Pro Activist Computer Support

Figuring out how you can make it work, through technology

Protection for your web browser — November 6, 2015

Protection for your web browser

I got a few new ideas and got some support for my old ones on web browser security.  I have been using and recommending Ad-Block Plus for a few years now.  This plug-in works to stop certain forms of advertising on the web pages you visit: video ads, ads that launch sound.  It doesn’t block all ads, knowing that ads drive revenue to websites, but by wielding the power of a large install base, the owners negotiate with the big advertising companies to tone back ads and make them more palatable.

Another plug-in I think is indispensable these days is a script blocker – No-Script for Firefox, or ScriptSafe for Chrome – which will prevent Flash, Java, Silverlight, and other scripting software from running by default except on the pages you manually choose to trust.   Learning which pages to trust is a process.  And once you start down the process, the huge number of intrusive applications that horn in on every page through scripting can overwhelm the mind.  Really, I think that blocking scripting on your websites is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from viruses and hacking.

At our September meeting, I heard some new suggestions from OCCA members: Ublock Origin, which replaces Ad Block Plus and allows you to pull from a wide variety of blacklists for advertising and malware, and Privacy Patcher from EFF which heuristically detects tracking.

Another member touted the TripLog app, which enters your mileage for you based on when you plug your phone into your car to charge it.  Then it uses GPS to track your mileage and destinations, and makes an entry in your QuickBooks.  Slick, for those who need help tracking mileage.

We discussed some wireless toys as well, with Jesse and Matthew strongly endorsing the TP-Link nanorouters.  Matthew says the MR3020 are phenomenal. They are small (cell-phone sized), but powerful.

Android App: Greenify — October 29, 2015

Android App: Greenify

A green maple leaf logo.
Greenify by Oasis Feng

If you are using a rooted Android phone, you can improve performance and extend battery life using an app called Greenify that hybernates (rather than killing or freezing) whichever apps and processes you are not using at the moment.

Recommended by Lifehacker:

Here’s the link:

The Internet Backbone at OCCA —

The Internet Backbone at OCCA

A picture of an 8 story, tan brick building.
The Pittock Block on SW 9th and Stark

This past March 31st, 2015, we had an OCCA meeting with Eric Hulbert from Opus Interactive about the Internet backbone routes.  He showed us some maps of where these big data pipes stretch across the country to connect our major cities and through the oceans to connect to Europe and Asia.  It was something I hadn’t thought much about, although I have seen pictures of ships laying cable with huge spools on the decks.

One of the biggest data junctions in Portland is near my office in the Pittock Building.  Based on those pictures, I think we can say in case of earthquake, Portland would lose almost all access to the Internet for a while.

Steve and Tim talked about Revo Uninstaller which piqued my curiosity. But for now, I will stick with the tools in CCleaner.

And that is all from the March meeting.

Mobile Apps at the OCCA — October 28, 2015

Mobile Apps at the OCCA

June 2015 at the OCCA we held a roundtable on mobile apps.  As usual I took a lot of ideas away from the meeting. This is a listing of the highlights.

There is a new Wi-Fi listing tool called Vistumbler, but it only runs on Windows.

There is a program for Windows 8 called Start8 that mimics the old Start menu and is said to be worth the $5.

Milebug is an easy way to track trip mileage.

PhotoVault will password protect and encrypt important pictures, such as credit cards.

Google Maps has a neat plug-in called Photographer’s Ephemeris.

Someone mentioned my favorite tool for Android phones, Wi-Fi Analyzer.

Steve Shank endorsed the Android-based anti-virus Trust-Go, along with Ad-Tracker

Someone mentioned Scott Hanselman’s blog.

Fing by Overlook was endorsed by David Harold. It’s a powerful, quick tool that snapshots your LAN.

Steve Shank also endorsed Evernote. which stands for If This Then That was mentioned by a member.  The product links actions together using scripts that tie into your online accounts.

Instapaper is a tool to grab a whole article in one page with no ads and hold onto it until you have time to read it.

Drive Imaging — July 7, 2015

Drive Imaging

Close-up photo of the inside of a hard disk drive
Copy that!

There are many ways to ensure that you can recover quickly from a failed disk drive.  Backup of the data is probably the most critical. But for those cases where you have a lot of software with customized settings, it is worthwhile to backup the entire configuration of the drive.  And that’s where drive imaging comes in.  I typically recommend you take an image of a system or server on a quarterly basis.  That way if you get hit with a virus or drive failure, you can get your configuration back with a minimum of hassle and bring back the data after that.

My favorite drive imagine software is CloneZilla.  It comes on several of the popular rescue kits, such as Hiram’s Boot CD, the Ultimate Boot CD, and Parted Magic.  There is also a CloneZilla Live CD and this might be the best one to have, since it supports the thorny UEFI on new motherboards. Unfortunately, it lacks RAID support so you might need to consider alternatives.

At a recent meeting of the Oregon Computer Consultants Association, we discussed our favorite disk imaging software and came up with a lengthy list.  Here are the highlights:

  • Acronis True Image which was the popular favorite. This tool can restore to different hardware (perhaps due to the proprietary disk drive driver that also means you will need to use Acronis for any repairs to that system).  It also has the ability to convert Acronis images to Windows Backup files and vice versa.
  • Macrium Reflect which came in second favorite to Acronis with similar features
  • CloneZilla which I mentioned above can see UEFI when booting from their Live CD
  • AOEMI Partition Assistant which can clone or rescue disks.
  • Drive Duplicator from Aluretek, which is a physical device with slots for two drives to copy from one to the other
  • Spinrite, the venerable drive utility which includes imaging tools
  • MiniTool’s Drive Copy which sees all the hidden Windows 8 partitions

So there is my short list.  In my experience, cloning can take a long time and there are some gotchas.  That’s why its good to have some other options to fall back on when your favorite one doesn’t work.  On the same note, please do at least one full test using a pair of spare disks to ensure that the copy and restore results in a fully functional drive – especially when you are creating images to save space.


Photo by Mister GC

Phone Vendors —

Phone Vendors


Smiling man holding phone receiver up
Could this be your new phone?

I often get queries about phone services.  Traditionally, phone services has been a specialty requiring very different training and equipment than I have.  Phone PBX machines which allow you to setup voicemail and route calls tend to be quite expensive.

Over the past 10-15 years, Voice over IP (VOIP) has come into its own and now provides a convenient and cost-effective alternative.  My favorite company to recommend is Ring Central.  They provide a cost effective and portable service that allows you to have a physical line anywhere you have Internet service.  It can also easily re-route to your cell-phone in case you leave the office or you simply want to mask your private cell phone number.

At a recent meeting of the Oregon Computer Consultants Association ( I learned about a couple other services.

OOMA is an even more reasonable service for home users (it has a 5 line maximum limit) with which several of the members have had positive experiences.

Vonage was also a popular VOIP service.

So if you are planning to move your office, replace older phone equipment, or simply wonder if you can save some money on a phone system, look into one of these great VOIP services.


(Photo by imagerymajestic)

First! — September 2, 2009


The first and last post of a new WordPress site should always be an announcement of the new website format.  Bonus points for each year that has passed since the First post.  This one was placed 3-28-2014