Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The dark side of 'personal' computing

As more people gravitate to computers and the web, I'm pleased to see how hard people work at learning how to treat the computer right and take good care of it. But, I'm spending most of my Summer helping people get rid of viruses, Trojan horses and spyware.

In fact, states that almost one-third of computer users in the U.S. have been hit by a virus or hacker in the past two years. When I clean up malicious programs, clients are often surprised to learn they have inadvertently given permission to outsiders to use their computer, slowing it to a crawl, exhausting memory, and risking safety of your data.

Read more at or search some of the Internet news sites like Cnet's excellent industry news at, or Those most affected by this are using music download software and/or instant messaging services, which leave a back door open for people to tap into your computer.

Spyware is capable of tracking your Web browsing and reporting information to third-party companies who sell the information to others. Removing it can also be destructive to some components of Windows.

... From "Virginia Watson unwittingly authorized a company she'd never heard of to install software that would help turn her computer into part of a brand-new network.

The software, from Brilliant Digital Entertainment, came with the popular Kazaa file-swapping program. But the 65-year-old Massachusetts resident--who has a law degree--didn't read Kazaa's 2,644-word "terms of service" contract, which stated that Brilliant might tap the "unused computing power and storage space" of Watson's computer."

The man who owns Brilliant is quite clever. In fact the sentence structure in his license agreement has been analyzed for complexity, and found to be more complex than the U.S. tax code. And keep in mind the "free" software is targeted mostly to teenagers.

Prevention methods include vigorous use of anti-virus, firewall, AdAware and Spybot programs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Technology throws a fit

Yesterday, the venerable Chicago Tribune was unable to print thousands of newspapers due to a 'glitch.' The computer upgrade they ran over the weekend performed well in testing, but not in production. So newspaper delivery fellows all over Chicago were delivering a partial edition Monday and replacing it with a fuller Tuesday paper.

But, people tolerate it. It's just a computer crash, a glitch, nothing serious. Not a city-wide power failure, which would have been much worse, in July's heat.

Also yesterday, I was half naked on the doctor's examination table, hooked up to the EKG probes, when the EKG machine ran out of paper. The nurse added more, and the machine made up for it by eating too much paper, creating a paper jam during my routine physical. Good thing they had already taken my blood pressure.

Later I sauntered into the pharmacy asking for the prescription my doctor faxed over from her computer during my exam. No order from the doctor. Shopped around, read some magazines, asked again. "No. Nothing from your doctor. We have no faxes."

Uh! Wait! It's .... a paper jam!

Think about all the ways technology has become commonplace, and be glad for the days when technology does it's job well. Remember, it's not the end of the world when you can't print an envelope, your Internet connection goes down, or your computer freezes. Just roll with it and be glad for all the stuff in the world that does work! And be glad you're not naked on an examination table hooked up to nine electrodes when the paper jam occurs.