Monday, January 31, 2011

Question. Why do the Egyptians want to be free? Answer. To destroy Israel

Interview with demonstrators on the streets of Egypt.

Simple facts that everyone should know... (about Egyptians):

It is revolution,
We hate Husnei Mubarak.
We want be free of him.
Because Mubarak support Israel.
We hate Israel. Israel is our enemy.
We want be free so we can destroy Israel.
Everyone know that the country who control United States is Israel.
We destroy Israel. We destroy America ([Editor's comment]...then I suppose the whole world is free?)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A review of the Steel Series Siberia v2 headset

The first thing I can say is that these are beautiful looking cans. Yes they are big, certainly too big for travel purposes. The build quality is excellent with a good solid feel to them. The elasticated headband insures that the Siberia v2 will fit almost any head size. So big are these ear pieces that your ears, instead of resting against the ear pads, actually sit inside the ear pads creating a seal which is very effective in cutting out external sounds. If this is a problem for you and you want to use them in an environment where you need to know what is going on around you then the Siberia’s are not for you.

The Siberias come in a wide choice of colours including “Star Wars” style white, black, orange, red and blue. I was boring and chose the black.

They are extremely comfortable and remain so after hours of continuous use. However, the icing on the cake of their brilliant design is the microphone. This hides inside the left earpiece when not wanted and can be instantly pulled out when needed. The microphone is on the end of a very flexible and sturdy cable.
So, looks and design are outstanding, but what about the sound?

A word of warning here. Because these headsets have such massive drive units, they need a lot of wearing in before the moving parts start to loosen up and begin reproducing music to their full potential.
Initial listening showed a wonderful sound stage with excellent depth of field. This is hardly surprising as these headsets were primarily designed for Computer games where a pin point clarity and sound stage is all important. As mentioned in my previous headset reviews, I played all reviewed headsets on the standard “Jazz” setting in Microsoft’s Media Player. This setting however brought a horrendously overblown noise from the Siberias and I very soon found that the only way to listen to them was to switch the Graphics Equalizer off all together!
Straight out of the box, vocals were thin and unrealistic lacking character and although the drive units went down really low, deep organ notes were lacking body. The overall impression was a complete lack of emotional expression. You could not deny however, an amazing amount of subtle detail which was totally absent from all previous headsets or even some Sennheiser headphones I have tried.
The headsets gradually began to settle down and opened up after about a week. It continued to improve in leaps and bounds. I was finally ready to put these cans through its paces.
I started listening to the introduction of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. So enjoyable was it that I simply continued until the end of the album. Detail of all the weird sound effects has never been better and there was an overall balanced rightness to the whole production.
I wanted to fully test the sound stage of these beasts so moved on to Classical music. Jacqueline du Pré’s interpretation of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, recorded in 1965, remains the reference standard until today. Once experienced, it is sometimes painful to listen to other attempts at this minefield of a piece. The EMI recording itself is somewhat flat with microphone placed some distance away from Jacqueline’s cello. Nevertheless, the Siberias managed to transmit all that emotion - the delicate melancholy of her bow; Ah! it was all there in all its depth.
Jacqueline du Pré
Bernstein’s Live recording of Shostakovich Symphony Nos. 5 had less of the sound stage I would have expected but successfully portrayed this most dramatic of pieces. One was clearly able to distinguish clarinets under all that brass section, Piccolo from flute etc.

Rostropovich’s Shostakovich Symphony Nos. 7 (now that’s a mouth full) is a piece pregnant with anxiety and tension yet there is an underlining simple confidence that reassures and holds it all together. The Allegretto develops with a military drum being continually played far off in the distance while oboe and bassoon gently duel together in the foreground. Gradually, the drums increase their volume, further increasing the tension, just like one would feel with an invading army coming closer. With the climax, you have the string section on one side and brass section on the other, playing for all they are worth. One can forgive any computer audio setup for losing it at this point but the Siberia v2s kept their clarity throughout. Again I was expecting more depth of field from the recording but overall, a truly breath taking performance.

Getting back to rock, I played Electric Light Orchestra’s “Standin in the rain” and was delighted by the thunder storm at the beginning and the dramatic chord that commences the song. I found myself aware of the backing vocals separate from Jeff Lynn’s voice which I don’t ever remember noticing before.
Supertramp’s “School” from their album “Crime of the Century” is a wonderful headphone friendly track so I was expecting something amazing from the Siberias. The bass guitar and drums can sound overblown but the Siberias remained in control throughout. There was clarity and power there but I felt it could have done with slightly more. I’ll have to return to this track after a few weeks and see if the Siberias have loosened up still further. I’ll update you. Roger Hodgson’s voice can sound screechy on some systems but with the Siberias there was no hint of this.

I skipped to the last track in this album, namely “Crime of the Century” which is the grand finally of this classic Rock album. The drums were deep and full bodied with a potent punch that I have only ever experienced on HIFI systems costing tens of thousands of shekels.

In conclusion, playing mp3 compressed format audio files with their restricted frequency range from a standard onboard computer sound card, the Siberia v2s did a spectacular job of coming close to a HIFI quality experience. I haven’t mentioned the price up until now and for good reason. I’d say though that they are worth every penny. I have not enjoyed listening to music so much in years.

If you are looking for a high quality headset with a built in microphone for VOIP use but want to use them primarily for listening to music then these beauties are for you.

Steel Series Siberia v2.
Price: NIS 350 (gulp!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greenpeace perform pathetic stunt on the “Chords” bridge, Jerusalem

Last Sunday, 16th January 2011, I noticed everyone from my office building staring out of their windows. I went to see what all the fuss was and saw five guys who had climbed up the cables of the “Chords” bridge, at the entrance to Yerushalayim.

No one was sure if this was a demonstration of some sort or a maintenance crew hanging from the cables. The reason for the confusion was because we could not see any Police. In fact no Police turned up for around 2 hours after we first saw the climbers. There was one camera crew that was there although I suspect that it was a GreenPeace camera crew as they seemed to have been in radio contact with the climbers. One Police car turned up with two police officers. They remained in the car most of the time.
After 4 hours they started unwrapping their demonstration banner. There was a strong wind which I would imagine was even stronger up there so the going was slow. After an hour we could make out the letters. “Bibi, stop the Coal Powerstation”.

The guys at the top had samll banners in English but so great was their planning that only someone with a 10X zoom lens (like me) could actually read what they said!

This was visible for about an hour before the banner came loose and started dangling down making the banner unreadable.

A crowd of some 20 people gathered but only for a short time.  After the banner had completely fallen,  they then spent a further 4 hours up there, slowly making their way down.
It was beginning to get dark as they finally reached the bottom of the bridge. There they sat, collecting their equipment. It was difficult to see but it looked as if one of the Police officers, a woman, was speaking to them but left soon after, leaving them to tidy up.

Upon their descent, I'm sure that they paused to read the Gush Katif banners in the window of the Yerushalmi building next to them.

I suppose the officers decided that it wasn’t even worth taking these pathetic idiots in for questioning. Alternatievly, perhaps they had permission from the iriyah (local council)? As for their message; I’m sure that Bibi was impressed and took a lot of notice!

Teperberg-1870 “Terra range” Emerald Riesling 2009 (Semi Sweet White)

This wine has been popping up all over the place recently. I saw it in all the wine shops in Machane Yehuda this week for around NIS 60*.  Browsing the shelves of my local supermarket, I saw this Teperberg on sale for NIS 31. I wouldn’t usually have even considered buying an Emerald Riesling but as this was Teperberg and on sale for half price, I reconsidered.

Emerald Riesling (pronounced “Reezling”) is a Californian hybrid invention whose parents are the Riesling and Muscadelle grapes.
The Riesling, also known as "German Riesling" comes from the area of Germany and Austria. It is a dry grape that has traditionally needed some sweetener to make it palatable. This was either by blending it with a sweet grape or, for the cheaper wines, adding sugar.
The Muscadelle grape comes from the French region of Bordeaux. It is a sweet light grape.
At least on paper, it does make sense making a hybrid of these two contrasting grapes. In practice though, the product can suffer from a lack of body and taste and has a reputation for being a cheap wine, not to be taken that seriously. However, for some reason, this grape has met with quite a bit of success here in Israel over the years. Many Israelis it seems, have a sweet tooth when it comes to their wines.
So, despite knowing its reputation, not being a snob and having recently reviewed other Teperberg wines (as well as the incentive of the sale price) , I decided that we would give it a try for Shabbos morning Kiddush.
The first thing I noticed from the label is that this wine is from Teperberg’s cheaper range called “Terra” This is what the Teperberg Internet site has to say about it:
The Emerald Riesling wine is conceived from white grapes, a creation of the University of California’s Dr. Harold Olmo, who cross-bred Riesling with Muscadelle grape varieties. The Muscadelle-Riesling cross yields a grape variety which is rich in acidity and aromas yet delicate in taste. Consequently, the Emerald Riesling is vastly used as a blended wine component although many wineries worldwide use these grapes to produce a superb semi-dry white wine that holds its own. Contrary to the rest of the world, the Emerald Riesling is an extremely popular grape variety in Israel and many long for its sweet, lush taste throughout the country.
We opened the bottle. The initial aroma was one of sweet white Kiddush ("Mascati" style) grape juice and syrupy sultanas. Pouring the wine out into our Kiddush glasses, we observed a pleasant light yellow colour quite similar to a Chardonnay. Isn't an Emerald Riesling supposed to be greenish is colour? Never mind.
Let me say up front that I do not care for sweet wines and was slightly worried that this would be too sugary for me. Indeed, as I have already described,  the aroma certainly gave an indication that this would be sherry like syupy sweet but I noticed that the label states that the wine is only 75 calories/100ml which seemed to indicate that it was not that bad. A sweet wine would be 90 calories plus!

Drinking the wine brought varied opinions from my family. My wife liked the sweetness but said that it was too heavy for her taste. My kids really enjoyed it though. They described it as “fun to taste”. As for me, well, it was too sweet for my palette. However, I could see what my kids liked about it. It has a medium body with an initially delicate sweetness that turns into a slightly dryer aftertaste. This left you with the impression that it wasn’t as sweet as you at first thought.
A pleasant enough wine with no nasty surprises, but without sufficient character to be taken seriously. This is only my opinion though. My kids said that they really enjoyed it and would like to drink it again. So, if you do enjoy a good semi-sweet wine, this is not a bad example of one.
Recommended for those with a sweet tooth.

* Talking of Machane Yehuda. My son and I were looking at the whisky prices in the wine stores. They had a good selection of single malts there. However, by the look of all the dust on the cartons, no one is buying them and for good reason. The prices were simply outrageous! NIS 499 for a standard “The Glenlivet 12 year old”.
This whisky is around NIS 150 for a 1 litre bottle in the “Duty Free” and probably only slightly more expensive in the British supermarkets. How about a “The Glenlivet French Oak finish 15 year old” for NIS 899?
The “Duty Free” price is around NIS 200. Exactly how much TAX is on whisky in Israel? Googling this question did not return any definite results but it seems that there is around 200% import tax on a bottle of whisky. However, the tax on Vodka is a lot less! Now, why would that be? “Ya Ne Znayu. Da”!, as they say in Russian.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Remove ShoppyBag from your Gmail account

(See below for removal instructions)

There seems to be a plague of these nasty ShoppyBag emails at the moment. As far as I can tell, this phishing/malware scam only affects GMAIL account users.

You receive an email, purporting to be from a friend, asking you to click on this button in order to look at a photo they have sent you. All you have to do is click and the scammers have gained access to your Gmail account, stolen your contact list and sent invitations to all the Gmail accounts on that list, telling them that you have sent them a picture. The site claims that you have to fill out their application form and agree to their terms in order for them to send emails on your behalf but everyone who I have spoken to, who have unfortunately clicked on the link, have told me that simply clicking the link did all the damage. Many backed out without completing the account sign up form and without agreeing to anything. It was too late though. They had already gained access by using a special API code (supplied by Google) that gives access to third parties and websites to your Gmail accounts.

What makes this worse is that Google, who own Gmail, know that these despicable scammers are targeting Gmail accounts and seem to be doing nothing to stop them. Looking on the Gmail forum sites, users have been complaining for months now, with little or no reaction from Google.

If Google remain silent and do not stop ShoppyBag from hijacking Gmail accounts then it would seem that ShoppyBag have Google's tacit approval to steal Gmail user’s contact lists and send their phishing scams to everyone on that list.

One person who wrote into the Google forums said that his Gmail account contained all his business customers. After Shoppybag bombarded all of them with emails, he has lost their trust and it has ruined his “parnosa”.

If you didn’t know, the motto of Google is “Do no Evil”!!!

See one of the Google forums here

How to remove ShoppyBag’s access to your Gmail account

The first thing to say is that these scammers have unfortunately already stolen your contact list. Some people on Question/Answers sites have suggested going into the ShoppyBag site and completing their form to close your account. People have informed me that people on the contact list still continue to receive the emails. Moreover, going into the site could be a security risk so I would not recommend this.

My advice is to do the following:

1. Send an email only to Gmail account holders on your Contact list...
a. Telling them to report all sent and future ShoppyBag emails to Google as "Phishing emails".
    To do this, click on the blue down arrow, to the right of the Reply button and click the "Report Phishing" option.

b. Tell them NOT to click on the link.
c. Apologise to them for giving ShoppyBag their email address.
d. Include the link to this page, or better still, paste the contents of this page to those effected.

2. Log into Gmail and click on “Settings” in the top right hand corner of the page.

Click on the third TAB across labeled “Accounts and Import”.
Scroll down to the bottom to where it says “Change Account Settings
Click on the link saying “Google Account Settings

(Log in if it asks you)

Under Security settings, the third line down, click on the link labeled “Authorisng Applications and Sites”.

Click on “revoke access” next to ShoppyBag's Google contacts to remove their access to your account.

3. Go back to the “Google Accounts Setting” Page and click on the first link: “Changing your password”.
Change your password to something with a combination of letters and numbers.

4. Log back into Gmail with your new password and go to your Contacts list.
Search through all your Contacts, deleting all ShoppyBag emails.

That’s all you can do I’m afraid until Google decide to act.

*** UPDATE ***

I found this legal site which is collecting information in order to sue shoppybag with a class action lawsuit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Melanie Phillips on Israeli TV

Melanie Phillips was on Israeli TV a few days ago. Not having a Television I didn’t know until someone sent me this Youtube link.
You can see the interviewer’s surprise when Melanie attacks the HaAretz newspaper.  I’m not even sure that he understood everything that she said. I was concentrating on what she said so I haven’t checked the Hebrew subtitles yet. I do hope they were accurate and did not mistranslate her.

Three computer headsets - A review

I am reviewing three computer headsets here. One would buy a headset rather than a standard pair of headphones for the attached microphone. This enables you to use Skype, VoipStunt or answer support calls over the Internet. However it would be good if you could also use the headset for listening to music and watching DVDs. So, with these criteria in mind I started listening. I used my HP Z800 workstation and Windows Media Player (WMP) set on “Jazz” mode throughout. All other audio settings were switched off.

I picked up these cans on the ground floor of the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim.

HP HPP-HPCS900SKA REV:2.0 Stereo Headset with Microphone.
Price: NIS 90

The headset has an overall look of quality about it. The design has the look of some serious sound gear costing far more than its actual price tag. On closer inspection the actual quality is only OK to good, made from strong plastic.  Both head pieces and the centre fold up for storage and travel and it is here where I have my concerns. The central hinge which folds the headset in half seems liable to snap in two if too much pressure is applied. The headphone and microphone jacks are gold plated but are very thin and do not seem particularly sturdy. The ear pads are soft and thick and have a nice quality feel to them. The cable length is adequate. The model has a volume control but it’s pretty useless as it only covers half the range turning the volume down but not totally silent. There is also a button on the volume control that doesn’t seem to do anything.

The headset is not for anyone with a wide head. After a few minutes my head was aching. This must be a serious consideration before purchasing. I kept the headset stretched around the computer the whole night to try and loosen them up but did not notice any improvement the next morning. Also I wouldn’t try and stretch it too much as that central hinge I mentioned earlier is liable to snap. You have been warned! The cables that come out of both sides of the headset come down and join together at the volume control. There is insufficient cable and the volume control was getting tangled up in my beard. Moreover the left and right cables were getting twisted around each other which proved very annoying. Again, this shows that these headsets were not designed for the big headed in mind.

The microphone is not very flexible and gets in the way of the left ear piece. When in its up right angle position which is where you want it when it’s not in use, it prevents the left ear piece from swivelling on its axis as the microphone blocks its movement. This is not a great a design.

They are a closed system headset and do a very good job of blocking out external noise, especially people talking. This could be a problem if you need to keep an ear open for any conversation that might interest you or want to hear the telephone or someone calling you. Sound output is simply massive. I placed the computer volume on 50% and WMP on 50% and that was loud!

Listening experience was very positive giving a not too open and not too closed headphone experience. The bass guitar on “Dear Prudence” was clear and deep. The electric guitar was believable and the vocals clear and balanced. Duke’s Travels by Genesis (from their album Duke) was good but not exceptionable. The drum duet showed depth, detail and power although seemed slightly reserved and too polite. I would imagine that this will improve and those drums will open up more after the headset has been worn in for a few weeks. I could easily follow individual instruments and was noticing subtleties that I hadn’t noticed with the other headsets.

Musically, that is, the amount of music it dug out from the recording,  was superior to the Silver Line models and it kept my attention throughout the listening session although that had to be cut short as the headsets were becoming painful to wear. Stereo separation was good although the depth of field was not well defined.

Recommended for those with thin heads

Silver Line HS68MV
Price: NIS 30

Silver Line products are available in Kravits, Tower Records and other Office and computer supply outlets in Israel.

These headsets have a cheap plasticy look to them but actually are much stronger than they look when handled. The cable is a good length and sockets are sturdy. The cable for both ear pieces comes out of the left hand side of the headset which is a good tidy design.

When not in use, you can swivel the microphone angle straight up to keep it out of the way. It does not get in the way of the ear pieces and feels strong and very flexible. A great design.

The headset has good quality thick padded ear pads that look very durable. The headset frame is very flexible and adjusts to practically any size head. The ear pieces fit comfortably and snugly to your ears but allow a certain amount of outside sound/noise through. One would have to decide oneself if this is an advantage or disadvantage.

For small a headset and low price the headset has an impressive sound. No ground shaking bass notes here but drums and bass guitars are perfectly acceptable with a firm punch, echo and firm impact to them. Sound output is good with the volume on the computer set to around 75% to get a suitable volume level for listening to music.  Listening to ELO’s “Eldorado” all the way through shows these little cans capable of presenting a good 3D depth to the music. Jeff Lynn’s voice is lacking a certain detail but nothing to detract from your enjoyment. Trumpets sound realistic, brassy and mellow. Switching to an Al Stewart track “Clifton in the Rain”, the Acoustic guitar sounds convincing and full bodied.  The Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road”’ Piano solo however was disappointing showing a very slight unnatural shrill. This was also evident from the electric guitar. I must say slight though, in no way can these “cans” be described as “tinny”, forgive the pun!

Highly recommended and amazing value for money.

Silver Line XTHS 77MV
Price: NIS 40

They are a good looking design. Overall quality is good with a solid feel to them.

The ear pieces are flat and thin and rest gently on the ears rather than smother them. This makes for an open listening experience which means that you can still hear things around you. They are extremely comfortable even for big heads like me and are suitable for long listening sessions. The felt ear piece cover raps around the entire ear piece and it’s just a guess but I would think that continually putting the headset down and picking it up would eventually wear out the sides and tear the felt. The cable running down comes out of the left side only which means that there is no other cable to get tangled up with as well as adding to the comfort of the headsets. The volume control does its job well although how useful this device is remains to be seen.

Just like its little brother, the HS68MVs, when not in use, you can swivel the microphone angle straight up to keep it out of the way. It does not get in the way of the ear pieces and feels strong and very flexible.

The sound output is very weak, even weaker than the smaller HS68MVs which is supposed to be its little brother.  I had to put the computer volume and WMP volume on near maximum to get a reasonable sound level from them. This could be a problem if you have a laptop with low volume output to start with.

Being an open system, depth of field is good and makes for a lively 3D experience. Listening to Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations” I was impressed with the natural sound of the acoustic guitar and the way it brought out Mark’s gruff voice. The Xylophone was suitably menacing. The piano was lifelike, rich and had real depth. However the sound of the smashed milk bottle on the left hand side after the cat’s howl was hardly noticeable. The bass drums were disappointing, lacking impact and force, no doubt due to the poor sensitivity of the headset’s drivers. I’m sure that plugging them into a descent amplifier would improve things but one should not forget that this device is meant for computers and not primarily for HIFI music listening. There are still sufficient qualifies to deliver a satisfying experience though. The piano solo on “Telegraph Road” for instance, was simply delightful.

There is only NIS 10 difference between the Silver Line HS68MV and the XTHS 77MV so the question is, which is the better buy?

Comparing the two models, the XTHS 77MVs look like the “bizz”, having a more professional expensive look to them. The HS68MV in comparison looks cheap. The XTHS 77MVs are capable of extracting more musical detail from the recording and instruments sound more true to life but honestly there’s not much in it. Both headsets are very comfortable, perhaps the XTHS77MVs slightly more so. They appear to share the same microphone.

Bottom line, if its looks you are after plus a slightly better sound quality,  go for the XTHS 77MVs but if your computer/laptop has a weak volume output then forget them and go for the HS68MVs. Also I'm concerned about those felt ear coverings on the XTHS77MS. The HS68MVs are obviously more compact and fit into your travel case better. If I had to choose (which I did), I'd go for the HS68MVs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

British Consulate-General Jerusalem, home of Chamas Terrorist Cell

Ever since I made Aliyah in the late 1980s I have been going to the British Consulate General in Jerusalem whenever I had to register the birth of a child, renew my passport or deal with any other British government business. As far as I could tell, everyone working there, at least in the main office were all Arabs, including the security guards. Despite receiving filthy looks because of my obvious religious Jewish apearence, they always dealt with my requests courteously and efficiently. And why shouldn't I go there? I'm a British citizen and live some 15 mins drive from the Consulate.

All this changed a few years ago when turning up at the Consulate one day, they refused to let me into the building even when showing the guard my British passport.

Their policy now seems to be that they will give service to everyone (including Israeli Arabs) except Jews! Jews have to go to Tel Aviv to receive British Consulate service.

The British Consulate, Jerusalem’s Internet site clearly shows that they consider Jerusalem "Palestinian" with no mention that Jerusalem is actually not only part of but the capital of the State of Israel.

British Consulate Jerusalem Homepage:

The Consulate's Internet site's main article is about how Britain lectured Israel that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace.

Perhaps someone could tell the British Foreign Office that it's actually Arab terrorism, support by Western governments for the Palestinian Authority/Chamas who terrorise their own people and the lack of democracy within the Middle East which is the real obstacle to peace!

Now The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the British Consulate in Jerusalem is actually the home base for a Chamas Terrorist cell which amongst other things, planned to blow up Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

British Civil Servants / Chamas Terrorists
One paragraph in the article was somewhat puzzling:

"The Consulate-General plays an important political role in Israel and would be considered a major terrorist target, in common with diplomatic posts elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the authorities have said the men’s arrests had “no connection to their work at the consulate”.

The Consulate-General in Jerusalem actually tries to play no political role in Israel as it functions as if it’s in the fictitious State of Palestine by only servicing Arabs.

Melanie Phillips has also written about this:

Monday, January 3, 2011

My current list of Favourite 100% Free Essential Software

AVG Antivirus FREE no longer recommended.

I have been recommending AVG Antivirus FREE for many years now. Their latest version however leaves a lot to be desired. First off, they have an alarming warning screen whenever you open the console which to a non-tech person would be very scary. In fact it is simply a notice that apparently you’ll get better protection if you bought the professional version.

This warning screen was present in version 8 but now in version 2011 they have an extra Scan option called "PC Analyzer" that tells you that it will scan for System errors. In my opinion, this type of scan has no place in an Antivirus program. The application nags you until you do a scan. After a while it returns results that would look really scary to all but the most tech savvy. Hundreds of registry and other errors flash up on the screen in red. When you click on the FIX button you are taken to the AVG website where upon you are requested to buy the professional version in order to fix the problems. I consider this type of advertising immoral and unacceptable. This would have been ample reason for me to withdraw my recommendation for this product but it gets worse. Last week a number of Security blogs reported that AVG’s latest updates corrupted Windows on hundreds of thousands of machines all around the world. It’s time to uninstall this app and replace it with something else. But what?

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) Antivirus

I can’t believe how good this free product is. It takes a minute or two to download and another minute to install. Yes, this is Microsoft I’m talking about! The company with the reputation for the most bloated software in the world. Their Antivirus however is lean and mean! I have tested this product against some pretty nasty viruses and evil websites and its managed to stop them all.

The only thing against this product is the fact that it is from Microsoft. Virus and Spyware criminals have tried to specifically target this product just because it is Microsoft. One piece of spyware actually tried to mimic a Microsoft Security Essentials popup Virus warning window. When you click on it, it takes you to a website that downloads a virus to destroy the antivirus and take control of the machine.

Fake popup window

Despite this, I still recommend this product and have replaced AVG with MSE on quite a few machines already.

*** UPDATE ***

Users who I have replaced AVG with MSE on their computers have reported that their computers are running much faster. File copies are now lightning fast and applications like Skype and VoipStunt are running much better with MSE.

CD Burner XP burning software.

There is only one thing wrong with this otherwise excellent product and that is its terrible name! For one thing it doesn’t just burn CDs as its name suggests but DVDs and even Blu-ray as well! The XP tagged on at the end makes it sound dated and would have many worried that it doesn’t work on Vista or Windows 7. I can assure you that I have installed it on Windows 7 64 bit and it works perfectly. This application is simple to use and anyone who has used the very expensive Nero tool would be instantly at home with this product. It is fast, reliable and 100% Freeware.

FileZilla FTP client.

This is a very nice FTP tool with an elegant user interface. You enter the IP address at the top. Below you have two windows. One for your local machine or network path, the other the FTP folder. You can drag and drop or copy and paste items. It gives you detailed information on its progress and is reliable. The only negative thing I would mention is that it insists on checking for updates every time you run the tool (and then automatically downloading it) and usually finds an update nearly every time as this product is frequently updated. For some, this would seem like a good thing as you know that the product is alive and being maintained well. The application is 100% Freeware.

MP3MyMP3 recording tool.

This brilliantly clever tool records directly from the sound card output which means that you can record anything you hear on the computer. You can use it to record live Internet broadcasts or any other audio that has no “download” option but only a “play” option. The interface is slightly weird but after a few minutes of wandering around, you get the gist of how to use it. (100% Freeware).

Mp3tag Editor

This little tool allows you to edit the tag data of any MP3 file. You can modify or add any tag including Album Title, Artist’s name, Year, track number etc. In theory, Windows Properties allows you to do this but in practice Windows sometimes gives you an error if you attempt to modify the data. This tool works. (100% Freeware).

PeaZip archive/de-archive, compression/decompression manager tool.

This application takes the place of the commercial WinZip or WinRAR tools. It installs into the context RightClick menu and allows you to do everything that these other products do. The difference is that PeaZip is 100% Freeware.

How I got the most powerful Work Station in the world.

Or How Government organisations work.

As many of you will know, I work in the IT department of a large government organization in Israel. Part of my job entails giving support to users. Over the past year I have had an increasing amount of support calls from users using Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS. This being the case, it was not unreasonable for me, about six months ago, to ask my boss for a second machine in order to install Windows 7.
I asked for a workstation with a minimum of a 64 bit CPU, 2 GB RAM, 200 GB hard drive and a PC Express Video Card to run my Samsung 22 inch screen which does not like cheap on board screen cards. After all the emails and talks about saving money in the department, this was a carefully thought out request for the minimum of the minimum.

About a month later I received a new Lenovo ThinkCentre m50 workstation. It turned out that my boss had ignored my detailed request and simply ordered me a standard machine that’s used throughout the whole organization.
It had an AMD 64 cpu, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard disk and one basic onboard screen card. This was totally unsuitable but after speaking with my dear fearless leader, he told me that he had had no choice but to order the standard machine but I could always order extra parts that I needed in order to bring it up to spec.

So, that day I ordered more RAM and a PC Express Video card. The total retail cost was less than NIS 500 so actual cost to my department would be considerably less.

First of all I thought it would be easy to purchase the parts as acquisitions of less than NIS 500 are considered petty cash and can be ordered without approval from the accounts department. However, when I went to speak to the acquisitions person he informed me that as it was computer equipment, it would have to go through the equipment suppliers which only the accounts department could order from.
So now, in order to order the new equipment I had to fill out an acquisitions form (in the form of a Word file) stating exactly what I wanted and the specific reason I wanted it for. This form was then sent it to my head of department. He then has to send this form with his approval to the department acquisitions person who sends the order to accounts for approval and ordering. I filled out the form and sent it off.

After a few days I happened to ask the acquisitions guy if he had ordered the parts yet. He told me that he hadn’t even received the email from my boss. Then began two weeks of constantly nagging my boss to send the form off. He promised to do it “in a minute” some 20 times. One day I happened to see them both in my boss’s room so I rushed in and asked my boss if he could send the form right now. Again I received the reply “in a minute”. Later that day I checked with the acquisitions guy and yes, you guessed it, he still had not received it. At that point I lost my cool and demanded he send it immediately. He told me to send the form again as he had deleted all his emails more than two weeks old. I went back to my desk and sent the form again and then went back to his room and sat over him whilst he sent to email. Fewww!

Two days later I spoke to the acquisitions guy. Had he ordered the parts I asked? "No" came the reply. The department had run out of money for that month so it would have to wait until next month. I argued with him but to no avail. The next month rolled along and I reminded the acquisitions guy that he had to order my parts. Of course he would do it he told me, that is, once he received a new order form with approval from my boss as there was an expiry date on the order.

At that point I gave up. That was two months ago.

Last Monday morning I was sitting with a colleague working on a problem when he told me about this huge multimillion shekel deal with HP to supply our organisation with new servers, server cabinets and workstations. He was involved in the makeup of the orders. While he was on the HP site he happened to see their top of range super workstation called the HP Z800. As he was struggling with his old computer, he asked our boss if he could include this in the HP order. Within three days, there it was, waiting for him by his desk. I wanted to explode! However my colleague said that it wouldn’t hurt if I simply popped into the boss’s office and asked him to order me another workstation, just like he had. So I got up and went to the boss’s office.

“Order me a computer just like Shimon has!” I told him. He briefly looked up at me and mumbled that he’d have to check. Then he went back to what he was doing, leaving me standing there. Oh well I thought, that was that! I tried hard to convince myself that it was nothing personal and simply a consequence of working for the government.

The next morning I got in to work around 7:20am but left after an hour as I had an appointment to see my dietitian. I got back to the office at about 9:30am to find a massive box waiting for me by my desk. The letters HP emblazoned on the side.

The HP Z800 workstation basic specs are:

Cost: Around NIS 16,000

2 X physical Intel Xeon X5620 2.40 Ghz 128MB cache, 6 Core processors.
(Equivalent to 8 virtual CPUs)

1,110W HP Power supply

12 GB DDR3 1333MHz Ram standard (upgradable to 192GB)

PCI Express PCIe x16 Gen2 Graphics card with 1 GB DDR5 dedicated memory
Capable of running three screens at once.

2 X 500GB RAID mirror system hard disk drives.
1 X 1.5 TB hard drive

Windows 7 Professional 64 bit

I had not had to fill out any forms. I had not had to give any reasons justifying the purchase. It had taken less than 24 hours to arrive and it is by far the best workstation I have ever used. Go figure! That's how it works around here.