You’ve almost certainly already got Internet security and firewall software installed – these are obviously key to keeping safe when using the Internet. However, software which you use is also likely to contain weaknesses which are discovered and then patched by the company. These weaknesses could potentially put your computer at risk – so it’s best to avoid them. However, it’s not always easy to check whether your software needs updating. Much of it probably won’t alert you, or might only very occasionally run a check. That’s where Secunia Personal Software Inspector comes along to rescue you.
The name is a bit of a mouthful, and my weary hands and addled mind do not want to keep repeating it; so I’ll be likely to refer to it as PSI at times here. The file size is very small – the download coming it at about 530 kb. Once you’ve installed the software and opened it, a window will pop up, which, after loading, will allow you to run a scan of your computer. During the scan PSI is sifting through all your software and checking them against its database. This database contains the versions of software, and the security issues related to them. Be patient during this phase. After scanning, it’ll then let you know if it’s found anything that needs sorting out.
It will list the software name and version; the threat rating; a link to a patch or update download; and a link to a forum for the issue. Clicking on the threat rating, which appears as a bar with a number of coloured squares within, will take you to a Secunia webpage with more information about the issue and its severity. You can click the arrow underneath the ‘Solution’ column to download patches or updates to fix the issues which it found. If you’d rather not take this route, you could manually download a newer version of the software which it’s getting upset about. Once the issues have been fixed, PSI should automagically realise this and remove it from the list. If not, simply scanning again will give it the nudge which it needs to appreciate your efforts.
There’s also the option to view the advanced interface. This looks a little bit deeper, but makes things more confusing. For example, when changing to advanced mode PSI picks up around ten threats on my desktop; but these are all from software which is more hidden away in windows folders; or the remnants of updated software, rather than installed and used applications. The advanced mode also provides links to the folders containing the software with which it finds issues, which will allow you to have a wander around and decide whether you’re willing to tamper with it or not. For most users I’d suggest not changing to advanced, as simple mode seems to provide all the functionality needed.
Secunia PSI will continue to run in the system tray even when you’re not using it. It will keep an eye out for software updates and security patches. If you install a new application it’ll check it against its database to see if there are any known security issues, and will then advise you as to updates and patches. Similarly, if issues arise with software you are running, it will diligently alert you to this, too. You can also go back and run a full scan as often as you wish – just to make sure everything’s up-to-date and secure.
Overall, a rather spiffing bit of kit. Once the first scan and update is completed, you’ll have very little else to do other than follow the updates as and when PSI lets you know about newly discovered security issues. You can download it from www.secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal.
You’ve probably heard people twittering on about brainstorms, mind-maps, and spider-diagrams for some time. If you’re anything like me then you shun them, preferring to write out things instead. However, during my revision I’ve found myself using the online bubbl.us mind-mapping application. It’s proven itself to me, and I’m now using it as a slightly more interesting method to review and organise my notes as opposed to typing them out.
It’s currently available in two flavours – the current version and the new, far more spiffing, beta version. I’ve been using the beta version as I tried the current release previously and didn’t take much of a fancy to it. However, the new version which is currently under development adds a lot more polish, and makes the whole experience of using it far simpler, and at times, rather rewarding.
Each new mind-map starts with a word or phrase in the centre – an example from one of my own might be – ‘League of Nations failures’. Branches are then created around this central idea, which can then have further branches, and further, and so on. These floating text bubbles can be dragged around and moved to different areas. If you change your mind about the connection of one, you can drag it and hover over another bubble that you want it to connect to. Connecting lines can also be drawn between otherwise disconnected items to show a link between them. Colour schemes can also be added to different branches, making it easier to view and distinguish between different concepts. This is also supposed to improve the amount of information which your retain from it.
There are also options to export the brainstorm as an image – PDF functions would also be nice, and will hopefully be added in the future. I’ve found that the print function isn’t very useful at all; it tried to print certain sections on multiple pages, which isn’t really very useful at all. Printing from an exported JPEG was fine , if a little small with the larger brainstorms. The PNG, oddly, seemed to print at a slightly lower quality. I sometimes ended up screenshotting my brainstorms, resizing, then printing them. A bit of a hassle.
As is expected with betas, there are issues. Sometimes changing the colour of bubbles will change the font colour instead – but at least this is easily undone and retried. However, a real issue that’s been bothering me is more important. When placing brainstorms into virtual online folders which can be created with the service, the file seems to get upset, and refuses to be opened from the directory. I instead had to open them from the splash page which appears when opening the application. This problem can be avoided by simply saving them as a list instead of creating folders and placing them within. Hopefully this will get fixed soon.
Whilst it’s a very good product, there is obvious scope for this service becoming much, much better. Currently, each brainstorm is only available to the person who created it. It would be a really nice touch to allow users to set their brainstorms as public, allowing others to view and edit it, creating their own improved copies. This would prove especially useful for students studying for exams – they would be able to browse a depository of brainstorms from other students; edit and improve them; and create their own for others to use.
If you’ve not tried brainstorming before, now is as good a time as any to give it a try. I suggest trying out the bubbl.us beta version to experience a really rather smashing web-app. If you’re not the daring, risk-taking type, and would rather sit quietly in an arm-chair with a nice cuppa, you could give the current version a go instead.
I’ve stumbled across a smashing tiny application which allows you to add notes to webpages. This becomes very useful if doing research for homework, coursework, papers, or other such jazz. It could be used if you simply want to add notes when you find useful stuff.
Diigo allows you to add these notes in the form of post-its to webpages. You can either download and install the Diigo Toolbar which is a fully-featured toolbar addon for your browser; or you can simply add the Diigolet link to your bookmarks or bookmarks toolbar for easy, quick access without installing anything. With either of these options, you can add annotations to anywhere on a webpage. You can also highlight and annotate specific areas or words. You can either make these annotations public – anyone with Diigolet or Diigo toolbar running – can see them and add to them, or private – only you can see them.
You can also add this to multiple computers, allowing you to see your annotations after you sign with your Diioglet account. It’s also compatible with just about every browser, so you won’t need to fear not being able to see your notes when using someone else’s PC. This would allow you to add notes at home, and then see them at school or work as you continue the research you were doing.
Whilst the fully-fledged toolbar adds extra functions, oddly, it seems to slow down the simple process of adding notes quickly. Rather than simply clicking the button, you must go through a small drop-down list on the toolbar in order to highlight text and add sticky notes. However, the toolbar does allow you to add things to online bookmarks, share things with others, and provides functionality similar to Internet Explorer 8′s new accelerators when highlighting text. Despite this, I would suggest that most users would be better off with the Diigolet bookmarklet, since it provides the basic functionality, but sans the hassle which the toolbar brings with it.
I’d highly suggest signing up at www.diigo.com and adding either the bookmarklet (bookmarks button for quick access) or, if you’re feeling adventurous, going for the whole shebang and getting the Diigo Toolbar. Give it a go and see what you think.
Apologies for the lack of articles recently – I’ve been a very busy chap!
I’m an incessant horder of websites; every time I see something vaguely useful, I bookmark it into one of my many folders, and if I think it’s really useful, I also keep a copy of it in one of my Windows folders. Both of these have their flaws, of course. Bookmarks can be cumbersome, since the lists consist of text; and the folder method is time-consuming, since I need to navigate through directories to find a website. A solution to my quaint methods has appeared in the form of ‘TidyFavorites‘ (Being a proponent of British-English spelling, I despise missing out the ‘u’ in this product’s name!)
After downloading an installing, buttons are then usually automagically added to your browser. If not, you’ll simply need to customise your toolbar to add them; this is usually done by right-clicking on the toolbar and choosing the right option. These consist of the ‘favourites’ button, and the ‘add to favourites’ button. Clicking the former will take you to a page where you can add visual bookmarks, and organise them into tabs and folders. The the latter adds it to the sidebar of the aforementioned favourites page, ready for you to plonk it wheresoever you wish. If you wish, you can then customise the snapshot to make it more identifiable to you.
A search function would be nice, since it’s inevitably going to get difficult to tramp through piles and piles of tabs and folders of website screenshots to find the one you’re looking for. The principle of the software seems to be a good one though. It should be easier to look through organised screenshots of your favourite websites than lists. It should also be noted that the beta of Apple’s Safari 4 does a similar thing with is bookmarks; but the fact that the browser lacks anything other than speed and eye candy should be enough to put you off. TidyFavorites allows you to add the visually organised bookmarks to a more capable browser.
I can’t explain it any better than the below video does. If it tickles your fancy, download from www.tidyfavorites.com. It’s compatible with most major browsers; Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera, but currently lacking in a Chrome version.