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Best public DNS – finding the best for you

If your Internet connection is slow, it almost always helps if you optimize your DNS. But there’s more to the best public DNS than just speed. I’ll tell you how to find the fastest DNS, but using a DNS that offers improved security gives your computer protection beyond what your antivirus and firewall provide.

Sometimes it’s enough, and it’s definitely cheaper than buying a new router. Even if you do get a new router, using fast DNS helps. Here’s how to find the best public DNS to use, to improve your speed and your security.

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My standard security lecture

Myth: Nobody wants to get into my computer because I don’t have anything important saved on it.

Fact: I don’t care who you are or what you do with your computer, security is important. Do you want the Russian Mafia using your computer? The North Korean military? Al Qaeda?

If you’re OK with that kind of vermin using your computer, then do whatever you want. I hope you don’t have problems sleeping at night. If you don’t want that kind of vermin using your computer, I suggest you read on.Odds are, the next 9/11 isn’t going to involve airplanes or even bombs. It’s more likely to be a computer attack of some sort.

Modern computer viruses generally join infected computers together into large networks, which then “phone home” for orders. They can sit dormant for a long time, or they can start carrying out orders immediately. Those orders could be sending out spam e-mail messages. Or those orders could be to conduct an attack on some other computer, perhaps a bank, or perhaps a government or military operation.

Imagine Al Qaeda building a network of a few million computers, then using that network to overwhelm an important computer. When Amazon or eBay have a bad day and you can’t get to them, it’s possible they’re being attacked and struggling to cope with it.

The same approach that crashes Amazon.com could theoretically be used to crash the stock market or the Space Shuttle. Fortunately, that kind of trick is nearly impossible. But not completely.

Building the network is the easy part. Locating a target to point it at is the hard part.

The network already exists. There was a virus expected to trigger on April 1 of this year. It didn’t, for whatever reason. But everything isn’t OK. The network still exists, it’s still growing, and nobody’s figured out yet who built it, what they intend to do with it, and how to get in and disable it. Believe me, there are experts around the world trying to figure it out.

Whoever or whatever is behind it, you don’t want your computer unwittingly participating in it.

Here’s to avoid inadvertently aiding and abetting criminals and terrorists with sloppy computer security practices.

1. Use antivirus software and keep it up to date. Many Internet providers will give you antivirus software for free these days. Call your provider and ask. If not, download Microsoft Security Essentials.

2. Configure Automatic Updates. This allows Microsoft to fix security vulnerabilities in your computer as they’re discovered. Macintosh users, don’t get smug. You need to configure Apple update too–Apple releases a dozen or so fixes every month to fix security issues on Macs too.

3. Don’t open unexpected e-mail attachments. It’s been 12 years since this has been safe to do, but people do it anyway. STOP. NOW. I don’t care how funny the joke is, or how cute or hot or whatever the picture is.

4. Don’t open unexpected e-mail, for that matter. Booby-trapping an e-mail message with a virus isn’t especially difficult to do. Frankly, if any e-mail message looks suspicious (a subject line like HOT HORNY SINGLES WANT TO TALK TO YOU NOW! is usually a giveaway), I just delete it.

5. And if you ignore steps 3 and 4, for Pete’s sake, don’t buy anything. Nearly 10% of people actually buy something based on spam e-mail messages. That just encourages all of this other activity.

6. Use web-based e-mail. Most web-based providers use good spam and virus filtering, giving you an extra layer of protection.

7. Use an alternative web browser and e-mail program. Internet Explorer is literally a superhighway for viruses and other malicious software to hook directly into the operating system. Use Firefox, Chrome, or Opera.

Have I scared the living daylights out of you? Good. If your computer is beyond help, get a reputable IT professional to clean it up. Then start doing these things. If your computer is OK right now, start doing these things.

And then stop aiding and abetting criminals and terrorists.

Firefox vs. Chrome

I used Google Chrome this week while I waited for Firefox 3.5.1 to come out. I like both browsers but still prefer Firefox by a slight margin. But Chrome is nice to have for those times when Firefox has unpatched vulnerabilities.Popups: Chrome wins hands down. Firefox doesn’t block all popups, but in a week of using Chrome, I had zero popups. None. That was nice.

Searching: Firefox wins. Most people don’t mind hitting ctrl-f to search, but I’ve grown used to Firefox letting me search by hitting the / key. It’s faster and easier and now that I have the feature I hate not having it.

Blinky crap: Firefox wins. I can disable animated GIFs in Firefox and I can use Flashblock. Maybe I can get Chrome to disable animation too, but I know where to look in Firefox. Firefox will stay near and dear to me as long as it lets me block all that blinky crap.

Speed: Chrome runs Google Maps and the new Yahoo mail faster and on a marginal PC it scrolls text a bit better. But I think Firefox finds sites faster. Both are much faster than IE though, and after suffering through 8 hours of IE at work every day, either one is heavenly.

Search bar: If all you do is search Google, Chrome is better. I routinely search Amazon and eBay, a lot. Chrome’s way of doing it is clumsier than Firefox even though it uses less screen space.

Frankly I like both browsers but I’m glad to have Firefox back. I may find myself alternating between the two based on whatever I happen to be doing.

Another look at color laser printing

I’ve been watching color laser printing for about 10 years. I remember when I was impressed to see one priced at $9,999. (No, that’s not a typo; I meant to type 10 grand minus a dollar.) And I remember I was riding the Metro in Washington DC in 1997 the first time I saw one priced under $4,000.

Today, you can buy a color laser for less than I paid for my first black and white laser, a Panasonic Sidewriter model that cost me $349 in 1994. If you shop around, you can get one for considerably less.

I haven’t bitten just yet, but I’m getting closer.I loved the Sidewriter line. I’d have loved it even more if I’d been paid on commission when I was selling them. You could tell how much I’d worked in a given week by the number of Sidewriters that were on the sales floor. If I’d been allowed to work 40-hour weeks, it might have been impossible to buy one in St. Louis.

The Sidewriter was an easy sell. At the time, a monochrome inkjet printer cost about $150. The Sidewriter cost $349 with rebates. (Regular price was $399.) I told the potential purchaser to do the math. Inkjet cartridges cost about $40 at the time, and, like today, were good for about 500 pages. Sidewriter toner cost $50 and was good for about 2,000 pages. So you’d have to buy $120 worth of ink to print as many pages as the Sidewriter would do, out of the box. By the time you used a second cartridge, the Sidewriter had paid for itself–and that’s just from a monetary standpoint. From a convenience standpoint, the Sidewriter won hands down. What would you do if you ran out of ink late at night in the middle of printing something that was due the next morning? In 1994, there wasn’t anyplace you could buy an ink cartridge at midnight. That’s not always true today.

Needless to say, if someone came in looking for a printer, if they weren’t interested in color, chances were they walked out with a Sidewriter if they talked to me.

I’m still looking for a color printer that matches the Sidewriter’s economy for home use.

If you’re looking for a color laser printer, there are several avaliable under $400 today from the likes of Hewlett Packard, Minolta, Lexmark, and Samsung. If you shop carefully, it’s possible to get HP’s most stripped-down model, the 2550L, for $250-$275.

But there’s a downside to the 2550L, besides the most obvious downside of the tiny 125-sheet tray. The cartridges are set to print 2,000 pages and then stop, regardless of whether there is toner left. You can’t refill them, and you can’t use third-party cartridges. At least the 2550L ships with full cartridges, not half- or 1/3-full starter cartridges.

But what’s worse is the toner cartridges cost $80 apiece. There are four of them. Do the math. Also consider that the drum unit is only good for about 5,000 pages in color, and it costs $175.

The HP 2550L is a throwaway printer. Your best bet with this printer is to buy it along with four reams of paper, and when you open that fourth ream, order a new printer. Hang on to any cartridges that still have some capacity left, of course.

From an economy standpoint, the best color lasers on the market today look like they come from Samsung. The Samsung CLP-550 costs more than the HP 2550L, but it’s faster, it’s compatible with PCL6 and Postscript Level 3 (so it’ll work with your favorite alternative operating system, which probably isn’t the case with the 2550L), it comes with both a 250-sheet tray and a 100-sheet tray, and it comes with a duplexer. Printing on both sides of the page without any manual intervention is cool. It’s not a feature you’ll use every time, but it’s hard to live without once you’ve had it.

And more importantly, the Samsung cartridges are refillable. The drum is rated for 50,000 pages, so you won’t necessarily replace it during the printer’s lifetime. The printer also has a $28 waste container that’s supposed to be replaced when it fills up.

The Samsung cartridges cost about $125 each, so they are are more expensive than the HP, but they last for 5,000 pages. And refill kits are available. I’ve seen kits priced at $55 and I’ve seen them priced at $36. If they’re good for 5,000 pages, the cost per page drops to close to a penny per page.

The downside is the CLP-550 comes with starter cartridges that are only rated for 1,500 pages. I don’t know if those starter cartridges can be refilled to full capacity.

I’m not ready to buy one, but if I were going to buy a color laser today, I’d probably get a Samsung.

Monitor buying tips

Monitor time. Looks like I’m in the market for a new monitor now. I was talking about monitors the other day with a Web developer, who observed that when you buy a good monitor, it tends to stick around forever–the CPU just changes. He’s right.

My personal monitor experience goes way back, of course. In my Commodore days, we just used a 13″ TV for a monitor for a long time, until I needed an 80-column display. In came a Commodore 1084 monitor, which was actually a relabeled Magnavox. It was the biggest piece of junk I’d ever seen at the time. It was constantly breaking, and at the time, when a 14-inch monitor cost $300, you fixed them. That monitor migrated to my Amiga 2000, and its streak didn’t improve any with age. After it broke again, I spotted a used NEC Multisync II monitor for sale on a local BBS for $100. Just a couple of years before, that monitor had sold for about $600, so I bit. I never regretted it. Best $100 I ever spent on computer equipment. This would have been in 1991 or 1992. That monitor finally died last year. It had been built in 1988, so it lasted 12 years. Nice streak.

Through the years I’ve owned some other monitors. I had a Dell monitor that ran for about a year and died. I had a Sony monitor that ran for three years and died. I replaced it with a used NEC MultiSync 3FGe. That monitor’s still going strong. I bought an Iiyama Vision Master Pro 17, which has a great picture (it’s got a Mitsubishi DiamondTron tube in it) but it’s getting flaky. It’s about three years old now. I had a pair of Pionex monitors that ran about a year before burning up. I got a used no-name monitor from work for my sister–paid $15 for it–and it ran about 6 months for her. It was never heavily used at work.

So, the rule seems to go about like this: cheap monitors run a year. Expensive monitors run three years. NECs run longer than that.

That’s not a fair sample size, but my experience at work is very similar. In five and a half years of doing this, I’ve seen one dead NEC in the workplace, and it was an ancient monochrome model. I’ve seen new Hitachis and old Hitachis. The old Hitachis are four or more years old and seem to have time left. I’ve seen about five Sonys, one dead. We ship out dead cheapies by the palletful.

I don’t think there’s much question. I want an NEC. I like the displays a Trinitron or derivative give, but NECs just seem to last longer. For the $30 price difference over a Sony, I’ll go NEC. When it comes down to longevity over an ever-so-slightly better picture, I’ll take longevity. Nothing against Hitachi, but it’s much easier to find an NEC, NEC has a broader selection, and I have more experience with them.

So the choices are NEC, NEC, and NEC. There’s the Accusync, Multisync, Multisync FE, and Multisync FP series. I went and looked at the different monitors available. The Accusync is a decent entry-level monitor, but it seems to target the budget-conscious who probably wouldn’t buy an NEC except the Accusync’s price comes within $10-$25 of a lesser monitor and gives a better picture. Chances are it isn’t built as well as the higher-end stuff. I concentrated on the Multisyncs and the FEs. The problem with looking at monitors side-by-side at a computer store is the splitter always makes the picture blurrier and more washed out. The FEs still looked pretty good, but the Multisyncs didn’t look so hot. Then I spotted a 17″ Multisync sitting on a display computer. It looked really good. I tried it at all resolutions, displaying text at various sizes. I liked it. And the 19-incher was $299. That’s an awful, awful lot of monitor for the money. (If I’m going to buy a monitor with the intent of keeping it 10 years, I’m not buying a 17-incher.) The FE950 costs 50% more, at $449 locally, but connected to a computer directly, it must be gorgeous. It looked good under conditions where lesser monitors looked like twice warmed-over coffee.

I can’t find an FP locally; it gives a slightly lower dot pitch and slightly higher maximum resolution. It’s really more monitor than I need, though if I still did serious DTP, that low dot pitch and 1920×1440 resolution sure would be nice.

Frankly the Multisync has me wondering why people bother with anything less. The price is good and the picture is good, if not excellent. Meanwhile, the FEs rival the best Trinitron displays I’ve seen, without the two fine lines, and it’s an NEC.