Category Archives: Computers

The 7 Applications I carry on my TrueCrypt USB Drive

This Christmas, I received a Target gift card, which I used to purchase a new 2gig USB drive. I don’t normally purchase new electronics for reasons outlined in this article, so I was quite excited!

1. The first thing I loaded was TrueCrypt, so I could protect all my data. I checked the TrueCrypt.org website and they are scheduling the release of TrueCrypt 5 for later this month some time in February, I can’t wait to upgrade. Version 5 should have a Linux and OSX GUI.

I used TrueCrypt to create a 1.5 Gig NTFS volume on my USB drive. I keep ALL my documents and programs in the encrypted partition. Why, you ask? If I kept my program files outside the encrypted volume and my USB drive was lost or stolen, it would be like my laptop was stolen while it was signed in. Who ever found it would have full access to every website and FTP host I use.

Running programs from encrypted volumes might seem like it would be slow, but it is not. USB drives can be formatted with FAT or FAT32, both of which are very inefficient. TrueCrypt can format the encrypted volume as NTFS, a vast improvement. I have noticed that programs actually run more smoothly from the encrypted volume, at about the same speed.

I did leave about 500meg outside the encrypted partition. I use this to store TrueCrypt and virus/spyware cleanup programs like HiJackThis and SpyBot Search & Destroy. That way, I can cleanup a machine before I open my encrypted volume.
pstart.png

2. The second application is PStart. PStart is a great, minimalist start menu.

I’ve looked at other program launchers including the PortableApps suite, Imation’s U3 and Lexar’s PowerToGo. None are as simple and useful as PStart. Pstart lets me add programs or folders to my start menu. It can be configured to close as soon as an application is launched, remain resident until closed, or remain open. Because of it’s size, it loads very quickly and the only thing I have to do to install it is copy PStart.exe to the root directory of my encrypted volume.

3. EverNote PE, a recent addition, is a note manager. It’s user interface reminds me of the old Apple Newton, like one continuous roll of toilet-paper. I use it as a place to store information about networks I manage, IP addresses, software license keys, notes on how I setup a particular server, technotes, quotes and various other random bits of information. You can drop in graphics or clippings from other programs like Excel, Word, Paint, etc. Data is accessed via a hierarchical tree or via a terrific search feature. It is actually fun software to use. This is the only commercial software of the bunch. Everything else is Free. I purchased the Portable Edition, especially designed for USB drives.

4. KeePass – an awesome open source password manager. I use it to track all my passwords for work, personal, online banking and e-mail. KeePass encrypts the passwords and since KeePass is already on an encrypted volume, everything is doubly protected.

5. TotalCommander is a swiss army knife style file manager. It displays two folder windows side by side and allows you to copy or move files from one to the other. You can also delete, edit and do many other things, but the two I use it most for are FTP and synchronizing files from my USB to my Hard Drive. The built in FTP client is great. Once I realized that I needed to define a transparent firewall, I found that it worked better than FileZilla. I use TotalCommander for all my FTP needs.
Not only are my files on my USB drive encrypted, but so are the ones on my hard drive. I actually have 1.5gig TrueCrypt volume on my hard drive that matches what is on my USB and I use TotalCommander to synchronize the files.
TotalCommander is not a portable application, but from the authors website, you can download a utility which will copy TotalCommander, it’s plugins and the .INI file to your USB drive. Totally cool.

6. EditPadLite – this is my choice for a multi-file, tabbed interface text editor. The keyboard shortcuts in EditPadLite make sense to me and EditPadLite can be configured to keep it’s settings in an .INI file, making it an ideal portable editor.
There are other nice editors, including a PortableApps version of NotePad++.

7. Thunderbird Portable Edition. This is a version of Thunderbird e-mail, specifically configured to run from a USB drive. It is part of the PortableApps suite. I normally use web based e-mail for my personal e-mail and Lotus Notes at work. I have Thunderbird to read all my mail boxes as IMAP using SSL, for those times I just really want a real e-mail client.

I also have a copy of Q10, which I am trying out for writing posts. It is the most minimal program I have ever tried. All that is onscreen are yellow letters on a black background. Since I can’t use it to fiddle with graphics or fonts, it helps me focus on writing. One cool thing about Q10 that I just discovered is that it reopens the last file that you worked on, even if the USB drive letter changes. Q10 worked so well for this post that I may try it out at work for memos and TPS reports.

What’s on your USB drive?

Internet Explorer 6 CSS bug, margins, padding and how to fix it.

I ran into a bug using the Zeke template for WordPress . Zeke is a very nice 3 column theme by Michael D. Pollock.

There isn’t an easy way to implement 3 columns in CSS and Zeke does it as two, two column groups.

#wrap , 960px wide

#contentleft, float left, within #wrap

#contentPost (s)float left, within #contentleft #midcontentfloat right,within #contentleft
#rightcontentfloat rightwithin #wrap

The theme was working just fine with FireFox and Internet Explorer 7, but Internet Explorer 6 was not. The middle column, #midcontent, was sliding to left, just enough to cause the Post (s) to slide down below the entire middle column.

There is a well know bug in Internet Explorer 6 in the way it renders content that floats, when it’s contained within floating content. According to this link, IE6 doubles the margins. The Zeke WordPress theme doesn’t use much in the way of margins and the “display: inline;” fix mentioned in the article didn’t work.

I noticed that Zeke does use quite a bit of “padding” and discovered that IE6 was indeed getting the padding wrong.

According to this website (and others) it is possible to have CSS tags that IE6 processes and other browsers ignore, just by placing a _ in front of the tags. I was able to copy the “padding” line for #midcontent and create a new line that only IE6 would process, without the padding on the right.

Edited to add:  You need both padding: and the _padding: lines in your #midcontent section.

See the code below:

#wrap {
padding: 0 5px;
clear: both;
width: 960px;
margin: 0 auto;
#contentleft {
width: 680px;
float:left;
padding: 0;
margin: 0;
}
#content {
width: 499px;
float: left;
margin: 0 1px 0 0;
padding: 0;
}
#midcontent {
width: 160px;
float: right;
margin: 0;
padding: 10px 10px 15px 0;
_padding: 10px 0px 15px 0; /* this did the trick. Only IE6 should process this line */
}
#contentright {
width: 250px;
float: left;
padding: 15px 0 15px 15px;
margin: 0;
}

Now, everything is working great!

I really don’t like the drivers for the Netgear WG511.

Actually, it’s not the drivers, it’s the smart wireless utility that’s included with the drivers. Netgear doesn’t have stand alone drivers for the WG511v2 or the WG511T. They have an installation utility that installs the smart utility along with the drivers. I haven’t been able to extract just the drivers.

In most cases, this wouldn’t really be an issue, but my laptop is a bit strapped for resources because I an running Windows XP on an 850MHZ with only 256meg RAM, so I just didn’t want the programs running that I don’t need. *see this older post on optimizing XP on an older machine.

Also, the smart utility isn’t really that smart. It was not able to detect when I moved the laptop from one SSID to another. Windows XP is able to manage this, so there was no reason to keep the smart utility. One problem though, when I uninstalled the NetGear software, I discovered that NetGear had replaced the Windows LOGIN and didn’t put it back properly when uninstalled.

It may have been because I tried two different NetGear cards, or that I didn’t uninstall the cards in the correct order. Either way, after a few attempts to uninstall, reboot, not be able to login, restore a prior system restore point, try again, try to let Windows “Repair” my system, I decided it was time to backup the files and start over.

This time I didn’t want the smart software, so this is what I did. I went ahead and installed the NetGear software on another computer, but never put the card in the system. Instead, when prompted to “insert the card”, I brought up TaskManager and killed the install task (PKERNEL). Then I looked in the \WINDOWS\INF folder and found a WG511v2 folder, which I copied to a USB drive. (The \WINDOWS\INF folder is where Windows copies drivers when you install new hardware).

Then I uninstalled the NetGear software. When I put the card in my laptop and Windows prompted for the driver disk, I pointed it to theWG511v2 folder on the USB drive and viola, it worked.

So, there you have it. How to install the NetGear WG511v2 card WITHOUT the smart utility.

Windows XP, Linux and disk partitions

Windows XP, running in VMWare is cool, but not as productive as I thought it would be. On my 3Ghz Pentium 4 HT machine, XP was running like my 850Mhz AMD laptop.

I decided to rearrange my disk partitions and reinstall XP in a dual boot arrangement, keeping the ability to run XP in Ubuntu. A great and easy Linux tool to use is gparted, which can be installed in Ubuntu. One catch though, you can’t manipulate the partition that you boot from.

A way around this is to boot the Ubuntu CD and at a terminal prompt enter

sudo apt-get install gparted
sudo gparted

Another option, is to create a System Rescue CD using an ISO image downloaded from SysRescCD.org. Lifehacker.com has a great writeup on using a System Restore CD, here.

I booted my System Rescue CD, used gparted to make room for a Windows partition by reducing the size of the ext3 Linux partition, then ran Setup from the Windows CD. After that, things didn’t go as planned.

Windows gets a little confused during the install if there are other partitions already on the disk. Even if they are NOT FAT or NTFS partitions, setup created an F: drive (as opposed to a C:) and installed there.

The BIOS of my computer had options to hide partitions, which I debated using but finally decided to just wipe out everything, install Windows, then install Linux.

I installed Windows XP, Firefox, some other Free/Open Applications and Microsoft Office and I am still using less than 6 gig.

So now I have a dual boot machine. Windows XP has the first 30Gig and Linux has the rest (over 40Gig). I also created a Windows XP virtual machine in Linux, but don’t need it often. Using Linux, I am able to read my e-mail in FireFox and use the Linux Terminal Server client to remote control other servers on the network. On my Novell Server, I installed the CIFS package, which allows me to access it as though its a Windows server. Since Ubuntu has SAMBA built in and enabled by default, signing into the server is as easy as selecting “Connect to Server” in the Gnome equivalent to Explorer.

So I can now get through most of the day without Windows and the most important thing I learned was this: In a dual boot setup, install Windows FIRST, leaving room for Linux. That is going to be my new rule for all new machines I use!

Ubuntu Linux, VMWare and Windows XP

It is possible to get Windows XP running in a virtual machine created with VMWare. I wanted it to be a point and click process, avoiding archaic command line entries, editing files and compiling programs. I got real close.

I tried to keep my Windows partition and use these instructions to run my original Windows XP partition as a virtual machine. No luck. Now, maybe it’s because the VMWare player bundled with Feisty (Ubuntu 7.04) never installed right, maybe not.

When I tried again, I wiped out my entire hard drive. My plan was to have the entire Ubuntu system, with a Windows virtual machine residing in my Ununtu partition. If you don’t want to go this route, that’s fine, you can keep your old Windows and follow these instructions to have a 2nd Windows running inside your Ubuntu. Remember to backup anything you want to keep BEFORE you begin.

When you install Ubuntu, you need to create a partition large enough for you Ubuntu plus your Windows XP virtual drive. I choose a 20gig Windows drive, so I needed at least a 24gig Ubuntu partition.

After Ubuntu is installed, make sure that the patches are up to date. Don’t bother installing the VMWare player that came with Ubuntu, it doesn’t appear to work. Instead, go to the VMWare website and download the Player 2.0 for Linux. Get the .TAR file and download it to your desktop.

Once the VMWare Player is downloaded, double click on it to open. Click on the folder that is inside and click “Extract”. Select Desktop and extract there. The file I downloaded was VMware-player-2.0.0-45731.i386.tar.gz and it had the folder vmware-player-distrib in it.

Click on Accessories->Terminal.

Now, here is the part where you have to type a few commands. I promise, it’s the only two and they are easy.

screenshot-ericsmercury-desktop-vmware-player-distrib.pngType cd/Home/userid/Desktop/vmware-player-distrib and press [Enter]. The /userid/ part will be the same as your user id that you used to sign on.

Then type sudo ./vmware-install.pl [Enter]

You will have to enter your password, then the VMWare install process should start. Just accept the defaults. When it’s done installing, click the X to close terminal or type exit[Enter].

Now we we need two more pieces of information before we can install Windows XP. First, go to this website and download his empty Vmware virtual disk files. Open the .zip file and extract the file you want. I chose the 20g.vmdk, created a folder called vmware in my home folder and extracted it there. Then you have to create a .vmx file to match. Just go into Text Editor and enter this


#!/usr/bin/vmware
config.version = "8"
virtualHW.version = "3"
ide0:0.present = "TRUE"
ide0:0.filename = "20g.vmdk"
memsize = "256"
MemAllowAutoScaleDown = "FALSE"
ide1:0.present = "TRUE"
ide1:0.fileName = "auto detect"
ide1:0.deviceType = "cdrom-raw"
ide1:0.autodetect = "TRUE"
floppy0.present = "FALSE"
ethernet0.present = "TRUE"
usb.present = "TRUE"
sound.present = "TRUE"
sound.virtualDev = "es1371"
displayName = "Windows XP Pro"
guestOS = "winxppro"
nvram = "WindowsXPPro.nvram"
MemTrimRate = "-1"


ide0:0.redo = ""
ethernet0.addressType = "generated"
uuid.location = "56 4d 8b 2b 18 2b 3f 8c-6b 57 bb 06 d7 10 06 83"
uuid.bios = "56 4d 8b 2b 18 2b 3f 8c-6b 57 bb 06 d7 10 06 83"
ethernet0.generatedAddress = "00:0c:29:10:06:83"
ethernet0.generatedAddressOffset = "0"

tools.syncTime = "TRUE"
ide1:0.startConnected = "TRUE"

uuid.action = "create"

checkpoint.vmState = ""

extendedConfigFile = "20g.vmxf"
virtualHW.productCompatibility = "hosted"
tools.upgrade.policy = "manual"

isolation.tools.hgfs.disable = "TRUE"

tools.remindInstall = "TRUE"

Note the memsize = "256". This is how much RAM your virtual machine will have. I have a 512meg machine, so I gave 256 to Windows. The ide0:0.filename = "20g.vmdk" specifies the .vmdk file to use. If you use something other than the 20g, change the name. I saved my .vmx file as 20g.vmx. It is in the same folder as the 20g.vmdk file.

That’s it, done! Put the Windows XP CD in the CD Rom drive and open the 20g.vmx file in VMWare Player. It should boot right up and let you install Windows XP.

WordPress 2.2.1 and Firefox spell check.

This site is run on WordPress and yesterday I updated to 2.2.1. If you are using WordPress, I highly recommend upgrading because the FireFox spell check works when creating a post. If you are not using WordPress, you can skip this post…
Version 2.0 has a “visual” mode, where “What You See is What You Get” (including spelling errors) and a code mode that showed the HTML code. If you switched to “Code” mode, the FireFox spell check worked, but not the visual mode. Creating links in “Code” mode did not offer the option of “Open in new window”, which I always use. I was constantly switching between modes.

When I updated to 2.2.1, things worked a little smoother and felt more integrated, but when I went to make my first post, I immediately notices the little red swiggles under my misspellings and realized I was still in “Visual” mode!

That alone was worth the whole “Download, backup, deactivate plugins, delete old files, copy new files, activate plugins” thing.

wordpress.png
Wordpress.org

Windows Installer CleanUp Utility

From the Microsoft.com website, with Windows Installer CleanUp Utility,

you can remove a program’s Windows Installer configuration information. You may want to remove the Windows Installer configuration information for your program if you experience installation (Setup) problems. For example, you may have to remove a program’s Windows Installer configuration information if you have installation problems when you try to add (or remove) a component of your program that was not included when you first installed your program.

I downloaded it and tried it. I was able to remove some leftovers from an uninstalled copy of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003. I was not able to remove a copy of LogMeIn that did not install properly.

It appears that the utility can run on most 32 bit versions of Windows from 95 through Vista and on the 64 bit versions of Windows XP through Vista.

Not for everyday use, but great when you need it.

From Lifehacker.com, view original article here. The Microsoft support document is KB 290301.

CyberNotes: Using Basic Paint.NET Features

Lifehacker.com has a link to CyberNotes: Using Basic Paint.NET Features.

Paint.NET is my choice for serious photo editing (anything other than cropping). CyberNotes details shortcuts to features like Red Eye Removal, Auto-Levels, Curves and other effects.

See the original article for examples. Auto-Levels may be one of the most under-used features. I took the sample photo into Paint.NET and compared what Auto-Levels did with manually adjusting the Levels my self and the results very similar.

If you are not familiar with Levels, take a look at this article on The-Gadgeteer.com. Julie shows how she fixes bad lighting with levels in Photoshop. The same applies to Paint.NET. I can’t link directly to the article, only her diary, so go read it while it’s at the top…

Remove MSN Messenger

I keep loosing my instructions for removing MSN Messenger from Windows XP. Sites like Experts-Exchange.com want you to sign up and pay for the answers. This site has the best page I’ve seen.

The short answer is WindowsKey-R (the same as Start->Run) RunDll32 advpack.dll,LaunchINFSection C:\Windows\INF\msmsgs.inf,BLC.Remove (Enter). If you installed Windows XP into a folder other than C:\Windows, edit the command appropriately.

My Favorite Free / Open Source software

This is a list of Free / Open Source software that I install on my machines. This isn’t software that I think is cool and that you ought to use. It is all software I use on a regular basis.

Windows XP is my OS of choice and I use the Windows versions of these programs.

FireFox FireFox (www.getfirefox.com) web browser. Not only is Firefox small, fast and easy to use, it supports a variety of extension which allow you to totally customize your browsing experience. The extensions I use are AdBlockPlus and the Del.icio.us Buttons.

AdBlock Plus makes advertisements disappear. Web pages load much faster and are easier to read when you don’t have download banners and flash advertisements.

I use the Del.icio.us buttons to bookmark websites I find. Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website. Your book marks are stored on the web where you, or anyone else can look through them at amy time. Never lose your bookmarks again.

One feature I love is the total control I have over how cookies and browsing history is handled. I configure FireFox to delete all broswing history and cookies when I exit.

Firefox also sports a tabbed interface, allowing many websites to be open in one browser and a built-in search, so you can just enter the search terms and go. You don’t have to go to a search engine page first.

Firefox has inline spell checking when entering data into web forms. I can’t imagine what ericsprojects.com would look like without this feature.

Paint.net Paint.net (www.getpaint.net) has a great set of painting and drawing tools. It supports layers and has unlimited undos. It is the closest thing to PhotoShop for personal use. Windows Only, requires .NET from microsoft.com, which it will download during installation.

FastStone FastStone (www.faststone.org) Image Viewer. Freeware image browser, converter and editor that supports all major graphic formats including BMP, JPEG, JPEG 2000, GIF, PNG, PCX, TIFF, WMF, ICO and TGA. It has a nice array of features such as image viewing, management, comparison, red-eye removal, resizing, cropping, color adjustments and much more. I use FastStone primarily for previewing a batch of photos and resizing for the web. It makes the job quick and easy. One option I like to set is to have FastStone take over all image types, except PSD (PhotoShop).

TrueCryptTrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org) 256 bit AES personal encryption for Windows and Linux. TrueCrypt allows you to encrypt entire partitons on your hard drive, create encrypted files and build encrypted USB thumb drives. I have a TrueCrypt thumb drive and a TrueCrypt file on my hard drive and keep the two synchronized. You shouldn’t use a Laptop or USB drive (anything portable) without it.

EraserEraser (www.heidi.ie/eraser) securely erase files. You can choose how Eraser overwrites files with several possible patterns from 1 pass with pseudo-random data, 3 pass DoD 5220.22-M, to the even more sophisticated 35 pass Gutmann. Eraser integrates into Explorer, giving you a Right-click Erase option. Windows only.

7ziplogo7-Zip (www.7-zip.org) is the current champ at Zipping and Unzipping files. 7-Zip is a tiny (less than one meg) exe. This program has such a minimal install, be sure to go into the Tools->Options. On the System TAB, Select all extensions except maybe ISO and on the Settings TAB turn ON the Show “..” item.

editpadlite.jpgEditPadLite (www.editpadlite.com). Sure you can use notepad or find many other Notepad replacements. I’ve used EditPadLite for a number of years and can’t find a reason to switch. It can open up many documents in a multi-tab interface and has search and replaces that is as powerful as it is easy to use.

One thing I love about Free/Open source software is that it usually is much smaller than the commercial software it replaces. Some of these programs are small enough to fit on a floppy disk. Do they still make those ??