Possibly the best and cheapest UK Breakdown cover?

A little left field this one – not technology related at all – but it’s a Woodygem nonetheless:

I have just bought a new car – and given that it’s my own – not the companies, it’s my problem to deal with it if it breaks down. In the UK, you seem to have 4 options for Breakdown Cover:

1. Use one of the big boys like the RAC or AA – V expensive and they sell cover as if it was double glazing – i.e. trying to get the most money for it at any given time – so the cost is not related to the value.

2. Smaller players like Direct Line, Green Flag etc.

3. Insurance based where you call a towtruck out and then claim back the cost.

4. Using Tesco vouchers to buy RAC cover – where 20 quids worth of Tesco vouchers buys you something like 80 quids worth of RAC cover etc.

However, I have discovered Autoaid. They don’t seem to advertise, they do have a website  but when it comes to signingup – you have to call them (you can’t buy via their site).

Basically, if you breakdown, you call Autoaid and they organise someone to come and fix the car (or tow it away). Average response is 45 mins (on a par with the big boys) and you pay the towtruck guy and claim the full cost back from Autoaid.

They seem to get very good reviews on moneysavingexpert.com etc and there is some suggestion that they are actually the delivery company behind some of the tier 2 players. In addition, there are stories about Autoaid calling out the local garage and a man arriving in a big Yellow van – as it seems that the RAC and AA subcontract out some of their work to local garages who just have vans in the correct livery.

Anyhow – why is this a woodygem? Well, the cost really – 32 quid (yes 32 quid) per year and it covers husband and wife driving any car.


Rootkit detectors

As mentioned on the Protecting your PC page, Rootkits are a method that virus writers use to hide code deeply within the operating system so that they can’t be discovered by normal anti-virus tools.

If you even slightly suspect that you might have a virus, it’s a really good idea to run a Rootkit detector as well as an anti-virus scan.

I would use a combination of Blacklight from F-Secure – where they have a free trial until April 2007 (the site also gives a good explanation of rootkit technology and techniques) – and Rootkit Revealer 1.71 from Microsoft.

Superantispyware – is this the best free (anti) spyware product?

We are all aware, and have relied on, the combination of trusty Ad-aware SE and Spybot – Search and Destroy but now I have bumped into a product that is getting rave reviews and my own testing seems to confirm that it is identifying and cleaning more stuff. Step forward Superantispyware. There is a commercial version and a free version. The free one has been working well for me.

Rogue anti-spyware products – how to tell which ones are actually viruses?

We have all experienced it – go to some web page and a box pops up telling you that you have spyware/adware and to click on this link for a free programme to remove it. There are a lot of free spyware/adware programmes out there – but how do you tell which ones are kosher and which ones actually install something nasty on your PC instead? Well, step forward the Spyware Warrior – a great site that lists those products that you should trust – or not …..

Possibly the best free Windows Firewall?

I have bumped into the Comodo Firewall that seems to be getting rave reviews these days – including becoming PC Magazine’s “Editors Choice”. I have been running this for two months now on a very low spec PC (a lot of other free firewalls seem to eat CPU) and am very pleased. The Comodo Firewall is free for personal use.

However, be warned, the Comodo Firewall always checks if it is up to date and running the latest version. This is very good – because normally it would mean that you can install and forget. Unfortunately, I was running version 2.3 and allowed it to update itself to 2.4. While my system stayed stable, I did notice that CPU usage increased and the PC became a little sluggish. I see others reporting similar on the Comodo Forums. So, I reverted to version 2.3 and it’s going like a dream.

Unfortunately, you can’t download version 2.3 from the Comodo site – and most download sites now only offer the 2.4 version. However, I have found the 2.3 version still available to download from the Freedownload Centre. I throroughly recommend it.

Syncing a Sony Ericsson K750i (or any other SE phone for that matter)

After being sent two previously non-working K750i’s (what is the matter with the QA dept over at Sony Ericsson?) I have been wrestling with the the Sony Ericsson PC suite – which doesn’t seem to sync all my notes from Outlook (why is that?) and seems the most flakey piece of software since Apple iTunes was released on windows ….

So, I went in search of a solution. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any (free) software that is better at syncing the phone with Outlook, but I did come a cross a rather remarkable application in the process. It is called “floAt’s Mobile Agent” and can be found here: http://fma.sourceforge.net/

My advice is to FIRST install the stable version followed by the beta (the beta has more features but I noticed that it installed differently on it’s own – compared to putting the stable version on first).

Once installed and connected to the PC, you will grin. This software shows all sorts of dynamic info about the phone (like signal strength etc) and you can send and receive SMS with it – handy if like me, you hate trying to send texts on a phone. Hint to daughters: if you have something to say CALL ME – no more bloody texts – drives me nuts … You even get a pop-up message when your phone is ringing and can click on the pop-up to answer the phone AND specify the mode of answer like “hands free” etc.

Trust me, this floAt’s Mobile Agent is really cool.

How to use Outlook with Googlemail and your own email address

From time to time, it can be important to have rock solid email. In the UK, a lot of the main ISP’s that you have your broadband connection with, can be a bit flakey in the email department. I have found that Googlemail (gmail) is as solid as a rock – that’s not to say that MSN and Yahoo mail etc are not – it’s just that I have had a Googlemail account since the early days.

Googlemail may be solid, but it’s web UI leaves something to be desired. I find it easier to read my email within Outlook anyway – using the option of not deleting email from Googlemail – so that I can still access it from a web browser when desired.

Not only is it great to be able to receive AND send Googlemail from within Outlook – wouldn’t it be cool if you could do it by using your own (non googlemail) email address as well? Read on …..

OK, this is (simply) how to do it. Others may argue that there are better ways/services – but this is your starter for 10…..

1. Register a “.co.uk” domain or two at http://www.123-reg.co.uk/. “.co.uk” domains cost £2.45 per year (you have to pay for two years).

Quick update: I have never had any trouble with 123-reg but they are getting terrible press right now – see: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/31/123_reg_/ so the smart money seems to be suggesting goDaddy may be the domain registrar of choice.

2. TOP DOMAIN REGISTERING TIP – which normally you would pay good money for Smile If you have an “a” in your name – but it is not the first char, consider registering a domain made up of all the letters in your name AFTER that “a”. For example, let’s say you are called “Janet Winters” – if you register the domain “netwinters.co.uk” your email address could then be j@netwinters.co.uk – see what I did there? Then, the next time anyone asks you what your email address is, you just reply “janetwinters.co.uk – replace the first a with an “at””.

3. Make a google email account – it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself – just keep it sensible – see point 9 for why. For the purpose of this post – let’s say you made an account “jwinters@googlemail.com”.

4. At your 123-reg domain control panel, set mail forwarding to send any email to your googlemail account.

5. You can either access your googlemail from any web browser, or directly (via Pop3) in Outlook OR via a Pocket PC.

6. To configure Outlook to access your googlemail – go here: https://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=13278&topic=1556

7. To configure your Pocket PC to read Googlemail, just go into the email app and set up a new account. When asked for your “email address” – just give something (doesn’t matter what you say at this point) @gmail.com – for example: fred@gmail.com. The PPC mail app then goes off to googlemail and configures itself – neat eh? You then have to configure your real username and password details and in the email account options (2/3) – make sure that you have ticked both “requires SSL connection” and “Outgoing mail requires authentication”.

8. In the “Forwarding and Pop settings” of your googlemail account:

a) Click to enable POP.

b) I would also suggest selecting “Keep googlemail’s copy in the inbox” – just in case you screw something up. You can change this once you are happy about the way this best works for you.

c) While you are getting used to it – I would also select to have a copy of all emails forwarded to your Plusnet email address. Yes, that means you get two copies – but while you are getting up to speed, you are unlikely to lose anything vital. You can always turn this off later.

9. This is optional – but in the “Accounts” section of the googlemail settings, you can set a different sending address to your googlemail address. So, for example, you could set the sending address to be “j@netwinters.co.uk”. If you did this, mail sent from your google email would have the return address of j@netwinters.co.uk but the recipient of the email would actually see it headed thus:

“jwinters@googlemail.com; on behalf of; Janet Winters [j@netwinters.co.uk]”

This means that spam checkers are unlikely to block the email because it is not exactly trying to spoof.

Now, set up like this:

a) All mail sent to you goes to your account hosted at 123-reg and is then forwarded on to your googlemail account – where you read it via a web browser, Outlook or on your PocketPC or mobile phone etc.

b) All mail that you send, can be created in a web browser, your Outlook, PocketPc or mobile phone etc BUT it is sent OUT from googlemail with a return address of your domain at 123-reg in it.

This means that you retain your Plusnet account and ADSL access, but that you just don’t use the email facilities of Plusnet.

Finally, this tip is really worth big money – because you will find little mention of it elsewhere:

Googlemail only allows single pop access. So, for example, if you are synchronising Outlook to Googlemail AND your Pocket PC at the same time, no email will be downloaded because this is multiple access – which for security reasons, google email doesn’t like. BUT, if you configure your googlemail account name on the subsidiary devices (such as your Pocket PC) to add “recent:” in front of your googlemail account name – i.e. “recent:jwinters” then it works.

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