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December 2005 - Ask the Geek Ask the Geek

Archive for December, 2005

Preserving data stored on floppy disks

The end of the floppy disk is near; Sony recently stopped manufacturing 3 1/2-inch floppies (see an interesting history of the technology). USB storage devices, such as thumb drives and memory cards, are ushering in the new age of ultra-portable storage. PCs used to come with a floppy disk drive as standard equipment; these days, you often have to specify one when you place an order for a system. As one who remembers eight-inch floppy disks, still has a collection of 5 1/4-inch disks, and had one of the first laptop computers boasting DUAL 3 1/2-inch 720K micro-floppy drives, the disks from which I also still have, I know a little about data preservation and migration.

I recently tried to access a floppy disk that’s 10 years old and found that some of the files were no longer readable. I recall advising clients that they should perform a disk “refresh” every few months on all of their critical floppy disks and diskcopy them to a new disk at least once every year or two. Good thing I did; I was right: magnetically-stored data degrades over time.

Before your data degrades and floppy disk drives become a thing of the past, you might want to put that data somewhere else. I suggest you first make a folder called “Old Floppies” in your default storage location (“My Documents” for Windows users) that is regularly backed up. Then, create a folder for the set (if there are multiple install disks, for example) and a folder for each disk and copy the contents of the disk into that folder. To save space, you can use compressed folders, or compress Old Floppies after you have copied everything. I did this with my Windows for Workgroups 3.11 floppies in the following folders: Old Floppies/WFW311/Disk1, Disk2, Disk3…etc. I compressed the whole thing and burned it to CD.

By the way, I refreshed the original disks, too, just like I did with my DOS 6.22 disks–both of them are in original shrink wrap, and I have working installations of both on legacy PC equipment…K

Filed in: Computers, Tips

Emailing MP3 files

Ira writes: What kind of program do I use to send music through email, that will upload fast and download fast?

Thanks for your question, Ira. Something that I believe will fit your bill quite nicely is a service called NetPod. You can upload your MP3s or other music files and then share them with whomever you want using an email link. The service has a built-in MP3 player, so you can listen from anywhere. Here’s some info:

NetPod provides users up to 100GB of online storage that is available from virtually any Internet connected computer through the product’s patented, drag & drop, interface. Features include the ability to share and distribute very large files, create an instant network, securely access data remotely, and play music directly from stored MP3 files. Data can be shared from the account by sending an e-mail with a simple download link or by creating an unlimited number of shared folders that are individually password protected and accessible to others. Your NetPod account can also receive e-mails of unlimited size. Up to 5 users can simultaneously access an account and collaborate on contracts, presentations, and files.The product also has a built-in MP3 player and allows users to listen to their music from virtually any Internet connected computer. User files and privacy are protected by 2048-bit encryption. Version 3.0.1 may include unspecified updates, enhancements, or bug fixes.

Here’s the link to the download:

Filed in: Email, Tips

Restoring XP after a drive crash

Michel writes: Does any software you know of have a bootable mirror image to restore Windows XP tuned and adjusted?

Thanks for your question, Michel. The short answer, no. Each hardware configuration will have its own unique installation of XP, including a rather arcane thing called the “SID” or Security Identifier, so this makes it impossible for someone to produce a one-size-fits-all XP image. However, there are many programs out there, some of them free, that will allow you to make a complete image of YOUR C drive and store it as a file on another drive, such as an external USB hard drive (which may come with its own disk imaging and backup software). Then, if your main hard drive ever crashes, you can use the image file you created to restore your system right back to the way it was on the day you made the image. Any changes, new programs or data you may have stored on the old drive after you made the image would, of course, be lost. This is why data backups are so important.

To restore a “clean” image of XP in this manner, you’ll have to format your hard drive, perform a new installation with all of the programs you want–but without your data–then “tune” it and create an image file. That way, you’ll have a completely functional tuned and adjusted XP setup that you can use to restore your system after a crash.

Check out these links:

Filed in: Computers, Tips

Clipmarks adds new features

In my previous article, “Kool Tool: Clipmarks,” I said, “You might soon find some of the stuff I’m clipping because I’m off to sign up.” Well, I did, and Clipmarks is a very kool tool. Now, it’s even better. They’ve added a whole buch of new features to the service. Here’s a list of the new stuff; you’ll want to check out the Clipmarks blog for all the details:

User Profile
Left-side Clipmarks Navigator
Right-side Chatter
Live Two-Way Commenting
Follow a Tag
Top Clippers For This Tag

Head on over to Clipmarks.com and check it out…K

Filed in: Freebies, Fun Stuff

How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS

Please note: the information in this post is outdated. This post has been superceded by “How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS: 2008 update.” Please do not post a comment saying that this post is out of date – I just told you that! Go to the latest post.

My latest Kool Tekkie Tool (KTT, pronounced “kit”) comprises a thumb drive made bootable with :datapol:’s NTFS4DOS; the latest version (3.16b) of FRISK Software International’s F-Prot Antivirus for DOS is run from the command line. Both of these utilities are free for personal use, but require payment if you plan to use them in a commercial setting: NTFS4DOS is only $25; F-prot is $29 for a 20-user license.

NTFS4DOS is, in itself, a KTT. It allows you to make an NTFS-capable floppy disk or thumb drive and comes with chkdsk and defrag utilities to boot. First, make your drive bootable by following the instructions in my LockerGnome article, “Kool Tool to Make Your Thumb Drive Bootable.” CAUTION! This will completely erase your drive; be sure you have your data backed up before you start. Then, download NTFS4DOS and run the setup. From the NTFS4DOS program group, select “Create NTFS-capable boot floppy.” Select the drive letter of your thumb drive and click Next twice. Your thumb drive is now bootable and NTFS capable.

Next, download F-prot, the latest virus signatures and the latest macro virus signatures and extract them to a folder on your thumb drive. You’re ready to go! Plug it in and let’s take it for a spin.

Make sure you set your PC’s BIOS to boot from your thumb drive. On most machines, you do this by making “USB” or “Removable Device” first in the boot order. If all goes well, the PC will boot to a startup menu. Choose NTFS4DOS; you’ll see the drives being mounted and if you are using the freeware version, the screen will scroll to the NTFS4DOS title screen; you will have to answer “yes” to the question “Do you use this version of NTFS4DOS for private usage only? (Yes/No):” You’ll see the mounted drives at the top of the screen and the C:\> prompt at the bottom. Change to the folder where you stored F-prot and run f-prot.exe to do a virus scan.

Pretty Kool, eh?


How to surf the Web & read e-mail safely as an administrator

Microsoft could regain much of the computing community’s lost confidence (which may be slowly returning) if it would spend more time on public relations than on marketing hype. Case in point: Tech-savvy users have warned of the dangers of running Windows as an administrator and have recommended various solutions, including running with a limited user account (which has problems, not the least of which is that it won’t allow you to install vital anti-virus updates); yet, for over a year, Microsoft has had a workable solution, a little program aptly called “Drop My Rights”. (Download DropMyRights.msi here).

Last November, Microsoft Security Engineer, Michael Howard, published “Browsing the Web and Reading E-mail Safely as an Administrator” on the Microsoft Developer Network website. Basically, you create a shortcut using dropmyrights.exe pointing to the application you want to run as a limited user. Here’s an example (from the article): C:\warez\dropmyrights.exe “c:\program files\internet explorer\iexplore.exe” (yes, include the quotes). You could do the same with any application you want to run as a limited user, Outlook Express or Firefox, for instance. Dropmyrights.exe will affect only the application you launch with it; everything else will run normally in the administrative user context. Howard’s article gives detailed instructions and explanations, but is quite technical , so be prepared for some geek jargon.

Dropmyrights will prevent any ActiveX controls, browser hijacker programs, spyware, adware, etc. from installing, even if you give permission. Mike Healan, over at spywareinfo.com says he has tested this out on some rather nasty sites and it prevented any malware from being installed.


D-Link wireless network card won’t install

Harvey writes: I am trying to re-install my D-Link wireless card’s software; it was not starting as it was suppose to. After it asks for the location to install it to I get the following error: “Error:-1610 The configuration data for the product is corrupt. Contact your support personnel” and it closes. I tried the two latest updates, the original CD and my son’s CD with the same result. I deleted all references I could find to D-Link in the registry. D-Link support was no help.

You were right to look to the registry, Harvey, because the problem is surely an empty or corrupted key. However, the hardware being installed may not identify itself by name, so you may not be able to locate it easily. Rather than try to dig into the depths of the registry, I recommend you use a good registry cleaner. PC Tools’ Registry Mechanic is one of the best around. After you run the scanner and clean up what it finds, try reinstalling your hardware. I bet it’ll work. Many hardware and software problems have their root in corrupted or missing registry keys. Whenever anyone describes “strange” computer problems to me, one of the first things I do is clean up the registry. Most of the time, the problems disappear.

Filed in: Computers, Hardware

CD won’t eject

Erin writes: I have a problem with my CD rom r/w drive. Suddenly it won’t eject any disks, except on a restart, and I have to hold the eject button in to do it. I’ve searched all the settings I can find in XP Home and can’t find why it’s doing this. The drive is working perfectly except for this issue. The button doesn’t seem to be a problem and I’ve watched the lights on the front when I hit eject-nothing no lights, but I can continue to use and write to the drive with no issues. Any ideas?

Erin, I have a pretty good idea that you are using drag-and-drop to burn files to the CD. If so, you probably have an open session that is keeping the drive in an active state. You can right click the application’s icon (such as Roxio DirectCD) in your system tray and select “close” or “eject” (don’t select “close” unless your disk is full, or you won’t be able to add any more files to it). Or you can open My Computer and right click on your CD drive and select “Eject”. Either of these options should let you swap out the disk. If not, and you are using Direct CD, check out this web site: http://www.roxio.com/en/support/dcdwin/livingdcd.html


Fun with Windows XP desktop

Rick writes: I just made the most amazing discovery and I had to tell someone who could tell someone else. Remember 3d posters and pictures where you had to cross your eyes and look behind the page, and an image would float in 3d??

I am running XP and I use Blue Lace 16 as a desktop background. If you relax your eyes and look through the screen to place one sector on top of another, the desktop goes 3d, and falls about 2 inches into the screen, and the icons float on top in mid air. Spooky….

Yessir, I remember those 3D posters; they were pretty popular in the 80’s as I recall. Some people couldn’t see the hidden objects in them, but I never had any trouble. I tried Rick’s suggestion and, sure enough, 3D effects! Anyone know of any other backgrounds like this one?

Filed in: Computers, Fun Stuff
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