Jul 30, 2005

Get your gift from Skype

This week-end days seem to be SkypeOut gift days. So what does mean? It means you can get 10 minutes of credit for SkypeOut calls and it won’t cost you a thing and you can use this credit to call from your computer (using Skype of course) to a mobile or fixed phone.

SkypeOut Gift Days
At Skype, we don’t believe you should have to pay for calls. That’s why Skype-to-Skype calls will always be free. But even we have to charge a little bit for SkypeOut calls (our service for calling landlines and mobile phones). That’s where SkypeOut Gift Days come in.

On SkypeOut Gift Days you’ll be able to redeem 10 minutes of credit for SkypeOut calls and it won’t cost you a thing. It’s free.

How do I know when it’s a SkypeOut Gift Day?
We wish every day could be a SkypeOut Gift Day, but that would make us bankrupt. So our accountant says we can have 1 more this month. We would also love to offer gifts to the entire world but our system only allow us to distribute a limited number, so we hope you will be quick enough to get one.

When one is approaching, we’ll let you know through our website and on Share.Skype.com. We’re planning to have SkypeOut Gift Days throughout July, so keep checking back for details.

We’ve only got a limited number of gifts to offer on SkypeOut Gift Day, so make sure when you spot one, you tell all your friends even the ones who aren’t on Skype yet. That would be nice. It’s a good day to start using Skype, after all.

How do you claim your SkypeOut credit?
On SkypeOut Gift Days you will find a ’get a free Skype gift’ button on your account page (if you don't have Skype already, you can download it here). Click on the button before it disappears at the end of the day and, ’hey presto’, you’ll be able to claim your SkypeOut credit. It’s our little gift to you. We hope you like it.

SkypeOut Gift Days terms and conditions
Skype services mean: SkypeOut, Skype Voicemail and SkypeIn services. 10 minutes of credit are based on the current SkypeOut global rate from Skype to landlines in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries. To use SkypeOut and Skype Voicemail, you first need to register for a Skype user account and to get a free Skype user name. This promotion expires August 29, 2005.

If you don't have Skype download it now and after you finish the installation and create an account visit www.skype.com and click the "Get Your Gift Today" link as you can see below (if it does not appear anymore it means the promotion finished):
Get your gift today
After you've logged in to your account you'll see the "Yay! Today is the free SkypeOut Gift Day!" box and just click (again) on the "Get your free Skype Gift" link:
Get your free Skype Gift
Even if they say you'll receive only 0.1 euros credit, you'll actually receive a 0.2 credit. After you've clicked that link the gift is redeemed and they'll say you'll receive the credit in 12 hours:

Your free Skype gift will be delivered to you account in the next 12 hours.
Why don’t you call some friends who aren’t yet on Skype and tell them what they’re missing out on… the favoritest week, your favourite recipes… making telephone calls for free.

Account Overview | Tell a friend

I was lucky and I received imediatelly the gift (it's still 5 a.m. in America :) ) and as I said 0.2 euros and not 0.1 as they stated before:

My Services

€0.20 remaining SkypeOut Credit.
You have 179 days, until January 26, 2006, to use this credit.

Buy More SkypeOut Credit

So this is it, you can use now this credit to call from your computer someone on the mobile or fixed phone. Also, if you plan calling other locations than USA you might take a look at their SkypeOut rates. Depending on the destination you might have the surprise that you can't speak more than half a minute (for instance a call on a mobile in Italy is 0.287 euro/minute and you only receive 0.2 euro credit). Anyway a gift is a gift.

Why are they doing this? Well because they want to create more "BUZZ" around Skype and get that viral marketing gear moving. I'm sure that at least half of those who call using these free minutes say "I received those for free from Skype" and this is how the word gets spread; instead of spending millions of dollars on publicity, they prefer giving gifts in exchange for free publicity. It's common, it's effective and it seems to be working fine for them, with more than 142 million downloads (as of today) and 40 million customers Skype is one of the most popular programs out there.

More images on how to install Skype and create your account:

Jul 25, 2005

Virtual Earth sends Google in street

Microsoft launched yesterday morning (24th of July) the MSN Virtual Earth program as a response (mainly) to Google Earth.

As the name suggests it is a web based mapping application that helps you in finding directions or other locations for different services. Their small description says (I can't say the same about the Terms of Use, Privacy, and Credits for this service):
Welcome to MSN Virtual EarthTM! Virtual Earth combines mapping and local search to put the answers to your search questions in a geographical context. To do this, Virtual Earth combines MSN Search with the latest in mapping to create a new Web application built on Microsoft technology.

Probably they left the rest to be discovered by us. I tested this only on Internet Explorer since on Maxthon I had some problems and I'm not sure if it works correctly.
I must say that I'm a little impressed for such a start; they have (in comparison with Google) some interesting features:

  • the Locate Me feature (that uses either your IP or your wi-fi connection to detect where you are - don't use the wi-fi detection option since you'll have to install an Active X based program)

  • has a better zoom in - for the same location that I tested on Google Maps and on MSN Virtual Earth I could go with Google close to 200 feet while with MSN VE it went to 120 feet - I'm not sure if this applies for every search but for my test it acted this way

  • has a Permalink option that allows you "... at any time to return to Virtual Earth with your current map view, searches, and Scratch Pad just as they are now. Use the link to bookmark your current map or to e-mail the map to a friend.

  • if you're zooming past a certain point, it will automatically switch from the Road Map view to the Aerial photo view (the equivalentnt of Satellite view in Google), which is kind of cool

Ok, but what it lacks in comparison to Google's Map? Seems like accuracy. I don't know if they did this intentionally or not, but when you search for 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043 they place one of Google's location in ... the middle of an intersection.

I took some screenshots of this too, just in case they correct this problem.
Here is the MSN Virtual Earth result for the above mentioned location:

MSN Virtual Earth sends Goodle in street

And this one is from Google's result:

Google Map's result

As you can see there is a few blocks in between the two locations. I didn't test this too much but if I find more interesting things I'll post in here too.

Other links:
MSN Virtual Earth: Oops
MSN Virtual Earth To Take On Google Earth
PCWorld.com - Gates Unveils MSN Virtual Earth
MapPoint Technologies Virtual Pressroom: MSN Virtual Earth

Jul 22, 2005

Stop Phishing with Netcraft's Toolbar

Beside the technical definitions of phishing there is one that's scary enough to make you think twice before checking your online bank account: BEING ROBBED.
Because this is what phishing is about, there is the EVIL mind out there that prepares a luring email and sends it out to catch the fish - because the pond is full of it. And when the fish bites, the phisher gains access to the victim's online account (from a credit card company, credit union, Internet retail sites and not to mention PayPal, eBay, Amazon or Visa) and as fast as possible it transfers money to another account or buys something that is shipped to a foreign address.

This phenomenon is scary as more and more phishing sites are detected. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, only in May 2005 there were 3326 active phishing sites and the average time online it was 5.2 days, enough to scam a lot of people. What's even worse is that about 3% of the people opening these types of emails (and that have accounts with the respective service) follow the links within the emails. This is not as tragic as the 40 million credit cards number stolen, but it gets close to it.

This is one email that I received recently and just see how real it looks at the "surface":

From: Wells Fargo
To: claudiu.spulber@[hidden].com
Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2005 5:14 PM
Subject: Your Account Will Be Suspended

Dear customers:

Wells Fargo is constantly working to increase security for all Online Banking users. To ensure the integrity of our online payment system, we periodically review accounts.

Your account might be place on restricted status. Restricted accounts continue to receive payments, but they are limited in their ability to send or withdraw funds.

To lift up this restriction, you need to login into your account (with your username or SSN and your password), then you have to complete our verification process. You must confirm your credit card details and your billing information as well. All restricted accounts have their billing information unconfirmed, meaning that you may no longer send money from your account until you have updated your billing information on file.
To initiate the billing update confirmation process, please follow the link bellow and fill in the necessary fields:


Thank you,

Wells Fargo - Online Banking

About Wells Fargo | Employment | Report Email Fraud | Privacy, Security & Legal | Home © 1995 - 2004 Wells Fargo. All rights reserved.

Of course I removed the links and the logo images, but this is one of the "well written" phishing emails. I mean beside the "https://online.wellsfargo.com/signon?LOB=CONS" link all the others were pointing correctly to Wells Fargo. And this is how the message appeared in the email:
Phishing email

For a person that receives this for the first time and doesn't have much knowledge it is tricky. I don't have this problem anymore since I use MailWasher because this is how the message is displayed (and it is also filtered directly most of the times):
Phishing revealed with MailWasher

However MailWasher is not the only solution as an anti-phishing measure, there are others too. For instance Netcraft's toolbar is a free alternative solution. I know that toolbars have a bad reputation but this comes from a respectable company that I believe wouldn't do anything to gain a bad reputation.

Before downloading it make sure that you meet at least one of the following 2 requirements:

  • Internet Explorer on Windows 2000/XP

  • FireFox 1.0 or later on all platforms

If you're using Internet Explorer download the toolbar using this link (about 3MB) or if you are using Firefox download the Netcraft extension (click directly on the link and after you downloaded it just open it with Firefox and it will install itself).

To install it on Internet Explorer, double-click the setup you downloaded (if you remember where you saved it - if not use the Search function and look for "Netcraft Toolbar.msi"), make sure you accept their 1000 words agreement (you can read it because you never know when it pays out), select a location for it (the default one is fine) and click Finish.
After installation the "Thank you" Internet Explorer page appears and you can see the fresh installed toolbar:
Netcraft Toolbar
How does this help you now? Well every time you'll visit a suspect site the Risk Rating bar will display a red field, but this doesn't mean it's a phishing site, it just warns you that the site is either new, has never been seen in the Netcraft Web Server Survey or that the Hosting company has hosted a number of fraud sites in the past.
When you will try to visit a phishing site, if that one was reported by another user of the Netcraft toolbar it will display a warning message and will not let you visit the site (unless you insist):
Page blocked by Netcraft
Other advices regarding the Netcraft toolbar:

  1. if you think a site is a phishing one, just click on the Netcraft logo and select "Report a phishing site"; you will be required to provide your email address and write a code (for security reasons) - if you're the first one to report it you will receive a congratulation message and possibly a small gift (I received a glass from them on my first report)

  2. don't rely only on the Risk Rating, see where the site is hosted too (last field displayed on the toolbar, you'll recognize the flag)

  3. if you're annoyed on the fact that it checks for updates every day, go to the Options menu and select another interval; I use the default settings

Netcraft Toolbar Options
Netcraft offers a lot of other services and they have excellent tutorials on using the toolbar.

While I don't use it mainly to detect the phishing emails (I've seen so many that I "smell" them before they arrive in my Inbox) I do like the fact that it displays the Hosting company and when was the domain registered. And I do recommend it because I've seen lately they are blocking the phishing sites very fast, which means more and more users started using it. So give it a try and if you ever receive an email claiming to be from your bank or other online service, don't visit the website from within the email, NEVER.

Other useful resources:
What to do if you've responded to a phishing scam
Anti-Phishing Working Group
Phishiest Countries
How Not to Get Hooked by a "Phishing" Scam

Jul 20, 2005

Google Moon and Blogging in Space

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong earned his place in history (remember "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."?).

36 years latter, Google landed on the Moon too (and not to open an office) and thought of creating Google Moon to give us, the Earth creatures, the opportunity to visit it virtually.

At least this is what it seems at the first look, a wonderful project that lets us explore the Moon:

Google Moon

But it's not quite so, it seems that this is joke from Google (and not a real thing like landing on the moon in '69). If you zoom out you'll see that it's actually only one image that just repeats itself:

Google moon hoax

And if you're not convinced yet just zoom in as much as you can until you see the ... Cheesy Moon:

Cheesy Moon

If you have other questions, just read their Google Moon FAQ.

Since we're discussing about going into space, why not discussing about blogging into space? BlogInSpace.com does that for you, just give them your blog address and they send your blog to ET:

Blogs In Space is the first entity to allow everyday bloggers to transmit the news and thoughts of an everyday person into space. Simply put we take your feed and transmit it out on a powerful deep space transmission dish. [...]
Bloggers who use this site are urged to keep their blogs devoid of any language, comments or content that might offend, taunt or provoke alien life forms in any way. Let's not start an intergalactic war :)

So what are you waiting for, go to BlogInSpace.com and send your blog to the moon children:

  1. Enter your Blog URL and your Feed URL and click Submit

  2. Well you would have expected to be all what you have to do, but it's not that, now you have to enter your blog details (title/category/description)

  3. And after clicking Continue you have to enter your details too; don't worry, you'll only be included in the next abduction list when you click Finished (don't forget to agree to the terms and conditions too)

And that's it, just watch your language from now on since aliens are not really that friendly ;).

Jul 18, 2005

Next best thing or next dumped project?

Yes another post about Google. Last one this week, I almost promise ;).

Lately Google seems to add a lot of Beta projects, don't know if this is because they have valuable people that "cook ideas" very fast or because they're getting more and more money involved in development (and they have where from, Google shares are over $300) but the truth is in this rhythm they'll hit the jackpot...again.

So what's Google Sitemap? According to Shiva Shivakumar, engineering director and the technical lead for Google Sitemaps (read full interview at SearchEngineWatch):

"We're undertaking an experiment called Google Sitemaps that will either fail miserably, or succeed beyond our wildest dreams, in making the web better for webmasters and users alike. It's a beta "ecosystem" that may help webmasters with two current challenges: keeping Google informed about all of your new web pages or updates, and increasing the coverage of your web pages in the Google index."

So it is an XML based crawling system that enables you to communicate directly with Google to keep them informed of all your web pages, and the changes you make to those pages (and of course when you make them).
You have to generate an XML file containing all your links that you want indexed (you can choose which to exclude too), place that XML file in your root directory and after that send its location to Google.

I won't start discussing the tags and other technical information related to the format of the XML file (because you can do that on the official Google Sitemap Help page) but I'll give you an advice, use the GSiteCrawler application to generate your sitemap.

The best thing about this is that it is free and it takes less than 10 minutes to generate your sitemap. I can't tell the same about the setup which has about 20MB (the full installation package - direct link) but at least you won't have to spend time figuring out how to install and use the Google Sitemap Generator.

Once downloaded and installed you can either follow the 2 examples included in the application (first for a site without forum, second for a site with PHPbb) or read their full tutorial if you can't make it on your own.

Main page screenshot:

GSiteCrawler google sitemap generator

Tips on creating your sitemap:

  • on the Ban URLs page make it read from your robots.txt file

  • when you click Crawl all Links on the URL list tab be sure to click the Show Crawler button too, because this way you'll see what errors occur (in case you have 404 links)

  • after it displays the confirmation window just click on the Refresh Table button to display the links it crawled

  • last step is to click on Generate Google Sitemap button, select a file for the sitemap to be saved and after that upload it on your root directory

After you created and validated Google Sitemap send it to Google by signing in to your Google account (if you have one) to upload it, or opening your web browser and entering http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/ping?sitemap=your_sitemap_url (instead of your_sitemap_url place the link of your xml file, like http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml).

Now everything should work. If you don't want to use GSiteCrawler you can choose another resource from those Google mentioned 3rd party tools.

If you have problems or suggestions just place a comment and I'll try to answer it.

Jul 14, 2005

What on Earth is ... Google Earth?

Well Goodle did it again, it launched one very nice program called Google Earth. What it does? It lets you fly virtually to any geographic location. It is very useful if you want to obtain information on different routes, locations or simply if you want to relax and enjoy a virtual trip.

Best of all Google Earth has a free version. To download it just click on the following link: Download Google Earth It has about 10Mb and the link might not work all the time since they intentionally "cut" the downloads because they just get too many.

Before downloading and installing it, you might want to check the minimum requirements:

  • Operating system: Windows 2000, Windows XP

  • CPU speed: Intel® Pentium® PIII 500 MHz

  • System memory (RAM): 128MB

  • 200MB hard-disk space

  • 3D graphics card: 3D-capable video card with 16MB VRAM

  • 1024x768, 32-bit true color screen

  • Network speed: 128 kbps ("Broadband/Cable Internet")

Unfortunatelly it does not work on Mac either, but give it a break since is just in Beta.

Once downloaded, the installation runs smoothly and there is only one setting that requests your attention, Google's "anonymous reporting" option:

Google anonymous reporting option

After installation, you'll see the playground and the "old Earth ball" rotating and inviting you to visit a location:
Earth ball

What options does it have? Well by default you're viewing the images in the Fly mode but you also use the Local search or use Directions to find travelling information:

Of course you also have zooming options and you can display other images in your current view (like buildings, borders, lodging, dining and roads) just like in a flying simulator:

If you want to read more about Google Earth just visit its subdomain from Google and if you're not satisified with the free version you can order the Plus one ($20) or the Professional one ($400): Google Earth

In the end just a little pick I've found interesting, leave a comment if you guess what it is: