Can’t hibernate your laptop? Check running processes

Regular readers of my blog (what few there may be) will recall that some weeks ago, I had the (un)pleasant experience of a catastrophic hard drive failure. To help avert future disasters, I recently purchased an external 300GB USB/Firewire drive from Seagate. The product comes with BounceBack Express, a relatively simple backup solution that can backup files and folders to an external device. So far, the solution has worked well; I haven’t had the need to restore, and I have had peace of mind.

However, there has been one odd side effect from this new hardware/software installation: my laptop would no longer hibernate. I had the option to hibernate, but choosing it did nothing. Shutting down worked fine, as did restarting and going into standby mode.

Turns out the problem had nothing to do with BIOS settings or settings in the Power Options control panel. It had to do with BounceBack Express’s BounceBack Launcer application, which runs at login. This application tracks the last time you backed up your system and prompts you to back up your system every seven days (among other things). Once I shut down this application, my laptop went into hibernate mode without a problem.

The lesson of this? If your computer behaves strangely during any shutdown process (which includes going into hibernate or standby modes), be sure to take a close look at what applications and processes are running, particularly those running in the background. Try shutting things down in different combinations until you (hopefully) find the culprit.

Digital File Check: Disabling file sharing, thanks to record companies

C|Net’s recently reported that three trade organizations representing record and movie companies released a program called Digital File Check, a so-called “powerful scanning engine that allows you to search your computer for installed file-sharing programmes , as well as media files.” That quote is directly from the home page, as is the grammatically-incorrect space before the comma.

Since I like being a victim, I decided to run this on my laptop, which was recently overhauled as a result of a hard drive crash. Here’s some interesting information on the overall experience.

  • The Digital File Check (DFC) Web site is written mostly in Flash. It is also configured to scale to window size, so peole with desktop resolutions of 800×600 will have a difficult time reading the blurry text without zooming in. Whoever designed this site needs to take some hints from usability expert Jakob Nielsen.
  • Nowhere on the DFC Web site does it say it only works on the Windows operating system. Glad to know they have no problem with file-sharing Mac and Linux users.
  • Inexplicably, you are required to enter a password when installing the application, in order to “stop unauthorized users from trying to run this program without your permission.” I thought they’d want people to run this program as often as possible.

I chose the password “jerk”. The default password recovery question is, “What is your favorite movie?” I also used the work “jerk”. Too bad passwords must be six characters long, so I changed everything to “thejerk”. Continuing, the installation finishes fine, so I fire up the program, type in “thejerk,” and get to the main window.

Going for total system hosing, I tell the program to do a full file search. After a few minutes, I’m told I have 0 file-sharing software, 0 videos, 6 music files, and 14,000 images (exactly 14,000).

A little wizard tells me it’ll automatically remove my file-sharing software if I click on the ‘next’ button, even though I don’t have any. Confused, I click ‘next’ anyway, wondering how a program can remove something I don’t have.

With the excitement to be gained by uninstalling things not installed, I click next, hoping for total system meltdown. No luck; the program(me), obviously concerned that the user does not read what’s on the screen, warns me again that it’s about to remove software that doesn’t exist on my computer.

Sadly, clicking ‘finish’ didn’t reformat my hard drive in an attempt to remove the nonexistant. However, I’m still curious as to what those 14,000 (exactly 14,000) images are, so I go to the “Music, image, and video files” area.

This is clearly a very useful tool, if you are interested in seeing a list of every image on your hard drive, including those installed by evil programs such as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Visual Studio, OpenOffice, and the demon of all demons, the Recycle Bin. No formats are ignored — I have JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and TGA files identified.

By the way, the program simply looks for any file with a <dot><extension> in the filename — anywhere in the file name. I know this because I created two files on my desktop, one named thejerk.gif and another named thejerk.gif.txt. Both were empty files (0 bytes). Excellent false positive matches by DFC.

Overall, this is the most impressive piece of useless software I’ve ever seen. I’ll give an update after I install it on my home PC, which is chock-full of legal music files (from my own CD collection) and legal images (taken from my own digital camera). I can hardly wait.

One less reason to use IE: Opera is now free!

As reported on Slashdot, the Opera Web browser is now free of licensing fees or advertisements. (You can still pay for premium support.) You don’t even have to provide an email address or name to download it.

Oh, and there’s versions for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, OS/2, QNX, and for dozens of different mobile devices. All free. Wow!

Installing Linux on Virtual PC

In my pursuits to rid myself of the Microsoft beast, I’ve added a book to my collection (Setting up LAMP: Getting Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP Working Together), and decided to install Fedora Core 4 on a virtual machine, using Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

I’ve used Virtual PC in the past with no problems, but this was my first foray into using it to run a non-Microsoft operating system. It was intriguing, to say the least…

  • I downloaded the DVD ISO for Fedora. Virtual PC can capture ISO images — but not all ISO images — only CD-ROM ISO images. No problem, I was going to burn it to a DVD anyway.
  • I decided to run an integrity check on the DVD (this is a feature of the Fedora installer). It took about 16 hours. Fortunately, it passed.
  • The rest of the installation actually went smooth. (Note that I installed in text mode, not in graphical mode.)
  • The X Windows session wouldn’t render properly in Virtual PC. It resized the VPC window to a wacky resolution like 1600×800, and the graphics were garbled and unreadable. No amount of tweaking my monitor settings or Virtual PC’s settings fixed this.

In searching for a solution, I stumbled across What Works and What Doesn’t in Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, which turned out to be a valuable resource of information, even though none of the suggested solutions worked. What did work (and I submitted this tip to the operator of the aforementioned Web site, Jonathan Maltz) is the following, which essentially tells Linux to boot into text mode instead of GUI mode (i.e. X Windows).

  • Download the Fedora Core 4 recovery CD.
  • Boot your Fedora virtual machine with the recovery CD.
  • Let the recovery CD mount your Fedora system.
  • Edit the file /mnt/sysimage/etcinittab, by changing the line which reads id:5:initdefault: to id:3:initdefault:. The 5 tells Linux to load into GUI mode; changing this to 3 tells Linux to load into text mode. (For more information, read How do I start in text-only mode (no graphical environment)?)

I haven’t tried messing with X further on this installation, but will post more notes when I do.

One step closer to saying “Goodbye” to Microsoft (Part II)

(This is a follow-up to my previous post, One step closer to saying “Goodbye” to Microsoft, in which I describe my experience trying to rebuild my laptop.)

Well, the bootable Windows XP Pro CD provided from my Dell computer booted up fine and installed fine. This one requires you to activate the product online (within 30 days, of course). Fantastic, I figure I’m on the home stretch, as I have a valid Windows license.

I proceed to get the laptop back up to speed by installing the necessities from my MSDN subscription, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, and Norton Anti-Virus. I’m starting to feel good again!

This morning, I decide to activate Windows (even though I have 29 days to go). I open the activation wizard and type the product key on that same sticker in the most inconvenient part of my laptop. This time I write it down on a piece of paper so as not to have to keep flipping the laptop over to read it.

Product id invalid.

Now come on, this is getting ridiculous. I then decide to register by phone. A call to a toll-free line gives me an automated bot that asks me to speak out loud the 54-key installation ID generated by the activation wizard. (As an aside, I absolutely hate when machines ask me to talk to them. I have no problem pressing the number keys on a phone, but I dislike having to speak to a computer.) Incredibly, the service never reads back any of the 40 numbers you say to it, so you have to assume they got it right. After speaking these 54 numbers, I hear…

The installation ID is invalid.

@#&^@*&^!! Did they hear my spoken numbers correctly? I have no way to tell that. Fine, let me talk to a human being. Sorry, there’s no option to talk to a human being.

I try again, and the installation ID is still invalid — but this time I am being transferred to a human being. Wait time: less than one minute. Time to complete the process with a human being: 4 minutes. Finally, I’m finished.

Is this whole process necessary? I understand Microsoft has a big problem with software piracy. However, putting in such controls that make it so difficult for a legitimate owner is hardly an effective solution to the problem. You don’t solve the problem of stolen cars by requiring legitimate car owners to jump through hoops to unlock their doors. The same theory should apply to computer software.

Once I get my laptop up and running, I’m off to the local Barnes & Noble to pick up some books. Technologies of interest include:

I can’t imagine the process of reindoctrinating myself into new technologies is going to be easy, especially considering I will not be able to alleviate myself from the death-grip of Microsoft, because it is a big part of my professional career. But all journeys begin with the first step…

One step closer to saying “Goodbye” to Microsoft

This morning, I turned on my laptop and heard an unpleasant grinding sound. I knew it wasn’t good; I’ve heard this sound before.

It was a hard drive failure.

The hard drive wouldn’t boot up at all. Fortunately, I do routine backups (to a server and to a 1GB USB flash drive), so I wasn’t overly concerned. I ran out to the local BestBuy, picked up a new 100GB notebook hard drive, and installed it in the laptop.

In my CD collection, I pulled out my trusty bootable Windows XP Professional CD, and proceeded to start the install…

  • Boot from CD… check
  • Create new partition… check
  • Quick format… check
  • Command install mode file copy… check
  • Reboot to GUI install mode… check
  • Type name and company… check…
  • Enter Windows XP Professional product key… PRODUCT ID INVALID.

Wait a minute… This is the Windows XP Professional product key on the laptop itself, that stupid Microsoft sticker usually placed in the most inconvenient spot for reading! I double-checked to make sure there were no typos.


Let’s not give up. I’ll look at the same inconveniently-placed sticker on my desktop PC and try that one. This should work.


@%!&#! I’m cursing now, and I’m very close to start throwing things.

I dig through my CD collection for another bootable CD. This one came with my Dell desktop, so I’ll give this a shot. (The laptop is a Toshiba, not a Dell, but it shouldn’t matter.) I start from absolute scratch — reformatting the hard drive, taking no chances. I wait to enter the product key…

No prompt. Huh? Does Dell have some magical detection scheme? I hope so… Either they know how to read the product key off the sticker, or somehow it has magically transfered itself despite the reformatting of the hard drive. Or, I’ll be asked later during the install, just to tease me by making me think I’ve survived the torture.

Time will tell, but one thing is now absolutely certain: If it wasn’t for SQL Server and Visual Studio .Net, I’d have moved beyond Microsoft by now.