Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category.

Autohotkey Is So Useful

Autohotkey is mind bogglingly useful! Autohotkey is a free, open source Windows program that lets you do simple and complicated scripting with keyboard commands. I’ve been using it since about 2001. I use it a zillion times a day. I couldn’t imagine not having it.

Some things you can do with it:
– Have a second copy-paste clipboard
– Do a “paste” and strip out the formatting
– type often used strings like addresses, phone numbers, and email signatures with just a few strokes.
– make a window on your computer to be always on top of the other windows
– start a favorite program (Chrome, Word, Calc, whatever) with a single keystroke
– Type today’s date with a single keystroke

I’ve set it up to do about 50 commands. If you want to do things on the computer faster and easier, you might want to use it too. Just download Autohotkey and put some of the scripts I have below in your setting file. There’s a bunch of ways to do that, here is a tutorial.

Here is my settings file. Just look at the first line of each script to see what it does.
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How to Create the Ultimate USB Key Ring to Solve Any Computer Problem

Here is a super-useful list of programs to help recover friend’s computers
https://www.howtogeek.com/340763/how-to-create-the-ultimate-usb-key-ring-to-solve-any-computer-problem/

Go to HowToGeek.com to view it. The snippet here is for archival purposes… just in case!

 

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Google Chrome Portable: Because you don’t want to use someone else’s browser, do you? The link above is a modified version of Chrome that launches from any folder, updated with the latest stable release from Google.

Revo Uninstaller: This tool is a fast method for uninstalling applications, like the bloatware that tends to cling around on new machines. It has a few useful extras, like a “Hunter Mode” that can uninstall programs just by pointing at their window—great for that crapware you aren’t sure the name of. Best of all, it can also clean up those annoying leftover directories in places like the main programs folder and the startup menu.

Avira Rescue Systema self-booting drive tool that can clean viruses, malware, and other nasty stuff off of other operating systems. This one will require its own USB drive on your key ring. Make sure to update it periodically with the official freeware tool—instructions for creating your own USB rescue drive are at the link.

CrystalDiskInfo: A tool for checking the health and longevity of hard drives. Handy if you think the storage on a PC is failing.

Speccy: An easy way to quickly see all the technical specifications of a computer, including non-obvious stuff like the number of RAM DIMMs installed and the number of expansion slots used.

Process Explorer: A tool that helps you identify running processes. Handy for identifying running malware and other bad stuff.

AdwCleanerA tool that seeks out and destroys adware—those annoying toolbars and pop-up menus that tend to install themselves when unknowing users download free programs that are bundled with all kinds of mildly malicious advertising. The program is a self-contained executable you can launch from a USB drive.

Peerblock: A tool for creating a quick firewall, selectively blocking incoming and outgoing traffic.

MBRtool: This isn’t a standalone app, but a bootable tool that requires its own flash drive. Once you create it, you can pop the drive into any PC and boot from it to repair the master boot record, one of the most common causes of an OS boot failure.

HWMonitor: An easy way to inspect all kinds of esoteric hardware and settings that aren’t normally visible in Windows, like all of the temperature and fan sensors on the motherboard. Especially handy if you’re tuning a “Gaming” or performance PC.

Wireless Network Watcher: This program can show you all of the devices connected to your local network, including their IP addresses and MAC addresses. Very useful if something is giving you network issues, or you suspect someone’s on the network when they shouldn’t be.

WinDirStat: a disk analyzer and cleaner. Good for quickly finding big and unneeded files to free up space if your friend’s hard drive is getting full. If you prefer a more graphical layout, SpaceSniffer is a good alternative (or addition).

NirSoft password recovery tools: this collection of programs is designed to recover usernames and passwords if no easy recovery option is available, like resetting via email. The various tools work on web browsers, wireless networks, Windows Protected Networks, and even remote desktop tools.

Hiren’s Boot CD: an all-in-one package that includes a ton of tools for repairing and optimizing computers, all squeezed into a self-booting CD file. Don’t let the title fool you, you can run it from a dedicated USB drive as well. (Note: this actually contains a number of the tools we’ve included in this guide, plus a lot more—but having your own versions of the tools on a non-bootable drive makes things a little easier, so we included them in this list anyway.)

ProduKey: another Nirsoft tool. This one helps you find Windows and other registration keys, in case you’re unable to verify someone’s legitimate copy, even from other PCs on the local network. It’s a portable, all-in one application, but using its advanced functions requires a bit of command line use.

ShellExView: for cleaning all of that crap off the Windows right-click menu after you’ve gotten rid of the programs your friends shouldn’t have downloaded.

BlueScreenView: this very useful tool will show you the results and minidump files behind the machines latest blue screen (of death) crashes. Much better than reaching for your phone camera in the five seconds the screen is up.

The Official Windows Recovery Drive: Lastly, don’t forget that you can also create a USB recovery drive from within Windows—and if you frequently find yourself repairing someone’s PC, it might be a good idea to do that once you’ve fixed their problem and gotten the computer into a working state. This will require its own flash drive.

Antivirus and Backups

A friend just asked, “Trying to do better with my computer. Just installed AVG for Mac and ran it. Is this a sufficient solution in terms of protecting from and eliminating malware? I’m all about easy. Thoughts?”

Here is my long winded answer:

I use Windows and all of my antivirus software is between my ears. If a website asks “Do you want to download or install xxxxx?” I think very long and hard about the people behind that request and what they have to lose. For example, Facebook won’t (overtly) screw you, they have too much to lose. But do you know who is behind the GetFreeStuffForFree! browser plugin?

Figuring out the business model of the company you are considering trusting is a good idea. Be very suspicious If the company looks to be giving everything away with nothing in return. They are getting something, or they wouldn’t be doing it.

Yes, AVG is a good idea. I also run the virus software that comes with Windows, Windows Defender.

You definitely should have your computer back up automatically online. Do this for a few reasons:
– your hard drive will fail some day, that is a certainty. Here’s an article I wrote in 2012 making that plea in more detail: https://www.lee.org/blog/2012/03/30/i-love-you-please-make-offsite-backups/
– If (when??) your computer does get hacked by some malware, a backup will save the day!
– If your computer is stolen or destroyed, a backup will save the day!
– Once you set it up, it’s automatic and EASY!

“But I don’t want to put my data online”

I hear that Time Machine is “the” app for local backups on Apple. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your files online, you can still get a lot of protection. I’ve recommended this in the past: Find 2 external drives (they cost <$80 at Staples) and a friend. Use Time Machine to back up your computer to the hard drive. Be sure to encrypt the backup (it's easy, see here: http://www.mactrast.com/2013/07/how-to-public-how-to-encrypt-time-machine-backups-with-os-x/). Give your friend the backup to keep in the back of their junk drawer. In 6 months, make another backup and trade hard drives with your friend. Can strangers break into your encrypted hard drive? If you use a 12 character or longer password (try the title of your 2 favorite songs or something similar), no. I couldn't find specific security information online about Time Machine but encryption with a long password is very secure. Harkening back to my last comment, Apple would have a LOT to lose if their encryption wasn't good. Oh and here's a funny/good password guide: https://xkcd.com/936/

Pin to Start in Windows 10

You can pin a shortcut to the Start menu in Windows 10. Note that you can’t pin a document itself to the start menu, just a shortcut to it.

Here’s how:

To add Pin to Start to the context menu for a file, you will have to modify the Windows Registry. But first, create a system restore point!

Now, to add Pin to Start easily, copy-paste the following in a Notepad and save it as a .reg file:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

; Created by TheWindowsClub [HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers\PinToStartScreen] @=”{470C0EBD-5D73-4d58-9CED-E91E22E23282}”

Now click on the .reg file to add its contents to your registry. You will be asked for confirmation, so you may click Yes, to add it.

 

Thanks to http://www.thewindowsclub.com/pin-file-to-start-menu-windows-10  and https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_10-start/pin-to-start-any-file-windows-10-pro/acb769bc-e5d9-4be9-8a76-0aff7cdab6c8?auth=1
 

How to Read an EPUB on an Amazon Fire HD Using the Kindle App

I got a book in EPUB format and wanted to read it on my Amazon Fire HD 8 (5th Generation). It’s easy to do once you know the secret recipe:

  1. Get the free Calibre e-book management tool
  2. Use Calibre to convert your EPUB file to AZW3 format (the native Kindle ebook format)
  3. Connect your Amazon Fire to your computer with a USB cable
  4. Using the USB connection, find the folder named “Books” on your Amazon Fire HD
  5. Copy the AZW3 book file into the Books folder
  6. Open your Kindle app on your Amazon Fire HD
  7. Rejoice for the books are on your bookshelf!

Before figuring this out with the great help of my friend Michael, I tried several other methods unsuccessfully. See what doesn’t work.

 

 

Email Spam Proofing on Dreamhost with DKIM

Short form: Dreamhost showed me how to implement a method of decreasing spam at the domain level called SPF. They implemented another domain level method of reducing spam, DKIM, a few months after I showed them that they hadn’t set up their system properly.

 

Long Form:

Until recently, there was nothing stopping someone from sending email from lee.org illegitimately (called “spoofing” email). A lot of spammers used it to send junk email “from” lee.org. This bothered me because:

  1. spam :-(
  2. Sometimes I’d get thousands of bounced emails
  3. It reduced the assurity that my domain wasn’t hosting spammers, so sometimes real emails I sent would be marked as spam

I talked to Dreamhost support and they showed me how to setup an SPF record for my domain. See here and here on how to do it yourself.

Dreamhost support also suggested I create the emails postmaster@ and abuse@ because “I have seen some cases even though they are very rare cases in which not having these emails set up can cause some problems with servers receiving email.” Ok, sure. So I set those addresses up.

I created an account at postmaster.google.com to periodically check if Gmail is getting any spam from my domain.

I read up on spam-proofing a domain and realized that Dreamhost hadn’t implemented DKIM. Actually, they set it up for my domain but it was left in test mode. Even in Dreamhost’s DKIM example the test flag was set (see “Example of a DKIM Record, they write: k=rsa; t=y; p=GIMfMA0G…). So I had several back and forths with Dreamhost tech support starting in February and yesterday I got an email, “Our devs finally got around to removing the test flag and now DKIM records are properly being served.” Hurray!

In conclusion, you might want to check the headers on your outgoing emails. Look for the “dkim” header. Previously, when my account was still in “test-mode”, headers looked like “dkim=pass (test mode)”. And now they look like “dkim=pass header.i=@lee.org” :-)