Mr. Modem: A computer physicians’ desk reference to viruses

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Mr. Modem’s sites of the week

Jokes By Kids

On the main page you will find a featured assortment of jokes. To view each punchline, click the green Show Punchline button beneath the joke. If you’re expecting high-brow humor, better lower your expectations, though some of the jokes are cute in a dopey, kidlike kind of way. For example — Question: What does a baby computer call its father? Answer: Data. (That concludes tonight’s show. Drive safely and don’t forget to tip your server.)


Pig Latin Translator

Having majored in Pig Latin in college (with a minor in Interpretive Dance), I find that I’m not quite as fluent as I once was. If you find yourself in a similar linguistic pickle, the PLT is a godsend. Simply type whatever you need to translate and click the Translate button. “aveHay unfay!”


Spy Letters of the American Revolution

This online archive provides an amazingly complete look at the everyday intelligence operations of both the British and American armies during the Revolutionary War. You can read the letters themselves in the Gallery of Letters or browse the site using the Timeline.

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What’s the difference between malware, viruses, spyware, adware and I just heard of something called grayware? This stuff is so confusing.

Malware is a generic term that refers to all of the nasties that can infect your computer, from viruses to spyware. Malware is short for malicious software.

One of the most well-known categories of malware is viruses. The first computer virus, known as Creeper, was discovered in 1971 when it infected the U.S. Department of Defense ARPANet, the predecessor of today’s Internet. Out of that was born the first antivirus software, called Reaper. That’s right, Creeper begat Reaper.

Strictly speaking, a computer virus is a self-replicating program. It doesn’t have to be destructive, although many are. In fact, early viruses were often harmless and simply displayed a funny message or poem. We were a simpler people back then.

Computer viruses usually find their way into a computer by piggybacking on a legitimate program, for example, one that you might download. Today’s antivirus programs, if regularly updated, will detect most viruses, but there is no perfect antivirus program. If there were, we would all be using it and that would be the end of viruses.

Unlike viruses, spyware usually doesn’t self-replicate, but it can be equally or even more harmful to your computer. Although spyware might not disrupt the use of your computer, it can collect information about your usage. (Privacy? What privacy?) One example of spyware is a key-logging program.

Keystroke loggers record what you type and allow the installer of the program to monitor your computer usage. Spyware can also have financial implications. For example, if you access online banking with a spyware-infected computer, your log-in, account information and even your money can be stolen. Eek!

The difference between adware and other malware is that in most cases the user actually consents to having adware installed on his or her computer, usually in conjunction with free software or as a seemingly useful browser add-on (such as a toolbar). Once installed, it will pummel you with pop-ups, banner ads and other intrusive annoyances.

Grayware differs from malware in two primary areas. First, grayware does not harm a computer or alter, destroy or hijack data. Secondly, like adware, computer owners consent to have grayware installed, although the permission is typically buried deep within an end-user license agreement (EULA). Because it is installed as any normal program is installed, many grayware programs can be removed via Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs.

How can I change my Windows 7 background color? It looks awful and gives me a headache.

Right-click your Desktop and go to Personalize. Click Desktop Background at the bottom. The Windows background color picker-outer will appear, from which you can select whatever hue suits your background palette pleasure.

Mr. Modem publishes “Ask Mr. Modem!” each week, featuring PC tips, tricks and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit

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