Attention K-Mart shoppers – park admission is now only $5.50!

Park America visitor’s special now in force.

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The MVPS Hosts file – unsung hero, made by unsung heroes, and it’s freeware!

Freeware, made and maintained by volunteers. It should just be called “heroware”.

The MVPS Hosts file is a vastly underused and under-appreciated tool, and this is my little attempt to rectify that omission.

Disclaimer: This tool is best used by “computer-savvy” people, or those with easy access to one, like perhaps a family member.

The MVPS Hosts file started out with the idea of blocking ads, and later evolved into a tool to block “most major parasites, hijackers, and unwanted adware/spyware programs”. That’s a good thing, right? Right.

The above-mentioned heroes donate their time to maintain a regularly updated list of undesirable web addresses, including known purveyors of nasties (malware) as well as tracking sites that harvest your information.

The cool thing is that the nasties are blocked in both directions; first when trying to get on to your machine, and second if they somehow do get on there, they are blocked from “phoning home” (which is how they do most of the really bad things.)

Their detection criteria for bad sites is nicely listed on a separate page found here.

The site has all kinds of helpful instructions, which is where the technical knowledge is required.

You may already know this, but many of the servers that host web page ads, are compromised with viruses, which are used to attack vulnerable machines which try to browse pages where those ads are displayed. For example here is an article from May of last year, citing Fox and Yahoo websites as being affected. These ads are served by the web domains yieldmanager.com and firmserve.com. Those type of sites are blocked by the MVPS Hosts file. It is probably still true that the majority of ad servers are either compromised or vulnerable to being compromised.

Hosts files are used by the browser for special purposes to direct it to specific addresses for specific reasons. The MVPS Hosts file simply contains a bunch of text entries that tell the browser to look for ads from those domains on your local machine instead. Not finding them there, it will display an “Action cancelled” or “Navigation to the webpage was canceled” message, instead of the ad.

To really have fun, you can try using the little local web server called Homer, which will replace that “cancelled” message with a picture, which it is possible to set to whatever you choose. I am currently using a butterfly picture I found on Google. Now instead of an annoying ad, or potentially malicious ad, or error message, I get to look at little butterflies on the page. I love it. Keeps the “noise” to a minimum. Much preferable to a raft of distracting ads put together by greedy entrepreneurs who think they know what I want. What I want is butterflies…

Homer is also “heroware” and is produced by a company with the lovely name of funkytoad.com, who also produce a number of useful, related tools. One of those is called ZonedOut, and I will save it for an article of its own, as I think it deserves the attention.

If you enjoy subverting the unpleasant commercial aspects of the Internet as much as I do, then you will enjoy the MVPS hosts file. And you will help protect your machine from malware. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great place to start, and certainly not nearly as well known as the use of add-ons/extensions like NoScript and AdBlock, which of course, also have their place.

The MVPS Hosts file does slightly cripple your browsing experience, but in a good way, if that makes any sense. For example, when I went to microsoft.com to download the beta of Internet Explorer 9, it sent me to their ad server/identity harvester page first, on atdmt.com. That address is blocked by the MVPS Hosts file, so I could not download directly from there. However I got around that by Googling “ie9 alternate download locations” and found a place where I could get it directly.

Likewise, many links now send you to a similar page, which harvests your details before redirecting you to the page you want. Thesse are usually also blocked by the MVPS Hosts file, but if you enter the title of the article or a few related terms, you can usually get to the page in that manner. Alternately you could use a hosts file manager such as HostsXpert, also from funkytoad, to swap in the plain vanilla hosts file temporarily. The tinkering possibilities are endless!

Geek note: To those who say to install Linux or Ubuntu or Linux Mint I say – get back to me when they include reliable plug and play wireless and I will consider it! o_O

P.S. Homer is tiny and does not even need to be installed. An elegant little utility.

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Firesheep – Worth knowing about

Here is a link to a very rambling podcast transcript regarding Firesheep. I recommend you use CTRL-F to search through the long text and read the relevant material. Or if you want, there is a link at the top to the .mp3 file, that you can listen to, or load as a podcast.

Basically it explains two important things:

1. On an unsecured public network, Firesheep allows others to log into your social network profile – such as Facebook, and see all your stuff, or even change it!
2. If Starbucks (or similar unsecured setups) changed their wireless from WEP to WPA and instituted a password known by all (such as Starbucks!), Firesheep would not work because WPA establishes a secure tunnel to the router, even though the password is freely known.

I heard recently that some retailers in Canada are considering implementing free wi-fi for shoppers to use to comparison shop while in the store. I hope they are considering security issues such as this one. It seems that there have been an upswing in the number of hacked Facebook accounts lately. I know of at least two or three. I’m betting this Firefox add-on is in part responsible.

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And here is the Teampall an Gleanntain run-through

Rough but still useful…

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Steafan demonstrates the guitar part

Enjoy.

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Wedding Reel – talking about the parts

With some musical accompaniment! :)

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First run-through of Wedding Reel

A longish video (12 min.) of the Wedding Reel, in Quicktime format (.mp4), where we play through for the first time, and discuss the different parts.

Tech note: I converted the original huge mov file to an mp4 using the free open source software called HandBrake. If you want the original, let me know.

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Something…

Teampall an Gleanntain sheet music

Teampall an Gleanntain

is the new nothing! That is, I now have some things to post, and I will start with this photo of the sheet music for Teampall an Gleanntain, from string ensemble class. Enjoy! :)

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First Post!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is my first post. It contains nothing. Help yourself.

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