Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cloud - Office 365

Sometimes it's just too easy to make fun of a company.

In May 2017 Microsoft had gathered their favorite developers in Redmond for the annual Build conference. The focus of that conference was Microsoft's offerings of Office and Azure.

Yeah, you guessed it. Office 365 went down in the middle of the conference as documented by the Register.

Outages happen to everybody.

What I thought interesting were the comments on the Register post:
Cloud just means somebody else's computer that you have NO control over, and can go down at any time leaving you helpless.
Herby
Cloud: A computing service that signifies you do not know where any outage is, who is responsible for it, who else but you or your organization accesses the data on it, but nobody wants to do without.
Jeroen Braamhaar
Having worked with Cloud products for near 10 years now, I can say that in general they are much more reliable and lower cost than an on prem equivalent. ... [Y]ou do get a much better infrastructure from a company that invests millions/billions and has SLA's around it all than the bit of tin you got from the reseller round the corner.
Babbit55
This situation is kinda like when I was on a conference call with my CIO and his boss the CFO. It wasn't a pleasant discussion. When the call was over my CIO turned to me and said "I don't ever want to have that discussion again."

Don't find yourself or your company in the situation that Microsoft was in. Consider and act on the points in those comments.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Windows 10 Tweaks


I've been happy with Windows 10 AFTER I've thoroughly tweaked it. Here are some links to Windows 10 tweaks that I like. I will continue to update this post so check back from time to time.

My posts (some overlap with those below)

How to get past Windows Defender SmartScreen in Windows 10

Remove "Windows Defender Security Center" Icon from Taskbar Notification Area

How to disable touchscreen edge swipes in Windows 10

How to Remove the User Password in Windows 10

How to prevent Windows 10 from requiring a password when resuming from sleep

Bypass the Lock Screen in Windows 10

Sign-in Automatically to a User Account in Windows 10

Increase System Restore Point Frequency in Windows 10

Create Shortcut to Open Any Settings Page in Windows 10

Enable or Disable Network Discovery in Windows 10

Get Classic Windows Defender in Windows 10 Creators Update
I rename the shortcut to "Windows Defender" and pin it to the Start menu

How To Disable Ads in Windows 10 (All Of Them)

Move Apps to Another Drive in Windows 10

Convert MBR To GPT With MBR2GPT In Windows 10 Version 1703

Windows 10 Tip: Turn Off Lock Screen, Start and Action Center Advertising

Windows 10 Tip: Turn Off File Explorer Advertising

Windows 10 tip: Turn on File History for automatic backups

Windows Update Blocker disables OS updates on demand

20 ways to hate Windows 10 less

Windows Containers on Windows 10

Backup drivers before reinstalling Windows 10 using DISM

Windows 10 Tip: Remove the Built-in Apps

Disable This Animation to Make Windows 10's Start Menu Open Faster

How to add Recent items to left pane of File Explorer in Windows 10

Windows 10 Tip: Disable Automatic Default Printer Management

How to create a system image in Windows 10

How to Disable the “Get Office” Notifications on Windows 10

How to Get Rid of the OneDrive Icon in Windows 10's File Explorer

Sunday, July 30, 2017

System Image Backup

In a couple of my previous posts (SSD Migration and Backup, Restore, Test) I mentioned Windows System Image Backup tool. These posts were written when the Windows system was running Windows 7.

Now all my systems are running Windows 10. And a couple of my systems have updated to Windows Version 1703 Creators Update.

Microsoft is step by step migrating from the legacy Control Panel to the new Settings app. Even when the function isn't available in Settings.

For example in Windows 1607 Anniversary Update you could type "Backup and Restore..." and the legacy Control Panel dialog would be presented.



Now in Windows Version 1703 Creators Update the legacy Control Panel dialog is not presented.


Notice that "Reset this PC" is presented. There's a message in that result. That's where Microsoft is steering you, to reset rather than restore.

Here's how to get to Windows' System Image Backup tool.

Press the Windows key and type "control panel".


Click on "Control Panel".


Click on "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)".


Click on "Create a system image".


Select your backup target and click on "Next".


Confirm your backup settings and click on "Start backup". This make take a while, up to a couple of hours for a big drive.

I fully expect that Microsoft will completely remove this System Image Backup capability in future versions.

You HAVE to read my previous posts (SSD Migration and Backup, Restore, Test) before you strike out using this technique.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

iPhone Task Switching

Maybe this is because of my long time use of Windows but my device usage often requires me to switch back and forth between 2 apps or windows.

Neither Android or iOS have readily supported this. Recent Android releases require you to tap the task list key and then tap the app you want to switch to. Nougat improves this letting you double tap the task list key to simply switch to the previous app. iOS has required you to double tap the home key and then swipe back to the previous app and tap on it.

Finally 3D Touch addresses this in iOS for the devices that support 3D Touch.

To do this just press firmly on the left side of the screen. Then swipe all the way to the right to go back to the previous app.

Source: iMore

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Windows 10 System Restore

From Windows 10 Forums:
System Restore is a way to undo system changes by using restore points to return your system files and settings to an earlier point in time without affecting personal files of users. System Restore uses a feature called system protection that regularly creates and saves information about your PC's drivers, programs, registry, system files, and settings as restore points.

If you are having recent problems with Windows 10, then you could do a System Restore to restore Windows back to an earlier point in time, called a restore point. 
But it's hard to use System Restore if it's turned off.

And Windows 10 tends to turn off System Restore every time you do an upgrade, e.g. Creators Update.

So....

After you upgrade Windows 10 press the Windows key and type "Create a restore point".


Click on it and you'll see this dialog.


Yep. System Restore is turned off. Click on "Configure".


Click on "Turn on system protection" and drag the "Max Usage" over to something 5% or greater.

Click on "OK" and you're done. And safer.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Android Auto / Car Play

My 2017 Honda Pilot supports Android Auto and Apple's Car Play on its "infotainment" system with a 9" touch screen.

Overall the infotainment system is confusing and the smartphone support doesn't mitigate that.

The Pilot has a specially designated USB port for smartphones. When you plug the smartphone into this port the car app automatically launches. I bought a USB cord that supports both microUSB and Lightning connectors.

I've played with both Android Auto and Car Play. While generally similar in function, as expected, they differ greatly in execution.

For example, when Car Play launches the iPhone screen is still usable. You can still interact with the screen. On an Android when Android Auto launches the screen goes blank and the only way to interact is with the Pilot's touch screen.

On the iPhone apps have to be specifically designated as enabled for Car Play. This results in that you can only use Apple Maps for navigation and not Google Maps.

On an Android phone there is much more flexibility. There is a list of apps available in each category. In the audio section on my phone you can choose from Google Music, Pocket Cast or Tune In.

But most of the time I want to just listen to the radio. It took a little exploring but you can do that and the setting persists over turning the car off and on. What I did is after the car app launched, press "Home" on the Infotainment system then choose "Audio". Press "FM" and the radio will begin playing. The car app will still override with navigation prompts.

I played with both Apple Maps and Google Maps for navigation. Apple Maps is, well, Apple Maps. To my surprise the first time I used Apple Maps it cautioned me about traffic congestion ahead of me without my giving it a destination. Google Maps does that all the time but I wasn't expecting Apple Maps to do that.

That is about the only surprise I got from Apple Maps.

Comparing to Google Maps, Apple Maps doesn't give lane directions on upcoming turns, doesn't do pinch to zoom, and doesn't use the Pilot's dashboard display (more later). I probably don't need to tell you that Apple's directions still aren't as good as Google's. My daughter lives in a neighborhood with a street that has been closed for a decade or more. Apple Maps insists on routing visitors to that closed street.

Android Auto

As you approach a turn Apple Maps presents a redundant representation of the upcoming turn. I couldn't figure out why until I used Google Maps. When that same event occurs Google Maps sends that mini representation to the Pilot's dashboard where the mileage or tire pressure is displayed! How awesome.

Android Auto

When using navigation on Android Auto you can mute the navigation prompts. But even better you can mute the navigation prompts EXCEPT if there's a traffic alert.

Android Auto

Android Auto

And just as a bonus Google Maps will show you gas stations and prices.

Android Auto

I've liked using Android Auto so much that I've added a line to my cell phone plan and left my old Moto X in the Pilot all the time.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

iPhone Field Test Mode

I was investigating AT&T's signal strength in a specific location recently. On an Android phone getting a numerical reading for cellular signal strength was easy - Settings / About phone / Network.


But nothing is that easy on an iPhone.

But on an iPhone there's a really neat trick that is actually better.

Here is how the signal strength is normally displayed.


Dots.

Now go into the Phone app and switch to the Keypad like you were going to dial a phone number. Dial *3001#12345#* and press the Call button.


This will launch the Field Test Mode app and where the bars/dots were in the top left corner of the screen, you'll now see a negative number. The negative number is the decibel signal strength reading and should be followed by the carrier name and then the network type.


Bigger absolute numbers are bad. Remember these are negative numbers. -100dBm and lower down to -115 is sometimes iffy but mostly usable.  -90s OK,  -80s good, -70s excellent, and -60s off the chart fantastic

To exit and return your iPhone to normal status, all you need to do is hit the Home button.

But here comes the trick.

If you want your iPhone to always display numerical signal strength instead of signal bars, you can perform the following process.

Once in Field-test mode (accessed by entering and dialing the code above), hold down the power button until you see “Slide to Power Off”, then release it.

Then hold the Home button until you’re returned to your main app screen. Now you’ll see your numerical signal strength while you use your phone, and you’ll be able to tap the signal numbers to switch to signal bars, and vice versa.

To exit this persistent field-test mode, simply re-load Field Test Mode and exit it via the Home button.

Source: UberSignal

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Asus Transformer Mini

I've always been looking for a tablet solution that I could use to take handwritten notes that would convert to text.

On my Nexus 7 I tried MyScript Smart Note and on my iPad Air I tried MyScript Memo. That both platforms ended up with MyScript apps was just coincidence. But the coincidence doesn't stop there.

The Microsoft store carries the Asus Transformer Mini in a Signature Edition.


Tech specs
Display10.1 in LED-backlit touchscreen (1280 x 800), 10-finger multi-touch support
ProcessorIntel Atom x5-Z8350 1.44 GHz with Burst Technology up to 1.92 GHz
Memory4GB DDR3L 1600 MHz
Hard drive size64GB eMMC
Operating systemWindows 10 Home, 64-bit
PC type2 in 1
Optical driveNone
Media driveMicro SD card reader
AudioICEPower Audio Wizard, Realtek Audio Manager
VideoIntel HD Graphics with shared graphics memory
Ports1 USB 3.0
1 Micro USB
1 Micro HDMI
Headphone output/Microphone input combo
Battery2-cell polymer (up to 11 hours movie playback)
Camera2MP webcam
Wireless802.11ac (Miracast enabled)
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
DimensionsTablet: 10.43 x 6.89 x 0.32 in (264.92 x 175.00 x 8.20 mm)
Tablet + keyboard: 10.43 x 6.89 x 0.54 in (264.92 x 175.00 x 13.90 mm)
Weight1.80 lbs (0.81 kg)
ColorGray
OtherModel number: T102HA-C4-GR
Instant ID sign-in
TPM 2.0
Includes keyboard and pen
Precision touchpad
Touchpad dimensions: 93 x 51 mm

The keyboard snaps on magnetically like the Microsoft Surface. And when you flip it around behind the tablet it is not sensitive to touch. It also has a kickstand like the Surface when you're using it on a desk. The keyboard has a small loop to hold the pen.

While the Asus Mini comes with its own charger you can simply use any microUSB charger. And you can easily make it all day on a single charge.

The light weight is impressive. Even with the keyboard the Asus Mini weighs 1/2 as much as the ThinkPad X220 that I was using and that's without the ThinkPad's charger.

For protecting the Asus Mini I got a sleeve from eBay. The one for a 10" tablet fits fine and I even store the Asus' pen in it.

The sleeve protects the Asus Mini when you are traveling with it but I wanted to protect it from scratching when I set it down on a rough surface. I found a faux carbon fiber skin for a Macbook. A few minutes with a razor blade and it looks like it was made for the Asus Mini.

It came with Windows 10 Home but I upgraded it to Windows 10 Pro with a key from SCDKey. I didn't have to have an new DVD. I just entered the key and sat back a couple of hours. Don't forget to cleanup the old files when you're satisfied with the upgrade.

Then I did a Windows 10 "reset" just to make sure it was clean. That took another couple of hours.

It also comes with a free copy of Office Mobile. While this is somewhat limited the functionality is fine for casual usage. It's a little bit picky about which versions of Word documents that it will open for update but it will convert most versions to the current format.

But the magic is the handwriting app. The program I use for handwriting is Nebo from MyScript (remember them?). I got it for free right after it was released. And I'm not the only one impressed by Nebo.

Nebo supports exporting to Microsoft Word. Handwritten notes can be exported to Word or saved as text. Headings, paragraphs, lists, color, bold, highlight, are all preserved. I use the "View in browser" feature to save as PDF.

In that the Asus Mini has an active pen, the Nebo app is insensitive to your palm touching as you write. The MyScript apps that I have used on other tablets have tried to address this with a palm "screen" but are generally unsatisfactory.

Besides its handwriting function don't forget it's a full Windows 10 PC, e.g. Chrome, Dropbox, etc. Yeah, it's not the fastest but everything works. If you need more disk space than the 32GB drive provides you can add a microSD card. I still have more than 20GB free on the internal drive.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

archive.is

I've been burned before when I link to a web page in this blog and then it disappears. (I'm talking about YOU Microsoft.) Sometimes I will even screen capture the pertinent parts of the web page and present it as a jpeg.

Recently I came across this article in Lifehacker that mentioned archive.is.

The idea is that archive.is will go capture the web page at the point in time and give you a shortcut to it. Further you can download a zip file with a stand-alone presentation of it.

Here is the archive.is copy of the Lifehacker article.


You still have the risk that archive.is goes away. I don't see any ads so I'm not sure of the business model.

Shrug.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Back and Forth

I probably switch phones as much as anyone you know. I have loved my BlackBerry PRIV.

But...

It's big.

It's heavy.

And I don't use the physical keyboard.

So I crossed over again.

I found a refurbished carrier unlocked 64GB iPhone 6s on eBay for a great price. I Google-ized it and avoided the iMessage trap (so far).

The phone I got is model A1688. A1688 is known as the "everywhere" phone and supports all the LTE bands that the AT&T variant (A1633) does except that there is no LTE band 30. AT&T uses it as a supplemental band to increase capacity in urban areas.

It has worked fine for me on AT&T even supporting HD Voice. The A1688 also has CDMA so it supports Sprint and Verizon.

I really like:
  • Form factor
  • OS updates
  • Stability
  • Apple Pay
  • Mute switch
  • Not getting nagged about having a Android phone

BlackBerry PRIVApple iPhone 6s
DESIGN
Device typeSmart phoneSmart phone
OSAndroid (6.0, 5.1)iOS (10.x, 9.x)
Dimensions5.79 x 3.04 x 0.37 inches (147 x 77.2 x 9.4 mm)5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches (138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm)
Weight6.77 oz (192 g)5.04 oz (143 g)
FeaturesFull keyboardFingerprint (touch)
DISPLAY
Physical size5.4 inches4.7 inches
Resolution1440 x 2560 pixels750 x 1334 pixels
Pixel density541 ppi326 ppi
TechnologyAMOLEDIPS LCD
Screen-to-body ratio71.58 %65.71 %
Colors16 777 21616 777 216
TouchscreenMulti-touchMulti-touch
FeaturesScratch-resistant glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 4), Light sensor, Proximity sensorPressure-sensitive, Oleophobic coating, Scratch-resistant glass, Light sensor, Proximity sensor
CAMERA
Camera18 megapixels12 megapixels
   Aperture sizeF2.2F2.2
   Focal length (35mm equivalent)
29 mm
   Camera sensor size
1/3"
   Hardware
   Features
Optical image stabilization, Autofocus (Phase detection)Sapphire crystal lens cover, Autofocus, Back-illuminated sensor (BSI)
   Software
   Features
Touch to focus, Face detection, Digital zoom, Geo taggingTouch to focus, Face detection, Self-timer, Geo tagging
Camcorder3840x2160 (4K) (30 fps), 1920x1080 (1080p HD) (60 fps)3840x2160 (4K) (30 fps), 1920x1080 (1080p HD) (120 fps), 1280x720 (720p HD) (240 fps)
   FeaturesOptical image stabilization, Continuous autofocus, Video calling, Video sharingTime-lapse video, Continuous autofocus, Digital image stabilization, Video calling, Video sharing
Front-facing camera2 megapixels5 megapixels
HARDWARE
System chipQualcomm Snapdragon 808 MSM8992Apple A9 APL0898
ProcessorHexa-core, 1800 MHz, ARM Cortex-A57 and ARM Cortex-A53, 64-bitDual-core, 1840 MHz, Twister, 64-bit
Graphics processorAdreno 418PowerVR GT7600
System memory3072 MB RAM2048 MB RAM
Built-in storage32 GB64 GB
Maximum User Storage

Storage expansionmicroSD, microSDHC, microSDXC up to 2000 GB
BATTERY
Talk time
14.00 hours
Stand-by time
10.0 days (240 hours)
Capacity3410 mAh1715 mAh
Not user replaceableYesYes
Wireless chargingBuilt-in (Qi, Powermat)
MULTIMEDIA
Music player
   Filter byAlbum, Artist, Genre, PlaylistsAlbum, Artist, Genre, Playlists
   FeaturesAlbum art cover, Background playbackAlbum art cover, Background playback
SpeakersEarpiece, LoudspeakerEarpiece, Loudspeaker
YouTube playerYesYes
INTERNET BROWSING
Built-in online services supportYouTube (upload), Picasa/Google+YouTube (upload), Picasa/Google+
TECHNOLOGY
CDMA

GSM850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
UMTS800, 850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz
FDD LTE700 (band 12), 700 (band 17), 700 (band 29), 800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 1700/2100 (band 4), 1800 (band 3), 1900 (band 2), 2100 (band 1), 2300 WCS (band 30), 2600 (band 7) MHzBands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29
DataLTE-A, HSPA (unspecified), HSUPALTE-A Cat 6 (300/50 Mbit/s), HSPA, HSUPA
micro-SIM

nano-SIMYesYes
PositioningGPS, A-GPGPS, A-GPS
NavigationTurn-by-turn navigation, Voice navigationTurn-by-turn navigation, Voice navigation
CONNECTIVITY
Bluetooth4.14.2
Wi-Fi802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac
   Mobile hotspotYesYes
USBUSB 2.0Yes
   ConnectormicroUSBProprietary
   FeaturesUSB chargingUSB charging
HDMI

OtherNFC, Tethering, Computer sync, OTA syncNFC, Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync
OTHER FEATURES
NotificationsService lights, Haptic feedback, Music ringtones (MP3), Polyphonic ringtones, Vibration, Flight mode, Silent mode, SpeakerphoneService lights, Haptic feedback, Music ringtones (MP3), Polyphonic ringtones, Vibration, Flight mode, Silent mode, Speakerphone
SensorsAccelerometer, Gyroscope, CompassAccelerometer, Compass, Gesture
Hearing aid compatibilityM3, T4M3, T4
OtherVoice dialing, Voice commands, Voice recordingVoice dialing, Voice commands, Voice recording
AVAILABILITY
Officially announced25 Sep 201509 Sep 2015
FCC Approval22 Oct 201509 Sep 2015
Source: phoneArena.com

While my BlackBerry PRIV supported Android Pay my bank didn't support my debit card on Android Pay. Apple Pay is supported and works great.

As I mentioned before I struggled to get my photos off the iPhone. What I'm doing this time is letting Google Photos back up the photos. Google Photos actually seems to upload sooner on iOS than on Android. I can't explain that.

I use Air Transfer to download the photos to my PC from the Camera Roll then delete them from the Camera Roll. More on Air Transfer in a future post.

Given that Google is fumbling their messaging solutions I had already separated my carrier's SMS messages from my Google Voice text messages. I still can't set a custom notification tone for Google Hangouts.

GasBuddy updated their Android app and made it less friendly than on iOS. No loss there.

Google has ported their keyboard to iOS so that's familiar. Apple still is insistent on not using an alternative keyboard for password or lock screen widgets but it's better than the Skype problems I had before.

I found Call Friends to create direct dial icons  This works fine. If you hit the limit of 2 free icons just uninstall and reinstall.

The iPhone 6s' Touch ID works much better than the iPhone 6's.

In the above chart, notice in Camcorder Features the iPhone has Digital Image Stabilization. Here's an example of that.


As I related my iOS experiences with a friend who is making the same journey I shared with him my boss' statement:
iPhone users just don't understand what they're missing.
My friend laughed and said "Yes I do!"

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Microsoft's Resilient File System

As I mentioned in this post when I built "The Trump" I used Windows Storage Spaces to create a mirrored data drive.

For the Storage Spaces I used Microsoft's Resilient File System (ReFS).

ReFS was relatively new to the consumer space as I had problems even finding a backup solution.

Recently though Winaero had an article on ReFS.

I don't understand some of the statements in this article, e.g. "ReFS is intended for file servers only. In Windows 10, it is in fact locked for server OS only." I'm using ReFS just fine on Windows 10 Pro 1607.

Regardless of the details, the Winaero article lays out the advantages of ReFS better than I'd seen before. These details came from Microsoft.
  • Integrity. ReFS stores data in a way that protects it from many of the common errors that can normally cause data loss. When ReFS is used in conjunction with a mirror space or a parity space, detected corruption—both metadata and user data, when integrity streams are enabled—can be automatically repaired using the alternate copy provided by Storage Spaces. In addition, there are Windows PowerShell cmdlets (Get-FileIntegrity and Set-FileIntegrity) that you can use to manage the integrity and disk scrubbing policies.
  • Availability. ReFS prioritizes the availability of data. Historically, file systems were often susceptible to data corruption that would require the system to be taken offline for repair. With ReFS, if corruption occurs, the repair process is both localized to the area of corruption and performed online, requiring no volume downtime. Although rare, if a volume does become corrupted or you choose not to use it with a mirror space or a parity space, ReFS implements salvage, a feature that removes the corrupt data from the namespace on a live volume and ensures that good data is not adversely affected by nonrepairable corrupt data. Because ReFS performs all repair operations online, it does not have an offline chkdsk command.
  • Scalability. As the amount and size of data that is stored on computers continues to rapidly increase, ReFS is designed to work well with extremely large data sets—petabytes and larger—without performance impact. ReFS is not only designed to support volume sizes of 2^64 bytes (allowed by Windows stack addresses), but ReFS is also designed to support even larger volume sizes of up to 2^78 bytes using 16 KB cluster sizes. This format also supports 2^64-1 byte file sizes, 2^64 files in a directory, and the same number of directories in a volume.
  • Proactive Error Correction. The integrity capabilities of ReFS are leveraged by a data integrity scanner, which is also known as a scrubber. The integrity scanner periodically scans the volume, identifying latent corruptions and proactively triggering a repair of that corrupt data.
Try it. You'll like it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Laser Parking

Recently we traded cars. I got to playing around with the parking position in the garage and found that if I parked the Pilot just right I could open the liftgate with the garage door closed. That seemed like a good plan. The challenge was how to park in the right place every time.

I found Park Right Garage Laser Park with dual lasers on Amazon.


I mounted it high on the wall ...


... and pointed each laser to a car. It have the target on the crown of the instrument panel in front of the driver.


Works like a charm.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Traffic Signal Preemption

Every now and then my propeller beanie comes out.


Here I go again.

Now I knew that emergency vehicles have a way to make traffic lights change to allow them to traverse managed intersections but I really never had seen it happen.

Then I did.


That is called line of sight traffic signal preemption.

Watch that video in HD. Slow it down to 1/4 speed. The preemption light is the bright white light above and to the right of the middle signal light. It comes on just before 4 seconds in. At that time, the signal begins cycling the cross traffic to orange and then red. At about 10 seconds the signal turns green for the ambulance.

Isn't that cool?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Windows 10 MBR2GPT

Windows 10 keeps giving me pleasant surprises, e.g. this post.

The Windows 10 Version 1703 (Creators Update) has another feature that would have saved me DAYS.

Back in early 2015 I needed to migrate my Drobo from a MBR (Master Boot Record) volume to a GPT (GUID Partition Table) volume to allow me to expand the Drobo beyond 2TB,

I got this done by configuring a second Drobo to GPT and copying all the data from the MBR volume to the GPT volume. That took a couple of DAYS.

The Creators Update includes a includes a new tool, mbr2gpt, which converts an MBR volume to a GPT volume WITHOUT modifying or deleting data on the disk.

Winaero has an article with the complete instructions. It's not trivial but it's easier that what I did.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Nougat

I've been using CyanogenMod for years on a variety of phones. I've always had good luck with it. When Google announced that the Nexus 5 wasn't going to be updated to Nougat I decided to do it on my own.

I did my research and decided to do the upgrade between Christmas and New Years.

Then I saw this on 12/24/16: Cyanogen is shutting down all services and nightly builds on December 31st

Bummer.

But then I saw this on 12/28/16: CyanogenMod Is Dead, and Its Successor is Lineage OS

It was going to take Lineage a while to get up to speed but the CyanogenMod blood line was going to survive.

I had time over the holidays so I went ahead and flashed the final nightly of CyanogenMod Nougat. It worked fine.

As I had done previously I had to unlock the bootloader, flash TWRP using Fastboot, flash the CyanogenMod ROM and then the nano OpenGApps. I'm getting pretty comfortable with this.

By mid-January LineageOS had a nightly for the Nexus 5.

To migrate from CyanogenMod to LineageOS (LOS) I had to flash an "experimental" version of LOS and then the signed LOS ROM.

Just as with CyanogenMod this all went well.

The great folks at LineageOS are cranking out "nightlies" for the Nexus 5 every week. There isn't yet an "official" ROM for the Nexus 5 but the "nightlies" have been rock solid.

They have even gotten SafetyNet to run cleanly.


This means that Android Pay works fine.

The Over The Air (OTA) updates to LineageOS have started working and I've OTA updated each week.

Battery life seems generally unchanged from the OEM Marshmallow. I swapped from the PRIV to the Nexus 5 for a week or so but went back when I felt like the camera was much poorer than the PRIV.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Google Saying Nice Things about Windows Defender

In a previous post I said:
Recently I heard a discussion that recommended Windows Defender over third party alternatives since Windows Defender didn't add any new attack surfaces to Windows, e.g. Symantec.
Now even Google engineers are promoting Windows Defender for similar reasons:
Browser makers don't complain about Microsoft Defender because we have tons of empirical data showing that it's the only well behaved AV. https://t.co/ClGwEWCoWu
Google engineer, Justin Schuh
And it's free.

And it's fast.

And it's quiet.

You could do worse.

For an alternative view, read this.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Punycode

Wordfence is a security service for WordPress sites. I heard Leo Laporte talk about a recent post Wordfence had demonstrating a potential phishing technique.

To demonstrate this Wordfence created web site using an technique known as Punycode to encode the URL.

Here is a link to their demonstration site. Look closely at the address bar when you get there.

     https://www.ะตั€ั–ั.com/

Here is a link to the real site. Look closely at the address bar when you get there.

     https://www.epic.com

Can you tell the difference?

So you think you're a real geek and you always right click on a link and select "Copy link address" and then paste it into Notepad to see what the link REALLY links to. Knock yourself out. Try it.

Now is a good time to start worrying.

The only way to discern the difference in the URL is to actually browse to the demonstration site. Then highlight the URL and copy it. Now paste it into Notepad.

     https://www.xn--e1awd7f.com

That "xn--" is the Punycode.

I hope you noticed that the demonstration site also showed the padlock in the address bar. You can thank LetsEncrypt for that.

There's a workaround in Wordfence's post for Firefox and reportedly a fix in version 59 of Chrome.

In the meantime, do you think this would fool your mother?



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shadow Breakers

There have been several leaks of supposed NSA hacks recently. Generally they have been older vulnerabilities and minimal impact.

Microsoft responded with a blog post.
Our engineers have investigated the disclosed exploits, and most of the exploits are already patched.
However there's somewhat of a back story.

You'll remember that Microsoft mysteriously pulled their February updates with no explanation.

Then in March Microsoft fixed several flaws with no attribution. You have to back into this discovery by matching this with this.

This Engadget article speculates on how/why this happened. There's more speculation from Quartz here.

Whatever happened the result is that Microsoft did a good job of protecting their current platforms from the 0-day vulnerabilities. The same can't be said for the NSA.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

iOS 10.3.Whatever

tl;dr Install iOS 10.3.1 now

On March 27, 2017 Apple released iOS 10.3 with little fanfare. Here are their release notes:
iOS 10.3
iOS 10.3 introduces new features including the ability to locate AirPods using Find my iPhone and more ways to use Siri with payment, ride booking and automaker apps.

Find My iPhone
  • View the current or last known location of your AirPods
  • Play a sound on one or both AirPods to help you find them

Siri
  • Support for paying and checking status of bills with payment apps
  • Support for scheduling with ride booking apps
  • Support for checking car fuel level, lock status, turning on lights and activating horn with automaker apps
  • Cricket sports scores and statistics for Indian Premier League and International Cricket Council

CarPlay
  • Shortcuts in the status bar for easy access to last used apps
  • Apple Music Now Playing screen gives access to Up Next and the currently playing song’s album
  • Daily curated playlists and new music categories in Apple Music

Other improvements and fixes
  • Rent once and watch your iTunes movies across your devices
  • New Settings unified view for your Apple ID account information, settings and devices
  • Hourly weather in Maps using 3D Touch on the displayed current temperature
  • Support for searching “parked car" in Maps
  • Calendar adds the ability to delete an unwanted invite and report it as junk
  • Home app support to trigger scenes using accessories with switches and buttons
  • Home app support for accessory battery level status
  • Podcasts support for 3D Touch and Today widget to access recently updated shows
  • Podcast shows or episodes are shareable to Messages with full playback support
  • Fixes an issue that could prevent Maps from displaying your current location after resetting Location & Privacy
  • VoiceOver stability improvements for Phone, Safari and Mail

Weren't we all waiting for improvements in "Cricket sports scores?"

Well, there were a few more things in iOS 10.3. Good things. Things worth talking about. Things worth shouting from the roof tops about. But Apple didn't mention them in the release notice.

MacRumors noted:
iOS 10.3 introduces a new Apple File System (APFS), which is installed when an iOS device is updated. APFS is optimized for flash/SSD storage and includes improved support for encryption. Other features include snapshots for freezing the state of a file system (better for backups), space sharing, and better space efficiency, all of which should result in a more stable platform. Customers updating to iOS 10.3 should first make a backup given that the update installs a new file system.
More on the storage savings from APFS later...

In a separate document from the release notice Apple casually mentioned a few security updates. Specifically it documents 89 CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures).

You'd think Apple would tout that.

Maybe there was a reason they didn't though.

On April 3, 2017 Apple released iOS 10.3.1 with ONE security fix.
Wi-Fi
Available for: iPhone 5 and later, iPad 4th generation and later, iPod touch 6th generation and later
Impact: An attacker within range may be able to execute arbitrary code on the Wi-Fi chip
Description: A stack buffer overflow was addressed through improved input validation.
CVE-2017-6975: Gal Beniamini of Google Project Zero
Read that again. Especially this part:
Impact: An attacker within range may be able to execute arbitrary code on the Wi-Fi chip
This is NASTY. The Register has a good summary. This is a problem in Broadcom's Wi-Fi stack which is used by iPhones after the iPhone 4 and in newer iPods and iPads and some Android phones including Google's Nexus 5, 6 and 6P, most Samsung flagship devices.

The good news is that Apple's ecosystem is able to respond very quickly to vulnerabilities such as this. The bad news is that Android can't.

On a related topic, the implementation of new Apple File System (APFS) that comes with the installation of iOS 10.3.Whatever yields significant savings in storage.

On my 16GB iPad Air, my available storage increased more than 1GB. It took about half an hour to install.




Sunday, April 02, 2017

Setting TuneIn Favorites on Amazon Echo

I bought an Amazon Dot on Black Friday and have been playing with it. One capability I really like is to play radio stations on it. However it doesn't always chose the right radio station. Here's how to set TuneIn Favorites for your preferred radio stations.
You can add them as favorites within the TuneIn section of the Echo App or within the iHeart Radio section.  Both work the same way--so where it says "TuneIn" below, read "iHeart Radio" if that's the one you're working with. 
To do that, select TuneIn from the sidebar menu within the app.  Search for the station (I just searched for German radio and found Antenne Bayern, as well as a bunch of others.) It should switch to that and start playing. :D   You'll see the "play bar" at the bottom of the screen, below the list of search results.  Tap on the TuneIn or Station icon.  (Some stations have their own icon.) 
Now the station play bar will fill the right side of the app.  On the right side, you'll see "Queue" and "History" and the name of the current song underneath.
To the right of the song that's playing will be a little gray down arrow that is hard to see. Tap on that.  When you do, you should see the option "Favorite Station" in gray.  Tap on that.  It should turn red. 
*** 
Now, go to the Home Screen and tap on TuneIn again.  Scroll the right side of the app where it says Browse, Local radio, Trending, etc, to see the bottom of the list. 
Under Favorites, you should see your station and you can play them from there.  In the future, you'll only have to do the parts under the *** to play favorites.
https://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=206521.0
While this is talking about a smart device app, I found that the web interface worked just the same.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nougat Explorer

I always wondered why Android didn't have a native file manager. Finally Android 7 Nougat has one. It's hidden deep in the Settings menu.



Thanks to gifmaker.me

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Android Backups in Google Drive

Update: This nice feature is now gone. Thanks Google.

Android has been taking device backups and sending them to the cloud for a while but it wasn't apparent where they were stored nor how long they were kept.

Google has updated Google Drive both on Android and the web to expose this information.

Here's how it looks on Android.


Tap on "Backups" and you'll see the list of devices backed up and when those backups will expire.


Keep on drilling down and you'll see which apps were included and when they last changed their data.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Google Maps Traffic

How does Google Maps know about traffic? Here's what Business Insider reported.
Here's how it works: All iPhones that have Google Maps open and Android phones that have location services turned on send anonymous bits of data back to Google. This allows the company to analyze the total number of cars, and how fast they're going, on a road at any given time.
Even Google has blogged about it.
If you use Google Maps for mobile with GPS enabled on your phone, that's exactly what you can do. When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions.
Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.

Google also uses traffic sensors.
Contracting with these transportation agencies to share the data generated by the sensors proved to be a mutually rewarding endeavor for both parties; Google was able to expand its traffic services while the transportation agencies were able to defray part of the sensors’ costs. 
But here's the creepy thing. At a lunch over the holidays, an executive in a Memphis-based logistics company told me how a Google executive had told him how Google gets location feeds from the cell carriers.

A little Google searching turned up more information.
So how does Google know what traffic is like on the roads, nearly all the time? From our smartphones, of course. Whether you like it or not, “telephone companies have always known where your phone is,” Dobson says, because cell phone companies need to use location to appropriately charge customers for calls. That means the companies are constantly monitoring location based on the strength of signal to a cell tower, which allows the phone to switch towers as it travels.
GpsPasSion reported in 2011.
Google now combines AirSage cell phone triangulations with their own gps probes. AirSage monitors both Sprint and Verizon phones totaling 150 million phones 
More recently Fossbytes reported.
Google also crowdsources location data from telecom companies. These telcos monitor user location data by a method called Trilateration, in which the distance of a user measured between two or three surrounding telecom towers is used to analyse the speed and location of the user.
Look at this detail from Google Maps. There's no way that they could get this much detail from a handful of users running Google Maps.


It takes a little reading between the lines to discern that the cell carriers are selling location data to Google but my source is impeccable.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Cloudy Day

To some I'm sure that March 1st felt like April 1st. Really, that couldn't be happening? Amazon's S3 (Simple Storage Service) went down in their Eastern Region (Ok, it just had "high error rates").

But there are a couple of lessons to be learned from this.

First, it seems nobody is listening to me.

Cloud services aren't magical (even Apple's). They rumble. They go bump.

Don't abdicate your responsibilities to the cloud provider. If you need high availability make sure that that is what your contract guarantees.

In the March 1st S3 outage either lots of customers didn't feel they needed high availability or they misunderstood what they contracted for.

Make sure you are not surprised like "Docker's Registry Hub, Trello, Travis CI, GitHub and GitLab, Quora, Medium, Signal, Slack, Imgur, Twitch.tv, Razer, heaps of publications that stored images and other media in S3, Adobe's cloud, Zendesk, Heroku, Coursera, Bitbucket, Autodesk's cloud, Twilio, Mailchimp, Citrix, Expedia, Flipboard, and Yahoo! Mail (which you probably shouldn't be using anyway)." (source)

At the same time don't over buy. One of my customers was considering migrating their on-premise servers to Azure. As part of their on-premise setup they had a specific backup system and service. When I investigated Azure's service commitments I found that Azure's committed backup and availability met my customers needs and the customer could discontinue their backup system and service.

By the way Amazon did a thorough post mortem on the outage.

Second (and more concerning since they should know better), even Amazon had highly visible services down.

Reminiscent of one of Microsoft's outages Amazon's own online public dashboard was down along with many of Amazon's customer facing services, e.g. Amazon Fire tablets.

From Amazon's post mortem "we have changed the SHD administration console to run across multiple AWS regions."

Amazon, hadn't you thought of this before? What else have you overlooked?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

You Can’t Cut Your Way to Success

One of my former co-workers used to say "You Can’t Cut Your Way to Success."

A recent article in CIO.com called out challenges that keep CIOs up at night.

Several of the points were pertinent to my former co-worker's advice.

5. Aging IT infrastructures and IT spending cuts
"Many [financial services] organizations continue to rely on IT infrastructures that are built on outdated components and are running with vulnerabilities," says Joseph Pagano, practice advisor, Financial Services, Cisco Digital Transformation Group.
8. New technology (business disrupters)
The need to unearth and deploy new technologies and systems that will better serve and streamline their customers’ experiences is now of paramount concern for maintaining long-term business viability.
Likewise CFO.com had the same message.
...treating IT as an investment that builds rather than destroys IT capability and value. Contrary to conventional wisdom, if your CIO isn’t asking you for more money, she probably isn’t doing her job. You see, when it comes to IT, it takes money to make money and it takes money to save money.
My director once said to me "I've never seen a dollar you can't spend." To which I replied "If you don't like the results find someone else." I kept my job.

Invest in IT. If your IT isn't yielding value look at IT management, including yourself.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Windows Fast Startup

Maybe I missed this since I skipped Windows 8. Windows 8 called it "Fast Boot." Windows 10 extends this facility as default to laptops as well as desktops.

In summary, with Fast Startup the current user is logged off but then instead of shutting down the operating system as expected the current state of Windows is written to the hibernation file. Then when the system is restarted the state is resumed and the user logged back in.

The result is that Windows doesn't really get restarted, just the user is logged off and back on.

To force a complete Windows shutdown and restart, hold SHIFT while you select Shutdown or Restart.


I encountered this recently when I encountered the DHCP problems Windows 10 introduced. A Windows restart using Fast Startup wouldn't clear this.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Winaero Tweaker

A recent post in AskWoody reminded me of a utility I came across a while back.

The AskWoody article refers to the Winaero utility Winaero Tweaker. You can download it here.

While Winaero Tweaker can do a number of things the AskWoody reference was to disabling Windows 10 telemetry.

Winaero Tweaker makes that literally a one-click operation. Here's their write-up on it.


If that's not geeky enough for you, just scroll down and read the comments. Follow them at your own risk.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Windows vs macOS

You always hear that macOS is more secure than Windows. In reality that perception is because macOS has been a smaller target (less devices) than Windows.

I recently came across an example that puts money behind the assertion that Windows is more secure than macOS.

Pwn2Own is a computer hacking contest held annually at the CanSecWest security conference. Contestants are challenged to exploit widely used software. Cash prizes are awarded to those contestants that successfully demonstrate the vulnerability of various software. The value of the prizes are set by the level of difficulty expected in each software.

Here is the announcement of prizes for local escalation of privilege:
Local Escalation of Privilege 
Although we’ve had some Escalation of Privilege (EoP) bugs as add-ons in past Pwn2Owns, this is the first year it has a category of its own. This is also the first time we included Linux as a target. In this category, the entry must leverage a kernel vulnerability to escalate privileges. If they do, contestants will earn $30,000 for Microsoft Windows 10, $20,000 for macOS, and $15,000 for Ubuntu Desktop. They will also get 4 Master of Pwn points for Windows and 3 for the other OSes. Considering the various types of malware that use local EoPs, this could prove to be an impactful category. As always, the latest, fully-patched version of each OS will be used – even if we have to stay up late to install the patches.
http://blog.trendmicro.com/pwn2own-returns-for-2017-to-celebrate-10-years-of-exploits/
$30,000 for Microsoft Windows 10 and $20,000 for macOS.

So when Pwn2Own put their money on the security of operating systems, they bet on Windows.

Good job Microsoft.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I'm A Luddite


A former co-worked once called me a Luddite. I think he was joking but...

My recent efforts at trading cars reminded me of that accusation. {This will turn into a tech story shortly.)

We have had a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder for over 3 1/2 years. While we always enjoyed the ride and comfort of the Pathfinder it was fraught with recurring problems.

Normal wear and tear and indicated us to replace the tires at just over 60,000 miles. Simultaneously the sun visors began drooping (like every 2013 Pathfinder does after the warranty lapses), the tailgate resumed its former issue of not power raising or lowering, the driver's window started to go up way more slowly than the passenger's and the brakes started screeching.

My wife refused to put any more money in it so we were off to look for a replacement.

We surfed around and came up with a short list: Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. We have had lots of both brands but most recently I've been driving Hondas so off we went to AutoNation Honda 385.

Our first drive was a 2017 Pilot Touring. We stopped at a red light and when I released the brakes the engine gave a noticeable shudder. I asked the saleperson in the back seat what that was. He said it was the "Idle-Stop" feature.
The idle-stop feature-standard on Pilot Touring and Elite trims helps maximize fuel efficiency in stop-and-go traffic. When the vehicle is at a stop for at least 2 seconds-such as at a traffic light-the engine automatically shuts off to save fuel. When you release the brake pedal even slightly, the engine starts back up by itself.
Remember that the Pilot Touring is not a hybrid. When the Pilot Touring is sitting with the engine shut off the air conditioning stops cooling. The fan continues to run but that's going to get uncomfortable in Memphis really quickly.

When I asked the salesperson if that feature could be disabled he showed me a button on the console to disable it. But it gets reset every time you turn the vehicle off and back on.

We drove a little more and entered an Interstate. I accelerated and felt the transmission shift several times with one being a bang-bang. Again another question to the salesperson. His response was that the Pilot Touring has a ZF 9-speed transmission. While that explained the several shifts it didn't explain the bang-bang. The salesperson had no further explanation.

I inquired as to whether all Pilots had these 2 features and the salesperson said that the models below the Pilot Touring, e.g. Pilot EX-L. didn't have either.

Frustrated we headed across the way to Principle Toyota to look at Highlanders. Guess what ALL (except the entry level model LE) of the 2017 Toyota Highlanders have? Yep, "Stop-Start". And no way to turn it off.

That's where the Luddite in me started to come out.

There's lots of discussion on the Internet about why the manufacturers are so aggressive with this idle-stop feature. The EPA mileage difference between the Honda Pilot EX-L (19/27/22) and the Touring (20/27/23) are minimal and much more likely to be related to the 9-speed transmission.

We didn't drive the Honda Pilot hybrid models. I'd hope that these models would drive off under electric power and start the conventional engine while underway. This would at least mask the shudder of the engine restarting.

Now for the 9-speed transmission.

This YouTube video does a much better job of explaining it than I can.

tl:dr There are 2 shift points that use dog clutches instead of the traditional plate clutches. These shift points are what I felt as a bang-bang.


Again there is no circumvention for this feature.

And the Internet is on fire with complaints about the ZF transmission. Motor Trend's long term test unit even had to have the transmission replaced.

So what did I do?

I gave Honda less money than I would have otherwise and bought a 2017 Honda Pilot EX-L.

Just to dissuade the Luddite accusers I chose a 2017 over a 2016 since the 2017s have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. More on that later.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How to Stop Skype from Running in the Background on Windows 10

Here's more fun and games with Windows 10 Version 1607 (aka Anniversary Update).

This article tells you how sign out of Windows 10’s new Skype Preview app.

I'm going to tell you how to attack it with an Atomic Flyswatter.

Windows + R

Type "shell:AppsFolder" without the quotes and click "OK".

Find the Skype Preview app (any any others you don't want), right click and select "Uninstall".


This technique came from here.

Do NOT uninstall the Store app. If you do, the only easy way to get it back is to reinstall Windows 10 over itself.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Windows Installer Folder

When I ran my monthly backups recently I noticed that the X201 took way more space to backup than my other Windows 10 systems but not so much that I did anything about it. Then I ran Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool just because I hadn't run it in a long time. It took hours, most of that in c:\Windows\Installer.

When I browsed to c:\Windows and looked for Installer I didn't see it. So I typed c:\Windows\Installer in Explorer's address field and it came up. I selected all the folders, right clicked and chose "Properties."

There was almost 30GB there!

It turns out that c:\Windows\Installer is used to uninstall programs. However in an old, active system (like X201) these files tend to get orphaned.

Google it if you like but there's much confusion out there. Most of the discussions wander off into telling the poster about how to run Disk Clean-Up to delete old versions of Windows. This is NOT the problem.

I saw PatchCleaner mentioned again and again. This article describes it best. PatchCleaner's home page is here and there's a download link but SourceForge has a project that has created a portable version.

I downloaded the portable version and ran it on X201. As I suspected it found over 26GB of orphaned files. I chose the option to have PatchCleaner move these orphaned files over to my Drobo.


Problem solved. I'll let you know if this created any new problems.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Google's Internet Speed Test

I saw a post on reddit recently that referred to Google's Internet speed test.


Here's the URL to run it:

         https://www.google.com/search?q=check+internet+speed

Here's the result from my ThinkPad X201 running 802.11n.


That didn't seem as fast as I expected so I tried Google Fiber's Internet speed test.

Here's the URL to run it:

         http://speedtest.googlefiber.net/


That's more like it.

Then I tried Netflix's Internet speed test.

Here's the URL to run it:

         https://fast.com/


So I was on a roll. I tried Ookla's Internet speed test.

Here's the URL to run it:

         http://www.speedtest.net/


And Comcast's Internet speed test.

Here's the URL to run it:

         http://speedtest.xfinity.com/


Four out of five can't be wrong. Google's Internet speed test is reporting about half of the actual speed.