Sunday, July 29, 2007

Is That Fast?

TechBlog contributor and daring-stuntman Jim Thompson recently did a speed test of his TimeWarner Comcast cable-broadband service.

Faster Internet at the Pine Gulch Data Center - jimthompson.org

Luckily for Jim, he is enrolled via Earthlink so he doesn't have to deal with email address switching.

We received notice back on July 20th via email that we would soon be getting another email advising us it was time to convert email from the houston.rr.com domain to the Comcast one. We are still waiting for that one. I'm not too worried as I can't imagine too many folks are enrolled in Comcast broadband with our "real" Germanic surname. It remains pretty rare.

Anyway, earlier this week just past dinnertime, Alvis was on the couch firing up the laptop to do a final check of her social-networking sites. However the laptop was failing to grab an IP address for network connectivity. I did a quick refresh/renew and nothing. I checked the wiring and home router and saw that no WAN connectivity was flowing. So I checked downstream and looked at the cable modem. Only two lights were fluttering instead of the usual five to six. I reset it a few times but nothing.

Since the cable itself was working, I figured the Comcast network upgrade in our East Harris County area had began. (Or maybe it was just a storm-related interruption.) We eschewed technology for the rest of the night and just did some family reading time.

Next day the Tubes were flowing again and I thought nothing of it; until Jim's post that is.

Testing, Testing...

Jim posted his speed-test results yesterday:

Via Speedtest.net: 6317 kb/s download and 240 kb/s upload

Via Speakeasy: 6240 kb/s download and 241 kb/s upload

Jim seemed pretty happy with the results...although they seemed close to what we were getting here before.

TechBlog Captain Dwight Silverman got quite better results: (Note Jim and I are testing against the Dallas servers...Dwight journeyed to Oklahoma for his.)

Via Speedtest.net: 6675 kb/s download and 1790 kb/s upload

Via Speakeasy: 9514 kb/s download and 1742 kb/s upload

So I decided to check things out here at the Valca nodal point:

Last Night:

Via Speedtest.net: 8306 kb/s download and 1439 kb/s upload

Via Speakeasy: 15455 kb/s download and 2048 kb/s upload

I had to run the speakeasy one several times to be sure, but yep. That's what it consistently hit.

This Morning

So in composing this post I ran it again this morning.

Via Speedtest.net: 19168 kb/s download and 1519 kb/s upload

Via Speakeasy: 21828 kb/s download and 1959 kb/s upload

Great Green Gorilla Goop, Batman! The Joker must have dumped a ton of grease from the fry vat into the tubes out here near the Batcave!

I don't know if these speeds will hold up in the long-run or not...but this seems quite incredible to me. I can't help but keep running the test over and over again just to see the numbers come up. I've never been a gambler but is this what Slots players feel?

Might the Modem Model Help?

I also don't know if Jim has an "older" TimeWarner Comcast modem. If anyone doesn't, I would highly recommend taking the time and trouble to exchange the older ones out for a new one.

Our modem is just over a year old and was new out of the replacement box. At that time I was getting about 13344 kb/s download speed at peak with averages around the 5000-8000 kb/s range. So even though that was high, the new speed is significantly better.

I'm sure there are other factors at work as well here.

Simply amazing.

And the crazy thing is I feel a bit guilty for it being that much higher over my respected friends' speeds.

--Claus

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hard-Drive Hell and the DiscWizards; A Six-Act Play


It should be well known to my faithful friends that I've been nursing along a sick hard-drive on my primary desktop system for some time:

XP System Rescue

Hard-Drive Status Update: Seagate SeaTools!

The hardest thing I have ever had to type

It finally locked up last week again and got me to punt and just go grab a new hard-drive.

This is an older system and supports only ATA drives. This is a problem as finding ATA drives is becoming a bit more challenging as SATA drives are much more common-place now.

Normally I would just order-one up from NewEgg at a sizeable discount, but due to my frustration and desire to get it swapped out over the weekend due to my harried work-schedule, I decided to pay a premium and pick up up at the local GoodPurchase big-box electronics store.

My choices were limited. I wanted (for some crazy reason) to stick with Seagate, even though that was the same brand that seemed to be failing on me after only about 3 years...so the Western Digitals were out. I found myself facing only two choices on the shelf: a 160 GB ATA drive and a 500 GB ATA drive. That was it. Since the price difference was only about $30 different, I went with the 500 GB'er.

How do I want to do this?

I had first considered several options for the process in making my new drive become the primary.

I could attempt to just put it in "bare" and run a fresh XP setup on it, taking care of the formatting/partitioning and system load from scratch. Then copy my files over again and go from there.

I could attempt to "clone" the old drive using some imaging software, then apply the clone image to the new drive.

I could try using the Seagate "DiscWizard" utility that claimed to be able to make a clone of my drive and resize the existing partitions for me and expand them with the new drive's extra room.

From the Seagate DiscWizard product introduction:

Seagate DiscWizard makes it easy to work with your new Seagate disc drives. DiscWizard lets you quickly install your new disc drive, with wizards that guide you through the processes of creating and formatting partitions on your disc drive.

DiscWizard also lets you transfer your data to your new Seagate disc drive in minutes. The software migrates everything – your operating systems, applications, documents and personal setting – to your new disc drives just as you had them. After you migrate, you can keep using your PC just like before. You can then keep your old drive as a backup or use DiscWizard to store your image backups.

Using powerful imaging technology, DiscWizard lets you create image backups of all the data on your computer, entire discs or individual partitions. The unique technology developed by Acronis and implemented in Seagate DiscWizard allows you to create exact, sector-by-sector disc backups, including all operating systems, applications and configuration files, software updates, personal settings and all of your data. If failures occur that block access to information or affect system operation, or if you accidentally delete necessary files, you'll be able to use the image backup to easily restore the system and lost data.

You can store backups on almost any PC storage device: local hard drives, network drives or a variety of IDE, SCSI, FireWire (IEEE-1394), USB (1.0, 1.1 and 2.0) and PC Card (formerly called PCMCIA) removable media drives, as well as CD-R/RW, DVD-RW, DVD+R/RW, magneto-optical, Iomega Zip and Jaz drives.

Wizards and a user-friendly, Windows XP-styled interface will make your work more
convenient. Just answer a few simple questions and let Seagate DiscWizard take care of everything else! When a system problem occurs, the software will get you up and running in short order.

This seemed the easiest solution for my pressed time...so I went that direction.

Let the Swap Begin

Since I had already made a pretty comprehensive backup of the system and had those files safely tucked away on our laptop, I wasn't too worried about data loss during the process.

The Shuttle small form factor (SFF) system I have doesn't have much space inside at all. All three available bays are accounted for by a CD burner, the floppy drive, and the single hard-drive.

When doing a system data exchange between drives I prefer to have both drives in at the same time, so I removed the floppy drive, moved my original drive up to the first bay and added the new drive in the 2nd bay slot..adjusting the jumpers as needed.

I rebooted and broke into my BIOS settings to verify it saw both drives (it did) and to disable it from seeking a now non-existent floppy drive.

The Drama Begins: Act I

I had done a lot of pre-reading on the Seagate DiscWizard utility and thought I had a really good understanding of what I was getting into.

To save time of downloading and creating a new boot disk from scratch, I used the bootable CD version that was included with my new Seagate drive. I booted from the CD and began following the prompts.

Now in hindsight, I should have been alerted to the fact that this didn't "quite" look anything like the guide I had downloaded from Seagate...but I had already committed and thusly plunged bravely onward.

I selected the first option "Run DiscWizard Starter Edition drive installation software".

It loaded a 16-bit GUI interface and offered to help me set up the drive for my system. How nice.

I picked the Windows XP interface and ticked the box for "SP1 or greater".

I then had to choose the "Easy" or "Advanced" installation method. From my reading, the "easy would auto-partition the drive to match my current drive's layout and they dynamically expand the extra space across those four partitions I had; creating clones of each one. If I selected the "advanced" I would have to start from "scratch" to pick my partition numbers, sizes and types.

One final confirmation and it went to work.

Many minutes later it was done with "success" reported.

I shut down the system, unplugged, changed my jumpers and set the new drive to be the primary drive. I plugged everything back up and rebooted with anticipation!

What?!!! I found I had a single 137 GB partition with just my old C: drive cloned over.

Hmmm. Not at all what I was expecting and what the Disc Wizard documentation led me to believe.

What now? Manually resize the C: partition down to around 120ish GB then create the other three partitions and copy the data over? Maybe...but being a tech-head and wanting to understand all the options (and why this software wasn't matching what I had read online) I was still game to experiment some more.

The Drama Builds: Act II

I rearranged the drives and jumpers back to before and booted from my original system primary drive again with the new one riding as a secondary slave-drive.

This time I installed the DiscWizard software from within Windows itself and got a Windows GUI based installation tool. Again it didn't quite look like what I had read in the on-line instructions from DiscWizard but it was closer.

I stepped through the steps again, trying to follow the stages, again picking my new target drive to clone to. This time it picked up on the fact that my current XP system needed to be toggled to 48 bit LBA addressing via a registry setting change from its current 32 bit LBA handling. (More Windows Large Hard Drive Support information here and here and here.)

I allowed it and it rebooted and the application then picked up from where I left off. I made my final selections and it went to work again; formatting the new drive again and then doing a clone of my old drive. When completed I was prompted to swap them out, which I did, fixing the jumpers yet again.

This time when I booted off the new drive it came up perfectly and a quick look at "My Computer" showed me (shock) I had single 500 GB partition with my old C: drive cloned perfectly on it.

Hmmm.

Making progress here...but.

Now I had some serious thinking to do.

My new drive was up and working fine and my data was (almost) safe.

Did I really need to have four different partition on a single drive? Why did I want to set it up that way? Was there any real benefit besides that's just what I was used to?

Honestly, they are just functioning as "super-folders" to me (C: = System / D: = Pictures / E: = Music / F: = Storage). The best reason I have is that if I use a drive image to clone the primary partition...I could place the image onto another partition on the same drive (Storage) instead of doing a network copy or burning it to CD/DVD media.

I decided that I did want to keep that configuration. So what now?

Intermission: Act III

Repartitioning.

I don't have a copy of Partition Magic and didn't want to wait until I got to work to borrow one from a co-worker. That left me with with looking at using a Knoppix LiveCD and QTParted.

techtips: Disk Partitioning with Knoppix

Help2Go - How to Repartition Hard Drive without Reformatting

However, despite all my attempts, I was unsuccessful at getting QTParted to "activate" on the 500 GB drive. It worked fine at reading and offering to work with the secondary 120 GB older drive, but it wouldn't have anything to do with the new one. It was mounted and visible, but would QTParted just wouldn't touch it for partition adjustments.

Due to my lack of advanced Linux experience...I'm sure there is something obvious I was failing to know or do...but I was getting frustrated so I just moved on.

I have since found two other Linux LiveCD's specially tailored for partition and cloning activity.

Parted Magic - Linux LiveCD

Parted Magic is a Linux LiveCD/USB/PXE with its elemental purpose being to partition hard drives.

Optimized at approximately 30MB, the Parted Magic OS employs core programs of GParted and Parted to handle partitioning tasks with ease, while featuring other useful programs (e.g. Partition Image, TestDisk, fdisk, sfdisk, dd, ddrescue, etc.) and an excellent set of documentation to benefit the user. An extensive collection of fileystem tools are also included, as Parted Magic supports the following: aufs, ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, ocfs2, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, and zfs.

The latest version is updated with: Linux-2.6.22, parted-1.8.7, ntfsprogs-200702071432 (with Windows Vista support), ntfs-3g-1.710, and GParted-0.3.4.

GParted - Linux LiveCD

GParted is the Gnome Partition Editor application. Before attempting to use it, here is some basic background information.

A hard disk is usually subdivided into one or more partitions. These partitions are normally not re-sizable (making one larger and the adjacent one smaller) The purpose of GParted is to allow the individual to take a hard disk and change the partition organization therein, while preserving the partition contents.

GParted is an industrial-strength package for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them. This is useful for creating space for new operating systems, reorganizing disk usage, copying data residing on hard disks and mirroring one partition with another (disk imaging).

GParted uses GNU libparted to detect and manipulate devices and partitiontables.

I haven't had a chance to play with these, but will take them around the block with some virtual hard drives as well to become more familiar with them in the future.

Ghosts Arise: Act IV

Back to the drawing board.

Next I turned to a copy of Symantec Ghost I have on a BartPE boot disk.

I fired up BartPE and then used Ghost 10 (DOS) to do a disk to disk image clone between the drives. I set it to stretch the extra free space on the new drive equally between the four partitions.

About an hour later it had completed.

I re-swapped the drives (my speed at this task was approaching NASCAR pit-crew level competence) and rebooted with the newly cloned new drive as the primary.

Hmmmm.

I got the Windows XP boot screen fine, then the blue-background for Windows XP, but the system would halt there and not continue loading to the point of selecting our user profiles. A Safe-Mode boot resulted in the same thing.

More reading: Radified Guide to Norton Ghost (Symantec) - A Tutorial on How to Create, Save & Restore Hard Drive Back-up Ghost Images

At this point I was getting tired and cranky and wondering just how much longer I could keep working off my original drive that could fail once-and-for-all on me at any moment. No doubt these multiple attempts at drive cloning were quite risky.

I was letting it sit and cool down between attempts (going back to reading the final Harry Potter book to the girls) but the drama was now reaching a climax.

Re-swapped the drives again.

The End: Act V

Now I was quite confused. Seagate's DiscWizard sounded like it was going to the be perfect and simple solution and all my experiences up to this point had left me burned.

So I went back to the Seagate site and downloaded the version directly from there.

I installed it on my old Windows XP system/drive and launched it.

What was this? Remarkable!

This downloaded version of DiscWizard didn't look anything like the ones I had been using and did indeed match the DiscWizard documentation (PDF link) I had been reading. Could it be this simple?

The spiffy main program window loaded.

I selected the "Clone Disc" mode.

I selected the "Automatic" mode to copy all of the partitions off my old disk to the new one, make the new one bootable, and automatically resize my new partitions to fit the new, larger, disk.

I selected my source disk (the old one).

I selected my destination disk (the new one).

I confirmed that I wanted to "delete partitions on the destination hard disc" which would wipe out my last attempted "ghosting" image partitions.

DiscWizard gave me a nice graphical layout view of my source and destination partition layouts as set.

I then told it I wanted to do a "proportional" data move which would scale the old partitions to space available on the new drive.

One more summary was provided describing the activity that was to be undertaken.

I clicked "Proceed".

It tossed up a very scary-sounding alert about "locking my system partition" then did a reboot.

When it rebooted, it booted into what I can best describe as a semi-XP pre-boot environment.

It formatted the new drive and partitions and then proceeded to copy data to each one.

The process took about an hour or so.

When done it notified me I could shut down and swap the drives.

I did and rebooted.

XP loaded right out of the gates and just like normal. In no-time-flat I had logged into my profile and was sitting on my desktop, just like nothing had changed.

Only when I checked "My Computer" instead of my four original 30 GB partitions, I now saw an amazing sight; my four partitions were now about 120 GB each!

Wowzers!

The deed was done. The disk was working perfectly! The clone was alive.

In Closing: Act VI

If I had more time and I might have gone ahead and tried using Runtime Software's DriveImage XMLUtility (freeware). I have already mentioned this software before and knew about it, but didn't consider it as an option until after I finally got my drive cloned and up and running.

I have also since been playing more with the Seagate DiscWizard "Starter Edition" disk (boot disk) that led me astray at the onset as shipped with the drive. I've been trying to understand it better by tossing it at some virtual drives in Microsoft Virtual PC. The Advanced method I chose not to use in Act I was very easy to follow and quite effective. Not a bad method for a bare-drive installation configuration...but definitely not something I would recommend using if you are wanting to "clone" your existing drive.

It also contains some files about Seagate jumper and drive information, utilities to copy a partition, set hard drive size, zero-fill a drive in two methods, and some maintenance tools.

Having spent some time with it now, I see I could have done an "advanced" setup to manually configure each of my partitions then go back and manually clone each of my old partitions to the new drive one by one. That might have worked. Or maybe not.

Despite the fumbling of my attempts with the "other" versions of Seagate DiscWizard (Starter Edition) having figured out that these are not the same as the latest downloadable version from Seagate DiscWizard I am highly pleased with that latest version.

It was very easy to follow, was quick, gives a ton of additional tools and utilities, and performed exactly as described.

Seagate DiscWizard - Highly Recommended (assuming you use the right version).

And the Old Drive's Fate?

For now I have the old drive packed up and up in my "tech-closet". I'm going to hang onto it for a while as I'm still not sure what I want to do with it. I'm leaning to putting it into an external drive enclosure and reformatting it and using it for non-critical data storage. I'm still not 100% sure why it seemed to be locking up. SMART tests still came back fine and new scans for bad-sectors didn't find anything amiss. I have a hard time tossing hardware.

If I do go this way and it fails again I think I will try to secure wipe it using Disk Drive Secure Erase which can (as I understand it) do a Enhanced Secure Erase in seconds on my drive by changing the in-drive encryption key. Then I will just open it up and use it as a fancy paper-weight with the internals exposed.

Topical Reading - via ARSTechnica

Hope this helps someone.

--Claus

The Sun Sets on Hogwarts

CC photo credit "The Castle, at night" by elle_rigby on flickr

The Journey is Finished

Last weekend, in the space of less than 48 hours, I completed reading the final Harry Potter book to Alvis and Lavie; out loud.

My voice was sore, but more from the emotional twists and turns in the final chapters.

I won't post anything that could be considered a "direct-spoiler" to fans still reading.

I called Dad at work this week and he was curious on our progress. (He's waiting for his audio-CD rental service to send him them from his queue.)

I told him that we were satisfied with the conclusion. J.K.R. tied up lots of loose ends and some of the content seemed (at least to me) that she had a working knowledge of the more popular fan-forum threads and essays on all things magical with HP. She provided enough details to leave over 90% of our questions regarding the overall story-arc answered. We still have some puzzlements but that adds to the magic of the story itself.

Some characters lived; others died.

The pace was quite fast, thought we did have a few doubts for some chapters during the middle section. We did keep wondering when the "main-plot" would kick-off again, but it seemed clear to us that J.K.R. was needing to do a bit more character-growth before engaging the engines again for the final tension-filled plot buildup.

We were not disappointed.

The Magic Began...at Kroger's

About midnight, on release night, Alvis and I woke up and drove down to the corner Kroger's supermarket to grab a copy. We normally attend the larger release parties at a larger Barnes and Nobles store, but this year Lavie felt under the weather and we figured we would maximize our time with a quick few minutes drive over, pick up the book and be back in under 10 minutes.

Upon arrival to the Kroger's, we found more than the usual number of vehicles in the parking lot. A poor bemused stocker was fighting to un-box the final Harry Potter volumes onto a display but people kept taking them off as soon as they got put on. A circle of empty and semi-scattered chairs surrounded the display unit, like a cross between Stonehenge and an abandoned AA meeting.

Alvis snapped up a copy and we took our place in line. It was a bit surreal. It was past midnight, we were only buying a book, standing in line with a motley mix of young and old fans all with their copies held tightly as well. One high-school aged kid had a stack of frozen pizzas about two feet high along with his book. Guess he was stocking up. Back outside the parking lot had a light haze hanging over it, ghosted all the more by the sickly sallow glare of the vapor lamps.

We loaded up and a few minutes later were piled in the living room with our midnight snacks and the adventure began. We read through the first five or six chapters before bookmarking it for the night. I think it was almost 3 a.m. when we turned in.

That Which Must Not be Named: Sleep!

The next morning we began fresh around 10 a.m. and read through until 5 p.m. We ate some sandwiches and chips, stretched (I went and picked up a new hard drive) and piddled around until around 7 p.m. when we took up the story again. By the time we stopped, nearly 11 p.m. we were not-quite to the half-way point.

Sunday dawned with us ever more nervous as to the direction of the outcome. We had already be stunned at several points, and out faith in J.K.R.'s plotting was severely strained. I think we started reading again around 9 a.m. and continued past lunchtime. Another few breaks were taken in the afternoon between chapters as I struggled to clone my old hard drive onto the new between heart-breaking and heart-mending chapters.

We pushed through the final chapters somewhere between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

And then it was done.

Lavie was in tears. I was in tears. Alvis though we were bonked in the head.

(Ahh, youth. One day she will understand why we cry as adults and parents.....)

We have been re-reading those last chapters again, more slowly and one-per-night together for the past week. We are picking up some of the details we missed in the rush to get through the first time.

What Lies Ahead

So, where to now?

You may be surprised to hear me say, back to the beginning of the series.

Ever since around the time the first Harry Potter movie was released, I began a tradition of reading a chapter of Harry Potter at Alvis's bedtime. Alvis was young and it seemed to help put her to bed and helped us spend some quality father-daughter time together. Soon Lavie got drawn in and it became a family bedtime tradition. We have continued almost every night, ever since. And have been through the first three over eight or nine times together, while the fourth,fifth and sixth books have been read about four times each.

We were actually about 3/4 of the way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when this final book came out, so we had to put it aside for a while. In a few more nights we will have finished re-reading these final chapters, and will go back and pick up where we left off.

Know knowing the final elements J.K.R. revealed in the final volume will surely cast new perspectives on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as well as the entire series in general. Each time we read the stories, we pick up new links, new bits, and new amusements.

Epilogue

So, we have no plans in the near future to drop our traditional routine and will continue reading them until Alvis grows tired, then Lavie and I will read them together ourselves.

J.K.R. ended her final story with an Epilogue. I won't say what it contained, but if you do want to catch her final words and thoughts regarding what she left out of if, hop over to this "spoiler-filled" article: Finished ‘Potter’? Rowling tells what happens next - Wild about Harry - MSNBC.com

And we will just wait patiently along with the millions of other world-wide fans of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the hopes that J.K.R. will release another encyclopedia-like addition to the Harry Potter universe; Hogwarts: A History perhaps?

Yeah, I'll stand in line again at midnight for that one as well.

There has to be something magical about the whole thing.

Bet you wouldn't do that for just any encyclopedia or history book.

-Claus

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flash9c.ocx Strangeness

A few weeks ago I was running a periodic scan of my XP Pro system at work using The Secunia Software Inspector.

It found that I had an out-of-date version of Flash.  Specifically, version 9.0.47.0.

It helpfully pointed out the file was installed in C:\Windows\SYSTEM32\Macromed\Flash\ folder.

Since Adobe doesn't provide an "un-installer" for Flash, and new ones are just installed along-side the current version, I knew I would just have to pop in there and manually delete the file.

Only when I went to do so, it refused to let me, despite my Administrator level permissions.

The Hunt Begins!

So I first closed out all my browsers and tried again, thinking it was a "locked file."  Nope.

Then I ran Process Explorer and did a search for the file, to see who was using it.  No one was found.

Hmmm.

So I rebooted and tried again.  Nada.

Then I tried to delete it in Safe mode.  Not budging.

In frustration I booted with a Linux Live CD and tried one more time.  It was stuck!

Getting frustrated now, I rebooted back into normal mode and re-approached the situation.

I looked at the file properties and (doh!) saw that it was set to "Read only."  Should have known.

So I removed the read-only permission setting and tried again.  Nope!

Mysteriously, the read-only property setting had come right back again. 

So I checked the security permissions for the file control and all were checked (allowed) showing that under my Administrator level profile, I should be able to remove the read-only file setting property.  But it staunchly refused all my Administrator attempts of property setting changes.

Hmmm indeed!

Research Time

So I hit the Web and reviewed my understanding of displaying and changing file attributes: Attrib - Edit file attributes.  Unfortunately nothing seemed amiss with this command-line level inspection.

However that article pointed me to the XP command "Cacls": Cacls - Modify Access Control List

The "CACLS" stands for (best I can tell) the Control Access Control List program.

I opened a command-line session and browsed into that folder and ran the CACLS command against the Flash9c.ocx file and got the following results (slightly cleaned up):

C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\Flash>CACLS Flash9c.ocx
C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\Flash\Flash9c.ocx Everyone:(DENY)(special access:)
                         FILE_WRITE_ATTRIBUTES

                         NT AUTHORITY\ANONYMOUS LOGON:(DENY)(special access:)
                         FILE_WRITE_ATTRIBUTES

                                               NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM:(ID)F
                                               BUILTIN\Administrators:(ID)F
                                               BUILTIN\Users:(ID)R

Any guesses what immediately stuck me in the output?

How about those "(DENY)(special access:)" entries for the FILE_WRITE_ATTRIBUTES.

Yep.

So I went back and did a bit more looking and found this interesting Microsoft technical bulletin: How to set, view, change, or remove special permissions for files and folders in Windows XP.

Once I reviewed that article I knew what I had to do.

Release the Hounds!

I opened Windows Explorer and browsed back to the file.

I right-clicked the file and selected "Properties."

I clicked the "Security" tab. And now picked up the "Special Permissions" line in the bottom section I had missed before, so used to looking at just the expected "Full Control, Modify, Read & execute, Read, and Write" options I usually focus on.

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

One by one, I selected each line that showed "Deny" as the type and clicked the "Edit" button.

In the next pop-up window, I unchecked the "deny" tickbox as set and saved the changes.

Then I applied the changes through.

Then I right-clicked the file and selected "Properties" again.

This time I removed the "Read-only" setting and applied the change.

It took.

Finally I deleted the file without any issues.

System secure.

Serious Questions Remain

I discussed this finding with one of my network analysts who also hadn't ever run into any files set with a "special permissions" file setting.

We both chalked it up as an interesting exercise and I made a mental note to maybe post about it.

Only how useful could this information really be?

So today when I ran Secunia Software Advisor on my home Vista Home Premium system it spotted that crazy Flash9c.ocx file.  So I went and downloaded the new version from Adobe and then went to delete the file.

Guess what?

Yep.  Same problem again! 

The Flash9c.ocx file had special permissions set on it as well to deny rights to change the file attributes.  Having gone though this before on my XP Pro system I didn't hesitate.  I knew what to do and the file was deleted almost as an afterthought.

So now I am left with some questions.

As I understand it, these ACL properties only hold for NTFS partitioned drives.  So users who don't have their Windows drives NTFS formatted shouldn't encounter this. 

  1. But why would Macromedia release a file set with such a specialized property?

  2. If they didn't, how did this file get set that way on multiple and different OS versions?  Not something I did, that's for sure!

  3. If Adobe can do this, could/do malware writers attempt to try this trick as well to prevent removal of the file(s) by anti-malware applications and end-users?

  4. How many others have run into this issue with this or unrelated files and just given up and left the darn things present; or worse...figured something was corrupted on their file system and wiped/reloaded everything from scratch?

Very interesting indeed.

--Claus

Scatterbrained...

I don't know if it is the weather turning cloudy and dismal again here on the Texas Gulf Coast. Or maybe knowing I have to head back over to Austin again for another week away from home.  Could also be the emotional crash of finishing the Harry Potter series.

Either way, I'm feeling quite scatterbrained at the moment.

My usual focus and clarity of thought has been fuzzed and though I have a number of posts I want to make, my ability to address them seems lack-luster right now.

(Sighs)

So here are a loose collection of links I've picked up with some brief context.

Maybe this is what I need to do to get the creative dam unstuck for the weekend.

Firefox & Google Browser Sync issue

I complained lately (Google Browser Sync - two months in...) that I was suddenly having issues with the quality of my Google Browser Sync events; duplications, redactions, separator bars galore.

I seem to have tracked it down to a conflict of sorts between the 2 Pane Bookmarks :: Firefox Add-on I had installed a bit earlier and Google Browser Sync.  (At least on my system.)

Just on a hunch, I disabled the 2 Pane Bookmarks extension on both my "sync'ed" systems and then cleaned up and re-enabled the Google Browser Sync.  All is working well again.

I'm not 100% sure yet that is the cause, but as it is behaving again after that removal...I'm left wondering.  I'll continue to use the 2 Pane Bookmarks extension on my non-sync'ed Firefox systems as it is great.

Just kinda weird as this appears to be the first time I've run into incompatible extensions in Firefox...though that's not unheard-of.

Cool Hardware

Retro Thing: Vacuum Tube PC Motherboard - Too cool!  I love vacuum tube gear (having none myself at the moment). But somehow the idea of dropping a vacuum-tubed sound card in a desktop system just sounds quite fun!  I'm not an audiology expert so I doubt I could weigh in on the merits of digital versus vacuum tube enhanced sound quality levels...but it does look neat and seem fun.  Wonder if heat would be an issue?  More: AOpen Netherlands - Tube Mainboards, Techware Labs - Reviews - AOpen AX4GE Tube-G

clarion driveeye - Since I've been in a few more (not my fault) accidents than I would like, I've always wondered if some type of visual pre-accident recording gadget could be rigged up.  Kinda like keeping the last 30sec or so of data/video on a loop so in the case of an accident, a more accurate visualization of what occurred could be obtained.  Memory is such a subjective thing...especially after an accident has just occurred.  This device might be a start.  Only it seems to record visuals in one direction only...would you need 4 to capture front/rear/left/right views?  At $400+ a pop each, that would be a very expensive proposition....

embotec magnet keyboard - Keyboard quality fascinates me.  (Clicky keyboards again!) So when I spotted this magnet-based keyboard solution it seemed to be a new approach.  Who hasn't played with putting two magnets same-pole-to-pole and felt the electromagnetic force try to repel them from each other?  So using an apparent variation of that technique on a keyboard does seem novel.

Interesting Software

Revo Uninstaller - (freeware) - This new product assists with the un-installation of programs from your Windows system.  What gives it an edge over Add/Remove programs is that it scans before and after an uninstall to find any remaining registry keys, files, folders, etc. left behind by a sloppy uninstall...then presents them to you for optional deletion.  A "hunter-mode" option lets you drag a tool over applications or icons that it may be difficult to find the source/un-installer for. It also contains some additional utilities to help with system cleaning.  I'll post more details after I have used it for a while.  (Windows 2000/XP/Vista/Server2003 compatible.)  More details and review: via Lifehacker.

Driveway - Online File Sharing - (free service) - This web-based file-sharing service is probably for those folks hitting barriers in Gmail or the like when they attempt to send very large file sizes.  They allow for "parking" of files up to 500 MB in size for each upload.  Unlimited downloads and no storage limits otherwise.  No registration required.  Upload (park) your file, enter the recipient's email, your email and a file description...if you want.  The target user then gets an email and can click the link to retrieve the file.  If you include your email address, you also get a link that allows you to later go back and delete the file from its "parked" location.  Not an everyday need, but nice to know it is available as an option in a pinch.

Personal Software Inspector - (free for personal use) - I've been a big fan of the The Secunia Software Inspector which is an on-line web-based Java-powered system scanner for Windows systems. It scans your system for vulnerable software versions and then provides information on how to update those programs. Now Secunia has beta-released Personal Software Inspector which is a (free for personal use) application that is downloaded locally to the pc. Then it runs a full system scan for over 4200 applications and reports if they need to be updated or are at "end-of-life" status. If you leave it running, it continues to monitor your system to catch any new information from Secunia as well as any potentially "outdated" software you may later install. I ran it on my home system at it provided a significantly more detailed report/results than the quick on-line version.

I'd like to see some more "configuration features" in the product (filtering/excludes).  For example, I keep copies of older versions of software in an "archive" folder on one of my other drive partitions.  This is in case I don't like a newer version and want to "roll-back."  When I ran the scanner, it found multiple versions of "vulnerable" applications in this folder. While it was helpful at the onset to know about them, I'd like the ability to filter out or exclude certain programs or folders locally.  Right now this version doesn't seem to offer that choice. 

A very cool program and worth checking out for all home users.

Spotted via heiseSecurity - Now reveal your missing patches!  Another look at it from CyberNet News: Free Secunia PSI: Monitor for Software Updates

Enjoy!

--Claus

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What perfect timing....

So we are in the process of reading the final adventure of Harry Potter and friends.

We managed to keep very closely to the schedule. At this point we are about one-half way through.

Although we have been hit by several stunners...the pace is great and we are really enjoying the story so far.

So why is it almost 1:30 am and I am still up?

Don't blame it on Harry!

Friday my primary desktop system's hard drive began locking up again. Hard.

Grrrr.

Seems that it must have been hit with a confundus charm.

I'd already performed an error check and repair...which seemed to work for a while.

Then it balked so I ran SeaTools and fixed some bad sectors that had cropped up.

Finally came the format and XP system reinstall.

So this time I had reached the point of action: hard-drive replacement.

I'll spare the details for now...but by the third or fourth approach to prepping the drive and doing a data-clone from the (still running..thank goodness..but now no longer trusted) original drive to the new one I finally got the data cloned and got the system up and running again the way I wanted.

All during break-times from reading Harry Potter.

Whew.

I only have (long-term) room in my Shuttle mini-system for a single hard drive, so now my old 120 GB drive is packed away until I decide to wipe it or sledge it.

My new drive is a 500 GB one. Wowzers! Each of my new partitions (4) is just under the size of my entire previous disk.

I'm having a hard time accepting that I have that much space on this system now.

I keep opening up "My Computer" or Sequoia View and just stare at all that space...finding it hard to believe it's all really there.

Now back to bed to recharge before we hit the second half of Deathly Hallows.

--Claus

Friday, July 20, 2007

Weekend Plans: Waiting, Reading, Crying...?

Like many Muggles around the world, the Valca home has wiped its calendar free for the next few days.

Leave has been taken, and plans have been made for the final installment of J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This afternoon Alvis and I swung by the grocery store and picked up groceries for the next three days so we don't have to leave the house. Lots of "breakfast" food-fare, coffee, tea, sandwich making materials, a few "home-cooked" fuller dinners are planned, but able to be prepared in 30-minutes or less.

We are hunkering down for an event (that with the recent rains) seems almost like we are in a hurricane-watch of sorts.

Last year we attended a midnight book release party at a Barnes and Nobles. This year Lavie is a bit physically under the weather, so Alvis agreed we would just hop over to the local supermarket which promises to have a stock and pop back home.

We have successfully made the Valca home a "spoilers-free" zone and have looked with distain on the rounds of leaks popping up on the web of the book, plot points, and body counts. We have even eschewed reading any early book-reviews on Deathly Hallows.

Spoiler-Safe HP Web Watch

So our web-activity has been self-limited this week, and especially today. Only the following websites have been visited related to Harry Potter on release night:

MuggleNet - Our first and foremost haunt for all information and entertainment Harry Potter.

The Leaky Cauldron - Also known simply as "Leaky," this site provides a great counterpoint to MuggleNet.

J.K.Rowling Official Site - Enough said.

The End A blog for fans of Harry Potter - This "Live" blog hosted by the Houston Chronicle's Chron.com will be providing play-by-play developments of the book release and each chapter as it is read by the blogger. I hope this provides a fun "local" forum for Houston-area HP fans.

Just A Snitch of Time Left!

In a few more hours we will know the fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron and all the others who inhabit the magical world of our hearts and minds, shared with us by quite an amazing author.

From J.K.R's official website she writes a note to her fans:

Within hours you will know what happens to Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest in their final adventure. All the secrets I have been carrying around for so long will be yours, too, and those who guessed correctly will be vindicated, and those who guessed wrongly will not, I hope, be too disappointed! As for me, I feel a heady mixture of excitement, nerves and relief. 'Deathly Hallows' remains my favourite of the series, even after several re-reads; I cannot wait to share it with the readers who have stuck with me through six previous books.

Which predictions will come true? Will we be happy? Will we be upset? Will will be amazed or disappointed?

Valca Plan for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

1) At 5:50pm (CST) assemble in the study and (hopefully) listen to a live webcast hosted by Scholastic. J.K.Rowling will be reading from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the London release of the book.

Update: Couldn't get the link via http://www.bloomsbury.com/ to work at all at first. Just getting HTML code page load. So I opened up Internet Explorer 7, went to this web-proxy site, and entered in the http://www.bloomsbury.com page again, via the proxy service. BINGO! Clicked on the "live reading" header and got the page and webcast stream running in a Windows Media Player plugin. We are listening to J.K.R. as I type this! Ooooooo! Sooooo exciting watching her sitting there reading in front of all the fans! It was a short steam-cast. I'm sure it will be up on YouTube or re-streams soon. We so can't wait to read it ourselves in the next few hours!

Update 2: Re-stream now posted and working normally: Watch J.K.R. Reading from Deathly Hallows in London release party.

2) 7-8pm - Eat dinner and get some last minute rest time.

3) 12:00am - Run down to the corner grocery store to grab our copy.

4) 12:15am - Back home, grab coffee and set out finger food snacks.

5) 12:30am - Begin reading out loud to family as far as we can go and stay awake...probably the first three or four chapters.

6) 7:00am - Wake up, freshen up, make full breakfast together (more coffee!) and then settle down to pick up where we left off.

We plan to take periodic breaks to stretch and discuss the plot progress, give my voice a rest, eat, etc.

If all goes well and we stay focused, hopefully we will have the book wrapped up late Sunday night or some time on Monday at the latest.

Through the Veil

We feel a bit like we are standing before the Veiled arches in the Department of Mysteries where Sirius fell through a few books earlier and getting ready to (willing) step through. Fear, concern, excitement, hesitance mixed with impulsiveness. We can hear voices whispering to us...calling us across the threshold. What lays on the other side of this final novel?

Years of family speculation, theorizing, reading and re-reading the Harry Potter novels lay behind us. Only 784 pages left that veil us from Harry's future.

It's about time to step through, together as a family.

Hopefully we won't be disappointed. I'm sure we will be entertained, surprised, and amazed.

I'll let you know once we get to the other side.

--Claus

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Update, Update, Update!

These past weeks have seen a number of application updates issued for applications common to most all Windows users' systems.

I highly recommend going to the Java-based Secunia Software Inspector page and running an on-line scan of your system. It is free, quick and painless; unless you have some vulnerable versions! Windows and Firefox compatible.

Adobe Flash

US-CERT Technical Cyber Security Alert TA07-192A -- Adobe Flash Player Updates for Multiple Vulnerabilities

Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris systems are primarily vulnerable if running an older version of Flash.

"Exploitation of these vulnerabilities could allow a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service on a vulnerable system."

First, go to the Adobe "Get Flash" page in each of your system's web browsers and download the most recent file. This is necessary as Firefox uses a different flash file than Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Secondly, once done, head over to to the Secunia Software Inspector and run to find out which of the older Flash version files you need to manually delete off your system. Adobe does not provide an Add/Remove Programs uninstaller for its Flash products, so the only way I know of to identify and locate which vulnerable files you need to manually remove from your system is Secunia Software Inspector.

Thirdly, don't forget to configure your Flash player's global and website settings for best security practices. Go to this Adobe - Flash Player : Settings Manager - Global Privacy Settings Panel and make your changes as appropriate on each tab.

Which changes are appropriate? Well, it's up to you, but MSMVP Donna Benenaventura recommends you use these these Flash Player's Global and Website settings. Sounds good to me!

Apple Quicktime and iTunes

Apple released Quicktime 7.2 for Mac and Windows users. It fixes a number of bugs and updates a codec, but best of all...it now adds full screen playback capabilities for the free version of Quicktime where as previously you had to go to the for $ "Pro" version for that feature.

iTunes was also updated to version 7.3.1 to fix a minor issue accessing the iTunes Library for some users.

Update Method One: Go and manually download the latest version of QuickTime and iTunes direct from Apple, then run the installers.

Update Method Two: If you have previously installed either of these, check your All Programs list in your Start Menu and see if you can find an "Apple Software Update" icon listed in there. This application utility from Apple is usually installed along with iTunes (and I highly recommend installing this optional piece of software when you do install iTunes).

Use this handy page to find all the most recent Apple software updates.

If Quicktime isn't your cup of tea, there are great (free) alternatives that can also handle and play Quicktime files: VLC, Media Player Classic, or QuickTime Alternative.

Toss Out Those Bad Java Beans

The ISC-SANS Handler's Diary carried this alert this week: Java Run Time Advisory Issued.

Then came ominous sounding doom-filled tech articles like this one: Dangerous Java flaw threatens virtually everything.

Then Sun came out and blew away the clouds of fear and terror: Sun says Java flaw has been patched.

How? ISC-SANS then reminded folks that Java SE 6.0 Update 2 Released

Whew!

Step One

Method A: If you are a Sysadmin (or just like doing things the confusingly hard way go to this Sun Developer Network Java SE Downloads page and try to figure out which version you need to deploy, download it, and install it.

Method B: If you are regular home-pc user, simply go to the Java.com Verify Java Installation webpage and click the big friendly green "Verify Installation" button. It should quickly tell you if you have the most recent Java version installed on your pc or not. If not go to this Download Free Java Software link and click the big friendly green "Free Java Download" button and install it.

Step Two

You might not know it but Java does not uninstall previous versions of Java when you install the latest version. Sun seems to recommend keeping older versions of Java around on a system, even if they have security vulnerabilities as some Java-based applications may not work with the newer Java version releases. I personally haven't ever run into that problem at work or at home in all my years of Java updating. And as Java is a very common programming language across the Net and beyond, I feel better with the older versions off.

So if you agree with me, go to your Control Panel's Add/Remove Program list and uninstall all but the most current version of Sun's Java SE platform from your system.

One Final Check

Unless you passed the Secunia Software Inspector scan the first time by, I recommend going back and doing a final scan once you think you have everything cleaned up.

Done? Passed? Fully Patched and Updated?

Outstanding!

A "Haute" Bonus Security Tip

heiseSecurity tips us to a new beta anti-malware tool from Haute Secure for Windows Internet Explorer browsers (XP/Vista) with a Firefox Add-on promised soon. According to heiseSecurity, it uses both a heuristic scanner to protect the browser as well as both a blacklist technique to block malicious websites and web content, and a process hook that sandboxes about seventy system functions. Community user feedback and contributions add to the "black-lists."

Malicious findings caught by the program are sent to the Haute Secure servers for additional reporting and analysis. It's certainly an interesting approach and might be worth looking into and keeping an eye on.

If nothing else, the warning graphics demo'ed on Haute's web-page look pretty cool and wickedly scary!

Gotta like that at least!

For even more security attitude, check out Hautness: the haute secure blog.

I'll probably load it up on one of our family laptops and give it a whirl. Check back for updates....

--Claus

Yummy Valca Link Stew!

Apparently this afternoon I discovered a new weakness I have that I was not aware of; shoe-shopping.

I have one very-nice pair of dress shoes, two kinda-scuffed-up pairs of "dress-shoes" for slacks and khaki's at work, two pairs of tennis-shoes (same style, different colors), a pair of hardly-worn running shoes (sigh), two pairs of work-boots that I usually wear during the week, a pair of leather chukkas, and a pair of lace-up Justin western boots. (Not counting my yard-work boots kept with the lawn-mower.)

Yes, I despite the clarity now in typing the above description out...I didn't realize I had a shoe-shopping problem.

I wanted to pick up one or two pairs of lug-soled semi-dress shoes to wear around the headquarters in Austin on my return trips in the next few months. Sure, my regular boots were fine and all, but I wanted something comfortable, but still a bit, um, nicer.

So we set out for the one store where I can usually find a decent selection with wide sizes. When I walked out, I had bought two more pair of semi-casual "sport" shoes, a pair of nice leather semi-casual Timberline lug-shoes, and a pair of semi-casual black lug-soled work shoes. Then Lavie found a nice cute pair and Alvis found two pairs as well. The good thing was that it was buy one, get one 1/2 off...so I didn't break the bank, but it was still quite a hard payout. Four more pairs...where will I put them?

(Alvis says, "On your feet, silly." Everyone wants to be a comedian.)

We ate pizza to recover.

Lavie just smiled....though she still has me beat in the shoe-count.

On to the Link Stew:

"Hard" Ingredients

Fossil Rivers - I really enjoyed reading this BLDGBLOG post this week. It examines the geological and historical changes of the Mighty Miss River. While the post itself is a fascinating read, it is even more fun looking at the fantastically detailed maps and charts created by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, as they charted the different river bank changes. They are works of art in their own right. Simply amazing.

Dell Wants Me to Plant A Tree - Bill Pytlovany is the software author of a great little security program (free/$) called WinPatrol. In his blog post this week, he discovered that Dell has a little "Plant A Tree" option in the checkout lists to offset the environmental impact of various computer hardware items. Sure you have to pay for the tree ($3, $4, or $13) with your order, but the thought is kinda cool. They also have a "donation-based" program where they will plant a tree even if you don't want to make a system purchase; prices vary per offset.

"Soft" Ingredients

AutoRuns for Windows v8.70 - (freeware) Microsoft's Sysinternals utilities just keep getting better and better. The latest version update "adds a number of additional locations that can be configured to auto-start software during boot and logon and runs as standard user on Windows Vista by default, allowing administrators to elevate, if desired, by using a new menu option."

AdExplorer v1.0 - (freeware) Brand-new tool from Sysinternals is "a powerful Active Directory viewer and editor that includes advanced navigation and search features, plus an AD snapshot facility that enables off-line AD viewing and differential comparison."

WinContig - (freeware) is a standalone defrag tool. It uses Microsoft Windows own defragmentation API for the back-end. Not related to Sysinternals Contig application. This tool does have a nicer interface than the standard Windows defrag tool. Note: I examined some other defragging tools in this post: Grand Stream Dreams: Defrag Mosaic and use Auslogics Disk Defrag and the Contig (Sysinternals)/Power Defragmenter GUI (eXcessive Software) combo for most all my own work and personal Windows defragging needs.

MiTeC's Windows File Analyzer - (freeware) Neat little tool for decoding and analyzing some special Windows files in forensic analysis. Handles Thumbs.db files, files in the Prefetch folder, shortcut files, Index.DAT file, and the Recycle Bin. Pretty cool little app. Spotted in a utilities post on Harlan's great forensics blog: Windows Incident Response.

DSynchronize - (freeware) I have a very large collection of must-have/must-use Windows utilities on all my systems and my two primary USB drives (one is for work/one is personal). Keeping them all synced up is a challenge as I am constantly updating the versions of the applications as well as adding new ones. I finally gave DSynchonize a try and am in file-synchronization heaven! It has tons of options and you can even run a "preview" sync action to see what gets added, deleted, and replaced during an sync before you execute for real. Set one or multiple sources and destinations. Do one-way or bi-directional syncing. Man this is an all-out awesome utility. It isn't pretty but it is damn-good. I highly recommend checking this tool out!

Sizer - (freeware) This is a way-cool utility if you have a larger-format/resolution monitor and do web-page design or screen-shot capturing and documentation work. It is NOT Vista compatible. Snag the corner of a window box and a pop-up menu should appear with various "standard" resolutions (640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, or customize your own). Click the size you want and the window snaps to those precise dimensions. Wow! Or set the options to allow the program to appear in the menu-system as an optional drop-down choice. This is another really clever little utility for you graphics workers out there. Spotted on Lifehacker.

Seconfig XP - (freeware). While not an everyday XP security tweaking tool, it is interesting enough to make note. Closes various "target" ports on a system as well as some services and come with three "preset" modes for home, Microsoft Network members, and standalone pc's with VPN access to Microsoft Networks.

Three Ways to Access ISOs - (tippage). This handy Daily Cup of Tech blogpost outlines three methods for getting files out of an ISO image file; Method 1: ISO file extractors, Method 2: virtual CD/DVD drives, Method 3: a virtual pc session. I am familiar with most all the utilities mentioned and this post is well worth a quick review by system administrators and advanced Windows users as a refresher. My personal tool of choice in this department is the incredible (and free/$) ISOBuster program. I've used it in the "free functionality" mode for many years and haven't found anything it hasn't been able to do yet in that mode.

And for the Fire underneath the Pot?

2 Pane Bookmarks :: Firefox Add-ons - Where have you been all my life, little 2 Pane Bookmarks Add-on? I use Sage as my RSS reader in Firefox and the two-pane viewing mode is so natural now to me. So when I found this little gem that promised to load my Firefox bookmarks in a two-panel sidebar view in Firefox, I knew it would fit right it. In the top half, your bookmark folder-tree is displayed for quick navigation and selection. The bottom half contains the actual bookmarks of the folder selected in the top section. It makes breezing through my bookmarks while blogging a delight! Well worth looking into you Firefox fans!

Mmmmmmm. Yummy!

--Claus

Remote PC Support - Revisited

Just under a year ago, I was exploring ways to provide remote pc support to family members: UVNC + SC + Hamachi = Bliss?

The Problem

You know, family member calls you for help because their computer is doing something "weird" or need some guidance doing a feature. You try to walk them through verbally over the phone, but they are confused and what should take you say 10 seconds to do yourself is funneling over 35+ minutes of talk-time dollars into the telecom providers pockets. Wouldn't it be easier if you could just "remote-control" their computer from your own and move on? We do it all the time in enterprise help-desk support and it would be great if there was and easy and "safe" way to do it at home.

So I examined some "commercial" methods as well as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection.

In the end I settled on a combination of UVNC, Single Click and Hamachi. It worked well, but had some drawbacks.

The "pro" was that I could be comfortably certain that the virtual network established between our two pc's was secure and our virtualization services would hook up over the Net since Hamachi established us with "static" IP addresses.

The "con" was that each time, I had to walk the users through installing Hamachi, then get the custom SingleClick.exe file for my IP over to them via the email systems and any virus protection that almost always quarantines the file. Then I have to set up a Hamachi network, get them to join and then make sure the servers find each other. Whew.

So after struggling again with this I decided t see if there was another easy way.

First, Some Contenders

My requirements were that the remote management solution needed to 1) run on Windows, 2) be available to my end-user over the web to download and install....without me being there, 3) easy enough for my non-techie Dad or Mom to follow my verbal prompts to get started, and 4) be as secure as I could find...realizing that as a non-coder I would have to take the service description and Web-feedback/review with a degree of trust, and 5) "free" is always good and appreciated.

CrossLoop - Simple Secure Screen Sharing - CrossLoop was the first service I found. It is free (for now?) and requires a download and installation on both the "host" and "target" pc. To set up a connection, you would have "mom" click the host tab, get the access code and provide it to you. Then on your machine, you click the "join" tab, and enter the access code and they link together using a secure 128-bit encrypted connection managed by TightVNC.

GoToMyPC - This enterprise favored solution has a lot going for it. Unfortunately it is not a "free" service, although you can try it for free for 30 days or so. This might help you get two pc's hooked up in an emergency, but unless you plan on spending some long-term $, not quite as helpful a solution for helping Mom or Dad out infrequently over the long-haul.

NTRconnect - NTRconnect offers remote access to your computer (Win or Mac) in both a Free or Pro version of service. The free version allows connecting of up to two computers with remote access and control, desktop sharing, access from Pocket PC's and 256-bit encryption and access. Again, a nice looking solution, but limited with the number of pc's that can be supported under the "free" version (though not time-limited like GoToMyPC) it wasn't quite what I was looking for.

Fog Creek's Copilot - a fee-based service to remote-connect two PCs. Has a free-trial (2-minute session only), $ subscriptions, and $5 "24-hour day-pass" rate. You log in with your account information, get a invitation code and provide that to the "target user." Then have them browse to the website, enter the invitation code you gave them, and download/install the client tool and the two pc's are securely connected with a 128-bit encrypted connection session. Again, a pretty simple and secure process...just not totally "free" but the fact of $5 day-passes is a great option and makes it much more value-minded option for infrequent support needs. Worth checking out.

Techinline Remote Desktop - This is another remote access service that looks quite nice...however it is limited to a 15-day free trial period. Connections are managed via the "web" by having your Mom or Dad log onto the Techinline website and install the client application. They get an ID # they provide to you (over phone or email). Then you log in to the Techinline website enter your account credentials and install your own ActiveX control that makes this thing work. Then you enter the ID# Mom provided to you and the c128-bit encrypted connection gets established. Good to go. Here is a link to a Flash demo of the process: View a detailed, step-by-step demo. It fits the bill as being secure and easy...but the 15-day time "free" trial limit and additional $ for ongoing subscription may be too much for the occasional home-user support scenario.

LogMeIn - LogMeIn snapped up Hamachi a while ago which seemed like a good pairing. LogMeIn does offer a highly tiered variety of packages...including a LogMeInFree version which allows for remote desktop control, service hosting, and always on access. I created an account for myself. But here is the thing. I had to go to Mom's house, log in and download the LogMeIn software to her pc, install and configure it. Then I could go back home, log into the LogMeIn website with my account credentials and do a remote connection to her PC via my own (which worked very nicely by the way). Because the service can be set to run "real-time" on her pc, it is great (or not) for me to pop-on to her pc (regardless of her permission or knowledge) and do the support repairs. So I have real mixed feelings about this. Yes it is Free. Yes it seems secure. Yes it is "easy." I can set it to not be "always on" and tell her what to do to get it going so I can connect...but it just isn't as "secure" and geared for a spontaneous connection establishment (the first time) as I would like. I'm going to spend some more time with this tool and see if it grows on me.

My New Best (Remote Control) Friend: ShowMyPC!

And then I found ShowMyPC ... and it seems Perfectly Perfect! Even Mary Poppins might approve!

Described as follows:

This is an open source Remote PC access project, an alternative to subscription based sites like WebEx or GoToMyPC.

ShowMyPC uses SSH port forwarding mechanism using Open Source SSH client plink and VNC Remote access software. Users can use their own middle SSH server or use our Hosting plans. No registration, no logins, all open and free.

It is an absolutely free, single-executable-file remote control connection solution to work around issues such as system firewalls and non-static IP addressing that most home users now have to deal with.

Dad and I tried it out this morning between me here in Houston and him up in Tyler.

I downloaded the single executable exe file program on my pc. I pointed him to the ShowMyPC website and had him download it on his as well. No installation required. Double-click and run.

He launched ShowMyPC on his end on his computer.

He clicked the "Show My PC to Remote Users" button and ensured the "Give full control to users" was checked.

That generated an ID (password) code.

I launched ShowMyPC on my computer.

He gave me the ID (password) code over the phone.

(screenshots of the login process)

I clicked the "View a Remote PC" button on my end, and entered the code...and in a few seconds, his desktop was visible in a window on my monitor and I had full control over his machine with almost no lag-time (thanks to us both being on cable broadband).

I was able to show him what I was doing, install some software, check Office version number, uninstall older versions of Adobe and install the latest version of Adobe Reader 8. And in no-time, had him cleared up and up and running.

Easy-Peasy!

Can I be 100% certain someone isn't monitoring our connection? Well, no. Am I comfortable enough with the program and process to use it quickly and easily establish a desktop connection between my own and family/friend's computers to give them hands-on support? Yes...for that application I am for now.

Lifehacker also profiled this application a while ago: Remote Computing: Control another computer with ShowMyPC.com

If you really want to see what is in the single executable "ShowMyPCSSH.exe" file, use a tool like UniExtract to extract the packed exe into it's components. Then you can look at each of the individual elements and inspect them if that's your thing. You can also run it quite well in its "unpacked" form by running the "ShowMyPC.exe" file. Here are the links to the UltraVNC and RealVNC websites of which it uses components.

ShowMyPC - Highly Valca Recommended for Easy (Windows based) Remote Desktop Support of Mom and Dad's PC's.

--Claus

Google Browser Sync - two months in...

Around two months ago I stumbled across the Google Browser Sync (GBS) tool for Firefox.

I've been using it almost daily ever since.

Occasionally it presents me with an authentication password challenge to which I enter my gMail password and it is happy.  That is a different password than the "Security PIN" that GBS established when you you access your bookmark sync data off the Google servers on a new machine...it kinda confused me at first as the password they are wanting doesn't seem intuitively clear to me, but once you figure out what it is asking for, you don't forget a second time.

Operationally it has functioned almost flawlessly, allowing me to keep my Firefox bookmark store synced between my desktop system and our Vista laptop that I have taken over.

Every so often, it will add some extra "separator" lines in my bookmark folders; but those seem to be limited to the one or two primary bookmark folders I work out of for my "to be blogged" collection of links.

Ummm...Say what?

So last night was a bit of a surprise.

I had done some extensive link-collecting for two or three upcoming posts that morning on my desktop system.  Shut down and all was well.

When I logged onto the Vista notebook last night to do some last minute weather radar checks to see how the lightning show was progressing, I fired up Firefox and GBS asked me for my challenge password. I provided it and the bookmarks began disappearing right before my eyes off my toolbar.  Yikes!

When it was all done, four or five of my primary bookmark folders were gone and my "to be blogged" folder only had the items in there from the week before.

So it looked like somehow all my bookmarks had been corrupted in the syncing process.

Oh, bother.

Damage Mitigation

I didn't get too stressed out as I luckily had a contingency for this event.

This morning I logged back into my desktop system and restored my Firefox bookmarks from a backup file I make every day or so off my primary system.

I have a file on my desktop named "copy FF bookmarks.bat" and in this Windows batch file is the following code (probably not as efficient as it could be):

cd\
cd Documents and Settings
cd Claus
cd Application Data
cd Mozilla
cd Firefox
cd Profiles
cd 98s6m27q.ClausV

xcopy bookmarks.html "C:\Documents and Settings\Claus\Desktop" /w

pause

You would need to change it up a bit to reflect your own Firefox profile name and Windows user folder names in the areas highlighted.

What this does is allow me to semi-automatically copy my Firefox bookmarks file to my desktop, where I rename them and place them into a zip archive.  I'm so used to doing this it is second nature and takes like 35 seconds to do.

So this morning I just found my archived bookmarks file from the previous morning's work, renamed it back to "bookmarks.html" and copied it into my Firefox profile folder (after closing out Firefox), overwriting the whacked one.  I also renamed it and copied it as "bookmarks.bak" as well to ensure the "backup" version kept in the Firefox profile folder matched my new original.

I then relaunched Firefox and did a "Full Refresh" action in Google Browser Sync Settings.

A few extra separator line fixes again and everything was back to before.

Mischief Managed

I'm not sure why the Google Sync store got so scrambled.  It is possible I shut down my pc before it had enough time to update the sync...or maybe it didn't sync after-all and I just didn't notice.

Anyway, by having a backup of my Firefox bookmarks.html file handy, it was no stress at all putting everything right again.

--Claus

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thanks Dwight: Eight Random Things 'bout me

TechBlog maven Dwight Silverman "tagged me" with his My first tag! 8 random things about me post.

Unfortunately, his timing couldn't have been better as he caught me this week out of the area (in Austin, Texas on business) and away from my blogging platforms despite the number of free Internet connections in my hotel room and training facility.

So, I'm just now sitting down to knock this one out having arrived safely back home.

Eight "Random" Things 'bout Claus

1) I almost never, ever drink alcoholic beverages...but when I do, prefer sake, Samuel Adams or Heineken. 

2) I secretly enjoy watching "chick-flicks" and generally cry like a girlie-man to Lavie's pleasure and entertainment.

3) Like Jim Thompson, I was an editor of the high-school creative writing magazine and had many stories and poems published. I also won a number of area writing competitions in my high-school days.

4) If I could pick anywhere in the world to live and money, language, or family considerations wouldn't be a limiting factor...I'd move to Hokkaido in a heartbeat.

5) The only true regret I only carry in my life is backing out of the U.S. Air Force Academy selection process I was undertaking as a high school senior.  Mid-way through the process I withdrew for various reasons that seem very weak now. That is the only thing I have done that I honestly and deeply regret doing and I always will.

6) The very first "real" vehicle I ever drove was at around age 15 and was our neighbor's jeep in the middle of a wide grassy local baseball field.  It was done under their adult supervision and permission and would forever cement my love of manual shift transmissions.

7) My father and I built a MG-TD "kit-car" as a father/son bonding project during my high-school years.  I saved up enough money to buy a reconditioned VW chassis/engine and he bought the body kit.  Somehow we survived the process, although in hindsight it would have probably made the Teutul "American Chopper" father/son team blush at times with our stubbornness and communication issues.  We survived and the car was pretty classy (and well built) in the end.  Luckily, only one hole was punched in the garage wall by myself in the process.

8) Nothing gives me greater pleasure at work than being asked to look at a workstation that has been found infected with a virus/trojan/malware/etc. and have the time to hunt it all down, investigate it, clean it, compose detailed notes and observations and then develop a response to ensure it doesn't happen again.  Unfortunately, time and security is usually of the essence so I usually just do a data-recovery for the user, then wipe and apply a fresh image and move on after restoring the data back.

Passing the Torch

So here's passing on this "Eight Random Things" meme like a good sport to four more folks I respect and whose viewpoints I find fascinating and rewarding to follow.

Edie Goodwin - Texas Goodies Blog and frequent TechBlog wanderer.

Alex Eckelberry - Sunbelt Software Head Honcho and Cool Guy.

Mike, Nicki, and Josh - a.k.a. the Japan Years crew.

Alvis - a.k.a. my dearest daughter...who want's nothing more than a little bit of attention on her new blog from her daddy.

--Claus

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Last -Minute Linkpost

One last round of links before I go catch up on final Sunday chores.

You know one ironic thing about losing my system...on July 4th Dad called me and I successfully walked him through fixing his new Windows Automatic Updates errors.  Guess it was just meant to be one of those cases of "Physician, heal thyself."

To the Links...

Natalie Goes to Japan goes home. - One of my favorite Japan bloggers, Natalie, is heading back home, bidding Japan farewell.  I will really miss her reports on the daily life of the locals in Japan.  Her pictures of the kids and the side-streets of Japan have left a really warm feeling in my heart.  She will be missed.  Goodbye Natalie and Good Luck!

Into the MoshPit - I was pleased to find out the other day that Peruvian blogger Therion Ravenwing liked my Grand Stream Dreams blog template layout so much, he adopted it for his own.  That's pretty awesome!  Blogged in Spanish, Therion has a great style that comes through...even when reading his blog with the help of Google Translate.

Official Gmail Blog - Not much content here yet, but I hope this might be one more source of "insider" leads on a service I depend on.

Calling All SysAdmins - Paul Stamatiou reminds us that July 27th is SysAdmin's Day! Hooray!  He has some links about an OpenDNS sysadmin contest as well the website WorseThanFailure which has some great "in the trenches" stories by sysadmins.

Enable "Copy To Folder" and "Move To Folder" options in your right click menu - Tip for Vista users only.

Blogger Backup - Nice looking Blogger backup utility (still in beta) that can back up your Blogger blog.  I still am using my Easy Blogger blog Backup Tip every week.

Trend Micro's HijackThis released a minor update to bring it up to version 2.0.2.  Nothing earth shattering but it is nice to see more frequent updates on this classic malware-mashing tool.  Yes, it does work with Vista.

--Claus