Vista boot menu

I’ve been dual-booting between Windows XP and Windows Vista for a while, so the boot menu gave two choices:

  • Earlier Version of Windows
  • Microsoft Windows Vista

I decided that it would be a bit neater if the first option referred to Windows XP specifically. In Windows 2000/XP, this information was stored in a “boot.ini” file, so you could modify it with a text editor as long as you were careful. However, it’s now stored in a binary file, a bit like the registry hive. Steve Lamb posted an entry about this recently, recommending the (free) application VistaBootPRO. That program does look quite user friendly, but since I’m getting ready for my Vista exam I decided that I’d be better off figuring out how to change the display name with the built-in tools.

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One person’s bloat is someone else’s feature

Most people are familiar with the way that indicators work in a car: you have a stalk sticking out of the steering wheel, and you knock it up or down depending on whether you want to indicate right or left. After you’ve finished your turn, the indicator will automatically turn off.

On a motorbike, it’s a bit different. There’s a control on the left handlebar, so you move that with your thumb. However, turning is mainly done by leaning, rather than just using the handlebars, so the bike doesn’t really know when you’ve finished; this means that you have to turn the indicator off yourself. When I first took motorbike lessons, the school bike had a horizontal slider for the indicators, with three possible positions: left, centre, right. As you’d expect, left and right would indicate in those directions while the centre position meant that the indicators were off. The snag was that it was quite easy to overcompensate. For instance, I’d intend to move the control from right to centre, but I’d push it too far and wind up indicating to the left. Bear in mind that you wear gloves on a bike, which reduces the amount you can feel, and you can’t hear a gentle ticking noise like you can in a car. Looking down at the controls is strongly discouraged, so I did make mistakes every so often. When I bought my first bike, it was the same model as the school bike (a Suzuki GN125) but from a later year. One subtle change was the way that the indicator worked: the slider control would now spring back to the centre after you pushed it left or right, and to turn it off you pushed it inwards. It’s just a small thing, but it made my life easier for a feature that I used frequently.

It’s unusual to see motorbike adverts at all, but car adverts rarely mention anything like this; they prefer to focus on glamorous locations (and actors). I think there’s a similar issue with computer programs: the most useful changes don’t get much publicity, as compared to the superficial changes (e.g. the “Aero” interface in Vista).

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Exchange 2007

I’ve been doing some upgrades this weekend, including the new version of Microsoft Exchange (mail server). This has a couple of small quirks, which it’s useful to be aware of:

1. If you want to use Outlook Web Access, and your server is “mail.example.com”, the address is now:
https://mail.example.com/owa/
Previously (in Exchange 2003), it was:
https://mail.example.com/exchange/
but that address will no longer work.

2. Microsoft’s advice is that you should have two Exchange servers per organisation, with different “roles”. One will be the edge transport server, that sits outside the domain and talks to the internet. The other is the hub server, which receives email from the edge server, and integrates with Active Directory. You don’t have to follow this advice, but if you choose not to then you need to allow anonymous users to connect to your “Receive connector”, as explained here. Otherwise, computers that try to send you mail will get error “530 5.7.1 Client was not authenticated.” Since you can’t make this change until after installation, I’d recommend that you block port 25 on your firewall until you’re ready to start receiving email. My normal approach is to map port 26 on the router to port 25 on the server – that way, I can simulate SMTP via telnet until I’m satisfied that it works correctly, while the rest of the world will just think “Oh, that server’s unavailable, I’ll try again later”, and their messages are just delayed rather than bounced. When you’re happy, then put port 25 back to normal.

Visual Studio vs mIRC

I’m doing some ASP.NET development in Visual Studio 2005 at the moment, and I’ve spent the last half hour beating my head against the wall because of an obscure error message:

ASP.NET Development Server failed to start listening on port 1651.
Error message:
Only one usage of each socket address (protocol/network address/port) is normally permitted.

This happened whenever I tried to run the application, or use the ASP.NET Configuration utility. (The idea is that Visual Studio has its own webserver built in, so you don’t need to have IIS or equivalent installed on your development machine.)

I went to a command prompt and ran “netstat -a” to see whether anything else was using that port. Port 1651 wasn’t listed there, although 1652-1654 were. I ran the command again as “netstat -a -b | more” to find out ownership info, and it turned out that mIRC was using those nearby ports. So, I closed mIRC down, and was able to run the ASP.NET apps without any trouble.

Curiously, I then restarted mIRC, and I can still run the ASP.NET apps. Running netstat again, I see that “WebDev.WebServer.EXE” is using port 1651 and “mirc.exe” is using port 2064. So, there’s probably a random element to port assignment.

Hopefully this info will be useful to other people: even if you aren’t using the same applications as me, the basic principle should still be valid (e.g. if Apache is conflicting with iTunes).

The small print of DOOM!

I was going through the log files on my firewall server today when I saw something odd: my PC was trying to send outbound traffic on port 6667 every 30 seconds. At first I thought that this was for my IRC client, but it wasn’t. Instead, it’s a legacy of the “Sky by Broadband” service that I signed up for last year.

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Router passwords

Following up on my recent post about computer security (and my comment about phishing scams being cross-platform), Bruce Schneier has posted an entry about “Drive-By Pharming”. It has a stupid name, and it’s nothing to do with wireless access; there is also some doubt about how feasible the attack vector actually is. Still, it’s worth reading about, because the general principle is important.

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Tales from the spam folder

Since my email address is public, I get a lot of spam: typically 100 messages per day. The Outlook 2003 Junk E-mail filter does a decent job of catching most of it, but there are still some that slip through; I also keep an eye on the spam folder itself, in case of false positives. Generally speaking, these messages fall into three categories:
a) Direct sales for dodgy stuff, e.g. pirate software and viagra pills. (I have no idea whether they actually send the relevant goods to people who type in their credit card details, or just take the money and run.)
b) Phishing sites, e.g. “this is your bank/PayPal/Ebay, please log in via this link to confirm your details”. (If you log into their fake site, they can then impersonate you at the real site.)
c) Viruses, typically either an attachment or a link to a website with dodgy pop-ups. Sometimes there are messages which try to exploit security bugs (by effectively being a web page themselves), but these seem to be rarer.

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