Monday, May 24, 2010

This is something that makes me happy

Technology and information being used to benefit those who need it most. This what we're on about when we talk about technology empowering people!

Laides on bikes with netbooks bringing information to people in remote areas! I won't go on about it, just have a look at the article.

The sad thing is this gets less publicity than Facebook privacy issues.

Thursday, May 13, 2010



I can handle DRM that does stuff like this;

NICE! They've decided to add value! Love you Valve!

Then I saw this;

Bastards!! I paid for that!

BTW if you haven't played this yet you simply MUST! It is the best FPS/Puzzle game ever!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What is a VPN?

Torch, the asker of many great questions, asked today “What is a VPN really?” and I admit had to think about that for a while.

How do you define a Virtual Private Network in this modern world? There are lots of tools that have similar looking functionality, Remote Desktop tools and cloud services for example yet these are not VPNs. So what properties makes a VPN unique?

For me a VPN is an encrypted tunnel between a client and a server. It must involve a virtual (software) network adaptor on the client which connects to the VPN server to create the tunnel. Network traffic can then be securely routed via this Virtual Adaptor to the VPN server and the network resources behind it.

If I’ve failed to make sense (which is highly likely due to my propensity to assume everyone has a similar level of knowledge and background as I do) check out these definitions from highly reputable vendors of information.

Flicking through these articles i think the key concept to grasp, is that of encapsulation. In fact that concept is so intrinsic to all of networking it’s worth a post all of it’s own...

Got a different definition? Got something to add? Well that's what comments are for! Don't be shy... No one reads this blog anyway!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Edit another Users Registry

Scenario: Some noob has used a machine you own and has foobed something in their HKey\Current User now they're crying for you to fix it.

Piece of piss! Delete the user profile, hit them with a stick and scream at them to stop being such a NUB!


If option 1 is out, you just need to;

be an admin
open regedit
highlight HKey_Users
click file
click load hive
browse to the users profile folder
Open up their NTUser.dat IE - c:\users\[NOOBS NAME]\ntuser.dat
Make the required changes
Highlight the Noobs Key
Click Unload Hive

This post is dedicated to Torch, who deals with this sort of noobery all day every day.

Blessed is the soul who leads the ingornant into the light of truth!

May he find peace from his torment.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Action Center - Simply a great thing Microsoft did

This is the last post in a series on pleasant surprises from Microsoft. We’ve been talking about some of the things that make you think “Wow! That’s a great idea!” So without further ado here’s the last thing I wanted to talk about.

Today we're talking about the Windows Action Centre. It seems like such a small thing... That little flag down in your system tray. You may not have even noticed it. But it represents what I consider to be an important shift in thinking.

Action Centre brings to the fore any recommendations the user may not have been aware of. For example a fresh build of Windows 7 will pop an action notice reminding you to configure backups! That one reminder will actually be what prevents data loss for thousands!

Some people won’t like it. They don’t like being nagged to do things. Also I’m sure it’ll end up giving some useless recommendations. But for me I was sold the day it popped a message that said “Oh hey I noticed you’ve been having some stability problems. Did you know there’s a new chipset driver available that will resolve this? Here’s a direct link to download what you need.”

Wait... What?

The OS knew it was having problems, queried a web service with the problem signature, found a match and recommended a solution! With zero effort from me the user! Take a minute to ponder that. It’s pretty dam amazing.

The more issues that can be resolved easily like that, the less time we spend maintaining our computers giving us more time to use them as the useful tools they’re supposed to be.

Action Center is a fantastic initiative and it should be applauded. Check out this video on the subject. It shows that much greater consideration has gone into the end user experience, and ultimately investing in making life easier for the user is only going to result in higher quality products. This is a key reason for this series.

We’ve seen a lot of high quality products come out of Microsoft recently, it’s a massive improvement and I sincerely hope it’s a trend that continues.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Microsoft Security Essentials - Another pleasing thing from Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make you go; “Well I’ll be stuffed! I never expected them to get THAT right!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

So those of you that read title will have read "Microsoft Security Essentials" then thought, "Wait what? Ok Ben’s lost it now... He’s pimping for an app with Microsoft and Security in the title!?

W T F ?"

I know, I know. We all remember Windows Defender, Forefront Client Security or how about Live One Care. Microsoft has been trying to enter the desktop security market for a while. With mixed success. Well I grudgingly confess they’ve finally won me over. The best endorsement I can give is that over the last few months I’ve been progressively uninstalling McAfee Anti-Virus and installing Microsoft Security Essentials for any friends and family that I encounter.

What am I doing that? I’m doing that because it’s Good!

As a small aside I feel I should point out I was doing it before well before the whole DAT 5958 “experience”. Ok I’m not going to say I knew something like THAT would happen. What can I say? I caught a whiff of something rotten coming from the McAfee kitchen and jumped ship to Microsoft Security Essentials.

It’s faster, has a smaller footprint and from what I’ve observed it works just as well as the other big AV products. Also it’s FREE! Free Anti Virus application with free updates. You can’t argue with that price!

I must say we’re still running McAfee at work though, those that have experienced the administrative pleasures of the EPO server will know why. Those that have not must be filled with torment and anguish and are clearly, in some difficult to comprehend way, subhuman.

Unfortunately in terms of useful tips this is it; The next time you’re stuck thinking of an AV solution for Mums PC... Give Security Essentials a shot! I bet it surprises you. Hopefully in a good way.

Check in Tomorrow for the fifth and final post in this series.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The NEW Windows Backup Tools - More good things from Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make you go; “Hells Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re making my life easier!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

Can you say “Bare Metal Recovery”?

Three words right up there with as many positive connotations as some other well known three word combos such as “I love you”, “just lay there” and even one of the most pleasing phrases in the english language “want another beer?”

The idea of a bare metal recovery is simple. You create a backup on a particular server with a particular hardware configuration. When that server dies, you can restore that backup to a totally different server with a totally different hardware configuration. Are you with me on how cool that is?

I know this concept is old hat to a lot of industry veterans that read this blog, but I think it’s fair to acknowledge that Bare Metal Restore is now supported natively in windows backup in Server 2008 R2. And let me assure you it's pretty dam cool!

That tick box there means you can be sure you can move your server image to new hardware without even having to install Shadow Protect or Livestate. The first time I saw it I felt like someone CARED! Or the sadly, more likely scenario, that someone in marketing wanted me to think they cared.

But that shouldn’t diminish the joy of this feature. Especially when you consider that it will roll down to the workstation OS sooner or later.

I already perform a daily system image backup on my Windows 7 machines. However this won’t offer bare metal recovery... Yet.

I’m just performing my system image backups in anticipation. Not to mention the benefit of creating an archive backup that should protect me from the ever present threat of Stupidity (as mentioned in the previous post.)

The great thing about this hip and trendy use of hard disk “images” is they’re MOUNTABLE! Yup you heard me. You can take the VHD file created by your regular scheduled backup and mount it in Disk Management!

Mount it in Disk Management! Yeah! I know! It's exciting right?

I guess I get excited when something is native to the OS. It comes from being absolutely sure of the tools I’ll have at my fingertips whenever and where-ever things decide turn pear-shaped. This stuff is built into the OS so I don’t have to mess around with restrictive licensing and third party image formats. It’s all there in the OS that currently has 90% market share... Oh and it works at that!

So remember to do you backups kids! It’s now a THOUSAND times easier than it used to be. Check back tomorrow for another Microsoft product that made me grin.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Live Mesh - Something Else Good From Microsoft

Here we have the continuation of a series about the good things that have come out of Microsoft recently. We’re talking about the kinds of things that make me go; “Hells Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re making my life easier!” So all this week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

I can sleep at night!

I don’t have to worry anymore.

What gives me this assurance? Well my friend all my important data is safe in the cloud! Which isn’t to say the cloud doesn’t have its own set of issues but I keep a copy of my data locally and now I keep one in the cloud and with the flexibility of having my stuff out there I can keep it all in sync between my PCs at work at home and on the road with my laptop!

This is a good thing! After years of burning CDs and DVDs with multiple failures and dubious shelf life then going with homemade removable hard drives, cheap USB devices and even a brief flirtation with Tape drives the dark and twisted nightmare of managing my personal data has now evaporated! The sensation was so overwhelmingly positive it’s difficult to articulate. The thought can best be wrought into language with this phrase;

“I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

The sensation of joy is congruent to the joy of dancing around wildly... Wearing nothing but my undies... On my head.

A major concern of mine is losing my data particularly anything I’ve written. So pushing everything I write up to the cloud every time I click save... Yeah that goes in the Pros column.

My access to this cloud based Nirvana is through LiveMesh. Once it’s installed I recommend syncing “My Documents” to the cloud straight away. I won’t go on about how I configured it because everyone has their own requirements so grab a copy and evaluate it for yourself.

One important thing to point out is that Syncing data to the cloud protects you from all sorts of data loss, fire, flood, Ewok rapage... You're all covered! Everything really except for of the most common causes of data loss... Stupidity.

Yup if you go ahead and save a blank document over the top of Thesis.docx the mesh client will happily sync right up to the cloud and overwrite whatever was there. There's no beating Stupidity so it’s STILL really important to have an archive backup running in case you score some tickets for a trip on the fail train.

If fact tomorrow I’ll go over Windows backup and why I love it now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

powercfg - A Good Thing Microsoft Did

A lot of people like to bash Microsoft and probably rightly so. But I think with Industry Giants as with anything else really, it’s important to take the good with bad. So I’m writing a series on all the Good things I’ve seen come out of Redmond recently. The kinds of things that make me go “Yeah! They’re finally getting it! They’re more in touch with the poor slobs out in the field who have to work with this stuff!” So over the next week I’ll post articles on the little features that I have found pleasantly surprising.

Check this out! Ever wondered why your PC won’t go to sleep when you want it to? Or ever been surprised by a sleeping PC waking up on its own? Or have you pondered how to expose the finer details of windows power management?

Well the command line tool powercfg is where it’s at! Windows Power Managment tools of the past have been a little hit and miss. But with this new tool it’s much easier to peak behind the curtain and get a handle on what’s really happening power-wise.

For example the following line will list all those devices that can wake your PC from sleep.

powercfg -devicequery wake_armed

Handy yeah? Ok how about this?

powercfg -requests

This one lists all the “objects” that have asked nicely for the computer not go to sleep! Super handy! Well ok handy when you’ve got a PC that won’t sleep anyway.

Here’s another one I’ve been using recently;

powercfg -energy

This creates a report energy_report.html that details any power issues you should be aware of. Go and run it now... I BET you change some power management settings after seeing this report!

There’s lots more to this app, you can manage power profiles from the command line which means you can script power profile changes. So if Group Policy won't give you what you need powercfg just might! Have a look at the documentation and see for yourself.

Don’t forget to check back during the rest of the week for other features that you may find useful one day.