Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kimonos, Sakura, and Japanese Exhibitions

I won't pretend for a minute that I have any deeper understanding for the Japanese or their culture than just about anyone on the planet.

Sure, I have a fair bit of anime...but chalk that up to the engaging characters and storylines. Anime may entertain me, may make me laugh and think, heck...even cry girlie-man tears...but watching it doesn't mean I understand Japan.

I have watched more than a few Japanese soap operas...entirely in Japanese...not understanding a word of dialog...but still being able to get the gist of the plots and characters and their motivations.

If I had the means to build a custom home from would, without hesitation, be based heavily upon Japanese traditional home; architecturally and interior element designed.

I enjoy Japanese Pop music...even though it is difficult to new iPod shuffle is filled with my meager collection.

Lavie and Alvis continue to gift me on special occasions with a new book in a Japanese theme, be it a novel, a cultural or sociological study book, or a travel guide.

With constant introspection, I think I may have hints of what draws me to admire and respect the Japanese and their culture. Granted, their way of life and history (like ours) is far from perfect and we both have darker moments and views that don't stand proud in the light of day. Really living life in Japan...particularly as a foreigner...can be warm and exciting and amazing and confusing and maddening and accelerated and funny and lonely and still.

I've never been to Japan. I would like to go one day with my girls. I'd like to find a more "backroads" type of tour that gets away from the modern "glass-and-cash" cities (though one night in Tokyo would be fun). A tour that looks more on the fields and smaller towns and temples and villages, the humble paths and moss overgrown stones and forests of bamboo. Maybe Hokkaido? Or a tour that would focus on the gardens and art and museums and architecture that breaths the soul of Japan.

Alas, in the meantime I must settle for my books, my movies, and the kind and brave friend-bloggers who live in Japan and share their adventures and first person perspectives...I'm taking notes you guys! Support and visit some of the best of these friends whom I have listed in my "Daily Life in Japan" sidebar section if you get a chance. You will probably find it a mix of the things old and new, bizarre and traditional that make Japan so fascinating to me.

One website where I seem to get a lot of cultural education and perspective from is the beautifully designed and maintained 今古ジャパン - Japan Now & Then blog. I've never met or contacted abuerginefluer who comes up with all this wonderful content. But she has an eye and sensitivity for the fusion of old and new Japan that I find is one with few peers.


Lavie and Alvis have always wanted to have kimonos. I'm not sure where they would go in them. It doesn't seem right to go to all the trouble to get nice kimonos and just stay in the house, but as good as our local Japanese restaurant is, I've yet to see anyone (local or otherwise) show up there in one...not even the Japanese owners.

While the kimono can still be seen on quite a few city streets in Japan and not get a second-look, from my limited views, it seems to be worn most frequently by older Japanese, by traditionalists and those showing historical Japanese cultures, by festival goers and for formal and special occasions.

Aoi Sakuraba (who appears in a particularly favorite manga series of Lavie's, Ai Yori Aoshi) almost always wears a traditional kimono and has taught us that it is a complicated garment to wear properly. However, we really didn't have a true understanding of just how complicated it was until reading a recent series of abuerginefluer's posts.

KIMONO BASICS: From Top to Bottom

KIMONO BASICS: The Finished Look

Men's Kimono


Seems like the men get of way easier than the ladies...although something about that arrangement doesn't seem to surprise me.

If you have enjoyed these, check out all of abuerginefluer's kimono related posts.

Take a moment to follow some of the links to the Japanese kimono dealers to get a real treat with the fabric patterns and designs. Even if you can't read a single character of Japanese, it is clear to see they are works of art.

(Credit: The blog post photo was taken by chez sugi.)

Sakura Watch

One of the images that appears over and over again in many Japanese anime, dramas, and movies is Sakura, or Cherry Blossoms.

The sakura are almost an internationally known symbol for the beauty and gracefulness of Japan.

Japanese media track the "sakura zensen" or Cherry Blossom Front" as it slowly sweeps its way northward across Japan. Parties, festivals and picnics by families and lovers abound under the delicate and ephemeral petals before they fall and disappear.

Right now, it is that time of year again.

Cherry Blossom Season, 2007 - Japan Now & Then

Sakura - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sakura image search - Flickr

Japanese Cultural Exhibits

We are periodic attendees of some of the finest museums on the Gulf Coast. Both The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the entire Houston Museum District provide a wealth of cultural learning and experience for our family. I'm always on the hopeful watch that one day a Japanese exhibition will show up. Oh what a happy that that would be.

In the meantime...leave it to Japan Now & Then to provide me with an excellent virtual outlet for my pent up cultural longings.

Japan Now & Then: Tokyo Area Exhibitions, Spring 2007 (in process)

Japan Now & Then: Kansai Area Exhibitions, Spring 2007

While there is no way I could attend any of these in person, having the links to the choicest Japanese museum exhibitions is the next best thing. Some links have more on-line content than others, and those that are strictly in Japanese are a challenge to put into context--even with the best on-line web translators--but the images often tell the story on their own quite nicely.

Some highlights:

Miho Museum

The Museum Yamatobunkakan

Osaka Municipal Museum of Art

Nara National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

Oh for a bottle of sake, my girls in kimonos and a quilt spread out on a spring afternoon under the sakura....


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Great Organizational and Utility Freeware Finds

Despite what one may think, given the prodigious amount of posts generated from my East-side blogging station, I have managed to get a fair bit of "real" work done today.

Pruning and Clipping

Apart from the usual clutter patrol and pickup, I managed to seriously prune back the hibiscus plants on the side of our home. Generally each summer I spend a never-ending battle trimming the tips to keep them from breaching over the top of the roof-line. The net effect of this technique is to cause them to sprout multiple times at the prune-cut and just get taller and denser at the top.

So this year they were already beginning to bud out new branches and leaves, so I decisively cut them down to about five-feet in high. Hopefully they will begin the off-shooting again, but much lower this time to bring the leaf and flower density about to my chest.

Here now are some interesting Windows utilities (freeware) I've made clippings of this week.

Organizational Software

Rainlendar - (freeware) - A desktop calendar software application. It is unobtrusive and supports desktop transparencies. It allows for setting and alarm for reminders, task lists, and events. It is skinnable and can be configured to run at startup. There are three primary reasons I have adopted this gizmo on my systems; 1) I missed picking up a 2007 calendar for home and work this year, 2) It generates a system-tray icon that shows the current day--handy at work, and 3) because it is always on my desktop, I can't miss scheduled bill-payment reminders...unlike Lightning which is great...but I don't leave my e-mail client open all day at home. Available in a "Lite" freeware version and a "pro" paid version with enhanced features.

EverNote - (freeware) - A note-taking application. Similar to Microsoft's OneNote. EverNote is now at version 1.5 and mighty mature. Newer features are link to notes, drag-and-drop support, a built-in spell checker, password protection. Notes can be made in text, HTML, Digital Ink. Instead of using folders to store notes, Evernote helps users organize their thoughts a bit more intuitively with "categories." Also available in a paid "Pro" version with additional features. You might also be feeling adventurous and check into their EverNote 2.0 Beta version or their EverNote 2.0 Portable version to haul your notes with you on a USB stick.

Password Generator - (freeware) - I use KeePass as my password management tool. One of the features it has is a random password generation utility...great for making up complex passwords on the fly. However there are times (especially at work) when you need to come up with a password that meets a certain password style enforcement rule. Some of the ones we have are pretty tough. The neat thing about Gaijin's Password Generator is that you can build a rule-template and it will randomly generate passwords to fit that rule pattern such as those for WEP and WPA2. Handy. Although the website is in German, it translates quite well with a web-translation page viewer. Or just look at the screenshot then download yourself a copy. Note: it is packed as a .rar file, most good file compression tools should be able to handle it with no issues.

KeePass Password Safe Portable - (freeware) - While we are on the subject of KeePass, PortableApps has just issued a package of KeePass specifically designed for portability off a USB drive. Go check it out.

System Utility Toys

Explorer Breadcrumbs - (freeware) - One of the things I liked about Vista was it's "breadcrumbs" toolbar feature to allow quick back-browsing/jumping. Often when I am too lazy to run a file-search for a particular document on my system, I just jump around the myriad of categorized folders hunting for it. Well the Minimalist gang ported a version for Windows. While I am absolutely not a fan of either Windows or Internet Explorer toolbars...this is one I don't think I will remove anytime soon. Even Lavie is finding it useful!

Drop To DOS - (freeware) - This TeraByte application allows you to right-click on any folder and it will open a command-prompt already set to that program folder. So can leave some of the constant CD command action behind. I REALLY find this useful for when I am hunting down into some of the really deep level Windows system folder that are about a mile long to go and do some DOS level file deleting when I am ripping malware out of a system. My most-favorite excellent freeware Windows dual-pane file explorer utility freeCommander also has this ability built-in.

TaskSwitchXP - (freeware) - A super-duper Windows alt-tab manager. Supports the active Windows theme, customized fonts and color settings, appearance effects, opacity, list styles and more. It allows windowed previews of the applications being toggled through. You can pick from several "preview" modes: Start Panel style, PowerToy Style, Process Information, and Classic Style. Great when you have multiple Word or Excel documents running all at the same time! (XP/2003 support only.)

Freemeter - (freeware) - A handy-dandy little graphical monitoring tool that displays your network upload and download volume, speed, and time elapsed. It can be set to run opaque to transparent on the desktop, or micro-small in a system-tray icon format. It also has a ping and traceroute tool built in, and can do logging. Freemeter requires zero installation. Download and run. That's it.

NetMeter - (freeware) - Similar to Freemeter, it really shines in the logging and reporting fields. Not only that, it can even make a projection of future network usage levels based on your past and current usage patterns. Not sure how that would be helpful for most network and broadband users...but there you go.

StatBar - (freeware) - Provides a configurable status bar for Windows machines. Offers six color schemes with 19 information module components.

NetStat Live - (freeware) - Served up by the cool toy dudes at AnalogX. I'm always finding another useful utility on their site. NetStat Live provides graphical reports on TCP/IP activity, ping responses, CPU usage and thread monitoring.

Hard Disk Indicator - (freeware) - Simple function: adds a hard-disk LED display into your system tray. Why? Well at work and home, the hard-drive indication lights on my laptops are in very difficult locations to see, even more so under difficult lighting conditions. Or maybe your desktop unit is housed under your desk. Having this little guy flashing at me in the system tray make it much easier to spot when my hard-drive is being accessed. This application can be set to flash in several different colors and monitor up to five different drives. LoneWolf also offers (a bit further down) a Hard Disk Indicator (pro) version as well for free. It has a few more options to it, but only runs on XP/2000 systems. That's the version I use.

Neat Tip: put any/all of these applications on a dark-walled desktop and amaze your fiends and co-workers with your l33t skillz! You may get your system to crawl a bit slower, but it will look impressive!

My Expose - (freeware) - Vista only answer to the Mac OSX Expose application. Tiles all the open windows with a keypress. More info on this How-To Geek page.

Securable - (freeware) - Gibson Research Corporation (GRC) wondertoy. Simple utility to check if your system's process supports 32/64 bit applications, D.E.P. hardware, and hardware based virtualization. Good things to know. Steve then goes the extra mile and explains why all these processor functions are good to know about and utilize, if so equipped. Once you know what your processor is capable of, check out the easy to read article: ZDNet: Choosing between Vista x86 32 bit or x64 64 bit

heise Security - Offline Updater - (freeware) -Now just released at version 3.04 according to heise's update notice page, the Offline Updater tool

...downloads all security updates for Windows 2000, XP, or Server 2003 from Microsoft's servers in one go and creates perfectly up-to-date patch CDs and DVDs as ISO images. These data carriers can then be used to update as many Windows PCs as necessary without having to download the updates each time from the Internet.

Version 3.04 includes Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003; in addition, a few details have been improved. The update script automatically installs the correct version of the Windows Update Agent, which then determines which patches are missing on the target PC.

heise also reports that Microsoft has apparently sent warnings to some other "offline" Microsoft Update bundlers threatening legal action as they were directly providing Microsoft products without the vendor's consent. Most of these "pre-packaged" builds have subsequently been taken down. However, since heise Security's version allows the end-user to obtain the update files directly from Microsoft BEFORE building their ISO image, this update delivery solution (along with other excellent varieties such as Autopatcher, RyanVM's Windows XP Post-SP2 Update Pack, and the fun and handy dynamic duo known as nLite and vLite) will most likely not face Microsoft's wrath.

Feedity - (free Web service) - Got a website that is constantly turning over new content? Only drawback is that the Webmaster hasn't upgraded to RSS feeds? Bummed? Check out Feedity. It can be configured to provide RSS based feeds for sites that don't have them. No registration required! --spotted over on CyberNet News.



IKEA and Saturn

The other day Lavie and I decided to "upgrade" the bedroom furniture in Alvis's room as an early Alvis birthday present.

Alvis picked out a cool "futon" like bed that converts to couch for her room. We also got a custom mattress that goes with it, some drapery, bed sheets, pillows...the whole nine-yards.

Although IKEA does a bang-up job of tight-packing its products, I haven't owned a pickup for many years and wasn't sure I could fit the bedframe and mattress and Lavie/Alvis in either my Saturn ION or her 2ndGen Nissan we took both cars.

Surviving the 610/Katy construction zone

I was a bit intimidated heading out to IKEA in two cars...the 610/Katy interchange construction has rendered that whole area by IKEA a disaster zone. Fortunately I was paying sharp attention and handled the detour over from I-10 Westbound over onto Old Katy Rd then the feeder to IKEA with grace and style. Actually I will forever now use that method to get to the Houston IKEA as it avoids having to jump from the left-lanes of I-10 across the merging lanes to make the (if it still exists when done) Silber Rd exit. We went back to I-10 East that way as well, driving back Old Katy Rd and picking I-10 back up at the Washington/Westcott St overpass. Sooo much easier!

Anyway, after a long "It's a Small World" like meander through IKEA we collected all the picks and set out to load them up.

Load it Up

I managed to get the bed-frame, mattress and all the all the extras (including my multiple bags of network technician's tools and gear which I had forgot to remove) into my Saturn ION.

Lavie was stunned (I wasn't) as well as the guy looking on in amazement loading his Suburban next to me. No, I didn't have room for Lavie and Alvis when I was done, but it was all safely in the cabin, including the rolled mattress...with room to spare for the driver! Nothing outside the vehicle.

Lavie eventually persisted with allowing me to offload the mattress into her Altima for the drive back home so I could see a bit better out the rear-view window...although that wouldn't have been a problem.

There would have been no way I could have accomplished that feat with Lavie's Altima...even though it's trunk and cabin have quite a bit more volume than my ION.


Chalk it up to the Saturn ION design team

  1. The ION rear seats are split and can fold flat. They lay down lower to the floor than Lavie's rear fold-down seats do.
  2. For extra-wide loading, the ION team leave almost the entire width of the pass-through area open, from car-side to car-side and top to bottom. That allows the loading of the widest of flat packages (like IKEA has) with ease. Lavie's Altima has a oblong cutout that can handle about two golf-club bags or so width only. The whole width can't be used.
  3. Finally the Saturn's front passenger bucket seat can be moved all the way forward and then reclined at almost a 160 degree angle. That opens up almost the entire length of the Saturn ION from inside trunk tail to the dashboard for long-item loading.

It's all a very well designed and clever system. It's saved me a trip for a company truck or van hauling oversize network equipment out to remote sites from headquarters as well. (It can also transport a Parrot Ice machine rental nicely as well, thank you very much!)

I love my ION. Thanks ION Design Team!

I wonder if Lavie will let me upgrade my next one to a ION Red Line model?

Vroom Vroom!

While we are on the subject of IKEA:

Hacking IKEA (white hat...of course!)

I found this interesting blog the other day: ikea hacker

Actually it is a clever blog on using IKEA stuff (already unusual) in more unusual ways.

Now I need to decide if we will be passing along Alvis's old bunk-bed set to family members or using the nice (pine?) wood pieces to build something new....shelving rack for the storage shed maybe?

Then again, it also was from IKEA so I have it right now broken down and tightly packed away in her doesn't take up that much room....

Yea Saturn!



Auditory and Visual Treats (with some chopped greens)

Quick link-post of some visual goodies and a single tip for some streaming mood-music to enjoy while web-surfing.

A Sound Choice

I've really been loving the radio play feature of iTunes.

I've got a playlist created with a number of "presets" for favorite web-based streaming radio stations.

The ones that get the most playtime are all from SomaFM.

It is a wonderfully eclectic mix of 11 commercial free alternative sounds.

My favs (in order from highest) and SomaFM's descriptions:

  • Secret Agent - The soundtrack for your stylish, mysterious, dangerous life. For Spies and PIs too!
  • Groove Salad - A nicely chilled plate of ambient beats and grooves.
  • Doomed - Dark and scary industrial-inspired music for tortured souls.
  • Illinois Street Lounge - Classic bachelor pad, playful exotica and vintage music of tomorrow.
  • Drone Zone - Served best chilled, safe with most medications. Atmospheric textures with minimal beats.
  • Space Station Soma - Tune in, turn on, space out. Spaced-out ambient and mid-tempo electronica.
  • cliqhop idm - Blips'n'beeps backed mostly w/beats. Intelligent Dance Music.

Let's hope that NPR and other Internet radio stations prevail against the ongoing battle for broadcaster royalty fee structure that threatens to leave many smaller and independent a bloody wreck and on life-support.

For more info, see these two great posts over by the ARS Technica team:

Internet radio may face crippling fees. Should XM Radio and Sirius be alarmed?

NPR fights back, seeks rehearing on Internet radio royalty increases.

Sic' em good, NPR.

Visual Goodies

Flickr collection of Ron Turner covers - Big collection of Retro illustrations found on such mags like Practical Mechanics and pulp novels. I miss that style of artwork nowadays. More pics and a bio on Ron Turner over at Book Palace. --spotted on Drawn! blog.

19th Century Clipper Ship shipping posters - I especially like the "Flying Scud" image. Also see 140 sailing card images available in larger image formats at the Library of Congress! For more historical perspective on clipper ship cards see this informative post by Bruce Roberts along with the Library of Congress Westward by Sea page. --spotted on Drawn! blog.

Always impressed by Sci-Fi images of what the World of Tomorrow will look like? Futurists, architects, movie makers and set-designers have been teasing us forever. Now the cutting edge architectural blog BLDG BLOG has posted a wonderful look at some of the cream-of-the-crop images and visionaries: Science Fiction and the City: Film Fest Update! There are some great images and wonderful links for more info.

Shredded Greenery Links

Twelve Glow Sticks in a blender - via Will it Blend? and BlendTec

IT Infrastructure - via Will it Blend? and BlendTec

Healthy Green Drink - via Will it Blend? and BlendTec

10 day survival pack for your vehicle for just $25 - I know the chances of getting stranded with the family in blizzard conditions here on the Gulf-Coast are next to nil, but there might just be a time on a late-night trip along the coast or out hunting somethin' in the woodz when this could just save someone's life. Very well written article. Worth reading if nothing else.

Daily Cup of Tech Helps Find Lost Child - Summary: Dude and his wife takes two little boys to Disneyland. Go over the "don't get lost" plan and outfits 'em both with a custom USB drive necklace. Three-year old boy does the natural thing and wonders off in Mickey's World and gets lost. Gets found and taken to the Mouseketeer Security desk. Boy pulls out USB rescue drive. Security plugs it in, displays contact info and tips for dealing with child. Security phones mom and dad--all reunited and every impressed with this technology solution. Very clever!

Gives new meaning to a "rescue USB stick" doesn't it?


Virtual PC and DOS tips

As I previously posted, the other day I was working on creating a virtual image build of a workstation build that uses a pure DOS environment to work. No Windows GUI or drivers here.

One of the first things I had to do was to figure out how to load the correct DOS network driver so it could get to our network.

And it had to be an IPX network driver as well.

So I did the noobie thing and tracked down a DOS IP/IPX driver set for my laptop's nic card.

Only, no matter what I did in the virtual machine, I couldn't get the nic driver to initialize with the network.

DOS IPX Networking and VPC

Finally I found Virtual PC Guy had already cleared this matter up for us.

Setting up DOS IPX Networking under Virtual PC 2004 - Virtual PC Guy's Weblog

See the trick (as I learned and should have remembered) is that you need to use the nic driver for the virtual machine not for the host machine. Doh!

Fortunately VPC Guy provided the correct link for the IPX DOS drivers and then I had it networking in no-time flat.

More handy VPC Guy DOS virtual machine tips

As I was browsing his older content, I also found these useful tidbits for future reference:

Virtual PC Guy's WebLog : Tuning DOS inside of Virtual PC - Handy changes to make to tweak your DOS virtual machine's config.sys file for better memory mapping performance.

Virtual PC Guy's WebLog : Setting up a Virtual PC "DOS Application" - Suggestions on setting up a DOS virtual pc to auto-launch a DOS application at boot, and configuration of the virtual machine's Windows icon on the host system to directly launch, avoiding the Virtual PC Console user interface. Clever!

Virtual PC Guy's WebLog : Why does DOS use 100% CPU under Virtual PC? - Why a "pure" DOS application seems to suck down and use every bit of free CPU cycles it can get its grubby hands on, be it in a virtual machine or running in a window on your XP/Windows 2000 system. (I hate that!) That's one of the major reason just about all your other 32/64bit Windows applications slow down when you have to run a DOS application on your system.

--File em-away....


Virtual removable media drive utilities

Most "power" pc users are probably familiar with utilities and software that allows them to create virtual drives on their Windows 2000 and XP systems.

In most cases...these are used to keep a virtual image of a CD/DVD ROM disk attached to their system, thereby freeing their actual removable media tray available.

I have a custom system-utility tools disk I created and keep the ISO file loaded up on my laptop system at all times so it is always "virtually" handy. And as I build updated versions, it allows me to test the ISO compilation before burning to make sure I have it set up just right...saves me a bit on my media expenses by avoiding wasted burns to cd and the more expensive DVD media.

Note: These aren't necessarily applications to help you create an image of a removable media disk...although some might do that as well. I'm only focusing right now on their ability to mount the virtual removable media image files.

CD/DVD Applications

On the CD/DVD side there are a couple of freeware virtual media drive mounting products you might be interested in. Each have their own positives and drawbacks. I haven't had too many issues...but be careful as most load some kind of system driver to work effectively.

SlySoft's Virtual CloneDrive - (freeware) - I've been running this application on my XP Pro laptop for many months now. It has always worked quick and smooth. I absolutely love this one! No BSOD or system driver conflicts at all. It is very unobtrusive. I love that angry sheep mascot! No toolbars or "extras". It just keeps working! I'm not sure it is able to handle copy-protected media images near as well....but I don't use them for that...I just want to keep my home-brew system utility ISO's and BartPE builds at hand for testing purposes. Works great on my XP Pro laptop. It works so transparently, I often forget I even have it installed. (For Windows 98/98SE/ME/2000/XP)

MagicDisk from MagicISO - (freeware) - Another really well designed tool. It supports a slew of CD/DVD image media formats for virtual mounting. Highly flexible. I run it on my Windows 2000 Pro system at work where I maintain a digital archive of all our IT group's system restoration images, corporate software installation disks, and various specialized utility disks. (It did BSOD my XP Pro system when I tried to put it on there, but I never took the time to really puzzle out why. I am going to try it immediately after getting a fresh XP image on my laptop in the future, if I ever need to do so.) (For both Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista in x32 bit flavor and Windows XP/2003/Vista x64 flavor version as well.)

Alcohol 52% - (freeware) - I've used Alcohol 120% in the past and really was impressed with it. This is a "light" version of it with freeware. Installs a toolbar that can't be removed during the install process (unlike Daemon Tools), but you can then uninstall it in the add/remove programs list. I don't use it anymore with the other alternatives I've previously mentioned. (For Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Server2003 in x32 bit varieties as well as XP Professional x64 Edition/Server 2003 x64 systems.)

DAEMON Tools - (freeware) - This is a popular application that is simply one of the best (IMHO) virtual cd/DVD-ROM emulators. Currently available for download at version 4.08 for both x32 and x64 OS systems (including Vista). The installer does offer to add a toolbar, but I believe that can be unselected during the install process if not desired, or uninstalled via the add/remove program list after installation if desired. Some users report it crashes/BSOD their systems due a special system be warned. Those special drivers are what makes it popular for certain users who want to run a ISO file of a copy-protected media (that they have purchased, right?) and keep their hard-media disk safely archived from scratches and disaster. Wikipedia info.

it has been said both DAEMON Tools and Alcohol use a "secure" SCSI transport driver (SPTD.sys) which might help them get around some disk copy-protection schemes. This might be what is leading to driver conflict issues on some systems.

Finally there is the humble (and sparse) unsupported Microsoft utility Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel v2.0.1.1. I've been having issues finding it directly on Microsoft, but the TechRepublic post I liked to does have a nice basic tutorial on how to get it up and going. Works under XP systems.

I'm sure there are other software packages as well, however these are the ones I am most familiar with and would recommend to home/professional users. SlySoft's Virtual Clone Drive has to be one of the most approachable for most home users.

Floppy Drive Image Utilities.

Why even bother with the lowly floppy drive? Well some of us still need to support software, servers and other odd pieces of old equipment that just demand a good old DOS disk.

I get tired of all the floppies rattling around in my software case, so I just keep two on hand. Then I have a CD filled with floppy image files. When I need a particular floppy for service work, I just fire up my trusted floppy drive application, put one of the floppies in the drive, put my CD image store in the other and quickly write out the image to the floppy. Done.

An added bonus is that I don't have to worry about a critical floppy going bad. Saves me a ton of space and time.

There are a number of other good floppy drive image creation/writing tools (WinImage and RawWrite for Windows). But the ONLY one I ever use is FlopImager. It works so perfectly...I have no need for anything else. I haven't even bothered to look.

FlopImager 2.1 - (freeware) - Per the developer's description, "...creates image files of your floppy disks. Once created you can write them back to another disk." It even is able to perfectly handle DOS boot-disks. I have run it successfully off a USB stick and off a burned CD ROM disk (which contains those floppy images so I don't have to go looking for it). It doesn't require installation. Just download and run the .exe file. It's that simple. I actually use an older version: FlopImager for NT 1.3 and it works just fine on Windows 2000/XP systems. This zip file comes with the application as well as a great PDF "how-to" guide file that is worth the brief time it takes to run. The 2.1 version also comes with a PDF guide, the GUI .exe, as well as a command-line version .exe.

Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 - (freeware) - So what do you do when you find you have your floppy drive image cd handy, you are on your laptop (or a corporate desktop system that shipped without a floppy drive) and you need to access a specialized file contained on one of those floppy images? Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 to the rescue! It does takes a bit of command line work to get going.

Please read the excellent vfdhelp text file in the zip first, but it is quite easy (even for command-line) to use. Basically, once you have unzipped the file to a folder, you open a command line session and load/install the virtual drive to the system. Then you run the actual executable file, using a series of clear command line arguments with the executable. This is how you can open, create, and close the virtual hard disk files.

So what I do in my aforementioned scenario is to copy the application folder to the pc, load the driver, copy my floppy image file as well. Mount the floppy image with Virtual Floppy Drive in DOS then I'm good to go either still using the DOS command line or switching to the Windows GUI. Which now sees the floppy image as a real file...including the ability to write to/from it if mounted accordingly and if it has space. Nice!

(Virtual Floppy drive is supported on Windows NT / 2000 / XP / 2003 x32 bit only.)

Microsoft Virtual PC 2004/2007 and Floppy Drives

So one day recently I was working on creating and testing a virtual pc image of a pure DOS application we run at work. It boots DOS, it runs DOS, it exits DOS. No GUI here, my friends! This is Old-School at its finest.

Creation and administration of this rare animal requires use of a DOS boot disk to get it properly configured. And I was doing this on my laptop that has a modular drive slot--and though I had my cd/DVD module in it and my floppy module was 50 miles away (of course) in my desk drawer at work. I did have my cd with all my needed floppy images.

I knew VPC allowed attaching to a real floppy drive, so this is what I did:

  1. Run the aforementioned Virtual Floppy Drive (VFD) 2.1 and create a virtual floppy drive on my laptop host system.
  2. Copy the needed floppy disk image from the cd.
  3. Use VFD to mount a virtual image of the floppy disk image.
  4. Point VPC to mount that virtually mounted floppy image.
  5. Done!

Then I felt stupid after all that work when I found this Microsoft note on their TechNet site: Creating virtual floppy disks.

See, VPC virtual machines are configured with one floppy drive. and that floppy drive can directly mount either a physical floppy disk or a virtual floppy disk file.


File that one away under "Good to Know."

More on Adding and removing floppy disks in VPC.

So I could have just (and later did and verified) dropped my floppy image cd in the laptop tray, fire up my VPC session and then point the virtual machine I was building to the particular .vfd file I needed to access.

Oh well, helped me discover the neat and handy Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 utility, which I wouldn't have done otherwise.

Now you know.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mozilla Add-On Site Upgraded: Favorite Extensions MIA

So there I was, going on and posting about the FireCAT list and I started to click the links to go add some of the extensions I wanted to my home build of Firefox.

Only time and time again I was met with an error page: Add-on Not Found before being re-directed to the main Firefox Add-ons homepage.

What gives?

Well, turns out that the Mozilla seems to have finally pulled the trigger and rolled out their new and "improved" Add-on page.

The Firefox Extension Guru covered it well in a recent series of detailed posts: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 3.5].

A Big Bummer

A Major Consequence of this action was to apparently render useless a bazillion blog and Google links to specific extension pages on Mozilla's Add-on page.

Gone. As in "Add-on Not Found."


I can see the villagers gathering in the distance with their torches alight....

So for now, you can

Google for your favorite add-ons not yet showing up in the updated Mozilla Add-ons site and hope to eventually locate the extension-developer's independent website,

Hop over the The Extensions Mirror and snag your swag there,

You can dig and search and see if you can find what you are looking for over on,

You can register and then (hopefully?) gain access to the Sandbox where add-ons pending approval are kept for testing and review. At this point I don't see any indication that the Sandbox is accessible yet.

Update: Yes you can access the Sandbox! See below at the end of the post for info on how to get into it once registered.

Or, you can sit back and just wait and hope that your favorite extension makes the grade and gets added to the Firefox Add-ons page again.


I understand and sincerely applaud the Mozilla Add-on team for working hard to improve the usefulness and security of add-ons. They want to provide secure and trusted add-ons...ones that the majority of users will end up having a good experience with, and sort some of the chaff from the wheat. It was getting silly sorting through many of the less-than-useful extensions that mostly seemed to support advertising or branding.

However, it is deeply, maddeningly frustrating to be looking for a favorite add-on you have accessed and captured a link to in the past and now suddenly find it missing in action, and not to have apparently made the draft-pick selection.

Backup Solution

So if you already have a bunch of favorite add-ons for Firefox and you are afraid you will have a hard time finding them again for a while I offer the following suggestion:

Get the FEBE and CLEO extensions (or the combo pack).

Back up your current extensions using FEBE and then use CLEO to roll them all up into a single .xpi installer file.

That way you can have a backup master installer file, just in case they do not return again.


Update: Yes you can see the Sandbox once you register!

It just isn't easy to figure out how at first....It took me a while to work it out. There isn't anything yet I could find on the web or the page to explain clearly how to do it.

So here you go.

Once registered and confirmed, log into the Add-on page with your credentials. You should see your email address in the right of the top bar. Click it to edit your profile. On the profile page you will now see a check-box to show the Sandbox. Tick the box and save your settings. It will reset and now at the top bar you will see to the left of the search field two links: Public and Sandbox. Click on the Sandbox link to get into the Sandboxed extensions.

According to Mozilla Add-on's Sandbox page:

What is the Sandbox?

The sandbox contains untested add-ons submitted for publishing on the AMO site.

If you are not comfortable installing add-ons that may be extremely dangerous to your computer, you should click here to return to the public site.
Some things I've noticed in the Sandbox...instead of a safe "green" install box, they are a reddish install box...all the more to alert you I suppose. Also, the install files failed on a few I tried. I'm hoping they just haven't sync'ed up the download links yet.

Just beware, that Mozilla Add-on team thinks these haven't met the grade yet...which is why they Sandboxed 'em for testing, review and approval first before being made "public." Download and install at your own risk.....


FireCAT - Firefox Extensions For Web Security

Sometimes it really pays to follow the odd post.

Case in point, the path to an encounter with the FireCAT.

The other day I was going through my RSS feeds and came across a post in my security pile: SecuriTeam Blogs » Procrastinate another 2 minutes.

Not a deeply significant post (no offense Dmitry) but buried in it was a tip to a list of Firefox extensions of particular interest to pen-testers.

So I followed that link...and met up with the FireCAT.



I need to say up front, that FireCAT is not an extension.

FireCAT stands for "Firefox Catalog of Auditing Toolbox" and now is at version 0.95.

That link contains a PDF file with the map and linkage as well as a zip file that contains a OPML file that can be imported to be used like a feed/bookmark list.

Simply put by the folks at Security Database who assembled it, FireCAT is a framework map of "...the most useful security orientated extensions" for Firefox. It's a list of dead-useful extensions for the security-minded.

Security Database originally posted the article Turning Firefox to an Ethical Hacking Platform - Security Database Tools Watch.

This spun off into what would become known as FireCAT.

FireCAT Highlights

Looking through the list or the PDF finds a number of neat security related extensions. I don't want to copy Security Database's hard work...but here are just a few choice Firefox extensions in the list most users might find useful:

ShowIP - displays the IP address of the current page in the status bar, with more options.

Shazou - in one click-display a pop-up map showing the geographic location of the IP address of the viewed page.

Advanced dork - provides right-click context menu access to many of Google's Advanced Operators. Pretty handy.

Add N Edit Cookies - allows you to view and edit specific cookies.

Dr.Web anti-virus link checker - provides right-click option to scan a download file or webpage BEFORE you download or load it. Fast and handy. I always scan downloaded files before opening, but this one scans them before you even download! Clever! All done directly on the Dr.Web anti-virus scanning servers not your local pc.

Firebug - Handy tool to check and explore the web-page coding on pages.

While I wouldn't recommend most of them to everyone, some are quite specialized and others have some "complaints" expressed in the Add-on comments for them, they are worth looking into.

Take a look at the whole FireCAT list and see if any might fit your needs.

Cool stuff!


Monday, March 19, 2007

Current Firefox ( beta) Extensions

Enabled Extensions: (37)

CoLT 2.2.1
Copy All Urls 0.7.1
Copy Plain Text 0.3.3
Download Statusbar
East Asian Translator 1.1.2
Fasterfox 2.0.0
Favicon Picker 2
Firebug 1.01
Firefox Extension Backup Extension (FEBE) 4.0.4
Firekeeper 0.2.7
FoxClocks 2.0.20
Full Map 2.1.2
gTranslate 0.3.1
Linky 2.7.1
ListZilla 0.8
Make Link 2.0.4
MeasureIt 0.3.6
Moji 0.8.1
Moji-En 0.4.1
Moji-Kanji-En 0.4.2
Nightly Tester Tools 1.2.1
Opaque + ClearTabs 1.4
Orbit Blue 3.0
Outlook 2003 Blue 2.0.1
Restart Firefox 0.3
Sage 1.3.10
Save Image in Folder 1.1.1
SearchLoad Options 0.3.1
Secure Login 0.5.2
Splash 1.2.2
Uppity 1.4.12
Viamatic foXpose 0.6

--list provided via ListZilla.

Your mileage in Firefox may vary....


Troubleshooting XP x2

Surfin on a wavy LCD monitor

This afternoon, shortly after running my iTunes update, I noted that while I had it up on my 2nd LCD monitor (both displays are Samsung SyncMaster 930b's), the text in iTunes was...weird.

It seemed that there were horizontal bands about an inch wide alternating down the display.

I could drag it over onto my digital signal monitor and it was perfect. Drag it back--and the text quality was very blurred on each one; readable, but "Not Right™."

Oh no.

Relived as I was by that dragging exercise to find it wasn't due to the new iTunes installation, I was bummed for a bit that this might mean my flatpanel was going out.

First thing I did was to run the XP ClearType wizard on the display to see if that would tighten things back up.

No dice.

Next I adjusted the display settings on the monitor, trying all known combinations and settings.


My digital output display (I have a dual-head video card, 1 digital output and 1 analog output) was pristine and sharp. It was the analog display that was wigging out.

So I undid and reseated all the cable, moving the signal cable away from the big speaker in case that was causing interference.


So I opened up my Samsung software tool: MagicTune used to optimize certain display units. I spent some time working with it but nary a fix.

Put the cigars away...

So as a last resort, I logged on to their web-page to see if a newer version than my 1.3.6 build was out. Yep. Now available MagicTune Premium.

I uninstalled the old version, installed the new version...rebooted and launched it.

A few setting tweaks and viola! Wavy blurred bands were banished! The display was crisper and sharper than I have ever seen it...especially cool as this was the analog signal display.


Past Notifications Area Data Purge

That led me to tweak my XP system tray icon area settings to deal with the three new arrivals, courtesy of MagicTune Premium.

Also known officially as the "Taskbar notification area, this is the location on Windows systems where a user's clock usually runs in the system tray. Next to it are all kinds of tiny icons...letting you know that something important is running as it should....usually system related...though not necessarily.

As a minimalist, I generally abhor having a stream of these things displayed. Some folks I know have a list of icons there taking up almost all the space on their taskbar. I try to pare these processes down to the bare minimums with careful tweaking of options and some "square-peg-in-round-hole" methods using the Sysinternals hammer known as AutoRuns.

For the ones that I need to leave running, but don't want to look at, I like to set these to "always hide." This way they are running and available, but I don't have to look at them until I need them.

To get to this customization area, right click on a blank-space on your taskbar, and select the "Properties" option. You should see the "Taskbar and Start Menu Properties" window appear.

Now, under the "Taskbar" tab, find the "Customize..." button at the bottom right and click it.

Congratulation! You have reached the "Customize Notifications" window.

You can set any icon running in the Taskbar notification area to be in one of three states: "Always show," "Always hide," and "Hide when inactive." It's pretty safe stuff here. You can't make many mistakes, and they have that handy "Restore Defaults" button to click if you think you messed something up.

So I there was, going to work making my system tweaks. There are two sections, a "Current Items" and a "Past Items". I took a look at "Past Items" area and it was filled with several years' worth of "flotsam and jetsam" of system notification icons gone past. There were quite a number of applications that had long-since been uninstalled and no longer used.

I had to clean that out, pronto. That was stuff just begging for confusion.

But how do you remove past items from the notifications area?

You would think you could just select the item(s) and delete them...but it isn't that easy.

After a long, unproductive visit on the Tubes via Google, I finally found this Microsoft Help and Support page that did the trick: How to Clear Past Items from the Notification Area.

Warning: it involves messing around in the Registry! Here lurk dangers!

OK, on to the fun!

Open up regedit and browse to the following registry key:


Select the "TrayNotify" folder on the left-hand side.

In the right-hand side you will see some entries. We are looking for just the following keys (though others will be in there as well):

  • IconStreams
  • PastIconsStream

Now, to be safe, let's make a copy of the registry key before we go messing with it. That way we can restore it if we must.

Right-click once more on the TrayNotify folder and select "Export"

Give it a name say, "TrayIcons" and save it somewhere handy; I put mine directly on my desktop.

Now, on the right-hand window pane of the Registry Editor, select the "IconStreams" item. It should highlight.

Right-click and select "Modify". A window called "Edit Binary Value" will appear and it will be filled with hexadecimal code. Select as much text as you can and start deleting it. If you don't have too much data you can try to put your cursor at the top line then pull the slide bar down to the bottom and press the <shift> key and click the last line. That should select most everything. Press the Delete key on your keyboard and it should be gone. Clean up any bits with the delete key or backspace. In the end you should just have a 0000 entry you can't delete.

Once you are done, press the OK button.

Let me be clear: DON'T DETELE the IconStreams key...just modify and delete the data it contains.

Repeat the same process for the "PastIconsStream." This might take a while to empty out. It took me five runs and about five minutes to get this puppy emptied. (I later looked in my saved .reg file and this key alone contained a whopping 41836 lines of hex-code!)

Remember, we are deleting the data values out of the key, not the key itself!

Done? Good.

Close out regedit.

Press <Ctrl> + <Alt> + <Delete> keys on your keyboard all at once to open the Task Manager.

Click the Processes tab, find Explorer.exe and click it to select, then click the End Process button.

Your desktop will get strange, flicker, and most likely a bunch of stuff you love and enjoy will disappear. Ooohhhh. Scary....

Now in Task Manager on the Menu bar, click on "File," select "New Task."

Type in the word "explorer" and click OK.

More screen flashy and most everything will begin to reappear.

At this point I advise doing a restart on your system. You can keep working, but you might panic if you don't see icons in your notification area you expect to see is often the case they don't respawn after relaunching explorer. You might have to enable any task-bar toolbars as well.

After the reboot, you should go into the "Notification area" again to confirm the Past Items list was purged.

If something goes horribly wrong...find your exported .reg file, right-click on it and select "Merge." This sends your registry data back onto the system.

This isn't required maintenance. I doubt you will get any performance gains of any kinds. It's just something to do to clean up old stuff. That's about it.

Don't feel obligated to try this on your machine. I just thought it was arcanely interesting.

Mischief Managed


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Apple iTunes - Version 7.1.1 Released

Still lovin' my new iPod shuffle.

It's running like a champ.

I spied word on my web-rounds today that Apple has released a minor version increment of iTunes.

Apple iTunes 7.1.1

While I couldn't find any release note details on the Apple site yet, is reporting simply the following information:

- iTunes 7.1.1 addresses a stability issue and minor compatibility problems in iTunes 7.1.

I downloaded and installed it without any issues. All of our shuffles and my 4G iPod brick unit are all working fine with it.

The latest version of iTunes is running on my XP system without any issues.

Go get it...maybe it might help with some of those issues of late.

I'm jamming out, streaming SomaFM's Secret Agent tunes....

Yeah, Baby!


Malware Notes...

Lavasoft Ad-aware 2007 (beta 2)

Now out for general consumption via Lavasoft Blog - Lavasoft. Actually, it has been out for a while for registered users.

Their home page Ad-Aware @ Lavasoft reports the following features in Ad-aware:

  • a redesigned engine for faster scanning,
  • something called "CSI technology" (if it has anything to do with Marg Helgenberger..sign me up now!) to look for imbedded malware and new threats,
  • improved detection database...with incremental updating,
  • a newly redesigned GUI,
  • the ability to scan Alternate Data Streams (ADS) in NTFS volumes,
  • and a scheduling service.

Actually, CSI stands for "Code Sequence Identification" so no Marg Helgenberger technology is embedded...too bad.

If you don't want to register for the ongoing version, you may download a version directly from

Be aware, that it will only run for a few days without registration. To fully "unlock" it, you must register.

I have taken a brief amount of time and registered with Lavasoft as a Beta Tester and found it to be very painless. Give 'em your email address; you will get a login password sent to your provided address.

Log in and you are In-Like-Flint! Answer a very brief and simple survey and you are granted access to the download goodies!

Current version available for Beta testers is Ad-Aware 2007 Beta 3. It is being issued as a .msi file. Curious!

The way I see it, I get to play with the newest version of a trusted anti-malware program that has saved my rear-end quite a few times...seems like the least I can to do give something back and contribute.

I don't know if they will keep a "free" version of the upgraded final release, but I am hopeful they will. It would fit in with their current model of free-for-personal-use policy with Ad-aware Personal SE.

I did note in a brief review that it does seem to need to install a system-level driver or two to run. In Ad-aware Personal SE you could install it onto a pc, then copy the installed program folder onto a USB stick and use it on other (personal) pc's...kinda "portably." However, at this point, I'm not sure you will be able to do this in the new version. That's too bad for power-users and malware fighters who are used to keeping a version on USB ready to run, or installed on a BartPE disk.

I need to do some more work with it when the "final" version is released.

I really wish a classy company like Lavasoft would release a supported portable version of their basic/free products...I know they would likely win over even more fans..although the ranks of Ad-aware fans are already quite large with this trusted anti-malware application.

I haven't used it enough to comment on it's scanning performance just yet...maybe soon.

Worth a look if you want to register.

Malwarebytes Highlights

RogueRemover is a free product offered by

It is available in a free version as well as a paid ($14.95/lifetime) version, RogueRemover Pro

Unlike most of the other anti-spyware/anti-malware programs out there, RogueRemover focuses on a growing niche of malware -- anti-malware products that are really wolves in sheep's clothing. I'm speaking of applications that claim to help users (often already dealing with a malware infection) and only serve to make the problem worse by installing malware in the guise of removing it.

Take a look at The Spyware Warrior's list of Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web sites to see what all the fuss is about.

Alex Eckelberry of Sunbelt Software, frequently posts warnings about new rouge anti-spyware products on his very readable SunbeltBLOG.


Per Malwarebyte's product description:

RogueRemover is a utility that can remove various rogue antispyware, antivirus and hard drive cleaning utilities. Rogue applications are applications that rather than remove spyware, provide false positives, distribute malware or spyware, advertise, or provide useless uninstallers. The main point is that rogue applications are useless and eat up system resources.

RogueRemover has the ability to completely remove WinAntiSpyware/WinAntiVirus, SpyAxe, VirusBlast, VirusBursters and many more!

The current database of rogue anti-spyware products removed by RogueRemover numbers over 260 products...and (sadly) keeps growing.

Also can be made portable for the USB toting crowds.

Other useful utilities offered by Malwarebytes:

FileASSASSIN -- a free utility to aid in deletion of locked malware files from the pc. It comes in three versions, English, Spanish, and a "Portable" version able to run from a USB drive.

RegASSASSIN -- a free and portable utility that helps "...remove stubborn registry keys by resetting the key's permissions and then deleting it."

Claus says "Very Nice!"

Check out their Malwarebytes Blog while you are at it. Great writing style and useful information.

Malware Reversing Paper

Via a recent SANS-ISC Handler's Diary post, the Websense team has been hard at work documenting how a nasty malware infection file works.

Websense Security Labs Threat Blog: Norwegian Bank Malware Analysis

It was a tricky nut to crack...and is quite fascinating...if you are into these things.

Stay safe on the Tubes....


Scanning Houston Weather Radars

I don't know what the most popular links are on our Houston-area local news sites.

I'm guessing, however, that they have to be the "live" weather radar images.

When the Gulf-Coast storms come rolling through, it doesn't matter if we are at work or at home, Lavie and I often head to our favorite Houston weather radars on-line to see what is coming.

Sometimes it is downright scary!

In the Early Days...Intellicast

A lifetime ago, when we first got on the Net, just about the only radar site worth keeping an eye on (for me at least) was over at Intellicast.

The radar images were big and really detailed. You could even animate them. However, there was often a bit of "lag-time" between the current time and the posted radar image time. That made it challenging to really tell what was going on.

Was that big purple cell coming my way? Or was it the one that had already passed?

Soon, the The Weather Channel's website came into play and also had some nice radar images.

Now with ViperMaxVectorPentangular Radar 7000!

The local news guys figured out real quick that by providing detailed and current radar imagery to the hungering on-line masses, they could provide a public service and (no doubt) drive tons of page-hits from the local populations.

And the radar-races began.

As a non-radar technologist, I really can't sort out the reality from the hype...but I knows me on-line radars and why I keep going back to some more than others.

Here are my Houston weather radar links (in order of preference) and why I like-em.

These are not all-inclusive! There may be others as well, but these are the ones I frequent the most.

Note: These are only my opinions on Houston on-line radar images...are are no-way a reflection on my opinions for the on-air weather news casts or radar imagery.

And by "Regional/Closeup" views...I mean Houston and the surrounding counties...

First Place:'s Mega Doppler Radar

  • Time lag between image and current time: currently 7-10min
  • Default image size: Appx. 500x425 px
  • Animated looping supported?: Yes
  • Regional/Closeup views?: Yes (9)
  • Registration required?: No

Why do I like this site? The regional/closeup views are well divided by the counties, offering nine more detailed county coverage views. That also is more than any other competitor. However, they are on a bit of thin-ice. KTRK seems to have recently updated it to show a satellite image underlay. I'm not real impressed by that. The green sat-image is very busy and while cool, makes it hard to pick out the major highways and the smaller cloud/storm cells can be hard to pick out.

Second Place: Click2Houston's Doppler 2000Plus Radar

  • Time lag between image and current time: currently 7-10min
  • Default image size: Appx. 640x480 px
  • Animated looping supported?: Yes
  • Regional/Closeup views?: Yes (4)
  • Registration required?: No

Two things really stand out with me with Doppler2K+. First, the background image consists of shades of green with clearly defined county lines. This really makes the freeway grids really pop out and it is very easy to pick out storm cells in relation to the freeways. I (generally) really prefer that background instead of the high-tech sat-view images. Secondly, the default image size is the largest offered by any of the contenders. That size level makes it very nice to view at a glance. Unlike the other competitors who have mini-view regional images to make selection easy, Click2 requires use of a smaller "drop-box" above the image. While, it does provide a clearer site page, it is not as convenient to find and use.

Third Place: KHOU's Doppler Radar

  • Time lag between image and current time: currently 10-23+ min
  • Default image size: Appx. 175x130 px
  • Animated looping supported?: Yes (after registered user login)
  • Regional/Closeup views?: Yes (7) (after registered user login)
  • Registration required?: (yes for detailed radar views)

I really want to rate this radar site higher...but there are two thing that force me to knock it down. First, registration is required to view any more detailed views. That's too bad. I know that registration is sometimes a necessary evil but all of the other sites don't require it to get nice radar imagery. Second is the lag time between radar image and "real" time on the non-registered user views. It's often pretty high. So while the radar images may be doesn't help much if the really red/yellow/purple storm cell image is too old to be of any use. Those major drawbacks aside, once you DO register and log in, the images and options are pretty spectacular. Positive points abound: First registered users can click on a "desktop" link which will open a small 320x240px (appx.) no-ad popup window that can be left open with your other desktop windows...really nice for monitoring the frequent Gulf-coast downpours between spreadsheets and network data. Second, users can click the "large" link and get a ad-heavy popup window sized at 640x780px (appx.) that gives a very clear view without all the sat-image fussiness. Third, going deeper onto the Doppler Radar link, a very well designed Harris County radar image appears. It is sized at a generous 560x470px (appx.), allows for selected view of rainfall totals, tracking, hail, warning boxes; and you can add/remove overlays of topography, roads, labels, boundaries, cites and county names. Really nice. It can be looped, or paused and this particular radar image is about 7min or so behind current time. And, fourth, it has nice, very clear color choices for the radar images and backgrounds so it is highly "readable" in tracking storm cells.

Drop the registration requirement and this would likely be #1.

Fourth Place: myfoxhouston's FOXRAD radar

  • Time lag between image and current time: currently 7-10 min
  • Default image size: Appx. 400x300 px
  • Animated looping supported?: Yes
  • Regional/Closeup views?: Yes (4)
  • Registration required?: No

The images on this site also get lost under the bright-green sat-image picture. Also, the scale is pretty wide and it is much more difficult to see detailed imagery of specific storm cells in relation to your physical location. A strong positive point goes to FOXRAD for the larger images provided. Find the little magnifying glass icon and click on it. A pop-up window is generated and weighs in at a very large 640x480px (appx.) size. Really nice. Still it's hard to see good freeway level detail and forget about street-level detail.

Honorable Mention:'s Weather NexRad radar

  • Time lag between image and current time: currently 1 min
  • Default image size: Appx. 355x360 px
  • Animated looping supported?: Yes
  • Regional/Closeup views?: No
  • Registration required?: No

Why? Well, because even though it does not give any "closeup" metro or surrounding county views, it displays an image matched almost exactly to my system clocks. That means it appears to be providing static images that are almost "live". Not bad, even if the Harris county is the size of my thumb in the default view. Click the "Enlarge Image" link and a nicely sparse 460x470px (appx.) popup window appears. A little better detail. All in all, nice when you need a wide view radar image of what is happening at this exact minute.

The Future of Local Radar Images? has a neat new feature that may be where radar needs to go next...especially for the local boys.

It's their stunning "Interactive Weather Map (beta)"

Powered-up by Microsoft Virtual Earth, it overlays radar data with (in many areas) street level mapping. Wowzer!

The default image is sized 600x400px (appx.) and is nicely colored. Nothing too bright. It works well. Image data is about 5-10 minutes behind "real" time.

Using the intuitive interface, you can select overlays of Radar, Clouds, Clouds & Radar, or None.

Not only that, but by use of a simple slider-bar, you can adjust the weather imagery transparency levels.


Well, this is where things get wicked cool. Zoom!

As I noted, it is powered by Microsoft's Visual Earth mapping engine. So just click on the map where you want to view and zoom on down.

Zoom levels depend on the area you are viewing, but I was able to zoom down close enough on downtown Houston to be able to clearly read the Toyota Center logo and name on the building. That's pretty darn close.

And the storm/radar data gets zoomed and overlayed as well.

Hot Tamales!

So although it isn't real-time useful to see what torrent is coming down on you right that instant, it is pretty cool to watch.

So if Microsoft is doing this...I only wonder how long it will be before Google and their powerhouse of satellite mapping goodness follows suit. does offer an "enhanced" version of this as well with no ads, faster local radar maps, and customizable views, all for the low, low price of $24.99/yr.

Bonus: Houston Road-Cams and Traffic Map

And have you seen the cool Houston TranStar road-cam page?

Give me that and their Houston Real-Time Traffic Map and I am all set for a day in the field on the highways and byways of Gulf-Coast Houston regional travel.

Isn't modern technology cool?

If you have any other favorite Houston-area on-line weather radar image sites, please drop a tip in the comments...I'm always looking for more.

Happy skies!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Firefox (beta release) Available

We Firefox faithful have been waiting for the next release of for a bit of time.

Yes, I am running nightly "Minefield" (a.k.a. Firefox 3.0) builds and (generally) loving 'em.

Yes, I am running the GranParadiso "Firefox 3.0 Alpha 2" build...but I use "Minefield" more and it is a bit more developed than Fx-GP.

But for my daily web-browsing at work and home, I still use the current release version of Firefox (

I just trust it a tad-bit more, especially as I must rely upon it for secure transactions and session browsing.

So Firefox is due for a final release any time now to patch some omissions in the code.

Getting Firefox Beta

This morning I spotted a news article blurb on my Yahoo page, (yeah, I know) that mentioned a new Firefox bug testing plan.

It struck my I clicked on and read the PC World article. Buried in the end was a tip to see how to find out if your Firefox build is set to participate in their beta-testing program.

Over on the Mozilla Development Center beta page, the Mozilla team explained that they would begin releasing beta candidates in the next 24 hours (from March 15)--interesting...but not what I was looking for.

Then I spotted a tiny link at the bottom of the post: candidates available.

So I chased that rabbit.

And low-and-behold...I caught it!

There it was; a link to download Firefox (beta) direct from Mozilla's FTP page:

You will need to sort through the chaff to find the specific one you want.

(US) English users will probably want to look for the following file name: firefox-

(Note: I purposely didn't direct link to the download. Use the main FTP page link, please.)

I downloaded it and used it to update my primary Firefox build up to So far so good.


This (as always) is a beta release. Should you choose to use it and something breaks...don't blame us all a favor and report it to Mozilla and help us out.


Off to buy a new futon-bed for Alvis....Wish me patience and luck.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Windows Defender now Version 7? Not? Confunded!

Yes...Windows Defender has been

It was stunning news today: BetaNews | Windows Defender Jumps to Version 7 (title on page now changed)

A few bloggers picked up the story as it claimed the changes included a redesigned interface and a new malware detection engine.

While Microsoft has been known to make some big jumps, going from version 1 to version 7 seemed heady stuff, even for them.

I bopped over to the Microsoft Windows Defender download page and checked out the goods.

Sure enough, right there the program was clearly listed as being version 7.0 published on 03/13/2007. (Still showing this information as of this post time.)

On that same page, it says in the Overview note that if you have version 1.1.1592.0 you must manually uninstall Windows Defender (via Add/Remove Programs) before installing the newer version.

(Good Thing™ to know, by the way.)

I did (do the manual uninstall).

And when I got done with the upgrade reported as version 1.1.1593.

What? Where was the version 7 branding I had been promised?

The file size was a tad-bit smaller than my previous Windows Defender msi file. Hmm.

So at the end of the day...I was left feeling skeptical, as were quite a few of the users who left notes in the comments...observing the same thing.

I ended up concluding that it must have been a typo on Microsoft's download site.

Later the BetaNews link page reported the following update on their story page:

UPDATED Microsoft on Thursday released an upgrade to its Windows Defender application, initially raising the version number from 1.1 to 7.0. The company later explained the version jump was a mistake. The release bring user interface improvements and new malware detection engine.

So that explains it...although the Microsoft download page (at this moment) still show it as version 7.


Curiously, that very-same page also has the following paradoxical statement:

This is the most current release of Windows Defender. If Windows Defender informed you that an update is available, you are running an older version. We encourage you to upgrade to this version.

So, if you tried to run an Update check in Windows Defender, and if it told you that an update was are running an older version? Upgrade to this one? What?!!!

I'm so confused!

In the end, there really isn't all too much to see here after all; besides Microsoft's Windows Defender versioning/updates team seemingly being hit by a confundus charm.

Still, if you do use Windows Defender...go get the update, uninstall the old version, and install the new...just don't expect anything dramatic in the (very an incremental...very minor sort-of-way) upgraded version.

(Maybe I need to call for the Confuse-A-Cat, Ltd. team to break my confusion! Thanks Gillian for this classic Monty Python flashback!)


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Firefox Nibblets

Here are a few Firefox "nibblets" I've come across this week:


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

While still in early "alpha" development, I really like the promise of this one. Unlike traditional browser-based malware protection, this gem loads into Firefox and scans your Firefox-based browsing traffic for suspicious content and behaviors. It will use blacklists, whitelists, and default rule settings.

Since it is based on the security-community's little favorite intrusion detection system piggie--Snort--it should have a very robust foundation. And the developer promises to keep the rules very simple. (Firekeeper screenshots)

I'll be keeping my eye on this one...and trying to hook it up with my Firefox 3.0 build over the weekend.


Secure Login (extension) - Billed as a login manager similar to Opera's Wand tool. (screenshots)

It uses Firefox's built in password tool, but disallows the pre-filling of forms. Instead when you land on a login page, you can hover over the tool icon which will then display the actual login URL and the login accounts you have established with it. Select the one you want and it will fill in.

It works to enhance security by controlling Firefox's sometimes bad behavior of pre-filling in JavaScripted login forms with incorrect data. Also, it will check to see if the 2nd level domain of the login URL matches the 2nd level domain of the current page. If not you will be warned before being allowed to continue. You can also control optional settings for all JavaScript code during logins to prevent cross-site scripting attacks.

Overall it is a very clever and secure solution for web-based login-form management.

I'm just now trying to get used to it, so it takes some time to learn and configure...but I think I will grow to like it.


Make Link (extension) - Sweet little Firefox extension allows you to grab a web-link and paste it, properly formatted, into comments or a forum. It can save time and increase accuracy to make sure you don't flub a link-to!

I already use a similar extension, CoLT (Copy Link Text). But it's weakness is that it only copies URL's. If you want to copy/select/format non-linked text on a page and associate it with the are out of luck.

I had been using Copy URL+ to accomplish that task, but it hadn't been playing as well with Firefox 2.0 so I dropped it.

However, Make Link does support the user copying a non-linked selection, but still associating it with the URL of the page. Nice!

--spotted on Lifehacker


Keep Firefox’s location bar on sight : Mozilla Links (Tip)

Some popup/under windows in Firefox will not display the address in the window bar. In some cases this is because they really have something to hide.

By making an easy change in the Firefox about:config settings you can enable URL addresses to always be displayed in popup windows.

To do this:

  • Enter about:config in the location bar
  • Look for dom.disable_window_open_feature.location
  • Double click it to toggle it to true

Nice tip, guys!

Feed your Fox daily!


Online Bill-Pay: Almost burned

Lavie has been on me for a very long time, working hard to convince me of the value of paying our bills on line.

I was a hard-cookie to crack.

Until I got burned a few times by the mail service. See I usually mail my bills out at least a week in advance....more if it falls during a holiday when mail may be slow or delayed.

The last straw was when I mailed a gasoline company bill in, ten days in advance, and it ended up getting credited to my account two days past due (12 days from when I mailed it). I watch our credit standing pretty closely, and even a single late payment once a year gives me a bit of grief.

I needed more control over confirming the bill processing was occurring timely so I gave in...and Lavie's wisdom is now appreciated. I now pay close to 95% of our bills on-line. And it usually goes very smoothly. I still pay a few days in advance of the payment due dates, but I really like getting those transaction confirmation numbers! Sweet!

No more late payments.

Except tonight (almost).

It's that crazy gas card account again.

Unlike ALL my other bills, I cannot pay this one MAJOR gas company's gas-card bill directly to them. All my other payments are made direct to the issuer, but this ONE company requires that I use a third-party payer to make my transactions...and it MUST be scheduled several days in advance. No same-day payments here.

So today, six days early, I go online to schedule my gas-card bill payment.

Only when I log in, it says my account cannot be used to make a payment until I re-confirm my ebill with them. OK. Been using for a year with no issues. Must be a new thing.

So I go to the list of companies listed to indicate the account for my ebill...except there is a hitch this time...see, the gas company's name is not in the list; anywhere!

So I check my paper bill and it clearly shows the web address (which I was using) is where I need to log in. I did. But again, looking through the list of companies signed with them, the gas-company is now nowhere on the list, even though my paper bill says this is where I need to still go to pay online.

What gives?

So tomorrow I will write a paper check and mail in my bill, hopefully six-days snail-mail time will be sufficient.

I know that the gas-company's credit cards are actually managed by another party...even though they carry that name. And this particular company's credit issuer was sold to another bank/credit I am hopeful that this is just a glitch during the transition process.

I really hope the new credit-issuer will allow me to pay them directly, instead of this third-party stuff.

Still, if I hadn't been in the habit of scheduling the online payments early...I would have had to mail it in and certainly would have been late.

I just hope this one makes it in, in time.

Almost burned again...