Thursday, June 22, 2017

Do I need to buy anti virus or Microsoft Office for my new Windows computer?

I wrote this up for a family member tonight.... thought I'd post it for posterity.  This was for someone who needed iTunes, so a Chromebook was not an option.

For anti virus, what comes with Windows 10 for free is fine. You don't need to pay extra or listen to anyone who says you do. The best things you can do to protect yourself are:

  • Do not visit websites you don't trust 
  • Don't click on anything that seems out-of-place like something that says "You have a virus! Click here to remove it" or "Click here for an update" (when you aren't specifically looking for an update). 
  • Don't even open emails from people you don't know/trust or open attachments that you aren't expecting even if it's from someone you know.
The people who write viruses are always way ahead of the anti virus people. With anti virus including the built-in one from Windows the best you can hope for is that it catches up in a few days and eventually removes the virus you already got by doing one of the things I mentioned above.

Now... Microsoft Office. Before you spend $150+ on the same old Office, here are some other options:

If you want to go the super budget-friendly route, look at Google Docs or Microsoft Office Online. These are free online-only office suites. For light word processing, spreadsheets or presentations, these are all you need and they come with at little bit of cloud storage (Google Drive or OneDrive) so you can save and access your documents and other stuff (pictures, etc.) from anywhere including your phone/tablet.

Office Online:
Google Docs:

If that's not going to cut it, check out Office365. It's subscription based... between $70-100/year or $7-10/month.

You get:
  • Download and install all of the Office apps you are used to. Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, etc. 
  • Online versions of those apps that work really well in a web browser and that you can access anywhere (same as the free one I mention above) 
  • A mobile version of all the Office apps that goes on your phone or tablet (or both) which also works very well. 
  • 1 terabyte (more than you'll ever need) of online storage through OneDrive. You can store all your stuff "in the cloud" and easily access it from any computer including your tablet or phone. Documents, pictures, videos - anything. It also makes it very easy to share your stuff with friends. OneDrive is very, very cool. 

The only catch is that if you stop paying, you lose access to the apps and have to move all your stuff somewhere else. But for as little as $7/mo, most people find it a very good value. For $10/mo you and your roomate could share an account between you (actually up to 5 people can). Also you can try it free for a month!

Monday, September 08, 2014

In case anyone ever wondered, the free Wi-Fi at the Atlanta airport does not extend to the airport's rental car center.

Friday, April 26, 2013

NTFS drive formatted by Linux missing a drive letter in Windows.

With Windows 7 having long proven itself a stable and family-friendly OS, I decided to simplify my life, ditch Ubuntu Linux on the desktop after nearly 10 years and go back to Windows.  I had a couple of external hard drives that I'd used GParted to partition and format to NTFS for cross-platform compatibility.  Or so I thought.

I copied several gigabytes of data to one of these NTFS-formatted USB drives, blew away Ubuntu and installed Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 with all the current patches. When I reattached the USB drive, Windows recognized the hardware and it showed Online in Disk Management but a drive letter was not assigned and all options to assign one were grayed out. I could not open or access any data on the drive. A minor panic ensued.

I downloaded VMware Player and a Ubuntu LiveCD. Booted it, attached the drive and Linux could still read it. Whew! I tried to transfer the data via the network from the Linux VM to the Windows host but it gave me fits.  I needed to get the drive mounted in Windows.

Long story short, I discovered that GParted had formatted the drive as NTFS but left the partition ID as "83" which is "Linux".  This obviously confused the hell out of Windows.  I could verify this using the following Linux command:
sudo sfdisk --print-id /dev/sda 1
The output shows me the partition ID of /dev/sda1:
I needed to change the partition ID to "07" which is NTFS (and some relatives).  To do this, I made sure the drive was unmounted and issued the following Linux command:
sudo sfdisk --change-id /dev/sda 1 07
This changes the ID of /dev/sda1 from 83 to 07.  Output:
I disconnected the drive from the VM and....Voila! The drive now mounts successfully, drive letter and all, in Windows.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How I Bought My Car

I've had a few family members ask about this, so I thought I'd just let the whole world have at it.

Here's how I bought my Hyundai.

  1. Figure out EXACTLY which car you want, including trim, options, color, etc. I used Consumer Reports Car Buying Guide (primarily) plus,, manufacturer and other sites for features and reviews to narrow the category, then test drove around 5 cars. If Consumer Reports didn't give it their "recommended" rating (or whatever it was) it wasn't something I'd consider. 
  2. Find out what other people are paying via Internet posts and settle on your goal price. For mine, I looked at the lowest somewhat common price range and dismissed any outliers. This is around the lowest you could pay and should be your goal price. I looked in a few places, but for my Hyundai the best place was a Hyundai-specific forum, specifically this:
  3. Find out if there are any recently expired or recently added rebates or other incentives. These could alter your price goal if they weren't included in the prices people reported paying on the Internet. 
  4. Get a firm no-haggle price, just for reference. This is the max you could possibly pay. For this I used TrueCar (I think) and BJs, or maybe CarsDirect. It was $1500 or more greater than my goal price. 
  5. Get financing if you need it. My credit union offered 2.99% APR. This is critical because some dealers offer low or zero percent financing -OR- a rebate, but not both. If you have your own financing, you can get the rebate *and* a low APR. Having your own financing also takes off the pressure when the financing guy is getting his claws into you at the dealer. 
  6. Contact dealers online ONLY, no phone calls. Just email. Make sure they have YOUR car in inventory. Tell them that you are going to buy the car, but only from the dealer with the best price. Tell them to make you an offer that includes everything - all fees, extras, add-ons, etc, except for tax, tag and title (these will be the same no matter where you go). Play them off one another. You should get close to your goal after two or three rounds, eliminating all but one or two. If you're not there yet, tell them what you'll pay and first dealer to match that price gets your business. Now you can talk on the phone if you need to. If they ask about a trade-in, tell them you haven't decided yet (even if you have - this is a separate transaction and it's none of their business). If they ask about financing, tell them you'll take the best deal and if it's theirs then they get the financing business too (even if you're paying cash - you could always take 0% financing and put the cash in an interest-bearing account). 
  7. Once you're settled on a price, ask again to confirm that the only additional charges are statutory (tax, tag and title) because this is where they like to "forget" about the $500 documentation fee. Let them know that if you go to sign the paperwork and see an extra cent in fees, you'll leave immediately and not come back. If you have arranged financing in step 5 you'll probably need the dealer to send you a "Buyer's Order" so you can get the final approval from your bank/credit union (even though you may not actually need to use their financing). 
  8. If you are going to trade, find out what it is worth (, using the trade-in value) and be honest about it when you do the research. You might also want to look at AutoTrader to see what people are asking for your car (same model, year, trim, miles) just so you know the margin on it. 
  9. Make an appointment with your salesman (you'll be on a first-name basis by now) and go to the dealer. Make sure everything is as you negotiated on the new car. The numbers should match to the penny before statutory fees. Walk out if they try to pull a fast one....They'll chase you most likely and make it right. 
  10. Negotiate your trade (if any) and try to get at or above the trade-in values you found in step 8. This is where I got anxious. I could have done maybe $200-400 better on my trade, but in the grand scheme it was small potatoes. 
  11. Go see the Finance guy... If his deal is better than your bank/credit union, take it (I did) but don't forget to consider any rebates they offer in lieu of low rates. For example a $1500 rebate + your credit union's 2.99% APR may turn out to be a better deal than the dealer's 0% APR but no rebate. Be sure you're always comparing apples-to-apples on the length of the loan and not be just looking at monthly payments. 
  12. Enjoy your new car.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Linksys WRT110 slow speed using PPPoE and QoS

I recently moved to a new house and got 12 mb/s DSL. In a hurry to get everything up-and-running, I left the Gigaset Speedstream 4300 DSL modem in router mode and let my Linksys WRT110 router pick up a DHCP address from it. Speed tests showed I was getting at least 12 mb/s which was awesome, but this configuration results in a double NAT which inhibits things like remote SSH to my home network.

After getting settled in the new digs, I went back and put the DSL modem in to bridge mode using
these instructions from Windstream. I configured the WRT110 to initiate the PPPoE connection, and all was well. Or so I thought. Upon performing another speed test, I realized that I was getting less than 6 mb/s throughput on my 12 mb link. Going back to the double NAT config, speed test results went back to 12 mb/s. Puzzling. So after a week of futile searching and tinkering, I decided to go back to basics. With the modem in bridge mode, I connected my Win 7 laptop directly to it and connected using Win 7's PPPoE client. Voila! 12 mb/s. So it's the router!

There wasn't much else I could change on the router, so I just said "screw it" and reset it. With everything at default, I immediately connected over PPPoE at 12 mb/s! Next, I started rebuilding my configuration from scratch with speed tests after each change and as soon as I hit the QoS settings, it dropped back down to under 6 mb/s. I have a UMA-capable Blackberry, so I had it's MAC address listed as a high-priority QoS device which may or may not be necessary since it never seemed to improve the awful quality of my WiFi calls. When I turned QoS off, the speed shot back up to 12 mb/s. So that's it. Just make sure QoS (specifically, the Internet Access Priority settings) is disabled, and you'll be all set. Why this only manifests itself when the router is in PPPoE mode isn't clear, but I guess it is what it is.

Since I wasn't able to find anyone else experiencing and later solving this issue, I hope anyone who does finds this useful.

Here's a screenshot of the WRT110 configured with QoS disabled, enabling full speed on the DSL link:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

STOP 0x0000007B on P2V'd Windows 7

I have neglected this blog terribly, but I wanted to get this out there because I know I'll forget and I know others will find it useful.

So for reasons fully understood and accepted, my employer has stated that we may no longer use Windows 7 on laptops in the short term. The carrot is that we may run it as a VM if we wish. Fantastic! As I've done many times in the past with XP, I'll just P2V my Win7 laptop and run it in VMWare Player (3.0 RC, so I can get Aero). Only one problem. As before, I used the VMware vCenter Converter 4.0 to P2V my laptop expecting the angels to sing. No so much. Got a STOP 0x0000007B on boot. With automatic reboot on error enabled, it also manifests itself as a Windows Boot Manager error, Status: 0xc0000225, Info: The boot selection failed because a required device is inaccessible.

So off to Google I went. For two days I played with DiskPart and BCDEdit. Learned a lot, but made no headway. Until I found this:

Yes, that's right... It's a simple, old fasioned mass storage driver issue. The hitch is that drivers are there but not enabled in an effort to improve boot performance. The article on Minasi's site offers a pretty good explanation for Hyper-V, and the same applies to VMware. I took slightly different (and less complicated, I think) steps to resolve the issue without having to re-do the P2V:
  1. Mount the Win7 DVD in VMware Player and boot to it.
  2. At the first screen (Language Selection), hit Shift-F10 for a command prompt.
  3. Run Regedit.
  4. Load the system hive from the VM's disk:
    1. Highlight HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
    2. File > Load Hive
    3. Select &lt c: &gt \Windows\System32\config\system (name it something like "asdf")
  5. Expand HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\asdf\ControlSet1\Services\intelide
  6. Change the data for value "Start" from "3" to "0".
  7. File > Unload Hive.
  8. Exit regedit.
  9. Reboot the VM.
Voila! Hear the angles sing!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Man sets home on fire cleaning cobwebs with blowtorch

File this one under "headlines you could easily have missed, but will be glad you didn't":

From WSB-TV (Atlanta):
Men take note: a blowtorch is not the same as a broom. Coweta County authorities say Galen Winchell set fire to his west Georgia home Wednesday as he cleaned cobwebs from exterior eaves with a blowtorch. Winchell noticed the blaze when he saw smoke pouring from the attic.... (more)
Makes you wonder if the whole incident started with "Hey y'all, watch this!"