Saturday, February 28, 2009

Finally - what caused my computer problems

Well, Acutiva sent out a message and finally I know what caused my computer viruses/trojans/malware that kept me busy for a week.

It seems all these nasty things were downloaded whenever you supersized a picture.  One of the neat things about Auctiva is not only free image hosting & free scheduling, but it also automatically supersizes images for you, free of charge.  All you had to do was click on it, and you got a large picture.  For the longest time eBay charged 75 cents for that.  

This explains why Patti Anne's computer worked fine, and mine was in a struggle for it's life.  Patti Anne did not supersize anything, and I'm sure I did, probably more than once.  I'm a visual person, I love pictures.  The bigger the better - I love the detail of them and I like to provide the ability to supersize pictures to my customers.  I think it gives me an advantage over those that don't.

But this may mean that anybody who supersized any pictures I listed (or that anyone else listed from Auctiva) from Friday afternoon till Saturday afternoon (the 20th & 21st), got a bug.   I didnt list anything that Friday, but I did that Saturday & it was later Saturday was when I thought we were going to have to break down and take the computer to a geek.  It was pretty bad. 

So, that was it.  Supposedly it's all fixed now.  I haven't used Auctiva since Saturday the 21st, but I'll probably start again on Monday.

In the meantime, I'm learning all about FireFox & Opera.

Friday, February 27, 2009

IE, Firefox & Opera.

So, I'm gun shy around IE now.  I actually like it, I guess because of inertia more than anything. I'm used to it, I've used it for years, I have everything just the way I like it.  But, since it's all I've used, I'm sure I don't know any better.
So, to try to cut down on malware sneaking past this toothless pit bull of a firewall I have, I downloaded firefox, whatever the latest version was.  It's ok - but my fonts changed, it did some weird importation thing with all my favorites in "links", and it seemed to have major issues working with entrecard.   But, I was adjusting, it seemed to load faster, and it is quite acceptable.
Ms. O.D.  recommended Opera, so I tried that, and that is what I'm typing this little message on right now.   It seems to work fine - I especially like the speed dial part of it.  And I've been using Opera more than FF the last couple of days.  There are things that are different, little adjustments to make, but so far it seems to be working well.  One adjustment in Opera is that the spell checker on blogspot doesn't work too well.  That's something I need.  I once didnt get a job in part because I wasn't sure if it was "en lieu" or "en leiu".   I'm pretty sure it's "en lieu". But I digress.
So, today is the first day in a week without some sort of trojan, virus or other malware being discovered by my anti-virus software.   I continue to run MBAM and Windows Defender, and I'll do a complete Norton scan this weekend.  They're coming up clean so far.  That is good.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What I dont know about Heuristics would fill a book.

In the process of dealing with my computer problems of the last few days, I came across a term called heuristics, and also "heuristic algorithms". It sounds unbelievably nasty. It sounds like like a propaganda justification for the Nazi concentration camps during the 1930's & 40's. Like it has something to do with determining racial purity by the shape of your head - but I'm sure I'm just mixing up terms.

I still don't have a good understanding of what heuristics is, but seems to me that it's a "best guess". I think anti-virus & other anti-malware software use heuristics now to try to catch malware based on its behavior. The suspected malware may be something that's not been seen before, and it is something that the defending software may not have all the parameters for - so it uses what it has. It makes it's best guestimate and acts accordingly. I'm not sure if I'm understanding this or not. But I'd hope that before some big brother software system decides to shut down my computer for my own protection, that it was a bit more than a best guess. But then maybe I'm misunderstanding what heuristics is.

I found an "in English" explanation. Say you have a large box, and you have to put a lot of stuff into it. The only way to make sure it packed as efficiently as possible is to try every possible combination of packing. Most people don't do that, because it takes too much time. Most people put the larger stuff in first, then pack the smaller stuff around it. It may not be the most efficient way of packing it, but it works pretty well most of the time. They achieve an acceptable solution without using all the possible parameters (in this case excess time & trying every combination). That is heuristics.

But, to quote Nicholas Cage in "Raising Arizona", that's one bonehead word.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Trojan.Refpron, soxpeca, svchost.exe errors and other nasty stuff

On Friday, Feb 20th, my computer blew up. And as late as today, I am, figuratively speaking, still pulling shards of motherboard from my face, and digging out bits of memory chips from the walls. At first I blamed entrecard & the blogs associated with it, because that was what I was doing when all this began. Turns out I was probably wrong. The further way you get from an event, the more you know about what happened (this is the history major in me). So, now that stability hopefully reigns again in my computer world, I'll attempt to relate, at a more or less high level, what happened. A detail by detail blow would be much to long, and draining to go thru.

Just for reference, I have an old HP Pavilion desktop, running Windows XP & I use Internet Explorer 7. We have a wireless network set up, used by two desktops and a occasionally a laptop.

My wife and I run a little eBay business. We use a site called "Auctiva" to host our pictures, create & schedule the listings and such. This has saved hundreds of dollars over time, because eBay used to charge for extra pictures, and still charges for scheduling listings. So, the morning of the 20th was a normal morning. I was editing and uploading pictures for the items (postcards and photographs) we were listing, Patti Anne was writing the initial descriptions, then I give them a once over for errors etc, and schedule them to be listed. On my end everything was working fine, but Miss Patti was noticing strange things on Auctiva. Response was slow, she was getting strange messages asking her to open Real Player (there should be no reason to open Real Player in this process), download stuff and other unusual messages. She mentioned that she thought Auctiva was having problems, and suggested we might want to stop using it for the time being. So we did - and we did not list anything on Friday.

Later that afternoon I got out on entrecard and was dropping & had plans to update my blogs when the computer froze up. No response to anything. So I punched the button and reb00ted. I didn't think it was going to come back up. When it finally did, there was no response when I clicked my desktop icons. So I booted again. When it came up this time, things responded, but I started getting some ugly messages. The first was "Generic Host Process for Win32 Services has encountered an error and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience." I thought, WTF? Another message on the heels of this, which I think may be related was, "svchost.exe - the exception breakpoint. A breakpoint has been reached. The instruction 0x66fd6dc8 referenced memory at 0x00000000. The memory could not be written". Another WTF moment. Both of these messages knocked me out of the water, the computer would stop responding. I had never, in my years of using this computer, received either of these messages before.

I run Norton 360, which is a resource hog, but it's what I have, and at this point it had not alerted me to any problems. I looked at my processes, and noted a process called "soxpeca.exe", that I had not seen before. I googled it, and found that it was a nasty thing to have on your computer, and needed to be removed asap. I had no idea how it got there. I ran a "smart" scan, then a "full scan". Norton scanned soxpeca - I saw it. It did not see it as a threat, all it found was a couple of tracking cookies.

Meanwhile, whenever I went online, I was guaranteed to get a svchost breakpoint error or a Win32 error. So I thought I'd reboot in safe mode, and try to get rid of soxpeca once and for all, tho I wasn't quite sure yet how. (I thought they might be related problems - I still don't know if they are or not). Well somehow I screwed that up, but I did have an option to reboot in "the last known good configuration", which I did. That may have been a mistake, I dont know, but things did seem stable for awhile. Later I found that the computer had lost all its system restore points. I dont know if what I did wiped them out or if the malware wiped them out.

Fast forward to Saturday. Saturday I logged on to Auctiva and scheduled all our listings to post to eBay. Shouldnt have. I went out to entrecard again, and that's when Norton started yelling at me. It found in quick succession while running in the background, the following malware, and told me to reboot: Downloader, Trojan.zlob, Bloodhound.Sonar.1 (twice). So I rebooted 3 times in the space of 30 mintues or so. I looked and soxpeca.exe was running again. I ended it, but I knew it would come back. I ran a full Norton scan, Spybot Search & Destroy, Windows Defender (full scan), none found anything worth mentioning. This took hours, by the way. & if I tried to go online, I had to deal with the svchost errors. Sigh.

At some point we received an announcement from Auctiva that their servers were experiencing problems, and they were running on fewer servers than normal. Later, we received another announcement saying that they were experiencing malware attacks, and had taken the effected servers offline. Later we received another announcement saying that they had taken the whole site offline until they could solve the problem. I think I know where my trojans and viruses came from. And forgive me entrecard community, for my evil thoughts.

Fast forward to Sunday: Patti Anne and I both have computer backgrounds, and she's especially good at digging out & fixing problems. She's doing her research and found that soxpeca.exe is associated with Trojan.Refpron, and it is bad, bad, bad. She also found that some free software called Malbytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) was successful at removing it. So she downloaded it and ran the "quick scan", and it caught Trojan.Refpron. We checked the running processes and soxpeca.exe is no longer there. Then we ran the full scan, and it came back clean.

Believe me, I've skipped over a lot here - Patti & I were at this for hours, and getting very close to giving up and taking the computer to a geek.

Well, the viruses and trojans seem to be gone at this point, but I'm still getting svchost or Win32 errors, every 5 to 8 minutes when I'm online.

Monday: We continued to research the svchost problem. Found a site called www.pchell.com, which addressed a very similar problem. It had clear concise directions for updating service settings, re-registering windows update dlls, removing corrupted update files and so on. While Patti Anne went to a doctor's appointment, I wiled away the minutes following their steps. I was amazed that their instructions seemed to be perfect - usually the author manages to leave out a step or you don't get an expected response, or they make an assumption about your level of knowledge and you end up getting lost. But this worked fine - and it had me at the "C" prompt entering dos commands, just like the old days. Felt good. Only problem was, it didnt work. After I was done, I went on line, 8 minutes later, svchost.exe breakpoint error.

Patti Anne returns, and we have a good laugh about the pchell instructions. So she researched some more, and she found this - there is a setting the bowels of the control panel which might stop this problem. So off to the control panel we go.

Go to: Control Panel, Performance & Maintenance, System, Advanced Tab, Performance Settings button, Data Execution Prevention Tab, Select the button for "Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select", check the box next to "Generic Host Process for Win32 Services". This seemed to solve the svchost.exe breakpoint, and the Win32 error problems. I don't know what the side effects are tho, maybe none, but I don't know. I don't advise changing the default settings for this unless you have to.

Now, it's not lost on me that Patti Anne's computer is running just fine. We're on a wireless network, and I'm wondering why her's is running fine and mine is in a death struggle. It was very convenient to have her computer running, because a lot of the research we did was done there, since mine didnt function too well..

Tuesday: From Monday around 3 PM till Tuesday around 3 PM the old computer seemed to run fine. Very good response time, no problems. Then for some reason, Patti Anne could not print from her computer. The printer is physically attached to my computer, so I'm thinking, cripes. I booted again. After I came back up, guess what? Patti could print. But I took a Win32 error again, and had to reboot. I checked the setting in the control panel, and it was still checked, so I don't quite understand, and it scares me a little. Then Norton informed me that it had found something called "infostealer.gamepass" and I needed to reboot in order to complete the fix. Sigh. So I did. When it came back up I checked the control panel setting again - still set. I checked for soxpeca - not there. We ran a couple of programs to clean up registries, ran MBAM again, found nothing, ran Windows Defender, nothing again.

Wednesday - today: This morning, Norton found something it simply called "Trojan Horse". I had to reboot to remove it. Ran various quick & smart scans, came back clean. And Patti Anne decided it might be a good move to downloaded & install Mozilla Firefox, and use that instead of IE7, at least for now. So that's what I'm using. It takes a little getting used to. But everything has been stable since this morning.

No svchost.exe or Win32 errors since yesterday. Hopefully tomorrow will be a virus/trojan/malware free day.

So, this is what we've been up to. I've learned stuff. One thing I learned is what a heuristic algorithym is, but I'll leave my thoughts on that for another day.

I hate computers. Almost as much as cars.




Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's Tuesday!

On Friday, Feb 6th, I endured about 30 mins of dental surgery. I've been suffering in various degrees ever since. It's finally gotten to the point where it does not really hurt on it's own. That took about 9 days. Now I have to do something to make it hurt. Like talk. Or breathe deeply. Or sneeze. Or spit. Not that I'm a frequent spitter. I'm not one to go walking down the road spitting to and fro. Hi, nice to meet you (spit), nice dog ya got there (spit). That's not me. I can easily control any excess expectoration, 'cause that's one bad habit I never had. But I don't know how to keep from sneezing if I have to sneeze. And my gum is still swollen in the area, so that feels wierd. Here's one of the problems: my sinus cavity was 'engaged'. That was not unexpected, but it makes things problematic, at least for me. So anyway, I've not felt very well the last 10 days or so, and that's why I haven't been around much.

One thing I did do, because it gives me the opportunity to think or not think, depending on how I feel, was play several games of Civilization. I'm still stuck in Civ III, which is 4 or 5 years old, I know, so just dont worry about it all you civ junkies. I haven't played it in a long, long time. Each game of course takes hours and hours, and since my attention frequently wanders, they'll last the course of several days. This makes it hard to get the big empire building picture sometimes, but it's one of the things I live with. Civ also seems to display your inner personality - you find out if you're methodical or wild as can be, in case you didnt know. I generally let the game choose which Civilization I'm the leader of, and this one game I came up Dutch. Well that's cool, William of Orange and all, at one time the Dutch were a world power. They were the first colonists of what is now New York. Ever been to Hoboken, NJ? Dutch name. As is Harlem. So anyway, I'm peacefully building an nice respectable civilization, getting along fine with everyone, when I developed steam power and was looking forward with untold glee to building railroads, which increases production, movent ability, the works. But I found much to my dismay that in the whole big ol' country of mine I had no coal resources, thus could not build railroads. I try to trade with every other civilization, but they were either not advanced enough to care about coal, or if they were, they weren't trading. I noticed that another civilization bordering mine had a coal resource (interesting how these things frequently seem to be on the border of civilizations), and so, as quickly as I could, I mobilized my military units, put everybody on a war-time footing, and attacked, throwing centuries of peace down the drain. I figured I'd grab the area that had that resource, then hold on for dear life, make life miserable for the neighbors, and eventually they'd ask for peace, I'd agree, and life would return to normal and I could build railroads. It worked. It's such a 19th century thing to do. My goal in that game was not to conquer the world but to win by points, because of economic & cultural development. Anway, I did stuff like that for a few days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comments on the comments

Interesting comments on the previous post, & this is my response to them. First, thanks everyone for your comments, I appreciate them very much.



"TrishaRitchieNC said...
Sounds good to me. I agree that she's uppper class. It's easier to make fun of poor and ambitionless people when you've got plenty of money. It's a good social commentary overall for the era."



That was my feeling, just from the tone of the statement. Although that could just be my bias showing through.





Sheila said...
I know people do want to collect unused and mint postcards, but I much prefer them to have some sort of message, in particular one like this, where you get a little social history tied in with it.



I sell a lot of postcards on eBay, and I've never asked a customer why they buy a particular card, though I would very much like to know. Sometimes people tell me - and the ones who do usually say its because it means something to them, something sentimental. But I know there are lots of reasons people collect cards. There are some who are looking for postmarks - specifically postmarks from post offices that no longer exist. In the USA about 30-40 years or so ago, a lot of small country post offices were closed - some people now collect postcards with those postmarks. Others have different reasons, of course. A few know all about catalog numbers & have their check lists and so on. As for me, I'd be drawn to things that are a little quirky, and to things like this - that have some written information describing how people lived. I remember one card I had were someone had mentioned that there was "diptheria down to the village". She gave it the same weight as the weather and gathering eggs, things she described in the same message. The card was from 1905, written by somone in New England, and it gave me chills. This was a deadly disease that this person just accepted as part of life, no big deal. I don't know if anyone collects a card for what's written on it, but I find things like this very interesting.



Ms. O. D. said...
I definitely get the sense the person moved to tampa, maybe just retired... staying for the winter or more permanently, a "snow bird" from new york or from the east coast.


I had the feeling she came from one of the large Northeastern cities (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York or Boston) and was in Florida for the winter. I have no way to prove it & it would have been very interesting if we new where she was sending the message.


No hour and wage law? Here's an interesting link to Wage Law History:http://www.nwfca.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3&Itemid=6


Ah, you've given me another link to check out - thanks! For much of this nations history - especially the last part of the 19th century, government took the position that workers had very few, if any rights. Working 12 hrs a day Monday thru Friday then a half day (only 6 hrs) on Saturday probably was not uncommon. It's hard to imagine working 66 hours a week for $6 or $7.00, or even $25.00. Even accounting for inflation.



"A *good* steno gets 15.00 a week + clerks 6.00 or 7.00 a week."


Yep. "got" was a typo. No matter how often I look thru these things, I always manage to screw something up. It's just part of my nature, it's why I'm not good with power tools.



It looks like "Ford" too by the way she writes her F in Florida... maybe $15 for license plates?


I think it's "Ford" too, and if it is then it's reasonable to assume she's referring to license plates. That made registering your car in Florida in the 1920's fairly expensive - more than 2 weeks salary for a clerk.



It's difficult to make out what it is between poor / am-bitionless... I think it's "or"




Yep looks like it is. Thanks so much for going thru this and giving me your thoughts.



Martin in Bulgaria said...
Yes, defininately a class above most of us. Some interesting history coming out here.

Howdy, Martin in Bulgaria! Well it's possible "cousin Elizabeth" had more money (relatively speaking) than most of us, but I don't know if that put her in a class above or not. She does provide some interesting statistics about the cost of living in Tampa, Florida, most likely in the 1920s. But her statement about most people being "poor or ambitionless. Don't care to work" leads me to believe that as an observer of the human condition, she probably only saw what she wanted or expected to see, that she didn't have the interest to look below the surface of things.

Interesting card.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Transcription of the previous post

This is my best transcription of the message on the back of the card in the previous post.

“a month & the whole house & big lot can be got for $1500.00. A very good office job for a man draws only 25.00 a week. No hour and wage law, & some offices work 12 hours a day due to lack of help, from 7 to 7 o’clock. A got steno gets 15.00 a week, and clerks 6.00 or 7.00 a week. However! – gasoline is 18 or 19 cents due to .07 cent tax. Water is $1.00 a mo gas & electricity very high. Ford (?) license over 15.00. On the whole people are poor or(?) ambitionless. Don’t care to work. Lots of good luck and health to you all in the new year. Cousin Elizabeth. Post Office Box 124, Tampa, Florida.”

============

The message starts in mid sentence, so this is probably the last page of a longer message. I'm not 100% sure about the gasoline price, or if the author considered that price to be high or low. Also some license is over $15.00 - it looks like Ford, in which case the author is referring to a car, most likely. But it may not be Ford. And I'm not sure what the word between "poor" and "ambitionless" is. If anybody has any ideas or thoughts about it, please feel free.

============

Here are my ideas and thoughts. It would have been nice had the author thought to date the message. Perhaps they did at the beginning, or perhaps they didnt bother. It would have been interesting to see where the person she was sending the message to lived - it would have been an indication of where this person came from. She talks about hour and wage laws, so she has at least some broad social knowledge - she sounds educated. She's wishing people good health in the coming year, so it's Christmas/New Years - winter, in other words. Perhaps she's spending the winter in Florida, and is comparing the cost of living & wages in Florida with the cost of living & wages of where she is from. She also gives her address, which means the people she was sending this too probably didnt have it - because she hadn't been there long.

So what I believe we have here is a wealthy or at least upper middle class woman from the somewhere up north, (north of the Ohio River) spending the winter in Florida. I'll never be able to prove it, but that's what I think.

Please, if anyone has any ideas, feel free to comment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another reason I like postcards




I don't know if anybody collects postcards because of what someone writes on them, but if they do, this is a good one. The front of this card is a scene from a park in Tampa, Florida. It's a "white border" card which means it's circa 1920's. This fits in with the clothes people in the picture are wearing, the stamp box etc. I'm confident in estimating the age of this card at 80 + years.
-
The back of this card looks like the end of a longer message this person was writing. I've seen that lots - people bought cards and kept little diary entries on them, or would write messages to other people and mail them in an envelope. The content of the message is interesting, for a former history major such as me. It describes typical wages, cost of living & and a bit of social commentary, I'm assuming about Tampa during the period. Keep in mind, this would have been between WWI and the Great Depression.
-
It's hard to read it all, penmanship being what it is. But some of the interesting things are: a house and a large lot can be 'got' for $1500; a very good office job for a man pays about $25.00 a week; a steno (secretary I think) gets about $15.00 a week, and a clerk $6 or $7 a week; She gave the price of gasoline, but I can't quite make out what it was. If I could, I could probably pen down the date a little closer. She writes that there is no wage or hour laws, so many offices work 12 hrs a day, from 7 to 7. That's interesting - I bet anything this person was a transplant from the north, where things were more unionized, and labor laws governing hours and wages more common. She also described the people as "on the whole...poor and ambitionless. Don't care to work." She probably had lots of money.
-
Anyway, the card itself has some creases and is physically not in the greatest shape - but what was written on it was very interesting.
-
Exciting News! I clicked the picture to make it bigger and stared and stared and I think I figured out the gas price. It's my best guess, anyway. I believe the line in question reads "gasoline is 18 & 19 cents due to a 07 cent tax". The writer used the cent sign, I dont want to take the time to figure out which combination of keys produces that on my computer, so I just wrote it out. Its still possible I'm misreading it - I welcome any suggestions. I googled gasoline prices, and all I could find was that Standard Oil raised gas prices in San Francisco to 18 cents a gallon in 1916. I think 1916 is a little early for this card, but heck I dont know. WWI was going on in 1916, its possible prices went up, then went down again after the war, then started going back up again in the 1920s, but I'm just grasping at straws. My nose was stuck in medieval history in college, so to me, anything John D. Rockefeller did would be decidedly modern.
-
I did learn something tho, and based on the wages and working conditions described by this person I find it quite believable. Adjusted for inflation, gasoline prices in 1920 would be equal to paying $10.00 a gallon today. So, if the price was 19 cents a gallon, and you're only making 6 or 7 dollars a week, chances are you do not own a car. I'm not even sure $25 a week would be enough. I'm not sure I buy that adjusted for inflation stuff completely. $3.00 a gallon seemed like a lot to me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cold

It's really cold. It's ridiculously cold. But, it won't last - supposed to get up in the 60's this weekend. But in the meantime, I really, really don't like it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

English: This here vs. That there.

Its been awhile since I spewed forth any thoughts on English, so its a good time to catch up. This concerns the proper usage of "This Here" and "That There". People, especially those who don't use these terms often, have been known to get them confused.

"This here" is loosely translated as "This", while "That there" is loosely translated as "that".

When someone says "This here", they should be referring to an object close by, maybe even something they're holding in their hand.

When someone talks about "That there", they should be referring to an object at a somewhat greater distance away, anywhere from a few feet away to something way over yonder. Or maybe something that's not even present.

Also, "This here" is frequently pronounced "This 'ere", and "That there" is frequently pronounced "That air", so don't get confused. No one's talking about ears or atmosphere.

Usage examples:

1. I'm fixinta wallup you with this 'ere stick!
2. That air dog's dummer 'an river mud.

You really will only get the hang of the correct usage thru practice, so try it out!