Amazon are now selling more books on the Kindle e-reader than any other format – see this link

There’s no doubt that e-readers have huge advantages over individual printed books:

  • It’s very easy to carry lots of books around. Great for long journeys.
  • It’s very easy to find, buy, and have books instantly available to read. This is especially true of the Kindle where you are more-or-less locked into Amazon. The purchase of a book (via the Kindle) is instantly and automatically followed by the download onto your own Kindle.
  • E-readers are easy to use and to read. If you have not yet looked at them because you think it is a strain to read a computer screen then do give them a try. The “e-paper” screen is very easy to read and does not induce any of the strain of reading a computer screen.
  • I hear from Kindle enthusiasts that subscriptions to periodicals works very well.

I don’t think that anyone is pretending that e-readers will replace real books altogether. There is none of the feel, or the smell, or the visual appeal that make proper books a joy to handle. They do work really well, though, for paperbacks and periodicals that you’d probably read once and then discard. You can also store pdf documents on e-readers so there’s plenty of scope for widening their usefulness.

There is one aspect of Kindles, though, that worries some people. This is part of the Kindle licence agreement:

The Software will provide Amazon with data about your Kindle and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files, and signal strength). The Software will also provide Amazon with information related to the Digital Content on your Kindle and Other Devices and your use of it (such as last page read and content archiving). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make using your Kindle or Reading Application and other information you provide may be stored on servers that are located outside the country in which you live.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

This agreement has been interpreted as meaning that anything you do on your Kindle may be reported back to Amazon. They could analyse your reading habits in the minutest detail – eg:

  • How fast you read.
  • Which (juicy?) pages you return to.
  • Whether you actually finish a book.
  • What times of what days you are actually reading.

It seems that a lot of people don’t actually mind this. They don’t see any threat to their privacy or they don’t care about it.

Other people seem to think like me. I don’t want any organisation or any software giant analysing my actions to any extent greater than they need to in order to provide me with the product or service I am buying from them.

As it happens, the Kindle situation isn’t quite as bad as I’m making out because I understand that there are at least some aspects of it that you can control with the options provided. One such option is to prevent any highlighting that you do from being reported back to Amazon. Yes, that’s right. If you highlight a section of a book on your Kindle it will normally tell Amazon that you’ve done it!

Sony e-reader Pocket Edition

Sony e-reader Pocket Edition

Of course, if you want an e-reader but don’t want big brother Amazon breathing down your neck, you could buy a Sony E-reader and not a Kindle. Buying a Sony also means that you are not tied into buying your books from one source. Although you can buy books from Sony you can also buy them from elsewhere. I’ve been buying books for my Sony e-reader from Waterstone’s for over two years now and I really like it. It’s true that the Waterstone’s website is not as good as it could be and it’s also true that you have to download your book to a PC or Mac and then install it onto the reader. Personally, I’d much rather do that than have Amazon recording my every move. There’s no doubt, though, that the convenience and simplicity of instant purchase and downloading to a Kindle outweigh any privacy issues for a great many people (or is it just that they don’t know they are being watched?).

Last word: if you are considering buying a Kindle, do consider the more expensive option that comes with wireless 3G connectivity. This means that you can download from almost anywhere whereas the “Wi-Fi-only” option means that you have to be connected to a wireless broadband connection when you want to download (fine when you are at home, but not so clever at an airport).

Google logo magnifiedAlmost everyone I know uses Google’s Search engine. And very nearly everyone seems to use it at its very simplest level: just type something in and see what comes up.

Trying to get a detailed grasp of Google products can be mind-numbing and I don’t advocate it. Nevertheless, with something as ubiquitous as Google Search I thought it might be worthwhile to spend just a few minutes becoming aware of some of the simplest ways to make it work better for us, so I’ll just “bullet-point” a few hints and facts.

To make it a bit clearer which parts of the following text are search terms to be keyed into Google, the search terms are enclosed in square brackets [like this]. These square brackets are not included when you type something into Google. They are just here to distinguish the search term from the surrounding text.

  • Google searches are case-insensitive – typing in [Clapham High Street] is the same as typing in [clapham high street], so just type in whatever is easiest for you.
  • If you want to search for a specific phrase (as opposed to just searching on more than one word) then enclose the search term in double-quotes – eg [“clapham high street”] will only return results where those words appear together and in that order.
  • Google will try to match ALL of the important words in your search term, So, if your search term is [ham or bacon] then it will, in fact, return pages that contain references to both ham and bacon! This is because Google is ignoring what it sees as an unimportant word (the word or). The way to force it to recognise the true meaning of your “or” term is detailed below (confusing, isn’t it ?)
  • The way to force Google to return results containing either one word or another is to type the word “or” in capital letters eg [bacon OR eggs] will return results where the page includes either of those words. In other words, the results you see will have some pages referring to ham and some pages referring to eggs (but not necessarily on the same pages). As I said – confusing.
  • Google will usually ignore “unimportant” words. For example, if you enter [I want to buy a plasma TV, preferably from a shop in Camberwell], you will get (more or less) the same results if you type in [buy plasma tv camberwell]. Grammar and normal syntax are irrelevant. Google is just matching the important words in your search term with web pages in its index.
  • Google will usually ignore most punctuation and unusual characters such as @#$%^&*()=+[]\. There are exceptions to this – see below.
  • If you want to exclude results that include specfic words then add the word to the search term preceded by a minus sign. For example, if your search term is a street name then the results will be swamped with pages from estate agents. Maybe Google will sort this out one day, but in the meantime you can try filtering the results by searching for (for instance) [“edgeley road” clapham -property -estate -agent]. This will return results that contain the exact phrase “edgeley road”, that also contain the word “clapham”, but which do not contain any of the words “property”, “estate”, or “agent”.
  • Despite all the rules above, Google do sometimes tweak their searches to take account of facts in the real world. For instance, the character “&” is usually ignored in a search term but if your search term is [M & S] the result is what you probably wanted – Marks & Spencer come at the top of the list of results. Similarly, if you just type in [who] the results relate to just that word, but if you type in [the who] it will recognise that you are referring to a rock group.
  • Finally, you may remember that Google’s search page used to have an option that said “search within results”. You would expect that this means that if you enter a new search term it will narrow down the previous results to take account of the new criterion. This option has now disappeared. I’ve been reading a rather “lively” exchange on this subject. Google claims that all you have to do is add the new search term to the original search term and you will get exactly the same as you used to since the previous “search within results” was just a con. Google claims that the second search merely repeated the first search but with the second term added to it. The other side in the exchange maintains that that’s just not true and that the previous “search within results” produced a better and different result. I don’t know the truth. I just know that I sometimes used “search within results” and it’s not there any more, so don’t bother looking for it. Just add your new term to the end of your previous term and search again.

There are lots of Google web pages that go into far more detail on the subject of search. If you want to investigate further, I suggest starting here.

PC Magazine defines antimalware as

“An umbrella term for antivirus programs, spyware blockers, intrusion detection systems (IDS’s) and other software that detects and eradicates unwanted input, which in almost all cases comes from the Internet.”PC Magazine

Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' stares out of screenThere are two types of antimalware programs – real-time scanners (also called on-access scanners) , and on-demand scanners. Real-time scanners run on your system all the time. This term covers all programs that call themselves “antivirus” programs. This is the type of protection that this blog post addresses.

There are scores of different real-time products available. How do you know which one is right for you? This is a very common question and is difficult to answer. Some of the criteria involved could include:

  • ease of installation and use
  • does it slow the computer down or get in the way
  • what range of threats does it guard against
  • how well does it detect threats
  • how well does it remove threats
  • what (if anything) does it cost

It must be a bit of a conundrum for the antivirus program manufacturers that the better their program, the less the customers notice it. What we want as users is to just get on with using our computers and not worry about the potential problems. I can’t imagine anyone getting excited by reading through the list of threats a particular program claims to guard against. It hurts our brains even trying to understand the nature of the threats that we are told a specific program will guard against. What we actually want is peace of mind and no hassles.

Also, I feel sure that the way you use your computer can affect the amount and type of threat you are exposed to. There is no doubt in my mind (but I have no proof for this) that having young people using a computer seems to increase the chance of catching something. I suspect that this is because young people are far more likely than older people to be using the internet in a way that involves sharing of files amongst themselves. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that the bad people out there have realised this and target this part of the market accordingly. Maybe it would be an idea for the antivirus manufacturers to market their products towards specific groups of people that represent the different emphases of threats that those people may be exposed to. Anyway, they don’t, so you can’t find an antivirus program claiming to be “Supreme for Silver Surfers” or “Fantastic Fort Knox protection for 15 year olds”.

So how do we make the best decisions as far as antivirus is concerned?

If you want to look into this in huge detail and make a highly informed decision then I recommend www.av-test.org. Each quarter they publish a set of results of testing many products that are available for one specific operating system (Windows XP, Vista, or 7). They then cycle through these operating system each quarter. They score each product according to protection, repair, and usability and display the results in sortable tables (see http://www.av-test.org/certifications.php)

My own experience

My own favorites tend to change a bit over time. For a few years I have been recommending AVG Free. I think that it still does a very good job technically, but their increasingly aggressive marketing often “misleads” users into installing the paid version rather than the free version and they’ve even used scare tactics once or twice in the last year.

I’ve been installing Microsoft’s own “Security Essentials” on my own and clients’ sytems for a while and I have to say that it certainly performs very well in at least one respect in that it is virtually transparent: it just gets on with the job, updating itself quietly in the background and only making its present felt when there’s a potential problem. I don’t recall a single instance (yet) of anything getting past “Security Essentials”.

One product that I’ve not used in-depth myself but which seems to be highly liked by clients is Kaspersky Internet Security. Unlike AVG Free (natch) or Microsoft Security Essentials, it is a paid-for product but it gets increasingly cost-effective if you buy a licence for several machines.

Nothing’s perfect

Whatever product you go for, keeping up with malware threats is just that – keeping up. The bad people are always going to be one step ahead. We just have to hope that our antimalware product is very very quick off the mark in detecting and dealing with new threats The only way to stay completely safe from online threats is to stay away from the internet and that really would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So, it stands to reason that it is possible for a threat to get past your protection.

…. and we have to live with that

You may think, then, that it would be a good idea to have another line of protection in the form of a second antimalware program. Good thinking, but don’t. You could break your system. If two real-time antimalware scanners go to check the same file at the same time the whole system could freeze.

So what do we do

Keep your antimalware program up to date, ensure that it is automatically updating its data files, and check that it is set to completely scan your system once a week or so. And, by the way, are you taking backups?

And what of Mac Users?

I’ll be investigating the current thinking on antivirus protection for Macs in the coming weeks.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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