Sunday, October 29, 2006


This morning:

Alvis - "Dad, they changed the time everything is coming on TV."

me - "Really? Everything?"

Alvis - "Yes! I can't find anything on when it was supposed to be!"

me - "Hmmmm."

me - (suddenly remembering the time change thing...) "Oh! I know"

Alvis - (suddenly remembering the time change thing...) "You really need to set the clocks, Dad."

me - "I know....sorry about that."

Alvis then proceeded to disappear into her room and come back a second later..."I've fixed mine with just one button press!" Her bedside clock-radio has that feature, as does Lavie's matching one.

Me? I'm left patrolling the house, TV and VCR, cell-phones, pager, cars, etc. and running the manual updates.

Scott Hanselman in his "timely" post Daylight Savings Time and Windows reminds us that some DST changes are coming in 2007 thanks to our meddling lawmakers. Windows IT staff may take a hit on this. Microsoft has information and a patch coming for XP SP2 and Server 2003. Other folks, using XP SP1 and 2000 will not get the DST change patch. may have to add that to your list of clocks to update manually. (Sigh)

Google Blog covers the proper form of using the word "Google". Good luck with that...

Paul Stamatiou gets on a timely rant regarding bloggers and failures to fact-check before posting: Words for the Wise. He makes some good points in his "5 Ways to Retain Your Blog’s Integrity and Reputation." Good work there Paul!

Q-TARO blogger posts pictures and commentary of his "PC History". Fun!

Sunbelt Software announced a new service called "Sunbelt CWSandbox". It's a malware analysis tool. You upload a piece of malware and will get back a response as to what it is doing. Really cool and free for public use.

Speaking of malware uploads for analysis: Two good sites to upload suspected virus/trojan files are or . Send up your file and let them be tested against a battery of scan engines.

SANS-ISC posts a great narrative of a disaster at data-center due to a series of unfortunate events. Good learning lesson for all you IT folk: Are you sure you're as prepared as you think you are?

Time to run!

Model Behavior....

Want to test your browser/feed reader's ability to render images?

Try feeding up pages from

He's been on a tear lately posting photos from rounds of the latest model/figurine shows in Japan and my browsers and feed reader have been choking on the image overload.


I have a few anime figurines that Lavie has bought me as gifts. They are relatively hard to find, and buying on-line requires a lot of research to ensure you don't get burned.

Good thing I don't live in Japan....I'd be in big trouble!

Plamo Radicon - anime figures, traditional models (cars, battleships, jets, etc.), Gundams, Tachikomas....all highly detailed.

Model Vehicles - planes and ships. Stunningly detailed.

Airgun - Japan has some pretty strict gun-possession laws on the books. Really strict. However, it appears that possession of frighteningly realistic air-powered guns is legal. Wow. Great detail on some of these things. Any of these would get you shot in a second if US law enforcement saw you on the street holding one of these....

Figure Event - More anime figurines from the Pamodel Radiocon 2006 show. Mmmmmm. I really like the shots of Yomiko Readman, Motoko, and this one from what I think is the ANA Uniform Figure Collection.

Speaking of models (the plastic vehicle kind) last weekend we brought one of Alvis's younger cousins home with us so they could play PS2 together. It was after a full day of celebrating his sister's birthday and dude looked like he needed some special attention as well.

On the way home we swung by the local craft/hobby shop and I let Alvis and Cousin each pick out a metal model car to put together. These things are great. They contain detailed parts, are pre-painted, and generally just require assembly with screws. Thirty or forty minutes later they had them assembled. He was so proud of his car. It was really nice.

It never fails to amaze me how something so simple like building a model can entertain and captivate a child....


Things to see...

First you haven't been able to see my posts up to now.

The Blogger gremlins have been hard at work today....uploading of posts is working, but posting isn't. (Sighs)

Blogger did move it's Blogger Status page to it's Blogger-Beta service, which seems to be remarkably stable. Nice to have this one to check on now. I do sincerely appreciate them and their service. Really.

Anyway. Here is some fun stuff to see. I'm going to try not to over-describe these offering. Just trust me and check them out.

Girls' Love Stories (2006) - updated drama using a 1953 "romance" DC comic page. Funny. via Google Blogoscoped.

The "Perfect Desktop" - via Watashi to Tokyo. It is 100% Zen-like. The ultimate wallpaper. I should have thought of this...

My current wallpapers: Desktop - I have this sketch of Kimiko by Fred Gallagher (MegaTokyo) on a Fall-brown colored background. Puts me in the mood wonderfully for fall. Laptop desktop wallpaper: Nature Captured vector image by Silveryn. Another nice version: Change of Seasons. I really am growing to love vector artwork on desktop wallpapers. It renders so sharp and clean.

More wallpapers via The Apple Collection.

Speaking of Vector art...Check out the awesomeness in illustration that is Mark Gervais. Wow!

New WICKED-AWESOME movie coming out: 300

Man this looks good! I'm a sucker for good old classical stories.

This movie re-tells the story of the ancient battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas and 300 Spartans (and some others as well) battled King Xerxes and his Persian army until, holding them back against insurmountable odds...heroically faced their inevitable and eventual destruction.

The trailer really looks awesome and gives me chills. The actors was filmed almost entirely against blue-screens with computer animation filling it all in....just like "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow".

I can't wait for this thing to hit the theaters...maybe March 2007?

Battle on!

RSS Feed Cleanup and Cross-Pollination.

Someone (Steve Rubel or Kent Newsome..I think) recently posted about cleaning up their RSS feeds.

I have about seventy-odd feeds I subscribe to at home, about fifty-odd at work. That's after going in and removing about 10 subscriptions from each set.

The content of those was still good, but I was finding not as directly relevant to my daily needs. While subscribed, I felt obligated to look over them anyway. So I just bit-the-bullet and axed them. It felt kinda nice.

I have two (actually three) sets of RSS feeds. One is on the home pc's and one is on my work PC.

There are multiple reasons why I have this set up this way. Some of my home feed items I don't want to tempt me at work. Some of the work ones I don't want to distract me at home.

However, every now and then I want to cross-pollinate and it can be a hassle.

Paul Stamatiou posted about Google's web-based RSS aggregator, Reader, and got me interested in how this could serve my purposes.

Then I hit on this post over at Lifehacker: Geek to Live: From Bloglines to Google Reader.

Inspired by what I saw, I decided to take the time to try it out.

It's got a lot of things working for it. It imports/exports OPML feeds which is a great time-saver (it handled my OPML import from Sage flawlessly), and the views are pretty easy to get a quick rundown on what's going on.

Google Reader Blog

Flash-based "How to Use Google Reader" by Andy Wibbels.

I'm not prepared to use it as my primary feed-reader, Sage still keeps me happy there. However, having both sets of my feeds centralized on Google Reader makes managing and cross-pollination of them very easy. And, it's a great and easy way to share with friends and family when I'm on the road.

If you have a Gmail account already, you might want to look into Google's reader.

Related RSS linkage:

Pimp Every Room in Your House with RSS - via Micro Persuasion

Find "feeds that matter" - via Lifehacker


Excuses for...

So sorry about the non-existent blogging lately.

I plead a few excuses:

1) More "real-world" time spent with family and friends.

2) More "real-world" work sapping all my energy like Kryptonite.

3) Home desktop system failure -- left me feeling like Darth Vader watching his beloved DeathStar go up in flames. Bummer.

4) Stupid episode 26 of Eureka Seven anime last week got me all melancholy and stuff.

Excuses one and two you could all probably care less to hear about.

Excuse three, well, this IS interesting...but I'm going to save it for a later post...depending on how repairs work out. Shuttle small form factor pc owners will probably want to take note of what I've found....evil things may be lurking inside your case.....

Excuse four...deserves a post of its own.

Unfortunately, I can't blame it on Blogger's crappy service lately.

Nothing bites than spending time with extended family, talking tech-shop and pointing them to your blog. Then when you try the Blogspot page fails to render. That was really embarrassing. REALLY embarrassing. Luckily for Google's cache and some l33t Google searching tricks, I was able to pull some pages of my blog I was wanting to refer him to up anyway. It was ugly.

Bear with me, dear friends. I'm not blogging from my usual system, so my posts may be reflective of that fact....

Instead of my usual loooonnnnnngggg posts, I'm going to try to shotgun a few shorter ones today.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Trojan Chronicles...

Slashdot brought to my attention this morning news Trojan Installs Anti-Virus, Removes Other Malware.

From the original article at eweek:

At start-up, the Trojan requests and loads a DLL from the author's command-and-control server.

This then downloads a pirated copy of Kaspersky AntiVirus for WinGate into a concealed directory on the infected system.

It patches the license signature check in-memory in the Kaspersky DLL to avoid having Kaspersky refuse to run due to an invalid or expired license, Stewart said.

Ten minutes after the download of the DLL, it begins to scan the system for malware, skipping files which it detects are part of its own installation.

"Any other malware found on the system is then set up to be deleted by Windows at the next reboot," [veteran malware researcher Joe Stewart] added.

While vigilante malware is not a new concept anymore, this one was pretty original for use of a hacked anti-virus product.

And the purpose of this attention? Making the world and your pc a safer and cleaner place?

Nope. See it works out of concealed directory so you wouldn't know it is there.

It seems that it's motive is to remove any competing products that might bog down the system's resources and/or bandwidth. Then it is able to unleash it's payload: setup and delivery of a spam server. Clever!

Back in the heady-days when one malware application would attempt to uninstall another, malware writers were getting more clever, requiring users to key in some random key-string during an uninstall wizard run. This was done to ensure human-intervention was the cause of the removal, not another malware's automated attempt at a sniper hit. I was surprised the first time I encountered such a thing.

I recall all this because last week I spent close to four hours in a remote-connection session attempting to remove a rather sticky malware infection from a customer's workstation.

I have a general protocol I use to "sanitize" a pc, but it works better in person than in a remote connection. After two hours my policy is to just recover critical data, then wipe and reload the workstation's image fresh. Unfortunately, travel time would have meant the user would have waited many more additional hours for us to get a team-member out there. And we don't image workstations "over the wire".

So I battled on and battle on until I got it clean and running great, all except for one final malware program. It just wouldn't let me pull it off using any of the tools and trick I keep in my bag. No matter what I did, what processes I killed, what files I locked down "no access" it just kept coming to life.


Finally, in a final "Doh!" moment after an hour or more spent on trying to remove just this final program, I went and checked for it in the "Add/Remove Programs" list.

There it was. I ran the uninstaller, entered one of those "type the following key into the field" to validate the uninstall.

It was gone. All because I had skipped a first-step of "cleanly" uninstalling any "forigen" software application installation found on our systems first.

I guess sometimes you just have to say "Please" before you whip out the brass knuckles.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

AVG 7.5 (Free) Anti-Virus Released

AVG 7.5 (free) has just been released. Build version is 7.5.408

The interface is familiar, but the icons and GUI has been polished up quite a lot. I was very surprised when the system rebooted and I got a chance to take a look at it.

It looks grown up!

It does not appear to be offered to current users of AVG 7.1 (free) via the update process. I checked and it only did a DAT update, not the full update release above. Maybe they are delaying it on a different auto-update schedule....I don't know. I couldn't find an official change log for this version, but here is the public information release for the commercial product.

Just to make sure you're covered....

Go download the current version.

Run the installer.

Select "Repair Installation" option from the setup-type window to install on top of your current AVG version

Once done, restart your pc. Then do a "check for updates" as I had one waiting to go one. Then play around and look at all the prettiness. It's not perfect. But it doesn't look like a Windows9x interface any longer! Very XP'ish finally!

Spotted via CyberNet Technology News

This one might get overlooked in the rush for everyone interested snagging the now available Internet Explorer 7 final release version.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Foxy-licious in Gran Paradiso

A few posts ago I mentioned that Ryan at CyberNet Technology News posted about a pre-alpha version Firefox 3.0.

Ryan's comments seemed pretty enthusiastic so I decided to give it a look.

I have come away quite impressed from the experience. I've been running it for almost a week now, and it has remained stable and crash-free. The image rendering seems (subjectively) better. I haven't run into anything that seems "broken" yet. However, I don't know what's going on with the underlying I can't vouch for it being bug-free or working as intended or fully secure for secure-website browsing. Some features may not be implemented yet. This really is pre-alpha level stuff here.

That said...I've worked out a way to run it along-side Firefox 2.0 (RC builds) just fine (for me at least!).

Try this at your own risk!

First, Some Firefox 3.0 (pre-Alpha/Gran Paradiso) background reading

I pretty sure we can't say that this release is quite ready to be accurately called "Gran Paradiso" just yet. From what I understand, these "development releases" are still tied to a development trunk under the "Minefield" moniker.

Mozilla has a planning center homepage up for Gran Paradiso, a.k.a Firefox 3.0. This is a good place to get familiarized with what is coming down the pike on this project.

The Wikipedia also has some interesting information and background on the Gran Paradiso project (and Firefox in general). Did you know that the release name comes from the name of a national park in Italy? There you go!

The current release timeframe for Firefox 3.0 is May 2007, with developer versions coming much sooner.

Ready Kiddos?

Read carefully before beginning! Especially Step 6! From here on're taking this into your own hands.

You've been warned, again! With scary italicized red fonts!

Again, this assumes you are already running Firefox 2.0 (RCx) version. Also, this is written for an XP (Pro/Home) system. You may have to make some minor adjustments under say Windows 2000 or whatever...It might work for the Firefox 1.5.x branch as well...I don't use that one anymore so I can't say for certain.

Ready? Still with me? Let's begin!

1) Find your Firefox user profile and make a copy of it in the same location. Usually the Firefox user profile folder is located in C:\Documents and Settings\(your user account name) \Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\ folder. If not you may have to poke around a bit to find it.

2) Rename your newly made copy to something like "Minefield".

3) Note: You could probably let both versions use the same one, but it seems to me to be much safer this way, just in case....

4) Download firefox-3.0a1.en-US.win32.installer.exe off the latest trunk. If you are visiting this post later from the might be named something slightly different.

5) Install Minefield after running it through your virus-scanner of choice. Just following the default prompts should be sufficient for most users.

Note: The version I am using installs the pre-alpha build into the "C:\Program Files\Minefield\firefox.exe" location--so your Firefox 2.0 (RCx) build stored (normally) in the "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" should remain safe! If in doubt, go with the "custom" installation to pick your own installation folder.

6) At the end of the installation, you will be offered to "Launch Minefield now". UNCHECK THIS BOX! We need to do some modification to your shortcut links first!

Now we need to set the common shortcuts used to launch the different versions to use their own profiles.

7) There should be a "Minefield" shortcut on your desktop. Make a copy of it on the desktop. If you use a "Mozilla Firefox" icon on your desktop as well, make a copy of that shortcut as well. You should now have two of each browser type. Rename your copies to "Firefox PM" and "Minefield PM" (or whatever). We are going to use these to create respective Mozilla profile manager launchers.

8) Right-click the "Minefield PM" shortcut icon and select "Properties". Then modify the "Target" line to read

"C:\Program Files\Minefield\firefox.exe" -profilemanager

Apply the change and click OK.

Right-click the "Firefox PM" shortcut icon and select "Properties". Then modify the "Target" line to read

"C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -profilemanager

Apply the change and click OK.

Note: If you have installed either of these Mozilla browsers into a non-standard location, then your path might be different. The key here is to add the -profilemanager switch to the end, after the closing quotation mark. This causes Firefox to display the profile manager first.

9) Now. Launch the "Minefield PM" icon. It should bring up a "Choose User Profile" manager window.

10) Make a note of what the original default profile name you are using is called. It may be called "default" or "Claus" or whatever. That's important to know.

11) Select the "Create Profile" button. Click "Next". Enter a new profile name (I called mine "Minefield") and then click the "Choose Folder" button. Browse and select the copied and renamed Firefox user profile you made in steps 1 and 2. Once selected, click "OK", then "Finish." You should be returned to the "Choose User Profile" window and your new profile should be listed along with the original one. "Exit" without launching just yet.

12) Now, right-click the original Minefield icon on your desktop, and select "Properties". Then modify the Target line to read

"C:\Program Files\Minefield\firefox.exe" -p Minefield

(...where "Minefield" is whatever new profile name you selected in step 11.)

Apply the change and click OK.

13) Just to be safe, right-click the original Firefox icon on your desktop, and select "Properties". Then modify the Target line to read

"C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -p default

(...where "default" is the name of the original Firefox profile you noted down from step 10.)

Apply the change and click OK.

Important Note A: These changes will cause these shortcut icons to launch the appropriate Firefox executable using a specific profile folder. If you use any other Firefox and/or Minefield shortcuts elsewhere on your system, you will want to repeat step 12 or 13 as appropriate to those as well. This is just a bit of extra insurance that your Firefox and Minefield icons will use the correct user profile folders.

Important Note B: If in the future you do any version upgrades or installations to Firefox and/or Minefield, you will want to go back and check that the installations or upgrades didn't over-write these changes. If so, you will need to repeat step 12 and/or 13 again.

14) It's up to you to leave the "Minefield PM" and "Firefox PM" user profile manager icons on your desktop or not. It might be a good idea to keep them handy somewhere while you are mucking around with this alpha/beta stuff.

15) Now a final pre-flight test, using your modified Mozilla Firefox icon, launch it to make sure Firefox 2.x looks normal. It might ask what profile you want to use if you didn't type in the profile name correctly while updating the shortcut target line. If so, make sure your default profile (not the Minefield one) is selected. Click the "Start Firefox" button. It should launch normally and not present you with this box again. Close it down.

15) Now using your modified "Minefield" icon, launch it. It is very likely that it will complain that it has found incompatible icons. Let it check for updates or not....your call. When done Minefield should be up and running!

Browse around and take a look at the Web. Form your own opinions about this Minefield trunk's pre-alpha almost ready to be called "Gran Paradiso" build's performance.

Nightly Tester Tools - Good to Use

I strongly encourage you to consider downloading, installing and configuring the Nightly Tester Tools extension in both Firefox and Minefield. It helps with both add-on compatibility and version monitoring:

Add-on Compatibility

As I posted before, "In the past, there was an option showing to install an extension that wasn't compatible. Version 1.2 seemed to do away with it as I couldn't get Nightly Tester Tools to now install incompatible extensions. I finally read the change log and and found that this feature is still there, but toggled as global preference. Install the latest Nightly Tester Tools version and restart Firefox. Then go into "Tools," then select Add-ons. Select the Nightly Tester Tools extension and select "Options." Click the Add-ons icon at the top, and enable the checkbox "Disable add-on compatibility checking." That's it! Now you can download and install any extension for the latest build you are using, regardless if it is released for your version or not. Just be careful as some favorite extensions may not function as expected if they encounter coding differences between the "valid" Firefox builds and the "newer" versions." If you encounter any weird behavior, start disabling the extensions one-by-one until it settles down again. You might not want to use any extra extensions or themes for Minefield (except for Nightly Tester Tools, that is!).

Version Monitoring

While still in the Nightly Tester Options, click the "Titlebar" moon icon and modify your custom title template to include the additional fields you might find useful. I'm using the following in both Firefox and Minefield so I can validate which version, build ID, and profile I have running in each one.

${DefaultTitle} ${Version} (Build ${AppBuildID}) (Profile-${Profile})
I use it like a "safety gauge". If I'm clicking the "Minefield" icon but seeing it's using my "Claus" profile, I know I have a problem to fix with my shortcut's Target/profile values and/or my profile folders themselves.

So far, my standard set of extensions and themes seem to work quite well under Minefield. I've had to disable some because they were causing the text-display to act up...not entirely sure which Add-on it was just yet.

Final thoughts...

I've really been enjoying playing with Minefield. No explosions yet. Maybe it's just me but the graphics display rendering seems improved as well. Your mileage may vary.

And no, you can't run both Minefield and Firefox at the same time. Well, actually you probably can, but that is some serious Mozilla hackage and tweakage for another day...

These steps are a little more basic than they probably need to be. I'm not making any assumptions about a reader's familiarity with using the -p (profilename) switch in the shortcuts. Also, I suspect I have included a step or two that are not actually needed in the interest of safety for you brave souls who dared to actually try this out.

No, you don't actually have to go to the trouble of copying your current profile and using it. If you want to just start with an empty or fresh one, do so. I have a ton of bookmarks and more than a few extensions I wanted to try to use. That's why I did it this way.

If you find a glaring omission or problem...please post a comment and I will see about making a correction as soon as I can.

Like I said, you're getting off into "pre-alpha" land if you take this on. I've tried to make it as safe and painless as possible, but differences in systems and user's settings might cause Bad Things (TM) to happen on your pc.

As for me, Claus likes Minefield!

Have fun,

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How to Optimize your Virtual PC Vista virtual drive...

This is likely going to be one of my last posts on Microsoft's Virtual PC 2004/2007 for a while.

I haven't found a way around the prohibition of running Virtual PC 2007 on a XP Home system yet. I've tried some obvious luck yet. It appears the program/installer runs a check against a registry entry or two to validate it being allowed to install and/or run. If you don't have the correct key (which XP Home does not) then there will be no running Virtual PC 2007 on it. Sorry home users, the Virtual PC development team doesn't seem to see your needs as a priority at this moment.

However, I did manage to copy the Virtual PC 2007 "Additions" file (VMAdditions.iso dated 10/06/06) that was installed on my XP Pro system's load of Virtual PC 2007 onto a USB stick. I then transferred that newest version into my Virtual PC 2004 folder on my XP Home system. Then I attempted to install this newer additions version on a new virtual machine setup of Vista RC2 running within Virtual PC 2004. It took just fine and seems to be running well with no errors. So at least that is something! (Your mileage may vary....)

Anyway...back to the original post subject.


When you've been running Virtual PC for a while, you may notice that your virtual drive files are getting a little bit larger. By performing some simple steps, you can often shrink the virtual drive files down a bit and maybe gain some performance improvements.

I've read a number of posts on doing this (listed at the end of this post) and simplified the steps.

You must have sufficient free-space on the drive where your virtual hard-drive files reside. If there isn't enough space, the Virtual Disk Wizard will tell you and not allow you to continue. If this happens, make some room on your drive or move the virtual disk files you are interested in to another partition or drive that has sufficient space. Then put them back when you are done.

Also, on some of my virtual Vista machines I ran into "user rights" issues for some reason trying to perform these steps. I ended up just adding the Administrator account login and then ran the steps under that account instead. It worked fine. See further down near the end of the post on how to get the "Administrator" user icon to display at the login screen.

Simple How-to on Optimizing your Virtual PC disk files

Starting size: My virtual Vista RC1 system consisted of two vhd files of just under 4.3G each.

1) Clean out temp files/downloaded setup files, etc from virtual hdd. From within your Virtual machine session, look around and try to uninstall any extra windows components/games/etc. that you just don't need or use. Look for copies of downloaded setup files you may have already installed. Delete those if you can. Maybe get rid of some of the sample pictures or videos or music clips installed with your system. Just use your judgement on what you need and what to get rid's up to you.

2) Empty the trash.

3) Turn off system restore. I recommend taking this step only because I don't really worry about system restores in virtual machines. To turn off System Restore in Vista right click on "Computer" (assuming the icon is on your desktop) and select "Properties." In the window that appears, look on the left side column and click "System protection." Now unselect any drives listed using the checkbox. Apply your change and click OK.

4) Run Disk Cleanup. Go to "Vista start" button, click "All Programs" and expand the "Accessories" folder. Now browse down for the "System Tools" folder and expand that one. You should see "Disk Cleanup" click to launch. Select the "Files from all users" cleanup option. After it gets done calculating, select all the checkboxes you want to perform the cleanup action on. I picked them all.

5) Set compression on your virtual drive. Double click the desktop "Computer" icon. Right-click on your drive(s) and select "Properties" then under the "General" tab, check the option at the bottom to "Compress this drive to save disk space." Click "Apply" and I elected to apply the changes to the drive and subfolder's. There may be a few files it is unable to perform the action on, I just clicked the "Ignore all" and it kept going. Note: this process may take a while to finish up.

6) Defrag your drives. Go to "Vista start" button, click "All Programs" and expand the "Accessories" folder. Now browse down for the "System Tools" folder and expand that one. You should see "Disk Defragmenter." Click to launch and run your defrag right now. Once done, I'd recommend a reboot.

7) Zero out the virtual drive. This is really important to do!

Method A

1) Mount the precompact iso file from the windows virtual pc program files folder.

2) On the Virtual PC menu-bar, click "CD" then "Capture ISO Image..."

3) Browse to the "Virtual Disk Precompactor.iso" file. Mine was located at the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Virtual PC\Virtual Machine Additions\ folder.

4) This should capture that ISO file as a virtual drive in your virtual Vista system.

5) Open your "Computer" window and browse to the virtual drive you just mounted. On mine it was the D: drive.

6) On this drive, find the "precompact" application and double-click to run. It runs pretty fast depending on how large your virtual drive is.

6) Follow the steps and shut your system down when done.

Method B

Get a 3rd party tool and do the same thing.

Method C

Download and install Heidi's Eraser in your virtual Vista system and use tool that to set and run a custom "zeroing" wipe of freespace.

8) Shut down your running virtual pc when the precompact utility has completed (it may take a while).

9) Compact it with the Virtual PC Wizard tool.

1) Your Virtual PC icon should be running in the system tray. Right click it and select the "Virtual Disk Wizard".

2) Choose the option to "Edit an existing virtual disk"

3) Browse to wherever the .vhd file is for the virtual disk you are working on.

4) Choose the option to "Compact it."

5) Now decide how you want to compact it. I just go ahead and use the option for "Replacing the original file", but if you have enough free-space, you can save the original one also.

6) The compaction will run. It usually runs pretty fast.

10) Done!

Ending size: One vhd file of just under 4.3 G and the second just under 1.7G.

Not amazing, but quite a bit better than I started with.

Additional Notes:

Getting the "Administrator" account login icon to display.

Go to the "Control Panel", select the "Administrative Tools", select the "Local Security Policy." On the left side, expand the "Local Policies" folder. Select the "Security Options" folder and they will display on the right. Enable the "Accounts: Administrator account status" policy. Close out the windows and log off then, back in as "Administrator." Easy.

If for some bizarre reason you can't use the "Capture ISO image..." feature to grab the ISO, you may wish to try 1) Install the MagicDisc (freeware) within your virtual Vista session. Then modify the virtual machine settings to share the folder that has the "Virtual Disk Precompactor" ISO file. Finally, use the MagicDisc tool to open the ISO out of that shared folder. You shouldn't need to do this, however.

This technique works fine under both Virtual PC 2004 and Virtual PC 2007 (Beta).

Supporting links for detailed reading:

Creating Smaller Virtual Machines - Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood

Optimize Virtual PC 2004 Images - Opsan Blog by Michael Coates

Virtual PC 2004 SP1 - Wes' Puzzling Blog (a few details of Virtual Disk Precompactor ISO usage)

Bonus Tip:

Starting a Microsoft Virtual PC session without using Virtual PC Console - via Windows IT Pro


Kid Stuff II

Another memory I have growing up was a fascinating picture I would often sneak away from my parents as a kid.

No...not THAT kind of picture. Sheesh.

This one I would take out of the glove box of our car and spread out on the living room floor. I could stare at it forever.

It had so much detail and perspective on the place I was growing up. I couldn't take it all in.

And it had a wicked looking green tint to it.

What was it?

Nothing less than an aerial photo of my hometown with a street-map overlay.

Yeah. Go to Google Maps and click the satellite view and you can see the world. Not so exciting anymore is it?

Anyway, apart from Google Maps ruining my was really neat at the time. I could take in places of town that we never drove in, see the refineries, the storage tanks, how the city was laid out. I would imagine I was a pilot and that was my view as I flew over in my P-51 Mustang fighter.

Oh, yeah baby! I was an ace.

I can still waste a good bit of time between Google Sightseeing and general satellite voyeurism. There is still something captivating about it.

Maybe I should have been a cartographer. I like maps.

Want to capture your own aerial map? Want to do it without pasting screen-capture elements together?

Let Claus tell you how!

Download the freeware application USAPhotoMaps from JDMCoxSoftware. The full installer file is just 478KB.

It allows you to select a location, and download USGS aerial photography and topographical maps from Microsoft's free TerraServer website. You can save the file on your local drive and the zoom, scroll, add routes and text and other fun stuff. Take some time to review the help-file and check out all the download, image selection, contrast, GPS, and topo options. There's a lot in there to fiddle with!

If you are really groovin a flashback, I bet you are clever enough to save the image file, then import it into Photoshop to give it that awesome green photo-tint the originals had when we were growing up.

See you in the skies,

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New Software Finds and Miscellany

I love Sysinternal's Process Explorer. It has to be my favorite Windows utility. I noticed that my default view doesn't display a memory usage column like Task Manager. So with a little work, I figured out how to make it happen. First, on the menu bar, select "View" then "Select Columns." Now click the "Process Memory" tab and then check the "Working Set Size" option. Click OK.. Now just rearrange the columns to display in the order you wand and you will see the "Working Set" memory values displayed! Now it is much more similar (and useful) to Task Manager. There are a ton more column choices you can add as well. Play around and experiment. It's more useful than you can imagine!

PDF Pad - Get your downloadable graph paper! Calendars, Flags, Graph paper (7-kinds), Smith Chart, Staff Paper, Storyboards, and Sudoku! I wish they would also have some for Note-taking. Maybe I'll drop them a line tomorrow.

Startup Delayer (freeware) - Want to delay the amount of time a Windows startup item takes before it begins? Try this little utility. Maybe you want certain startup items to load in a certain order, or you want to delay something for troubleshooting. I'm sure you could find a handy use for it. via DownloadSquad

MagicDisc (freeware) - Mount ISO files as virtual disks - not quite the installation overhead of DaemonTools.

Magic ISO Maker ($) - Convert .bin files to .iso format (and do a whole lot more!). via Robert McLaws' WindowsNow blog.

Burn CDCC TerabyteUnlimited (freeware) - Burn ISO's to DVD directly, no installation needed! - via ComputerZen blog

Jetico Personal Firewall is still at public release version number (since 11-19-2004). I'm still using this one but still leaning towards switching my main desktop over to Kerio. Anyway...Jetico has been working hard at getting their next version out the door. Jetico Personal Firewall v.2 Beta It has quite a lot of changes and enhancements. Maybe I'll hold out just a little longer....

Very well written tutorial by Ryan McGinnis on how to create awesome looking HDR (High Dynamic Range) digital images with a little Photoshop work. Neat stuff for you budding digital photographers out there. See related "all-in-one" product Photomatix.

Gave up on my Logitech trackball. Keeps collecting dust and "gunk" too quickly. I'm constantly cleaning it now. Picked up this Logitech LX3 optical mouse with 1,000dpi optical sensitivity. The scroll wheel also can be moved to the left or right for activation of additional features. I set those to "copy" and "paste" actions so I don't have to pick up my hands from the mouse as much blogging. And, it was in a nice metallic-blue color that looks nice with my keyboard and pc lighting.

Lavie was a great and supportive wife when I announced my purchase plan.

Lavie- "Can't you just use the cordless mouse that works with your Wacom tablet?"

Me - "Um....yes. But see, THIS one will scootch around better than than the Wacom one on the tablet surface."

Lavie - "Scootch better on the wood desk?"

Me - " I'm going to get a laser-mouse optimized pad as well for it."

Lavie - "Ohhh. OK. I understand. Give me a kiss. I've been getting frustrated with the trackball too..."

(Whew! That was close!)


Firefox Frolicking!

Despite my recent post "Love, Hate and Firefox", I really do enjoy using Firefox. It makes browsing and blogging easy and fun.

Although I am also gleefully awaiting the eminent release of Internet Explorer 7 to drop on my systems, I have no intention of leaving my ongoing relationship with the Mistress Firefox.

So...for all you other Firefox's a round-up of some related stuff you might be interested in.

Clever Firefox Extensions

Nightly Tester Tools - This is a dead-useful extension for the Firefox users who utilize the latest release builds but still need (hopefully) certain favorite extensions that haven't been updated for version compatibility by their developers. In the past, there was an option showing to install an extension that wasn't compatible. Version 1.2 seemed to do away with it as I couldn't get Nightly Tester Tools to now install incompatible extensions. I finally read the change log and and found that this feature is still there, but toggled as global preference. Install the latest Nightly Tester Tools version and restart Firefox. Then go into "Tools," then select Add-ons. Select the Nightly Tester Tools extension and select "Options." Click the Add-ons icon at the top, and enable the checkbox "Disable add-on compatibility checking." That's it! Now you can download and install any extension for the latest build you are using, regardless if it is released for your version or not. Just be careful as some favorite extensions may not function as expected if they encounter coding differences between the "valid" Firefox builds and the "newer" versions.

Live Writerfox - Yes. That is right. A Windows Live Writer (WLW) extension for Firefox. It's kinda basic right now. Install the extension, customize your toolbar to add the icon to it somewhere. When you are on a page you wish to blog about in WLW, click the icon and it will open up WLW with the page-title as your post title and a HTML formatted link to the page. Nothing earth shattering here, but it is an intriguing start. I hope the developer is able to build this extension out with additional features.

Firefox Release Versions (Beta)

I've noticed that the release candidates are able to smart-install on-top of previously installed release candidates. I like that. So far I haven't had any bad experiences with this and my user-settings have been pulled up into the new version with no issues at all.

I'm currently using a pre-release nightly build of Firefox 2, RC3. "Official" release of this build is likely to come out around next Tuesday. My version is reporting build number 2006101023. So far so great! I've noticed it fixes a few oddities related to the Bookmark system. Stable so far with no crashes.

Ryan at CyberNet Technology News posted about Firefox 3.0. From what I understand, the trunk name is "Minefield" (not to be confused with Vista team's Mimesweeper) and the Firefox 3.0 development name will be "Gran Paradiso." The really fascinating thing in this post is not so much the post, but the feedback in the comments; something about use of the "Cairo" rendering backend, CSS rendering enhancements, the Gecko 1.9 engine, Acid2 compliance, stuff like that. He is playing with a pre-Alpha build--stay away from now kiddies--unless you put it into a virtual machine maybe...

Firefox Pop-ups Handling Configuration Tweak

Firefox has a pretty strong pop-up window blocker. Only a handful of sites I frequent manage to bypass it. These end up dropping a separate pop-up window over or under my Firefox window and I sometimes miss that they are there until I close out. Here's a simple CyberNet tip on how to crush those JavaScript pop-ups by forcing them to open in a new tab instead.

Firefox Memory Leak Management

The tips in my post "Firefox Memory Leak Solutions" still seem to be holding strong under Firefox 2.0 builds. I have them all applied as posted and even with all my extensions running (despite still being teased by Dwight!) my latest Firefox build is sitting pretty with multiple tabs open using just over 67,000K RAM at this point. It's been open for several hours now. Yes, it will creep higher, but it seems to do so much slower with the tweaks.

Current Firefox Extensions I am successfully using in 2.0

(some with the help of Nightly Tester Tools)

CoLT 2.2.1
Copy Plain Text 0.3.2
Download Statusbar
Fasterfox 1.0.3
FoxClocks 1.2.77
IE Tab
Linky 2.7.1
ListZilla 0.8
Live Writerfox 0.2
Nightly Tester Tools 1.2
Orbit Blue (Theme) 2.1
PDF Download 0.7.6
Reveal 1.0.6
Sage 1.3.8
Save Image in Folder 1.0
Sort Extensions and Themes 3.0.3
Talkback 2.0
Viamatic foXpose 0.3

Have fun!

Steampunk Laptop

There is just something about this Franken-laptop that just really appeals to me.

I just can't explain it.

I REALLY wish I could have this on my desk right now.

Original Link - via farm.

From Gizmodo jump.

Crossed over from Engadget.

As originally found by I in an RSS feed via Tech E Blog.



Friday, October 13, 2006

Kid Stuff

Life seemed much simpler when I was Alvis's age.

Although we lived in the city, across the street from our newly built house was a vast forest of undeveloped area. It stretched at least a mile long and was a half-mile deep. At one end was a road that folks used to drive down and dump their bulk-trash at. Good for finding tires to bring home, odd appliances, great "boy" stuff.

"Mom. I'm going out into the woods."

"Be back in time for dinner. Watch for poison ivy!"

So off I would go, "cutting trails" though the underbrush. Collecting hardware to build an imaginary rocket-ship. At the far-back side one would come out to a super-sized drainage ditch.

I could disappear for hours in there, Lewis and Clark style.

Back then a kid could ride their bike forever and a parent wouldn't freak. I'd often ride miles away from home.

On these slow summer bike rides, I would keep an eye out for glass pop-bottles. The ditches were often full of them. Sometimes I would have to brave a fire-ant nest that had sprung up around them, but for a diligent kid, an hour's work would net a good haul. Next stop was the local grocery where I could turn them in and collect on the deposit stamped on the bottle.

That often gave me just enough spare change for a "splurge" at the adjacent mini-mart.

My friends would often head over to the video games and drop some quarters into the machines. I almost always had money to spend instead on the latest candy choices. Pop-Rocks weres big. You could still get candy cigarettes. Bit-O-Honey's were my favorites. Every now and then I would have enough to buy a new Delta kite and string (I always seemed to be loosing mine in the trees.) Or maybe one of those balsa wood rubber-band powered airplanes. Those were cool.

Anyway, I never really was a (quarter-eating) video game buff as a kid. I was good at Tempest. That was it. I could go through a roll of quarters on almost any other video game out there in record time. I was bad. Embarrassingly bad. Fortunately I recognized this fact and had a reasonable head on my shoulders to understand eating candy, drinking Frosty root-beers, and playing with flying toys was a much more entertaining waste of my time and money than obsessively/compulsively plunking quarters into video games.

Even to this day, while I still play some PS2 games with Alvis and enjoy a good "exploration/adventure/puzzle" style quest game, it still doesn't fully entertain me.

I recall these childhood memories because RetroThing had a recent post: Play Vintage Williams and Midway Games Online.

The screenshot was from Defender. I had a personal animosity towards that game in particular as a kid. It took too much of my root-beer money growing up. Finally Victory would be mine!

I hopped the link over to the Midway Arcade and a Shockwave update later was blasting away at human-snatching aliens in this classic side-scroller!

And in 10 seconds or less I was out a virtual quarter, having been destroyed way too quickly to even process. Now, however I could beat it!

Twenty minutes later, I had a realization that comes from age and maturity and time spent in the Information Technology trenches.

"Damn...I still suck at these games. Suck really, really badly."

Must be why I was never asked to become The Last Starfighter growing up.

Probably a good thing anyway, or humanity would have been exterminated...or something like that.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Microsoft Virtual PC 2007...Yawn.

I'm disappointed. And that's pretty strong language from me.

I snagged the latest version of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 as soon as it was released to those enrolled on Microsoft's Connect website.

It installed fine on my work XP Pro system. It over-wrote the Virtual PC 2004 installation--no biggie. It went on smooth and no errors were encountered.

I tested it by loading a new virtual machine of Vista RC2. I used the Wizard to create my virtual drive. It picked up the Vista OS as the guest, selected a default 512MB RAM, and loaded up a 64G hard drive. Then it was able to directly capture the RC2 ISO image without any "virtual-drive" tricks that Virtual PC 2004 required.

The RC2 load went on pretty fast. I was able to get the Virtual PC Additions installed with no errors and it ran very quick--still not a test of Vista RC2's capabilities on a "real" system, but more than ample for application testing and OS familiarization. Heck, even the sound worked.

So why am I bummed?

Well, no XP Home support. Yep. I can't install it on my XP Home system. Stuck with VPC 2004. Which in comparison isn't really all that bad at all. I just was hoping for so much more....some kind of breakthrough event. Yawn. Virtual PC 2004 installs on a number of "non-supported" OS's, like XP Home, but Virtual PC 2007 enforces the rules a little more strictly. It would not install. Period. Oh well.

Here are some more interesting facts from Virtual PC Guy's WebLog post and his response in the comments:

Major changes include:

Support for hardware virtualization (Intel and AMD)
Support for Windows Vista as a host operating system
Support for Windows Vista as a guest operating system

Note: No support for Aero Glass though - just Aero Basic

Support for 64-bit host operating systems

Note: Virtual machines are 32-bit only
Improved performance
Bug fixes.
Some notable ones include: Virtual PC now supports greater than 2.2GB ISO images Plus there are some minor UI changes.
The following are supported host operating systems:
Windows XP Professional

Windows XP Professional Tablet PC Edition

Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition

Windows Vista Business

Windows Vista Enterprise

Windows Vista Ultimate

Then the Virtual PC Guy (Ben Armstrong) responds to user questions:

ikszkom: "so there won't be any changes in emulated hardware? no usb and no aero glass in guest by rtm?"

Ben: "Correct, no changes to emulated hardware sorry."

Jeff Atwood: "Is there any support planned for USB in the guest OS? Are there any major new bits of functionality, or is 2007 mostly a performance/compatibility refresh?"

Ben: "Sadly no USB. It is mostly just performance and compatibility (which is not a bad thing in and of itself)"

PatriotB: "It is a real shame that Microsoft won't "officially" support VPC on the XP and Vista Home Editions."

Ben: "here are a number of reasons behind this decision (business, technical, man hours for supporting more platforms, etc...). However the reality is that Virtual PC is not designed or intended from home users."

Jeff Atwood: "Should we re-install the 2007 version of the Virtual Machine Additions when running a VM originally set up in VPC 2004? It works as-is but I am wondering if there are improvements that would merit a re-install of the additions in the guest OS?"

Ben: "Yes - please update the Additions. There are bug fixes for most platforms in the latest version."

John Schneider: "Can the additions for VPC 2007 be installed on top of the ones from VPC 2004? In other words, if I have a VM running under VPC 2004, with the Additions from VPC 2004, do I just install the Additions from VPC 2007, or should I uninstall the VPC2004 Additions first?"

Ben: "Hmm... We only test installing the 07 Additions on VPC 07, it should work the other way around by this is not guaranteed."

Commenter Johann Ericsson cuts right to the chase:

"That's it? Improved performance, Vista support, and bug fixes? That makes this a major release??? VMware has 64bit support. I'm running Vista x64 client in a Windows XP (32bit) host with VMware. Its an awesome way to test run the 64 bit OS's without sacrificing a machine. VMware has USB support... Imagine if Office 2007 had the same "features"... who would go out and buy a new copy if only for Vista support & improved performance... VMware is going to eat Virtual PCs lunch... Good luck...

I have to agree with Johann. I was expecting so much more out of this release. Maybe I had unfair expectations.

And I'm not dogging on Ben Armstong at all. I appreciate his being forthcoming to share background info on the Microsoft Virtual PC project. It's refreshing to see those responses...even if I didn't want to hear them confirmed.

VMware just seems to provide a significant amount of additional features that Virtual PC just doesn't offer. (For more, hop to Security Now! Episode 57: Virtual PC versus VMware)

Now in all fairness, Virtual PC seems great and stable and easy for enterprise users with an heavy Microsoft OS environment. It can run a fair number of Linux based systems (but not all). It is great for keeping old applications alive in virtual sessions on older OS's while the host OS is current. And it doesn't seem to "deep-install" onto a workstation. It isn't a bad product at all, but it just seems limited to me.

I'm not a power virtualization user by any means. I use it lightly mostly for workstation support and testing. That's about it. So maybe I'm talking out of my league here. I'm just bummed.

Virtual PC 2004/2007 has provided me with an opportunity to test-fly Vista that I wouldn't have had otherwise--being hardware limited. I really enjoy it on the whole. I'm learning lots of new ways to manage Virtual PC machines and developing a new skill-set is always fun for me.

So, what will I do?

I'll keep using Virtual PC 2004 at home. It works fine.

I'll keep using Virtual PC 2007 at work. It works faster.

I'll probably start using VMware player and the various on-line VMware hard-drive creators more frequently to test out Linux builds (and the occasional Microsoft OS) at work and home.

And I'll have more months to come to ponder if/when I will upgrade our home systems to Vista next year.

...but that's another post to come.

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I hope I haven't sounded too harsh. I'm just disappointed and bummed.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Microsoft...You have an Update Problem!

Finally more news.

Microsoft appears to have experienced a major "burpage" dishing out the planned updates for today.

"Waiter...where's the fly in my soup?"

After troubleshooting my desktop Windows Updates Errors, I considered doing a system reinstall...but held off.

Glad I did.

Delays on Windows Update & the Death of SUS (NEW) - SANS-ISC

Patch Tuesday delayed at the gate - Spyware Hunt blog

What to do is up to you.

You can download the updates "manually" from the windows download site if you don't want to wait.

SANS-ISC also has the patches ranked in importance...if you just want to get the critical, critical ones.

I myself think I will wait this one out until they fix the problem with their waiters....

Since I put my update folders they recommended I delete in a doggie bag, I might try to see if I can restore them and regain my update history list again....

--UPDATE: Microsoft Windows Updates are now flowing in the tubes again. I was able to put my seven web-offered patches on with no issues. I also restored the files I had cleaned out and "doggie-bagged" trying to get my Windows Updates to work this morning and....managed to get my Update history list back in place and showing the full history of installed items again. Whew!

Good thing I had a migraine all day today...kept me from having the energy to reinstall my XP system on what turned out to be Microsoft's issue instead. Yeah, I kinda take patches and smooth system updating that seriously....

Tomorrow? Hopefully we will see the release of Virtual PC 2007 Beta....


Problem?....or No Problem?

So this morning I boot up the XP Home SP2 desktop to start my daily routine.

Knowing this is a Microsoft Update day, I go ahead and manually run my Windows Updates.

After a long pause I get Error code: 0x0248013. Repeated attempts to reboot and reset my IE settings don't help.

Stymied, I eventually track down a Microsoft help file that suggests the Windows Update catalog is damaged and needs to be cleaned out. (I've tried to search Microsoft for a direct link, but cannot. Here is a 3rd party post of the Microsoft page.

Did that.

Re-run Windows Updates and get a response, but no updates at all are found.

This is weird. I am not necessarily expecting to see today's critical updates yet, but there were a number of "optional" software updates I don't have installed. But this says there are now none available. Usually it is around six. Hmmm.

I check up Update History catalog and it looks like it has all 40 or so updates installed. But somehow the dates are all showing from 2004. What? I know I just got a WinDefender update last week or earlier. My system clock is on the correct time/date.


Same thing. Put the files I deleted following the guide above back and retry.

Nope. Back to Error number 0x0248013. Re-do that un-repair.


Now I got a new mysterious error code in Windows Updates: Error number: 0x80244022

Apparently, this one means that the Windows Update service is temporarily overloaded. Great.

Reboot and try one more time. Why not?

This time I get Error code: 0x80072EE2.

And this? Well, something to do with the Windows Update client not getting a response from the Windows Update or Microsoft Update Web site.

Router is working fine. Disabled the software firewall, but no difference. I'm otherwise getting to the net and loading pages fine. I go ahead and follow Step 4 and add the Update sites to my Trusted Sites list and not require server verification.

Reboot one more time.

OK. Windows updates works and gives me a return. No critical updates available, no drivers available. Expected that. Six optional updates available. Ah! Nice! Now are my update history dates fixed?

No. They are all gone. Nothing in there this time.


Just for kicks I fire up Lavie's laptop and see what it offers. Everything looks good. Response looks good. History looks good.

Try it one more time. What? Got a Windows Update Error number: 0x80244022. Well I know what that one means now. Shut down IE and try again. Ok. Looking good. Try a few more times, just to reassure myself. All good. I have a Problem or not?

Did I truly have an issue in the first place? Were the MS servers just on overload?

Can I accept that my desktop now seems to be getting updates without errors (apparently) but my update history catalog is now empty?

Since Windows Updates isn't offering all the updates all over again, can I surmise that it is still reading either a different log or my registry to know that I actually do have those 40-odd updates actually on my system?

Is this the First Sign of some operating system issues that may mean I need to soon consider wiping my C: drive and doing a fresh install of the system, updates and all the family files, software, tweaks, and configuration?


I'm going to try really hard to be patient and just monitor the situation....apart from the update history blanked, the system seems stable and clear.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Gear Wish List

As much as I like keeping on eye on the latest developments in software happenings...I'm pretty laid back when it comes to electronica gadgicus. My 4G 40G iPod (great for tunes and external storage), a USB flash drive or two. My cell phone. And although not "electronica gadgicus", my trusty Leatherman Original. That's pretty much it.

But, were I to wear a Batman Utility Belt....this is what I might carry:

CF to IDE for desktop PCs - clever idea, almost directly plug your compact flash card into a spare IDE cable. Consider the possibilities if you carried a bootable Linux distro on this thing...Might work nicely for those systemboards that do not support USB key booting, but you want a little more permanence than using a "LiveCD" format.

MR-C11 and MR-C10, the high speed 11-in-one readers with Card Dubbing - Very tiny and covers 11 formats of memory cards. Even can transfer between cards!

USB to SATA in the pocket - Plug your USB adapter into your laptop/pc, then plug your SATA drive into it. Brilliant for drive data recovery!

Sonnet Tempo SATA Express 32 Card - get two SATA II ports for the price of one!

CEATEC - iNNODISK flash memory based hard disk - Hey kids, this may be the future upon us. Flash based "hard-disks" are becoming a more realistic storage solution for micro devices and laptops. They can be power-efficient, and with no moving parts, much more durable in a "portable" electronic system.

The new Sigma mice for laptops - Pretty. Cool. Small. Perfect for quick laptop use beyond the eraser-stubbin or touchpad.

Elecom's coged keyboard. - Feedback might be pretty nice. Of course, if clickidy-clack feedback is REALLY what you're into, check out Dan's Data as he reviews the famous IBM "Battleship" keyboards.

USBGear's Bluetooth Printer Adapter - Breath life into old parallel and USB port printers. Pretty neat.

Atari Plug and Play keychains - micro scaled controls that plug into the RCA jacks of a TV. Pick from Asteroids and Centipede, or Milipede and Missile Command, or if a good paddling is your thing, your model comes with Pong, Breakout and Warlords. At about $15 each, it's a great stocking stuffer!.

Going beyond the belt-size, but still under a Texas Rodeo trophy buckle...

E-Way Technology Systems 200MHz x86-compatible mini PC for $99. Man, what Linux fun could we have with this micro box!

NorhTec MicroClient JR. a sub $100 micro pc measuring 4.5 inches square, and has a 166MHz Pentium-compatible processor. More details and micro-goodness at the NorhTec website.

Getting around town in style...

It was love at first site for the steampunk fan in me when I laid eyes on the Whizzer motorbike. That's just gotta be cool. Yea, the Harley and Honda riders would laugh at me and through empties my way, but it is just kawaii!


Two very "Comic" Solutions!

Despite the rant'ish tone of my title, I'm pretty happy about these two gems.

Volume 1 - The Cool-Aid Stays Down

In my last post, "What I get for Drinking Microsoft Cool-Aid" I went on a rant about a number of of which was my inability to get my new (yes, dearlings...and legal) copy of Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition 2003 activated.

Activated. (Not to be confused with the concept of Registration...)

Get used to that term, Activation. I think it is Microsoft's revenge on the world for not being allowed to use the word "integrated" (as in Internet Explorer, or Windows Media Player...). Anyway.

When we last left the thrilling episode, Claus was trying to escape from the confines of Microsoft Office imprisonment. He was having to say the secret release code to the Microsoft guards to gain his release and allow unfettered access to his program.

Deep into "Last Night" when that term isn't technically accurate anymore and become "Earlier Morning" Claus carefully consulted the myriad of Activation troubleshooting guides he had tattooed to his left and his right leg. Nope. Nothing helpful there.

Each timed I tried, the activation wizard would seem to lock up, then eventually progress to a slowly moving bar and finally give me the following error message: "A communication error has occurred. Your request cannot be processed at this time. Please try again in a few minutes."

I had shut down my firewall, I was getting to the net just fine. I had even tried to open Internet Explorer first--just in case it hopped across that connection.

Nothing. So I went to bed thinking that maybe the activation servers were having a party.

This morning I got up, started the weekly laundry going, and then fired up the old pc. Troubleshooting time.

1) Try Activation again. Nope. Same problems. -- maybe it isn't the servers.

2) Check net. Nope. Running fast and strong.

3) Shut down firewall. Still the same problem.

4) Think, think, think. What do I know about how this activation feature must work? Obviously, Word is calling the command to go to the net to check the activation. Monitoring it via ProcessExplorer, I don't see it kicking off Internet Explorer. Could it be checking internally to the Office programming? Claus has an Idea!

5) In Word 2003, I enabled the Web toolbar. I tried clicking the "homepage" icon. Nothing for quite a while, then finally--Bammo. Internet Explorer launches and displays my homepage.

6) I verify that it is calling to the Net properly by shutting down IE and typing a web-address into the document, then launching the link. Working great.

7) I go to the Activate Product option under Help in the menu bar list. Fire it up.

8) In under five seconds the Activation Wizard has launched, connected, and authenticated (activated) our copy.

9) Golden!

So what happened here? Well appears that when Office 2003 installed it didn't properly configure itself to pick up the network connections internally to the application. Funny. So by forcing it to look for a web-page, it finally (and correctly) auto-configured it's Web connection settings, thereby now allowing the activation feature to pass on through to the other side.

File that one away you Microsoft product troubleshooting wackos.

Volume 2 - The Return of Rocket Raccoon!

When we last left our fearless hero, Claus, he had escaped from the confines of his Evil Empire captors. Now, making his way across the Net, he was being mercilessly hounded by a cute and generally useful Fox nipping at his heels.

"Love, Hate and Firefox..." What gives?

Just when he had about had it with the apostrophe key firing up the Firefox "Find" bar, Heroic Rocket Raccoon comes crashing to the rescue via the comments!

Ray Cornwall (of Why I Love Comics) posted a tip that the wacky apostrophe behavior I am getting in Firefox is not, in fact a bug, but indeed a feature.

Officially: Find As You Type (formerly called Type Ahead Find). Thank the gods they changed that feature name, although I would have lobbied for "Irritate Bloggers with the Apostrophe Key Trick" name myself....

Furthermore, he helpfully drops tip that by diving into the about:config and setting the accessibility.typeaheadfind.autostart value to "False" you can disable that nuisance.

So I tried it. But it didn't work for me.


Buried in the description page under Caveats: "This preference has no effect in Firefox--see bug 254592)

I checked out bug 254592.

Yep. Dialog thread seems to indicate that the feature does not work in Firefox 2.0 builds yet. Bummer.

So Rocket Raccoon jets off into obscurity yet again...leaving me frustrated, but wiser now on my Foxy Friends behavior.

Sometimes it's just like that...and it still doesn't clear up that annoying copy/paste bad behavior sinkhole I had been running into.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

What I get for Drinking Microsoft Cool-Aid

So Alvis is taking a mandatory class in Computer Literacy at her Junior High school. (What's up with that class title?)

Among the skills she is developing in her class is how to type (frustrating to her), how to identify various Microsoft operating systems (didn't get taught about Vista, I asked), and how to work in Microsoft Office products--Word, Excel, Powerpoint.

Linux? Alvis says not brought up--even though her own pc is Linux-based.

Hmmm. Closed educational shop?

Although Lavie and I both use Office XP Pro or Office 2003 Pro at work, at home, our legal home copy of MS Office is 97. Works great. Does the job. Why want more on the home pc?

Well....Alvis can't practice her Office 2003 skills learned at school here at home, that's why.


So after a family meeting, I picked up a copy of Microsoft Office "Student and Teacher Edition" 2003. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook. (I didn't install Outlook). $150. Not a bad price. Our box says I can install it on up to three computers in our home. Nice.

I did a custom install so I could keep Access 97 on the pc. Went to the Microsoft Office site and installed all my patches and updates like a good user.

Then I had to activate it.

It won't activate. Almost locks up the pc, trying.

Yes, it is a legitimate product, thank you very much.

Seems the activation feature cannot connect to the Microsoft activation servers. I have Net connection. I turned my firewall off. All is well. The activation wizard just cannot connect--not after something like 25 attempts. Grrr.

I'm too tired to call by telephone tonight, good-old Plan B.

I will try tomorrow one more time, then will just call the Borg ship myself if I must. Wonder what might happen if they can't access the activation servers either.

Two Words: OpenOffice.

Why-oh-why can't our school district use this instead? Sounds like a parent-teacher conference is about to happen between a miffed systems administrator and the Junior High school's comp-lit teacher.

Can't wait to see what will happen with mandatory Vista activation attempts in the coming months....


Tools to Spy on Running Code...

A few days ago, I was reading Long Zheng's always fresh technology blog, istartedblogging.

Specifically, I was combing his "Lazy man's Desktop Aurora" post. If you are not familiar, Desktop Aurora was the name given to a speculative feature of Vista that would display an "active" wallpaper background. Kinda like a shimmering, blendy, non-static background. Sounded cool.

Except it hasn't showed up in the Vista dance hall yet.

So Long posted a "How To" on how to make your own "active" wallpaper in Vista, anyway. Really cool concept...but I'm not sure how distracting it would be. Execution would have to be VERY subtle to be worth having, and it couldn't take up too many CPU cycles to keep running. In my opinion at least. (Related Cool Toy: JediConcentrate application -- freeware application that dims background on all but active window....)

Anyway...While reading his guide...he mentioned the use of a Visual Studio Package software debugging tool from Microsoft called Spy++.

He had a direct download link, so I bit and tried it out. Nice.

Using this tool, you can hover over any window element to find the code controlling that item. It also can show a tree-view of code running under different processes.

Now I'm no programmer. At all. I'm more of a processes and thread's guy when hunting down malware buggers. So Sysinternal's Process Explorer is my top-drawer tool. But I can see where a tool like Spy++ might have some uses in the fight against malware.

That got me looking for more information on this tool, and in the process, I found a number of cousins of Spy++ that added more features.

Oh yeah. Did I mention these are all free? Sweet!

WinID (freeware) - From Dennis Babkin. "WinID is a controls (and) windows identification utility that is both powerful and compact. Its main purpose is to give an easy way to retrieve information about Microsoft Windows controls visually right off the screen. WinID resembles Spy++ from the Microsoft Visual Studio toolset but it also incorporates lots of its own handy features."

SysTree++ (freeware) - Maarten van Oosterhout Software. "SysTree++ is a freeware application that lets you see what is going on on your system. It is a cross-over between ms spy++ and windows task manager. A complete tree-hierarchy of your system, so you can see literally everything that is running on your system. Lets you monitor, manage and save all processes, threads and windows running on system. You can set the priority for processes and threads. End processes and individual threads without warning pop-ups. Toggle windows visibility. Easily copy info text to clipboard and save all info to a text file."

Managed Spy (freeware) - MSDN - "a new utility called ManagedSpy and its associated library ManagedSpyLib, both of which are available for download from the MSDN Magazine Web site. Similar to how Spy++ displays Win32 information such as window classes, styles, and messages, ManagedSpy displays managed controls, properties, and events. ManagedSpyLib allows you to programmatically access Windows Forms controls in another process. You can get and set properties and sync on events in your own code. ManagedSpyLib can also help you build test harnesses and can perform window, message, and event logging." (needs .NET Framework 2.0)

Finally, my favorite find in this class of utilities...

Winspector - Ultimate Programmers Window Spy Utility (freeware) - Wonderful multi-pane view. Has a ton of tools and views and property listings. It's really the kitchen-sink of these applications. I can't compare them from a programmer's standpoint, but for just all-around curiosity and exploration...this is the tool I'm keeping handy on a USB stick!

Good luck, 00's,