Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mixed potpourri of geek snippets

Office 2007 file format converter
So I don’t think much of Windows Vista. It is said that in 2007, Vista was only shipped with 39% of all new PC’s because nobody wanted it. I also heard that in June this year, XP will no longer be available to buy, so anybody needing to stock up on licenses should do so soon, if they prefer to steer clear of Vista. Although you don’t need Vista to run Microsoft Office 2007; it can be run on XP, not too many people are using Office 2007 yet either. It looks radically different from the conventional Microsoft Office 2003 so many believe that if it aint broken, don’t try to fix it by migrating to 2007. The main reason for the reluctance to migrate is the file format change, though. MS Word 2003 and prior versions created documents with an extension “.doc” and MS Word 2007 has “.docx”, the old Excel uses “.xls” vs. Excel 2007 “.xlsx” and old PowerPoint uses “.ppt” while 2007 has “.pptx”.

Users of previous versions of Office can’t read documents created in new versions and the only solution is for 2007 users to back-save before distributing to their older version contacts? Not quite! Microsoft has come out with a file format converter that allows Office 2003 to be spruced up to open 2007 documents. This converter is free to download from Microsoft say you must ensure your system (if an Office XP or 2003 user) is up to date by installing all High-Priority / required updates on beforehand. Then, in the search window on type FileFormatConverters.exe and download this hefty 27Mb executable. Double-click to install and that should take care of opening documents from 2007 in 2003.

Avast outstrips AVG
Next update is on the Antivirus front: AVG used to be the most popular free antivirus program out, but in recent times a new name has made itself felt and people, including myself, have started to uninstall AVG and migrate to Avast. Avast is available free for home users on . I have come across a couple viruses/trojans that AVG did not pick up but Avast did. If you suspect your system is compromised, the thing to do is download avast ( 19Mb), load it, download the latest virus database as per avast menu, restart your computer in safe mode and virus check your system.

Safe Mode
Chances of adware/spyware/viruses loading in Safe Mode are minimal. To boot into Safe Mode in Windows XP, shut down the computer totally (as in power off – keep power off for 30 seconds). Turn the computer on and start tapping the F8 key every second as the white (pre-windows) writing starts coming up on the screen. You will drop into the Windows Advanced Options Menu. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard (the mouse won’t work yet), choose Start Windows in Safe Mode. Virus check your system, then reboot normally to get back into conventional Windows.

Synch it with Google
An interesting addition happened in Google Calendar not long ago. The Google team came up with “Sync with Microsoft Outlook calendar”. If you use the Google Calendar to its fullest, inclusive of free reminder sms’s of upcoming events, but you also want the features offered by Microsoft Outlook, syncing Google Calendar to Outlook (or Outlook with Google – or both) is now possible and easily set up. All you need to do is surf to, click on the new red link at the top that leads to the Sync feature and download, as per instructions, the executable GoogleCalendarSyncInstaller.exe . Once downloaded, double click on it to install it and decide if you want a 2-way sync, or a one way from or to Google Calendar. You are also able to set the interval between each synchronisation. Sweet, this can now easily be incorporated into your existing Microsoft Outlook Calendar, or the one used at work. It only syncs your main calendar for now, which is a downside if you use several calendars in Google.

Load Shedding Info
Focusing on the wonderful world of load shedding, forewarned is better than being caught off guard. The internet has a number of websites dedicated to the power issue. The obviously important one is when can we expect a load shed? Ideally keep an eye on and watch that dial they show on TV. If it goes into brown – trouble. Another useful site which quotes more links is and is especially useful to find out what can be done to help Eskom out of their quandary and how to save electricity.

And if you want to take power saving to new heights, use instead of which swaps the white background with a black one, thus saving energy. Or does it? The jury really is out on this one, but hey, blackle sure makes for a change.

Don’t blow your lid
If you need to be prepared, there is a company in Cape Town that specialises in UPS’s (Uninterrupted Power Supply) as electronic equipment not shut off in time can take strain and blow. If you need a solution, maybe have it?

The Witness Geek, when not in panic mode of one form or another, answers emails on or you can visit her blog on .

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


First off, I would like to thank Ronan Duff for piping the accidentally misspelt URL of Maritzburgs' Blog back to our . So drop by and set yourself up on our Maritzburg blog spot.

But if blogging isn’t your scene, maybe faxing is? Read on as I’m about to demystify how to receive and send faxes from your computer.

Before you sign up for a quick and free fax number via some service provider advertising this service, consider if you will need to send faxes, too, or if being able to receive faxes is good enough. Choosing your fax service provider depends on this decision as not all service providers also accommodate the sending of faxes from your PC. Here’s the lowdown:

It is easy to set yourself up with a quick fax number to which you can receive faxes. Incoming faxes will come through on your email and it is a free service which many service providers offer, including Postnet. Surf to and click on their Fax2Email icon and choose a Postnet outlet near you. Then fill in your details, wait for the activation email to come through to you and click on the activation link. You will now already have an 086 fax number allocated to you, but Postnet still needs to set the 086 number up to pipe any incoming faxes to your email provided. They say it takes about 2 hours before it’s activated. When a fax comes through to you, you will see it as an email in your Inbox with either a tiff file (Tagged Image File Format) or an Adobe Acrobat Reader .pdf attachment.

If you need to send faxes from the comfort of your computer, here are further options:

If you still have a dial-up modem, and Windows XP or younger, you can send faxes from your computer using “Windows Faxing”, a facility which Windows provides, but which can be tricky to set up.

It involves adding the Windows Component ‘Fax Services’ in the Control Panel. The Windows Component Wizard should be able to set up the rest and you will be able to send a fax by pretending to “print” and instead of using a physical printer, use the Fax option. Read more about this on the Microsoft website by searching for “Faxing” when you’re at .

If you have moved onto ADSL, please note that an ADSL router cannot be used for faxing as it is a router, not a modem. I asked Des Ramsay of SAI for a technical explanation: “ADSL modems do not dial into POP's like your old dial up modem does. This time an ADSL modem works like an ADSL router, but connects to a DSLAM port. You can't put a telephone number into a ADSL modem, if that makes sense.” Clear as mud to me, but what I will remember is that if I had an old dial-up modem still connected to my computer, I could plug it into the phone line and use it to fax, even while using the ADSL router to surf the net and get my email.

However, remember that sending faxes this way incurs a cost as it is essentially a phone call you are making.

But, at a reasonable price, you could circumvent this roundabout way of faxing and faffing by asking your Internet Service Provider for a solution.

I asked SAI and they offer VAX Services. SAI, like Postnet, are able to supply you with a free 086 fax number which allows you to receive faxes. The good news is that even if you are not an SAI client, you can get your free fax number from them.

Should you require to send faxes, you can then ask SAI to install VAX Services for you, which enables you to use your email to send faxes. These sent faxes incur a cost, and a monthly premium of R35 covers this service. If faxes sent for the month exceed R35, the cost jumps to R70. Speak to them on 0861 33 22 11 or email them at

Once Vax Service is installed, a fax would be sent from your email program with the recipient address showing the fax number like this:

Unused 086 fax numbers are recycled after three to six months, so if you rush out to get one just for fun, use it or loose it, dears. They are also not transferable between service providers. This is the geek faxing out the signal. Roger Roger.

Check out the Witness Geek blogspot on or visit

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Social Networking

Wayne Janneker is a passionate twenty five year old Network Systems Engineer. His involvements range from the Pietermaritzburg Linux Enthusiasts Group to the Lincoln Meade Neighbourhood Watch. His day job includes programming and fixing peoples problems and I should know, he’s helped me on a number of occasions. We started chatting about trends in social networking, especially how the internet has redefined how people connect and find like-minded communities. Janneker has been researching this, and I went to quiz him in “real” life at his office.

When he started looking into social networking, he first asked himself how the average local Internet user had adapted to the Internet as a whole and discovered that the FUD theory is still very much alive and kicking. FUD standing for “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”. People are still scared to give out credit card details online. Janneker found random people he chatted to “horribly shocked” when asked if they would book a flight online. Most people had heard urban legends that they would get to the airport only to find they had been “suckered” into divulging their credit card details, that there was no booking or seat on the airoplane for them and that their details had been leaked to spam engines or even the Russian Mafia for identity theft. Read more on the truth behind urban legends at Janneker explains that one needs to be savvy and understand that sites like the online SARS, Discovery Health, Mango Airlines and banks, ranking amongst legitimate sites, may require more personal information and advises users to look out for the golden keypad on a secured website.

Controversially, Janneker says that on social networking sites such as Facebook, users often gladly reveal email addresses, telephone numbers and photos of themselves publicly and thinks that this is where stalkers could have a field day. He draws the line at handing out email addresses on social websites.

“I must state social networking, even from the begin of time, can only be as safe as what you disclose!” philosophizes Janneker.

After these so-so findings, Janneker decided to dig deeper into the aspect of social networking and came to the conclusion that social networking is a culture, not a “thing”. It existed well before the Internet, computers and even telephones and today’s technology has just opened quicker and easier avenues.

“Social networking is really you and a group of people coming together on a common ground and communicating on a mutual level that is fun and easy. The internet just makes it possible for you to communicate with others on a global level.” says Janneker.

Today’s methods of sharing these common interests include blogs (text based journal entries posted on the Internet), podcasts (audio blogs) and vlogs (video blogs).
Immediately one thinks of Facebook or MySpace, which is inherently a social networking site mainly used by the younger “folks”. Janneker discovered a strange phenomena: comparing friends he knows in the “real world” with their “cyber” persona, he noticed that their attitude and personality took on a new shape:

“I noticed, for example, shy friends I knew from school, who are now on facebook looking cool and hip. On a human level they are more timid, but on a cyber level they’ve upped their personality a good deal. They now have a “second life” online.”

“If you didn’t know me in real life, I, Wayne, could portray a new image. It’s almost like a second chance to better their image, nobody knows the true you and you can live what you are missing.”

This led Janneker to find out more on attitude change. He found a survey on which states that conventional internet dating sites used to find poor responses to posts: around about a 5% match. Then a new dating site offered a “virtual makeover” which reports a 99% success rate. What did they do? They “spruced up” members profiles to make them sound more desirable.

Janneker came away saying: “My personal view is that you have to be true about yourself online.”

These were almost alarming findings, so I asked Janneker to let me come away with something positive.

We discovered a common passion in Pietermaritzburg and its communities:

Janneker has taken his involvement in the Lincoln Meade Community watch online: is an active and up to date website reporting on issues surrounding latest arrests, incident and information boards. Janneker has linked up with other community watches in South Africa who share tips and even phone to help with issues.

Computer forums are inherently helpful and none more so than PLEG (Pietermaritzburg Linux Enthusiast Group), who have been the trading post for taking unwanted computers off a companies’ hands and redistributing them to the needy communities such as schools, using open source software.

Women in Business and the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business use their active cyber community to network, giving it a business spin.

Using a blog to address business issues has been all but totally underestimated by South African businesses so far. Why not create a business blog such as a daily health tip aimed at South African women, or a weekly posting on financial tax tips pertaining especially to our local environment and let people add these to their RSS feeder to keep on top of their business game. This would be a lot more dynamic than a website.

If these blogs are helpful and handy, you are sure to get spin off business when readers have specific needs and hire your services.

Pietermaritzburg gets its own blog site
So during our interview, ever pro-active Janneker put on his thinking cap and went away to create a place where a network of Pietermaritzburg based interest groups could have a common blog or a link.

Not a new idea, but certainly one long overdue in our city, it is an open site to develop social networking in our city.

Surf to and set yourself up. It is aimed at common interest local communities having one place to find each other.

“Blogs have a greater response, are read by more people more quickly than traditional ways of getting heard such as standing on a street corner.”