Monthly Archives: September 2012

by Zoraida Cordova

Tristan Hart has a problem. Several problems, actually. Tristan is a relatively normal adolescent boy; Awkward at times, tongue-tied when he really needs to not be. His troubles include problems with girls in general, an ex-mermaid for a mother and the fact that his grandfather has decided that Tristan should inherit his throne as Sea King. There are more problems as the book progresses but this short list will do for starters.

This reviewer decided that The Vicious Deep would be a great “beach-read” and so ensconced himself on the sands of Virginia Beach a few feet away from the 36th Street lifeguard’s station where he would have a good view of the nubile young females walking up and down the beach trolling for guys. Their trolling was intended to snag lifeguards as well as the rest of the beach’s visible male population – visible, meaning guys their age or older who might have a hot car, a wad of cash, and no problems buying alcohol – but on this particular day, the 36th Street lifeguard was female so she didn’t count. Imagine then, this reviewer’s surprise when he opened The Vicious Deep to chapter one and saw the same scene being played out on New York’s Coney Island.

Zoraida Cordova’s story has a number of things going for it among which are:

  1. It is a really exciting story
  2. The central character is male.

Usually, mer-fiction deals with females who:

  • Are mermaids but don’t know it
  • Are mermaids who do know it
  • Want to become a mermaid but don’t know how
  • Etc., Etc.

In this story, Tristan – the central character – is the son of a former mermaid and just a few chapters away from becoming a merman himself. True to form, Tristan knows nothing about his mother’s history – other than she seems somewhat like a retired hippie. This is a sterling example of the peril that parents face when they don’t talk to their kids as they grow up, leaving vital information to be discussed “later”.

In mermaid stories, there is, of course, the old occult royalty bit where the central female character not only learns that she’s a mermaid but that she’s a princess as well, which has played – with varying degrees of success – in so many stories that it has become hackneyed to a significant degree. (Brenda Pandos – in her Mer Tales series – seems to be one of the few authors who can carry this off with aplomb and brilliance.) Because this story centres on a guy, the fact that Tristan is the grandson of the Sea King makes this facet seem fresh and exciting. Tristan is more a raw recruit than a guy with princely aspirations.

Next, there is the love interest. A common plot device is for the mermaid who is the central character to have feelings for one boy – human or merman – and then have her insides turn to something like porridge when a second boy enters the picture. In other words, a love triangle. (Queue up the schmaltzy song form the late 70’s. “Torn Between Two Lovers”.) Tristan already has at least one girl that he is keen on but his head is easily turned. Like a lot of teen-aged boys, Tristan is a little over-convinced that he is attractive to girls and as the story begins, he is suffering the consequences. Meanwhile, there is his childhood friend, Layla, whom he is beginning to see as more than just a “friend”. Layla cares about Tristan’s well-being and demonstrates this by turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Outside of his family, she is the only human who knows about the changes he’s recently been through.

Then finally, there is the action/adventure element to this story. There is a sea-witch who is gunning for Tristan and her attacks become more and more bold as the story progresses. If that was not enough, Tristan has to go on a scavenger hunt of epic proportions in order to take over the family business from his grandfather. There’s just one catch; Tristan has competition from older, more experienced mermen and his success starts to look like long shot.

And there you have it. Girl troubles, “cousins” from out-of-town, a sea-witch to battle and pieces of his grandfather’s trident to find. If that was not enough, Tristan also has to finish the last weeks of his Junior year in High School.

Zoraida Cordova has masterfully created a modern odyssey with some intriguing characters and a story that should interest male as well as female readers. The book is well written and a very clean read with hardly a typo or misused word to be found. These two points make the story even more attractive and a pleasure to dive into. The reader will be disappointed because the end of the book seems to come so quickly but they need not fret too much. The second book in this series, The Savage Blue, is due for release in (very) early January of 2013. Overall, I would recommend The Vicious Deep for older YA’s, say 16 and up.

My Rating:

Zoraida Cordova has a blog at http://www.zoraidawrites.com/

Our friend, Henri, laments his dwindling enthusiasm for the world at the vet’s office. Such is the life of an existentialist French cat.

 

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiYUzYozsAQ[/tube]

Those who develop operating systems usually like to give each release a code name. Other than Longhorn, there is little that is truly memorable from Microsoft. Apple has a penchant for using cat names like Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion to tag releases of OS X. So far, they seem to resisted the urge to give code names to releases of iOS which drives the iPhone & iPad.

Google’s Android operating system releases have been code-named with sweet treats such as:

  • Honeycomb
  • Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Jelly Bean

Does this mean that the next release of Android will be named “Kit-Kat bar”?

All this leads us to the code names for Ubuntu Linux.  The UK-based company, Canonical Ltd. which is owned by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, likes to give alliterative  animal code names to releases of the Ubuntu OS. For example, recent releases of Ubuntu Linux have been code-named:

  • Lucid Lynx – Version # 10.04 released in April of 2010
  • Maverick Meerkat – Version # 10.10 released in October of 2010
  • Natty Narwhal – Version 11.04 released in April of 2011
  • Oneric Ocelot – Version 11.10 released in October of 2011
  • Precise Pangolin – Version 12.04 released in April of 2012

Early this week, Steven Vaughan-Nichols of ZDNet revealed that the code name for Version 12.10, due sometime in October, will be Quantal Quetzal. Dr. Data had predicted that the code name would be “Querulous Quetzal” but he’s more than happy to be even half right on anything. (Thirty-seven years of wedlock will do that to you.) Nonetheless, Dr. Data stands by his prediction that version 13.04, scheduled for April of 2013, will be code-named “Rabid Raccoon”.

To learn more about the upcoming release of version 12.10, including five great enhancements, read Steve’s article on ZDNet.

While you’re on ZDNet, take a look at Linus Torvalds’ take on why the Desktop version of Linux has been slow to gain acceptance amongst the user community.

Some of you can probably remember your fathers, uncles or grandfathers talking about such radio “personalities” during World War II as Tokyo Rose, Axis Sally or Lord Haw Haw.  One of the speakers who portrayed Haw Haw was actually an American. (For those who are wondering, Lord Haw Haw did not invent the English landscaping feature known as the “Ha Ha”!) Whilst we are the subject of Americans, Tokyo Rose was often portrayed by Iva Toguri D’Aquino, an American citizen born to Japanese immigrants and Axis Sally was an Italian/American named Rita Zucca. During the Korean War, American GI’s had Pyongyang Sally (no relation to Axis Sally).

Now that we are in the age of the internet, our troops in Afghanistan have “Facebook Frances” only this time, it’s not about demorialising propaganda. Instead, it’s all about intelligence gathering. It seems that the armed thugs known as the Taliban have been posing as attractive women on Facebook in order to dupe the troops. (“Hello American GI! Would you happen to have your geospatial co-ordinates handy?”)

ZDNet’s story is on the short side so I’m going to let them do the rest of the talking. Warfare goes digital as the Taliban pose on Facebook as “attractive women” to steal military secrets.

Sacre Merde!! Henri has returned!

 [tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q34z5dCmC4M[/tube]

All this week, I’ve been talking about how unwanted applications can “suddenly appear” on your system and how you can get rid of them. For this final installment, I want to discuss what you can do when the bad boys infect your system.

There is a popular misconception that you have to download and install some too-good-to-be-true-and-absolutely-free software application to your PC in order to infect your system. Friends, that is not the case. In some instances, all you have to do is visit a page on a website in order to be dumped on. This is what is known as a “drive-by infection”. You could try to prevent this by doing things like:

  • Turning of JavaScript
  • Disabling Java – This is different than and separate from JavaScript
  • Not accepting cookies

The trouble is that by configuring your browser(s) in this way, you will miss out on much of the rich content on the web as well as features on legitimate sites that you have come to depend on.

There are, of course, other ways to protect yourself. Your first line of defence should always be a good firewall and anti-virus. There are more products out there than I have time to mention so we’ll leave that for another day. All I will advise at this point is that you find a good package and then keep it up-to-date. You will probably have to pay a bit as there’s no such thing as a free lunch but the small outlay will be much less than calling Dr. Data so he can tell you that your PC is hosed.

Another good toll is McAfee Site Advisor. There is both a free-ware and paid version available. While the paid version has more features, the free version is still quite worthwhile as it will flag both trusted and untrusted sites when you do use a search engine like Google.

Unfortunately, the bad guys are always one or two steps ahead of the good guys and sooner or later, your system will probably be attacked via a website that has not yet been classified or infected via malware for which there is no known signature. So, what do you do?

There are several tools out there – bot free and paid – that can help you keep the bad guys out or at least help you clean up the mess.

  1. Spyware Blaster – This is a free tool that helps prevent spyware, etc. from taking up residence on your system by using the methods available in your browser. It does not take up any memory and is quite easy to use. If you want automatic updates, the paid version will take care of that and also help fund the war effort. The only downside is that Spyware Blaster does not protect Google’s Chrome browser. 🙁  Nonetheless, you’ll most likely wind up using Internet Explorer or FireFox on occasion so it is worth your while to use Spyware Blaster.
  2. Spybot Search and Destroy – This is another good tool that is available as free-ware. It both scans your system for spyware, malware, adware & other bad stuff as well as remove anything it finds. Spybot Search and Destroy will also immunise your system against future threats from the web. There is a paid version that provides automatic updating.
  3. MalwareBytes – If you buy any protection tools then this should be one of the first. It does an outstanding job of finding malware on your system and removing it.  MalwareBytes also actively protects your system by scanning items as they come down from the web. There is a 30-day trial version that is good if you think that you have an infection because your system is running slow, etc. The paid version, which also provides proactive protection, is a small monetary outlay but it’s less expensive to pay MalwareBytes now than pay Dr. Data – or somebody like him – later.

You will probably notice that there are overlapping features between the above products. While each may claim to be the best at what they do, the reality is that no protection software can be all things to all infections. Using two or more of these products improves your chances of thorough protection. There may, of course, be some products out there that are better than the ones I’ve described but, through my long experience, these are the ones I’ve come to rely on.

A Tip from Dr. Data:  When using MalwareBytes  and/or Spybot Search and Destroy, be sure to run repeated full system scans until they come up clean. Sometimes, malware, etc. can mask other infections.

Another Tip from Dr. Data: The above tools are great but they will only work if they are used and updated regularly.

Dr. Data™ is a service mark of Parsonage Data Services.

OK. So some add-on software snuck onto your system or you intentionally installed some application that promised – among other things – to make the trains run on time and revamp the postal system but instead turned out to be a real turkey. You’re tired of all the pop-ups, ads, consumption of available memory and you’re wondering just what sort of information it’s phoning home to the mother ship. In fine, you want it outta here. Now!

The standard procedure is to:

1. Go to your system’s control panel. It’s on the menu brought up by clicking the “Start” button. (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

2. Select “Programs and Features” from the Control Panel items.  (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

3. Select the bit of software that you want to rid your system of.  (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

4. Right-click on your selection and then click “Uninstall” from the pop-up menu. (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

5. The uninstall routine will run and while you may have to restart your PC to complete the uninstall, you should be good to go. Right??

6. Wrong!!

Software installation packages will add either a custom uninstaller or rely on the bog-standard Windows software removal utility but quite often, these tools don’t quite do the necessary job of removing all traces of the application you wish to be rid of. Instead, these tools will often leave files, folders, registry entries or DLL’s behind. It’s the last item that is the most problematic as they can remain months or years after the software application has been removed. They will be loaded every time your system starts thus prolonging your boot time and using precious bits of memory. Registry Entries are the next most worrisome remnant and your registry should be purged of all entries relating to the software at the time it is uninstalled. Files and Folders are, for the most part, junk that clutters your HDD or SSD.

So how do you get rid of this detritus?

The best solution is to use a stand-alone uninstaller.  These applications can be used in place of the Uninstall option in your control panel’s Programs and Features tool. They work by first identifying all instances of installed software on your system. Once you select an application to be removed, the Uninstaller will either run the custom uninstallation package or use its own routines to remove the software. It will then scour your system for the leftover items mentioned above and remove them as well. The depth and thoroughness of  this second step depends on the stand-alone uninstaller itself, which options – if any – you select and whether you’re using a free/trial-ware version or the full-featured paid version.

Dr. Data has not one, not two but three stand-alone uninstallers on his system. The reason for this was (1) evaluation and (2) uninstaller A may not always find all the installed software that uninstaller B does and vice-versa. Recently, Dr.Data had to uninstall some back-up software and it was not located by the first two stand-alone uninstallers. Fortunately, the third one found the back-up software and thus saved the day.

Dr. Data can recommend all three stand-alone uninstallers and they are listed in the order of (slight) preference:

  1. Revo Uninstaller
  2. Your Uninstaller
  3. Advanced Uninstaller

While they may have differing features they are all good and get the job done. Unlike Dr. Data, most folks will only need one and they will usually cost somewhere between $19 & $40. (There are some free versions out there but they usually have limited functionality.) The only thing that you need to do is to use it!

It never ceases to amaze Dr. Data how folks will resist shelling out a few bucks for a useful tool and yet on a Fri. night, they’ll drop $30 or $40 bucks for drinks at the pub without even thinking twice. Then, they will wind up paying Dr. Data $60 or more to clean out their unwanted application clutter. Perhaps he needs to open a bar as a sideline.

 

I thought that I would take a moment and give you a folksy update on what’s going on here at The Parsons’ Rant. Think of it as a fireside chat but without the cardigan.

Book Reviews

Yes, I know that I haven’t done one in a while and that I have yet to publish the most recent one on Goodreads. At this moment, I have 4 books in the Review Queue© due to a reading binge in August. With any luck, I’ll get one of them out there in the next 7 days.

Blog Posts

My contributions to the worlds of technology and Young Adult Fiction have been sporadic of late. Part of this was due to my annual week at Virginia Beach and part of it was due to ongoing work at the palatial family estate in Hopewell. My brother and I have been labouring to drag the big house – kicking & screaming – into the 21st century. For example, Dr. Data spent four days last week replacing the electrical outlets with three-prong sockets. Most of the two prong sockets were original equipment and the house appears to have been wired by someone drinking bathtub gin. The face-plates for the outlets have a quarter-inch of paint on them and the necessary screws refuse to turn like they should. At this point, I am about 1/3 of the way through this project.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The house has a laundry list of repairs/fixes and the contractor has announced that he is ready to commence work next week. Therefore, I will make yet another trip to his ancestral home to oversee the work. Since I usually do not have much time in Hopewell for frivolous things like  blog posts, the faithful followers of The Parsons’ Rant will have to do without for 5 or 6 days.

From the Mailbag

Mr. John Doe of Anywhere, USA writes: “Hey Dr. Data! What’s with all the reviews of books about mermaids? You weird or something?”

It’s time for Dr. Data to come out of the closet and confess that he has been a certified mermaid geek since the age of 5. While, ordinarily, he does not believe they exist, he has been known to see one or more after consuming more than one wee dram of Hebridean single-malt. What Dr. Data is working on is an urban fantasy on the subject of mer-folk. These novels have been his research into how other authors have handled the subject. In separating the wheat from the chaff,  he has come upon a number of good authors and exciting stories.

Will Dr. Data ever publish his novel(s). His standard reply is “Not bloody likely!”

That’s It for Now

Time to post this puppy and take Lady Judith out for a bit of lunch.

One of the most disturbing trends – at least for someone who helps folks with their PC problems – in recent years has been the intentional misdirection, a.k.a. “Bait and Switch”, that has become prevalent on download sites. Of course, this kinda thing has been going on forever – keep in mind that “internet years” are like “dog years”, only more so – but in recent history, it has run rampant. A lot of this sort of thing appears on download sites that are supported by advertising. While the person or organisation who owns the site is somewhat at the mercy of advertisers, Dr. Data cannot help but wonder how many of them are complicit in the misdirection schemes.

My first example is from the website for The Windows Club which offers advice, technical information and some really handy utilities. The example was taken from a post about the free edition of A+ Folder Locker. (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

Can you find where to download this apparently terrific product? Well, Dr. Data will give you a hint; The download link is not one of those word combinations in blue with the double underscore. (Placing your mouse pointer over them will cause one of those annoying  pop-up ads to appear.) The line in blue that begins with “Stay Safe!” is incorrect as well. That’s obviously an ad for Acronis True Image. Most likely, your eye will be drawn to the big green button that says DOWNLOAD. It even looks like it’s the place to go because the OS compatibility, Language and Version # are listed beneath it. In reality, clicking the green button will take you to a page that says that your download is ready. If you read the accompanying text, you will discover that you’re not getting the above-mentioned software that you cannot live without. Instead, you will be downloading something called the Zoom Download Manager. The only people who might really need something like this are those folks who are burning up their DSL connection with perpetual downloads. This product may be legit but you don’t really need it.

N.B. The text underneath the DOWNLOAD button mentions “ZoomDownload.com” which is up for sale by one of the domain name re-sellers. The link will actually take you to ZoomDownloader.com. The fact that the text says one thing while the link takes you somewhere else makes Dr. Data feel that the whole thing is more than a bit dodgy.

In case you were wondering, the real download link is the blue text in the sentence that reads “Head over to its home page, if you want to download it.” It’s right there in plain sight but the eye is misdirected to the DOWNLOAD button first. You should also know that there is another green DOWNLOAD button a paragraph or so above the text in the example. Is this confusing or what?

For our next example, Dr. Data will give no hints. (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

Dr. Data was trying to download Piriform’s excellent file recovery tool, Recuva from FileHippo.com. It’s easy to do directly from Piriform’s own download site but FileHippo makes things much more confusing. Can you tell where the real download link is?

Play the Jeopardy “Think Music”

[ca_audio url=”http://howardparsons.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Jeopardy.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

OK. Give up? The real download link is circled in red on the image below.  (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

The big green DOWNLOAD button (circled in purple) is for an audio converter that you probably don’t need and that is probably supported by advertising. The red “START DOWNLOAD” button (circled in orange) will take you the page shown below. (Clicking on the image below will show a full-size version of the screen capture.)

This is definitely not Recuva but it is for a similar product and may not be free as Piriform’s product currently is. Long story short, you have only a one in three chance of getting what you came for on the 1st shot. Given that English is read from left to right, odds are that you’ll go for the red START DOWNLOAD button first. If not, the big green DOWNLOAD button will probably be your next most likely destination. The real button to download Recuva is the smallest of the three graphics and in the right-hand column where folks are used to seeing ads.

In all of the examples above, the misdirection destinations are probably legitimate but what if they are not? What if the Download Manager contains malware?  With some malware sites, you don’t even have to actively download anything. Just visit the site and they will infect your PC for you.

Here are your take-aways:

  • When downloading software – especially freeware – always take the time to read the contents of the entire page before clicking the download link.
  • Many of the misdirection links will load something you probably don’t want or need to your PC. You may say to yourself “I’ll get rid of it later” but the odds are that you probably won’t.
  • Some of the misdirection links will take you to sites offering a similar product but not what you came to get.
  • When downloading utilities, etc. check Downloads.com first. This site is run by C|Net and is good, safe & reliable. While they do have ads and sponsored products, the download links for the software you want are clearly marked and there is no attempt at misdirection.
  • Above all, take your time. Trying to find and download software in a hurry can result in you selecting the wrong product or – even worse – downloading something that will harm your PC.

 

Now that Dr. Data is back from the beach and Labour Day is history, I thought that I’d kick off Sept. with a little bit of advice concerning software installation. In particular, free software. It goes without saying that the concept of “free software” is irresistible. Like the TV advert for the hotel chain says, “Everyone loves free stuff.” The problem is that a lot of the time, the free stuff isn’t really free and you may be unwittingly paying for it in ways that you wouldn’t think of.

Many publishers of free and useful software help pay the bills by allowing advertisers to include a graphic/link on their site and/or including options in the utility’s installation package to install additional “free software”. This additional software can be anything from a search engine’s toolbar to something much more complex and difficult to remove if you don’t really want it. One of the favourite bits of add-on software is the toolbar for Ask.com. Ask – it used to be “Ask Jeeves” – is a legitimate search engine that I use from time to time. This toolbar can be useful for directing your searches to Ask but such toolbars may or may not track your searches and even skew the results based on your prior searches. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that but you ought to know just what is or is not going on with your PC.

When  faced with the dilemma of installing or not installing some bit of add-on software, it’s typical for a user to say “Whats the harm in it? I may even find a use for this toolbar/widget/etc.” Odds are, however, that most users will soon forget the add-on was installed and the gizmo will continue to live on, requiring service from the operating system, consuming a bit of memory and being just one more thing that needs to be loaded every day at start-up. Over all, the presence of this one widget may not have a very noticeable impact on your system, but consider the multiplicity of search engine tool-bars out there – Yahoo, Google, Bing, Ask, Glary, etc. – and not paying attention to what you’re about to install can have a devastating impact on your system’s performance. Factor in the possibility that some of these gizmos may “push” additional software on to your system as time goes by and your PC’s performance will go down the proverbial tubes.

There is one more thing to consider. Some of the add-on software may have their own add-on bits that they want to load. In other words, here’s what happens:

  1. You want to install the XYZ utility
  2. The XYZ utility offers to install the Wombat toolbar
  3. The Wombat toolbar offers to install the Diogenes file-finder
  4. The Diogenes file-finder offers to install the Kleen-Machine utility
  5. And so forth
  6. And so forth
Dr. Data has observed no less than 5 installers open at one time; All wanting to add something to your PC and all originating from that one, gotta-have, free utility. Factor in the probability that one or more of these bits will want to push additional software on to your system in the future – often with little or no warning – and your PC will be down on its knees, coughing up blood before you know it.
To show a real-life example, I’m going to show you what could have happened when Dr. Data tried to install the Glary Utilities earlier today. I should state right at the beginning that Glary is one of the free-ware tools I recommend to my clients. It’s good, reliable software that does the job for you.
One of the early panels that appear in the installation process offers to:
  1. Install the Glary toolbar and have Glary Search loaded as the default page every time you open a new tab in Internet Explorer or FireFox.
  2. Make Glary Search the default search engine on Internet Explorer, FireFox and Chrome.
  3. Make Glary Search your homepage on Internet Explorer, FireFox and Chrome. In other words, every time you open one of these browsers or create a new tab in the same, Glary Search will be what you see first.
There’s nothing illegal about this as Glary has every right to promote their products and offer you add-ons.  The text highlighted in blue tells you exactly what’s going on which is something that may be OK with you . . . or not.
    If you don’t want this to happen, simply un-check/deselect/de-tick  the boxes highlighted in green. In fine, you need to read everything when you install software  and decide whether you want the add-on software installed or no.
A subsequent panel shows the following:
Besides creating desktop and quick launch icons, the installer wants to add an icon for Filepuma.com to your desktop. This site is a software aggregator which contains links to the latest editions of many of the popular free-ware utilities. There is a brief description of Filepuma at ideamarketers.com. This addition is probably innocuous but I am citing it here as a simplistic example of how you can wind up getting more than one piece of add-on software if you don’t pay attention.
If you’ve stayed awake during this rant, here are the take-aways:
  • Too many “free” gizmos can have a deleterious effect of your PC’s start-up time, available memory and processing speed
  • Some “free” gizmos can – over time – load additional software to your system thus slowing things down even more
  • In many cases, these “free” gizmos can ride in on the back of legitimate freeware utilities, etc.
  • While this is legal, you may get too much of a good thing if you don’t watch out

To avoid PC Slow-downs due to too many toolbars, etc., you should do the following:

  1. Take your time installing software. Racing through the installation by clicking “Next” on each panel can lead to trouble
  2. Read each panel carefully. Offers to install “free” widgets can appear anywhere
  3. Be aware of what you already have installed on your system
  4. Remember that you have the right to not install any or all bits of add-on software.

Dr. Data will discuss how to be aware of what is already installed on your system and how to effectively uninstall stuff that you don’t want in a future post.

This Month’s Rants

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Dr. Data has PAD - Pipe Acquisition Disorder

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