Category Archives: Computing

If you aren’t getting email from Voice for Liberty

Troubleshoot why you aren’t getting email from Voice for Liberty or other senders.

From time to time people ask me if I’m still sending email newsletters from the Voice for Liberty. The answer is yes, I am. But some people tell me they aren’t receiving them, even though I have verified that the emails are, indeed, being sent. So if you aren’t receiving your email from the Voice for Liberty or other senders, here are some troubleshooting steps. (I usually send Friday morning, but sometimes also on other days.)

Spam. Just what is it?

Most email programs or systems filter spam, that is, unwanted email, so it doesn’t reach your inbox. But there is not a clear definition as to what is spam, and spammers are continually innovating in order to bypass spam detection methodologies, just so you won’t overlook that Nigerian prince who wants to send you ten million dollars. So sometimes email that you want to receive is mistakenly marked as spam, and you may not see it. (Amazingly, sometimes Gmail — a service provided by Google — marks email sent from Google as spam.)

Most systems have a spam or junk folder — or something similar — where spammy messages are placed. If you view that folder, you may find that email from Voice for Liberty, along with other desirable email, is there. If so, you can usually whitelist that email. That’s telling your email system that this email is not spam, and that future email from the sender should not be treated as spam.

How to do this varies among email systems. In Gmail there’s a “Not spam” button. Other systems have a “Safe senders” list. Sometimes your contact list serves as the whitelist, so you need to add a sender to your contacts. (The email address Voice for Liberty emails are sent from is bob.weeks@gmail.com.) This helpful article from Constant Contact, the company I use to send the email newsletter, provides specific instructions for many email systems.

Gmail categories, or tabs

A few years ago Gmail added a feature that automatically sorts email into categories or tabs like Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. An article on LifeHacker titled Everything You Need to Know About Gmail’s New, Super-Confusing Layout explains.

The problem may be that emails you want to receive are being sorted into a tab that you’re not paying attention to. If so, there are several things you can do.

  • On a desktop browser, you can drag an email to a different tab, like Primary.
  • Or, you can pay more attention to the tabs other than Primary.
  • Or — and a lot of people do this — you can switch off the categorized and tabbed feature. This article from Google shows how to do that.

Did you unsubscribe, perhaps accidentally?

It may be that sometime in the past you unsubscribed to emails from the Voice for Liberty, perhaps accidentally. If so, please be aware that I am not able to restore your subscription. (Constant Contact, my service provider, prohibits this in order to reduce spam.) If you think this is the case, here’s what you can do.

  • Click on this link and subscribe. You should receive a confirming email.
  • Or, send an email to me, and I can re-send your confirming email.

Has your email address changed?

If your email address has changed, click on this link and subscribe with the new address.

Check your spelling

Sometimes people subscribe by supplying email addresses that I’m pretty sure have spelling errors. So if you’ve subscribed but have never received email from Voice for Liberty, just subscribe again. Click on this link to subscribe. You should receive a confirming email.

If you’ve having other problems, send me an email, and I’ll try to help. If I receive your email, that is.

I’m concerned about Google

As someone who uses and relies on many Google products, I’m concerned when the company’s CEO says “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

This quote is attributed to Google CEO Eric Schmidt in 2009. Tim Carney has more in the Washington Examiner at Even law-abiding people should oppose surveillance.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2009, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

This line was creepy enough coming from one of President Obama’s confidants and fundraisers. It takes on added weight now that the Washington Post and the Guardian have reported that the National Security Agency’s Prism program, in the days before Obama was sworn in, tapped into Google’s servers, gaining access to every message sent or received over Gmail.

Google spokesmen, like spokesmen from all the tech companies, deny participating in any such program. So Americans are left to wonder: Was this corporate-government collusion? Was this federal hacking or infiltration of corporate servers?

I lost some data

Yesterday afternoon my web hosting company, which I am satisfied with, suffered a mishap and some data was lost. This site was unavailable for some time, too.

I reconstructed the posts from yesterday. The comments that were left were lost, at least in their normal form. I fetched them from my email notifications and included them within the text of the posts.

Other than that I think everything is okay and back to normal, but I’d appreciate a notification if something isn’t working. Email to bob.weeks@gmail.com, or call 316-708-1837.

I’ll help you with technology

I hate to see activists struggle with technology. Whether it’s creating and managing a blog, using Facebook or Twitter, or just using computers and the Internet effectively, I’d like to help.

Crossloop is a tool that lets people work together remotely. By using it, you’ll be able to see my computer screen, and I — with your permission — can see yours. Working together this way, we can resolve many problems quickly.

If you’re a center-right or libertarian activist and need help, contact me. It’s free. You’ll have to do an easy download of some software, but you don’t have to create an account or supply any personal information.

Click on www.crossloop.com/BobWeeks to get started.

Pew Internet and American Life Project Redesign

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has redesigned their website. This organization has been a valuable source of information about the Internet and how people are using it.

As an example, here are some of their recent research reports:

Twitter and status updating: “As of December 2008, 11% of online American adults said they used a service like Twitter or another service that allowed them to share updates about themselves or to see the updates of others.”

Adults and Social Network Websites: “The share of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% at the end of 2008.”

When Technology Fails: “Half (48%) of tech users need help from others in getting new devices and services to work, and many experience tech outages when there is a glitch with their home internet connection, computer, or cell phone.”

Please Back Up Your Data

You really need to back up your computer data.

It’s as simple as that. There is no form of computer storage that isn’t vulnerable to data loss. Sooner or later, a loss is certain to happen. The consequences can be tragic.

There are several ways to perform this vital task of safeguarding your data. One way is to purchase an external disk drive. For around $100, you can buy one that’s probably larger than the drive that’s internal in your computer. These drives often have software that automatically copies data from your computer’s drive to the external drive on a schedule.

While a good solution, external drives don’t protect from all threats. If there’s a fire or flood, it’s likely the data on the external drive will be lost. If there’s a theft, the data is lost. Not only that, it may be in the hands of someone who could use the data to conduct identity theft or other crime. Some external drives may encrypt the data, which is smart.

I recommend that most computer users use a remote backup service. These services work by encrypting and transmitting your data over your Internet connection to a remote server, where it is stored in encrypted form.

The two most popular examples of this type of service are Carbonite and Mozy. I use Mozy, so I’ll talk about it.

I pay $4.95 per month to use Mozy, but that’s because I have a lot of data. If you have less than two gigabytes of data — and many users fall into this category — Mozy can be free to use.

To use this service, you establish an account. Then, you install their software. After this, you’ll make the initial backup. This can take a long time — perhaps several days. After that, the software copies only new or changed data to the Mozy servers, and the backups usually don’t take very long. In any case, these backup sessions occur in the background, and you’ll hardly notice they’re happening.

You can configure the schedule for these incremental backups. I have my computer make several backups each day.

The Mozy software isn’t perfect. A few times it’s failed to make the backup for several days before I noticed. I’ve never had to restore a file (thankfully), but the software lets you restore a single file or groups of files.

I urge you to use either of these services. As more of our data, photographs, video, and memories are on our computers, we need to be vigilant in our custody of this data.

More information:
Mozy company site
Carbonite company site
These Services Make Backing Up Your Files Safe and Inexpensive (Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal)
Five Best Windows Backup Tools

The Google May Shut Off Data

One of the fascinating things about having a website is analyzing how people happen to visit your site. For many sites, referrals from a search engine like Google or Yahoo are a big source of visitors. This means that someone used Google to search for something, your site appeared in the results, someone clicked on the result, and therefore came to visit your site.

Generally, you can tell what search terms the visitor typed into Google or whatever when they performed the search that led them to visit your site. This is, as you might imagine, very useful information.

It’s also fun and revealing to look at this data. You’d be surprised what people from certain companies and governmental bodies are searching for.

But this valuable source of intelligence for website owners may be coming to an end. This article explains: Google’s new Ajax-powered search results breaks search keyword tracking for everyone.

New Computer Setup Today

Last night I bought a new desktop computer. I’d been needing to for a while, as my current computer was about five years old. Everything was becoming slower. I run a lot of software, such as Google desktop indexing (and even another desktop indexing program, if you can figure that out), and my old computer was just overwhelmed.

Plus, last week at the State Policy Network conference I became convinced of the power of video to report and tell a story. So I bought a video camera. My old computer was way underpowered for video, so that’s part of the reason for the new PC.

So last night I started the process. You know — transferring several hundred gigabytes of data, installing programs, setting up things just the way you want. It seems like every little task I perform for the first time requires a download or some sort of configuration. Also, a few programs I rely on, like Ditto clipboard extender and PDFCreator are apparently not working with the Microsoft Vista operating system.

Plus, I just can’t get used to the new keyboard.

So blogging and other activity might be a little light today as I get things going again.

More good computer and Internet things

Bloglines

“Bloglines is a FREE online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content.” That quote from Bloglines accurately describes what Bloglines is, but doesn’t really communicate its benefit. Here’s what Bloglines does for me: I like to keep current with the content of about two dozen blogs, mostly blogs in Kansas that might not publish new articles very often. (You can see a list of some of them here.) Instead of visiting each of these sites every day or so, I simply add them to my list of “feeds” in Bloglines. Then, Bloglines periodically checks the blogs for me and shows me which blogs have new or revised items. I can view the blogs through the Bloglines website, or by visiting the blog itself.

Bloglines works very well, but for it to work at all for a blog, the blog you’re interested in must publish a feed, and not all do. Try it at http://bloglines.com.

Microsoft AntiSpyware

Previously I have been recommending Sypbot: Search and Destroy for antispyware. Recently I started to use Microsoft Antispyware and now recommend it. I believe its ease of use, automatic updating, and continuous background monitoring is better for most people. You can download it at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx.

Google Analytics

If you have a website, you may be interested in knowing how many people visit your site. There are many web counters and other services to give counts of visitors and other statistics, but nothing I have seen comes close to Google Analytics. This free service, available at http://www.google.com/analytics, provides detailed analysis of the traffic that visits your website. I recommend it for anyone with a website who wants to know more about the site’s visitors.

More favorite computer and Internet things

More things I like and use. The first article is here: Favorite Internet and computer things.

A Notebook Computer

Until this year I had never owned a notebook computer. But now that I do, I understand and appreciate the benefits of portability. When combined with a wireless network, I can sit anywhere in my house and do any sort of computing that I want. The backyard deck and front porch are possibilities, too. Even if the computer was to be totally deskbound, a notebook computer is still nice for its small size.

Today you can get serviceable notebook computers for under $1,000, and if you spend a little more than that you can get a really nice computer with a lot of memory and disk storage capacity, and a nice high-resolution screen for easy viewing. For accessories, I recommend a carry case if you’ll be traveling. I find a traditional mouse much easier to use than the touch pads built into most notebook computers, so a mouse is nice to have. At work I have a docking station and a stand for mine, so each morning I “snap” my computer into its stand, and immediately it’s connected to my office network and other devices, including a full-size keyboard and mouse.

An External Disk Drive

An external hard disk drive is a device about the size of a book that sits on the desk alongside your desktop or notebook computer. It connects to your computer through USB or fire wire connection. Models available today hold from 100 GB up to 300 GB or maybe even more. A 200 GB model can be purchased for under $200.

What’s so important about this type of drive? Backup. Backup. Did I say backup? I find that most people in their homes — and many people even in their offices — don’t have a reasonable level of backup protection for their data. An external drive can easily provide that. Combined with the backup software that might be included with the external drive — or by using a program like NTI Shadow that I use — the external drive can make automatic backups. In the case of NTI Shadow, as I save a file to my computer’s regular internal disk drive, the software also saves it to the external drive. I have the Shadow software configured to keep several generations of my files so I can find old versions if I mistakenly mangle a file and don’t realize it right away.

The portability of the external drive is important, too. You can move it from computer to computer. Or, if you realize something bad is about to happen — say a hurricane or tornado — you can grab it and run.

In the past backup protection like this was usually provided by tape. Today, hard disk drive storage is so inexpensive, and so much more convenient, that these external drives have largely replaced tape for this type of personal backup.

PGP and Whole Disk Encryption

PGP, standing for Pretty Good Privacy, is a method for encrypting data. Whole Disk Encryption is a program sold by PGP Corporation that encrypts all the data on a computer’s disk drive. Many companies have recently implemented a policy that all notebook computers will have their disks encrypted in this way. I have done this to my notebook computer.

What this means is if that someone were to obtain my computer, they would not be able to use the data stored on it. Even if they removed the disk drive and installed it in another computer, they would not be able to use the data. This gives me a lot of peace of mind. I often read news stories that a computer belonging to an employee of (insert name of well-known corporation) was (stolen, lost, misplaced) and it contained records for thousands of (employees, patients, customers). With whole-disk encryption, I do not have to worry about this embarrassment and liability.

Picasa

Picasa is photo management software from Google. It’s free and works very well. I recommend considering it for your digital photos.

Google Analytics

In the past month Google made available a service called Google Analytics. This service provides comprehensive analysis of the traffic a web site receives. To use it you install some Google-supplied html code in your web pages. Then you use the Google Analytics web site to view information about the traffic your web site has received. It’s amazing to me that a service this comprehensive can be offered at no charge.

HTML-kit

HTML-kit is a free html editing program with many features. I recommend it if you want to write html by hand, the old-fashioned way. It’s available for download at http://www.chami.com/html-kit. Optional registration gives extra features such as a table editor.

Copernic Desktop Search

In a recent article Favorite Internet and Computer Things I mentioned how I read many newspapers and magazines in their online versions. I also save many articles using the “Save as ‘Web archive, single file'” feature of Internet Explorer, or sometimes by creating pdf files. (It’s important to save articles, as many publications restrict access to them after some time. For the New York Times, for example, articles disappear behind a “paywall” after seven days.)

The problem, then, becomes how to search through these articles that I’ve saved. I had been using the generally very good Google Desktop Search, but it didn’t index and search the web archive files. Google Desktop Search does, however, allow other to write plug-ins to extend its features, and there were some available to search web archive files. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to work.

I became aware of and downloaded the free Copernic Desktop Search. It, with a little configuration, indexes and searches web archive files very well. It’s free, and works so nicely that I may investigate purchasing one of their personal or professional versions, which look to offer some promising technology for general Internet searching.

I was able to configure Copernic Desktop search to index all the source code to the computer programs I write, which is a valuable capability.

You can learn more and download here.

Favorite Internet and computer things

Pdf995

Pdf995, available as a free download at http://www.pdf995.com/, lets you create documents in the popular Adobe Acrobat pdf format. This is immensely useful for many situations. A companion program, PdfEdit995, lets you edit some attributes of the pdf files. For basic usage, though, Pdf995 works just fine. After you download and install the software, you’ll be able to “print” any document to pdf format, and then do with it as you wish. When using Pdf995 you have to watch a small advertisement, but this is what keeps the program free.

What’s so great about pdf files? They’re a good way to send documents by email or web without worrying about viruses, compatibility, and formatting. Many people send Microsoft Word documents to one another. But what if the recipient doesn’t own Microsoft Word? Did you also know that there’s a programming language built into Word (and Excel and other Microsoft Office document types) that can transmit viruses and worms? Pdf documents retain the original formatting, which is important in many cases (but not all). Pdf documents are also a good way to save a copy of a web page.

Save as “Web archive, single file”

What if you’ve read an article on a website and you want to save it? Do you print it? You can, but then you’re stuck with paper with its attendant drawbacks. Can you save the website on your computer? If you’re using Internet Explorer, there is is the “Save as” command on the “File” menu, which will save a copy of the web page. But there’s a catch to be aware of. If you use the default value for the “Save as type” setting, which is “Web page, complete” you’ll end up with many small files on your computer. A better setting is “Web archive, single file,” which saves the web page in a single file. This is a much cleaner and neater option. Printing the web page as a pdf file (see above) is also useful.

Offline Files

How do you keep your notebook computer’s files synchronized with your desktop computer’s files? The best answer is offline files, a feature built into recent versions of Microsoft Windows. With offline files, it’s almost as if your notebook and desktop computers were acting as one, even when you’re away from home or office.

Offline files is not easy to configure and not always easy to use, but it works and performs an indispensable service. Without it, it would be much more difficult to manage using two computers.

Suspend and Hibernate

Windows has two useful features that are an alternative to turning off your computer when you’re finished using it. Suspend puts your computer in a state where it uses very little power, but will come back to life almost instantly. Hibernate saves the state of your computer to disk and turns off the computer so that it uses no (or just a little trickle) power. It takes a little longer to bring your computer to life after hibernation, but it’s still faster than starting from scratch, and as with standby, all your programs will be running as you left them.

Each of these two options can save a lot of time and electricity, too. Plus, when your computer is in standby or hibernate mode, it isn’t going to be attacked by hackers.

Google Mail

Currently my Google Mail, or gmail, account tells me that I have 2470 MB total space available for my use. I pay nothing for this space. It was not along ago that my Internet Service Provider, to which I pay $40 monthly, granted me 10 mb total space.

Google mail works very well, although it has a few quirks and peculiarities when compared to traditional email services. I use gmail to receive email newsletter subscriptions and other similar email.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts let you “save” a Google search and have the results emailed to you as new web pages that match your searches are found. This is an invaluable way to keep up-to-date on topics you are interested in.

Your Own Cheap Website

For less than $50 a year plus about $8 for a domain name, you can have your own web site with perhaps 2,000 mb of storage and a lot of bandwidth. What can you do with all this? For one thing, you can host a website like wichitaliberty.org. Some other things: Create email addresses, manage a mailing list, store backups of your personal data offsite (with cautions), host a blog, host a website using any number of content management systems such as Drupal that runs wichitaliberty.org, host a discussion forum, use image gallery systems for photo albums, use project management systems to coordinate a project, host a wiki for collaboration, and many other things. Most of these systems make use of open source software and work very well. But, a lot of these things are not for the inexperienced computer user. There are times I have had to manually edit various Linux configuration files and mySQL databases to make things work. But it’s a lot of fun to learn, and some of the open source software is amazing in its capability and quality.

Online Newspapers and Magazines

Did you know that you can read the content of many of our nation’s important newspapers for free? Each day I read (well, at least I have the potential to read) the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and Los Angeles Times. Around the state of Kansas, The Wichita Eagle, Wichita Business Journal, Topeka Capital-Journal, Lawrence Journal-World, and The Kansas City Star are available for free. I pay to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, but that newspaper stands out as an exception.

Many national and local magazines have all or some of their content available on their websites for free, too. Furthermore, many of these publications will send me an email about each issue.

Strunk: The Elements of Style

This important reference work is at http://www.bartleby.com/141/. Strunk is a little old-fashioned in some ways, such as advocating the use of the Oxford comma, but I think that’s good.

AVG Anti-Virus

I became disenchanted with several commercial anti-virus program because they seemed to be doing too much, integrating firewall and other protections, and they seemed to be making my computers run slower than they should. So at home I investigated AVG anti-virus, from grisoft.com. It works just fine, and for home users, there is the “Free Edition.” You have to look pretty hard on the website to find it, but it’s there. For work I use the professional edition, which I pay for, but it is less expensive than many competing products, and is less intrusive.

ZoneAlarm

I recommend a firewall in addition to anti-virus software. Recent versions of Windows have a built-in firewall. For older versions of Windows, of if you want to use something else, I recommend ZoneAlarm, from zonelabs.com. You have to look pretty hard on the website for the free edition, but it’s there.

Sbybot — Search & Destroy

Besides anti-virus and a firewall, I recommend an anti-spyware program. Sbybot — Search & Destroy, available for free at http://www.safer-networking.org works very well.

Skype

Skype is free Internet telephony that works very well. You need a broadband or high-speed Internet connection, but after that it’s free, and the quality of voice call is usually much better than that of regular telephone service.

Audacity

Audacity, available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net, is an open source software product that provides you with many of the features of a professional recording studio. At the minimum, you could make a recording of your voice, edit it, and save it, perhaps as an mp3 file. With additional effort, you can alter recording to remove noise, add enhancements, and other tricks.

What is Not Good About Internet Search

The success of the Internet search engine Google is amazing. It has become a cultural phenomena, as “to Google” someone or a topic. The implication is that by using Google, you can find all there is to know about a person or subject.

In my opinion, this attitude can be deceptive. Relying exclusively on Google or any other search engine can lead to conclusions based on erroneous or incomplete sources. For example, The Wall Street Journal, one of the most important sources for research on current topics, is absent from Google. Its content does not appear in searches. That’s because the Wall Street Journal is a subscription service. Readers have to subscribe and pay to view its content. Other subscription services — and there are many, some being quite expensive — may not have their content indexed by Google.

Google has a new service called Google Scholar. Quoting from its “About” page: “Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.” In my brief experience using Google Scholar, it finds some articles I would like to read, but many are expensive to purchase. For example, a search for “Wichita city council” returns an article titled “Searching for a Role for Citizens in the Budget Process.” The article costs $25.00 to read.

An obvious problem in using the Internet for research, and therefore for search engines as well, is the quality of the web pages that are returned in a search. Readers need to be careful in deciding which web pages and sites to trust. It is easy, and becoming easier, to create web sites that have a quality look and feel. That does not mean, however, that the information is reliable. It may have been created to deceive. A good page that can help judge the quality of a web page is here: Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask. Another good resource is Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet.

There are many other search engines. Some I have recently become aware of that seem interesting and have merit are Teoma, Alltheweb, Vivisimo, and SMEALSearch. There are also pay search services. These often include content that is not available on free websites. Some of these include HighBeam, Questia, Factiva, and Northern Light.

I don’t mean to pick exclusively on Google, as their search service is very good, and some of their more little-known services are amazing. The recently introduced Google Maps (link: http://maps.google.com ), for example, is a technical tour-de-force and different from other map services. But we must realize that the Internet is not quite like a library with the helpful and knowledgeable librarian there to help us.