31 December, 2007

Learn more about the One Laptop Per Child

I found this video on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) from Yves Behar, the designer of the OLPC.

Dell laptop running HOT!

My work laptop is a Dell Latitude D810, and it has always ran hot. More recently on a business trip it crashed three times, which I am convinced is due to the high temperature. I found a utility, SpeedFan, which allowed me to monitor various temperatures.

SpeedFan indicated very hot (flames) for many of the components, but it wasn't capable of turning the fans on or up. Further, it didn't give me any indication of what temperature was dangerous to my laptop. In searching for threshold temperatures, I found another, more useful utility, 18kfanGUI.

18kfanGUI was developed by Christian Diefer of Germany specifically for Dell laptops (see his compatibility chart). Using 18kfanGUI, I am able to get my fans to turn on or up sooner, and therefore keep the temperature of my laptop lower. Christian also hosts a Forum, which appears to be very active, so you can support beyond his manual and FAQs.

Now, my laptop is a bit noisier, but I am much more comfortable in knowing that my laptop wont crash (or worse, get ruined) by high temperatures.

BTW: In Christian's FAQs, he has a listing for the BIOS temperature / fan speed for the Inspiron 8000 and 8100.

21 December, 2007

Computer Tips and Help Guides

I receive a weekly email from ZDNet called Download Digest (which I read about every 4th one). It is their weekly recommendation of software; much of it is useless, but occasionally there are some nuggets. In addition, there is a section on recommended TechRepublic articles. These are recycled over time, but again there are some nuggets. For example, if you're not real Internet savvy, you might be interested in 10 things you should do to a new PC before connecting it to the Internet. (Note that you must sign-up for a free account to access TechRepublic.)

Here are some TechRepublic tips and guides that I believe people may find valuable:
  1. Powerful PowerPoint Presentations: This wont teach you how to make better presentations, but it will teach you how to use PowerPoint to its fullest capability.
  2. How do I...Migrate from Outlook Express to Mozilla's Thunderbird?: If you haven't yet switched to Thunderbird for email, this article is helpful in getting you through the process.
  3. Creating a bootable USB flash drive for Windows XP: Just what you need when you're troubleshooting your friends PC.
  4. Create a bootable WinXP CD slipstreamed with SP2 and hotfixes: The perfect companion for your bootable USB flash drive when you need to reinstall XP.
  5. How do I... Uninstall Microsoft Internet Explorer 7?: This will only roll you back to IE6, but if you are having problems with some web apps using IE7, this is a great help. (Of course you should have been using Firefox anyway.)

While you're visiting TechRepublic, also be sure to read The 10 worst geek gift ideas for the holidays.

As with the Download Digest, if you are willing to put the effort into sifting through for the nuggets, TechRepublic does contain some practical articles.

16 December, 2007

Solving 6-piece Burr Puzzle

Not really computer related, but rather solved with a computer...

I have one of those 6-piece block puzzles that has been apart for some time. I decided to look online to see if I could find a solution. First I learned that it is called a 6-piece Burr puzzle; then I discovered that there are too many different combinations that I would be luck to find a solution.

Then I ran across an IBM Research site on Burr puzzles. After looking through many of their solutions, and not finding a match, I discovered their applet to solve any Burr. I just entered the cuts of each of my 6 pieces, and within seconds it had the solution for me. And if that wasn't enough, it showed me piece-by-piece how to reassemble it.
Truly I am impressed.

29 November, 2007

Information R/evolution

Micheal Wesch of Kansas State University, with the help of his students
... a team of cultural anthropology undergraduates led by Dr. Michael Wesch and human interaction on digital technology. exploring the impacts of digital technology on human interaction on digital technology
put together this superb video on the Information R/evolution. Check it out and see what you think. What a change.

25 November, 2007

Tired of the Reboot prompting?

Windows has an annoying way of asking every five minutes whether I want to reboot after a Windows Update. Of course most cases, I don't because I'm working. Well I learned that there is a way to change the length of time between nags.

  1. Go to the Group Policy Editor (type gpedit.msc at the Run prompt)
  2. Expand the window to Local Computer Policy | Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Update
  3. Double-click on Re-prompt for restart with scheduled installations
  4. In the dialog box that opens, click Enable and enter a high number such as 1000 minutes
  5. Click OK and close the Group Policy Editor

24 November, 2007

Speed up that slow PC

As most of us know, over time our PC just gets slower. This is due to temp files, old registry entries, a full hard drive, and a host of other "features" of a Microsoft OS. Fortunately, PC World just released an article on Cheap and Free Tools to Put Zip Back in Your PC. The PC World article covers four subject areas:
  1. Speed Freaks
  2. Optimize for Speed
  3. Internet Boosters
  4. Application Boosters
For Speed Freaks, the one fully free tool is Cleanup Assistant. Cleanup Assistant will scour your hard drive and remove unnecessary files for you, e.g. duplicates and caches.

In the Optimize for Speed category, there are four free tools mentioned. Three of them look to optimize your Registry: Eusing Free Registry Cleaner, CCleaner, and Auslogics Registry Defrag. In addition, CCleaner will also look at removing unnecessary files, similar to Cleanup Assistant. The final free tool in the Optimize for Speed category is Advanced Windows Care 2 Personal, which its primary utility is to clean up your startup applications.

This reminded me to run CCleaner, which I already had installed. It found over 200MB of unnecessary files to remove from my system. I also use my own startup utility, Startup Inspector, to disable many non-required startup applications (See my blog post from October 21, 2006: XP Memory Problems and Startup Applications). Note: CCleaner provides this functionality.
On to the third category, Internet Boosters. In this category, there are four free utilities: 1) MySpeed PC Lite Edition; 2) Bandwidth Monitor 2; 3) SG TCP Optimizer; and 4) uTorrent. the only one that really will do the work for you and help improve your Internet speeds is SC TCP Optimizer. Based on my experience, though tools such as this can make some performance adjustments, it is unlikely to notice the improvements yourself (if you ran a well controlled test, you might be able to conclusively see a difference as measured in the test).

uTorrent is a completely different tool; you wont see any overall Internet performance improvements, but rather it's a BitTorrent client that you could use for downloading files. Great for distributed bandwidth usage (and getting pirated software), BitTorrent is only as good as the files being shared by others.

The last category, Application Boosters, only has one free program (it only lists two programs in total): PDF SpeedUp. PDF SpeedUp claims it will adjust Acrobat settings so it will load faster. I personally use an alternate PDF reader, FoxIt. FoxIt loads extremely fast, and it doesn't cause Firefox to crash.

So if you're looking for a way to get back some of the speed on your PC, there are many tools that claim they can help. If you don't want to go through all the programs to find out which ones really work, I recommend you get and use CCleaner and run your Disk Defrag program that is already on you PC. Oh, and of course this recommendation assumes you have a PC clean of viruses and other malware (See: Is Your Windows XP Computer Internet Safe?).

19 November, 2007

Trouble with MSXML 4.0 Service Pack 2 update

This is likely dated for most folks, but if you are still having problems with the Microsoft XP Update for MSXML 4.0 Service Pack 2, there is a rather simple fix. If you are not sure, but have had Microsoft's yellow shield in your taskbar for some time, select Custom Install and you can see what is trying (and failing) to install. If it is MSXML 4.0 Service Pack 2, then this is the fix for you.

  1. Go to Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel
  2. Remove all instances of MSXML 4.0 Service Pack 2 (KBxxxxx)
  3. Retry the update -- that's it.

Video How-To Sites

Did you see the article from The Content Wrangler, Video Documentation: Seven Sites That Show You How To Do Things? The Content Wrangler includes some familiar names such as YouTube (How-To and DIY channels) and VideoJug, and some new ones too. Check it out.

18 November, 2007

Emergency iPod Charger

Stuck with an iPod and no juice? I ran across Household Hacker's video on YouTube that shows how to remedy the situation. It takes simply an electrolyte such as Gatoraid, an onion, and 45 minutes. See for yourself.

11 November, 2007

Miro and Internet TV options

I have used iTunes for years to listen to my favorite music and podcasts; since the early betas of Joost, I've been able to see some good TV, such as National Geographic, but I still had to search all over the Internet to get a good selection of shows. For example, I would go to CBS for CSI, AOL for a few good reruns, and Disney when my kids were over to see their Saturday morning favorites. And of course there's always YouTube.

Recently I heard about a new Internet TV interface that would solve all these problems, and it's open-source -- Miro. I downloaded and tried Miro over the weekend. Miro has an interface that is familiar -- it feels a lot like iTunes, but at version, it's still buggy. I quickly learned that Miro's primary feeds are the same RSS feeds used for podcasts and videocasts.

I took a few of my podcast feeds from iTunes, tried them on Miro, and they worked. Likewise, I took some of the Miro feeds and they worked with iTunes. So I thought, "what benefit is there to Miro when I can do this all in iTunes?" None. I can load these through iTunes and have them portable, which Miro cannot do. Also with Miro, because they are RSS feeds, I have to download the entire show before I can view -- with Joost and other streaming solutions, you can begin to view almost immediately.

Perhaps I am being a little hard on Miro; it does offer an easy search across all the major video sharing sites such as YouTube, Revver, and Blip.tv -- that's nice. It also has a nice guide of video feeds and you can download files over BitTorrent, but I still did not find it had much new to offer.

In addition, I looked at Joost again (I've been traveling, and haven't had much time for TV). Well Joost has up'd the ante. Now I can see my favorite CSI shows, late night CBS comedy, and a better interface for browsing and storing my favorites.

So while Miro is trying to offer us an alternative Internet TV option, they are a long way away from matching what I can do with iTunes and the growth of Joost. For folks such as myself that only have broadcast TV, I'm still waiting for the break-through, integrated solution that includes on-demand sports and movies in addition to the legal, free television.

01 November, 2007

Get smarter, have fun, and feed the world

From the Poverty.com folks, you can now improve your vocabulary while and feed the world at the same time. FreeRice.com has been able to sell advertisement on their site in exchange for your eye balls while you improve your vocabulary.

After starting just a few weeks back (October 7), FreeRice.com has already donated 537,163,380 grains of rice. Now I don't know how many grains of rice are in a cup, but it sounds impressive. For every correctly identified definition, 10 grains are donated -- perhaps with some traffic growth, FreeRice.com could charge advertisers more, so 15 grains of rice could be donated for every correct answer.

It's time you do your part -- work on your vocabulary and help feed the world.

10 October, 2007

iTunes and Starbucks together

Apple and Starbucks just started (October 5, 2007) a new service in participating Starbucks stores. Using your laptop, iPhone, or iPod touch, you can get free access to the iTunes site and review and buy up to the last 10 tunes played in the Starbucks store. When using your iPhone or iPod touch, you will also be able to get the song on your Mac or PC for no additional charge.

I learned about this today when I went into Starbucks. As part of the promotion, you can get a free, new song every day in Starbucks through November 7th. The first artist was Bob Dylan and has include greats such as Gloria Estefan and Mavis Staples; upcoming releases include Herbie Hancock, Dave Matthews, and John Mayer.

Personally, I think this is a great combination of two great products, coffee and music, brrought to us by folks who know how to do it so well, Starbucks and Apple. That'll be a triple-grande-latte for me.

Stream your own Internet TV

Ever consider having your own Internet TV? Perhaps you are an Indie band trying to get some exposure or you are a tech geek helping others. Using Ustream.tv you can do exactly that. As I write this, I am listening and watching a live stream from Indie Game Conference hosted by GarageGames (the band's name isn't listed) -- the band is about as good as I might hear on a night out at the clubs.

All it takes is a computer with a webcam and mic, and 320 Kbs minimum upstream bandwidth, and you're good to go. After registering and providing some basic info on your feed, you get a custom URL that you can share with all your Internet friends. In addition, you can embed the stream into another web page and you can have real-time chat with your viewers.

Of course it's not a perfect solution. Ustream.tv could really put some work into finding recorded and live streams, as there is a lot of junk. For example, when I click on a tag in their tag cloud, I get all shows from one poster before seeing the next. Why not group those, so I can quickly scan shows from many folks? Also, even though you can give your show a description, the description is not displayed when you browse or search -- you have to click-through to see the details. Overall though, those are minor usability issues that I would expect to be fixed as Ustream.tv gains popularity.

Give Ustream.tv a look for yourself. Start with one of your favorite tech geeks such as Leo Laporte or Chris Pirillo, or browse through the music section. If that is not your interest, you can even check out Senator Edwards and Senator Dodd. Once you've seen others, perhaps it's time to broadcast yourself...

21 September, 2007

Solving the Firefox Memory Leak Problems

Thanks to Digg, I found a very interesting blog from Jesse Ruderman, Indistinguishable from Jesse. Jesse has a great post on how you can help in the effort to remove memory leaks in Firefox. Of course not all of us have the skills that Jesse and others working on Firefox have, but he indicates there are other things we can do to help.
If you're a Firefox user, an easy way to help is to browse with a trunk nightly build wrapped in a script that calls leak-gauge.pl when Firefox exits. If it reports that documents or windows leaked, try to figure out how to reproduce the leak and then file a bug report.
In addition to coverage on Firefox, Jesse has assemble a wealth of useful information in the 4 years of writing his blog. For example, he has a link to his del.icio.us links, a list of 43 things he wants to do, and a humor list. So if you're looking to learn more about Firefox or just looking for a good blog, give Indistinguishable from Jesse a look.

19 September, 2007

Free Secure Wireless Connection from your Home

If you're lucky enough to have free access to a wireless Internet hot-spot, it's easy to connect your entire home network to it and get free Internet access. David A. Karp explains how with just a few slides at PC Magazine (pcmag.com).

This is a great solution if you live in an apartment complex or close in the city.

Internet Brand Recognition

How much do you really pay attention to the logos of Internet companies? I bet not as close as you think you do. Go to guessthelogo.com and find out for yourself. This is a simple, 10 question, multiple choice quiz; how well can you do? I was just a bit under 2 minutes -- good luck!

18 September, 2007

Master Your Music Domain

I recently learned about a new beta music service, MediaMaster. MediaMaster provides the ability to upload your music collection and then access it from any PC. In addition, you can stream it to your PC or portable device, such as a cell phone. You have the ability to create playlists and a radio station that others can listen too. You can also create a widget to embed in your website -- choose from recently played to newly added to a playlist. Here's my recently played list -- click the play button to listen.

So far, so good -- looks compelling. Well with the good comes the not so good. I have over 1500 music titles in my collection, and 3 days into it, I am still uploading. I can adjust my upload speed from as little as 100 Kbps to 5,000 Kbps -- it just takes a long time. In addition, the site responds very slowly.

Perhaps because it is still beta or perhaps it's slow because my uploads are being processed, but it is definitely slow. In addition, the find functionality to discover new music from other members of MediaMaster is almost useless. You have the ability to search by username... hmm... how many users reflect their music genre in their name? There are some additional search features accessible from the front page, but there's no link from my MediaMaster Player back to the front page or to the site search functions. Once you get there, the various lists you can create are not too helpful because you do not know what type of music (genre) the user has in their collection.

With that being said, there's a lot of potential, and MediaMaster has other offerings in the works. If you take their survey, you will get a good idea as to what those are. For example a fee version with more features and the ability to download your music back onto your PC (maybe part of the fee version). You can also find out the latest in new features from the MediaMaster blog.

So is it the best music option available today? Not yet -- if you want to discover new music I still believe Last.FM and Pandora are better. If you are looking for an easy way to access your music anywhere, then perhaps, but personally I just use my iPod. Will it have long term success? From what I've seen so far, I see no reason why not -- oh, unless the RIAA gets involved somehow.

One last note, the site demo is buried in the About section, but it's hosted on YouTube here.

17 September, 2007

Firebug: Firefox Extension for Web Developers

I have been using the Web Developer toolbar for Firefox for some time now, but I recently learned of a new, powerful Extension, Firebug from Joe Hewitt. Firebug makes it very easy to inspect different portions of your code while on your web page. For example, click the Inspect tab and then you can see the related code as you hover over different elements on the page.

Where the Web Developer toolbar makes it easy to look at different parts of the code on a page, Firebug lets you interact with the page and subsequent code. If you want to see how fast (or slow) the various elements load on the page, click on the Net tab. In addition to showing the time to load the various elements, it is very easy to filter by element types such as JavaScript, images, and even Flash.

You can use Firebug as a part of your browser window (while you're interacting with it) or in its own window. the one drawback I see is that each time I change tabs, the new website is processed by Firebug; not that it's slow, but rather I'd like to see the window close or hide. One work-around is to go into the options and specify the websites that you want Firebug to interact with, and all others will therefore not inspected. You can also set what sites shouldn't be inspect. Perhaps a complex page, such as I use for posting to this blog, causes Firebug (and therefore Firefox) to crash. Just disallow that page and the problem goes away.

There are many more powerful features; I've just scratched the surface. Use it to debug your JavaScript; to see horizontal and vertical rulers for your CSS. You can even get a Japanese version. So if you're a web developer, professional or hobbyist, give Firebug a look.

15 September, 2007

Tim Berners-Lee on Net Neutrality

The Red Ferret Journal recently reminded us (original post June 2006) about Tim Berners-Lee's position on Net Neutrality. I thought it was a good reminder, as we are gradually seeing more and more restriction being placed on activities such as peer-to-peer and Internet telephony. Berners-Lee's video simplifies the issue very nicely:
If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.
But the phone and cable companies are using their deep pockets to keep the government from stepping in and protecting the people. Check out Exposing the Justice Department’s Hit Job Against an Open Internet from Save the Internet blog and decide for yourself. If you're looking for a more independent view, see PC Magazines article released this week: Senate Chair Takes on FTC in Net Neutrality Fight.

To conclude, if you haven't notified your Congressional leaders on your position, it is time to do it.

16 August, 2007

DIY with Instructables

Tired of Lifehacker? Is the DIY Network not your idea of fun? I found a fun new website, Instructables, a site with step-by-step instructions for do-it-yourself projects. Imagine using Legos to create a USB charger or to encase your USB memory stick. You can also find instructions for cracking and hacking windows passwords, extending the range of your car remote, and how to open a bottle of beer without an opener.

Instructables has 8 categories: art, craft, food, home, life, not liable, ride, and tech. You can also browse the site using one of the many keywords. If that isn't enough, Instructables has an active Forum where you can exchange ideas and get help with the tricky parts of your project.

Have fun. I know I like the car remote extender.

07 August, 2007

Saving YouTube Videos for Playback

JimmyR has made a nice tutorial on how to save YouTube videos for playback on your computer or iPod. Here is the websites and software that he references:
There are many ways to accomplish the same task, this is just one simple way. Have fun!

30 July, 2007

Arial, Times, Verdana -- Looking for a new font?

TechRepublic recently posted a link to a great site for fonts, dafont.com. dafont.com has nearly 7500 fonts of all types and styles. The only complaint I have is that some are inappropriate for children; this is not a site that I would share with my teens.

Font themes include Fancy, Foreign look, Techno, Gothic, and Holiday among others. Here are some samples of the Sci-Fi and TV/Movie fonts.

dafont.com also contains links to free and fee font related software.

So next time you need just the right font, give dafont.com a look.

26 July, 2007

Outlook is slow....

For the last several months, Outlook 2003 has periodically been real slow. The most common time would be first thing in the morning, so I wasn't sure whether it was network related or startup related. I would also experience it occasionally when sending an email... it would hang for a long time before starting the spell checker, and then between words it would hang again.

I did some research, and though it has not been long enough to be certain it has been corrected, it looks promising. Here are the suggestions that I tried:
  • Archive everything older than 3 months (it was 6). This should reduce the size of your PST file -- mine was 2.6 MB. My understanding is that newer versions of Outlook do not have problems with large PST files, but why take a chance? Tools | Options >> Other >> AutoArchive...
  • Start a new outcmd.dat file (C:\Documents and Settings\[your user name]\application data\microsoft\outlook), as it could be corrupt. Close Outlook, rename the file, start Outlook -- a new version will be created.
  • Remove unnecessary Add-ins. Tools | Options >> Other >> Advanced Options >> Add-In Manager... and COM Add-ins...; Close and Re-open Outlook.
Here are some URLs where I found some guidance:
Another fix of course, is if you can, switch to Thunderbird.

17 July, 2007

Net Neutrality is still an issue

As Time-Warner puts packet-shaping technology in place to throttle service, Senators Snowe and Dorgan are still fighting for the public's right for Net Neutrality. Wouldn't it be nice to have more Senators representing the public instead of the huge corporate contributors? -- oh, that's for different blog.

For all intents an purposes, Time-Warner's RoadRunner service just change their offering (June 6). Now, regardless of the bandwidth package you purchased, during busy times, they will slow down or throttle back certain traffic. So regardless of the service, instead of improving their infrastructure, Time-Warner will limit your bandwidth of certain tasks.
"...implemented for newsgroup applications, regardless of the provider, and all peer-to-peer networks and certain other high bandwidth applications not necessarily limited to audio, video, and voice over IP telephony."
I think it's high-time that the government steps-in to at least regulate that the service offered and sold matches the service delivered. They also need to make sure customers have some choices.

On the final day of the FCC's inquiry on net neutrality, Senators Snowe and Dorgan sent a letter encouraging the FCC to do what's in the best public interest. The letter also points out how in the past 2 years, telcos and cable companies have made it clear that they want to control consumer access to content, therefore ensuring that their own services are better. A bit anti-competitive to say the least.

Read more about Senators Snowe's and Dorgan's letter on the Save the Internet Blog. While you are there, read some of the stories of small companies and individuals who have made a difference in their own lives because of the freedoms provided with Net Neutrality.

16 July, 2007

More Tunes on the Internet

In September 2006, and again in April 2007, I wrote about great, free music on the Internet. Well, I recently discovered some additional sources. My latest discoveries are SeeqPod Music and The Hype Machine / Hype Radio.

Hype Machine follows music blogs discussions while Hype Radio streams songs listed in the blogs. Hype Machine also provides easy links to buy the music via iTunes or Amazon.com. Perhaps the best feature is the RSS feed. The feed send down the current song being played, which you can save and play locally. I did encounter a few that failed.

If you don't want to receive the RSS feed, and perhaps just checkout the music, you can also listen from your browser, vis-à-vis Hype Radio. To get a song played, it has to be mentioned by a blogger that is signed up with Hype Machine.

SeeqPod is a search engine specific to audio and video on the Internet. When you first reach the site, you can click on one of the scrolling search results (from other searchers called PodCrawler), or search yourself. Once you search, you get a split screen, where you can push results into a playlist for listening.

SeeqPod also provides you with the source URL (though copy-and-paste doesn't work because it is a Flash interface), and the ability to embed, or share the URL. In addition, if you are signed in, you can save your playlist. The Options link provides you with links to the lyrics, tour dates, ring tones, and more. Finally, if you click the television, you can see related YouTube videos.

Both of these provide ways to discover new music. Try Hype Machine for more modern music and SeeqPod for a sample of everything. And both sites seem to push the envelope for fair use, either through providing direct downloads to copyrighted music or links to copyrighted music.

10 July, 2007

Safari Beta 3 for Windows Test Drive

Well I downloaded and used Safari Beta 3 for Windows tonight... it looks and feels a lot like iTunes. Of course the first question is, "Do I really need another browser?" My first answer was "No." But upon reconsidering, I wondered if it might be a good alternative to testing sites for users of Macs and possibly the iPhone. So maybe for that reason, it's a good idea. I already have IE7 and Netscape in addition to Firefox. I also have a Linux VM with Firefox for test too.

With that in mind, I decided to test the popular sites I frequent. Here's my results:
  • This blog -- no problems
  • Authoring the blog -- failed: couldn't get the cursor in the Title field
  • eBay -- warned me to upgrade my browser, but worked
  • PayPal -- no problems
  • Gmail -- no problems
  • Google Calendar -- no problems
  • Last.FM -- no problems
  • Pogo -- failed: couldn't load a game
  • My company website -- no problems (includes Flash movies and apps)
  • My bank -- no problems
  • del.icio.us -- no problems
Overall, not bad, but definitely not up to Firefox or Netscape. I also do not like that to resize the window, I have to go to the lower-left corner. One other knit I have is that on the first click of the URL bar, it does not highlight the current URL, you need to triple-click. In addition when in the URL field, CTRL-A does not highlight the URL either. And to see if this is a viable alternative to testing sites that I would typically have to use a Mac, I need to see if I have the same problems using Safari on a Mac -- I would hope that I would not.

To conclude, "Safari for Windows?" Not now.

06 July, 2007

I'm a Mac and I'm a PC

Do you like those commercials? Well in addition to finding them at Apple's website and parodies on YouTube (including Linux), you can also find parodies at TrueNuff TV! In case you haven't had enough, here's one more.

Cash Machine Celebrates 40 Years

Yep, last month the cash machine turned 40 years old. The first cash machine was located north of London, and it used carbon 14 checks, a mildly radioactive substance — not a plastic credit card. When initially installed, the cash machine, invented by John Shepherd-Barron, would dispense up to 10 pounds UK.

Learn more about the first cash machine on the BBC's website.

24 June, 2007

The TWiT Netcast Network

I have been listening to podcasts for years now, and the one that continues to stay on top is TWiT (This Week in Tech), the flagship show for the TWiT Netcast Network. Created by tech legend Leo Laporte, the TWiT network contains many wonderful technology podcasts for those of us who enjoy technology so much. (Go to Wikipedia to learn some TWiT history.)

You can read Leo's bio yourself to get a sense of where he's been or read what Wikipedia has to say about Leo. Many of us remember him from the days of the Screen Savers and TechTV. Leo is well balanced between having a deep technology understanding and understanding that main stream technology (i.e. computers, cellphones, and the like) is too difficult for the average person. [BTW: he also hosts a technology help show, The Tech Guy, every Saturday and Sunday.]

So what is TWiT and why do so many people enjoy the show? Well, it is Leo and his tech friends discussing the latest in technology news. You can get opinions on new technologies, tech mergers, and government and technology, among other interesting tech topics. If you have time for only one tech show, this is the one. Leo has the connections when it comes to his friends in tech too.

To begin with, there are regulars including John C. Dvorak (dvorak.org/blog and Cranky Geeks), Patrick Norton (DL.TV), and Wil Harris. You can also find other experts such as Robert Heron (DL.TV and PC Mag) and Kevin Rose (Digg.com). And he has some great co-hosts on other TWiT podcasts,including Steve Gibson (Security Now and GRC.com) and Amber McArthur (Net@Night, Call for Help, and CommandN).

If you want to do some tech research on your own or follow along the show, you can checkout the TWiT del.icio.us site. For the most part, show numbers are used as tags, so it is easy to follow up on anything discussed during a show.

If you're new to podcasting, go to TWiT.TV and listen to a few shows right online. Once you're hooked, download your own podcatcher such as iTunes or Juice, and have your favorite podcasts delivered directly to your computer.

23 June, 2007

iPhone -- June 29th -- Will you be switching?

I viewed Apple's iPhone demo on their website, and despite a few quirks, I'm hooked. As they say, their best iPod ever -- it sure looks that way. Of the many features, I'm not sure if it is the touch-screen controls, the great interface, or some of the nice features such as how voice mail and Google mail is done, but my next cellphone will be an iPhone -- that's assuming I can afford AT&T.

If you're not sure, checkout the demo, I think it'll sell you.

21 June, 2007

Dying computer skills?

Did you see Computer World's, "The top 10 dead (or dying) computer skills" published last month? Some have been on the list for some time, such as Cobol -- it's needed just long enough to finally get companies off those legacy systems. What surprised me is even the mention of non-relational DBMS and non-IP networks. I guess I'm a bit ignorant in the fact they these two still exist in places.

Then there is the more obvious, Cold Fusion. Of course with open source solutions and better scaling solutions, Cold Fusion is on its last legs. I remember when it was a good choice, because the open source alternatives and Microsoft had not matured; now, if you're not a Microsoft shop, you're probably using open source.

For the rest of the items, couldn't we get something that is a little more "on it's way out," not already gone? take for instance the hobbyist turned pro developer. In the early days of the Internet, HTML was easy, and it didn't take too much to beg, borrow, and steal JavaScript code from others. Even CSS wasn't too much of a stretch. Now days with XML, AJAX, and dynamic sites, it takes much higher level of skills to be able to take your hobby and build a great startup product on your own or get hired by a company for your development skills.

What other skills do you think are on the way out? How about a Microsoft desktop OS? Is there life after Vista, or did Microsoft make it easier to look at Apple or Linux? And of course the PDA -- it's all smart phones now.

29 April, 2007

More alternate search engines

You know that Google is popular, right? SearchEngineWatch.com reported a nearly 44% share for July 2006, while Yahoo! and MSN continue to lose market share. (HitWise reported a 64% U.S. share for March 2007) In January I wrote about a few alternate search engines (Ms. Dewey, ChaCha, Snap, and Rollyo), in case you were interested in whether their was a competitor or two on the horizon. If that didn't move you away from Google (it didn't make me change), there are 100 more search engines you might want to try at Read / WriteWeb. Let me know if you find any promising alternatives; right now I'm staying with Google.

Open Source Software -- Free and Legal

I recently ran across a blog posting at The Simple Dollar titled 30 Essential Pieces of Free (and Open) Software for Windows. They are not quite all essential; perhaps 10 are. Many I have heard of, but a few are new to me. Of course it lists popular open source software such as Firefox, Thunderbird, and Audacity, but there are some other good ones including Filezilla (FTP client), Handbrake (watch DVDs locally without the DVD), and FreeMind (mind mapping). Check this blog post and see what you might be paying for that you could get for free and legal.

28 April, 2007

Firefox and Google together make a powerful search utility

If you have ever explored Google's advanced search capabilities, you would know that it can be very powerful in finding specific content. For example, you can use it to find web directories with music from your favorite artist. Take this code for example, which you can enter into the Google search box:
-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”last modified” +”parent directory” +description +size +(wma|mp3) “Stevie Ray Vaughn”
Your results would be something like this:
You can even add different file formats and wildcards for the search string:
-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(wma|mp3|ogg) "stevie ray vaughn%"
How does this apply to Firefox? Well I'm glad you asked!

You may recall that by entering a keyword into the field of a bookmark, you can retrieve the bookmark in the Address Box by just entering the keyword. Firefox also supports wildcard parameters, so you can enter a keyword followed by a word, and it will add it to the bookmark. I wrote about this in October 2006. So if we create a bookmark in Firefox, modify our Google string for the Location (URL), and add a keyword, we can then execute the same search directly from the Firefox Address Box.

Here are the steps:
  1. Create a bookmark
  2. Change the URL as follows: http://www.google.com/search?q=-inurl%3A(htm%7Chtml%7Cphp) +intitle%3A%22index+of%22+%2B%22last+modified%22+%2B%22 parent+directory%22+%2Bdescription+%2Bsize+%2B (wma%7Cmp3%7Cogg)+"%s%"
    Note that I added spaces for wrapping -- if you right-click and Copy Link Location (Firefox), you can get the string without the spaces.
  3. Add your keyword, such as: music
  4. Click OK
  5. Enter music Stevie Ray Vaughn into the Address Box and press [Enter]
Notice these changes to the URL:
  • All characters are escaped (For example, %3A is a colon [:])
  • I replaced Stevie Ray Vaughn with a %s so that Firefox will recognize this as where to insert the value of my parameter (I left the wildcard [%] at the end)
One final note: if you wanted to search for videos, you can try changing the extensions wma|mp3|ogg to wmv |mov |mpeg.
Happy searching!

24 April, 2007

Hacking Skype

I recently published a blog post on my experience in moving to Skype as my phone service. Since that time, I found an article from VOIP News that has 25 hacks for Skype. This article includes a wealth of information on how you can extend the capabilities of Skype.

For example, using a program called AudioID, it will announce the Skype user name on incoming calls. This is a great feature if you're away from your PC. Other hacks include:
  • A DIY security system
  • Recording calls
  • Enhanced voice mail
  • Integrating with last.fm
  • Lip syncing Avatar
If you have Skype, this is a must read; if you don't ahve Skype, check out what you're missing.

23 April, 2007

Use Excel to solve Soduko puzzles

I found a clever Excel template on the Microsoft site. With this template, it can help you solve Soduko puzzles. You enter the numbers you have, and have it calculate possible answers for the remaining open spots. If it cannot completely solve it, try 1 of the possible numbers and recalculate. Eventually, you will solve the puzzle.
Microsoft has other game templates as well.

22 April, 2007

Music just gets better and better on the Internet

I have talked about some of my favorite music services in the past, including Pandora and of course the iTunes/iPod combination. I have also used YouTube, Live365, and other streaming services. Now I have a new favorite, last.fm.

With last.fm, I enter my favorite artist, band, or song, and it streams music related to that category. At the surface it sounds just like Pandora, but I believe the music matching algorithm is better, as well as last.fm offers many more features. For example, the module above will play my music recommendations, or you can play it on the last.fm site. These are the songs that match what I have selected. I can also play my recommended songs through a downloadable client.

last.fm uses scrobbing to assist in recommending music.

Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to Last.fm and added to your music profile.

Once you've signed up and downloaded Last.fm, you can scrobble songs you listen to on your computer or iPod automatically. Start scrobbling yourself, and see what artists you really listen to the most. Songs you listen to will also appear on your Last.fm profile page for others to see.

In addition, last.fm provides several ways to interact with their music, such as through top charts and tagging. Using the Love feature, you can go back and play songs just from your Love list. Likewise, using the Ban feature, you can ban songs from being recommended again.

This is just a peak at the fun you can have with last.fm. If you haven't already, give it a try.

Cool Firefox Trick

I ran across a cool trick with Firefox, which allows you to open Firefox within Firefox. There's no real purpose behind it, it's just a fun thing to do. Just enter this into the URL line of Firefox:

21 April, 2007

How much do you pay for phone service?

Where I live, basic service is about $25 a month; long distance is extra. That's a guaranteed minimum $300 a year if I don't make any long distance calls. I decided to do something about that -- I got setup with Skype. If you're in the US or Canada, all long-distance is free after a one-time $30 fee (SkypeOut: Skype Unlimited). In addition, to get an incoming number (SkypeIn), I only paid $38 for a year of service, which includes voice mail. You can get your incoming number to have any area code -- so if you have friends or family that have to pay long distance charges to call you, you can get a phone number in their area code. My final expense was an inexpensive Skype phone, $35. So for $103, I have local and long distance for a year. In addition, with just the basic free Skype service, you can talk Skype-to-Skype for no cost.
Many Podcasters, such as Leo Laporte, use this service to record guests on their shows; which is cheaper and yields better quality than if you tried to recorded off a standard phone.

Skype also offers other services such as Skype SMS and SkypeCasts. SkypeCasts are public live conversations -- a good way to meet people with similar interests. For example you can speak to people who like NBC's HEROES.
So if you're looking to reduce your monthly phone expense, I suggest you give Skype a try.

15 April, 2007

Determining Quarter from a date in Excel

Excel is a great program to manipulate your data, perform what-ifs, and graphically display results. But it's not straight forward when you want to know the which Quarter certain activity took place. Fortunately, with a simple formula you can determine the Quarter.

Roundup can be a useful function in other applications as well. The last parameter (0 in this example) is used to change the rounding level. A positive number will add decimal places, while a negative number will round left of the decimal (i.e. -1 rounds to 10s and -2 rounds to 100s).

03 April, 2007

Find and Replace special characters in Word

I recently had a list of items that I wanted to grab from a web page drop-down list. Of course you can't copy a drop-down list, but... you can view the source and get the list. The problem though is, "how do you remove the option tags and the value?" As you may have guessed by the title, you can do it with Word.

Here's a sample taken from News.com:

  1. Copy the list and paste it into Word.
  2. Open the Find and Replace dialog (Edit | Replace... or Ctrl + H).
  3. Click the More button and check Use wildcards.
  4. Here's the trick, as you need to use special characters. First, paste the string you want to remove in the Find what: field.
  5. For each greater than and less than character, place a backslash before it, i.e. < becomes \< .
  6. Replace the contents of the value field with an asterisk.
  7. Validate Word will be able to find the code by clicking the Find Next button -- the code should now be highlighted.
  8. Go to the Replace with: field and enter ^p. This will replace your code with a carriage return.
  9. Press the Replace button once to validate that it works as expected.
    If not, close the Find and Replace dialog and then enter ctrl+z to undo, then return to the Find and Replace dialog to correct the error.
  10. Now press Replace All button to replace all the code with a carriage return.
  11. Likely the beginning code and ending code will still exist, as they are different than the rest. Delete those two entries and you are done.
Now you should have a list from a web site's drop-down list. Obviously with this short list, you could have easily retyped the list, but for me, I just used this technique for a list that was over 600 entries long.

Active window loses focus

Do you ever have the experience where your typing away, say in Word, and another program pops-up and takes focus, forcing you to click back on the program you were working in? This happens the most to me when a new IM conversation begins in Trillian. It's not a problem once the conversation is going, just for new ones.

Where there are a couple of work-arounds to prevent this from happening. Perhaps the easiest is to get Microsoft's Tweak UI to disable it. Look for Focus in the General section of Tweak UI.

You can also do this through a registry setting:
  • Start the Registry Editor: Go to Start | Run and enter regedit [Enter]
  • Find HKEY_CURRENT_USER | Control Panel | Desktop
  • Go to the Edit menu and select New > DWORD value
  • Name the DWORD value "ForegroundLockTimeout"
  • Assign a value of 30d40
  • Close the Registry Editor

While your in the Registry Editor, you can also set how many times the Window seeking your attention flashes in your taskbar. This is another setting within HKEY_CURRENT_USER | Control Panel | Desktop:
  • Add another new DWORD
  • Name it "ForegroundFlashCount"
  • Set it to the value equal to the number of flashes you want, e.g. 3

I have heard (though not experienced) that some times newly installed applications will change your setting back (allowing focus to be taken again). One work around is to execute a registry update each time you reboot (the other is to get a different program that wont make this change). Here is how you would create the file to execute each time you rebooted:
  • Open a text editor such as Notepad
  • Type the following (or copy and paste):
    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

    [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop]

  • Save the file focus.reg. If your using Notepad, be sure to quote it ("focus.reg"), otherwise it will add a .txt extension (focus.reg.txt).
  • To get this file to execute with each new start, go to Start menu | All Programs
  • Right-click on Startup and choose Explore
  • Right-click in the right pane of your new Explorer window and choose New > Shortcut
  • In the Shortcut Wizard, locate your registry file, Focus.reg
  • The entry will contain the entire path, and will be quoted. To avoid being prompted each time to allow the Registry to be updated, enter regedit /s before the first quote. i.e. regedit /s "C:\Documents and Settings\Chris\Desktop\focus.reg"
  • Name your shortcut, e.g. Focus
The same Registry updates can be used for many other settings. For example, you may need to change a setting to run a particular application. Make two Registry (.reg) files, run the first to change your setting before running your application. Run the second when you close your application to return back to your default or preferred setting.

30 March, 2007

Amber interviews Professor Andrew Clement on the subject of Net Neutrality

In Amber McArthur's new position at CityTV, she has produced a lot of interesting material including her blog, Inside Popnology. Here she interviews Andrew Clement, Professor of Information Studies at the University of Toronto on the subject of Net Neutrality.

Non-technical are not secure

From my home, I can pickup several wireless signals, with about half unsecured. I have been using one of these connections, instead of paying Comcast's high prices. While connecting my desktop with my laptop (to transfer some files), I noticed from the laptop that I could see this neighbors computer.

I decided, what the heck, I'll click on it and see if it is open. Well, I got challenged (which you would think is good), but I tried Windows XP default password for the Admin account and I got in. I suspect more people do not understand that they are not secure than being ignorant that they should be secure. Because people are assuming they are secure, their systems get left open to make easy access without any real hacker tools.

If you're reading this, and are not sure about your computer security, I highly suggest you check your system out or have a technical friend help. Check the following:
  • If you have wireless, at a minimum use WPA. You may also consider MAC ID filtering.
  • Your router can work as an incoming firewall, but if you let others on your internal network, you might also consider a software firewall such as Zone Alarm. It also does double-duty as an out-bound firewall, which can block requests from your PC to the Internet.
  • As mentioned above, you should not keep the default password for the WinXP Admin account. It is very easy to access the user manager (User Accounts) from the Windows Control Panel and make a change.
  • Configure your computer to automatically download updates from Microsoft. (See the Security Center in the Control Panel.)
  • And of course, have a virus protection program, use Firefox for browsing, and use Thunderbird for your email.
Have you made sure your network and computer secure?

24 March, 2007

Add additional options to your Boot Menu

Do you ever get frustrated by having to always press F8 when you want to boot into Safe Mode or the Command Prompt? With a simple modification to your boot.ini, you can add those options to the boot menu.

Here's a typical boot.ini (located at c:\):
[boot loader]
[operating systems]
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Windows XP Media Center Edition" /noexecute=optin /fastdetect
C:\CMDCONS\BOOTSECT.DAT="Microsoft Windows Recovery Console" /cmdcons
This boot.ini will prompt with:
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition
  • Microsoft Windows Recovery Console
Add the following three lines under [operating systems] to get Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, and Safe Mode with the Command Prompt:
  1. multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Safe Mode" /noexecute=optin /fastdetect /safeboot:minimal
  2. multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Safe Mode with Network" /noexecute=optin /fastdetect /safeboot:network
  3. multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Command Prompt" /noexecute=optin /fastdetect /safeboot:minimal(alternateshell)
If you want your boot to log its activities, add the switch /bootlog at the end of the line. You can find the generated log t c:\ntbtlog.txt.
If you want the to display the drivers as they are loaded, add the switch /sos at the end of the line.
You can find all the possible switch options on Microsoft's website.
When completed, save your new boot.ini, reboot, and you will have these new boot options.

22 March, 2007

Manage your digital photos with Picasa

I recently was on vacation and was reminded how much I like Google's Picasa to manage my digital photos. Each night as I returned from my activities, I inserted my memory card into my laptop, launched Picasa, and had it load my new photos into a folder unique for that day. Occasionally I took a few additional sunset photos, and common to camera memory cards, when loading I ended up with duplicate file names. Picasa handles this for me by automatically renaming the new files as they were saved to my laptop.

Once the photos were on my laptop, it was very easy to take care of basic photo editing -- perfect for most of us non-Photoshop experts. For example, removing red-eye is simple; I can also sharpen photos; and of course rotation is a single click. Once my edits are complete, Picasa will save my original, so that I can always go back to it later.

Once I finished my edits, I viewed all the photos from the day using the slide show feature. And when I was happy with what I saw, it was a simple click and login (using my Gmail and Blogger account) to post my pictures on the web for viewing by friends and family.

That just scratched the surface of the power of Picasa. Even if you use expert photo editing software such as Photoshop, Picasa is a no-brainer for managing all your photos. If you haven't tried Picasa, I highly encourage you to give it a try.

27 February, 2007

Add a new Download Action in Firefox

Recently I was asked how to add a new Download Action to Firefox. In other words, how can I get Firefox to always use the same program and open a file from the web without having to save it first each time. I scratched my head for a minute and then thought, "this is easy, just click Tools | Options, and then the Content tab." I found out I could only manage them here, not add.

After being perplex for a while, I realized it is actually very easy. Download the file type (e.g. PowerPoint), select the Open with radio button, select the application you want to open it with, and (here's the hard part) check the box next to Do this automatically for files like this from now on.
Now you can go back to the Content tab in the Options menu if you want to remove or change the file association.
Ahh, such an easy solution to any easy problem.

22 February, 2007

DVD Doesn't Play on Your PC

Recently I took a class where the instructor could not get one of his DVDs to play for the class. This particular DVD was a custom compilation made by his organization. The error I saw when trying it on my laptop was that it was blocky and played fast. Another person tried it and got a black screen.

I search Google on "free DVD codecs" and found a codec to that worked.
Once installed, it still did not play with my default player, but it did play with the player installed with the codec -- the Media Player Classic.
Because this first codec worked, I did not try the other downloads. I tried this one first because the file size was the smallest. So if you find that you still have trouble, try one of the other links within the first result (Codec Pack All in 1 or K-Lite Mega Codec).

08 February, 2007

View My Computer as a Menu

Have you ever thought it would be easier to find a particular drive if My Computer would display a menu of all drives? Well actually it can do that, with a little configuration change.

  • Right-click on the Start menu, and select properties
  • Make sure the Start menu radio button is selected, and click the Customize button next to it
  • Click the Advance tab
  • Scroll through the list of Start menu items until you find My Computer
  • Select the radio button next to Display as a menu
  • Click OK twice

That's all there is to it.

07 February, 2007

Is Your Windows XP Computer Internet Safe?

It is extremely easy to have your computer compromised if it is not setup to protect you before going on the Internet. Here are the steps to validate against your own Windows XP computer to make sure it is secured.
  1. Install a router. Even if you only have one machine connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the router provides incoming firewall protection.
  2. Install a software firewall. Use this to protect your machine from having applications access the Internet without your permission. It can be a bit of a pain at first, because you will be prompted to approve applications that you do want to access the Internet, but it is worth it in the long run. I recommend ZoneAlarm (get the pro version if you want more information on messages, otherwise the free version is fine). The firewall that came with Windows XP does not protect you for outgoing traffic, so it doesn't give you any more benefit than your router. The software firewall will also protect you from incoming requests if you connect to a shared network.
  3. Install a virus scanner and have it update daily. New viruses are released, as well as new fixes are published daily, so having an up-to-date virus definition file is as important as having the virus scanning software to begin with. the household brand names, Norton and McAfee are rather bloated, so I recommend Nod32 ($39) or Avast (free).
  4. Install anti-spyware software. If you have an outgoing software firewall (see #2), then even if you get spyware, you should be protected from the spyware calling home. But you can get anti-spyware software for free, and you can run it manually every week or month just to be safe. Try Microsoft's Defender (which has other good features, such as managing startup applications), Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, or Spybot Search & Destroy.
  5. Install and use Firefox (or even Netscape or Opera). Firefox will protect you from security holes and related annoyances (as Microsoft has tried to patch them) in Internet Explorer.
  6. Use Firefox Extensions. Once you have Firefox, you can install an Extension called NoScript which by default will disable JavaScript on all web pages you access. It is then very easy to enable JavaScript just from the sites you trust. It is a great way to get content from sites you like while blocking their outsourced ads. You can also install McAfee SiteAdvisor, which will warn you of potentially unsafe websites.
  7. Replace Outlook Express with Thunderbird (or Eudora). By using Thunderbird, you can avoid the same security risks in Internet Explorer, as Outlook Express uses Internet Explorers rendering engine for all HTML formatted email. You can also use Thunderbird to retrieve webmail.
  8. Use a User Account. With Windows XP it is easy to be running as Administrator and not realize it. Be sure that your Administrator account has a password (default is blank) and that you have created a separate user account that you use for your everyday computing.
  9. Avoid P2P, Porn, and other questionable site. In most cases you should be protected, but if you enable JavaScript on a questionable site, or open a file from retrieved through a P2P transfer or other unverified sources, you are opening yourself up to problems.
  10. Use strong passwords and don't share them. We all get frustrated because passwords are so hard to manage, and strong passwords are even worse. One solution is to use a program such as RoboForm to help you manage your passwords. RoboForm lets you use one global password to protect all your other passwords. It also makes it easy to have different passwords for different sites. This way if one of your passwords is compromised, it doesn't let someone into all your sites.
  11. Protect yourself on public networks. If you find yourself using public networks such as Internet hotspots and hotel networks, read my post on Safe Computing While Traveling.
  12. And of course, keep you machine patched to the latest level -- this of all items, should be a no brainer.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other techniques you use. Just being careful and not protecting yourself isn't a technique, it's luck -- most users are not able to do this successfully, so if you have then you are not the average user. Related to that, I have a friend who takes that approach and recently had his machine compromised by a key logger. Fortunately for him, he only had one account compromised and only lost $1400.

Fixing Boot Problems in Windows XP

It can be quite frustrating if you cannot get Windows XP to boot. Here are several things to try, which can solve boot problems:
  1. Look for clues where it hangs. First, if your computer is cycling through reboots, press F8 after the first beep of the reboot and select Disable the Automatic Restart on System Failure. Next time you boot, when the computer hangs, it may give you some clues to the problem.
  2. Use a Windows XP Boot Disk. This assumes you have made one prior to your problem. To create a boot disk, begin by formatting a floppy disk. Then copy the following files onto the disk: boot.ini, NTLDR, and ntdetect.com. Alternatively, you should be able to create this with a CD.
  3. Use System Restore. Assuming you can boot in Safe Mode (press F8 on reboot immediately after hearing a single beep, then select Safe Mode from the list of choices), from the Start menu, go to Accessories | System Tools and select System Restore. Follow the wizard interface to restore your machine to a previous point. Note that you will not lose any data, but you may have to reinstall some applications.
  4. Use Last Known Good Configuration. The Last Know Good Configuration is another option in the menu where you find Safe Mode when rebooting your computer. For more information on Last Known Good Configuration view Microsoft article #307852.
  5. Use the Recovery Console on your XP Disk. Reboot your computer with your Windows XP installation disk, and select the Recovery Console. From the Recovery Console, you can select which OS to log into (if this is your only OS on the machine, only one will be listed). When prompted, enter the administrator password (the default is blank -- just hit Enter). For more information on the Recovery Console view Microsoft article #307654.
  6. Use your backup. Many folks don't backup, while others just backup their data, but if you have a complete system backup, you can use that.
  7. Fix corrupted partition boot sector and/or master boot record. To fix a corrupt partition boot sector, go back to the Recovery Console and type fixboot c:. To fix the master boot record, you also use the Recovery Console. From there, enter fixmbr \Device\HardDisk0. This assumes that you are booting from c: and c: is on harddisk 0.
  8. Try reinstalling Windows XP. Boot from your Windows XP disk, and select Repair. Repair will overwrite your existing Windows installation but not destroy your data. After the repair completes, go to Windows Update (requires IE 5 or higher) to re-install all patches. Note that you may also need to reinstall some applications.
Of course having difficulty booting is no fun, and the fix can be time consuming. But now you have a way to fix this yourself instead of paying someone to do the same thing. Happy computing!