Friday, November 30, 2007

Cleaning up your rusty ol' PC

Lately a lot of people have been asking for advice on fixing this problem or that on their machine. It runs too slow or the firewalls confuses them or they have a lot of pop-ups etc. Turns out there is an easy solution to all of these things - don't use MS Windows!! No just kidding ( though not really ) - but regular maintenance of your computer will do wonders for fixing and preventing those problems. So I thought I would give you a list of things you can do to help keep your computer running lean.

There are 5 basic types of applications you just have to have to keep a Windows machines running safely. My philosophy on software is simple: Do one thing, do it well, do it fast and do it free.
  • Anti-virus: . Let me just say this to you - do NOT use norton, do NOT use McAfee. The truth is that ALL virus scanning programs subscribe to the same list of virus definitions provided by CERT. Norton and McAfee are just a lot of slow bloated, unmanageable junk sitting on what should be a lean clean inoculating machine.
  • Malware protection: Spybot S&D and HijackThis. Spybot is a first rate malware remover. Hijack this is particularly strong against a kind of software known as a root kit. In SpyBot, you can detect spyware, innoculate against a lot of infections and you can even use it lock your registry so unknown programs won't be able to make modifications without your knowledge. If you use Internet Explorer (and believe me you really, really should NOT be using internet explorer), it also has a toolbar protector.
  • Firewall: Comodo. Let me tell you a secret - the MS Windows firewall is incredibly weak and really is the lowest quality firewall you can use and still have it work. Now to be honest I don't use Comodo much because my router has a firewall built in. I suspect most of you have a router so hopefully this will be a moot point.
  • Junk removal/Integrity Checking: CCleaner. This program keeps your system free of cruft and ensures your registry integrity. Basically your registry is a huge hierarchal database of things your programs want to know about (and thing your programs want to hide from you). The bigger it is and the more useless junk that is in it, the longer it takes to search for information and so the longer it takes to load applications. CCleaner also comes with a program uninstaller.
  • Startup Control: StartupCPL. There are at least 6 different places programs can stick information to ensure they start when you log into windows - it's not just your startup folder in your start menu. StartupCPL will place a new icon called startup in your control panel which gives you the ability to easily turn on and off any applications that are trying to start themselves. You know that little set of icons on the bottom right of your screen near the time? Those are things that probably started themselves when you logged in. Your office applications, your antivirus, your printer, your audio rack...a lot of things you don't necessarily need to have running. The more of them there are the slower your computer will run. Look you just don't need to have a quick open for Microsoft office on all the time unless you're working in an office incessantly opening documents. Turn them off!
Now that you have these 5/6 programs installed I should mention a caveat. Since Spybot comes with a registry protector I didn't mention an independent program for doing it. If you choose not to use it then you should use some other registry locker. Now if you use a registry locker and you try to use CCleaner to remove entries from your registry, CCleaner will fail. You will need to temporarily turn off the locker so CCleaner can do some work on it OR just keep clicking yes when it asks you if you really want this change to occur.

Ok I want to give you a few more tips for safe / useful computing. There are probably another half dozen programs I'm going to strongly recommend to you but before I do that I want to try to convince you of something. You should never ever use Internet Explorer. Warning: I'm about to rant about why I think you should not use Microsoft products. If you want to skip the rant then take these two bullet points from it and then skip the next paragraph.
  • Internet Explorer is deeply insecure
  • MS Products are not meant for usability as much as for claiming market share and so they aren't very user friendly.
Without sounding too conspiratorial, here are a few reasons. First of all, the customer is Microsoft's worst enemy. Corporate partnerships are it's best friend. In general this means Microsoft isn't designing software for you. In fact they hate you - which is why so many of their new products have digital rights management built into it. I don't want to get into the the "how bad is piracy discussion" here but in the end the result is that MS products are not designed for usability. Most importantly, Microsoft has historically developed short sighted products and built a lot of gloss on top of them as time goes on. What this means for example is that when Internet Explorer was created, it was created only to hamper Netscape and claim market share. Security was an after thought. As the years go on, they add more and more gloss but are unable to fix the security flaws because of inherent problems without starting over and breaking a lot of things that depend on their current brokeness to run. A dirty little secret about MS is that since Windows 95, the architecture of Windows hasn't changed much. 12 years later they can't start from scratch anymore but they also can't fix the security problems because it would break so many older applications. Look, the bottom line is Microsoft is not good for the health of your PC. End of rant.

Ok so what should you use? For most people Firefox is perfect. What's fantastic about this app is the ability to extend the functionality in exactly the way you choose. For example, I have configured my Firefox to never ever show me an online advertisement. You can question the ethics of that decision - it's a pretty big debate frankly - but the real point is, Firefox will allow me to do such things. It also have it set to put the weather and tempature on the bottom of my browser, not run any javascript until I ok it, give me definitions by clicking on the word and so forth. Firefox is far more secure, far more flexible and free. Guess what - you're not going to get toolbar hijacked using Firefox the way you do with Internet Explorer either. Trust me on this - make the switch.

My friend Todd suggested I recommend some faster, leaner browsers to you besides Firefox. You may check out Opera or IceWeasel.

Ok, now I want to just recommend some very useful tools to you.

Process Explorer: Do you want to know what all those processes are that run on your PC? You'll love this application for doing just that. Mark Russonovich - the author of this program - was so awesome and had such a deep understanding of how Windows works that Microsoft hired him to teach them about how Windows works. Now that is freaking cool. He's a Tech Fellow at MS now.

EndItAll: This sweet little utility will force shut down any of those pesky applications who just won't do it themselves. Sometimes an app just won't respond or has received protected status from Windows to prevent shutdowns (you know like spyware?). EndItAll doesn't care about such sillyness and will put those processes in the grave where they belong until you are ready to run them again.

KeyPass: This program is a pretty decent password safe. You have one password to enter this program and then it maintains all your other passwords. It'll randomly generate them for you, tell you they're out of date and in some cases will automatically log you into websites. You never actually have to know any of your passwords if this is the only machine you use because you can just copy and paste them. If you ever have logged back onto a site you haven't used in 2 years and wondered what your login info was then you will understand the use of this application.

: Todd also suggested I recommend this one to you. You know how Adobe Reader is super slow and adobe in general is a lot like Microsoft in terms of how much they loooove their customers? Well this is a very fast and free replacement for Adobe Reader - use it to check out PDFs.
Well I have a lot more to recommend but the more I recommend the less you will use - information overload maybe? If anyone is interested I can also make good recommendations for data backup automation, cryptography, safe hard drive wipes or really just anything.

So in conclusion, install at least the first list of programs and use them. Please install Firefox and at least test it out. Try the next few applications if they suit you. Also, here is a bullet list of tips to remember.
  • Do not run 50 programs on startup or keep them in your system tray. You probably do not actually need Microsoft Office or your Print Manager to run 24/7 in the background. Do you really print 24/7?
  • Do maintain and hopefully lock your registry.
  • Do not pay for commercial versions of these products because they are generally inferior.
  • Do not use Norton or McAfee - they are horrrrrriiibbbbleeee.
  • Care about what is actually running on your machine - it's not as hard as you think to learn about the basic feeding and care of your computer. Think of it more like learning how to change your own oil in the car. No one says you gotta do it - but it's useful to know.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


well thanksgiving 2007 is in the books. i have much to be thankful for this year-->

--Jesus! because without Him and the hope He provides, we would be nothing. and seriously, He is pretty awesome.

--my husband ross! this year (well, 9 months of it so far) has been our first and its been amazing. we have endured a lot of changes and enjoyed a lot of activities together. i love living with my best friend. and he can do all the hard chores!

--my fam, the Jo's. and the no-Jo's. thursday afternoon marked what i believe is the 4th(?) turkey bowl featuring the Jo's vs. the no-Jo's. since my name is now officially sharon j h, i was transferred to the no-Jo team. this was especially sad for me because the Jo's made official turkey bowl t-shirts for this year's game and i wanted one. but on the other hand, the no-Jo's were victorious, so give and take i suppose. this year again m&r&l&p threw a huge party and it was a tremendous blast, eating a lot and playing games and watching football with the fam. and i must not neglect to mention that an AGGIE victory over longhorns always makes thanksgiving that much better. two in a row...whoop.

--my new house! ross and i were very blessed to move into our first house this month. i know you are probably anxious for pictures, which we hope to post very soon. we are still in the process of moving in and getting everything where it should be. i come home every day and think, wow, i have a super awesome house. ross and i have definitely enjoyed this long weekend. last night i cooked dinner and ross lit a fire in the fireplace as it was quite chilly outside! this afternoon ross and i put our huge kitchen to good use as we worked together to make some chili to enjoy later for dinner.

--my job. i must say that i wish i had a few more days off before returning to school, but i feel blessed to have a decent job that i am enjoying. the principal and other teachers are nice, the students are great. it has been a lifelong dream of mine to be a teacher, and i am very excited to get this opportunity to try it out and see where i would like to go from there. also, i am thankful for the safe journeys i have had to and from work so far this year.

--my church. ross and i have been attending services at austin christian fellowship since this summer and we have enjoyed being a part. we have also been going to a small group during the week for about the same length of time. we are also doing a little bit of volunteering there, and hope to continue to be involved at this church.

--my pets! i have never really had a real pet before, and now i have a frog, a cat, and a dog! they do present their challenges, but they are fun to play with, and i have really enjoyed taking peyton for walks in the evening and having her follow me around all the time. peyton and minnie are always good for a laugh!

--my car! it has served me well the past 2 years. and it belongs to us, not the bank. and it has a sunroof.

--did i mention the aggies beat the longhorns?

--there are more. but i must now ponder how i am to teach little children about ratios and proportions this week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And so now the hard part begins...

You probably all know by now that Sharon and I closed on the house Tuesday and even got our earnest money back from the title company. I am thankful we had a good agent and were working with USAA. We went through two other agents before settling on John and it was well worth switching to him I believe. USAA made things extremely quick and easy for us as well. Unfortunately, our sellers are not very honest people and have done everything possible to annoy me from refusing to pay my agent to stealing the fridge out of the kitchen the day of closing. Good riddance - it was filthy anyway. Also, while I'm complaining, during closing they promised they had installed the new drains in our tubs. That was a complete face to face lie. I suspected as much what with the lack of eye contact and barely acknowledging my presence and so forth. I removed the tub stopper upon getting back to the house and saw the drain was fully of ... pennies. Also, they installed a stand up shower but forgot the rubber strip at the bottom of the door...that one that prevents the water from pouring out on to your floor. Oh well. Despite the trouble with them, we are still excited about the house! All the stuff to do around the house are relatively easy and my agent said he'd bring his tools by and help out. Go figure. Moving in is going slow but we expect to be done no later than the weekend. I suppose you want pictures - well...I have none! Here's one of the pets to tide you over.


Ross Hytnen

Sunday, November 11, 2007

final countdown

sunday evenings i usually count down my last few hours of weekend freedom before the school week starts back up. this weekend is extra special because i am counting down our last weekend before we move into our new house! ross and i are going to close on tuesday, and we are so excited! the whole process has gone very quickly and very smoothly. i put in some evening work on the front end of the process, but ross has been awesome, handling all the details during the day while i'm at school. i think he's really ready for this to be over! ross and i both took tuesday off of work, and we are going to close at 10:30am. more on that on tuesday!

we enjoyed a relaxing weekend, spending lots of time with each other. saturday night we went out to the new mall, the hill country galleria, at 71 and 620 intersection. there's a brand new barnes & noble that we hung out at. then we walked around the stores before going to see the movie "dan in real life" with steve carell....LOVED it. so funny, and just an overall great time. after the movie we went back to b&n for more book browsing.

ross is experiencing crunch time with research papers and presentations and exams for school. while he was at class on saturday morning, i took peyton for a long walk at the park. we had bought an anti-pull harness at wal-mart with vague hopes that it would keep her from choking herself in her enthusiasm at the park. i was blown away! it worked like a charm. i usually can only walk with her for about 1 mile before my arm falls off. however, on saturday we were able to go for a peaceful 3 miles. ross and i took her together tonight and we decided we definitely could be on an infomercial for this product...amazing!

after class, ross called peyton and me to join him for sub sandwiches and an afternoon sail! he brought along a life vest for peyton which is so cute/hilarious, look for pictures soon. she loved being on the boat i think, though it made her somewhat nervous. it was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed a long afternoon just relaxing on the lake. at least i did. i guess ross was working relatively hard sailing us where we needed to go. but we all had a great time.

this is the last week of the 2nd 6weeks of my semester! tomorrow the students have the day off, and i have a staff development day at a ranch near san marcos. tuesday i took a personal day, so i had to arrange for a sub. so, a short week for me this week, and then a super short week next week before thanksgiving!

p.s. why is walmart playing christmas carols? isn't it still november??

p.p.s. i propose that as aggravating as it is when the computer crashes and you lose your work, it is even more aggravating when you lose an evening's work due to you personally in an act of stupidity overwriting your finished work with a previous version.

p.p.p.s. i have been watching the colts/chargers game tonight while working on the laptop and i do believe it was quite possibly the strangest football game i have ever seen!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Basic Diagram of House

I'm not an architect, but I did my best to sketch up some basic blueprints of the house. It's not 100% accurate (some stuff will be off by a foot or two I suppose) but the main features to keep in mind are that the curving wall of the kitchen is actually a counter / bar and as you enter the house and pass the coat closet the wall rounds to the left rather than forming a 90 degree turn as in the diagram.