So I’ve been playing around with Microsoft Parental Controls on our family computer and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to setup and what a good job it does. I honestly can’t believe it’s a Microsoft product. The settings can apply across multiple machines, and you can see the reports and adjust settings over the web.

Right now I’m limiting our kids to 1/2 hour a day (for “homework” more time can be “bought” by doing chores), limiting the times of day they can use the computer, and filtering out “adult” websites (it’s our 3rd level of filtering, but you can never have enough), and limiting the gaming level allowed for video games (based on the kid’s age).

You get full reports on what websites the kiddos have visited, and what applications they have run. The best part it it’s 100% free and available on Windows Vista (yuck) or newer. If you have kids and computers, this (or an alternative) is a must!

 

How to save money and get free shipping

Anymore, there’s nothing you can’t find online.  Hard to find items (like a card “shoe”) can be hard to find locally, but are easy to find online.  Prices for items bought online can be a steal as well – at least until you fork out for shipping and handling.  Sometimes you can get a code for free shipping and handling or discounts on the things you buy online, but it’s frustrating to have to wait for these deals to come around.  Here are some strategies to get free shipping and handling anytime:

  • Use specialty sites for getting free shipping or discount codes anytime.  The most popular are  RetailMeNot.com and www.freeshipping.org .  Some examples of specials you can get through these sites are:

  • Another way to save on shipping is to use a “ship to store” or “site to store” service.  Most retailers have numerous items on their websites that are not available in stores.  However, many will ship the product to a nearby store for free, allowing you to pick it up at your convenience.  Stores that offer this service include: WalMart, Best Buy, Sears, and Staples.
  • Amazon.com also has a service called “Super Saver Shipping”, when you enroll in their Amazon Prime membership for $79 per year.  While it’s not entirely free because of the annual cost, it’s fairly easy to recoup the cost over a year.  You get free 2nd day shipping on many items, and can upgrade to overnight shipping for $4 per item.  You also get free access to over 5,000 streaming TV shows and movies with their service, so it’s an interesting offer.

Printing a big image on multiple pieces of paper

Printing a pig picture shouldn’t be hard at all – especially with semi-pro tools like PhotoShop, right?

Wrong!  It’s a pain in the behind, and seems to take forever or just doesn’t work.  The easy solution to the problem is blockposters.com

You just upload an image from your computer and choose how many sheets (by width) you would like your poster to span across.

Then you download a PDF file containing your newly created images.  Print, paste and voilà – you have a poster-sized print!

Thanks BlockPosters!

DIY Virus removal

It seems that getting viruses is an inevitable part of computer ownership anymore.  I’ve spent many a night cleaning viruses of of our family’s computers, and have often been thankful that I have had the skills to do it myself, rather than having to pay someone $100/hr.  In the spirit of sharing, here are four quick and easy virus removal tips you can do yourself:

Step ONE – Install anti-virus software:  As simple as this may seem, about 25% of the computers I see don’t have antivirus installed.  Some viruses are “tricky” enough to block installation of AV software, but for many this is all of the cleanup you need.  The anti-virus software I’m currently reccomending is:

  • Avira Free
  • Avast Home
  • FortiClient Standard

    Pick one of the above – all of them are free.  (I’m partial to Avira, but all three work well).  Download it to your computer and start the installation.  Follow the prompts, hitting “Next” or “Ok” as needed.  You’ll probably need to reboot to finish the installation

    Step TWO – Clean up your temporary files: Often viruses keep their files in your computer’s temporary files.  Cleaning out these unneeded files can be a big help.  The easiest way I’ve found is to download and run TFC.  Here’s how to run it:

    • Download TFC here, and save it to your computer.
    • TFC will close all programs when run, and reboot your computer when it’s done, so save and close your work first, and make sure to let TFC run uninterrupted.
    • Start the program by double-clicking on it.
    • Click the Start button (in TFC) to begin cleaning.  It’s going to take a long time, so be patient!
    • TFC should ask to reboot your machine when it’s done.  If it doesn’t, do it yourself to ensure a complete clean process.

    Step THREE – Install and run Maywarebytes’ Anti-Malware:

    • Download Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware here, and save it to your computer. Download the Free Version.
    • Double-click mbam-setup.exe and follow the prompts to install the program.
    • At the completion of the install, be sure a checkmark is placed next to
      [✓ ] Update Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
      [✓ ] Launch Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
    • then click Finish.
    • If an update is found, it will download and install the latest version.
    • Once the program has loaded, select Perform Quick scan, then click Scan.
    • When the scan is complete, click OK, then Show Results to view the results.
    • If the scan finds any malware, be sure that the boxes near them are checked, and click Remove Selected. If it finds a particularly “evil” file, it may have to restart your computer to remove it.
    • When completed, a log will open in Notepad. and you may be prompted to Restart.

    Step FOUR – Download and run GMER rootkit removal: rootkits are extremely sneaky viruses that can hide from most antivirus software by pretending to be legitimate parts of your comuter’s operating system, or even the antivirus software itself.  GMER doesn’t run under Windows7 64 Bit mode, so skip this if that’s what your computer runs.

    • Download GMER from here and extract it to your computer.
    • Disconnect from the Internet and close all running programs.
    • Temporarily disable your antivirus software, so it will not conflict with GMER.
    • Double-click on the GMER file and allow the gmer.sys driver to load if asked.
    • Make sure the tab at the top says “Rootkit/Malware” and press the “Scan” button.
    • If you receive a WARNING!!! about rootkit activity and are asked to fully scan your system click YES
    • Detected Rootkits/malware will show up in red in the results – right click on them to uninstall/delete them
    • Exit GMER and re-enable antivirus protection when done.
    • If you encounter any problems, try to uncheck “Devices” in the right pane. If it still doesn’t work, try running GMER in Safe Mode.
    This screenshot http://www.gmer.net/faq.php will show you how the display will come up.

    If  your computer is particularly messed up, you can download the files above onto a CD-R or Flash Drive on another computer, and try the above steps in “Safe Mode”.  Microsoft has Safe Mode startup instructions for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

    http://tjschmitz.com/blog/2010/09/01/diy-virus-removal/

    Automatic WordPress Backup

    Automatic WordPress Backup is a great utility plug-in for WordPress that can provide safe, secure off-site backup of your WordPress blogs for pennies a day.  I installed it on all four of my company’s websites yesterday (two production & two development sites) with no problem at all. The hardest part of the whole process was signing up for Amazon’s Webservices‘  S3 Storage offering,  and that was only difficult because I dropped my credit card between the wall and the desk and hard to fish it out with a yardstick and masking tape!  I was able to install, activate, and complete a backup of all 4 sites in less than 15 minutes!

    While there is a cost to backup to Amazon S3 servers, the cost for the four fairly large websites has been averaging  $0.03 a day – which averages out to $2.74 per site per year!  Definitely worth the peace of mind I’ll be getting from having a secure offsite backup of the website created each night.

    Got Memory?

    At my new company, all of the computers are custom builds, and they all seem to have a different motherboard in them.  Looking up the memory specs for the different boards can get to be a real pain.  Knowing how much RAM each slot will take, and weather it’s a DDR, DDR2, or DDR3 chip can be hard to tell from hundreds of miles away.  I’ve found two tools that make this process a lot less painfull:

    The first is CPU-Z by CPUID.  This handy little freeware utility gives you the lowdown on the CPU, motherboard, memory and OS information of your systems.    When trying to identify the components of a whitebox computer remotely from hundreds of miles away, this tool is the best.

    The other tool is the Crucial System Scanner tool.  This cool tool will run from a network share or flash drive, with no installation needed.  Once it runs, it gives you a nice readout with information on what board/chipset you have, how much memory is currently installed, and what RAM will work with your system.  Crucial will of course be happy to sell you compatible memory, but armed with the information they’ve given you you can search around for the best memory for the price.

    A nice bag of tricks that takes all of the guesswork out of memory upgrades.  Thanks CPUID and Crucial!

    Geting started with WordPress

    So, you want to get started making websites or run your own blog? Or you’re just interested in learning more about WordPress. As with most things, the best way to learn is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Fortunately, there are several free hosting options that will allow you to get started without shelling out one thin dime of your own.

    The most prominent company offering  free WordPress hosting right now is DreamHost.  They are a established, well known hosting company.  You can sign up for their free app hosting at: https://panel.dreamhostapps.com/signup/ .

    Read More »

    CPAP Hacking

    So I have this CPAP I wear at night to keep me breathing.  It’s a pain in the butt, but I like to breathe, so I wear it.  I got a new one a ways back that has been driving me crazy – the pressure is “locked” so I can’t take my tiny screwdriver and increase the pressure when I have a cold and get all congested.  Nothing bugs me more than someone telling me that I’m too stupid to take care of things myself – locking me out of things for “my own good”.  But in the words or Mr. Universe: “You can’t stop the signal”.  Google lead me to a forum where the secrets of the F&P HD221LE were revealed.

    To adjust the pressure:

    1. Turn on the CPAP, noting the pressure setting in the LED display on the right hand side of the CPAP.
    2. Turn the CPAP back off.
    3. Open the little panel to the right hand side of the LED display.
    4. Turn the Heat setting to “0”.
    5. Turn the machine on while holding in the ramp button.
    6. Wait for a zero with dashes on either side to appear in the LED display.
    7. Turn the heat setting to four.
    8. Change the pressure by turning the little dial inside the panel on the right hand side of the CPAP.  Left means less pressure, right means less.  You should hear the pressure raise/lower while you turn the knob.
    9. Turn the heat setting to Three.
    10. Press the Ramp button again. The CPAP will go back into “normal” mode and will show what you have set the pressure to.

    Obviously you should take extreme care adjusting your CPAP or you could blow your sinuses up or something.  You should probably check with your medical professional before blowing your nose, so don’t come lookin to me if you hurt yourself with this gem of knowledge I’ve provided.

    Happy sleeping folks!

    “Cannot find or parse web template file” errors using stsadm.exe

    I was trying to install the Job Requisition template into SharePoint, but kept getting an error message everytime I tried:

    C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12\BIN>STSADM.EXE -o addtemplate -filename c:\Templates\JobRequisition.wsp -title JobRequisition -description JobRequisition

    Cannot find or parse web template file c:\Templates\JobRequisition.wsp.

    I downloaded different copies of the template from all over the web, but I kept getting the same message:

    After a couple of days of searching Google, I finally found the answer:

    wsp file extensions take addsolution, not addtemplate

    And after changing the command just a tiny bit – I finally had sucess:

    C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12\BIN>STSA
    DM.EXE -o addsolution -filename “c:\Templates\jobs\JobRequisition.wsp”

    Operation completed successfully.

    If I had read the “readme.txt” file that came with every copy of the file I downloaded, I would have figured this out about a day quicker…..

    Finally, don’t forget to deploy the solution before trying to make a site with it.  Full instructions can be found on the TechNet site at: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc288412%28office.12%29.aspx

    Remote Desktop Reboot

    Often when working on a server or workstation via Remote Desktop you’ll need to restart it.  The problem is that the “Reboot” option is glaringly missing from your remote session:

    Fortunately there is a “trick” that will let you restart a machine.  Press “CTRL-ALT-END” to bring up the “Windows Security” window (just like CRTL-ALT-DEL would locally).  Click on the “Shut Down” button.

    and then pick “Restart” from the drop down menu in the “Shut Down Windows” window, and click “OK”.

    Your computer or server will be on it’s way to a fresh start.