Computer Support Scam

I know several people who have fallen victim to scam computer support this year. If someone calls you and tells you that they work with Microsoft and your computer is infected, don’t download anything they tell you to. Microsoft does not call people offering help. If you get an official looking popup that says to call a number to fix an urgent issue or remove a virus, it is most likely a scam. You should know the name of your antivirus program so you won’t fall for fake virus notices popping up. If you believe you really are infected, find someone you trust to help.

Once on the phone, the scammer will tell you how to view your computer’s Windows Event Log which will show lots of errors. That may look really bad, but every computer is going to have plenty of errors in the log. Most are unimportant minor issues with programs (like whenever Firefox or Internet Explorer freezes) and are not a sign of viruses. They will offer to fix your computer for some fee (often $200). If you download their program they have full control over your computer. It is a scam. If you are lucky all they will do is take your money. With full control of your computer, they could infect it with their own spyware and take your personal info and passwords for identity fraud whether you pay them or not.

Some may not even pretend to be helping you, they will just set a password on your computer and lock you out until you pay them. Depending on your setup, an experienced technician may be able to clear the password and allow you access to your computer again. Or be able to copy your files to a new hard drive.

You should also immediately change passwords for all sensitive online accounts for anyone who uses that computer, especially: email accounts, banks, credit cards, credit unions, brokerages, retirement accounts, Mint, and social media accounts like Facebook (which could be used to impersonate you to scam other relatives or friends), etc. Put a fraud alert and/or credit freeze on your credit at each of the three credit bureaus for anyone who might have had tax records or social security numbers in a file on the computer that was compromised.

Also consider two-factor authentication for any financial accounts. That can be done for email and Facebook as well. When activated, logging into that website from an unrecognized computer will require a code sent to your cell phone. While this can occasionally be annoying, you won’t have to use the code all the time since most of the time you will be using the same few computers.

Once these sleazy hackers get control of your computer, most security experts agree, it is best to backup your data and reinstall Windows. That is the only way to ensure they don’t still have some hidden trojan or malware on your computer to steal your personal data and all your new passwords.

If someone from your internet provider emails or calls you telling you that your computer is infected, that might actually be true. But still be very careful. I don’t know if they would offer to fix it over the internet for you, but they may ask you to download a free antivirus from their site to fix the issue. If you aren’t sure they are legitimate, you can always tell them you will have someone else fix it. Or call your internet company’s main support number directly so you know it is them you are talking to.

Read these page for further information:
Microsoft Phone Support Scam
Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze

Deterring Blogspot Content Theft

My friend, BugEric, recently found that his blog’s posts were being stolen and reposted on an unauthorized clone blog. I have dealt with photo theft and it is really upsetting when people take your creative work. My blog wouldn’t be very valuable to steal from, but if you have well written content and post frequently, your blog might be appetizing to someone looking for “free” content to monetize. I am not going to go into the takedown solutions which you should persue. This post is about making it harder for someone to steal your work in the first place.

The easiest way to steal blog posts is from the blog feed. One thing you can do to limit the value of your content to thieves is stop publishing full posts in your feed. That makes stealing entire blog posts more difficult. People who regularly read your site in a feed reader will be annoyed with this change, but many sites work this way. Forcing users to read your posts on your site will draw more traffic which is a good thing if you make money displaying ads. When I used a feed reader, I disliked sites that did this so I prefer not to limit readers that way, but I understand there are good reasons.

I am not an expert at blog security but I have some CSS and javascript that I think will help deter content theft. These methods have been around for years and should work for most blog platforms. I am only going to list how I did it on Blogspot.

In the site Template, insert:
<style>.yournametext {display:none;}</style>

In the Post Template:
[a couple blank lines]
<div class="yournametext">This article is Copyright Your Name.
<a href=""></a>.</div>
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

Every time you write a new post, that code will appear and you can type (or paste) your regular post above it. That text will be invisible to viewer on your site but anyone who scrapes your HTML code or steals from the full feed will get that at the end of the post. You could include a year in there, but remember to change it every January. Users of feed readers will also see this if you publish full posts in your feed.

The javascript code will redirect anyone who views your stolen post on their blog to your site. The code is short so we could include it in the template, but it is better to put it in an external file just in case you need to update it or add to the code later. If you have your own domain, you should host the file there. Blogger doesn’t allow you to upload files, but there is a trick you can do with Google Drive. Follow the instructions here. They will walk you through uploading and getting the proper link for your file.

Your javascript file will include:
if (document.location.href.toLowerCase().indexOf("")==-1) {
document.location.href = ""; }

If you prefer to stay with partial posts in the feed, the hidden CSS text at the bottom of the post won’t show so we need to add your notice to the feed. You can do that under Post Feed Footer, fill in:

<div>This article is Copyright Your Name.
<a href=""></a>.</div>

That will show only for Feed Readers and thieves who populate their blog automatically with your feed. If you are allowing full posts in your feed and used the CSS trick above, don’t do this because users of feed readers will see duplicate copyright notices at the end of all your posts.

If the rest of this post is too technical for you, adding that Post Feed Footer is a pretty easy solution that can help at least get your name and link on the stolen content. Of the three things I listed, if you only do one, make it this one. The CSS isn’t hard to do either. Setting up the javascript file takes a bit more effort. A determined thief could defeat all these techniques (and any other you could come up with), but hopefully its easier for them to target someone else instead of putting in a bit of extra work stealing your writing. Especially if you have a few different things he has to fix.

A common suggestion is to block copying and pasting from your blog. This can be done with javascript or CSS like user-select: none;. These techniques only provide a false sense of security. It won’t be so easy for someone to manually copy information (even your name) from your blog, but this won’t have any effect on someone who steals every post. They will have certainly automated the theft so every time you post, they get new “free content” for their doppelgänger blog without doing any further work.

There are some services that attempt to track unauthorized text use. I have not tried them, but from what little I have read about them, when there is a free option, it is very limited. Most small blogs don’t have a budget for content protection so we have to do it ourselves.

While hosting your own blog like mine does give you more features and plugins to use, I don’t think there are many other good solutions to preventing content theft than those I gave above, just easier ways to implement them. And if you run your own site, you must be sure to keep the software running it up to date. And you should install some security plugins (like WordFence) to help keep it safe. Hackers like to target blogs with old software where known bugs allow them easy access to your webserver. Being on Blogger or another hosted services is not a bad thing for many bloggers.

Here are some useful resources on the topic of blog article theft:
The Six Worst Ways to Protect Content
Content Scrapers
Beginners Guide to Preventing Content Scraping in WordPress

New Flickr Forgot about the Users

New Flickr - Thrips on Thistle

Its nice to see they care enough to not just let Flickr wither and die. Problem is they are using poison instead of water. This is not going to bring new users to Flickr, it is going to drive away existing users. The Help forum is full of people announcing they are deleting their accounts. Flickr was about community. Now its just a photo viewer.

Flickr’s layout was simple and clean but functional. This design is simple, but it has lost the functionality and clean look. Not everyone wants edge to edge photos or they would be posting on Pinterest or Google+ instead of here already. Instead of Favorite, Add to Group, etc. up at the top of your screen, they are in the lower right with all the group and set stuff hidden behind the confusing [] menu. Comments, descriptions, and who’s photos you are looking at aren’t visible until you scroll down. Photo descriptions are gone from our front page, even titles only appear when you hover the mouse on a photo. Our sets are virtually useless now since they are not displayed on the main page where people might actually see them.

Comments are a big part of what makes Flickr a community. Now if you even go to the photo page, you must scroll down to see them. And if there are a bunch of comments, Flickr collapses all but the most recent four comments. I frequently post alternate views in the comments on my own photos, now they would be hidden as soon as four more people comment. I know many other people do the same. Hiding comments is no way to have a conversation with your friends and viewers. Having such large photos everywhere means people don’t need to click to see them anymore. I have always left my front page photos small to make visitors click if they want to get a good look. Now they can just click favorite from the main page and move on. I bet the percentage of commenting goes down significantly. That destroys the value of being on Flickr.

It used to cost $25 to get a Pro account where we actually had some benefits. Now it will cost $50 to be Ad Free and no other benefit. That is insane. They would never get enough ad based income from a user in one year to equal that. Most ad networks pay based on clicks, not views. They just want to push everyone off the paid plans. The loss of unlimited storage doesn’t bother me. 1 TB of photos is plenty of space, even if you were posting 10 MB photos (my 16 megapixel DSLR JPEGs are around 4mb) that would be 100,000 photos. That is basically unlimited unless you are uploading every photo you shoot. And charging $500 for 2 TB, lmfao. But they have said nothing about the other limits Free accounts have always had. Or whether Stats will even exist in the new plans. My guess is they won’t. It would save Yahoo a lot of money not having to process all those Stats. If Stats doesn’t go away, no way they are going to give Stats to free users. They need some way to narrow down who they have to process stats for so they don’t overwork their servers.

I am glad I am not as hooked on Flickr as I used to be. I would be a lot more upset. I am sure they will get some of the annoying stuff improved, but the Flickr we all cared about is dead. They don’t want photographers or quality photos anymore, they just want ad views. I don’t have plans to quit Flickr right now, but if I do, I wouldn’t delete my account. No matter how bad the layout gets, at least we have a history of all those past comments and discussions on our streams.

Here is an interesting quote by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo:

” … was a decision that we would not have the Flickr Pro piece anymore, and that all – there’s no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there’s everything is professional photographers. Certainly there is varying levels of skills, but we didn’t want to have a Flickr Pro anymore, we wanted everyone to have professional quality photos, space, and sharing.”

I am not a professional photographer, but there are certainly differences in website needs between snapshooters dumping their memory card to Flickr and people who spend hours perfecting a few photos in camera and in software before posting them.

Antique Style Halloween Lanterns

I was pretty happy with my Bloody Rustic Lantern from Spirit Halloween last year ($15), but I wished it wasn’t covered in blood spatter. So this year when I found two different ones online with no blood, I ordered them. One has the same incandescent bulb as the Spirit Halloween one, the other is sound activated with a flickering LED flame and spooky sounds.

Here are the two new lanterns I ordered and the Spirit Halloween one. Based on the pictures, I was expecting two different shapes and colors, but I guess “actual products may vary.”
Old Lantern (Battery Operated) Item 138511 or N0173 by Seasons USA Inc.
Haunted Lantern – Battery Operated w/Sound Item 181774 or 19668 by Seasons USA Inc.
Bloody Rustic Lantern Item 01001189 from Spirit Halloween

Here are all three lit up to compare their brightness.

Antique Halloween Lantern Comparison

And here is what I thought the Old Lantern looked like. If anyone finds one with the longer glass like this, let me know. I like the style.

Old Lantern

I don’t really like products with sound because they are usually stupid, but in that case I just disconnect the speaker. The Haunted Lantern is mostly screams, wind, thunder, and what might be crackling noise from a wood burning fire (which is incorrect for a lantern). Not sure if I will disable the sound on this one or not. The flame and sound are motion activated and it is dim compared to the other lanterns so it may go unnoticed without the sound. I use my stuff outdoors and its dark so motion sensors rarely work for me. Not sure what I am going to do about that. Luckily it comes with a try me button that I might be able to extend the cable and trigger it manually. I would not recommend the one with sound unless you are using it in an area with enough light to set off a motion sensor and you like stuff with sound.

Other than the blood spatter, I like the paint job on the Spirit Halloween one, but all three are very similarly antiqued and the difference could be all up to who slaps the paint on during production. All three open just like a real oil lantern would, but the LED bulb is glued in place. On the two non LED lanterns, you can change the bulb if it burns out by opening it as if you were cleaning a real oil lantern. For my needs, the plain cheap one is the best at only $9 from

These antique style Halloween lanterns appear very similar to the Deitz #76 Original Cold Blast Lantern. Though its slightly smaller, you can buy the real oil burning one for $17 in red, blue, or green. Of course, for safety purposes a battery powered one is much prefered for Halloween. Deitz makes some of those too, an LED lantern in the same style for $25 in black and a more powerful LED latnern with almost as much candle power as the real oil lantern of that style.

For our recent possible hurricane, I bought a Lamplight Emergency Lighting Kit with a very similar looking (non-Deitz) lantern for around $17 which is much brighter than a Halloween decoration. It is the reason I decided to start looking for lanterns to add to my yard haunt this year.

I did some shopping around and found an online Halloween store with great prices, The store is Canadian so my stupid credit card added a FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE for a few more dollars which I was not happy about, but I saved so much buying from the site, it wasn’t that bad. I can’t say a lot about the company after only one order, but when the website had a problem with taking my order, I called and someone answered right away and fixed it. The order arrived in 7 days, faster than expected with Economy Shipping which I used a coupon to get free.

ELPH Techniques

Shooting fast moving subjects without motion blur is a challenge. You need to get a fast shutter speed. Since it isn’t possible to set the shutter speed on the Canon ELPH cameras, I needed to figure out how to force a fast speed. I tried a bunch of that shot with flash first but that gives a different look that some people don’t like. This shot probably isn’t the subject you are trying to shoot, but did require a very fast shutter speed. I got my SD800 up to 1/1600 exposure with f/7.1 aperture.

Of course, for all the stuff I have mentioned you have to be in Manual mode. I have never messed with the scene modes much. It isn’t really manual compared to a more complicated camera so don’t worry too much about that. I have not used them, but on recent ELPHs there is a kids and pets and/or a sports setting in the scene menu which should give faster shutter speeds.

You can turn the exposure down so the camera doesn’t expect as much light and will use a faster shutter speed. But you loose DOF that way and your shots will be darker. You probably can’t go too far down.

You should also zoom the least amount possible, none is best. The wider the shot the more light is let in so the camera can use a faster shutter speed. Wider shots also help catching your subject. Mine is usually jumping cats and it helps make sure I get the whole cat in the shot.

Setting your ISO to at least 200 is probably a requirement for catching fast action unless in the brightest sunlight. The higher the ISO the less light the camera needs so can use a faster shutter, but the image gets noisier the higher the ISO. Don’t be afraid of 400 if you have too, grainy shots are better than blury shots. Sunlight is extremely important if you don’t want motion blur. If you can live with a small amount of motion blur, which can sometimes be interesting and shows the action, then a bit shady or not so bright sunlight will do. Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.

Your other option is to use the flash even in daylight, just turn your camera from automatic to always flash. It will slow down how fast you can shoot and you will probably want an extra battery if you do it a lot since it will drain much faster, but it will help you freeze the action if you are close enough to the subject. Here is an example in the dark. And another example (don’t look if you are mouse fan).

If you get blurry pictures with the flash because the shutter is staying open too long you might have the Slow Synchro setting turned on. You can turn it off in the Menu. It could also happen if you are too far from your subject for the flash to have much effect. For example, when shooting an event from the stands flash (on any camera) isn’t going to do you any good. You are better off with high ISO.

Cosina 100mm F3.5 Macro

The Cosina 100mm is a pretty decent starter macro lens with good sharpness. You may also find the lens branded as Vivitar or Phoenix. But to get actual 1:1 magnification, it comes with a matched adapter. 1:1 isn’t always necessary, but its certainly good for anything smaller than a butterfly. While using the adapter, you loose infinity focus.

The image quality is good, but I prefer my old Minolta 50mm f2.8 1:1 Macro since the focal range is more useful for non-macro shots and it doesn’t require an adapter for 1:1 so it is much more likely to stay on my camera. Until I got the 50mm, I prefered using a Raynox macro adapter on my zoom lenses instead of the Cosina for shooting macros. Since I was using an adapter either way, I preferred the flexibility of the Raynox DCR-250 which I could use on any of my lenses.

After using the 50mm for a few years, I wish I had a macro lens with 90mm or more so I could shoot from a bit further away. Scaring bugs off isn’t usually a problem for me, but lighting them with my flash at 1:1 can be difficult since the lens is so close to the bug.

Not So Shiny Chrome

When I heard about Google’s Chrome browser yesterday, I was worried for Mozilla. Google is their biggest source of income and if Chrome became popular, there wouldn’t be much use in continuing that relationship. Now that I have tried it, I don’t think Mozilla has much to worry about at least for a few years.

There is much other browsers can learn from Chrome, but I think
Chrome is too simplified for most advanced users and those are the people who will most appreciate the big improvements. Having tabs in separate processes seems to be a very good idea. And being able to disconnect and reconnect tabs is convenient. Memory usage does seem pretty comparable to Firefox 3.

Popups and spyware problems are not improved much, if any, over Firefox 3. It does block some popups, but I still found plenty. One seemed triggered by Flash ads. I got one when clicking unrelated links on a hacker search engine. And I got one that seems to be a javascript redirect on a compromised blog that warned me I had viruses and is very effective. The same site twice convinced my mom that she had viruses. If you click anywhere on the site, two EXEs are downloaded automatically. With Firefox, only one was downloaded. The only thing Chrome did better was not allow the site to hide the browser window by resizing it and moving it to the corner behind the popup dialog. Firefox can be set for that too.

Chrome is missing an easy way to reopen accidentally closed tabs. You can do it from the Opera Speed Dial like home page, but why not from the context menu when you click on the tab bar? Having close buttons on each tab makes it too easy to close them. I set Firefox to show close buttons only on the active tab.

I didn’t do any official timing tests, but to me Chrome feels slower than Firefox. Loading javascript heavy pages might be faster, Gmail did load pretty fast, but loading regular HTML and images seemed slower.

The best part of Chrome is that it will advance web standards. Google’s Chrome comic explains how they test page rendering automatically on tons of the most popular pages found in their search engine. Any improvement they make will be able to benefit Apple Safari’s WebKit core which eventually works its way back KDE’s KHTML in Konqueror.

Chrome is an extremely polished beta, but if you use anything more than the back button on your browser, there is nothing really great about it that will convince people to switch. IE8 beta looks pretty good too, but I will be sticking with Firefox. Mozilla keeps actively working on Firefox. From past experience with Google software, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get board with the project and development stalls for long periods. Google’s Browser Sync was long neglected and is being discontinued. Google’s Picasa is finally nearing a beta for 3.0 but has not had a major update since June 2006 when 2.5 was released. Hopefully this one is better, but take a look at their Mac and Linux support if you are waiting for this browser on other operating systems.

Update: I gave Chrome another try after it was developed a bit more and started using it more and more. I love the speed improvements and use it 90% of the time now even though I miss a bunch of Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey scripts.

Cats Can Reddit

Cats Can't Read

Today my Cats Can’t Read photo was posted to Reddit by PaperLess. I don’t think it made the front page, but it did do well on the Pics page, making it up to at least number 6 today. Back on February 16, 2008, this shot had 3,676 views and 33 faves which I thought was pretty good. When I first learned of it being on Reddit on March 10, about eight hours after it was posted, it has 24,176 views and 44 faves. Now, around 13 hours since it was linked, it is up to 32,022 views and 47 faves. According to Flickr, there have been over 28,000 views from Reddit users in just over half a day. Thanks for posting it, PaperLess.

I do have one request though of anyone who posts links to photos. Please link the post to the main photo page, not the original size or the JPEG itself. I often find posts directly to JPEGs, that is not allowed by the Flickr TOS and is rude. The photographer gets no credit for the image that way. Linking to the larger size pages is better because the photographer’s name and copyright information is there, but the viewers won’t likely see the caption under the photo or the photographer’s other work. Reddit users don’t have a reputation for exploring a site that has been linked. Even though I have had over 28,000 views on this photo alone today, views on the rest of my photos and my Photostream are maybe at most very slightly above average. I do have a lot of other good stuff people would enjoy and usually so do other photographers that get linked.

If you ever do come across a JPEG only photo on Flickr’s servers, this bookmarklet will take you to the photo page (if I can figure out where I got it I will add a credit). I use it frequently. Often you will find other interesting work by the same photographer.

For those that don’t know, Reddit is a site like Slashdot or Digg. You have to be a computer geek to have heard of them, but they are huge in the world of computer geeks and programmers. I get most of my news and interesting links from them. On Digg and Reddit, people post links they find interesting and they get voted up or down so the really interesting ones make it to the front page. As new stuff becomes more interesting they move down the list to make room. Unless its really good, most stuff doesn’t stay near the top for even a day. The amount of traffic these sites produce if you get linked and are popular can be enormous. Frequently it is enough to knock a site temporarily off line or at least make it unusably slow.

Update: One week later and I get another shot on Reddit thanks to digital. It got about 5,000 in the first three hours it was there.
Before Microsoft Word

Hard Drive Troubles

In the last week I have had several hard drive problems. First was my external USB hard drive got corrupted so none of the thousands of photos over the last several months in the folder for my S5 showed up. Luckily it happened while I was copying them off to my ReadyNAS NV so more than half copied fine. I just had to make sure I could get the other half. I knew exactly what program to use. GetDataBack from Runtime Software. But I only had the version for FAT and this drive was NTFS. I downloaded the trial version and confirmed my photos could be recovered. So I paid $79 for the license. In the comments where it asked where you heard about the program, I mentioned that I bought GDB for FAT six years ago. They have a bundle where you can buy both the FAT and NTFS versions for a discount, but I assumed that was if you bought it at the same time, certainly not 6 years apart. A day or two later, I got an email saying I was only charged $50 (the difference in price from the bundle and the NTFS version). Even $79 would have been a deal to get my photos back. GDB has saved me a ton of data over the years that was not properly backed up. Runtime Software has great software and great people.

My second hard drive problem was with the ReadyNAS. I bought it when it was Infrant, now Netgear owns it. It is setup with X-RAID (eXpandable RAID) and one of the four drives died. That is what RAID is for though. One drive can die and you don’t loose anything. So I went hard drive shopping. I had four 400 GB drives in there which gives around a Terabyte of room (and nearly full). I couldn’t find any 400 GB drives locally and could hardly find any drives at all that were listed as compatible. So I made it all the way down to poor CompUSA. I didn’t realize they had started their going out of business sale already. I never really liked the store, but it was better than Best Buy or Circuit City and you could find most anything that the others didn’t carry (maybe that was their problem). For that it will be missed. The only compatible one large enough was a 750 GB Seagate drive, it was way more than I planned even with 10% off. Until I can replace the other three drives though, the extra 350 GB is just sitting there unusable.