Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Keeping Claus Accountable

Yes…as evidenced by the high-volume posting today, I do have the odd-day off.

Alvis is off baby-sitting her cousins and Lavie is at work making the world a better place.

I’ve been making some good progress on whittling down my “to-blog” pile of topics, but I still have a number of more involved (read that “lots of links”) posts to kick out.

So, in an effort to hold myself accountable and not just give up posting them, here is a teaser list.

  • Slipstreaming XP SP3
  • Sysprep and XP SP3
  • USMT-GUI’s (that’s Graphical User Interface tools for Microsoft’s User State Migration Tool)
  • Super-Duper list of Windows process management utilities
  • Super-Duper list of Windows auto-start item management utilities
  • Just a Duper list of recommended third-party program launchers for Windows
  • A cornucopia of freeware RSS readers (standalone and browser integrated)

Oh yes. One more.

  • What feels like a magnum-opus worth of linkage and stuff related to multi-core CPU support and tid-bits for Windows (XP/Vista).

No promises on a time-line, but maybe much of this will get composed and posted by the end of August.

Working for you while using my earned vacation leave….it’s the Valca way!



Microsoft Windows: Second Dump, Good as the First

CC Photo Credit: by Choctopus on Flickr


Here are even more recently collected links of a Microsoft Windows nature.

Lots of good stuff here.

Sorry about your sidewalk…

Sysinternals Specials

As previously mentioned, all you hard-core Windows desktop support freaks must take some time to watch this awesome TechNet video presentation: "The Case of the Unexplained..."

Hear Mark Russinovich, the master of Windows troubleshooting, walk you through step by step how he has solved seemingly unsolvable system and application problems on Windows. With real case studies, Mark will show how to apply the Microsoft Debugging Tools and his own Sysinternals tools, including Process Explorer, Process Monitor, and Accesschk, to solve system crashes, process hangs, security vulnerabilities, DLL conflicts, permissions problems, registry misconfiguration, network hangs, and file system issues. These tools are used on a daily basis by Microsoft Product Support and have been used effectively to solve a wide variety of desktop and server issues, so being familiar with their operation and application will assist you in dealing with different problems on Windows.

I thought it was well-worth the time I took to watch it.

Want more Mark Russinovich troubleshooting goodness?

The Case of the Random IE and WMP Crashes – Short look on how a video driver caused crashes in Windows Media Player.

The Case of the System Process CPU Spikes – More on Kernrate utility usage and Process Explorer helped Mark to track down a rogue network interface driver.

Pushing the Limits of Windows: Physical Memory - “Pssst. Buddy.  Want to see a picture of a system running 64-cores with 2 TB of system RAM?”  Then goes into discussion on Windows memory usage and just how much should be enough.  Nice technical look.

Autoruns - (freeware) – has gotten some recent version updates to fix some bugs and enhance performance on 64-bit Windows systems.

Windows Mods

6 Things You should Download after Getting Vista - – Light and pleasant selection of “to-do’s” with your new Vista system.  I’ve actually done most of these already.

Reinstall Windows and outfit your system with all freeware programs - – Quite a selection (sometimes controversial) of freeware programs to add to your Windows system.  I have to confess I have quite a few of them already and can vouch for the list choices in general.

Bits from Bill: Windows Update Swaps Dual Monitors – Bill gets hammered by a mis-behaving Windows update. Dual monitors don’t cooperate as expected.

How to customize the new Tools tab that is available in the System Configuration tool (Msconfig.exe) in Windows Vista – Microsoft KB954385

Useful Geek Tricks: Create a Custom System Administration Panel in Windows XP or Vista – How To Geek.  Awesomely illustrated tutorial on making a custom Admin Panel in XP or Vista.

CyberNotes: Creating Advanced Desktop Shortcuts in Windows – CyberNet News – Great guide to making some “power-shortcuts” on the desktop.  Many advanced Windows users will know this stuff but some progressing newbies might not and could find it helpful.

Key Microsoft File Download Locations

I’m posting these here because I can’t ever remember when to download them from Microsoft and I have a billion bookmarks already in my work machine’s browser.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Deployment Tools – This is the Sysprep cab file for XP SP3 support.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Network Installation - This is the download location to get the full XP SP3 installer package.

Office Update: Get additional Office updates – Click this link in IE to run the process to look for Microsoft Office updates.

DiskPart Stuff

In using ImageX to capture and apply images at work and home, part of the process involves prepping the hard-drives before I can put an image back on the system. For this I now turn to DiskPart as part of the WinPE 2.0 boot disk that I use.

Generally it simply comes down to this:

  1. Boot your target system with your Win PE 2.0 disk.
  2. Either partition the drive accordingly (if "naked") or format the boot partition.
  3. Assuming you have the bare-drive ready, create an active partition.  In the command-line interface start typing and press <enter> after each line (assuming you don't get any errors.
    1. Diskpart
    2. select disk 0
    3. clean
    4. create partition primary
    5. select partition 1
    6. active
    7. assign letter = C
    8. exit
  4. What we have just done is ran the diskpart utility, selected the master drive (0), cleaned it, created a primary partition on it, selected it, set it to be the active (boot) volume, assigned letter "C" to it, and jumped out.
  5. Now we just format the active partition that we created above. Type the following and <enter>
    • format C: /fs:ntfs /q /y
  6. Now your drive is formatted with NTFS and ready to go!

However, in there, did you notice the “clean” command?

As we used it here, it simply removed the existing partition/volume formatting information from the in-focus disk by zeroing the sectors for the MBR/GPT and any hidden information on that MDR disk.

However if you use the “clean all” command every single sector on the drive is zeroed out and the data on the drive is deleted.  While not quite a fully secure Disk-wiping  solution, it is probably effective enough for prepping the system if kept in-house and before issued to another company employee with a new image application.

For more command-line goodness: A Description of the Diskpart Command-Line Utility – Microsoft.

Internet Explorer 8

IE8 and Reliability – IE Blog team.

Looks like IE 8 is going to have some more internal bells-and-whistles for stability control.  This post goes into new features such as browser component isolation, automatic crash-recovery for the browser, and improved error reporting.

Processes started are reduced to one at initial launch, and each tab session gets it’s own process to isolate web-sites from each other.

Sounds intriguing.


Microsoft Windows: Dump Load #1

CC Photo Credit: by Choctopus on Flickr


For better or for worse, Microsoft’s Windows systems just seem to have a wealth of details about them that most people can blissfully avoid to no loss.

However, for a few geeks and OCD tech-addicts, it can create a world of entertainment and work.

For example take the following Windows-related links I have been collecting and sitting on for the past three to four weeks.

Surely someone might find some of them as fascinating as me:

Security Briefs

Microsoft’s TechNet Magazine always has at least two or three great articles or tidbits for consumption.

For example:

Both posts provide great insight into password and web security such as great security advice that most all users will ignore (use a different and “complex” password for each site). don’t write them down, “bad” security login designs, that image-based site validation schemes don’t really help make a site more “secure” for users, multi-factor login weaknesses, and how just because a site “looks” secure in its security presentation, it isn’t necessarily the case.

Good stuff and not too difficult to follow.

Then there is the technically useful:

Security: New Elevation PowerToys for Windows Vista – This post has some links to helpful tools to simplify the “Run As Administrator” action for Vista. A number of popular scripting tools are mentioned, along with code to work with them.  In addition, the author Michael Murgolo provides a new “Run as Another User” Power Toy.

What?  Stay with me!  It’s clever!

Suppose you (like me) normally run your Vista system under a “administrator” rights profile (not the “Administrator” account.  While that affords you more power, it still offers some protection as some actions still require use of “Run as Administrator” to operate correctly or UAC will knuckle it down.

This “Run as Another User” tool lets you execute a program, while running as an “administrator” but with the reduced rights of another user profile configured on your Vista system. Say you have to use the “administrator” profile to do some network monitoring, but you want to hop on the web why a network logging process runs.  So you also have a “regular” account on Vista.  Fire up your web-browser but use the “Run as Another User” to launch it under the limited-rights account.


Not only that, Michael provides some additional hacks to add some more Power Toys to the shell that allow you to do “open-here” PowerShell prompts as “Administrator” and “System” account users, as well as similar command prompts for “Administrator” and “System.”  Finally there is a Vista Sidebar Widget that can accept drag-n-drop execution rights elevations.

(Almost) All code download is available via a link at the very top of the post in the “At a Glance” section.  Look for the Elevation2008_06.exe link.


Moving on we also find the following bits:

  • Security: Managing the Windows Vista Firewall – which covers Vista firewall rules, profiles and kicks up a considerable amount of sand with mention of “out-bound” filtering that Microsoft’s firewalls are often disparaged for a lack of attention to by default.

Finally, want to make your head spin?

Desktop Dirt from Wes

If security wasn’t enough, how about these?

The Desktop Files: Network-Booting Windows – While touching primarily on Windows Deployment Services (WDS), the article by Wes Miller does go into great detail on the Windows PXE environment which is of interest to me with my fascination in Windows PE 2.0 usage.

The Desktop Files: Dual Booting with Windows XP and Windows PE 2.0 - Yep!  Even more good stuff on PE 2.0.

The Desktop Files: Shared Computing with Windows SteadyState – I’ve mentioned Windows SteadyState before and am looking to deploying it at our training and “guest-user” locations. Wes has some great details in that post.

Digging Even Deeper…

I’m not sure what got me on this track, but somehow I recently got on a web-researching expedition on the Microsoft Kernrate Viewer.

Oh yeah!  I was watching Mark Russinovich put it through the paces in this The Case of the Unexplained…Live! webcast.  Go watch it.  Great on dealing with and approaching suspicious (malicious) processes on a Windows system.

Again, I’ve mentioned in passing here before on my blog but only recently in that video presentation did I get a better grasp on how it could be helpful.

Kernrate is a general-purpose profiling tool for tracking CPU utilization by kernel-mode and user-mode processes.

Its a deep-level tool that can be used to log and capture what is going on with your processor as it is working.  Good to look deeper into running processes when Process Explorer isn’t enough.

See also:

While we are at it, let’s not pass up mention of the Microsoft Windows Performance Tools Kit, v.4.1.1 (QFE)

The Windows Performance Tools (WPT) Kit contains performance analysis tools that are new to the Windows SDK for Windows Server 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5. The WPT Kit is useful to a broad audience, including system builders, hardware manufacturers, driver developers, and general application developers. These tools are designed for measuring and analyzing system and application performance on Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and later.

The tools currently include an xperf trace capture tool, an xperfview visualization tool (also known as Performance Analyzer), and an xbootmgr boot trace capture tool. The tools are designed for the analysis of a wide range of performance problems including application start times, boot issues, deferred procedure calls and interrupt activity (DPCs and ISRs), system responsiveness issues, application resource usage, and interrupt storms. The MSIs containing these tools are available in the SDK bin directory (one per architecture).

The tools are built on top of the Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) infrastructure. ETW enables Windows and applications to efficiently generate events. Events can be enabled and disabled at any time without requiring system or process restarts. ETW collects requested kernel events and saves them to one or more files that are referred to as "trace files" or "traces."

Tip: The MSI installer downloads (x86, x84, and Itanium versions) are on the right hand side in a little gray box.

More details on usage can be found under the following Microsoft Developer Network Page: Windows Performance Toolkit (WPT)

Located in that package is the On/Off Transition Performance Analyzer which helpfully can be configured to “…collect information during the on/off transition phases of Windows Vista. Data can be captured during boot, shutdown, standby and resume, and hibernate and resume.”

Neato!  Download the great white-paper from that website link to get the skinny on how to use it in your troubleshooting arsenal of techniques.

PC Tools Troubleshooting Gems

Since we are on a troubleshooting side-trip…

Enable Manual Crash Feature at Registry Guide for Windows – PC Tools tip.  This brief article shows how to enable a registry key change that allows you to enable the ability to manually crash your system and generate a blue-screen memory-dump file using a keyboard combo.  For Windows 2000.

PC Tools has even more tips on Windows crash troubleshooting for XP systems

Windows : Troubleshooting : Crash Control – PC Tools.


Odd's and Ends

Just some potentially useful linkage from this week.  Doesn't really fall anywhere in particular.

IKEA Instructions - IKEAFANS - Lost your IKEA product construction booklet? Look no further!  Spotted via Lifehacker.

Colorful Animation Expressions: Color in 101 Dalmatians: an introduction and Color in 101 Dalmatians: 1. Home Sweet Home - Oswald Iten is taking a graphic artist's look at the production design and decisions on one of my most beloved Disney "Classic" films.  Expect followup posts. This looks to provide a really fascinating examination of color, staging and animation design. Spotted via Drawn!

Your laptop is lying to you - Dan's Data. How battery life and signal strength are just relative now-days and may not actually be as helpful as you wish.  Sure puts the whole AT&T: More Bars in More Places' campaign in a new light....

Google LatLong: New, blue, and better than ever - Google Maps got some micro-format updates this week.  Kinda like looking for Waldo to find them: Google Maps Cleans Up Its Act, and Google Maps Redesign Rolled Out.

Tweak: Fx 3 Address Bar - Firefox Extension Guru’s Blog and Understanding & Tweaking the Firefox 3 Address Bar - CyberNet News.  - Great tips and tweaks on taming the newest features in Firefox 3's quirky address bar.  What you don't know might indeed make you less effective.


Filed: Here we Go Again

Remember this recent imbroglio?

Yep. How can the web-o-sphere forget?

Doh!  Silly me.  It's the web-o-sphere!

Symantec debuts Norton Safe Web public beta plug-in for NIS - Ars Technica

Hopefully they will avoid the mis-steps that put AVG into the ropes for a while.

It certainly appears to be a bit less intrusive while providing more information on why sites were blocked or received a warning notice.

I say, just stick with a more modern web-browser, run a HIPS type application, maybe a now-tamed anti-virus solution and ditch these "helpful" safe web searching tools for now.  See the bottom of this GSD post for more Windows configuration security links and options.

At least we also get (to Symantec's credit) another URL-Link checker to add to our list.

Norton Safe Web, from Symantec

Leave it to Symantec....



Welcome, Firefox Shiretoko

I've just recently covered the Mozilla Nightly release differences:

Resolving a “Nightly” Firefox Issue…

And in there mentioned the releases known as Minefield, Gran Paradiso, and Bon Echo.

I also noted these differ from the Mozilla Release Candidates (RC) alpha and beta builds.

Well guess what?  Mozilla just released a RC version of Firefox called Shiretoko.

I briefly mentioned this release back in June;

Firefox 3.1 (Shiretoko) planned features draft - Mozilla Links.  It is probably right around the corner when we will be seeing the final release of Firefox 3.0.  So what next?  New project is to be called "Shiretoko" after the Japanese national park. Planned are a visual tab-switching feature and visual thumbnail version of list all tabs.  Places might get some more improvements and some code handling refinements.

So if you are interested and want to play with this build, here are some useful resources:

Firefox 3.1 Alpha 1 now available for download - Mozilla Developer News

Shiretoko / Gecko 1.9.1 Alpha 1 introduces several new features:

First step to Firefox 3.1: Alpha 1 is here - Mozilla Links

Firefox 3.1 Alpha 1 Download - CyberNet News

Firefox 3.1 Introduces More Address Bar Improvements - CyberNet News

Want to play with it but not damage your already installed "stable" version of Firefox on Windows?

Just follow the steps referenced in this GSD post under Class Two - Home Brew to make your own "custom" standalone Firefox Shiretoko build.  If you want to be even quicker, go directly to this GSD post: Build your Own: Firefox 3 (alpha/beta) Portable

Piece of cake.  Then go to see what the (very little) fuss is all about.

To me Shiretoko tastes a lot like a Twinkie®; looks good and is quite comforting, but otherwise mostly just sweets for now.

Don't forget; this is "Alpha" software so I don't recommend most mortals attempt to install it as a replacement for the latest stable public release of Firefox.  Your Add-on extensions will likely not work either without some hacking.


Not "Cuil" just yet

This week Cuil launched with attempts at great fanfare and relevance.


Cuil is yet another search engine that attempts to unseat the Google monolith which continues to beckon and confound the apes, even as it inspires them.

Want to add it to your Firefox searchbar?  Drop in over at this Mycroft page for Cuil and load it up.  Or just visit the Cuil website and select the drop-down arrow on your search-bar icon to add it from there.

My own use of it has seen mixed results.

It certainly does provide a different "perspective" on search results, but that's not what I'm after.

I want to put in a range of search-terms and have a bazillion choices to pick from with my own custom embedded search engine results processor doing the relevancy algorithm calculations.

A search for Grand Stream Dreams on Cuil finds a number of blog pages along with some curiously cross-linked websites.  Don't even get me started on the bizarre assignment of images to the posts (they have nothing to do with each other in many cases).

Oh, and try entering any search using more than a few words and you get nothing.

A search on Cuil for 100% CPU Throttling on Windows results in no matches. Not helpful.

The same thing on Google results in 90,300 matches.  Very helpful.

Nice try guys; Cuil could really be something chill, alas for for now it's not quite.

Better get back to that optimization and relevancy work....

And ditch the silly non-associated images while you are at it..mkay?

--Claus Blocking AdBlock Plus Extension for Firefox? Yep.

Update: TechBlog editor Dwight Silverman verified that the story pages at have recently been redesigned.  It is very likely that these page-code changes are what rendered the story pages un-viewable in Adblock Plus.

Wladimar posted a comment that he was not seeing any issues in his Adblock Plus build.

On that information I went to Rick752’s website for ABP and manually downloaded the latest
filter subscriptions for Adblock Plus and installed them. Then I removed the custom "allow" I had applied to test the new set. That “fix” worked fine and’s story pages are now loading normally again.

I also hope the tone of the post didn’t leave readers under the impression that I felt that was intentionally blocking ABP users from seeing their story pages. While that is certainly technically possible for webmasters to do, most do not and it is not my intention to suggest that was doing so.  In any event, I depend on and were I to have to view all their ads, it would be a small price for the great content they provide for free.

The particular reason I even bothered to post this micro-adventure what that I felt that if I was having issues…certainly others would be as well, and this might be helpful to them as they try to search the web for a solution.

Finally, Adblock Plus should (by default) look to download new and updated subscription lists.  It looks like for some reason my Firefox/ABP combo hasn’t been doing that.  That will need to be a post for another day.  So for now, I will be adding periodic manual updates to my list of Firefox maintenance activities.

--Cheers!  Claus V.

I have a routine I follow when I sit down at my computer browser.  It’s almost as bad as a superstition-loving baseball player.

I fire up my nightly-release of Firefox (Gran Paradiso), check for new nightly updates along with any Add-ons that may have been updated and apply them, then restart the browser.

I then fire up NewsFox and get it pulling down any updated posts from the 80-110 RSS feeds or so.

While that is going on, I open another tab and check, TechBlog, and  I comb each one carefully for any stories or posts that might be useful news as I go about my day. Then I turn to sorting through the NewsFox RSS feeds.

Only just this past week I began running into issues at

The Symptom

I could load the main page of with no issues. I could also load and view all the blog pages with no issues.

However, any news-story that I selected a link for resulted in a completely blank page.


No 404 error displayed, the URL was fine and the Firefox browser status bar reported the page-load was done.

Since I use Firefox nightlies I figured something was “broke” in the code causing this strange behavior.  I was seeing it on all my systems with Firefox nightlies (Vista/XP Home/XP Pro).

I figured it would be fixed soon enough, but it wasn’t.

So last night in frustration of needing to see a story that was really important, I opened up my Opera browser and went to and then the story-link.

Guess what?

It loaded just fine.


Troubleshooting and Fix

So this morning I got to work looking at the issue.

I should have loaded up a packet capture tool and gone full-tilt but I was still sleepy.

I opened up Firefox to and began thinking through the issue.

Something was causing the article pages not to load.  Usually that is a cookie issue.  So I first confirmed that I didn’t have any cookie blocking going on. (I usually accept all cookies, then cull out the “nuisance” crumbs on a weekly basis.)

Next up was the NoScript extension, often known to cause some page loading issues.  However, when I checked, NoScript had retained my settings to allow all scripts on

So I then turned my attention to Adblock Plus.  Unlike NoScript, this one usually doesn’t demand hardly any user interaction.  Install it, load a “subscription” file and forget it.

So for kicks I disabled it.

Guess what?

All the article pages at now loaded.

So I re-enabled it, confirmed that the pages were not loading again, then right-clicked the icon for it in my status bar and selected the option to “Disable on” and the red “ABP” icon changed to green.

All my pages are loading normally again.


No beef with me.  I really like and depend on so it's an acceptable trade-off in my book to disable AdBlock Plus for

Just wish it would have been easier to figure out.  I wonder how many other users are getting frustrated with their system/browser/ webmaster because article pages suddenly are no longer loading for them....

Poking a Sleeping Dragon with a Stick….

All this reminds me of the big "to-do" that made the web-rounds last fall in regards to Firefox users and their penchant for Add-ons that block ads and other banner-media.

User of the programs (like me) generally say that we use such tools to block annoying banners, improve download speeds for content we do want, preserve or lower bandwidth consumption, and to protect our systems from hostile JavaScript code as we surf the web.

Web-masters generally complain that this results in a loss of revenue due to removal of click-through ads, un-lawful modification of their web-page design and presentation, and runs the risk of leading to the collapse of their free-content-for-ad-sponsorship business model.

At the moment, it is probably a small (but growing) number of more sophisticated web-users are using ad-blocking extensions such as this.  However, these solutions are slowly creeping into the mainstream and more "non-technical" mom-and-pop users are taking notice and using them as well.

Factor in the latest upcoming round of fourth-generation web-browsers that promise more secure web-browsing functions -- such as the Opera 9.5 browser, Internet Explorer 8 Beta, and Firefox web browser 3.0 --all now provide anti-phishing/anti-threat site protection to varying degrees.  Many more improvements are due in the next IE 8 beta release version.  These may also impact the ad/script-based web-o-sphere.

I believe we haven't yet seen the real battle yet on this web-front.

So What I'm Saying Is...

Firefox users should continue to make their web-browsing sessions as safe and enjoyable as possible.

That means (to me) still installing the following extensions, at the minimum.

For even more Firefox web-browsing security, take a look at this list with some of the above and a few extras:

8 Firefox extensions towards safer browsing - tssci security

  • CS Lite - cookie handler

  • FoxyProxy - proxy handler (I prefer and use PhProxy instead.)

  • LocalRodeo - DNS support watcher

  • RefControl - control "referring" information sent to websites

  • SafeCache - sandbox web-browsing cache cross-tracking

  • SafeHistory - sandbox web-browsing history cross-tracking

  • Firekeeper - IDPS and XSS protection (not FF 3.0 compatible--too bad!)


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Urban Adventuring - II

I was over at the iconFactory pulling down a cool wallpaper called Indy's Desk. image

It is a great desktop that has some nice retro-feel vibes to it.

While you are there go ahead and also pop-in at their Indiana Jones home page.  It is loaded with icon packs from the series.  Make great stock RocketDock icon replacements.

All this adventuring got me looking for some new urban-adventuring websites.

  • - Abandoned Photography and Urban Exploration has always been my hands-down favorite. I think it is due to the quality of the photography.  While there haven’t been as many recent posts of late, trips into the Eastern State Penitentiary and the Worcester State Hospital are more than worth-while.

  • Lab-Wan also has a collection of interesting sites and photography. High-quality.

  • is a bit rougher in the photography scale, but more than makes up for it in the unusual locations.  I’m not sure how, but somehow I ended up on this site (and this post) when I was following a link-to on Mike Tyson's former home. What seems so fascinating to me is the condition of the home and items still remaining in it, and that it was able to be breached.  The exterior looks pretty cool and interesting, but the scale of the interiors just seems so cold and large. It seems to be a place to make even the biggest men seem quite small.

  • Dark Passage: Exercises in Forensic Archaeology – quite a collection here. I wish there were more photos-per-location, but the quality of them is very good and artistic.

  • abandoned places – The website is as much mystery as the locations captured. Just have fun and click around.  You will get it down pretty fast.

  • Abandoned – lots of black and white photos of buildings and industry in Moscow.  The scale of the abandoned and uncompleted structures is amazing.

  • Urban Exploration Database – Very well organized and photographed.  I spent more hours that I care to admit looking at this site’s showcases of decay.

  • Modern Ruins Photographic Essays - Shaun O’Boyle – This is more of an “old-school” website, but it really accentuates the drama of the locations captured.  There is a great variety of locations here, from Cape Canaveral to boatyards to mills.  All good and haunting.  Tip, don’t give up on the first page.  Scroll to the bottom of the photo-gallery and click “next”.  Often there are multiple pages per location lurking. Shaun has a great eye for detail.

  • out of site - Similar presentation to Shaun's site above. More color.  For a good sample take a look at the southern railway freight depot gallery.  I've seen more than a fair number of similar buildings here and there in small Texas towns.

  • was/is a magazine based on covering just such locations.  I believe they are currently not actively publishing, but you can still get books via Anyway, they provide great material and organization for more linking.  For example, Infiltration: Texas has links to locations in and around Texas that are fun to explore (via the web).  They also have Infiltration - North America for links to places in other states as well.  Full of additional resources, tips, and ideas if you are thinking on taking more than a Web-observer's viewpoint and getting you own feet dirty in this hobby.

Wonder what our place will look like a hundred years from now....


Sunday Linkfest…brought to you by Wordle


It’s a Wordle Thing…

The above graphic was created by Wordle Logo.  An amazingly fun site for word lovers of the web.

Feed it some words, text, URL or other material and away it goes!

The amount of tweaking and customization possible is crazy.  Change your fonts, change your layouts, change your colors.

Like it alot?  Post it to the gallery to share with others.

Very fun and addicting.  Spotted via

USB Pinouts

Wonder what those USB pin-outs mean?  Daily Cup of Tech » USB Pinout brings you all the pinout madness you could want.  Most folks today just buy a new cable when needed, but a few actually would hack around and make their own (or modify them).

New and Improved….

Sun announced this week that its Java SE 6u10-b28 build version is now available for download.

Minor changes only.  I use this version along with the public release version of Java SE as it supposedly brings tighter integration and performance with Firefox 3.0 and Opera 9.5 builds.

AM-DeadLink - (freeware) – is used to check web browsers for dead-bookmarks as well as snatching back favicons.  This new version now supports Opera 9.5 favicons and some IE favorite quirks.  Alas, it still cannot handle the SQLite bookmarking files that Firefox 3.0 now uses.  Too bad.

SIV - System Information Viewer - (freeware) – now updated to version 3.32.  Added more processor support, Wi-Fi reporting on XP systems, and Machine page enhancements for systemboard provided probes.

CPUID - (freeware) – also got updated.  Great and mini application to get fast data about memory, CPU and other key system components and settings.  This version brings more processor core sensing support.  While you are there, consider grabbing their excellent benchmarking tool; PC Wizard 2008.1.85.2

Flexense - FlexTk File Management Toolkit - (freeware/$) – 4sysops recently reviewed this new “advanced file management” toolkit and I’m just not sure what to make of it.  It certainly really seems to offer a number of very targeted tools and features for file-management jockeys. It’s compatible with Vista/2000/XP system.  You can do file searches as well as classify and organize items. Lots of file sync features. You can move data around. Review your storage media, do advanced file copy, look for duplicate files, clean up disk-space, and even more…especially in the paid versions.

MD5 Picks

MD5’s are specialized hashes that are (practically) singular in identity.  File and PC geeks generate them so that others can compare their own MD5 hash values on a file to see if the file is identical or not.  It’s a good way to validate that you got the downloaded file you were expecting.

AVG Anti-Virus 8 sets an MD5 value on files you indicate and if the file is replaced, the MD5 will be different and AVG will alert you to that fact.

For daily use, I normally just use the MD5 utility built into FreeCommander. But it is a bit limited and there are times when I want a more robust and flexible MD5 tool.

Here are my choices. All are USB portable:

HashMyFiles v1.36 - (freeware) – Nirsoft does it best, as usual. Just drag-n-drop your file onto the window and away it goes.  Sort on any column.  Makes it very easy to visually compare multiple files/MD5’s. Tiny and perfect.  Can also be enabled to run via the Windows Explorer right-click shell menu.

Hasher by Denis Kozlov - (freeware) – Another great and portable choice.  This gem brings in extra power by supplying a number of additional hashing algorithms if you feel MD5 is just pass√©.  Has the ability to compare one hash result to the next file hashed.  Again very useful.

Robin Keir's Hash - (freeware) – Pretty simple interface. Just drag-n-drop onto the window, or browse for single/multiple files.  Select which items you wish to generate in your report, and that’s it.

MD5 GUI for Windows - (freeware) – Tiny and nice. Select what you want to do (generate or check) and drag-n-drop the file onto the window. The action will process. If you wish to then check another, select the check option, then drag-n-drop the file for comparison. Little icons are generated to help sort out the differences if they exist.

winMd5Sum Portable - (freeware) – For plain-and-simple generation/comparison, this is pretty good.  drag-n-drop or browse the file to calculate. Then if you have a published MD5 hash, you can copy/paste it in as well and hit compare and it will tell you if the file you downloaded is the same as the publisher says it should be.


UnderT’s Do Matter!

Ever since my parochial-school days, I’ve worn a t-shirt under my outer shirts.

In junior-high through college, it was almost always a branded t.

When I got out of college and started working, I upgraded to the traditional men’s white crew-neck t-undershirt.  I just don’t feel put-together or presentable without wearing one now.

Maybe it’s as much a psychological thing as it is a comfort and style thing….anyhow….

I’ve tried other styles and cuts but the v-necks and tanks always left me feeling like I was this guy.

So I’ve been wearing my Hanes crew-neck t’s every since.  (And Lavie and Alvis have been stealing them for night-shirts!)

Only one winter I started wearing a mock-turtleneck short-sleeve shirt under my polo’s for a bit of added warmth.  I really liked the style.  Reminded me a bit of Tiger with the higher undershirt collar.

Only during the summers and then, it is just too hot with the heavier cotton.

So my options seemed a bit limited.

I could go with a the UnderArmor line as their necks are a bit higher, but paying $20 a pop or more per "undershirt" seems a bit high, especially when I would need seven or eight of them. 

So I got searching the web for options, certainly there were a lot of baseball gear mock turtlenecks out there, but the colors and neck were still too high and pricey.

I did hit the jackpot though and found a curiously entertaining blog:

Blogger Tug goes into great detail in searching out and reviewing all things men’s undershirts!  Lots of links, in-depth reviews, good stuff.

After spending much of Saturday morning on his blog I did track down what looks to be a possible candidate for my undershirt search: The 5.11 Tactical Utili-T undershirt.

I’ve put in a back-channel email to Tug asking for any more leads before I pony up some money for a couple of packs. However, they do seem reasonably priced and as they are all-cotton, and should be cool and soft for the Houston climate.

The ones with Lycra or Spandex or other stretchy materials just feel a bit funny to me.

I’ll let you know how things turn out.


Resolving a “Nightly” Firefox Issue…

While I love the Firefox web browser, I certainly am no Guru when it comes to it.

I like keeping the latest public-release version loaded on our systems, but for daily browsing and work I’ve (almost) always used the “Nightly” builds.

Basically, these “nightly” builds are the pre-alpha versions of the next releases of Firefox.  They incorporate regular changes and code upgrades on the march towards the new version release of Firefox.

These are different from Release Candidates (RC) alpha and beta builds.

So the other day I realized that my home nightly version was reporting in as “Gran Paradiso” while the one on my work laptop was reporting in as “Minefield”.

I thought this was curious but figured it was just due to some branding-thing in about:config and kept going.

A Nightly Problem

So last week I read two articles about “tab-switching” being added into the nightlies for Firefox 3.1

While I had been getting the nightlies on a regular basis, I observed the new tab-switch feature was working on my work-laptop Firefox build but wasn’t on my home systems.

So I downloaded and reinstalled the nightly via the link that Ryan offered.

No problems….except that it now reported “Minefield” instead of Gran Paradiso and I got a memory error dump every time I closed the browser.  Oh yes…my “Organize Bookmarks” kept locking up my system at almost 100% CPU cycles when I clicked that link.


I figured it was something with my system, but lo-and-behold it happened on the Vista system, the other XP laptop, and my work system as well.

That’s a bummer!

Now, I knew I wasn’t having any issues with Firefox nightlies under the “Gran Paradiso” version…so was there a difference? 


Could I get the more stable “Gran Paradiso” build back?


Mozilla Gran Paradiso versus Minefield Nightlies

It didn’t take me long to find out a perfect summary of the differences…and there ARE differences as Ben Basson and Nitin explain. 

 Trunk & Branch Builds FAQ • mozillaZine Forums

Q. What is the trunk?

A. The trunk is the central source code that is used for continuous and ongoing development. Trunk builds contain the very latest bleeding-edge changes and updates. However, the trunk can also be very unstable at times, so it's good to ask around before using trunk builds.
Latest trunk builds:

Q. What is a branch?

A. Branches are "forks" in the code, split from the trunk and destined to become end-user releases. At conception, a branch contains everything that the trunk contains, but from that point onwards, only certain fixes or changes will be accepted. Therefore, over time, the branch becomes more stable.

Latest 1.8.1 branch builds: ... ozilla1.8/
Latest 1.9.0 branch builds: ... illa1.9.0/

Q. Why branch? Wouldn't it be better to have everyone working towards a release?

A. Many developers prefer to work on areas of the code which are too risky to change when approaching a release. Some of their changes may also take months to test and implement correctly. Their changes will be made to the trunk so that they don't delay the release and will be picked up in future branches.

Q. How can you distinguish between trunk and branch builds?

A. The main way you can determine if you are using a trunk or branch build is to click the "Help" menu and choose "About". You should see a string that looks something like this:

1.8.1 Branch:

Code: Select all

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/2008061720 BonEcho/

1.9.0 Branch:

Code: Select all

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/2008061720 GranParadiso/3.0.1pre


Code: Select all

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.1a1pre) Gecko/2008061720 Minefield/3.1a1pre

The part that you want to note is the Gecko revision number (rv) and the Firefox version string. These correspond to which build you are using. It works something like this:

rv:1.7.x and Firefox 1.0.x = Gecko 1.7 (Firefox 1.0) Branch.
rv:1.8.0.x and Firefox (or Deer Park) 1.5.0.x = Gecko 1.8.0 (Firefox 1.5) Branch.
rv:1.8.1.x and Firefox (or Bon Echo) 2.0.0.x = Gecko 1.8.1 (Firefox 2) Branch.
rv:1.9.0.x and Firefox (or Gran Paradiso) 3.0.x = Gecko 1.9.0 (Firefox 3.0) Branch.
rv:1.9.1a1pre and Firefox (or Minefield) 3.1a1pre and on = Gecko 1.9.1 Trunk (towards Firefox 3.1)

See the (somewhat outdated) roadmap diagrams below for clarification.

Q. Where can I find out the recent changes that have been made to the trunk or a branch?

A. Read the relevant nightly threads in the builds forum. An excellent unofficial changelog is maintained at The Burning Edge:


Q: What's Bon Echo/Gran Paradiso/Minefield?

A: Bon Echo is the project codename for Firefox2
Gran Paradiso is the project codename for Firefox3
Minefield is the name given to builds from the Firefox trunk.

Summary of Firefox Nightly versions

So here it is.

Note: Nightly builds can be fraught with bugs, breaks and instability on systems and Add-on Extensions…they are not for casual Firefox users!  Proceed at your own risk!

  • If you pine for retro Firefox 2.0.x versions but want the ongoing “nightly” updates for security work, you want Bon Echo.  Get your Firefox Bon Echo nightly versions here.

  • If you love the latest Firefox 3.0.x builds but want the ongoing “nightly” updates for security work, bug fixes, and generally more stability and dependability, you want Gran Paradiso.  Get your Firefox Gran Paradiso nightly versions here.

  • If you really want to be on the developmental bleeding-edges of  Firefox 3.x.x versions and are willing to accept instability and compatibility issues, you want Minefield.  Get your Firefox Minefield nightly versions here.

Once you have one installed, just go to “Help” and “Check for Updates” to bring down the new nightly and update your installed version.  You can also set up automatic updating in the options.

See also: "Private Label" Firefox Builds where I outline how you can keep multiple versions of Firefox on your system…and then some.

Other Firefox Odd’s and Ends

Some more bits and pieces of note:

Understanding & Tweaking the Firefox 3 Address Bar – Great post by CyberNet News.

NewsFox - Firefox Add-ons – remains my favorite RSS reader for Firefox.

Version 1.0.2 has been released now. (Version notes)

Testing version 1.0.3b1 has also been released. (Version notes)

Get any of them at - newsfox: installation page.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dell Utility Partition Restoration

We have quite a number of Dell desktop and laptop systems deployed in our environment.

We use a number of imaging/cloning methods to manage them.

My personal favorite is Microsoft's ImageX software but Clonezilla and Novell’s ZEN Imaging are also popular.

When a Dell system leaves the factory, it contains a specialized partition that contains Dell diagnostic tools and utilities.  This can be accessed via the boot menu (F12) when booting a system.  These can come in handy for the sysadmin or desktop technician when trying to decide if the problem is hardware or software related.

However, if the system has been securely disk-wiped or images restored in some circumstances, that specialized Dell Utility partition can be destroyed.  The restored windows partition works just fine, and the Dell diagnostics are still listed in the boot menu but they are no longer actually there.

So what options do you have?

Option One – Rebuild it from Scratch

Recreating the Dell Utility Partition - Not for the feint of heart. Partition Table editing required!

Basically you have to create a new partition, make it active, copy the Dell Diagnostic program to it, add a reboot program, make your config.sys and autoexec.bat files, change the partition type, the set your Windows partition back to be the active partition.  Lots of work.

Option Two - Skip It and go with a Dell Utility Boot CD

Dell ships most all its systems with a boot-CD that can be used to bring up the system and then run the same diagnostics package elements from the CD instead.  Yes you are not putting it on the system, but for most folks, this will be the easiest solution.

Getting the Dell Diagnostics Utility -

If you look up your specific Dell system based on the Service Tag number, you will often find a number of additional downloads that will allow you to not only build your Dell Diagnostics Utility CD, but also packages to update the files on your Dell Utility partition if you so desire.

No software is know to exist in the wild (that I am aware of) to "automagically" create and restore that Dell Utility partition via point-and-click.  Option One is the only way I know of to put one back in service once a system has been set up.

Option Three - For ZENWorks Imaging Fans only

Novell Doc: Novell ZENworks 7.2 Linux Management Administration Guide - Using Dell Configuration Bundles - Help for ZENworks fans.

See Also

Dell - Support - Using the Dell™ MediaDirect Repair Utility to Fix a Corrupt Master Boot Record (MBR) in Microsoft Windows XP

Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition - Dan Goodell

What About Microsoft Vista? - Things are a bit different when dealing with Vista Dell systems.

How to Run the Hard Drive Disk Self Test (DST) on a Dell Computer -

Special thanks to the D-Man for hunting many of these solutions up for us!

Happy Dell Fixing!


GSD Hurricane Tracking Links – 2008

Hurricane Gordon

CC attribution: Public Domain. NASA via pingnews on flickr.

Goodbye Dolly!

Hello long wait for the rest of the Hurricane season on the Gulf Coast of Texas…

I thought I would update my Hurricane Monitoring and Tracking links for the new year.

I found some great new ones.

Bookmark ‘em all!

Gulf Coast Watch List

So here are the hurricane links I am watching at home and work, to track the impending winds. Listed in order of my personal preference…

  • -- Your Atlantic Hurricane Season Tracking Map Source – An awesome site that mashes up tracking data on hurricanes and points of interest, along with Google Maps.  Heavy on the JavaScript but makes up for it in pure visual delight.  Easy enough even the “old-folks” can understand.  Not only are hurricanes and projected paths displayed, but also counties are added as they fall under various storm watches and warnings.  Zoom in/out for more detail.

  • Tropical Atlantic: NHC Model Data for Tropical Storms – Found this gem the other day.  For folks who need to have more than one storm-track model presented, this is like going from riding a pony to driving cattle from North Dakota to the Fort Worth Stockyards.  Look at the top of the page to select any current storms.  Then when the Google Map mashup launches, you can pick from 32 “Early” models and 38 “Late” model storm track models.  Plot one or plot them all! Awesome! Additional NOAA summary of storm-track models.

  • Hurricane and Storm Tracking - Terrapin's site remains my favorite. It is lean and simple and allows for quick location of information without lots of graphic overkill. The storm-track plots come in two flavors, a simple historical and future projection track that is static as well as a java-based animated one. Loads fast and updated as new forecasts are posted.

  • National Hurricane Center - This website maintained by the National Weather Service is my number two choice. Lots more linkage on the sidebar for hurricane related topics and preparations. The main page has links to a number of graphics and advisories.

  • (NHC's) Atlantic Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook - A "beta" sub-page of the site listed above. This is pretty cool. Any current tropical systems are overlayed on a satellite image with an icon. Hovering over the icon pulls up a quick update view. Clicking on the update popup then takes you to the system's detailed page.

  • -- Tropical Atlantic Weather Page - T-Storm Terry Faber has created a great hurricane system page here. Not only does it have lots of links to any active systems, but it also contains links to radar and satellite images, many in great details and high resolution. The hurricane tracking maps and projections are there, of course. T-Storm Terry also provides links to other sources of information as well as historical data on previous storm systems.

  • Tropical Weather : Weather Underground - This is a fantastic site that has the widest range of linkages, maps, images, models, and everything. Just about the only thing it doesn't provide is winds blown into your face through the monitor. Which is why I put this at the bottom and not the top: there is just so much information it overwhelms.

Local Winds

For local Houston area facts and updates, most of the local news stations have their web-sites powered up.

Even More Weather

I have found these additional links pretty cool:

Road Kill


Removing Apple’s MobileMe from Control Panel

Recently, Apple decided to start pushing its MobileMe that basically works as a sync service between your Mac, PC iPhone and/or iPod touch.

While the Valca homestead is filled with iPods, we have not an iPhone or any need for the MobileMe service.

So it was with mingled surprise and chagrin that I read Dwight Silverman’s post TechBlog: Guess who’s coming to dinner, Windows users? MobileMe!

Seems that when Windows users update and/or fresh-install Apple Quicktime and/or iTunes, they also get the MobileMe Preferences icon showing up in the Control Panel.

Launching it provides a method to sign in (for current members) or to “Learn More…”

I had been attempting to upgrade my XP Home's iTunes software to the latest version using the internal updater, but it kept failing. So I downloaded the full installer from Apple and ran the setup (v7.7.0.43). Lo and behold, when I got done, there was MobileMe icon in my Control Panel as well.

Nice ad placement there Apple.  Not.

Simply Icky.  No thanks.

So my thoughts turned to how to remove it from my system.  Alas, there is no .CPL file for it that could simply be deleted.

I considered a number of approaches.  First I could run one of many system change detectors and then carefully try to review the installs and pick out where it appeared from:

I could fire up Process Monitor and Process Explorer then launch the Control Panel item to see what kicked it off.

Instead I thought I would try the easy way first.

Removing “MobileMe Preferences” from XP Systems

I went to "Start" -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs.

Near the top I located "Apple Mobile Device Support" and clicked "Remove". I ran the uninstaller.

When done I checked Control Panel and the MobleMe Preferences icon was gone as was the application from within the Apple Program Files folder on my system. Easy.

Didn't seem to hurt my iTunes at all.

Removing “MobileMe Preferences” from Vista Systems

To remove from Vista try this technique: Removing Apple Mobile Device Support - Tales from the Crypto blog:

...quite by chance, I found out how to remove Apple Mobile Device Support from Windows Vista.

Instead of clicking "Uninstall", click "Change". You're given the option to "Repair" or "Remove".

Click "Remove".

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this appears to take you through a completely different uninstall procedure, which actually results in the removal of the Apple Mobile Device Support.

Also: Bits from Bill: Do I need Apple Mobile Device Service?

More Odd’s and Ends on the Windows Control Panel

Found these very helpful links while pre-researching this issue.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Extras for Windows

On my systems, I prefer to run very few third-party applications/utilities at startup.

These are in addition to the usual security applications or dual-monitor helpers that I use.

My current systems contain the following:

|MG| Motherboard Monitor Update 2 – monitor cpu and system temperatures,

Process Lasso – keeps CPU cycles down under control,

allSnap – snaps windows to edges of screen,

MemStat XP – provides view of how much free memory the system has,

RocketDock – the best dock-launcher for Windows, ever, and

Rainlendar – a handy desktop-merged calendar.

Other than that, I rarely use any other utilities or tools at launch.

Except I re-found a new one.

Windows File/Copy/Move Alternatives

SuperCopier - (freeware) – I have posted before about this and several other great Windows file/copy managers.  In the past I have just ran it on demand. (See alternative link also at Supercopier).

For most of may daily work, the default Windows copy/paste function worked great. However it is limited in some of its options and the other day I was copying several ISO files to a storage drive and the default copy-time was around seven minutes per ISO file.

Mucking around I found that if I booted a system with one of my custom WinPE 2.0 boot disks I was getting copy-times in the just over 2-minute range.  I launched SuperCopier on my main laptop system at work and found it also was able to take a seven-minute file copy time down to just under three minutes.  Good stuff.  So I decided to flick the switch to launch it at boot on my XP systems.

That worked great but only for file/copy actions in the Windows Explorer shell.  I do 90% of my file-management using FreeCommander.

Turns out SuperCopier has a configuration option so I can associate it to handle copy/paste actions in FreeCommander (or any other application) if I so choose. Nice!  Now I can have it work in both worlds.

Other great Windows file copy managers:

  • TeraCopy - (free for personal use) – Very nice, fast and tiny.

  • Copy Handler - (freeware) – Dependable and fast file-copy activity. Updated periodically.

  • Roadkil.Net's Unstoppable Copier - (freeware) – Special-use tool to get copy files that are “damaged" like off optical media or that give other programs copy-errors.

  • FastCopy - (freeware) - New to me that some claim is the fastest file-copier tool out-there today.

For Consideration

Here are some additional applications and items I have come across this week.  I'm still out on a final decision.

Firefly plugin turns Firefox into an advanced file manager - Download Squad - This Add-on extension for Firefox (get the Firefox 3.0 compatible version here at Firefly website) looks like it might be a helpful tool.  It gives users the ability to launch a Windows Explorer-like tab in Firefox to do file-management tasks. It does allow multiple views to be used (dual-multi-pane). I couldn't figure out how to change the found style and size and on my work system it came up in a large-font Times New Roman. Ugly!  Besides, a dedicated file-management tool like FreeCommander is all I really need and has loads-more features.  However, it's a great and clever effort and might be worthwhile to keep an eye on.

Taskbar Shuffle - (freeware) - tiny little app that lets you drag-drop rearrange the items in your Windows taskbar.  I confess there have been times when I have had like ten or fifteen items open and wanted to reorganize them. This would let me do it.  The big question is, how often and is it worth installing to run on startup?  Major plus points: now compatible with UltraMon multi-monitor management software.  For a bit more: Taskbar Shuffle Tweaks Your Windows Taskbar - Download Squad.

Taskix - (freeware) - An alternative choice to Taskbar Shuffle. Run on demand or register DLL to run at startup.  Doesn't seem to have as many options, but how many options do you really need to rearrange taskbar items?

Miscellaneous (test to see who reads down this far in a post)

AutoRuns for Windows - (freeware) - This utility was updated to version 9.3 and now "..adds support for several additional shell extension points, including copy hook, property sheet, and drag and drop handlers, fixes a bug in the Vista gadget parsing code and better handles malformed paths."

Vista, Word and Google Desktop circumvent TrueCrypt function - News - heise Security UK - For you forensics and security geeks.  Turns out that even though TrueCrypt is able to afford some folks under certain configurations and usage "plausible deniability" for hidden and encrypted material, some points of attack exist to discover the presence.  Security guru Bruce Schneier has co-authored a paper looking into this that is a fascinating read: Defeating Encrypted and Deniable File Systems: TrueCrypt v5.1a and the Case of the Tattling OS and Applications (PDF), paper by A. Czeskis, D. J. St. Hilaire, K. Koscher, S. D. Gribble, T. Kohno and B. Schneier.

5 Jokes That Will Get'Em Giggling | Geekdad from - Funny and family friendly jokes for laughs.  The comments are filled with more user submissions.

Goodness knows, we all need more laughter in the world!



Controlling Java-Scripts in Opera

I really like the Opera browser.

It is very fast and very pretty.

I also like the Firefox web browser and it remains my daily web-browser of choice. I’m not ready yet to give up the slew of Firefox Extensions that I have come to lean on.

Greatest of which is the NoScript extension Add-on that protects my web-surfing from malicious or bothersome web-scripts as I browse the net.

Opera does have the ability to control scripting and Java/JavaScript settings on a per-site basis (allow/disallow) but it doesn’t seem to have the granularity control of the NoScript Add-on for Firefox to control third-party scripting on a particular web-page; to block some but not all.

While fiddling around with this and looking for a “widget-based” solution I did find some posts that might be able to approximate the control of NoScript in Opera.  It’s not the same, but comes very close.

Firefox’ NoScript for Opera (or all browsers) -

Andrew’s Security Filter(s) v5.57 (July 8, 2008)

The way it works is that you first set up your system to use Proxomitron which is a free and small local HTTP web-filtering proxy.


Next download and import Andrew’s Security Filter(s) into it as he outlines.

It’s not a perfect solution, but is a very interesting approach he has come up with using Proxomitron to work around the issue.

Thought a few Opera fans might be interested....

Other Links:

Take Control with User JavaScript - Opera Software

Enable Or Disable JavaScript - Opera - Mr. Ed's Computer Help Forum

Opera's Kiosk Mode - Opera Software

Security and Privacy in Opera: Multimedia and Scripts - Opera Software


Windows CPU throttling techniques

At work we have an old DOS 16-bit application that is central to our customer’s daily tasks.  It must be run and used by the majority of staff.

Alas, it is still being run on Windows 2000 and XP Professional systems.

This means that those (NT-based) 32-bit OS systems cannot run the application natively.

To get it going, what Microsoft does is to call to a particular environment subsystem; in this particular case, ntvdm.exe.

According to what I have found, it fires up a Virtual DOS Machine “application environment” which this particular DOS 16-bit application runs in.

No problem, except in our case, that ntvdm.exe session gobbles up 98% of the CPU cycles almost full time.  This renders other 32-bit applications such as Outlook, Word, IE, or other applications the user is also likely to have open and running almost useless as they stutter and “hang” waiting for CPU cycles to be released.  Task-switching is a nightmare.

Because that DOS application is network-based (makes calls and database updates to local servers), it can not be suspended while in the background, else the network connection might drop and the application crash horribly.

In the past we have thought it was a memory issue with DOS grabbing it all up.  That is not the case.  Extensive monitoring of the systems with it running using Process Explorer made it clear it is a CPU thing.

Changing the priority the process ran under wasn’t effective as a solution. No matter what it was set on, the CPU % utilization stayed pegged at 98%.

So, what now?

CPU Utilization Control #1 – Process Throttling

Now having some idea what we were dealing with, I wondered if there would be a way to restrict the ntvdm.exe process so it throttled back to a more system-friendly utilization rate.

Additional searching on the web (now that I new what I was looking for) turned up a number of third-party applications that looked like they might help.

Thread Master - (free for personal and corporate use) – This application runs as a Windows service when “installed".  There is no GUI interface. Nothing to see that it is working.  It is completely transparent to the user.  Tweaks and configurations are handled in the registry keys the program makes.  Download the files to the system, run the install.cmd and you are good to go. To uninstall download the uninst.cmd script and it will clean it up.  The program page says it is for Windows 2000 and Server 2003 but my tests on XP Pro seem to show it works just fine.

BES, Battle Encoder Shirase 1.3.7-beta - (freeware) – Download and run the bes.exe file.  You will get a management window.  Click “Target” and select the (already running) process you wish to throttle back. Then click “Limit”. It will control that (and any other selected processes) as long as it is resident. If you wish to throttle a process the next time it launches, select the limit/watch so it re-controls it on relaunch.  You can watch/throttle up to three processes but only “watch” for one.  If you want to watch just one, you could make a startup script that calls BES from a command-line. This might make it “invisible” to users. Launching in this mode invokes the watch/limit mode for the process listed.

Process Lasso - (free for personal use/ $ for business use) – A really top-notch process control application. By default, it has been set up to monitor and lower the priorities of processes that use too many CPU cycles. Works on both single/dual core processors.  Highly customizable and can be launched in a non-GUI format so it is “invisible” to end users. Runs under Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, and 2008 in both x32 and x64 bit flavors. Wow!  This could be one of the most—if not the best—fine-tuned and polished applications of this sort out there currently.  It can also be invoked from highly optioned command-line arguments and application processes can be added to “exclude” lists to bypass throttling if needed.  I like it so much I am using it on my home systems.

ProcessTamer - (free, registration recommended) – Tiny application that monitors CPU usage of processes. It will throttle back the CPU process depending on set threshold limits.  You can toggle the application on/off as needed (optical media burning, perhaps), as well as set very detailed rules for process exclusions and priority adjustments.  Certainly a nice little tool as well.

Priority Master 2008 - (demo/$) – Application that not only will control running processes but will also allow uses to permanently set the priority value for an application, as well as terminate any program you specify should not be allowed to run. Great with dealing with malware processes.  This looks to be a very extensively designed utility tool.

Prio - Priority Saver - (free for personal use) – Adds some extra tabs to Windows Task Manager as well as keeps a record of your priority setting changes and when the process is relaunched (with Prio running) will open it under the preferred priority setting.

To figure out which one might work best for our ntvdm.exe control needs I fired up a benchmarking application (PassMark’s PerformanceTest) with the system not running the application, with the application running, then with it running under each of the first-four listed CPU managers.

In the end I found very close positive stats for both Thread Master and Process Lasso. 

Because Thread Master was free for corporate use I went with this application.  I did have to spend much additional work in the registry along with Process Explorer to get it tweaked just right.  If I set the CPU throttling too low, then the DOS application would hang or appear to lock-up.  If I set it too high, no benefit was seen. It looks like the sweet-spot between functionality and throttling control is around the 75% to 85% range.  Because it runs as a service and has no GUI interface, it is 100% transparent to end-users so they can’t get in to it and muck up the settings.  That is a nice feature.  It did seem to improve responsiveness of the Win 32-bit applications running at the same time as ntvdm.exe with our particular DOS 16-bit application.

Now I am going to have to find a few production machines to test it out in real-world DOS-16 bit application utilization loads.  Still got a lot of work to do before we can bless it officially as a “solution” and push it out but it looks like we might be on the right track.

CPU Utilization Control #2 – Processor Affinity

Turns out that we have a blend of systems in our desktop computing environment.  Not that I didn’t know that but I never really appreciated the nuances until now.  We have at least four different models that are single-core processors. Our newest desktop systems are now dual-core systems.

Believe it or not, that makes a world of difference.

When I went to see if the ntvdm.exe DOS-16 application impact was as severe on our dual-core systems I found it was not the case.  32-bit applications didn’t lock up when the DOS-16 application was running. In fact, it was almost like there was no impact alone.

Additional monitoring with Process Explorer set to show muti-core loads found that the ntvdm.exe process was being load-balanced across both cores.  This resulted in the CPU utilization being more manageable for other applications, also sharing across cores.

So in the end it appears that we might only need to deal with CPU throttling solutions on single-core systems. Nice.

There are a number of ways you can actually control the cpu processor affinity for an application on a dual-core system.

  • Quick and Easy:  If you want to make a temporary change, just open Windows Task Manager.  Find the running process you want to control, right-click and select “Set Affinity” from the menu options. For a dual-core assign it to either CPU 0 (the first one) or CPU 1 (the second one). Done.

  • Quick and Detailed:  If you want to make a temporary change, just download and run Process Explorer. Find the running process, right-click and select “affinity” from the menu options. For a dual-core assign it to either CPU 0 (the first one) or CPU 1 (the second one). Done.

  • Free and Convenient:  Use the freeware application THG Task Assignment Manager. Tom’s Hardware Guide provides this free utility to help you quickly manage processor affinity settings on the fly with their light and handy tool.  For full read and download link; Getting More Bang Out of Your Dual Processing Buck – Tom’s Hardware

You can also change an application to run exclusively under a single CPU on a dual/multi-core processor, but it takes a bit more work.

In my case it specifically addressed the ntdvm.exe file tweaking that I was looking at, but could apply to almost any process.

Troubleshooting an MS-DOS application which hangs the NTVDM subsystem in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 -

Read the post but it comes down to using a Microsoft Windows 2000 Resource kit tool, imagecfg.exe with some detailed command-line arguments.

Related posts on this technique:

As I said, on our dual-core systems, the impact of NTVDM.EXE is so marginal it isn’t worth the effort to tweak it out and modify the file on them.  Also, since ntvdm is a core system file, there is the chance that a modification will be erased in a later Microsoft patch or service pack update.

However it was certainly fascinating to learn about and is a good bit of info to keep for future reference.

Curiously, my dual-core explorations on our desktop systems led me to an incredible discovery that was a headache waiting to happen…and to a solution that was elegant and painless.

Wait for that post very soon!  I promise it will be a doozie!

For the Very Curious

For an excellent treatise on optimizing applications and the NT application architecture/subsystems and strategies, this 9-page whitepaper by Sean Daily is tops; Optimizing Applications – Windows IT Library.  I learned LOTS from reading it.

It also has some great tips to help customize applications running in a ntvdm.exe session so they report their name instead of the generic ntvdm.exe process name, issues related to the wowexec.exe thread (Win6 on Win32), running Win16 apps in different memory spaces, process thread priorities, and a stack of desktop environment optimization tricks.

One of the coolest was a trick on page 8 showing how to run the Explorer process, the Desktop process and the Taskbar all in separate processes (by default they run under a single session). This might minimize the impact that process crash in one area might wipe out the others.

Page 9 finally has some great (and unintended) retro-tool links, including views of the then cutting-edge Process Monitor (PMON.EXE), Process Viewer (PVIEWER.EXE), and Process Explode (PVIEW.EXE—same file name, different program); all dug out of the WIndows NT Resource Kit.  All early hints of what would come out as Process Explorer and Process Monitor tools from (Microsoft) Sysinternals camp.

It’s all good stuff to know, even if you don’t make the tweaks.