Leo's Answers #196 – September 15, 2009

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A Weekly Newsletter From
Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom

Hello!

Do you have a question for me? Don’t hit reply! Head instead for the Ask Leo! home page and search the site first – seriously, around half the questions people ask are already answered there. You can also browse the archives, past newsletters and more. If you still can’t find the answer you’re looking for then by all means ask your question here (it’s the fastest way).

*** New Articles

Why do I get odd characters instead of quotes in my documents?

I have noticed for years that certain emails and documents have strange characters where punctuation and other characters should be. An example is this word: yesterday’s Where the characters ’ should clearly be an apostrophe. Why is this happening and what can I do to eliminate this occurring? I suspect that it happens more often when the originating computer system is a mac.

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It’s all about character encoding.

And that simple sentence represents a bit of complexity.

Let me cover a few concepts, and throw out a few tips on how it can sometimes be avoided.

Continue reading: Why do I get odd characters instead of quotes in my documents?
http://ask-leo.com/C3868

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How do programmers create interactive games?

How do programmers create interactive games? Does every game have a winning solution if the player knows (or guesses) what sequence of events to follow? Like in the old game Tetris. If the player rotates the falling piece to a specific orientation and then drops it on a specific spot on a specific line, does that generate a specific next falling piece? Or is it all completely random? If a person is a great games programmer, could that person also be a great programmer for, let’s say, an operating system if the game and OS use the same language? How does programming for a 2 dimensional game like Tetris differ from programming for a 3-D game like World of Warcraft? And since WoW has so many more variables than Tetris can a programmer really anticipate every possible move that a player can make? Does a programmer also have to have artistic skills to create (draw) the characters?

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Wow. (No pun intended.) That’s a lot of questions about gaming and software development.

It’s going to be hard to give a detailed explanation of how this stuff all works, but I’ll try to make a few observations and comparisons that might make things a little more understandable. Maybe.

And, perhaps, allow me to write-off this month’s World of Warcraft subscription as a business expense.

Continue reading: How do programmers create interactive games?
http://ask-leo.com/C3867

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How easy is it to forge or alter email?

Hi, I received e-mails (printed out). I am being told by the person who is said to have originally sent the e-mails that they are fabricated e-mails. In other words, he claims that he sent an e-mail to someone and that person modified the content to make it look like they were his words. Can this easily be done. How can I tell if it’s been altered or if it is an original?

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One of email’s “dirty little secrets” is the answer to your question: it’s trivially easy to alter email as you describe.

In fact, if I understand the scenario you’re describing, it might even be easier than that.

There are technologies to help ensure the integrity of messages, but unfortunately they’re not something you can apply after-the-fact.

Continue reading: How easy is it to forge or alter email?
http://ask-leo.com/C3866

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My laptop only seems to support WEP encryption, how do I get WPA2?

I have an IBM ThinkPad 2897 laptop running WinXP Pro which has wireless card inside. I don’t currently see an option for WPA2 for wireless connectivity/security, only WEP. But the wireless network I need to connect to is secured by WPA2.

I think there’s a driver or file to download that will enable Windows to ‘see’ this option and add it to the list of available wireless network security protocols, but I’m not sure and not sure where to find it.

What can I do?

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As has been mentioned before, WEP encryption should be considered about as safe as no encryption at all. Software to crack it, and crack it quickly, has been available for some time. WEP had its day, and that day has passed.

The “next best” is WPA, which some recent reports indicate may have been cracked. It’s unclear what the true risk and practical impact of that might be.

WPA2, however, remains solid and should be considered “the way to go”.

What if your computer won’t let you go there?

That might actually be a problem, but there are solutions.

Continue reading: My laptop only seems to support WEP encryption, how do I get WPA2?
http://ask-leo.com/C3865

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*** Comments

A sampling of some of the comments that have been posted recently on Ask Leo!

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If phishers had a clue…

Bill writes:

I find it hard to believe that most spam or phishing works but the social engineering can work well on people who would never open up spam or a money scam. A friend realized (right after she clicked) that the “package cannot be delivered” message was suspicious. She was waiting for a package that was a little slow.

My bank has a second page that will display a picture that you have chosen and text that you create, that you have to go through before signing in. My mother and siblings probably wouldn’t guess the correct picture or the text that I attached with it. They are the only ones who would say “that makes sense”.

It’s actually scary how many people do purchase from or fall for spam/scam emails. Enough to make spamming a very lucrative, if illegal, business.

The “show me a picture I’ll recognize” security measures are somewhat laughable as they can be hijacked, in a sense, by what’s called a “man in the middle” attack.

-Leo

*** Leo Recommends

AutoHotkey
Mouse and Keyboard Remapping, Macros and Hotkeys

How do I create a hotkey for entering my email address? I seem to do this dozens of times a day and it seems to be a chore!

Have I got a recommendation for you. The only caveat is that it’s a tad geeky to set up, but it’s incredibly powerful. I run it on both my Windows XP desktop and Vista laptop.

AutoHotkey is a free, small program that remains running in your notification area. It intercepts keystrokes (and mouse activity, if you like), and allows you to configure anything from simple remapping of one key to another, to simple text insertion, as you’ve described, to complex actions that are nearly little programs in and of themselves.

One thing that’s easy to overlook is that AutoHotkey works at the keyboard level and is not tied to any application. So anything you use it for is available at any time, regardless of what program you happen to be using.

My needs are fairly simple, so let me show you some of the things that I have AutoHotkey configured to do.

Continue Reading…
AutoHotkey – Mouse and Keyboard Remapping, Macros and Hotkeys
http://ask-leo.com/C3668

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Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I’ve found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

I still get a steady stream of these kinds of requests…

Can my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse tell that I’ve hacked into their account?

A friend told me that my boyfriend was on Match.com. After discovering that he was, it was quite easy for me to guess his password and check the emails he sent/received. I didn’t send or receive anything in his account or change any of his settings. I simply read them, copied and forwarded them to myself. After asking him about it and his denying it, I then confronted him with the emails (though I said someone else accessed them and sent them to me). So here’s the question….Part 1: How much trouble can you get in for figuring out someone’s password and accessing their email on say Match.com? Part 2: Is it possible to tell who accessed the account? If he reports the “break-in” to Match, will they be able to discover that it was me who accessed his account?

I normally avoid these types of questions, because in all honestly they’re not about technology or computers – they’re about relationships and ethics. And I’m no Dear Abby or Dr. Phil.

The problem is that I get several of these types of requests every day. Seriously.

And it’s just wrong on so many levels.

Continue reading…
Can my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse tell that I’ve hacked into their account?
http://ask-leo.com/C2787

*** Thoughts and Comments

If you don’t normally pay attention to my “what I’m reading” list over in the sidebar to the right, you might want to consider looking at The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive. I first heard about it on the Security Now podcast, and then again from a friend. I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s fascinating stuff to anyone who’s interested in science and technology and how we got to where we are today.

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Completely Personal (Avoid if you don’t want personal stuff.)

There’s no new installment to the backing up series of videos this week, and in fact today’s newsletter is a tad light because it’s been a rough week here. On Thursday we lost one of our dogs after a two month battle with lymphoma. Our pets are family out here, so productivity ground to a halt.

Just wanted to share why this issue is shorter than normal, and my writing schedule was somewhat off kilter.

Please do not send condolences. I appreciate it, I honestly do, but with over 81,000 subscribers, the potential flood would put me even further behind.

’till next time…

Leo
Leo A. Notenboom

You’re a life saver, thanks for that tip!
– Anthony

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