Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

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Internet Security 101

Here’s a quick overview of things you can do to make your computer safer. No computer on the Internet can be 100% safe, but following these basic guidelines will protect you from the majority of threats.

1. Buy a Mac — I’ll start with this one to avoid obvious jokes in the comments. Macs aren’t immune to security threats but most viruses are written for the PC, so Mac users are still safer, on average, than Windows users.

2. Get the latest Windows updates — Most Windows machines have these enabled by default, but it’s still worth a check. Check your Start Menu for an icon called “Windows Update” and make sure they’re set to automatically download and install updates as they come in. For example, I set my machine to check for updates and install them every morning at 3 a.m. Don’t worry about Optional updates, just let your system install everything that’s recommended.

If you haven’t done this before, you may have a long wait, as your system downloads all the big security updates and Service Packs. Don’t worry about it. Just let it run. It’s not hurting your system and it’s not uploading your email to Microsoft.

The bad guys are out there every day scanning for people who still have unpatched operating systems. Enabling Windows Updates is the first thing you should do to protect yourself, and surfing the web with an unpatched OS is the quickest way to get in trouble.

Those “Zombie computer” victims you hear about on the news? Most of those are people who didn’t update their operating systems.

If you haven’t let your computer get updates from Microsoft since you took it out of the box, you’re asking for trouble.

3. Get an antivirus program — Again, Windows is a lot better at this than it used to be. Windows Firewall is enabled by default and Windows Defender will protect users against the most common threats. But there are a dozen free and easy ways to upgrade your protection. Norton and McAfee still make good products but they tend to be expensive, invasive and complicated. There are some great free alternatives available now, and one of the best actually comes from Microsoft.

After 20 years of dubious efforts, Microsoft has finally aquired an antivirus solution that’s ready for prime time. Microsoft Security Essentials is simple, free and surprisingly effective. It runs quickly and doesn’t “take over your system” like Norton and McAfee.

Don’t get hung up on which antivirus program is the “best.” Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses and the title of “best” changes every few months. Just remember that something is better than nothing, and don’t try to run with more than one antivirus solution active at a time. If you try to install a new antivirus program before you uninstall the old one they’ll go to war with each other and screw up your system worse than an actual attack.

4. Stay out of bad neighborhoods — Internet security is a lot like real life security. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t hang out with criminals and don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods after dark. Most Internet security measures are common sense. If you’re worried about keeping your computer safe, don’t go to porn sites and don’t download pirated software.

Illegal software has to be “cracked” to get past the copy protection and many of these cracks contain trojans and spyware. Media files are generally safer than executable programs, but some media files are “containers” that may try to install extra stuff or direct you to questionable web sites.

If you’re worried about security, play it safe. Buy your games and movies from reputable sites and don’t be seduced by the lure of free stuff. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

5. Stop forwarding junk emails — This is a touchy subject but it’s time for some tough love. You know that VIRUS WARNING you just got in the mail? It’s probably a hoax. Don’t forward it to your kids. Just make sure you’ve updated your antivirus software and trust it to do its job. If you’re worried about it, go to Snopes.com and type some keywords from the email into their Search box. Nine times out of 10 Snopes will have an update that will explain what’s really going on.

I encourage everyone on the Net to bookmark and read Snopes.com. Sadly, 9 out of 10 forwards you see are lies. Virus warnings, patriotic speeches, political rumors — most of it is misleading, misattributed or simply made up out of whole cloth.

And frankly, mass forwarding email is kind of rude. Your friends and your kids are too polite to tell you, but most of us are overwhelmed by email and don’t appreciate having our work interrupted by another quote from Chicken Soup for the Soul. Consider moving that stuff to your Facebook Wall, where your audience can control when and how they see it.

Most of us have our email forwarding to mobile devices these days and we can’t tell the difference between an urgent message and a frivilous one.

6. Change the way you share links — If you’re worried about security and email spam, count to 10 and think carefully before you give your email address to anyone. Any time you click “Email this” and use a form to send someone a link, you’re giving that site permission to send you (and the recipient) advertising.

Even if the site is reputable and promises not to give your address to a 3rd party, the site itself can still send you advertising and make deals with “partners” that may not be so careful with your address.

Best to avoid that risk entirely and learn to cut and paste web addresses into email. Just go to the web site you want to share and right click on the address. Select “Copy” from the right-click menu and paste the address on Facebook or onto a fresh email.

It takes a bit longer, but you’re not giving away your email address, or anybody else’s, to someone who may abuse it.

For people who like to forward news stories, Facebook has a new feature that can simplify the process. All the major news sites now have Recommend buttons. This provides a great compromise for people who want to share news with friends without spamming their inboxes.

Putting links on your Facebook page is a great way to share stuff without forcing it on people. And using the Recommend button keeps the interruption to a minimum. But make sure you only do this on reputable news sites. Bad guys are already finding ways to hijack the Facebook buttons.

7. Manage your junk mail — Clients have gotten a lot better about containing spam lately, but it’s still a problem. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, consider setting your Junk Email protection to “High.” You can find “Junk Email Options” in the Actions menu.

Be sure to keep an eye on your Junk Email folder for a few weeks after that. You may have to fish some people out and add them to your Safe Senders list, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

If you’re using Yahoo or MSN consider switching to Gmail. Gmail’s spam filter is the best on the market right now and Yahoo just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’ve had a Yahoo account for years, but recently I’ve seen a lot of dangerous stuff get through.

8. Protect your banking information — Never go to your banking site by clicking on a link in an email. Ever. I have never had a Paypal or a Chase bank account but I get emails every day pretending to be from Paypal and Chase asking me to log in and “verify my account.”

No matter how official the email looks, don’t click on these links. Instead, type the address of your bank directly into the browser or make a bookmark to it. A good email client can help protect you from these “phishing” links but smart attacks can always slip through.

As I said, most Internet security is common sense. I’ve been all over the Net, on all kinds of sites in the presence of all kinds of threats and I haven’t had a virus in 20 years.

Just keep your PC updated, run some basic antivirus software and stay out of bad neighborhoods. That should protect you from the worst of it.

If you’ve got your own security tips, or if you thought of something I missed, please share it in the comments.

Update: And before I forget, let me make sure and plug Glass Houses with Bert Knabe, who blogs about security for the A-J. Bert keeps up with the latest trends and talks about current security threats. I particularly like this recent one, “Is social media safe for work?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 5, 2010 at 10:52

John Perrin Facts

[I THINK most of these are original, but don’t be too hard on me if I accidentally “repurposed” a Chuck Norris.]

John Perrin once beat Deep Blue at chess. But first, he taught it how to cry.

When he was 13, John Perrin challenged the Devil to a riddle contest. So any sins committed after 1994 are your own damn fault.

With a single handshake, John Perrin can determine the exact moment of your death, or change it.

Every morning, John Perrin composes a symphony, cooks a gourmet meal, and makes three crucial stock trades. On October 17, 1987 he overslept.

John Perrin is on 58 distinct government watch lists, but not as John Perrin.

John Perrin doesn’t browse the Internet. He remembers.

John Perrin is not the 14th Doctor. Yet.

John Perrin didn’t cause the flash crash, but something in his pocket did.

John Perrin knows an antidote to global warming, a limitless energy source, and a cure for cancer. The first one’s free.

John Perrin made a mistake once, but the dinosaurs forgave him.

No one knows John’s real last name. But his first name is “The.”

More at: I Don’t Believe in Luck – I Believe in John Perrin

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 18, 2010 at 17:02

Posted in Best Of, Facebook


I just got back from visiting Fatlittlegirlfriend.com.

You have to be careful, visiting an address like that. I’ll admit that I winced a bit as I typed it in, like I was anticipating a punch to the face.

But it really is a site about Mike Leach and his infamous “fat little girlfriends” quote from last week. A Web marketing guru named John-Michael Oswalt grabbed the domain name and put up a 10-second video clip of Leach offending the entire female population of Lubbock, Texas.

You can see local reaction in the comment section of Don Williams’ story, Leach not apologizing to ‘fat little girlfriends’. The majority of commenters (mostly men) are defending Leach, basically saying that a coach has to say provocative things like that and talk to players “on their level” to get their attention.

Women are outraged, of course. In 2009, “fat” is about the worst insult you can use on a woman. Leach didn’t create this problem, or the society that spawned it, but he’s leveraging the stereotype for all it’s worth, trying to shock his guys into paying attention.

I don’t really like or understand football, but I love football fans. I love the Texas Tech spirit, the kind of energy and enthusiasm you see in Raider Alley; the shared joy of a victory and the awesome power of fan participation, as they turned the stadium pink and joined the fight against breast cancer.

These fans are smart, angry and organized. And make no mistake, it’s women who do all the work. When I heard Leach’s quote last week, my first reaction was not anger, but anticipation. Tech fans have an awesome ability to turn insults into catch phrases, and I couldn’t wait to see what they did with this.

I even came up with a few T-shirt ideas, although John-Michael Oswalt beat me to it. I wanted to see the Tech women rise to the challenge and shove this back in Leach’s face. I imagined thousands of angry sorority girls wearing shirts that read, “Does this look fat to you?” Their boyfriends could wear the same slogan, with an arrow pointing to the right.

Or maybe they could try and take the word back, like so many minority groups have done. Would women let their boyfriends wear shirts that said, “She’s hot, she’s fat, and she’s mine?”

Probably safer to use JMO’s slogan, “Wreck ’em Tech, proud home of the Fat Little Girlfriend.”

I was hoping for a formal response from the cheerleaders, but any cheer that started with “Give me an F” would probably end badly.

I was disturbed by Leach’s comment, not just because it was insulting, but because I was afraid women would take him seriously. I thought his comment was unfair because lying to men is a girlfriend’s job. Can you imagine a world where women told men the truth about everything? Where women honestly told men what they thought of their mental and physical capabilities? Our entire society would break down! Athletics, academia, commerce — the whole system would grind to a halt!

In a world where women told the truth about everything men would lose, not only their motivation to work, but their very will to live! Knowing when to lie is the most important part of any relationship. I can understand Leach wanting his players to pay attention. Football coaches, like battlefield generals, have to be firmly in touch with reality. It’s the coach’s job to tell the truth and prepare his players for the worst.

But you need more than fear and strategy to win football games. You also need hope, optimism and the will to fight, even when your spirits are low and you’ve just lost a game you were supposed to win. Knowledge of how to win comes from the coach, but the will to win comes from girlfriends. A coach who keeps his players in touch with reality may be worth $300,000 a year, but a girlfriend who knows how to lie is worth her weight in gold.

So, even if I don’t understand football, I will be watching closely as Tech fans rally to help their team beat Kansas. Good luck as you “Wreck them” or “gun them up” or whatever it is you people do.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 29, 2009 at 10:26

Posted in Best Of, Humor

The week everybody banned Twitter

This was the week that everybody banned Twitter.

Mike Leach made headlines Monday, instituting a no-Twitter policy after Brandon Carter and Marlon Williams used Twitter accounts to complain about the team.

Corporations and media organizations across the country are struggling with the issue as social media chips away at their power structures and threatens to compromise their public image.

ESPN has clamped down on its employees, allowing only “official” ESPN-sanctioned use of social media tools.

But Rob King, ESPN.com editor-in-chief, doesn’t want anyone to call it a ban. He told Sports Business Daily, “The word ‘ban’ suggests that we’re not letting employees engage on these platforms at all … and that could not be further from the truth. We want to uphold the same editorial standards for reporting something, regardless of the medium.”

The Washington Post has also cracked down on its reporters this week, implementing a policy that has New Media critics shaking their heads. The policy was implemented after Raju Narisetti, one of the Post’s managing editors, posted two (rather innocuous) political opinions on his Twitter account.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 2, 2009 at 10:39

Posted in Best Of, Columns, Twitter

Business Week Printout Service

You know what they say. If you can’t be funny in 2009, recycle crap from 1996. I originally posted this to the Usenet group alt.religion.kibology on July 3, 1996. I think it’s still funny today, perhaps for different reasons. And yes, for some reason, I felt the need to capitalize Online.

First, let me congratulate you on your excellent product, Business Week Online on AOL. Your service delivers exactly as promised — every article, every week, Online.

I have a suggestion on a way you could improve your service that would mean a lot to me personally.

Every week, I go through your Online publication and I’m continually frustrated. Your articles are so good, that I feel the need to print them out for posterity — to show them to friends, file away for future reference, or perhaps just to capture those excellent photographs.

I don’t have disk space to store everything, but I’m willing to spare a little space in my paper files for these printouts.

That brings me to my idea.

Why don’t you guys offer some kind of “Business Week Printout Service” where you can print out the full content of your Business Week Online section and mail the results to people who request it? Perhaps for a reasonable fee.

I think I would be willing to pay up to $50 a year for quality printouts of your publication. If you need to bring the cost down, I would even be willing to look through pages of commercial advertisements.

I would be happy to pay for these “transcripts” just to have a permanent record of Business Week that I can pass on to my children.

It’s a shame to have such a quality product vanish each week into some computer. I think this Printout Service would bring your publication to the cutting edge of Online technology.

Perhaps you can start a trend?

Thank you for your time,

Michael B. Duff

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 15, 2009 at 16:01

Posted in Best Of, Humor

Message boards of the rich and famous

A few years ago, I formed a light long-distance friendship with a successful screenwriter out in LA.

After launching a barrage of questions that all boiled down to, “How can Duff get famous?” I put the narcissism aside and started asking about the interesting stuff.

I wanted to know the inside story. How do million-dollar deals get made? Who decides when a script is good enough to get funded? Where do the gatekeepers go to decide the future of the entertainment industry?

These decisions used to be made in person but increasingly they’re being made on Internet message boards. My friend let it slip and tried to move on to other topics but I made him go back.

I said, “Wait a minute. You’re telling me there are secret Internet message boards where the Hollywood elite gather to decide the future of the industry?”

He said, “Pretty much, yeah.”

I asked if he’d let me see one and he laughed in my webcam-transmitted face.

I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracies, secret societies or the Illuminati but I find the idea romantic. I want to live in a world ruled by an elite conspiracy of supergeniuses, but surely if someone was ruling the world it would make more sense.

I suspect that the world is run by a collection of tedious workaholics, like characters on the West Wing who’ve had all their charm and sex-appeal removed.

But the dream remains.

Not all “elite” web sites are secret. Black Card Circle.com made waves last year by sending out special black cards to invite high-profile people to their “8-8-08” launch. Unfortunately, many users thought the invites looked like marketing material and threw them in the trash.

I’m not cool enough to be invited to Black Card Circle but their marketing materials are unabashedly elitist: “Black Card Circle’s community is comprised of ‘Influential Individuals’ whom are defined as ‘CIAs’ – ‘Connectors, Influencers, and Alphas’. CIAs possess either financial capital, social capital, or both, and include, but are not limited to, respected professionals, upstanding community leaders and inspiring entrepreneurs.”

I love the use of the word “Alphas” here. It makes me think of Bill Gates with his foot planted on the face of a defeated enemy, beating his chest like Tarzan.

It sounds like a great opportunity, a secret message board where you can mingle with the rich and powerful. But in my experience, the more powerful a person is in real life, the less likely they are to have computer skills.

We’ve seen it over and over again — respected politicians and celebrities reduced to gibbering rage when they see what people on the Internet are saying about them.

Swapping message board chatter with the rich and famous may sound like fun, but I suspect the result would be less impressive in real life.

I suspect it would look something like this:

“New to this Internet thing but thought I’d say hi. What is everybody doing?” — owinfrey


“This board is free but watch out for spammers. And look for me on Twitter!” — ngingrich

“‘Sup, Newt. Bill wanted me to invite you for barbecue next week.” — hclinton

“CAN I COME?” — jbiden

“Is it just politicians here or can normal people post?” — stillbono

“Who are you calling ‘normal?'” — sting99

“Any TV people here?” — rphilbin

“Reeeeeeeeeeg!” — kgifford

“Is that Regis Philbin? I thought he was dead.” — dhasselhoff

“OMG, it’s the Knight Ridder!” — mcyrus

“Oh for god’s sake. It’s Knight RIDER. How old are you? And I wasn’t THE Knight Rider. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. It was just the name of the show. God, I hate when people do that.” — dhasselhoff

“You got off easy, Hoff. Twenty years since my show went off the air and people still treat me like an illiterate thug. Oh, BTW, the Blizzard people asked me for your number. You wanna be a Death Knight or a Priest?” — mistert

“Nice work, Hoff. Pick on a teenage girl. That’s it, you and me are done professionally.” — cbale

“Hey guys, check this out. It’s a photo of a cat, but it’s got words printed on it like the cat is talking. It’s saying something cute, like a person would, but it’s spelled wrong because it’s a cat, get it?” — shawking

“Oh god, more Ron Paul spam. Anybody know how to get yourself off a mailing list?” — hclinton

“You could always fake your death.” — rnixon

Written by Michael B. Duff

May 28, 2009 at 18:44

Posted in Best Of, Columns, Humor

38 Candles with Sarah Vowell

I decided to spend my birthday with Sarah Vowell on Tuesday.

Specifically I went to the Allen Theater and got her to scribble “Happy Birthday” on an issue of GO!

A Sarah Vowell reading in Lubbock turned out to be a great choice on my birthday. The crowd made me feel young. Average age was below 40 but definitely above 35. Grad students in jeans, professors in bow ties, soccer-moms in shoulder pads with sharp Southern cheekbones and one gray-haired man with a pony tail. I think I dropped his English class, many years ago. Or maybe that was the one I passed.

This was not a typical Lubbock crowd. This was like a band of expatriates, huddled together in a foreign land. In Lubbock, Sarah Vowell’s name is a litmus test. Most natives won’t know who she is, but one in five people who hear her name will nod and wink.

These are the NPR people — a dot of blue in a sea of red. We’re working on a handshake.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

March 3, 2009 at 23:48

Posted in Best Of, Books