All posts by Brian

Convert CD Image Types to ISO Without Installing Anything (Windows)

If you ever need to convert between different types of CD images, here is an easy and install-free method of doing so (for Windows).

The free utility is IZArc2Go, which is a portable version of the archive manager IZArc. One of its slick features is the ability to convert image types, namely:

  • BIN to ISO
  • MDF to ISO
  • NRG to ISO
  • PDI to ISO

To quickly and easily do so, launch the program and go to ToolsConvert CD Image.

Now simply choose your original image file and make sure the Convert Type is correct.

I find this utility especially handy for converting the occasional BIN or NRG (Nero image) to ISO. Best of all, it’s free, and it requires no installation.

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How DIGG Changed My Life

Almost exactly one year ago, I became a member of the Digg community. My life was perfectly fine beforehand, or so I thought. To me, Digg was just another news site, and I suspected I would occasionally scan it for interesting articles and then be on my merry way, giving Digg no more than five minutes of my time per day. Boy was I wrong!

Now, my life is forever changed. My eyes have been opened. I’ve swallowed the “red” pill. Before my Digg addiction, I was a happily married man in the early stages of my career, a fairly-devout Christian, a Windows-using Republican, and a technology enthusiast. I’m still a technology enthusiast, but since Digg overtook my life, a few things have changed.

For starters, Digg taught me that Microsoft Windows is a crap operating system, and Bill Gates is the anti-Christ. Or was it Steve Ballmer? One never knows…. So, I switched to Linux, but not just any Linux. The collective wisdom of the pre-pubescents who populate Digg informed me again and again that Ubuntu is the best Linux. Naturally, whenever I see any word resembling Ubuntu in an upcoming story, I froth at the mouth in a rabid digging frenzy! Ubuntu = Dugg. No other Linux matters.

With a change to my operating system came a change to my religion. Though I always had a few uneasy questions about Christianity, my faith was pretty solid. However, roughly 3 minutes after I joined Digg, I quickly learned how foolish I had been for ever believing in the possibility of an all-powerful divine force. On Digg, atheism runs rampant, and is growing in popularity every day. Soon the government will have to give us tax-exempt status as a bonafide religion! Oh wait.

Anyway, the strong faith in atheism at Digg has caused me to toss my old faith aside. I mean, that many utterly life-inexperienced 12-year-olds must be right. Right?

Additionally, the collective wisdom of the 12-year-old diggers emphatically informed me that Ron Paul is the savior of America. At first it seemed like Obama would be the choice, but the far-from-voting-age experts showed me time and again that Ron Paul would save me from the Neocons who want nothing more than to use me as cannon fodder in Iraq. Or was it Iran? One never knows…, but thank science that Digg showed me the “light” (or should I say “electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength?” One never knows….).

After a few months as a Digg member, I suddenly found that my attention span had shrunk to a maximum of about 4 seconds. More and more, I found that I could not concentrate on tasks at work, and found that my main work productivity included 4-second skims of articles on Digg (plus the subsequent digg, of course). Nevermind that I could never read entire articles – I could rely on the intelligent and profound Digg comments to give me the facts.

These mental changes took a toll on my life. First of all, I was fired from work. Apparently reading Digg doesn’t benefit the company. It doesn’t matter – they’re all a bunch of Giuliani lovers, I bet). My wife left me soon after that. Apparently she was incapable of understanding my lifelong goal of “digging” for 22 hours a day. She didn’t like my newfound faith in atheism either, but it’s her loss.

With my lost income and lost wife, I decided to move back into my parent’s basement. I feel comfortable here, and no one persecutes my faith (or lack thereof). Sure, I miss my wife at times, but I can always rely on Digg to comfort me. There, see! There’s a video of Israeli women in bikinis! I digg Kosher babes. Ah, Digg, I can always count on you. Seeing a video of a woman is almost like being with a real woman, provided that I shut my eyes and… pretend.

Finally, I live in constant fear of taser-happy police, feel that the US will become a “police state” in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…, unless Ron Paul can valiantly charge in and save us. My newfound anxiety keeps me from leaving the comfort of my parent’s basement without carrying a video camera at all times. You never know when those bad cops are waiting to pounce (or is it Pownce? One never knows….)!

That’s ok. I really don’t mind my self-imposed, jobless, womanless, solitude. After all, I still get plenty of excitement just by hanging around Digg. There’s enough stories about Linux, atheism, and Ron Paul to keep me dancing, drooling, and writhing in a Bacchic fit for hours. Plus, all the old internet jokes and pictures are cool again!

Thanks Digg! Kevin Rose is my hero!

If you cannot tell, this article is a complete satire, a fabrication, a creative indulgence. Or, to put it into Digg-speak: FAKE!!!!11!!! Its teh shopped!!!!

Oh, I really do like Ron Paul, though. Promise. 🙂

Why I Love Apple

macbook_white.jpgI bought a white Macbook mere hours after they were first released. It’s a beautiful machine, and I have enjoyed every moment with it so far. Some of its common uses include: giving presentations to my classes (with Keynote), computer-based music notation, recording musicians, and writing essays (lots of them!). Heck, I even use the built-in camera to record my conducting lessons (via iMovie)!

However, my machine has not been without flaw. Since it’s a revision “A” product, I’ve experienced some of the bugs that have plagued the first generation Macbooks. First of all, my Macbook “mooed,” but a firmware update took care of that.

Second of all, the shell around the touchpad (the “palm-rests”) became discolored, but I probably should have washed my dirty paws a little better before using the machine. 🙂

Third, my Macbook developed a distracting “screen flicker” problem. I thought I could live with it for a while, but the flickering increased in severity, sometime blacking out the screen for seconds at a time. I had enough.

About two weeks before my complementary one-year warranty expired, I purchased the Applecare extended warranty. Once classes ended, I zipped over to the Kansas City Apple Store and showed the flickering problem to the local techs. “No problem,” the “genius” told me, “I’ve seen this before. We’ll send it to Apple to replace the display inverter.” This was at 12:30 PM on a Tuesday.

The next morning, my doorbell rang at 10 AM. Upon opening the door, I was greeted a smiling young delivery driver who had a package for me. I thought it was only some books that I had ordered, so imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found… my Macbook!

In less than 24 hours my Macbook had traveled to an Apple repair facility in Tennessee, had some parts replaced, and then sent straight to my doorstep.

That’s not all. When I first lifted the Macbook’s lid, my first thought was, “This is NOT my laptop!” The discolored areas where my dirty paws had rested were now immaculately white.

I checked the serial number, and to my surprise, it WAS the same laptop. Intrigued, I read the paperwork that Apple prepared for me. They did A LOT more than just fix the screen flicker.

  • As expected, they replaced the parts required to stop the flickering display.
  • They “identified an issue with my hard drive” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They “identified an issue with my battery” and replaced it with a new one.
  • They noticed the discoloration by the touchpad and replaced that part of the shell for me!

All of this was completed within 24 hours, and none of it cost me an extra penny! All I can say is thank goodness for Applecare.

Apple, you are a model of efficiency, and for going the extra mile to replace those additional parts, you have earned my wholehearted support and recommendation.

And that, my friends, is why I love Apple.

Get OpenDNS

A few days ago I found out about OpenDNS – it’s one of those services that once you start using it, you wonder how on earth you ever got along without it before.

In short, it’s a FREE Domain Name Service (DNS) that you can tap into on a specific computer or router level. I simply logged into my Linksys WRT54GL router, entered two server addresses, and rebooted. That’s it.

What can it do for you? A lot! 🙂

opendns_specs.png

Anti-phishing

For starters, it protects you from “phishing” sites, such as attempts to steal your PayPal passwords and bank account information. This alone is enough reason for anyone to use it. Also, it corrects common misspellings and re-directs to the appropriate site. For instance, if you type “craigslist.og,” it will redirect you to “craigslist.org.” Pretty slick.

Also, it’s supposedly faster, though I haven’t noticed much difference. It certainly did not slow my internet connection in any way.

Keyword Shortcuts

If you create an account, you have even more tools at your disposal, such as keywords. If you have a commonly-used long URL, you can easily create a shortcut it. For instance, if you find yourself navigating to the Wikipedia article on J. S. Bach a lot, you can create a shortcut to take you to that page just by simply typing “bach.”

opendns-shortcut.png

Adult Site Blocking

If you feel the need, you may also block all “adult” sites very easily, which is sure to cause the 14-year old in your life much despair. 🙂

opendns-block.png

For best results, set up OpenDNS on your router, not just on your computer. That way, everyone else on your network can take advantage of its benefits.

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Make Avira AntiVir (Free Edition) More Usable

Update: there is also a more recent version of this article here.

logo_antivir.gifFor years now I have used the free edition of AVG Antivirus, but recently I switched to Avira AntiVir (free edition). I still like AVG, but a number of reports (such as this one) show that it suffers in comparison to AntiVir. While my system has not had a virus in a long time, I decided to give AntiVir a whirl.

I like it, for the most part. However, there are a couple of easy hacks improvements that one can make.

Disable the Annoying Popup

The free edition of Avira AntiVir comes with an nagging popup window that rears its ugly head after each update (usually) every day, begging you to consider upgrading to the premium version. The popup is easy to dismiss, but annoying nonetheless. I understand that Avira needs to make money, but every single day is excessive.

Anyway, here is how to disable it:

Windows XP Pro:

  1. Start – Run – Type “secpol.msc”
  2. Click on Software Restriction Policy – go to Action (at the top) – Create New Restriction Policies
  3. Right-click on Additional Rules (on the right) – Choose New Path Rule

new_path_rule.png

4. Now click Browse and find the “avnotify.exe” file (C:\Program File\AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic\)

5. Make sure the security level is set to “Disallowed” and click OK.

Done. What you have done is disallowed the execution of “avnotify.exe”, which should suppress the popup window.

Windows XP Home (and Media Center)

  1. Boot into Safe Mode (repeatedly press F8 after boot)
  2. Login under the Administrator account
  3. Navigate to C:\Program File\AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic\avnotify.exe
  4. Right-click “avnotify” – Go to PropertiesSecurityAdvanced
  5. Look under the Permissions folder for a listing of all the system users. Do the following for all the users:
  6. Edit – Traverse Folder / Execute File – Deny – Click OK
  7. Reboot (into Normal mode) when finished

I don’t have Windows Vista, so I can’t comment on that. If some willing user wants to figure it out and comment below, please feel free.

Make Updates Invisible

By default, when AntiVir updates itself, it will spawn a new (minimized) window that can interrupt any full screen application that you are using, such as a movie or a video game. To change this, set the Display Mode to Invisible.

  1. Launch AntiVir and click the Scheduler tab.
  2. Right-click on Daily Update and choose Edit job
  3. Click Next until you reach the Display Mode screen
  4. Choose Invisible from the drop-down list (see screenshot)

antivir_invisible.png
There. Now AntiVir will no longer interrupt full-screen applications.

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Simple Web Hosting Performance Test: 1and1 versus HostICan

Is it true that 1and1, the world’s #1 web host, has slow servers? Let’s find out.

Since I just switched to a HostICan hosting package, I have a prime opportunity to do a little performance comparison. But first, let’s do a reverse IP check.

Reverse IP Check

By doing a “Reverse IP,” one can tell how many domains are hosted on a server. Since I have a few other domains still on my 1and1 hosting package, I can check both my old plan and my new one.

Current PlanHostICan Base Host Package
reverse-ip_hostican.png

Thirty-four domains on one server. Not too shabby.

Old Plan1and1 Business Package
reverse-ip_1and1.png

Whoa! 251 domains? Now I don’t know the specifics of each server, but my educated guess is that the HostICan server will run circles around 1and1’s poor server, which must feel a lot like Atlas right now.

The Test

The test is simple: in order to stress the CPUs of the servers, I decided to use the WordPress Database Backup plugin to export a copy of the database for this site. The actual MySQL database is fairly small – only about 1.5 MB. The database is exactly the same on each server.

So, how long will it take 1and1 to export this database versus HostICan? When you see the download window pop up, that means the export has finally completed.

And they’re off!

Results

Depending on your download speed, you may need to click the “play” button again to restart the screencasts. If you start them at the same time, you will see that the HostICan backup takes just under 30 seconds to complete. The 1and1 backup, on the other hand, takes approximately 70 seconds to complete an export of the exact same database!

So, based on my very unscientific conclusion, yes, 1and1’s servers are slow, at least in comparison to HostICan.

Switching Web Hosts: From 1and1 to HostICan

I recently switched web hosts for this site since I was starting to outgrow my former hosting package. Here is an overview of my experience.

Former Host: 1and1 Business Package

New Host: HostICan Base Host Package

I run several different web sites. This one receives by far the most traffic. I have already been warned once by 1and1 that I was “consuming the resources of the shared server,” and if I overload the server again, I must either purchase a dedicated server or leave.

Hmph. Ordinarily my site traffic levels are fairly mild (roughly 1,000 visitors a day), but last October one of my articles was “dugg,” and apparently 1and1 will kick me if I write another popular article, thereby knocking ALL of my sites offline (since they were all hosted on the same package). You can read more about the dangers of shared web hosting here.

So, what to do? Not quite wanting to shell out the cash for a dedicated or virtual private server, I decided to simply host this site elsewhere, isolated from the others. That way, all of my eggs are no longer in one basket, and if this site goes down again, it goes down alone. 🙂

Finding A Shared Host

What, then, differentiates one shared hosting host from another? Is it gigabytes of storage space and bandwidth? No, most of that is a pipe dream, and due to overselling, no shared host will really let you consistently consume the hundreds of gigabytes offered without finding a way to ban you.

Is it claims of “unlimited” databases, e-mail accounts, and subdomains? No, that’s overselling in action again. Nothing is “unlimited,” except human stupidiy, of course. 🙂

Is it the quality of support offered? Somewhat, though I’ve never called any web host since I try to handle everything through e-mail. Anyway, most web hosts are abysmal when it comes to support. Receiving an e-mail response in 2-3 days is great. Heck, I’m STILL waiting for replies to questions I asked to web hosts of ages past.

Quite simply, the distinguishing factor for me in finding a shared web host is in how they handle resource consumption. Forget the bloated claims of how many terabytes of bandwidth they offer; it’s the CPU that’s important!

When looking for a shared web host, be sure to read the Terms and Conditions (usually a tiny link at the bottom of their main page). Most of them will mumble something about “excessive resource consumption,” but they don’t define what they mean by excessive.

On the other hand, HostICan has a very clear policy on resource consumption.

Yes, HostICan enforces rules where customers are not permitted to be using more than 25% of the entire server resources for more than 90 seconds.

For example, if you are using a script that is poorly written and you are using more than 25% for 90 seconds your account maybe suspended pending an account review.

Clear. Simple. To the point. With that policy, I probably won’t survive a good Digging, but at least I know my limits.