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Gralla: Internet Annoyances—Dam the Spam, Full Speed Ahead!

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Following the excellent format I first encountered in Excel Annoyances, O’Reilly has released Preston Gralla’s Internet Annoyances to teach us “how to fix the most ANNOYING things about Going Online.”

The book is organized into sections dealing with annoyances faced by the greenest net-newbie and the wiliest guru alike: annoyances from EMail and Spam; Connection and Wireless issues; Web host and blog troubles; Browser problems; trouble with AOL and IM; search barricades at eBay, Amazon, Yahoo and Google; and Security and Shopping annoyances.

Each annoyance is succinctly presented in a vignette, followed by the solution (with lots of illustrations not shown in my review):

The Annoyance: I signed up at the National Do Not E-Mail Registry site at http://www.unsub.us to get my name off spammers’ lists. Not only did my spam not stop, but I now get more than ever. Is the federal government trying to reduce the national debt by selling email lists to spammers?
The Fix: You’ve unfortunately been the victim of a hoax. There is no such federal registry. The site you visited, according to the Federal Trade Commission, “mimics the language, look and navigation of the web site for the National Do Not Call Registry, a legitimate free service of the federal government.” The FTC believes the site might be collecting email addresses to sell to spammers. The site is currently down, but may rise again. Don’t get fooled!

EMail and Spam Annoyances: I like the way this section thoroughly discusses three main issues. First, Gralla addresses the annoyance of receiving spam by covering how to control the influx, and also how to avoid being on spammer lists in the first place&#8212all information consistent with what I learned reading the book by “SpammerX,” Inside the Spam Cartel. Then he covers what to do when your email is treated as spam. Finally, Gralla details how to swat annoyances specific to email programs like Eudora and various versions of Outlook.

Making the Connection Annoyances: This section covers general connection issues, including broadband, cable and DSL services, routers and home networks. (Wireless connections are covered in a separate section.) The best tip for me in this section? Why, naturally, how to link a home network into my cable modem without paying my ISP an additional fee for a service they are not providing.

Wireless Annoyances: Since I don’t work extensively with wireless, I can’t pick a personal best here, but I was most intrigued by the fix for “bandwidth vampires.” Gralla’s six-step program to halt WiFi freeloaders uses a program called AirSnare, which he warns may not be compatible with your WiFi card. Subsections cover cell-phone annoyances with wireless net connections and “Bluetooth snarfing;” and WiFi security issues.

Web Hosting, Design and Blog Annoyances: Useful tips in this section include how to reduce load time by creating thumbnails for images, why RSS syndication doesn’t work with Blogger-hosted sites (and why you can’t TrackBack to blogpost sites), and how to unpublish a blog from Google. One great item in this section is a five-page table listing salient points for many Web hosting services, so you can make an informed decision when you want to change hosts.

Browser Annoyances: Want to control pop-ups, ads and Macromedia Flash? This is the section you need&#8212plus you will learn how to delete the Links Favorite/Bookmark folder for good, tame Adobe Acrobat Reader, change your download options back to “Always ask before opening this type of file” once it has been unchecked, and many more desirable fixes. Specific cures deal with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Netscape/Opera browsers.

AOL Annoyances: Gralla opens this section by saying “AOL users, I feel your pain.” And while he acknowledges that “one of the greatest pleasures in any AOL user’s life is venting about the service,” he still provides tips on reducing the real burden of irritation. So here you’ll find out how to shut off the “You’ve Got Mail!” chirp, how to control AOL’s window proliferation, how to get off AOL’s spammer blacklist, and dozens of other helpful hints.

IM Annoyances: My favorite tip in this section was for Trillian, a free “universal” IM program that lets you instant-message all the major IM programs. The tip that follows the Trillian suggestion details how to get Trillian to reconnect to AOL when the AIM program periodically closes the door to it.

The Annoyance: I had a thoroughly bizarre IM conversation with a stranger the other day on AIM&#8212it was kind of like talking with a schizophrenic who was still learning English… a tech-savvy friend said I hadn’t been talking to a person at all; it was an “AIMBot.”
In addition to detailing the fix, Gralla reproduces his own conversation with an AIMBot, which is eerily reminiscent of conversations with Eliza, the program designed by Joseph Weizenbaum as a first stab at passing the Turing test.

Searching Annoyances: I got two great search engine references from this section: the WayBack Machine and a “universal” search engine called Copernic Agent-Basic. In addition, Gralla provides a neat table of Google SearchBar keyboard shortcuts, and shows how to efficiently search Google, Amazon and eBay.

Security Annoyances: I admit, I turned to this section first, after my recent problem with embedded spyware. In addition to some solid recommendations for spyware-proofing, this section also shows two ways to beat phishing expeditions, how to optimize your software firewall, and where to report hackers once you discover them.

Shopping and Auction Annoyances: Tables are the winner in this section. One details restocking fees at popular web sales sites, another tells where to file a fraud complaint. A list of government auction sites was intriguing, and another listing telephone support numbers for sites from Amazon to Travelocity will be a handy feature for the online buyer. My favorite? STOP MY $7,600 AMAZON ONE-CLICK ORDER&#8212if you’ve ever had buyer’s remorse two seconds after sending that order downline, this fix shows you how to snatch your credit card back.

Gralla’s manual will make a great addition to anyone’s home computer help-shelf!

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