Friday, September 26, 2008

WinXP - Applications & Tools

Here is a list of applications and tools/utilities I use and recommend

  • Open Office Suite - This is Sun Microsystem's JAVA based office suite. It is Open Source = free. Has all the MS Office features and can open MS Office documents. Not only that, it can print any document directly to a PDF file! Open an Office document in Open Office (read only), print to PDF, nice! Reminder, Sun are the publishers of Sun JAVA.

  • B's Recorder - Want to write/read CDs or DVDs with a utility that is very, very user friendly? This is it. Buy the DVD Deluxe version and you get all the features that NERO has. But don't need all those features, buy the Basic version.

  • Boxer Text Editor - I really like this text editor. It has features that most cannot touch. Like some high-end text editors Boxer will automatically recognize programming languages like HTML, C, Basic, dBase, Pascal, etc., and highlight (color code) commands, variables, comments according to the language's rules.

  • Chameleon Clock - This is a utility that substitutes for your Taskbar Tray Clock. You can choose from a set of skins for appearance. Hover your mouse over the clock an the current month's calendar opens (Tool Tip). It can act as an alarm if you desire, and it will synchronize with Atomic Clocks via sites you can set, which is very helpful for users that logon to a Domain Server (you cannot us the normal Windows synchronize via a Domain).

  • CuteFTP - This is another utility that has been around a long time. I've used it for years.

  • MBRWizard (must have) - I say "must have" because this utility will save and restore your current hard drive(s) MBR. This can save you headaches if a MBR gets fouled up. Just remember to save it to a DOS boot floppy with the DOS version of MBR.

  • MyUninstaller (freeware) - This is a plug-in that extends the features of Add/Remove Programs. It does not replace it. One feature, you can remove unwanted Add/Remove Programs entries.

  • PerfectDisk by RAXCO - This is the hard drive optimizer (defrag) I really like. It costs, but worth every penny. It is fast and reliable. The best feature in Windows is that it uses LAYOUT.INI (the file that lists all that is loaded on boot, in order loaded) to move these files to the head of your drive resulting is slightly faster and smoother bootup.

  • TweakNow Registry Cleaner Standard (free version) - This is the safest Registry Cleaner I've used, and a very user-friendly interface. It designates Safe-to-Remove, Not-Safe-to-Remove, and unknown entries. You can add any entry to an ignore list so they don't show up on the next Registry scan. The unknown entries will have a Deep Scan option that will scan all your hard drives looking for the missing file reference, if that does not find it the entry will be marked Safe-to-Remove. There is a Pro version and I think it's worth the price.

  • WinAudit (freeware, highly suggested) - This is a very small program (no installer, just one run EXE, fits on a floppy) that will audit your PC. Hardware, software, and much more. It just gathers information from existing sources in WinXP and consolidates it in one document. The feature I like is you can [Save] the document directly in a PDF file. You should use this utility and print the PDF and file for your records, you many need it for troubleshooting.

  • WinDirStat (freeware, highly suggested) - If you ever needed an easy way to asses your hard drive space. This small utility (from the Linux world) for Window does the job, including showing freespace. The screenshot is a customized view, removed some of the optional "maps."
    (click for larger view)

  • TinyPDF Printer Driver (freeware) - This printer driver adds a printer to your system that can be used from any print menu. What it actually does is save the printed document to a PDF file. Having a PDF of a document can make it easier to attach to emails to people who may not have the application that created the original document. Example, a Visio file sent to people who do not have Visio.

WinXP - Fixing Win Update Failures

If you have problems with Windows Update installations (install fails), try the following fix from Microsoft.

  1. Use Notepad and enter (you can copy/paste) all the following command lines:

  2. regsvr32 wuapi.dll
    regsvr32 wuaueng.dll
    regsvr32 wuaueng1.dll
    regsvr32 wucltui.dll
    regsvr32 wups.dll
    regsvr32 wups2.dll
    regsvr32 wuweb.dll

  3. Save the file:

    • Change Save as type: to All files

    • Name the file as a type .CMD (not .TXT), example FixWinUpdtes.cmd

  4. You can now run your CMD file by double-clicking it (it will run in a Command Prompt dialog) to fix Windows Update. You will get a "started" dialog for each line, just [OK] each until the Command Prompt dialog closes.

  1. Then reboot your system and run Win Updates again.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

PC SECURITY - Passwords and Other Security Criteria

At the top of security protection is passwords, Windows Password and others.

Here are just basic password criteria to protect yourself:

  • Never, never allow your personal password to be compromised by practices that allow others to find out what it is

There is a movie that demonstrated what can happen if you are sloppy about protecting your password, War Games, starring a young Matthew Broderick. He plays a high school computer nerd that can hack into the schools computer system, where student grades are kept, because the Principle's secretary writes down the current password on a slide-out of her desk. He looks, goes home, and logs on the school computer to change grades.

Do not write down your password where it can be easily accessed, this includes your wallet or purse. If you have to write it down at all, lock it up in a safe place; like well hidden inside a locked file cabinet.

  • Never use passwords that contain easy-to-know information about yourself or your family. Do not use family names (partial or nickname), birthrates, your street name or number, your pet's name, etc.

Again there is a movie that demonstrated this issue, True Lies, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnie is head of a 3-man team, part of an Ultra Secret Black Ops organization. One team member is the computer expert (aka hacker). There is a system Arnie wants access to, needs the password. They give the task to their Ace Hacker and walk away, but they don't get but a few feet when the hacker says he's in. They look surprised. What was the password? The wife's birth month (3-letter), the son's birth month (2-number), and the daughter's birth year (4-number), in reverse.

This was all from information that was already known about the user of the target system.

  • Using a mixed password is better than (example) all lowercase letters

The safest password is mixed case, alpha-numeric, and special characters (some of these are restricted). The length is specified by the context (Windows, your ISP, a specific WEB site) but 4 to 8 is the most common password length.

It is NOT necessary to restrict yourself to random characters. Just don't use related words.

  • BAD = dog4cat, hot89dog, rainwater5, roadkill, more$money = commonly related words, all lower case

  • GOOD = dog4splinter, hot$snow, hill$$water5, RoadDice, money#rain = NOT commonly related words

  • BETTER = roaDDice, hIll$$watEr5, dogFOURsplinter

WEB access Child Password Protection:

  1. Implement Password access to Windows itself. Ensure parents are the ONLY ones with Administrator rights, children as Users.

  2. There is an excellent tool for customizing restrictions, in this case your child's User account. Doug's Windows XP Security Console.

  3. There is a way to assign restrictions to individual files or folders (and their contents), using the Security tab in Properties. For example, you would restrict access to the folder containing Doug's Security Console to Administrator (parents) so your children could not use it to change their rights.

I always suggest AOL as an ISP (Internet Service Provider) to novice users, especially those who have trouble with technology (aka trouble programming their VCR). They have excellent threat protection and include many tools that would have to be purchased separately with other ISPs. But I became aware of a very big fault in AOL's child protection scheme. Although this may have been fixed by now.

My sister, a novice user, joined AOL, and because her young grand daughters were often at her home, we setup accounts on AOL with child-protection restrictions.

The problem was, when logging onto AOL we did NOT check the Automatic Logon option (no password entry) therefore you had to enter a password. But found out, after creating the AOL restricted accounts, anyone could check Automatic Logon! This meant that a child could check this box, and if the parent did not notice, the next time the child could logon to the parent's account bypassing child-protection. Setting up child-protection did NOT disable the Automatic Logon option.

There are many tools for protecting your children, many use in schools. Use Google or a parent related WEB site for more options/choices.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PC SECURITY - The Issues

The security of you PC computer is a major issue, especially if you are online, connect to the Internet or World Wide Web (WWW).

Security starts on your PC itself, with a range of considerations:

  • Is your PC used at home or an office?

  • How secure is the location? Secure from intruders.

  • How sensitive is the information on your PC, especially if it is used in business?

  • Is there more than one user, more than just you?

A PC use for business usually contains sensitive files (client and vendor accounts for example). You may have employees that use the PC as part of their job. In these cases you should have a basic Windows Password (one you enter when you boot to Windows) for each user.

The Windows Password should meet minimum security criteria, which I will discussed in another post, especially in business or the context of child protection.

Also, security involves the considerations like backing up your critical files or protecting your PC from power outages.

Being online has its own considerations:

  1. Do you really need to be online all the time?

  2. Do you really need to have your PC on all the time?

  3. At home, do you have young children you need to protect?

  4. Hackers, viruses, identity theft, etc.

The first two items above actually need to be considered first because they impact the fourth item.

NOT being online lowers your exposure to hackers, viruses, etc.

If your PC is off, you are not online, you are not exposed. This also ensures your PC will last longer and have less impact on your energy bill.

This brings up one of the biggest considerations, in my opinion, in online security. Online Sharing Programs; music sharing, photo sharing, whatever sharing.

Users need to understand how these programs work. They all allow other users worldwide to connect to your PC, many times without your immediate knowledge and prowl through your PC (supposedly looking just for music for example). The worst example was a popular site that actually was allowing access to ALL files on a PC, not just the ones the sharing program was for. They did correct this mistake but not before thousands of users were exposed.

Now add the strain on your PC system resources. Personal example; my niece had singed up for an online college course. She found she could not make connection with the college, and she had a good DSL connection. The problem was caused by her eldest daughter installing a music sharing program, so every time the PC was booted the sharing site was uploading a list of all the music on the PC. This used all the connection bandwidth preventing any normal IE browser connection.

Also, because of the connection log-jam, her anti-virus program was not updating properly and the sharing program provided a virus entry point. So after getting her PC operating properly (uninstalling the music sharing program) and updating her anti-virus, (she had 500+ viruses on her system!) everything ran just fine.

This leads to the issue of protecting children:

Not only do you want to protect your children from online predators (just look at the news), but you also have to protect your PC from your children (the daughter who installs a sharing program for example).

Also, there is the issue of WEB sites like MySpace or Facebook for social networking. There are many news items of children (even older teenagers) falling pray to online predators who frequent these sites. This is not just because of the WEB sites themselves, but of the indiscriminate dangerous ways children use them.

  • Posting photos of themselves

  • Posting mailing address, especially home addresses

  • Using their real name instead of a nickname or handle

  • Posting other personal information that could help online predators

By the way, no matter what these social networking sites say, there is no way (short of a full background check and fingerprinting) of assuring a user IS who he/she says they are. Online predators will know how to get around any normal identity checks.

I will be making more posts on these general issues later.

Monday, September 22, 2008

PC GAMING - Overview

Aha, yes. My favorite subject.

First off, I'll admit I am prejudice toward PC gaming as opposed to Console gaming.

My personal hardware definitions:

  • PC Gaming

    • The Platform (hardware) is a PC

    • Games are written to optimize the use of keyboard and mouse controls

    • I do not include games that are optimized for use of a Game Controller on a PC

  • Console Gaming

    • The Platform is usually a Console (examples, PlayStation or XBox), but on occasion can be a PC

    • Games are written to optimize the use of Game Controllers, this includes those games on a PC

Just what are classes do PC Games (and others) fall into? Again, my personal view:


  • This class of games does overlap into all the others. In general you (your Avatar) goes through an adventure where you are to accomplish a goal, mission, or quest. Think a movie script where you control the main character (hero).

    Your Avatar is "virtual user representation" within a game.

    A "pure" Adventure game MAY include solving puzzles. One prime example is the Myst series. In most of these games you play as a single hero or character, and you do not have may options to customize him/her/it. Character customizing, if allowed, is usually restricted to name, gender, appearance.

    Other examples of this class are the Nancy Drew Mystery Games, and the CSI game series.

    There is one drawback, in my opinion; these games are not often interesting to replay. Once you have solved the puzzles or mystery, playing them again MAY be boring to some. You can try to improve scores (like in the CSI games), but that's about it. What I do, is leave them alone for quite awhile before replaying.


  • As stated, these have many elements of Adventure Games. The main differentiating feature is heavy dependence on action; jumping, climbing, swinging on ropes, tumbling, etc. These also include driving cars, skiing, surfing, sports (Madden Football), and more.

    These games usually are best played using a Game Controller. I have found one exception, that MAY be considered in this class, that works very well with keyboard and mouse, Assassin's Creed. This game is outstanding using keyboard and mouse.


  • This class of games is #1 on my list.

    These do overlap into Adventure Games in a big way. The main differentiating feature is the ability to choose and customize characters. They also relay heavily on Dungeon & Dragon (D&D) rules. These rules assign numerical points to various characteristics of your character and are used to advance (level-up) during the game.

    In RPG you choose from a range of characters; type/race, class, gender, appearance, and more. You also have the ability to assign points to various skills and abilities at game start and during the game as you level-up (gets you more points).


    • Strength - how strong your character is effects maximum weight he can carry and how hard are his blows with weapons like swords, axes, hammers, etc.

    • Agility - how your well character can jump, tumble, etc. Effects how well he can avoid blows from attackers.

    • Personality - how well others (NPC, Non-Player Character) react to you. Can effect your bargaining skill or ability to extract answers to your questions in conversation dialogs.

    • Intelligence - self explanatory, can effect your magic ability or ease of learning new skills (via use of a skill or from a Trainer NPC).

    I have my favorites: Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind & Oblivion), Eschalon, F.E.A.R., Far Cry, Doom 3, Soldier of Fortune 2, Quake 4, BioShock, Splinter Cell (only the first 3), Assassin's Creed (mentioned above, and note the overlap to Action Games).

    One thing I really like about the Elder Scrolls Morrowind & Oblivion, is these games are open-ended and in an open-world (especially Oblivion).

    "Open-ended" means that you do not have to complete quests in a prescribed order. You can run any quest (Main Quest, Sub-Quest, or Misc Quest) in any order, even run several at the same time. Not only that, you do NOT have to complete the Main Quest at all. I use completing the Main Quest as a way to complete/close the character I'm playing before starting with a new character.

    Open-world means that there are few boundaries within the Game World. You can roam about anywhere you wish; and there are many, many places to visit and some have nothing to do with a specific quest-line.

    Morrowind RPG takes place in 3 locations within the Province of Morrowind. Oblivion RPG takes place in the entire Province of Cyrodiil.

    The Elder Scrolls Game World:


  • This class of games consists of simulating something. Examples; Flight/Ship Simulators, society simulators (SIM City general society, Age of Empires war, etc.). These also include sport games as mentioned above.

    The idea is you (the player) actually manipulate your environment, both physical and societies. These games can be almost endless, depending on just how long you want to play (SIM City) or how long you survive (Age of Empires). The Flight or Ship simulators are self explanatory, but note that some are actually used in professions as trainers.


  • This class of games are #2 on my list.

    FPS = First Person Shooter, your view is seeing through the character's eyes. You usually only see what weapon you are holding.

    TPS = Third Person Shooter, your view is seeing via a "camera" over the character's shoulder (follow-me camera) or other location.

    And the term Shooter is self explanatory.

    There IS a big overlap with Adventure & RPG, although there is an on-going "discussion" as to if FPS games are really RPG (from RPG purest out there).

    This can be seen from my favorites: F.E.A.R., Far Cry, Doom 3, Soldier of Fortune 2, Quake 4, BioShock, Splinter Cell, and Assassin's Creed.

    These games are sometimes referred to as hack-and-slash games (so are some RPG) for obvious reasons. They do tend to be very bloody. They also can be very intense; like when you play Doom 3 in the dark, with a good Surround Sound system. Like jump-out-of-your-seat intense.

    What I like to do is find different ways to carry out a "mission" or just do better. Far Cry for example, I am deadly at one mile with the Sniper Rifle.

As noted in the inaugural post here, I have over 760gb of hard drive space on my home system, but only 80gb taken up by serious (non-gaming) applications + WinXP Pro SP3. So, yes, I'm a big-time PC gamer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

WinXP - Hardware Upgrades

I was reminded to include this subject because of a motherboard upgrade on my home WinXP PC. So here is what anyone upgrading major hardware, like motherboards, needs to consider.

  • Make sure you have your original WinXP Setup CD, you may need it

  • Make sure you have all the CDs that came with your hardware (new and old); PCI cards, motherboard, etc.

  • Perform a virus scan of C:

  • Optimize (defrag) your boot drive (C:) before you change hardware

  • If you still have the User Manuals for your hardware, make sure you know where they are

    • After following the instructions for physically installing your hardware, when you first boot to WinXP, hopefully you will have few problems other than the New Hardware Wizard opening. Just remember to let the boot finish before doing anything with the Wizard.

      If you do have problems, like constant reboots when WinXP tries to load, here what you need to try:

      1. Mount your WinXP Setup CD and boot to it

      2. When you get to the window that has the 1st Repair Option, select that to open the Recovery Console

      3. When you get to the Command Line window, enter CHKDSK /R ("R" is not a typo)

      4. After CHKDSK runs, reboot


      1. Mount your WinXP Setup CD and boot to it

      2. This time skip the 1st Repair Option, select to install WinXP

      3. Setup should see that you already have WinXP installed and there will be a 2nd Repair Option

      4. This is a Repair Reinstall of WinXP which will keep your current configuration, including applications

      5. When the Repair Reinstall is completed, make sure to reboot at least twice to ensure reliability

      6. From the desktop, open the Command Prompt, enter CHKDSK /F ("F" is not a typo, will require reboot)

      7. IMPORTANT: This method will require reinstalling Win Updates, but do not use the [Express] method, use [Custom] (see below)


      If you have a WinXP SP3 Installer CD (see previous post), install SP3 now. This will save having to reinstall many Updates.

      As stated above, use the [Custom] method. You will most likely have many Updates to install (96 when I did my motherboard upgrade) and that can be a potential problem on a system with WinXP already installed.

      To be safe, install only 3 to 5 updates at a time. First use the [Clear All] then check the 3 to 5 you want to install and install them, including reboot regardless of asked to or not. Repeat this procedure until all updates are installed.

      WinXP - Windows XP SP3

      WinXP SP3 has been released and available through Win Updates, but I highly suggest you do not use Updates for SP3.

      It is much better to manually install SP3 from your hard drive (saved file) or (better) an installer CD. This is because there is much you should be doing BEFORE installing SP3, which I will discuss in a bit.

      Here are download sources for two versions of SP3:

      I recommend the ISO SP3 Installer image because you write the ISO to a CD and you get an Autorun installer that you can use later if you have to reinstall SP3.


      1. From the Command Prompt, run CHKDSK C: /F (will require reboot)

      2. Optimize/Defrag C:

      3. Run a Full virus scan (all hard drives)

      4. Backup C:

      5. Disable AntiVirus Autoprotect (unplug network connection or go offline first)

      6. Unload/exit any Taskbar Tray applications that may interfere with SP3 installation

      Now install SP3. When done you will be prompted to reboot.


      1. Reboot at least once after reaching the desktop

      2. Right-click My Computer, select Properties, and you should see "Service Pack 3"

      3. From the Command Prompt, run CHKDSK C: /F again

      4. Optimize/Defrag C: (it will need it badly)

      5. Run Win Updates

      WinXP - Process Explorer

      Microsoft bought-out the original owners of System Internals, which are a set of very good tools for WinXP.The most outstanding, in my opinion, is Process Explorer (PE) (see sidebar).

      The best feature is the [Find] option. When you get those error dialogs that say "whatever.DLL has caused a problem, and...," if you leave the dialog open, you can use the PE [Find] to search for whatever.DLL and tell you which task called the errant DLL. Much better for troubleshooting the error.

      If you put the shortcut to PE in your Startup folder, set to run minimized, on boot the icon in the Taskbar Tray will show you CPU activity. This is a nice tool to let you know when your WinXP boot is actually complete (minimum activity). I don't recommend this for high-resource game players or people running compilers.

      I recommend the following settings for PE:

      • Options menu

        • Always On Top

        • Hide When Minimized

        • Allow Only One Instance

        • CPU History in Tray Icon

      • View menu

        • Show Processes From ALL Users

        • Show Fractional CPU

        • Show Lower Pane

        • Also, in Select Columns, Process Performance tab, set

        • CPU Usage

        • Threads

        • Handle Count

      (updated, v11.33)
      (click for larger view)

      WinXP - Time Zones

      In 2007 new dates for DLS Start and DLS End came into effect. There were several WinXP Updates released before the effective date and your system should have the new DLS set for U.S.A. Time Zones. This caused some problems at the time.

      Just in case....

      The update for other versions of Windows (like Win2k) were not released at the same time. Fortunately the Win2k Resource Kit Tools (see sidebar) has a tool that allows you to manually edit Time Zone settings. TZEdit. This tool works with WinXP if your having problems or just want to verify the 2007 Time Zone Update was applied. The Start/End shown in the screenshot are the new settings.

      COMPUTERS - Networking

      The biggest growth in computing has been networking, specifically the World Wide Web (WWW or WEB).

      Is there anyone in the industrialized world who have not heard at least one of the terms Google, Amazon.COM, eBay, YaHoo, Facebook. Then there's all the referenced on TV problems about "visit our WEB site."

      How many business have made the WEB a part of how they do business? I can shop at Albert son's or Vons for groceries on the WEB.


      What is a Network in the context of computers? I could go into a long winded explanation but Wikipedia's Computer Network article has it all.

      The following are quotes from the article on WWW:

      "The underlying ideas of the Web can be traced as far back as 1980, when, at CERN in Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee built ENQUIRE (referring to Enquire Within Upon Everything, a book he recalled from his youth). While it was rather different from the system in use today, it contained many of the same core ideas (and even some of the ideas of Berners-Lee's next project after the World Wide Web, the Semantic Web)."

      "In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal,[2] which referenced ENQUIRE and described a more elaborate information management system. With help from Robert Cailliau, he published a more formal proposal for the World Wide Web on November 12, 1990.[3] The role model was provided by EBT's (Electronic Book Technology, a spin-off from the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship at Brown University) Dynatext SGML reader that CERN had licensed. The Dynatext system was considered, however technically advanced (a key player in the extension of SGML ISO 8879:1986 to Hypermedia within HyTime), too expensive and with an inappropriate licensing policy for general HEP (High Energy Physics) community use: a fee for each document and each time a document was charged."

      "On April 30, 1993, CERN announced[8] that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone, with no fees due. Coming two months after the announcement that the Gopher protocol was no longer free to use, this produced a rapid shift away from Gopher and towards the Web. An early popular Web browser was ViolaWWW, which was based upon HyperCard."

      "Scholars generally agree, however, that the turning point for the World Wide Web began with the introduction[9] of the Mosaic Web browser[10] in 1993, a graphical browser developed by a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (NCSA-UIUC), led by Marc Andreessen. Funding for Mosaic came from the High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, a funding program initiated by then-Senator Al Gore's High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, also known as the Gore Bill.[11] (See Al Gore's contributions to the Internet and technology for more information.) Prior to the release of Mosaic, graphics were not commonly mixed with text in Web pages, and its popularity was less than older protocols in use over the Internet, such as Gopher and Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS). Mosaic's graphical user interface allowed the Web to become, by far, the most popular Internet protocol."

      "The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded by Tim Berners-Lee after he left the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in October, 1994. It was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS) with support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- which had pioneered the Internet -- and the European Commission."

      Most users are aware of how networking operates even though details may not be known. Most users of Windows now of Internet Explorer (IE) browser, but be unaware of all the details on how it works. So here's my minimalist information on Networking on a PC.

      • You physically connect to a Network (and thereby the WWW) via Dial-Up or Local Area Network (LAN) connection in your PC.

      • Dial-Up = a card/adapter that uses a normal phone line, and tones (like in Touch-Tone) to talk or pass data to your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

      • LAN = a card/adapter that uses Ethernet technology to communicate, and uses Packets protocols to send data.

      • Packets are a much faster way to send data, especially when using fiber optic cables. This has also become what our modern digital phone system uses because one fiber optic line can carry multiple-thousands of calls.

      • Your LAN cable usually connects to a Cable/DSL Modem or Router, and from there to your ISP.

      • For both types of connection, your ISP will tell you how to setup to communicate with their systems (Computer Servers). Most ISPs also provide your email service (email Servers), and include hard drive space on their system for publishing your Web Pages or as a dropbox (a location where you can share files with others, drop files into a "box").

      About email Servers:

      • Most ISPs use POP/SMTP email Servers. These type of servers use a special Internet Protocol (IP), TCP Ports specification for email services. They hold your "mailbox." A POP Server is where you download your email from. A SMTP Server is where you send your email to.

      • Another type of email server is represented (by example) by a Microsoft Exchange Server. Many companies use this, or similar servers, for email because it has advantages; like being able to keep your email profile (Outlook account & settings, email files, etc.) on the Exchange Server, which means you can logon to your email account from any PC without having to setup the account on that PC first.

      COMPUTERS - Mainframe Systems

      What are Mainframe Systems?

      They are the really big computer systems used in the corporate world; banks, big and medium businesses, NASDAQ, Governments, etc.

      They also tend to be physically big. Components mounted in a 6ft high rack for example, not a desktop.

      They also may have components combined in separate Functional Blocks (Generic Computer). Example, one system at Unisys has a "Cell" = MPUs (4 to 16) + Memory (2 to 32gb) + Bus Extender Cards. These Bus Extender Cards essentially make all PCI bus systems look/act as if they were just one bus. Therefore the system could interface with the MPUs and Memory.

      Thursday, September 18, 2008

      COMPUTERS - Hard Drive Backup

      Today the backup standard has shifted away from using tape drives and CDs.

      The newer standards are:

      • Backup to an external hard drive
      • Backup to an off-site computer system in a Data Center
      • Backups made by a Backup Service provider, off-site and can be real-time

      The first standard can be used by anyone. Very affordable. For companies using this option, you need only remember to have more than one backup hard drive, and always store the drive containing the last backup off-site, so if your building burns to the ground you still have the last backup in a safe place so you can rebuild your computer system.

      Both "off-site" options are generally used in the commercial world, since they are high cost. These options became a standard, especially after 9/11; when many companies in the Towers lost all their data because their computers, including backups, were lost. There is a home-user offering, Norton 360 Premier which includes online backup at their site and is included in their monthly fee.

      The Data Center option is where a business uses a computer that is physically located elsewhere. Usually a site maintained by a provider. The computers in these facilities can be owned by the provider and hard drive space leased for backups, or the computer can be owned by the client and the space (cage) where it is located is leased. In many cases the Data Center provider also provides maintenance, depending on the contract. These Data Centers have very high security standards, fire protection, environmental control (temperature & humidity), and power backup systems.

      Of the 3 options, the Backup Service is the most expensive. What the Backup Service provider does is automatically backup your systems to a computer at the provider's site. This, of course, requires a T1, or faster, broadband connection. In addition, for security, the connection requirement may be direct (not via the WWW, World Wide Web). According to contract, the Backup Service provider can do backups whenever the client wishes, including hourly (example) Differential Backups.

      Now as to software:

      Under the old standards using a Backup Utility, some supplied with the OS (like Windows Backup), was OK. But there is a problem with these utilities, they perform File Backups. The problem with this method is you cannot simply recover your system or drive if it is destroyed, and this is a real problem if it is your boot drive (C: in most cases). In these cases the only option is to build a new hard drive, including loading your OS. Then after you get to the desktop, without doing anything else, use the backup utility to recover all your files. Note for C: there is a problem, some files on your new hard drive will be in-use, and therefore cannot be copied over by the backup recovery process. This is especially true of drivers and running services.

      The newer standard is to use a Drive Imaging Utility. These utilities make an image (aka picture) of your hard drive or drives. Therefore you can use the utility to write your old hard drive image to a new, empty, hard drive, and the new hard drive will boot normally if it's C:. One popular Drive Imaging Utility is Norton Ghost.

      What should a good Drive Imaging Utility include?

      • Must include a way to BOOT to a CD that will run, at minimum, the Backup Recovery module.
      • Must be able to see your backup device; CD, DVD, external drives no matter how their connected (USB, Firewire, etc.)

      Software I've used?

      • I have used Ghost in the past and the install CD is also a boot CD that will run the Ghost Recovery module only. The problem I had with the version I was using, it could not see my external Firewire hard drive that contained the Ghost images. I stress that is was an older version than Symantec offers today.
      • I have also used Acronis True Image in the past and they provide a way to create a boot CD that will run the full utility. To create their boot CD you must have your OS install CD. For Windows, they are making what is known as a PE (Pre-install Environment) CD with their utility on it, using your OS. Acronis True Image is very popular, but I had a problem on my system. I could not get their verification process to work consistently. In addition, when verification fails the backup process just stops. The error message gave no details as to just what caused the failure. Through experimentation I found out that Acronis did not like imaging various folders, System Information folders for example. When doing a Hard Drive Image (C: as an example) you cannot exclude folders, I could never get a Drive Image to work. I stress this was on my home system, many people swear by Acronis True Image and do not have problems.
      • What do I use today? O&O DiskImage. This utility provides you with an ISO (CD boot image) that, after you write it to a CD, gives you a boot CD to the full O&O DiskImage utility and running on Vista. Note that the CD has the full utility not just recovery. This utility has saved my system's C: on two occasions, a WinXP crash and getting rid of a particularly pesky virus. Both times my system booted without problem after recovery. Did you note that the utility's Vista boot CD imaged and recovered a WinXP C:?

      Here's a link to Wikipedia's article on Computer Backups

      Update 9/25/2009

      Disaster Recovery:

      While this subject is most defiantly applies to businesses and Computer Servers, it should be considered for your home PC.

      Disaster Recovery is in the same category as backups, but the differences is WHAT you backup.

      The scenario we are talking about is the infamous 9/11, the total destruction of a computer (physically or electronic failure). Companies in the Twin Towers on 9/11 had to go out of business because ALL of their records were lost. The ones who did survive where the ones who had there computer records backed up in a safe place, therefore could rebuild their financial records at a new location. This is Disaster Recovery.

      What needs to be considered, your computer is gone. You will need to buy a new one, with an OS installed and applications you run. What you need to recover is your financial and other business data (vendor list, open orders, stock for insurance claims, payroll, etc.).

      This means that for Disaster Recovery what needs to be backed-up is your DATA FILES, not your entire system. This is because a System Backup would not be compatible with a new computer.

      COMPUTERS - The Generic Computer

      The term Generic Computer, as used here, is a basic Functional Block Diagram of what every computer consists of. Desktop PC, Mainframes, or CRAY Super Computers.

      Below is the diagram. A functional block describes what is done within the block, but in actual hardware may consist of one or more components. Example, mainframe systems may have the CPU plus memory as a separate component.

      The term MPU as used here refers to Microprocessor like Intel's P4. Most Desktop PCs use the Intel Processor or equivalent. The Motorola Processor is used by systems like some MAC PCs. Other systems, especially older ones, the CPU Processor consists of a board vs. a MPU.

      Notice that drives (hard drives or CD/DVD) can be internal or external.

      Here is my first recommendation:

      • Through experience I have found using USB connection to external drives (hard drives or CD/DVD) may be unstable. I have found that Firewire connection (via a IEEE 1394 Adapter) to be much more reliable. The adapter is low cost, I got mine for $30, an Adaptec.

      • At home I have 3 external Firewire devices. Two hard drives and one DVD-RW DL Recorder. All very reliable. So reliable that I use one external hard drive for my system backup images. We also use external Firewire hard drives for our Fileserver Disaster Recovery backups at work.

      • If you do use USB for external drives, make sure you have USB2 support on your motherboard AND USB2 Drivers loaded.

      SO IT BEGINS - Why I'm Here

      I have over 30yrs experience in electronics, computers, and software.

      So I have created this blog to pass on my experience on these subjects.

      Note that I do not have any Certifications nor degrees. All I know is from hands-on.


      My experience in electronics comes from 22yrs in the Navy (retired) in Avionics, including as an instructor. As for the other categories....

      • Tandy (aka Radio Shack) TRS-80 BD my first system (Before DOS)

      • Generic PC - DOS, Windows

      • Mainframe Systems (Unisys Corp)
      • Windows (SE, XP, 2000)

      • Novel limited experience

      • Unix limited experience

      • DOS & CP/M

      • Ashton-Tate dBase III and IV Programing

      Well, lets put it this way. At home I have over 760gb of hard drive space, and only 80gb used by non-gaming software.

      ALSO: Where I work, I am the division IT Technician.