how to help the poor and protect yourself from street scams

We’ve all seen it. The poor guy stand­ing at the entrance of a shop­ping mall, seeminly lost and in need of help. He approaches and says that he needs money to stay for just one night, and that his friends will be coming tomor­row and then all will be good. Would you help him? This is a very nice gen­tle­man that seems very sin­cere and if in case he is really speak­ing the truth, turn­ing him down would just make one poor soul’s day very hard.

Today I was approached by that dude. Long story short, I gave him some money, then I went for dinner. On my way back after my dinner, I saw him stand­ing at the exact same spot talk­ing to another stranger. Oh well. I’ve learned another lesson.

That got me think­ing, though. Would there be a way for me to dis­tin­guish the real help­less poeple from this lowly par­a­sites? On the long way back home I’ve come up with a couple of strategies:

Get deposit

You know when you stay at a hotel they need to col­lect deposit from you upon check in? That’s to pro­tect the hotel from you run­ning away with­out check­ing out. Sur­pris­ingly, I think this would be a really effec­tive strat­egy to mess up the scammers’ rou­tines. You can give him money, but only on the con­di­tion that he gives some­thing of sim­i­lar value back to you.

You know, if his friends really are coming to rescue him tomor­row, then he would have no prob­lem for you to keep his own purse. Get his pass­port, ID card, any­thing that would make the scammer’s day really difficult.

Of course, if anyone is asking for just an emer­gency help, then you shouldn’t be giving out money that’s wor­thing more than a pass­port. That way, if he takes away your money, he’s going to get him­self more trou­ble by losing his ID card/passport.

Do it for him, don’t give him money

But what if he says he’s been robbed or his purse has been stolen? If he really doesn’t have any­thing val­u­albe, and you really feel like help­ing others, then just help him with­out giving him money.

He needs to go some­where else to meet his friends? Grab a taxi, pre-​pay the taxi driver and send him out. He needs to eat? Buy him the cheap­est bread from around and give him that. He needs to make a phone call? Grab sev­eral coins and actu­ally dial the number for him in a phone booth.

When all else fails, look for the cops

If all else doens’t work, and you still want to help this buddy. Do not take out your wallet! The moment you take it out, you’ve lost. He might snatch it from you. His friend might snatch it from behind. Heck, a mob of people may pop out of nowhere. When they don’t know where you put your wallet, you’re still safe. But when you take it out exposed before this sus­pi­cious guy that cannot give you any deposit and is asking for a bizarre favor that you cannot do for him on the spot, you’ve just basi­cally expressed your inten­tion to give him freebies.

If he’s really in need of help, call the local police. The cops would be more than will­ing to help him. This one works par­tic­u­larly well because if the guy sees you talk­ing to police and are still look­ing rel­a­tively calm, he might really be that urban leg­endary help­less poor man on the street.

Trust is not a protection

You see, all of the above “strategies” do not center around iden­ti­fy­ing the guy. Rather, I would find ways to pro­tect myself in the case he frauds. That par­tic­u­lar scam­mer that got my money was pretty well-​prepared. You know, I tried to be cau­tious by asking all the par­tic­u­lar details: “What is your job?” “Where are you from?” “What exactly will you do next?” He answered all of those with vivid details. Then again, per­haps what I asked was a little bit too shal­low. He might have been asked the same ques­tions a hun­dred times in a day.

The point is, if your oppo­nent is a pro­fes­sional con artist, then chances are he will out-​speak you and be able to con­vince you. Heck, that’s what they do for a living!

Why should we spend thousands to attend MBA courses?

You know, those are prob­a­bly not really useful anyway. In today’s tech­no­log­i­cally advanced world, we always have a cheaper alternative:

Ten Day MBA

Per­haps MBA courses’ biggest busi­ness suc­cess is shown by how they can wrap a book’s mate­r­ial in a year’s courses that costs thou­sands 😀

Code for Concinnity

Hasn’t updated this blog for a long while! I just took a good look and I thought this blog is swarmed with things tagged geek stuffs, which prob­a­bly isn’t what I made this blog pri­mar­ily for.

So I am start­ing my second blog that focuses on these things:

Code for Concinnity

Hope­fully I’ll be migrat­ing my tech posts over there soon — if I can get off my lazy ass 😛

how to confuse an idiot?

Are you ready for this? These folks really have some cre­ative ideas:

how-to-confuse-an-idiot

Hide eclipse’s toolbar, permanently

I’ve been a long time eclipse user since 3.0. What has bug­gered me since that time is the mys­te­ri­ous tool­bar – there is no way to turn it off! Since I think around eclipse 3.3 they added an option on the right click menu to “Hide Toolbar”, but that is only tem­po­rary. The tool­bar creeps right back in on restart!

eclipse-toolbar-right-click

After some LONG time strug­gle with the eclipse PDE (Plug-​in Devel­op­ment Envi­ron­ment), I finally rolled out this little plug-​in that hides the tool­bar for me on eclipse start up.

Man, I still cannot believe how much time it took to actu­ally write a simple plug-​in like this! Maybe that’s a reason why the eclipse plug-​in scene hasn’t seen much advances lately – there’s too darn little resources! I mean, for the most of us, dig­ging through API and classes man­u­ally aren’t the most pleas­ant thing to do.

Please go check out the Google Code project page or use this update site directly:

http://kizzx2.com/eclipse/hide-toolbar/updates/

P.S. I prob­a­bly will write some ecilpse plug-​in tuto­ri­als later, if I feel like it. So please stay tuned!

missing hard-disk space? – the answer!

Many of us Win­dows users have expe­ri­enced the frus­trat­ing mys­ter­ies – we find our hard-​disks shrink­ing and shrink­ing after some period of usage. Emp­ty­ing the recy­cle bin didn’t solve the mys­tery, nei­ther did clear­ing the TEMP folder.

Here I’ll present two amaz­ing, free­ware prod­ucts from Piriform

CCleaner

This pro­gram is an excel­lent clean up util­ity. As far as I have tested it myself, this is unlike many other prod­ucts which try to delete as many files as they could to make them sound useful. CCleaner per­forms safe oper­a­tions and I haven’t broken my com­puter with it. On my first time use, it dis­cov­ered and recov­ered more than 1GB of my hard disk space!

Defraggler

Another free­ware prod­uct from the same com­pany. Defrag­gler is orig­i­nally intented to use as a defrag­men­ta­tion tool, but it sur­pris­ingly served extremely well at dis­cov­er­ing large chunk of mys­te­ri­ous files that choke up pre­cious disk space. One unique fea­ture this piece of soft­ware has is the abil­ity to defrag indi­vid­ual files. And the Ana­lyzer is blaz­ing fast too – it ana­lyzed my 80GB drive in less than 10 sec­onds. Then I switched to the File list, and I can imme­di­ately sort by file size to find out the biggest files on my disk!

df3

Sea­soned users might say this cygwin com­mand accom­plishes the same result:

du . 2>/dev/null | sort -nr | less

But that would prob­a­bly take 10 min­utes instead of 10 seconds!

Update: WinDirStat

My latest favorite method to do this is to use WinDir­Stat. I’ll let the offi­cial screen­shot speak for itself:

windirstat

Totally reveals the answer, although Defrag­gler could still be faster in show­ing the biggest file.

cygwin+exim: setting up a local SMTP server for testing email applications

This is mainly a ref­er­ence for myself in case I forget how to do it later, as it took me a good deal of time to figure out.

Situation

I want to unit test appli­ca­tions that send emails. Obvi­ously I don’t want to be open­ing a dozen of real email accounts just to test this thing out. Nat­u­rally I would want to install an SMTP/POP3/IMAP server on Win­dows, and there is one free (open source) option that is quite promis­ing – hMailServer. How­ever, it still involves 2 (quite major) incon­ve­niences for my use case:

  • I have to go through the con­fig­u­ra­tion screens to create new users. i.e. if I want to send email to alice@localhost I’d have to create the user account alice manually
  • I have to use an email client (like Out­look Express) to con­nect to the local POP3 server to view the emails. This seems redun­dant to me, since the files are already stored in my disks, why can’t I just view them?

The Solution

Then I came across exim on cygwin. exim is (as it claims to be) a vast improve­ment over the good ol’ send­mail. So I gave it a shot – man, that was awe­some! I can now direct my appli­ca­tion to send to arbi­trary address like alice@mail.local, foobar@mail.local and I can view the results imme­di­ately in a text file, solv­ing the two prob­lems men­tioned above. Here’s what I did:

  • Install exim using cygwin installer
  • Run exim-config
  • Edit /etc/exim.conf
  • Uncom­ment primary_hostname and set it to mail.local
  • Edit the router localuser, com­ment out the line check_local_user (If you don’t know what that means, just search for the line localuser:)
  • Edit %WINDIR%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts, add the line 127.0.0.1 mail.local
  • Finally, reboot the exim service

And there you go! You can now send mail to *@mail.local. To view the mail, go to /var/spool/mail which con­tains all the mail in text files. A simple tail -f /var/spool/mail/foobar can mon­i­tor the mail sent to foobar@mail.local

A simple test to make sure everything’s working:

$ exim -bt foobar@mail.local
foobar@mail.local
  router = localuser, transport = local_delivery
# If something is wrong in your config, it would say "Unrouteable address"
 
# Now let's try sending an email
$ exim -v -odf foobar@mail.local
Hello World!
.
LOG: MAIN
  <= Chris@mail.local U=Chris P=local S=296
delivering KEQKED-0002RS-A7
LOG: MAIN
  => foobar <foobar@mail.local> R=localuser T=local_delivery
LOG: MAIN
  Completed
 
# Cool, let's see if it really delivered
$ tail /var/spool/mail/foobar
Received: from Chris by mail.local with local (Exim 4.69)
        (envelope-from <Chris@mail.local>)
        id KEQKED-0002RS-A7
        for foobar@mail.local; Sun, 08 Feb 2009 15:20:39 +0800
Message-Id: <EKEQKED-0002RS-A7@mail.local>
From: Chris <Chris@mail.local>
Date: Sun, 08 Feb 2009 15:20:39 +0800
 
Hello World

tricks for the Windows Power Users

Many crit­i­cize Win­dows as being not user-​friendly to power users – you can’t do things the fast way even when you’ve used it for a couple of years. Here’s some tricks I’ve accu­mu­lated over the years to make using Win­dows (hope­fully) as swift as a *nix guru.

Why should we use Win­dows when we want per­for­mance and speed? Well, I guess that’s we game play­ers have to live for

Customize your Run dialog

run

This is undoubt­edly the coolest and most pow­er­ful trick for Win­dows power users. To be able to type what­ever com­mand you want from the Win­dows com­mand prompt is like being able to place sym­bolic links in /usr/local/bin

  1. Create a direc­tory some­where con­ve­nient. A good place I used is %HOMEDRIVE%:%HOMEPATH%\Commands.
  2. Now you’ll want to add this direc­tory to your %PATH%. This is done by:
  3. Press Win + R to open the Run dialog
  4. Enter sysdm.cpl
  5. Append your Commands path to %PATH% in Advanced -> Envi­ron­ment Variables
  6. Now you can place short­cuts (*.lnk) and even BAT files there and they will be run when you type the com­mand in the Run dialog!

Useful commands for the Run dialog

Talk­ing about the Run dialog, there’s a hand­ful of useful com­mands you may want to mem­o­rize to speed things up a little bit:

notepad
calc
Cal­cu­la­tor
explorer
Opens Win­dows Explorer on path
con­trol netconnections
Opens the Net­work Con­nec­tions con­trol panel
sndvol / sndvol32
Opens the volume con­trol panel
sysdm.cpl
Opens System Properties
dxdiag
Opens DirectX Diagnostic
msinfo32
Opens System Information
msn­msgr
Opens Win­dows Live Messenger

Enhance your clipboard with ClipX

The clip­board is designed decades ago. Given today’s computers’ memory size, there’s no reason to jus­tify why we can only hold one value in the clip­board. Enhance it with this free­ware ClipX. You can store like 25 pre­vi­ous clip­board entries (includ­ing pic­tures, files) and recall them with one key com­bi­na­tion (default: Shift-Ctrl-V). Very handy for system admins and programmers

clipx-intray

Opening Task Manager directly on Vista

Microsoft changed the pop­u­lar key com­bi­na­tion Alt-Ctrl-Del to open a screen with a list of not very useful options instead of open­ing the task man­ager. Here’s the new key com­bi­na­tion to open the Task Man­ager directly:

Ctrl+Shift+Esc

Locking your computer from the command prompt

There are var­i­ous rea­sons you might want to do this instead of Win + L, such as from within a BAT script. Anyway here’s how to do it

rundll32 user32.dll, LockWorkStation

Putting files to the Recycle Bin from the command line

Oops, there’s no tricks to it. Down­load my recy­cle utility.

have we run out of new invention ideas? …not!

Recently I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my uncle. We talked briefly about get­ting a job vs. being an entrepreneur.

My con­clu­sion was that get­ting a job is prob­a­bly suit­able for the “stable” people who won’t want too many fluc­tu­a­tions and just want to get by, while being an entre­pre­neur is not for the faint-​hearted but will def­i­nitely bring greater rewards if you are not too dumb.

His con­clu­sion was that get­ting a job is the way to go for except the really bril­liant people, and his reason was we have run out of ideas in today’s world and it is too dif­fi­cult to com­pete with estab­lished giant com­pa­nies if we don’t invent new ideas.

So really, is that the case?

On the sur­face, his con­clu­sion seemed to have a lot of truth to it. I remem­ber my dad telling me the same thing when I was a child, and I couldn’t come up with a clever new inven­tion idea to chal­lenge his stance. Even today, I can’t come up with some cool ideas on the spot. So it would be normal for most people to reach that we have run out of new ideas to start a new, suc­cess­ful business.

I don’t think so

But then, I really put some think­ing into that, and I could see that there are in fact end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties still wait­ing for us to dis­cover. How did I know? I asked myself this simple ques­tion, “Does every­thing in the world that we live in simply just works?” Obvi­ously, any­body will tell you how some­thing, many things, don’t work quite right in their lives. As opposed to having to come up with con­struc­tive ideas, just blam­ing what’s not work­ing (or put another way, incon­ve­niences of life) is a lot easier. I can come up with a few on the spot here:

  • I still spend a sig­nif­i­cant amount (maybe 5 – 15%) of my life on transportation.
  • I recently permed my hair curly, and I am con­stantly wor­ry­ing that I might do some­thing wrong that will make it straight.
  • If I want to eat some food I enjoy, I’m con­stantly count­ing the calories.
  • Urban coun­tries dump tons of food every day. Third world coun­tries dump tons of corpses every day.
  • I have to man­u­ally clean my ass with toilet paper every time after I defecate.

OK the last one might sound like a cheap joke but it’s a pretty legit­i­mate issue, when we look at the fact that flush toilet is con­sid­ered one of the inven­tions with most impacts by many scientists.

See, there are count­less small things that are still scream­ing for improve­ments in our daily lives. It’s just that we don’t notice them. Many people think that it would take a rocket scen­tist to make some ground break­ing inven­tion, which is totally not true. For exam­ple, I recently came across this bril­liant new device:

Approx­i­mately 3,000 wood­work­ers get their finger cut by a saw like that every year. This new inven­tion, which con­sists of no next-​generation sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies, is saving 3,000 woodworkers’ fin­gers every year.

The point I want to illus­trate here, is that there are still end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties here in the world, and we are not des­tined to be stuck in a cubi­cle day in and day out. All it takes is the ambi­tion and the cre­ativ­ity, and we all can do much more mean­ing­ful work than sit­ting in a cubicle.

So until the day when we have all the gad­gets in Dorae­mon, you don’t have to get a job because you can start your own!

Comodo: a free antivirus/firewall solution vs. ESET Smart Security

Update 2: I’ve given this prod­uct some real life usage tests. I must con­clude that the antivirus component’s per­for­mance is slow, ugly and unac­cept­able. I was fooled by its small foot­print (memory usage), but the scan­ning speed is slow and it effec­tively ren­ders my com­puter unus­able when I am doing any slightly more demand­ing oper­a­tions. Bot­tom­line: Stray away from this if you want any per­for­mance at all – for that pur­pose, I’d say ESET AntiVirus is still the best

Update: Unfor­tu­nately, after some test­ing, I just real­ized Comodo’s UI still requires the use of a mouse. Although it has slightly more options than ESET’s fire­wall, the manda­tory use of mouse still sucks.

In the past I’ve always used the com­mer­cial NOD32 Antivirus. Since ver­sion 3 it has also included a fire­wall in the ESET Smart Secu­rity. I have been quite sat­is­fied with NOD32 Antivirus since it has a solid detec­tion rate and more impor­tantly to me, very min­i­mal use of system resources. This is unlike say Norton, which is noto­ri­ous for eating up 50% of your system resources even when it is doing observ­ably nothing.

Recently though, I started get­ting annoyed enough by ESET’s firewall’s user inter­face. Simply put, I’m get­ting really annoyed by the fact that I have to con­stantly click the fre­qently appear­ing pop ups. What’s worse, the pop ups must be clicked by a mouse – it doesn’t sup­port using a key­board with tab­bing to the right button.

That’s not too bad though, after maybe a year of using it, I’ve learned of its con­fig­u­ra­tion enough so that I could set up rules to pre­vent the pop ups from appear­ing so fre­quently, but the occas­sional pop ups that appear finally drove me to inves­ti­gate into better solutions.

Then I found Comodo Inter­net Secu­rity – which comes with an Antivirus and a Firewall.

Comodo has been well known for its fire­wall, but the Antivirus com­po­nent is the company’s new inven­tion – this is like the reverse of ESET, which is best known for its antivirus but then expanded its market to fire­wall too.

I still haven’t used Comodo long enough to do a com­pre­hen­sive review of the two, but there’s one thing that I can say for cer­tain: Comodo’s user inter­face is so much nicer and pro­vides much more options than ESET.

And from some­where I’ve read, per­for­mance and low system resources usage is one of the design philoso­phies of the Comodo’s team. I forgot where exactly but I think I read it from the Comodo’s offi­cial forum – you can prob­a­bly take a look and you’ll quickly real­ize how inter­ac­tive the sup­port staff are in the forum – some­thing that blew my expec­ta­tion for a free product.

So, give it a try for this free secu­rity prod­uct, it’s def­i­nitely not wosre, if not way better than, most of its paid counterparts.