Friday, December 17, 2010

Android IT Apps - Part 5: Disk Space

Android robot logo.Image via WikipediaAlthough not strictly an IT app, I felt this was appropriate to include here. It is generally the IT people who end up using or recommending apps like this. These apps help you look at and manage the space on your Android phone and SDCard.

DiskUsage - I like this first app probably more because it is like WinDirStat than because of its' own benefits. DiskUsage provides a graphical view of your storage on phone or card. Within the app you can zoom in and delete files if you wish. I like being able to keep track of what is taking up space.

ES File Explorer - This is a really nice app. It lets you see the structure of your phone/SDCard. The GUI is very nice. EStrongs puts out components that work with this app - a bookmark app, a task manager, and a security app. They are all free. ES gives you the opportunity to backup your phone to your card - very handy! There is a tab for LANs and one for FTP (also very nice and integrated well). You can customize the app easily with wallpaper, custom folder icons, etc.

All in all, I would recommend using ES File Explorer
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Android IT Apps - Part 4: WiFi

Wi-Fi Alliance logoImage via WikipediaWiFinder - This app is a basic scanner of WiFi networks. It has a New Scan button and you can check the box to show only open APs. You can connect to any of the APs listed by tapping on it, and if need be entering the password. Otherwise you are given the options to Connect, Forget, or Cancel. The app lists the SSID, Channel Signal Level and whether or not it is encrypted (with type of encryption supported). WiFinder offers to turn on WiFi when it starts and prompts you on whether you want it to stay on when you exit.

WiFi Analyzer - This app is ad supported. It has a couple of handy views: Channel Graph, Time Graph, Channel Rating, AP List, and Signal Meter. Channel Graph is good for showing relative strength of signals of the networks nearby. You can change the settings to either display SSIDs with the same name as one or separately. Time graph gives a slightly more confusing look of the same info (you can change the sampling time of any of these in the settings). Channel Rating shows you the strength of the signal on a particular channel. The comparison is a good one and handy if you are trying to determine the best channel to set your AP to. Ap List shows a list of the APs their MAC address, the channel they are broadcasting on, and the signal strength (with a lock over the signal strength icon if it is a locked network). The signal meter is very handy. You can have the sound on or off (like a geiger counter sound), there is a blinking light to as well. The screen shows the SSID with MAC address in parentheses and a signal meter showing the strength of the signal - coded from grey to yellow to green. On any of the screens you can take a snapshot of the screen. You can also send the current scan results. This app also prompts to start wifi, or you can set it to automatically start wifi on start of app and stop it on exit. I liked the setting to stay on while the app was active, otherwise my phone would keep turning the screen off.

WiFi Manager - WiFi Manager is exactly what it says, a manager. There is nothing particularly spectacular about this app. It shows the SSIDs, whether they are open or not, if not what type of encryption, State (connected, favorite, etc), Channel, Signal Level. You can choose to show only the live networks or all known networks. It can sort by Signal, Name, or Open First. There is a button to auto update (the update interval is set in the settings), and a button to update now. Like the others this has a popup that asks you to enable wifi if it isn't active and the exit selection from the menu is "Exit and Disable WiFi".

I like WiFi Analyzer best. It seems to have everything that the others have plus more. What's even better are all the settings it has to make things easier. The export feature is handy as is the screen capture feature.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Android It Apps - Part 3: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)

Android robot logo.Image via WikipediaMany times I need to remote into my server or workstation to make changes or check on something (less and less as more and more stuff is either in the cloud or on my phone). I looked around for a preferably free Android app to do this. What I found was mostly junk. There are many apps, but most of them require that you either run something on the computer you are remoting into, or are web interfaces that are somewhat lacking.

I finally settled on Remote RDP Lite 3.0.6. The lite version has some capabilities disabled and allows only one saved connection (with the pay version you can save many RDP connections in the list and just tap on one to connect). But even the lite version is fairly robust. All my computers that allow RDP using port 3389 worked fine with this app.

Any IT professional with an Android device will like this app, and find it very useful.

The other app that is very nice for RDP/VNC is PocketCloud from Wyse. It also will only allow one profile unless you purchase the full version. It has audible feedback and everything is done through the touch screen without a mouse pointer (Remote RDP has a mouse pointer which you move around). I personally found it harder to move around in PocketCloud. A definite pro for the Wyse product is the better GUI and the ability to choose between installing a local client on machines you wish to remote into or not. If you do choose to install the local client the app has the ability to autodiscover.

It is my personal preference, but I find the Remote RDP product easier to use.
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Android IT Apps - Part 2: Dell Service Tag

Image representing Dell as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseI found 2 apps in the market that semi-fit my requirements for this type of app.  I needed an application on my phone that could get information about a system by inputing the Dell Service tag (most of my systems are Dell, since we have a contract with them).

Dell Service Requester - This app requires you to enter the service tag and tap the query button in order to retrieve the information from the dell website.  It worked the first time I used it and subsequently, whether because of my phone configuration or some other reason, it quit (force close with a report option) every time I tapped the query button.

Dell Service Tag Scanner - There are 3 buttons available when you open the app: Save, Scan Barcode, and Fetch Warranty Info. This app allows you to enter the Service Tag manually, use your phone to scan the bar code (although I had some trouble with this feature - maybe because my hands are not steady enough), and even save the tag by giving it a name.  If you save the tag you then only have to tap the tag name to automatically enter it again (very nice feature).  I find I use this one much more often than the requester app (especially since that one usually crashes itself).
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Android IT Apps - Part 1: Ping

I have been playing around with a few applications on my android (Froyo on HTC Incredible) for my job.  I was looking for a good ping app.  I looked at a few.  All the one here are free.  But I only found one of them especially useful.

Net Status - does a bunch of things well but I didn't find it extremely useful.  also the typeface is too small on my android

Ping and DNS - Okay but not intuitive or very useful

Network Ping - easy to use, ping count is configurable

Ping - This, IMHO, is the best of the bunch.  It is ad supported.  You easily enter any number of single computers either in IP form or domain name.  Once entered the program can ping them all with a readout of the ping time in milliseconds, or ping any one separately.  There is a color indicator next to each entry which is green - for good connection, darkening shades of orange - as the connection time takes longer, red if the app cannot ping the destination address.  When pinging a single address you can export the results (csv).  One of the things that sets this app apart from the rest is that it keeps your list of computers so you can easily tap "Ping All" to get an instant read of your network.

Computers were a breeze to add and the app is easy to use and helpful.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Find out whats taking up space on your computer

WindirstatImage via Wikipedia

Over the years I have used many different programs to look at hard drives in order to see what is taking up all the room. Some applications are great in that they display the information graphically. But the absolute best app I've used for this purpose is also FREE. WinDirStat (for win xp/vista/7) is available in an installer and as a portable application (I love portable applications).

One of the best things about WinDirStat is that not only does it display the make up of your hard drive in graphical and tree format, as well as providing you the option to display free space, it also color codes it and let's you click on anything and delete the file(s)/folder(s) by pressing the delete key.

Recently my 1TB backup drive gave me an error that it was full. I ran WinDirStat on it and found at least 10 occurrences of the same outdated 1gb file. I also found there was some old recycler files from a previous computer, another 9gb freed. By the time I was finished I had freed up over 600gb! Not bad for 30 minutes work.

What's even more amazing is you can run this app over a network. So I periodically use it to clean up my network shares. Because it's portable there is no installation and I can run it on virtually any windows box I come to.

I highly recommend this software to everyone who uses a windows computer.
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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bootable CD/USBs:SARDU vs UBCD4Win

I have written before on the benefits of using a Boot media other than your HDD when it has become infected. The article I wrote about creating a bootable CD/DVD/USB was mainly concerned with building a UBCD4Win on CD or DVD. Since then I have played around with SARDU (Shardana Antivirus Rescue Disk Utility) and it has not only been translated into English, but it has also impressed me so much as to prompt me to write this article.

There are many Boot CD images (ISOs) you can download and immediately Burn to CD. My favorite one of these is UBCD. The reason I like UBCD is that it is very versatile. There are many utilities included in the disk as well as AV and Anti-malware apps. There are many others and you can find them onthis webpage and download and burn them. I am even more drawn to UBCD4Win because it has everything that UBCD does as well as being a lot easier to configure and update. But SARDU surpasses both of these because I can update UBCD4Win and put that image as one of the many that will be included when SARDU creates it's ISO, DVD or bootable USB.

Basically SARDU is a utility that makes it simple to create a bootable DVD or USB. The main Menu is comprised of 4 sections, Antivirus, Utility, Linux and PE. Each section has a list of possible software you might wish to include, represented by a button each. This button links directly to the ISO, IMG, or Torrent file you need to download. There is no searching around for the correct files or arcane file naming in order to get it to work. Just click each button you wish to include and download to SARDU's ISO directory. If the file is zipped, you will need to unzip it.

Note that the way SARDU informs you of what is available is through the checkboxes and radio buttons. A greyed out area (checkbox/radio button) means it does not detect the image file, An unchecked white box or unclicked radio button indicates that the file is there but you have unselected it (ISOs are renamed with an IS extension, IMG with IM extension), and a checked box or clicked on radio button indicates the file is both present and active (will be used to burn ISO or USB). If you know you downloaded a certain file, but the checkbox remains unchecked (SARDU will automatically check anything it finds), then check the ISO directory and make sure it isn't in ZIP form (unzip it), in RAR form (UNRAR it), or in torrent form (download the torrent using a torrent tool).

The first time you do this is the most bothersome because it just takes a long time to download all the files (if you download everything it comes to almost 5 gb). I suggest downloading everything, even if you already have the ISO, because if it is named differently SARDU won't recognize it. For instance I've been using UBCD4Win for some time and have my own specially configured ISO, but when I downloaded the default ISO using SARDU it named the file U_B_C_D_4_WIN.iso. If I want to use my version I just rename from UBCD4Win.iso to U_B_C_D_4_WIN.iso and put a copy in SARDU's ISO directory.

One of the best things about using SARDU is that it combines all the best AV boot CDs and utilities, along with all your windows rescue disks (windows 98SE, XP, Vista, and 7), a Windows PE environment and a Linux distro like ubuntu, into one bootable image. If that isn't enough, SARDU also includes an extras folder (Sardu->ISO->extr), anything you put in that folder will be included as well. Below is a screencapture of the main menu of the boot image I created (4.4gb) running in VMWare Player:

The benefit here is amazing. You can boot to virtually any Antivirus/Utility bootdisk just by choosing from the menu. They are all on one USB stick or DVD.

So what exactly do you need to do?
  • Download SARDU
  • Run SARDU
  • Click on each of the buutons to download the relevant ISO/IMG/Torrent
  1. If it's a torrent folllow instructions on page for downloading torrent files
  2. If it's compressed, uncompress it

When you have checked off everything you want included, I first suggest making the ISO. NOTE: The first time I made an ISO with SARDU it created a directory called ISO CREATED, and put sardu.iso in there. Subsequently, the sardu.iso file appeared in the ISO directory instead - I'm not sure why, but you should look out for this.
If the size indicated by SARDU is less than 4.4gb you can then burn a DVD, otherwise you will need to use the USB option

This is an excellent and easy way to make a bootable USB. (I did it with a passport drive and it was relatively simple in comparison with other methods)

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Twitter saga - Password loss on twitter side?

The Twitter fail whale error message.Image via Wikipedia

One morning I came into work after a 3 day weekend and started up Hootsuite and received this message:

"The supplied Twitter profile credentials are not valid. If you have changed your Twitter password recently, you may need to update it in HootSuite.Update Now »"

It was displayed in my personal account's Home stream, Mentions Stream, and Direct Messages Stream. I have 2 other accounts I take care of and they were fine. I fired up Seesmic Desktop client (both the AIR app and the .NET app) to no avail. I then went to the twitter website. I couldn't log in to the website either! I got the message that my credentials didn't match. At this point I was afraid my account had been compromised. I wanted to be sure so I went to and searched for tweets from myself for the past few days. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I have some RSS feeds set up through Feedburner and twitterfeed and they were working fine - go figure. At least there weren't any rogue tweets that I hadn't sanctioned. (I couldn't see the DMs, so there was always the possibility that someone had found a way around my rather complicated/obtuse password and was using my account for SPAM)

I use Cotweet to tweet my company account sometimes to I logged in there and was able to tweet from my personal account as well! I even test tweeted first just to make sure. After a little questioning to the cotweet support group it turns out I used oauth to register there and so was not locked out of my account.

I tried the reset password form on the twitter site, but never received the email. I tried it 5, yes FIVE, times to no avail. I filled out their support form as well. After I had sent in this support form 4 times I finally got an answer to my alternate email address. Twitter support said that all the email that were supposed to go out the previous week did not for some reason and I should try again. If that did not work to respond to the email they sent and a support person would take care of me.

I retried the password reset and did not receive an email, so I responded to the email they send from support and have not received an answer :-(

I'm getting tired of using cotweet for everything. It's a good tool, but not for my everyday tweeting. If I could only reset my password I'd be a happy camper ...
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Seesmic vs Hootsuite for Twitter

For a long time I've been enamored of Seesmic's offerings of Twitter clients. I started out by using the Air application, Seesmic Desktop. I moved on to their .NET based application, Seesmic Desktop for Windows. The reason I changed was mostly because of the resources that the AIR application took up. The .NET application is much faster and takes up a lot less resources. I found Seesmic desktop for Windows a really nice app and used it for some time (it's still on my computer). But the one thing that made me switch is the portability of Hootsuite.

Hootsuite is web based, so whether I'm in my regular location, at home or on the go, my settings are EXACTLY the same.  With Seesmic I had to transport a settings file with me and install the software on each machine I was going to use it on.  With Hootsuite, since it's web based there is no need for that.  Yes I know, other apps including Seesmic have a web based client.  But Hootsuite has done a really nice job on theirs.  You can have multiple accounts, as well as multiple people tweeting with different access depending on what you want them to do.  It's like combining the best web twitter clients with something like

In Hootsuite I have multiple accounts setup for twitter as well as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Foursquare.  I have many columns in each twitter account which includes lists I follow and searches.  Searches are a problem I found with Seesmic, they weren't updating correctly.  I also found that Seesmic lists didn't update correctly in their .NET client.  I reported both these problems to Seesmic, and although their team is very good, it seems they were concentrating more on mobile applications than the desktop clients.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lazyfeed: An easy way to discover information

Image representing Lazyfeed as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

I have many information sources set up to either alert me or send me email when they get hits on certain searches (check out But recently my son (@chronotope) introduced me to a different way to get updates and discover stuff you would never have seen besides.

The service is called lazyfeed and is located at The process is easy. You signup for free at the website. Your account is prepopulated with generic feeds. I kept one of these feeds - movies. There is an "Add a topic" button and you just type in an area of interest (e.g. "malware news" or "Twitter Clients"). Lazyfeed creates a feed window in your browser with a summary of that feed. the feed constantly updates and if you want to look at one of the summaries more closely just click on the box and it fills your browser window.

You can now click on any of the feeds in that window to see the blog and you are given buttons to automatically setup shares (tweets/facebook update/email). Clicking on one of the twitter share links generates this tweet: 9 Simple Steps to Getting Started in Social Media (via All I need to do is click the tweet button on my twitter homepage.

What makes this tool miles better than anything else I've tried is that you may suggest certain topics and they will show up in lazyfeed as your constantly updating feeds, but as you use the tool it sees relationships between certain feeds and will suggest other feeds you may be interested in. Also the general topics you pick bring up blogs/items that you would never see any other way without a lot of searching.

Here is what my lazyfeed setup looks like:

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A free tool with a small footprint that gets a lot of use

VirtuaWinImage via Wikipedia

I've collected many small utilities over the years and some have come in very handy. One I use on a regular basis is VirtuaWin, a utility to create virtual desktops/windows. It is available in portable format (can be run from a stick) at and the homepage is at

I have this as a startup item. Since I have 2 monitors I set this to have 2 rows by 2 cols which gives me 4 virtual windows * 2 monitors = 8 virtual desktops. I can then switch between multiple applications with a swift hotkey combo (the hotkey default configuration differs depending on the operating system - when I installed it on XP the hotkey is windows key + arrow key, while on a windows 7 laptop the hotkey was ctrl+alt+arrow).

This allows me to have many applications running at once and I can see them all in full screen view. For instance I have a different window open for gmail, blogspot, Seesmic Desktop for Windows, The publications Database I do upkeep on, my experts-exchange account, Adobe flash, a graphics app. Then I have various smaller apps open but minimized.

The increase in productivity is fantastic and I have found this is an application I can't do without. The icon sits in the system tray and either the hotkey combo switches screens or clicking on the icon and choosing the screen you wish to go to does the same, but lets you skip through the screens more quickly.
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Monday, January 4, 2010

Verizon Wireless FAILs terribly

Cellco Partnership D/B/A Verizon WirelessImage via Wikipedia
I'm normally not one to rant about personal encounters or problems, but this one is an exception. I've had Verizon Wireless as my cell carrier for too many years to count. About a year and a half ago my son got a Palm Centro as part of our family plan. A couple of months ago the phone stopped working correctly and he contacted his local Verizon wireless store (in Fairfax, VA). There they said that he needed a replacement phone. They shipped him the new Centro and he was supposed to ship back the old one, unfortunately he couldn't seem to find the time and to ship it back.

We discovered this when a charge of 349.99 appeared on one of our bills. I called my son up and asked him to return the phone right away. In the meantime, we paid the bills we received minus the charge of 349.99. Finally it came to a point where Verizon Wireless was saying that our balance was overdue and to pay right away. It happened to coincide with my son coming home for Hanukah, so we asked him to bring the phone and any packing materials with him and we would send it in.

He brought the phone home and we did send it in according to Verizon Wireless's instructions by Fedex directly to them. I thought everything would be fine until a few days later, when I received a letter from Verizon Wireless stating that I still owed them 349.99 and if I did not pay right away my service would be terminated! I checked the Fedex receipt we had and logged on to my computer to check if the package had been lost. According to Fedex tracking number 793121868598 they received and signed (B. Wilburn, I was told by the Verizon Wireless representative that this is the person who usually signs for packages) for the phone on December 23rd, 2009. I immediately called Verizon Wireless up and spoke to a representative there about the situation. She checked their database against the tracking number I provided her and said that they did indeed have the phone as received in the database, but for some reason it had not been credited to my account. The representative said that she put a note in my file and my service would NOT be turned off, they just needed to confirm with the warehouse that they did indeed have the phone, which due to the holidays might not happen until after New Years.

I felt better already. So I wasn't really thinking about it when on the afternoon of December 31st I received a call from my son, except he wasn't, according to caller ID calling from his cell phone. He said he was having problems with his phone, it wasn't working. I was just asking him if it was broken again, when my daughter came into the room. She said her phone was not getting or sending text messages and she didn't seem to be able to make any outgoing calls. My son heard this and said that was the same problem he was having except whenever he tried to make any call he got some message from Verizon Wireless finance about contacting them. I used my daughters phone since that was close at hand and checked my account, only to get a message saying that it had been suspended for non-payment.

First things first, I definitely had been paying the bill each month, just the past couple of months subtracting the charge for the phone, first because it was going to be returned, then because it had been returned. So I was more than a little miffed that they suspended my service even though they had the phone, both by their own admission and according to Fedex. This is where they really got me angry, they suspended my service on a holiday when NOONE was available for me to talk to in order to get it reinstated. When I called the 800 number on my bill I received a recording saying that the Billing office was closed in observance of the holidays. I called in the afternoon on the 31st and on the morning of January 1st, 2010. Yes, if I wanted to pay the 349.99 charge, the automated service could reinstate my service, but that wasn't going to happen since I didn't owe the money!

So I'm still waiting on Verizon Wireless. If there was ever a major failure in customer relations, this is it. Not only is this not the way to treat your customers, but if a company feels the need to take such measures, they should be sure there is some way to remedy the situation - and paying money I don't owe doesn't count.

Followup: We called Verizon Wireless again on January 2nd at 9:44am. At first we were told that due to the fact that my son hadn't returned the phone within the allotted period of time, in this case 90 days, we would not be refunded the full amount of the phone. (Had we known this at all, we certainly would have taken care of it. As the people who pay the bill, we should have received copies of everything.) We then insisted that we speak to a supervisor when it became obvious that the customer support person did not seem to have the authority to do anymore. At that point the support person put us on hold and then came back a few minutes later saying that she would credit the full amount, this one time only. We felt like we were being treated like children having our wrists slapped.

The final result was the one we wanted but the support person felt the need to repeat continually that not only were we at fault, but that Verizon was being overly generous by letting us return the phone without paying any fee. The financial Services representative was much more friendly.
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Friday, January 1, 2010

Petland - another consumer relations failure

This seems like the season for consumer relations failures to me, not the Season to be jolly. Once again I find myself in the position of being at the wrong end of a consumer relations failure. I am the consumer. I've been buying my pets and petfood on and off from the local petland for about 17 years. There seems to be a new manager there. None of the people I've spoken to after this incident had anything good to say about him. We bought some bird food there, in August, 2009. Like a trusting consumer I brought it home and put it away with my other birdfood.

But I digress, the problem really started when we started getting an indoor infestation of moths. We put one of those Bug and Fly Catcher Ribbons (Fly Paper) and it was filled with moths within a couple of days. We've changed it many times since. We kept trying to locate the source of the moths and couldn't. We repackaged just about everything in the kitchen area. Finally we were changing the bird's cage and were low on food. I went to look in the cabinet for bird seed and found the package we had bought in August. I was just about to open it when I saw that it was completely filled with web like ganglia connecting all the seed balls. When I looked more carefully I saw green moth larvae crawling around inside the SEALED bag.

When I turned the bag over I saw the expiration/use by date on the bag was 02/20/09. The bag of seed was sold to us after the expiration date.
We took the seed bag back to the Petland store where we had bought it. The manager there said that since they hadn't sold that item since September, it was older than 3 months old and so therefore he could not refund or exchange according to policy (I just looked on the Petland website and see nothing about 3 months in their return policy). He refused to budge on this. The previous manager said if we ever had a problem just bring the unused or unopened package to him and he would take care of it - which he did. That is one reason we kept going back. Despite the fact that the seed company would refund our money in full if we return the sealed package, apparently Petland was unwilling to take it back and keep a customer. For the measely 7.99 that store has lost the thousands of dollars we spend there annually on petfood, because there is no way that we are going back there.
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