Librarian Geek at the West Warwick Public Library

Friday, March 11, 2005

Free stuff online!

Usually those are three words that should make you say, "yeah, right," but in some cases not only is it true, but it's really cool free stuff! Case in point--Skype. This is a free internet telephony (I know, lame name!)program that allows you to download the software, create an account and be able to use the speakers and microphone on your computer to place a call to any other person who uses Skype for free. Of course, you can also purchase credits so that you can call a person's telephone from your computer--prices on that vary and you can find the details on their website. If you're using a dial-up connection to the internet, you might not want to attempt this. Dial-up speeds are probably too slow to give you a good connection, but it certainly doesn't cost anything to give it a try.

So if you have relatives on the other side of the country, or a kid in college and not enough free minutes on your cell phone to keep tabs as much as you'd like, you might want to let them know about this program so you can both give it a free try. Oh, and remember, when you get that email offering you a FREE PLASMA TV!! Just click delete.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Purchase USB drives at the library

In an earlier post I talked about the sad, slow, lingering death of floppy disks and drives. New computers aren't even offering floppy drives anymore unless you're willing to pay extra for them, and we see the disks fail on an almost daily basis here at the library. So, in an effort to speed them on their way to obsolete technology land, the library will be selling 16mb USB drives for $10.00 each, and 64mb USB drives for $15.00. These little drives hold the equivalent of approximately 11 and 44 floppy disks respectively and are much less fragile and much more stable. So, if you've been using a pile of floppy disks to save your old tax returns (which you do have a hard copy of, too, don't you?), or for that novel you're working on, or to preserve your mom's secret fruitcake recipe, now is the time to convert those files to a USB device (and make a hard copy, too, while you're at it because paper never gives you a formatting error!) And you can do all this at the library!

And if you're still wondering what to do with all those old floppy disks now that you've got your USB flash drive and live comfortably on the cutting edge of technology, well you could do this.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Project Gutenberg

It's 3a.m. and you're finishing up a research project and desperately need a copy of Macbeth, the German translation by Dorothea Tieck. Maybe you'd like to browse through The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, or expand your vocabulary with the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. These titles, and about 13,000 others are available in full-text form online thanks to Project Gutenberg.

Staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers, this project has been around since 1971--and that's old in Internet terms! The purpose is to make available for free the largest number of books in the public domain. They've done that and are still going strong. So check out their online book catalog and see all that they have to offer.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Library Elf

No, this has nothing to do with the holidays--although it is free right now, so you may consider it a nice present to help keep you and your family organized! This service allows you to register your library card number (that fourteen digit long barcode on the back of your card), and they will notify you before your books are due, let you know when holds are available, and allow you to get this information through an RSS feed or text message. You can customize when you'd like to get notices about due dates and you can also input your kid's card numbers so you'll be better able to keep track of their stuff, too.

The service is offered by JANDI Enterprises Inc., a privately owned company in Vancouver, British Columbia. This is entirely separate from the computer system that Rhode Island public libraries are using, so be aware that it's not owned or maintained by CLAN. But it is a handy little service that many people are using. If you're interested in finding out more about it, you can check it out here.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Pfishing

This is one of the biggest identity theft scams around. Pfishers use bogus web sites and emails to trick you into reveling your logins, passwords, social security numbers, and any other information they can use to access your accounts. You've probably already seen the emails. They look like they come from eBay, Microsoft, PayPal, your bank, or your credit card company. If you click on the link in the email it'll bring you to a site that looks legitimate, but is just a front for getting at your personal information. Please remember that no company you do business with will email you asking for that kind of information. If you're not sure, contact the company and ask them about it--but don't use the links that were sent in the suspicious email, call them directly. In most instances, the company will ask you to forward the email to them so they can try to locate the source and shut it down.

If you do get one of these fraudulent emails, you can contact the Internet Fraud Complaint Center to report it. This organization partners with the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center to handle just this kind of threat. And if you've already fallen victim to one of these scams, contact the police, your bank and the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 800-680-7289) right away to minimize the damage.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Spam is getting scary!

Some people get tons of it, some only get a little, but everyone who has an email account has to deal with spam. It's that junk email that winds up in your inbox but you have no idea why these people want you to refinance your mortgage, get out of debt, or purchase any of a number of things you never signed up to find out about. But now, according to this MSNBC article, spam could be more a more serious threat than just its nuisance factor.

If you've ever opened a piece of spam and scrolled to the bottom of the message you've probably seen the little "opt out" or "unsubscribe" link that you can click on to supposedly be removed from their mailing list. Clicking on that has always been seen as a useless effort because it probably won't decrease the amount of spam you receive and you could just be letting the spammers know they're hitting an active email address. It seems there's more to those little links--by clicking on one you could be inadvertantly downloading code that will allow the spammer to take over your computer and use it to send even more spam to other people, or you could be inviting the spammer into your computer so he/she can gather up whatever personal information you have lying around on your hard drive.

There really isn't a good solution to stopping spam completely. But what you can do is set up several email accounts that you use for different thing--one for online shopping, one for personal emails from family and friends, etc. That way you can keep your personal email as spam free as possible. If you're getting swamped by the amount of spam that's hitting your inbox every day, just dump that email address and create a new one. Yahoo offers a good, free email service that does a fair job of blocking spam. Check out the library's computer class schedule to see when the next email class is being offered or give us a call to sign up at 828-3750!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Upgrades!

The library is currently in the process of a software upgrade to Office Suite 2002 from Office 2000. This package includes Word, Access, Excel, Power Point, Publisher, and Front Page. They look a little different and may do things a bit differently, too, so if you have any questions, just ask one of our friendly librarians for help!

If you'd like to leave a comment or question about this entry, click on the comments link below to do so! We'd love to get your feedback!

Spyware

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the Internet, you find out about this! Although it sounds very 007, and is pretty sinister in nature, it can also be very bad news for your computer. Spyware and adware can sneak in from regular web surfing or piggy back on downloads. Those cute little cursors you installed, the funky wallpaper you got off the web, and especially those file sharing programs all come with a price that you might not even realize you're paying. These behind-the-scenes programs can monitor what web sites you frequent to customize the ads they throw at you. They can generate those annoying pop-up screens that just won't go away at times, and enough of it on your computer can cause conflicts with other programs and result in more serious problems.

Now you're probably wondering how to rid yourself of this junk. Well, there are some very good free programs out there to help you. How often you run them is up to you, but if you're online frequently, you'll want to do a little housekeeping at least once a week. Spybot Search and Destroy (free but requesting donations) and AdAware are great tools to use. They're easy to install and run, and they'll give you some information about what they find on your system. Remember that once you use them to clean off the spyware/adware, the program they came with may not run well or at all after the removal. For more information on the tools that are out there, check out the Spyware Warrior's blog for reviews.

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Thursday, August 12, 2004

A pox upon my computer

Well, not a pox exactly....more like a virus, trojan, worm, or browser hijack. Whatever you call them, they spell trouble for your system and preventative measures are far less expensive and anxiety inducing than what it'll take you to clean up after the fact.

Most computers you buy today come with some kind of anti-virus program pre-installed. So you probably already have Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee. But just having them installed isn't enough. As new viruses are created and disseminated, the anti-virus software companies issue new updates to their products to combat those viruses. To stay protected, you have to regularly check for, and download updates to your anti-virus software. So next time you're online (which is probably right now!) open your anti-virus software and have it install any new updates that are available. You should do this on a regular basis to keep your software up to date and your computer as protected as it can be.

If cost is an issue, Grisoft offers AVG, a good, free anti-virus product. But no matter what option you choose, just remember to stay current with new updates and always practice safe surfing.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Burn CDs

No, this is not some bizarre form of censorship that the library is endorsing! Burning a CD means that you copy files and data to it in a similar way that you save to a floppy disk. And the library has two machines in the reference area with CD burners available for you to use. Just bring in a blank CD-R (this is a disk that you can copy files to only once and read them from any computer), or a CD-RW (this is a re-writable disk that you can erase and reuse) and you can transfer files from your old floppy disks, or create new documents and save them to a CD.

If you need assistance with the process, just give the library a call before you come in (828-3750) and ask for Laura.
 
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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Use your USB device at the library

The Reference area computers now have USB hubs! You'll notice these funky little devices taped attractively to the tops of two of the Dell computers. You may already have seen them and wondered what they were. Well, they allow you to bring in your digital camera, USB drive (also known as a memory stick, or a flash drive), or just about any device that has a USB connector and you can plug them in and use them on these library computers so long as the device doesn't require a software installation to run.

Be sure to read the instructions posted on these machines with details about the use of the USB hubs and how to safely unplug your device when you're through using the computer.
 
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Floppy disks are a thing of the past

These devices are unreliable and fast becoming obsolete. Dell and a slew of other computer companies no longer offer them as standard in new machines--if you want a floppy disk drive, you'll have to pay extra for it. So, what's the answer you may ask? Well, most new computers come with CD Rewritable drives standard. Blank CDs are fairly inexpensive and if you purchase CD-RWs, you can use them over. CD-Rs allow you to write information to them once. CD-RWs allow you to be able to rewrite to the disk.

An even better solution is the USB drive (also known as a memory stick, pen drive, or flash drive.) These small devices are about the size of a highlighter marker and can hold as much as a gigabyte of information on one little drive. That's about 710 floppy disks!

So, if you do decide to make the investment in a USB drive (and you can get a decent sized drive for as little as $40.00 now), you can use it at the library. Our lab computers have USB ports (this is where you plug your drive into the computer) on the front of the machine. We are purchasing special USB hubs (extension cords for the USB port) for two machines in the Reference area and these will be available for use shortly. Next time you're in the library, be sure to make use of these new services! And if you have any questions, just ask.
(The title of this entry is a link to a PC Magazine article on this subject, so you can click on it for more information.)
 
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