The miscellaneous ramblings and thoughts of Dan G. Switzer, II

Installing pam_pwdfile.so for CentOS 6.5

I was working on getting vsftpd set up with some virtual users and wanted to use an Apache-style users file to manage the virtual users. I found a number of guides that showed how to configure things, but couldn't get it working. After much debugging, I realized the problem was that CentOS doesn't install the pam_pwdfile.so module by default.

So, before you can use a pwdfile with vsftpd, you will need to install the pam_pwdfile.so module. Here are the install directions I used:

  1. From your CentOS command prompt, type:

    cd /tmp
  2. Download the RPM package for pam_pwdfile.so:

    curl -O http://springdale.math.ias.edu/data/puias/unsupported/6/x86_64/pam_pwdfile-0.99-1.puias6.x86_64.rpm
  3. Compile the code with RPM:

    rpm -Uvh pam_pwdfile-0.99-1.puias6.x86_64.rpm
  4. Verify the module has been compiled:

    ls -l /lib64/security/pam_p*

After you have installed the module, make sure to restart any services that you might be dependent on the PAM.

Windows XP Windows Update issue (i.e. the svchost.exe 100% CPU issue)

While I left Windows XP behind a long time ago as my main operating system, I still run numerous virtual machines running Windows XP in order to test with older versions of Internet Explorer. One problem I've been running into with my VMs is when the Windows Update was running, the CPU would get pegged at 99% – 100% usage, which makes Windows unusable.

I tried a number of things to work around the problem to no avail and finally just decided to shut down Windows Update in order to make the VMs usable. However, that leaves my unable to patch my VMs to make sure they're completely up-to-date.

Today I finally had to update one of my VMs, so I really needed to resolve the problem. After some reading, I found that Microsoft is aware of the problem and that it relates to parsing the update tree to find out which updates are needed. The good news is I found a fix that seems to work for me. The trick is to manually update 2 different Security Updates.

Here's how I finally resolved the problem:

  1. Disable automatic Windows Updates
  2. If your CPU is pegged, open the Windows Task Manager (CTLR+ALT+DEL) and kill the svchost.exe pegging the CPU
  3. Install the following updates, rebooting after each one:
  4. Manually run the Windows Update, it should now run normally
  5. If you wish, enable automatic Windows Updates

Hope that helps someone!

iPhone 3GS vs 4S data speed

On Friday I upgraded my iPhone 3GS to the new iPhone 4S. One of the things that's changed in the 4S is that it's supposed to support HSPA+. Well not truly "4G", it should offer faster data transfers on AT&T's network. Before heading into the AT&T store to pick up my new phone, I decided to run a couple of tests on my 3GS in my car while parked in the parking lot.

My initial tests on the 3GS reported data xfer speeds around 970Kbits/s.

Once I had my new 4S in hand, I returned to my car to repeat my performance tests. I immediately saw the numbers jump to somewhere in the 1820Kbits/s—almost double the speed.

While this was not an exhaustive test by any means, it does appear that there is a nice speed jump on AT&T's network—provided your in an area covered by HSPA+.

Here's the screenshot showing my min/max results:



My Take on the iOS (aka iPhone) vs Android Debate

[UPDATED: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 10:27:35 AM]

About 2 years ago, I decided to take the plunge and see what the iPhone craze was all about. My contract was over with my Windows Mobile phone and I was looking for something to replace it. While I loved the idea of my Windows Mobile phone (WM5,) it's execution was severely lacking and I pretty much had non-stop issues with it. I experienced all sorts of random lockups, services shutting off, etc. in my 2 years of owning the VX-6700 phone. While it tried to combine the power of a PDA and a Phone, it really did neither of them well (but it was probably a better PDA than it was a Phone—it was a horrible phone.)

So, even with some of the negatives I'd read about the iPhone, I was definitely anxious to try a smart phone that seemed to be both a solid PDA and a phone—even if it was tied to iTunes and AT&T's network.

It didn't take long to discover the iPhone was vastly superior to my old WM phone. The UI was intuitive and the device worked. Battery life was excellent and my only real issues with the phone were it's lack of a physical keyboard and it's dependency on iTunes—which I despise.

Fortunately, once I found MediaMonkey I only needed to rely on iTunes for the occasional backup and firmware updates. Using MediaMonkey does end up requiring some patience, because Apple is constantly trying to prevent 3rd party applications from managing songs on the iPhone/iTouch/iPad devices, but if you're willing to wait for the developers of MM to work out the issues w/each firmware revision, the software works well and fits my setup much better than iTunes ever will.

After 2 years of using my iPhone, I've been extremely happy, but there are a few points that have always bothered me:

  • I hate the virtual keyboard – even after 2 years of use, I find I still end up tying "for" as "fir" and the auto-correction never helps me out. I just find it difficult to use and still too often it looks as if I'm pressing the correct key, only to have it register something else. Typing is a real chore for me on this device, so I try to keep typing to a minimum.
  • Notification system – I hate how there's no central screen to see all notifications. This can be a problem if you have several missed calls, e-mails and text that all have occurred since you last looked at the phone.
  • Apple's strict app approval process – I've seen apps ended up needing weeks to get bug fixes online and apps pulled for what seem no good reason. This draconian approach can be irritating—it's your phone, you ought to be able to do with it whatever you want.
  • Lack of Flash – the refusal to include Flash used to really bother me, because it used to be really difficult to watch online videos. However, almost all sites now encode their videos in way you can watch the videos online now. Because of this change, the lack of Flash really hasn't bothered me much in the last year, although every once in a while I'd hit a site that required Flash and wish I had it.

So, in my search to find the best phone I can, I thought I'd try my hands at an Android-based phone. I've known plenty of people who have gone from iPhones to an Android device and they seemed pretty happy. I was also wanting to get off AT&T and get back to Verizon Wireless—since they have without a doubt have a better network than AT&T.

After much research, the wife and I decided on the Samsung Droid Charge. We played around with several phones at the Verizon store, but the wife and I both really dug the display on the Droid Charge and I was really digging Swype when playing around with it at the store. I also wanted to make sure I got a 4G phone, since I was getting locked into another 2 year contract. I ended up buying the phone from Amazon Wireless, because at the time they had the phone for half the price I could buy it directly from Verizon—which means I'd get both phones for the price of one phone directly from Verizon.

The phones took 2 business days to arrive after ordering and I eagerly opened the packages so I could begin charging the phones so I could play with them after work. After playing with the phone for a week, here's how I view the Android experience.

Initial Impressions

My initial opinion of the Android after playing it with it for a day was really poor. I constantly felt lost in applications, not sure how to perform actions that were always very intuitive on the iPhone. I found navigating an app with the separate buttons difficult and not intuitive at all. I had become so accustom to iPhone apps offering all the options onscreen, that go "back" in an app or trying to refresh a listing by hitting the "menu" button was not very intuitive.

Also, actions that were single clicks/actions on the iPhone, generally involved at least 2 operations on the Android. Want to refresh your mail on the iPhone? Click the refresh button on the screen. That's one action. Want to refresh your mail in Android? Press the menu button, click refresh. That's two actions. Pretty much ever application I use frequently on the iPhone is like that. The Android way pretty much always involves more steps—many of them which were not intuitive.

I also started really missing the ability to scroll to the top of a page by clicking in the status bar—which works in pretty much every iPhone app where the page scrolls. I've not found an equivalent operation in Android, and this makes using some Android apps painful—especially the browser.

After the first day, I was really hating the phone, but I was intent on trying to give the phone a fair chance and wanted to use the phone for a week before making any rash decisions. So I kept plugging away, trying to use the phone as my primary device.

I started liking the phone better after the second day of usage as I began to get the hang of how the phone worked. It's still nowhere near as intuitive or as efficient as the iPhone is, but at least I wasn't feeling lost any more. Maybe this Android thing isn't so bad after all!

However, the more I used the phone, the more I realized the many deficiencies in the Android platform. I've yet to find find a program on Android that's better than it's iOS equivalent. The Facebook app for iOS is way better than the one on Android and I'm pretty much seeing that trend across all the applications I've downloaded. The one exception might be Words for Friends—only because it tells you what word is invalid (but the lack of an Ad-free version makes it worse overall.)

The battery life is also abysmal compared to my iPhone 3GS. I know the screen and increase in CPU power both will affect things, but even when the phone is in an idle state the battery drain is incredible. After playing around with some task killer applications, I can at least get a day of moderate use out of the phone, but there's no way the battery would last for 2 days—even if I wasn't using it. My iPhone on the other hand can go a couple of days easy on one charge w/moderate use.

This leads me to my biggest complaint with Verizon. One of the reasons I left Verizon is because their phone selection was always poor. They never had phones that came close to their competitors. However, in the 2 years I've been with AT&T they've actually started getting much better phones. The problem is, they tend to be slow to update the firmware on the phones and their firmware is loaded with Verizon crap that you can't install.

Whenever I run Advanced Task Killer, I constantly see Verizon apps re-spawning that I have no intention of every running (like IM, Daily Briefing, My Verizon Mobile, etc.) Obviously running programs that aren't going to be used affects both battery, but performance. Please let me remove programs I have no intention on using.

The other issue is obviously with outdated firmwares. The Samsung Droid Charge is only like a month old—it's one of Verizon's newest phones. Yet the it's still shipping with Froyo 2.2.1. Why does Verizon always wait so long to release firmware updates? Android 2.3.4 came out in May 2011, but Android 2.3's been out since December 2010. That's not to mention that Android 3.0 was released in February and 3.1 is soon to be released.

So, after a week of using Android I'm really thinking I'm going to abandon the Android device and go back to the iPhone.

The Good

It's not all bad though, there are some things I really do like and love about the Samsung Droid Charge.

  • Swype – Swype simply rocks. It's really great with long words and actually feels like a much more natural way to type on a virtual keyboard. The one downside I can see is that if you're not familiar with the QWERTY keyboard, it might be hard to know where to trace your fingers to form words (since your finger tends to cover the keyboard.) However, any touch typist should have no issues typing with Swype. It's truly a thing of beauty and Apple really needs to look at licensing the technology.
  • Virtual Keyboard – the normal virtual keyboard is much better as well. The issues I have w/the virtual keyboard on the iPhone magically don't exist on the Droid Charge. Maybe this is because of the slightly larger keys, but I find typing the word "for" actually comes out "for" and not "fir" like it does for me on my iPhone. My only complaint is Android needs to remove the period, double the size of the spacebar and make double pressing the spacebar insert a period like in iOS. If they do that, the keyboard is virtually perfect.
  • 4.3" AMOLED display – the display on the Droid Charge is absolutely beautify. If makes my iPhone screen seem dinky and ridiculous small. The screen is actually almost too big for me. I actually find the phone's a little harder to use with one hand because the phone is so big, but it's truly beautiful! My only real complaint is that if the brightness is turned down, the whites can be a little greenish—it gives photos of people a strange tint.
  • Gmail app – the Gmail app really works great. I use Gmail for my personal e-mail and on the iPhone I stick to using the mobile web interface, as I really don't want my personal e-mail polling every time I check my work e-mail. However, the Gmail app on Android is very nice. I real like having a native app that gives me all the great functions of Gmail conversations.
  • Camera – the camera on the phone seems very nice. I really like the HD recording capabilities of the phone and the camera has a lot of options too. I just wish there was a way to map one of the many physical keys to take a picture/record a video.
  • Speakerphone – this thing is loud and crystal clear.

The Not As Good As I Was Hoping

  • 4G (i.e. 4LTE) – well I've seen some areas where Verizon's 4LTE network does indeed appear to be blazing fast (I've seen up to 15Mbps d/l and 6 Mbps u/l in Dublin) in my area (which is a mile from a Verizon store) I'm not seeing speeds any different AT&T's 3G network. Not really a huge deal since I'm mainly at my house on WiFi, but I was hoping to use the 4G network and my phone as a mobile hotspot when out and about. While it'll work, it's not as a good as I was hoping.
  • Lock screen – after reading tons of great things about the Android lock screen, I was thought it would be more useful than it is. I find it very frustrating to get in a new text or phone and not have any insight to what the notification was about when I turn on the phone. Maybe it's just a matter of not finding a good lock screen add-on, but I was really hoping for something better out of the box.
  • Flash in the browser – when I first bought my iPhone, I really thought the exclusion of Flash was a major missing feature. However, since 99% of the time I really wanted Flash on my mobile was to watch a phone, the lack of Flash on iOS has become less and less over time as most sites now offer video in a iPhone compatible format. However, I was really excited finally getting Flash on my phone as it would finally give me the full web experience. After playing with the browser for a week, I'm finding the reality of Flash on a phone isn't nearly as great as the idea of Flash on the phone. Since the vast majority of Flash on the web is ads, I'm actually finding Flash is slowing down my normal browsing experience because it's loading ads I'd never see on my iPhone. I'm not saying Flash is bad, but what I found I really wanted was either better native ad blocking or at least a prompt asking me if I wanted to run Flash on the current site. I think idealistically, the browser would ask me if I want to run Flash on a site the first time Flash tries to run for a site. If you tell it not to run Flash, each Flash element would turn into a button that you could click to enable Flash to run on that element.
  • Widgets – I really thought this would be what set the Android device apart from the iPhone. What I ended up finding was a lack of really good widgets and the good widgets I did find, don't have enough configuration options.
  • Browser – well the browser is ok in general, I find that there's two issues were the iPhone really shines. First, using the status bar to scroll to the top of the page. I find I'm really missing the ability to quickly scroll to the top of a page. The second issue is page rendering in general. For some reason the Android seems to render pages in a wider format and makes the fonts too hard to read. The iPhone seems to do a better job of rendering "desktop" sites and constraining them to a narrow width. This is really mostly an issue with websites that have a fluid layout, which is unfortunately the vast majority of websites out there.
  • Phone layout – I find the layout of the buttons on the Droid Charge a bit of a pain to work with. The power/lock button is in a bad spot. I keep looking for it on top of the screen. It's also in a horrible spot for using the phone in landscape mode—the power button ends up being right where I want to hold my index finger to hold the phone.
  • Music Player – the native music player lacks gapless playback—which is a big problem for me as most of my favorite artists tend to right albums where the music all blends together from track to track (The Beatles, Dream Theater, etc, etc, etc.) PowerAMP is ok, but still left me noticing gaps between tracks on some ablums. Rockbox has been the best music player I've tested for actual playback and gapless playback, but the UI is really lack (and it's still pretty buggy being a beta application.)
  • Only power buttons turns device on – I find myself expecting some of the other physical buttons to turn the phone on like on the iPhone.
  • Front facing camera – the front facing camera seems nice enough, but with a complete lack of good Video Chat applications it makes the front facing camera in essence pointless. I mean I'm not the kind of self indulgent person that takes photos of themselves all the time, so unless you can give me a good Video Chat application, having a front facing camera is pointless. I've tried Fring, but the video quality is poor and the audio volume is horrible—you can't hear the other person at all. Tango has decent video, but the audio is completely broken on the Droid Charge—once you go to video call mode, the sound mutes completely.

The Bad

  • Applications lack polish – even though I used to consider the Apple App Store policies of app approval draconian, after a week of using the Android I can certainly see the benefits. The Apple apps generally have much more polish and generally work much better than their Android counterparts. It's also much harder to find good Android apps—there's a ton of rubbish out there.
  • Application incompatibilities – one of the biggest issues facing the Android platform today, is the compatibility of applications across various devices. It's really frustrating to see that there's an app you want, only to find you can't run it on your particular Android device. It's one thing to not be able to run the application because you don't have the right version of the OS, it's another thing not to be able to run the application because you don't have the right physical device. There's a couple of apps I really want for my phone, but can't download them because my phone is incompatible with the application (I'm speaking to you Netflix.) This is extremely frustrating and the opposite of the experience in the Apple App Store. Granted, Apple can be a bit draconian about which apps make it to the store, but at least you know if the app is there you can run it. (Yes, there are exceptions, such as having a very old iPhone/iTouch, etc, but if you have a modern device, all apps will run.)
  • Verizon's pre-installed apps – I appreciate Verizon giving me lots of applications to choose from and it makes sense to pack the phone full of features for users who may not look in the Android Market, but please, please, please let me uninstall the crap I don't want. I find there's a handful of applications that keep starting in the background that I will never use. I should be able to uninstall the applications I don't want on my phone, without having to resort to the drastic measure of rooting a phone.
  • Poor battery life – you really have to work to get your Android device to make the battery last. This reminds me of my poor experiences with Windows Mobile. Seems like I constantly have to kill apps to improve my battery life. Last week, I unplugged my Droid Charge at 4pm before heading to my golf league. I made one 4 minute phone call (on speaker phone) and then turned the screen on a couple of times (for no more than 3-4 minutes total.) When I finished my 9 holes of golf, I looked at the phone and released my battery was done to 67% charge. My iPhone had been off the charger since 7am, had been used way more and was still at like 94% charge. I've finally got the battery life to the point where I think maybe it's manageable, but I feel like it's work. Unless I have extreme usage of my iPhone, I never need to charge it during the day. However, with the Droid Charge I'm pretty sure I can't be too far from a charger.
  • Mail – other than the Gmail app, there appear to be several major issues with mail on Android devices that are really prohibiting me from using the phone. I have a really complicated mail setup. I use IMAP for work e-mail, ActiveSync for "mobile" push e-mail and Gmail for my personal mail. Other than the lack of a good native Gmail app on iOS, the iPhone handles all this great. Even having to use the mobile web UI for Gmail works ok (but it's not nearly as nice as the Gmail app that comes on Android.) However, there are a few huge issues I'm having with non-Gmail on Android:
    • IMAP – appears to be extremely buggy. I'm having too major issues that are a deal killer for me.
      1. Every time I refresh my IMAP e-mail, all the e-mail shows as unread (even the mail that has already been marked as read.) I might be able to live with this if I could easily select all the message in a folder, but this behavior is extremely annoying. I did some Googling and this seems to be a common problem for some people, but not common enough that there are any fixes—other than using a different e-mail client, like K-9. The problem is, I refuse to use 3 different e-mail programs to check all my mail. I need Exchange/ActiveSync support and only the native Android e-mail client appears to support it.
      2. Starting yesterday, every time I try and pull my IMAP e-mail I'm getting the error: "The application Email (process com.android.email) has stopped unexpectedly. Please try again." This appears to be the problem parsing certain e-mails and the only current fix for Froyo appears to be to wipe the data, remove the corrupted e-mail using another client and then restoring all your mail accounts. This bug appears it may be fixed in Gingerbread, but who knows when Verizon & Samsung will decide to push out Gingerbread to the phone.
    • ActiveSync – while it doesn't happen all the time, a handful of times over the past week I've had issues w/my ActiveSync account telling me the password was corrupted and needed to be re-entered. Since this happens without me being notified, it makes push mail completely unreliable. I need stable push mail, because that's how I have all server notifications, support tickets, etc sent to me. I need to know that push e-mail is reliable and works without random failure.
  • No scroll to top – I find the inability to click on the status bar to scroll to the top of the window a function really missing from Android. You'd think with all these physical buttons, you'd have some way to jump to the top of the page—like with a long press of the menu or back button.
  • Phone layout – well already mentioned in the previous section, I find the placement of the USB charger to be horrible. The phone becomes extremely difficult to use when you're charging the device. I could live with it if the phone didn't need to be charged so much. The USB port should really be on the bottom of the phone.
  • No silent button – I find the lack of switch to mute the phone a problem. The only way to turn off sound is to turn the device on—which means you have to pull the device out of your pocket and light it up. I love that with my iPhone I can just reach in my pocket and turn the phone to silent without having to pull the device out of my pocket. It's a quick one handed operation.


I really, really wanted to love this Android device, but the more I use it the more I realize the iPhone is superior for me. It appears many of my issues may be addressed in newer versions of Android OS, but Verizon and especially Samsung have a bad history of basically abandoning firmware updates after 6 months of a phone being released. I'm sure that Gingerbread will eventually be released for the Charge, but I'm beginning to doubt whether I'll ever see 3.0 or 3.1 officially released for the phone—which is a real shame. These mobile carriers are in such a hurry to release a new crop of phones every 6 months, that they stop improving their existing phones. If the carriers are going to lock you into a 2 year contract, then they out to be guarantee that they will keep the phone up-to-date with the latest firmwares over that 2 year period.

I'm going to touch base with Verizon today to see if they can resolve my issues. I've got another week before my 2 week trial is up and I really want to give the phone a chance—I'm really trying. However, at this point I think I'm going to stick with an iPhone and iOS (and thus, probably staying w/AT&T. As much as I'd love to be on Verizon's network, but it bothers me that Verizon's version of the iPhone doesn't seem to be keeping up with the firmwares.)

Fixing "MODIFICATION_FAILED" errors in Thunderbird when using Google CalDAV

For a while now I've been dealing with issues adding/updating events to my Google Calendar from Thunderbird/Lightning. When ever I'd try to update an event, I'd get a very generic "MODIFICATION_FAILED" error message with no detailed message. I could view events just fine and even dismiss alarms, but nothing I tried would allow me to add new events directly from Thunderbird. I ended up resorting to opening up Google Calendar and adding the events via the web interface. While this works, it's no where near as fast as accepting an invite from Thunderbird.

Today I had several GoToMeeting invites that I need to add to my calendar and decided look into the problem again. After doing some searching, I found lots of threads of people having the same issue, but alas no solutions. The one thing that did keep popping up is that Google considers CalDAV support still experimental, so problems may occur.

This got me to look into if there were other solutions other than CalDAV and I came across Provider for Google Calendar 0.7.1 add-on for Sunbird and Lightning. After changing all my calendars to use the new provider, everything seems to be working very well.

So, if you're getting errors updating your Google Calendar using CalDAV, you might try the Provider for Google Calendar to see if it fixes your issues. I'd also recommend taking a look at the Calendar:GDATA Provider wiki page which covers installation/setup of the provider.

Fixing Subclipse/SVNKit in Eclipse from constantly asking for credentials

I've been working on migrating to Eclipse v3.6.1 x64, but was having a ton of issues getting Subversion/SVN support working in Eclipse. I prefer using Subclipse, so it was my goal to get that up and running because I'm used to the interface.

I originally tried using SVNKit, because I wanted to use native libraries. However, when I tried to use the SVNKit connector, every single time an SVN operation would occur it would prompt me over and over for my credentials—like it was saving them (although it was updating the .keystore.) After getting frustrate with this, I decided to just use the JavaHL libraries.

If you're using Eclipse 32-bit, then everything you need is included with the distributed versions of Subclipse. Since I'm using the 64-bit version of Eclipse, I needed to download Slik's Subversion v1.6.16 (x64). So, I closed down Eclipse and install the 64-bit client. I verified that everything was working correctly by running the javahltests.jar.

However, after restarting and configuring Subclipse to use JavaHL, I started experiencing issues with Eclipse hanging up. I'd constantly get messages like "Building workspace"—which would stay at 0% and never progress. Switching back to SVNKit was working, but the constant credential checking was driving me crazy. So, after lots of researching, I finally found a thread on authentication issues on the SVNKit mailing list. Turns out I am using NTML  and Basic authentication on our server and that was causing an issue with SVNKit.

The fix is to edit your eclipse.ini file and add this line somewhere after the "-vmargs" line:


Depending on your configuration, you may need to tweak the order of the methods, but as soon as I restarted Eclipse with this line in my eclipse.ini everything started working like I expected.

Samsung TV randomly power off and on

For Christmas this year, the big family gift was a new Samsung PN58B860 58" Plasma TV. Our old TV worked fine, but with the baby on the way I we wanted try and reclaim some living room space—much of which was being taken up by our old Mitsubishi 55" rear projection TV.

We absolutely love the picture, but from day one we started running into a problem with the TV in which it would just randomly power off and then immediately back on. I went through a battery of tests trying to determine if it was a power issue, cable issue, etc. I tried replacing the HDMI cable, hooking the TV up directly to the cable, changing outlets, etc. Nothing I did resolved the issue. Since the problem was random (on average, probably happened once an hour, but we might go a couple of hours with no issues or it might happen several times within a few minutes.) It didn't matter what we were watching—could be cable TV, a DVD, playing XBOX, etc. The TV would just turn off and then turn right back on.

After talking to Samsung and HH Gregg everyone seemed to think it was the power supply on the TV and since the TV was less than a week old, HH Gregg delivered a replacement TV. However, the new TV was having the same problem. So, once again I started going through my battery of tests trying to figure out what was wrong.

After testing tons of things, I finally found the root case—the Internet connection.

Newer TVs are now coming with Internet connections. Being the tech guy I am, I immediately hooked my TV up to the Internet so I could get firmware updates, view Flickr photos, etc. To get up and running quickly, I had plugged my TV into the wireless bridge I was using for my XBOX 360—which I had the IP configured as the DMZ in my firewall (which I had done to resolve some issues with online play.)

Since now the TV was acting as a DMZ, all unrecognized traffic was being routed to the TV. I suspect what was happening is various ping and exploit attacks on my IP address was causing problems with the TV, so the TV would just shut down and power up again. I just never thought that the Internet connection would be the root casue of the TV rebooting.

Anyway, if you have a Samsung TV that's recycling the power, try unplugging your Internet connection and see if that improves the situation. Also, never run a device as a DMZ unless you know what you're doing!

Disabling "The Publisher Could Not Be Verified" when running program under Vista

Ever since upgrading to Windows Vista, I've had a probably with a program that I run infrequently where I'd get a message of "The Publisher Could Not Be Verified" and have to click on a box to verify I want to run the program. Since I don't use the application very frequently, the annoyance was minor.

Today I found myself needing to frequently re-load the application, so this message became really annoying. Windows Vista has an "Unblock" function in the file properties (right-click on the file from Windows Explorer and select "Properties"—it's on the general tab,) but this was not working for me.

I could click the "Unblock" button and apply the change, but the change wouldn't ever take. Since this program is my Program Files (x86) folder, I suspected this was the culprit. While I tried a few things to try to make the change as an admin (such as changing the file attributes—which forces you to grant admin privileges) the thing that end up working for me was to copy the files to another folder (like the desktop) go through the "Unblock" procedure again and then copy the files back to it's sub-folder in the Program Files (x86) folder. This seemed to do the trick.

So, while I'm sure there's a better way to get this to work, if you're getting the message "The Publisher Could Not Be Verified" every time you try to run a program and just using the "Unblock" function doesn't work, try moving the file to a folder that doesn't need administration privileges to modify the file.

Freeing up disk space on your C: drive

I've been fighting a bit of a battle with my development server. When I originally set up the box, I created the C: partition with a relatively small size based on some performance guidelines I had read. While I had plenty of space when I built the server, the ever growing Windows folder has eventually eaten up all the disc space. The biggest culprit of this being the C:\Windows\installer folder—which gets larger each time Windows does an update.

Today I finally had no choice but to do something. There aren't a lot of choices when a system drive is running out of space, you basically can:

  • Remove unused files—been there, done that; nothing else to remove
  • Backup and reformat—which is way too big of pain to do
  • Use a tool to resize the partition (which only works if your drive has been partitioned into multiple logic drives)
  • Move files to a different drive and create a symbolic link (junction) to the folders

I thought about going the resizing route, but there's some risk involved and I wanted to minimize the time I was working on this. So I decided to go the junction route.

Since the C:\Windows\installer folder was without a doubt the folder eating up the majority of disk space for me, I decided to move this folder to another drive. However, there are some caveats of moving the C:\Windows\installer folder where if you don't get the permissions just right, then Windows will delete the junction and the folder it points to—where leaves you screwed.

Fortunately for all of us, Simon Bailey has written a nice batch file you can use to move C:\Windows\installer folder for you. If you're not interested in the batch file, you can also read his detailed blog post on the steps for freeing up space on your C: drive.

Now that I've freed up gigabytes of data from my C: drive, my server is happy again—which makes me happy.

Logging in to Vista using an administrative share

I've recently migrated two of my PCs to Vista. I was trying to wait until Windows 7, but I had to physically replace the boxes so my hand was forced into (yeah, I could have downgraded, but I figured I should actually work with Vista a bit before moving to Windows 7 if for no other reason that to appreciate it more.)

Anyway, one of the problems I've had was logging into the boxes using the administrative shares. Well this is disabled by default (and for good reason,) I needed a way to access via the shares and came across this article from Microsoft:

Error message when you try to access an administrative share on a Windows Vista-based computer from another Windows Vista-based computer that is a member of a workgroup: "Logon unsuccessful: Windows is unable to log you on"

This has allowed me to access my box from Windows XP and my other Vista boxes when I log in w/admin credentials—which is exactly what I wanted to do. While this isn't a recommended thing to enable, it seems you can toggle it off/on without rebooting—which is nice.

Better handling of winmail.dat messages in Thunderbird with LookOut

Over the last few days I've been setting up a new laptop and got Thunderbird up and running (which I'm now going to try to use exclusively.) I've been using Thunderbird on my laptop for work related e-mails for 4 or 5 years now. One of the issues I've always had with it was handling TNEF encoded messages (aka "winmail.dat") that Outlook insists on sending.

Now this is really a problem with Outlook in that it doesn't always honor the "HTML" format and sometime insists on sending e-mail in Outlook's native format. If you use Outlook, you have no problems. However, every other client will just get the dreaded "winmail.dat" file as an attachment.

In the past I've just used program (like Winmail Reader) to open the winmail.dat file and view the RTF and attachments. However, I decided to search the Thunderbird Add-ons page to see if anyone had developed a better solution and thankfully Aron Rubin has developed the wonderful LookOut add-on.

LookOut automatically converts the winmail.dat into it's associated attachments and creates a RTF file that you can double-click on to open in Word (or your associated RTF application.) This solution works really well, because I know longer have to open the winmail.dat in an external program just to see the attachments.

So kudos to Aron Rubin for this excellent add-on!

TimeWarner's decision to implement bandwidth download caps…

While my current monthly download usage is pretty small, TimeWarner's decision to implement download caps really irritates me. They want to implement caps of 1 GB, 10GBs, 20GBs, 40GBS and 100GBs based on different tiered packages and then charge you overages for every GB over your limit (with the a $75 cap of overage charges.)

They've been facing a backlash about this decision and rightfully so in my opinion.

As I stated earlier, my current download usage isn't very high, but one of the immerging Internet markets in downloadable movie rentals. When the XBOX360 introduced it's Netflix interface for watching streaming movies online, I thought that was a huge jump forward in downloadable movies. Well the Netfix streaming library is still too sparse and doesn't include enough new movies, that will change over time. I certainly see a time in the near future where you'll be able to rent movies purely online.

This is why I'm so irritated with download caps. We're seeing more an more Internet based services succeeding. We're seeing more SaaS applications having success, streaming video taking off and of course iTunes has seen great success. All of these services share one thing in common—they require downloading content to use the services.

If TimeWarner really needs a way to help recover costs, don't limit how much I can download, limit how fast I can download it. TimeWarner has kept bumping up the bandwidth transfer rates, but most people don't need 6Mbps or 8Mbps sustained xfer speeds. I'd much rather see them keep the tiered xfer rate pricing and keep the uncapped download speeds. Let the people who need the higher transfer rates (because their transferring tons of data simultaneously—which is where the real problem lies anyway) and let the rest of us just download the data we need without having to worry about our download usage.

This really makes me hope Verizon bring FiOS to Central Ohio sooner, rather than later. Verizon currently has no plans to cap their download usage and the xfer rates are already much higher than TW. If TW does implement download restrictions, that will be the straw that broke the camels back.

Not only will they lose me as a RoadRunner customer, they'll probably lose me as a Cable subscriber as well.

ScreenCastle offers free web-based screencast recording…

I ran across the ScreenCastle service the other day and wanted to blog about it. ScreenCastle offers a free Java-based screencast recording solution. What separates it from other solutions is there's no installation required—other than accepting the Java cert when the applet loads.

It's definitely not as feature rich as Camtasia or Jing, but it will serve the most basic purposes for recording.

Where it really shines is as a tool for debugging a customer's problem. They don't need any other software installed, they just go to the ScreenCastle website and click on the big red button and record away. When their done recording, the video gets pushed to the ScreenCastle server and then provides the user with links, embed code, etc—which they can then e-mail to you.

The service is offered by Skoffer—who has published some information on their limited API. They show some examples on how you can integrate the service into a Wiki or Blogging service (such as WordPress.)

I'd love it if they opened up the API a little more, so that you could potentially push the content to private servers (or at least be able to download a published file and then remove it from their servers.)

Anyway, this is a great tool if you want to be able to have a customer record what they're doing on the screen and send you a video of it.

Organizing the icons in your Firefox status bar...

One thing that's always bothered me about Firefox, is the lack of the ability to customize the icons in the status bar. As you add various plug-ins, the order of icons in the status bar can change and isn't always ideal. Plus, when you have multiple installs of Firefox on multiple boxes, I find it disrupts my workflow when icons are in a different spot for each browser (even with the exact same plug-ins installed.) So, I decided I finally wanted to re-arrange the order of my icons and get things working in a fashion that suited me better.

There are two main ways to change the order: 1) via a manual editing or 2) via another add-on.

You can manually re-arrange the order of the icons by editing the extensions.ini file located in your personal profile directory in the folder C:\Documents and Settings\{username}\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\{profile}. What you need to do is change the order and position of the entries in the [ExtensionDirs] section of the INI file. While this works, it's a bit of a pain since the entries aren't easy to decipher (since values don't match up to a user friendly label.)

This led me to a find an add-on to simplify the task. The add-on I found was the Organize Status Bar v0.6.2 add-on. Using this plug-in gives you a very visual way of organizing your status bar. You can completely order things in any manor you want. Here's a screenshot of the add-on in action:


What I like about the add-on is that it highlights in yellow the currently selected icon and also has options to hide or show an icon if you don't want it to show up in the status bar. This add-on does exactly what I needed—I just wish the functionality was native to Firefox like the organizing toolbar feature.

Google adds new features to search results with SearchWiki...

[UPDATED: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 8:41:22 AM]

I just noticed that Google appears to have added some new features to the results page. The new features are buttons for "Promote", "Remove" and "Comment".

New Google Icons...

The "Promote" feature appears to be a way to give your "thumbs up" to content—which I'm sure will affect the rating of a page and thus affecting SEO. The "Remove" feature appears to be the way to report a bad link (like a Black Hat attempt, or just some general spam page.) Lastly, the "Comment" feature appears to be a way to add a comment about a page.

This new feature is part of Google's new SearchWiki. I think they must be selectively releasing this functionality, because I'm not seeing it every browser on my machine—so it's either cookie-based or browser-based.

It appears all you need to do is log in to Google in order to see the SearchWiki features. Logging out will turn the feature off.

Here's a video that talks more about SearchWiki: