For a long time I have been a proponent of backing up your personal data to an online location. I know many people will backup data to external hard drives…but that has always caused me concern because of the possibility of losing both the original and the backup in a fire/theft/natural disaster. Over the years I have gone through a number of different backup options and have switched for various reasons. I am in the process of switching again (the initial upload is currently taking place). For a while I was using Mozy.com because it was simple and reasonably cheap ($6/month). About a year or so ago I switched to CrashPlan from Code42.com…mainly because they were significantly cheaper. Both of these products are very easy to use and easily configurable.
My problem with them…and especially with CrashPlan is that it is a memory hog. Mozy is arguably not terrible…but it was still using approximately 70MB or RAM on my wife’s computer..while it was sitting idle. CrashPlan was a LOT worse…it was using between 250-300MB of RAM while doing absolutely nothing. That is simply unacceptable…which got me re-evaluating options again.
Earlier this year, Microsoft did an update to SkyDrive that allows a couple of new features that make it a viable personal backup solution. The key features are:
- A decent amount of free space (existing SkyDrive users could have 25GB for free…new users get 7GB free)
- The ability to purchase up to 100GB of additional space for a very reasonable price
- 20GB added to your free space is $10/year
- 50GB added to your free space is $25/year
- 100GB added to your free space is $50/year
- A desktop app to make copying to/from SkyDrive very very easy
Here is how I implemented it on my computer and my wife’s computer. (Note…do this at your own risk…if you do something wrong…or if I don’t explain it clearly…or whatever else…you take the risk on yourself. If you lose data, don’t blame me…I warned you!)
First…sign up for a Microsoft account at Outlook.com. This will get you both an email address (that you can choose to either use or not) as well as access to your free space. From there you can “Manage Storage” to add additional space. From the SkyDrive site, look in the bottom left corner and click “Get SkyDrive apps” which will take you to a page to install the Windows Desktop app. (Note that they also have apps for Windows Phone, iPhone/iPad and Android.) When installing the app, it will ask for the location to save SkyDrive files into (the default is c:\users\username\SkyDrive). Instead of accepting the default option, I chose to have it use D:\SkyDrive. I then changed all of my “special folders” (My Docs, My Pics, My Music, Favorites) to point to D:\SkyDrive\Documents, D:\SkyDrive\Favorites, etc. Now…I just save as normal to Docs/Pics/Favorites…and they are automatically uploaded to SkyDrive. Nothing to think about…nothing to configure.
To change the location of the special folders, open up the c:\users\username folder, then right click one of the special folders (like “My Music”). Flip to the “Location” tab and select “Move…”. Choose the “d:\SkyDrive\Music” folder (change to reflect where you put the SkyDrive folder). Allow Windows to move the data to the new folder. This could take a while, so be patient and let it continue.
Another way of doing this would be to use the Junction Point feature of Windows. This is basically a pointer to another folder…so you would still create the d:\SkyDrive (or wherever you wanted to put it), then create Junction Points that map “d:\SkyDrive\Music” to “C:\users\username\music”. Then anything you put in to “My Music” (which is really in the C:\users\username\music) would also appear to be in D:\SkyDrive\Music…which means it would get backed up by SkyDrive
There are advantages and disadvantages to this backup method. Some of them are:
- Limited storage if you have more than 100GB of data to back up. I would expect them to expand this later, but right now…you have a max of 107GB (125 if you signed up in time).
- You have to choose one “root” folder to backup…you can’t pick various folders around the drive…although you CAN create “Junction” points to back up other folders…so this isn’t
- Very low footprint…even in the height of backup up 50+GB of data, the RAM used by SkyDrive on my wife’s computer was at most 34MB…it was commonly below 30MB.
- You have full access to the data from you computer as well as your mobile device (Windows Phone, iPhone/iPad, Android).
- You can also configure the SkyDrive app to allow you access to the rest of your computer.
BTW…I did take a screenshot of the RAM usage while both CrashPlan and SkyDrive were running. Any wonder why I didn’t want to continue using CrashPlan?
I had a friend in Australia send me the link to this video below. It is of a guy who took 24 Samsung Solid State Drives (SSD), and put them into a RAID array. SSD is fast. 24 SSDs in a 6 terabyte RAID array is stupid fast.
He claims to have gotten 2GB/second throughput. Mind you…that is a capital “B”…not 2 gigabit…2 gigabyte. (In layman’s terms…you could copy as much data as an entire DVD from one spot on the array to another in approximately two seconds.) He loaded all of office in half a second. He opened everything on the start menu (53 programs) in 18 seconds. Wow.
One of the features of Word 2007 that I like is the “Full Screen Reading” mode. It really makes it easier to read/review a doc…especially a long one. Matter of fact…I do most of my editing in that mode as well. Most of the docs I work with are long, so pulling it up in full screen reading mode…(two pages on my 1920×1200 laptop screen) makes it easy to see where I am in the document as I am reading/editing. Definitely helps in maintaining the flow of the doc.
So…I switch to reading mode frequently. I also love keyboard shortcuts. Full Screen Reading mode does not have a keyboard shortcut assigned to it as far as I have been able to discover. So…I created my own. This is fairly basic, but here it is in case you’ve never seen how to do it…
Choose the Office “Orb” (top left corner of Word), then Word Options, then Customize, then click the Customize button to open the Customize Keyboard dialog box. In the “Categories” field, select “View Tab”. Then in the “Commands” field, select “ReadingModeLayout”. Click in the “Press new shortcut key” field, then choose what you want the new shortcut key to be. I choose Alt + F…hold down the Alt key and press the F key. This should show something like “Alt+F” in that field…then click “Assign”. That’s it. I now have my Full Screen Reading shortcut key.
This is my new favorite text editor. I’ve used EditPlus for years. When I got to my new job I asked if we had a license for a text editor or if I could expense out the purchase of a license for EditPlus. One of my coworkers asked if I had tried Notepad++ before. I had never heard of it.
After giving it a try, I have officially switched. It has all of the features that I liked in EditPlus, plus a few extras. In particular I like the way you can “fold” levels inside a file. Try it out and note the plus signs on the side of a script to see what I mean by that. You can also click between the line numbers and the edge of the text pane to put a little dot there to give a way to easily refer back to a specific line as you are writing a script. It also recognizes a ton of languages to help with formatting and making sure that you’ve closed all tags/elements.
A big thanks to Tim Miller (one of Virteva’s senior consultants) for telling me about it.
This morning I got an email from someone about secure passwords. The email was a link to this article. Before even opening the link I had a good idea of what it was going to say…make your passwords use all four character sets and make them random, but base it on a phrase that you can easily remember. My guess (and I was correct) was that it was going to ignore/gloss over the issue of password length.
In years past I was a strong proponent of passwords that used all four character sets (UPPERCASE, lowercase, 12345, !@#$%^%). I’m really not anymore. Reason being that password length has a much greater effect on whether a password can be cracked than does complexity. One of the best articles I have seen on this issue was an InfoWorld article back in 2006. The author did a great job of mathematically showing how the two factors in password complexity (length and number of possible characters) work together.
In the times that I have done password audits for the ministry I work for, this has proven out every time. I have seen some very complex passwords that were shorter in length get cracked. I have never cracked a long password. That is the primary reason that my non-admin password is currently 20+ characters long. The password for my admin account? Somewhere north of 30 characters. Good luck cracking it while I am still alive.
A few paragraphs from the InfoWorld article above that I most enjoyed…:
For everyone using six- to nine-character passwords with “complexity,” I appreciate it. I get paid to break in to systems for a living, and you make my job easier.
Strength is provided by increasing the number of possible passwords the attacker has to guess (let’s call this the keyspace even though it really isn’t appropriate in this context). The keyspace is represented mathematically as X^L, where X is the number of possible characters that can be in the password and L is the length. If you do the basic analysis, you can see that changes in L are more significant, character for character, than changes in X.
And because most users also use dictionary words as the root to their “complex” password, and follow other common conventions (capitalized letters are at the beginning, numbers are at the end), a simple hybrid attack will break most of them in less than a day. Trust me, I know — I do it for a living.
So, when trying to increase the strength of your passwords, my advice is to consider length as much or more than you consider complexity. For my money, length is all the protection I need. Make your admin and root passwords 15 or more characters long and forget about complexity — at 15 characters-plus, they are all but uncrackable.
After switching to Vista (18 months ago…beta 2), I realized that my logon script wasn’t running anymore, but I didn’t really pay attention to it until this week…I’m needing to roll out Vista computers to some users at the office…so I need the logon scripts to work. In doing some research I found out why they don’t work. I won’t do a full write up of the reason, but basically it has to do with User Account Control and whether or not the user is a local admin on the computer. You can read a decent description of the issue here.
To get the logon script to work in this instance, you need to use a script named launchapp.wsf (scroll all the way to the bottom of that link) that you can get from the Technet site. That script is one that you use to launch your logon script. It schedules the script to run as a task as the interactive user. It works well…but there are a few issues that I read about and experienced personally.
First, launchapp.wsf does not work for an XP client. So…if a user logs in on a Vista computer and an XP computer…the logon script will work on one or the other…but not both. Or if you are using a GPO to assign your logon script, then it will only work for either XP computers or Vista computers.
Second, if you run multiple scripts (or the same script multiple times), the first will run, but the others will fail. This is because launchapp.wsf creates a scheduled task with a name of “Launch App As Interactive User”. It fails because it can’t create the second task with the same name.
So, I set out to fix those two issues. First, let me say that I am not a great scripter. I understand VBScript. I can write it…I’m not great, but I am adequate. One aspect of script writing that I am very good at is copying something that someone else wrote and massaging it to fit my purpose. That is what I did to fix these problems…a combination of massaging others’ code and writing some of my own.
To fix the issue of launchapp not working with XP, I added a section of code that determines the OS. If the OS is XP, it runs the logon script normally. If it is Vista, it runs it via scheduling the task.
Fixing the multiple scripts / multiple runs issue was more difficult. What I was able to deduce is that the issue is a missing setting in the original launchapp.wsf that you can copy off of the Technet site. Basically when the task is scheduled, it doesn’t expire. I dug through and found the property to set (EndBoundary). I set the script to make the task expire in two minutes. To do that I had to find a way of adding two minutes to the current time and format the date/time to fit the way that EndBoundary requires. Once adding that to the launchapp script, it wasn’t a problem.
You can download my modified version of Launchapp (PDF…my hosting provider restricts what kind of files I can upload…TXT is not one of them.). The pages that I used as reference material, or that I copied code from can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Let me know if it helps or if you have suggestions of how to improve it.
This weekend I was all set to register a permanent domain name for my blog. It would still be hosted here at wordpress.com, but would have my personalized domain name instead of verbalprocess.wordpress.com. I knew there were lots of domain registrars out there, but went blank on all of them except for the one that is doing a fair amount of TV advertising…godaddy.com…which I refuse to use because of their insistence on using sex to sell their services.
So I did a quick Google search for “domain registration” to remind myself of other registrars. One of the first ones in the list was Network Solutions. Okay…(my mind said) that’s one I can trust…they were after all the first registrar back in 1993. So I did a search off of their home page to see if the domain name I had chosen was available. [Warning…don’t do this at Network Solutions’ website. Keep reading to find out why.] Sure enough, their site came back telling me that the domain name was available. So the next step…
I headed back to my wordpress.com dashboard and started going through their process of having them register the domain name and link it to my blog. I kept getting an odd message…it wouldn’t register the domain…it acted like the domain was already owned by someone.
So I sent a message to WordPress.com support (which I found out is only available from 8am-4pm Pacific Time). The message came back from them that “It looks like another registrar is holding onto this domain.” They pointed me to a whois page that showed the following, “This domain is registered through Network Solutions.” WHAT?
I checked another registrar…sure enough it came back that my chosen domain was taken. But if I go back to Network Solutions, the domain is available…ONLY through them. That flipped the switch in my mind. I thought I remembered some news articles about some registrar domain tasting. Sure enough…it was Network Solutions…see articles here, here, here, and here . They started this practice in December 2007. There has even been a class action lawsuit brought against Network Solutions and ICANN because of this.
Did Network Solutions actually buy the domain? No. They are using the five day grace period to keep it with themselves for four days. This also opens up this domain to being sniped up by folks doing domain kiting…which would effectively keep me from ever getting it. Because of this practice, there is no way that I will ever knowingly give Network Solutions any of my business.
Is it the end of the world that I can’t get my domain name right now? No. Is it an unethical practice for Network Solutions to engage in? Absolutely yes. Would it be good for everyone who reads this to register a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (of which Network Solutions is a member)? I’ll leave that to your discretion…but I will provide a link to do so.
In the end…Friends don’t let friends use Network Solutions.
[Update: After waiting five days, I was able to register the domain that I wanted.]
By default when you install Vista Business, it does not install the built in games (Chess Titans, Freecell, Hearts, Inkball, Mahjong Titans, Minesweeper, Purble Place, Solitaire, and Spider Solitaire). Many businesses like it that way and want to keep it that way. I don’t. If someone has a laptop and they want to play Chess or Solitaire at home…I don’t care…knock yourself out. What I don’t want is someone coming to me complaining that the games aren’t there. I want the games to be part of our default install. (Other admins can argue that point if they wish…that’s the decision I made for my environment.)
So…with my default install being completely driven by SCCM Task Sequences…I need to find a way to put that in a task sequence. In a Task Sequence, I need to be able to do this with a “Run Command Line” task. So…what is that command line?
First..it’s not easy to locate. I hunted way to long for this bit of info. I found other cryptic webpages about similar items, but nothing specifically addressing this one…imagine that…not many people want to install Vista’s games via the command line…who woulda thunk it? I finally figured it out through a bit of trial and error. That magic command line is:
pkgmgr.exe /iu:InboxGames /quiet
Note: “InboxGames” is case sensitive.
[Note: I have also found another command line for this: “ocsetup.exe InboxGames /quiet”. ]
What I would really like at this point is to have a command line way of uninstalling “Purble Place”. While I don’t mind if our staff play chess, solitaire, etc…I really don’t want them letting their kids play Purble Place on their work laptop. Anyone know how to do this?
Also…the way to point and click to do this is by opening up “Programs and Features” from the Control Panel, then clicking on “Turn Windows features on or off”, then checking the Games checkbox.
A friend emailed me this morning asking for a recommendation about online backup options. I knew that I had posted before on this topic, so I was just going to forward the links to him. But in reading the two posts (here and here), I realized that I never posted the follow up that I said I would. Well…better late than never.
For people who don’t feel confident in doing technical things, I would still recommend Mozy.com. Also, if you have more than 33GB of data, Mozy is your most cost effective backup solution.
For those who can handle a small amount of technical setup, you can use the service that I use. My data is using Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3). The data is on saved on the same servers that run Amazon.com, and as a result have the same geographically dispersed backup system. They did have a recent outage, but nothing was lost. And honestly…for backup purposes, I was never concerned. The liklihood that I am going to need to pull something out of my online backup during an outage is extremely slim.
All that said…I have about 12.5 gig of data in my online backup (digital pictures and music make up the majority of the space). I think my charge from Amazon last month was $1.99.
The program that I use to upload/synchronize/download/encrypt my data is JungleDisk. It costs $20 for a lifetime license…and you can install it on all of your computers. So…I paid $20…I have it on my work laptop and my home desktop. Both of them are backing up. The nice thing is that if my wife needs one of the files (digital picture maybe) from my backup, she can go to the S3 backup through JungleDisk and pull it out. If I need a file from her backup, I can do the same thing. That has been very handy. It has an automated backup function, and is just all around very easy to use.
One really nice thing is that it is so cheap to simply try out. JungleDisk has a 30 day trial. And you only pay for the amount of space you use on S3. So even if you tested it with a gigabyte of data, you would only spend 25 cents for the first month.
One thing to be aware of…choose a good encryption key. Don’t use a simple encryption phrase…your data security is only as good as the encryption key. And…once you choose a key…don’t lose it. If your computer dies, and you don’t remember the encryption key…no one can help you…you just lost your data. Also…having dealt with a similar issue when my cousin died recently (link, link and link), it’s not a bad idea to let someone that you trust know where they can find the password/encryption key/etc in case you die. Your spouse/family might need it to be able to get to your data.
When I arrived in Oklahoma on my trip to my cousin’s funeral, one of the big tasks was getting into my cousin’s computer. She had left it turned on and locked. She had changed the passwords for every administrator account on the computer to passwords that no one else knew. In particular, there were four programs running on her computer that my aunt was really wanting to be able to see what was on her computer screen. We figured one was probably a web browser, one was her instant messenger program, one was possibly her Bible program, and the fourth was an unknown.
Since I am the computer guy, they asked me to see if I could get into it. Because we didn’t know the password to any of the admin accounts, it wasn’t possible to simply change the password and log in. We also didn’t want to shut the computer down, because that would lose whatever was on her screen. That left us with guessing passwords. Over the course of two days, we probably entered three hundred potential passwords…everything we could think of related to Christianity, Lutheranism, her EMT studies, her boyfriend, other family members, birthdates, as well as some of the more common simple passwords (qwerty, 12345, asdfjkl, the word “password”, admin, a blank password, her username, etc). All to no avail. (BTW…side note…if your password is any of the common ones listed, don’t bother…anyone wanting to get into your computer will be in it within half an hour anyway. Change it to something that will actually be useful. Personally, my passwords are typically sentences…around 24-35 characters.)
I had let my aunt know that a Plan B…if we couldn’t guess the password…was to shut it down and I’d take the hard drive out, pull off the password files (SAM database and System registry hive), and crack the password offline. On Friday night we got to that point. I threw the drive into an external USB enclosure, and pulled those two files out of c:\windows\system32\config. I then downloaded and installed Cain on my computer and started the cracking process. The initial pass did not crack the password, so I loaded a dictionary file that I have used when doing password auditing for the organization I work for. That dictionary file has 1,425,824 “words”…essentially any combination of characters that you want to run through a password cracker. I don’t remember where I got the original version of that file, but it is an almost 16MB text file. Less than ten minutes later, we had her password…laryngoscope. Definitely not one that we would have guessed any time this year.
That leads me to another statement. If you don’t maintain physical security of your computer…you have no security. I couldn’t guess Carrie’s password, but once I took the hard drive out, I had all of her files within minutes. Now…if the files are encrypted…that’s a whole different ballgame. Without the encryption key, I’ll never read the files.
A year or so ago a co-worker of mine had his Dell Latitude laptop at home. He had a webcam hooked up to it and was attempting to get his infant son to smile/laugh/something into the camera so that his grandmother on the other end could see it. So he is bouncing the kid attempting to get the smile/laugh, and the kid throws up on the laptop…just puked all over it. He quickly puts the kid down, unplugs the computer, takes it apart, cleans it out, but it was too late…it was toast. The next day he calls Dell’s tech support and told them exactly what happened…didn’t even try to fudge it…”my kid puked on the computer.” The response? “Let’s see…you have CompleteCare. No problem. We’ll send the parts to the technician, and he’ll come to your house to fix it tomorrow.” No questions asked…simply “we’ll fix it.” Very nice!
A couple of weeks later my co-worker was in a meeting with our corporate Apple rep. I’m pretty sure that it was our Apple rep along with the regional sales manager also, but I’m not totally sure about that aspect. Anyway, my co-worker told them about what happened with his computer and how Dell responded. He then asked them, “What would Apple do in this situation?” Apple’s response?
“We would sell you a new computer.”
Let me repeat that in case it went by too fast for you…
“We would sell you a new computer.” No apologies. No qualifications. What awesome customer (no) service!
I like the fact that the computer that I am writing this on (Latitude D830) has complete warranty. If something flips out, I will have someone coming to my location the next day to fix it, and I’ll be back up and working. I depend on my computer too much to risk being unable to do my job while I ship the computer off for repair service. For that matter, I had another co-worker who was on his way out of the country one time and had the following experience. This next quote is a correction from my original post. He saw my original post and replied with the correct story via e-mail. I copied in his email with his permission…and left his name out per his request.
“I was flying to Japan. The night before, in Orlando, certain keys would no longer work – to the point where I couldn’t even log in to the machine. I did what I could that night but couldn’t fix it. The entire keyboard was hosed. I called Dell during my layover in Dallas and a tech came to the residence I was staying at in Portland. He replaced the keyboard before I flew out of the country the next day.
“Obviously I don’t believe Dell is perfect b/c, as a veteran tech, I have had my share of frustrating experiences with them. Still, this is one of my favorite stories about excellent customer service.”
Oh…and before someone replies with the tired old comment of “Macs don’t break.” Just stop. We all know that’s not true. Don’t even think about throwing that garbage around. I work around entirely too many of them to believe that.
Now…I know this story is likely to annoy a few Mac fanatics. I am not trying to flame bait the Mac community. This post is simply relaying actual events and actual conversations that my company has had with Dell and Apple. But based on the response to my previous posts that highlighted a security issue with Leopard and the attitude of certain Mac users, I know that a bit of flame response is a possibility. If you feel you must…go ahead…I have thick skin; I can handle it.
One of my hobbies is photography. It typically goes in spurts. I’ll go for a long time without taking any pictures…then will go a couple of months and take a ton. This summer was a spurt. In a six week period I took almost 850 pictures on my digital camera. No way that I could have ever afforded my photography with a film camera!
I’ve started a Flickr site and uploaded some of my favorites. Most are from that spurt this summer. Most have not been retouched from what came off of the camera other than cropping. A couple have been retouched a bit. I’m no expert…I just did what looked the best to me with what I had. I’ve posted a bunch of them on my photography page. The Flickr site has better quality images, although you won’t see the difference on your computer screen.
As for what I use for editing pictures. I really like the power of Paint.Net. It’s really powerful…and free! I also use Microsoft Office Picture Manager that is part of Office 2007. I also use Windows Photo Gallery that is part of Windows Vista. I typically use Photo Gallery more for managing photos than editing. I’m probably 50/50 on which of the first two I use…depends on what I’m trying to do. Basic cropping and retouching probably gets Picture Manager. It’s just really simple to use. More advanced stuff gets Paint.Net.