Google Privacy Concerns?

Recently, Google announced its intention to combine all of it privacy policies into one all-encompassing document. They say it is makes their privacy policy easier to read and understand. Many others say it lets them collect information about you and store it online. Frankly, I am not going to get into all of those details and fill up this blog with a bunch of stuff you can read at Google and everywhere else online. What I will do is let you know, if you are one of those out there who does not like Google’s new direction, that there are some things you can do about it.

First, if you are a die hard Google fan and cannot live without them, one thing you can do to reduce Google’s ability to collect information about you is to avoid being signed in when you do a Google search. In other words, once you have been to Google Plus, checked your Gmail, or spent time updating or referencing your online calendar, simply sign off from your account. That does not mean that Google won’t know what IP address is searching, but it might reduce the chances they will associate you with whatever your online activity is.

Another option is to simply utilize another search provider. Ixquick is a great option for those concerned about privacy. If you are using a browser that has a quick search toolbar, you can even add Ixquick to it and choose to search using it instead of Google, Bing, etc.

The point is you do have choices, even if Google tries to prevent you from having them. As of March 1, 2012, you won’t have a choice about letting Google store your personal information if you have a Google account. While their position is that it lets them provide better service to you, it is possible you just might not agree with that. And, if you do not agree, take the above steps or research other options. Perhaps you will find another search provider offers everything you need once you have given them a chance.

Protecting your personal data and reputation

Helen A.S. Popkin over at MSNBC’s Technolog has a funny and informative article, How to stop pervs from stealing your naked pics. I am not going to get into whether you should or shouldn’t get naked or photograph the event. You can read her article for some thoughts about what can happen if you decide to bare it and share it.

But, pay attention to what she says to do to help prevent others from gaining access in the first place. I have been telling people many of the same things for years now about their data on their computers. Yet, today, many people carry a smart phone around with them that has many similar capabilities to your laptop or desktop computer. So, if you cannot prevent physical access to your computers and devices, at least lock them down with a decent password.

This advice is not just limited to preventing others from seeing you naked, drunk, and in a moment of stupidity that might come back to haunt you in the middle of your political career (or whatever). Consider using both Helen’s and my suggestions as a way to protect any sensitive data you would rather not let others snoop around in.

PC Matic; Really cool or not so hot?

First, and foremost, let me tell you that I have not installed PC PitStop’s PC Matic software or used their “free” online scanner. And, there are reasons for that which I will get to shortly. Still, I assume you are reading this because you have seen the television commercials and are wondering if this is a scam or a really good, legitimate service and product. I will point out a few things and then you can decide.

Note: PC Pitstop, LLC, was considerate enough to address this post directly to me via email on 10-04-2011. Their response included a couple links to basic reviews that, thankfully, did not seem like nothing more than an advertisement for PC Matic. I am including those links here and will post my own test results at some time in the future.

One of the first things you should note about this little blog post is that I am not promoting the product with an ad intentionally placed on this page (though there is the possibility that Google Adsense might put one in the ad banners I have here). And, that is one of the problems with trying to go online and find out anything real about PC Matic. Everywhere I look I find page upon page of so-called reviews. However, each one ends up being little more than an advertisement or means to promote the product so someone can make a few bucks if you decide to buy the full version. Where are the real reviews? Where are real test results? I have had little success finding any information like that which is truly informative.

My main concern is that the advertised free product will scan your computer and, supposedly, just report what it finds. If it does find anything wrong, you will have to pay for the premium version to actually do anything about it. Unfortunately, thinking back to the previous paragraph… I have no way, as of yet, to know if this product actually does what it says it will and, unlike a few bad scamware products that have also been previously advertised on TV, not install malware that was never on it to begin with.

Sometime soon, I will purchase a brand new computer with no operating system on it and install a fresh copy of Windows on it. Before throwing a bunch of other garbage on it, I will run PC Matic and see what it tells me. Obviously, on a brand new system with a fresh OS install, it should not find anything. If it does, I will have to say there is something a bit stinky going on.

Regardless of the results, good or bad, you can expect to see me post my results here. And, either way, I will do this without putting a bunch of ads here for it!

So, yes, I am a bit pessimistic this is a product that does everything it says it does. I suppose there is the possibility PC PitStop’s lawyers could start knocking on my door or calling because I am not one of the converted. Until I actually run the tests or see some real tests done by those I expect I can trust, my attitude won’t change. Seeing hundreds of glowing “reviews” by affiliate marketers just does not cut it for me, I guess.

The final verdict? Use and buy PC Matic at your own risk until you see some real reviews and testing that indicates whether this product actually lives up to the commercial’s and affiliate’s claims. If anyone knows of an actual, real set of reviews and tests somewhere, please post here or let me know.

Ubuntu 11.04 Dual Monitor Backgrounds are Easy with Shotwell

One thing I do not like about Ubuntu 11.04 is the changes made to dual monitor support. Actually, Fedora 15′s new interface (as well as several other Linux distros) has much of the the same issues, so this solution works there too. It could be that, for now, Ubuntu’s Unity and Fedora’s Gnome 3 interfaces just have not had enough developers take a look and provide solutions yet for multiple monitors. At this time, multi-monitor support is a bit lacking, at least in GUI configuration applications.

Because of the work I do, I spend a lot of time with multiple screens open. Could I simply do this using stacked windows that I switch between? Could I use Linux’s desktop switching feature? Well, sure. But it is a whole lot more convenient to be able to have, for example, my HTML editor open on one screen and the Website I am working on open on the other. Or, I find that writing an article is much quicker and easier when I can have research sources available and open on one screen and my word processor or HTML editor open on the other. I can even drag applications from one monitor to the other if I want to. Once I realized the benefits of this method, there was very little chance I would go back to single monitor computing. In fact, I may eventually go to three or even four monitors on one computer!

Unfortunately, Ubuntu made some changes to its monitor configuration GUI tool with the release of 11.04. Heck, I don’t know… the previous version I was using was Ubuntu’s 8.04 LTS, so these changes might have even taken place in version 9 or 10. Anyway, I used to be able to simply select Zoom, Stretch, etc. in the Desktop Background chooser to apply those alterations to an image that would automatically span both screens. 11.04 makes me pick Span, which does not do anything to adjust the image to fit my 2880 x 900 desktop (two side-by-side monitors each with 1440 x 900). So, an image, depending on its size, might be stuck in the middle of the big desktop and only take up half of each screen. Any other option results in a cloned desktop background image on each monitor.

A little experimenting showed me a really simple method to create desktop background that will completely fill both monitors. Yes, that is one, big, single image that will span across both monitors, half of the image being displayed on each side. Of course, other options could certainly include using an image editing application like GIMP to create a final image that is the size of your desktop.

Ubuntu 11.04, by default, comes with Shotwell, an image display and simple editing application. For Windows users, you might liken it to Windows Photo Gallery, with simple options to fix red-eye, crop, or adjust color and exposure. Shotwell has a really slick way to crop desktop images for your dual monitor setup, however.

If you double click on an image file, it opens in the default image viewer. What you will want to do is right click the image file, then choose to open the image using Shotwell. On the top bar, in the Shotwell application window, you should immediately see an “Edit” button. Click on it and the image opens in a new window. On the bottom of that window, there are options for Rotate, Crop, Red-eye, Adjust, and Enhance.

Now, before I go any further, I want to tell you what I did so I did not mess up any of my original images. I made a separate folder in my Pictures folder specifically named so I would recognize it as being for my desktop images. I simply copied and pasted any images I thought I might want to use as a desktop background. I would recommend you do something similar, rather than adjusting and possibly destroying an original image you might not easily get back.

Back to Shotwell….

Click on the Crop button and you will see a white-bordered frame that represents your screen size. To create my desktop and maintain a good aspect ratio (exactly 2880 x 900, not 2560 x 900 or 2880 by 1060, etc.) you would click on the option button that says “Unconstrained” and select “Screen” instead. Notice that your frame size may very well have changed to reflect your actual screen size. You can click and drag on the corners to make adjustments, or click and drag on the inside of the frame to move the entire frame around. You should notice that the ratio of the side to top frame size (Your screen ratio) will always remain the same. You won’t be able to drag one side out or in without affecting the size of all four sides. Make sense? If not, that is a good reason to have a duplicate image. Then you can feel free to experiment a bit.

All you will need to do is okay the changes and save. You will also be presented with the option to reload the image in its new form. Choose Yes if you like. To make the new image show up on your desktop, open it with the default Image Viewer application by double clicking the image in your new folder, then right click the image and select “Set as Desktop Background”.

One final note. You may find some images are too grainy (low resolution) to use on a big, giant desktop. You might also find that some images won’t be positioned well for the dual monitor arrangement you have. In those cases, your option might be to use GIMP or another advanced image editing application that will allow you to create a unique image for your desktop size. If nothing else, the Shotwell option is a quick means to get the dual monitor desktop background you want until the Ubuntu community provides better support for dual monitors.

Ubuntu 11.04; Quirky install but nice when done

I finally got around to new installs of Ubuntu’s 11.04 Linux distribution (distro). As I have run into every time I have done Linux installs on a few of my systems, some went smoothly and others not so much. As usual, I ran into some issues during and after installs.

Before I get into the details and solutions, let me say that most of the issues related to Linux installs on various hardware nearly always has something to do with hardware drivers. Microsoft does a pretty good job of pre-installing drivers for a wide variety of hardware. Money, a bit of prompting, and manufacturers recognizing the huge user base of Microsoft operating systems means a lot of people want to make sure their hardware works. Unfortunately, Linux distros have a harder time getting hardware manufacturers to get drivers out there that work for these less used operating systems. Perhaps there is always a chance this won’t continue to be the situation, but I have not seen much movement indicating anything significantly different coming our way.

So, I ran into hardware issues on two systems I decided to install onto. One, a Dell Mini-12 with a failing hard drive, I wanted to see if it would even run Ubuntu’s latest before I ever seriously considered finding a replacement drive. The other system is a Lenovo desktop with an aging ATI graphics card.

I went ahead and downloaded the Ubuntu .iso file directly from the Ubuntu site, opened it with a program (Roxio) I have used before to create .iso CD’s on a Windows machine, but made the first mistake in not saving the file. Later, as you will see, this meant downloading the file again. So, first point when you do this, save the file to your desktop or some other location so you can get to it again.

I know… that was just one of those “duh” moments.

The Dell Mini-12′s biggest problem is it does not have an internal CD/DVD drive. As a result, the corded USB drive did not seem to be recognized by Ubuntu’s installer, so I could not proceed any further without another cryptic error message saying the system could not read from the source.

A bit of Googling turned up others that had run into similar problems. Some were successful in simply using a different drive. Not having that option on this miniaturized laptop… perhaps I should say kneetop because it barely spans two legs… I opted to try using a USB thumbdrive. Unfortunately, I let Roxio open the previous downloaded file, made the .iso image file, then close without me ever taking advantage of the option to save the downloaded file. So, I downloaded it one more time and saved it to my desktop. The Ubuntu site does a fair job of explaining how to perform each install variation. The thumb drive method is best done by installing the recommended Universal USB Installer app and letting it set up and create the thumb drive .iso image. For those of you that might want to install a few different distros, keep the Universal USB Installer app saved somewhere convenient so you can use it again. It will work for other distros besides just Ubuntu, letting you easily select the downloaded distro, thumbdrive, then format and install the OS .iso so it is ready to be installed on the system of your choice.

Once that was done, I inserted it into an available USB port on the Dell mini me and rebooted. Within a few seconds, I was greeted by the familiar installer and everything else went smoothly. Really, the only other issue was it would not run Ubuntu’s new interface, Unity, and resorted to the familiar Gnome interface that has been around for awhile now. Personally, I had little problem with not using Unity, though it is at least a nice looking affair.

The Lenovo was a bit of another story. I ran into a few issues. First, I could not get the installer disk to run in that computer either. Okay, another driver issue, or is the disk bad? Well, I don’t care because I already have a thumb drive that worked. So, I installed that and rebooted the system. By the way, on both of these systems I had to choose the boot source. I was able to do this at boot time; Some of you might actually need to change your BIOS settings to get the device to boot first. Otherwise, you will just end up back into you old operating system.

I went ahead and tried out Ubuntu on this system and everything seemed to work just fine… except I did not have a functioning Internet connection. The Tiny Tim machine, well, that connected just fine using my wireless access point. One the other hand, the Lenovo desktop uses an Ethernet connection to a 16 port switch. I seemed to have no connection at all, though it connected just fine using the previous OS, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS.

Here’s another lesson… I wasted a whole bunch of time researching, after a successful installation, how to get the wired Ethernet operational. There was nothing wrong with Ubuntu 11.04′s Network Manager or anything else. All I really needed to do was shut down everything else (yes, switch, router, Windows machine using ICS for the wireless, the wireless access point, and the Lenova box) and bring them back up. The critical order is to bring up the router providing my Internet connection, then the switch, then the Lenovo box with the spanking-new Linux install on it. The switch then automatically assigned resources to the new device (the Lenovo box) and the Ubuntu Network Manager could then see there was an available Internet connection using the wired Ethernet network.

But, oops… All was still not well in Ethernet land. Looking back at my Windows machine, I found out that it no longer had a connection to the Internet. Ultimately, I discovered the problem was not really with Ubuntu, or any other Linux distro, for that matter. It also was not a conflict in actual IP addresses, etc. (at least any that I can actually setup) The connection problem appears to be related to the Wild Blue satellite router that does not seem capable of divvying up bandwidth to more than three devices (It only has one Ethernet port, so a 16-port switch is one option I chose to expand its capabilities). I currently have a Windows machine, a Fedora Linux machine, and a wireless access point all connected successfully to that Ethernet switch. Trying to add another device to the Ethernet connection is a no-go. Yet, I can add anything I want using the wireless access point with little more configuration other than letting the new device know the WAP’s security credentials to logon.

Another issue I was having was setting up dual monitors with a spanned desktop. What I mean by this is a desktop that is continuous from one screen to the next. I can move my mouse from one screen to the next, move open windows from one screen to the next, and choose to have a desktop background span across both monitors. I love this setup because it makes my Web development and programming so much easier when I can work with two screens rather than being confined to one. If you are considering doing this… don’t. Because, once you do, you will never want to go back to the old way!

There are all sorts of ways to set up a dual monitor configuration in Linux. In my first Linux install many years ago, I went into the etc/X11/xorg.conf file and did some editing to get the multiple monitor support I was looking for. My second go around with this, I had to simply download fglrx (I have been using ATI vid cards) from the Ubuntu repositories, then just do a quick tweak in the Screen Resolution app found in the Preferences area, reboot, and I was done. This time, there was no Screen Resolution, and some things have changed within available apps in Synaptic Package Manager. When trying to uncheck the “Mirror Monitors” option in the Monitors app, I would get a garbled screen on one monitor.

The solution (I thought) was to install i3-wm from Synaptic Package Manager. If you do this, you won’t need to look all over the place trying to find the GUI app. It doesn’t exist. What I did was go back into the Monitors app, uncheck the “Mirror Monitors” option, then drag the monitors to the correct desktop position, and I was done! Except that I still do not have a single image that both zooms and spans both desktops. Still, I will live with this for now.

Now, here is a bit of an update on this after working with this install and dual monitors for a bit. Unfortunately, upon a later reboot, the dual monitor issue with cloned screens came back. So, I installed Compiz Fusion and went into the settings. I unchecked the Clone Output option, then made sure there was a reference to “One Big Wall” under the “Expo” option was entered (You can find that on the Appearance tab by clicking on the “Expo” option rather than the actual check box). To clarify, when you open CompizConfig Settings Manager, look under the Desktop category and see what is checked. I will admit that I am not a wizard at understanding all of the settings yet within Compiz, but what I have checked is Expo, Desktop Wall, and Viewport Switcher.

And, here is yet one more new update. I also just installed Ubuntu 11.04 on an old Toshiba Satellite A134 laptop right alongside Windows 7 Professional. In this case, the install went absolutely perfectly. My son now has a dual boot system that allows him to choose either Ubuntu 11.04 or Windows 7 at startup! Not only does he still get to play his favorite Windows games, but he also has jumped right into Ubuntu. He’s only 7…. so don’t tell me you can’t do this too.  ;-)

So, once again, a bunch of time-consuming quirkiness on at least some of my latest Linux installations. Yet, the result is definitely worth the effort! Linux, especially Ubuntu, provides plenty of options for the average user that can make computing a rewarding enough experience. Except for some Windows-only games and other software, many may find Linux offers everything they need in a computing environment.

General Failure when Clicking Links in Outlook Emails

Using Microsoft Outlook to manage my email accounts (I just might move back to using Mozilla Thunderbird one of these days), I have finally gotten annoyed enough to do something about the error message I continued to get every time I clicked on a link in an email. I am using Firefox 5.0 as a default browser, though this has been happening for at least Firefox 3.0 for me. I never did anything about it because Firefox always opened the Web page. Still, I decided it was too much of a chore to click the “x” to close the error box stating:

General Failure. The URL was: “http://whatever_page_link_I clicked_on.notcom/…”. The system cannot find the file specified.

Yes, today is a hot day. So that explains why I thought it was just too much effort to continue closing that annoying error alert box. Of course, it’s a lot of work to mess around in the registry, too. Hmmm… a dilemma to be sure. So, time to grab a cold drink and do a bit of research.

Some people said they had success by simply reinstalling Firefox. Okay, uninstall Firefox… check. Launch Internet Explorer… check. Visit the Mozilla Firefox site…check. Click on the button to download and install Firefox 5…. check. Close everything down after install. Open Outlook, click on a Web page link in an email… check. General Failure message appears again…check. Not quite what I am looking for.

I might have to get a beverage refill.

Another site indicates all I have to do is go into the Default Programs area and give Firefox default permissions. That won’t work either because Firefox already has the default permissions to open files that it can.

I am thinking my next beverage refill just might include a bit of Jim Beam…

Well, I’ll try this little registry edit (I will save the existing registry entry in a notepad file just in case this does not work) found in a PC World article. Close everything down again, open Outlook, click a Web page link in an email, wait for stupid General Failure dialog box to pop up again, click to close it…

Wait, it did not pop up this time. I’ll try that again. Nope, it’s fixed. Guess the Beam isn’t going to be necessary after all.

This little glitch is one of those goofy things that happens when using a mixture of Microsoft products and non-MS products. And, from what I hear, you might as well remember this little fix because, unless Mozilla is able to fix it for a future release, you will have to do this little fix again when certain upgrades are done to Firefox.

XP (Vista, 7) Antivirus 2011 Rogue App Removal

I just spent some time helping someone get rid of XP Antivirus 2011 from their XP machine. This method worked, so I thought it was worthwhile reaffirming the process.

First, several online posts suggest using Malwarebytes to get rid of this fake antivirus scam infection. This is great advice except for one small problem. Many cannot even open the Malwarebytes application because this malicious infection blocks it from starting. Even in Safe Mode, Malwarebytes will not start. For those who have not already downloaded Malwarebytes, downloading it from the Internet might also be a problem if the user cannot get beyond being blocked from opening a browser.

Meanwhile, the XP Antivirus 2011 (also found as variants Vista Antivirus 2011, Windows 7 Antivirus 2011, Windows 7 AntiSpyware 2011, etc.) continues to pop up warnings the computer is infected (of course, it is… with this insidious so-called antivirus app, but possibly nothing else). The solution is to get this app shut down so it cannot continue its interference with what we need to do.

Thanks to the guys over at My AntiSpyware, there is a short registry edit that allows us to stop the rogue app from running long enough for us to get Malwarebytes to install, run, and clean up the mess. Go to their site for complete, detailed instructions if you are not sure how to download, install, or run Malwarebytes. If this method does not work, they have a second registry edit that you can try that also works for some.

The first registry edit is just a few lines you will type into Notepad, found in Accessories (You are forewarned that mistakes in your registry editing can toast your system… don’t yell at me if you don’t do it right):

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


@="\"%1\" %*"

"Content Type"="application/x-msdownload"

You will save this file to your desktop, named as “fix.reg” (without quotes) and as “All files” under file type (not a text file). Find the file on your desktop and double click it. Follow the prompts to accept the registry edits. Reboot your computer and you should be able to get to work with Malwarebytes or get online so you can download it.

While you can type the edit in manually, I would recommend using a flash drive or something else to transfer the code. If you have to type it manually, just be careful and make sure the line breaks and spaces are correct before you save it.

Last, I would recommend you make sure Malwarebytes and your REAL antivirus applications are updated. Run scans again and get rid of anything else they find.

Protect Your Data

These days, it is hard to turn on the television or listen to the radio without being subjected to at least one advertisement for Carbonite or other online backup services. And we actually agree that having a good backup plan in effect BEFORE a problem arises is one of the best things you can do to protect your data.

However, were you aware that there are other alternatives? In fact, depending on your requirements, alternatives to cloud-based backup services might be more effective and cheaper.

One such method is to use an external storage solution such as this Western Digital 2 Terabyte featured on At less than $100, it is only a bit more expensive than one year’s worth of service from Carbonite (as advertised via recent radio spots). But a benefit is that you won’t have to worry about what happens to your data if you decide not to continue service, you won’t have upload and download limits placed upon you by either your online backup provider or your ISP, and you’ll have instant access to your backup even in the event you do not have Internet access.

Our point is, regardless of what data backup method you choose, we hope you make the decision to do it now. Do it before you have a problem. For the same reason you might carry a winter survival kit or road flares in your car. It isn’t that you want to have to use them. But getting stalled out without them is not always the preferred scenario. So, call a backup solution your hard drive crash survival kit (or whatever you like). Put that solution in place and hope you never have to use it… but be confident you have it just in case.

Android Gmail App Not Syncing

If your Gmail app is not retrieving emails and providing a notification like it once did on your Droid phone, here’s a solution that should work.

Settings verification

First, I want you to go in and verify some settings. From your applications menu, select Settings>Data Manager>Data Delivery>Email and Corporate Sync>Email Delivery. Make sure Data Push is checked. Select the option arrow for Fetch schedule and ensure anything besides Manually is picked.

Finding the widget

Droid X touch and drag to change home screens

Now, find the stock power management widget on your Home screen. To do this on the Droid X touchscreen (Refer to your user manual for other phones), simply touch and drag your screen to the left or right until you find the home screen with the widget.

Widget appearance and button selection

Droid X standard power widget

On it, you will see buttons to enable/disable five functions (icons for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Refresh/Sync, and display brightness). Is the Refresh/sync button (icon has double arrows) green? If not, press it to turn it on.


Your Gmail app should now automatically receive emails from your email account.

Quickly Change Desktop Icon Size

Windows Vista and 7 users can quickly and simply change the size of their desktop icons with this neat little trick. Follow these steps to make you icons ridiculously large, small, or somewhere in between:

1. Click an empty spot on your desktop screen

2. Press and hold the CTRL button

3. Roll your mouse’s scroll wheel forward or backward to make your icons larger or smaller

4. Release the CTRL button

You’re done! For laptop users without a separate mouse, you may be able to do the same thing with your touchpad. In your case, touch and glide your finger on the scroll area of your touchpad or other device.