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October 1, 2011

Software recommendation: Partition Magic

Back when I set up my current computer, I partitioned the 250GB hard drive with a 20GB partition for Windows XP and the rest as a separate partition for my data. At the time, I thought it was the best thing to do - since I was planning on installing software on the secondary partition and reserving the system drive for Windows, I didn't expect to need much space. Indeed, the amount of disk used on my system drive (which ended up as H:, because the installer for Windows is not very good at working out how to assign drive letters) has only grown by a little in these past four years or so.

Unfortunately these days software vendors are keener for you to install their software on your system drive. Google Chrome doesn't even seem to give you the option when you install it - it's the system drive or nothing! So the free space on my system drive has been dwindling for some time, and it was starting to impact on Windows' performance.

I've faced this problem before with my PC prior to this one. The system drive on that was likewise 20GB, and while doing some maintenance on it for its current owner, I used Partition Logic to make the system partition bigger. I figured I could just use the same software on this PC as well, so I burned a fresh copy to a CD.

Partition Logic is pretty awesome. Unfortunately it turns out that Partition Logic doesn't support the particular SATA drives which I have in my PC. Darn! So I went hunting on the web to see if I could find another similar tool which would support my drives. After trying one piece of software (In fact, I went through the whole process of installing it and setting it to adjust the partition sizes before it told me it wouldn't proceed unless I paid for it), I found Partition Wizard, which is free for non-commercial use. It was easy to install and use, and I was surprised that it was able to resize the partitions while Windows was still running. It was also very fast, though I had cleared most of the data off the secondary drive that I was shrinking to make room.

So that's my software recommendation! Adjusting partitions is not something you have to do that often, but Partition Wizard makes it fairly painless.

Posted at 6:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 7, 2009

Odd Firefox 3.5 problem

I noticed that ever since I upgraded Firefox to 3.5, it would refuse to shut down properly. The Firefox window would disappear, but when I went to shut down my PC, it would report that Firefox was still running and "not responding".

So I tried a bit of an experiment — I started Firefox up, and then tried to shut it down again. Watching the process in XP's process manager, I could see that it had jumped from using 40MB of memory to 160MB, and hadn't shut down.

I then tried turning off extensions one-by-one. The problem persisted until I disabled Google toolbar. With that disabled, suddenly Firefox began shutting down properly again. "AHA!" said I.

So then I re-enabled Google toolbar, expecting the problem to return. It didn't. I re-enabled my other extensions. No problem, and now Firefox 3.5 seems to be behaving itself. That's mighty strange. Mighty mighty strange. I guess I'll keep an eye on it and see if the problem comes back.

Posted at 9:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 4, 2009

Updated Firefox

I upgraded to the latest version of FireFox the other day. Unfortunately, as is usual with these major updates, one of my favourite extensions — Tab Mix Plus — hasn't yet been updated to work with the new version.

Using FireFox without it makes me wonder why the FireFox team made some of the decisions they did. Like new tabs opening at the far right of the current tabs. I find that behaviour confusing and conter-intuitive, and without Tab Mix Plus there doesn't seem to be any obvious way to alter it. Nor can I find a way to have newly opened blank tabs automatically show my homepage.

I presume there's good reasons for both those choices, but I have no idea what they are. I guess in the meantime I'll have to wait for my extension to be updated. :)

Posted at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2009

Mystery - spyware or hack?

After getting home from work today, I checked the blogs I follow using Bloglines. All was well until I got to the last blog, which happened to be Zeusblog. When I clicked on the title of the entry to visit the blog, I was instead taken to the following URL:

I shouldn't have to warn you not to go there.

So, why did I go there instead of Zeusblog? My initial thought was maybe Zeusblog got hacked. I downloaded the server logs, but according to them, no request reached the server in order to be redirected. I even downloaded all of the files on the site and checked them, just in case, but found nothing.

I turned to my second assumption - that my PC had picked up some spyware. Scans with AVG, Ad Aware, Spybot and Windows Defender all came up blank.

So... what the hell? What caused this redirect? Some new spyware which the scanning programs don't know about yet?

I experienced the same redirect a few weeks back. I couldn't find the cause then, I can't now, and whatever it is is obviously still affecting my PC.

Googling found two relevant articles, but neither of them provide any good suggestions as to what caused the redirect in the first place:

  • The Norton AntiVirus guys seem more interested in telling the guy that their product blocked the redirect than why clicking on a google result took him to a different place than he expected

  • Geeks to Go couldn't find anything on this victim's system, though he was happy enough when the problem didn't repeat.

This is very odd and disturbing.

Posted at 9:33 PM | Comments (11)

February 7, 2009

Internet Explorer is broken

Before you all say "We know", I'll clarify that it's broken on my PC. Although it will happy load web pages off my hard drive, give it a URL and it sits there forever saying "Connecting".

Running up "Diagnose Connection Problems" from IE's tools menu merely reports that "Windows didn't detect any problems with your internet connection". Turning off Windows firewall doesn't make any difference, and I even tried adding IE to the list of exceptions. The other firewall which might affect it is on the router, but other PCs on the network have no trouble with IE. It could be AVG, which has several components which sit between browser and internet such as LinkScanner, though disabling everything I can in that doesn't seem to have made a difference...

However rebooting fixes the problem, so apparently some program I'm starting in the normal course of things is causing problems with IE. A mystery!

Meanwhile FireFox is working perfectly.

Posted at 1:32 PM | Comments (2)

May 21, 2008

AVG 8's LinkScanner

[screenshot]I updated my copy of AVG to version 8 recently, and discovered that they've added a while bunch of new features. One of these is LinkScanner. When you do a google/yahoo/msn search, LinkScanner inserts little icons into the search results to let you know if the site the link goes to is likely to be hazardous to your computer. This is pretty cool. Unfortunately it tests the pages by actually downloading them (and any javascript files they reference) so I suspect it's going to be unusable on a dialup connection. You can't turn it off, or AVG complains that you've turned off component.

There's a thread about it on Webmaster World, wherein it's shown that LinkScanner is actually quite easy to spot, so it would be quite easy to fool. Not only that, but it only scans search results, so once you go to a site, you're on your own.

The new GUI looks very slick though.

Posted at 11:57 PM | Comments (5)

April 17, 2008

Windows Live Messenger is a Hog

I've noticed that after my computer has been running a while, Windows Live Messenger will go into some sort of funky loop and start eating up memory and CPU cycles. Allow me to demonstrate:

[Task Manager screen shot]

Time to try out one of the substitutes, I think.

Posted at 2:09 AM | Comments (3)

December 13, 2007

Google-modifying malware

See if you can spot what's wrong with the following screenshot of Google results:

Google screenshot

Yes, that left-hand frame isn't meant to be there. Google displays sponsored results on the right-hand side of the window, not the left! Some cheeky piece of software is stripping off Google's ads and substituting its own!

The computer in question had two suspect programs installed - "SuperiorAds" and "Dcads". After I removed these (using "Add/Remove Programs"), things were back to normal. Oddly enough, Adaware, which hadn't been able to update its definition file before, was suddenly able to once the two bits of software were removed... How strange...

Posted at 7:04 PM | Comments (2)

November 11, 2007


Shortly after making my previous post I remembered that someone had mentioned that using the Print Screen button still worked. Since it's a huge hassle to switch from UT2004 to a graphics program every time you want to take a screen shot, I wrote a quick program to poll the clipboard every few seconds and, if it happens to contain a bitmap, write it to a file.

Clipboarddump screen shot

I had a quick check around the internet, but I couldn't find any other freeware programs which would do the same thing, so I figured I'd put it on here in case it helps anyone else who's facing the same problem.

Posted at 2:36 PM | Comments (5)

June 19, 2007

Midi to Wav conversion

You know, I swear back in the early days of the internet if you wanted something like, oh, a program to convert a midi file into a wav file, you could just go look on your favourite FTP site and download a tiny DOS program which would do it. Does anyone else remember those days? Now it seems like all the programs on offer for doing this require you to fork out $25. WTF?

I wanted to convert a midi file to a wav file, so I took the following steps:

  1. Downloaded one of the many shareware midi2wav converters.
  2. Ran the installer.
  3. Ran up the software.
  4. Discovered that pressing ENTER in the software would quit out of it without prompting "Are you sure you want to quit?"
  5. Restarted the software, attempted the conversion, got a cryptic error.
  6. Figuring the previous attempt had locked some audio drivers, rebooted the PC.
  7. Reran the program - discovered that the cryptic error actually meant the target directory I'd specified didn't exist. Converted the file.
  8. Played the resulting output file, to discover that the shareware software had produced a 1 minute long, completely silent wav file.
  9. Uninstalled the software.

Is this is how software works these days? You download it, install it, and hope it works and doesn't deposit any spyware on your PC? Man.

I got the midi file converted in the end, thanks to a page which gave instructions on converting midi files to wav files using Winamp.

Posted at 9:51 PM | Comments (5)

March 7, 2007

About my new PC

A couple of months ago I bought my current computer from First In who had it as their daily special (they've featured the system several times since then). So how's it looking so far?

Well, it's nice and fast, particularly when playing Unreal Tournament, and I've finally been able to play Doom 3 (I wasn't brave enough to try installing it on my old PC). It hasn't crashed except that one time but that was because XP doesn't really deal with dud drivers well and no reflection on the hardware.

The only problem I've had with it (other than the absence of a floppy drive, though that's not really much of a handicap in this day and age, plus it has a flashcard reader instead) is that every time I play a video file, I get this popup in the top-right corner of the screen saying "Powered by ASUS Splendid video enhancement technology".

Although, I've just discovered how to switch that off, so, er, never mind! (it was hiding in the display settings)

Continue reading "About my new PC"

Posted at 11:04 PM | Comments (4)

February 2, 2007

Installing a scanner on XP: The Saga

XP is supposed to make working with devices easy, right? Right?

I have an HP Scanjet 5100c which I used successfully on my old PC for ages, first under Windows 98 and then under Windows XP. Recently I bought a new PC and tonight I needed to scan something, so I dug out the HP install disk and had at it.

Problem 1: Once I'd installed the software and plugged the scanner in, Windows XP would get as far as detecting new hardware and promptly reset. This has happened to me once before with WinFast TV2000 XP WDM Crossbar. In this case the problem was sharshtl.sys (Shuttle printer sharer). I fixed it by unplugging the scanner and then renaming sharshtl.sys so Windows couldn't load it.

Problem 2: Once that was done, XP booted up fine and the scanner was there (twice, actually). Unfortunately when I tried to scan with it, HP PrecisionScan would report that the scanner was not responding... and then the scanner would scan anyway (but the data wouldn't reach the PC).

I'm still not sure whether this is fixed or not. After a few reboots and messing about, the parallel port test is claiming "Scanner not responding", but PrecisionScan went ahead and scanned properly anyway.


Oh, and I downloaded an updated driver from HP's web site. When I try to run it, I get an error stating "The file could not be located", and the program quits. Real good, HP.

Posted at 8:26 PM | Comments (8)

December 22, 2006

Hey Sun, WTF?

Sometimes I'm apt to clean up the hard drives on my PC. Last night I was doing just this and happened to notice that the directory c:\Program Files\Java was taking up some 360MB. I peeked inside and saw this:
[Java folder]

In the Java folder were six more folders named jre1.5.0, jre1.5.0_02, etc, each apparently containing a complete installation of Sun Microsystem's Java runtime environment at 60MB each. It seems that every time JRE prompted me to update, it was installing the update into a new folder, leaving the old one cluttering up my hard drive.

WTF, Sun?

I completely uninstalled the JRE and all patches, and reinstalled the latest version, thus saving myself 300MB or so in disk space, at least until the next time it needs to update...

Posted at 12:32 PM | Comments (1)

August 1, 2006

Internet Explorer versus MSN Messenger

Here's an interesting bit of information I wasn't previously aware of: If you tell Internet Explorer that you're working offline, then MSN Messenger loses the ability to connect. Even if you're actually online. Once you tell IE that you're working online again, off MSN will go.

Computers! Can't live with them, can't insert them into Bill Gates.

Posted at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

Thunderbird's Spell Checker

Thunderbird 1.5 is a pretty cool email program which keeps getting better. 1.5 has a spell checker which underlines misspelled words as you type them and allows you to right-click and fix your spelling. As I make a lot of typos, this is very helpful. However, there's a couple of words missing from their dictionary...

[Thunderbird corrects my spelling]

Hee hee hee! :)

Posted at 7:42 PM | Comments (0)

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