Useful Computer Applications & Utilities
I’ve listed some applications that you may find useful. Some are concerned with data and communications, some are just general. All are free, and they can be downloaded and used quite legally. This is directed mainly at PC users, so my apologies to MAC and Linux users. I’ve given them a Nerd Rating as a guide to how much knowledge they will need to set up and use, but don’t be afraid to have a go with any of them.
IMPORTANT: Always download them from the official site that I’ve linked, or an approved mirror. Some of the applications are very popular, but provided by small companies or developers. This means that rogue sites can “outbid” them get to the top of a Google search by using a very similar name. Use the exact link I give here, or an approved mirror site, or a site you are sure you can trust.
Nerd Rating: Easy
- The web browser that comes with Windows is Internet Explorer (IE), but it is not the best choice. It just takes a few minutes to install Firefox. Once you have done that, you can choose from thousands of add-ons to give extra functions. By the way, it doesn’t replace IE – it will still be on your PC if you ever want it.
Two add-ons to get you started:
- Adblock: removes the adverts from web pages
- Trashmail: creates a “disposable” email address on web forms, so you can sign up to things without exposing your email inbox to extra spam.
Nerd Rating: Moderate
- There are two ways to access your email. You can leave it on your mail server and view it with a web browser (Gmail, Hotmail, etc). Or you can download it to your own PC and work with it there. The best known of these email clients is Outlook, which comes with Windows. However, Thunderbird (another open source application from the Mozilla Foundation) is a good alternative. Once you install it, you will need to configure it to receive your email. It will attempt to do this automatically for you, but you may have to set it up manually, which requires a little bit of knowledge – or searching on Google!
Nerd Rating: Easy
- If you are using Firefox and / or Thunderbird (as of course you should be!) then grab a copy of this little utility. It simply backs up your Firefox settings and all your Thunderbird emails.
Nerd Rating: Easy
- You MUST keep an up-to-date antivirus running on your machine, and Avast! is a good choice. You simply register once a year, and there is no charge. They will occasionally offer you an upgrade to the paid version, but you don’t have to take it. The free version performs quite well enough.
Nerd Rating: Fairly Easy
- If you are currently running another antivirus you will need to remove it. Do things in this order: (1) download Avast! (2) Disconnect your PC from the internet (3) uninstall old antivirus and reboot (4) install Avast! and reboot (5) connect to internet and let Avast! update. (If your current antivirus is Norton, change Nerd Rating to “can be a pain”).
Nerd Rating: Fairly Easy
- Spyware, adware and other malware can slow down your computer, cause problems or even compromise your personal details. In addition to the protection from your antivirus, you should have a dedicated anti spyware program. Spybot runs some resident protection, but it doesn’t update automatically. Every week or two update it, use the immunise feature, then scan for problems.
Nerd Rating: Easy, but see *Caution*
- Rootkits compromise a computer’s security by operating at a very low level. They may hide their own presence and that of other malware such as viruses, preventing your normal antivirus or anti spyware program from cleaning your system completely.
*Caution* Because rootkit removal tools such as TDSSKiller have to operate at a fundamental level of the system, they always pose a slight risk of causing unexpected problems. The best policy is to carry out your regular data backup (which of course we all do, don’t we?), set a system restore point, then run the rootkit removal tool.
- Better alternatives to WinZip for unzipping files that you download.
Nerd Rating: Easy
- Same capabilities as MS Office suite, but you don’t need to take a second mortgage – it is free. You can even open MS Office files, and save in the MS format. PDF export is built in. If you are frequently converting to and from MS files you may get one or two minor glitches. You will also find a few annoying bugs or odd layouts. But give it a try, it is worth it.
Note: This is a development from OpenOffice. You can use OpenOffice instead while it is still available.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Nerd rating: Easy to Advanced, depending on what you want to do with it
- A fully featured graphics editor that compares very well with Adobe Photoshop – especially as GIMP is free and Photoshop costs £657.
Nerd Rating: Easy, but with Advanced features if you need them
- Just like the basic Notepad that comes with Windows, but with a million times more features. Good for the general user; an absolute must for anyone doing any scripting.
(Controller for “The Onion Router”)
Nerd Rating: Moderate to Advanced
- Every device that connects to the internet has a unique IP address. When you use the internet you create a route between all these devices which can be traced or blocked. It is not just international arch villains who might want to avoid this – the right to privacy for everyone is enshrined in the Human Rights Act. Tor effectively creates an alternative route which is hidden until your data emerges somewhere else in the world through an exit node. If you are embarrassed about your interest in steam trains, or you think your government might one day try to block your internet communications, this is a good tool to have.
Nerd Rating: Easy once Tor is installed.
Install from Firefox add-ons
- Adds a simple toggle to Firefox that enables and disables Tor.
(Internet Relay Chat)
Nerd Rating: Easy to Advanced depending on how much you want to do with it
Various, eg. http://www.mirc.com/
- A simple text based chat client. Multiple users connect to a channel and chat in a text box.
Nerd Rating: Moderate to Advanced
- Encrypts your private data to protect it from prying eyes.
Nerd Rating: Fairly Easy
- Manages and protects all your passwords and login details with a master password.
(Audio and video COder and DECoder)
Nerd rating: Fairly Easy
Links: see below
- To be able to present audio and video media, your PC uses a number of codecs, a sort of coding and decoding format to interpret the data. The problem is, many of these are provided by companies who are less than 100% scrupulous about what they are installing on your machine. So, you have the choice of installing a risky application, or not being able to access the media you want. Fortunately, there are some alternatives – and because the codecs themselves are not owned by these companies (only the crap packaged around them) you can legally use them. (Actually, RealNetworks whined that their product had been illegally back engineered, but they never got anywhere trying to prove it). The two below are really worth installing:
- Once you have installed this you can REMOVE DivX from your computer.
Discontinued, but still available for download eg.
- Comes complete with Media Player Classic, which looks like a very primitive Windows Media Player, but which has the advantage that (unlike its bloated Windows counterpart) it can actually play stuff without all the error messages and crashing. When you have installed Real Alternative you can REMOVE the appalling Real Player from your computer.
I hope you find at least some of these useful. If you have any questions about any of them, just send me a message. If you have any favourite utilities to add to the list, let me know.
A credit union is a cooperative financial institution that is owned and controlled by its members and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members. Many credit unions exist to further community development or sustainable international development on a local level. [Wikipedia]
- A member is required to regularly pay an amount in (often a mininum of £1 per week 13 weeks) before being allowed to borrow from the union.
- The amount that can be borrowed is a multiple of what has been paid in. The Union that I spoke to confirmed that money already paid in (called shares) remains in the account during borrowing,
- Interest is not charged on the shares when borrowing, only the amount in excess of the shares.
- Interest charged seems to be typically 1% per month, which equates to 12.67% APR.
- Dividends will vary, but at the moment 0% is typical.
- Credit Unions do not invest in the stock market.
- Credit Unions are regulated by the FSA and money saved is guaranteed to the same extent as banked savings.
- Debts die with the person.
Increased use of credit unions would … ?
- Remove some of the money people save with and borrow from the banking system.
- Put people collectively in control of how their CU is run.
- Encourage individuals to save a small amount towards what they might need to borrow.
- Prevent some of the poorest people committing themselves to very expensive sources of borrowing such as the door to door lenders.
To find your local credit union visit www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk or call the Association of British Credit Unions (Abcul) on 0161 832 3694.
ABCUL has welcomed the news that the Draft Legislative Reform Order (LRO), which is making changes to the Credit Unions Act 1979, has been approved by committees in the House of Commons and House of Lords and will now move to debates in both Houses.
Approval of the LRO will mean that credit unions will be allowed to provide services to community groups and businesses, add in new groups of people who will qualify for membership and pay interest on savings. The changes should be in force by early in the New Year.
The art of facilitating meetings is an on-going process. Occupy Norwich makes decisions based on consensus. The following is an outline of how it is being done and tips to refine the process:
- Choose and advertise in advance meetings. These are being held at the occupation site. General Assembly meetings are open to all participants in the occupy movement, and everybody has a vote of equal value.
- Outline the agenda. All participants can propose agenda items, and the group must agree on the agenda. The agenda is written down and someone in the group has the responsibility to read the agenda items when the list is being developed and at the start of discussion of each item.
- In discussing agenda items, the person who put forward the topic explains it. Group members take turns speaking, raising their hands to indicate they would like to speak after the current speaker (and possibly others queuing to speak) have finished. It is not polite to interrupt other while they are speaking, and such behaviour is not tolerated. In order to avoid this, we use the following hand signals: Jazz Hands (hands up and wiggling fingers) to indicate agreement), and Raised hand (usually with index finger up) to indicate you wish to be placed in the queue to speak. The facilitator silently or quietly lets people know when she/he has placed them in the cue (so they don’t have to keep their hands up). The facilitator calls on each speaker in their turn
- Calling for a vote — the facilitator can do this in between people’s turns speaking, or after everyone in the queue has spoken, and bearing in mind what’s been said (if the group seems likely to take a decision) and the time remaining to discuss the item. The facilitator asks the group to indicate their agreement/disagreement to proposals. Once it seems everyone is an agreement, the facilitator asks if there is consensus, and takes a moment to look around and make sure no one wishes to block consensus.
- The decision is recorded in the meeting minutes, and the facilitator moves on to the next agenda item.
Tips for deciding the agenda:
- An agenda can be posted on the web in advance.
- The agenda is agreed upon before the meeting commences. It can be helpful to group together like agenda items.
- Each agenda item can have a time limit so that all items can be covered in the meeting. The time limits should be agreed upon before the agenda is finalised.
- It might be a good idea to separate operational from policy issues, allotting time in the agenda for each.
Tips for facilitation:
- It is good to rotate facilitators to give everybody a chance to experience being in that role, to avoid overburdening a few individuals with the responsibility, and to limit the potential for a few individuals to assue more power in the group than others.
- The facilitator is the only one who should speak out of turn, and just to put the process back on track if there is a disruption, such as speaking out of turn. If the facilitator failing to do this, please address remarks to the facilitator. If the facilitator continues to struggle in his/her role, then it would be wise for the facilitator to allow another group member to facilitate. In the unfortunate event that the facilitator goes against the wishes of the group to step aside, then another facilitator should be chosen.
- It is important to remember that some group members may be a bit shy to speak, and it sometimes takes people awhile to ponder a topic before knowing what they want to do about it, so it is important that everyone be given the time/space to think and possibly say something.
- When the individual facilitating wishes to contribute their thoughts to the discussion of a topic, they should put their name in the speaking cue. Unless it is a process point, the facilitator should never speak their opinion before others who are waiting their turn.
Tips for co-facilitation:
- Everyone has the responsibility to make sure that meetings are ‘safe spaces’ where all people are being respected and the agreed-upon process is being followed.
- Hand signals can be further developed to increase non-disruptive feedback being shared with the group. For example, we might use Jazz Hands Down to indicate disagreement.
Tips for taking decisions:
- Not every issue can be resolved in the allotted time. In these cases, they will have to be tabled until the next general assembly. An individual or ‘committee’ can be selected by consent to develop a proposal on the issue for the next meeting.
- It would be helpful to have something to write proposals on (a board or very large sheet of paper), so everyone can see them, and they can be tweaked if necessary.
The following is a definitive list of statements that have been proposed and agreed by consensus at GA. A written copy of these statements is held at the Occupy camp. If you disagree with any of these statements, please take it to GA to for discussion and to have the statement recalled, if appropriate.
- Wealth inequality is too great
- The house of commons does not represent the will or interests of the common people, rather the wealthy
- We want a fairer, more sustainable system
Originating from Climate Change working group:
- We cannot conceive of a way to reduce global warming without an increase in global equality
- An increase in global equality is not enough on its own to fight global warming
- We need a cultural shift change to reduce energy use
- This cultural shift shall include a reduction in consumerism to reduce output and hence emissions
- We need to be valued for things other than material wealth
- Humans should enhance nature rather than degrade it
As a member of ON I have done many things but I have shied away from being part of the Monetary Reform Working group because it felt too complex for my little brain to manage… I had too many practical things to get on with and this had enough membership to be taken care of by others. Nevertheless I have kept asking myself some questions and have kept researching the things I did not understand. In the process I have spent countless hours reading and watching material that has opened my eyes to the mess we are in. I have even read up on several possible alternatives.
I thought a page compiling some of this info would have been hugely useful and time saving so here you have it. I am pointing one thing out. Not one of these links shows the truth and nothing but the truth and I urge you to take some time to read most of them to gain a more rounded picture of the working of the capitalist machine. We can only exercise common sense with a touch of scepticism when we approach these subjects!
1. “Money as Debt” – animated presentation
US YouTube 47 minute animated film that explains money mechanics. I agree it oversimplifies the subject matter and misses some very important points but it is only recommended as part of more thorough research and its simplicity is what makes it is so easy to understand. With this and further research into terminology, theories and events you will have a better understanding. Here I include the document by the creator of the content for that animation – The Banking System, Itself, is the ROOT CAUSE of Money System Instability by Paul Grignon.
2. “The inside Job” – Storyville
A full length movie/documentary about the genesis of the 2008 credit crunch – a globalised lack of trust on a corrupt system. There are examples of the roles of corporations, rating agencies, derivatives, insurance giants and politicians using policy to ‘free the market’.
Martin Wolf Chief Economics commentator @ The Financial Times – “It wasn’t real profits, it wasn’t real income. It was just money that was being created by the system and booked as income. Then 3 years down the road there is a default and everything is wiped out… I think, in fact, in retrospect, it was a great big international ponzi scheme”.
3. Zeitgeist “Addendum” movie
A full length movie that covers various topics such as the creation of money, the role of financial sector and the use of control by the elites. The second half is about the alternative system they favour – the ‘Venus project’. A technocratic utopia. Some of it rings true and some I leave up to you to decide. Definitely worth a watch though.
Comments from viewers in iMDb “Very compelling, definitely don’t believe everything you hear, do your own research! Many interesting arguments, many good points.”
“While this film is aimed to prove everything presented as truth, one should watch this with an open mind. Take in all the topics, then do your own research, just with any speaker/film/presentation. To blindly follow is pure ignorance.”
“I do not believe everything in this film. I do however think that everyone should see it if nothing more than a thought experiment. You should be aware of all sides of an argument as to make your argument more effective.”
4. “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein in 4oD (also here on vimeo)
A film/documentary that puts the case for government manipulation of politics and events to enforce unwelcomed neoliberalist market ideas (reduce the size of the state, allow markets to control themselves and promote profit based enterprise rather than social wellbeing) during the after shock.
Shockdoctrine.com - “In THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries”.
5. Interview with Nicholas Shaxson, author of “Treasure Islands”
1 hour long interview with Nichols Shaxson about his book which discusses tax havens and tax avoidance/evasion by corporations, financial institutions and the complicated web they rely on to continue to hide their profits from the taxman.
Review by Sean O’grady (The Independent) “If you would like to know why your taxes are going up quite as much as they are this year, then Nicholas Shaxson has a one word answer: “Offshore“. Lost income from income “sheltered” in tax havens around the world costs the UK exchequer about £20bn, though it’s anyone’s guess. That is enough to put VAT back down to 15 per cent, or scrap tuition fees. Globally, the stashed cash runs to a total of about $6 trillion ($6,000 billion).”
6. RSA Animate – “Crises of Capitalism”
“In this RSA Animate, renowned academic David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane?”
7. Yanis Varoufakis interview in Capital ACCOUNT (RT News) – on the European Crisis
(@ about minute 4.00) Yanis Varoufakis is an economist who heads the Department of Economic Policy at the University of Athens.From 2004 to 2007 Varoufakis served as economic adviser to George Papandreou.
8. “The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest” (article) by George Monbiot
A witty article that describes the basics of the workings within ‘The City’ and why their interests are favoured over the rest of the population.
“But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works.”
“As Nicholas Shaxson explains in his fascinating book Treasure Islands, the Corporation exists outside many of the laws and democratic controls which govern the rest of the United Kingdom. The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected.”
9. TED Lectures: “How economic inequality harms societies” by Richard Wilkinson
“We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.”
10. TED Lectures: “Addicted to Risk” Naomi Klein
“In her latest work, Naomi Klein wonders: What makes our culture so prone to the reckless high-stakes gamble?”
“…the burden of proving that a practice is safe should not be placed on the public that would be harmed, but rather on the industry that stands to profit. But climate policy in the wealthy world – to the extent that such a thing exists – is not based on precaution, but rather on cost-benefit analysis –finding the course of action that economists believe will have the least impact on our GDP. So rather than asking, as precaution would demand,what can we do as quickly as possible to avoid potential catastrophe, we ask bizarre questions like this: ”What is the latest possible moment we can wait before we begin seriously lowering emissions?