11/09/16

Permalink 03:28:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

For many people there are two places where incoming email can be scanned and marked as probable spam, the repository that receives the message, and the mail client used to display it.  If either gets it wrong you will either see messages that should be sent straight to the junk folder or have wanted messages hidden from your normal view due to being incorrectly flagged.

To deal with this don't just delete messages that should be in spam, train the software so that it makes a better decision next time.  It is generally good practice to scan your spam folder periodically and when you get to hear of a message that was sent but not received so that you can improve the scanning algorythm for the future.  If something is found don't just move the message to your inbox, tell the software that it got the designation wrong this time so that it will gradually learn what is and is not spam.

How you mark messages as [not] spam depends on which mail client (if any) you use and the particular mail repository.  For example, if your mail client is Windows Live Mail you would right click a message to tell it about your preference.  And if your repository is Gmail you would need to select the message in webmail and click the hexagonal spam icon.  

This is feasible for most people but as my address is publically viewable on my website and has been active for many years, I get several thousand spam messages a week.  Hence, I only check my spam folder when someone reports that I have not replied to their message.

25/08/16

Permalink 04:28:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Technical Tips

This is really the sort of information better suited to my biannual newsletter, but as that is not due to roll off the presses until early December, here is where I place this pearl.

If you are sending or receiving email to/from anyone with an address that ends @BTxxxxxxx.com  be aware that for several weeks (yes, weeks) they have been having intermittent problems judging by the very frequent automated bounce messages I receive.

Typically a message is not able to be delivered within a few minutes of it being sent.  Usually (but not always) they are clearing the backlog within 4 days, but if you need a message to go faster than that you are best advised to switch to a provider that concentrates on email.  In my opinion Google do a fantastic job.

The usual reasons for this are:

  • Temporary network or Internet connection issues in the destination domain.
  • Aggressive anti-spam settings in the destination domain that block legitimate senders.
  • Sending too many messages over a given time-frame to a particular email service provider.

While here, those who receive broadband connections and possibly phone line rental from BT should check that they are receiving close to the speed you are paying for (which will probably be more than most other providers).  Find out the estimated speed you should be enjoying at

https://www.btwholesale.com/includes/adsl/main.html

Measure your current speed at

http://speedtest.btwholesale.com/

Or if you have a browser that will not work with that BT site then use

http://speedof.me/

EDIT 4 Sep 16:  I just sent a circular to 231 addresses.  30 bounced - all from BT domains.

EDIT 17 Sep 16: Hard to believe that the issue remains unresolved after so long.  It seems that BT are very inflexible when handling spam abuse and recovery from it.  I received the following advice from another ISP: "We have contacted BT internet to resolve this issue. However BT internet it not ready to share any information with us and they expect one of their users to contact them."  So BT expect their users to know when they do not receive something then send the transaction log of the sender's ISP to them.  Amazing.

24/08/16

Permalink 08:44:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

It seems that ransomware is in the assurgent; not only are the reported (tip of iceberg of course) cases on the increase but the deft aplomb with which the customer service representatives of the crooks respond to requests for technical support indicates an industry that has come of age.  The bad guys have a reputation to protect and they realise that by increasing their stature in the pit they inhabit they can gain a higher reward rate - folks who pay up.

It used to be the case that best practice was to never pay the bad guys who encrypt your family photos, work documents, or invaluable address book as you could never be sure whether you would actually receive the private key to unlock them and anyway paying only encourages them.  The thinking is now that paying is better as the chances of them risking loss of reputation is that high, and the technical skills that good that the best outcome can be achieved by negotiating - albeit with a very weak hand.

More accurately, paying up is the second best option.  Spending the same money on prevention is surely the better way to avoiding the stress that comes from one of these attacks. There are two avenues to prevent the problem in the first place, both are old chestnuts that offer protection far beyond the tedium that considering them may engender.

  1. Don't do insecure things.  That means having a sensible password policy (aka a password manager program); never clicking links without serious consideration; never opening attachments to email willy nilly; assuming any unsolicited call/message is sent for the sender's benefit (typically that equates to being at the receiver's cost); encrypting data at least where it is held separate from a secure location.

  2. Backup your data.  The current versions of Windows and Macintosh operating systems come with excellent software built in.  Excellent in this context means that versions of files are held so that you can easily revert to the day before the problem arose.  Yes, ransomware merchants are that sneaky that they will often lurk undetected for a time to enable backups to be taken after infection by their poison.  Permanently attached backups are fine as an initial layer of protection, but the less frequently written copies held away from the computer are also worthy of the effort required to maintain them.   Finally on this item, your backup is only as good as your ability to use it - test, test, test.

06/08/16

Permalink 04:30:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

I am surprised at the number of computers I see running versions of Windows earlier than 10.  I think for most owners it is fear of the unknown, belief in the (typically exadurated at best) scare stories, or indolence that results in this foolish state.

But the good, if only probably temporary, news is that you can still upgrade without having to spend the £85 or thereabouts that a Windows 10 license would normally cost.  To do this you need to go to eBay (other auction sites are available) and buy a license key for Windows 7 - I just did this and paid £6.

Obtain the installation kit for Windows 7 from 
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows7  and install it. 

Now visit Microsoft for a free upgrade to Windows 10 - currently available free for devices using assistive technologies.  Go to
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility/windows10upgrade for this from the computer needing the upgrade. 

The only place left to visit is 
http://www.1computercare.co.uk/feedback.php  to sing the praises of this blog.

17/07/16

Permalink 11:09:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

For years I have been advising people buying a new computer to shun all off-the-shelf outlets in favour of specialist online only retailers.  See 
http://www.1computercare.co.uk/pitfalls.php

I am comforted to read support for this position in this month's edition of PC Pro magazine issue 263.  They sent 'blind buy' shoppers in to PC World and John Lewes branches and were left with the following conclusions

  • They were not subjected to pressurised upselling although suggestions for additional purchases were made
  • The assistants' degree of knowledge was very variable at best and considerable bluffing was apparent. My favourite quote is "GeForce was equivalent to an AMD" and a GTX was the best choice instead.  [GeForce is a brand of Nvidia, AMD are chip manufacturers, and GTX is a type of motor car]  OMG.
  • the cost of hardware was more than equivalent computers bought at online specialists

Their conclusion is that "computing remains an immensely complicated world" ... "Stick to the specialists". "In all you get much less for your money [with a branded product]".

13/07/16

Permalink 11:18:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Occasionally an internet connection drops periodically,  this is normal and usually not noticed.  But sometimes it drops frequently or regularly (or both).  When this happens we can often diagnose it as being external factors that the internet service provider (ISP) will get sorted out for you.

Sometimes though the ISP reports that there is no loss of connection from their end.  Now we have to look closer to home and by connecting to the master socket, thereby disconnecting the internal wiring asnd other appliances, it is often possible to confirm the location of the fault.

But if there is no fault seen after the above checks, and (usually) the problem is with wireless but not wired connections, then the possibility of Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN) or Single High level Impulse Noise Event (SHINE) must be investigated.  

There are very thorough descriptions of these events elsewhere (see rererences below) so here I shall limit myself to saying that interference can be caused by electrical items emitting a disruptive signal that can cause poor broadband performance.  Not only dropped connections, it may be the ISP will automatically lower the speed as it prioritises stability over performance so the issue can manifest in different ways.

The solution is to make sure that your router is connected to the master socket and at least a metre away from all other electrical devices.  This applies to the wires close by the router too as they can act as antenae that broadcast the interferance.

The test for this is to get a mediium wave band radio and tune it in to the frequency that causes the disruption: 612 KHz.  Move the radio arond the router and you should hear the white noise much louder when close by the router and fade to nothing as you move a few inches away.  

Examples of causes of REIN include:

  • Faulty power adapters.
  • Timed devices, such as central heating.
  • Christmas tree lights (especially on ?flash? setting).
  • lighting.
  • Roadworks.
  • Faulty set-top boxes, televisions and other appliances.
  • Power cables running close to telephone wiring in the home.

More info from: http://www.kitz.co.uk/adsl/rein.htm 

10/07/16

Permalink 08:58:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

Just 18 days remain before anyone wanting to upgrade to Windows 10 will have to spend £100 on a license.

Should you ?  Almost certainly yes.  The facts are that the interface is much the same if done properly so there's nothing to be scared of in that department.  The advantages are in the indefinate support, the enhanced security, and greater functionality (which is only apparent if you go looking for it).

Three things to remember though.  Always take a backup before any change - ideally an image of the entire disk.  Also check that printing and virus protection are intact after the upgrade: they are sometimes left in need of repair.

Make sure you leave several hours for an upgrade, perhaps two to six depending on the speed of computer and internet connection.

You can have your cake and eat it by upgrading to Windows 10 so that Microsoft records your activation.  Then use the image you took in step zero to restore the computer to the previous old version, like nothing happened.  Now when you are ready to move to Windows 10 you can just install it without any license cost as the key will have been recorded already and will be supplied by the central server.

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