Search Engines – what are they good for?

Absolutely nothing in some cases!

One increasingly well known fact is that paywalls – those barriers that some websites put in the way to try and get you to hand over money or register to gain access – are these days, very porous.

They’re designed that way so that they can charge for access, either by charging or selling your details, but do not close themselves off to the rest of the internet i.e. search engines.

They still want search engines to scan their site and therefore have to open themselves up to them whilst blocking anyone else. Google’s T&C’s even state that websites must not block access when referred from Google search results if they want to appear in those results.

That’s the loophole that apps like BreakthePaywall! (http://www.breakthepaywall.com) use to circumvent the paywalls – they impersonate a search engine.

For example: if you go to a site and notice an article that, when you click on it, displays a paywall blocking page or popup then if you copy that same article heading and paste it into a search engine then, more often than not, the link in the search result list to the same article, when clicked, will result in the article being displayed without any problems.

That’s because the website is seeing that you have come from a search engines results page – using the ‘Referer’ header that is sent by the linking website.

This is how paywalled websites keep themselves at the top of search results but also block people that have gone to the website directly and/or click on subsequent articles. This is usaully referred to as opening themselves up a little bit in order to gain search engine traction but still make money out of the ignorant. It must be rather galling for loyal customers who stump up annual subscription fees to discover that others can get it for free – hey, that’s the mad world of the internet!

Another technical aspect is that websites need to allow the search engine robots unfettered access. These robots go out onto the internet and scan websites and report back to the databases that collate the results. They have their own special names that websites can pick up and therefore allow access.

So, search engines are useful after all, but interestingly, not all of them…

Here’s a list of the top search engines in the world according to Wikipedia:

Search engine Market share in June 2014
Google 68.69%

 

Baidu 17.17%

 

Yahoo! 6.74%

 

Bing 6.22%

 

Excite 0.22%

 

Ask 0.13%

 

AOL 0.13%

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_search_engine

As you would expect Google is way out in front. Experimenting with the method of copying a header, paste into search engine and see if the resulting link to the paywalled website works it’s not surprising that using Google as the search engine always works. Most websites want to be on Google’s search results so they allow full access from Google. But what about the other search engines:

Baidu – is of course the Chinese based search engine – try a paywalled western based news organisation  website on there and you don’t get anywhere. Consequently they don’t appear anywhere near the top of the search results (you have to put in the website domain to get anywhere near). Yes, it seems like some websites are not interested in a few billion chinese customers.

Yahoo next – again, no joy at all. It turns out that Yahoo doesn’t actually do its own search results. They currently use Microsoft Bing’s search results – they used to use Google up until 2004. So, it seems some sites have excluded Yahoo from their allow lists, which seems strange as it is the 3rd largest search provider.

Microsoft Bing – works!

Excite, Ask, AOL and any other smaller search engine – DuckDuckGo uses Bing as well as other sources for its search results – do not work, or rather, are ignored by paywalled websites.

So paywalled websites want to expose themselves and effectively give free access but don’t want to do it for everybody – maybe they are just as ignorant of what they are doing as their customers.

But it also highlights the fact that for non-Chinese internet users at least there is really only two search engines – Google and Bing. What a stitch up!

CorelDraw Transparency slows to crawl when used with bitmap

Someone was editing some old CorelDraw files which were all vector based. They were adding a background bitmap and then overlaying vector items on top.

When they did this with vector objects that were transparent everything in Corel ceased up and slowed to a crawl particularly with when lots of transparent objects were over layered.

Turning the bitmap layer off brought Corel back to life.

It turned out that the original author had used a Lens effect to perform the transparency on the object.

After some investigations we found information in the Corel documentation that stated when a Lens effect is placed on a vector object and the object is then placed over a bitmap the vector object is converted to a bitmap – this is what was heppening with all the transparent objects and obviously the conversion was slowing everything down.

What the original author should have used was the Transparency tool instead – this is located on one of the toolbar icons as a sub option of the icon that is the Interactive Blend Tool by default (click on the little black arrow in the bottom right and you will see the glass shaped transparency tool).

The transparency tool looks a bit odd the first time you see it – a black square and a white square and a lens rectangle in between. Ignore this and use the toolbar that appears at the top. By default the transparency tool is set to Linear which gives you a gradient effect – change this to uniform and then you can just change the percentage number to the right for the transparency required.

This article explains the Transparency tool in more detail:

http://grok.lsu.edu/Article.aspx?articleId=10563

To change the existing objects we firstly selected all the objects, then turned off the Lens effect (should be a tab on the Object Manager toolbar usually on the right of the screen), then set the transparency using the correct tool.

 

Getting rid of Windows 7 HomeGroup

Homegroup is a Microsoft product that comes with Windows 7 and is turned on by default even though you don’t need it.

It is purely there to accomodate easier sharing between windows 7 machines on a local network but you can do that anyway using mapped drives between machines or to a NAS drive and/or replication.

It also uses up resources on your PC and I have found causes problems with wifi connected devices.

So, if like me you like to control things yourself then to get rid of homegroup:

  • Goto to Network and Sharing Centre in control panel.
  • Select Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options.
  • If it states you are part of a Homegroup then select leave Homegroup.

You might also want to check your advanced sharing options at this point:

  • Select Change Advanced Sharing settings…
  • Expand the Home or Work option.
  • Network discovery should be enabled.
  • Set Printer sharing as desired.
  • Turn off Public Folder sharing.
  • You should turn on encryption.
  • You should turn on password protection.
  • Use User accounts and Passwords to connect.

So far ok but you will probably notice that you still get the Homegroup option listed in the Explorer app – to get rid of that you need to stop the Homegroup services:

  • Got Administrative Tools under Control Panel
  • Select Services.
  • Find the Homegroup Listener and Homegroup Provider services.
  • Stop the service and set to disabled so that they do not turn on again.

The homegroup option should now have disappeared from the Explorer window.

 

Duckduckgo rocks!

I’ve always tried to use the most anonymous search engine I can – i’m a privacy advocate and just don’t like the idea of big corporations tracking and recording me.

I used to use Scroogle until it’s demise – see: http://www.islandearth.com/articles/2012/2/22/scroogle-is-no-more.html

When that happened I started trying out ixquick and duckduckgo but they just didn’t quite cut it – ixquick was more relevant than duckduckgo but nowhere near as good as Google, and at times was very slow. Duckduckgo was just too USA oriented and I wanted UK relevance.

In the end I gave up using them and for a while went back to Google. I did make sure I was using https to connect securely, set do not track and made sure I deleted cookies on browser exit and didn’t allow 3rd party cookies just to lessen the tracking a little bit.

Recently I saw several articles in the press regarding Duckduckgo so I started given them another try and I was pleasently surprised – it was fast and relevant to the UK. It seems like they have really got their act together and I have now switched to them on all my devices, including iPhone where there is a downloadable app that you can use as a replacement browser to Safari.

http://www.duckduckgo.com

 

UK Government Pays Microsoft £5.5m to extend Windows XP support

It has been reported that the UK Government is prepared to pay £5.5m to extend support for Windows XP.

This is a good deal – £5.5m or 10s of millions spent on upgrading to Windows 7/8. I suspect this arrangement will continue for several years hopefully with a slow rollout of upgrades or a natural upgrade as windows XP hardware dies.

Crucially, extending support includes security updates – this intrigues me.

Most Microsoft security patches over the last few years cover all their operating XP,7 and 8 – you very rarely, if at all, get am update solely for XP. It would not have been difficult for Microsoft to continue with these updates for XP but we all know the real reason behind their decision to stop support – get everyone to buy Windows 8. With the UK Government deal and other similar deals around the world they are effectively continuing to release security updates for XP. So not only will Microsoft manage to persuade lots of customers to buy windows 8 they have also managed to monetize ongoing support for XP.

However, there is one flaw – those security updates are being made available to the government to install on their XP desktops. How long is it going to take for those updates to leak out, especially from a large public organisation. I predict they will be disseminated and available widely – specialist software to torrent download XP updates anyone?

 

BreakthePaywall – new version 2.0.0

Finally it’s here!

The new version of BreakthePaywall was finally released today.

Version 2.0.0 has the following new features:

BreakthePaywall is now compatible with all versions of windows from XP onwards including Windows 8.0 and 8.1 (only in desktop IE – Metro interface IE does not allow plugins).

There are now 2 ways to use BreakthePaywall:

1. The Original Right Click Method – right click on a link and select BreakthePaywall from the context menu. This method utilises all circumventing functions.

2. The new One-click method – simply left click links as you normally would. This method is enabled by default and only utilises the basic circumventing functions.

Method 2 will work in most cases but if not, use method 1 instead.
(Note: You must disable Internet Explorer’s Enhanced Protected Mode for Method 1 to work. You will be prompted with instructions if this mode is enabled).

You can also toggle One-click method 2 on and off: use the new BreakthePaywall sub-menu under the Tools menu or the command button on the command toolbar.

We have also added Google search screening – Google does not link directly to search results, all links go via a special google link which then redirects to the website you want to go to. BreakthePaywall now intercepts this intermediary link and redirects you directly thus circumventing any restrictions. This occurs when using both methods.

To install the new release:

If you have BreakthePaywall already installed then right click a link and choose BreakthePaywall as normal – you will then be prompted to update the package.

Otherwise, go to the website and select download: http://www.breakthepaywall.com

Enjoy the new release.

Windows XP SVCHOST at 100% Solved

Was updating an old laptop with Windows XP on it and it started going really slow.

Windows update icon was always on and stuck at 1%.

Task manager reported SVCHOST process at 100% CPU.

Problem is with certain Windows updates on XP that sieze up the windows update process.

Solve it by downloading and installing an IE cumulative update i.e. KB2888505, which you can download here:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=41074

 

ASDM Not working after restore – Unable to launch device manager error

I was recently setting up a new ASA 5505 unit from a backup configuration file and after restoring the backup through ASDM I could not connect back again using ASDM.

I received the error message: Unable to launch device manager

Command line console was ok.

Worked out in the end that I had upgraded to the latest ASDM version on the 5505 but when it re-booted it picked up the old original ASDM file as the one to load (this may have been due to not saving the configuration before restoring).

In the command line I just had to set the ASDM version back to the newest version:

Config T

asdm image disk0:/asdm-???.bin

e.g.

asdm image disk0:/asdm-713.bin

Then do a:

write mem

You should now be able to logon to asdm as normal.

Surface Pro BIOS and Resetting from overheating or panic attack

I’ve been using the Surface Pro for sometime now and love it. But it does have a tendency to have panic attacks!

This can be due to overheating or confusion with updates or when running highly intensive graphics e.g. my son playing Minecraft.

You suddenly find that the Surface Pro will not boot up – when pressing the power button you either get nothing at all or you get the low battery icon appearing and then it shuts down even though you are connected to mains power – and the white power light is lit up.

Looking on one side of the Surface Pro when you attempt to power up there is a series of orange lights that flash and blink – no idea what these mean, can anyone enlighten me?

Anyway, I have found that one of the following methods usually gets things going again:

Enter the UEFI BIOS and then restart. To enter the BIOS:

1. Press the volume up button and hold down for 15 seconds.

2. Press the power button on and off.

3. The UEFI screen should appear from which you can restart.

Other methods:

1. Repeatedly press the power button 30 times half a second apart.

2. If it boots then great otherwise on the 30th attempt keep the power button pressed for 30 seconds.

3. Release the power button and it should boot.

Otherwise:

1. Disconnect from power supply.

2. Press power button again.

If still not working, power it off and leave it for 1 hour and then try again.

If you still have no luck then get onto Microsoft – I have found their support for the Surface very good:

http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-gb/support

 

Switching to local account from Microsoft account and deleting your synched settings

I setup another Windows 8 machine and used my Microsoft account as the logon account.

I have been meaning to change the logon on my Surface Pro from Microsoft account to a local account for some time as I use it when travelling and everyone can see my email address on the logon screen and possibly workout my password when I type it in – that would give someone access to quite a bit of stuff!

Upon logging in on the new machine, to my surprise, the start screen and desktop settings were all the same as on my Surface Pro – I had inadvertently allowed windows to sync to Microsoft’s skydrive cloud service which allows synching between all windows 8 devices.

I don’t need that so I found out how to stop the synching and how to delete the information already held in the cloud.

I didn’t want to keep my Microsoft account as the logon account so decided I needed to switch to a local account but I did not want to lose all my settings, particularly my customised start screen. As it turns out this is easy to do:

Swipe from the right and choose settings at the bottom, then choose Change PC Settings from the bottom.

On Windows 8 you will need to choose Users and then choose Switch to Local account.

On Windows 8.1 you will need to choose Accounts and then choose Disconnect.

You will be prompted for your Microsoft Account password and then will be asked to provide your local account username and password.

The system will restart and that’s it.

To delete your settings in the cloud make sure you have no devices synching with your Microsoft Account and then go to this link:

https://skydrive.live.com/P.mvc#!/win8personalsettingsprivacy/

Logon with your Microsoft Account and choose to Delete Your Settings from SkyDrive.

That’s it!