Home > Computers and Internet, Family, Technology > Entry 02/19/2011 09:23:31 AM – Mentat 601

Entry 02/19/2011 09:23:31 AM – Mentat 601


As I’m sitting here at the moment with the coffee brewing behind me, softer music playing, the whining needy Hellbeast happily sitting on the bed cleaning herself from a thorough gorging of this morning’s food, and wondering why I’m sitting here in my T-shirt and sweats; I’m feeling rather accomplished at the moment after almost 9+ hours of fixing a relative’s PC woes. I am also feeling a bit daunted as to why one of the problems is still going on, small as it is. I received a call from my uncle earlier this week with the usual, “what are you doing?” which is often the pre-amble of the New England-polite for “you’re expertise in computer’s is needed”. Turns out my Aunt Norma’s nephew’s home PC was acting incredibly slow and he was at a loss as to what the problem could be. So with the usual interchange of “any day good for you is okay with me”; I set the daunting task for the end of the week so that it would give me the usual false sense of accomplishment I get for the weekend.

What kind of environment the PC is in and who uses it the biggest telling of the probable cause for the current computer woes. Windows XP Home Edition Service Pack 3, ~2.6 GHz Pentium 4 Processor, 512 MB RAM… Family of four(-ish). Two adults and teenagers… Teenagers have limited accounts. As the dad tells me a bit about some of the work that he had done prior my arrival, I peruse the system to see what I’m looking at for damage. The son’s account is password protected and it’s pretty apparent to me why it would be password protected: he’s 18 and the computer in the basement and out of the way of most traffic. The daughter’s a big-time music fan and social group addict. Two Adult Accounts and a Main Admin Account with Full Access and no password protection. Wireless router in place, with default SSID and passwords in place with no WEP/WPA passwords/keys in place.

Smiling a bit to myself, I get a strong feeling of what I’m in for, for repairs.

Asked the father while looking about the layout, if he had run Spybot Search & Destroy as I found the icon and a full load up of an older version of the program in its appropriate directory.

Father doesn’t know what it is, and only ran the standard Anti-Virus/Anti-Spam program provided by Cox: McAfee.

I thought to myself that one of the kids knew that either the system was slowing down or tried to clean up the potential for downloading something that they shouldn’t. The logs indicated it had been run a couple of times, but hadn’t been in some months.

I pulled out my thumb drive with the tools of the trade and installed the newest version of Spybot, and hankered down for the long wait as it ran a complete system check.

Forty-Five minutes later and enough warnings on the values of putting passwords on the admin accounts making comparisons that children (and especially young teenagers when the computer had originally be bought) are like the worst employees when it comes to a piece of IT-like hardware; Spybot reported about 22 different forms of malware, from XPAntiVirus to various flavors of Virtumonde and all sorts of variants of CoolWebSearch types; Spybot happily cleaned them all up after a couple of restarts and running in Safe-Modes. Still though the system was running a bit slower than I’d expect for an XP machine with less than adequate memory for Service Pack 3.

So the next order of business was to load up two of my favorite tools from Sysinternals and get them running to see what I could see: Auto Runs and Process Explorer. The run registry entries in HKLM and HKCU were a mess of unnecessary programs and call procedures to bloat and malware of which I happily hacked away the unnecessary, while cleaning out the DLLs and executables that were attached to the malware. Watching the processes in Process Explorer, I could see some pretty interesting pieces of innocuous software completely misbehaving in ways I’ve never seen before. The older version of MSN Toolbar loaded up three different executables to run, one of this ended up slogging the system down to a crawl for reasons that left me stymied. So off it went along with the three other toolbars that I didn’t recognize loading up in Internet Explorer… Heh, while it wasn’t as bad as this Toolbar Fail, given that I don’t run toolbars on any of my browser, three are entirely too much for my liking. Off went a lot of other things that seemed to be load

With the system still running a bit slow for my liking, I ended loading up Hijack This! to see what BHOs and unknown programs were causing IE to slog down. Not to mention for some unknown reason, during boot up, IE has a habit of starting up and running resident when it shouldn’t be. It’s easy enough to kill out from Processes Tab in Task Manager, but the thing it IE is supposed to be an on-demand only program. On the whole my aunt’s nephew was more than happy with the end results (in spite of the rogue IE and the current work around), and I made a promise I would look further into this problem while I had suggested that he purchase more memory to bring the system up to at least 1 GB RAM.

Getting home last night (and again this morning after my morning coffee), I honestly couldn’t find what could be causing IE to silently launch in the background and suspect there’s either a BHO I’m not aware of being a problem, or a piece of malware that none of the programs that I used to clean up the system recognized it as a problem. I’m still promised to head there to work on the laptop that my aunt’s nephew’s son bought, along with cleaning up that minor annoyance and even perhaps put some more memory into the desktop (to bring it up to at least 1 GB of RAM).

From this happy trip, I feel like reminding folk of what I know from such trips to family houses and family computers:

  1. When you have teenagers, always password protect your admin accounts. Make sure the password is a word or phrase that only the adults will remember (I usually suggest something from their past that they haven’t told their children about).
  2. Strong passwords should always be used. No dictionary words, at least 1 capital letter and 1 numeric in place of a letter.
  3. Always password protect the SSID. The last thing you need are neighborhood kids mooching their connection for P2P piracy. I can’t tell you how many take-downs of business-classed accounts I’ve dealt with over the years from the next door neighbor’s kids were caught by the MPAA sharing movies through various torrent software.
  4. Even if your children are 18, monitor their activities for installing programs until you’re sure they’re reading and thinking wisely. This will ensure that they’re not clicking through install screens and adding unnecessary and even potentially dangerous malware. The rule of thumb is, “if you can’t read what the screen said, they didn’t either when they clicked NEXT.” (Something I have to watch my aunt as she has a habit of clicking next, next, next without realizing she’s changed her homepage and added yet another toolbar).
  5. An ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure. When in doubt about a piece of software being requested to be installed, say no first and do research. It’s always easy to say okay afterward when something is cleared than cleaning up a mess when it’s a bad piece of work.

After that, it’s just a matter of common sense.

As for the rest… On an impulse buy, I decided to finally upgrade my Logitech webcam from a Communicate STX to a C910 and definitely not for the suggested retail price on the Logitech site either. While the quality of the video is significantly better than the older one that did it’s job marvelously, I am not too keen on the fact that the software has changed drastically between the two. Seems that the controls for the camera itself and the capturing software are now two separate components instead of integrated in a single ribbon. Then again, I admit that I’m not really good with radical change in software; but I’ll adapt like I always do.

Admittedly the impulse buy wasn’t exclusively my own idea. I was influenced when a person that I’ve been talking with paged me to want to talk about getting some advice about purchasing a new webcam. Given the man’s penchant for privacy, I had suggested the C510 as it’s small and compact and gives the necessary privacy by folding up and away. Part of the reason was that while he aid that he knew about computers, in less than a ½ hour of speaking to him about the pros and cons of using a webcam, he wasn’t exactly as “expert” as he boasted he was and I suspect that he could easily fall prey to trojan software that can be used to hijack a webcam. Of course, he completely disregarded my advice (as I knew he would), the instant he found out I was going with near top-of-the-line with mine. But this isn’t why I’m bringing him up.

I’m bringing him up because I find myself in conflict with wanting to continue to interact with him. While he’s extremely smart on many subjects, and I really do like talking with him about the myriad of subjects that come and go over the course of hours, I find myself put-off by the fact that the 4 times we’ve talked on the phone and the one time I was admiring the fine picture of the webcam I would be expecting in my mailbox within a day — he has always had a cocktail in his hand. In a couple of instances, he’s been more than drunk during the course of the night… Add on to the fact that he’s admitted to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and couple this with his admission of having a heart-attack in his earlier 40s, and well… This seems like self-destructive behavior I personally have no need for in my life.

Glenn has in his almost-sagely sort of way asked me whether it was something I would be willing to face to help this man face and without any doubt in my mind, answered to the negative. Of course it didn’t help matters that in my pondering his question I was having images of Rick and his drinking ’til he got drunk and smoking like a California Summer Brushfire and all the control issues he had toward the end of our relationship. Still though, while it makes me cringe when I say things that contain the words, “…at my age”, I still can’t help but point out, “these aren’t the sort of issues I want to be facing at my age.” It is of my firmest believe that when one gets to middle-age, one should have some modicum of sensibility and common sense to know better.

So at the moment, I’m doing what I feel is necessary to do until I can make up my mind as to how I want to approach/encroach the subject: avoiding it for some “me” time that I can think about whether it’s something I want to deal with in my life even in a casual manner. Really, I need a day, especially given that every time it’s been my turn to contact him, he’s been beating me to the punch and contacting me first. That also doesn’t help my conflicted state as I feel like I’m dealing with a bit of “clinging Kudzu” while I try to sort things out. More on this in the near future no doubt.

Finally as I wrap things up… The world had a scary moment about midweek when my old Coffeemaker decided on breaking the feed tube to the grounds bucket from the heater. Ugh! Yes, I once again was faced with the Water tank volcano as I had described in a previous entry and no matter what I did wouldn’t stay fixed. Fortunately for me, I only had go pull out the 12-cup maker for my happy addiction and when out during my normal shopping run to pick up a new one. So the Coffeemaker is dead! Long live the Coffeemaker! Life as we know it is safe from my pre-caffeine rampaging.

Well that’s about it for the time being. Uncle’s out of the house for most of the day which mean my aunt and I are fending for ourselves. As it’s been a while since I’ve had a grinder, I think as I’m buying that’s what we’re going to do. Until the next time.

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