Friday, June 26, 2009

Security Snake Oil: The Bogus Email Address

This is the first post in what I think may be a series of security snake oil e-mails and ideas that are forwarded my way. However, before reading this, know that the best way to handle your computer security is outlined here;

Just received this forward on how to "protect" your e-mail address book from worms:

How to protect your e-mail address book:

A computer repairman says this is like having gold. This is a good thing. I learned a computer trick today that's really ingenious in its simplicity.

First dead giveaway that this isn't real is that the fix is "simple". There's no panacea for computer security.

As you may know, when/if a worm virus gets into your computer it heads straight for your email address book, and sends itself to everyone in there, thus infecting all your friends and associates.

This trick won't keep the virus from getting into your computer, but it will stop it from using your address book to spread further, and it will alert you to the fact that the worm has gotten into your system.

Here's what you do:

First, open your address book and click on 'new contact,' just as you would do if you were adding a new friend to your list of email addresses. In the window where you would type your friend's first name, type in ' A'.

For the screen name or email address, type AAAAAAA@AAA.AAA

Now, here's what you've done and why it works:

The 'name 'A' will be placed at the top of your address book as entry #1..

First problem is that may not be the case. Just because you see it first does not mean that it'll be the first e-mail stored on the drive. Data is stored in the way that the computer can access it the quickest or perhaps as you've added it. Then when the computer goes to show you the details, it will sort that data into a human readable format. However for the worm, it'll get it in the quickest order the computer can hand it back.

This will be where the worm will start in an effort to send itself to all your friends.

When it tries to send itself to AAAAAAA@AAA.AAA, it will be undeliverable because of the phony email address you entered. If the first attempt fails (which it will because of the phony address), the worm goes no further and none of your friends will be infected.

Second place this breaks down is assuming the worm will stop on error. It won't for 2 reasons:

  1. Internet mail delivery doesn't work this way. It takes the e-mail and then tells the app it's received it. The app then moves on while the mail delivery system tries to deliver the message.
  2. No worm writer would stop on a bad e-mail address. Even if it did get immediate failure, it would just skip to the next address and keep going.

Here's the second great advantage of this method: If an email cannot be delivered, you will be notified of this in your In Box almost immediately. Hence, if you ever get an email telling you that an email addressed to AAAAAAA@AAA..AAA could not be delivered, you know right away that you have the worm virus in your system. You can then take steps to get rid of it!

This is the only valid point in this article. Having a bad e-mail address in your address book would guarantee a failure you may catch. However, it doesn't matter much as your computer already has a problem. And this problem could be stealing your identity, invading your privacy and generally causing problems. The best bet is not to try and catch the problem to fix it, but to keep it from happening in the first place.

True Security Options

I've seen a number of e-mails from friends and family talking about different ways to handle computer security and to ward off bad things. Almost every time what's recommended in these e-mails or articles won't help or are of at best dubious benefit. Instead of this snake oil, there are a number of things that you can do to keep your system safe. In fact, for the longest time, I didn't even use an anti-virus application and as of yet, I have not gotten a virus or malware on my system. (I've since started using one, just as a precaution ....)

The top 4 most important things your an do:

  • Always patch your computer and keep your applications up-to-date. (Use Windows Update, Apple's SoftwareUpdate, or the appropriate updater for your system)
  • Don't open attachments from someone you don't know
  • Don't click on random links in e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc, especially if you don't know who it's from
  • Use a hardware firewall (like a router, any router). This means you can reach out onto the Internet, but stuff outside the internet cannot reach back to you. (I generally like Linksys, but just about any company's router will do)

In addition to the above, here are a few more things you can do:

  • Avoid pirated software and most music sharing sites as many of the files contain malware, viruses, worms, etc.
  • Be aware that Windows by default hides the extension of a file, so the file you see as image.jpg may very well be image.jpg.exe (where .EXE is an executable file that could contain a worm, virus or some other bad thing)

This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but these are the basics, like locking the doors on your house and car, keeping valuables out of sight, etc. They won't deter a determined intruder, but will save you from the drive-by and opportunistic attacks.

Keep this page bookmarked as I'll continue to add links and details as I have more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mindy 2.0 Part 1

So, about a two weeks ago now my server computer, named Mindy (named for the Animaniacs character), decided that it was too hot to work and died. Well, at least sort of died. When I got back from a trip, she was no longer responding to pings and when I tried to reboot her, she would power down after about 20-30 seconds. Best as I can tell, I have a temperature management failure on either the power supply or the motherboard, not sure which.

In thinking about how to approach fixing the problems, I was stuck with two basic paths: try and find the failing component or replace the core components and build a version 2.0 Mindy. If I had a good computer store handy, I would have tried replacing the individual components, but the closest real store I have access to is MicroCenter out in Fairfax or Rockville. (And no, BestBuy does not qualify as I need real parts, not the desktop/consumer parts they have). In addition, my hope was to get this back and running ASAP, so ordering a new power supply and then a new motherboard, etc, just seemed to be a slow process.

In the end, I decided to just replace her guts and upgrade the mainboard, power supply, CPU and memory. This was a good excuse for me to upgrade from the 18-month old Core2 CPU and desktop motherboard and move to a server-type board with a dedicated PCI-E slot for the RAID card I have and to target the new Intel Core i7 chip. So on the recommendation of a friend via Facebook/Twitter, I went with a SuperMicro C7x58 motherboard. In addition, I purchased 12Gb of RAM, a Corsair 630 watt modular power supply and 3 1TB hard disks.

The parts arrived from Newegg on Wednesday, but we had friends over for dinner that night, so I wasn't able to start working on the transplant until Thursday evening while watching Burn Notice and Royal Pains on USA (good shows, btw). I took my time and slowly moved the parts and completed the upgrade about 10:30, too late for me to want to try starting the system. But at least everything fit and looked like it was going to work well.

Friday morning came and I woke up a bit earlier than normal, so I thought I'd give it a quick run. When I went to hook the monitor up to try it, it was at that point I discovered that the motherboard I picked did not include on-board video.

Crap. I didn't even think to look at that. I assumed that it would include Intel integrated video, but alas I was wrong.

Friday came and went and I hadn't been able to get out to get a video card. I did take a few minutes to try and ID the right one both by online shopping and asking friends via Twitter/Facebook what they recommend. Saturday came and went and I had ID'd the card I wanted to buy from BestBuy, a PCI-E 16x passively-cooled video card. Seemed like a good choice as it didn't draw much power and didn't need a cooling fan to work.

Only, it didn't fit. Turns out the card had a HUGE heatsink that spanned both sides of the card. Crap again. The two PCI-E 16x slots I have available surround the PCI-E 8x slot that holds my AMCC/3ware RAID card. I had planned on using the one furthest away from the CPU as it was clear on the non-RAID card side. Unfortunately, the heretofor unknown back-side heatsink wanted to take the same space as the RAID card's jumper pins. And if I tried the CPU-adjacent slot, it hit the humongo CPU fan that came with the i7 processor I purchased.

Sigh, so that meant my first attempt at a video card failed, so back online I went. This time, I decided to purchase a PCI-based inexpensive video card, since the area round my PCI slot is completely clear. As I type, it's being delivered from NJ, so hopefully it'll arrive tomorrow so I can give this whole thing another shot. In the meantime, thank goodness for the Lenovo S10 and Google Apps for domains as they can temporarily replace some of what I relied on Mindy 1.0 (or maybe 1.5) to do.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Google Chrome

I've started playing with Google's Chrome bwser. At first, I thought it was mostly a toy and not a good replacement for my trusty Firefox. However, the funniest thing has happened. I've started to grow to like it.



Why do I like it? Well, there's no one compelling reason that I can point to that makes me choose it. Instead, it's a small number of little things. I think the biggest reason may be that it's new and something for me to play with. As a nerd, that's definitely one of the things I like is to play with new things.

But in addition to that, I do find it oddly compelling. The UI is simple and on my Lenovo S10's small screen it tends to stay out of the way. And that's never a bad thing. In addition, it feels rather fast (faster than Firefox), but that could just be my perseption and not reality. Will it completely replace Firefox for me? No. But is it a great 2nd browser? Yah, you betcha. (sorry, I'm writing this while sitting in a bar in St. Paul, Minnesota).

There are a couple of things that will drive you nuts at first. For starters, the tabs are not under the menu and control bars, but are instead part of the title bar. Supposedly Safari 4.0 does it the same way, but I haven't really tried it yet to be able to say for sure. In addition, the location bar and the search bar are the same thing. Now, this isn't as big a deal as it seems because now you can just type in what you're looking for and Chrome will just try and sort it out. Finally, there's no menu bar, and in its place, the menu items are all pushed into two submenus on the right hand side (the wrench and gear icons in the screenshot above).

None of these things are major, but just something to be aware of before trying it.

Feedback loop

So, something really interesting happened to me the other day. My wife and I were pondering which fridge to get to replace our then dead Frigidare. A couple of trips to Home Depot and Best Buy, plus plenty of web surfing later, I had settled on two: a Kenmore (Whirlpool/Frigidare/whatever) and an LG side-by-side. Both were about the same price and both were comparable in size. However, on (where I was looking to buy because they could get it to us before my family arrive in DC), the LG was lower rated than the Kenmore.

My problem was the LG looked better and (for some reason) was more appealing to me than the Kenmore. Maybe part of the problem was the Kenmore was a direct replacement for the one that just died on me. And by direct replacement, I mean everything was identical, so it felt like the same fridge. Plus the LG just plain looked better.

As the decision time drew near, I ended up tweeting about my dilema. Now, I've heard the digerati talking about how they ask questions of their Twitter minions and getting good answers, but I've never found that to work for me. Maybe I have too few followers (46 at last count) or maybe they just ignore me (and based on my occasional inane tweets, I can understand why).

But apparently, my friends on Facebook do pay attention because by the morning I already had a few people telling me to go with the LG. And the best part is it was based on their personal experiences.

So, we now have a new LG side-by-side refrigerator and it seems to be working well. The ice maker is a bit sub-par, but that was the common refrain from the web and my Facebook friends, but no product's perfect, right?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Google Apps

In playing more with Google Apps, I just discovered that you can use custom subdomain names for accessing services such as mail, documents and calendar. It's just a matter of logging into the Google Apps domain console -> Service Settings -> Service and under the General tab, clicking change URL under the web address.

Once you have your address set, you'll need to add a CNAME to your account (just as was done when creating the blog link in my previous article). And then, as they say, lather-rinse-repeat for all the desired services.

I'm still waiting for my domain changes to go through, but so far everything appears exciting. The only recommendation I would make is to make the CNAME changes about 24-48 hours before enabling the subdomain in Google. In doing so, you will minimize downtime waiting for the changes to propagate throughout the DNS system.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The joys of home ownership ....

So, it's been one of those weeks here at the new house. Well, I guess the problems really started last week when the temperatures in DC hit 94F (34c) for about 3 days in a row. Those days revealed how warm the upstairs in our 1913 row house could get and really meant we had insufficient insulation in the attic.

On Saturday, then, I finally climbed up to the attic to survey the situation. And yes, there was not just too little insulation, there was NO insulation in the attic. Why the previous owner didn't bother installing any when he retrofitted A/C into the place, I'll never know.

To make matters worse, in looking around, I found a couple of cracked roof beams that need some TLC. And of course, given the way the house is arranged, you can't just climb into the attic and fix the beams. Instead we're going to have to go through the ceiling in the second guest bedroom.

And then finally, on Thursday of last week, the refrigerator gave up the ghost. At first, I thought it was the defrost timer, so I replaced that. Turns out that was a problem because when I plugged it back in and turned it on, the relay did kick over to turn on the fridge ... and then the circuit breaker popped. Turns out the defrost timer was burnt out because the compressor had kicked the bucket. So, now we have a new refrigerator too.

This whole house thing is becoming expensive. But hey, at least we can control how these things are fixed.

Sunday, May 03, 2009 + BlueHost + Google Apps for Domains

So, I've been playing for the past week or so with consolidating and rearranging my domain names into a more cohesive set of services that Feli and I can use for e-mail, hosting and calendar sharing. Up to now, I've been using Speakeasy for my hosting and e-mail (as well as my DSL service). I've been rather happy with the, but the lack of a good calendaring service (and just needing to decide what to do with my other domains) got me thinking.

I started playing using as my registrar and finally figured out how to do things like subdomains (ie:, integration with Blogger and Google Apps. So, what I hope to do is give a quick HOWTO on getting all of this to work together with Though this is specific to, but basics should work for other sites.

Step 1: Enable DNS management with

Before you can make any custom DNS changes, you need to enable's DNS management. If it's not already done, you can add it for free using the Add Services menu item on the control panel.

Step 2: Disable page forwarding and e-mail forwarding

For each of these, go to Manage from the domain page and select "Remove Service".

Step 3: Configure a Google Apps for Domains account

You can sign up at By default it will offer you a Pro account, which is a bit much for just a personal set of services, so pick the Standard settings and work through the configuration and setup options

Step 4: Authenticate the domain

Google (for good reason) requries you to authenticate your ownership of the domain in question. The easiest way to do this is to create a CNAME record on, so when authenticating your domain, pick this option. Google will offer you a name that looks like "google<numbers/letters>". Copy that and go to the DNS settings page. Paste the name into the CNAME record field and enter on the second field. (I'll enter screenshots as I have time)

Step 5: Configure E-mail

While creating the CNAME record, enter the MX (e-mail) records. Google currently has 6 entries that need to be created. You'll enter each one individually into the MX field on that page and hit update. You can find the settings when you go to activate e-mail in Google Apps or in this answer page. Once you've added all 6 items, you should be able to receive e-mail.

Step 6: Configuring Blogger

If you want to use your blog as your primary website, log into Blogger and go to blog settings -> publishing -> advanced settings. From here, enter your domain name and submit. If you want to do a subdomain (ie, you can select Advanced settings again and type in the full domain name and hit submit.

Step 7: Add the CNAME record for your blog

Back in the control panel, add another CNAME record, this time either leave it blank for the default website (ie or the subdmian name (ie blog for and in the host add Hit update and your blog should be ready.

Step 8: Configure BlueHost

To use BlueHost as your primary webhost, add 2 more A records (www and ftp). To get the appropriate IP address, you will need to contact BlueHost support.

At this point, you should be good to go. For me, the nameserver propagation took about 2 hours, but it could take up to 3 days for everything to clear out. If this doesn't work for you or you see soemthing wrong, please leave comments and I'll update this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The holes are gone ....

The new windows are in and they look great. So far, I'm quite happy.




There are two big holes in the front of my house ...

Not to worry, they're just where the old aluminum windows used to be. We have new windows being installed today (for Earth Day as it were). Hopefully the new ones will be quieter and more energy efficient (they're vinyl) than before.



I'll post more pictures as the windows are installed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My name

It's taken a bit of doing, but I finally own the first page of search results for Michael Oland. Well, almost that is. There's apparently a Michael Oland in Halifax that seems to own the first result (his Facebook page), but other than that, It's almost all me.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What to do with my websites ...

So, I have four domains (,,, and ). Each has served its purpose over the years, but now I need to decide what's next for them.

I've been toying with building a FriendFeed-esque aggregator of all my online activities for one (and maybe I'll build a second for my "work/professional" life), but I'm not sure I like the idea of duplicating work already done elsewhere (FriendFeed, Blogger, etc). Plus, I think most of the people who actually follow me and what I do will get that information from my Facebook account (where I already have all this linked across anyway).

Two questions then: are personal websites worth running anymore (at least for people who have a real day-job and aren't full time digerati?) and if they are useful, what should I put on mine?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Netbook revisited

So, I've lived with the Lenovo Ideapad S10 for about a month and I've just fallen in love with it. It's been nice to have on my month long trip to California. Now, I have a laptop that I can use to handle e-mail and personal stuff while leaving the work computer for what it's for: work.

The size of the laptop is still a bit of an issue. I wouldn't want to write a novel on it, but for short e-mails and surfing, it's perfect. In fact, it's fast enough to play Netflix streaming videos. The laptop coupled with the new LCD tv at the hotel means movies in the room.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's beginning

So, while in Europe, Feli and I ran into a couple from Australia (via New Hampshire). We chatted for a while, snapped a couple of pictures for each other (hey, when you have someone trustworthy, you want to take advantage of that).

In the end, I found out that the husband is connected to the Dartmouth Computer Science program and works with a professor that's also an ex-IBM'er. Anyway, since I've been looking into getting a Ph.D., he put me in touch with the professor (well, gave me his e-mail and mentioned that I may e-mail)

Well, I finally got around to sending off the initial "hey, I'm interested in chatting" e-mail. It only took me a week of hemming-and-hawing to decide how to word the e-mail. I've already heard back and he'd like to chat.

Pretty cool. I'll add more as it happens.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Let it Snow!

It's snowing here in DC, a real snowstorm (they're saying 5-9" of snow). See below pictures of the snowstorm:



Is a "netbook" lost on me

So, I bought a new netbook the other day (a Lenovo Ideapad S10 if you're curious). And so far I really like it. It's just the right size to carry around and will make a great travelling companion. However, I'm starting to realize that the true purpose of one of these netbooks is a bit lost on me.

I think the real purpose is that of a Facebook or Twitter companion for the digerati technoratti and people with more exciting and mobile lives than I have. Perhaps if I worked out of an office, it may be a bit different or if I had friends all over the world, it might make more sense, but as it is, all my friends (such as the number is) are all local or a quick phone call away.

Oh well, at least I have one, so when I'm sitting at Starbucks, at least I look cool. (Insert emoticon-du-jour here)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My New Toy

Just bought me a new toy. Well, it's a toy with a real purpose(ish). Picked up a Lenovo Ideapad S10 subnotebook or "netbook" as they're now called. Feli and I plan on using it for our travels and when just messing around town. It has a 160Gb HDD (or more than enough for our movies and pictures) and is about 2.2 pounds, a perfect companion for our cameras.

It's a bit small for touch typing (you're not going to write a novel on it), but for just a quick check of e-mail or to download and save our pictures, it's great.