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Friday, September 10, 2010

KVM Switchbox (TRENDnet)

Once again, I find myself reviewing a product that I think is wonderful, and yet so simple!!  Normally, I don't like to review items until I have had a chance to use them for at least a month (or at the very least a week), but this is going to be one of those exceptions.  I don't know why I didn't think of something like this years ago.

I'm talking, of course, about the use of KVM switch boxes.  This little devices are so very cool, and yet offer the simplest of solutions to a very common dilemma.  Say you have two or more computers that you want to use, but you only have one keyboard, mouse, and monitor.  The solution?  A KVM switch box.  It's a great way to have control over multiple computer systems without having to purchase a separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor for each.

The particular product I'd like to review is the TRENDnet 2-port KVM switch with integrated cables (the TK-205i model).  It's a relatively simple setup.  You simply plug in the hardwired KVM cables into the appropriate monitor, mouse, and keyboard ports on each computer system, then you plug in a mouse, keyboard, and monitor into the central hub.  The device comes with a couple of neat little features.  First, you have a button in the middle that you can use to switch back and forth between computers.  Second, if you're lazy like I am, you can alternatively use keyboard shortcuts to switch back and forth as well.

Below you will find a picture of this model to get a better idea of what it is you would be purchasing.  Remember, this is the model I, myself, purchased, but there are other models and makes out there that are just as good, if not better.

TRENDnet 2-port KVM Switch with Integrated Cables (Model TK-205i)


There are a couple of noteworthy limitations to using this particular model.  One, you don't have the option of splitting the audio between computers, although for a little bit more money, you can purchase another model with that function.  Second, this particular model uses a PS/2 port for both the keyboard and the mouse, and unfortunately, most models either have only PS/2 or USB ports, and not a combo of both.  This was a little disheartening as I wanted to use my USB optical mouse, and even with the PS/2 adapter that it came with, I couldn't use it.  But for the amount I paid for it (I got it used for a little under $10), I can't really complain too much.

Overall, I highly recommend using this type of product (this model included) if you plan on using two or more computers, and especially if you're going to be changing the role of your computer systems like I am.  

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Email Spam and You

(WARNING TO READERS:  This entry may contain adult content, language, and some sexual content not suitable for minors under the age of 18!)

Howdy, folks!  I thought I'd follow up to an earlier blog entry concerning emails, and go a little bit into SPAM messages.  We all know what they are, and we all hate spam, but some people around the world are constantly being duped by these false promising emails.  What can you do to protect yourself and avoid being a victim?  What are some of the tools that anyone can use to avoid being tricked by someone in Nigeria or Libya?  Do you have recourse if you've become an unfortunate victim?  We'll go over some of those questions, and cover some basic practices that should be used on a routine basis.

First off, what is a spam email message?  What does it look like?  A spam email message, for the most part, is an attempt to lure you into either a false product, service, or trapping you into a financial nightmare.  Some spam email is designed to exploit a sexual desire, or perhaps a financial ambition, but ultimately, they are designed to scam you, and leave you high and dry.  Secondly, preventing spam is a lot like preventing the sun from rising to start the day.  You just simply can't stop it, but there are ways to either avoid it, or at the least spot when one is attempting to "dupe" you into its lure.  Lastly, if you've been duped, DON'T PANIC!!  That's the worst thing anyone can do in any situation.  Calm down, realize that there could be a potential mess ahead, and focus on one problem at a time.  This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Let's talk a little bit about some of the more common spam messages that are received DAILY!!  There are three main categories of spam email messages.  There's 1) Financial spam, 2) sexual spam, and 3) prize spam.  Each of these categories have a few things in common, they all want YOU to THINK that you NEED one of these things, or that YOU are stupid enough to think it's genuine.  They also want your money, and they also want to scam everyone you know out of their money too.

1) Sexual Spam - These should be obvious!  They'll promise to make your dick bigger, harder, longer than ever before, or they'll promise that your girlfriend or wife will be satisfied with the "results" for weeks and months, if not years.  Or perhaps you've been a bit lonely, and the messages will offer companionship of a sexual nature with the message title of "Fuck local women today!"  I would hope that these can be spotted without any blink of an eye at all.  Remember, these messages want YOU to THINK you need their services, products from a sexual standpoint.  Unless you're just that freakin' horny, you really don't need their help, and you especially don't need to waste your money.

2) Financial Spam - These are the messages that some people still have difficulty discerning from the real deal.  There's a simple rule on this one.  If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!!  There's no exceptions, no "ifs", "ands", or "buts".  The plain and obvious truth is your bank didn't make that kind of error where you'd get millions, or that a deposit of millions has occurred and the bank wants you to verify this.  There's also one going around where it acts as though it's from an official bank message system (usually Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc) and that a problem with your account occurred, and they want YOUR information to correct it.  First off, your bank already has your information, so there should be no need to re-enter it, and secondly, a bank will never ask you to enter information on a web-based form.  If you feel this might be a legit message, call your bank or financial institution to check.  NEVER enter any information of any kind on a web-based form, period.  If your bank asks you to do this, politely decline and ask for a standard paper form!  Another popular spam message going around is (supposedly) from Paypal.  A couple of good ways to tell if it's a fake is 1) spelling - sometimes spammers get so excited that someone might actually be dumb enough to fall for their lure, they get careless with common words.  This is a good indicator that something may be "fishy" with the email (hence the term "Phishing"), and 2) Check the links - Most email programs, and even AOL users have the feature where if you simply move your mouse over the link (DO NOT click on it), it should tell you what address (URL) it will open.

3) Prize Spam - These spam messages are damned clever if you ask me.  They'll try to convince you that you've won an Xbox, PS3, desktop computer, laptop (netbook/notebook) PC, or that you've won $1 million in some sort of contest.  Again, these should be obvious ploys.  First, unless you really did enter contests, it's safe to assume these are false in any capacity.  And even if you did sign up for a contest, chances are you'd either get something in the mail, or receive a phone call notification of your winnings.  Second, just like the financial spam messages, these too will have grammatical and spelling errors that should be the most blatant indicators of a spam message.  Even some of the email addresses, web addresses, etc will have something wrong with them.  For example, earlier today, I checked a message that my mother received supposedly from PayPal saying she had gotten a credit.  Upon careful examination of the email, I determined that it was false.  Everything looked legit on it, except when it came to looking at who it came from.  The email address was the giveaway when it read "service@paypal.comt"!  Notice anything wrong?  Looks official right?  You'd be wrong.  The extra "t" at the end of the ".com" is there.  Most of the time, messages from PayPal and other like companies will have been auto-generated, meaning it's the same address each and every time.  Remember one of my previous blogs says that computers don't make mistakes, people do.  In this case, when people make mistakes, it can either cost the victim, or the would-be suspect.  With this scenario, the would-be suspect lost, because he or she chose to ignore simple errors thinking that my mother would be dumb enough to fall for it.

Sometimes a spam email message can be very tricky in determining if it's a real message or something designed to lure you.  Here are some general tips to remember when it comes to Spam emails!

1) Sounds Too Good - Common sense will dictate a very simple rule.  If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!!  I think I speak for every computer tech out there who probably has it screaming in their heads when I say "DON'T OPEN IT!!  JUST DELETE IT!"  Seriously for a moment, if there's any sort of doubt in your mind as to the legitimacy of an email, and I mean any doubt at all, it's best to go on that doubt and delete the message.  Don't even give it any of your time or thought.

2) Check and Double Check - Again, going back to checking the validity of emails.  If you really think it may have come from a legitimate source, it's best to contact that source by alternative means, either from that source's official website, email contact address, or by phone.  Probably best to just use your phone, period.  Don't even give it a second thought.  It's best to be safe than to be sorry!!

3) Different Email, Same Name - Oh, this is one of the more clever practices of spammers.  They'll try to guess the name of your friend to make it seem trustworthy.  Don't be fooled.  Check the email address against the one you know from your friend.  If they don't match, delete the email.  There's one exception to this, and that exception is that your friend might have actually changed their email address.  Check with your friend BY PHONE!  The worst that happens is that they have to resend the email, and you would have to add them to a sort of "Safe Contacts" list.  There are instances when you'll get an email that looks like it's from a friend, but the name will be sort of misspelled.  Again, use a bit of logic, and check with your friend by phone, but if there's any small doubt in your mind, just delete it.

4) Unsubscribe - Some spam messages give you the option to unsubscribe.  This would be a useful idea if it weren't for the fact that 98% of the time it doesn't work, and actually gives companies your email address to send even more spam to.  Until it becomes a federal crime to send spam messages, the unsubscribe function in a spam message is about as useless as a ordinary condom on "Superman".  You can have him put it on, but realistically, it's just for decoration and nothing else.

5) Emailing directly - Some of us have actually gone and done the stupid thing and emailed the spamming offender directly.  Bad idea.  Again, it gives them your email address to spam to even more, and again, it's just a useless idea.  Sure, you'll get your point across, but let's be honest here.  They're not going to give a shit.

6) Contacting authorities - Let's just say that contacting authorities really doesn't provide relief, or any sort of results unless an actual crime has been committed.  And since sending Spam messages isn't exactly illegal, there's nothing any law enforcement agency can do.  Best to not even try.

For the most part, if you use common sense and logic, most of the spam messages you receive will be easily spotted, and you can take the appropriate action of deleting them.  But what if you do get trapped in a scam? Is there any sort of recourse one can take?  Before I close this entry, I want to briefly touch on some advice.

1) DON'T PANIC!! - This is about the worst thing anyone can do in any situation.  Try not to panic, and realize that while there may not be much you can do, you can however try to reduce the impact.  Write down what happened, and keep it to the point so that when you file that police report, you can stick to the facts.

2) Focus - Focus on the main problem, and realize that for each small step you take to recovery, it's going to be toward resolving the main problem.

3) Tackle the smaller things - Because of the complexity of being scammed, it can feel overwhelming, even when it comes to simple things like calling your bank, or filing the police report, etc.  Don't try to tackle it all at once.

4) Get an advocate - If you feel you are getting no where with police, your bank, your creditors, etc, you may need the services of an advocate.  Not quite an attorney, but someone who can speak on your behalf to resolve matters related to identity theft and financial scams.  Though, I will admit that hiring an attorney can be just as helpful, if not more-so, since attorneys have legal authority in some of the more complex matters.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Upgrading Your PC and You

So, you've decided to do some upgrades to your PC, and you're not sure where to begin.  Well, the truth is, there is no easy answer, but for the moment what we can discuss is some general ideas to keep in mind.  First and foremost do not assume that because it's top dollar it will be top quality.  Do your research and figure out what your needs are.

With that in mind, let's get some general tidbits out of the way.  First, determine what you are upgrading your PC for.  Is it for gaming?  Productivity?  Or perhaps you just want to be able to surf the internet faster.  Second, determine the capabilities of your PC.  Can it hold that extra 2GB of RAM?  Can it support a 2TB hard drive?  Lastly, what are your goals for an end result?  Faster processor speed?  Faster response time for loading webpages?  Consider your goals, and consider what kind of budget you want to stick to when asking these questions.  On average, an upgrade to a computer (already pre-built) is about $40-$200 depending on what you want to accomplish.

Some tips on most Windows PC computers (you'll have to look up the MAC equivalents, because I do not support MACs):

1) Interfaces - If you are going to be upgrading ANY component of a computer, you'll want to know the most basic of information.  Interfaces are one of those basic information pieces.  There are many that a computer uses, so be sure to know what kind of interface you'll need.  For example, most hard drives use an IDE/EIDE cable.  Knowing this, you should know to look for a hard drive that will use this cable.  Another example is that some computer mice still use a PS/2 port.  If you're going to buy a mouse, be sure it has an appropriate USB to PS/2 adapter, otherwise, you'll be out of luck unless you'll be using that USB connection.

2) Capabilities - What is it that you are upgrading and what are the capabilities you are looking for?  Upgrading from a CD-ROM burner drive to a DVD-ROM burner drive is one of those "upgrade features" that seem to stand out.  Also, looking for something that has faster speed, buffering, or data transfer rates are good indicators of what you might need.  A CD/DVD drive that runs 52x will definitely run faster than a 24x speed CD-ROM drive, but remember that faster isn't always better.

3) External or internal? - Many devices are internal to the computer, meaning some disassembly may be required.  If you want to avoid this, then external is the way to go.  In fact, it's been well-known that external devices are far more stable than internal, so this is something else to keep in mind.

4) Input or Output? - You may want to consider if the device or component you want to upgrade is an input device or an output device.  Network interface cards are both, whether wired or wireless.  However, sound cards are usually output as well as video cards.  This is especially important when placing the new component inside the computer.  Most USB devices are input devices.

5) Size - I know this may not seem important, but if you have limited desk space, a big and bulky item may not be a good idea.  Similarly, a device that is relatively small will be ideal for most desk spaces.  Determine what kind of device you are looking for, but make sure it doesn't take up a bunch of workspace that you may want to use later.

Remember that as with any upgrade, ALWAYS keep yourself GROUNDED.  In other words, don't let static get to your upgrade, your computer, etc by using either an anti-static mat, or a wrist strap available online or at most computer retailers.  Doing so can harm it irreparably, and will end up costing you a fortune more!  Always perform your upgrades in a clean environment, and always wear appropriate safety gear (eye protection, gloves, etc).  If you are a novice computer user, always have upgrades performed by a certified professional!

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Groups and You

The internet has given birth to something not necessarily new.  It's been around for ages, but the internet gives us the instant gratification of responses through email.  We're talking about groups.  Online discussion groups.  The general theme of a group is in such a variety that one can find literally ANYTHING they like, and join a group about it.  This can be both good and bad, but mostly good.  However, there are some things that one should know and consider before joining a group.

The first thing to consider is if you are going to actively participate.  Will you simply be on the sidelines, or will you be actively sending messages to the group for EVERYONE in that group to read?  Many groups lay dormant for many months before activity picks up, then all sorts of emails from that group come pouring in, and it can seem overwhelming.  Second, is this the kind of general topic you are passionate about or are you just in there to prank people?  Let's be honest here, there are folks who are in a group just to be an annoyance, or have some other devious agenda on their mind.

Whether you are a moderator, or you are simply participating, here's some general ideas to keep in mind when joining a group.

1) Email - Yes, when joining a group this means you WILL be receiving (by default) EVERY piece of email that is sent to the group.  Will this be something that might overwhelm you?  Do you have a personal email account that wouldn't be affected by this?  If not, you may want to create one specifically for that group.

2) Settings - Almost every online group that I've come across have settings for individual members.  These settings can help alleviate the congestion in your email inbox by selecting your group's equivalent of "Special Notices Only" "Web Only Access", and "Digest Messages"  Just a quick note about Digest emails.  These are emails that compile a wealth of emails that have been sent to the group.  This can be set to either daily, weekly, or monthly depending on what service you are using, i.e. Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, etc.  This can be very useful if you want to avoid a mess in your email inbox.  However, if you feel you must discontinue your participation in the group, most of the group sites allow you to unsubscribe in one of many different ways.  The first is through email, and usually that information is provided through the email messages you receive.  The second option is through the group site (e.g.

3) (For Moderators) Controls - You can set up a function on the group where a file/email message is sent out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis where it can contain information on general group objectives, how to utilize member tools, and perhaps even a guideline list if you must moderate discussions.  Controls can also help limit the messages sent by your membership, or even have it where messages must be approved when it comes to individual member posts.

4) (For Moderators) Events - Perhaps a better way to get people to participate without clogging each other's email inbox is to schedule an online interactive discussion.  Some group sites allow for online chat rooms specifically for your group.  Alternatively, you can set up a chat that is NOT on your website or the group site.   There are a number of alternatives available.

5) (For everyone) Conversations - Try to enjoy the conversations, and remember that the reason you joined or created a group was to get people together for a common cause.  However, some conversations can get a little out of hand.  If a message must be sent and replied by someone specifically, it may be a better idea to ask the person individually if you may email them directly, instead of airing your comment to them in such a public forum.  Remember, the goal of a group is to promote a common idea, but if the conversations get too out of hand, it can easily overwhelm a new member.

Moderators, don't forget that as a moderator, you do have the authority to delete messages or deny/reject memberships and messages as you see fit, but don't abuse this function.  People join groups for the purpose of sharing their ideas about the general discussion, but they will quickly leave if they feel their messages are being blocked unjustly.  Have ready a list of reasons why you might reject a message or a membership, and give advice on how they can overcome this hurdle.

It should go without saying that some discussions can get abusive when they don't need to be.  Try to establish some general guidelines for members, and make it clear that members have an obligation to keep the conversations going positively, smoothly, and most of all fun for everyone to participate in.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Counter-Strike & Steam: To Hack or Not To Hack

For a while now, I've been a participant in what is called "Counter Strike" on a client platform known as "Steam" v1.6.  It's premise is relatively simple, play "T" or "Terrorist" and your objective is one of three.  Either a) plant the bomb, b) hold hostages ransom, and if necessary, kill em, and/or c) kill your opponents or the "CTs" (Counter-terrorists).  If you play "CT", then your objective is the opposite of those three "T" objectives.  In my view, it's very addictive, especially when using weapons that are close to real world weapons, instead of some made-up super-weapon.

There are no levels, and there are no "invincibility" cheats to exploit.  But there's a side to this game that almost no one talks about anymore, and it's also the reason I feel is the decline of the popularity of the game.  When I first started, I had used a computer far inferior to the one I have now.  It's capabilities were limited at best, so running this type of game required, quite literally, an all-night adventure.  It's also the reason I felt I was lacking in the game, and really there wasn't much I could do about it, except go and spend $500-900 for hardware that I felt wasn't justified.  Though even on a Cable Modem connection, there's still moments of sheer lag that just makes the game horrible to play, even as a fan.

Removing the hardware/software issue of the game, and removing the variable of my computer system being an issue, I've noticed that there seems to be blatant disregard for certain guards against cheating.  Whether by design, or by design flaw, many have chosen to exploit the vulnerability in the system to their liking.  Steam (aka Valve) has put into place what is called "VAC" or "Valve Anti-Cheat" system.  Supposedly, this logs a user who is frequently exploiting "hacks" to better their aim, their efficiency, even their kill rate.  In theory, this VAC system will log the user's IP address, and send a signal to Valve's mainframe computer that the user has fraudulently exploited the system, and will subsequently ban that user for life.  In other words, if one decides to cheat, they run the risk of being given the permanent kick in the ass.

However, as my best friend and I soon found out, this VAC system is nothing more than a glorified joke of an Anti-Cheat system.  During play on one of my favorite servers, I notice that many still use "hacks" despite the warning that displays during a load of every server, saying that if caught, that player will be banned.  But what are some of the more popular cheats that one can use?  What's the most surprising is that despite this so-called "VAC" system, there are hacks available that are undetectable by such system, rendering it rather useless.

I did some digging around, went to a few various sites, and what I found wasn't exactly surprising, though I wonder why Valve hasn't done the same search to find these cheat-producing users, and ban them for life.  Among some of the more exploits are:

1) Auto-Aim (aka AimBot) - This is probably the most popular of the hacks.  I'm not entirely sure the process, but it allows one to simply sit back, relax, and simply click the mouse when needed to make a kill.  No forced moving around the mouse to get a good clean shot, you just wait, and kill when the time is right.

2) Wall Hack - Probably the more talked about (and rather annoying) hack of them all.  This is when you are clearly NOT in view of any enemy, yet seemingly you are killed.  Why?  This hack will basically allow someone to clearly see you on the other side of a wall, and shoot you with any weapon for a kill.  Some claim that they do not use this exploit, but I've witnessed people shooting at walls only to get a good 2-3 kills out of it.  This can't just be a user being "that good" at playing.

3) Speed - Whether increasing your overall speed, or slowing everyone else down, this hack is when someone clearly is moving faster than the rest of the players on a server.  This is not only an annoying hack, but it can also create server-side lag that makes playing the game honestly very difficult, and turns off many new players.

4) Invisibility cheat - Self explantory, but not quite.  Basically, a player can conceal himself in a less visible way, wait for the time to strike, then knife another player's character to death.  This I feel is one of the worst cheats/exploits/hacks.  No matter how good you are, someone ALWAYS has this exploit running, and they WILL find you.  Doesn't matter where you are, they will hunt and kill your character.

So what drives an individual to "hack" a game that is intended to be an honest, fair, and otherwise fun game?  Some do it for fun, but for most it's about increasing their statistics, especially their kill-to-death ratio.  Some do it just for the simple fact that they can, and haven't gotten caught.  A good majority do it for the fact of being considered "the best", even though they are really cheating both themselves and the people who they use these exploits against.  Unfortunately, despite Valve/Steam's best efforts, I believe "hacking" / exploiting the game still goes on, and is a much more widespread practice than what is believed by newbie players.  This type of exploint turns off most veteran players from even joining games.

What can be done to curb this total disregard for playing an honest game?  What measures can be put into place that ensure the spirit of the game isn't "hacked" or cheated upon?  For one, I think Steam/Valve needs to routinely (and randomly) check a good sampling of servers every month to verify that each one is abiding by their VAC system.  If they have to, they should hire people trained to spot "hacks", and report the behavior to those who can review, even suspend and/or terminate accounts whose holders have decided it was time to cheat.

Another idea would be for Steam/Valve to do a regular Google search.  Just quick few keywords and I was able to locate "hacks" for Steam/Counter strike within a few minutes of my time.  If Steam claims this kind of involvement would require too many man-hours, they are wrong.  Again, it only took me a few minutes to figure out what cheats were out there.  Based on the "hacks" that are available, one could argue that Steam has the resources to combat this behavior, and even write new patches to detect these exploits better, and eliminate those players who breach rules more aggressively.

Lastly, I think Steam ought to provide a reward system for those who report suspicious behavior.  Give an incentive for players who report "hacks" and game-exploitations, like $5 off a purchase from Steam/Valve.  That would certainly get me to start reporting people left and right.  Although, I agree that this might require manpower, not only to investigate, but to enforce rules, and if necessary carry out the consequential actions.

Over the past 6 years, this has been my #1 game, but not for the good reasons.  It's been on my crap list of games that people exploit for their own gain, and even though I still play it, I wish I didn't.  Too many have "hacked" the game to the point where it's not even fun anymore.  There are very few servers to login to where cheating isn't exactly widely used, and the servers one does find it is not long before someone who is cheating logs on and takes the whole fun out of it all.

In closing, and I hope this is read by Valve/Steam, because this really is the reason in my opinion that has brought upon the decline of players.  It was only a few short years ago that I would log on and the number of servers would number in the THOUSANDS, possibly tens of thousands.  Today, logging in, I only find a few hundred servers, and most of which are infested with "hackers".

I've thought about using such "hacks" for my own gain, but then I would be lowering myself.  I don't want to do that.  I feel that if one is to play an online multiplayer game, one should be able to play fairly, and without the use of "enhancements" or hacks to get ahead.

Steam/Valve, if you are reading this, you've still got a lot of work to do.