Monday, April 30, 2007

A breath of fresh Air: Coming soon to USA!

No I haven't seen any of the anime series/movie "Air" yet, but I have seen lots of images and a few mini-videos while they were still alive on YouTube and I have long since been captivated.

This is supposed to be a romantic "slice of life" drama with some supernatural twists themed anime series.

It is very popular among its fan base and the artwork is supposed to be pretty spectacular along with the soundtrack music.

Although Air held good fan support in Japan and a decent following by the few US fans who knew how to find it for viewing, many considered it too small a series to ever warrant a US distributor picking it up, doing the ADR work, and then offering it for sale in the US. I had long since given up hope, myself.

What is interesting is that Air began as a Japanese bishoujo game (warning, that Wikipedia link describes "adult" content) and managed to get spun out into what appears to be a lavishly illustrated and sweetly romantic anime series. Go figure.

Well...times have changed! Air is on its way Stateside! Picked up the ADV of all folks.

I can't wait!

ADV Licenses Air TV, Movie - News announcement via Anime News Network.

The comment thread of this announcement is over 150 comments and still going! You can just feel the obvious excitement here.

Air (movie) - official Japanese webpage.

Air (TV) - official Japanese webpage.

Air TV - great review via bluemist anime blog

Air (anime) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (plot and spoilers)

See you in blue skies and fresh air...

--Claus

Shaken, not Stirred

As is often the case, sometimes "real life" must take precedence over my blogging desires.

Been a busy, nay, a hectic weekend.

So my desire to explain the ReadyBoost post must wait a day longer.

So for now...Link Post time!

Network Nuggets Revisited

A bit ago I made the Free Network Utility Nuggets post.

I mentioned that there were some things I was forgetting, but would have to get back with.

Essential NetTools (trialware/$) - Rarely do I feel the need to post to a trialware/paid version of software. There are just so many good applications that are offered as freeware. However, TamoSoft's Essential NetTools is just too good an application not to mention. It really is like having a Swiss army knife of network tools. Consider all the features in this single program: NetStat (to monitor your computer's network statistics, ports and traffic, ProcMon to monitor system processes, TraceRoute and Ping, PortScan (to look for open network ports), NSLookup (to covert IP addresses to host names), NBScan (NetBIOS scaner), RawSocket, Shares, NetAudit, SNMPAudit, SysFiles, and finally, report generation in several formats.

Wow. And all this for under $30.00. I have found it to run quite well off a USB stick. Nice!

Wireshark Windows U3 Package (freeware) - Wireshark is a network traffic sniffer. As I mentioned before, there is an (older) portable version of Ethereal out there, but I missed pointing out that the updated Wireshark version has a portable (experimental) version. I'm not really into this U3 business. So just download the file, rename it's .u3p extension to .zip and then unzip it. Copy the extracted files to a USB stick and see how it runs.

New OpenDNS Feature Revolutionizes the Net - I've been a rabid convert to OpenDNS for a while now. I liked it so much that I made the DNS setting changes directly into my router so all our systems use it automatically. Paul Stamatiou posted a great review of a new free service provided by OpenDNS--Shortcuts. Basically shortcuts allow you to type a keyword into your browser URL address bar and that takes you directly to your page. Kinda like bookmarks but for the URL bar itself. The only requirements are that you need to be using OpenDNS and have created a free account. Configuration is easy. I haven't had time to get working on this, but I can see how this would be nice, especially since advanced parametered shortcuts can also be created.

Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool for Vista & XP - Donna's SecurityFlash - This free tool from Microsoft runs on Vista or XP and can test your home network's router to see if it supports some advanced networking features. Microsoft Download page. Screenshots.

TCP Optimizer (freeware) - This network connection optimizer tool promises to analyze and tweak your system's network connectivity settings to optimize your network performance. FreewareGenius has a short and sweet positive review, and the Lifehacker gang liked its results as well. Take a look at TCP Optimizer's FAQ or extensive Help page and see if it is worth trying out. Been to busy to run it yet on my XP systems, but I am going to give it a go by the weekend. I'll let you know what I think personally then.

Vista does some TCP/IP autotuning on its own. However, if you need to do some manual tweaking, here is a post on how to turn that feature off and on: How to disable Windows Vista TCP/IP autotuning.

For a great tech-headed link source regarding networking in Vista, head over to the Microsoft TechNet page on Windows Vista Networking. Lots of good stuff in there.

Japanese Woodwork PC Cases

I have always loved traditional Japanese woodworking and joinery designs. There is something very efficient yet graceful in the construction.

Here are two stunning pc case mods you might be interested in if you like custom cases or woodworking:

Incredible “Yuugou” Case Mod

"Sangaku" Japanese Case Mod - look closely for the next page link. Has more construction pictures than a Norm Abram episode of New Yankee Workshop.

Simply beautiful.

Useful Thunderbird Extensions

While I use quite a few Add-on extensions in Firefox. I use very few in the Mozilla email client Thunderbird. It is quite close to perfectly matching my email client needs.

Ryan over at CyberTech News posted a roundup of ten of his favs for Thunderbird. While I already used one, and did adopt a 2nd with joy, the rest could be quite useful for Thunderbird power-users or those wanting to add a bit more functionality to Thunderbird.

My two favorite Thunderbird Add-ons are Lightning which is a calendaring application much like Outlook, and MinimizeToTray which sends Thunderbird to the system tray icon location instead of the Task Bar when minimized..just like I have my Outlook set to do at work. Brilliant!

Check out Ryan's List for all the goodies. You might like some of his other recommendations.

Underground Goodies

When we were growing up, vacation travels almost always meant a visit to any caves we passed by. They are very mysterious and beautiful locations. Maybe that's why I'm always intrigued when some new archeological discovery or hidden treasure is located underground. It appeals to the adventurous kid in me.

BLDBLG has a great and fascinating post on Tunnels, mines, and the "upwardly migrating void" with visits to the Hanover Chalk mines and the Scotland Street Tunnel in Edinburgh. Lots of great pictures.

I saw that tomorrow night, the History Channel is also getting into the underground scene with a new series Cities of the Underworld. It also looks fascinating, so I have to get home in time to catch the first episode of this series. (Maybe my Vista post will have to wait a bit longer...)

Even more neat things at Subterranea Brittanica

Holy ISO Trinity

I have to deal with and manage creating and archiving CD and DVD media at work for our group. Instead of keeping a disk organizer on my desk with masters for copy-to-copy duplications (and watching them disappear) I keep ISO copies on a workstation and then just burn them on demand.

In the process I've obtained quite a collection of tools to help me create and burn ISOs. There are a lot of awesome tools I have to handle these tasks, but these three freeware offerings are the Holy Trinity I use. Tiny, fast and function focused.

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.

If you need some tools with a bit more "beef" for burning or ISO work here are some additional freeware utilities. ImgBurn for advanced disk burning setting control and IsoBuster for advanced CD/DVD file recovery, ISO creation, disk/ISO structure review, and the list goes on....

KeePass Versus KeePass

KeePass is the encrypted password manager of choice for me. I love it. It is tiny, portable, and brilliantly designed and 100% freeware. Version 1.07 has just been released, but so has 2.02 Alpha.

Here is a great feature comparison between the current 1.xx versions and the 2.xx builds.

Highlights in 2.xx: support for older OS's will be dropped for 2000/XP/Vista now. It will require .Net Framework of 2.0 or better. It drops "twofish" encryption but adds compression support and XML inner formatting. It will support the Windows User Account as a Key source, allow for custom string fields for individual entries, importation of external icons, and keep an entry history. There are many more additional features coming in 2.xx as well. See the link for more information.

Security Bits

SANS-ISC handlers recently posted a great "Follow the Bouncing Malware" series addition: Day of the Jackal. In it we see how following what appears to be an innocent email link gets a world of malware hurt going on a pc. I really look forward to these posts and always learn something new to be aware of in my own malware hunting drills at work.

Comodo has opened up their newly purchased BOClean product for free download and usage. BOClean has had a long and strongly supported following in the anti-malware/anti-trojan product circles. Its fans are many. I haven't had the chance to try it out, but am looking forward to playing around with it. This previously established anti-malware product joins their growing stable of freeware security products like their firewall, anti-virus and free (for personal use) secure email certificate issuance.

Although currently offered for XP/2000 system support, Donna's Security Flash has a great post that explains that it can run quite successfully on a Vista system as well, so long as you know the following installation trick:

"In order to properly install the COMODO BOClean 4.23 onto a Vista machine, you *MUST* right click on the downloaded setup programme and select "Run as administrator" to install it properly."

Whew.

Feels good to get all those links off my chest an onto yours!

See you in the skies.

--Claus

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vista ReadyBoost (or: a Tale of Two Techies)

So Saturday while I was taking care of some shopping errands, I decided to look into picking up some memory to use for Vista's ReadyBoost feature.

(More on why I wanted that in another post...but it's even better than you can guess....)

Now I already knew that all when it comes to ReadyBoost, all memory is not created equal and the thought of buying some and finding out it didn't work wasn't appealing. The memory I had been looking at in the store still hadn't began being marked as "ReadyBoost" compatible so I was on my own.

First Techie Try

I was in a particular GoodPurchase big box tech store and having nothing better to do, decided to ask a black and white clad young man behind a counter if he could assist me.

"I'm looking for some memory for a laptop and want to make sure it is ReadyBoost compatible. What can you recommend?"

Simple question right? For a tech support geek? You would think.

So he asked what model of laptop I had.

Deciding not to reveal my secret identity as a desktop and network support tech, and being a nice lazy Saturday, I decided to go with the flow.

I told him there was one very similar in the store.

We walked over there and he immediately began to explain to me that unless I was 100% that was the exact same model he couldn't tell me. Each model had different specs and while the laptop shells looked similar, they would often have different insides.

"You mean system boards impact ReadyBoost memory?" I asked in as noobie a voice as I could muster without laughing.

He nodded and explained that system boards have different specs which will determine the particular kind of memory I need to get. Without that information, he couldn't make a good recommendation.

He suggested that I log onto the Crucial memory website and check there.

I thanked him for his time and he wandered off.

Umm. 100% wrong here.

ReadyBoost

ReadyBoost is a feature of Windows Vista that allows USB or SD removable media memory to be used as caching space by the Windows Vista memory manager system "...via a technique called SuperFetch -- part of Windows Vista's intelligent heuristic memory management system."

It has nothing (well not much at all) to do with the physical systemboard and system RAM.

It does have everything to do with the memory device's speeds for random read/write activity.

That's why it is important to know if a memory device meets the needed requirements before you buy...it may turn out that while the memory stick looks good or is pretty fast, it isn't fast enough to work for ReadyBoost. Rejected!

Here are some very good posts on Vista's ReadyBoost worth doing your homework with:

So to Recap on Vista's ReadyBoost

  • The USB stick must be at least USB 2.0

  • Some SD/CF media will also work if it meets the specs.

  • External SD media readers will (probably) not work.

  • External hard-drive based media won't (to my understanding) work.

  • Internal hardware SD media readers will (probably) work. (make sure your drivers are up to date)

  • The device minimum spec for ReadyBoost appears to be 2.5MB/s read & 1.75 MB/s write, while Microsoft’s ReadyBoost usage guidelines say that for a device to be listed as Enhanced for ReadyBoost it must do around double that - 5MB/s read & 3MB/s write (based on 4k random reads and 512k random writes). reference link

  • The memory media has to have between 256M-4GB of space. Anything more or less won't do.

  • Only one ReadyBoost device per machine.

(That's all at least the best I can tell.)

Second Techie Try

So I returned home after the fun and frustration of techie one and decided to attempt to do some research as to a brand/model of SD or USB media that would be sure to work.

I found some articles that listed some ReadyBoost memory devices (linked above) but nothing that was a "hit out of the park" with certainty when I went to the store. (I can only hope and expect as Vista gets more common, more removable memory manufacturers will begin to clearly label their products as "ReadyBoost Ready" to help confused consumers.)

For my second attempt I went back out and stopped by an Office Supply store that I knew carried a nice variety of USB drives.

Just my luck, there was a young salesguy right there helping another guy with a PSU. When he got done he saw me looking in the USB case and asked if I needed help.

"I'm looking for a USB drive that I can be sure is compatible with Vista's ReadyBoost. Do you have anything that I can be sure will work when I get home and plug it in?" I asked.

"Sure. We have several kinds. In fact I use one myself. Works great. The Ativa brand. It's on sale."

I spotted it in the case.

"We have the 1GB on sale."

I saw a 2GB one as well. "I think I'll try the 2GB one."

"That's the same size I use. I love it," he said smiling.

He pulled it from the case and I bought it for about $50.

I got home, cut it out of the plastic wrap and plugged it in.

Vista likey! A quick confirmation for configuration and I was in business.

Hurray for Techie Two!

No trying to impress me with geekspeek. Ask and you shall receive.

Ready and Boosted!

So now I'm using a 2GB ReadyBoost share and loving it.

And from what I understand...the longer I use it, the smarter Vista will get and performance should get even better.

How sweet is that?

Just remember, do your homework on ReadyBoost and if you aren't getting a good answer when asking the Techies...move on.

And why was I looking for a stick of memory to use with ReadyBoost?

Well...you'll just have to wait a bit longer for that story.

--Claus

A Comment on GSD Comments

I really appreciate all of you who stop by and visit.

And it is cool when I find that a blogger whose work I respect and enjoy reading likes me back.

It's kinda like the feeling I got as a kid when I began getting picked mid-draw for the recess kickball teams instead of being one of the last...pride that I might just be doing something right.

I hope you find my mix of family vignettes, technical tips and briefs, and admiration of many things Japanese, entertaining and educational.

There is so much content on the web, and all of our time is very limited, I value you choosing to share a bit of my reflections.

And for the few faithful who drop comments, I consider myself honored by your gifts. I honestly mean that.

I don't blog for comments. I don't blog for traffic. I write because I'm probably a compulsive writer, find it oddly relaxing and fun, and I hope to return the aid others have given me by their writings. Sometimes it is just a reduction of previously found and posted material. Hopefully sometimes it is original.

And just so you know about those comments that do get left, I try to keep a close eye on them.

There have been some comments by readers who have disagreed with my choices in some software applications...that's fine. I like a nice dialogue as long as it is respectful. I've learned valuable things from listening to those who disagree with me. They provide an important perspective that expands my knowledge.

And I'm not just saying that. Those who know me in person, know that is really how I am.

I really like the positive comments from folks who have found some of my posts helpful to them.

I will delete clear spam comments without any guilt or hesitation.

I don't mind, if in the course of a dialogue, a commentor drops a recommendation to a particular product...so long as it isn't harmful or destructive to someone's system or is a scam or a link to a malware infection. I will run links through a web-scanner to make sure that a visitor doesn't get led into something harmful when they come by my blog. I make every effort to ensure that software linked and/or recommended by me is "safe". I'm not a programmer so I can't ever be 100% certain, but I promise to do my very best.

I will also delete comments they are un-family-like. Alvis and Lavie listen to enough crud in the world we live in, and they don't need to see it here. Fortunately that hasn't been an issue.

I'm thinking about the responsibility of monitoring comments because the other day someone posted a very unusual and mysterious comment under one of my posts.

It was a solicitation to contact them to do a review on a product.

I try to do my homework, and after a bit of web-investigation work found the following post that perfectly described what I had encountered in the comment left on my blog post:

To the Panda Software article plant effort: this is not the article that you were hoping for

Bless your heart, "Erika." I appreciate the fact my little bitty blog triggered an desire to collaborate, but I'm not interested.

I don't get any income from this blog. No ads. No sponsors. If I mention or rave about a product or service it's because I am a customer or fan...I don't get anything in return. No Ferrari notebooks here!

So peace, love, and harmony to those who wish to accept it from us.

And a delete button press for those who bring gifts of comment spam, solicitations, and ick.

Claus

E7: What was that?

So tonight Adult Swim ended its run of Eureka Seven.

The series is over.

For most fans who haven't seen the Japanese run yet, it ended on an exciting and hopeful note. A slam of action and a breeze of romance.

Nice.

Except, unless I just totally fell asleep, it seems to me that they did some HEAVY editing at the end. Like left the whole last scene out.

At the end...right before the credits ran...there is the number 1 and some Japanese characters. Then the credits roll.

What I think that said was "1 year later."

From there a very important closing series of scenes and conversations continued to wrap the series up as a year has passed since Eureka and Renton returned to Earth.

If you did see the final episode in Japanese you know exactly what I am talking about.

If not, well...too bad. Apparently, Adult Swim felt they could muck around with as April's Fool joke and shift an E7 episode around but couldn't spring for the extra 5 or so minutes of air-time to show this last tender finale. (Or maybe it was a licensing issue...who knows...)

Too bad. I'm disappointed for you guys and gals. I saw the "real" ending and feel a bit ripped off now by Adult Swim...even if I don't really know if I can hold them to blame.

You will probably have to wait for the final DVD episode releases to see what you missed.

It would have been a sweet and perfect cap to the series for everyone.

Fortunately, we caught it on YouTube (before it was removed as banned content).

Renton's grandfather has the kids and they are eating together in a cafe. I believe he has adopted them. Dusk is descending and they rush out to someplace special. Over the cliffs they use some telescopes to look up at the moon that has been etched (by the light beam surrounded by hearts seen in the final episode) with Eureka and Renton's names in a big heart (like lovers would do in a tree) for all the world below to see. As the camera angle pans, you catch a distant motorbike and sidecar with Dominic and Anemone looking upward as well. And as the scene changes you catch two blinking lights...red and blue and as we zoom down towards the lights they are in a forest, and just before the final end, we come close enough to see that the lights are Renton and Eureka in silhouette facing each other holding hands.

At least that's how I remember it ending. Wikepedia has it as well.

Yeah, after all that action and destruction, it ends on a romantically sappy note.

We like it that way.

--Oh well, wait for the DVD's....

Eureka Seven....one of the best anime series in a long time.

Even if it had mecha in it.

--Claus

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

C-64 Madness

My home computing days began with a Commodore VIC-20. We upgraded to a C-64 a few years later.

I remember getting buying the coding magazines off the store racks, racing home and typing in reams of code to try to get a game to run.

If I did everything perfectly and no debugging was needed, it might just work. More often than not I would have to wait for next month's issue to see where they made a printing error to get it to work once and for all.

My dad and brother build a voice synthesizer from plans and parts from Radio Shack. That was pretty cool.

I even remember shopping at our local K-Mart (back when they had a lunch counter in there that we could get hot-dogs, grilled cheeses, drinks, etc.) one day and having just enough summer chore money to get a tape cassette program of the game Super Zaxxon. Man that was fun. Never beat the game but nothing was more thrilling than popping in the cassette tape, loading the game to the C-64 memory, and blasting away.

Ahh the good ole times.

So today I found the site c64s.com.

It contains a bazillion retro C-64 games, all served up in Java for entertainment all over again on your modern computer system.

Games that I used to play, and now I can let kick my butt all over again!

Super Zaxxon

Blue Max

Scramble

They have categories for action, adventure, arcade, flight, platform, puzzle, racing, shootem ups, sports, strategy, and many, many betas.

Some are funky, some are weird, some are just plain scarry! All are chock full of retro goodness

What an amazing website.

--Claus

Vista Sunsets and Sunrises

I don't post very much about Vista as I am not yet running it full time on any of my systems.

I do have Vista installed in several virtual machine sessions.

These I find helpful for testing, just picking around, and trying to get and idea if it is worth the while to do an eventual upgrade. Messing with Lavie when I run Vista virtually on her laptop in full screen mode so she can't tell it is a virtual session and she thinks I upgraded her laptop to Vista without getting her permission first...(hehehe)!

Honestly, I'm still very undecided on the whole prospect of upgrading to Vista at the moment.

Vista Sunset

Today the Windows Vista Team Blog reminded Vista Beta users that life was coming to a close for their release versions:

Windows Vista Beta 2, RC1 and RC2 set to expire

So, if you snagged one of the early release versions of Vista and have been using it as your primary operating systems, time to begin making some decisions before May 31 and August 28th of 2007.

  1. Purchase an Upgrade version of a Vista edition and (mostly) perform a clean install. Back up your data as this will erase your installed partition.

  2. Live in denial and buy a 2-hour timer. After May 31, 20007 your Beta/RC versions of Vista will work for 2 hour sessions (ostensibly to allow you sufficient time to retrieve data). When you hit that 2 hour limit the system will reboot without notice or data saving.

  3. Reinstall XP. Do this after backing up your data as you cannot "rollback" to XP from Vista. Your installation partition will be overwritten.

  4. Toss up your hands and move on to Linux: say PCLinuxOS 2007 or SAM Linux 2007?

  5. Get a Mac. Enough said.

One interesting observation on that Vista Team blog post was that only Windows Vista RC1 combo'ed with Windows Vista Ultimate RTM will allow users to perform an "In-Place" upgrade. All other combinations of Vista Beta/RC2 and Vista RTMs require "Clean installs." I wonder what makes RC1 so special?

Me?

Well as I only installed Vista in Microsoft Virtual PC sessions I'm not too concerned. Nor (I imagine) are those users who may also have installed RC versions of Vista in dual boot configurations.

Considering my needs and uses for Vista RC's that I have, the two-hour limit isn't any big deal. I don't think I keep any of my virtual Vista sessions open for more than an hour tops anyway when I am checking out hacks/tweaks/settings or new freeware reported to be compatible with Vista.

After August I will most likely have to dump the Vista virtual hard drive files (and free up some drive space) from my XP systems and then decide if I am going to go ahead and install a final build of Vista on Lavie's laptop....

We will see....

Vista Sunrise

Microsoft has announced the April 2007 Cumulative Update is now available for Media Center for Windows Vista. It rolls together a number of fixes for some Media Center specific problems,

Per Microsoft KB932818

Issues that are resolved by this update

In addition to the fixes that are contained in the updates that are listed in the "Hotfix replacement information" section, the April 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista resolves the following issues:

• The video may appear to freeze when the movie begins in some DVDs.

• When you rotate a picture during a slide show in Windows Media Center, the wrong photo may be rotated.

• The cover art for recorded TV movies may not appear in the DVD library view.

• When you delete a picture in Windows Media Center, you may receive an error message that resembles the following:

AUDIO ERROR
The Url contains one or more invalid characters.

• When you try to play a DVD by using Autoplay, you may receive an error message that resembles the following:

Tuner not installed

Improvements that are in this update

The update also provides the following improvements:

• Online Media support has been added for Windows Media Center on 64-bit versions of Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate.

• Video Playlist support has been added for Windows Media Center Extenders.

• Improvements have been made to Online Media caching.

Be aware, Ed Bott links to Robert McLaws report of experiencing issues with IE7 and Outlook 2007 after installation on one of his systems.

Thanks for the Memories, Vista

So as dawn breaks on cumulative patch releases (with more to come I have no doubt), sun sets on the RC builds of Vista that many, many early Vista explorers adopted to bug test, flight test, and ultimately loose their Vista virginity on.

I'm sure I'll look back on my heady early experiences with Vista fondly one day...

--Claus

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fabulous Firefox Extensions

Wow...I'm going on what will (hopefully) be my final entry on this weekend blog-posting marathon

According to my count, this will be number twelve in 2 days.

Prolific Posting! And I even managed to get (most) of my weekend chores done, watch two NASCAR (Bush and Nextel Cup) races, some anime and DVD movies and still Lavie and Alvis haven't felt abandoned by me in the least.

Sweet!

So to cap off the weekend (and there will probably be a week worth of posting silence) here is one last push on some great Mozilla Extension Add-ons I've made friends with this week.

Thanks but No Thanks

Computer World recently posted a quite controversial post (to Firefox fans anyway): Top 10 Firefox extensions to avoid.

Funny thing is that Claus (and many, many other Firefox fans) uses a few of them quite happily, thank you very much!

In all fairness I think I understand the perspective the author was coming from, but I must respectfully disagree with a number of the recommendations.

I use Fasterfox but am careful to set it (usually) to the "Optimized" setting only. And I don't enable the pre-fetching option if has either.

I love NoScript and think that it is a must-have extension to enhance the security of Firefox while out browsing on the web. If something thinks they need it, chances are pretty fair they will understand how to use its basic features. I don't surf the web without it! (More later in the post!)

Adblock and Adblock Plus. Right now I am using AdBlock but may soon switch to Adblock Plus. What's the difference? This thread post (Neowin Forums > Adblock vs. Adblock Plus) provides a nice summary. Now I understand how some web content providers would like to dissuade their viewers from having this tool. After all, who wants to offend their advertising/revenue sponsorship? However I use it very selectively on only a few ads that I find really annoying or offensive. Nothing else. I usually don't mind web-ads as long as they don't intrude into the content. Seems fair.

I've skipped commenting on the others listed as I don't use them, but I could probably make a good case for a few more of them as well.

For Thunderbird

Mozilla released Thunderbird 2.0 this past week. I've been using the beta versions for some time and have really come to appreciate and love the updated features.

However, if for some reason you want to say, send an email at a later point in time, you can't really do it. Why would you want to do this? Nefarious alibi-generating reasons aside, I'm sure someone may need it.

Enter the Send Later extension for Thunderbird.

Compose your message, hit Ctrl-Shift-Enter and you will get a nice dialog box to allow you to set a transmittal time and date.

Great find via Lifehacker!

For Firefox Tips

New to Firefox and having trouble learning the shortcut key commands to various features?

Try the asdf-jkl extension from the Google Code gang.

It displays small pop-up tip tags as you hover over various items in Firefox.

I'm sure that after a while you will grow tired and want to turn it off, but by then (hopefully) you will have learned your Firefox keyboard shortcut drills!

Another great find from Lifehacker.

A Power Gmail Extension for Firefox?

You bet!

Better Gmail 0.3 (Firefox) - Lifehacker guru and editor, Gina Trapaini tossed together a fantastic Firefox extension for power-Gmail users.

It's chock full of so much Gmail goodness, I can't think of anything else to be added!

She started out on the project with Better Gmail (Firefox extension).

It packs in Saved Searches, Macros, Label Colors, a Filter Assistant, Conversation Preview, Attachment Reminder, Attachment Icons, the ability to hide invites, Gmail Super Clean, One-click conversations, unlabeling, Gmail Secure, Signature float, Gmail + Google Reader, Date Search, Spam Count hide, and probably some more I missed.

Whew! Nice work Gina!

It doesn't change your Gmail account, just how Gmail is displayed and interacted with in Firefox.

To come to terms with all these powerful Gmail tools and a few other Gmail related Firefox extensions, take a read on the Hack Attack: Supercharge your Gmail post at Lifehacker. Some of the tips even use video tutorials!

Gmail novices might want to first read the Lifehacker post Hack Attack: Become a Gmail master. Pro's might find some good refresher-content here as well!

If you are a Gmail user, it's well worth the time to install and learn how to use this fabulous extension.

More Mozilla Security

We've already covered the FireCAT list of security related extensions for Firefox from Security Database's dojo. Although, you may be interested to know it has been nicely updated recently.

I've also mentioned that I think the Dr.Web plug-in for Firefox is a must have. Use this little gem in your right-click context menu to run a quick scan on a link for baddies (files/links/scripts) before you click through. The scans are fast and it provides a measure of safety if you are clicking into the unknown.

Finjan SecureBrowsing Add-on extension. This free security add-on from Finjan (also available for Internet Explorer) scans the web pages as it loads, real-time for malicious content based on code-analysis. It then provides a safety rating for the page links. They claim it doesn't track or record site visits. More information here.

It currently supports the following domains...more may be added by the developer as the program matures.

  • Search Engines: Google, Yahoo, Live (msn)
  • Advertising systems: Google Adsense
  • Online email applications (AJAX-based): Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail
  • Popular Websites: MySpace, Digg, Slashdot, Blogger

While not something that most security-minded users would probably use regularly, it might be a helpful extension for your kids or parent's machines and help illustrate to them that there are "safe" sites and "unsafe" sites.

NoScript's site notes that the latest version comes with the threatening sounding "XSS Sniper" feature to protect against cross-site scripting attacks (with exception handling), and among other changes, adds in a "blacklist" feature as well. It's an amazing package!

I also run the Firekeeper extension on all my Firefox builds. While still beta, it is designed as an

...Intrusion Detection and Prevention System for Firefox. It is able to detect, block and warn the user about malicious sites. Firekeeper uses flexible rules similar to Snort ones to describe browser based attack attempts. Rules can also be used to effectively filter different kinds of unwanted content.

Other features of Firekeeper include:

  • Ability to scan incoming Firefox traffic - HTTP(S) response headers, body and URL and to cancel processing of suspicious responses.
  • HTTPS and compressed responses are scanned after decryption/decompression.
  • Very fast pattern matching algorithm (taken directly from Snort).
  • Interactive alerts that give an ability to choose a response to detected attack attempt.
  • Ability to use any number of files with rules and to automatically load files from remote locations.

Malware Block List Site

While I was there on the Firekeeper site I saw a link to the Malware Block List.

The Malware Block List site provides "...free, automated and user contributed system for checking URLs for the presence of Viruses, Trojans, Worms, or any other software considered Malware."

It comes in twenty-five formats for various applications, including those for ClamAV, the Firekeeper extension, Hosts files, Mozilla cookie filtering, Mozilla AdBlock extension, among others.

There are two versions of the lists, "Regular" which just blocks directories and "Aggressive" that blocks entire suspect domains.

While it may not seem much fun to constantly be installing updated lists, even periodic updates may provide an acceptable level of protection on some users' systems...again while of some value in corporate/business settings (say in the Hosts file) , it may be even more so for less web-savvy home family-member's computers by the geeks that support them.

This looks like a very active site community and is probably worth keeping in mind.

Have fun and stay safe with the Fox!

--Claus

How to Repair Windows Security Center List Items

I don't usually re-hash my own blog comments I leave on someone else's blog here on my own.

I try to avoid leftovers...even when they are ones I personally have cooked.

I'm not even sure that is "acceptable" practice.

However, every now and then someone encounters a problem and posts it on their blog and I do some research and offer a solution in the comments.

Sometimes I hit close to the mark, and if the info is pretty useful, I'll tidy it up and repost it here.

This is one of those posts.

Liar Liar...OS on Fire!

Last week Dwight Silverman ran into a "bitty" problem with Vista and posted his observations: TechBlog: Windows Vista is lying to me.

Briefly, Dwight uninstalled AVG Free from his Vista system to make way for a new security suite Norton 360 from Symantec.

Vista's Security Center reported it was still installed.

That is a Really Bad Thing™ as it seems to indicate to a user that important security software is present and accounted for when it really is AWOL. Not good.

So Dwight installed Norton and it showed up...along with AVG Free still.

Searches through the registry and system didn't seem to find any traces of AVG Free that would make AVG appear present to the OS.

What's up with that?

It's a WMI Thang!

So with all due respect to Dwight's TechBlog turf, let the comment scraping commence!

It turns out that what we are actually observing is a WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) reporting issue.

Dwight did some web-searching and didn't find any useful info about this bad behavior under Vista, but I knew XP has a Windows Security Center feature that operates almost exactly like that for Vista.

Here are some Microsoft links that explain how the Windows Security Center works to update the anti-virus installation list so you can get caught up with us:

One more interesting link on WMI: Scripting Eye for the GUI Guy WBEM What?

Usually this reporting process works fine, but it could be possible for a malicious attack on the WMI to get Windows Security Center to report (falsely) that it has protection enabled when it wasn't.

This is previously known issue in some security circles: Security Watch Special: Windows XP SP2 Security Center Spoofing Threat so we really aren't talking about something new...just pretty uncommon to occur.

Reality of that threat aside (XP SP2 Craters) it does point out that WMI can get borked and false report to the end user that their XP/Vista system is nice and toastily protected, when it (in fact) isn't.

Because XP/Vista use the WMI system to store it's Windows Security Center data instead of the registry, that is why users aren't able to locate registry keys to match what they observe. It doesn't exist there; the data is being stored/reported elsewhere by system.

So Fix it Dear Liza...

Now that we know that a hole can indeed appear Windows Security Center bucket, let's plug it.

Armed with a new (albeit basic) knowledge of the Vista/XP base WMI/Windows Security Center relationship, I performed a revised search and located the following LockerGnome thread with other users who are also seeing a similar problem in Vista with false AV reporting...and that had two suggested fixes: New AV program is not shown in Security center.

Here is the brilliant fix offered by thread-poster Malke. (His pc service webpage has some pretty funny and good work on it as well!)

Note: Before doing this, I made a copy of my Repository files for backup...just in case something went horribly wrong I could put it back. Good advice to follow.

This trick for fixing that issue in XP apparently works in Vista, too. In Vista you probably need to run elevated. There are two ways of doing the same thing - the first way is using the GUI and the second way is from the command line. Your choice. Set a System Restore point first.

Method A

Start>Run>services.msc [enter]

Scroll down to Windows Management Instrumentation and double-click it.
Now click on the "Pause" button. Leave that window open and double-click
My Computer. Navigate to %systemroot%\Windows\System32\wbem (where
%systemroot% is the drive where XP is installed). Delete the Repository
folder and *only* the Repository folder. Now go back to the WMI service
window you left open and restart the service.

This will rebuild the Repository and hopefully straighten out the
incorrect entries for all your duplicates.

In order to see the Windows files, you may need to unhide them:
Make sure you are able to see all hidden files and extensions (View tab
in Folder Options).

a. Check "Display the contents of system folders".
b. Check "Show hidden files and folders".
c. Uncheck "Hide protected operating system files" and click "OK" to the
dialog box.

Method B from MVP Torgeir Bakken (more elegant)

Open a command window (Start/Run --> cmd.exe) and run the following
commands:

net stop winmgmt
cd /d %windir%\system32\wbem
ren repository repository.old
net start winmgmt

(or alternatively delete it using the command "rd /s repository" instead
of the ren command)

It may take a minute or so to complete while WMI rebuilds the database.

Update: It doesn't say so, but many commenters below say a system reboot is required to fully complete the process. Sounds like good advice.

Just Don't Ask Why...

I still can't say if the issue is related to a problem in how AVG reported its information to the WMI repository or if the issue is with the Windows XP/Vista WMI update process. It does present an interesting (if not rare) observation and is apparently still carried over as a (limited) issue from XP.

Even though I didn't have the issue, I tried it on my Virtual PC Vista RC1 image. After completing, I couldn't get the Security Center to fully display all the items I expected to be seeing (AVG Free).

I did a reboot and all was back and displaying normally again. So while I can't say for myself it fixes the issue, I didn't tank my (virtual) Vista system either.

Dwight tried the tips and it cleared the AVG Free error, but also cleared the reported presence of his installed firewall and Norton's anti-virus applications.

It's a two steps forward, one step back thing, I suppose. Tech troubleshooting is like that sometimes....

One Final Suggestion

I proposed that an uninstallation (since the applications were still correctly reported in the Add/Remove program lists) of the programs, then a reinstall might enable them to correctly (re)report their presence to Windows Security Center via the WMI interaction. A repair (if supported by the application installer) might also do the trick.

Dwight had bigger rats to kill than this, so he put the original Repository folder back (see I told you it might be useful to do that) and went on with life...but another commenter in the post who had a similar problem tried that and it worked to fix it up.

So if you've come this far, and it still isn't looking right, give that suggestion a whirl.

That should tidy things up for good.

--Claus

Matousec Personal Firewall LeakTest Updates

Back when I did my round of my own Personal PC Firewall Recommendations, and then an updated follow-up post regarding Firewall Considerations, I began to keep an close eye on Matousec's website.

Matousec are professionals who really know how to put firewalls through their paces and really test their "leakage" ability.

I might comment on a firewall product's ease of usage for the average home user, or it's GUI interface, or stability or (my personal) system utilization. I might myself run a slew of leak-tests in a virtual machine to see how they work against a firewall. But when it comes to really technically evaluating a firewall product, I trust the Matousec team.

So their site-feed announced more leak-testing results I hopped on over to see what they had dug up. And I wasn't disappointed!

In total, Matousec tested the outbound leakage efficacy of an amazing 33 personal firewall products. Wow.

I won't steal their thunder by taking their work and posting it here, go check it out yourself on Matousec's great results table. They've worked hard and it shows. Props to them.

However, for a teaser...two products (both free with one I really recommend) got "Excellent" marks.

Another seven received "Very Good" scores.

Four firewalls got "Good" marks.

Eleven got "Poor" to "Very Poor" ratings.

And nine were found to offer no outbound leakage protection at all.

Now, that's not to say that any of these firewall products fail to provide acceptable inbound protection. I'm sure they all do and for many users that is more than enough.

However, there remains growing threats from botnets, malware, trojans and the like trying to take over the bandwidth and computing power to pump spam and ilk into the Net. Unless you already have a strong perimeter of personal computing defenses (user --> hardware firewall --> software firewall --> anti-virus software --> anti-malware software --> process level/HIPS monitoring --> rootkit scanner --> regular system/application patching) and scan your system regularly, it makes sense to use a firewall that provides both inbound outbound protection.

Read the posts, make a choice.

Just please stay informed and safe.

--Claus

PCLinuxOS 2007 and SAM Linux 2007

It's been a while since I mentioned Alvis's Linux pc.

Summary

Back in July 2006 I began looking for a Linux build Alvis could cut her teeth on, but would require minimal support on my side. We had a older Dell hand-me-down system she was going to use and it wouldn't (realistically) handle XP and I wanted something pretty "safe" for her to use.

We were impressed with "Wizard's Kid-Safe Live CD" but eventually I decided to install the PCLinuxOS .93 distro it was based on.

Yes the latest "Feisty Fawn" version of Ubuntu Desktop Edition is slowly overtaking the world, but it just still isn't quite my cup of tea. I don't have anything at all negative about it; it's a great distribution and the folks are hard at work making each version even better than the last.

I also dropped my love of MEPIS and moved to become a PCLinuxOS fan.

And Alvis's pc has been humming fine ever since.

Enter PCLinuxOS 2007 - sort of...

So early this year, announcements came of the PCLinuxOS 2007 version update.

Some screenshots and a brief review from KnoLinux show just how absolutely stunning this new version release is: PCLinuxOS 2007 -- Finally someone gets it. And TuxMachines.org has another nice review of its highlights: PCLinuxOS 2007 Beta 2 (Test 1).

I've been playing with each progressive release candidate version and have been quite enthralled.

I was waiting till a final release version came out and my last one was RC2 (RC3 is the latest as of this post).

It ran on Alvis's system like a champ, and the LiveCD had great performance and hardware compatibility.

PCLinuxOS 2007 screenshots

Houston, we have a Problem

Only it seems that a series of unfortunate events led the the (temporary) demise of the PCLinuxOS site.

Bummer.

Fortunately, the PCLinuxOS crew have been using a Google Notebook page to keep fans and the public advised of their progress.

The latest word (as of today) is that the PCLinuxOS website will be back in action Sunday or Monday (hopefully). Good news, as I am still waiting for RC4 to be released.

Enter SAM 2007

Meanwhile one of the network analyst guys on our team knew of my love of PCLinuxOS and found the SAM distribution bringing to my attention.

This is built off of the same PCLinuxOS 2007 distribution, with some tweaks.

Since I was already pleased with that version, the SAM distribution seemed like a nice fit. I tried the LiveCD on Alvis's system and it didn't even blink an eye in complaint.

And when Alvis saw the rodent-in-a-wheel logo, she was hooked.


SAM 2007 screenshots.

One Easy Installation

The installation was a breeze compared to the PCLinuxOS .93 install I did previously.

  1. I installed it over her previous build.
  2. I booted from the LiveCD of SAM,
  3. Selected the local drive install icon on the desktop,
  4. Provided the root password,
  5. The Draklive wizard kicked off.
  6. I just reused the existing partitions and reformatted them.
  7. Next it copied the system files to the mount partition. (It went REALLY fast compared to previous PCLinuxOS OS .93 install versions. Very nice!)
  8. I went with the GRUB boot loader and set the boot delay to 5 sec.
  9. Set a new root password,
  10. Added Alvis's user profile and password,
  11. Rebooted.

I logged into Alvis's account on reboot and rooted up to make some very minor setting tweaks. The new Control Center is really wonderful and intuitive to user. The whole system is much more approachable even for Linux noobies.

SAM also has some handy docks you can snazz up your desktop with, and some 3-D effects as well if your memory and graphics can handle 'em.

All in all it took about 30 minutes to install this OS to the drive and then Alvis and her bff who was spending the weekend with us went to town without a backward glance.

That's one well designed Linux OS system if your teen-daughter can use a Linux system without your assistance and doesn't complain about anything needed.

It comes with a wealth applications including Firefox 2, OpenOffice, and quite a few great games.

SAM We Am

So Alvis's system will now be running SAM.

I will be waiting for the PCLinuxOS 2007 final (at least as a Live CD / virtual session) when I get bored or just want to practice my limited Linux skills.

Check 'em both out. They come in default LiveCD formats so you can pop-'em in your system's CD, boot and play without impacting your installed OS system. Great for getting to know them.

SAM 2007 Linux Desktop

PCLinuxOS 2007

Highly Valca Recommended!

--Claus

Defrag Mosaic

A long time ago I thought (reasonably) that defragging a hard-drive was one of the most beneficial ways to improve pc performance.

Oh, I was a grasshopper back then.

Fragmented Thoughts

Granted, that was when drive speeds were much slower and Windows 3.1/95/98 systems seemed to do a less than spectacular job of file management.

In those days, a defrag session was pretty good medicine and was one of the first recommendations I gave a user complaining about a slow system (what a tech-noobie I was back then). Today it seems the biggest threats to slow pc performance I deal with are heat (due to filthy/dusty CPU heatsinks and fans), malware (enough said), and low-value startup autorun services (bloat). In all honesty, many times I won't even bother to defrag a corporate desktop system when I am done working on all the other issues I fix. I might make a shortcut on the desktop and advise the user to "click here" once a month.

Today I'm not sure there is AS MUCH benefit as there used to be with defragging, but workstation performance can probably still be improved a bit with periodic defrag sessions.

Robert Moir ponders this topic in a very nice post: Defrag (pt 1) You can't measure it.

In it, he considers how difficult it is to accurately measure fragmentation, and why some people get caught up in travails trying to decide which software utility is a better defragger than others... including the one that Microsoft provides as part of its systems.

That said, I'm still all for running periodic defrag sessions on all my systems. If nothing else, it makes it a bit easier if I have to recover a deleted file.

My Defragging Application Criteria

Here are some nice freeware defraggers. I don't know if one is any better than the other, effectively or performance wise. Maybe when Robert Moir gets around to posting a follow-up to his "Defrag (pt 1)" post he might use his technical skills to toss us some bones on how to evaluate their effectiveness.

As for me, my evaluation criteria run pretty simple

  1. Must support my OS/partition format (FAT, FAT32, or NTFS)
  2. Freeware is nice,
  3. It shouldn't tank my system or destroy my data (Duh),
  4. Portability is a great feature,
  5. Should have a nice interface,
  6. Command line for power-users only

Notice speed isn't listed. I prefer effectiveness over speed. Especially as drive storage sizes creep upward to several hundred Gig sizes. Pick something, run it, and walk-away.

The Defrag Utility List

And please, don't run a cascade of defrag apps one after the other. Just pick one you like and stick with it.

  • XP/2000 system installed defrag (freeware) - The old standby. If it ain't broke...why change it?

  • Auslogics Disk Defrag (freeware) - It seems fast, allows you to pick specific volumes for defragging, has pretty color blocks to watch as they are mesmerizing-ly moved, and it provides a nicely detailed HTML report when done. I've been using this one a lot lately (off a USB stick!).

  • Diskeeper Lite 7.0 (Freeware version hosted on Major Geeks--trial versions at DiskKeeper Corp.) - quite a nice application. Pretty "beefy" and the Diskeeper 2007 line (not free) also supports Vista.

  • O&O Defrag 2000 Freeware Edition (freeware only seems to be hosted on Major Geeks) - Very down-to-business styled interface.

  • DefragNT (freeware) - Hasn't been supported/updated in quite a while, but if it works...The interface is pretty good, but support limited to FAT partitions for W2K/XP while NTFS partitions are supported only with XP.

  • JkDefrag v3.8 (freeware) - New defrag application (to me). Jeroen Kessels utility supports Windows 2000/2003/XP/Vista and X64 as well as any USB/floppy media it finds. Granted the interface is all geek and no sugar, but it seems to do a pretty fast job. Also, the GUI just defrags all systems volumes, if you want to only defrag a particular partition, use the command-line version (included).

  • DIRMS and Buzzsaw (freeware) - This combo of tools provides some advanced defrag power when "normal" defrag tools just don't seem to be processing particular files.

  • Contig (Sysinternals) and Power Defragmenter GUI (eXcessive Software) - Contig is a command-line tool to defrag a single file. Great for handling those ISO files and such. Power Defragmenter GUI harnesses that powerful tool and wraps it in an pleasantly simple GUI but then allows for setting of multiple file defrags or even an entire disk defrag session. Very nice. (Review of Power Defragmenter here.)
  • PageDefrag (freeware) - Sysinternals tool specifically for defragging your paging files or Registry hives. Command-line based.

Bonus Block

If you really must satisfy a desire to stare at moving blocks...turn instead to one of these freeware gaming alternatives. You may find them to be a bit more interactive than the defragging windows.

  • Zetrix - a portable Windows GUI overloaded Tetris clone. Wow!

  • Bricks 2000 - plain Jane and minimalist Tetris clone.

  • LBreakout2 - multi-level breakout game with neat bonus.

Enjoy!

--Claus

Free Network Utility Nuggets

I'm not part of our elite network operations group. They live in a castle in a magical land far, far away from us common IT support folk.

I suspect that were I to travel there, I would find it was actually Mordor.

Every time a site calls me about a router issue, I usually find that their all-seeing-eye has spotted it, alarms have already rang, and the Mordor faithful are already marshalling a response.

I do get the chance to use some networking tools for the hobbit-like humble tasks appointed to us who cover desktop and local network support duties. They can be dead-helpful for desktop troubleshooting and might be worth keeping handy on a USB stick...just in case...as almost all of these can be made to run "portable."

I like to think of these as Bilbo and Frodo's Sting, in answer to those who dwell in Mordor.

CCSchmidt.de

Found these networking tool bits last week via a post at TinyApps.org. All are good tools for checking out connectivity issues either for your pc or even connectivity issues with/to a remote target.

The German software site CCSchmidt.de is offering a set of network tools that might be of benefit to networking geeks.

There are some $/shareware tools that look quite nice, as well as a number of free tools.

Many require the additional freeware tool Regression Analysis Graph by Marius Ebel to function:

  • Interface Traffic Indicator (freeware) - measure incoming and outgoing traffic on various network devices. Alarms may be set.
  • Performance Pinging (freeware) - test network connectivity, response and performance. Lets you save data in a txt file. Nice realtime graphing.
  • MultiPing Grapher (freeware) - graph up to 10 different ICMP results.

Network Sniffers:

  • PacketMon (freeware) - AnalogX IP packet capture tool. Supports export of data and filtering.
  • SmartSniff (freeware) - NirSoft packet sniffer. Raw Sockets (natively) and IP capture if WinPCap is installed on the host.
  • EtherSnoop Light (freeware) - ArechiSoft network sniffer with filtering support
  • Portable Ethereal (freeware) - Grab this via its mirror on the Portable Freeware page. The original location has gone 404. I've been quite successful running this older version off USB and CD media. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the newer Wireshark build, but it does the job in a pinch. AND it doesn't require WinPCap to be installed on the pc you wish to run it on. Nice.

Network IP and Port Scanners:

  • Advanced IP Scanner 1.5 (freeware) - Famatech's nice tool to scan a range of IP address on your network. Get information about the workstations or networked items found. Easy to use interface.
  • Advanced Port Scanner 1.3 (freeware) - Famatech's tool to run a network IP range scan, then check the results in detail to find which ports are open on those located systems. You can export the list for auditing purposes.
  • Advanced LAN Scanner 1.0 Beta 1 (freeware) - Famatech's nice little local area network scanner that can provide a wealth of information when you are tracking down network elements.
  • CurrPorts (freeware) - NirSoft's application lets you see which communication ports are open on your computer and provides great information about that connection. It also lets you terminate any connection and automatically highlights suspicious connections.
  • VStat (freeware) - Robin Keir's beautifully simple tool to display which applications have open network connections and how/who they are talking to. Nice malware service hunting tool.
  • SoftPerfect Network Scanner (freeware) - Great GUI tool to scan for computers on a network find which ports are open/listening on the targets, and what resources are shared.
  • Vison (freeware) - Foundstone's forensic network tool that allows you to identify open TCP/UDP ports, which services are active on those ports, and then maps the ports to the application controlling them. Great for hunting malware connections on an infected machine.
  • SuperScan 4 (freeware) - Foundstone's nice network scanning tool.
  • HoverIP (freeware) - Hoverdesk utility that supports IP network adapter configuration, NSLookup, Ping, TraceRoute, and port scanning. Lots of useful tools in one package.
  • Tcpvcon, TCPView (freeware) - Microsoft Sysinternals tool to show all the TCP/UDP endpoints on your system and which process is responsible for the communication. Supports termination of those connections and resolution of IP addresses into domain name formats.

Network Info Getters

  • IPNetInfo (freeware) - NirSoft application to find out information on an IP address owner.
  • Trout (freeware) - Foundstone's brilliant traceroute/Whois application. It also supports active pinging instead of a limited run ping test. Great for extended monitoring to a remote connection.
  • VisualRoute Lite Edition (freeware) - Visualware's utility to see how your network packet travels, and any problems it might be encountering along the way.
  • AdapterWatch (freeware) - NirSoft's clever tool that provides useful information about your network adapter.
  • NetAlyzer (freeware) - Utility from the makers of SpyBot Search and Destroy. It gather's information on domain owners and traces network routes to target servers.
  • The Dude (freeware) - MikroTik's incredible network mapping tool to monitor and layout a graphical map of your network. This is a free utility and great for auditing/documenting a local area network.
  • Steel Inventory (freeware) - Steel Sonic's tool that allows administrators to scan for computers on a network, and then inventory the installed applications and configurations of those workstations. Great for change management and pc auditing.
  • ZNetWatch (freeware) - Wonder who is causing the bandwidth spike on a network? Someone downloading YouTube content or listing to streaming media? Or maybe a trojan/virus is spewing forth filthy traffic...but which one? Try ZBobB's ZNetWatch utility to monitor network traffic hogs. Neato!

I think I have one or two additional utilities on my work system I can't remember from home. I'll update when I figure out which others I've left off.

Home Network Management Tips

Scott Hanselman posted about his recent home broadband service upgrade to optical.

In his post he shared four great tips which I am summarizing below:

  1. On-line broadband service data may not match actual service provision. Always call a vendor and ask for confirmation that service is/is-not available for your location.
  2. Plan out your network layout before the service installer arrives. Have backup plans, if they can't meet your "best-case" installation desires.
  3. Make hard-copy printouts of all your network devices and their MAC addresses. Makes router re-configurations easier.
  4. Make a visual home network map (for posterity or spouses) just in case something happens and someone else has to sort your genius network design out.

It's all good!

--Claus

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is this XP / IE7 Scenario True?

Just wondering...

At work I am frequently called to do a Windows Repair on Windows 2000 systems. It is usually the last step before we reimage a user's system.

The "Fast Repair" method usually works like a charm, although I almost always have a ton of Windows Updates to reinstall on the systems.

As we convert more of our desktop units from Windows 2000 to XP Pro, I imagine I will be faced with having to do some XP System repairs as well.

For now, we still aren't running Internet Explorer 7 on any of our end user's systems. A few of us IT geeks have it installed, but by and large it isn't "officially" supported yet and we are instructed to take it off if we find a user with it.

So the other day I found this Microsoft Knowledge Base article:

How to perform a repair installation of Windows XP if Internet Explorer 7 is installed

Seems that BEFORE you begin a repair installation of XP, you MUST uninstall IE7 (if so installed) first.

Otherwise Internet Explorer will no longer work after the repair. This isn't needed if you are already running IE6.

I haven't heard of this before or encountered it, but if it is true this could be a real concern for some tech-heads.

I've never had a problem with the W2K repair process and IE not working afterwards. Sure, some malware and LSP blowouts can wreak some havoc, but I'm pretty wise to those issues now.

As IE 7 becomes more prevalent on XP systems, I wonder how many home/professional repair geeks will be reaching for their XP disk to do a system-repair and unwisely fail to uninstall IE7 first then get more confused when IE doesn't work afterwards.

Like I said, I hadn't heard of or encountered this before, but now I know...any you dear readers do as well.

So have you encountered this? What happened?

Thanks for any info!

--Claus

A Self-Image Problem

I like who I am.

I believe that I am pretty well adjusted.

I do get stressed out, usually over bills (who doesn't), rising gasoline prices (Ughh!), idiot Houston stupid-head drivers (gotta go with the flow).

Sometimes I get stressed at work when I'm faced with multiple crises to manage at one time, and no time to effectively analyze the problem before responding...I have to trust my judgement and experience and just focus and act. But most days...I love my job.

No, I'm finding some problems with which masculine "fantasy-hero" I'd like to have for myself.

Plain Old Claus

On a daily basis, Lavie says I really am quite like my "Claus Valca" anime counterpart; inclined to going fast in a machine, willing to stand up for what seems right, a sense of honor and fairness to others, kindhearted, sometimes stubborn, goal-focused to a fault, constantly looking out for Lavie and Alvis, hardworking, mechanically and technically intuitive ... yawn ... all that stuff.

Heck, when I went to the video rental store last week on an impulse, what movies did I bring home? A nice balance for the family: Casino Royale (Lavie and I loved it), The Holiday (Lavie and I cried like a girl and a girlie man), Just My Luck (It was an Alvis thing), and The Illusionist (pending for viewing later tonight...Lavie's looking forward to this one).

So though Lavie does think I am a real-life "Claus" sometimes I wish I was more like one of these action heroes.

The Hero in Me

Self-Image Pick One: Jason Bourne as portrayed by Matt Damon.

Highly disciplined, fast and physically nimble, this character has an energy and awareness that I envy. He seems always thinking and analyzing (something I can relate to) and is technically proficient in fighting, driving and problem solving. He is a bit younger as well. And he isn't afraid to travel. Granted, he has a bunch of demons he carries with him, but in the movies he does get to display a softer side to his female companions. Lavie really enjoyed watching the movies with me.

FYI, a new Bourne movie is coming this fall: The Bourne Ultimatum - Official Website

Self-Image Pick Two: James Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig

I've been a long-time James Bond fan ever since I was a teenager. Sean Connery is the quintessential Bond in my book and I was highly skeptical when Daniel Craig was cast in the role. He pulled it off. I like the fact that this Bond is older and rougher around the edges. He doesn't seem so polished or suave. Craig's Bond has a charm, but it is rough. He is a bit unfocused and a definite rule-breaker (something I'm not), but still tough as nails and what he lacks in finesse he makes up for in brute toughness. He is also quick and fast, but plays his extended action scenes with a bit more fatigue. He seemed to be tired and winded at the end of the foot chase. I like the balance of toughness and maturity he brings. Classy.

So which one?

I guess if I must be honest with myself, I'm getting a bit older now (ouch) and must confess the style of Craig's Bond fits better with where I am at now in my life.

I'm nowhere close to these action-movie heroes...but it's fun and healthy to dream sometimes...especially on Houston freeways....(if I only had 007's Aston Martin DBS....)

See you in the skies...

Claus

Japanese Bath Design

Our bathrooms are a pretty standard American design; cabinet based sinks, toilet in an enclosed side area, standard tub with a shower head.

Plain stuff.

If I could design our own home one day, I would like to have (for the master suite at least) a more Japanese style bathroom design. Though any of these non-traditional Japanese style designs would find me in hog-heaven!

And this coming from a 5-minute daily shower guy.

I'm pondering the Japanese bath due to a post from Danny Choo: Unit Bathroom.

While the design of the 3-square bathroom scares me horribly, he off-links to a nicer design.

Lavie loves them.

Especially when she learned they have heated floors.

Nice Baths!

First we have the SuiteRoom from INAX. These appear to be quite similar to a more custom American bathroom design.

Next we see this more traditional "modern" Japanese design by INAX's Precio line. This looks nicely masculine.

Lavie seems to be voting for this J-Bath style bathroom design. The deep blues are very pretty and it presents a nicely calming feeling.

Also:

More nice info and hardware at The Japanese Bath Company (Australia).

And the "toilet?" No it's not missing...I think in these designs they are housed in another area, not in the family bathing area...makes good sense to me!

Rinse - Soak - Wash

I don't know how daily bathing routines go in Japan, but as I understand, a traditional bath in Japan usually consists of filling a small bucket and rinsing oneself outside the tub. Then one climbs into the tub for a relaxing soak. Then another good scrub/shampoo/rinse on the way out.

This way all the family members get to reuse the same (clean) tub water for their soaks. It seems more eco-friendly.

Not any of that Western tub soak and scrub business.

It does seem more relaxing and deliberate.

Calming.

I think I am going to take a bath now....where's my bucket?

--Claus

Copernican Coincidence?

I've mentioned before that I took astronomy classes at U of H as part of my B.S. degree.

I really enjoyed them and have a deeper appreciation of the scale and beauty of the unseen universe that we share existence.

One of the early thinkers in "modern" astronomy was Nicolaus Copernicus.

Although there are many elements to his work, his best known contribution summarized in "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" format is the position than that the planets circle the sun, and not everything circles the earth.

I am thinking again about Copernicus due to a recent post in the architectural blog "BldgBlog": The Heliocentric Pantheon: An Interview with Walter Murch

It's a very fascinating interview with film editor and sound designer Walter Murch and examines Murch's thoughts on the relationship between Copernicus and the Pantheon, Bode's Law, and musical ratios.

Did the ratio of the vaulted circles around the Pantheon's oculus inspire Copernicus to see the planets orbiting the sun? Or was is just a kooky coincidence? I'm not sure, but it is a bit of neat trivia.

It's all kinda heady stuff, but is a really fun interview that merges space, sound, science and architecture in a great way.

For more information about the Pantheon and the engineering that went into its construction, see this link: The Pantheon-- Rome 126 AD

--Claus

Sugar Ant Attack!

I came home late from work the other day and was met with a highly unusual sight as I pulled into the driveway.

Lavie and Alvis were outside and were cleaning her car out.

That in of itself was unusual.

I tend to hold to the philosophy of a bare vehicle interior.

Sure I have a cd or two in the center console, and some gum, but everything else is stowed away. Not a map to be seen, not a piece of trash on the floor. No loose-change anywhere. It's almost fresh-off-the-lot sparse and clean.

Minimalist

Granted, I am a bit of a neat-freak, but I also have to park in, um, questionable areas at some of our office locations due to their locations, so I want to do what I can to dissuade anyone from thinking there is anything of value in there to break in for. (On a side note, I wonder if having a standard transmission lowers the chance of vehicle theft...anyway...)

On the other hand

My most wonderful, beautiful and cherished wife Lavie holds to a different persuasion. Her vehicle is littered with varying degrees of papers, wrappers, cans, and probably contained enough escaped fries to fill a super-size order.

Granted, she doesn't spend as much time in her car as I do and Alvis is a frequent passenger. But the difference in our vehicle interiors fascinates me.

The Attack

So turns out Lavie and Alvis were cleaning out her car to help address the sugar-ants that apparently had made nest in her car. I suspect they may have infiltrated her vehicle from trees and then breached the inside via the fresh-air intake at the bottom of the windscreen.

So with it now clean, I'm off to do a complete vacuum job on the interior then try to knock them back.

Remediation

I don't want to spray any high-grade pesticides in the car cabin. That seems like overkill and who knows how strong the fumes might get and affect Lavie and Alvis.

I found a link (sugar ants - SaturnFans Forums) that suggested some techniques.

I think I will go with the Boric Acid method for starters, unless someone provides a better (yet cabin-eco-friendly) method in the comments.

Growing up, Grandma and Grandpa always had these little trimmed Solo cups strategically placed in various places in their Airstream trailer and their home. Seemed to do a good job. They shouldn't smell or spill (well, in Lavie's car with the way she drives at least...mine....not so sure).

I figure a couple under each seat and maybe one in a cup-holder in her center console should do the trick.

And Lavie has sworn that she won't be leaving cola-cans and other food-based items in the car again.

Any other ideas?

--Claus