Online Identity Firm – MAG

December 23rd, 2013 No comments
MAG is Online Identity

MAG is Online Identity

For those interested, Greg Page has an Online Identity firm called Merrimack Analysis Group.

MAG is a Veteran-run start-up that helps protect kids and seniors online. Our online security presentations and seminars are geared towards what we call the “Big Middle” of Internet users — people who rely on the Internet in their daily lives and know their way around a computer, but are frustrated and confused by the often-dizzying array of sometimes-conflicting best practices for online security and identity protection.

Check MAG out at their Site, on Facebook, G+ or Twitter.

Review WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

June 12th, 2012 No comments

I’ve been running a WD TV Live device for a couple months now.  The unit works great.  We had a minor issue with needing to log in to Netflix periodically, but that has been resolved in one of the latest firmware updates.  We use the device on a high-def TV and stream via wireless without any problems.  I have a DLNA server in the basement running Mezzmo to serve up local files.  The WD player handles most everything in their native format, and displays high-def content perfectly.  We also have a Sony player (SMP N200) in the boys bedroom, but it pales in comparison.  The UI on the Sony device is horrible and slow and it doesn’t handle h.264 content over DLNA (regardless of what their spec sheet may say).  This basically means that all videos played on the Sony device are encoded on the server and streamed in MPEG2 format, which can be slow over the network and is taxing on the server.  Additionally, the WD device properly displays thumbnails associated with the videos on the DLNA server where the Sony device does not.

From Sony Support:

I understand that you wish to display the videos in Thumbnail format in the Network Media Player using DLNA feature. Please note that the Network Media Player does not have a feature to display the videos in Thumbnail format using DLNA feature, this is a normal operation.

 

From Mezzmo Support:

I’ve checked the specs for the SMP N200 and it appears that eventhough it should play lots of formats, most of those are not playable via DLNA. I don’t have a device here to test. If you could turn off transcoding in Mezzmo and then try playing some files to check whether they play natively or not and let me know how that goes, I could start working on a new device profile.  (I turned off transcoding and tested as suggested.  The files would not play, however they played fine on the WD device)

The Western Digital device also includes a feature where you can manually synchronize the audio track with the video.  It’s a simple left and right control and works great.

The WD TV Live device is better than the XBox for both Netflix and local media, so we will likely get a second one for the living room.    The only complaint I have is that the remote is a bit difficult and does not light up at all, but that’s about it.  Overall the device comes highly recommended.

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Windows Home Server on Deployment

December 14th, 2010 1 comment

I just purchased a custom system to host a new Windows Home Server build for while I’m deployed to Afghanistan.  This should provide a great service sharing files (movies, pictures, music) and backing up everyone’s laptops.

I have had Windows Home Server running at home for a couple years and it’s been phenomenal.  I can’t say enough about it.  The server provides easy access to the kids DVDs that have long since been scratched and ruined.  It keeps all the kids pictures safe in a central repository.  It backs up the other computers and laptops in the house.  I’ve had to use WHS to restore two different systems, and each time it went smoothly.  I have even recovered from a failed hard drive on the server.  All of this was fairly painless.  The integration with the Xbox 360 is great.  The Xbox WHS UI isn’t as pretty as the UI for Windows Media Center, but the functionality blows WMC out of the water (9 times out of 10, I just want to throw the controller across the room while browsing for a movie in WMC).  All of this functionality will translate well to a small group of soldiers in country.

What makes me nervous is that WHS is built on Windows Server 2003 which is more than a bit dated.  A quick Google search to check the status of WHS v2 (Vail) indicates that Microsoft has decided to turn off the drive extender functionality and HP has decided to abandon their Media Smart systems.  This seems to indicate WHS is all but dead.  Drive extender was the foundation that made WHS such a viable solution for the home user.  It’s a shame to see Microsoft get things so right the first time out, only to throw the project away for version 2 (Boondock Saints 2 of software?).  Personally I’m still holding on to hope that Microsoft will come to their senses and release a viable WHS upgrade.  If not, hopefully I can get another couple years out of my existing systems and wait for another vendor to fill the void.

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Chem-Dry vs Stanley Steamer

April 17th, 2010 1 comment

Chem Dry wins…

After using Chem Dry on numerous occasions to clean our carpets, Chem Dry was not available to come out in time to clean our carpets before Sunday, so we called Stanley Steamer.  Our carpets are a high quality four year old light khaki Burber.  With two kids and a dog, the carpets get dirty pretty quick and we tend to get them cleaned about every six to nine months.  I had always been happy with the Chem Dry results.  The carpets always look brand new when they leave.  I do tend to get a bit disgruntled with how much Chem Dry charges.  We also had a no call, no show one day and I question their Scotch Guard chemical upgrade as simply a ploy to extract even more money from my unsuspecting wife.

Today after having my carpets cleaned by Stanley Steamer, I am convinced that Chem Dry provides superior results.  Stanley Steamer definitely did an OK job cleaning the carpets.  They look much better now than they did before they were cleaned, but they don’t have that rejuvenated new look like they do after Chem Dry finishes.  I’m not sure about all Stanley Steamer carpet cleaners, but the guys who cleaned my carpet were quick to give up on cleaning tough stains.  It was as if they did not have any faith in their equipment or products.  I ended up on my hands and knees scrubbing at a stain to get it cleaned after they had shrugged their shoulders and given up.  There was another stain where we had spilled some laundry detergent.  The guys were able to clean most of the stain, but ignored the area under the doorway.  I had them come back to open the door and clean the rest of it, but the tool couldn’t quite reach into the difficult corners.  When the Chem Dry guys cleaned our carpets they ruthlessly tracked down and cleaned any stains they could find.  The Chem Dry cleaners seem to take great pride in their work and enjoy cleaning the difficult stains.  I think the big difference is that Chem-Dry uses that big buffer machine to really scrub and revitalize the carpets, where Stanley Steamer just sprays steam down and sucks it back up.

As for the add-on pressure sales, Stanley Steamer may actually be a bit worse than Chem Dry.  They tried to sell this outdoor mat to prevent us from tracking in dirt.  We agreed to purchase the Scotch guard, for an extra who knows how much.  I was disappointed when the guy half heartedly applied the scotch guard via a chemical sprayer and maybe got all the carpet, maybe he didn’t.

All in all, both companies cleaned the carpets sufficiently, but Chem-Dry’s process is superior.  I am happy to have tried both companies because I didn’t like Chem-Dry as a company, but the two items that matter when getting your carpets cleaned is the cost and the results.  Chem Dry produces sufficiently better results for only a little more money, so I will be going back to them when I need the carpets cleaned again.

Update: After giving the carpets time to dry after Stanley Steamer left (24+ hours with fans on), outlines of many stains have come back.

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Really Best Buy? … Really?

December 3rd, 2009 No comments

So I ran out to Best Buy tonight to purchase three items:

  • a PCIe gigabit ethernet card
  • a SATA cable
  • and a Music CD

Best Buy in Attleboro does not carry the ethernet card.  The music isles were such a mess and so disorganized that I decided to just grab the CD on Amazon.  But, the thing that got me angry enough to post this was the SATA cable.  I did not check the price before checking out and it didn’t hit me that I had been robbed until I left the store.  They charged $19.99 for the SATA cable (see receipt below).  This wasn’t a Monster Cable or a gold plated uber cable.  It is a generic store brand garbage Dynex cable.  Currently NewEgg.com has more than 20 different SATA cables for under two dollars.  I knew BestBuy charges an arm and a leg for accessories, but I was amazed that Best Buy had the stones to mark up the cable by 900%.  I have since purchased both the cable and the ethernet card from NewEgg.  I will return the cable tomorrow.

7002904_sb
ThanksBestBuy

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Review of Nikon D5000 Digital SLR Camera

November 10th, 2009 No comments

If deciding between the D3000, D5000 or D90, I suggest the D3000 or the D90. Stay away from the Nikon D5000. I purchased the D5000 for the movie mode, live view and articulating display.  The movie mode flat out doesn’t work (you are forced to manually focus) and shooting from live view mode takes so long to focus that it’s too frustrating to be an option. The D3000 is the same as the D5000 except without the gimicks that don’t actually work anyway.  Also, if I were better with the manual settings, I may be frustrated to not have dedicated buttons for some of the more complicated manual settings.  The D90 has more dedicated buttons for settings than what the D5000 or D3000 include.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for an entry level SLR and will in reality stick with ‘auto’ mode most of the time (like me), then stick with the D3000. If you want to buy a border-line professional camera and get crazy into taking pictures, then the D90 may be a better option.

Also, I tested a Canon Rebel XSi and was very happy with it.  The user interface was far superior to that offered by Nikon, but I’ve been told the Nikon images are better, so I went with the Nikon (Personally, I couldn’t see the difference).

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Windows Home Server is King

August 22nd, 2009 No comments

WHSI have had Windows Home Server (WHS) installed for about four months now.  This is an amazing piece of software.  I can’t believe it hasn’t caught on with more people.  WHS handles all of my home networking needs.  It does daily backups of both my laptop and my wife’s laptop.  It stores all of our pictures and music on redundant storage.  It provides a free dynamic DNS service, so I can connect to my home network and establish a remote desktop connection to my home machine from anywhere.  It doubles as a media server accessible from both the XBox 360 and any computer in the house.  I understand each of these features may be available independently via open source options, but WHS makes everything simple, it works and it was inexpensive $90.  I admit the UI is ‘clunky’ and overall feels pieced together, but that’s because it is.  WHS is a stripped down version of Windows 2003 Server with a few WHS services running.  For more info see: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/default.mspx

For my configuration, I converted my old desktop to a WHS machine.  I have an old Dell with an AMD Dual Core something or other processor.  I added two new 1.5TB Seagate drives at ($129 a piece), added an extra couple GB of RAM (memory usage seldomly rises above 1GB) and I upgraded to a gigabit NIC and Router.  Then I threw the machine in the basement without a monitor or keyboard or anything and never have to touch it.  I can’t express enough how easy and powerful this thing is.  It solves numerous problems and does so for a reasonable cost.  All together it cost about $500 to get the whole system up and running.

I use the following WHS Add-Ins:

FirePlay – http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=3999

Disk Management – http://www.tentaclesoftware.com/WHSDiskManagement/

Advanced Admin Console – http://mswhs.com/2008/01/22/add-in-advanced-admin-console/

FileZilla FTP Server – http://computingondemand.com/?p=961

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Memory Lane: The Wildcat BBS

May 12th, 2009 2 comments

To those that remember the underground world of BBSes, there is a podcast available at HanselMinutes.com where Scott Hanselman interviews the founders of Mustang Software and explores the joys of personal computing in the early 90′s.  If you remember those days, you should definately check it out.

.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:.

Just last month, while juggling for my son, my wife asked me how or why I learned to juggle.  I explained that there was quite a bit of waiting around associated with running a BBS.  She had never heard of a BBS, nor had I ever disclosed the uber-geekdom associated my days as a SysOp within the Massachusetts BBS community.  She did not understand the excitement associated with waiting over 30 minutes for the latest version of Duke Nukem to download.  Or the fun associated with watching someone browsing around your site, then popping in to say hello.  At the height of it’s popularity, my BBS received over 100 calls a day. OK, maybe I’m the only one impressed, but it wasn’t bad for a highschool kid with a 14,400 modem installed on his fancy 486DX33 (that’s right… DX… math co-processor in full effect… ).

.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:.

I did a quick search for ANSI art to find an image for this post and was amazed to find a downloadable copy of TheDraw… 

thedraw_ansi

Regards,
Todd Kobus,
SysOp DD BBS

Oh, thanks Kevin for that special copy of Win95…

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64 Bit MSI Custom Actions

April 21st, 2009 No comments

Acresso has answered my question regarding 64 bit custom actions.  The bottom line is that they are not allowed.  

You are correct that you cannot call a 64 bit dll from a managed custom action, however this is not dependent on setup.exe or any prerequisites.

Windows Installer does not have a managed custom action type so InstallShield wraps the managed dll in a native 32 bit dll. The issue is then that the 32 bit wrapper can’t call into a 64 bit dll and so there is no way to do this. So the technical restriction is that our 32 bit wrapper is unable to call into 64 bit dlls.

 

It is possible to launch a 64 bit executable from a custom action and do whatever is required from the 64 bit exe. 

Additionally, you can create a class that derives from the System.Installer class and set the “.Net Installer” property within Install Shield, but it is more difficult to control when the code is called.

Hook LoadLibrary call from managed code

April 20th, 2009 No comments

Recent StackOverflow Question:

We would like to hook calls to LoadLibrary in order to download assemblies that are not found. We have a handler for ResolveAssembly that handles the managed assemblies, but we also need to handle unmanaged assemblies.

We have attempted to hook LoadLibrary calls by re-writing the imports table via techniques specified in “Programming Applications for Microsoft Windows”, but when we call WriteProcessMemory() we get a permission denied error (998). (Yes, we’re running with elevated privs)

Has anyone succeeded in re-writing the imports table while the CLR is loaded? Can anyone point me in the right direction?

Update: We resolved the permission denied issue, but now when we iterate the Imports Table of a mixed assembly (managed + unmanaged), the only entry we find is mscoree.dll. Does anyone know how to find the native imports? (we’re working in C++/CLI).

We resolved the issue via a call to VirtualProtect() prior to calling WriteProcessMemory() and then call it again afterwards to restore the protection levels. This temporarily removes the read-only protection for the memory where the IAT resides. This works well for us and resolves the issue for when LoadLibrary() is called.