Couple of things I’ve been working on…

techsupportcatSo this past weekend I thought it was high time I take another crack at designing my own WordPress theme. I figured I’d keep it simple and just adapt the one I used to use on ExpressionEngine over. It’s ugly, but it’s me.

As you can tell by looking at it, I ended up just switching to someone else’s premade theme. It didn’t occur to me that it’s been almost 4 years since we made the move to WordPress (November 7th, 2009) and a lot has changed in that time. Not only do I still not have a good clue how to make a WordPress theme, but all of the tools I used to use to create my crappy HTML have dried up gone away.

I used to use a specialized HTML editor called Homesite which was originally produced by a company named Bradbury Software which was bought by Allaire that was acquired by Macromedia which itself was eventually bought by Adobe. Adobe decided to stop selling Homesite in, as it turns out, May of 2009. I’ve yet to find a replacement editor I like as much and I’ve never mastered WYSIWYG systems. I’d use my old copy of Homesite, but when I bought it it was a digital download and have long since misplaced my copy and its activation key.

The other major tool I used to use was a image editor called Ulead PhotoImpact. It was a moderate skill editor that could do both raster and vector graphics and I’d been using it since 1996 when I created my first website. It’s arguably the one image editing program I’ve ever really mastered. Ulead was acquired by Corel in 2006 and eventually they discontinued development of PhotoImpact in 2008. I have a copy of the last version produced someplace in my mess of CDs, but I haven’t been able to locate it. Fortunately Corel still sells PhotoImpact even if they’re no longer developing it so I can at least pick it up again at some point.

Not having spare cash at the moment, I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing with various free/open source HTML and image editors to see if there was anything that felt close to what I was used to. I’ve been using Paint.NET for awhile and it’s not bad, but it doesn’t open Ulead image files which I ended up using for a lot of SEB’s graphics back in the day. I’ve tried to learn Gimp, but I think it’s way beyond my skill level as it Photoshop (which I could never afford anyway). There’s a couple of OS WYSIWYG HTML editors out there and I haven’t a clue where to begin to figure them out. Most of the text based editors seem to have HTML as a secondary consideration or go so way beyond HTML that they’re full of stuff I don’t need. So I ended up giving up and playing Black Ops II instead. I may take another stab at it in the coming week as I’d really like to bring back the old Halloween layouts, but I’ve not even started on figuring out how to plug the WordPress codes in I’d need to make a template work. The way things are going I wouldn’t hold my breath if you were anticipating my craptastic HTML coding skills to be put to use anytime soon.

bearhookersSo the other thing I’m working on involves trying to offer my tech support skills to a wider audience. Google just started a new service calls Helpouts which makes use of their Hangouts service to allow folks to provide services for free or for a charge. I was invited to be a service provider and I thought I might offer it to help folks dealing with viruses or other technical issues where their PC is still operational enough to handle a Hangouts session. In addition to support video and audio it’ll be possible to grant me access to remotely control your machine to make changes. I’ve not set up a listing yet as I’m still trying to decide what things I could help with or what kind of tutoring I could offer and how much to charge and what hours I’ll be available and so on. A few regulars have asked me for help from time to time over the years and this seemed like a good way to facilitate making it happen more often. It would require folks to have a Google+ account so some might not want to go that route, but for those who don’t mind it’s a flexible option.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what services you’d think you’d like me to offer and what rates you think would be reasonable. That is assuming there’s still enough folks hanging around with an interest in having my assistance from time to time. I could even help with getting up and running with blogging, though creating custom WordPress themes is obviously out of the question at the moment. Let me know what you think.

ISPs and FBI warning about a nasty rootkit called Alureon.

I got an email from an SEB regular about an email they got to check their PC to see if it’s infected that directed them to DCWG.org. She wanted to know if it was legit or a scam. I checked it out and wrote back and I thought the info would be useful for others so here’s her original email followed by my reply:

Subject: dcwg scam

Not hate mail, but a query:  Is this dcwg.org computer checking site that the FBI is sending us to legit?

You’re the only computer guy I “know” [and not in the biblical sense!]

And my reply:

I hadn’t heard about it before, but it doesn’t appear to be a scam. Their about page (http://www.dcwg.org/aboutcontact/) says it’s a joint effort between the FBI, Georgia Tech, The Internet Systems Consortium, Mandiant, National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance, Neustar, Spamhaus, Team Cynmru, Trend Micro, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That’s a pretty impressive group and many of them have links back to dcwg.org. They also provide several links to the FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2011/november/malware_110911) and other sources for confirmation, plus there’s a good number of news articles about it (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-04-20/internet-woes-infected-pcs/54446044/1). On top of that there’s a number of articles about it at various ISP such as Comcast (http://forums.comcast.com/t5/Security-and-Anti-Virus/DNS-Changer-Bot-FAQ/td-p/1215341). The fact that it has pretty good prominence on Google’s search is a good indicator it’s legit as well.

If you were sent a notice from your ISP I’d take it seriously and run a couple of the tests to verify. This is a nasty rootkit that modifies what DNS servers you connect to to resolve domain names (it’s how you get from typing in stupidevilbastard.com to an IP address the computer can understand which for SEB would be 209.240.81.155). The rootkit modifies the hosts file on your PC and can, apparently, even modify some home routers as well (especially if you never changed the default password). One clear sign is if your antivirus software has been disabled, but check the links for more info. It appears it’s the Alureon rootkit which you can read more about at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alureon

Don’t panic too much. Even if you are infected and lose connectivity in July your PCs can be fixed. The reason they’re working now is the FBI has seized the rogue DNS servers and replaced them with non-naughty ones, but they’re not going to keep them running forever. When they shut them done in July your PC won’t be able to resolve domain names. It’s not that you’re not connected to the net, just that you’d be limited to typing in IP addresses like the one I gave you for SEB. That bypasses DNS altogether.

Les

If you live in Texas and ask me to fix your computer, the answer is no.

Not because of the distance involved, I’ve done long-distance trouble shooting and repair using just Remote Assistance on many occasions, but because in Texas you have to be a licensed private eye to do computer support:

According to the law passed in the 2007 Texas legislative session, the private investigator’s license is required for repair technicians to analyze their customers’ computer data. This analysis is common for business managers who wish to track their employees’ computer usage or families who want to find out where their children or spouses have been online, said Matt Miller, executive director of the institute.

“Anyone that analyzes computer data has conducted this regulated service and needs a license,” Miller said.

Rife said he determines how computer viruses originate by evaluating private data. He frequently repairs family computers that have viruses and is often asked to discover if a family member’s account caused the virus.

If a computer repair technician conducts a computer service that the government considers an investigation, the technician could be subject to a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. This law also considers consumers who knowingly enlist an unlicensed company to perform an investigative repair subject to the same penalties.

And if you live in Texas and do computer repair and aren’t a licensed private eye then you’re breaking the law as well. Fortunately an advocacy group down there called “The Institute for Justice” is suing on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional, but for the moment certain PC repairs could make you an outlaw.