Archive for the 'work' Category

10 minute review: Logitech M500 mouse

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

About a year and a half ago, the little computer shop where I worked got in a pair of Logitech MX Revolution mice. These were huge, expensive, wireless mice with one awesome feature – the scroll wheel could be clicked into a free-spinning mode, where one deft movement would let you zip through pages and pages of text or whatever at once.

I couldn’t stand the mouse – it was too big and heavy for me to accurately game with for long periods, I didn’t really need wireless, it sacrificed middle-click to switch the wheel in and out of hyperscroll mode, and did I mention it was expensive? – but that scroll wheel was revolutionary and I sorely missed it for weeks after trying it out for a couple of days.

Fast forward to today – new job, new desk, decent work laptop, and a mouse whose main claims to fame include “Integrated wheel scrolling device” and “Business Black color complements ThinkCentre and ThinkPad systems”. I made it nearly four months with the thing, before deciding to treat myself to something better.

That something turned out to be Logitech’s M500.

In brief: USB, corded, laser optical, Logitech quality. Hyper scrolling is switched on and off with the button on top. And never mind the US$ RRP of $39.99 – I paid AU$35 for mine from PC Case Gear.

Accidentally pressing a mouse’s thumb buttons and browsing back a page in Firefox is a pet peeve of mine, and I still do it occasionally with my G3 at home, but the buttons on the M500 are much higher and harder to hit except entirely on purpose without being out of reach. The cord should be pretty long-lasting – it’s lightweight but not too thin. It ought to survive anything short of being absent-mindedly driven over with an office chair.

Tracking is as good as I could need – my work setup involves two fairly high-res LCDs side by side, and being able to flick accurately between Lotus Notes on one screen and a virtual server half a metre away on the other is pretty essential. My old Lenovo mouse did the job, but this mouse is noticeably better at it.

Conclusion: If you spend eight hours a day with your hand glued to a computer mouse, it better be a good one. Any $35 mouse should kick butt compared to the stock standard thing your work PC came with, but I wasn’t expecting anything with Logitech’s hyper-fast scrolling for that price, and now that they’ve figured out how to let you middle-click despite having it there’s no reason not to choose it over anything else. Recommended.

Future proof: The future

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Hello anyone,

I haven’t actually dropped off the face of the earth… just practically. The last 6 months have been insane – I got my drivers licence, crashed another car, bought one for myself, and got a new job in and am shortly moving to Sydney. I’ve been kind of focused more on staying alive than updating this blog, which hopefully nobody will mind terribly much.

Speaking of the blog: New content from here on in is going to be a little different. My new job is an internal helpdesk role, not so much raw computer servicing, so there’ll be fewer random hacks and tweaks and funny screenshots. I still have a couple of how-to ideas kicking around in my phone’s todo list, and I’m working on a pretty in-depth review of my new GPS, but I’m not working so much with consumer gear anymore, so that’s probably going to be it for that stuff for a while.

In future I’d like to concentrate a bit on hardware reviews, overclocking, things like that. I’ll still be poking the driver guide and laptop page from time to time – those two projects are still getting a ton of traffic, so I’m not just going to close them down and walk away – but any updates will have to come from you, my readers.

I owe a massive apology to everybody who’s emailed me in the last few months, and not had a reply. I do read everything sent to me, but have been a bit too overwhelmed by life to give every message the attention it really deserves. I plan to reply to each and every email from now on.

Another apology and huge, huge thanks to everybody who’s kindly donated some of their own hard-earned money towards the cause of my laptop manual page. It’s really made all the difference in helping me keep up with that, and I am a terrible person for not thanking each of you individually, but again I’ll try to do better in future.

Solved: BSOD 0x7e after installing SP3 in XP

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Do you service computers running Windows XP? Do you occasionally rebuild them with new components? Then keep the following in mind.

We had two PCs at work that we rebuilt with new CPU/board/RAM, noticed they were only running Service Pack 2, then as a normal part of servicing we ran the installer for SP3. Both of them seemed to install fine, but when we came back they were stuck at a blue screen – 0x0000007e.

This rung a bell for me, as we’d had this sort of thing happen before, and I managed to remember: If you have an Intel PC running XP SP2, then rebuild it with an AMD CPU, then install SP3, it will BSOD. It’s still trying to load an Intel-specific driver that causes major problems if you switch to AMD, so as per this Microsoft KB article, you need to boot it into safe mode, fire up regedit, and change the value of the following registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ControlSet001\Services\Intelppm

…from whatever it was to the number 4. Reboot into normal mode, and away you go.

funniest typo ever

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Once you’ve typed your username in Windows 7 setup and hit next, there’s no going back. Not without creating a new user account and deleting the mis-typed one.

Updated: How to fix a reassigned C:/ drive letter

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

More than two years after I wrote this first blog entry dealing with the subject, having come up against this problem time and time again without being able to fix it, I went and did some experimenting on a PC at work to see if I could find a solution.

Short version: Instead of trying to swap the drive letters around by renaming the \DosDevices\ registry keys, I’ve discovered that if you delete the lot of them, Windows will recreate them when it next boots (as many of them as you have discrete disk drives plugged in at the time), and on the machine I tried it at work today it worked flawlessly: it reassigned the boot drive as C:\, the CD drive as D:\, the four card reader slots as E:\ through H:\ and everything was fixed.

Longer, more helpful version: If you’ve just added a hard drive to your PC (typical scenario: it’s the ex boot drive of an older PC you’ve just decomissioned, and you want the data off your old XP install) and Windows no longer boots, getting stuck instead just before the welcome screen with just the windows XP logo showing and no “Please wait” text below it, it’s very likely that XP’s suddenly developed an identity crisis of sorts and is referring to the new drive as C:\. It’s stupid, really quite illogical, and basically poleaxes that install unless you’re willing to play chicken with the registry.

Fortunately, this game of chicken is reasonably tried and true, and it’s easy enough to figure out if you’ve got even a bit of technical familiarity with your PC (as you probably are if you’ve just opened it and plugged another hard drive into it).

Hit Windows + R to bring up the Run dialog (probably you can also get to it by clicking your Start menu and then “Run…”), type regedit and hit enter. This will load the Registry Editor, which is basically a precision scope that lets you look inside your operating system’s brain. This particular registry key – HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE / SYSTEM / MountedDevices – lists the mapping between various disk drives on your computer and their respective drive letters as visible in My Computer.

What happens is that it sometimes gets confused about how to refer to your boot volume, and if your boot volume’s drive letter changes after you install XP, it will probably get stuck partway through starting up and hang just before the Welcome/login screen.

The information here might also be of interest/use to you if that drive letter was D:\ or E:\ or something else other than C:\ from the moment you installed XP, and you want to change it back to C:\ without having to reinstall again.

The fix: Deleting each of the \DosDevices\ values shown in the registry in the above screenshot will cause Windows to recreate and reassign the drive letters in your computer. If XP’s not booting anymore, obviously you can’t just run regedit like above, but there are ways around it. There do exist commandline tools you could run from a floppy disk or something, but by far the easiest way is to grab a registry-editing liveCD of some sort. I use Mini XP on Hiren’s BootCD, but this tool should do the trick easily enough for most.

This procedure has so far worked to bring Windows XP back to life on both a customer’s PC at my work, and on my own laptop at home (on which I dualboot XP and 7 for just this sort of messing about). If you try this method, leave a comment or email me and let me know how it went!

Update 10/2: If you have programs installed to drive letters other than C:\, be aware this could wreak havoc with those. Windows may be intelligent enough to reassign the driver letters with respect to installed programs, or it may not be. I haven’t tested this, and being a rare set of circumstances I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to. Your best bet in that situation would be trying the old manual renaming method. Remember you could delete the DosDevices entries to fix things enough to make it bootable again, and then swap drive letters D+ to your heart’s content to get your other programs to work without reinstalling those.

Uninstalling Trend Micro without the password

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

A customer at work wanted me to take Trend Micro Internet Security off his PC. The only problem was someone’d helpfully password-protected Trend, and nothing could be done without the magic word. After some fruitless googling, I gave up and called Trend Micro Australia for help.

I’d long considered this a last resort for any problem, but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The guy I spoke to asked for my name and the serial number of my product. I said I didn’t have the serial number, but went on and explained my problem to him.

Far from refusing to help me without that little bit of information (I’ve been hung up on by tech support from other companies for not precisely following their rulebook), the fellow immediately latched onto the problem and told me to Start -> Run -> tissuprt, which is a kind of maintenance program for Trend products. It provided a very simple GUI with a button to uninstall all Trend products from the PC without requiring the password. Exactly what I (and probably you googlers) needed.

I mentioned to him the trouble I’d had in finding out how to do this, and he said it’s actually on their website, plain as day for anybody to read. He helpfully emailed me the link, and here it is.

Full marks to the company for the phone support, but the reason I couldn’t find that page in the first place is because nowhere on it does it have the word “password”. Go look, I’m not kidding. Nobody who’s needed this information has been able to find it, because inevitably their search is phrased around not having that password.

Anyway. Hope tissuprt helps somebody.

More extreme than other leading TIMs

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

EXTREME TIM

I swear this isn’t a scrapbooking blog

Friday, December 4th, 2009

This computer suggested an insane screen resolution:

7181x1039

This MSI laptop recommended one:

8192x15365

This file doesn’t exist, but it might if you delete it:

.wtf files are tricky.

This is what a touchpad looks like, under the cheap paint:

Well-worn touchpad.

This is the cleverest virus I’ve ever seen:

CAPTCHA-harvesting virus.

(If you have this “Windows XP Professional”-branded virus on your computer – forcing you to solve a CAPTCHA puzzle every few minutes, lest it reboot your computer – hit ctrl+alt+delete and close rundll32.exe. Then download and run combofix and then avira to get rid of it.)

Rant: USB hard drives and warranty

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Thinking of buying a USB hard drive?

External USB hard drives at Officeworks.

Obviously you’re gonna go for the one with the longest warranty – three years will surely see you through your CompSci degree, yeah?

Hold on for a minute. There’s a point I’d like to make.

Hard drives are reasonably equal beings, nowadays; some tend to fail more than others, but it’s impossible to tell for years after they’ve hit the market, and nobody’s going to wait that long. They’re also a very competitive market, where prices fluctuate by mere dollars and cents every week, and when the pressure gets as high as it is now, they’re going to cut costs everywhere they can to stay in the game.

They can’t cut many corners with the drives themselves. I’m talking about the cheap crappy boxes they put them in.

Read the rest of this entry »

Howto: Edit the boot menu easily in Windows Vista and 7

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Startup options in Windows XP. Startup options in Windows 7.

The Windows XP boot menu is determined by the contents of C:\boot.ini, a scary little text file that nevertheless is pretty important to know about if you fix computers. Microsoft changed how the boot menu works in Windows Vista and 7, helpfully removing the Edit button as you can see in the screenshots above.

You’re meant to use the even scarier command-line-only tool bcdedit, but I can’t be bothered learning how that works just to fix the incredibly basic problems I usually see (duplicate entries due to messed-up OS installs or repairs, or tweaking dualboot systems properly).

I’d like to share a lazier solution: VistaBootPRO gives you a perfectly good GUI for boot menu editing. The personal edition sells for US$10 on their site, but there appears to be a free version available here if you’re only going to need it once or twice.

VistaBootPRO on Windows 7.

It gives me a slightly scary error message on startup about Vista not being detected (I’m running Windows 7) and that I may “experience minor problems”, but it’s worked fine for the basic things I’ve done with it. YMMV.