Sunday, September 30, 2007

Linkfest 09-30-07

I don't know if it has been a slow week in the areas that interest me, or maybe I have been too busy to really notice all the gems.

So, I just have a handful of links and notes to toss out this week:

Microsoft Phone and Fax

I've been caught several times where I have had to join an extended conference call with just a cellular or cordless phone  The whole time I groan and hope my battery survives.

I even realized that we don't have a "wired" phone at out house, for emergencies if the cordless ones go out.  I've got to remedy that soon.

I did figure out that if I have access to an "analog" line and one of my laptops I can make calls through it, made even easier with a USB headset.

Microsoft Windows XP - Phone Dialer overview

John Barnett's Windows Vista Support: Launch Phone Dialer

XP does come with a fax service as well.  Since I have an analog line for my laptop at work, along side my digital phone, I've been using the XP fax service to test remote fax machines as well as do "emergency" scanning of documents by sending them through our traditional fax machine to the analog number associated with my laptop dock station.

I was surprised to find that Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium do not come with any Microsoft fax service like can be found in XP.  That's a real shame.  It does ship with Vista Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions.

Faxing in Windows XP

Windows Vista: Features Explained: Windows Fax and Scan

Free Foreign Language Lessons

Mango Beta Launched!

Sign up with a valid email address.  There are eleven languages currently including Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese.  Each language has 100 lessons.

They are beneficial as the audio allows you to get a good feel for the pace of the spoken language.

JCB Song Video

Need a lift? 

Check out Nizlopi's animated video of the JCB Song.

There is something cute and precious about it.  Ahh to be young again....

JCBSONG by Nizlopi: Monkeehub

--spotted via Drawn!

Software of Note

CDBurnerXP Version 4 - (freeware) - This fantastic CD burning media has just received a major release update.  Features include, burn all kinds of discs, audio-CDs with or without gaps between tracks, burn and create ISO files, create bootable discs, bin/nrg → ISO converter, dual-layer DVD support, disc-to-disc copy, and program size reduced from over 10 MB to around 2 MB. 

It can even run off a USB stick if .NET 2.0 or higher is on the "host" machine.

Supports Windows 2000/XP/2003 Server/Vista.

For other removable media management tools look into these three freeware offerings:

Need to make a copy of a disk? Use LC ISO Creator.

Need to turn a set of folders into an ISO? Use Folder2Iso.

Need to burn an ISO to CD/DVD media? Use TeraByteUnlimited's BurnCDCC.

Need a bit more substance? Look into these freeware utilities. ImgBurn for advanced disk burning and IsoBuster for advanced CD/DVD file recovery, ISO creation, disk/ISO structure review, and file extractions.

Minimal Yahtzee - (freeware) - Teeny-tiny and portable.  This single-player Yahtzee game is great.  My memories are filled with playing this game with my maternal grandparents in their Airstream trailer over the long summers I got to spend with them.  It remains a fun game at our home, even today.

Engcom Virtual Slide-Rule Program - (web) - Dating myself, I am old enough to know what a slide-rule is and what it is used for, but young enough to never have used one myself in school.

From what I understand, they were the power-calculators of their time and no good engineer would be caught without one.  Today we have digital hand-held calculators and computers to run circles about them.  But they have always seemed a mysterious thing to me.

Engcom's site lets you play with a virtual version of the slide rule to see just how it functions.

--Spotted via

Slide rule - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

Eric's Slide Rule Site

International Slide Rule Museum

A-to-Z of slide rules



I have pretty much settled (for the most part) on using Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 as my virtual machine of choice both at home on our Vista Premium and XP Home systems, as well as at work on Windows 2000 (VPC 2004) and XP Professional.

I must concede that it does have some limitations

  • Doesn't play well with many Linux builds,
  • Doesn't support USB ports/devices,
  • Doesn't easily support direct connection (USB/parallel) printers.

The main benefits for me are that it doesn't install as deeply into my system as VMWare's offerings and that as a Microsoft product, it is pre-approved as a "compatible" product at work for our systems.

I've posted more on virtualization and Microsoft Virtual PC more than I realized:

Grand Stream Dreams: Tag - virtualization

Grand Stream Dreams: Tag - Virtual PC

So when a commenter on my post on getting Virtual PC 2007 to run on XP Home had some problems, I suggested some of the alternatives.

  • QEMU - (free) - Great for Linux builds and able to run in Windows

  • Qemu Manager - (free) - Utility to manage QEMU images.

  • QGui QEMU Launcher - (free) - Utility to manage QEMU images

  • BOCHS - (free) - Another virtual machine engine.

  • VirtualBox - (free) - New offering for virtual machines. Looks pretty sharp.

  • VMware Workstation - ($) - VMware's wonderful tool for virtualization, lots of performance and features, allows creation of your own virtual hard-drives for use with VMware.

  • VMware Player - (free) - VMware's free tool for virtualization. Almost all the tools that VMware Workstation has, but can only be used to run pre-existing VMware images, not create them from scratch.

Of course, if you know the right sources or techniques, you can build your own VMware drives using some other utilities and then use them, avoiding the need to pay for VMware Workstation in most cases.

Both of these sites have been heavily updated since I last visited them and are now highly refined and easy to use.

Follow the steps on either page and select the options you need to configure your "blank" VMware virtual hard-drive file, then download the pre-configured file. Then you are good to do for your own system loading.

It's a piece of cake now!


Flash9b.ocx and Flash9b.ocx File Deleting Goodness

Mid-summer ago, I ran into a seemingly "undeletable" Flash file.

Flash9c.ocx Strangeness

I had been running The Secunia Software Inspector on my XP Professional machine and ran into the outdated file which needed to be removed to make way for the latest version.

However, despite my attempts I could not remove the file "normally."

Turns out it had special file permissions set on it that made the Read-only setting stick, no matter what.

You can go back and re-read the post to get the details on CALCS and special file permission settings on NTFS formatted drives. Following the steps I outlined in my research allowed me to eventually clear the file.

So when I encountered the same one again on my Vista Home Premium system, I didn't even blink an eye at removing the locks this time. Gone in less that 60 seconds.

That post has now risen to become one of the most popular (for now) of all my blog posts to date. So clearly, this is an issue that many other users have been searching for solutions to.

Options for Deleting Stubborn Flash Files

So what to do? Luckily you have a number of options now available if you are running Vista, XP Professional, or Windows 2000 Professional, depending on your willingness to make it as easy or complex as you want (assuming your drive is NTFS formatted).

Option 1: Manually change the file settings

Open Windows Explorer and browsed back to the file.

Right-click the file and selected "Properties."

Click the "Security" tab. And note the "Special Permissions" line in the bottom section.

On the Security tab, I click the "Advanced" button to drop into the "Advanced Security Settings" for the file.

One by one, select each line that shows "Deny" as the type and click the "Edit" button.

In the next pop-up window, uncheck the "deny" tickbox as set and save the changes.

Apply the changes through.

Then right-click the file and selected "Properties" again.

This time remove the "Read-only" setting and apply the change.

Finally delete the file.

Option Two: Use the Command Shell

Open the command prompt session.

Browse to the C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\Flash folder.

Type and run the following command as suggested by john: cacls flash9c.ocx /e /r everyone

where fash9c.ocx is the name of the file you are having issues deleting.

I would also suggest trying the following: cacls flash9c.ocx /e /g everyone:f

Then delete the file.

Option Three: Run the Flash Uninstaller

As Julie Smith suggests, you can also just use the Flash uninstaller that is a bit hard to locate

Adobe - Flash Player Uninstaller

What About XP Home?

I didn't realize it at the time of my original post, but XP Home will not allow you to use Option #1 as the File Security Manager tab is just not accessible in this version.

I found this out when I was doing another Secunia Software Inspector sweep of Lavie's XP Home laptop the other day. It was in pretty good shape. A few software updates were needed, but this time it identified the file Flash9b.ocx and it was locked down tight as well with the special permissions. Only this time I couldn't delete it via the security tab, since it wasn't there.

Options Two and Three still worked.

So if you are a XP Home user, you shouldn't feel left out. But what if you REALLY, REALLY don't like doing the command-line thing, and maybe have a file that the uninstaller won't remove (or you are dealing with another file totally unrelated to Flash)?

Three more options exist for you to get the File Security Manager tab:

  1. File Security Manager - (trial/$) - "File Security Manager allows you set, view and modify NTFS access permissions in Windows XP Home like in Windows XP Professional. You can easily lock, deny or allow access to files, folders and drives, define advanced permissions."

  2. Permissions Manager - XPHome tools - (trial/$) - "Permissions Manager is a software supplies GUI to manage security settings of files and folders. This GUI is quite different than generic Windows security dialog. It allows creating predefined sets of access control entries (presets) and applying these presets to file system objects."

  3. Windows Safe Mode - (free) - Yep. It's that cheap and that easy. Just boot XP Home in Safe Mode (F8 at boot). Now the File Security Manager tab magically appears in it's full XP Professional glory and will allow you to make any advanced special file permission settings changes in it's full GUI glory.

Yeah, I couldn't believe it was that easy either.

Additional XP File Security Setting Resources

Happy Hunting!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

MalwareLog Tool Examined

The other day, an anonymous commenter left a note on one of my older "anti-malware tool" posts.

"How about MalwareLog Tool?"

Good question.  I'm always on the lookout for useful anti-malware tools.

Let me see.

Research Time

First I checked out the site.

MalwareLog Tool - Malware Debugging Tool

It seems to have been recently registered according to WhoIs service lookup information on the domain.

I did some Google web and blog searches and only found a handful of result hits.  Not much there, so this seems to be a very new utility offering.

According to the web-site description, this is an initial version release.

The description on the product's web-page says that it identifies running dll and exe files and verifies their signatures against the Windows System catalog, and "...lists and reports all the running programs including dlls (startup programs, BHOs, Toolbars, plug-ins, LSPs, hidden malwares..etc)."

Users can display all running files or only the unverified ones.

Users can use the tool to terminate any of the running files listed.

Items appearing in the list can be logged to the clipboard or to a log file for auditing purposes.

No terms of usage or restrictions were listed on the web-page. Free for personal use? Free for corporate use? Free for non-profit/governmental use?  It's not clear at the moment.

Is it Legit?

Once can't be too cautious nowadays with "anti-malware" tools.

Eric Howes's Spyware Warrior: Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web Sites list is filled with products that, at best don't perform the job claimed, and at worst, actually are malware.

I downloaded the tool and ran it through vtotal, jotti, and Mandiant Red Curtain and it seemed to check out "safe". 

Good enough there to warrant progressing on to watchful testing.

Run Time

I then executed the file. (Version for this post was

It is a single executable and does not "install" as best I can determine. It therefore seems to be able to be considered "portable" for use off a USB stick.

It connects to the Net in two sessions when run.  One appears to be back to the "mother-ship" (looking for updates?) with the same IP address as listed for the domain registration.  The other checks against what seems to be a Microsoft site...I am guessing it is using this connection to figure out which files are "verified" and which ones aren't.

Once run, it also immediately begins to do a system scan and present a list of running files when completed.

The scan-time on my system took about a minute to complete.  As objects were identified during the scan process, they were added to the window display area.

By default it lists the "unverified" dll and exe objects.  You can click a checkbox at the bottom to display all the items, verified and not.  This does not require a re-scan to display the additional items.

The display view provides a check-box to select listed items, the full path of the item, the verified owner name (if found) and the status (verified/unverified).

There is a "Kill" box on the right-hand side.  If you want to terminate a running file, you select the check-box next to the item and hit the kill button.

Kill-effectiveness probably depends on multiple factors.  Many malware authors make terminating running processes difficult and a multitude of techniques and tools may be required.  As I don't have any malware on my system, I cannot test the effectiveness of the termination technique programmed in this tool against "real" malware struggling to stay alive and embedded in a system. Nor does the web-page describe the technique used in the tool.

In comparison, DiamondCS's free utility Advanced Process Termination uses 18 well documented methods

You may view the results in a log-file or copy the log to the clipboard.  This can be helpful for posting results to an on-line forum, and the creator helpfully provides links on the web-page to a number of anti-malware related forums.

The log file did have a helpful amount of information on it.

Application Thoughts

Here are some of my own thoughts on this tool, based on using many anti-malware tools in the field...and giving due consideration that this is a first-time release.

Memory utilization seems a bit high. On my XP Home system, it uses almost 22,000 K memory. In comparison, Microsoft's Sysinternal's Process Explorer is using just 20,000 K to perform a lot more tasks on my machine.  To be fair, they are almost certainly coded significantly different.

There does not appear to be a way to prevent the scan from immediately running when launched. 

You cannot seem to "pause" a scan while being run, only "close" the utility.  It might be nicer to launch the tool, then have a "start scan" button to begin the scan process.

I kept accidentally hitting the "kill" button when I was trying to select the scroll-bar on the right-hand side of the window.  This placement location is a potential source of an unwanted "oopsie! I didn't mean to kill that process!"  Sure, the item would have to be selected manually first, but still, I'd recommend moving it to the bottom of the tool window.

Nor does there appear to be a way to turn "auto-update" checking off.

While it is very kind of the developer to automatically connect to the Net to look for product updates, I really have some concerns.  Could the developer be maintaining a log of IP's for nefarious reasons?  Maybe, though probably not.  Malware fighters are by nature a kinda paranoid bunch from seeing what we see.  I'd like the option to turn that feature off if I so wish.

I suppose you might be able to get around that by a HOSTS file entry for the IP address it connects to, or block the connection if you have an out-bound connection filtering firewall installed.

I am also concerned that the tool might be too simple as presented in the web-page description: There are no warnings or cautions against the consequences of killing running files/processes.

By that I mean it might give an inexperienced or non-technical user the impression that any or all "unverified" files and processes are bad and need to be killed.  This could have serious repercussions on system performance and may not be accurate.

Furthermore, for example, it might be providing incorrect or inaccurate information.

For example, at the very top of my scan list with an "Unverified" status is the following DLL: C:\WINDOWS\system32\WGaLogon.dll  This is a legitimate Windows Genuine Advantage Notification DLL file.

When I cross compared it in Process Explorer for Windows with the option activated to Verify Image Signatures, the results came back that it was verified by Microsoft.  I cannot explain the discrepancy observed.

It does try (successfully) to provide a more simplified approach to exe and dll file identification and log generation.  It isn't the same type of tool as, say, HiJackThis but does attempt the same basic approach: Run a quick scan, provide a list of found items, and offer the opportunity to log and/or kill them.

While HiJackThis can (usually) remove the item identified, MalwareLog Tool doesn't (nor makes any claim to) actually "remove" anything.  It just would attempt to terminate the process, but the file itself and the cause for it launching in the first place would remain intact, likely ready to re-run at next reboot, unless you used the path information provided to then go in and manually rename/delete the file in question. 

Again, as I mentioned, a potentially dangerous move without research and experience behind your actions.

My Humble Opinion

Which gets to the heart of the matter.  Who would be a good target user for the MalwareLog Tool?

  • Average users who are pointed to this tool by more advanced troubleshooters, looking to get a quick and easily-generated log of potentially suspicious running files and processes easily posted to a forum.
  • Advanced users looking to capture a straight-forward log of running exe and dll files when doing a system audit.

For those targeted users and purposes, this initial release version of MalwareLog Tool does the job very well.

In my opinion, Process Explorer for Windows would be a better tool for advanced anti-malware troubleshooters who are looking for a utility to identify, research, and terminate unwanted exe and dll processes.  Granted, it is a very complex and advanced tool, and not for the average user. Who probably needs to use this utility to identify, research and inspect running dll and exe files?

  • Advanced system troubleshooters reviewing a system in person.
  • Advanced system troubleshooters who want to find out more about what the actual file(s) are doing, how and what they are loading into memory, and how they are interacting with other files on the system.
  • Auditors who need a more detailed and segregated log-file output for export and documentation.

So, with these considerations, I will go ahead and keep the MalwareLog Tool on my USB stick.

It's a good first-version start at what it seeks to do. 

I would respectfully hope to see some changes that I mentioned earlier considered for incorporation in future versions, but I don't find any "show-stoppers" and it might provide a helpful resource for helping troubleshoot and inspect a Windows system for evidence of (but not conclusive diagnosis in-of-itself) malware presence.

I'm sure the author has been working hard on this tool, and they should be proud of their work.  It's worth checking out and keeping an eye on for future version releases.

Additional DLL related Tips, Tools, and Utilities

Kindly said,


Where is My Precious?


cc image credit: The Ring by drocpsu, flickr

...and one very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful.
He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.

--The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

Funny how an unfortunate series of events leads one to realize just how valued something is.

See, last weekend I lost my wedding band.

But let me start at the beginning.

I've never been a jewelry wearer.

Sure, as a kid I had an arrow-head pendant I wore in the summers of my adventures.  Then there was that shark's-tooth pendant.  Typical boy's talismans for running through the woods, tracking through streams/ditches in the neighborhood and the like.

In high-school I had an American Eagle pendant that had been cut out of U.S. Mint coinage with very skilled saw-work.  It was hung on a chain that had a very cool and unique clasp. One end was like a cylinder with a rubber-like insert, the other was like a stud that inserted into the cylinder.  One day while running between the school and the track field house it dislodged and dropped.  I spend a long time searching for it, but never found it.  Must be why that clasp-style remained unique.

I don't recall ever wearing jewelry of any kind past that point.

(Watches don't count...they are considered a utility tool in my book.)

I didn't buy a high-school graduation ring.

I didn't by a college graduation ring.

The only time after that point I was tempted was when I saw a Catholic friend who had a string-necklace.  I think it was braided and at the bottom was a small square with a tiny cross.  Couldn't have been any larger than 1/4 of a postage stamp. All in string or cloth.

What appealed to me was the simplicity it represented in blending faith and material.

I never asked about it, nor ever saw one like it again.  It might have been a hand-made creation, but for some reason I didn't think so.

So when Lavie and I began to make our wedding plans, I was confronted with the real probability of wearing, not only jewelry, but a ring.

I supposed I could have gone through the ceremony and then set it aside after that.  After all, a ring doesn't make you any more or less married than you are.  Many married couples don't wear wedding bands, either by choice or circumstance.  I got the symbolism and sociological reasons for wedding bands, but didn't really feel too swayed by either one.

However, Lavie lovingly convinced me to keep it on after we got married.

She worked hard to find a ring that was very light and not too "showy."  In the end she found one that was gold, with a "nugget-like" design on two-thirds of the ring surface.

It wasn't "solid" meaning that if you turned it upside down, you could see the underside pattern the nuggets made.  The nuggets were heaviest on the top but gradually thinned down the tapering sides to a smooth bottom one-third.

The work she put into finding me just the right ring touched me and I wanted to honor her efforts.

So I put it on.

This month makes it 16 years.

Because of the design of the ring and my fingers, it tends to rotate during the day until the nugget portion is downward and the thin, smooth portion is upward.  So I've developed a habit of just twirling back in proper orientation with my thumb and pinkie.  I do it almost without thought now.

I take it off when I am working on the vehicles, when my hands are deep inside a computer case, or when I was playing sports.  In these moments I would slide it onto my split key-ring band for safe keeping.

At home I still take it off and don't wear it inside the house.  Don't know why I do that, but it is my routine.

I have a small table of my own by the front door where my wallet, keys, BlackBerry, pager, cell-phone, Leatherman-tool, USB stick(s), pen(s) and spare change go.  I always set my ring centered on top of my wallet where it stands out with the bright gold contrasting against the deep brown leather.

Come into the house...unload the gear.

Leave the house...gear up.

So this past Monday I was getting ready for work and "gearing up" and noticed my ring was gone.

I searched the table top and couldn't find it.

Then I searched the floor and couldn't find it.

I searched on my key-ring. Nope. Not there.

So I had to make do without it, a bit worried now.

All week long with greater dread I tore the house apart.

Moved furniture, overturned Alvis's nearby catch-baskets (for school books, papers, purse(s), etc.) scoured the grass and garden area by the front door on hands-and-knees thinking it might have fell from the table and bounced out the door without my noticing.  Autopsied the vacuum bag with a gruesomeness that would make C.S.I. techs proud.


My precious was gone.

During the day at work I would catch myself spinning a non-existent ring with my thumb and pinkie.

Lavie was very supportive.  Her father has lost several over the course of his marriage.  I suspect he now has bought a bulk-supply from Wal-Mart which he keeps in a glass baby-food jar in the work-shed for just such occasions.  Pop was supportive and helped look for a while when Lavie's parents came in for a visit.

But it was gone.

Alvis was pretty upset. She worked tireless for the first few days to help me search for it. It was she who encouraged me to rip into the vacuum bag (although she disappeared when it was time to do so).

I even looked around and discussed potential replacements with Lavie.

And I was left with a very strange and alien feeling.

The ring that I didn't want to wear, that I couldn't identify with, that I begrudgingly accepted onto my hand had actually become an integral part of my life.

I felt incomplete without it.

Not quite like Gollum, but I uncomfortably could relate a bit to his obsession with the One Ring.

Sure, it was just a hunk of (valuable) metal, but it suddenly was much, much more than I ever expected it to be.

Were family and friends and co-workers now noticing its absence and politely wondering about the significance of its absence from my finger?

Suddenly, it wasn't just a symbol for cougars to know to keep away from this man of Lavie and Alvis's.  It wasn't a potential short-circuit device for computer work. It wasn't the source of a physical habit of finger twitching. It wasn't a nuisance.

It was our marriage made real. 

It was Lavie physically with me when we were apart. 

It was a golden pensieve soaking up sixteen years of magical marriage memories; good and bad, painful and blissful.


I didn't see that bit of wisdom coming.

So with the house ransacked several times over, I came to the realization that my precious was either in one of two places: inside the house, or not.

If it was not, it was likely gone.  Never to be seen again.  A loss that I was only beginning to feel the clouds of mourning building for.

If it was, there remained a slim margin of hope that it would be found and restored.

I was resigned.

And so this afternoon, almost a week after its loss, I changed into my "weekend-khakis" shorts and set about doing the day's weekend chores.

Wrapping up the labors, I had just completed putting the cleaning goods under the sink cabinets and stood back up, smoothing my shorts back down.

When I felt a small bump packed away in the very bottom of my pocket where the pocket-seams join into a point. 

I almost didn't notice it.

I reached in and pulled out a lump of pocket-lint not unlike that found in most casual-wear pants pockets.

And buried in the lump of lint?

My precious.

I stood there stunned looking at it, joyfully amazed and relieved.

All Things restored.

Lavie just smiled.


Monday, September 17, 2007


Retiring a Defender

Ohhh. I did gone and went and did'id.

Yesh siree.

I disabled Windows Defender from running on my Vista notebook.

Buh bye!

Why? Well...I've gotten quite tired of the constant prompts to download and install the latest updates. Sure I could have auto-set them to download and install, but I likes to see what I am putting on my pc. Then there is the fact that I am running both AVG anti-spyware and anti-virus "real-time" on my machine. And the latest version of Spybot S&D also now integrates with the Security Center.

It took up system resources...not many...but some. It does have quite a few tools with it, but none that I usually can't seem to find duplicated in any of my other utilities I prefer more. It has never, ever found any malware on any of my own personal machines. I will keep using it at work on machines where the user has a "history" of malware cleaning tickets opened just to provide a layer of protection.

But for now I have retired it from my Vista machine, and I didn't bother to keep in installed on either of my home XP systems either.

Hope this doesn't cause too much controversy. Wouldn't recommend it for most users, but as I am a bit more "advanced" than most users...I'd thought I would live a bit dangerously.

How to disable Windows Defender | Windows Vista for Beginners

Ed Bott's Script

Ed Bott has a script he is asking for help with from Vista users.

Vista users, please help me test a script | Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise

It is a script that allows you to toggle Hidden and System files viewable in Windows Explorer.

Since I've posted about these buggers before, thought it would be worth mentioning.

Mozilla Auditing - Part Duex

I had also posted about some free (and $) utilities that could be used to "audit" Firefox/Mozilla browser sessions: More Firefox "Forensics" Tools.

One of the tools I mentioned was NirSoft's free utility MozillaCookiesView: Cookies Manager For Mozilla/Firefox/Netscape Browsers.

So imagine my surprise that NirSoft now released a complimentary app: MozillaHistoryView: View the list of visited web sites in Firefox/Mozilla/Netscape browsers.

From the product description it "...reads the history data file (history.dat) of Firefox/Mozilla/Netscape Web browsers, and displays the list of all visited Web pages in the last days. For each visited Web page, the following information is displayed: URL, First visit date, Last visit date, Visit counter, Referrer, Title, and Host name. You can also easily export the history data to text/HTML/Xml file."


I couldn't help but drop NirSoft a line asking if a Mozilla tri-fecta would be appearing soon in the form of a new utility MozillaCacheView.

I can only hope.

I just hope the new "Places" structure in Firefox 3 doesn't whack these apps out too much.

Free AOL / Kaspersky Anti-Virus "hack"

To recap, AOL had offered a free "branded' version of Kasperky's antivirus application to the public.

Since Kaspersky is usually one of the top-rated anti-virus products, having a free version that made use of it's powerful engine and DAT files was a great thing.

Then AOL did presto-chango and flipped to McAfee for its free a/v solution.

Folks who didn't want to swap were out in left field without a mitt as they were no longer able to get crucial DAT file signatures to keep their a/v solution current.


Luckily, some clever folks figured out how to go in and remove the AOL servers listed in the product to keep the Kaspersky updates flowing again.

Active Virus Shield "Update Failed: Incorrect Signature" Fix - CyberNet News.

I'm an AVG Anti-virus fan myself, but as Ryan points out in his post, you can still find the free Kaspersky version at a few download sites like Softpedia, MajorGeeks, and CNet., and this hack should keep it going for a while longer.

Free U3 Uninstaller Utility

U3 seems like a great idea. A specialized application launcher/manager utility kept on USB drives that auto-runs when inserted into a supported system and provides enhanced access and security to applications housed on the USB drive itself. U3 - Wikipedia

Great right?

I've bought two or three USB drives now and find it is a general annoyance. Not only does it keep auto-running when I just want to use the drive for storage or utility carrying, but it takes up space for the applications I do want to use and keep.

If I really wanted a tool like that, I'd probably go with the freeware Menu launcher for USB sticks.

Want more? Go with the Suite for a host of productivity and games.

Heck, check out all the great utilities, productivity tools, and games over at

Anyway, I digress....

Trying to remove U3 from a USB drive can be a pain.

Fortunately, the U3 group provides a free utility strip out the U3 component from the device: U3 Uninstaller.

I skipped the solicitation for info, accepted the dire-warning notification and downloaded the file. I then ran it to remove the U3 portion from my 2GB Ativa USB drive I use for ReadyBoost on the Vista laptop. Less than a minute later it was gone and I reset the ReadyBoost settings to use the full space now available on it.

Done. Now where did I put those other U3 USB drives.....

Spotted via OgasaWalrus.

...By Any Other Name...

I don't usually have any real needs to do bulk file renaming. However, when the need arises, you want to have the tools at hand to cover it.

Here are some you might want to look into:

Renamer (freeware) - by Denis Kozlov. Great highlight post over on CyberNet News.

Flexible Renamer (freeware) by Stefan Schuck. Also highlighted on CyberNet News.

CaseTool for Windows - (freeware) by VisionTech Limited - drag and drop files on this to switch file name case.

FastStone Photo Resizer - (freeware) - Why an image tool? Because it also contains a powerful batch image file renamer feature...that's why.

Public Service Announcements for Microsoft

Microsoft's Sysinternals Process Explorer v11.02 has been released to fix some more issues.

Still one of my most used utilities. I reach for it daily.

Microsoft's free tool XML Notepad 2007 received a quiet version update release last week.

From the "Now That's Clever" Dept.

I frequently need to dive into the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Galveston and it's warren of buildings, parking garages, construction zones, etc.

I found this great map, although the PDF versions on that page are much, much better.

Wouldn't it be nice if I could overlay this (or any other third-party map) over an on-line street-map?

Well, thanks to a Yahoo! beta product MapMixer this just now got much easier!

There are quite a few already uploaded in a gallery.

I really see this being great when coupled with using historical maps with current maps.

Spotted via Lifehacker: Launch: Merge Your Map on Yahoo Maps with MapMixer

Dual-Monitor Display Utilities

I've been using a dual-monitor setup since my dear brother gifted me with a pair of Samsung beauties some time ago. I'm now running two at work as well and trying to figure out to get the boss to spring for a third.

While XP and Vista both provide some great multi-monitor management support, there are some features that just don't get covered.

At home, I sprung for the well invested $ it cost to register Ultramon software. It has done everything advertised, and then some. I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately, trying to get the boss to spring for this software for my workplace dual-monitor needs is getting me nowhere.

And a free alternative (besides that built into the OS) was a hopeless search.

Then I found out about a freeware (yes, dual-display utility and freeware) tool from Binary Fortress Software » DisplayFusion.

Here are just a few of the things you can do with DisplayFusion:

  • Set a different desktop background on each monitor (either a picture or solid colour)
  • Set a desktop background that spans all monitors (either a picture or colour)
  • Integrated Flickr image search & download
  • Drag maximized windows by their title bars to other screens
  • Easily manage application windows with HotKeys:
    • Move windows to the next monitor
    • Move windows to the next monitor and maximize them
    • Move windows to centre of the screen
    • Move windows to centre of the screen and size it to 75% of the work area
    • Tile windows along the top, bottom, left or right side
    • Maximize windows so that they span all monitors

Requires Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0 and supports Windows 2000, 2003, XP, and Vista systems.

Spotted over at CyberNet News

While we are on it, here are my favorite sources of "true" multi-monitor spanning single image desktop wallpapers:

Mandolux Desktops - Simply the best. Nobody does multi-monitor wallpapers like Mando.

dmb - Dual Monitor Backgrounds - New to me. Great collection of dual monitor wallpapers in a variety of subjects. Page had been off-line earlier due to excessive bandwidth usage. Hopefully the webmaster and hosting service worked out a new agreement. I hope this one stays around.

Multi Display on deviantART - I'm never sure what I will find when I go looking here for duals. Always fresh and highly artsy.

Books on the Web

Here are some interesting links for on-line literary reading I've spotted this week:

Darkhorse's e-comic publication of an amazingly illustrated War of the Worlds adaptation. 125 pages long. Simply amazing. Go read it now.

Lifehacker has a great how-to post on Books: Build Your Virtual Library Online with Google Book Search. I never really appreciated just how wonderful this feature could be. I'm sure it's not entirely altruistic on Google's part, but I can also see some clever benefits to doing this as well.

Futurismic's weekly catalog of free sf - Boing Boing. The science and fiction blog Futurismic has begun a regular Friday post devoted to linking to free SF books and stories on the web. If you are a SF fan, you might want to RSS feed this blog to keep an eye out each week for your fix. - "...the web's largest catalog of books whose authors have made them available for free." Interesting collection...especially the technical section.

Project Gutenberg - Now with over 20,000 free books on-line. - Historic literature, reference works, and verse all free and on-line.


I finally got my notice from Comcast that it was time to convert my email address from Time Warner. We unsurprisingly were able to keep our email address name. The conversion process itself took just a minute or two to complete and then was done. Email addressed to the old address will be forwarded to the new, helpful, but bound to cause duplicate entries in my Inbox now.

While there were some handy links to auto-convert IE Express settings to the new email servers, I didn't quickly find help in setting the email sever values until I found this link:

HELP - FAQ - How do I setup Mail? (Macintosh)

Yes, I'm running Windows XP/Vista with the Thunderbird email client, and I had to turn to a Mac page to get the server setting values. Armed with these it took no time to add the new account to Thunderbird.

Then I spent the next hour logging into all my on-line transaction sites updating our email address. I also fired a obligatory email to our family members advising them of the email address change.

Luckily I had been organized and had this covered. I keep a text file with all the critical web-sites and friends/family who we provide our "primary" email address to/with. I update it every time I enter it on a new site. Makes updating pretty painless.

I'm not quite ready to trust gMail with becoming our primary email address, but it is getting more and more tempting...

Did you see the notice that Apple has updated their iPods so they don't play well with third-party software applications? Well, it got broke/hacked in short order .(Linux) Amarok | - Rediscover your music. I'm sure this will trickle down to more apps to come. -- Really cool GoogleMap mashup for tracking hurricanes and storms. Will be updating my hurricane tracking links page to include this gem provided by post commentor, Mo.

Time for bed...hope you have a great week.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finding Balance


cc image credit: Noah Bulgaria, flickr

Worn out.

Bone tired.


It has been a very long week at the Valca home. I've been in the middle of a very large telecom system deployment.

Need to finish out the "punch-list" but we made our target.


Lavie has been under the weather in a bad way.

Fibromyalgia sucks.

But that's a rant for another day.

So we have been rallying our wagons and trying to re-discover and master finding some emotional, spiritual, and physical balance in our family for the last few weeks; and turbo-charging it over the weekend.

Eating and Exercise

I've tossed out my usual rotation of dinner menu items and have increased the protein (white meat). I've been creating lighter and more oriental-like plates. While I haven't cut all the carbs, I have moved away from potatoes and big-bowls of white rice.

Lots, lots more fruit and vegetables.

Lavie has almost entirely cut of the caffeinated soft-drinks from her morning routine and is now enjoying low-acid orange juice. I usually am making everyone eggs for breakfast.

Even Alvis has abandoned the Eggo's and french-toast sticks for English muffins with a slice of cheese and fruit.

I've been hitting some heavy hand-weights every other day (or so) and using some of those elastic resistance bands you can stand on to do upper body work. As the weather cools I hope to move outside on alternate days and start my jump-rope work again for cardio-work.

Lavie is doing good walking around our small block once or twice on a really good day. I picked up a dance-tape workout to do with her as well, but Alvis screams when we mention getting ready to use it together.

Alvis walks with us and is getting where she wants to start jogging now. I used to run cross-country in high-school (well, I ran with the cross-country team in high-school...but that's another story...) and once my cardio and legwork improves, I really hope to join her slow jogging.

I've been fortunate to not really need to pay too much care on my diet. I metabolize pretty well. But the IT support lifestyle means one of moments of heavy lifting and movement followed by long periods of sedentary desk sitting. Couple that with lots of fast-food and it's a danger I have to be aware of. Luckily, while I like burgers and tacos, I am pretty self disciplined and have gotten to eating one fast food meal a week.

This renewed health-awareness has really made me more attentive to posts and articles regarding healthy cooking and foods.

I found these helpful food/nutrition pages recently.

All via Lifehacker

Home and Spirit

Of course, just caring for the body isn't enough. Health also comprises mental and spiritual components.

Lavie and I try hard to live a simpler lifestyle. We don't tend to accumulate "stuff" though we still have more clutter than I am comfortable with.

I will go on quarterly "purges" and sweep the house looking for things that we haven't used or needed in the past six months, and they go into the donation bin, the "maybe another family member could use this" pile, or sometimes just the trash bin.

We don't buy very many "luxury" items. Lavie and I love books and movies. So we still tend to pick up manga, novels, and DVDs (mainstream/anime) but have really slowed down the pace of these purchases. I don't even pick up many technology toys anymore. Last thing I can think of was the new hard-drive when the old one failed.

Having a simplified home lifestyle (I believe) contributes to a more simplified mind. We don't have to keep our thoughts full of all the stuff we have to keep track of. It is easier to be appreciative and responsible for what we have with fewer things.

Sure, if we had a bazillion dollars I'm sure our choices in some purchase areas and style would change a bit, but I don't think it would do so too radically.

We are working harder on spending more family time as well together.

I've promised Lavie that I would work off the laptop more in the family room (using a nice simple TV-tray) so I can spend time interacting with her while she watches her TV shows. In fact, we've starting to find new series on TV that appeal to both of us to bring some fresh material to discuss together, and that is more positive in its content.

Alvis and I are getting back into playing our video games together. At bed-time I turn off the TV for the extra hour or two I am up past Lavie and Alvis's bed time, and just lay in bed listing to iPod tunes and podcasts.

We've started to work harder at bringing back the spiritual element to our lives as well. We spend more time as a family in meditation and prayer than we have for many, many years. It's a nice feeling to be coming together again this way.


It is very easy to take your spouse and children, heck even your own health, for granted in the rush and pressure of today's world. The "outside" seems so pressing and important and demanding for our limited attention. It is all to easy to fall into the trap of taking care of ourselves and our family with "stuff" and not really give them the thing most precious...our time, our thoughts, our presence, our attention.

I've got a long way to go, and even more mountains to conquer, but hopefully, together, we are on a good path.

Here are some inspirational posts from Zen Habits that have really encouraged me in this outer/inner refocusing:

Be balanced, be graceful.


Quick Data Burn to Disk in Vista

Last night I had been spending a lot of time on our Vista laptop.

That usually means I want to fiddle with settings, ensure I am running the system optimally, etc.

I had ran a defrag session using Auslogics, but was surprised to find I had less free-space than I had expected....especially since we really haven't been loading many applications at all on this system.

We use it mostly as a web-surfing, blogging and occasional Office document creation platform.

Anyway, turns out I had forgotten to remove the GB's of  recovered files/folders I had saved when our desktop system's drive had failed.

Time to off-load to disk.

I pulled out one of my dual-layer DVD's but then I was faced with making a decision as to how to get the data onto the disk.  I have lots of disk-media tools and utilities, but never got around to finding and installing a "package" solution (Nero) on this system.

What to do?  Surely Vista comes with some kind of basic solution, right?


I found this fantastic post that showed me exactly what to do:

Kellogg Information Systems How to Docs: DVD Data Backup in Windows Vista


  1. Insert blank DVD disk into the drive (yes, apparently dual layer DVD's are supported).
  2. When the AutoPlay wizard appears, select "Burn files to disk...using Windows"
  3. Add a title (defaults to today's date).
  4. Select the "Show formatting" drop arrow underneath.
  5. Select the "Mastered" option if you are making an "archival burn" like I was.
  6. Now select "Next"
  7. A Windows Explorer window appears.  Browse, drag and drop the files and/or folders you wish to burn to the disk over to the right-hand pane.
  8. When you are done, select the "Burn to disk" button on the toolbar.
  9. Review the summary and click "Next" to begin the burning process.

Burn times will be dependent on speed of drive, speed of recording media, size of data, and system hardware.

Sure, there are a number of fuller-featured disk-media burning applications, but when you are in a hurry and need something easy right at hand, this isn't a bad solution.

Not too bad at all.


Alvis's Adventures in MySpace Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

cc image credit: Christy Kim, flickr

This morning I was on our desktop pc, sorting through my links, cleaning odds and ends bookmark clutter and the like, attempting to get organized for a blog posting or two when Alvis appeared in the study doorway.

`Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.

She was serious...and had a "I'm freaked out" tone in her voice.

"People are commenting on my pictures on the Internet!" she announced.

>Insert fatherly pause of situational assessment. Mix with emotional concern for daughter, potential teen-identity damage control with turbo-boost of security assessment response adrenalin.<

"OK, and you know this how?" I asked calmly.

"My friend just left a message on my MySpace page and told me!  But the page they are on wants my cell phone number." She was almost trembling.

`I can't explain MYSELF, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, `because I'm not myself, you see.'

I went in to her room and let her show me what she was speaking about.

She had her SAM Linux system up and was on her MySpace message board in Firefox.  She showed me the message that clearly had come from her friend, with her friend's identifier.  It said something to the effect that pictures of her had come up and made the discussion of the day on a forum site.  The website was listed but not hot-linked and her friend told her she probably wanted to check out the discussion.

Alvis was already tearing through scenarios of which pictures they could be and how they could have gotten posted.

She had tried to follow the website but it had led to a page that seemed to require her to enter her cell phone number to get a pin response to access the site.

>Insert fatherly security minded suspicious "Hmmmm" sound.<

'...but when you have to turn into a chrysalis--you will some day, you know--and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?'

Alvis was quite upset at this point so I worked my best fatherly skills to calm her down and reassure her that we would sort this all out.  Then we began to focus together on the situation at hand.

We took a moment to discuss that this is one of the problems of the Net: that if something gets posted to the Net, is is very difficult to retain control over it.  That though the Net provides a certain sense of anonymity, consequences can become very personal and real, really quickly.

I discussed that I wouldn't advise her to EVER give out her mobile phone number on the Net. Period.  To anyone or any site, for any reason, no matter how serious the moment felt.

Especially as a teen.

Absolutely not without checking with another trusted adult's (her parents) advice first, which I praised her for doing just now.

We discussed similar topics while she concurrently kept trying to text her friend for details of what she had saw....her friend was busy apparently.

Once Alvis had settled down and was breathing normally again, I took what I had gathered off her message post and went back to do some digging.

Alice felt a little irritated at the Caterpillar's making such VERY short remarks, and she drew herself up and said, very gravely, `I think, you out to tell me who YOU are, first.'

Alvis had opened the link on her Linux pc in Firefox, so I wasn't very concerned at the moment that any harm had befallen her pc by going to the link page, but I had some doubts and decided to be hesitant on firing up the web-site on my Windows machine without some research first.

I first looked up the page in a WhoIs service.  The site was registered on GoDaddy just a few days ago.  Hmmm.

I then fired up a virtual session of Damn Small Linux (a.k.a "embedded").  Once this was running, I safely browsed to the website in question in Firefox to examine the page source code and links.

Looking at the page-source code, I saw that the simple page that contained a frameset code for a link that pulled the address link from another website's html code. There was also a java script box that led to a stats hit-counter.  All in all, there were just a few lines of code for the page and that was it.  Pretty simple stuff.

Attempting to navigate away from that page brought up a box with scary warnings that unless I validated with my cell phone, access would be denied.  Yeah, whatever.

I copied the full address found in the main-page source-code view frame window and pasted it in my address bar.  Then I took a look at that page's source-code.

This page contained several java-scripts; the first was for the "access denied warning," next was some HTML code that pulled from a page to display an important "captcha" page that makes it appear your are really going somewhere secure and important, another java-script section that appears to serve up a random URL link to be used for the "click here" to validate your cellphone line, and a final section of java-scrip with a bunch of stat-counters.

Lots of code-hoops to jump through just to get to a simple page to enter my mobile phone number and verify via a PIN to access this supposed profile website that has a discussion of my daughter's pictures.


I now turned my attention to the page itself as displayed having clicked through to follow this now suspect white rabbit.

The displayed page was a hip looking graphic of a young woman with a ear-phone equipped cell phone offering "complimentary" ring tones and other mobile phone downloadables (with paid subscription).  (Note: complimentary and paid aren't usually found in the same sentence where I come from...)

That was in smaller print.  What was the center of attention were the fields to enter the cell phone number with a big "SUBMIT" button.

However, I recalled a bit of advice I picked up somewhere...before you eat the mushrooms, best follow the smoke and converse with caterpillars for their advice...or something like that.

Even though the page graphic made it appear as if fully displayed, I saw that my page scrollbars had a bit more room to view at the bottom.

I pulled it down and imagine to my surprise, not quite a talking caterpillar on a mushroom smoking from a hookah, but even better, a Terms of Service statement that says in tiny print that I am sure all teens would find and read.

It explains that by entering your mobile phone in, and by responding with the PIN sent to it you agree to terms and conditions of anywhere from a $19.99 monthly charge on your carrier bill to a $5.99 weekly charge, depending on your mobile carrier.

Oh yeah, users under age 18 were required to get parental approval first.  I bet.  Glad they put that statement buried deep-down on the page in all the legalese in small font for the kids to see and read before entering their mobile number and responding to the PIN so they could see the pictures and discussion that was going on about them.

Maybe that wasn't a hookah but a bong.

`One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.'

Alvis eventually got in touch with her friend who swore up and down she hadn't sent her the MySpace message and didn't know anything about it.  Her friend was very confused.

Alvis also checked in with several of her other friends who had also received the same exact message about their pictures also being top rated in this "forum" as well.

At this point it appears that her friend's MySpace access had somehow been compromised and her friend/address book got hijacked by someone or some code and mass-mailed this scam-ad message to everyone in there. 

I have come to find out that this is actually a fairly common event called "profile hijacking" and occurs when someone is scammed into providing their login credentials either by a phishing page or by inserting malicious MySpace template feature code (profile watchers or trackers) onto their page.  For some more information see: Spam Bulletins

This remains the biggest concern that watching Alvis's use of her MySpace has taught me; kids are quite smart enough to seek out templates and "widget" code to fancy-up their MySpace pages...but not nearly sophisticated enough to inspect and understand just what that code they are copy/pasting will actually DO behind the scenes once it is enabled on their page (or their family/friend's computers when the pages load). It's a real PC security nightmare.

Had Alvis taken the bait, she would eventually been confronted by her parents to explain why a large monthly service charge had been suddenly added to the family mobile phone bill and why "complimentary paid" mobile phone services were appearing on her phone.

No malicious code (technically true) was found on these pages, just a new variant on an old bait-and-switch scam.

Come, there's half my plan done now! How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another! However, I've got back to my right size: the next thing is, to get into that beautiful garden--how IS that to be done, I wonder?'

Parents and MySpace fans alike...beware, please.

Discuss these things with your kids.  Learn about them yourself.

Talk about Net security in general at a level your kids can understand.  Build a sense of rapport and trust with them.  I promise it will pay off in times like these.

Don't know much about Net security? 

Here are some great resources:

Finally, if you are involved with MySpace, either as an adult with your own page, or a parent of a child with a MySpace page, bookmark and RSS feed this site:

This website/blog is a fantastic source for posts that cover current MySpace security issues ranging from virus seeding of pages, fake profiles, scams, security in general, predators, and spam bulletins and comments.  It gives great background to lots of topics and issues and helps keep invested parties aware of security issue trends at MySpace.

Please take the time to keep your kids safe and educated in Net safety....


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Windows Live Writer - Portable and Wishes

The sudden tropical storm that became a hurricane that left Houston high and dry has come and gone.

Jim Thompson's experience and feeling closely mirror my own: Updated: Where did this come from?

We have had to delay a project rollout by half a day, but still should be on target.

So as I have a few more hours before heading into work, I thought I would pass on these Windows Live Writer tidbits.

Make Windows Live Writer Portable

Some great folks have been hard at work making Windows Live Writer portable for USB drives.

I really wish more applications were designed this way, or provided "optional" install to USB features.

Ryan over at Cybernet News did a great job explaining how to make the latest version USB Portable: Making Windows Live Writer Portable - CyberNet News

He provides nice screenshots, a great walkthrough, and links to the files you will need.  It's an easy process.

ShanKri-la blog has a few more details on the same technique: Windows Live Writer Portable 2.0 - With U3 Support

Finally, TechLifeBlogged tackles it all with a highly detailed technical post on the entire process: Windows Live Writer Portable 2.0 Now with U3

Pick your poison.

Windows Live Suite Download Magic

In a show fit to make David Copperfield amazed, when you download any Windows Live Suite applications, it makes use of a unified installer.

This gets you a single "installer file" (similar to the Internet Explorer installer from IE 6.0 and 5.0 days) that then goes back to the Net and downloads the actual components.

You can download individual apps from their pages, or select the applications from a website page.

What magic lurks behind the mirrors?

Long Zheng spills the beans...but they are not Boston...they're cookies.

The cookie magic behind Windows Live Suite installer -  istartedsomething blog.

Long provides a great peek into the workings that key which Live apps get downloaded by the installer.

Words from WLW Warriors

Adam Vero left an update comment on my Changing Windows Live Writer Dictionaries post.  He appreciated me tracking down the source(s) of alternate forigen language dictionaries that can be used with WLW. Adam did an update post mentioning my post (thanks!).  I look forward to seeing Adam's views on this new version of WLW.

Rick Mahn left a very kind comment on one of my recent WLW post. That led me to his blog and this post: Windows Live Writer Wish List.  Great blogging with an interesting perspective.  Going to add Rick to my RSS feed list.

And Kent Newsome mentioned my WLW musings as well in his Evening Reading: 9/9/07.  I haven't intended to be this focused on WLW but I do seem to have taken on a role as a WLW evangelist. 

Maybe I need to stop by and pick up a KFC bucket to pass around....

Claus's Windows Live Writer Wish List

Since Rick make a wish list, I thought I would revisit my own wishes for Windows Live Writer.  I really need to track down how to contact WLW developers directly...but haven't yet.

  • We need to be able to customize the toolbar icons like we can in other Microsoft Office products.

  • Why isn't the Font Color format icon/option on the toolbar? I use font colors for headers and it is a real drag to go up there into the file menu to get to it. While we are at it, why can't I right-click and have some of the formatting options show up in the context menu as well?

  • How come I don't have sub-script and super-script formatting options?

  • Something that would be really cool would be to add "insert special character" support: HTML Entities. I'm always adding some symbols like ™ and the like. To do that I have to drop into the HTML view mode and add it there.  Yes, there is a plug-in to help with this but I would like it native to the application.

  • While we are now on that, why doesn't the program remember where my cursor is at when I switch from web-view mode into HTML view mode? I hate having to go picking through the post code from the very beginning and try to find where I want to add my "custom" code.

  • Dragging and Dropping links still takes a bit of practice. Too often I find myself running my dragged link up and down the page for a time until I can finally get it settled down to the location where I want to drop it. This isn't a video-game, guys. A little control would be nice.

  • I would like just a bit more control over the formatting (spacing) for the bullet and number lists. Most of the time I want to add a space between each bullet/number item for visual clarity. However, the only way I am able to do so is to drop into HTML mode and add some paragraph spacing codes. Give me an option to set that separation, or just let me be able to add a return and then delete the bullet but keep the space. Yes, a plug in for WLW allows me to do this but I want better native control.

Keep up the good work, WLW guys!


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Windows Live Writer - Beta 3 Released (the last one before final)

While Apple was being all flashy with it's latest release-day event showcase, Microsoft had a really quiet release of it's Windows Live Beta product line.

Previously, they had been doing beta releases of their "Windows Live" products as "standalone" components.

This time around they did a biggie and, similar to Google Pack, decided to make an integrated (unified) installer for their products.

Announcing the Windows Live Suite with Unified Installer - The Windows Experience Blog

Windows Live Writer - Beta 3

I had suspected a new version of WLW was coming soon: Coming Soon: New Windows Live Writer release? but was really excited to see it was released this quickly.

So I couldn't wait to get home and try out the new version.

I chose to download it from this Windows Live Writer page.

However, you can also get it from this page and select the Windows Live products you want to install here.


My download selection brought me a file just under 2 MB. Upon launching it reminded me of the old Internet Explorer 5 and 6 installers that bring down a pre-install file, which when ran, prompts the user for some options, then goes and gets the "real" installation package files.

I was first prompted to make Live Search my default IE search engine and to allow Microsoft to collect installation info (no thanks to both).

Next the installer scanned my system for any installed Windows Live components.

At that time it offered installation of these additional Windows Live products which I declined: Sign-in Assistant, Messenger, Mail, Toolbar, Photo gallery (which does look pretty nice), and Family safety.

All in all the installation took about five minutes on my Vista machine and maybe eight on my XP system. It did seem to "hang" but feedback from the installer and reports that a longer install time could be expected kept me patient.

I did have to update my RocketDock shortcut icon as the program folder location for WLW had changed as I expected and previously posted to from <program files>\Windows Live Writer\ to <program files>\Windows Live\Writer\

Current WLW plug-ins should continue to work, despite the new installation locations as it was coded to look in both places, but future versions may not.

Beta 3 version number now being reported is 12.0.1277.816.

According to the Windows Live Writer blog, this will be the last beta before the final release version.

What's New?

Well, first off, don't expect any new or revolutionary GUI changes. Everything looks pretty much the same on the surface.

According to Writer Zone blog WLW users can now:

  • Insert videos using our new 'Insert Video' dialog

  • Upload images to Picasaweb when publishing to your Blogger blog

  • Publish XHTML-style markup

  • Use Writer in 28 additional languages

  • Print your posts

  • Justify-align post text

  • Better image handling (fewer blurry images)

  • Resolved installation issues from last release

  • Many other bug fixes and enhancements

It's all about Images

To me the two largest features were direct-image publishing to Blogger (Picasaweb) and video embedding support.

In the past when including images in my posts, I have first composed my post and published it to Blogger. Then I would log into the Blogger web interface, pull my post to edit it online and upload/add the image to the post. Now I can just directly do it all at once in Windows Live Writer. Nice. forewarned about that Blogger/Picasaweb integration. Picasaweb does support JPEG, PNG, and GIF image formats. But at the time this version was being developed, they didn't. So this WLW version will accept those images, but converts them to JPEG prior to you will likely experience some image quality issues due to the conversion. My advice? Use a image editing program like Paint.NET or FastStone Image Viewer to edit/convert your image to JPEG yourself to keep better control of the conversion quality process. Then insert that image into WLW. The next release of WLW will not do this as Picasaweb now does support those image formats.

Insert Video feature is another new one.

You can add a URL or an embed and WLW will automatically detect if it’s a video from a supported site: currently Brightcove, Google Video, Grouper, MySpace, ODEO, Revver, Soapbox, Splashcast, and YouTube. That should save some coding time.

About that XHTML support

The Windows Live Writer team seems to have been listening loud and clear to coders complaints about XHTML code processing. They have improved the markup for those who prefer their empty tags with a trailing slash. Also removed, non-breaking spaces and non-validating attributes like contenteditable and atomicselection.

If you really want to get into the details, Windows Live Writer team-member Joe Cheng has some specifics on the code-handling in his post: Writer now supports XHTML* (emphasis on the asterisk). Check it out for the details.

Still In Works

No 64-bit OS support in this one.

The built-in spell-checker only supports American-English. Additional foreign language dictionary support is planned, but not included at this time. If this is something you REALLY need now, please see my post: Changing Windows Live Writer Dictionaries which can get you the Queen's English spell-check dictionary as well as several additional foreign language dictionary support. You just have to be willing to do a few hacks.

Bonus Tip: Paste Special

I didn't realize it, but the Paste Special feature in WLW is pretty powerful.

I found this marvelous post by Charles Teague who is a developer with the Windows Live Writer project: DragonStyle: Paste Special in Windows Live Writer

Normally when you paste into WLW, it does some automatic re-formatting of the pasted content to match the style of your weblog. It occurs behind the scenes and you might not even be aware of what it is doing.

However, sometimes you might want to preserve some of that original formatting code and prevent it from being "thinned." That's where "Paste Special" comes in.

It is available via the Edit menu or from the right-click context menu.

For example, suppose you've just copied a block of text from a web-page to include in your WLW blog composition. If you select "Paste Special" you can select to remove all formatting which strips all HTML code out and only leave the content and line breaks. You can go with the "default" thinning setting which pulls some MS Office type formatting, CSS styles, tables, but retains basic formatting and tweaks it to merge with your blog style. Or you can keep all the formatting regardless if it works with your blog style or not. I did not notice this, but scripts are always stripped out of copy/pasted content for "security reasons."

It also senses the source application to some degree and provides modified choices, accordingly.

Charles provides a second example by using text copied from Notepad. In this case if you select "Paste Special" from a Notepad view of HTML code, and then choose "Plain Text" it will enable the HTML code to go in "escaped" so you can paste the code elements without "enabling" it in your blog post (for illustrating code for example).

Otherwise you can select "HTML" and it will format the content just like normal code should be displayed.

This is a really neat feature.

More Linkage

Happy Blogging!


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Great Utility Updates

A few handy utilities for Windows got some quiet updates yesterday and today:

Sysinternals Process Explorer

Process Explorer for Windows v11.0 - This fantastic freeware utility from Microsoft's Sysinternals got a pretty big update.  There were a number of changes made but the majority of them seem to be getting to play even better with Vista. The link has a full list of changes, but these are the ones that stand out to me:

• New treelist control for better UI responsiveness

• More flags on groups in security tab and SID display

• Thread IDs on threads tab

• On-line search uses default web browser and search engine

• Vista ASLR column for processes and DLLs

• Vista Process and thread I/O and memory priorities in process and thread properties

• Vista Process and thread I/O and memory columns

• Run as limited user runs with low IL on Vista

• Reports information for all object types on Vista

• Show details for all processes elevation menu item on Vista

Supports replacement of task manager on Vista

• Faster startup

Did you catch that next-to-last item?  You can now set Process Explorer to replace the standard Task Manager in Vista.  It also supports this option in XP.  All of my systems now have been updated to make Process Explorer launch at Ctrl-Alt-Del keypresses.  It changes back to normal by just unselecting the option from the toolbar.  It does seem to launch and run much faster than before.

This is a must-have tool for anyone who supports Microsoft systems.

Sysinternals PageDefrag

Microsoft's TechNet Magazine has a great (but brief) article that details the benefits of the Microsoft Sysinternals tool PageDefrag.  If you have ever wondered what this freeware tool does or why you might want to consider using it, check out the article: Utility Spotlight: PageDefrag -- TechNet Magazine, September 2007

Spybot Search and Destroy 1.5 - Final!

Spybot remains one of my favorite anti-malware tools.  It has lots of advanced features and does a good job pulling malware from machines.  Sure, it probably can't fully clean a machine of a bad malware infection by itself, but it still holds an honored spot in my anti-malware toolbox.

I've posted before that Spybot was in beta testing of this release and had been happily using it for a number of months.  It performed great.

So now Safer Networking has made their final release of Spybot Search and Destroy 1.5 available to the public.

The GUI is cleaned up.  The updater has been updated. It now "officially" supports Vista. Memory issues have been cleaned up. Mozilla and Opera now join Internet Explorer in receiving the ability to be "immunized" by Spybot. Improved functions under Wine, boot CD (PE) support, Win 95 compatibility was restored, 64-bit support, a "portable.ini" file to enable preferences to be saved if run via USB, Vista Security Center integration, support to rename services before stopping/killing them, and a host of interface bug fixes, tweaks, and sundry.  Full change log here.

I've not been successful using Universal Extractor to unpack the Setup file.  So to make it "portable" for USB, I just ran the installer, then copied the files from the Program Files folder it created onto my USB stick.  Runs like a charm from USB and the portable.ini file helps keep it tidied up with my preferences saved.

NirSoft Utility Updates

Two handy NirSoft tools (freeware) also got nice updates:

CurrPorts - This tool identifies and lists all open TCP/IP and UDP port connections on your system.  The update adds three new features:

  • New column: Added On - Displays the date that the specified connection was added.
  • New Option: Put Icon On Tray.
  • New Option: Log File.

SysExporter - Every now and then I will find some data in a program or application or dialog box that I want to capture, but just can't seem to get at.  SysExporter is a tool that can capture much of that data, even when other means cannot.  Four new features are added in this release:

  • New Option: Display HTML As Plain Text (For HTML controls)
  • New Option: Display Invisible Items.
  • New Option: Display Items With Invisible Parent Window.
  • Added filters by control type.

So many great tools and little time to play with them....