Online banking

In part 1 of my LUA series, I mentioned a virus that modified the HOSTS file on a PC. This meant that each time someone tried to connect to their banking website, they actually went to a fake website instead, even though they’d typed in the correct URL. This could also be a problem if your DNS server gets compromised, or if someone reconfigures your wireless router so that you use a rogue DNS server.

One way to protect yourself is to use https. If you know the correct address for the website, and you see a padlock in the address bar, you can be confident that this is the real site. This isn’t an absolute guarantee, e.g. if your PC is infected by a virus then it could add some self-signed certificates to your trusted store. However, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, lots of banks haven’t quite grasped this concept.

Continue reading “Online banking”

Ribbon Hero

Microsoft recently released Ribbon Hero. This is an add-in for Office 2007 and Office 2010, and the idea is to earn points by completing challenges (e.g. formatting a table). In the process, you’ll become familiar with the new user interface. The name is obviously inspired by “Guitar Hero”, but I think it’s unlikely that this will be quite so much fun at parties. It does sound rather Dilbert-esque… “The room is hushed. He puts the title in bold, and the crowd goes wild! Encore!”

Still, it sounds like an interesting idea. According to ZDNet: “It taps into social and adaptive learning paradigms and important research on motivation and learning.” I know that a lot of people are reluctant to use Office 2007 because it looks so different, so I’m willing to give this a go. Unfortunately, it has some pretty fundamental problems, which make it completely useless to me.

Continue reading “Ribbon Hero”

LUA part 4 (of 5): Changes in Windows Vista/7

This post is part 4 of a series about using a limited (standard) account in Windows for everyday activities rather than logging in as a computer administrator all the time. (You may want to read parts 1, 2, and 3 before continuing.)

When Microsoft released Windows Vista, they introduced a new feature: User Account Control (UAC). This basically meant that when you ran certain programs, you would get a message popping up, asking “Are you sure about this?” It’s fair to say that this wasn’t very popular; lots of people acted as though it was the return of Clippy. Quoting from one of Apple’s “I’m a Mac” adverts (YouTube): “He asks me to authorise pretty much anything I do.” However, if you actually understand what UAC is for then it’s quite useful, and I think that Vista is a definite improvement over Windows XP.

Continue reading “LUA part 4 (of 5): Changes in Windows Vista/7”

LUA part 3 (of 5): Compatibility problems

This post is part 3 of a series about using a limited (standard) account in Windows for everyday activities rather than logging in as a computer administrator all the time. (You may want to read part 1 and part 2 before continuing.)

If you follow my advice and switch to a limited account, you may find that some of your programs stop working. This is annoying, but there are various ways to deal with it.

Continue reading “LUA part 3 (of 5): Compatibility problems”

LUA part 2 (of 5): Setting up separate accounts

In part 1 of this series, I explained why it’s a good idea to have separate accounts on your computer: a standard account for day to day stuff (e.g. reading email), and an administrator account for making system changes (e.g. installing new software).

In this part, I’m going to provide step by step instructions for setting this up on Windows XP. (The process is pretty similar for other versions of Windows.) There are lots of pictures here, to make it as simple as possible. This all applies to a home computer; it’s a bit different for a workplace, since all the accounts will be set up centrally by your IT department, and by default they will just be standard users on each PC.

Continue reading “LUA part 2 (of 5): Setting up separate accounts”

LUA part 1 (of 5): Why you shouldn’t always log into Windows as an administrator

The German government have advised people to stop using Internet Explorer and switch to an alternate browser, as reported at the BBC and Mashable. Microsoft have published a security advisory about the problem, and they’ve discussed it on their Security Research & Defense blog. Personally, I’m using IE8 (Protected Mode) on Windows Vista with DEP enabled, so this doesn’t affect me, and switching to a different browser would be an overreaction.

However, this seems like a good time to mention the advantages of “LUA” (Limited User Access). Basically, rather than logging into Windows with full control over the computer, it’s better to have two accounts: one for installing software and one for everyday use. That way, if you run some dodgy code by mistake, you limit how much damage it can do.

Continue reading “LUA part 1 (of 5): Why you shouldn’t always log into Windows as an administrator”

Gantt charts in Excel

I’ve been fiddling around in Excel today, so that I can display a timeline of various activities in a chart. (I think this counts as a Gantt chart, although there are no dependency arrows between the bars like you would see in MS Project.) I got the basic instructions from the help file, but there were a few extra steps that aren’t immediately obvious, so I’m documenting it here for my future reference; hopefully someone else will find it useful too. I’m using Excel 2007; the process will be similar for older versions of Excel, but I don’t know about other spreadsheet applications (e.g. OpenOffice).

Continue reading “Gantt charts in Excel”

Microsoft exams

Last August, I did a beta exam for Microsoft. I didn’t pay for it, but I didn’t get a score either; the idea was just to test out their new software for doing simulations in the exam (rather than multiple choice questions). As a “thank you”, Microsoft then sent me three vouchers, each one corresponding to a free exam. These expire at the end of June, so I’ve finally had to stop procrastinating and start studying.

Today I did two exams: 70-236 (MCTS: Configuring Exchange Server 2007) and 70-431 (MCTS: SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance). According to the booking website, the Exchange exam lasts 4½ hours, and the SQL exam lasts 4 hours, so this looked like quite a long day! Fortunately, I didn’t need all the time that was allocated, so I ended both exams early, and I was at the test centre for about 3 hours altogether.

Continue reading “Microsoft exams”