Month: November 2012

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides on .

The Windows XP Recovery Console is either an installable start-up option for a computer running Windows XP or a bootable media included with the Windows XP install disc. This tutorial details how to load the Recovery Console from the original Windows XP install disc.

The fixmbr command can be used in the Windows Recovery Console to re-install the default master boot record so that Windows can be successfully booted. For example, you will need to use this command to remove the Linux installation from a Windows/Linux dual-boot system. On a Windows/Linux dual boot, Linux overwrites the default Windows boot loader with Grub so that both operating systems can be booted from a start-up menu. However, if you remove Linux by simply deleting the Linux partitions, the files that contain Grub will be deleted and you will be greeted with a “Grub rescue” message when you try to boot your computer. Running the fixmbr command should solve this problem. Another reason to you would need to use fixmbr is if your master boot record has been corrupted for any reason and your system won’t boot.

Anyway, here’s an explanation – a detailed one – of how to boot into the Windows Recovery Console if you can’t boot Windows XP and how to then run fixmbr to repair the master boot record.

1. Find your original Windows XP install disc. Yes, you will need this if you can’t boot your system.

2. Set your computer’s BIOS to boot from the CD, insert the CD, and boot from it. If you don’t know how to do this, find your computer’s documentation and look up how to access and use the BIOS.

3. You should now see a “Press any key to boot from CD” message. Press any key.


4. Now, a shockingly blue Windows Setup screen will open and start flashing text by on the bottom of it. Don’t worry, this is not installing anything or overwriting anything. It’s simply scanning your computer and loading the Windows XP setup program.


5. Once Windows XP setup loads, press “R” to open the Recovery Console.


6. You should now see a prompt asking you to select the Windows installation that you would like to log on to. If you don’t see any options here, your system is ruined and is undetectable by the Recovery Console. If you do see option(s) here, type the NUMBER of the option (not the drive letter or something).


7. You will be prompted for the administrator password. If you don’t have one, just press Enter.


8. Now you’re in the Recovery Console! You can type “Help” for a list of available commands or type “Help commandname” to see options for a specific command.


9. If you want to fix the master boot record, type in “fixmbr” with no switches and press Enter. The command shouldn’t take long to run, and when it has finished type “EXIT” and press Enter. When the computer reboots, I would suggest you immediately enter the BIOS so that you can reset the boot menu and remove the CD. Otherwise, your computer will boot to a “Press any key to boot from CD…” message. Once you’ve finished with the boot menu, exit the BIOS and try to boot from the main hard drive.

10. Hopefully, your Windows XP installation is now bootable. If it isn’t, something beyond the scope of fixing the master boot record has gone wrong and you will need to take more drastic methods to recover your data. This could be removing the hard drive and hooking it up to another computer to see if the files are still accessible.


Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides on .

(Editor’s note: here’s a fairly long-winded article I wrote a while back.)

It’s that time: your household has finally acquired more than one Internet-connected device. However, you only have one Internet line in your house, and that comes straight out of your modem and goes into your desktop computer. So, how do you get the Internet on all your devices? The simple answer is, well, simple: buy a router.

First: Buying the Router

The complicated part is, which router? You could spend $100+ on a high-end router, or cheap out and buy one for $40. So, how much router does your household really need?

First, let’s talk about internet connections. Let’s say that you have a broadband connection to your house with a download speed of 2 Mbps (to find out what speed you actually have, you can go to for a free Internet speed test). That means that with one device connected, you should get a download speed of 2 Mbps on that device. If you add more devices with a router, the router can not “magically” provide all the devices with a 2 Mbps download speed simultaneously. The connection speed will be split by demand over all your devices. For example, if you’re watching a YouTube video on your desktop and your laptop is sitting idle, the desktop should be getting the full 2 Mbps and the laptop’s connection will be cut down. However, if you’re trying to download Skyrim on your laptop while your brother is watching Netflix online, each computer will get about half the connection depending on the demand. If you’re downloading Skyrim, your brother’s watching Netflix, your mom is trying to send pictures of the kids to her friends and your dad is checking his email, everyone’s connection speed is going to drop as the 2 Mbps connection is eaten up by the large demand. So, if you’re planning on having multiple devices using the Internet heavily at one time, you may want to consider upgrading your connection speed. The best way to find out what you need is by testing it: try what you’ve got already, and if that’s too slow contact your ISP and see what plans are available.

Now, we have to decide how many devices will be using your router at one time and what they will be doing. If you plan on hooking up your PS3, two laptops, a desktop, and a few smartphones and tablets, you’re going to need a router capable of handling it all. If all you need is to have a desktop online and sometimes have a laptop connected wirelessly, you can probably get away with a cheaper router if you know you’re not going to need a lot more out of the router in the future. At any rate, don’t underbuy. If you think you might be getting more devices in the future, it will be cheaper to buy a $120 router right now than a $60 router right now and a $120 router later when your first router is gasping and choking with the increased demand.

So, what features do you need in your router? At first, you will probably be confused by all the options and features that routers have – rightfully, because they are confusing. Dual band? Gigabit Ethernet? 300+Mbps? 5 GHz vs. 2.4 GHz? Wireless-N?

Let’s start with Wireless-N. Simply put, Wireless-N is just a high-speed wireless standard. It provides faster wireless speeds and better range than its predecessors, Wireless-A, Wireless-B, and Wireless-G. I would recommend buying a router that is Wireless-N capable (many are, nowadays) because Wireless-N is the new standard in wireless connectivity.

Why you’d want Wireless-N: It’s faster than the old standard Wireless-G, and most routers have Wireless-N capability now anyway. If you don’t want your router to be outdated in a year, get Wireless-N. Base line: It’s better, faster wireless.

Next up is Gigabit capability. This means that the wired network (Ethernet) ports on the back of the router can transfer data at 1000 MB/s (that’s megabytes, not megabits. Internet speeds are measured in megabits, so a 4 Mbps (megabits per second) connection does not transfer 4 megabytes per second. This has a complicated explanation – Google it if you want to know more.) The 1000 MB/s – or 1 GB/s, which is why it’s called Gigabit – provides much faster file transfer speeds around your local network, but won’t improve your Internet speed. To use Gigabit Ethernet  all the devices on your connection must be Gigabit-ready – your computer’s network card, your Ethernet cables (must be CAT 5E or higher), and your router. Gigabit can also be referred to as 10/100/1000 MB/s Ethernet.

Why you’d want Gigabit Ethernet: Only get it if you know that all your devices support it. However, if you’re planning on buying new computers soon, anything you buy new will have Gigabit support. Base line: Legacy support, and awesome file transfer speeds.

Now for dual band. As of now, there are two radio frequencies that routers can broadcast on: the 2.4 GHz band and the 5 GHz band. The 2.4 GHz band is used by most household appliances and therefore has more interference. It’s also a narrower bandwidth, which means that less data can be transferred on it which makes the connection slower. Compared to the 2.4 GHz band, the 5 GHz band is like an open, multi-lane highway. As you can probably guess, the 5 GHz band is much faster. However, to use 5 GHz wireless, your hardware will need to meet the requirements. First of all, your router has to be Wireless-N (not to mention dual band capable) to even broadcast on the 5 GHz band. Also, your wireless devices must support 5 GHz connections. Much to my chagrin, I discovered too late that one of my laptops does not. Oh well, that’s what the 2.4 GHz band is for.

Why you’d want dual band capability: If your wireless devices support a 5 GHz connection, you’ll definitely reap the benefits of using this faster connection. Base line: If your devices support it, go ahead.

There are also ratings for how fast routers can transmit data on their wireless connection. This will usually be advertised as “300+” or something. Some routers also have USB ports for connecting USB storage devices or in some cases, printers.

Tip: For legacy support, I would recommend going with Gigabit, Wireless-N, and dual band. I would also recommend buying the most powerful router that you can afford. Unless you plan on using your 9 year old desktop with your 7 year old laptop and never upgrading, you probably won’t be disappointed if you overbuy on your router just a little. For $100, you should be able to get a pretty good router that will cover your entire house with at least two or three bars of WiFi in the farthest areas. Of course, this depends how big your house is. If you have a really big house (3000 sq ft+) you will probably either need a high-end router or a range extender.

Second: Setting it Up

Now that you’ve hopefully found the perfect router, you will have to set it up. You can pay a bunch of money and have someone set it up for you, or if you have some modicum of technological sense I would suggest learning how to set it up yourself. This way, you will know exactly how your network is configured and you can really save yourself some $$.

I would recommend drawing, or at least figuring out, a network map before you start setting up your router. You should already have one phone line going into your modem and one Ethernet cable (probably CAT 5E) coming out of your modem. Your router should come with another Ethernet cable and instructions on how to plug everything in to get one wired device on line. If you want to hook up more wired devices, you will need to pick up more Ethernet cables. Also, if you’re like me and you ran out of outlets on your surge protector – hopefully, you already have a surge protector – you’re going to need to buy more parts.

Once you’ve got all the hardware you need, you can proceed to the software setup stage. I will not cover this in great detail because all routers have different software instructions, but I will say that you need to read the instructions before you begin. This sounds obvious, but don’t just blow through the setup manual. The order you install stuff (Ethernet cables, power cables, software) matters.

After you’ve got through the setup, you should now have a functioning router. Some last things to check/do are:

1. Is your wireless network password protected? Most manufactures will password-protect the wireless by default, but this could be with a default password (think, “password”). Make sure you’ve got a good, secure password, and if you’ve changed it from the default one WRITE IT DOWN. But not on the fridge.

2. Are all devices getting Internet? Sounds obvious, but check before you declare your network finished make sure everything can connect without a problem. Also, make sure you’re getting the correct download/upload speeds – hopefully you checked before you installed the router to see what sort of bandwidth was getting sent to your house.

3. Make sure to turn off your wireless when it’s not being used. Wireless is a security hole at the best of times, and leaving it on 24/7 is pretty much an open invitation – especially if you neglected to password protect it.

Tip: Buy a router with a power on/off button and a wireless on/off button. It’s just easier.

If you want to read more, you can find an excellent PC Mag article here.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

(Editor’s note: This is from when I was running Vista. VISTA. Nothing in this review is remotely applicable to LibreOffice today and it is reproduced here solely for archival purposes.)

LibreOffice is a free full office suit for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is open source and includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, a drawing program, a math program, and a formula program. LibreOffice comes pre-installed with Linux Ubuntu, and works very well with that OS.

I have LibreOffice currently installed on three computers: one running Windows Vista, one running OS X 10.7.5, and one running Linux Ubuntu 12.04. On the Windows machine, LibreOffice runs fairly well. It could open faster, and it does seem to lag a bit sometimes, but then again it didn’t cost anything. I’m not trying to say “Oh, it was free, so it doesn’t need to run very well to get five stars”. I have to say, I do prefer Microsoft Office 2010, but for a free program LibreOffice is pretty good. That’s the beauty of open source.

On Mac OS X, LibreOffice runs about the same as on Windows. It is the only word processor/office software I have on my Mac, and I get along fairly well with it. Every once in a while, a cool feature that I hadn’t noticed before will show up and I’ll like the program even more.

Ubuntu is where LibreOffice really shines. It’s a great fit, and it runs like it was designed with Linux at heart.

Verdict: If you have Windows or Macintosh and don’t want to shell out $100+ for MS Office, LibreOffice is a good open source office solution. If you have Ubuntu, you will definitely want LibreOffice.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

(Editor’s note: Though Linux Live USB Creator still works (2016), I have a number of other lighter-weight programs I would recommend. Archived.)

Linux Live USB Creator, or LiLi, is a free program for Windows that allows the user to burn .iso files of Linux distributions to thumb drives. The program has some really neat options like the ability to create persistence files, hide files on the thumb drive, and check the integrity of the .iso file.

Pros: LiLi supports a LOT of Linux distributions (you can see them all here) and every time I have used the program, it has produced a working, bootable Linux Live thumb drive. LiLi also self-updates whenever it is opened. When selecting options for burning the thumb drive, there are traffic lights that tell you whether or not your selections will work.

Cons: The entirely transparent window background is unique but a little quirky, and I have had a few issues with the program freezing or crashing. These freezes seemed to relate more to the interface then to to the actual program.

Conclusion: LiLi is a perfectly acceptable way to create bootable Linux thumb drives in Windows. And yes, you can simply use the Linux Live thumb drive to install Linux on a computer. Unless you specifically delete the installer file, it will be there.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

(Editor’s note: Tails is way past version 0.13, so this post is useless for practical purpose. Another one for posterity.)

I stumbled across Tails a few weeks ago while searching for stuff for getting around network blocks. Long story short, I found the Tor project website and noticed a link for “Tails – A Live CD/USB distribution configured to use Tor safely.” I liked the sound of that, so when I got the chance I clicked on the link and began to read through the documentation. It turned out that Tails was still in version 0.13 and that the documentation looked pretty complicated. Also, to burn Tails to a thumb drive like I wanted to do, you had to have a version of Tails already burned and booted because the official thumb drive installer program is part of Tails. I was bummed over this as I didn’t want to burn a CD, so I checked around and realized that Lili (Linux Live) USB Creator, a program that I already had, can burn a live version of Tails to a thumb drive. The only catch was that it didn’t allow for persistence files, but that didn’t matter for the way I wanted to use Tails.

Anyway, I got a thumb drive set up and booted from it. Tails loaded to the login screen at an acceptable rate of speed, which was when I noticed some reasons that Tails isn’t version 1.0 yet.

Tails seemed to work okay; the custom browser Iceweasel opened when I logged on and said that I was using the Tor network. Oddly enough, however, the clock wouldn’t synchronize. Though a pop-up said that Tails was setting the time, the clock displayed completely incorrect times on multiple boots on various computers.

One cool feature that Tails provides is Windows XP Camouflage mode (see image). This is under “Advanced Options” at the login screen and loads a custom desktop/window manager that changes the wallpaper, windows, and toolbar to Windows XP style. The effect is fairly convincing though the Start button and fonts don’t look completely right upon close inspection, and from a few feet back someone not extremely familiar with XP would probably mistake Tails for the 2001 version of Windows.

The drawback with this feature is that, well, it’s Windows XP. The reason you would need the camouflage feature would be to fool people around you into thinking that you’re using the computer’s original operating system. However, many computer nowadays run Windows 7 – and now Windows 8 – so an XP camouflage isn’t all that useful.

In the end, it’s clear that Tails is still under development. However, I think it has the potential to become a very powerful tool. This touches on my vision that someday everyone will carry around small, portable, bootable drives that have their own operating system and security systems.

If Tails gains a Windows 7 camouflage mode and undergoes some more refinements, I think it just might hit the spot. In any case, I’ll be watching for new versions.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in General on .

(Editor’s note: I brought back this post — one of my originals — for posterity.)

Yes! Now we can search from the address bar! Oh, wait, they ruined the tab layout.

Let’s start with the new, improved address bar. I don’t know if you have ever used Safari 5.1.7, but in that browser the address bar did not double as a search bar. The last browser that I noticed this lack-of-a-feature in was Internet Explorer 7. Happily, this has been corrected in Safari 6.0.2.

One feature that’s been added to Safari 6.0.2 is a new tab bar. I guess that there must be some people who like these new, amorphous, size-changing tabs (the feature got added to the latest version of Safari, after all) but for me it’s a disaster. Besides the size-changing, the tabs are below the address bar so locating them quickly with the mouse is difficult.

The tabs (if you could find the option to show them) were all the same size until they exceeded the space available in the tab bar, like a normal browser. However, they were located below the address bar. For me, this is pretty much a deal-breaker: I usually have between 2-10 tabs open at a time, and with Google Chrome (yes, I am a Chrome user) all I have to do is shoot my cursor up to the top of the screen and move it horizontally to locate a tab. This works on maximized Windows browsers and full screen Mac browsers. Not to single out Chrome; both Firefox and Opera are also like this.

With Safari 5.1.7, I had to orient my cursor on both the horizontal and vertical axis to locate a tab. When I’m trying to work quickly, this is a noticeable difficulty as the tabs are also the same color as the tab bar and don’t stand out well. Safari’s tabs also don’t show the site’s favicon, which makes identifying tabs at a glance difficult.

This tab bar is different, but not better, in Safari 6.0.2. Now, the tabs change sizes to fill up the entire tab bar at any given time. That means that the first tab you open takes up the entire bar, then the second one splits it 50/50, then the third one divides the space by three, and so on. This means that when dealing with many tabs at one time, the tabs confusingly change size and position. Isn’t this why Internet Explorer 8’s tab setup was bad? (On that browser, the first tab was big until you opened another tab, then all the tabs would jump to a smaller, albeit uniform, size.)

Another problem with 6.0.2 that was also around in 5.1.7 – and all previous versions as far as I know – is that it’s difficult to clear browser data. In Chrome, Firefox, and even Opera and Internet Explorer the Clear Browser Data options open up in one view with options to clear download history, empty the cache, delete cookies and other site and plug-in data, and clear saved passwords at the minimum. In Safari, there are different menus for clearing browsing history, cache, and download history, and I’m not sure how to clear saved passwords except through CCleaner, a third-party utility. Also, when I chose to clear history and top sites, the top sites page just reset itself to a bunch of websites I have never or hardly ever visited.

Also, with the release of Safari 6.0.2, it looks like Safari for Windows is over. (Ed: …and the five active users were heartbroken.)

In conclusion: the above article turned out as a pretty scathing review. I’m not trying to say that Safari is a terrible browser, and it has lots of neat and innovative features (such as the 2 finger swipe to move back and forward between pages that literally throws the page to the right or left – I love that feature) and excellent HTML5 support. Unfortunately, the toolbar interface and layout of menus makes it not the right browser for me.