Hasta la Vista

I’ve been running the RTM version of Windows Vista on my primary PC workstation for a little less than a month. I figured I’d have a license key to enter from UW’s MSDNAA program before the end of February, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the promised serial number would be delivered before the activation timer expires. While it was useful to have around, since all new computers being purchased these days are coming with it, there comes a point where I get fed up.

In my case, the primary issue was that of driver incompatibility. nVidia’s latest (even beta) drivers do not allow users to set custom resolutions for Vista. What’s more, it might not be a scenario in which the feature is “not there yet” – my random searching has led me to believe that Microsoft’s WHQL certification process may preclude custom resolution switching.

Since my Viewsonic VX2025wm uses a resolution setting of 1680×1050@60Hz, and I’m running the monitor through a KVM switch that doesn’t expose EDID information, I have to force the issue with the nVidia (or ATI) drivers installed. The problem doesn’t occur when I run the monitor using its DVI port, but VGA connections in Vista – even without the KVM switch – refuse to acknowledge the monitor’s capabilities.

I did try several alternatives – a “hacked INF” file, and using a tool called PowerStrip. Both of these attempts failed miserably, and PowerStrip only led me to believe that paying $30 for the full version would be like paying $30 to bang my head against a wall.

That application is the epitome of “don’t touch this if you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I like to think I know what I’m talking about with my own hardware, but when presented with at least twenty different settings in a confusing, menu-driven interface, it’s hard to know what might irrevocably ruin one of my nicer pieces of equipment.

The problem with Vista, as I see it, is not really based on anything Microsoft does. They can rest assured that their new operating system will help reduce their current issues with spyware and malware and leave it at that. I just don’t see the reason to upgrade if I can’t have one of my key features. While the DVI+USB 4-port KVM switch is a project of mine for the future, I shouldn’t need it in order to function properly.

User Account Control in Vista will be a real piss-off when someone writes the following program (spyware), though:

// pseudocode follows
function installNastySpyware()
{
do {
MessageBox("You *must* click 'Allow' on the next dialog in order to install Cute Little Happy Cat Cursors.", "Cute Little Happy Cat Cursors");
AuthenticationToken token = getTokenFromOS();
} while (token.authLevel < AUTH_ADMINISTRATOR);
// go to town on system
using token.authPermissions {
System.installCrapEverywhere();
}
}

ev98.net domain updates

I’ve escalated the issue with the ev98.net DNS resolution problem. To reiterate the problem, the community blogging/random video/insult site at ev98.net is currently unavailable for public access – it’s been replaced with some spammy search site that apparently is trying to flog DJ equipment or something else useless.

Things from the administration end seem to be fine; I can still log into the administrative panel and phpMyAdmin instances that Future Point provides. I’m also able to access my account using SSH to upload and change files. Right now, I’m currently creating a copy of everything originally hosted on ev98, as well as a backup of the site’s text content, in the event that I have to permanently move things offsite.

For now, I’ve redirected all content on the site to the “hosting preview” address, which still should work. (You might have to log in again, though.)

http://ns11-1.futurepoint.com/ev98.net/

I’ll update in the near future with what ends up happening. At worst case, the site moves over to a new domain and I have to tell everyone to update their email address information for me. At best case, the site comes back up and I change a few Ethanol settings back.


I also managed to push the WordPress 2.1.1 update here, which apparently fixes some XSS exploit issue. I’m still trying to determine if there’s a legitimate bug with the “custom fields” functionality, since I’d like to exploit that capability for a new project. That’ll have to wait until I can verify things though.

mountMerge thrashes my disks

I’m incredibly glad I didn’t release the first version of mountMerge last night. Apparently Java’s “delete” command does not respect symbolic links under Windows. As a result, my entire collection of files – over 800GB worth – was unceremoniously nuked.

I’ve spent the past day trying to recover what I can, since the delete operation didn’t actually overwrite the original files. They just didn’t appear in the directory structure. As of now, things have been shuffled around a little bit, but everything seems to be recovered okay.

The recovery app I used (which works fine under Vista, by the way) is called FreeUndelete. I’m not sure how its forensics compared to something like Runtime Software’s GetDataBack for NTFS, but it’s certainly quicker for what I needed to recover.

The application works really well, other than absolutely killing my filesystem. As a result, I’m going to do some more testing before I release it into the wild.

mountMerge in progress

One of my “most desired features” for my Windows box is something that I’ve referred to as a merged mountpoint. Last night I made a significant amount of progress towards implementing this feature on my own. Here’s some background information:

Most users have one hard drive in your system, usually C:\. This drive will probably have your Windows installation, Program Files, Documents and Settings, and a few temporary files to start off; depending on how much stuff is installed, you’re looking at about 10GB taken up with a typical “workstation” installation. With a 120GB drive, that leaves you (after formatting and space conversion) about 100GB to work with.

On my system, I have random utilities, other applications like Visual Studio and Eclipse, and a few games. All in all, my 120GB C:\ is down to about 60GB for random media files, like music and video. I could probably fill this space up in about a week if I was really going at it, too.

If I add another hard drive to the system (D:\), there’s another 120GB of space, but it’s on a different physical drive. I have a choice to make – do I start installing programs and utilities to the D:\ drive, or do I start locating any new media files on D:\?

Hit the jump for more details…

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My precious

My new MacBook arrived yesterday, so I’ve been playing around with it since last night. It’s unbelievably snappy, likely due to the Core 2 Duo chip inside it. I also bumped the configuration up to 2GB of RAM when I ordered it, which is a good idea for pretty much any modern system.

I might have even gone to more, but the Intel chipset inside this system only supports 2GB. The MacBook Pro’s chipset will address 3GB, but to get that configuration you’d have to do 2x2GB sticks and lose 1GB. Anything over 3GB isn’t going to be accessible under a 32-bit operating system, and nobody I know wants to run a 64-bit OS on the desktop full time. OS X 10.5 will change this, because things will pretty much be transparent.

What’s more, the GMA950 card that I’ve previously panned for being slow and nearly worthless actually performs pretty well. I had both my 1680×1050 LCD monitor and the 1280×800 display on the MacBook running last night, and there was less GUI “lag” than my iMac had. (OS X, by nature of its accelerated graphics, tends to have a slower “immediate redraw” rate than WinXP when resizing windows.)

I’ve yet to try any games on it, but that’s not really what this system’s for. Primarily, I wanted something small and light, and the fact that it runs OS X natively is pretty damn cool.

Music reviews ahoy

Since I have quite the collection of music, I figure that a productive use of my time would be to review some of the albums in my playlist. While it’s not at all cool to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for the occasional “emo” track. (For all the purists, not “emotional hardcore” by any means. Think “angst emo.”) There’s more information in my Facebook profile about particular groups I listen to. I find most genre classifications to be fluid and subjective, depending on the listener and their associated company.

Why the emo angst stuff, though? Sometimes I listen to these songs with an ironic sense of the actual lyrics. A well-adjusted person would find it hard not to laugh when confronted with a masterpiece from Hawthorne Heights:

Ohio Is For Lovers – Hawthorne Heights
So cut my wrists and black my eyes.
(Cut my wrists and black my eyes)
So I can fall asleep tonight, or die.
Because you kill me.

Honestly, you can’t take that sort of thing seriously. It has the syndrome of “did your dad yell at you because you didn’t mow the lawn?” as its primary element.

I can’t blame all of my particular musical tastes on irony (although a good percentage of rap or hip-hop in my collection is clearly for this purpose alone.) Sometimes you can’t listen to the lyrics at all, because if you do it ruins the particular melody of a decent-sounding song. So what if power chords in a 3 beat pattern are trite, cliche and overused? It all just blends together in the background if I’m working on something particular. For example, if I were to write out several lyrics of my current track:

But I can’t take this anymore
I think that nothing can fly
With this broken wing
There’s so much to hold on to now

At first glance, it’s a horribly depressing song. Nobody wants to hear about being prevented from flying. Pretty little birds fly, and we don’t want to lose those! A majestic eagle flies, representing all that is true and valiant and good! Many of our culture’s upbeat, positive songs involve flying! (Note: the particular track, “I Believe I Can Fly,” is positive only when you don’t consider R. Kelly’s criminal record and its associated connotations.) The song above is actually Story of the Year’s “Burning Years.” It’s got a fairly decent melody, but you cannot just concentrate on the lyrics or it’s really horribly depressing.

Speaking of Story of the Year, they have two significant albums on the market. Their 2003 release, “Page Avenue”, has the title track Until The Day I Die that’s possibly the best representation of their vocal and tonal style on the album. In 2005, “In The Wake Of Determination” continued in a similar vein with We Don’t Care Anymore. If you want to fanboy it up, the Wikipedia article is suitably biased towards them and their fans, whereas the talk page contains mostly genre debates.

(The particular fallacy of “In my opinion, as i think i have the right to decide – being a loyal fan and a supporter” is quite predominant.)

svchost.exe causing 99% – 100% CPU usage, solution follows

Update March 5, 2007: Microsoft has apparently released a patch for this issue available publicly at KB article Q927891. This specific article exactly describes the issue I had with a client’s computer. I backtracked a few referral links to this post and noticed the discussion on Ars Technica’s forums. Thanks to people there for following up on this.


Quick note for the tech-savvy: I’ve been reinstalling several systems lately for clients, and here’s something to check on your own boxes if you’re having strange stalling or CPU usage problems.

This problem typically occurs under these circumstances:

  • You have Windows 2000, XP or 2003 Server installed on your system (I’m not sure if Vista is affected)
  • You’ve installed Microsoft Update as the Windows Update page recommends
  • You have a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 or any Office 2003 applications installed (this could affect previous versions, too)

If your CPU usage is randomly spiking to 99% or 100% with a svchost.exe instance, download Process Explorer and look for the svchost.exe instance that’s pegging your machine’s processor. If, when you expand the process, you see “wuauclt.exe” or a Windows Update thread running, your problem is related to this bug.

Microsoft does have a KB article about this issue (927891) and it’s been mentioned by a few Microsoft MVP’s – here’s how you go about getting the official hotfix. If you don’t want to go through all that rigamarole, I’ll be calling in this week to acquire the hotfix for some of my clients experiencing this issue.

Alternatively, to fix it RIGHT DAMN QUICK NOW? Hit the jump.

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