Use Google Alerts to monitor your family's on-line exposure

family safetyHow much information is available on-line about you and your family? Everybody knows that there are people out there working hard to discover as much about you as possible, trying to find ways to steal money, or con you, or (worst of all) become you.

But even more than these things, I worry about the amount of exposure my kid's have on-line. The financial danger to adults, as extreme as that is, pales in comparison to the potential for evil there is out there with respect to children.

We attended a seminar hosted by the FBI at my daughter's school last year, and I went into it thinking I had the bases covered:

  • We closely supervise and limit computer use
  • The family computer is in the family room, and we're around when they use it
  • I log instant messaging records, and we discuss them with them
  • I monitor all emails in and out of the kid's accounts
  • I maintain admin rights to the computers, and no programs get installed without my knowledge
  • We discuss the dangers (age appropriate), and make sure they understand the potential for problems

I have to admit I walked out of there floored, because some of the greatest risk may not come from what my kids do online. It comes from what their friends do online.

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Thanks for hanging in there!

Flickr Photo - Jackup SunriseI'm thrilled to be able to announce that, after almost 2 years of silence, Symplebyte is back on line!

The re-launch was a bit bumpier than I had planned, mainly due to inconsisties between my development and hosting platforms. I apologize for the off-line notices and the weird / unformated / repeated RSS submissions some of you received. Hopefully we're past that now as I've been able to get the configurations worked out.

Now, for what's new and different around here...

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Windows Live OneCare - Why I Like It

OneCare icon

Update - Nov 18, 2008
Microsoft announced today that they will be discontinuing the OneCare product offering next year, replacing it with a free (albeit stripped-down) version code-named 'Morro'. Unfortunately, the part I liked the best about OneCare is being eliminated in Morro, the ability to know the status of the other computers in your circle.
Oh well, the search continues...

One word - time.

OK, maybe it's just because another birthday is looming, and it's occurred to me that I'm not getting any younger. If I were somehow able to add up all of the time I have invested in free anti-virus, anti-phishing, anti-trojan, anti-everything-under-the-sun types of programs I've used, and then add that to the time spent on free firewall, spyware and backup programs, and then multiply that by the number of computers in my house, well, it would add up to a lot of time.

And this is what Windows Live OneCare does better than any similar comprehensive protection/performance/backup program I've ever used.

It saves me time.
Windows XP and Vista only

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Microsoft Word How-to: Watch Out For Track Changes

word track changesMicrosoft Word has a little feature called 'Track changes', which allows for collaborating with colleagues on documents. When enabled it will keep a running history of changes made to a document, kind of like a built-in version control. Add to that the ability to accept/reject changes, highlight text and add comments and you've got quite a nice little document collaboration package.

An important fact that you need to remember, however, is that this history lives with the document. This is an obvious necessity when you start passing it around to various colleagues as part of your work/review process. However, it is surprisingly easy to forget that this change history and comments still live in the document when you've got the feature turned off. And if you're not careful you may be setting yourself up for some embarrassing moments (or worse) if you send this marked-up document out to a customer or client.

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Internet Explorer 7 - Phishing Filter

ie 7 phishingPhishing sucks (if you're not familiar with the term you can find some details here). It has just always really ticked me off that there are people out there that feel that they somehow have the right to just take something from me that I've worked hard to earn. Not only that, some of them will work harder at figuring out ways to steal my money than they would need to work to make their own. Just go get a job, creep!

So believe me, I am all on board for any technology that will thwart (or at least slow down) these morons. One of the best ways (besides educating the end user) would be to create a database that would hold the URL's of the offending sites, then to have the browser warn folks when they are about to enter a known phishing site. The key to getting this to work would be to get any new phishing sites added to the list ASAP, as these bogus sites are usually only active for a day or so, sometimes only for a couple of hours. This means that you would need to provide an easy means for allowing your average good Samaritan to tell you when they've come across a phishing site, so that it could be verified and added pronto. Sound hard? Maybe, unless you've got the resources of Microsoft and are about to release a new browser to the world.

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Microsoft Excel How-to: Vlookup tutorial

excel_vlookupMy sister-in-law is a certified Excel genius. Back in the early 90's, when I was just getting interested in IT, she was writing programs in Excel running on DOS(6, I think?) that were being used to simulate nuclear meltdowns at actual nuclear power plants here in the states. They would enter in the baseline parameters, programmatically create a failure in some internal system, then run the simulation and 'see what happened'. They actually somehow linked it with the internal systems at the facility, right down to the sensors, alarms, monitors, etc. Really wild stuff. Whenever she would change some of the formulas she would wait until the weekend and then have their brand-spanken-new 486 DX2/66 with 8 mb of ram (8 mb of ram cost north of $2000 back then) chew on the spreadsheet for 3 days to finish the re-calculations. I've probably just violated a whole bunch of national security guidelines by writing this, so if this site's gone next weekend and you never hear from me again [hey, did I just see a black helicopter?!!?]...

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Mozy Remote Backup - Product Review

mozy reviewEvery once in awhile I'll get a request to review and/or promote some type of product. Most of the time these items end up as things that I don't believe are really relevant for my readers, or aren't very far along in the development cycle, or are just bad products. However, every once in a while I'll bump into something that I get genuinely excited about. This service, Mozy Remote Backup, is one of those products. And while on-line backup services are nothing new, free ones can be pretty hard to find.

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Keep Your USB Drive Synchronized With Briefcase

synch using briefcaseThere has been a nice little utility called Briefcase that has been part of the standard Windows operating systems since way back when. I seem to remember it being part of Windows 3.1, or at least Windows for Workgroups, but I guess that doesn't really matter. Windows briefcase was originally designed for keeping files synchronized between computers - desktop to server, desktop to desktop, laptop to server, you get the idea. You would create a briefcase, pull the files that you wanted to keep synched into it, then periodically synchronize the files so that any files that had been modified (in either location) would be updated.

These days I'm finding a new use for the briefcase - keeping data synchronized between my USB drive and my laptop.

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Microsoft Powerpoint How-to: 5 Steps to Smaller Files

powerpoint file size 01So you've been toiling for a week over your latest and greatest Powerpoint presentation, and you're sure it's going to get you booted right into that corner office you've been drooling over. Just to make sure you haven't misspelled the new CEOs name, you decide to e-mail your creation to a trusted co-worker for proofreading. That's when you discover it: You've created a 50 mb monster! The last thing you want to do is to delete that cherry graph showing your main competitor's tanking stock market valuation. But you need to get it under your company's 2 mb e-mail attachment limit, and you don't have time to burn it to a CD and FedEx it. What's a wannabe-executive to do?

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Define Microsoft Access relationships using integer keys

access logoI received a call from one of my co-workers in the UK the other day, looking for some help with a quick, down-and-dirty database to help him track company assets held by employees. Just something to track the details on all of the computer and peripherals, phones, cars, things like that. He already had it started, and just needed a little help getting the report built and formatted. So, being the nice guy I am, I say 'Sure, zip it up and send it to me, then I'll give you a call back'.

A minute later I had it opened up and was looking at the tables. He actually did a pretty good job, and had the different 'objects' in their own tables. He had a user table, a phone table, a car table, and an IT table. He had, however, fallen into a typical trap that novice database developers often fall into. He had set up a 'name' field in the user table, then had used that name field for the linking fields in the other tables. So what's wrong with that, you ask?

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