Having trouble installing Windows 7 from USB? Disable USB 3.0.

I had trouble installing Windows 7 from USB on an Asrock Q1900M motherboard. It was the most difficult time I’ve had in years. Creating a bootable USB stick from my Win7 DVD went flawlessly, and the Asrock booted off it just fine by hitting F11 to pull up the boot menu, but then Windows prompted me for a driver, and when I navigated to the drivers directory that Asrock provided, none of the drivers would load. The mouse didn’t work either, and the only reason the keyboard worked was because I still use PS/2 keyboards.

The solution was to go into the UEFI, dive into the USB configuration, and disable USB 3.0. After I did that, Windows could see the USB drive and other USB devices just fine. This issue is likely to get more common as time goes on.

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The State Department is just one of many examples of IT gone rogue

Much has been made of Hillary Clinton’s use of her own mail server, running out of her home. It didn’t change my opinion of her, and I don’t think it changed anyone else’s either–it just reinforces what everyone has thought of her since the early 1990s. Then, Ars Technica came forward with the bizarre case of Scott Gration, an ambassador who ran his own shadow IT shop out of a bathroom stall in Nairobi.

The money quote from Ars: “In other words, Gration was the end user from hell for an understaffed IT team.” And it concluded with, “[A]s with Clinton, Gration was the boss—and the boss got what the boss wanted.”

Indeed. And it doesn’t just happen in the government.

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Upgrading an HP Mini 110 to Linux Mint 17

Over the Labor Day weekend I decided to upgrade my HP Mini 110 netbook to Linux Mint 17. The Mini 110 can handle Windows 7, but Linux Mint doesn’t cost any money and I figure a Linux box is more useful to me than yet another Windows box. There are some things I do that are easier to accomplish in Linux than in Windows. Plus, I’m curious how my two young sons will react to Linux.

Linux Mint, if you’re not familiar with it, is a Ubuntu derivative that includes a lot of consumer-friendly features, like including drivers and codecs and other common software that aren’t completely open source. It’s not a Linux distribution for the Free Software purist, but having options is one of the nice things about Linux in 2014.

Linux Mint includes a lot of useful software, so once you get it installed, you’re up and running with a useful computer with minimal effort.

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Cleaning a hard drive with Linux

A friend asked me a favor in church one Sunday: He had a computer he wanted to clean off so he could donate it, but since it had financial data on it, he wanted to make sure it was cleaned up securely. I recommended Darik’s Boot and Nuke, which I’ve recommended before, but he wasn’t able to get it working for whatever reason. So he asked if I would clean it if he dropped it off. I agreed.

Rather than burn a DBAN disc, I just took the hard drive out and put it in a Linux box and wiped it with that. It was easier than trying to find a blank CD.

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Deconstructing my conversation with “Computer Maintenance Department”

My tell-all about my encounter with “Computer Maintenance Department” was a little heavy on the jargon yesterday. It occurs to me that explaining what some of the terminology means, and the problem with their reasoning, may be helpful. I’ve also heard a few questions through various channels, and I think those are worth answering. Read more

How I turned my Nook Color into a Cyanogenmod 7.2 Android tablet

So, after most of a year, I finally revisited Cyanogenmod 7.2 on my Nook Color. Competent tablets are available for around $100 now, so perhaps this is less interesting now, but I had a Nook Color, and figured I might as well try it out before spending money on something else.

I was never happy running it from an SD card–it was way too laggy and sluggish–but Cyanogenmod 7.2 is competent when installed on its internal memory, at least for the things I most want to use a tablet for–light web browsing, reading e-mail, watching SD video, and reading PDFs–and it leaves the SD card slot open for storing the media I want to consume. Read more

What to make of this Black Friday’s sub-$200 laptops

It’s still a couple of weeks off, but we already know two retailers will be offering sub-$200 laptops on the day the United States gorges itself on bargains.

The question is, what do you get for your $200 on these minimalist laptops? I’ll answer those questions, then you can decide whether they’re worth $200 and braving the crowds, the weird hours, and likely the cold. (Yes, there are costs beyond the money you spend.) Read more

Some security-ish short takes

Windows 7 SP1 is coming soon. Possibly as soon as this weekend.

Historically, service packs tend to get off to a bit of a rocky start, so I’m not going to be installing this right away. But since it’s so imminent, I’m not going to be installing Windows 7 on anything else yet either. I’ll probably give it a couple of weeks, then slipstream and install. Being the first on the block to install a service pack usually isn’t a good idea. Seems to me that in one Slashdot poll several years ago, given the choice between installing a service pack on the first day or watching the movie Master of Disguise, the really bad Dana Carvey movie won out. There’s a reason for that.

Microsoft Security Essentials, Take 43,291. And while we’re picking on Microsoft, my biggest beef with Microsoft Security Essentials is that it doesn’t update itself quickly enough. But you can make it check for updates as frequently as every hour. Directions are at http://lifehacker.com/5733597/change-microsoft-security-essentials-update-frequency

They cite this as a good thing to do on laptops. I completely agree. My laptop gets used just sporadically enough that it has trouble staying updated, and usually, when I use it on the road, it’s not up to date at first, and it’s when you’re using strange networks that you most want to be up to date.

Frankly I think it’s a good thing to do on your desktop too. When the signatures get updated, would you rather get the updates right away, or tomorrow? I’ll vote for right away.

When I was administering antivirus for a living, when I updated my AV server, my clients got the updates within an hour or so. Sometimes it was within a few minutes. That system wasn’t even directly connected to the Internet. So if that system needed its updates that fast, so do home PCs.

Passwords. It’s now possible to test 400,000 passwords per second using Amazon’s services, at a cost of 28 cents per minute. So, testing 24 million possible passwords costs 28 cents.

Strengthen your passwords. Going to 16 characters with two uppers, two lowers, two special characters and two umlauts is overkill, but you want to be using more than 8 characters, and use at least one number, one upper and one lowercase letter, and one special character like a punctuation mark. If your password is something like “popcorn,” well, let’s do the math. It takes one second to test 400,000 passwords, and there are arguably a million words in the English language, so cracking a simple one-word password should take a maximum of two and a half seconds and cost 3 cents.

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 with USB media

I wasn’t in any hurry to switch to Windows 7, but when several places put the Windows 7 family pack on sale for $125 or thereabouts, I figured I’d better get it. The normal price on three upgrades is $100-$110 a pop. And you know how it goes. Once you get something, you really don’t want it to just sit on the shelf. Why let the software collect dust while I wait for 64-bit Firefox to arrive?

So I want to install it off USB. It’s easy, right? Well, it’s easy if you’re running Vista. But the instructions floating around for making bootable Windows 7 installation USB media don’t work if you’re running XP. At least they didn’t work from any of my XP machines. Read more

Working for Canonical doesn’t make you pro-Free Software?

Stuart Langridge works for Canonical. Canonical produces Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution. Apparently, this means he favors proprietary software in some people’s minds.

Yes, this is the same Ubuntu Linux you can download freely. You can make copies of it and sell them, legally. You can modify it, if you have the ability and inclination. Just setting the record straight.

Canonical does what it has to do to get Linux working well on your computer. And it succeeds rather nicely. If a computer can run Windows XP or newer, it can run Ubuntu, and installing Ubuntu will be easier than installing Windows in many cases. The computer this website runs on was built on a variant of Ubuntu, and it literally took longer to burn the CD than it took to run the installation. It blew my mind.

This is a case of software being like religion.

I am Lutheran. Almost militantly so, to the annoyance of some people who know me. I break from the traditional Lutheran camp in two regards: favoring music in the service that was written during my lifetime, and not being uptight enough about doctrine. I take the concept of grace alone, faith alone very seriously, and to an outsider, that plus the Lutheran definition of grace–God’s riches at Christ’s expense–is enough to make you Lutheran. That’s good enough for me. Some vocal Lutherans expect you to be able to recite precisely what makes John Calvin a heretic. I neither know nor care about that. I read the Bible, in its entirety, and concluded that Calvin puts certain responsibilities on you, a human being, that Luther puts on God. Since I believe that God is more reliable than me, I concluded that the Lutheran view is safer. I believe that ought to be enough.

The big question is whether I care if I’m Lutheran enough for some people. And the answer is no, I do not. I just ignore the rants about heresy that I see on Facebook, or better yet, stay off Facebook for long stretches at a time, and go about my business.

I guess that’s easier said than done in the Free Software community. There are a lot more witch hunters in that group. I suppose the people who can’t write working code try to make up for it by concentrating on ideology, or something like that. I do know it’s a whole lot easier to crusade for ideology than to write code.

The silent majority of people just want a system that works. They don’t want to hunt down drivers and compile them, or spend hours editing configuration files. I can’t tell you how many e-mail messages I received over the years from people who tried the most popular Linux distribution of the time, ran into difficulty, and gave up. (It’s one reason my e-mail address isn’t on this site anywhere anymore.) Even if the problem was something I could answer relatively easily, they just gave up and installed Windows instead. In their minds, if Dave Farquhar knows how to make that work, then whoever made that particular Linux distribution ought to make it work automatically. And they have a point.

So if Ubuntu installs a driver or some other low-level code that isn’t completely Richard Stallman-approved, the majority of people really don’t care. They’re happy it works. If their freedoms are infringed upon, they don’t know it.

I’ve said before that I could re-train my mother to use Linux. In fact, she could probably get all of her work done in Linux and emacs, and I’m sure John the Baptist Richard Stallman would be absolutely thrilled. But it would take her several years to learn the nuances of emacs, and some of her job duties would take much longer. Perhaps she wouldn’t mind occasionally spending hours to do something that can be accomplished in minutes using a more specialized, albeit proprietary, tool. In the end, when she’s a master of emacs, I’ll be able to tell her that she’s free. And she’ll tell me, “It wasn’t worth it.” Or, if she’s feeling a little more reasonable, she’ll throw something at me.

It’s easier said than done. But perhaps when the witch hunters come knocking, it would help to ask them if they had anything better to do?

After all, he could be a total sell-out like me. In my job, I’ve recommended Linux-based solutions when appropriate, but I spend the overwhelming majority of my time supporting things that run on Windows. Perhaps they would prefer he do that.

But I wouldn’t. I really like the work Canonical is doing.