Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Adding a second monitor

My tech-savvy sis sent me a picture the other day of a computer where she wants to add a second monitor. Being 1,600 miles away, this requires some asynchronous communication and a bit of thought to make sure the proper advise is out there. So, I decide to post here and send her the link.

Firstly, the PC:

Alright, so this 'puter has only one video connection. A presumable AGP VGA card.

To add a second (or more) monitor, you would have to:

  • Add a second card to one of the PCI slots.
    • Good ratings, for the most part, for this guy: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814133233
      • You could actually run three monitors if you had this card with the dual VGA connectors
  • Replace the card you have with a new dual-head video card. There are some considerations here:
    • Is you current card card PCI-X (don't confuse this with regular PCI) or AGP
    • Does the video card require a separate power connection inside the case. Some video cards require more power than just the slot and use the same power connector - usually - as a hard drive (the white 4-pin MOLEX). Can your power supply take care of the extra load?
    • Does the video card monitor connectors match the current monitor cable?
      • There are two types of video connectors for PCS - VGA and DVI
      • A decent card with DVI connectors will have at least one adapter
      • DVI is digital and a better signal, but your monitor must support the digital signal (sort of like having HD cable. If you do not have an HD TV, what's the point?)
      • VGA is the analog equivalent and supported by 99% of the monitors out there made after 2000.
  • USB to VGA adapter
    • http://sewelldirect.com/usb2tosvga.asp?adpath=/Google/Other%20Products/USB%20to%20SVGA%20Adapter&keywords=usb%202.0%20vga%20adapter&match=2&search=search&gclid=CObVqaGzuZYCFRJdxwodQkUBLg
    • http://www.iogear.com/product/GUC2015V/
    • Or go nuckin' futs: http://www.engadget.com/2008/08/25/iogears-wireless-usb-to-vga-kit-extends-your-monitor-sans-wires/
    • I have not looked into this option much but you may find something out there that you willing to try.
From the perspective of "I might buy a laptop to replace my desktop", the USB adapter isn't a bad investment right now. The hardware is transferable as opposed to a hardware card that can only be moved from one PC to another.Of course, if you do go the laptop route soon, you will be able to have dual monitors pretty much right away. Unless you don't purchase a laptop with an external monitor connection. I don't think I have ever seen a laptop without one... but you never know.

Comment back on any other options out there to extend monitor quantity.

Friday, October 3, 2008


With the fairly (no pun intended AT ALL) recent details about Comcast's latest endeavor to tighten the screws a little more against the consumers, I was curious about monitors or meters for those consumers to view the amount of usage.

There have been two lines of thought...and I can't confirm, completely, either but either:
  1. Comcast will shut you down after 250GB/month for total bandwidth consumption
  2. Or, you will be penalized for overages
Thinking to myself, "what can I do?", I decided to go after a way to monitor my own bandwidth.

Now, I have a couple of PCs running at the same time and do not want to get into a distributed solution. I need something as a hub for all of my PCs to consolidate to from a usage perspective.

Two options came to mind for me:
  1. Set up a Linux box to use as a concentrator, if you will, for all of the network connections and sit between my wireless router (for the lappy worqs) and the cable modem
  2. Or, figure out a solution on the router itself
I am a little Geek!y when it comes to Linux so that would not have been too big a deal - little iptables, ip forwarding, dual NICs, blah blah blah

But the really cool thing was... DD-WRT.

Here it the link to the main site:

Hardware compatibility list:

Lifehacker.com has a great write up on the install here:

Example graphing for usage:

Luckily, I have the Linksys WRT-54 so I was good to go.

Now, I am able to track my usage - at least to the point that I trust the DD-WRT tools as opposed to the monitoring tools provided by the same provider as the consumable good...can you smell the conflict with that latter statement?


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mapping Management Consoles to Descriptions

As I was going through looking for a specific MSC file (Microsoft Manament Console Snap-In), I was having a rough time discerning one file from another and what the MSC snap-in actually was used for.

For example, Active Directory Users and Computers is named dsa.msc (well, of course). There would be too much confusion to call it something descriptive and intuitive
- like ADUsersAndComputers.msc.

I mean, NTFS can't handle larger than 8.3 file names, can ... it... I digress.

I Googled for a few minutes to find a listing of the various MSC snap-ins and found this list.


Not sure how dated it is or what is missing or how accurate the listing may be. However, for my immediate need, it worked out quite well.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Adjusting Vista's System Restore Disk Space

My 80 GB hard disk was getting low on free space...about 20% left. From a fragmentation perspective, you need +15% to run a defrag correctly. I needed to clear up some space...but how and from where?

So, in order to clear up some space, I:
  • cleared the Recycle Bin
  • scanned for junk files using the Disk Cleanup within Windows
  • scanned using WinDirStat (link)(screenshot) for any other large files that I might be able to get rid of
  • checked my pagefile.sys (virtual memory) to make sure Windows was locked into a specific size and/or not trying to create to large of a file. Note: I have 4GB of RAM, so the usage of a pagefile is probably not too extensive.
  • looked into System Restore settings to see how much disk space is being used

After realizing that System Restore on my Vista x86_64 lappy was using approx. 15% of my 80 GB hard disk, I decided this was an area I could investigate and make some adjustments.

Oh - wait. In Windows XP, the System Restore settings are somewhat trivial to find and adjust.

Right click on 'My Computer' and choose the 'System Restore' tab

On this tab, you can turn System Restore on or off and adjust the total size used. Depending on your application, adjusting these settings can be good...but potentially disastrous!

Make changes at your own risk!
Changes to System Restore and alter your PCs ability to provide to you the functionality of going back in time if something bad happens... Also, if you turn OFF System Restore, your old restore points go bu-bye. Now, I always turn off System Restore in my virtual machines and rely on snapshots to "go back".

Back to Vista...

I right click on "My Computer" and select 'Advanced system settings'. The applet windows that opens has a tab called 'System Protection'. I click on that tab and...wait. Where's my slider bar? Oh, there's a 'System Restore' button. Let's check that out. No...that just let's me select a restore point to go to or to create a new restore point.

Hmmm... Seems like some changes have taken place.

I poked around a bit on the InterTubes and discovered the System Restore policies are shadowstorage. An elevated command prompt and some commands are going to be required to adjust the System Restore settings.

I fired up a command prompt with Administrator privileges by typing "cmd" in the Run dialog.

I then
  • typed 'vssadmin list' to display the available options
  • typed 'vssadmin list shadowstorage' to see how much space was allocated and how much was in use.
  • I decided to cut 60% of this down - going from 14.1 GB to 5GB for System Restore. I am not using any particular calculation for this... More of a SWAG.

  • typed 'vssadmin resize shadowstorage' to get the syntax for the command
  • typed 'vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=c: /on=c: /MaxSize=5GB' to trim down the System Restore size
  • The vssadmin command returns successful
  • ran the 'vssadmin list shadowstorage' command again to validate the setting

Friday, September 19, 2008

Active Hard Disk Monitor

Active Hard Disk Monitor (http://www.ntfs.com/disk-monitor.htm) allows you access to view your hard drive information, scan for issues, and provides in-depth information about the health of the device.

Some screen shots:

About window

Various Tabs

Drive Gauge

Basic Icons

Test Results

Drive Information

The "scan disk" feature reads disk block information to analyze good/bad blocks. While the tools doesn't appear to have proactive monitoring capabilities in the freeware version, the monitoring available does provide a reactive tool that would provide some details as to what is going on "under the hood".

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Set user account logon credentials in Windows virtual guest

I use virtualized guests to test out different applications, updates, or trying some new "hack". For one of my guests, I needed to set the account credentials to automatically log in with the appropriate credentials. Below are the steps I used to set this up.

Note - please don't use these steps on your physical host. These steps allow access to the computer (virtual or physical) just by turning on the PC.

Uncheck the "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer"

Click 'Apply'

You will be prompted for a user account name and password. Enter in the ID you want to use for future sessions.

When you restart the OS, the user account you selected will be the account used when the OS restarts.

Teracopy - Making file copy movement easier

I recently downloaded the Teracopy application and have found this little utility to be a great add-on to the Windows Explorer shell. The context menus aid in copying or moving files from one location to another. May not sound like a big deal outside of what Windows Explorer is already able to perform, but the additional functionality of pausing the file movement is a great bonus.

As shown in the image above, the ability to 'skip' or 'pause' file movement comes in very handy.

Teracopy webpage LINK

Friday, August 29, 2008

Compacting Virtual PC 2007 Disk

I have been using Virtual PC off and on since the 2004 iteration. One area that I have come across is shrinking the disk. I started to read through the manual/help file provided and found this:

(Search 'Using Virtual Disk Precompactor' in the help file for the textual version).

Let's get started and see what happens:

Things needed:
  • Time and patience
  • Make sure you have the Virtual Disk Precompactor.iso for Windows guests. (Linux guest compacting will be posted later).

Some quick tidbits and begin:

  • My virtual disk is set to 64GB logical partition within the guest.
  • My host system shows the "vhd" at 21GB right now.
  • Empty 'Recycle Bin'.
  • Run disk clean up on my logical drive.
  • Run your favorite defrag utility on the drive within the guest.
  • Capture the Virtual Disk Precompactor.iso file from PC\\Program Files\Microsoft VirtualVirtual Machine Additions\ (your installation directory will vary)
  • When the CD mounts, you will be prompted if you want to automatically start the program.
  • If you have more than one disk in the guest, choose no so you can select the disk to precompact. This is done with the '-setdisks' command option. If you don't do this AND you have multiple disks, running the program will compact ALL of the disks.
  • Go get some coffee, a beer, soda, can of tuna...this may take awhile. I timed my run:
Start time: 5:42 PM
4 bars o' progress: 5:53 PM
End time: 6:19 PM

Back to bullets...
  • Shut down the guest
  • Go through the Virtual Disk Manager in the Virtual PC 2007 Console
Start time: 6:19 PM
4 bars o' progress: 6:28 PM
10 bars o' progress: 6:38 PM

At this point, I realized that running the compact and having the disk retain the same name is going to create a bottleneck. So I changed the destination to another drive - completely separate from the source drive where the original VHD lives.

I canceled and then restarted the compact. Note, you are going to need a ton of extra disk space on the destination drive if you use this method.

Start time: 6:41 PM
5 bars: 6:50 PM
10 bars: 6:55 PM
15 bars: 7:02 PM
20 bars: 7:11 PM
End time: 7:26 PM

Without the information on my computer, applications or services I have running, and the hardware from one disk to another, the times mentioned above are only to illustrate how long these steps may take.

The destination disk, for me, ended at 11.8GB. That's a 43% reduction in the disk sized used.

From a virtual machine perspective, a couple of items I usually will run with:
  • Turn off 'System Restore'. I see no real need for this in a virtual machine
  • Turn off 'Virtual Memory'. Swapping to a virtual disk causes a waste of IO between the host and guest.
  • Turn off 'Automatic Updates'. I run manual updates and select only those I want/need.
Obviously, if you use these functions specifically in your virtualization purposes, use them.

Good luck.

Using Virtual Disk Precompactor

Friday, June 13, 2008

Smoking ban - what's next?

I have been tobacco free for 14 months now so I get the "we don't want smoking" blah blah blah. I enjoy going out to the bars with no smoking - no complaints from me. I DO NOT agree with the government edict making smoking in public places illegal. I am a free market kind of guy and feel commerce exchange will take care of pretty much everything in the public space where supply and demand come into play. I have always believed that government getting involved in such things would evolve (or it is devolve???) on a slippery slope and make cause for pundits in the anti-smoking establishment to take hold of any thing they can control.

Here is the next step:


I wish these folks would spend time on important things...like plastic that will actual breakdown in landfills or cat litter that actually absorbs the stink from my cats' butts.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Art of Manliness - Quit Coddling Your Kids

This is a great blog post at ArtofManliness - Quit Coddling Your Kids.

Recommended reading

Comcast...(not) again

I have been working on a video of my daughter's graduation. Zipping the file and breaking it into smaller chunks helps in getting it up to my server - all 400 MB.

The upload process has been taking forever - cruising a slow and steady pace of 44KB/s. My upload is rated higher according to Comcast, so I jumped over to dslreport's speed test to see what the various speed test engine's would report. My upload of ZIPped, binary data, to MY website hosting server ... is being compressed.

I have heard of such things in for torrents, but this is MY data, going to MY webhost server, and within the boundaries of MY upload rating (as presented by Comcast). My claim of upload rating is based on the following text: "Maximum upload speeds range between 384 Kbps and 2 Mbps depending on the service tier selected and can be even faster with PowerBoost®." taken from here at the very bottom of the page.

I use 15% of my rated upload bandwidth and I get compressed. Great timing for the Qwest packages that have been released. Faster download, upload, plus a free modem. I think I need to ponder if a contract is that big of a deal...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Glassbooth.org - survey to see how your beliefs align...

I started a Google search for "best presidential candidate" and found a couple of interesting links.

The first link is an article on ideamarketers.com and revolves around how the author suggests a way to determine your presidential selection: read AND understand the Constitution of the United States.

This is a great idea! From the article, "Read the rule book".

The second link provides some clarity around hot topics and how your selections match against the voting records and rhetoric of the candidates:

Check out the links and pages to see where you thoughts are leading you.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Now is the time to ask

Now is the time to ask does our government have our best interest at hand? Does our government actually represent the people of this great nation? I say no. I say this for numerous reasons and most of those reasons are quite obvious. We do not see our government moving to a position of oil independence. We do not see our government confronting nations that act in an irrational manner. We do not see our government actively finding ways to protect it's citizens.

So now is the time to question those that lead us. Now is the time to realize that many of our representatives are only it in for the money. Now is the time to hold people responsible for the their decisions.

We need to start demanding term limits. We need to make sure our judges understand that they are not in a position to legislate from the bench but to interpret law. We need to raise up and say, "We are the government of the people and the decisions that the government makes will be based on the will of the people and not for political expediency." That argument starts here and with the people.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My latest ordeal with Comcast - Video on Demand


So I had to call and speak to a person on the other end of the vast Comcast sponge of love they call "tech support". Don't get me wrong - the people themselves are usually decent enough. But I had to throw this out there...

I was having problems (errors) when attempting to access Video On Demand. This is the service provided with the Digital Cable packages through Comcast. My box could not access the service. Repeated attempts to reset the box through the automated service did not actually reset the box. Unplugging the box for 30 seconds was not hard resetting the box either. I finally decided to make the plunge and wait for an actual person. Wonderful...

After explaining my issue, the steps I had attempted, and the lack of positive results, I was told that the neighborhood is taking too much VOD bandwidth. That is why I was not able to connect to the service. The proposed recovery steps included an attempt to reset the box to ... ahem.... put me at the TOP OF THE VOD QUEUE! Since the reset to the box required a complete download of VOD and the channel guide, I would go to the top of the queue for all of that information and stay up high in order to connect to the VOD service.

I was then informed that the existing service is overburdened and out of date. Comcast is apparently looking into a new service (or maybe just building the service to match the VOD demand).

if this is the case, shouldn't there be some sort of prorate on the cable cost? If I am spending $70 (or whateve) for a service with the expectation of that service being there when I traverse one area over another, when the service fails me should I demand something back? If I don't use VOD AND the service is not available because the systems are overburdened, I want to opt out of that portion and save a buck or two!

I'm sure this is a horse is beaten to death (too soon?) but I like stirring the pot.

Fuji FinePix S700

I am not a big fan of spending money on technology - at full retail. I just can't do it. The last camera purchase I made (this Fuji) was at a local discount retail outlet with a 'bullseye' for a logo. Between a couple of discount coupons, clearance pricing, and open-box-this-is-the-last-one pricing, I was able to pick this guy up for under 90.00 USD. i am still seeing this thing around for ~$200 USD.

I have purchased 2 digital cameras in my life - a Canon something-or-other point and shoot and this Fuji FinePix.

Now, the two cameras are not comparable. The Canon was a couple of years old but for the time, was full featured for a mid-to-low end point and shoot. But wow, this FinePix is extremely nice. More features than I thought I would really deal with - perhaps too many...?

Anyway, I recommend this camera if you are looking for something a little more than a basic point and shoot but not ready for the (D)SLR jump.

  • Fast shutter speed (for me)
  • Auto mode takes care of you (for the most part)
  • Ease of use with one hand (for me, again)
  • LCD or eye view for display


  • Flash is built in
  • USB connection is not USB "B"...yet another USB cable to worry about
  • I have to show all files (including system files) in order to see the media when connected to my Windows XP - I will be trying this on my Ubuntu machine later

Sunday, April 27, 2008

64 bit Heron

I think Canonical is just about there...


I have been running 64 bit Heron for 2 days and have been able to successfully able to overcome the past issues.

  • Dual monitor support
  • Wireless
  • Codecs and multimedia
Now, not everything is on Ubuntu. The maturity of open-source software is astounding to me. In short periods of time (beyond even parallels of Moore's Law), technology can drive innovation to great levels.

Dual Monitor Support
Some quick searches got me to xrandr and the appropriate settings to actually satisfy my basic needs. Since I am on the Intel chipset, no fancy desktop settings for me. The cube effects are not available.

The Broadcom and any other wireless chipsets I have tried out with Heron have been pretty good. Personal WEP and WPA have been stable. Enterprise WPA is, well, still in the need as far as I am concerned. The complexity around my work's Enterprise WPA is a pain. I can connect...and then...nothing...and then...connected. Whateve...

Codecs in Ubuntu have been pretty good...always have. The advances around such players as VLC and Totem make the distro a good player in the multimedia field. MP3s, AVIs, and Quicktime work out of the box, with quick downloads and configs of course.