The Awesome Book of free stuff




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The “Philosophy” (or Philanthropy) of this book.


Partly the concept is to signpost things that will save you money for free goods or services, however, there are some absolutely brilliant online facilities that people simply do not know about, so I took the liberty of adding some of these. They are, if you like, the cream of the best free websites and tools which I hope will add value to the internet for you. Basically, if something is free, or saves you time or money, or can make you money I have included it.

Categories include things like Free Training Courses, because I believe Training is extremely valuable, especially for a lot of Computer Subjects. Many Manufacturers and Companies charge a lot of money for training courses and not everyone can afford it. I think education is a human right. We arrive at birth in a world where technology and systems are already in place and we have no option but to learn to deal with these things. I might not be able to signpost you to a free Degree in Brain Surgery, but I can probably direct you to some useful guides to help you get more out of life, especially if it relates to Computers obviously.

I once got a free online internet course that got me a certificate from a University, it was very informative and looks great on my Curricullum Vitae (That is “Resume” to some of you)


Dangers of Freebies?


Sadly there are people out there copying the clever idea of the Greeks who left the Trojan Horse outside the City as a “gift”, filled with Soldiers who sprang out and slaughtered the residents.

There is an old saying, “Never look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”, however, I subscribe to that school of thought that says, “If someone gives you a horse, walk up to it and take a damned good look at its teeth”. (The condition of the teeth indicate the age and health of a horse).

Exasperatingly some people are just greedy, or even malicious, so do watch out for nasty things like Viruses and Spyware, not to mention old-fashioned confidence tricks. Be careful out there.

Thankfully there is a movement to protect us and often there are free anti-virus programmes and Spyware removal tools, but sometimes even these are blatant attempts to slip you yet another infected file, so be careful, use only reputable sites, or be prepared to delete all your files and back up your machine. Run Virus and Spyware Checks regularly, especially if surfing new sites.

Toolbars – Grrrrr!

One of the unfortunate risks of grabbing freebies is that the creators are aware we might want free stuff, but be half asleep, so keep an eye out for “bonus” free installations during downloading and installing. In particular it is wise to avoid ANY kinds of “Toolbars”, they only clog up your system, slow you down and fill your screen with unnecessary crap. I hate them. There is one really annoying one that offers you funny cursors or smiley faces, they are a nightmare.

Often these things can catch you out half way through the installation, when you are not paying attention and you get an innocuous looking screen with an insidious message saying something like “Standard Install” and it seems so familiar you just click it without thinking but in small print it does tell you you are installing something else, on top of what you wanted.


Surf Safe


Always practice Safe Surfing and do NOT give out your credit details to suspect sites. Actually it is good practice to keep a separate credit card for online transactions and to sign up for extra protection against identity theft.

I have had my credit card details stolen once, so I know how it feels – it couldn’t have happened at a worse time in my life either, freshly divorced and living in temporary accommodation with no telephone or internet, it was very hard to sort out. Thankfully I had a premium account with my bank, and that included protection, so I got a new card and the money refunded. You may like to look into this type of protection for your own safety. Actually the thief had used the details to purchase mobile phone time, so I was trying to get the bank to get the police to track down the phone and arrest him. It turned out nobody cared, which seemed rather a lost opportunity to catch a criminal to me, but there you go, the Bank was insured and the police have better things to do I suppose. What worries me is how many other credit card details has he acquired? Oh well, I got my money back – so why should I care? (still niggles me that though.)

One handy thing to remember is that you can often find out if a site or company is reputable, just by using any search engine like Google to search for their name and include the word “fraud” or “lawsuit” or “compaints” (or “Scam”). Also see if you can find a regulating body for their particular market segment such as, say, for Pharmaceutical products you would visit the FDA, etc. I once went so far as to follow up some of the “scientific references” pertaining to a product, and the gentleman who had been quoted as endorsing their product was kind enough to reply and explained he had once been commissioned to do one clinical test on something fairly innocuous, but their website had a couple of pages of falsified documents purported to be from him about a whole range of their stuff. I think he was quite staggered to realize this. I hope he sued their arses off.

I always like to keep a spare (junk) e-mail address, and when I sign up at new sites which require an e-mail address I give them my ‘disposable’ one so I don't get clogged up with Spam mails. Actually sometimes you can get a second go at a free trial with a backup e-mail address too! (you may need to clear out your cookies to do so, or log in from another computer, like at the office.) I have once had a full alphabet of different characters to get prizes in a lucky draw based on usernames starting with a random letter. It took me a lot of work to create 26 mail addresses, but I ended up being very lucky indeed.

I also have more than one Paypal account, for safety, and it is good practice to change the passwords VERY regularly. I had a nightmare when someone took over the mail address associated with my paypal account, and I was terrified they would connect and use my paypal account, which happened to have the same password at the time.

NEVER use the same password for important accounts. If you like to use your wife/child/dog’s name as a password, then add the initials of the site before or after to keep something easy to recall, but hard to crack. The more letters the more combinations. I got a combination padlock for my suitcase and forgot the number, it is only a matter of time to try every combination. Computers can generate sequences of numbers so fast it is incredible.

Safest of all is a mixed string of upper and lower case characters, numbers and symbols. Perhaps you can use the first letters of a favourite poem or song or something. Intersperse upper and lower case characters with numbers and symbols. Use the geeks trick of using numbers to represent numbers. Here is a silly example. I will use the line from the old Beatles song. “I’d like to be, under the sea (in an octopus’s garden in the shade) If I signed up at Google Mail then I could use the password “G-1L2bUtS” The “G” is for Gmail, the hyphen is to use a symbol, the 1 is a numerical to represent the letter “I”the 2 represents the word “to”, etc. Note the mix of upper and lower case.

Be especially careful when using public computer facilities, like cybercafés or colleges, there are some sneaky rascals out there.

I once got friendly with a group of guys who were very hot with computers, they had a benign agenda to distribute some helpful notes to a group, but the e-mail system would only allow them to mail to individuals one by one, so they had temporary need of a higher level of password which would allow group mailing, so what these guys did was to write a simple programme to look identical to the login screen. They put that on a number of computers and waited. When users logged in they happily typed their user name and password when prompted, and it duly collected these, sent them to a file, and restarted the normal system. Most people didn’t bat an eyelid, and presumably just accepted they had mistyped, re-entered the data and got into the normal system. Meanwhile this programme was collecting usernames and passwords. Eventually they got the power user account they wanted, posted the notes to the group and deleted all evidence. Everybody got the free notes and found them very helpful, nobody, it seemed, ever found out. The revealing thing was that we quickly realized people’s passwords were almost predictable. The guy with the leather jacket carrying a crash helmet probably used the name of his favourite motorbike, probably even had it across the back of his jacket, and a lot of people were clearly using their girlfriend’s name. If you were so inclined you could probably work out someone’s password just by chatting to them at a bus stop. “What is your favourite Band?”.

Be careful with passwords, try to use something nobody could ever figure out, and change important ones regularly. Work out a mental system that you can modify, like adding the first letter of the month each time you change it.

Always use Anti-virus Software, and I would also recommend using anti-malware programmes and protect yourself from Spyware, etc.

Don't share your passwords with anyone, ever, for anything. (read that again!)

I knew a lady in Second Life who met a man there, and the two of them decided to set up a joint blog, so she opened it with her e-mail address, and gave him the details, so he too could edit the blog. What she hadn’t expected was that he tried the same password to log into her Second Life account – where he could actually draw funds on her credit cards and transfer them to himself. As it was all he wanted to do was rummage through her inventory and friends lists to see if she was having an affair. (she was) I don't actually know if he took any money from her, but, presumably he could have – anyway, they both got a nasty shock.

Incidentally, it just occurred to me that I should share some simple advice about what to do if your e-mail account does get hijacked. It seems that there are programmes which can do this, and thankfully, most of them are automated, so they don’t always think to try hacking other accounts. I suspect they sit and advertise what looks like useful things, like free stuff, for example, then you obviously give them your e-mail address and they invite you to choose a password – if you use the same one as you use to sign in to your e-mail you are handing them the keys to your account on a velvet cushion. What happens next is they generate e-mails to all your contacts (friends and family) to try to sell Viagra or bodily enlargement products. The thing to realize is that if you simply change your password they can no longer access your account. The other important aspect is that they are using your contacts list to mail people. You can usually get the e-mail service provider to do something about it, if you forward a copy of the e-mail to them, and the address is usually likely to be “abuse@” such as abuse@mail.com or abuse@hotmail.com (etc.) so I found one way to stop all of this is NOT to have ANY names in your contacts list – EXCEPT the abuse reporting address of your e-mail provider. That way, as soon as any automatic mail hijacking system breaks into your account, it will send a copy of itself straight to the abuse department who, hopefully, will take action. Keep a list of your contacts somewhere else, perhaps mail it to yourself.
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