Opera Supports Socks 5 Proxy (Finally)

I was in the process of adopting Chrome as my browser, looking for and installing extensions that would make it work like Opera (speed dial and content blocking), simply because Opera wouldn’t support Socks 5 Proxies. Imagine my relief and surprise when I discovered a little-publicized additional function in the latest release of Opera (11.10) – it actually does support socks proxies, including version 5.

For easy, step-by-step instructions including screenshots, see How To Use Opera with a SOCKS Proxy.  For the short version, read on.

I found this while reading the release notes, which mentions how to go about setting it up, as it is not available in the normal preferences menu. You have to put opera:config in the browser’s address bar and hit enter, which brings up a preferences editor. Scroll down until you see the Proxy section. Expand the tree, and enter the IP address (not DNS name or alias) and port in the SOCKS Server field. If you, like me, use ssh tunneling to establish a SOCKS proxy, this will be something like (substitute your own port). A few lines down, click the checkbox for Use SOCKS. Leave Use WAIS, Use HTTP, Use FTP, and Use HTTPS un-checked. Click the [Save] button, and Voila! Opera is using a SOCKS proxy.

I’ve tested this on both Windows XP and Ubuntu linux.

On a separate note:
WordPress Anti-Spam Plugins
While looking for alternatives to good old Akismet, I put together a little hub on the Best Anti-Spam Plugins for WordPress. OK, I didn’t run in-depth tests to see if they are really “the best,” but other than Akismet itself, they are all free, and my preliminary testing has been very successful.

Posted in Security & Privacy, Tech | Tagged | 3 Comments

Writing On HubPages

Since Yahoo!/AC has opted not to renew my Featured Contributor designation, I’ve been thinking about other places to publish.  I’m not going to completely abandon the Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y!CN), just want to build my on-line presence in other areas.  After researching several on-line publishing sites, I’ve decided to give HubPages (HP) a try.

Multimedia support: HubPages supports embedded pictures and video.  Contrast this with Y!CN (previously Associated Content), which allows pictures to be attached to an article, but they are not embedded in surrounding context, and are very low-res.  A.C. experimented with embedded video briefly, but never fully implemented it and does not currently support it.  HP not only lets you embed pictures and video, but also news feeds (rss and headlines), polls, tables, maps, quizzes, and code listings.  Code listings are particularly useful in certain “how-to” type articles.

Revenue Streams: Many sites share advertising revenue with their contributors, but this is usually limited to adsense, or a flat rate based on page views.   HP lets authors share adsense revenue, but also lets them place Amazon and Ebay ads on their hubs, and the authors keep revenue from these sources.  Kontera is also supported but is being phased out.  So income might not be as steady as it is from Y!CN, which is based on a flat-rate model starting at $1.50 per 1000 page views, but could be much more lucrative with the occasional Amazon or Ebay sale.

In addition to direct revenue, HP pays for referrals and links. In other words, if I send traffic to hubs published by other authors, I get a small percentage of their revenue. I can also refer new authors to HubPages, and HP will pay me a small percentage of the revenue they earn there. HubPages pays for these little bonuses, the money doesn’t detract from the other authors’ earnings.

More Control: Hubs can be edited at any time, meaning I can make corrections, make timely updates, or add more revenue cells in the future if they become available.  I can also re-arrange the blocks at will, moving around text, graphics, videos, even the comments section as I see fit.  The downside to this much flexibility is that HubPages does not provide ways for your content to be syndicated the way it can be on Y!CN or E-zine articles.

My First Hub: My first foray into HubPages is a review of our new treadmill.  Please see Gold’s Gym Trainer 480 Product Review, and let me know what you think.

Posted in On Writing, Publications | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Targeted Phishing Attacks Likely To Increase After Epsilon Breach

Since Epsilon began notifying it’s customers that thousands of email addresses, and some names, had been compromised in a security breach last week, experts have been warning people to be especially vigilant against Phishing attacks.

Epsilon contracts it’s commercial emailing service out to dozens of companies. Epsilon has not released a comprehensive list of impacted clients, but various news agencies and other sources have reported the following companies which have apparently been affected:

  • Target
  • Kroger
  • TiVo
  • Charter Communications
  • US Bank
  • JPMorgan
  • Chase
  • Capital One
  • Scott Trade
  • Citi
  • Home Shopping Network
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • LL Bean Visa Card
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards
  • New York & Company
  • Brookstone
  • Walgreens
  • The College Board
  • Disney Destinations
  • Best Buy

Most of these companies have been notifying their own customers about the breach, along with reassurances that no private data was compromised, such as SSNs, User IDs, or passwords.  Reportedly, the breach consisted of email addresses and (in some cases) first and last names.

Should You be Worried about the Epsilon Breach?

While Epsilon and their clients have been quick to point out that no confidential information was leaked, there are still dangers in having email addresses and names fall into the hands of fraud perpetrators. First of all, it allows the creation of targeted, personalized Spam. A recipient is more likely to take seriously an email from someone that actually knows his name. So instead of getting a Phishing email that just says “Dear Sir, we want you to take possession of $10 million of unclaimed Nigerian money,” it will likely address the person by name, possibly with a bogus introduction as to where they got it, like “you came highly recommended from our friends in the Commerce department.” In the past, Phishing attacks took a scatter-shot approach, sending you emails purportedly from a particular bank or institution, just hoping that you were a client of theirs. Now they can tailor the attacks to use a company name with which you actually do business.

Second, scammers can use your email address and name to contact companies with which you do business via email, by spoofing the address to make it look like it came from you. Banks and financial institutions aren’t likely to take any action on your account based on an email, but as it happens, some companies have fallen prey to this so-called “Spear Phishing” attack. In a recent case, a publishing company received emails from someone posing as it’s regular printer, asking that future checks be sent to a new address. They started to fall for it, but fortunately discovered the ruse in time to freeze the payments, which would have amounted to around $8 million. The bottom line here is that not only do you have to be more vigilant than ever, but so do the banks, airlines, and other companies you use.

Protect Yourself and Fight Back

Technically, you should not have to do anything new, since you already should be smart enough not to fall victim to Phishing scams.  Long before the Epsilon breach, the dangers of Phishing and other types of email scams were so prevalent, that these guidelines should be just a re-inforcement of good security practices, but for review, here they are:

  • Never open email attachments from anyone unless you are sure of the sender.  Check by phone if necessary, don’t just take it at face value that your friend is sending you a video that you have to open and run to view.
  • Never provide confidential information such as passwords, account numbers, etc. in response to an email request.
  • Don’t follow links embedded in an email asking for authentication information, even if the email is threatening to suspend your account if you don’t.  No legitimate company does this.
  • Keep your anti-virus / anti-malware protection running and up to date.

In order to combat Phishing and other email-based scams, forward them to phishing-report@us-cert.gov.  Various institutions have their own addresses for reporting Phishing emails involving their names.  For example, the Bank of America wants any fraudulent email using their name to be forwarded to abuse@bankofamerica.com.   See Where To Report Phishing Scams for more ways and places to report Phishing and other Internet fraud.




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Writing for Yahoo!’s Contributor Network (formerly Associated Content)

I’ve been a contributor on Associated Content, now Yahoo!’s Contributor Network (since the site was purchased by them), for several years now.  For the last few years I was a “Featured Contributor” in their Technology category, so focused most of my writing on meeting their requirements.

Featured Tutorial
The good news is that for a few weeks now, an article I wrote well over a year ago on using the Pigeon IM client to manage all your messaging connections has been Yahoo’s “Featured Tech Tutorial.”  The up-tick in views (which translates into more money) was significant and appreciated.

Changes to the Featured Contributor Program

Recently, Yahoo! announced that they were dis-continuing their previous Featured Contributor program and implementing a new one.  We were all invited to apply for one or more FC designations, based on category.  Naturally, having nearly 25 years experience in computers, programming, and consumer electronics, I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting re-accepted in the Technology category.  Only one problem.  The old program had a production quota – I was supposed to contribute 3 articles per month for their standard pay for FC articles ($10 each) plus one more article in the Tech category.  With a “day job” keeping me busy 50-80 hours a week, plus the responsibilities of raising a family and working on our farm, I frequently didn’t complete all 4.  The new program has a much more relaxed quota however – only 1 article every 3 months is required.  I could have made that even at the busiest of times.

Unfortunately, my past record of not completing all assignments on time garnered me a rejection this time around.  Go figure.  Guess I’ll concentrate more on my presence at Suite 101.

I don’t plan on jumping away from the Y!CN altogether.  There’s something to be said for having articles on a Yahoo! owned site.  But I’ve noticed that some of my content on other sites is gaining momentum.  For example, TrueKnowledge.com’s Facts About Wyatt Earp has a link to my article  Surprising Facts about the Gunfight at the OK Corral published on Socyberty.com (a Triond site).  This has led to a nice increase in page views there.  If I continue to flush out content on these other platforms and not focus so much on Yahoo!, I should have a nice, diverse base of residual-earning content.

Posted in On Writing, Publications | 1 Comment

Disaster Relief for Japan

The world watches as the people of Japan, still trying to assess the damages, locate missing people, and count the dead from the devastating earthquakes and resulting tsunami, worry and wonder if a nuclear meltdown is imminent. There are many ways to help – lots of charities, fund-raisers, and volunteer organizations organizing relief efforts. Perhaps one of the best is a donation to the Red Cross. On the Red Cross donation page, you can specify where you want your donation spent. You can direct the funds to the earthquake / tsunami victims, military members and their families, unrest in the middle east, countless other disasters around the world, or just choose “wherever the need is the greatest.”

The people of Japan and the Pacific region need our prayers – but they also need our direct support.  Please consider a donation.  You might also consider hosting a Red Cross donation banner on your own blog or web site.

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FreeBSD and the Addonics NAS Adapter

I recently purchased a first-generation NAS adapter from Addonics, which lets me hook up an external drive to our network without requiring a workstation or server.  I connected it to a Seagate FreeAgent 1T drive, at a total cost of around $125.

The combination worked fine from Windows, except that files copied to the NAS drive always got a new date / time stamp.  Addonics tech support was no help, basically saying that there was no way around that.   In fact, reloading the firmware with an update from a rival vendor actually did fix this issue.  See Cheap NAS Solution for some additional information on this.

The bigger problem is the fact that I can’t access this drive from FreeBSD using Samba.  Other Windows shares mount fine,  and can be used without issue.  If I mount this drive however, whenever I issue any bulk file copy, the NAS Adapter locks up.  I have to power-cycle the adapter to get the drive back on line.

I’m running FreeBSD 7.0 on a Dell Dimension workstation.  Updating to the latest Samba port did not help.  Searching through the web did not reveal any others with precisely this problem, so I’m stuck at this point.

I plan to re-load this workstation with the latest stable version of FreeBSD in the near future.  Maybe that will help.  The device is supposed to support Linux via Samba, so technically should work equally well on FreeBSD, but I wonder.  I suppose I’ll try my daughter’s Ubuntu-running laptop and see how it works.

In the mean time, accessing the NAS storage via the built-in FTP service works fine from FreeBSD, so I can still transfer files back and forth.  Any other suggestions are entirely welcome.

Posted in Tech | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Using the Mayan Calendar to Your Advantage

Work and home responsibilities are becoming overwhelming.  Forget about any social life right now.  So I’ve decided to utilize the Mayan Calendar to help schedule future events. Any forth-coming requests for me to do something will go like this:
Manager: “I need you to deliver a new report that will tell us every time one of our clients requests a new version of our software.  How soon can you deliver it?”
Me: “December 22, 2012.”

If by chance the Mayans were right and the world as we know it ends on December 21, 2012, I’ll never have to deliver.  And if they’re wrong, well, I have a lot of time between now and then – I’ll probably find a few minutes to develop the report.

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Recognizing Spam – Spelling, Grammar, and other Dead Give-Aways

Spam and phishing scams continue to evolve, becoming more sophisticated all the time.  Nevertheless, mistakes in spelling and grammar are still a big red flag when it comes to determining the legitimacy of any supposed business correspondence.  As a recent example, I received the following text, purportedly from Bank of America:

During our usual security enhancement protocol, we observed multiple login attempt error while login in to your online banking account. We have believed that someone other than you is trying to access your account, for security reasons we have temporarily suspended your account and your access to online banking has been restricted. We urge you to take few minutes to update your account, failure to this will result to account locked down.

There are at least 6 grammatical errors in this one paragraph, not to mention terrible wording.  No legitimate corporation would send out any business communication with this many mistakes.

Another sure-fire indicator that this email was fraudulent was the fact that the embedded links did not resolve to the companies website.  To fix my account, I was directed to log in through a link that displayed https://www.bankofamerica.com/privacy/update.jsp as the link text, but the actual address linked to was a URL at thetalentmakers.com, clearly not Bank of America.

These days few if any financial organization are going to rely solely on email to notify someone of suspicious account activity.  Finally, in an effort to combat phishing and spoofing, most banks, credit unions, and investment agencies will refrain from using live links in their emails, and will instead ask you to log on to your account on their website using plain text to give the address.

A simple rule of thumb – never click a link or open an attachment in an email unless you are absolutely sure of it’s authenticity.

Posted in Security & Privacy | Leave a comment

Genesee County’s Bid for the Google Fiber Getting Some Exposure

Updated 03/15/2010 – added information from Flint Journal article

Ron Fonger, a writer for the Flint Journal and the guy who broke the story about Genesee County entering the competition to woo Google for their announced high-speed fiber-optics network, phoned me yesterday.  He’d  apparently come across this blog much the same way I found his story – a Google search for information on Genesee County’s involvement.  We chatted about some of the benefits Genesee County might reap if Google were to choose to invest in their experimental network here, and what some of the obstacles are to making that happen.  Ron is writing a follow-up story which should appear on mlive.com tonight, and in the Sunday edition of the Flint Journal.  (Online Version Here)

One thing Ron told me was about a website called Flint Area Broadband, which is an attempt to raise awareness of Genesee County’s initiative to attract Google to our area, and to call for community support.  I took a look at the site, and I posted a message with my own thoughts on why we would be the best place for Google (mirroring what I said in my initial post on the subject).  My message is currently awaiting moderation.

The site does not seem to have any official sponsorship from civic or community leaders.  It is registered to Paul Knific, a successful Flint-area entrepreneur.  The site is new, and obviously still under construction (note – as of 3/15/10 the site appears more complete), so it could be that Paul will be the official outlet of information for the County’s involvement.  Or maybe he’s just impatient, waiting for some official buzz about the project, and decided to take the initiative to get community support.  In any case, I applaud the site and hope it gains some momentum for the Flint area.

In a related story, the Associated Press has reported the Governor Granholm met with Google leadership this week to encourage them to put their new network in Michigan.  No details were given as to whether Her Honor expressed any preference for potential locations within Michigan.  One can only hope that Genesee County was mentioned favorably if she did.

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Genesee County Finally Joins the Google Fiber Fray

I can’t say for sure if I had anything to do with it, but I’ve been trying to drum up awareness of Google’s intent to build experimental fiber networks in one or more comunities for about 3 weeks now (see Genesee County Should Host Google’s Experimental Broadband Network and it’s follow-up).  While I never received any replies, I see that there has been an announcement that we’re finally throwing our hat into the ring.

The Mayor of Topeka, Kansas has temporarily renamed his city “Google, the Fiber Optics Capitol.”  Duluth, Minnesota’s mayor jumped into Lake Superior.  Other cities have facebook pages.  All to drum up awareness and community support for their efforts to get Google’s attention.

So far Genesee County hasn’t announced any publicity stunts, but hopefully with the mayor, the board of commissioners, and “several institutions or municipalities, including Genesee County government,” we’re putting together an attractive proposal.  Lord knows we can use the positive impact Google could make on our community.

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Beware of Scareware

Fake anti-virus programs, rogue security software, extortion-ware – whatever you want to call it, this kind of malware is still prevalent.  They usually start with some pop-up message warning you that your system is infected and offering some free download to clean your computer.  Generally, no matter what you choose, if you click on it at all, it installs a worm or virus.  After that, this malicious software will peform a fake scan, and report all sorts of nasty infections, none of which your PC will actually have.  The program will try to convince you to pay for an “upgrade” which will clean all these reported nasties out.  From beginning to end, the whole ordeal is a scam designed to steal your money.

I’ve put together a short guide, showing how to spot and avoid these scams, links to ways to remove them, and where to report them if you become a victim.  Please check out How to Protect Yourself Against Scareware, on Associated Content.   For more in-depth analysis of scareware, see this article from Viruslist.

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Astroturfing: Fake Grass Roots Organizations

Astroturfing is the practice of creating fake grass-roots organizations to sway public opinion.  According to freepress.net, “Astroturf groups fighting media reform manufacture the impression of public opposition to issues like Net Neutrality to sway policy makers and the media. What these groups won’t tell you is that they’re bought and paid for by the phone and cable industry.”

One recent example of astroturfing cited in Wikipedia includes several self-proclaimed seniors groups, whose biggest contributor is the pharmaceutical industry.  Another is the “Save Our Species Alliance”, which calls itself a grass-roots organization but is actually a front group for wealthy cattle and timber interests.

For the past several years, the telecommunications and media giants have engaged in some pretty shady practices, including astroturfing, in order to obfuscate the so-called Net Neutrality, or Internet Neutrality debate.  Click on the interactive control to the right of the text (couresy of freepress.org) to learn more about how much these companies are spending in order to convince the public and our lawmakers that net neutrality is a bad thing.

Posted in Security & Privacy, Tech | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Genesee County Should Host Google’s New Fiber Network – an Update

Last week I mentioned that I was trying to raise awareness in Genesee County of Google’s interest in building a high-speed fiber network.  I had sent out several emails, mostly to members of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce (GRCC) and the Genesee FreeNet.  Not having received any responses as yet, today I placed a call to Keith Edwards, Senior Development Director of Economic Development of the GRCC.  Mr. Edwards informed me that they are indeed aware of Google’s intent, and were planning on meeting Monday to discuss this.  Apparently he did not receive my email, but said someone in their IT department had brought it to their attention.

Hopefully we’ll see something come of this.  Maybe I’ll call him back after Monday to see how things are going.

Posted in Local News, Musings, Tech | Tagged | 2 Comments

Genesee County Should Host Google’s Experimental Broadband Network

Google is seeking one or more communities in which to develop an experimental broadband high-speed fiber network. Google is interested in hearing from state, county, and municipal agencies in order to determine where to develop this network.  I’ve been trying to raise community awareness of this for several days.  So far, I don’t think I’m getting through to anybody.

Below is a copy of an email I’ve been sending to community leaders.  On February 16th I sent it to the Michigan Works Association, The Genesee County Board of Commissioners, the Genesee FreeNet, and the Economic Development arm of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.  I also placed a call to the Genesee FreeNet (of which I’m a charter member) to make sure they got the email.

The message to the Regional Chamber of Commerce was to a generic office email address, and it bounced as undeliverable.  So the next day I sent the same email to various office-holders of that organization, including the CEO and 3 vice presidents of economic development.

At the time of this writing (evening of February 19th) I have received no reply.  I intend to send out more emails, and to follow some of these up with phone calls.

The letter:

Greetings from a hopeful Genesee County citizen. This email is meant to bring awareness to the fact that Google is seeking one or more communities in which to develop an experimental broadband high-speed fiber network. Google is interested in hearing from state, county, and municipal agencies in order to determine where to develop this network.

I believe Genesee County is the ideal place for Google to build out this infrastructure. Not only do we have the talent and drive to help Google achieve its goals, but we understand the economic and cultural importance of a connected community. For example, we founded the Genesee FreeNet over 15 years ago, and it still exists because of the knowledge and generosity of its volunteers and members.

I know there have been efforts by insightful groups of people to develop community-wide broadband access in the past. Perhaps this initiative from Google can serve as a springboard toward realizing that worthy goal.  Time is unfortunately short. Google is asking for input between now and March 26th before making its decision. Please visit the site, watch the short video and read the introduction Google has prepared. We then need to bring to bear all powers of persuasion possible, to convince Google of the wisdom of investing in Genesee County.

Google Fiber for Communities:


Joe Poniatowski
Charter Member, Genesee FreeNet

If you can think of anyone else who can help make Genesee County the site of an exciting new model of high-speed interconnectivity, either pass this information on to them or send me their contact information and I’ll do it.

Posted in Local News, Musings, Tech | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Facebook Charging a Fee?

Rumors have been circulating for months that facebook would begin charging a monthly fee for usage beginning some time in 2010.  The idea that the site, beloved by millions of members, might no longer be free carried so much momentum that hundreds of thousands of facebook users have joined groups protesting any such move.

Facebook spokespeople have repeatedly denied the rumor, stating that ”We have no plans to charge users for Facebook’s basic services.”   Note that this wording doesn’t say that they will never charge for anything, or that the definition of “basic service” may be subject to change, but it does refute the idea that facebook would begin charging a monthly fee.

This is just another example of the gullibility of the masses when it comes to the Internet.  The whole notion that facebook would begin charging money appears to have originated with this hoax email.  Rule of Thumb – any email message that intends to incite fear, raise awareness of impending disaster, promises some reward for forwarding it, or nearly any other message meant for mass distribution should be checked out.  Snopes.com is a good starting place.

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