Detecting Vulnerable “Internet of Things”

magnifier-492539So the big news last week was the giant attack by the Mirai malware/botson Dyn that effectively killed (well, seriously wounded) the Internet for a lot of people. And that the “Internet of Things” (IoT) was the source of the attack, because of bad security practices (devices with ‘backdoors’ and default passwords) on those devices.

I’m not going to explain what happened. If you are interested in this subject, you probably already know that the attack was done by the Mirai malware. The rest of you can ask the googles if you need an explanation of what happened.

And I am not going to explain how Mirai works, or that you can get a copy of the Mirai malware source code.

The thing that is not clear to many people:how can you check to see if your devices on your network, whether home or work, are susceptible to the attack by the Mirai attack.

The basic attack is through specific ports on your network, visible to the outside (external to your network) to devices ‘inside’ your network. So to test if your network is vulnerable, you need to check from the ‘outside’ of your network.

To do this check from the ‘outside’, I recommend the venerable (fancy term for old) “ShieldsUp” check from Gibson Research. This is a free tool that will scan for open ports on your network (this should work on any OS or network).

But, before you do that, make sure you have the permission of the owners of your network. Attacking – or even scanning – a network you do not own can be a felony in the US, and probably other countries. So, before you proceed, make sure that you have the networks’ owners’ permission.

You can check your own home network, though, since you are the owner. But, again, only do this scan on networks you own, even though the scan is very benign.

You can find the Gibson Research “ShieldsUp” tool at http://bit.ly/2dA9Ubd. Carefully read the information on that page. (For instance, that page will show you your unique identification that every web site can find out. Even the ‘private’ function of your browser will disclose that information. Again, read the page carefully to understand the implications.)

Once you have read the info on that page, click on the “Proceed” button (either one). On the next page, read the information, then click the orange button to check your exposure to UPnP (Universal Plug and Play).

image

The test will take under a minute, then the result will be displayed. If your network is OK for that test, you’ll get a nice green message. That’s good. If your network has problems, there will be some explanation of what you should do. We’re not going to go into any of that “What You Should Do” stuff, it’s pretty deep and complicated.

The next step is to check for any open ‘ports’ on your network. Go back to the testing page (the page you saw when you clicked on the “Proceed” button). On that screen, these series of buttons are the next step.

image

Run the “Common Ports” test first. Then run the “All Service Ports”. As with the first test, you are looking for all ‘green’ results. Any bad results will be listed, along with explanations. Again, we aren’t going to explain things here; if you need more info, look at the site’s explanations, and ask the googles if needed.

On my computer on my home network (which I own, so I have permission to scan my network), I got ‘all green’, as shown in this screen shot:

image

Hopefully, you will too. If you don’t, then proceed from there.

Feburary 2016 Column


We are pleased to present a new Computing at Chaos Manor column from Dr. Jerry Pournelle. His recent experiences with Outlook, Word, and using his computer after his stroke are instructive as always. – Editor

Chaos ManorI like Outlook and Word. I suppose there may be better mail/calendar and text creation programs, but I’m used to these, and they’ve always worked for me; and moreover I am used to their quirks. When Word 2007 went from the old Word 2003 interface to the famous – or notorious – ribbon, I resisted the change for years, but eventually I found sufficient reason to give Word 2007 and its ribbon a try, and discovered that it really wasn’t all that bad, and grew to like it. I did grumble about the ribbon taking up a lot of screen space, but it was about then that I moved from big bottle monitors to 25, then 27 inch flat screens, and I could hardly kid myself that I didn’t have screen space to spare; indeed I wasn’t using all I had since I don’t like to have lines so long I have to turn my head to see the whole line.

So: I adopted Word 2007, and then went to Word 2010 when that upgrade came out, and I’m not sorry I did. Since my stroke in December 2014 I have been unable to touch type, and I have to stare at the keyboard rather than look at the screen when I write, so I often don’t bother using Control-F1 to hide the ribbon; I can’t be distracted by it because I’m not looking at the screen when I type.

The problem with being a two finger typist, at least for those sloppy like me, is hitting two keys at once. It happens often, and you will see words like “wou;ld” a lot. The remedy for me is AutoCorrect. Of course it must be used with care, but in my case my AutoCorrect file consists of many impossible letter compositions fairly commonly made by striking two keys at once, each to be converted into the word I obviously was trying to type. Of course some are ambiguous, and then there’s nothing for it but to let the spell checker show it with the red underline and choose; but some have only one rational intention, and I have AutoCorrect deal with those so I never see them. This has worked well for me.

With Word this is made simple; right click on a red-underlined word, and you are shown a list of words the system thinks you intended; click on one and it changes to that. Word 10 adds a feature: when you right click you are also offered the AutoCorrect option; choose that and it shows the list of candidate words. Often there is only one. If you click on a word in that list, the particular misspelling and the correct word are added to the AutoCorrect dictionary, and you will never see that particular mistake again. I have used it on this machine – Alien Artifact, a Windows 7 system – and it has saved me much time.

Alas, with Office 365 you get Word 2016, and that does not have this method of adding words to AutoCorrect. I have not yet found how to transfer the AutoCorrect data file on Alien Artifact to my Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and have had to build a new AutoCorrect data base on the Surface; and with Word 2011 this is a longer and more painful process. The “Improvement” to 2011 was a drastic error for the work I do, and I am still trying to figure out what to do about it.

Eric Pobirs, Chaos Manor Advisor, said:

   The main problem with AutoCorrect is that the Word team has a different scenario in mind for its use than Jerry’s situation. The implementation could easily be made to accommodate those in Jerry’s situation if they exposed a few more controls to allow configuration of its behavior. I keep hoping someday I’ll reach the right person in Redmond to convey this.

It appears to me that AutoCorrect has become focused on allowing those with a lot of frequently repeated text, text that isn’t quite lengthy enough to keep in a boilerplate file, to create their own custom shorthand system. Word’s configuration menus also refer to AutoText as a separate function, even though this appears to be the exact same thing.

I believe it would be quite easy for MS to add a ‘clumsy typist’ mode if they were made aware of a sufficiently interested portion of the user base.

Peter Glaskowsky tells me:

“Interestingly, Office 2016 on my Mac does still have this exact feature.

Online I found this web page offering a Word template to put the function back in (basically re-creating it in VBA) but it doesn’t seem to work on my Windows 10 machine with Word 2016.

http://bit.ly/1QVjaml

I have had similar experiences with other attempts to add the feature to Word 2016.

This all became more acute when I had my Outlook misadventure. I have Outlook 2010 on Alien Artifact, my main machine, in part because Outlook 2010 also has the simple method of adding to the AutoCorrect data base, and I often use it when answering email; I don’t type as much in answering mail as I do when writing fiction or non-fiction, but I do it a lot. I have also paid a lot more attention to rules and sorting email in the Outlook in Alien Artifact, and thus this remains my main machine for Outlook as well as Word. Of course I also get all the mail on Precious, the Surface Pro 3, but she doesn’t have the same sorting system and sub-folders; I could put them there, but I haven’t done so.

Outlook saves all your work in an enormous file called Outlook.pst; and by all, I mean all, not only all your mail, but the rules, account information, categories for manually or automatically sorting mail, calendars, appointments, etc. Obviously I could try to synchronize my various machines running Outlook, but I haven’t summoned up the energy; things have been hectic here at Chaos Manor since my stroke. I had a lot of recovery in 2015, but what with Roberta getting pneumonia and me getting bronchitis in early January, 2016 has been a bit slow.

All this is background to my latest adventure.

Outlook 2010 Crashes

Friday, January 29, I was dealing with the mail, answering some, deleting a lot, and sorting the rest into categories like “To be answered” and “To Be Posted” and such when I received an email of the final edit of There Will Be War, Volume IX, which will come out next week. I wanted to do a final proof reading, even though I know that Castalia House does a pretty good job of that, so I opened the epub file in Calibre; or at least I intended to open it. Calibre is infuriating: you can’t just open an epub file, you must first insert it into the Calibre library; but when I went to do that, I was informed that there was an update available, didn’t I want to download that first?

All right, I thought, and attempted to do so. It took a long time; so long that I decided to stop the process. It wouldn’t stop, so I went to Windows Task Manager to stop it. Then I decided to restart Windows; sometimes that helps when things slow down. Restarting Windows takes a while since you must close all ongoing applications. After I restarted it took a very long time to come up; far longer than usual. Outlook didn’t seem to want to start. OK, time for more drastic measures. Restart, then do a virus search. Something, I thought, is wrong, so I used the Shutdown button to completely turn the system off.

I did that, using an external search program. Nothing wrong. No malware found. Alien Artifact came up about as fast as usual, and everything seemed OK, so I opened Outlook. The system trundled for five minutes, but the program would not open. Now I really had a problem. Everything else about the system, Firefox, internal network connections, Word, seemed to work fine, but Outlook would not start.

Rick Hellewell, Managing Editor of Chaos Manor Reviews, tells me he did the Calibre update recently and it went smoothly, so I suspect that Firefox had one of its glitches that come with my bad habit of leaving a lot of Firefox windows open as an aid to my memory; when it slows down I find that restarting Firefox, and sometimes restarting Windows, fixes the problem, and it was an attempt to do that that generated this problem.

Eric had thoughts on Calibre and upgrades:

Calibre is a very active project and sees update releases with great frequency. If you don’t use it at least weekly it can seem like it wants to update with every single use. This would be less annoying if it had a less primitive method for updating and instead did things like Firefox or Chrome. If they released a version that was distributed through the Windows Store, that would also provide a much better update mechanism.

Alien Artifact has an SSD C: drive where we keep programs such as Windows and stuff that needs to load fast, and a terabyte spinning metal D: drive where we keep data. Because the machine is several years old and was built when SSD drives were quite expensive, the C: drive is only 250 gigabytes, so the terabyte D: drive gets a lot of use. Among other data on the D: drive are the Outlook data files, including outlook.pst. I looked at the Outlook data folder. There wasn’t an Outlook.pst folder. Or, rather, there was one, but it had a date of last change of 1/25/2015 which was impossible; I’d been using Outlook all through 2015 and of course the first month of 2016.

Now I had a backup of Outlook.pst on My Book, a very nice Western Digital 5 terabyte external drive. I admit I bought it partly because it was on sale but mostly because I was rather thrilled to have a 5 terabyte drive; my first computer had 8” floppy disk drives of 64 kilobytes for “mass” permanent storage.

Anyway, I had that backup on the external USB drive, so this was not a disaster of great proportions, but it was annoying; I’d have considerable work reconstructing all I had done in the several days since last backup, but I certainly had all the incoming mail I’d received in the past few days, both on Precious, the Surface Pro 3, and Swan, a Windows 10 system in the back room. It would be tedious, but I could do it. However, it would be better to find out what was wrong here.

Years ago I had a problem with a corrupted Outlook.pst file, and fixed it by running a Microsoft program, scanpst.exe. Worth a try, anyway. All I had to do was find scanpst.exe.

Microsoft keeps changing the default locations of programs, and the “improved” search program in Windows 7 and later sucks dead bunnies compared to the older Windows internal search programs, but it does work; only it could not find the program.

I told it to do an extended search on “My Computer” which includes all the other computers mapped to this one, and after long trundling it found scanpst.exe on Bette, a Windows 7 machine asleep upstairs. Bette was previously a main machine, but except as part of my extended backup procedures I hadn’t looked at her since my stroke – going upstairs is a bit of an expedition now.

But there was the program, in Program Files (x86) meaning that it is a 32 bit program. I double clicked on it, so that it would run on Alien Artifact, and Lo! it ran fine. It asked what file it should scan. I browsed to Alien Artifact’s D: Outlook Data file – it’s buried deep in the Jerryp Documents Library – and told it to scan that.

I knew it would take a while so I went to lunch. When I came back it said, Yep, that’s a corrupt file, back it up and I’ll fix it.

No problem. I used Norton Windows Commander, still one of the best file management programs I know, to create a “backup” folder and copied the misdated Outlook.pst into it, then told scanpst.exe to scan it again; this time it went very fast and offered to fix it, please make a backup first. Since I had made a backup I told it to go ahead. Trundle, but not for very long, and it said it was fixed.

The only problem was that the file still had a “last changed” date of 1/25/2015. Very interesting. I figured it could not hurt to open it – after all I still had my 4 day old Outlook.pst file on my backup drive—so I opened Outlook. It came right up. It was up to date, had all of today’s mail up to the moment I had shut down Outlook, and so far as I could see was in perfect shape. All my rules worked.

Not only that: Firefox was fast again, the Calibre update worked smoothly, and I’m working on proofreading There Will Be War Vol IX; I am also preparing a preface to the 2016 edition. It should be published soon.

Eric added this about searching for files in Windows:

The changes to Windows Search started in Vista. The big difference is that the old search in XP started from scratch every time while the newer version uses indexes maintained in idle periods to give far faster results.

The tradeoff is that indexing EVERYTHING would get really slow and most of it would be for indexing areas that most users will rarely or never need to access, especially system files.

Further, many of those files default to hidden from user view to keep them out of trouble. It only takes one radio button in the File Options control panel to change this but it can be annoying if you’ve forgotten about it or are using somebody else’s PC (as is often the case in my job) but it put an end to a lot of incidence of people deleting portions of the OS or program files because they didn’t know what this stuff did and it seemed to be taking up a lot of space for nothing.

It was always one of Window’s weaknesses from evolving out of a DOS shell that it lacked the basic protections that had been normal all along on operating systems that started on large multi-user systems and became available on micros as they grew in capability.

Anyway, the index scope of search can be made to include the entire volume but it means the indexing will require a lot more system time and the benefit would be non-existent for the majority of users whose only concern is finding data files stored in the provide library locations that are part of the default scope.

 

Two Finger Typing and Lost Text

This is the second time I have written this story. One problem with Word and two finger typing is that alt-spacebar does something. It opens a mini-window that I do not quite understand, but there are then keys you can press that delete everything you have done on that Word file. By delete I mean delete; the text is gone, not to the recycle bin, but gone. The Word window you were writing in is closed, and all unsaved text is lost. So far as I can tell there has never been a “Are you sure” warning; certain keys will simply close the Word Window without saving. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen.

When you are two-finger typing you do not see the screen, so you do not see this mini-window that opens in the upper left of the screen; and if you are typing fast it is possible to hit keys – I am not sure which – that result in closing your Word window and deleting all your text. I did it yesterday, losing 1500 words of text, and that so depressed me that I went into a funk despite my success with scanpst.exe. If you are a sloppy typist, be very careful of alt-spacebar. It’s an easy mistake to make for a sloppy typist and the result is disaster.

Eric’ provided some thoughts about Alt-Spacebar

This is what ALT+spacebar does. It’s part of a set of commands that lets you do window manipulation stuff you’d normally do with a pointing device, in case none is available. I imagine somebody has a situation that requires them to memorize these commands but it must be quite rare. It’s an interesting novelty to play around with but I cannot remember the last time I had a functioning keyboard but no option for a pointing device and the need to for GUI manipulation. Some devices for enabling use by the handicapped make use of these commands to enable interaction with software that has little or no good support for disabled users.

The accidental use probably opened the drop down menu normally found in an app’s upper left corner and defaults to highlighting CLOSE, the equivalent of ALT+F4. If you were near the end of a paragraph when this happened and hit ENTER, the system thought you wanted to close the window. This should have resulted in a “Are you sure?” or ”Do you want to save?” dialogue but another fast ENTER may have dismissed that before it was noticed.

Word keeps a hidden backup of the work in progress to allow recovery from things like power failure but this file gets overwritten by the next session if it isn’t put to use immediately after such a failure. With the speed of the systems today, especially the storage, there is no penalty for greatly reducing the autosave period as a safeguard. There was a time when AutoSave would disrupt input but you’d have to be working on a fairly massive file on a modern system for it to be noticeable. This, of course, is one of those subtle improvements the super-fast PCI-e SSDs will give us.

[More information about Alt-Spacebar is here http://cnet.co/1QVjamp ]

Rick Hellewell recalled an early story about Windows keyboard equivalents:

A friend from early Windows was really a techie about computers and Windows. He like to delve deep into the hardware and software of PC’s and Windows. I recall that he disconnected his mouse from his computer for a week to force himself to learn all of the keyboard shortcuts available in Windows.

The moral of this story is simple: save early and often, as we did in the old days.

When I first started writing with computers, back in S-100 days. I used to save after every paragraph even though I was saving to an 8” floppy and that took time. I hated losing text.

As the years went by, disasters became more and more rare. When I had this one, I opened Word and went to File >Options > Save and discovered that my auto-save was set to ten minutes. I can write a lot in ten minutes, and apparently did yesterday before I lost it all. I have since set the auto-save time, first to 3 minutes, and when I found that I did not notice that, I have reset it to 1 minute; I don’t notice that either. Saves, even of large documents, are fast. I suspect that if I have a whole novel up I will probably change auto-save back to a longer time. But perhaps not. Ten minutes, though, is entirely too long.

Regarding alt-spacebar, It is certainly possible that I hit Return just after alt-spacebar, but there is simply no “Are you sure” warning before the Window closes with loss of all text. I’ve experimented. With fast drives it is not a large problem: I have set all my machines to save every minute, and I have not noticed having done so; I can’t lose more than a minute’s worth of text now, and while that would be annoying it would no longer be a disaster. Hurrah for faster drives! Still, alt-spacebar is a dangerous, and in my judgment a needless “feature”.

Transferring AutoCorrect Dictionaries

Eric Pobirs reminds me:

‘Technically, we know how to transfer AutoCorrect settings but the multitude of identically named files is such that we gave up in the face of the lengthy trial and error that would have been required to make it work. There is probably an app out there to sync such things but they tend to be pricey for single users across multiple machines. Microsoft has been implementing more and more sync functionality in Windows and Office, so it is possible it will be built-in someday.”

To which I can only shout encouragement to Microsoft. It is time they took some notice of the inconveniences they cause normal users in their constant efforts to add “improvements”. For some of us the improvements are needless and sometimes interfere with the program’s utility for us, even if it does add some feature useful to other users. I know it’s a bother to look into how people actually use software, but isn’t there some obligation to long time users?

The Dreaded 550 Error

While I was dithering about what to do with my lost outlook.pst, I went to Precious, the Surface Pro 3 with Surface Pro 4 keyboard, because of course I could not use my main machine to read or answer mail; once that outlook.pst file is corrupted, Outlook won’t open until it is scanned and fixed, or replaced.

Precious was doing something odd: I could reply to certain mail, like mail from my advisors group, but ordinary mail, whether a reply or original mail, got a message from “System Administrator”:

Your message did not reach some or all of the intended recipients.

Subject:     Sent from Surface Pro

Sent:  1/30/2016 10:50 AM

The following recipient(s) cannot be reached:

Alex Pournelle (alexp@xxx.net) on 1/30/2016 10:50 AM

Server error: ‘550 through this server.’

This no matter who I tried to send to. I can send mail to myself, or to certain lists, but nowhere else. I have discussed this with my advisors, who are pretty sharp. I have also looked on-line but the discussion seems confusing. I know that Swan, a modern Windows 10 desktop running the same version of Office as does the Surface Pro, does not have this problem; and of course the Windows 7 Alien Artifact does not either.

It is merely annoying at the moment, since I only use the Surface to keep track of experimental Windows 10 changes; but it is an annoyance. The loss of Outlook on my main machine caused me to do a good bit of work on Precious, and I find that the Surface Pro 4 keyboard is the best two-finger keyboard I have yet found, better than the Logitech K360’s I have installed on Alien Artifact and Swan; and while I have mixed emotions about the small screen, I also notice the screen as I am typing; with a desktop the big 27” screen is at eye level so when I am staring at the keyboard, as I must, I do not see the screen at all.

It is possible that I will be able to work on novels on the Surface Pro; that Pro 4 keyboard really is superior. The keys are large, and they are well separated; I don’t hit control-spacebar very often. On the other hand, I only have Office 365 on the Surface, which means teaching AutoCorrect about woul;d and so forth is much more difficult.

It is possible that some Outlook setting has been changed, although it would have had to “just happen” since I did not use that Surface Pro at all since the last time I answered mail with it; I’ll keep looking, and perhaps someone will have a cogent suggestion.

And perhaps Microsoft never will get around to fixing the 550 error, meaning that my Surface is useless as a travelling machine. I keep thinking it must be Microsoft and one of the recent updates to Windows 10, because I have barely used the Surface recently.

When I first connected the Surface Pro 4 keyboard to it, the Fingerprint ID system worked just fine; then there was a period of a couple of weeks when it did not work at all, and I had to type in the password; then another software revision, and the fingerprint system worked fine again, worked much better that the IBM system on the ThinkPad.

I had done nothing to the system; all the updates were automatic. The fingerprint worked, then did not work, then worked again; no word from Microsoft, just automatic updates. I can hope that another update will fix the dreaded 550 error.

On the other hand, Outlook works just fine on Swan, a Windows 10 system with Office 365; I’ll have to dig to find its Outlook settings; perhaps they differ from those on Precious, but I don’t see why they would; I certainly never changed anything. Anyway that’s for another time.

Winding Down

The book of the month is Angus Deaton, The Great Escape, Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality.
Deaton writes well, and is careful in what he says. I suspect he and I would not be in great agreement on many things, but he is very careful of his data. He also points out that both the poor and the wealthy now have access to benefits, particularly in health, that the wealthiest and most powerful could not have had a few years ago; that world health among the richest and the poorest has become much better in the last hundred years, and continues to rise. That includes life expectancy. See Matthew 6:27.

We didn’t get to the movies this month. I get DVD’s of many of the acclaimed nominee movies, but I have not been looking at them; frankly, Birdman was so disappointing to me last year that I am a little leery of critical acclaim. I’m sure that will pass.

I will try to be more regular with these observations in future.

We invite your comments below. Be aware that Dr. Pournelle does not respond to comments due to time considerations, but we welcome your thoughts. – Editor

Fixing Broken Windows 10 Apps


Reader Sean Long submitted this tip for fixing broken Windows 10 applications. If you have a tip that will help CMR readers, let us know. And add your comments after the article.

I have another Windows 10 tip that seems to be a hot topic in help forums but doesn’t have a consistent fix.

The problem I had was I tried to bring up the default Windows calculator, and it wouldn’t run. Since I had fiddled with the default Windows 10 apps before, I figured I just needed to re-install the calculator app. When that failed, I tried to brute-force reinstall all Windows 10 default apps, and that resulted in ALL of the windows 10 apps becoming unusable.

The issue is that some of the Windows 10 apps are super annoying, so many people have been trying to uninstall one or more of the default apps. Unfortunately under the current build of Windows 10, the installer appears to be badly broken so both uninstalling and attempting to reinstall the apps can make all of the Windows 10 default apps unusable. They can’t be uninstalled, they can’t be reinstalled, they don’t work, Windows store breaks, and Microsoft considers them core components so they don’t even show up in the programs and features control panel or settings applets so you simply can’t fix them yourself.

For an example of a badly behaved windows default app, the new Windows 10 photos app will continuously attempt to scan, index, and enhance all images in all libraries. That’s great if the library is only on your local drive but if the library is located on a networked computer, it will saturate your network and thrash the remote library’s hard drive endlessly.

One unsatisfactory workaround is to go to your libraries and remove all libraries on networked drives, but you shouldn’t have to do that if the Windows default apps didn’t have these horrible and destructive behaviors set by default. So instead of removing networked libraries, you can fix the problem by removing whatever Windows app (photos was the worst for me) that is causing the problem.

Of course, many people realize after the fact that they really did want that app back. So the “magic” re-installation command that you could enter into the PowerShell program (run as administrator), as found on a dozen websites and help forums, is:

Get-AppXPackage | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register “$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml”}

Detailed instructions can be found on many windows help forums so I won’t go into more detail than that.

Unfortunately under the current mainstream Windows 10 build (as of 16 Jan 2016), that will wreck all Windows default apps and make them unusable. Oops. There are a handful of other approaches to get around this including some registry tweaks and resetting permissions, but the bottom line is that for almost all users, attempting to uninstall or reinstall the default Windows 10 apps will likely break all of them without any way to repair or restore any of them, including the windows store. Thankfully, there is one solution, although it reminds me of buying a new car every time you need an oil change.

The solution for now is to go to the Microsoft Windows 10 installer site here: http://bit.ly/1ZC6vVG and re-run the Microsoft Windows 10 installer. It will do just what the original upgrade did, leaving your current apps and files alone and restoring any lost functionality. It can take an hour or more depending on computer and network speed, but I’ve had to do it on 2 separate computers now without any failures, using the online installer.

Did this help you? Any other ideas? Let us know in the comments. – Editor

Bright Ideas

incandescent-lightbulbOne of the Chaos Manor Advisors saw an article about a new kind of incandescent bulb that was brighter than normal bulbs.

Researchers at MIT have shown that by surrounding the filament with a special crystal structure they can bounce back the energy which is usually lost (see article here).

This seemed interesting, and brought forth a comment from Peter Glaskowsky, another CM advisor, expressed some skepticism:

Some of this story is simply false to fact, but other parts are correct.

For example, LEDs with CRI values over 90 (and up to 97) are widely available, and some of these also provide high-quality red tones (the part of “warm” that is particularly noticeable to some people).

On the other hand, it’s correct that LEDs with high CRI values are only around 14 percent efficient, as the story says, so if the MIT solution can increase this figure to 40%, that could be good.

But MIT has only achieved an efficiency level of 6.6% and these researchers haven’t even identified a theoretical basis for surpassing 20% efficiency—about where the best LEDs stand today—so they’re a long way from claiming any real advantages.

Also, the technology behind this invention looks expensive and has some limitations. First, the reflectors are made using semiconductor-like materials and processes—up to hundreds of stacked layers of exotic materials that have to be made with high precision or the product won’t work right. There’s no precedent for using these processes on highly curved surfaces, either.

Ultimately it isn’t at all clear to me that it will ever be possible for this technology to surpass the combination of cost, efficiency, and color quality offered by LEDs, which is not the conclusion invited by MIT’s press release.

I’ve seen many of these factually questionable and unjustifiably optimistic MIT press releases in the past, suggesting this is either a deliberate strategy or just a quirk of someone in their press office who really ought to find something else to do for a living. MIT does plenty of good work; there’s no need to hype it past all scientific justification.

Your CMR editor has a supply of incandescent bulbs, many bought before some sizes were outlawed by the US government (info on incandescent bulb ban here). There are several places in my house where the lights tend to be on all the time (partly due to need, partly due to laziness). Here’s my thoughts:

I have started a slow process of replacing my incandescent bulbs (and CFL’s) with LED lights (for A19 base 2700K bulbs, I got these http://amzn.to/1PsxE8h ; 6 pack for about $21.00). I have a full set of six on the light fixture above the dining table, just a few feet away from my usual spot in the living room. That light is always on, even during the day. They are 60W equivalent, and are brighter than the incandescent bulbs, and the CFL that I tried in the same fixture. And they are full-bright immediately, rather than needing the warm-up period of CFLs.

I have also started using LED bulbs in various ceiling ‘can’ fixtures (65-watt equivalent, BR30 bulbs, use 7 watts), using them as the old bulbs (incandescent and CFL) have failed. They appear to provide more light, and again do not need the warm-up period of CFLs. The 65-watt LED bulbs will eventually replace the older BR30 bulbs in the entire house, especially in the kitchen, where the slow-brighten time of CFLs is problematic.

The 65-watt BR30 bulbs were purchased from Amazon http://amzn.to/1Psxrlp , 6 for $35, with free shipping courtesy of Amazon Prime. They are ‘dimmable’.  I notice they are out of stock at the moment, but LED bulbs are available in many places. (Some local utilities are also subsidizing LED purchase.)

So far, pleased with them. I am assuming that they will be a positive effect on my electricity bill. And using the bulbs in the family room, at 7 W each instead of 65W, will allow that circuit to be powered by my generator during any power outage. (That light circuit is on the same circuit as the TV, which I plan to power during any outage with my generator.)

Advisor David Em is also an LED bulb proponent:

Last year I bought fairly inexpensive dimmable full-spectrum LED spots for the studio. I love them.

Also happen to be reading Oliver Sacks’s “Uncle Tungsten” [Amazon link ] at the moment, which has some interesting discussion of the history of light bulbs.

What do you think? Are you moving towards LED bulbs, or are you holding out with incandescent? Or are CFL’s your choice? Let us know in the comments.

Access Pre-Windows 7 File Shares on Windows 10


Sean Long, a Chaos Manor Reviews reader, had difficulties with the Windows 10 upgrade making his pre-Windows 7 file shares inaccessible. After much trial-and-error and incorrect information on the Googles, he figured out how to fix the problem. His solution is below. The usual precautions apply.

Thanks to Mr. Long in sharing his problem and solution. CMR is interested in similar problem-solving from CMR readers. This page has the details on how to share your solutions to computer issues. – Editor

file-sharing-iconFirst, if your win10 machine can’t access pre-win7 file shares (winXP, windows home server, some linux or NAS versions), go here http://bit.ly/1ZiNLdz

The original response doesn’t seem to be a complete answer, but down in the comments is the actual solution:

There is a setting in windows Local Security Policy which is incorrectly set by default for viewing an older communication protocol NAS.

To access said setting go to the Control Panel in Windows 10 (or 7), in Category view click on the text “System and Security”, then click on the text “Administrative Tools”. Now double click and open “Local Security Policy”.

In the Local Security Policy screen on the left navigation tree, expand the “Local Policies –> Security Options” then about 2/3rd’s the way down the list you’ll see a Policy called “Network Security: LAN Manager authentication level”. Double click and change the setting to be “Send LM & NTLM – use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated.”
Then just press OK and close all of the open windows and then try again.

In the case of Windows 10 Home, Local Security Policy does not exist (thanks Microsoft); therefore make the change in the registry (use the REGEDIT program). Find the indicated entry, then add a new entry as detailed below:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\control\LSA
Add:
LMCompatibilityLevel
Value Type: REG_DWORD – Number (32 bit, hexadecimal)
Valid Range 0-5
Default: 0, Set to 1 (Use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated)
Description: This parameter specifies the type of authentication to be used.

Basically, Microsoft failed to set a critical security setting (it is set to null by default), and it needs to be set to something in order to connect to Windows XP or Windows Home Server file shares.  Easy fix, stupidly hard to find though.

Second, if you have a laptop or tablet that can’t get through the Windows 10 version 1511 update, it may because you have an SD card installed.  To get the Windows 10 1511 update to install correctly, you must remove the SD card before starting the update process.

If the update has failed and no longer shows as an available update, you will need to go to the Windows 10 upgrade page and re-run the Windows 10 installer.  It will recognize that you already have Windows 10 installed, and will patch it to version 1511.

The critical point is to have the SD card removed throughout the entire update process.  If you are like me and have moved user files to the SD card, don’t worry, it worked ok for me when I popped the SD card out right before running the installer, and put it back in before logging in after the update was complete.

Thanks to Mr. Long for his report. Enter your comments or questions below. And share your computer stories with CMR readers; start here. – Editor

After the Storm

 

[A bit different, but there is a “I did this so you don’t have to” angle on this story from our editor about emergency preparedness. It is, after all Emergency Preparedness month. Originally published on his blog. – Editor]

storm-treeOur house is on the northeast corner  of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, not far from the Hood Canal Bridge. Although we get about half the rain of Seattle, there are the occasional windy storms that come through here. This weekend was one of those; a extra-windy affair with rain, that usually happens once or twice a year around here.

The weather forecasters predicted very windy conditions, with gusts up to 55mph. Since there are a lot of trees in Washington, there was the real possibility of falling trees causing damage to the electrical lines, resulting in power outages.

There was several days of warnings about the storm, so plenty of time to lay in supplies. If there were electrical outages, they might last 12 to 48 hours or more.

We had a similar storm last year, with a power outage of about 8 hours, starting in the evening. But this storm was supposed to hit mid-day. I figured that would be the case again with this storm.

So I did some minor preparation at home. I knew that I had plenty of flashlights – and batteries. We had some canned food, plus fresh fruit, some energy bars, and four cases of bottled water. We have a small chest freezer with some meat in there, and a good propane BBQ grill with an extra fuel canister. I figured we could handle a short power outage, even if it did happen overnight.

Storm On The Road

The storm came as scheduled on Saturday. We had family in town, so had planned a trip across Hood Canal bridge to Silverdale to visit the local marine museum with my daughter’s’ family (husband, wife, two and four year old). We went across the bridge, and it was a little windy, but not too bad. Enough wind that there were 2-3 foot ‘rollers’ and a bit of whitecaps. But winds gusts under 20mph. The bridge will close if the winds get over 45mph.

We made it to SIlverdale OK, had a great visit in the museum (a hands-on place with lots of touching of the sea critters, to the delight of the grandchildren). It started to rain a bit more when we got there, but not really a downpour.

After the marine museum, a trip to a hamburger restaurant. Lots of people there; it was lunch time, but service was good. It was a bit windy outside, maybe 15-20mph, and some rain. There was a bit of light flickering due to power issues while we were inside, and one 10-second outage, but all was well.

During lunch, I was watching the roads (via Waze and Google Maps), and notices some slowdowns on the usual route home that appeared to be just traffic-related. The drive back home is about 35 miles; some four-lane divided highway, some two-way undivided before the bridge.

After lunch, we went over to the local Costco to look for a replacement laptop (didn’t find the right one). But I thought it would be a good idea to get a LED lantern and some extra batteries – extra batteries are usually a good idea. (the Costco Kirkland brand is a good value).

The Costco was the usual Saturday-busy, but we got out OK. And back into the car for the trip home. The traffic on the four-lane highway wasn’t too bad. But then we got to the about 10 mile two-lane highway part. That was backed up solid and stopped. It looked like traffic was coming from the other direction, so figured there was just more traffic than usual.

While stopped, I was checking out the traffic, seeing if there was another way that might be better. But there are really only two ways to the Hood Canal Bridge. Our usual route was jam-packed.

And, my cellphone was no help. No bars, so no traffic help from Waze or Google Maps. The wind had knocked out the power (trees into power lines), so no idea which way was the best way home. After sitting in nearly one spot for about 30 minutes (the “this should start moving in a few minutes” kind of wait), I decided to turn around and try the other direction home. That turned out to have less traffic to the bridge, although the ‘long way’ around.

We crossed the bridge (more rollers and white caps on the water) with some crosswinds. The bridge had been closed for a couple of hours due to the wind, which caused the big backup on the main route to the bridge. Our alternate route wasn’t as busy, and the bridge was open by the time we go there. Then on to the two lane road to our small town. And on that road, you could see several power lines that have been downed (but off the road) by trees. It didn’t look good for power when we got home.

Back Home and It Is Dark

And, that was correct. No automatic garage door when we pushed the button. In to the front door to a dark and power-free house. It was about 430pm, so plenty of light from the big windows in the main room. But it was time to prepare for darkness – find the flashlights (where were they?) check the batteries (several flashlights were dead, but I did have replacement batteries), and set up the LED camp light. The water was still running, though.

A reminder to everyone to stay out of the refrigerator and freezer (the ice cream cake we brought home to celebrate a birthday was a bit soggy due to the long ride home, but still good). There were hard-back books for a some, ebooks for others, and a movie on an iPad for the kids. When it got dark outside (and inside), we turned on the LED camp light (a nice amount of light) until it was bedtime for the kids, with flashlights issued as needed.

With that over, some quiet time for the adults, then off to bed about 10pm. I was able to keep up with the local power company’s efforts via social media on my phone; the cell towers were still working.

There were many power lines down in the area; the Olympic Peninsula around our home had about 12,000 customers in the dark, with much larger impacts throughout the region. Crews were (and still are) working on things, but big trees falling on power lines does cause some damage that takes a while to repair.

I use a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea. That didn’t work, of course, and sleep was difficult for me because of that. Power was finally restored around 3:30am for us. Up early for church, where everyone swapped power outage and storm stories. Some people in more rural areas were still powerless that morning, and throughout the day. Some still are, as I write this on Sunday night.

Reviewing Things

Now all of that is a rather long preface to ‘I did this so you don’t have to’. I read a few blog sites that talk about ‘prepping’. After thinking about my preparations for the wind storm, how did I do?

Well, I did have some flashlights, although it took a bit to find them all, and get them working. The food in the freezer and refrigerator stayed cold, because the power outage wasn’t very long (and it was a good excuse to eat extra ice cream cake). I didn’t have to worry about a cold night; I do have a propane fireplace, and the propane tank is full, but the nights are mild (around 55-65F) this time of year.

There was food that could be used for an extensive power outage, although not that much. I did have water (the municipal water supply was working through the outage). Lots of toilet paper, so that is covered. There would have been cold showers in the morning, though, since I have an electric water heater.

But my flashlight supply wasn’t really ready; I did have to do some digging around in the garage a bit to find working ones. The new LED lantern was a good purchase; we’ll get another the next trip to Costco. And I have lots of spare batteries, along with two crank-type LED flashlights, one with a radio.

My cell phone was mostly charged, but my backup cell phone battery pack was not (I had used it the weekend before, and hadn’t thought to charge it yet). My CPAP machine only runs on house power, so I didn’t sleep that well – getting one that runs on 12v might be a good idea.

Food supplies were passable, but an extended outage might result in a not-healthy diet. Our personal medicine supply was good. My first aid supply is very basic – bandages and antiseptic cream. I have some antiseptic hand wash stuff, but not enough for an extended period of time.

There were lots of trees down in my area. I had an alder tree, about six inches in circumference, that split and fell, luckily not on my house. A neighbor helped cut the damaged branch – he can use it for his wood stove, but I’ll need to cut the rest of the tree down – so where is my bow saw?

Lessons Learned

Looking back, I probably could have prepared better. There was several days warning of the impending wind storm, and I knew that the area is prone to power outages during wind storms. More and varied food might be better. I may need to consider a small generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.

Perhaps heading out on the road just before a storm hits is something that is less than ideal.

When the power came back on, I didn’t think to check the status of frozen meats in the freezer; since the outage wasn’t that long, and we kept the doors shut, I think the frozen food is OK.

I was prepared to cook on the propane grill; I had an extra propane tank. But it might be a good idea to get a small two-burner propane stove, which would be more efficient than the propane grill for some meals. Both cars were full of gas, so I could have charged my cell phone batteries there, but I need to ensure my cell phone ‘battery-brick’ is kept charged, and maybe buy an extra one. II

I could use more LED flashlights, and batteries. Maybe even a solar battery charger.(I did order a couple of solar-powered flashlights to try out.) And another LED camp light or two. And I need to organize the emergency supplies to have them in a central space, so I can find them. (I still haven’t found my LED head lamp.)

I need to be aware of alternate routes in the area. Perhaps a paper map would be better for when the cell phone towers are dead because of power outages, or at least an on-line map study before the next emergency.

Perhaps an alternate power supply for my CPAP. Getting enough rest during an emergency is a Good Thing.

So, maybe an overall grade of C+? Good enough for this short outage, but I need to think (and act on) additional things to get ready for the next one. Whatever the emergency is.

What about you? Have you thought about your emergency preparation status? Are you ready for a short-term power outage? Could you survive on what you have in your house right now? Let us know in the comments.

Windows Live Writer – Almost Good Enough

Our intrepid editor maintains Chaos Manor and this site. Dr. Jerry Pournelle mainly writes for Chaos Manor. And he uses Microsoft Live Writer to do that. A new install of that resulted in a problem with entering the title of a post. And that resulted in a call to the Chaos Manor Advisors for help. Which, in turn, resulted in an interesting (well, to the editor, since he did it) troubleshooting process to figure out why.

Windows Live Writer main function is an easy way to write blog entries, and easily publish them to your blog site. It is a stripped-down version of Word, with basic HTML page editing functions. Once you set it up for your blog, you can write something, insert pictures, format text, add links, spell check, and the other usual things. Then there is a one-button ‘publish’ to your blogging site. The advantage to using it is that it is easy for anyone to easily write and publish blog entries.

Microsoft Word has some blog publishing capabilities also. So you could write a blog post in Word, then use the File, Save and Send to publish. One advantage to Live Writer over using Word is that you can see what your post will look like on your blogging site. The Live Writer editor screen will show your post with all of your blogs styling/look.

Sort of.

Windows Live Writer

Windows Live Writer (LW) is like a  step-child of Microsoft. It’s not very well maintained. It doesn’t work well as a full  WYSIWYG editor. Not to mention that if you want to install it, the proper download location (from Microsoft – you don’t want to get it from  non-Microsoft site) is not easy to find.

We use LW to initially create draft posts on this site, and other WordPress sites we have. We paste potential articles from Word (or email) into LW. Then we do the final editing within the WordPress editing screen.

Dr. Pournelle uses it for his posts to the Chaos Manor site. The process works fairly well for us and him. The LW editing screen is clean, with a ribbon bar to do basic formatting. Pictures pasted into LW will get uploaded to the site. The editing screen looks close enough to the final posted page on the web site.

Over in Chaos Manor, Dr. Pournelle has several computers that he uses to write his posts. He’s been rearranging his work areas lately, so he needed to get LW installed on a new system. That was the first problem.

Eric Pobirs, one of the Chaos Manor Advisors, helped get LW installed on the system at Chaos Manor. Dr. Pournelle was having difficulties getting the install process to complete. Eric said:

Essentially, it came down to downloading the correct file to start the install. For reasons that defy my understanding, Microsoft has never done a good job on how they manage the Live suite of apps. My impression is they regarded it more as something for OEMs to bundle with new PCs, like the MS Works suite of yore, and didn’t put the proper effort into presenting it to individuals downloading the product.

There were three major generations, 2009, 2011, and 2012. The earliest does not like post-XP versions of Windows. The middle version was intended for Vista, and the last version for 7 and 8.x. It was odd for a Microsoft program to display such compatibility issues but there it is. The 2011 version never gave me problems on Windows 7 but the only portion I used extensively is the Mail app, which has a long history as Outlook Express.

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-live/download-windows-essentials#wetabs=we2012

Microsoft pulled the earlier versions from download availability but they are still offered on numerous sites that are likely to show up in search. They’re hard to distinguish because they always have the same wlsetup.exe file name, rather than carrying some clue to their version up front. Some people are still obsessively attached to the 8.3 file naming convention.

So, I made sure I was downloading the 2012 version and it simply worked. Notably, it showed a different icon than the one downloaded to Swan previously. The .NET 3.5 runtime must have been installed on Swan at some point because it didn’t ask for it as it did on my Windows 10 test machine a few days earlier.

So Eric was successful in getting LW installed on the “Swan” system, making it available to Dr. Pournelle on that system, after he set up the Blog Account in LW for the Chaos Manor site.


The LW Editing Screen

A bit about that. You can have multiple Blog Accounts set up in LW. Each account will ‘connect’ to the appropriate site. You enter the user credentials and the site URL, and LW does some trundling to get things set up. Part of that ‘trundling’ is to download the sites theme (‘look’), which results in templates that are used by the LW editing screen. That template includes the various HTML and CSS for the site’s theme, and is used to present the theme’s look in the LW editing screen. So the HTML/CSS of the site’s theme is an important part of the template used by LW to display content on the LW editing screen.

WordPress themes get updated all of the time with additional features, and probably new and changed CSS styles. LW has a button to update the theme, so it’s editing screen will ‘look’ like a published post on the live site.

The LW editing screen looks like this (a partial screenshot of the LW editing area.

imageYou can see the ribbon bar (similar to the one in Word) across the top for basic formatting (there is more that is not shown on this screen shot). There is an area to enter the post’s title, and the area underneath that is the content area. You click on the Post Title area, type in the title, then move to the content area and type in the content. When all is done, you hit the Publish button, and the post is published on your web site.

This first screenshot shows the LW editing screen when we are using the Chaos Manor Reviews blog account. The CMR site uses a theme called “Voyage”. We’ve done some modifications of it, adding some CSS and other changes that we wanted to have.

The Chaos Manor site uses a different theme called ‘Mantra’. I’ve modified it with additional CSS and code. If you look at the two sites, you can see the difference in how they ‘look’. That is because they use different themes, each having it’s own ‘look and feel’.

Now, let’s take a look at the LW editing screen for the Chaos Manor site:

imageSee the difference? No title area. Just the entry area for the post’s content, and the gray area of the site’s background. (LW doesn’t show the sidebar area, nor the heading/menu area.)

Both screenshots are in the LW “WYSIWYG” mode. On the Chaos Manor site, because it uses a different theme, you can’t enter the title of the post on this LW editing screen. You can get the title area if you toggle off the WYSIWYG mode (with Ctrl + F11). Here’s what the Chaos Manor site looks like in LW with the WYSIWYG mode turned off:

imageThe Post Title area is back, but the WYSIWYG (the look of the post with the site’s theme) is gone.

The missing post title area caused a problem for Dr. Pournelle on the new install of LW. The title area was OK on the other systems he uses, since they were working off of the older version of the Mantra theme.

So it appeared that additional CSS with the latest version of the Mantra theme was causing the Post Title area to disappear in WYSIWYG mode in LW.

Digging into the Problem

imageThat took a bit of digging around to figure out. This next part is a bit more technical, with HTML and CSS code references. But it is interesting, even to the non-web page designer.

LW stores the site’s theme templates in the AppData folder on the computer. Each site is stored in a folder with a GUID-type name. Inside that folder area is the template file for the site. Here’s the file list for the Chaos Manor site; other sites that I have installed on my system have a similar file structure, shown on the right.

The LW editing page uses the index.htm template. The older versions of the index.html file are prior template ‘syncs’, as are, I think, the other GUID-named folders.

If we look at the code inside the index.htm file, we see standard HTML code with CSS styles, etc. Here’s the BODY area of the template code in that file

image

Note the highlighted code at line 172:

<DIV class=”comments-link”><SPAN><SPAN class=”screen-reader-text”>{post-title}</SPAN></SPAN></DIV>

Again, this code is ‘built’ by LW from the theme’s generated code for a page. The {post-title} is used by LW for the input area for the post’s title. Note that it is surrounded by the CSS Class called ‘screen-reader-text’. That’s an indication of where our problem of not seeing the title area on the LW screen. Compare that to the code in the index.htm file for the Chaos Manor Reviews site, which uses a different theme:

<H2 class=”entry-title”><A href=”http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/”>{post-title}</A></H2>

That gives us a clue as to the problem with the disappearing Post Title area on the Chaos Manor LW screen. The {post-title} is surrounded by the ‘screen-reader-text’ class. In the CMR code, there is a different class. So looking at the ‘screen-reader-text’ class is our next step. Here’s the CSS code for that CSS class.

.screen-reader-text {

position: absolute;

left: -9000px;

}

Digging into our knowledge of CSS stuff, we see that any HTML code using that class will have the text positioned 9000 px (pixels) to the left of the current position. That will position the visual text off of the LW screen (and off of the browser screen when the page is viewed). Screen reader applications (for the visually impaired) will be able to read the text, but a ‘normal’ view of the page in a browser will not show any content surrounded by that CSS class ‘div’.

Since LW editing screen uses a browser-representation (based on the LW template created from the site’s theme) of the post, that CSS class was the cause of the disappearing post title area on the new (with the current updated theme) installation of LW on Dr. Pournelle’s ‘Swan’ system. That particular bit of code is not in the LW installs for the old version of the Mantra theme, which is why Dr. Pournelle was able to see the Post Title when using LW on those systems.

The Fix is In – Sort Of

So, how to fix that? The quick way is to use the Ctrl+F11 toggle to get out of WYSIWYG mode on the LW editing screen. The disadvantage of that is that you can’t see what the post will look like when published. For instance, the ‘block quotes’ we used above to show the code contents will look similar to the web site version, with indentation, a lighter gray background, and a white border around the box. If you toggle off the WYSIWYG mode in LW, that area is just shown as indented text. But that is a Good Enough solution for Dr. Pournelle.

You could modify the Mantra Theme to not put in that CSS code. That takes away some of the ‘accessability’ of the site to visually impaired visitors.

And there is a risk in modifying theme code, unless you use a ‘child theme’ (as we do on both sites, and on all WordPress sites we make). If you don’t use a child theme, any changes you make to the theme’s code or CSS will get destroyed with a theme update. And if you do use a child theme, you may have to duplicate a lot of the theme code – depending on how the theme is ‘built’. Either way, some PHP skills are needed (among other skills). We’ve done child themes, and recommend them, but there is some effort involved.

You could change themes, of course (and we may do that at some point on the Chaos Manor site), but that requires a lot of testing and tweaking the new theme; things that you don’t want to do on a live site. And finding just the right theme with all of the features you want to have can be quite a ‘time sink’. You can spend hours finding the right theme (I’ve done it). And still things aren’t quite what you want.

Or you could build your own theme. There are theme building templates to help out, but that is still a bunch of effort requiring PHP, HTML, and CSS skills. (Again, I’ve done it – or at least, started on the process. Many hours/days/weeks of coding and testing are required to build a theme that works well.)

Now, it may be, as the executive editor and web guy of the Chaos Manor and Chaos Manor Review sites, that I’ll change the theme of Chaos Manor to be closer to Chaos Manor Reviews. Again, time is involved in that.

But in the meantime using the Ctrl+F11 key to toggle in and out of WYSIWYG mode just so Dr. Pournelle can type in the post title is the best short-term solution.

Whither Live Writer?

There aren’t many good alternatives to LW. You could use the native editor in WordPress, but that requires learning a bit about the WP Admin area. LW is great, since it doesn’t require any access to the WP Admin area.

You could use Word and publish there. That would work with simple blogs, but once you get into more than the basic formatting, Word is not the best solution either; it creates a lot of HTML ‘gunk’ in the page code.

Will Live Writer ever be more than ‘good enough’? Microsoft has announced that they are planning on taking it open-source, which might fix all of the little problems it has (including, hopefully, this one). No announcement of when that will happen, though. One can hope that it will be Real Soon Now.

So, we’re stuck with Live Writer. It is, overall, a great way to easily ‘blog’.  You do have to work around some issues. But it is almost ‘good enough’.

What do you think? What is your favorite blog editor? Let us know in the comments. And if you have a story you’d like to share on Chaos Manor Reviews, let us know here.

XBox as a DVR

Eric Pobirs passed this information along to the Chaos Manor Advisors, and we thought you might be interested. – Editor

Microsoft announced today during their Gamescom presentation their intent to offer DVR capability on the Xbox One.

http://www.engadget.com/2015/08/04/xbox-one-dvr/

500px-Xbox_logo_2012_cropped.svg If this would let me retire my TiVo and its monthly service fee I’d apply the savings to a very high capacity external drive. I currently have a 3 TB drive set aside for the purpose but the additional load from storing video would merit some added TBs. Initially this will be for the USB OTA antennas offered for the Xbox One in Europe and the US. (Which are completely useless in my location due to the amount of geology between here and Mt. Wilson.

Unless Microsoft is planning an external CableCard box, I’d expect that this would use a cable/satellite box connected to the HDMI In and encode the stream to a saved file. (I know the AMD designed APU has some encoding hardware functionality but I’ve seen far less info than on the Intel QuickSync tech.) This may mean a somewhat lesser quality than on a modern DVR that records the compressed stream straight from the cable. Still, hard to beat for free if you already own an Xbox One.

The Amazon Prime service is on-demand, 24/7/365. You can watch anything you want when you want. Because this is a rapidly growing method for accessing video entertainment, scheduled broadcasting is starting to feel some pain. I believe that most of it will be gone within 20 years, possibly much sooner.  Thus the DVR itself is product category with a shrinking future. TiVo is working to reposition itself as the center of video access for the home, which puts them up against game consoles in a way they hadn’t needed to deal with previously.

One example is the Season Pass feature. It will now enlist any streaming service you subscribe to, and have told the TiVo how to login, in order to gather up all the episodes requested sooner than later. It a nice innovation if you have the subscription but really only applicable if you’re watching a current season. A completed season on the streaming service would simply be accessed entirely from there.

So TiVo is in an existential struggle because console makers will always have games as the primary function but the hardware has enough spare horsepower that encoding video isn’t the major task it once was. Microsoft, and potentially Sony, can just add this as a software feature rather than rely on it as their core product.

What was announce for release next year is solely for use with an OTA antenna but it has been hinted by MS execs that it won’t end there.

There are alternatives available right now.

http://cetoncorp.com/products/infinitv-6-ethernet/

This page is somewhat dated since Windows Media Center is dead as far as ongoing development goes. (It is not supported in Windows 10 at all.) Storing recordings on a shared volume that is presented by a DLNA works fine for networked DVR. A CableCard from Time Warner to decode their feed is $2.50 a month on my bill.

https://www.silicondust.com/ is another player in this area.

Gadgetry abounds but I think you’ll find you could spend vast amounts of time just exploring the library Amazon Prime gives you, with the added virtue of it being already paid for as part of your Prime subscription.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments. And share your stories with us; check out the details here.

MacBook Pro Migration Assistant

 In this first part of a two-part installment, Alex works on his MacBook Pro to cure erratic performance, hidden storage, Terminator processes and the Precambrian-era apps that cause them. He starts with a discussion of migration.

Migration Assistant: Too helpful?

While I moved to this Mac (MacBook Pro 15”, early 2011, 8 GB RAM) over a year ago, it took this long to find out just how much stuff I’d moved—some programs were from two moves earlier! This was part of my mysterious slowdowns, unresponsive performance, and general low-level annoyance, distractions from Getting Things Done.

This is, I suppose, a curse of the modern age. In previous generations, computer speed was slow enough that I’d save up context-switches, changes from one program to another, or other time-wasters, until I needed a break.

Today, systems are fast enough that we, I, rely on instantaneous swaps from Word to Firefox and back. A two-second delay for Word’s “Insert Hyperlink” feature to open, or more than five seconds for MacOS to paste from the clipboard into the Hyperlink window, pulls me right out of writing.

Even though a few seconds is trivial, when I’m on a roll, it breaks my concentration; the imprecations yelled at an unresponsive computer scare the animals; I pick up the phone to look at the latest e-mails, etc. It takes long enough to get into writing mode; I don’t need computer excuses for not being productive.

Still, I had grown used to these delays, or at least tolerated them. When they stretched into seeming minutes, longer if you include the lost ‘what-was-I-doing-anyway’ productivity, it was time to investigate further.

Short of deleting everything from the computer and starting over, how else could I speed up the Mac? Turns out, plenty—including actions I haven’t seen written up elsewhere. While hunting down old code, I learned considerably more about what’s under the covers, too.

Choosing Your Migration Adventure

How should you move from your old computer to the new? There are many ways: Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, FireWire drive, Ethernet.

Migrating over the wire: As Apple mentions in their notes, many current-generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros don’t come with an Ethernet port; you will need a Thunderbolt or USB 3 Ethernet adapter to upgrade over-the-wire from the older computer. Many people buy the Apple-labeled Thunderbolt Ethernet adapters, or the USB 2 adapter, for just such an occasion as migration. USB 2 tops out at 480 Mbps, far slower than Gigabit Ethernet, but plenty fast for most uses. (This MacBook Pro 15” only has USB 2, not 3.)

The new MacBook (not “Pro”, not “Air”, just MacBook) is even more minimal; its only physical connector is a single USB-C—no Thunderbolt. It even charges via this single connector. USB 3.0 is fast (Nominally, 5 Gbps), USB 3.1 (On the MacBook), double that. The MacBook appears to be a trial balloon: Will consumers buy a computer with only one port, or is more better?

Personally, I miss having three USB connectors on the 17” Mac, plus FireWire, Ethernet and a separate video out, but I’m not the target market. I find an Ethernet adapter is essential; I move far too much data to count on Wi-Fi for everything. Sure, it’s another part to lose, but Ethernet is more reliable than wireless, and usually much faster. Yes, 802.11ac Wave 2 is multi-gigabit, but that’s under ideal conditions, and when the Wi-Fi is working.

USB or Thunderbolt adapter? Thunderbolt adapters take up the Thunderbolt/Displayport connector, meaning no second monitor if you need a wired network. (Alternatively, you could use a Thunderbolt dock, but they’re fairly bulky.) There are very nice USB 3 hubs which also sport an Ethernet port; unless you want the smallest possible set of gear to carry, that might be a good choice.

The lost connector: I mentioned FireWire, but it’s quickly being phased out, appearing on none of the current MacBook models. Not a huge loss; while FireWire 800 was almost twice as fast as USB 2, it’s much slower than USB 3 or Thunderbolt. Its other use, connecting directly to camcorders, disappeared long ago, and it will be relegated to guess this connector quizzes in a few years.

Can Migration Be Too Helpful?

When I moved from my finally-dead 17” MacBook Pro, I’d used Migration Assistant, the built-in “move your stuff” program that ships with MacOS. Migration Assistant (in /Applications/Utilities).

It makes the process simple: Connect the two computers (Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, Ethernet), start the Migration Assistant on both, choose “to another Mac” on the source machine, then, on the target, choose the source machine. You’ll be given an opportunity to choose what to move, about which more in a second. Watch for the message “Your other Mac is ready” on the old one, click continue on the new one, and step back.

If your old computer’s dead, the standard rite of passage is to extract its hard drive, stick it in an external case, and run Migration Assistant from there. The old drive then becomes a backup, or kicks around in your desk drawer for ages. (Not that I’m guilty, but exactly why do I have 40 GB hard drives still gathering dust?)

In-place upgrades (No new computer, just a new operating system) happen as part of the MacOS upgrades; they are similarly helpful. Most of the time, they’re completely automatic and transparent, but there are important gotchas, particularly with Apple Mail, as I’ll discuss next time.

Windows Migration Assistant works well for PC-to-Mac migration, though of course it moves files and settings, not the applications themselves. Mac-to-Mac migration with plain old Migration Assistant does move programs—all programs, if you let it. If you don’t just click past it (I did), there’s a selection pane, where you can choose exactly what to move:

clip_image002

Note the “Settings” checkbox and drop-down menu; this will become important in our next article.

In the next installment, Alex looks at leftovers, really old code, and the joyous discovery of a faster computer.

Call for Submissions

The results of our unscientific poll indicate that Chaos Manor Reviews readers would like to see submissions from others. So here is our “Call for Submissions” for articles for Chaos Manor Reviews.

We are looking for ‘Things I Did So You Don’t Have To” articles about computers – software and hardware. Some general guidelines:

  • The writing style should be narrative, in the manner of articles written in the past by Dr. Pournelle.
  • Pictures are helpful when they can enhance the article’s subject. Any picture should be original, and should not contain people. Illustrations (line drawings, artwork, etc) should be original to the author.
  • Links to manufacturer’s web site pages about items should be included; costs of items should include retail and ‘average’ pricing.
  • All articles will be reviewed by the Chaos Manor Advisors.
  • Articles must be original to the author/submitter, although we may accept previously published items that were written by the submitter.
  • There should be no plagiarism or re-writing of previously published articles. Quotes/snippets from resources referenced in the article are allowed with proper attribution.
  • No links should be related to affiliate advertising or remuneration.
  • Any hardware or software should be purchased by the submitter, and not a result of any remuneration or gifts from manufacturers or providers of the item.
  • Any submission may be edited by Chaos Manor Reviews staff/advisors for clarity or brevity; submission is not a guarantee of publication. Articles and material submitted and/or published become the sole property of Chaos Manor Reviews and its entities.
  • Articles should be written by end-users, and should not be provided by agents or employees of manufacturers
  • Articles should be submitted in Microsoft Word document (doc/docx) or plain/unformatted text format only, with minimal styling (fonts, etc.). You should include any picture/image files separately from the document. You can indicate a location for the pictures/images in the document, but picture/image placement will be decided by Chaos Manor Reviews staff/advisors/editors.

Submit your articles and material via email to submit@chaormanorreviews.com , with article and materials as attached files to the email. Any questions should be sent to the same email address.