Monthly Archives: May 2010

How Browsing the Internet Affects Your Computer

Cookies: Delicious, yes. But computer cookies, not always. A cookie in computer terms is a file written to your computer by a website you have visited. Sometimes cookies can have a good purpose. Like storing information that can be used to speed up the next time you visit that website. But sometimes cookies are used to keep track of what websites you visit. So they sort of spy on you. Thus, when used that way they’re considered spying software, or spyware. Cookies are not the only type of spyware and not all cookies are spyware.

Now, you might have also heard about temporary Internet files, stored in your computer. What are they? when you visit a website, more often than not, there are graphics (pictures, drawings) and other files that your computer’s web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, are example of web browsers) must download and open for the website to display properly. The computer keeps some of those files in a local cache folder, the temporary Internet files folder, to be able to display the website faster the next time you visit it. In other words, instead of having to access and download those files from the Internet again the next time you visit a website, it simply accesses them from the computer’s storage. As a concept that’s good and useful, but it opens the door to your computer collecting the wrong types of files from the internet, thus infecting your computer – This is known as a drive-by-download infection.

The application of the above theory is immediate. It tells you that a sound action, if you suspect the possibility of an infection in your computer from having visited a malicious website, is to delete all cookies and temporary internet files. How do you do that? it depends on the browser you’re using. You can always search the help file for your browser, or ask an expert for specific instructions on how to do that in your particular browser.

Some antivirus products will inspect every file your computer accesses to display a website, and IF it can recognize it as malign, it can stop it from infecting your computer and alert you to the fact. Of course that is IF. Some products keep lists of known malicious websites to prevent you accidentally accessing one of them and thus infecting your computer.

Well, now you know more about what these computer security products do and why, and what can you do about it as well.

Regarding Hotspot Shield Software

I rarely make an article about one specific product, but this is going to have to be the exception. In an earlier article, which you can find here, I mentioned Hotspot Shield as one of the products one could use for heightened security when dealing with plain internet connections. Although I explicitly stated my mentioning of the product was not an endorsement, I want to update you on this product based on information newly available to me. Kudos to the Sunbelt Software guys (makers of VIPRE Antivirus/Antispyware, a product I do recommend and my current choice for antivirus software) for correctly labeling Hotspot Shield as adware.

For those wondering, adware (advertising-supported software)  is defined as any software program that automatically displays or plays advertisement in the computer where the software is installed, without user intervention or control.

Hotspot Shield falls under that category. Rather than repeat the whole rationale, here’s a link to the back and forth between Sunbelt Software and AnchorFree (the makers of Hotspot Shield):

Here’s the original post labeling Hotspot Shield as adware:

Here’s AnchorFree’s response, and Sunbelt’s retort to it:

How Fast is a Fast Computer These Days?

In other words, what’s considered a top-of-the-line computer in present day? Knowing that would give you a measuring stick you could use to measure your computer, or a potential new computer, and so forth.

Now, even though laptops have come a long way in terms of performance in the last few years, and even though a top-of-the-line powerful laptop will outperform most desktops, a top-of-the-line desktop will still outperform its equivalent in laptop form.

Due to its performance-demanding nature, computers designed to run high-end games are the best performance computers. Therefore top-of-the-line computers are synonym with gaming computers. Two brands are generally agreed upon as being the best gaming computers: Sager, and Alienware.

I’m slightly slanted towards Alienware, so let’s see what their top of the line gaming computer is like: first, the current fastest CPU is the Intel i7 980X. It boasts six cores. If you don’t know what that means, let me give you an idea. You have probably heard about the dual-core CPUs that came out a few years ago. They were succeeded by quadruple core CPUs not too long ago. The i7 980X CPU, which came out late last year has, not two, not four, but six processors clocked at 3.73 GHz. That’s an immense amount of processing power. So, the Alienware Area-51 model can be configured to have the i7 980X CPU. It can also be configured to have up to 12 Gb of RAM, a dual dedicated graphics processing unit cards setup, a dual solid-state drive hard disks setup (a solid-state hard disk drive doesn’t have moving parts like a conventional hard disk drive and its access time to read and write is far superior than traditional, spinning hard disks),  Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit operating system (regular, 32-bit operating systems cannot handle more than around 3 Gb of Ram so a 64-bit version is what’s needed to be able to handle the 12 Gb of Ram).

So there you have it. How much for the above monster? at the time of this writing it retails for about $5,800.

Of course an expert could build a custom computer from scratch and get the same performance specifications for less cost. But with no disrespect to custom builders, I’ve found from experience that custom built computers are harder to provide support to than mainstream systems. And generally speaking, there is a well-known triangle in the custom builders’ world (and not just on building computers; I learned it while indulging in the hobby of custom car modifications) that has Performance, Reliability and Cost at its vertexes. In other words, The more performance, the less reliability. Lots of performance while maintaining some reliability will give you high cost. With little expense, don’t hope for much performance or reliability. You get the idea.

OK so now let’s see if you actually read this article. How many hyphens in it? 🙂

How Exactly Does My Computer Connect to The Internet? (The Innards of Your Home Network in Plain English)

So you have a laptop connected wirelessly to a mysterious box that a technician from your Internet Service Provider company came and installed, and ever since you’re able to check your email online or browse websites. Or perhaps a desktop computer with a wire that connects it to said box, with the same result. That’s all good and dandy but what if something goes wrong and your computer can no longer connect? here’s a couple of tips for what you can do yourself to attempt and solve the situation before you have to call for help from an expert. But first, some theory.

IP addresses, IP addresses. You might have heard that one before, maybe once, maybe many times, but what the bleep is an IP address? IP = Internet Protocol. Hence, think of an IP address like you’d think of a real world physical address. How does somebody send you a letter? they address it to 123 Main St. Anytown, Anystate 55555, and it gets to you. Well, in the computer networking world, that’s exactly what the IP address is – an address by which your computer can be reached. If there is more than one computer in your house, each one  has its own individual IP address. Also, every house with internet connectivity has an IP address, facing externally to the Internet universe, so to speak. Imagine you live in an apartment building. Now mail has to have the apartment number for it to reach you – simply addressing mail to your apartment building address is not enough. Same thing with IP addresses.

That box that the Internet Service Provider installed at your place has an IP address, but if there is more than one computer connected to that box, then each computer in turn has its own unique IP address, different than the box’s one. That box (for more information on what that box is see The Basics Elements of Your Internet Connection) is normally in charge of dishing out IP addresses to the computers at your place. The IP address assignment normally occurs when the computer is first connected to the box. The box says something like “I hereby give you the IP address of…  ” and it assigns it.

Alright, I know your fingers are itching to be able to do something with the above data, so let’s get to it. There are specific circumstances where Internet connectivity is lost because of problems related to IP addresses. Enumerating all the possible problems and their causes is beyond the scope of this article, but let’s say you’re trying to access the Internet, and you can’t.  Well, there is a method of resolving it by “renewing” the computer’s IP address – a repeat of the ceremony where the gateway/router says “I hereby give you the IP address of…”. There are 3 ways to do it, and I’m going to cover them going  from simple to complex. You can choose the method that best suits your level:

Method 1: Turn off your computer, turn off your router/gateway/modem, wait for a minute, and turn them back on in this sequence: First modem/gateway, wait a couple of minutes, then router if there is one, wait for a minute, then computer.

Method 2: Go to Start, Control Panel, Network Connections (may have slightly different name depending on which Windows operating system your computer has), locate the network connection that is being used to connect to the internet, right click on it with your mouse, select “Repair”. Wait for the repair to occur.

Method 3:

a. If your operating system is Windows XP, Go to Start, Run, type “cmd” (without the quotation marks) and press enter. At the command prompt, type “ipconfig  /release” (without the quotation marks) and press enter. Wait for the command to execute and then type “ipconfig  /renew”. Wait for the command to execute and then close that black window where you typed all that.

b. If your operating system is Windows Vista or 7, click on Start, type “cmd” in the search box, locate “cmd.exe” at the top of the start menu, right click on it, choose “Run as Administrator”. At the command prompt, type “ipconfig /release” (without the quotation marks) and press enter. Wait for the command to execute and then type “ipconfig /renew” (without the quotation marks). Wait for the command to execute and then close that black window where you typed all that.

If you have internet connectivity now, pat yourself in the back. You did it.