Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Where's My Boot Drive?

This is a sad story and I did it to myself. A couple of weeks ago, CompUSA had a 200 GB Maxtor hard drive for $50 after rebates and you know what a sucker I am for rebates. I wasn't sure where I was going to use it but I knew I'd find a good home for it.
Serendipitously, the next weekend CircuitCity had a USB2 to IDE hard drive enclosure for $15 after rebates so deja vu all over again.
Now, I had to do something with it. My SageTV box only had an 80 GB hard drive so that seemed like the logical place.

When I opened the Maxtor box, I found a MaxBlast CD. It has a capability of "Installing an Additional Storage Drive or Replacement Boot Drive" (emphasis mine). Well, duh, that's what I wanted to do.

There were a few more bumps along the way but in the end, off I went using MaxBlast to clone the boot drive on my SageTV box. I was using USB 1.1 so I knew it was going to be slow but I just hadn't imagined HOW slow. After 5-6 hours and the progress bar barely moving, I clicked on the Cancel button. Nothing. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

My patience wore out so I CTRL+ALT+DEL and terminated the application. I shut down the box and installed the USB 2.0 PCI card I had.

Button it all up and reboot. Remember that this is a headless box - no keyboard, no monitor, no mouse, no speakers. Just a network connection and TV wires.

It wouldn't boot.

I knew that was bad. I just had no idea how bad. I trucked it off upstairs and plugged it into a monitor and keyboard and rebooted. It hung at the Windows screen.

Ok. It could be worse (and in fact it was). I went and got the XP CD and did a Windows repair on it.

It wouldn't boot.

I told you it was worse. In the end, what had happened was that the MaxBlast program had changed the drive letter on the boot drive from C: to E: before it completed the copy. So when I terminated the copy, I was doomed. I no longer had a C: drive.

Rebooting like that got the Registry all twisted up in its shorts. I finally got it to boot by plugging in the USB drive.

To wrap up this story of woe, I finally just put the new 200 GB hard drive in the system unit and built it from scratch.

I used the USB 2.0 PCI card and the Mad Dog enclosure to copy the data from the 80 GB hard drive and reinstalled all the PVR software.

Now, what am I going to do with the left over 80 GB hard drive? Funny you should ask ...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

How To Safely Store And Manage Passwords Part II

Sometimes I'm slow but I'll usually figure it out. Back in August 2004, I wrote about my search for a program to run from a USB key to store my passwords and automatically type them in. At that time, I looked at KeePass and KeyPass. KeePass is open source and KeyPass is free for up to 10 userid/password combinations.

I played with KeyPass some and it worked fine but I was still limited to 10 userid/password combinations and there was that problem with autorun on a USB key.

I had found the Hagiwara USB key that lies to Windows Plug-N-Play and presents 2 drives - a CD-ROM (there's the autorun) and a normal USB drive.

Since the autorun drive was a CD-ROM I couldn't just put the KeyPass program on that drive and it be able to write to it's database so the search continued.

In some of my surfing last week, I came across KeePass again. This time the authors had really improved it. Now it too, like KeyPass, will automatically type the userid/passwords and it supports way more than 10 userid/password combinations.

Now there was just that nagging problem of being able to write to the database. I posted my dilemma on the KeyPass forums and got a response back from one of the developers in less than 2 hours. Awesome! He wrote a small batch file that will run as part of the autorun.inf and search for the keepass.exe on other drives. When it is found, it starts it. Simple.

So, all that works great. I can just plug the Hagiwara USB drive into any Windows PC. It will autorun, start KeePass, ask me for my master password, and minimize to the system tray. Then when I need a userid/password entered, I just press CTRL and / and off it goes.

Unlike KeyPass, KeePass doesn't automatically backup the database but there's a plug-in available that does so I'm using that.

Now all that's left is to let KeePass start building me strong passwords and switch my habits to depending on KeePass. I'm still not that brave.