My iPaq, ActiveSync and the Firewall

I’ve been using iPAQs for some time now (though I’ve been switching between models) and I’ve always used ActiveSync to synchronise my device to both my home PC and office PC. I haven’t had any problems with synching until a couple of weeks ago when my office PC refused to connect with my iPAQ PDA.

At first I thought it was the PC that was at fault. I’ve been getting other memory leak type errors from it at about the same time so I suspected the synch problem to be related to it.

I’ve been given with a spiffy new office PC recently but I was surprised to discover the synch problem still present. I then realised that the cause of the problem was something else entirely. After a bit of research on the web, I found out the culprit: our office firewall!

According to Microsoft’s Windows Mobile ActiveSync 4.0/4.1/4.2 USB Connection Troubleshooting Guide:

Most cases of ActiveSync 4.x USB connection problems as listed above are caused by Windows desktop firewall applications or applications that manipulate network traffic. These applications conflict with the TCP traffic between your device and the PC, causing data transfer and connection issues. The list below provides some known applications that may cause problems connecting your device to your PC.

If this was a problem with my home PC, I could fix it very easily. However, this is the office PC I have to deal with here and I don’t have sufficient permission/access rights to modify the settings of the firewall application. I talked to our network administrator about it and he told me what I already suspected. The firewall was set to block almost all network traffic and he was a bit unwilling to modify the settings. So, the only way to synch my PDA to the office PC was to disable the firewall everytime I had to synch. It’s such a pain to do, not to mention risky.

I continued my search for a workaround the problem that didn’t involve modifying firewall settings, basically bypassing it entirely. After following forum threads about the topic, I eventually found a discussion about other Windows Mobile 5.0 PDA devices and issues with ActiveSync.

One of their suggestions was to install a handy little utility called USBSwitch_PPC.cab on your Windows Mobile 5.0 PDA. The application called USB Killer will be installed on your PDA. Run it and change the ActiveSync Mode from RNDIS to Serial. Serial mode is the old way PocketPC PDAs synch with PCs. It may be slower than the current method that uses TCP/IP protocols, but at least the firewall ignores serial connections.

And now, I’m able to synch my PDA to my office PC without having to shutdown the firewall software first.

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Published in: on February 13, 2007 at 1:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Infected by a Trojan Horse

I used to work for a multinational computer antivirus company several years ago. So, I’m quite knowledgeable when it came to computer viruses and trojan horses. I know how they operate and I kind of know what to expect if my computer ever gets infected by them. Or so I thought. I unfortunately didn’t realise how cunning a virus could be nowadays.

Although I have an antivirus software installed on my PC, it’s not exactly top of the line. It was one of the two popular freebie antivirus software available on the Web today. Still, I was pretty confident that it would catch almost any virus that would try to infect my machine. It just turned out that it didn’t catch a trojan horse called Vundo or a variant of it.

At the time I didn’t know what it was. All I know is that I double-clicked on the installer of a trial-ware program I downloaded from the Web and then nothing. I looked at the folder where the program should be and it wasn’t there. Uh-oh, I thought. I then scanned my hard disk for viruses as a precaution but the antivirus software found nothing. I didn’t believe the results then but what if the AV was right? I carried on as normal for that evening.

The next night when I opened up Firefox, a pop-up window appeared instead of Firefox.

Now, I’m computer savvy enough to know that this pop-up dialog box wasn’t generated by the system. It was likely to be a javascript run from my web browser. What concerned me was that it run by itself even before I did anything. That could only mean that a virus or something has installed itself on to my PC and added this code so that this pop-up dialog would come out when I use my browser. After further investigation on the Web, I found a Wikipedia entry on WinFixer.

Every now and then, my current AV would alert me to the presence of a trojan on my PC. Apparently, it could catch some variants of the trojan horse but not all of it. The trojan horse variant I may have accidentally run was a polymorphic type. Meaning, it changes its own code so that AV scanners would have a tougher time matching the correct virus signature to the virus. So, I decided to downloaded three more AV programs to see if any of them could find all traces of the trojan on my PC and remove them.

The different AV scanners I used found variants of the Vundo trojan horse and removed them with no problem. However, I must have a newer version of it that the current AV programs can’t properly remove it all because after rebooting my PC, I still get the WinFixer problem when I use Firefox or Internet Explorer.

Well, according to the information I’ve read regarding the trojan, the risk and destructiveness ratings are on the low end. But, I couldn’t allow a trojan or virus living in my PC to be left unremoved. Sure, it doesn’t seem so dangerous now but from how I understand how it works, it may be possible that the trojan could install a more threatening hidden script on my web browser at a future time. I was more concerned that it would track down my usernames and passwords and send them to the maker of the trojan.

And so, I spent most of my spare time trying to get rid of the stupid trojan. All the AV scanners I’ve installed kept telling me that there are no more viruses on my machine yet the WinFixer dialog keeps popping up when I use Firefox. It just wasn’t acceptable to me. I continued my search on the Web on how I could possibly remove the trojan manually.

I came upon Symantec’s dedicated Trojan.Vundo Removal Tool. Exactly what I needed, I thought. And so, I foolishly followed the instructions on Symantec’s website including the part where I should turn off my Windows XP System Restore feature! I sure regretted that move.

I tried the tool and it didn’t find any Vundo trojans in my system. Yet, I still get the symptoms of the same trojan: uninitiated pop-up windows and the intermittent Vundo virus alerts from my AV. It was only after all that that I found a suggestion that I could maybe just use the System Restore to go back to a Restore Point when I haven’t run the trojan for the first time.

I could’ve tried that except all my old Restore Points were all gone now because I turned off the feature earlier. That was the last straw for me. It was then I decided that I’ll just reformat my PC and start over from scratch. It was going to be a long process but I’ve already wasted a lot of time trying to remove the persistent trojan in my PC. And I predicted that I was going to waste a lot more of my precious spare time cleaning it up by following detailed manual instructions like this: WinAntiVirus – FixVundo Solution.

I haven’t actually finished installing all the software I had before but at least I have now the peace of mind of knowing that my system is free of viruses and trojans. The only real hassle I’ve encountered so far was that Firefox (understandably) doesn’t remember the username and passwords I’ve saved for the websites I frequented. On the plus side, I got rid of all the unnecessary software that was installed with my PC when I bought it from Dell.

Now, I really feel good about reinstalling my PC and starting up from scratch again. I should’ve done it earlier.

If you haven’t been infected with a virus or trojan yet, read this: How to protect yourself from malware!

If you already got infected with a virus or trojan, read this:
READ & RUN ME FIRST post from MajorGeeks.com.

And if you are infected with a virus or trojan that requires special removal procedures, read this: Special Removal Procedures – TitanShield, Virtumonde, Qoologic, SpyAxe, Look2ME, etc.

Published in: on October 16, 2006 at 12:37 am  Comments (2)  

Can’t Stand the Heat?

Ever since watching Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth documentary, I have became more aware of environmental issues in regards to climate change. Whenever there is a TV feature on ABC or SBS regarding climate change that I’m aware of, I made an attempt to watch it.

Just recently, I watched this documentary about how the next type of refugees we’ll be seeing are the “environmental refugees” that will be coming mostly from the Pacific region. Although not from the show I watched, here is a quote from a related news article titled We must plan for climate change refugees: Labor on the Sunday Morning Herald:

Low-lying Pacific island states such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu – which sit just a few metres above sea level – are at risk of being swamped as global warming forces sea levels to rise.

In fact, in the TV feature, it showed that some of their trees that were once near the beach are now submerged a few feet in water. The townsfolk fear that their whole island might be submerged underwater in a few years. And then, they will have no choice but to find a place to make their home somewhere else. Like Australia perhaps.

But is Australia any better off at the moment?

According to Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology’s
Annual Australian Climate Statement 2005
, year 2005 was the hottest year on record in Australia since 1910. Here are some excerpts from the statement along with the Annual Mean Temperature chart for Australia from 1910 to 2005.


Many of Australia’s warmest years on record (such as 1988, 1998 and 2002) had temperatures boosted by significant El Niño events. However, no such event occurred in 2005, making the record warmth even more unusual. The 2005 record is yet another sign that our climate is changing. Since 1979, all but four years have been warmer than average in Australia.

Australian temperatures have increased by approximately 0.9ºC since 1910, consistent with global warming trends. Scientific studies have linked global and Australian temperature increases to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Whilst this warming trend is expected to continue into the decades ahead, annual temperatures are influenced by numerous factors, including natural variability, so 2006 will not necessarily be warmer than 2005.

Okay. But what about 2006?

Here are a couple of articles from the Melbourne-based newspaper, The Age, that pointed out the coming heatwave and an “endless summer”: Victoria braces for heatwave (Oct 10) and Victoria in the grip of an endless summer (Oct 13).

Not only will it be hot here, but it will be very dry. It doesn’t help that the level of Melbourne’s main water supply coming from the Thomson Reservoir is at an all time low, according to The Age article Dam business — why the drought is really in store (Oct 8 ).

Here is a quote from the article:

The last time the water sat at 20 per cent capacity was in 1985, as the reservoir was being filled.

Geoff Crapper, a hydrologist who was responsible for Melbourne’s rainfall and river monitoring systems for 15 years, said that if Melbourne’s weather continued to mimic the big dry of 2003, the Thomson would be sitting at 13 per cent capacity by mid-May — at the “extreme minimum operating level”.

“It means that the water can’t be extracted in the normal way. This will be seriously uncharted territory with … an increasing likelihood of water quality problems,” said Mr Crapper, who points to potential blue-green algae blooms and fish-killing high levels of manganese occurring when the bottom of the dam is stirred up. “The reality is, I don’t believe Melbourne Water know what they’re up against because they’ve never dealt with anything like it.”

It is now feared that the agriculture industry will be in so much trouble that farmers’ businesses might fold up.

I think the government should really consider the matter of climate change more seriously. The current administration might be reluctant to apply measures to stave off climate change because it is likely to negatively impact the coal industry. But if we don’t do something about climate change now, not having coal would be the least of our worries.

If the current trend in climate change continues, a possible perpetual drought would devastate our agriculture. Where are we going to get our food? What would happen to the farmers? What about our shrinking water supply?

Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather just bury their heads in the sand.

Published in: on October 13, 2006 at 12:50 pm  Comments (2)  

The End Is Near

I don’t want to be an alarmist but it seems very much like it is near the end of the world. Literally. Raquel and I have recently watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth over the weekend. It’s a documentary about global warming and climate change.

But don’t let the fact that it is a documentary put you off. Al Gore, who is the film’s narrator/lecturer, was pretty entertaining while he gets the message across to his audience. And what is this message? Well, if we don’t change now, our planet Earth may not be livable in 50 years.

Here is a quote about the film from its website:

Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.

Although it may seem like just a lot of fear-mongering, when you see the facts presented in the form of raw data, charts and photos taken of places a few years ago compared to today, you wouldn’t be able to deny that we are in fact destroying ourselves due to our apathy towards the environment.

I think most of that apathy is due to the fact that caring for the environment means living a more inconvenient life. Turning down the thermostat 2 degrees lower to cut down on carbon emissions means that winters would be slightly less comfortable in the house. Switching to green energy means paying more for electricity. Driving the car less means walking more and taking the public transportation available. But what is all that convenience gained today if there our planet is unlivable tomorrow?

Trailer of An Inconvenient Truth

There are rumours in the media that the jury is still out on whether this global warming thing is even actually happening. Well, according to scientists it is happening and it’s happening fast. Meanwhile, the government implies that not all scientists agree on this. But it just isn’t so. This is just the government’s way of appeasing the corporations and the people who have a stake on carbon emitting technologies such as coal and petrol.

I can understand why these people may feel threatened by people wanting to take action toward reduction of carbon emissions and some such. After all, if we stop using coal tomorrow, there would be a lot of unemployed workers from the mining industry. But if we don’t take action, the farmers will be out of business as the continuing rise of temperature annually will cause yearly droughts. So, on top of not having enough food to feed the planet, we all have to contend with the rising heat. The miners could find other jobs. We can’t find another livable planet.

And with the rising heat, that means the glaciers of the arctic will melt. It’s actually already melting at an alarming rate. With all that melted water added to the ocean, cities near the sea will be submerged in up to 20 feet of water. That would affect a lot of major cities in the planet.

And once this happens, there is no turning back. There would be nothing we could do to save the planet and ourselves. So, while we still have a chance, we should definitely do something about it now. I’m sure some of you reading this are still skeptical about the whole global warming issue. Why don’t you go to the cinemas and watch this film and see for yourself?

As for me, I’ll try to do my part. Also, I’d like to help spread the word on this very critical issue. I want there to be a livable and sustainable planet Earth for my children-to-be and my grandchildren-to-be.

Speaking of the end of the world… Recently, Pope Benedict gave a speech in Germany that angered a lot of Muslims. Now, they are calling for the Pope’s head because of the apparent slur against their prophet. This reminded me of St Malachi’s Prophecy of the Popes. St Malachi was 12th century Irish archbishop who listed 112 future Popes. And guess what? Pope Benedict is pope 111 on the list.

So far, the predictions for all the popes on the list have been accurate specially with Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. As for Pope Benedict, well, the description given by St Malachi “Glory of the Olives” for the 111th pope on his list could be considered close enough for now. The Benedictine order has an order called the Olivetans and Saint Benedict (the saint whose name Ratzinger chose to adopt) founded that order. Some people interpreted the phrase to mean that the 111th pope would be a peace maker much like St Benedict. So, the current pope could still probably earn the “title” of “Glory of the Olives” later on.

However, the thing that stuck to me was that the 111th pope’s reign would supposedly be a short one. I’ve read this somewhere when I was young but I wasn’t able to find reference to it on the Web. And with the radical Muslims wanting the Pope dead, this might just turn out to be true, too.

As for the last Pope, this is what St Malachi has to say:

In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur, & Judex tremêdus judicabit populum suum. Finis.
(In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people. The End.)

A bit scary if it came to be true. But with what’s happening with global warming, freak weather patterns, famine and pestilence, it may not be too far fetch to imagine that the end is indeed near. Well, unless we take action against climate change, then, whether you believe in prophecies or not, the world will definitely end anyway.

Published in: on September 19, 2006 at 7:43 am  Comments (3)  

Migrating to Oz?

Some of you may already be old readers of our blog and some of you may have never heard of our blog before now. Well, we’re a couple living in Australia (in Melbourne to be exact) and we basically chronicle our lives here as migrants. We also have some posts on tips for would-be migrants. Although our posts may be a little Melbourne-centric, the posts should still be of interest to anybody wanting to know about life in Australia in general.

The problem was that the older posts are well buried in our blog’s archives and a bit inaccessible. I fixed the problem by having a page with a list of posts we wrote that may be of some interest to migrant and would-be migrant Pinoys.

And so, without further ado, you can go to the said page by clicking the link at the top of every page here at Palabok.com or by clicking this link: Migrating to Oz?

Too all of you bound for Oz, good luck!

Published in: on September 1, 2006 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  

Hay Fever

I have hay fever again today. I always feel absolutely miserable for up to a full week whenever I’m down with the bloody thing. Today is no different. It started with the slow build-up of mucus in my nose. By the time I get to the office in the morning, I’m sneezing in frequent random intervals. By the afternoon, my eyes began to water and my eyelids felt heavy. Come evening, I already feel very tired. It could have been another symptom of my hay fever or maybe just all that sneezing tiring me out.

It wasn’t always like this. I remember when I never had hay fever. And that was before I migrated to Australia. I’m not sure if it is just me getting old or if there’s something in the air in Australia that my body doesn’t agree with. Dictionary.com defines Hay Fever as such:

hay fever
n.
An allergic condition affecting the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes, most often characterized by nasal discharge, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes and usually caused by an abnormal sensitivity to airborne pollen. Also called pollinosis.

So, I’m thinking that maybe my body isn’t used to the pollen in the air or there’s just that much more pollen in Australia’s air. I don’t really know. I do know that it is common enough that they have lots of advertisement on TV for hay fever medication specially during spring season. I was told by other migrants that they only started getting hay fever after they moved here. Whatever the cause, it’s a big headache (literally and figuratively).

I did a little research and here is what I found from the AllergyNet Australia website:

In Australia, seasonal hay fever usually occurs in spring and early summer. The southern one-third of Australia, especially the south-east, has the most severe problems. Melbourne and Canberra are notoriously bad areas for spring allergy.

Come to think of it, I never had hay fever in the three months I lived in Sydney. I started getting it only when I moved to Canberra. And then I began to get it more often when I moved to Melbourne. That’s just great! Well, here’s at least one reason for me to move back to Sydney.

Anyway, I think it wouldn’t be too bad if the advertised anti-hay-fever medications on TV actually worked for me. I tried the different brands but nothing seems to help me much except the Sudafed decongestant and anti-allergy tablets. The big downside of taking Sudafed is that it makes me really drowsy. And nowadays, it doesn’t help as much to fight my hay fever. A friend of mine suggested I take Claratyne but I discovered that it isn’t any more effective than the other antihistamine medication I’ve tried in the past.

Basically, I feel terrible at this very moment. And if past experience is any indication, I’ll probably feel just as terrible tomorrow. Here’s hoping I’ll be cured by tomorrow.

Published in: on August 15, 2006 at 12:01 am  Comments (5)  

Money in, money out

The bank started it. The letter advised us that from this month on, the minimum balance we need to maintain in our account to avoid account keeping fees would be increased from $1,000 to $3000. That gave us the extra push to finally consolidate finances, closing our individual payroll accounts and redirecting everything to/from a single joint account.

With that sorted out, we received another letter from the bank. With the recent increase in interest rates, we were advised that our mortgage payments would increase from the 1st of July. Not long afterward, we got another correspondence from the bank, this time stating that from September, the fees for our offset account would increase. It seems like nothing good comes from our mailbox anymore.

Then, it happened. The electric company sent an advisory saying that starting this month, their rates would DECREASE in July. Ooh, is this actually true, a decrease?

My joy in that piece of news was short-lived though as we soon got another letter, this time from the water company. July seems to be the month to make changes as they announce their price increase. Would there be no end to this? Retrieving letters from the mailbox has started to feel like a gamble, would there be any more letters from service companies and would it bring good news or bad news?

As the first of July finally came in, I consoled myself that at least there’s that tax break to offset all these increases in our monthly expenses. As expected, we got a few extra bucks in our pay today. It seems like everything has cancelled out anyway. But are we out of the woods yet?

As it turned out, we got another announcement today in the form of an email from our ISP. Although there is no price increase per se, they said that due to the higher cost they are paying their wholesale service provider (Telstra). Instead of a price increase, our plan speeds (upload/download) would be halved so essentially it’s the same price for less service. They gave us the option to “upgrade” to a plan with our previous plan speeds for an additional $20 per month. After much research and deliberation, we decided to stay with our downgraded plan as transferring would mean a slew of transfer charges with only a small savings in monthly fees.

At this rate, it seems like that tax break (and more) is just going straight to the corporations. Oh well, better than no tax break at all and still having to contend with higher fees. It may hurt less, but it still hurts.

Published in: on July 21, 2006 at 11:15 pm  Comments (2)  

When you really have to go

Anyone who has been on a long road trip to somewhere would know the discomfort of having to hold it in while the driver desperately locates the nearest toilet, which most of the time would translate to stopping at a service station. That, could take a long time especially if you are in an unfamiliar area.

If only the map shows where the rest stops (and probably the nearest public loos) are. But then again, that map could suddenly become very cluttered indeed with icons all over the place. Not a very pretty solution. Enter the National Public Toilet Map website, which lists all the public toilets in Australia. The search function in the site could search the nearest loos by areas, points of interest and even lats and longs! It also has a nifty trip planner where you could input your source and destination address and it would show you the route and all public toilets along the way. Very neat indeed!

Published in: on May 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rescue, death and taxes

Three news stories dominate the day today – the Beaconsfield miners finally seeing the light of day after 14 days 1 km buried underground, the burial of a fellow miner who wasn’t as fortunate to come out alive and the tax cuts for everyone in the federal budget.

Australia breathed a sigh of relief and joined in the jubilation of the small town in Tasmania as Todd Russell and Brant Webb walk out of the mine early this morning. Job well done indeed to the rescuers who helped the men to freedom! The media can’t seem to get enough of the freed miners (don’t get me wrong, theirs is a fascinating story and they showed remarkable resilience) but everyone seem to forget about the rescuers who worked night and day to get them out.

The Beaconsfield residents also said their final goodbye to miner Larry Knight, who died in the collapse of the mine that trapped also Todd and Brant. Our sympathies to his friends and family who need all the support they can get.

Lastly, the federal budget was announced tonight with long overdue tax cuts becoming a reality for medium to high income earners. Childcare benefits also take a slight increase, lower tax for superannuation(retirement) pay-outs, additional spending for infrastructure, technology, education, health and national security. It’s not all good news though as environmental spending did not get much in this budget. Click here for a list of the 2006-07 budget winners and losers.

Watching the news and current affairs programs certainly have certain highs and lows but today seem to be a bigger news day than most!

Published in: on May 9, 2006 at 11:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Australia Needs Skills Recruitment Expos

The Australian Needs Skills Recruitment Expo would be held in Manila from May 17-18 this year. There are already schedules for Shanghai, Hongkong, USA, Brazil, Peru and major cities here in Australia while there are plans to also bring it to places like Dubai, Dublin, Manchester and London (exact schedules still to be determined, check the immigration website at a later date to see the schedules for these places).

According to the Australian immigration website, if you are under 45 years of age, have good English language skills, interested in living and working in Australia and have qualifications for an occupation as listed on the Migration Occupations in Demand List or Skilled Occupation List, then Australia wants you!

Interested parties should register their interest via this link.

UPDATE (02 May 06): Just learned that the expo is by invitation only, based on the answers you give on the online registration form (why you want to come to Australia, where in Australia you want to settle, how old you are and more importantly, what skills/qualifications you bring to the table).

I know that a lot of people may be discouraged by this but it would also mean that people who get invited are the ones who have a good chance of completing the process and that organisers would be able to focus on genuine applications. For more information, please visit this link from the Australian embassy in the Philippines.

Published in: on May 1, 2006 at 11:46 am  Comments (8)