Horse Sense #80

In this issue of Horse Sense:
  • -Tips
  • -Are You Misusing Your Security?
  • -Better, Faster, Cheaper Memory
  • -Extend Your Warranty for Free!
  • -Keep it Cool!
  • -The Computers You Forgot About Are a Threat

Worried that an older program might not work under Windows XP or Vista or with fancy graphics?  Right click the program's icon, click properties, go to the compatibility tab and make your application think it is working under an earlier form of Windows or is working with fewer colors or at a lower resolution.
If an application is running too slowly under Windows, you can prioritize it at the expense of other programs by bringing up Task Manager by right clicking a blank space on the tool bar or hitting the control-alt-del key combination.  Select the processes tab in Task Manager, right click a relevant process, and select the priority you desire.  A single program may be a collection of processes and the names of those processes may be somewhat cryptic.  A search on will tell you what the process does.  You can also deprioritize processes.  Don't change too many priorities as you can severely and negatively affect the performance of your machine.
Use Windows Task Manager to see what processes are running on your machine for all users.  I often view the processes and look up unknown ones to see if I can shut down processes that are just taking up memory and slowing my performance.  Quick start and automatic update processes are common.  You can shut them down temporarily by ending the process. To keep them from loading in the future, you can stop the program from loading in the Startup folders, deselect the program in Startup Programs in MSCONFIG.EXE, or disable the service or set it to manual in SERVICES.MSC.  Task Manager is also a good way to see if you have processes running that you didn't intend, like an old program you forgot to remove or a malware program that has taken up residence in your PC. I haven't gone into great detail on what to do here because I recommend that you only make changes like this after talking to a professional.
Turn your computer into a timer by going to and plug in the countdown time.
Want better wallpaper?  Google imagesize:widthxheight and your keyword to find what you want, like "imagesize:1024x768 dog".
To organize icons on a crowded desktop, download the free Fences program from Stardock at  You can group your icons into fenced in areas of your choosing, allowing you to organize them as you like.
Tree Style Tab will rearrange your tabs in Firefox so they go down rather than across your screen.  You will be able to see the full title of your link and wide screen users will likely be able to see the whole page and tab without compromise as most web sites are designed for standard monitor widths.
Turn any photo into a screen saver in Windows by right clicking a blank spot on your Windows XP or Vista desktop, select properties, and the screensaver tab.  Click the drop down menu and choose My Pictures Slideshow under XP or Photos under Vista and give it the folder with the pictures you want to show off.
Want to explain something technical to your parents (or yourself)? uses short videos to explain computer and other concepts.

Are You Misusing Your Security?
How old is your firewall?  How about your antivirus?  When was the last time you updated them?  Most people think that their antivirus program updates itself every day.  It doesn't.  Typical antivirus programs update their pattern matching databases regularly, but the software engine that protects your machine isn't updated this way.  You need to manually update it.  If you have a maintenance and support agreement, you should be allowed to download the newest version for free.  Why should you do so?  (1) Newer versions are designed to combat more, different, and newer threats.  Older software can be beaten by clever crackers (bad hackers) who work hard to find a way around defenses.  (2) Bugs get fixed.  (3) Performance improves.  (4) Features get added. Firewalls, routers, switches, printers, and other devices can be targets as well and the benefits to loading new software versions (not always possible) or buying a replacement are the same as that noted for antivirus software.  Many of the attacks and infections I see are because victims don't update their protection while the victimizers have updated their attacks.
I often hear an antivirus product isn't working well.  In most of the cases, the problem is with the implementation, not the product.  I've said it before, but most project failures aren't due to technical factors, but to "soft" factors.  (See my article on Return on Grief at for more on soft factors.)  For example, I hear complaints about how Symantec's antiviral products take too much memory and slow down a machine too much.  In almost all of those cases, I find that the configuration is incorrect and it is also likely that the software is out of date.  Correcting these deficiencies can result in startling performance improvements.  Properly configured, Symantec antiviral products have been tested to be higher performing than most of their competitors.  So, what is the problem?  Symantec, Microsoft, and the rest of the computing industry have a common shortcoming.  They would have you believe that the products they produce can be slapped onto your network and they will magically make it all better with little effort.  Unfortunately, this isn't true.  Without training, and likely without looking at the instructions, you wouldn't expect to install a new turbocharger for your car correctly, but many people expect to do just that with their computer hardware and software.  They are often disappointed.  Even professional network management and support people need help when dealing with something new.  Doesn't it make sense to have things checked out now and again (or better yet, have someone constantly monitoring for problems)?
One of our mantras here is that it is a good thing to give up, give up early, and call for help.  Having more experienced, or just different, eyes on a problem can yield excellent results.  Don't be afraid to call us.  Even our dogs don't bite.

Better, Faster, Cheaper Memory
Intel cut its prices on solid state drives almost in half.  If you want a notebook that boots quickly, lasts a long time, and can withstand shocks, you now have a less expensive option.  If you want to make your database queries fly, you can now afford to do so.
Micron Technologies and Nanya Technologies have announced new low power DDR2 memory for the mobile computing market.  This 1.2 volt memory will improve performance while lowering power consumption in handsets, smart phones, and other devices.

Extend Your Warranty for Free!
Did you know that many credit cards will extend your warranty for free?  Check the terms on your card.  It isn't unusual for credit card companies to offer to double your warranty on a purchased item.

Keep it Cool!
How can you keep your equipment cool?  First, buy equipment that is energy efficient.  Energy Star rated devices and devices with EPEAT ratings will save you power and money over time.  They do this by using more energy efficient power supplies and less power hungry internal components.  Because they use energy more efficiently, they generate less heat.  That requires less cooling, which also saves energy and money.  Power efficient equipment needs less air flow to cool it.  Less cooling means slower fans or no fans resulting in little to no noise.
Most electronics require vents and/or fans to cool hot components. Without adequate airflow, electronics can literally cook themselves and fail.  So, make sure your vents and fans have room to pull in cool air and exhaust hot air.  Do not push your computer or printer vent or fan port flush against a wall or the back of your desk.  Don't put a lot of electronics gear in a closet.  Many devices have vents on multiple sides.  Make sure all of those sides have free air flow.  Make sure the fans spin, don't make noise or stop making the noise they normally make, and that vents and fans aren't clogged by dirt.  Newer machines with variable speed fans will start working harder and making more noise if they can't pull enough cooler air through their innards.  If this happens, see if you can reposition them or do something else to improve the airflow.  Consider vacuuming out your electronics every once in a while to improve air flow.  Don't leave bays or slots open in your computer.  Make sure cabling is neat and doesn't block air flow.  If you have holes in the case or obstructions inside, then the air flow won't be right, hot spots will develop, and electronics will burn out prematurely.  Follow your manufacturer's recommendations.  If they don't say anything, consider spacing out the drives you put into a desktop to allow the air to flow around them and so they don't heat each other. Laptops are very vulnerable to heat issues due to their cramped designs.  Use them on hard surfaces so the air can flow.  Using them in your lap for an extended period, on top of a blanket, or on a carpet isn't a good idea.  If your laptop tends to get very warm to the touch, consider a laptop cooler that uses metal and large cooling fans under the laptop to exhaust heat.  If you have equipment in a rack, you are generating a lot of heat in a very small amount of space.  If you can, space out your equipment.  Blanking panels help you maintain the right airflow (front to back) in your rack and help eliminate hot spots.  If you have a lot of equipment in an area and it gets warm there, see if you can adjust the air movement to cool things down.  Often a small, energy efficient fan can make your electronics a lot more comfortable.

The Computers You Forgot About Are a Threat
Network connected printers, scanners, and multifunction devices are very powerful computers specialized for a particular task.  They, too, are subject to security breaches.  For example, HP just issued the following warning about some of its most popular printers and scanners:  "A potential security vulnerability has been identified with certain HP LaserJet printers, HP Color LaserJet printers and HP Digital Senders. The vulnerability could be exploited remotely to gain unauthorized access to files."  The problem isn't on your computer, it is on the HP device itself and you need to update its firmware, which for many is a non-trivial task.
Any device on your network is a potential security and reliability issue.  For example, network switches have software running on them.  If the software is insecure or improperly secured, someone could tap into those switches and watch, stop, or redirect your traffic.  A visitor with a Wi-Fi enabled phone could access your wireless access point and connect to your network behind your firewall.  So, when securing your network, you need to think about all the devices that are actually on it.  If you have questions as to how you might monitor and protect these devices, please give us a call.

©2009 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse