Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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December 2007, Week 4   


GOT THAT OLD MOJO WORKING

dogMojo is an old African term for a talisman with magic powers. Now it's digital.

This digital Mojo lets you put any program onto any hard drive, flash or otherwise, and then run that program on any Windows XP computer anywhere you happen to be. Attaching your Mojo-enhanced drive to that PC makes it come up with your own familiar desktop screen and all your familiar programs. Beats lugging your laptop.

We first came across it recently as part of StealthSurfer, a $179 flash drive that lets you surf the Web, well, stealthily. But we can beat the devil out of that price,Stealth Surfer because Mojo is free from MojoPac.com, and we can load it onto any drive. Since the StealthSurfer is a 2GB flash drive, and we can buy 2GB flash drives for $20, we just saved enough for lunch in London.

But, the well-informed among you will argue, StealthSurfer contains other programs that are useful, like Tor, which lets you surf the Web like the proverbial ghost in the machine. No matter what site you visit, it doesn't know you've been there. But that one is free too, from TorProject.org. So let us move on and talk about the import, and importance, of these free programs.

Joy loaded MojoPac onto her iPod. It can be loaded onto any device with its own storage drive, be that a flash drive or a traditional spinning disk hard drive. It needs just 128MB for itself. Joy chose to load it onto her iPod because that has 80GB of storage, enough to hold the Mojo and just about any other program we can think of, even games like Halo or WarCraft.

Start up is this simple: Plug your Mojo-enhanced iPod, flash drive, portable storage, etc. into a Windows XP computer, and from the menu that pops up, choose "Start MojoPac." You're on. Everything you installed on that auxiliary drive becomes available: Microsoft Office, MS Expression, Photoshop, Halo, and so on. The only limitation is the size of that drive. Any work you do, files you create, etc., is also saved back to the Mojo drive. You can choose to save it on the Windows computer's own drive,but if you want to keep it private, remember: What happens in MojoPac, stays in MojoPac.

Our Mojo-enhanced iPod is the only computer device we'll need when traveling. (Too bad we never go anywhere.)

Another new feature we found in StealthSurfer is Hushmail. Hushmail is a free e-mail service from Hushmail.com  that encrypts your e-mail as well as scans it for viruses and filters out spam. The premium version, which comes on StealthSurfer, lets you have unlimited e-mail accounts plus 250MB of storage for $50 a year.

Other useful software found on the StealthSurfer is also available for free. This includes the excellent Web browser Thunderbird from Mozilla.com, and RoboForm from RoboForm.com. This last automatically fills out forms on the Web and remembers and encrypts all your passwords.

GUITAR STARTER

Why is it that children all over the land seem to be taking guitar lessons now? Is it an effect of the successful video game Guitar Hero? Probably not. It's a mystery, but with a catchy tune.

A lot of guitars will be gifted this season. And to go with these, we found a great I Play Musicset of guitar lessons: Beginning Guitar, available for $40 from IPlayMusic.com . They're so good we wish they were available for piano, too.

If the disks are run on a Mac with the new Leopard operating system, the guitar lessons can be combined with iTunes, Garage Band and iChat in a four-panel view that lets you play along and then join others playing through the chat connection. The Windows version has the same great instruction but without the special Mac features.

The company also has a $30 program of guitar lessons, Play Music Together, aimed at children 10 and under who like a Muppet-type character to play along. Like Beginning Guitar, it has great video tutorials. The program is available for PC or Mac.

BILL ME LATER

BillMeLater.com is an alternative payment system for people who are leery of giving out their credit card information over the Web. It's an easy-to-use service and Web site that lets people shop now and pay later at over 700 Web sites. You enter your name and birth date and the last four digits of your Social Security Number. The service then does a credit search on you in about three seconds to determine if you're an acceptable risk for paying later. BillMeLater pays the merchant for your purchases and then, well, bills you later. About 3 million people have signed up so far.

BOOKS

"Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 18th edition" by Scott Mueller; book and DVD, $60 from quepublishing.com.

The title tells you most of what you need to know about this book, and the CD, in which Scott Mueller explains the contents of each chapter, tells you that true nerds still exist. Thank heavens for that. One of the new things in this edition --Upgrading PCs note that it's the 18th -- explains how to set up a wireless network that is practically impenetrable from the outside.

The wireless security section is particularly timely these days for many businesses. Discount store chain TJ Maxx had 45.7 million credit card numbers stolen this year, for instance, in what is euphemistically known as an "unauthorized intrusion."

The company used the old WEP encryption system for its data. WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy and its code can be broken by software that's available for free on the Web. Many businesses still use WEP encryption, however, because it's cheap. 


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