Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What in the world is my computer doing?

One of the most common questions I get is: why is my computer suddenly going so slow? There are often explainable reasons, such as a new version of a program having been installed or a download of a patch in the background. But sometimes there isn't a clear answer. I found this blog posting which provides an easy way to capture what is connecting to the Internet. If nothing else, you'll learn just how many of your programs are communicating with the Internet. Most of them will.

This system is very useful but it may not discover today's Trojan horses. The new Trojans and spyware try to appear to be a legitimate program so that a personal firewall will not block its communication.

Give it a try. It doesn't cost anything and you'll probably learn something useful.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Google announces its own "Power Point"

The lack of a presentation application was one of the problems with switching over to Google's online application suite. Now they have their own presentation application. If you already have Google Docs, you will find that when you go to create a new document, presentation will now be one of the options.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Easy Wiki for Kids

Wikis are great tools for schools. I've put in more than a few posts on wikis. The main problem for using a wiki for younger kids is that they have to learn an odd syntax to make the page. And making a nice looking page is quite a challenge. PikiWiki is more oriented to multimedia and to drag-and-drop editing. This is a system which younger students can use. It's also free.


Friday, September 14, 2007

CMS Review

Information Week has a done a nice short review on CMSes (Content Management Systems). People have been using CMSes for document management to web site construction. They are powerful tools to accomplish most anything because they combine the power of a database with the design skills of a fairly good web designer. The user needs very little expertise to make the system work.

There are many CMS systems and they don't do the same exact things. So, if you are clear as to what you want, the number of choices often goes down to a handful from that of dozens. The review is a good one but a few important CMSes were left off the. Read the comments to get a fuller picture.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Another free Project Mangement Software

GanttProject is another project management software program that came to my attention via a posting on yesterday's OpenProj software. I'm not sure which is best, GanttProject has more screen snapshots and more listed features than does OpenProj. They both look great and they both work on all the major operating systems.

They both look like they are worth a shot. I don't use this type of software; please leave a comment if you have used one or both of these programs.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Project Management Software for free

Project management has been one of those applications where there has not been a lot of open source activity. Now there is OpenProj to take on Microsoft Project. The difference is that OpenProj is designed to take on the desktop version of MS Project. If you need a server based version, the same firm has a commercial version that runs in cooperation with a server. For most schools, the desktop version will be just fine. District offices and construction projects will need to spend some money.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ophcrack: Your double-edged sword

Ophcrack is one of many password cracking tools. While I cannot attest to their claims that they can crack 99.9% of passwords within seconds, it does should like they can get most passwords quicker than you would like. One of their tricks is to have a very large number of passwords encrypted into their protected form. The software then compares the encrypted password it finds on your system with the ones it has made. Once it finds it, it then knows the password required for that pattern to be produced.

The good side of this program is that it can help you to unlock computers that you don't have the password for. This can happen when you either forget, someone as reset it to something you don't know, or the computer has been donated and the owner is not around.

But, the downside is more obvious. A student could put in the ophcrack CD, boot the computer off that CD and then get the password. While I'm not positive, I suspect that finger scanners would not be much help because the finger scanner is only to confirm you identity and then the system inserts a password. The password would be sitting on the system. Probably it's complicated enough that you don't have to worry, but you may want to find out. The only system I would have confidence in would be a smart card system where the password is always changing and checked against a server in a remote and hopefully well-protected location.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Radio based computer communication

While in Mali I visited a regional communications center that transmitted market information collected by a market enumerator (see photo to right). The enumerator's job is to observe real market transactions taking place on a variety of important crops. That information is then transmitted by a form of ham radio to other regional centers and to the capital, Bamako.

Internet access in Africa is very expensive and unreliable. Most of the places we visited were using vstat connections. Those links are running about $1,000-1500 per month for a 128-256Kb connection. The use of a radio based system was not a great solution in terms of speed and each center does have to have a tall tower, but at least the costs of running the centers are not high once they are going. This is a very good example of a way to handle some of the harsher technology environments. And, by the way, the room we were in was almost 100 degrees and humid. How the head of the center was able to keep his coat on was a mystery to me. I was afraid to ask how long computer equipment would last in such an environment.