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Topics - Vurbal [ switch to compact view ]

Pages: [1]
General Software Discussion / Help me overbuild my home network
« on: April 24, 2014, 03:30 PM »
I'm gearing up for a major home network upgrade, actually more like building a completely new network from the ground up, and I need to tap into some of DC's IT wisdom to make the leap from concept to design. Originally my plan was simply to build a networked DVR and media server using MythTV (LinHES technically) to exorcise my house of Hulu Plus. Naturally I couldn't just build a server and put in some set-top boxes. Being... well me... I couldn't stick with something so straight forward and simple and now I've managed to escalate my plans into something truly batshit crazy.

Last week, when I was at a used office furniture store buying a desk, I lucked into a deal on a server cabinet so now I'm pretty well committed. Based on my wife's reaction when I put the 7 foot behemoth in my office (did I mention it's a full 42u cabinet?), she's all in favor of having me committed too. Hopefully if I pull this off I'll get to keep sleeping in the same room with her for many years to come.

So here's the new plan. Instead of nice new hardware I've decided to take advantage of the huge volume of outdated HP enterprise (well low end enterprise) servers available for next to nothing. Specifically I'm focusing on Generation 5 Proliant dl360 units which I should cost inside of $250 each including rack rails and shipping. I'm planning 3 servers - 1 for a border/network appliance, 1 for management (OpenLDAP mostly) and VM testing and one for media and possibly a couple other services once I'm comfortable with the performance.

The servers are going to be running ProxMox VE for virtualization and some combination of KVM and OpenVZ for the VMs. Since they will all be sharing drive space, which I'll also be using to expand my desktop, most of my spending is going to be on storage and network infrastructure. I'm going to want something more than a simple NAS so I've decided to setup a SAN instead. To ensure smooth network traffic and good throughput I'll be putting either 2 or 4 port Intel server NICs in all the machines, including the SAN.

Now I have to figure out the SAN hardware. Ideally I'd be using 2.5 inch SAS drives but they're just too expensive. Instead I'll be going with 3.5 inch SAS, Seagate Constellation ES specifically. They're designed for storage arrays and have a 5 year warranty. I'll be using either 1TB or 2TB drives in a RAID 6 configuration and a hardware controller with at least 512MB of BBWC. It will be either 6 or 7 drives which is more than Seagate recommends (they say up to 5) but I don't see that being a problem.

What's missing now is figuring out a controller to use and a server platform to put it in. Older hardware is a problem in this case because I don't want to settle for SAS-1 speed when I have the faster drives. There's already going to be a performance hit from the redundant parity for RAID 6. Ideally I want to set it up to provide some private cloud services for things like photo viewing and a file locker. Basically I want it to mesh well with my wife's iPhone similar to how public cloud services work. That should take care of her annoyance at the whole project.

That just leaves the issue of traffic management. I'd like to find a good used managed switch. Unfortunately managed managed switches are one of the last real scams left in the low end enterprise market. I mostly blame Cisco for that. Fortunately it seems like I can pick up an older ProCurve Chassis and the requisite cards for around $200. I also need to do some work on the wireless coverage around the house, and especially out in the garage, but I'll hold off on that until everything else is good and stable.

Any thoughts? Suggestions? Questions?

Feel free to just point and laugh. I would.

LaunchBar Commander / LBC appearance tweaks
« on: April 17, 2014, 09:29 PM »
As requested by Mouser, here's what I'd like to be able to do to adjust the appearance of certain things in LBC. If anyone else has any suggestions they would like considered for the next version, now is the time to explain - preferably with some sort of visual aid.

1. I'd like to be able to adjust the position of nodes. In the example below I'd like to align the tops of all the icons but since the first one has no text and the others do this doesn't work.

2. Adjustable padding for the top of a launchbar.

3. Manually set the width of nodes. I'd like to set all 3 of these menu nodes to the same width and I'd like it to be arbitrary. By that I mean I want to select the width rather than relying on the size of the icon or text.


Additionally I'd like to be able to set the size of a separator without losing the line. Currently if you set a manual width, the separator image is no longer shown. Also I'd like to be able to make that size less than 10 pixels (or whatever the current minimum is when you specify width) and specify whether the separator image should be on the left, center, or right.

Developer's Corner / Interesting tool for generating WMI queries
« on: March 20, 2014, 10:33 AM »
While I was searching for a way to read shortcut (lnk) file properties in C# (why no I haven't torn out _all_ my hair, but thanks for asking) I stumbled across a nice little GUI for generating WMI queries called WMI Code Creator. It can be used either to enumerate the WMI namespaces, classes, methods, and qualifiers on a given computer (local or remote) or to actually generate C#, VB.NET, or VBScript code for running queries against them via WSH.

I haven't gotten around to testing the code at all, or even attempted to browse the WMI providers on a remote machine for that matter. And of course WSH is deprecated in favor of PowerShell anyway. At the very least, though, the WMI browsing functionality seems useful. There's also a PowerShell based WMI browser that's probably more useful for that. Since PowerShell was introduced shortly before the end of my days as an IT monkey I can't seem to be bothered to put the time and effort into messing with it though.

I'm trying to fix a laptop running Windows 7 for a friend. A few months ago she apparently got a job doing customer service work from home for a cruise line. They provided her with what sounds like some type of VM software to put on her computer. Before you ask I can't find where I wrote the company down so I'm waiting to hear back on that.

From that point on she couldn't get Windows to finish loading - at least that's her interpretation. In fact Windows itself does start but the only GUI element available is the mouse pointer. There's not desktop and in fact the window manager isn't even running. Just a black screen.

There are no restore points on the drive so that's out. Booting into safe mode, even safe mode with command prompt, gives the same results as a normal boot. It boots into repair mode but I can't get sfc to run. If I use /runnow it tells me there's a repair operation pending. If I use offline mode it shows the help like I used the wrong syntax which afaict isn't the case. Here's what I am using (running the repair environment from the Win7 DVD):

Code: Text [Select]
  1. sfc /offbootdir=d:\ offwindir=d:\windows

I have, of course, verified that d: is the correct drive letter for the boot drive.

Short or reinstalling Windows, what other options do I have? It's been a long time since I had to try repairing a Windows install from the recovery console and I'm hoping there's something obvious I'm forgetting.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention this is Ultimate Edition so Win7 Pro features are available on the off chance that makes a difference.

Edit: I just heard back from the laptop's owner. The software was related to training to work as a sales agent for Royal Caribbean. We're communicating via sms so this is a little slow and painful. It sounds like it was probably some third party software and not Royal Caribbean's but I'm still waiting for clarification on that.

Edit 2: It seems I was nearly right in the beginning. The software came from what appears to be a semi-scam company called Arise Virtual Solutions. They run a virtual call center for Royal Caribbean using work from home employees. The software was for training, but like I said from her description it sounded like some sort of virtual machine. Of course it's entirely possibly either she misunderstood what it did or they misrepresented it and it may be just some sort of VPN client.

In either case there's a good possibility it's some sort of virtual device driver.

General Software Discussion / Beware the Samsung rootkit
« on: February 14, 2014, 03:11 PM »
I feel kind of bad for waiting so long to post this but better late than never I guess...

A couple weeks ago my wife gave me a Samsung Galaxy 3 7" tablet. It didn't come with drivers and it seems Samsung only distributes them as part of their Kies transfer software so I went ahead and downloaded/installed it figuring I'd backup the drivers, check out the software, and then most likely uninstall it. Annoying but not surprisingly so.

A day or 2 later I happened to be looking at some files in my Windows folder and noticed one called MusicCityDownload.exe which naturally made me suspicious. A quick look at the PE headers using CFF Explorer made me even more suspicious but did at least provide me with the software vendor's name - MarkAny. A quick web search later and I figured out MarkAny is a Korean company which pretty well gave away the fact it was installed with Kies. A couple more searches and I ran across this gem on the XDA Developers forum.

To make a long story short, don't install Kies and if you already have it installed you should make a copy of the driver installer (located in the Kies program folder) and then immediately uninstall. The good news is Samsung's installer seems to be one of those rare ones that actually does the job right and unlike say the infamous Sony rootkit this one doesn't resist uninstallation. Also, conveniently, you can uninstall everything except the drivers.

If you need the drivers and haven't already installed Kies I'll be happy to send you the installer.

In case you want to be as thorough as possible when uninstalling here's a list of all the information I collected during my own little investigation. It's a combination of what I found on my own and the Kies install log. I didn't dig through the registry for all the Samsung entries so there's certainly more I'm missing. However, as I said, the uninstaller seemed to do a thorough job.

Code: Text [Select]
  1. Processes:
  2.     KiesTrayAgent.exe
  3.     DeviceDataService.exe
  4.     ConnectionManager.exe
  5.     DeviceManager.exe
  6.     Kies.exe
  7.     KiesPDLR.exe
  8.     KiesHelper.exe
  9.     KiesAirMessage.exe
  11. File System:
  12.     C:\Users\[UserName]\AppData\Local\Temp\{A9E68544-3AA6-4AB9-9A4B-2BF631975A17}\
  13.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\KiesTemporary\
  14.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\
  15.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\
  16.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UpdateClient\
  17.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaAgent.exe
  18.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MAAuthProc.dll
  19.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MACLICX13.dll
  20.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MACLicX15.dll
  21.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MACSMANAGER.dll
  22.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaCSMgr.exe
  23.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaCSProHook.dll
  24.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\mapshapi.dll
  25.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\mapwij10.dll
  26.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaSyncP.dll
  27.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaWAMP.dll
  28.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MAWebControl.exe
  29.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MaWMP.dll
  30.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MPXBox.exe
  31.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\MtpAccess.dll
  32.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UpdateClient\MAFileUpdate.dll
  33.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UpdateClient\MAUpdate.exe
  34.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UpdateClient\MAUpdateBoot.exe
  35.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UpdateClient\MaUpdateClient.exe
  36.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\UserShare.dll
  37.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\ContentSafer\XSYNCClt.dll
  38.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Samsung\
  39.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\KiesLiveupdateTemp\
  40.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\KiesTemporary\
  41.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\MarkAny\
  42.     C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Temp\SAMSUNG\
  43.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\FirmwareUpdate\AgentVer.txt
  44.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\EULAVer.txt
  45.     C:\Users\[UserName]\AppData\Local\Temp\{A9E68544-3AA6-4AB9-9A4B-2BF631975A17}\WriteDescExecuteFileName.exe Software\Samsung\KIESSETUP Samsung Kies Installer 2.0
  46.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\ConnectionManager.exe
  47.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceManager.exe
  48.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceDataService.exe
  49.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceServiceModelDB.dll
  50.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceServiceCore.dll
  51.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceCommunication.dll
  52.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCADU.dll
  53.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAKOREAMITSOBEX.dll
  54.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAPARAGONATOBEX.dll
  55.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAPARAGONGM.dll
  56.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAPARAGONOBEX.dll
  57.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAWM.dll
  58.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DCAOBEX.dll
  59.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\THNRProghelp.dll
  60.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DevFileService.dll
  61.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\DeviceSearch.dll
  62.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\RASWraper.dll
  63.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\BackupRestoreLib.dll
  64.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\CDBurnCOM.dll
  65.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\StarburnX12.dll
  66.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\DeviceModules\UPNPDevice_Kies.dll
  67.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\TransModules\TG_Dump0708.DLL
  68.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\MediaModules\MP3FileInfoCOM.dll
  69.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\MediaModules\OGGFileInfoCOM.dll
  70.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\MediaModules\AStoreMarshal.dll
  71.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\MediaModules\
  72.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\MediaModules\
  73.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\SyncModules\secman.dll
  74.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\SyncModules\metastore2.dll
  75.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\SyncModules\Synchronization2.dll
  76.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\SyncModules\nktwab.dll
  77.     C:\Windows\SysWOW64\Redemption.dll
  78.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\smdecryption.dll
  79.     C:\[KiesInstallPath]\Kies\External\PRPlayerCore.dll
  80.     C:\Windows\MusicCityDownload.exe
  82. Registry:
  83.     HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\AppDataLow\Software\MarkAny
  84.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\090B0474CB502846DABF6D9B6BD86327
  85.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\0C0EAADEC0B0BEC47056488271833ED1
  86.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\290A1BAC3852561E434EDCF37ADDC650
  87.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\2F51676373E2C8FAFD1C3CB5D0FC6F78
  88.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\32947F291B037BB37F4C94D15C71AFCC
  89.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\364651BA342348B03E7E38A50F61D602
  90.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\3749FA404D1387FD0883E182C92F5AB1
  91.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\4482C36BEE44B81F7D56DABE40984FCE
  92.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\5390087D56653F56BFE40693A70A5A2A
  93.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\61F50ED3728E668469DD5A9B7663EEFF
  94.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\6F5AD8238986F445D49AC9AE6A9CDD06
  95.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\72798142C6A7CA8AEAFB493E6CA75C3D
  96.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\90F0105370096E802C973171912E5EC9
  97.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\93098AC90CB9B9D9E0B7DAF98117ABD6
  98.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\B0BA626160FBB7AF5AF852DC3D4E8C5C
  99.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\B245A3B6DB9BDEE94D368EAD00DF75C1
  100.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\C0153905C28C684AD92906E7C31D656A
  101.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\DAB70100ACFDAE9CF043224B28091403
  102.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\E71E9BD78DFE557AE8AD19C38A450BD8
  103.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\EF765801CEFE877C538A6FB5CFB97515
  104.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\FB0AD455040F4F919919F27A26A877CA
  105.     HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Installer\UserData\S-1-5-18\Components\FDA9F652221F00D6C071019FF16552A4
  106.     HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-1034364882-3164073863-2110962517-1000\Software\AppDataLow\Software\MarkAny

LaunchBar Commander / Width, spacing and padding (Oh my!)
« on: January 28, 2014, 07:42 PM »
Even though I'm sure Mouser will know what I'm posting about I'll spell it out for anyone else who wants to throw in their 2 cents worth. One of the side effects of LBC's functionality vs aesthetics bent is a relative lack of styling-type options. I think that's fine. It doesn't stop me from making a nice looking toolbar. If I wanted 3D animation I'd watch a cartoon.

Just for the sake of reference I'm including some screengrabs from my launchbar so it's clear what I'm talking about. I intentionally didn't resize it so it would be easier to see things at roughly the same scale I am. There are also smaller ones below to illustrate particular points. I made sure to include the mouse pointer in the images.


LBC could use at least a basic option for padding the edges of nodes for a number of reasons. The first is admittedly just because it looks nice. I'm not saying everybody cares about it but honestly most people do even if they don't understand why. Preferring symmetry is an evolutionary advantage because if one half of a person's body is very different from the other they're likely to make a poor mate. I don't really want to mate with my launchbar but having buttons of wildly different sizes kind of bugs me.

My current solution: LBC_002.png

My proposal is an option to add X pixels of padding to the edges - ideally with the option to pad the left and right sides differently than the top and bottom. It could even be per side but even I think that's excessive. The mouseover highlights could then start at the padding rather than the icon which also has a visual advantage. It's a lot easier to make out the icon or text if it's not covered with your pointer.

Currently I simply put extra spaces before and after the caption text to stretch the node boundaries. Of course it's difficult to get them close to the same size without a lot of trial and error.


It also doesn't work when the caption isn't being displayed. Besides the issue of the mouse pointer, this results in very small spaces in between. Once again not always a problem but it can be. Particularly when you're using small icons but also if 2 adjacent icons are similar or even if you're just not overly familiar with the shape. I've been using separators but that's not really ideal either since a) it means a lot of separators and b)they seem to have a minimum size of 10 pixels when used that way.

LBC_004.png LBC_008.png

LBC_006.png LBC_005.png

Padding the top and bottom isn't all that important but if it's no extra work it would look a little nicer IMO. For example it would move the icons on mine further down from the top edge. This really is just looks though and not something I would even ask for by itself.

The other problems I hinted at on IRC actually turned out to be almost entirely side effects of the kludges I recently did away with. However as I was doing a little more kludge removal today I ran across another one I'd forgotten.

Because of the different visual styles my bar uses for different sections I thought it would be nice to have finer control over the caption font. I was hoping I might be able to do that using Link nodes but that turned out not to be the case. I still like the concept though and I thought I would go ahead and move my main menu set and help file menus to their own docks anyway.

Unfortunately it didn't work for the help menus because I couldn't get them to use small icons any more. The parent menu is set to small icons for child nodes, the link nodes were set to small captions, and I even set the original menus which were now in a separate dock to small icons. No matter what it doesn't work. It's not a big deal since I can just leave them where they started. Don't spend a bunch of time troubleshooting it or anything.

General Software Discussion / Mind mapping software
« on: December 28, 2013, 02:39 PM »
For the last several months I've been experimenting with mind mapping software to organize my thoughts. If you're not familiar with mind mapping, it's essentially a philosophy of organizing ideas in a (theoretically) more organic way. Where traditional ways of organizing information are essentially still based on a flat file (technically flat piece of paper) model, mind mapping is a lot like a relational database approach. You have individual ideas, simple or complex (1 to 1, 1 to many, many to many) relationships between them, and the maps themselves which are visual representations of both ideas and relationships - like a report generated from a database.

Until now I've focused entirely on organizing the tangled mass of information my autistic brain spews out endlessly. It makes my internal problem solving process almost a collaboration in and of itself. Additionally the data/report paradigm saves me a lot of time I used to spend endlessly reorganizing information as my understanding of it develops.

Now that I almost sorta know what I'm doing, and what I'd like to do, it seems like a good time to start a discussion here to share thoughts about the available software and mind mapping in general. There is quite a bit of commercial software which I haven't even looked at and probably never will. Since I do intend to experiment with using it collaboratively, any software potential collaborators might need to buy seems counterproductive.

In the free (and open source) world the primary programs are Freemind and a fork (which I use) called Freeplane. I don't actually remember why I picked Freeplane over Freemind so maybe somebody else has some insight into the differences. Originally I used XMind, the free version of a commercial, closed source competitor. It's more polished, and perhaps a better starting point to get started because you don't have to invest much effort. OTOH the $79 price tag for XMind Plus and $99 (or $79 annually) for XMind Pro are too steep for my purposes.

Freeplane is nice on its own, and it also has a number of add-ons, some of which are designed to customize it for particular workflow concepts like IBIS and GTD. I'm just now getting around to looking at add-ons so I'll try to post more when I have. I should probably post a mini-review of Freeplane at some point. Given how easily my train of thought is derailed, don't hold your breath on that.

What I dislike about both Freeplane and XMind is they're Java-based. It's not a deal breaker or anything. I would have to have Java installed for another program anyway so it's not like I wouldn't already have it installed. However, unlike that other program, I'm pretty sure Freemind development began recently enough that there were lots of other (IMO better) choices for cross platform compatibility - which admittedly may not have anything to do with the choice of Java.

Anyway I'm interested in seeing what mind mapping software other people use or have tried. What I'd really like to find is something good that's not Java-based. Now that I want to use it collaboratively I suspect the Java requirement probably limits the potential. A lot of people really dislike Java and a not insignificant number flat out refuse to install it on their computers.

General Software Discussion / Replacing the Control Panel
« on: August 15, 2013, 12:07 AM »
I've been working on a project to use LaunchBar Commander as an alternative to the Windows Start Menu. For the moment I'm building it in Windows 7 but eventually I'm going to create a version for Windows 8 as well. When I'm done - or at various points along the way more likely, I'll be writing about it for and putting up at least a video or 2 up on our YouTube account.

Now that I've waded hip deep into the Microsoft manure pile I've reached a point where I either need to spend at least a week researching and testing 12 hours a day. Or I could do something sensible for a change and actually ask for advice. Fortunately for me this is exactly the kind of place I'd expect to find some of the answers so what the hell. I always wondered what doing things the easy way felt like.

First I should explain the premise a little more. My projects tend to balloon to ridiculous proportions sooner or later and this one is no exception. Originally I planned to focus on simply organizing the various configuration tools and utilities in a way that's intuitive for ordinary people. I've tentatively settled on 4 categories - System Information, System Configuration, Interface Configuration, and System Mainenance - each of which will have a separate menu. I'm not completely happy with the names but I'm pretty settled on the categories themselves.

For a saner person the rest would be pretty straight forward. Sort out the Control Panel applets by category, do the same with any relevant programs, maybe throw in a few significant tools that don't have Start Menu shortcuts and you're done. For the final touches I figured I'd add in some third party software for adjusting settings lots of people want but are buried in the registry.

Did I mention easy isn't my thing? More importantly, organization isn't Microsoft's thing. Control Panel applets, as a group, suffer from several major flaws. Settings that a user would reasonably group together are separated not just into different applets, but also using inconsistent names. You adjust the your monitor's color profile is in Color Management but the resolution is in Personalization. That can be fixed by simply changing the names on the menu. In most cases you can even open a specific tab so I can use a task oriented scheme.

Others are just a confusing mess of unrelated items that don't belong together. They do, however, fit perfectly with one or more other applets. The real difficulty, though, is these are also the oldest applets. The old System (System Properties) applet has 5 tabs which launch 10 other windows between them, one of which has 3 basically random tabs of its own. And on top of all that there are reasonably compartmentalized applets like Default Programs that make the simplest, most straight forward tasks torturously painful.

I thought this was going to be a face lift but what this patient needs is reconstructive surgery. What I need are the tools for the job. I'm looking for alternative programs to do the same tasks so I can cut out the bits that are just too diseased to save. I already had some programs I was looking at. I hadn't gotten very far because I wanted to ease people into the unfamiliar interface first. Now that I've tried that for myself I'd rather not put people through it.

Any suggestions are welcome, whether it's an improvement over something Windows has or an addition it should have. Here are some specific tools or tasks I'm particularly interested in, and the tools I've identified to at least consider:

Advanced System Settings (aka System Properties): This is the poster child for everything wrong with the Windows interface. It's also going to be the hardest one to replace because of all the ground it covers. If I could find a way to at least work around the Performance Options window (Visual Effects and Pagefile settings mostly) it would fix the biggest problem. I've already been playing with Rapid Environment Editor as a replacement for the Environment Variables dialog and I'm pretty happy so far.

Default Programs: It's hard for me to express just how much I loathe this worthless pile of shit. If it isn't intentionally designed to prevent you from changing the file associations I can only conclude Microsoft put a team of retarded monkeys in charge of developing it. I've tried a couple alternatives - Default Programs Editor is the only one I can think of now. It's an improvement but still not as easy as I think it should be. Ideally I'd like something that divides things into a couple simple tasks - basically like the command line tools but with a user friendly GUI interface. The first task is associating multiple extensions as a single file type by selecting them from a list. Then I'd like a second option to set the program association for the file type. If it showed the common options like Edit and Preview so I could set them easily that would be great. If not I can do that myself. But I don't want to do it from scratch just because I reinstall Windows. If I'm going to do the work I want a way to save and load it later.

Device Manager: I know there are a lot of good tools that provide a lot more information about your computer's hardware than the Device Manager. I've just never taken the time to compare their features or interfaces. When I need one I download the first one I find and if it works I stop there. By the next day I've forgotten all about it. If it included Device Manager's options for loading, disabling, and removing drivers that would be a bonus but I'd happily settle for just a good interface and detailed usable information - especially for USB devices. Whenever I see "Composite Device" listed in the Device Manager I want to punch Steve Ballmer in the face.

Taskbar and Start Menu: This isn't such a bad applet but what I really need is a good program for setting a delay for unhiding the Taskbar. Because I basically have a HDTV monitor (16:9) instead of a regular computer monitor (16:10) I don't like wasting any vertical space so I use Autohide. However I've also moved it to the top of the desktop because it's usually closer to my mouse that way (also my new launcher is at the bottom). I found an old program somebody wrote to use with RocketDock called Total Taskbar Controller. The delay works fine but it has some quirks I find annoying. If I don't find anything better I can live with it.

Devices and Printers: I have no idea what problem this applet was intended to solve. I can launch the Add Hardware and Add Printer wizards directly but it would be nice to have a general printer management program. If not, maybe I'll just ignore it altogether and be happy things are a little simpler.

Network and Sharing Center: I've tried to imagine a developer who would look at this interface and think anything besides, "what a complete clusterfuck!" The concept of the HomeGroup was bad enough to begin with - not so much the idea as almost every aspect of the implementation. Why in the name of everything holy are the adapter settings not front and center on the main window? Ooh look, it's got pretty pictures, just hope nothing stops working because troubleshooting will suck. I'm not hopeful about finding a suitable replacement but on the good side Microsoft didn't just set the bar low. They buried it about a foot down.

I'm sure there's more - not necessarily in the Control Panel - but that's a good start for now. Feel free to throw out suggestions of your own.

Find And Run Robot / Random thoughts: Launcher search
« on: August 08, 2013, 11:43 PM »
Today I was working out how to use FARR as a sort of compound replacement for Search and Run in my LBC based Start Menu alternative. Really the only thing I miss about the Start Menu alternatives is the ability to search the Start Menu itself as a shortcut to clicking 2 or 3 times. The extra clicks aren't really a problem with the LBC configuration I created. In fact that was part of the point, but it occurs to me that if you had a launcher with a text-based configuration file (XML ideally) you could do some really cool things by taking advantage of metadata.

The obvious use, like the Start Menu, would be simply finding a program which you could do by name or mouseover hint or executable, or whatever other metadata might be available. That wouldn't necessarily be a huge timesaver except that if you had something like a list of batch files or scripts you use for configuration or maintenance or whatever you could have them at your fingertips whenever you wanted.

Or maybe you might want to use FARR to bring up an entire menu rather than an individual item. Depending on what (and how much) metadata was in your configuration file you could perhaps even assemble a list from multiple menus so you don't have to track down each one individually.

Obviously LBC isn't currently setup for that kind of access but it would be an interesting idea. And of course you would have the flexibility to use some other launcher entirely instead of the 2 components being integrated together.

Sadly I'm a long way from being a programmer and not the kind of person likely to finish a project like this. Things like this just pop into my head and I'm compelled to see where they lead.

LaunchBar Commander / Windows key as a modifier using Sendkeys?
« on: August 08, 2013, 04:30 AM »
I was hoping I could use SendKeys to launch the Run dialog from LBC. Originally I was hoping there might be a shell command to do that but I can't find any reference to one. My next thought was to use SendKeys but from what I can tell that's not possible.

If I'm understanding the documentation correctly only the State Modifiers can be used in that way. I could combine Ctrl-r, Shift-r, or Alt-r, but not Win-r. Is that correct?

I also remembered that NirCmd has its own SendKey function which would probably work except that it doesn't seem to support the WinKey at all.

The really annoying part is that I'm only trying to include it as a sort of baseline option. My actual recommendation is going to be replacing it with something like Run-Command at a minimum. However I don't like it as a default simply because it doesn't handle symlinks properly. That really won't make any difference for most people and it doesn't actually matter to me since I'm hooked on FARR.

Mostly I just want to be able to reproduce everything I consider worth messing with from the Start Menu in LBC and it bugs me. Unless somebody knows another way to launch the Run dialog I think I'm probably out of luck.

LaunchBar Commander / (solved) Problems with RunDll32 command
« on: August 07, 2013, 10:20 PM »
I edited this post to clarify the problem and include the solution. You can ignore the 2 posts below.

Problem: Unable to get the Windows Features Control Panel to populate when launching it directly using the following rundll32.exe command:

rundll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL appwiz.cpl,,2

Solution: After a bunch of testing it appears the problem is in rundll32.exe itself. Populating the list of features is actually done by TrustedInstaller.exe which can only be run by the built-in System account. System fails to create the svchost.exe process to do this if rundll32.exe is launched by any process besides explorer.exe  (via the Run dialog) or cmd.exe (directly from the command prompt). I ran into the same problem attempting to launch it indirectly from the command prompt using NirCmd's exec feature.

As an alternative it can be launched using the built-in alias of optionalfeatures. Technically it's optionalfeatures.exe, but it only seems to work in LBC if I leave off the .exe file extension and doesn't even work with that syntax when launching via NirCmd exec.

LaunchBar Commander / Icon problems with FileContents nodes
« on: August 01, 2013, 11:35 AM »
As part of the project I mentioned on the Easy Screencast Recorder thread I'm attempting to create what I'm calling a System Bar for Windows. The basic idea is to reimagine the (IMO severely outdated) Start Menu and Control Panel. I'll be creating a separate thread to get general input on it but I've suddenly run into a strange issue creating menus from text files.

I should probably mention this is on Windows 7.

The menu items in FileContents nodes suddenly started showing me incorrect icons. Instead of the icon I specify (using the /icon argument) every menu item displays the file handler icon you would see in a file manager. Here's where it gets really strange though. It didn't start happening until after I set the file associations for various standard image formats to XnView. At first I suspected XnView was at fault but it turns out the same thing happens if I associate the file extensions with MS Paint or GIMP. OTOH if I set it back to the Windows default (Windows Photo Viewer) that fixes the problem.

Here's an example when Photo Viewer is set to default:


And here's what it looks like when I change it to XnView:


This doesn't affect any other type of node. In fact it doesn't even happen to the icon set for the node itself or icons automatically extracted from an executable in the text file - just icons set using the /icon argument. A (semi) educated guess would be that they are being processed in a file system context for some reason rather than actually being opened.

Here's the NirCmd menu with various programs set to default for opening ICO files:

 Default-PhotoViewer.png Photo Viewer (Windows default)

MS_Paint.png MS Paint

XnView.png XnView


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