27 February, 2009

Increase IIS Connections running on XP

When developing locally on IIS, with the addition of AJAX, I found myself running out of connections -- the default is 10. Turns out you can bump the connections up to 40. Here's what you need to do:
  1. Open the command prompt
  2. Navigate to \inetpub\adminscripts
  3. Enter the following command: cscript adsutil.vbs set w3svc/MaxConnections 40
  4. Restart IIS ( you can use iisreset at the same command prompt)
That's all there is to it.

26 February, 2009

Lose my CD / DVD Drives

Recently I experienced several little problems with my Windows XP desktop. It started with losing the sound and the inability for Skype to answer. After trying various things, I rebooted, which brought back the audio and seemed to have corrected Skype. Unfortunately, I then lost my 2 CD/DVD drives plus one virtual CD/DVD drive.

Losing the virtual drive should have been the clue, which I initially missed. They all displayed in the Systems hardware window, but with error 31 messages. After looking for and installing new or replacement drivers, I still had the same problem. I finally ran across a knowledge base article from Microsoft.
You can no longer access the CD drive or the DVD drive, or you receive an error message after you remove a CD recording program or a DVD recording program in Windows XP: "error code 31"
The solution was to delete two apparently corrupt Registry entries and then re-install all software that have a burn CD and/or DVD feature. A pain to go through the re-install, but it did do the trick. Here are the steps to the Registery keys (also available from Microsoft KB article):
  1. Go to Start Menu >> Run...
  2. Enter Regedit and click OK
  3. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE >> SYSTEM >> CurrentControlSet >> Control >> Class
  4. Click {4D36E965-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}
  5. Right-click on UpperFilters and select Delete
  6. Right-click on LowerFilters and select Delete
  7. Reboot

It's been smooth sailing since the fix.

16 February, 2009

Monitor your Gmail accounts whenever your browser is open

With the Gmail Manager Firefox add-on, you can always easily see how many messages you have in all of your Gmail accounts. In addition, with a click or two, you can be in your account, and answering and deleting your email.

Features of Gmail Manager include:
  1. The ability to monitor multiple Gmail accounts
  2. The ability to save your passwords
  3. The use of https (secure) connection
  4. Various toolbar notices, including
    • Hide unread count
    • Hide alias
    • Unread for email, spam, and or labels
  5. Configuration of minutes between checks for new messages
  6. Sound notification when new email arrives
Though just on version 0.5.7.1, this seems to be a pretty solid Add-on.

13 February, 2009

Disable Taskbar Balloon Tips

Are you tired of the balloons that pop-up every time you lose and reconnect to a wireless network? Or when Windows wants you to clean-up your icons? Well it's actually very easy to disable the Taskbar Balloon Tips.

Go to the Microsoft knowledge base entry 307729 for instructions and use their new Fix It feature. Instead of changing a Registry setting using Regedit, which is the most common way to change a Windows setting, Microsoft now provides a button within knowledge base articles that will change the Registry setting for you.

11 February, 2009

Add an extra layer of security for Win XP users

Long time readers of my blog know that I am not very fond of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express because of their security vulnerabilities. Due to that, I switched a long time ago to Firefox and Thunderbird. Unfortunately due to my job, I find myself having to use Internet Explorer more and more.

We have a 3rd-party application that we access over the Internet that requires Internet Explore. In addition, I do our web development, which requires that I test everything in Internet Explorer. Also, I have assumed responsibilities for the Webmaster role for the Cascade Blues Association (CBA), which again requires testing in Internet Explorer. It also added another email account to monitor. In order to keep the CBA account separate from my personal and work email accounts, I decided to re-load Outlook Express.

So back to my point. Most users, including me, run Windows XP with Administrative privileges. For most folks it's due to not knowing any better or not knowing how to change. For me, it's a matter of doing too many things all the time that would require me to switch back and forth much too often top be practical. Fortunately, there are some solutions available that will add some security back to XP. Note, users of Windows Vista don't have this issue, as they are not setup by default to run with Administrator rights.

One such option is to run a virtual machine, and have your Internet facing applications, such as web browsers, email, and instant messengers (IM) contained within the virtual machine. It can be cumbersome if you have to save or attach files, sharing them between systems. You can also miss out on the convenient notifications that come along with email and IM clients.

A second option is to use Sandboxie. With Sandboxie, you can run each of your Internet facing apps in their own sandbox or put them all in one. Similar to the virtual machine option, but they are closer to any other desktop application as you wont miss out on the notification features as mentioned with the virtual machines. Some configuration would stil be required to share files from in and out of Sandboxie.

A third option, which I am now using, is Drop My Rights. Drop My Rights comes from Microsoft, and it allows you to run individual programs with lower rights than the rights you have when you are logged in with the Administrator account. It's fairly easy to set up, as you actually launch Drop My Rights, and pass it the location of the actual program you want to run. Simply, you create a new icon on your desktop for each application you want to run under Drop My Rights, and you update the Target with the appropriate parameters. There's an article on Happy Trails Computer Club that explains how to do this, as well as many additional sites that you can find through Google.

Note that virtual machines and Sandboxie offer other security benefits that using Drop My Rights does not. So now you have some alternatives, if you must run Internet Explorer and/or Outlook Express, and you're using Windows XP, consider adding an extra layer of security.

Test your knowledge of CSS and JavaScript

From my experience, many web developers do not know the finer points of HTML, JavaScript, and/or CSS. They've relied on a combination of built-in language tags (e.g. in place of JavaScript) and designers to do this work for them. How good are you?

The W3schools.com site (which I find to be a good reference site) has a 20 question CSS quiz and 20 question JavaScript quiz that will separate the knowledgeable from the not so. On the CSS quiz I scored 17 of 20 -- 2 of the 3 were syntax questions that I know I don't know, and always find myself looking up. For the other miss, I learned something new. For the JavaScript quiz, I scored 18 of 20 -- one being a math function that I missed, and I would expect to have to look up. The other... I shouldn't have missed.

Give it a shot and see how you score. Have fun.

Friends on Facebook and MySpace

Who are Friends on Facebook and MySpace? Should you accept every Request? What if you rather not accept a Request? Recently it seems I've had an increase in Friend requests from folks that I have never met, but we share a common interest, or met just briefly once. I began to wonder how to best handle this.

The easy answer is just to say Ignore or No, but then again you never know what bridge you might inadvertantly burn. This led me to consider the goals of my social networks and the capabilities of those networks. For me, MySpace was easy -- I use it to connect with my interest in Blues music. I have "requested friendship" with many musicians who I have never met, and we've connected. Facebook though has been a different story.

Up until recently, I had most of my privacy settings set so anyone in my network could view information about me. I was treating Facebook as a more personal network, predominately filled with family, friends, and current and former co-workers. But I had also gotten lazy and accept Friend Requests from people that I don't really know. So, in getting back to my goal with Facebook, I think I want it just for those folks who I've had a personal relationship with.

Oh, but how does that translate to folks that I have just recently met? Where do you draw the line, or rather, what qualifies a person to cross into that territory? I guess for those that I share a music interest, I can suggest we keep in touch through MySpace. And for those business associates, I can steer them toward LinkedIn. Anyone else left? For those, we need a new security option on Facebook to signify friends that are not yet qualified friends. Facebook, can you give a guy a little help here?

To wrap this up, I found a couple blog posts that seemed to touch on some of the same subject matter. DormDelicious has some etiquette guides, that if followed might keep you from getting Friend Requests from people you don't yet know. Quarterlife Cafe talks a bit about putting some thought into what your your social networks and what you share and what it says about you on. Finally, LifeHacker has a couple guideing principles and some interesting perspectives with the comments section.

02 February, 2009

A fix for Picasa 3

On Jan 16, 2009, I wrote about troubles with Picasa 3 and no longer supporting it as a photo manager. Since then, I have tried 4 other photo managers and I have solved my Picasa problem. First, the fix.

I took these steps to restore Picasa back to normal.
  1. File > Add Folder to Picasa
  2. Removed every folder referenced -- this led to no photos listed in Picasa
  3. File > Add Folder to Picasa
  4. Selected the folders I wanted to re-include in Picasa --Picasa reloaded
  5. Smiled and was happy :-)
That simple process seemed to do the trick.

As I mentioned, I have tried 4 other photo managers, though I'm going to stick with Picasa -- assuming it behaves. Not that they other 4 are not as good, but for one reason -- Picasa integrates so nice with their hosting service.

Here are the 4 other photo managers (in no particular order), and a few comments:
1. ACDSee Photo Manager 2009
If I were to replace Picasa, I think this would be my choice.
  • Some features I liked:
    • Loads fast as a replacement for Windows default picture and fax viewer.
    • Preview of thumbnails with a simple mouse hover.
    • Easy to filter with auto categories (e.g. focal length, shutter speed, photographer, and others), ratings (1 - 5 and unrated), and categories (e.g. albums, people, and others).
    • Many edit/adjustment tools, some with presets and auto-adjustments.
    • Edit/adjustments contains before and after views.
    • Database management. (The thing that Picasa needs help with.)
  • Other comments:
    • Has a publish to TiVo feature -- I never used, as I don't have TiVO, but it promises to be an easy way to view your photos on your TV, which I do and love with my Apple TV.
    • Contains a backup wizard.
    • Could use a UI freshening.
2. Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition 3.2
  • Biggest con: Sprinkled with ads throughout -- I'd have to be really hard pressed to settle on this product due to the ads.
  • Some of the features I liked:
    • Time-line bar chart representing number of photos during a given month.
    • Integration with Flickr -- I didn't actually try it, but I assume the same conviences I have with Picasa is realized.
    • Calendar View -- Displays a calendar and a photo on each day that photos were taken. Simple slide show on the right allows you to see all photos for the given day.
    • Drag and drop tags onto photo thumbnails; easily find them later by selecting the tag.
    • A few auto adjustments, with before and after views.
  • Other comments:
    • Not as rich featured as Picasa.
    • Did I mention the annoying ads?
    • Saves original when you perform edits.
3. Photo Manager 2008 Standard (Proxima Software)
  • Mouse hover provides an extensive list of properties including size, dimensions, and camera used.
  • You can create a work list of photos.
  • Has a search feature to find duplicates -- uses color coding to indicate duplicates; recommends which one to keep.
  • You can get plug-ins for Canon cameras
4. Corel Photo Album 6 (there's a newer version, but I have a license for this version)
Disclaimer: Corel is the parent company of the company I work for.
  • Some of the features I liked:
    • Tabs are used to make navigation of features easy: Organize, Enhance, Create, Share.
    • The Create section offers various print projects from photo album pages to CD labels to calendars, and more.
    • Easy backup onto a CD(s).
    • Tutorials (PDF) on website.
  • Other comments:
    • Crashed occassionaly.
    • When appying enhancements, half the image shows the original and half shows the change -- I want to see both together.
Though no way exhaustive or complete, this gives you an idea of what the top photo managers are and what they offer. While I'm at it, let me also remind you, BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS. Let me know if you have another photo manager to add to the list or favorite features you like (or dislike) with any of these.

Free fax service

For most of us, faxes are quite dated. Having a fax machine to receive documents can be quite a chore to coordinate the logistics in figuring out where someone could send you a fax. If you use K7, you can receive faxes and voice mails for free.

Go to K7.net, give them your email address, select a 4 digit pin, and answer 4 questions on the service you want, and you will have your own (206 area code) fax number. Service options include the following:
  • Save faxes only (which can be retrieved off the K7 website)
  • Save faxes and send you a copy via email
  • Do not save, email only
Faxes are saved in TIF format, which will give you multiple images in a single file -- one image per page.

The service claims to continue to support your account for free as long as it is used at least once every 30 days. If you have the Washington State only plan, which receives calls only placed within Washington, you can have up to 90 days of inactivity before your account is released.

Next time you need to receive a fax, you will have an easy to set up, free solution.