Thursday, May 31, 2007

5 Swivel Feeds for Kent Newsome

All around fascinating guy and thoughtful blogger Kent Newsome recently began the swivel feeds experiment in which he requests select bloggers to feed him five new web reading recommendations to expand his horizons.

I stand deeply flattered as he included me amongst the other A-List bloggers listed in his Swivel Feeds, Group 2.

The pressure is on!

Well, Kent...I appreciate you supportive words and hope I don't disappoint. Let's see if any of these might expand your Web reading vistas just a touch.

...BLDGBLOG...

"Architectural Conjecture :: Urban Speculation :: Landscape Futures"

With a tag-line like that who can miss?

If this were a world of second-wishes, I wish I could go back to college on a free-ride pass and switch my major from sociology to architecture. Only now do I have the wisdom to see and understand the coolness of blending design, art, science, and technology in a canvas than humans can live life within and without. BLDGBLOG fuses historical/futurism, perspectives of our human footprint on the earth, and a freshness that can't be missed. I may not be a builder of spaces, but the posts at least help me see how spaces are building me.

Selected sample Post: The Undiscovered Bedrooms of Manhattan

Natalie Goes to Japan

"40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it."

Why do I like Natalie?

Besides the fact she is a great and honest blogger, the most important reason I must check her blog is the fact that she provides such a fascinating perspective on life lived immersed in another culture. She is teaching English to Japanese students of all ages, but in her spare time posts fantastically reflective content regarding the real-life people of Japan and the world they live in. Not the fantasy "anime/manga" world of Japan, not the technology-embracing world of Japan, not the kooky-crazy pop-culture of Japan. The Japan who are neighbors, and friends and students, and just normal people like us...differently the same.

Refreshing.

Selected sample post: The Bride Looked Beautiful

Word Wise

"Writing tips for public relations professionals – and for people everywhere, by Dan Santow"

Speak clearly and carry a big dictionary.

True confession; I only took the SAT test once in high school. I did so well, I got an (almost) full scholarship to the University of Houston. My verbal score seemed quite outstanding and confirmed my enjoyment for writing...although I did better in creative writing class than English. I spend a good part of my workweek doing technical writing. And another good part of my weekends writing for fun. So I am keenly aware of the need to express myself clearly. Word Wise blog provides me a positive encouragement and reminder to practice making better and clearer choices in my communications.

I'll never be too old to not go learn me some better grammar.

Selected sample post: AND I AM TELLING U

zen habits

"Achieving Goals and Simple Productivity through Daily Habits"

Ts'ai Ken T'an "Water which is too pure has no fish."

Effective daily living is a challenge to me. Work and family must be invested in daily with my whole being. That leaves the rest of the world for me to worry and learn about in between heartbeats. I never feel like I have enough time to accomplish everything I want to do, its very frustrating sometimes when I realize I only have a lifetime to accomplish those goals. That's not ever going to be long enough. Site blogger Leo provides some great and quickly digestible tips on daily living; ways to maximize your body, mind and soul. They are great encouragements. No chanting masters here, just hints for practical living.

Maybe I do need to go dump some diversions in my life to attract the koi.

Selected sample post: How I Became an Early Riser

opacity [Urban Ruins]

Abandoned Photography and Urban Exploration

...we all fall down.

Children's book author and illustrator David Macaulay poisoned my mind long ago as a child with his book Motel of the Mysteries. I was forced to accept the possibility that the world around me was not static but ever changing and that one day, my safe environment might one day be the next Angkor Wat, overgrown and crumbling with future explorers attempting to make sense of the ruins. Besides the photography and compositions, this website (though not really a blog) documents the beauty of decay in a world rushing ever faster towards newness and the future.

It inspires me to appreciate every moment and those who build them.

Selected sample post: Ch√Ęteau de Noisy (Miranda)

Hope I didn't disappoint you, Kent!

Have fun exploring.

--Claus

Monday, May 28, 2007

XP System Rescue

Last week I lost my XP desktop system.

Not that I didn't know where it was...I mean the system crashed. Hard.

Three times last Saturday it locked up and the HDD indicator light was solid on, but the system remained unresponsive. I had to redo several posts lost in the process each time it occurred.

The last time it happened I was running Process Explorer to see if there was a certain application that had caused it to lock up. But nothing indicative was found.

Reboots seemed to get it going again.

Late Sunday Lavie told me there was a error on it and it showed a system file load error.

At that point I rebooted again so I could bring it up in Safe Mode and see if that cleaned things up. Unfortunately, it wouldn't boot in Safe Mode at all and kept looping a boot process. Not a good sign. Each time it tried to come up, it seemed to indicate a new file problem.

So I knew I was looking forward to what was likely to be an involved XP System rescue.

Fortunately, I already had a basic plan ready to execute.

Step One...Do Nothing

Yes. That's correct. My very first response was to do nothing at all.

Why? Well actually, I mean "Do Nothing to recover the system immediately."

All too often users try to begin to hack and recover a system without having a plan of attack. In the process they end up doing more hard than good.

So despite every inclination in my IT guy's bones to rip into it...especially considering how much data I had on it...I stepped away and just left it powered off and unplugged until I could better evaluate the situation.

I didn't want to move too fast and do more harm or make a mistake while tired and frustrated. Even worse I might decide to skip something because I didn't have a disk or other needed item handy at the moment which could just make the situation even worse.

Step Two...Assess what you Know

During the "down-time" over the next week I evaluated what I knew about my system and what problems I had been running into.

I knew that the issue seemed related to the hard-drive. Was it a physical hard-drive failure or was it an OS error causing the HDD to lock up?

I knew that I had a backup of all my critical files. It wasn't "this-month" current, but it was enough to take some of the edge off accepting an unrecoverable HDD failure.

I knew that based on my last views of Process Explorer that it was unlikely that a "rouge" program or virus was to blame for the failure.

I don't "dual-boot" my systems, using virtualization instead, and I was seeing the Windows loader even if it couldn't fully execute, so it was unlikely that a critical master boot record or boot.ini failure had occurred.

My hard drive was a "newer" model that supported S.M.A.R.T. disk technology, so I would be able to read some of the health information from it.

It was XP SP2 Home running IE7. This would factor into my recovery approach.

I had only a few weeks ago ran and printed out a copy of my system information using Belarc Advisor...which contained quite a lot of system information as well as my Windows Keys.

And finally I had partitioned my 120G hard drive into four separate partitions; a NTFS C: drive, and three FAT-32 partitions to store my pictures, music, and archive files.

Step Three...Make a Plan

My plan was thus made.

I identified all the software/disks needed to do a full XP repair/reinstallation if needed.

I wanted to have a plan to get my custom system drivers recovered if I did need to reinstall the system from scratch. (More on that later.)

I would try a "Bart PE" "live disk" boot to recover critical data to one of the other partitions in case the system partition was failing.

I would run a HDD health check to see if the HDD was failing using a nice little utility, HDTune.

I would identify and prioritized the user data files on the system I most needed to recover to the ones I least needed to recover. This might allow me to rescue the most important ones in the event that the drive gave out mid-way through.

I would then pull the drive to place into an external drive case and connect it to my Vista system.

I would then recover my critical user files off it to my Vista laptop if possible.

I would then run drive repair commands (file structure and bad sector scans) at my leisure without concern about additional data loss.

Next I would replace the drive back in the original system, boot it and (hopefully if system booted) run my driver backup utilities and save them to a USB stick\CD-ROM.

If it was up enough and still unstable, I would first uninstall Internet Explorer 7 and roll back to IE 6.

I would run a XP system rebuild/repair attempt first.

If that didn't help I would wipe my C: partition and then do a fresh XP install.

Of course, if my hard drive itself turned out bad...I would just have to buy a new one and go with what I had managed to recover from scratch. Then destroy the bad platters with a hammer for security.

Each step was designed to build upon the previous and give me important information needed to determine how I would progress though the next stages. It isn't a perfect plan...as I chose to first make a set of recovery files on another partition on the same drive instead of to a separate one, but that would only be done if it looked like the drive reported itself to be "healthy."

Step Four...Making Material

Since my system was a custom "home-brew" Shuttle SFF, I had an original OEM XP Home CD. This was a great start. However, as it was so old, it was SP1. I wanted to have an up-to-date XP SP2 setup disk. What to do?

Funny that despite all my slipstreaming work on the job, I had never taken the time to make a slipstreamed copy of my own for XP SP2. Fortunately, that is no longer a difficult thing to do.

Slipstreaming is basically the processes of adding later service packs into a prior Windows setup disk. I could have done it "manually" using these easy-to-follow instructions. But there is now an even easier method: AutoStreamer.

This application takes your original Windows system disk, your downloaded SP2 file, and merges them with little extra effort into an ISO file which you burn to a CD-ROM. Done. In a little over 30 minutes using Lavie's XP laptop I had a freshly slipstreamed XP SP2 Home cd ready to go. I tested in in a Virtual PC 2007 session and it worked flawlessly.

I had previously made a custom Bart's PE boot disk that would allow me to boot the system without needing to "touch" the installed drive for the most part.

I already own an external USB drive enclosure. Just had to remove the DVD ROM player in it first.

I had an XP Home laptop as well as a Vista Home Premium laptop at my disposal. That also took a ton of pressure off and I could use these to browse the web and look up any technical leads I might need as well as (hopefully) load the critical files off the drive to.

I also downloaded and tested three system-driver backup utilities before I attempted to use them. They fit nicely on my USB stick so I had they ready to go.

I had also in hand a CD-ROM copy of a recently-ran heise Offline Update disk so I could bring all the critical updates up to date before I put it back on line, if a full system reload was required.

Step Five...In System "Live" Assessment

Resisting the urge to "try to boot it one more time" I booted the system instead with a copy of Bart PE that I had customized with a ton of specialized utilities.

The hardware booted off the CD-ROM and seemed to run fine. That indicated to me I wasn't having a problem with the systemboard, CPU, PSU or memory. That was a good start.

I had a copy of HDTune on my Bart's PE disk so I next ran that to take a look at the drive health.

All the S.M.A.R.T. monitoring points reported they were operating well within proper tolerances. So I could proceed knowing that it wasn't likely (though still not guaranteed) that my drive was going to die in the middle of anything I was going to progressively attempt.

Hurdle one appeared cleared.

Next thing I did was to consult the list of data files I needed to recover and set about backing them up onto another partition on the drive. I started with my Thunderbird email files, my password management file, my Firefox profiles. From there I went on to my financial management software data files and finally each of our Windows "My Documents" folders in each user profile account.

Once safely stored and having met the requirements of my critical targeted files I wanted to recover, I resisted the temptation to be greedy and get more and I shut the system down. I didn't want to run the risk of causing more potential damage until I had gotten a copy of the files off the drive itself.

Step Six...HDD On the Operating Table.

I could have uploaded the files over FTP to one of the other systems, but I felt pretty comfortable at this point that the problem was now a Windows OS issue and not a physical drive issue.

I removed my drive from my Shuttle system and placed it into my USB external drive enclosure. Everyone should have at least one of these cheap things around just for such emergencies. They are dead-useful in a pinch.

I connected it up to our Vista system which quickly recognized the unit, the drive, and each of the partitions on it. Good sign!

I then copied the pre-recovered files I had copied to another partition on that drive off to my Vista system. I then grabbed the music and photo files as well that I had previously skipped.

With all my data now safely backed up on another system the pressure was off.

Another key hurdle down.

I first used Vista to check the drive for errors and repair them. It ran about fifteen minutes and reported that errors were found and fixed. I then followed that up again and this time told it to look for errors and repair, and this time to also do a scan for bad sectors. This time it took better than 30 minutes to finish. Again errors were found and repaired.

There was one record reparsed, 5 unindexed files processed, found bad clusters in a memory.dmp file, added two bad clusters to the drive's bad cluster file, and corrected errors in the Volume Bitmap.

Whew!

Through the process the drive ran great and never locked up or died. Doing a bad sector scan is very intensive activity for a drive and since it didn't die during the process, any last bits of concern about a a flaming drive crash pretty much disappeared.

Step Seven...Physical Therapy

I put the drive back into its host body and rebooted.

It took it a while to come up, and it ran another checkdisk/scandisk operation again as it booted. It found a scary sounding error about fixing some Uppercase settings, but not actually as serious as it appears.

A bit longer I was back at my XP profile login screen!

Despite this good sign, I resolutely stuck to my plan. I popped in my USB stick and ran all three system driver backup utilities in succession and copied the driver files to my USB.

Since I had homebuilt this system, having the actual drivers is a bit of an issue. While XP would be able to bring it up in the event of a system reinstall, having the original drivers right on hand would save a bunch of time hunting through them on the Net and through all the CD-ROM's I've had to collect for them over the years.

One more hurdle down, one more to possibly go.

Once I had those I could now decide what I wanted to do next.

According to Microsoft, you need to uninstall IE 7 from your system before attempting an XP repair or you will likely break both IE 6 and IE7 on the system for good. Others have stated in forum posts that they did XP repairs with IE 7 in place with no ill effects. For now, I'm prepared to follow Microsoft until I get information otherwise.

I decided that I would let the system run for a full day and see if the drive locked up and that it handled reboots without ill effects before I would decide to attempt a XP repair/reinstall.

Step Eight...Not Needed to Date.

So far the drive and OS has now been running for several days with no more lockups or bad-behaviors. It has returned to rock-solid performance.

Had I needed, I would have next first attempted to uninstall IE 7, then run a Windows XP repair. Depending on how that worked I would have reloaded any Windows Updates broken in the repair process.

If that didn't restore the system to good health, I would have then wiped the primary partition (probably zeroed it out) then reformatted and reinstalled XP Home SP2 from my slipstreamed disk. I could then follow it up with my backed up custom system drivers.

To date, I haven't had to jump that final hurdle. But I am ready for it, should it be needed.

Final Thoughts

While admittedly stressful to undergo, this experience has actually left me in a better position for any future problems. I will continue to make backups on a regular basis. I have a XP SP2 slipstream disk on hand in the event of a future system reinstall. I have all my custom system drivers backed up as well on CD-ROM. I'm set.

I will begin to do monthly bad-sector scans on the drive now. I don't think I have done that on this drive since I put it in at system build, so having a few found after all that time doesn't (in itself) concern me that much just yet. This system uses an Ultra ATA (EIDE) drive connection instead of SATA connections. Those ATA drives are getting harder to find, so I might just pick a new one up in a few months while I can still find one fairly painlessly. (Hard Drives: ATA versus SATA)

If problems start to arise again, I will also just go ahead and remove IE7 and run a XP repair.

And the cause of all this grief?

I suspect that based on the information I gathered during this process that a file somewhere ended up getting corrupted or landed on a bad sector. When the system kept encountering this file, it would lock up the drive as the system kept re-reading the bad file and not moving on or erroring out. The system repair process run under Vista seemed to have fixed the issue and the integrity of all my Windows system files seems fine now again.

I am hopeful that this is correct, as the system is running fine again with no system error messages being report at boot. I never did an XP repair process so that's why I remain hopeful that none of them were actually corrupted. As time goes on I will probably find out if it is indeed a failing hard drive, some system corrupted file, or maybe something yet to be identified.

And, amazingly, the XP installation remains the original one when I built the system, back in February 2004. I know many Windows users advocate "repaving" their Windows systems with regular format/installs but by being careful on what I install, keeping it clean of malware, and keeping it running on a UPS to avoid system "crashes" it has done a great job all this time.

So, with the right tools, a good plan and quite a bit of patience and luck, even the hardest crashing systems might just be restored...just as long at the physical drive itself isn't toasted.

Good Luck!

--Claus

Backing up Windows System Drivers

I recently had the chance to test three applications to back up the system drivers on my XP Home system. They also worked on my Vista system, nice!

In most cases, Microsoft packs most all the standard system drivers needed in their Setup disks. What it doesn't can usually be located on line from the manufacturer.

In the case of a system failure, most OEM systems come with a system restore disk that should include all the drivers needed to get it going again along with the operating system itself, all in one reload.

So most folks probably don't give their system drivers a second thought.

Only my system was home-built back in early 2004. I have added additional components over the years. I keep all the media disks that come with these items, but in the event of a system failure I would be looking at installing a base OS load, hoping Windows had enough standard drivers to get things going, then need to locate all my disks and reinstall the extra drivers one by one.

This just doesn't seem an efficient process, and if I end up finding one missing or not quite the right one, the hardware might not function correctly; not a pleasant thought.

An alternative method would be to capture all the system drivers as they currently are found installed and in use on my current system. Then maybe package them all up in a folder or compressed file ready for off-loading to a USB stick or removable media disk for safe keeping.

If I had to do a system restore I could then easily restore them after loading the Windows operating system back, or point the Windows Device installation wizard back to the folder location they are stored in and let it do the driver installations from there instead of loading a different manufacturer's disk or file each time. That would be efficient and I could know for sure they were the correct ones.

So here are three Windows driver backup utilities I tried and pretty well enjoyed.

Driver Magician

DriverMagician - free trial/$ - This program quickly scans and identifies the hardware devices you have on your system, then extracts their associated drivers. You can select either the standard Microsoft drivers, the custom drivers, or both for backup. In the event of a system restore, you can also use the program to restore the drivers.

Backup options include archival and retrieval to a folder (uncompressed files), a compressed file, or from a self-extracting installer package.

It also supports driver uninstall and on-line updating of currently installed drivers.

It supports Windows 98, SE, ME, 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista

It ran very fast on both my Vista and XP systems.

DriverMax

DriverMax for Windows Vista and Windows XP - freeware (with registration for use over 30 days) - This driver backup makes the process very simple using a great interface and a wizard-based process. In a matter of seconds it identified 79 device drivers on my Vista laptop.

Backups are made to either a normal folder (uncompressed) or a compressed file for storage.

You may fine-tune your selection of drivers needed to be backed up as the program allows you to select only certain drivers or all, as well as scanning for all drivers or a combination of them based on type of device, as well as showing drivers in use, and/or phantom devices, and/or hidden devices, and/or Windows default drivers, and/or devices without INF files.

Finally you can run a report as well of current drivers.

The program supports Windows XP and Vista systems.

A more detailed walk-through of the application can be read over at CyberNotes: How to Backup and Restore Windows Drivers.

WinDrivers Backup PE

WinDrivers Backup PE - freeware - this is actually an earlier version that remains freeware. A later version is available, but not freeware. The link is for a site that still offers a copy of the earlier version.

This program is simple and direct. It identifies Microsoft drivers. Non-Microsoft drivers. Or both. Then it allows you to back them up to a folder. No wizards or flashy GUI. Just point and click.

It doesn't have a "restore" feature. So in the event you need anything, during the driver install process, point the Windows device wizard to the proper folder you backed it up in. The Microsoft Wizard should find what it needs and go.

It seems to work just fine on XP and Vista systems.

Halfway Tested

I haven't had a chance to try the "restore" process for any of these driver backup sets just yet; and that (for now) is a good thing.

I'm actually using all three utilities at the moment and keeping the files found in three separate folders. I've burned them to a CD-ROM disk and have a set for our XP laptop, our Vista laptop, and our XP desktop system. Each system has its own folder and the device drivers is kept in its own program folder location to keep them clearly separate and differentiated.

I haven't done a full comparison between all three utilities just yet to see if one is more effective than others in identifying drivers. When I get the time to review the counts on all three systems, I will post the results.

Here's hoping you don't need to use them either.

--Claus

Ad-Aware 2007 Final Release info

I've been beta testing the latest version of Lavasoft's flagship anti-malware tool, Ad-Aware. This new version is to be called Ad-Aware 2007.

My subjective opinions are overall favorable. Overall the interface is quite a polished improvement. A number of scanning engine improvements have also been made under the hood. The scan times didn't amaze me, but seemed to get progressively better with each beta release. It includes some additional handy features that the "average" user might find helpful, like some ad-blocking, an integrated HOSTS file editor, and supports multiple web browsers now, not just Internet Explorer.

The current version of Ad-Aware SE can be run from a CD-ROM, USB or other "non-installed" location (by copying its installed "Program Files" folder). This has made cleansing of a seriously impacted system that much easier. However, the new version is running a service that appears to be required for proper functioning of the program. No service, no execution of the main program. I'm waiting to see if this pans out in the final release version. It will hurt a bit to not have that ability in the future. No word yet if updates for the new program will be compatible for the SE version, or if that one (SE) will be eventually phased out. Finally, "Safe Mode" scanning currently is not supported with this latest version (gulp!), again because of that required service.

Their last beta version was released on May 8th, and the final should be hitting the doors to the general public in June.

It's not clear to me yet if they will continue to offer a "free for personal use" version of Ad-Aware as they currently do for their Ad-Aware SE product. I can only hope so as it holds quite a bit of market-share due to that "public service."

Features

Quoting from their Beta Features Page:

  • Fully redesigned engine. Ad-Aware 2007’s powerful, efficient engine increases your productivity by delivering one of the fastest scans on the market without clogging your computer’s resources.
  • Advanced Code Sequence Identity technology. Our improved CSI technology detects malware that is deeply imbedded in your system and keeps you protected from the latest threat advancements.
  • Enhanced Detection Database. Incremental updates ensure a quick download from our comprehensive threat database, again freeing up your most valuable computer resources.
  • New graphical user interface (GUI). The fresh, new look of our straightforward GUI means easy navigation through all of Ad-Aware 2007’s advanced protection options.
  • Automatic scans and Web updates. Set a personalized schedule for automatic scans and definition file updates, letting Ad-Aware do the work for you according to your schedule and preferences. You’ll never miss an update from the Detection Database again.
  • Ad-Watch TrackSweep. The new TrackSweep feature clears browser cache, cookies, and history that are left behind while you surf the Internet on IE, Firefox and Opera, all in one easy click of a button.
  • Ad-Watch Connect. The real-time monitoring of Ad-Watch is expanded to include an additional shield against hijackers and identify theft by preventing private information from leaving your computer. (Note! Ad-Watch Connect is not implemented in this Beta release)
  • Hosts File Editor. This new tool gives you the power to add, delete or make changes to the Hosts File to block advertisement sites, reverse browser hijack entries, create navigational shortcuts, and assist with parental controls.
  • Multiple Browser Support. Ad-Aware 2007 supports Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera – so now you can use the web browser of your choice.
  • System Restore Point. Ad-Aware 2007’s conveniently located system restore point means you never have to worry about accidentally deleting a file during cleanup.

System Requirements

From that same page come the following specifications.

Hard Disk Space: 50 MB free space recommended, OS Support: Windows 2000 (Pro and Server), Windows Server 2003, Windows XP (Home, Pro, and Pro x64 Editions)

Web Browsers; Internet Explorer (version 5.5 or higher), Firefox (version 1.5 or higher), Opera (version 9 or higher).

You will notice that Vista is not currently listed here. That is correct (for now).

Why no Ad-Aware 2007 for Vista?

A post in the Lavasoft forums from Michael Helander, Lavasoft Director, Communications & PR explains;

We regularly receive inquiries now about Vista compatibility for the soon-to-be-released Ad-Aware 2007 product, and we’ve even said in previous announcements that the new product would be compatible when released. We know that computer users everywhere have already begun the transition to the new Windows operating system and we have every intention of delivering a new product in 2007 that is Vista compatible.

However, we’ve just recently discovered a technical glitch required for Ad-Aware 2007 to fully operate with Vista, and in order to meet the launch date that we committed for our worldwide customers and to completely comply with Microsoft’s requirements for the Vista program, the product will not be Vista compatible immediately when launched in June. Nevertheless, the new Ad-Aware 2007 product has been built with the capability to immediately distribute version updates and patches (something that was not possible with the SE versions) and all Ad-Aware users with a valid license will immediately receive the Vista compatible update when the issues are resolved this fall.

We know that Vista compatibility is an important issue for many of our customers, and rest assured that it is at the forefront of our development efforts with the Ad-Aware 2007 product.

I'm very surprised as it is quite a blow when a "security" company releases the next version of their flagship product and it isn't issued as compatible with the latest Microsoft OS nor that it's scanning product cannot run in Safe Mode on Windows. I'm sure that Lavasoft is working hard on getting the "technical glitches" resolved and this really has to bum out their development team.

I've actually had great success running Ad-Aware SE in a "standalone" mode on my Vista system. No errors and it seemed to locate and find all the bookmark locations in the Vista structure just fine. However, Vista is not an "officially" supported OS of Ad-Aware SE.

The malware-fight' n business is a pretty crowded market now. There are a number of very good products available now, and while I remain doubtful that any one product alone can provide a 100% effective malware removal/protection solution, there are quite a few that come close when working together. For a product to really stand out with the malware-bustin' techs, it needs to be cross-platform (Windows) compatible, run scans in Safe Mode, have an effective detection/removal engine and signature files, and be easy for the average user to simply use and remain protected with once the support geeks leave. (I still wish for "standalone" product functionality as well.) A good price helps as well: free is nice for the masses and $ for enhanced functionalities.

Lavasoft really needs to keep its faithful fans in mind as it finishes up and continues to tweak it's Ad-Aware product out. Alex Eckelberry of Sunbelt Software laid down a new gauntlet with their offer for their flagship CounterSpy anti-malware program for $9.95 good through June 30th.

Oh yeah. CounterSpy supports Windows Vista and integrates with the Vista Windows Security Center.

Very competitive waters, indeed.

--Claus

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Syncing Firefox Bookmarks

Back in a earlier post this month, I outlined how I was attempting to keep my Firefox bookmark file sync'ed between our two laptops and desktop system. This was especially important as I keep my "to blog" links in a Firefox bookmark folder. And having it handy at any given machine makes it more convenient for me to blog.

Manual Firefox Bookmark Syncing...what a pain

Basically I had worked out the following plan:

  1. I wrote a batch file to copy the Firefox bookmarks.html file up to my desktop.
  2. I then "mailed" that file to my web-mail account after making any changes to my bookmarks.
  3. Then on a new system I would log into my web-mail account and bring that file back down to my desktop.
  4. Then I would run another batch file to copy it from the desktop back into its location.

Not elegant. But it worked as long as I remembered to "copy up."

Enter Foxmarks

So I was viewing my RSS feeds last week and came across this intriguing post over at DownloadSquad: Keep your bookmark folders synced with Foxmarks.

The post solution sounded quite interesting. It syncs your Firefox bookmarks between more than one computer using a web-based solution. You just download the extension, set your (free) account up and each time you shut down (or sync now), a sync'ed copy is sent up to the Web store location. Next Firefox location you log into that has the same extension gets synced up as well.

As an added bonus, you can access your bookmarks "on-line" without even needing to "sync" them which could be useful when accessing them on a guest computer...say at a relative, friend's or public pc location.

It sounded promising so I checked out the website, proper: Foxmarks.

I dug around in the Foxmarks F.A.Q. to get a feel on how this works. While nothing spectacular, the thought of tossing my bookmarks up on just anyone's server made me a bit uncomfortable. I keep quite a few financial bookmarks and they could provide a neat profile for anyone who got control of them...even if they didn't have my account information.

The deal-breaker for me was that the bookmarks are not currently encrypted on the Foxcloud server. Even though they are passworded for protection, a lack of encryption concerns me.

However, the Foxmarks team must be a pretty standup group, because a bit lower in the FAQ they discuss future development of Foxmarks and that they plan to continue despite the high-bar Google set with it's Google Browser Sync tool.

Heck. They even bravely offered a link to it!

I find that honorable and classy.

Hello Google Browser Sync

So I jumped over to check out this Google Browser Sync tool for Firefox I hadn't heard of before.

Pretty straightforward little tool.

It will sync various Firefox elements between Firefox browsers located on separate pc's: bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, saved passwords, and even open tabs and windows.

Hmmm. This could be so useful it's downright creepy.

Yep. Let's check out their Google Browser Sync FAQ, shall we?

Interesting points:

  • I can select which sync' able items to sync or not. Flexibility is good. Bookmarks I want...the rest isn't needed but nice to see it can handle. I have choices.

  • I need a PIN as the data that is stored on Google's servers is encrypted; both during transmission to and from their servers as well as on the servers themselves. Very nice.

  • Being logged into Google Browser Sync doesn't log me into any of my other Google Accounts. Nice.

Drawbacks:

I tipped a co-worker about Google Browser Sync who is also a fellow Firefox fan and was surprised to discover he had been using it happily for several months. He uses it between his work pc and his home to sync technical and other websites and articles he finds interesting he comes across during the day and then can read at his leisure at home later. Nice solution.

I keep my work and home bookmarks separate...two separate worlds.

The encryption feature sold me, so I installed it on the Vista laptop (that I have kind of adopted as a 2nd home) and the desktop system at home which I use for "production" blogging work.

Installation was a breeze and the account setup went quickly. I selected my PIN (password/paraphrase/whatever you want to use) and made the setting changes to only store my bookmarks as well as encrypt them.

Then I did the same on the 2nd system, this one my XP Home. I had a tiny bit of housecleaning to do as it duplicated a few the first time, but I haven't seen any duplication errors since the first day.

Syncing is done behind the scenes and is seamless. I log onto one pc and my bookmarks from the other machine are there in Firefox. I add and remove them. Shut down and move to the other system and there they are, just like I changed them.

Awesome! I'm really loving it! And it has made using Firefox between dual (or more) machines of ours a real treat now!

I just can't believe I didn't discover or hear about this Google Firefox tool sooner.

Who knew?

Bonus: New Mozilla Themes

Found these two new themes for Mozilla today.

mGANT :: Firefox Add-ons - This Firefox theme is really growing on me. It is simple and almost Gnomish. The spacing on the bookmarks and dropdowns is dead-on. The colors are simple and zenlike. And while the icons are a bit hard to "decode" at first, they do the job well. I'm really liking this over the Outlook 2003 Blue theme I had been using since forever.

Vista Mail :: Thunderbird Add-ons - This is a new Thunderbird theme. It integrates quite well with the Microsoft Zune theme I still am using for XP. It is a pretty dark black theme with highly saturated color icons. The only drawbacks I see is the extreme white-to-black gradient and the folder icons. The gradient seems a bit too strong and instead of the lighter gray, I would have used a darker shade of gray. The yellow folder icons are not outlined clearly and don't stand out well from a white background field they are displayed on. However, those minor points aside I like it quite well. I'm going to try it for a while and see what I think.

Enjoy!

--Claus

Vista Tippage

Well, it's been an exciting Indy 500 race so far. Rain has postponed the race, but they are drying the track.

I remain hopeful race organizers will be able to get the cars out for some more laps on the Brickyard before dusk settles things.

Danica Patrick is looking quite fine; especially as she is currently held in 3rd position. I don't follow IRL anymore except for this one race that has always captured my imagination. I guess I stopped when the Indy car machine got fractured into all its different leagues way back when.

So since we have a race interlude, here is some Vista Tippage.

Dr. Watson, Would you be so good to look at this bug?

Anyone who has spent time in front of a Windows XP pc troubleshooting is probably familiar with Dr. Watson. That old Microsoft program error debugger that provides some error data. While not always providing the most easy to understand data, it can provide a starting point for diagnosing errors.

A post Resurrecting Dr. Watson on Vista at Crash Dump Analysis shows just how to restore the familiar Dr. Watson program back to Vista and set it as the default debugger, if you are so inclined.

Microsoft's Windows Hardware Developer Central also has a interesting related article: Debugging Windows Vista and Debugging Tools for Windows - Overview which contains some information on Microsoft's Debugging Tools software program.

Windows Vista Border Color Rotisserie

Vista offers users a choice of several window border colors with its Aero package. If you want more than just the default offering, you can expand the selection and mix your own.

But what if you want more? And don't want to change them yourself?

Every resourceful Ryan at CyberNet News introduces us to a new freeware toy: Vista Color Transform Alternates the Transparency Color.

This "no-install" Vista Color Transform application runs in the system tray and alternates the colors for you. You have some presets as well. You can also set it to display colors based on battery life for a clever signaling of system juice.

Vista Tweaks

I just love the tips I'm getting from ITsVISTA! It is making the job of learning and tweaking Vista very simple for me.

These two new tips are dead-useful:

ITsVISTA Tip 56: Display your 'Home' icon on your desktop in Vista

ITsVISTA Tip 57: Add 'Copy To' and 'Move To' to your Vista right-click menu

Vista Security in Detail

TechNet Magazine's June 2007 on-line issue is out. And it is jam-packed with geeky details on the inner workings of Vista security.

Security : Inside Windows Vista User Account Control - Written by Windows Master Mark Russinovich is a great review of just how the inner workings of UAC function. Great stuff to know.

Security: Exploring The Windows Firewall - Loaded with quite a bit of "flame-bait" on why Microsoft feels that "outbound" firewall protection is a load of Texas Cow Chips, it nevertheless provides background on the design and function of Windows Vista firewall. Not so much a "how to use" as a "what we were thinking" treatise. Interesting and readable, all the same.

Back to racing...I hope!

--Claus

LinkFest: Hardware, Software, and Lifeware

It's a great thing that I have a three-day weekend to look forward to!

Lots of posts and topics to get off my chest.

Let's start things off today with a LinkFest.

Hardware

Zuse: Toast you can draw on - Are you yearning to incorporate some high-tech into your breakfast time? How about the Zuse toaster. The Zuse allows you to make "dot-matrix" printouts on your toast. Very clever. Imagine the ensuing excitement if all the diners in Boston suddenly started seeing Mooninites on their toast.

Solstice USB Flash Drive Duplicator - Now this could be cool AND useful. Imagine making a USB stick "image" full of your IT shop's needed enterprise software and utilities and then issuing one to all of your team members. Keeping them updated would be a real challenge. With a tool like this, one person could easily maintain a master USB drive image and keep it updated. Then periodically, everyone could drop off their issued USB drive, and the maintainer could easily and quickly update them all in bulk. Quite clever. Coming down the Solstice pipes...a 21 port USB duplicator!

Intel Unveils World's Thinnest Laptop, Almost Skinny as a RAZR - Sure. Product designs for laptops always look so cool and neat. But just how often do they ever see real mass-market production runs? I have to concede to the Intel/Ziba design teams that this one looks really cool. I'd love to have one like this to carry into the field. Just hope it is fairly durable as well.

More Intel Notebook:

Software

Office 2007: X = ZIP - Turns out that Microsoft's new Office Doc format (Office Open XML File Format) is just a zip file with XML and media files packaged up. Daily Cup of Tech's Tim Fehlman takes it apart at the link. Also, via Microsoft's MSDN site: Introducing the Office (2007) Open XML File Formats

Google Librarian Central: Found in Translation - Google announces an expansion of their language translation service. Before you could use Google Translate to translate blocks of text or even entire web-pages. Now, you can actually run searches for terms and and view results over entire webscapes in a non-native language, and have them returned in your native language! http://translate.google.com. Not yet perfect but going a long way to breaking down language barriers to content.

6 Great Free Alternatives to Quicken & MS Money - zen habits drops a list of some nice alternatives to the financial management tools of Quicken and Microsoft Money. I've used Quicken for a long time and like it enough to own a "basic" version. However, if you are really living on a budget and it extends to your software choices...consider looking into one of these tools. While not as fully featured, they might provide just enough muscle to pinch those penny's a bit tighter. Goodness knows with rising gas and food prices, every penny does need to be pinched a bit more.

Lifeware

zen habits | Achieving Goals and Simple Productivity through Daily Habits - This is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites to follow. It pairs nicely with another (non-related) site Lifehacker. Site blogger Leo does a fantastic job sharing his life-tips and lessons in balancing health, life, work and inner harmony. Take for example this recent post: How I Work 2 Jobs, Blog and Still Find Time for My Wife and 6 Kids. Heck. I have one wife, one kid, one blog and one job and I have a difficult time getting them all sync'ed.

No chanting zen monks here on zen habits. Just practical tips for effective living. I'm going to be adding his site to my blog-roll very soon.

Incredible LEGO Star Wars Space Port - via TechEBlog. Wow. I always thought the Millennium Falcon was the coolest ship in the whole Star Wars production.

JapanSugoi - Everything Cool about Japan - another "Guilty Japanese Pleasures" website. Goofy, edgy, and just wacky. Take for example this offering: Mosaic Show from Strapya. Guaranteed to hide your identity and change your voice for anonymous YouTube posts as you confess your secret office-love for a co-worker or expunge stress by reaming out your boss. They will NEVER catch on! I hear Washington has just ordered up several cases of them.

For mother's day, Alvis and I picked up a brick-set of Ai Yori Aoshi as Lavie's gift. She has been reading all the manga titles with fondness. The two seasons of this anime series came out back in 2002-2003 so this isn't a "new" title and I never could find all the single volumes at my different anime store suppliers...so I delayed purchase of the series as I didn't want to get stuck with "holes" in the collection.

It was great then, when both were released as a single "brick" set (though a thinpack would have been even better). So Lavie and I have been fueling our romantic side by watching this tender (and wacky) love story that is a twist on the tradition "harem" plot theme of many Japanese anime serials. There is just something about it that is tender and warm in the love story between Aoi and Kaoru that makes us want to cuddle and smooch. Got to love finding those things in today's world.

Time to go watch some races

--Claus

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Car Thoughts...Old and New

Over on Q-Taro's blog, Roy has been providing updates of the progress towards realizing his new toy; a new factory-ordered Mazda Roadster RHT and its 5/30 Build Date.

I don't even know Roy, but am very excited for him.

Funny how good blogs do that to faithful followers.

That reminded me of how Dad used to order our family cars from the factory.

I can't remember exactly what year his Camaro Berlinetta was but I am sure it was a late 70's model.

Anyway...I remember Dad going through the options and working hard to get just the transmission, engine, rims, rear-differential gearing ratio, and so on...all picked out so the factory could build it.

It was quite a car and the few times I got to enjoy driving it, it was a lot of fun. The Berlinetta model was pretty unusual, and the options he added really made it seem classy and sporty.

Nowadays, I can't imagine "ordering" a car from a factory.

When I picked up my previous pickup-truck, it was a new one right off the lot and in stock.

When I went to trade it in years/miles later on my Saturn Ion, I did quite a bit of research on the Net, then used their website to search for a dealership that had a selection of 5-speed Ion-3 models and went to the dealership to look and, eventually, drive one home.

Do "average" dealerships even let you factory-order custom vehicle packages nowadays?

I know when Dad bought his latest car, the dealership he eventually went with did an inventory search and had to ship one from another location in the state. But that was really just ordering and finding one already built that matched his preferences...and I'm not talking of after-market dealer installed options. When I mean factory-ordered, I mean pick out all the different options and elements and they build the vehicle specifically for you.

Speaking of the Saturn Ion, looks like it will be gone next year.

I was talking to an inside source and it was mentioned that the new model's gas mileage will be lower as they are going from the iconic plastic side-panels to all-aluminum construction along with a larger engine size. In light of current events...that seems like a backwards move.

When I got my Ion I didn't really think about it, but I've come to really love and enjoy the plastic side-body panels. They really are durable. It's going to be weird for me to not see them.

While looking into that, I also learned that the Ion model as I know and love it is going to be dropped from the Saturn line. Coming in will be a more upscale (and $3400+ pricier) model build upon the GM Opel division brand in Europe. I'm not clear if Saturn will retain the Ion name or not. But if the pictures I've seen so are are the match...I'm not impressed and it won't be an Ion even if the name stays the same.

Gone will be the center console dash-pod Lavie and I have come to love and still gets second glances from passers-by in parking lots. Gone will be the sedan-styling. I think it will actually be a bit shorter than the current Ion model as well.

I'm not real excited by it, though news is that Saturn dealers are.

I plan on keeping my Ion for many years to come, but I'm not really sure I will be buying another Saturn or not knowing the Ion I enjoy so much is going away. The competition is pretty tight, and if/when we are ready to purchase our next vehicle, whatever we come home with will have to provide great fuel economy and reliability matched with styling and flexibility....and (at least) a 5-speed manual shift.

Then again...this Mazda RX-8 really seems like the bee's-knees. I love looking at them as they zip by me on my morning commutes.

While not quite "vanship" material (image of Claus and Lavie's), a silver-one would go a long way....

One day, maybe.

--Claus

Weird IE7 Search Bar Problem

Here is one that has (to date of post) stumped me.

Lavie's (1st) laptop is a XPSP2 Home edition.

I have it fully patched and IE7 installed.

Clean of malware and viruses...I'm 99.99999% sure.

So the other day, Alvis gets a tip from her BFF to check out and play with some Zwinky's

Alvis is a Great Daughter and asks her mom if it is OK to install. Lavie says sounds cute...lets see.

Unbeknownst to them, it installs an integrated MyWebSearch toolbar into IE7 (I didn't see it installed into Firefox).

So a day or two later, I pop in and see the MyWebSearch toolbar and run the Add/Remove uninstaller for it.

It's gone.

When I asked Alvis about it (sweetly and kindly....as she is under a "No-Install" policy on our Microsoft systems) she gave me the back story which Lavie confirmed.

No big deal. No harm done. Except for one small problem.

My Integrated IE7 Search Bar is Dead

Non-functional.

At all.

This isn't that big a deal. We almost never use IE7, preferring Firefox which is still working just fine.

It just bugs me now that I can't get this one minor part of IE7 working.

All the other features of IE7 are working fine.

When I type a search-term, it takes my input, however the [Enter] key doesn't do anything; nor the search button next to it.

It's like it isn't parsing the search request to the search engine.

I suspect it had something to do with the MyWebSearch toolbar installation/removal...but I'm not ready to point any fingers at anyone just yet. That the only "installation" that has occurred since the problem appeared.

Alvis was crushed thinking she broke it, no matter how hard and sweetly I tried to tell her it wasn't her fault and she wasn't in trouble. Poor thing.Publish Post

Troubleshooting

So far I've done a REIS repair IE7 to reset everything to the defaults. No good.

I've removed the existing search engines from the list and added new ones. None work.

Even made a "custom" search engine entry from their page. Nada.

I have tried to look through the registry and found the general area they seem to call to, but no go.

I've done full scans for malware/trojans/rootkits (not really expecting anything) and all come back clean.

I've checked the auto-runs with MS Sysinternal's Autoruns and TrendMicro HijackThis. All look clean.

The problem persists on both the user profiles on the system.

Still to Try...Maybe

Run MS Sysinternals Process Monitor to try to find if/where in the registry the search call is going to (either on the laptop or one of my good XP-IE7 systems) then track down that registry point and values.

Do some more registry comparisons between my good XP with IE7 system and the "damaged" XP with IE7 system.

I could do an uninstall of IE7 to roll back to IE6 then reinstall. As I can live with the problem, I doubt I will go this route as the "fix" may create more problems than the problem is worth.

Weird.

I did quite a bit of searching on Microsoft's site (and the Web) but I'm not really finding any current information on how the IE7 integrated search-bar interfaces with the registry and how it's settings are kept.

So if any of you pros have any suggestions...I'm open to leads and information. Has anyone even encountered this before?

Thanks in advance.

Stumped Claus.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Windows Updates Updater Updated

Sorry about that post title...I just couldn't help myself.

On the heels of my recent post Microsoft 100% CPU usage and svchost.exe Microsoft seems to have just released its Windows Update Agent to a newer version today.

I had already manually "pre-updated" my XP SP2 Home system shortly after making that post. However, knowing that the planned "official" release was scheduled for today decided to see if it had actually been let of of the gates.

From my XP SP2 Pro system at work, I ran a manual Windows Updates session.

Sure enough, instead of my usual "Express/Custom" selection choices, I was presented with a notice that a new version was available and needed to be installed. I agreed and it quickly downloaded and installed the components.

After a reboot, I also found I needed to update the ActiveX control that Windows Updates used.

I did a Custom scan and didn't find any updates.

Later that day I spied the following post:

WSUS Product Team Blog : Latest MSI.dll fix (927891) also available to WU/WSUS today

So I went back and re-ran the updates and sure enough...now it was offering patch 927891 as a High Priority update. So I went ahead and installed that patch as well.

Another reboot and all is well.

Curiously, when I tried these steps on my XP SP2 Home system (that I had already patched) it didn't offer me any WUA updates since I had already updated it, but it did re-offer and install the KB927891 patch again. Very curious...newer version maybe?

Note, although I can't find any specifics just yet, I am assuming that the WUA update applies to all (supported) Microsoft OS systems. The KB927891 patch only applies to XP SP2 systems.

So go (unless you have already set your system to Automatically Update) and run a Windows Update check.

Officially Update your Updater then go get that out-of-patch-release-cycle (XP SP2) High Priority Update.

--Claus

Tomorrow's Links Today

Here are six quick links I picked up today,

15 Must-read Blogs for Blog Writers - Follow the best bloggers to be one of the best.

U.S. Navy to Create Manga to Explain Itself to Japan - I'm sure that will help clear things up...

Mozilla Gets Places Back in Firefox 3, Prepares for Tagging - Not fully implemented, kinda like a pre-Places preview. But it's the first start. Looks like tagging will be supported.

GMail Attachments Double to 20MB - Great! But who else but other GMail users can handle them?

Microsoft Office Security Tool Could Prevent Hacker Attacks - With a snappy acronym like "MOICE" who can't not be excited? Actually could be pretty cool in Enterprise environments.

Blackberry Wallpaper Generator - Now that I've finally figured out the proper way to holster my Blackberry (duh) this is a great way to add nice custom wallpapers! Just got to keep them "work appropriate."

--Claus

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Microsoft 100% CPU usage and svchost.exe

Microsoft seems to be running into some issue with it's recent patches.

This one impacts Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems.

I first saw mention of this particular issue when reading the ISC-SANS handler's diary: Mailbag: MS Patches / Symantec Vuln

When some users fire up Windows Update to scan for updates that utilize the Windows Installer (including Office updates), the CPU utilization rate for svchost.exe can lock on 100% for extended time frames.

(Sounds a bit familiar to me: Thawing an XP System and the conclusion at the end of the Mostly Mozilla Madness... post.)

Microsoft's answer for users who have this problem is to first download and install Microsoft's new WSUS 3.0 client to patch the problem. Then install KB927891 (Win32 version linked).

I'd recommend carefully going over and using the detailed links and instructions over at WSUS Product Team Blog post: Svchost /MSI issue follow up.

Tests done by the WSUS team find that this seems to take care of the issue, although the WSUS team notes this caveat:

It’s important to note that with the MSI fix and the new client installed, the CPU may still go near 100%, but the system should still be responsive and not lock up. If another task requires CPU cycles they will be shared, but if the system is idle, MSI will use the full cycles available. If a task is running at the same time as MSI, the system may be slightly slower, but should still be responsive during this time. Key to remember the MSI fix and the new client address unresponsive or locked systems. CPU spikes during some scans are expected, machine unresponsiveness is not. If your watching the process monitor, you will still see 100% CPU during some scans and this is expected behavior.

The WUUS version 3.0 will be mass-released on May 22, but you can get it early using the links I've referenced. If you aren't having any issues, I wouldn't recommend applying this fixes early. And in some cases, users are reporting that this fix isn't helping at all.

Microsoft Updating can be a bit of a mysterious process.

More reference linkage on the issue:

Fix for Microsoft Automatic Updates not working - Via InfoWorld

Microsoft's fix for Automatic Updates lockup not working - Via ComputerWorld

Fix for 100% CPU usage of svchost.exe has been updated but user need WSUS 3.0 too - Via Donna's SecurityFlash

Microsoft WSUS Team test Hotfix KB927891 and WSUS 3.0- Via Donna's SecurityFlash

Microsoft KB927891

Determining the Current Version of WUA - Via MSDN

Update on svchost/msi performance issue and 3.0 Client distribution plan - Via WSUS Product Team Blog

--Claus

IE7 MS KB931768 Patching Problem

KB931768 Problem

While reading the ITsVista website, I saw mention of a unusual IE7 problem rearing its head.

KB931768 'navcancl' error crippling IE7 for some Vista users - Via ITsVISTA (post has error screenshots).

And then a follow up post: Microsoft responds to IE7 'navcancl' issue.

Seems that some users who installed the Microsoft patch update KB931768 are running into a problem.

When they open IE7 it opens for a second then closes and pops up a window requesting to save the file NAVCANCL from ieframe.dll.

Attempts to get IE7 working again by disabling elements doesn't help, but may work if the phishing filter is turned off.

Microsoft Responds

Turns out that this bad IE7 behavior occurs when the "temporary internet files" folder is moved to a custom location and IE7 does not have sufficient rights to access the new folder location.

To fix, try one of these workarounds:

  1. Reset the Temporary Internet Files location back to the default directory, or
  2. Change the permissions on the custom directory to match those on the default Temporary Internet Files directory.

Specific How-To details on these workarounds at Microsoft KB937409.

IEBlog : Follow Up to Internet Explorer May 2007 Security Update

The Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) : Update to KB Article 931768

MS07-027: Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer

The "File Download – Security Warning" dialog box opens when you try to open Internet Explorer 7

Probably not something most folks would ever see.

But likely to be very aggravating for those that do.

--Claus

Windows Live Writer Tip

So Windows Live Writer blogging application fans.

Want a valuable tip?

On the toolbar,

Go to "Tools"

Go to "Preferences"

Find the "Editing" preference setting.

Turn on the "Automatically save drafts every (x) minutes" and set it to your tolerance level. (1 for me.)

Why?

Well, my system locked up and I had to do a hard-reset and lost my previous post.

I thought auto-saving was already turned on

It wasn't.

I usually manually hit the "Save Draft" button automatically, but sometimes get on a creative roll and forget.

Bummer.

Now you know.

--Claus

Anti-Virus Applications Compared

Ryan over at CyberNet news mentions that virus.gr has posted an updated ranking of anti-virus vendor effectiveness.

New Antivirus Rankings…Kaspersky Still on Top - CyberNet News

The top three positions are held by various forms of Kaspersky:

1. Kaspersky version 7.0.0.43 beta - 99.23%
2. Kaspersky version 6.0.2.614 - 99.13%
3. Active Virus Shield by AOL version 6.0.0.308 - 99.13%

Active Virus Shield by AOL is a freeware version of Kaspersky. While the AOL label may turn a number of folks off it, at the heart is uses the same program files as Kasperky's self-labeled products.

Two other popular freeware anti-virus products also rated pretty respectively.

12. Avast Professional version 4.7.986 - 92.82%
13. AVG Anti-Malware version 7.5.465 - 92.14%

I'm a long-time fan of AVG Anti-Virus Free. The version tested was a $ bundle of both the Grisoft anti-virus and anti-malware products...so I'm sure it rendered a bit more coverage than AVG-Free alone.

I practice safe-computing so the efficacy difference in % between AOL's freeware version of Kaspersky and AVG free wouldn't be enough to make me desire to switch, but if I was installing an AV product on a friend or relative's system and wanted a bit more protection coverage, I would really give it strong consideration.

Virus.gr has the full article and anti-virus test list. It's well worth looking at. They also include some interesting test-notes to put it all into context. For more virus testing information, consider going to both the AV-Comparatives and the ISCSA Certified Anti-Virus Product page. Good research information.

Bonus Malware Tools

Comodo has now officially released its rebranded version of BOClean (freeware). Go get it as it is a popular and established anti-malware application.

RogueRemover (freeware) is a MalwareBytes utility to help remove rouge antispyware and antivirus programs that get installed. It doesn't target "malware" per se. Just a particular class of buggery anti-malware products that do more harm than good.

And I have already mentioned AVG Anti-Spyware (freeware) in this post. It is another rebranded product formerly known under the Ewido Anti-Spyware label.

Stay Safe

--Claus

Windows Registry Tools

I'm hesitant to post this.

Sometimes I need a quick registry tool and don't (gasp) have my emergency USB stick with me chock full of sysadmin tools.

So here are some registry tools and references I have used on specific occasion for my reference.

Kiddos...unless you really know What you want to do in the Windows Registry, Why you want to do it, and How to fix your system if you break it...move on.

Mandatory Disclaimer: MESSING WITH YOUR WINDOWS REGISTRY CAN BE DANGEROUS!

It can even render your system non-operational.

Also, I generally don't find much (if any) performance gains in "optimizing" my registries. I may "defrag" them periodically if it has been a while or if I have installed/uninstalled a bunch of programs, but I really don't see much benefit. So keep that in mind. No magic-bullet performance increase magic here. And some tools and "fixes" might actually break the registry instead of fixing it. So carefully weigh the cost vs. benefit ratio before proceeding on a heavy-duty registry cleanout.

Also, I really tend to use these tools to make my search for particular registry entries or fixes more efficient, but Windows comes with the built-in regedit tool that works very well on it's own.

OK. Onward.

A Registry Background Reference

From Microsoft KB256986,

The Microsoft Computer Dictionary, Fifth Edition, defines the registry as:

A central hierarchical database used in Microsoft Windows 9x, Windows CE, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 used to store information necessary to configure the system for one or more users, applications and hardware devices.

The Registry contains information that Windows continually references during operation, such as profiles for each user, the applications installed on the computer and the types of documents that each can create, property sheet settings for folders and application icons, what hardware exists on the system, and the ports that are being used.

The Registry replaces most of the text-based .ini files used in Windows 3.x and MS-DOS configuration files, such as the Autoexec.bat and Config.sys. Although the Registry is common to several Windows operating systems, there are some differences among them.

Registry data is stored in binary files.

See also:

Description of the Microsoft Windows registry

Differences between Regedit.exe and Regedt32.exe

Windows Registry - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Registry Tools

I have used most all of the tools noted here safely and successfully. But that's just me.

Also, due to the structural similarities with the Registry in Windows Vista and previous Windows versions, many of the tools are quite compatible with Vista...but read the developer's page carefully first just to be sure.

And all are freeware/shareware.

Registry Cleaners

CCleaner - A perennial favorite of the Windows optimization crowds. It performs a number of pc housecleaning tasks with browser entries, Windows system files, and the Registry. It is pretty simple to use, but has a lot of options.

Windows Registry Tweaker - A "new to me" tool that allows you to tweak certain Windows Registry settings and assists with restoring previous values back if you don't like the changes. It is pretty intuitive and very clever.

RegSeeker - Tweak and backup your Registry, startup entries, index.dat files, installed applications, etc. Looks for duplicate files and bad shortcuts as well.

ToniArts Easy Cleaner - Great tool that scans your Registry for entries that point nowhere. Often a result of cleaning malware and uninstalling applications. Also lets you remove programs listed from "Add/Remove" program list when they get trapped.

Microsoft RegClean - This Microsoft tool is no longer supported by them. However, it provides a fairly safe way to scan and clean the registry in most Window OS versions. Read MS KB299958 first.

Registry Editors

Registrar Registry Manager - Not a Registry cleaner but a Registry manager tool. Allows backup and restoration of Registries, search and replace, bookmarking, color coding support, and a registry defragmenter. Comes in both a $ and "lite" free version. One of my favorites.

RegHance - This LavaSoft (Ad-Aware) tool isn't to be found on their website any longer so I linked to the Major Geeks location. It also has a "nagware" bit to it, however it is a great step up from regedit and is a nice alternative as bookmarking is supported. For more details see this TechRepublic post: How to edit the Windows registry with Lavasoft's RegHance

Specialized Registry Utilities

RegASSASSIN - MalwareBytes' free utility to remove registry keys that refuse to be deleted with normal methods. Often required when dealing with stubborn virus and malware infections. Not an everyday tool, but good to have when you need it.

RegScanner Tool - NirSoft's power registry scanner to help you quickly target and find all instances of a desired Registry string or value entry. Not an editor, but will allow you to open the target in regedit once located.

Windows Registry Recovery - MiTeC tool that reads Windows Registry hives and extracts useful information and configuration values. Supports exportation of hive data and topic data.

Windows Installer CleanUp Utility - Microsoft MSI CleanUp tool. Run this when a program that was installed using Windows Installer fails to come out of the registry. Every now and then I come across an installation issue when running Setup fails as the installer still thinks the application is installed. This helps fix that issue.

ERUNT and NTREGOPT - These Registry tools by Lars Hederer backup and restore the Windows Registry and optimize/defrag it, respectively. Nice, fast and dependable.

Just be careful.

--Claus

Lazy Day Linkpost

A WWII Rolex Story

Every now and then I come across some bit of historical trivia that amazes me.

The kind of stuff that you'd expect to learn about on The History or Discovery channel; but too unimportant even for notice there.

Vintage fansite Retro Thing posted an intriguing article Rolex Oyster P.O.W. Watch On Auction.

Who knew that during WWII, Swiss master timepiece maker Rolex actually was allowed to market Rolex timepieces directly to British officers in German POW camps during the war? What's more, the sales were extended under credit and the POW purchaser wasn't required to pay until the war reached its conclusion. The offer was only (with Clive Nutting as an exception) extended to British officers in that "...their word was their bond."

The material comes from an expansive and wondrous article by Alan Downing on the owner Nutting's story of capture, life as a WWII POW, and the general history of timepieces and POWs during WWII. It's a fascinating account made even more so by the wealth of detailed photographs and images that accompany the article.

POW Rolex Parts 1 & 2 - A “POW Rolex” Recalls the Great Escape - Via TimeZone.com

Amazing story of the role of technology under horrible circumstances.

Vista Kibbles

TechBlog maven Dwight Silverman has been hard at work taking down names and facts and investigating the truth of portable notebook battery life under the harsh and punishing Microsoft Vista demands of its Aero theme.

TechBlog: Vista, Aero, battery life . . . and Doom

TechBlog: Followup: More on Vista's Aero and battery life

In the end, Dwight leaves us with a few points of wisdom; that Vista's battery management options are very configurable, that battery life testing probably falls nicely into the realm of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and that turning off the Aero theme may result in just a 1-4% increase in battery life.

If however, you really want to squeeze those last drops of juice from your Vista citrus, consider dropping into this post Instead of complaining, fix the Vista Battery problem. - Via monkey see, monkey build... blog.

I'm not sure it is "perfect" but it is a free-code solution to turn Windows Vista Aero off when running on battery.

Also of note, Ryan over at CyberNet News blog chimes in on the Vista/Aero/battery debate by pointing out the following information:

...but [Microsoft] planned ahead and implemented something to reduce the battery consumption in Vista. If you put your laptop into Power Saver [Balanced] mode (left-click on the battery icon in the System Tray), and then unplug the computer you’ll notice that Vista automatically disabled the transparency feature. All of the other Aero features still remain in tact, such as the Flip 3D and Taskbar previews, but some of the eye candy has been removed. It might not be much but this does indeed save battery power.

Good work gentlemen!. That's part of the fun to me of seeing a new OS rolled out. Everyone is enthusiastic about picking it apart. Kinda reminds me of taking apart the lawnmower and radio to see how they worked as a kid. Only (in theory) less expensive.

Greg Duncan shows us how to add the Speedfan Meter gadget to the Vista Sidebar.

Speedfan Vista Sidebar Gadget - Speedfan Meter

Clever.

Finally, ITsVista Tip 52 illustrates how to Map a Drive to an FTP site in Vista.

There are a handful of Mozilla FTP sites I keep an eye on for new nightly build releases so this is a handy tip.

Downloads

Paper Pilot is a fun Flash-based game that lets you pick from one of three paper airplane models, and do some adjustments. Then you can practice tossing it to see how far it goes. Nothing earth shattering but kinda relaxing and fun, anyway. -via download squad.

I've used the note taking software EverNote off and on for some time. Overall I really like and recommend it for folks looking for a freeware note-taking/managing application replacement for OneNote.

I learned about another polished freeware note-management program, SEO Note. It has tabbed note pages (nice), supports several note formats, allows embedded objects, has Blowfish encryption, supports tables, and can link to local files directly. It has some misses as well such as note tagging and reminder alarms.

It an alternative worth looking into for note management...and it's free.

A brief review of SEO Note exists over at freewaregenius.com.

FreeCommander - This freeware file manager is my absolute favorite Windows Explorer replacement. And it has been updated to version 2007.05. This version has gotten some polish applied and looks a bit sharper than previous versions.

If you are installing over an existing version, I'd recommend first making a copy of your fcStart.ini and freeCommander.ini files located in the program folder. Then after installation, close freeCommander and copy them back to preserve your custom settings.

Anime

Here are some interesting anime-related posts for the fans.

The Sci-Fi channel recently announced it would begin airing some anime titles.

One of the first movies it will show is no-less than Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society. (ANN announcement)

Air date is June 11th at 10 p.m CST. Get your TiVo's, DVR's, and VCR's ready!

Bandai won't be releasing the DVD until July 3rd so this will be a real treat.

DannyChoo has some great teaser screen capture shots for GITS: SSS.

He also mentions a new anime movie out in Japan: Tokikake. (more screen caps at the link)

It has an intriguing story line. I hope to see a US release some day.

The animation looks pretty nice as well.

Japanese Baby Hatches vs. Texas Baby Moses Law

Earlier this month, a hospital in Kumamoto, Japan opened up a "konotori no yurikago" (stork cradle) hatch with great controversy.

Calls flood Kumamoto hospital as it opens first baby hatch - via The Japan Times Online

The idea here is that instead of a parent abandoning their newborn in an unsafe environment, the baby can be placed in this "incubated" hatch at the hospital and left in the safe care of hospital staff. It has spurred debate again on whether this will lead to a flood of child-abandonment cases or saved lives. Police will still investigate and prosecute parents of children left in an abused or debilitated condition.

In the first test of the baby hatch and police response, it's first recipient was a 3 - 4 year old pre-schooler left by his father: Father leaves preschooler in baby hatch - via The Japan Times Online

Texas has an established law known as "Baby Moses Cases"

Link to Texas DFPS - Child Protective Services (CPS) Handbook Section on Baby Moses Case Policy.

To meet the criteria, the abandoned child must (basically) be 60 days old or younger, not been harmed, been delivered to a DEIC (designated emergency infant care) provider, and delivered with the express intent of the parent to not return.

Texas DEIC providers would be an EMS provider (say the fire department), a hospital, or a licensed DFPS child-placing agency that staffs a registered nurse or EMS provider.

For some additional policy background on this issue:

UPDATE: More States Decriminalize Safe Baby Abandonment - via Stateline.org

Statute-at-a-Glance: Infant Safe Haven Laws - via Child Welfare Information Gateway.

A child is a terrible thing to waste.

--Claus