I read Microsoft’s site to a “Microsoft” scammer

“Daniel” from “Microsoft” called me the other day. The number looked halfway legit so I picked up. He out and out claimed to be from Microsoft and said he was getting alerts from my computer. His voice sounded familiar–I think I’d talked to him before.

“Which computer?” I asked.

“Your Microsoft computer,” he said.

Read more

The common post on a Marx transformer

When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.

It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.

Read more

I replaced an outlet with a GFCI and my light switch quit working

I once had an electrical outlet with a light switch next to it, in a bathroom. When I replaced the outlet with a GFCI, the light switch quit working.

When you have a GFCI and a light switch is involved, you have to wire things a bit differently so it all works.

Here’s how I fixed it, using a length of wire (use black, or if you only have white wire, put some electrical tape on it) and a wire nut.

Read more

How to use the lock in your web browser’s location bar

How to use the lock in your web browser’s location bar

A commenter asked me last week if I really believe the lock in a web browser means something.

I’ve configured and tested and reviewed hundreds of web servers over the years, so I certainly hope it does. I spend a lot more time looking at these connections from the server side, but it means I understand what I’m seeing when I look at it from the web browser too.

So here’s how to use it to verify your web connections are secure, if you want to go beyond the lock-good, broken-lock-bad mantra.

Read more

What to look for in a cheap laptop in late 2014

So the sales fliers for the 2014 Christmas shopping season are out, and I’m seeing tons of cheap laptops. If you only have $200 to spend, they have something for you.

Some of them look like they’re even worth having. Yes, I’m shocked too. Here’s how to figure out which ones are worth taking home, and which ones are best left for some other sucker. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone else, you’ll probably want to keep the following in mind.

Read more

Mr. Genius Man from “Windows Technical Support” gets nasty

I got another “Windows Technical Support” call on Friday evening. My caller ID said Minneapolis, and since I have coworkers in Minneapolis, I answered. But the guy on the other end was a long way from Minneapolis and probably doesn’t know diddly about ice hockey.

I’m pretty sure it was the same criminal as last time, but over a better VOIP connection. I remember the voice pretty well, because his parting lines from last time, “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man!” struck me as funny. And he started the conversation with, “I’m calling you again about your Windows 7 computer.”

My conversation with him revealed a few things about why this scam is likely to be profitable.

Read more

Takeaways from Patrick Gray’s AusCERT coverage

I’ve been listening to Patrick Gray’s coverage of the AusCERT security conference, and I walked away with two major takeaways, one for security professionals and one for everyone.

Everyone first: Use SSL (https) everywhere you possibly can. Generate superfluous https traffic if you can.

Network professionals: Block as much UDP at the firewall as you can.

Read on for more. Read more

How to write reviews without getting sued

In a well publicized incident that happened earlier this month, someone who wrote a bad review on Amazon about a cheap router got threatened with a lawsuit by the router’s distributor, Mediabridge. Amazon retaliated by banning the distributor from selling on Amazon. But unfortunately, this means we have to think about how to write reviews without getting sued.

By the time this happened, the review was no longer on Amazon, so all I’ve heard about the review is secondhand. Ars Technica published this guide to writing reviews without getting sued and I think it’s good advice, but of course, having written dozens, if not hundreds of reviews myself, I feel inclined to elaborate. I actually value online reviews by people who bought the product and tried to use it. I value them a lot, so I want people to write reviews, and not be afraid to do it. And since I went to school for this stuff, hopefully I can say something helpful. Read more