” what the best course of action will be. Be careful with this one and be careful of the advice you get. I’ve noticed that there are many opinions for each type of infection reported.

It should go without saying that you should back up your My Documents, Favorites, Outlook folders, etc., before doing anything advanced (such as HijackThis). Also, the first thing you might want to do if you have Microsoft Windows ME or XP is to try a previous restore point that dates back prior to the infection. Keep in mind that this can remove settings that other recently installed software has put in place, but it might be easier to re-install a game than to remove a spyware infection.

Now if all that isn’t enough to confuse and frustrate a novice… stay away from Spyware Nuker. This program claims to remove spyware but at the same time installs it’s own. Go figure. If you want it, it’s at, but I don’t even recommend going to their site. See this article at Symantec or this article at Camtech2000 for more details.

Prevention? Of course, there is always abstinence — unplug the cord to your modem and never connect to the Web again. Not. Always, always, always, be up-to-date with your patches and service packs. Why does no one get this?

Check out‘s article The Best AntiSpyware Tools of 2005 for some recommendations, news about Microsoft‘s own anti-spyware program and links to more resources. AdwareReport also has some good information. Also, don’t get so caught up with the whole spyware thing that you forget to update your antivirus program. If you’re going to surf, wear your armor and try not to sink.


Environmental Commitment at ?

Environmental Commitment at

We have two Sharp fax machines in our office. Every so often I come across a toner cartridge that includes a U.S.P.S. prepaid return address label that you can use to return the empty cartridges for recycling. We go through about one cartridge a month between the two machines and in the two years that we’ve had them I’ve only seen three or four of these labels. So what happens to the other cartridges? Before I was aware of Sharp’s commitment (link above) to the environment I was just throwing them away. Now, since I know they can be returned, I pile them up in the corner next to my desk and wait for a label to appear with one of my next orders. I have other recyclables too, so you should know that sometimes that pile can stack up. At times, my work area looks like a recycling center.

I finally got curious and had some free time. I checked Sharp’s website to see if I could find any information about their consumer-end recycling procedures. Nada. They do have a document online referred to as their Full Activity Report that details their internal achievements and statistics relating to their environmental conscience. I couldn’t find any information on how I could recycle my used toner, at least not on their U.S. site. Did you know they have a Canadian site? They do (Sharp Electronics of Canada), and guess what? They have a PDF version of a downloadable label that you can print and use to return your used toner cartridges. My only problem is that it’s for Canadians to ship to their Canadian facility. It’s not valid here in the U.S.

I found a page on their U.S. site where I could submit a support request. Even though the link is intended for product support, I asked my question and voiced my concerns. I also called the dealer we purchased the machine through, Select Business Systems. I asked the person who answered the phone what I could do. She said I should just throw away the used toner cartridges because they don’t recycle them. I explained that sometimes there was a label included with the cartridge but most of the time there was not. She said they weren’t responsible because the toner cartridges come directly from Sharp. There is nothing she can do. I asked if they had extra labels for customers like me that want to recycle the cartridges. Nope. She said she was sorry she couldn’t help me.

Who uses HP printers? We have several of them here. I’ll try not to sound too much like a commercial. HP puts a prepaid return shipping label (UPS) in every toner cartridge so you can return it for recycling when it’s empty? You just put the used cartridge back in it’s box (or the box of a new one you just got to replace it with), close it up, and drop it off somewhere for UPS to pick up (many businesses also have a UPS guy that comes every day just to see if you have anything to ship). If that’s too much trouble, HP also has an arrangement with Office Depot to help with their recycling efforts. Go here for more about their committment to the environment.

Too bad HP doesn’t make a toner cartridge that will work in my Sharp fax machines.