Leo's Answers #225 – April 6, 2010

A Weekly Newsletter From
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Leo Notenboom


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*** New Articles

Are computers simply too unsafe to use?

I’ve received a bit of feedback in recent weeks, that boil down to “how can you say it’s ok to do X when you just described that X remains fundamentally unsafe? Doesn’t that mean that there’s no hope? How can you remain online or hope to ever use a computer safely?”.

The comments arose mostly in reaction to two articles: one that stated that avoiding the keyboard does not necessarily avoid keystroke loggers, and the other that says simply that there’s simply no way to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your computer is not infected.

I’ll readily admit that out of context those are two fairly disturbing statements – accurate, but disturbing.

They’re not meant to make you stop using your computer – far from it.

They’re meant to make you more mindful of exactly how you use your computer.

They’re meant to make you think.

Continue reading: Are computers simply too unsafe to use?

* * *

Do I want to let my browser automatically detect settings?

I’m on Firefox 3.6 in Windows XP Home Edition service pack 3. I experience a lot of “server not found” when opening Firefox. Should i have proxy settings checked – “no proxy” or “auto-detect proxy settings for this network”. I really don’t know about proxy.


This is actually a very simple answer: unless you know you’re using a proxy, select no proxy.

Even better, for IE and Firefox users alike, “auto detect”, while intended to make life easier is – fundamentally evil.

Not for any malicious reasons, it just gets in the way. I’ll explain why.

Continue reading: Do I want to let my browser automatically detect settings?

* * *

Do I want 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?

Recently, I switched from XP to Windows 7. During loading it asked me if I wanted 32-bit or 64-bit. I think I made a mistake when I requested 32bit. I wasn’t sure if my machine was 32-bit or 64-bit. How would I know? I built this machine about two years ago. Is there any way to change it to 64-bit?

Which do I want?


32 versus 64 has a number of people confused – it’s a question I get often. In fact, it’s probably the most common “in person” question I get from friends and acquaintances.

I won’t spend too much time on the actual differences between the two, but focus instead on the two key issues:

Will your machine even support 64-bit processing, and if it does, do you want it?

Continue reading: Do I want 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?

* * *

How can I tell if my computer is infected?

How can I tell if my computer is infected? I picked up a bunch of malware from face book. I have run several programs and erased about 15 trojans. AVG says I’m protected. Is there a program I can run to make sure I’m clean? Computer appears to be running fine.


No one’s going to like this answer. Not at all.

I’ll start by putting it a slightly different way: while there are many ways that you’ll notice some … many … perhaps even most infections, there is no way to prove that your machine does not have malware.

You cannot prove that your machine is clean.

Sounds scary, and I guess it is. So I’ll also discuss why I’m still using my computers every day while still sleeping soundly at night.

Continue reading: How can I tell if my computer is infected?

* * *

Why are those “retype the word” tests so twisted, faded and blurred?

I fully understand the theory behind using “gotcha” symbols for many online processes. But if the gotcha is a picture of numbers and letters, then WHY must they make them so difficult to read? I have to regenerate these things over and over to get one that is readable. If it’s a photo, then why make the symbols all twisty, blurred, and faded?


While it might feel like a “gotcha”, they’re actually called a CAPTCHA, which is an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”.

Yep, it’s a “prove you’re human” test.

And all that twisty, blurry, faded stuff you’re complaining about? That’s actually kinda the point.

That’s the test.

Continue reading: Why are those “retype the word” tests so twisted, faded and blurred?

* * *

How can I archive email that uses remote content?

I use Thunderbird e-mail. To see everything in the e-mail, I must press “Show Remote Content”. Sometimes, I want to save this e-mail indefinitely. If I go back to look at it months later, the embedded images are gone, as well as the “Show Remote Content” button. How can I save the e-mail with the embedded images so that I don’t run into this problem?


While we often like to think of everything remaining on the internet forever (and in fact should assume so for anything we post about ourselves), the reality is actually somewhat different.

Stuff disappears.

Most commonly web pages, but also the elements that an email might use as well.

I’ll look at why that is, and how I deal with it.

Continue reading: How can I archive email that uses remote content?

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*** Comments

How did you backup while on your trip?

A J Peabody writes:

Sometimes the camera or a flash memory card from a camera gets lost and found.

Posted: April 6, 2010 in: 2010
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/4258
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I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.