Archive for June, 2006

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Mystery Uncovered but Not Solved

June 29, 2006

I wrote about how my Windows XP OS was turning to crap because something was gulping big chunks of CPU out of my system on and intermittent (but constant) basis.  I had some idea that it had some to do with IExplorer, but wasn’t sure what.

 

Opening up the program manager (alt-ctrl-del) and looking at the system processes revealed the iexporer.exe was indeed eating away at my resources.  Sometimes it was listed more than once, even though I wasn’t using iexplorer.  I began googling around and discovered a few things:

 

  • – If I search for iexplorer on my machine, if it turns up anywhere but in the program file folder, it is some sort of malware/virus/trojan horse
  • -I have one in the prefetch folder.  When I delete it, it reappears
  • -Ending the process in the program manager makes it reappear in less than a minute 

I can sort of temporarily rid myself of it my by ending the explorer.exe process (which makes the desktop vanish) and then end the iexplorer process tree.  Then I can sort of browse around for my applications from the program manager.  It’s a pain in the ass, though.

 

Things that don’t work:

  • -Deleting the folder – it just comes back
  • -Adware SE – it doesn’t spot it, even from safe mode
  • – Symantec Antivirus – it has no idea it is there
  • – Using Fixit Utilities 5 to clean up registries and tweak everything: although this did help other things and seemed to minimize the overall effect
  • – Disabling all extensions and add-ons: This is what Microsoft’s little help page (after reporting the error about explorer crashing) suggested.
  • -Using the Restore feature: While I have several restore points, I have not been successful in getting any of them to work.  And now I can’t get back to any before June 1st.  The restoration feature is a nice idea, but I don’t know the last time I got it to work.

I found lots of other folks who were infected with this, but no one seemed to know how to get rid of it.

 

Yet another example how iexplorer is and has been an abomination since the thing was developed and added to each and every PC machine sold today.  And it can NOT be deleted.  I’m talking the browser not the virus.  There is some discussion that there might be more than one variant of the iexplore.exe virus in different folders.  Some are in the Win32 system folder, and mine happens to be in prefetch.

 

Any suggestions of removing this thing are most welcome.

dick

 

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Hanging Linux? Freezing Linux?

June 25, 2006

Okay, so the past few days I've been spending more and more time with Linux via the Mepis live CD.  I've just been poking around, trying to see what can be done.  While I did discover XsawTV was able to show my VHS-C camcorder on the computer monitor, I've not been able to capture it.  And I have no idea if there are tools on the Mepis CD for burning a DVD.

 

I was showing my wife, Jane, some video of the kids at their Bible school program.  I was also showing off our possibly new desktop of the future.  I went to open a movie file, and Linux began opening the program and then froze.  It just froze right there with no warning and absolutely no way to back out.  No alt-ctrl    -del maneuver or escape protocol.  It just froze.  Stuck.  Jammed.

 

How embarrassing.

 

Nothing I knew to do except push and hold the power button until it shut down.  Then push it again to start the boot-up process all over again.  And this is not a short process.

 

Okay.  Maybe it was a fluke, right?  What are the odds of it happening again?  With a totally different file…slim and none, right?

 

One of the little guilty pleasures I discovered was the racing Tux game.  What a cool game!  So after dinner, I thought I would just fly down the mountain and snatch a herring or two.  I got into the start menu and located the game.  The screen began to change and then…

 

BOOF.

 

Stuck.  Hung.  Froze.  Again.

 

WTF?

 

That ain't right.  I have a very crippled and sick Windows OS that hasn't crashed that much.

 

I am less than impressed since this is the equivalent of Windows crashing from opening up a solitaire game.  What's more, I know of no way to recover from such a thing, like the ubiquitous 3 finger salute we have in Windows.  Which means a serious reboot, since neither mouse nor keyboard could get anything to respond.  And rebooting takes several minutes.

 

What the hell could have gone wrong just playing this stupid little game that it crashed?

 

And how do I recover without having to do a hard boot?

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Needs

June 24, 2006

 

Because I know a thing or two about computers, folks frequently ask for my advice when picking out a new one.  The first thing I always ask is, "What do you want to do with it?"

 

 

Same should go with this Linux business.  What do I want to do with it?  The answer might help determine how successful I feel about using it.  Can Linux really do anything Windows can?  Will it always do those things better?  I'm about to find out.

 

First off, I need to do all the stuff you all do with your computers: surf the web, write email, write and print documents.  That's pretty basic.  But I also have a couple of specialized needs.

 

I'm trying to finish up an advanced degree, so I need to write papers and annotate references.  Endnote has been great at making that a much less painful process.  I need to have something like Endnote and it would be nice if a Linux version could read my Endnote databases.  The Cite and Write feature is a real winner in that regard.

 

Part of my academic work involves making some charts and graphs.  I've gotten good at getting what I need from Excel, but Open Office has not been quite as handy for that.  I think if open source really made a concerted drive to make stuff for students, we are the real future of open source adoption.  We're not lazy, we're just poor!

 

On the other end of the spectrum, I have two young kids with family spread across the U.S.  Making DVD's has been a great way to share with relatives, plus the boys love watching themselves.  In addition, video modeling is an emerging technology for teaching new skills to students with exceptionalities.  I have an analog capture card in addition to a firewire capture card.  Since my DV recorder crapped out, I've been using our VHS-C and converting to DVD.  Now that Windows is crapping out, it isn't even able to capture from the analog recorder without dropping gobs of frames.  Finding something that will do the job in Linux is a high priority for me. 

 

In addition to video, my wife likes to make slide shows of still images paired with music to send to relatives. She's huge into taking pictures, but she gets lost in any editing that is too sophisticated.  Adjusting brightness, cropping and red eye are her main needed tools.  And ripping CDs provides the music for these little slide shows, so I need something that can handle that.

 

As far as games, our needs our few.  However, the boys do have some Reader Rabbit type games they like, my wife is addicted to spider solitaire and I like The Sims and a few other sim-type games.  These are not high power games, but we like to have a wide variety for both kids and adults.

 

I've been using MS money 2003 for several years to track our finances and I have been using software to do our taxes each year.  I do most of my banking online and it would be nice to be able to download statements from the bank and integrate them with some financial software.  We have the typical credit cards, home loan, car loan, student loans and  and loans to track.  Debt reduction is a major goal and Money has a few tools towards that end.

 

So there you have it; some very basic needs of a typical computer-literate family.  Can Linux meet these diverse needs the same way Windows has these past years?  Can Linux do it all better?

 

That is the challenge that I hope to document here.

 

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A Growing Problem

June 24, 2006

I did a really dumb thing about a month ago. 

 

My virus software expired and the windows firewall I thought was on was not.  So I spent a week or so riding through the wilds of the internet bareback.  Yeah, that was pretty dumb.  I finally got Symantec antivirus all loaded up and updated and then got the Microsoft Updates updated and made sure the firewall was on.  I should have just gotten Zone Alarm.  I still haven't which is still dumb.  Told you I was a noob.  A reckless one at that!

 

I ran Adware and the antivirus did a deep system scan.  Adware did find a bunch of stuff, which I took care of.  But my machine continues to be sluggish.  Alt-Crtl-Del yields up some interesting stuff.  My system performance sucks.  With the CPU usage monitor, it looks like the EEG of a person in a coma.  There's a spike every 1-2 seconds, consuming 60-75% of my CPU despite no other processes running.  Except for all the crap in the system tray.  It actually shows the task manager taking huge gulps of CPU resources.

 

IE 6 no longer works.  I might be able to load a page or two, but it eventually craps out and I file my little report to the MS mother ship.  Firefox seems to work fairly decent although that will freeze up on occasion for varying lengths of time. 

 

And of course, everything runs slower and likes to skip and jump, from games to music as my system has this steady hiccup.  Over a day, it gets worse until it's time to just shut down for awhile.

 

Using the Mepis CD, I could easily see that it is not my hardware.  The little CPU monitor bounces up and down on start-up, and while opening stuff.  But otherwise is still and flat when I do nothing, just as it should.

 

I used a rootkit hook analyzer (under Windows) to look at things and it showed that I had some 29 Kernel hooks, with only 2 or 3 of those run by Symantec being of a recognized origin.  Which leads me to believe that I have some really deep problems with the Windows OS.

 

The best thing I could do would be a nice, clean install using the restore CD I have around here somewhere.  Problem is, I have a new CPU and motherboard.  I'm going to have to call the MS Mother Ship…again.  And then try to get updates and crap over a dial-up connection?

 

Now you see why I'm not very happy at the moment with Windows.  Granted, it isn't their fault I let the security lapse on my machine and then dumbly went out fornicating on the internet with who-knows-what and got some sort of fatal cyber version of AIDS.  But Windows does not make it easy to fix and recover from the error of my ways.  So I'm inclined not to make this error again, I'm going to distance myself from Microsoft as much as possible.  I may still try to use it for things, but I'm anxiously awaiting two new disks.  One is Ubuntu Dapper Drake and the other is Mepis 3.4.  Yeah, maybe I should go for the Mepis 6.0 but we'll see how this newer one does first and then see what Ubuntu can do.

 

Okay, I think we're almost up to date.  In addition to the CDs I ordered a US Robotics modem that has a chance of being detected by these Linux programs.

 

D.

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On Being a Noob

June 24, 2006

The purpose of this blog is to take a look at Linux from the perspective of someone new to it.  While I'm sure I have internalized some of the jargon and a bit of the technical stuff, I'm still pretty green at all of this.  I'm not into using command lines…at all.  Why the heck would I want to go back into the MS-DOS era of computing?

 

I'm also not going to be compiling code.  I'm a user of software, not a writer, programmer or compiler of them.  And I resent anyone who tries to get me to become one.  These are things the old Linux guard is going to have to give up if they want to free the world of MS tyranny.

 

A year ago, when I spooled up Mepis that first time at home, I had a few problems.

 

First, the display was wrong for me since I was using the same old moniter that came with our old 486 Wintel machine.

 

Once I overcame that obstacle, I discovered that getting online was going to be a challenge.  In fact impossible for the time being.  My modem is a Winmodem, meaning it derives most its being and meaning from Windows.  Mepis Linux had no idea where it was, what is was or anything.

 

So Mepis became something I kept and used at work mostly, especially when the hard drive as was crapping out or I really wanted and needed the tabbed browsing.

 

Yes, I looked for and found the chipset and even downloaded the Linuxant software and couldn't get that to recognize my Winmodem.  I was quite frustrated.  Keep in mind, I'm still running off the live CD and running with over 600Mb of RAM.

 

In addition, the Mepis 3.3 version does not support my new printer, which is an Epson CX 7800.  These are not small things, but I am persisting.  Why?  Because I may not have a choice soon.

 

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SIMPLY MEPIS

June 23, 2006

When my CD arrived, I was overjoyed.  I couldn't wait to try it out!  But as a busy teacher, I would have to wait.  But the opportunity presented itself soon enough.

My machine at school was a 800 MHz machine that had been running Win98 before they re-imaged it over the summer to XP.  That would be summer 2005.  The machine only had 64 Mb RAM and seriously whimpered under the yoke of XP.  Fortunately I knew our building tech guy well and he got a hold of 2 more Win98 machines that didn't have network cards.  I took the RAM from one machine and put it on my networked machine which stopped whimpering so loudly.  Then I worked on the non-networked machine.

Using XP, the computer administrators effectively made it impossible for teachers to install their own software.  I could see their point, to avoid infecting the entire network with junk.  But I had specialized things to install, like a scanner, a digital camera, several very specialized programs and assorted adaptive switches and touch screens.  This is why I got a machine that was not networked, so I could put my own stuff on it.  I didn't need internet access, I just needed to be able to scan, print and run things for the kids.  But Office XP was only available over the network.  What to do?

This where I installed and seriously began working with Open Office.  It is now a real working part of my classroom set up.  I was able to get some real work done, finally.

But then my networked machine started whining.  It was seriously going to pieces.  The hard drive made all of these knocking noises and would often refuse to boot at all.  My computer technology friend was overwhelmed from tons of teachers who were having problems with all of their former Win98 machines whining under XP.  So if I wanted to get online, I was on my own.

Enter the Simply Mepis CD.  I had to set up the machine to where it would boot off the CD.  This might be a daunting task to some, because it involves fiddling with the BIOS.  Fortunately most newer machines already boot from the CD.

I put the disk in the CD drive and I was pleased to see the initial screen for setting up the type of installation come up relatively quickly..  "Installation" being relative, because it is loaded in the RAM, not the hard drive in Live CD mode.  It took a couple of tries to figure out the setting, mainly because my monitor is on the old side.  So I chose a lower resolution plus went to the minimal options installation.  For some reason, the higher settings would not work on this machine.  Probably having only 128 Mb RAM and being only 800 MHz.

So once I got that worked out, Mepis proceeded to load.  It takes a few minutes for this to boot up and to get to anything resembling a desktop.  But once you finally get to it, it looks and feels very familiar except it is new.

Mepis even found the Apache server that runs our network.  I wasn't able to access the network drives, but I was able to get online and access the internet and email.  What’s more, I was able to use the tabbed browsing of Firefox.  The regular network boot up under Windows is still using IE 6, and ONLY IE 6 since us teachers can't install our own stuff.

Mepis proved an excellent program for web browsing and checking email.  What about other stuff?

Well stay tuned.  Also, keep in mind that we're only using the live CD and have not actually installed anything.  Also, this is at work.  What about my home machine?

This was about a year ago all of this took place.

Stay tuned for more.  More problems and hopefully more solutions.

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Getting My Feet Wet

June 23, 2006

Once I determined to learn about Linux, I naturally went to linux.org which has a wealth of information.  Some of it is actually useful for noobs like me.  However, people fiddling around with Linux tend to be a very nerdy bunch.  I thought *I* was nerdy, but Linux attracts propeller heads of an entirely new level.  My geek-speak is a little rusty, so it was a real chore wading through all the new jargon about command lines, apt-get, distros, kernels and assorted other terms casually tossed about.  Did I really belong here?  And would it really be worth spending my time learning all this stuff?

 

The jury is still out, but I still waded in.  Otherwise there wouldn't be much to read, would there?

 

I'm still using dial-up which is quite frugal but not terribly geeky.  This automatically made the downloading of various distributions and programs a challenge.  It would also pose a challenge to actually using Linux down the road.

 

I wanted the easiest version of Linux that I could get.  Being inexpensive is also a plus.  Most distributions can be downloaded for free, but remember…dial up?  There are tons of choices.  Other than easy and cheap, I wanted something on a live CD.  A live CD allows a person to really try out Linux before committing to it.

 

So I found www.linuxcd.org and ordered a Simply Mepis CD.  Most all the reviews I read on this distribution were favorable and it seemed like just the thing.  The cost was $1.99 plus $1.95 postage.  So for $3.94, I had my operating system.

 

I also ordered a set of disks for Mandrake 10.0, which I haven't ever used, mainly because there was no live CD available.  I wish I could tell you why I ordered it.  The only explanation is that once a person starts off into this they somehow begin acquiring several brands and flavors of Linux.  Most forums will include people who try multiple distrros before deciding on one they like.

 

It took several weeks before I got my Linux CDs.  In the meantime, the computers at work were seriously screwed up.  No one could get on the network to access email or the internet.  Networked computers were totally useless for even doing the paperwork required for making worksheets and tests and other materials for preplanning a new school year.

 

In the meantime, I began looking at some other alternative and open source programs.  Heard of Firefox?  This is open source and is the same Firefox used for Linux as for Windows.  Thunderbird is the email/RSS manager by Mozilla.  Then there is Open Office.  This was the answer to my Office XP dilemma.  These are all available in Windows as well and Linux.   And all for free.  Having something as powerful as Office for free is a tremendous bonus.

 

So now I was getting into the world of Open Source and getting a better understanding of the good points of all this.  There are bad points, too, which I'll reveal in time.