PCgeekdom.com - PC Tricks and Projects

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Data Backup - Better Safe than Sorry


If your hard drive crashed right now, would you miss anything; your important documents, pictures, e-mails, extensive music collection? Of course you would, but have you done anything to prevent losing your data? Data backup is very important, yet so many people don’t do it. To keep my data backed up I use an external hard drive connected by firewire, similar to this external hard drive, and a FREE program called SyncBack. This program is loaded with options, and is still easy to use. I have a couple profiles setup in SyncBack, one that runs everyday, and synchronizes a folder on my external HD with my laptop's documents and settings folder. You can also setup advanced filtering options so you don’t copy over temporary files etc. I also have a profile that synchronizes another folder on the external HD with my laptop’s complete hard drive, that I run once a month or so. If you are looking for a powerful free backup utility, I would definitely recommend SyncBack.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Phone Handset for a PC


I use my PC for a lot of voice conversations, for simplicity sake, I just use the voice feature of MSN Messenger, although I would like to play around with some of the other options like Skype.
I was using a cheap microphone I had laying around, and the other person was always having trouble hearing me unless I held the microphone right next to my mouth. I would also get some feedback type issues if I didn't use headphones. I know they make headsets that would solve all those problems, but I happened to have some spare junk laying around, (an old headset, coil cord, and two 1/8 inch jacks) and with some inspiration from a ThinkGeek product, I decided to adapt a telephone headset to use with my computer. It was really pretty easy. I just cut one end of the coil cord off, and stripped those wires. I opened up the headset and used a multi-meter's continuance mode to figure out exactly which of the wires went to what. It was then just a matter of soldering 2 standard 1/8 inch jacks to the end of the corresponding ends of the coil cord. I added a little electrical tape, and I was done. I plugged it in and it works great, actually as I am typing this, I am using it with a voice conversation, and the both of us can hear better, and I get the satisfaction of getting to hold a big hunk of plastic while I talk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Firefox - The Open Source Browsing Alternative


FirefoxMozilla's Firefox is a versatile secure alternative to Internet Explorer. One of the biggest advantages is tabbed browsing. With tabbed browsing organizing and navigating multiple websites is greatly improved. A useful function of this is the ability to create a folder with related links, then all you have to do is right-click on the folder and choose Open in tabs and all your links are loaded in the same window. IE7 will also support tab browsing, but from what I have seen of it so far, like most Microsoft products it is a bloated memory hog.
The great part of Firefox being open source is it allows the programming community to create new extensions. These extensions can range from extremely useful to just plain amusing. For a good write up on some Firefox extensions check out a Download.com article. For a more complete list of extensions look here. There are some websites that just don't work well or even at all without Internet Explorer, IE Tab is a very cool extension that allows you to open the webpage within IE as a tab in Firefox, so now you can even do your Windows Updates within Firefox!

To download Mozilla Firefox, click on the button below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fun With Virtualization


Virtualization is one of the fastest growing and one of the coolest technologies in IT within the last few years. A great site to see virtualization news and information is vmwarez.com, from this site I found out that VMware is now offering their server for free. I decided to download the VMware Server on my Linux box. The installation was very simple, just a matter of running a perl script, (as long as the kernel sources and a C compiler are installed.) For my first virtual machine, I chose to install Windows 98 SE. Necessary? No. Cool [for a geek]? Yes. I was surprised how easy to create a new virtual machine really was, the VMware Server walks you through the actual setup part in a wizard, then it is just a matter of booting the virtual server from the CD and installing the OS. I was a little leery at first, as Windows had loaded its default VGA driver and I only got 16 colors, the mouse was also pretty touchy, but VMware has an easy solution for this as well; VMware Tools, it painlessly installs drivers on the guest OS that allows excellent video output and better mouse control. With VMware Server you also get many options with how you network your virtual machines, I set my virtual connection up as a bridged connection with my Linux host box. This way I can easily access the virtual machine from my Windows Laptop as well. That's right, I had a VNC connection from my Windows XP notebook to a virtual Windows 98 machine hosted on a Linux box, virtualization is great!

Microsoft replaces MSAS with Windows Defender Beta 2


Windows Defender (Beta 2)Windows Defender Beta 2 has now taken the place of Microsoft Anti-Spyware. The overall GUI has changed. The overall functionality it seems is the same. The installation routine took a little longer then the previous version. Upon installing Windows Defender I tried to update but have not been successful, I am getting the following message, "Windows Defender was unable to complete the update: 0x8024002b" I am guessing that the update server may be too busy. Microsoft sure knows how to put out a helpful error message. This version's tools have changed, I do like the Software Explorer. It gives detailed information about software falling into the following lists; Startup Programs, Currently Running Programs, Network Connected Programs, and Winsock Service Providers.
From Microsoft's Website:

Q. What is the difference between Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) and Windows Defender (Beta 2)?

A. Windows Defender (Beta 2) is the name of the next beta version of Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware. It includes several enhancements that are based on customer input. Changes include, but are not limited to:

1. Improved detection and removal. Windows Defender (Beta 2) can detect and remove more threats posed by spyware and other potentially unwanted software. Real-Time Protection, which helps prevent unwanted software from being installed, is enhanced to better monitor key points in the operating system for changes. These features help you stay productive because they help to prevent pop-ups and the performance degradation that is caused by spyware and other potentially unwanted software.

2. Redesigned and simplified user interface. The Windows Defender (Beta 2) user interface has been redesigned to make it easer to scan your computer and remove unwanted files. The new interface also delivers a warning system that alerts you to the severity of a threat and makes appropriate recommendations to help secure your computer. This new design gives you more control over the software on your computer and minimizes interruptions to your work.

3. Protection features for all users. Windows Defender (Beta 2) can now be run by all the users who use a particular computer, whether they have administrator-level privileges or not. This helps ensure that all the people who use a computer are able to benefit from the protection features offered by Windows Defender (Beta 2).

4. Definition updates delivered through Automatic Updates. Windows Defender (Beta 2) now receives updates through Automatic Updates. Provided by Microsoft analysts, these updates help keep you protected from the latest threats at no adtional cost.

5.Voting network statistics. When Windows Defender (Beta 2) detects potentially unwanted software, it shows you how customers who participate in the opt-in network voted to classify the software. This helps provide you with more information even before Microsoft analysts evaluate the software.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Setup - Using Synergy


I am currently operating two PCs, an Inspiron 6000 laptop from Dell running Windows XP, and a PC I built myself running Linux (SuSE 10.0 distribution.)
I ordered the parts for my desktop from TigerDirect.com I don't do a lot of gaming or anything so I went more for cost effective parts then high end.
I decided to install Linux as a fun project and to make myself learn something new. The installation itself was fairly easy, I did an FTP install, so it took several hours to download and install. The distro uses YAST, which makes the initial setup very easy.
If you are looking for information, or are thinking about switching to Linux check out Linux 101 on About.com
As the picture to the left shows I have my LCD screen for my Linux machine above my laptop. For simplicity I wanted a way to be able to use my keyboard and mouse hooked up to my laptop to also control my desktop. I came across a very cool open-source application that made this possible. It is called Synergy, it allows for one keyboard and mouse to be shared by multiple machines and operating systems. It also allows for a shared clipboard which is extremely useful. If you have multiple machines side by side Synergy is a must have.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Microsoft Anti Spyware (MSAS) Registry Permission Problem


I recently worked on a computer that was behaving oddly. For one user account, MS Ant-Spyware would open and run just fine, but for the other user account, it would produce an "Unexpected Error, Quitting " error message, and not allow the application to load. The owner had tried to uninstall and reinstall MSAS as well as trying to create a new user and the problem continued. After some research, it appears that for some reason, the permissions in the registry for Microsoft Anti-Spyware get set to only the user who originally installed the software. To fix the problem I had to reset the permissions in the registry to Administrators, instead of just the one user. I will list the steps I used to do this. However, this is probably not the best way, just the quickest. Before any major registry hack you should always back up the registry and be familiar enough with Windows just incase you would make a mistake. The keys in question are found under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT and start at gcasDtServ.Agent, there are around 80 keys here, It would probably be best to reset the permissions for each individually, but it is a heck of a lot quicker to force the permission down the entire HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT folder. To do so, right click on the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT folder and click on "Permissions..." then it should list Users, if Administrators is not listed click on Add, then type in "Administrators" (sans quotes) in the new window that pops up. When you click on the "Check Names" button it should add the name of your computer to Administrators if you typed it in correctly, once that is in, press OK. Now when you click on the Administrators in the users list, it will state what the permissions are, check "Full Control" and press OK. This should then take care of the problem. I had uninstalled MSAS before doing the registry edit then reinstalled it after, although I do not think this was necessary.

Replacing a Laptop's LCD Backlight


The first step was to tear the display apart. (After taking the battery out and unplugging the power of course.) There were several screws under little stick on rubber pads that had to be removed. I then for simplicity's sake unattached the display from the laptop's main body. The LCD has a metal frame around it that had to be unscrewed and taken off. Then it came time to find the bulb. On this LCD display their was a metal housing with the power leads coming out that held the bulb. When I unscrewed this the LCD came more apart then I was really thinking it would. I was unsure of how to get to the bulb, I slowly pulled back the housing and could see it. I detached the housing from the main LCD frame and was able to more easily access the bulb. Using a small screw driver behind the rubber caps, I slowly worked the bulb out from the housing. I then carefully worked the rubber caps off of the end of the bulbs and up the wire. Using side-cutters I snipped the power cables as close to the bulb as possible, (there was not very much slack in the backlight cable from the Inverter to begin with.) The edges of the bulb appeared to be darkened maybe showing their demise. I then stripped off just enough of the cable's insulation to make a loop around the conductor of the new bulb. Once I got the loop at the suggested 2-3mm position from the end of the bulb, I soldered it, and cut the excess wire from the bulb. Slipping on the rubber caps back down made me a little nervous especially with the heavier gage red wire. One of the trickier parts was getting the wires to sit back down right and put the LCD back together. After a few minutes of fiddling and lots of wiggling, I got it to all fit back together. As soon as I did I immediately put a couple screws back in, to keep it from coming apart again. It then came time to test it. I got all the cables hooked back up, plugged back in the power, (nothing blew up or burnt out which was nice!) I then turned it on... low and behold the backlight was still not on! I could still make out the images the LCD was producing, but with no backlight. I then decided to check the Inverter, it appears the Inverter has also gone out, when hooking up a multimeter to the output I got no voltage at all... I will have to check with the laptop's owner and see if they want to put more money into to this aging laptop, I found an Inverter on eBay for $50, so we will see.
And let there be [back]light! After replacing the inverter, the the new bulb came right on and is working great Replacing the inverter was just a matter of unhooking a couple of cables. It took longer to un-package the new inverter then to install it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Laptop LCD Backlight


A Gateway 400 Notebook came my way with what I assume is a burnt out back light. You can see that the LCD is creating the picture, but without the light behind it, it is near impossible to see anything.

I figured that surely this coulnt be too bad to fix. I decided to check the documentation that came with the laptop and Gateways website, and not so suprisingly found no help other then the usual, "You will need to send the computer in to Gateway to be serviced".

I then decided to go my usual route and googled it. I was kind of suprised and a little worried by how little information I found. Most things I did find basically said it was a lot of tricky work, along with some warnings, a lot of people just ended up tossing the display anyway. That sure does build my confidence! Never the less, I decided to tear apart the laptop and check out the display to at least see what I am dealing with. I found the LCD's part # CLAA150XH01 when I googled that I was able to find a more hopeful answer at LCDpart.com. The replacement bulb was less then $10 so I decided to order one. Hopefully I will recieve the bulb in the next few days, I will then post my progress, hopefully it will be good news!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More Advanced Spyware Cleanup...


Some of the spyware out there can be a real pain in the neck to get rid of, and can do some real damage to the files that your computer uses to access the Internet.

Most malware will try to change Window's Internet files in order to redirect you to advertisers or other companies. When the malware tries to take over these files most of the time, instead of changing the Internet traffic, it brakes it, causing your Internet connection stop working all together. One of the most common errors is when trying to renew your PC's IP address, you will get "an operation was attempted on something that was not a socket" message. This means your Winsock files have been compromised. Luckily, there are some tools out there that make restoring those Winsock files pretty easy. For Windows XP, I like to use WinsockXPFix. For Windows 95,98,ME I like to use W2fix.

Some other more advanced tools for fighting malware are:

HighjackThis by Merijn is very useful but should only be used by knowledgeable users.
CWShredder is the best tool to remove variants of Cool Web Search.

I will also note that you can more easily remove spyware by keeping it from starting up when you turn on your computer. The best way to do this is to turn your computer on in Safe Mode, you can do this by tapping the F8 key as your computer is booting, and choosing Safe Mode from the Windows boot options. You can also disable individual programs from starting up by opening up msconfig ( window-key R then type in msconfig and press OK) Under the Startup tab is a list of all programs that start when Windows boots, you can uncheck any suspicious looking programs. (If you are not sure what one is try searching for the file name in Google.)