Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Do You Do When Windows Doesn't ......?

You don't really think much about it when your laptop dies because of a low battery. You just put it away and plug it in to feed when you get to an outlet. Once attached to the electrical umbilical you just restart it and continue with your work, games, chatting, or whatever.

So this friend of mine - a student, as it happens - rings up a few days ago at about 5 pm to say that the above was just exactly what had happened ... up until it was time for Windows to re-launch. The all she was getting was a prompt to reboot again.

Well, it could have been a root-kit virus, or an OS failure, or a hard drive failure - from 500 miles away I couldn't tell, but what we did know was that she needed to get her data off the hard drive and also to get a system up so she could finish a paper.

Enter the "Live Distro"!!  You'll have seen magazines on sale with CDs packaged in them. There are at least four (Linux Format, Linux Pro Magazine, Ubuntu User, and Linux User and Developer) that normally carry a CD or DVD in their packaging containing a bootable version of the operating system. The idea is to let people try out the system to see if they like it without installing a whole new OS just to find they hate it!

However, because pretty much all Linux versions now have drivers to read Microsoft's NTFS file system, they make excellent rescue systems!

So she went and got a magazine, opened the case and popped the DVD in to the drive in her laptop and rebooted the machine. When it started it asked her if she wanted to boot from removable disc, and she said Yes. Three or four simple questions (keyboard, time, date, timezone, etc). After that she was in to a functioning modern operating system.

After getting all valuable information off, she found that Libre Office let her open her Windows 2010 Word and PowerPoint documents and finish everything up. Her VB.Net coursework is (luckily) complete, otherwise it would have been an install of Mono and Eclipse!

And Windows? Dell are sending her a recovery disk set and, if that doesn't work, it'll be returned for hardware recovery. Of course, there's always the alternative of popping in a new hard drive and running Linux natively, with maybe a VM with Windows ....

So, to all those of you who panic when Windows fails: help is at hand - just as far away as your nearest Barnes & Noble store! The magazines (they're all British, by the way) cost about $16, so as a way of getting at your data despite a death of Windows it is probably the cheapest method going!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Even Apple isn't Perfect

Nobody's perfect - not even Apple. Although it tries very hard, I'll admit, and is incredibly successful about it. Right now Apple is worth more than the combined GDP of the economies of Greece, Italy, and Spain! On the downside, it took them three months to publicly realise and try to fix a loophole in the security of their OS (through the Java JVM software, supplied by Oracle) that Oracle fixed for windows 3 months ago. Oracle can't fix it for Mac machines because Apple won't let them!

Anyhow, here's a case of imperfection you may find curious.

We all use USB connections of one sort or another for our computers and our phones. We're all familiar with the standard USB "A" connector - the steel rectangle part-filled with a block of plastic to make sure it goes in the right way around.

I recently bought an Apply wired keyboard. I don't possess an Apple machine, but do like their keyboards, and, as they work fine with Linux (and Windows) systems, I invested in a couple. Each keyboard comes with a USB cable for attaching to the computer and, thanks to Apple's fore-sightedness, an extension cable.

Now look at these photos.

 On the left is a picture of the socket on the end of the extension cable. Look closely, and notice the little "v" on the inside of the metal casing, opposite the plastic block insert.

 Now look here at the USB plug on the end of the USB cable attached to the keyboard. Notice the little trough between the two plastic lugs holding the plastic insert block in place? It perfectly matches the "v" on the socket of the extension cable.


At the other end of the extension cable the USB plug is a perfectly normal one!

This means that the keyboard and extension cable are keyed: you can only plug a keyboard into that extension cable - nothing else.

Well, actually, you can, but you need a pair of small pliers to get them apart again!!  Be warned !


Update !
Apple has released a tool to remove the FlashBack virus.
If you think you might have this infection on your PC,
or want to make sure you don't,
please look here.