Tech Tip: Find out if a website is really down

Looking for a website and keep getting an error page? Is the website down or is there a problem with your internet connection? If you operate a website you will definitely hope that it is a simple isolated problem with your computer or your internet connection and that others can still access your website. Down For Everyone Or Just Me is a service that tells you if a website is currently online or offline. If you come across a website you cannot access just go to www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com, enter the website that you want to check and the service will tell you if the website is down for everyone or just you. This tool can come in  handy and prevent you from worrying about your  internet connection if the website is not just down for you.

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Tighter website security for clients

SeizerStyle Designs takes the security of our websites and those of our clients very seriously. Over the past few weeks we have taken many steps to reinforce our security practices to ensure the integrity of all websites under our control. Your website is your online identity and should be treated as importantly as your offline reputation.

The Problem

Over the past few months the company that we host many of our websites with has been experiencing some security problems. Malicious attacks on the company’s servers resulted in certain security vulnerabilities being exploited.Some of our websites especially those based on blogging software were affected and we found unauthorized code in some files on the server. While we were investigating and fixing the problems with the  affected websites, and taking precautionary measures to make sure no other websites were affected, some of our websites may have gone offline or malfunctioned for a period of time.

The Solution

These security breaches resulted in a few changes and recommendations  from our host on how to better secure our websites on the server. We have followed the recommended steps as well as implementing steps of our own. All websites with offending code were deleted and rebuilt from local backups that  did not contain the unauthorized code. This blog was also affected and is now fully functional once again. We have been monitoring all our websites for any signs of the problems reoccurring and have so far found none.

Security is an important issue and there are constantly people coming up with new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to files. Even though no confidential data was accessed, and only public files affected, this is still a very serious problem. We are currently exploring various options to ensure that this does not happen again or to have a contingency plan in case it does. We apologize to all visitors and clients who were affected by the downtime and thank you for your cotinued support of SeizerStyle Designs.

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Tech Tip: Sync bookmarks across browsers and computers

Bookmarks, also known as favorites, are links to sites that you save when you browse the web. These links are useful for future reference since they save you the trouble of remembering and typing website addresses over and over again. The problem with bookmarks is that they are specific to the web browser and the computer you save them on. You can, however, take additional steps to ensure the bookmarks you save on one of your computers is available on others.

Browser specific syncing

Browsers Firefox and Google Chrome both offer their own default solutions to syncing bookmarks. Firefox Sync can be used to sync not only bookmarks but passwords and browser history across different Firefox browsers including Firefox for mobile devices. If you have a Google Account you can sign in to Google Chrome to sync bookmarks, extensions, themes and browser preferences.

Update (May 7, 2018): Xmarks has been discontinued so this is no longer a viable alternative

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Tech Tip: Finding symbols with Character Map

Every once in a while you come across a symbol you want to use that is not available on your keyboard. it may be the © for a copyright notice or the ° for the temperature you are writing. Most of these symbols are hidden in the Character Map on Windows. To access the Character Map click on the Start button > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map. At the bottom of the Character Map window you can o search for a specific character such as “beta” or “alpha” or “mu” and only the relevant symbols will be shown. Simply double click on the desired symbol so that it shows in the bottom list of characters to copy. Click the copy button and these characters will be copied to your clipboard and it  can be pasted to the document of your choice.

This technique can prove useful for mathematical and scientific discussions where symbols are commonly used. Using the actual symbol is more visually appealing than referring to the symbol by name. Alternatively, you can also search for the symbol you are looking for by name online and will likely get a relevant result.

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Tech Tip: Tag your music files for a better music library

Music is now more prominent in digital form than ever before. The internet has made music files more accessible and the proliferation of digital music players means that these files are not confined to just one device. As we obtain more and more music from various sources it becomes harder to keep this music organized. Who is the Unknown Artist on the Unknown Album in your music library? Where can you find the song you are listening to on your hard drive? Fortunately there are many tools we can use to help organize our music libraries and make our songs easier to find.

Tagging Files

The best way to ensure that your library remains organized is to tag your files before adding them to your music library. Tagging a file simply means appending metadata such as title of the track, artist name, album name, genre to the file. Music players use this metadata to display information about the songs in your music library and on playlists you create. Most media players such as iTunes and Windows Media Player allow you to tag and rename files. These programs also offer to keep your music library organized but with limited options.

Free programs such as Mp3tag and easytag offer a wider range of options when tagging and renaming your files. These include case correction as well as the ability to move renamed files to any directory you choose. These programs can use the information in a file’s tags to generate its filename or use the information in the file’s filename to populate its tags.

Whichever way you choose to tag your files,  it is the first step in creating and maintaining an organized music library. As your library grows this becomes an invaluable step that may save you a lot of time in long run. Properly tagged music is easier to identify on disk and locate in search results.

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Tech Tip: Regularly backup important files

Disaster can strike at any time and computers are just machines that are not immune to failures or technical glitches. In the unfortunate even that your data does become inaccessible you want to ensure that you have a backup copy that you can revert to. Most modern operating systems come with backup programs built in. Windows 7 has a Backup and Restore utility while Mac OS X has Time Machine. You do not, however, need any specific software to start backing up your files.

Data is stored on computers on rotating discs called hard drives or flash memory modules. Either type of storage can get corrupted over time, damaged in an accident or even lost. For this reason you should regularly copy important documents onto  alternative storage media. This could be a flash drive, DVD, an external hard drive or even online in the cloud. Whichever medium you chose, it is wise to keep it in a separate physical location than the original data to decrease the possibility of both your original files and backup files suffering the same fate.

Backing up files is just the process of copying them from one storage medium to another. Files can be organized according to your preference. It is a good idea to date your backups so that you will be able to identify your most recent copies and differentiate them from older backups. If you want to back up programs make sure that you copy their installation files and any other data or preference file the program may have created that you will need later. Also ensure that you back up all important files especially those that may be in stored in uncommon locations on your computer.

By backing up your files you have something to revert to in case you suffer from data loss. This will help you get back to work without starting over from scratch. It is especially important to back up regularly so that the copies of your data are not too dated and therefore more useful.

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Dominica Sports Division website redesigned

Today we unveiled a new and improved version of the Dominica Sports Division website at www.dasportsdivision.com. In addition to a revamped look and feel the website now features many new additions such as:

  • More detailed information about the Dominica  Sports Division including it’s vision, mission statement, roles and responsibilities and organisation chart
  • Rules for various competitions
  • Integrated site-wide Google search
  • Filtering of  results by sports category
  • Photo of the month for front page
  • Links to affiliate sporting entities

As with any major redesign we worked closely with the staff of the Dominica Sports Division to make these changes possible. The website should now be a lot more accessible and content should be easier to find. Let us know what you think about this redesign  in the comments.

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Tech Tip: Use Google as a quick calculator

Google is well known as being one of the best places to go when searching for information on the internet. You can use it to search for information on various topics, images or  even news articles. Google can also be used as a quick and simple calculator which might save you from having to go through other websites to perform simple mathematical functions.

To use Google as a calculator simply type in the expression that you want evaluated as you would do in other programs such as Excel. For example, to multiply 10 and 5 simply search for “10*5” (without the quotes). Google will understand that this is a mathematical operation and give the relevant result rather than the regular textual search results. This is very handy when you do not have a calculator on hand, but need to do some quick math. Google’s calculator function is not limited to arithmetic however.

You can also use Google’s in-built calculator functions  to convert values from metric to imperial measurement or vice versa. You could convert kilometers to miles, degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit or kilograms to pounds. To do this simply search for the conversion using a term such as “30 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit” or “5lbs in kg” and the calculated result will be displayed above the regular textual search results.

Give it a try at Google.com.

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Tech Tip: GnuCash for simple accounting

GnuCash is a free, open-source accounting program that can be used to manage your finances. This program uses simple double entry principles to record your income, expenses, assets and liabilities. You can create any account that you want, specify the account type, and the account gets treated accordingly. This program can also generate reports and financial statements for any period that you specify.

GnuCash is a simple program to use and its interface is not cluttered with complicated options. You also do not need to have any experience in accounting to use this software although it would help you understand its use better. The interface of the program can be tweaked via the Preferences menu along with various options about the accounts that you want to manage including which currency should be used.

There are many commercial accounting programs, but if you are looking for a free program to do simple accounting look no further than GnuCash. This program is cross platform and works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

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Tech Tip: Always use antivirus software

Whether you are a new computer user or you have been using computers for years there is one program that no one wants  – the computer virus. A computer virus is a malicious  program that can cause all kind of havoc  to an infected system such as deleting data and corrupting the operating system. As you can imagine this is a major inconvenience and can result in irrecoverable data loss. To protect yourself from this it is wise to always have an updated version of antivirus software installed on your computer.

In previous years, most antivirus software was trial-ware so you could only use them for free for a limited time then you would be prompted to purchase a subscription to use the software for longer. A lot of these trial-ware antivirus programs still come installed on new computers. Fortunately, nowadays you also have many free options for personal antivirus software so you are not limited to these subscription based solutions.

To use an antivirus software you install it on your computer and then you update it’s virus definitions. This helps the software get updates that allow it to detect new threats that are out in the wild. The program can then be used to scan the entire computer or specific locations for malicious programs. If any virus is found you will be prompted by the program which will also suggest an action to get rid of the harmful files. Antivirus software can also help prevent viruses from entering the system in the first place by monitoring downloaded files and processes active in memory.

Below are some free antivirus programs that can be used to protect your computer:

Microsoft Security Essentials – A highly rated free antivirus program from Microsoft. This program uses a simple interface and lacks many of the bells and whistles of other more complicated antivirus software. However it does the job it is meant to do well and is very unobtrusive.

Avast Antivirus – This is another free antivirus software for personal use. You can upgrade to the paid pro version for additional features but the free version is adequate to keep your personal computer protected from common viruses.

AVG Anti-Virus – Another basic free antivirus with the option of purchasing a version with more features.

Your choice of antivirus software ultimately depends on your preference. Whichever program you choose it is imperative to keep your virus definitions updated so that you are protected from new and emerging threats. It is also recommended that you scan your computer regularly and especially scan any external drive that you use with your computer as these are common entry points for viruses.

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