Thursday, March 31, 2011

Justice: An Interaction with Isaac Iwuagwu

On February 14, 2011, I sold five mini DV data cartridges to someone who listed himself as Dr. Isaac Iwuagwu of Hamden, CT.  This transaction was arranged through  The tapes were in new condition, still in the original plastic wrapping.
I listed those tapes on Amazon by finding the item that I had purchased and then indicating that I had one of that item to sell.  The item in question, by Amazon's listing, was a set of 10 mini DV data cartridges.  In my comments, I stated, "Five tapes, not ten."  That is, I had bought a set of 10, I had used five, and I was reselling the remaining five.  I adjusted the selling price accordingly.

I did not realize, at the time, that Amazon would consider this an inappropriate or incorrect listing.  Their rationale was that I was not selling *exactly* the item they had listed.  They were the same tapes, but in their view the difference in quantity was crucial.  To my surprise, Amazon disregarded their own "Comments" space in reaching that decision.  In other words, they allowed sellers to add further information about the item being sold -- which would be unnecessary if it was in any sense different from the description already provided on their webpage.

But whatever.  That was Amazon's rule.  I just didn't realize it.  I sold the tapes to Dr. Iwuagwu, he paid me, and I shipped them to him.  When he received them, he emailed me:

Item was advertized as a pack of 10. Why did I get only 5?  Please I need the remaining 5.
I replied:
This information was included in the description of the item's advertisement.  The item you purchased was significantly reduced in price as a result.
He responded:
On what web page is this your "description of the item's advertisement"? Go back to product advertisement and picture. May be will settle for us. Visit this page:
It seemed, from this response, that he was already familiar with Amazon's approach to cases like this.

We were communicating through Amazon's website.  I wrote back as follows:
Dr. Iwagwu, the description was right there on the page where you bought it.  I am attaching a PDF of the page, though I am not sure Amazon will allow attachments.  It said, very plainly, "Five tapes, not ten." 
He replied:
When people buy from they don't go about searching individual seller's customized pages. The highest level (central) page provided by provides buyers info about a product. The page you sent is a kind of "after the effect". That is your customized page that shows up only after an order has already been placed. And if you stick to that as a proof, then the whole thing is a mere deception. After placing an order, somewhere during chechout the item description gets subtly altered in a comment. That's not being transparent. The item description [e-mail address removed] level is my compass when I buy an item on
He seemed to be claiming that he would not see the comment before making the purchase.  I have sold hundreds of items online.  I have an excellent rating on both Amazon and eBay.  In those many transactions, not one buyer has made this claim.  I responded:
Maybe we are misunderstanding each other.  The PDF I sent you was for my records, but the seller's additional comment does appear plainly on the list of products and sellers.  I buy on Amazon too.  I see those comments.  It was not concealed or only visible afterwards.  If you take a look at Amazon, you will see what I mean.

Let me put it this way.  I advertised a set of five tapes, not ten, at a reduced price.  I thought this might be useful for someone who did not need a full set of ten tapes.  I am a good seller.  I have been selling online for years, and I make a point of being honest with people about what they are getting.  I was honest in this case.  I'm sorry if you didn't notice the description, but that is unusual.  It is right there.  People ordinarily see it. 
Dr. Iwuagwu did not reply to that message.  Our next communication was the following message from me, a week or so:
I see that Amazon has credited the purchase price plus shipping back to you.  Did you intend to return the item to me, then?
He did not reply.  Nor did he offer to pay for the tapes.  In short, I lost the $8.95 sale price that I probably could have gotten on eBay, plus the cost of shipping, and he got five tapes for free.

This interaction did not leave me with a positive sense of Dr. Iwuagwu.  To my knowledge, Amazon did not offer a way to notify other sellers of this experience.  The texts shown above were evidently not going to be available, or consulted, if other sellers had experiences suggesting that Dr. Iwuagwu might be in the habit of exploiting opportunities to obtain free merchandise.

It was also possible that Dr. Iwuagwu was, for instance, a complete newcomer to America, had no idea what was going on, and sincerely believed he was being hoodwinked.  I had a hard time seeing how he could be too terribly naive -- after all, he did seem to have learned about Amazon's policies -- but there might have been some way in which I was mistaken.

Either way, Amazon's grievance system did not allow for a genuine resolution of the dispute.  Amazon made a simplistic decision, justified not by the facts but by its rules.  And that is its prerogative.  Amazon has achieved market dominance; this has the benefit of providing an alternative to eBay, for sellers like me; in that sphere, it can dictate what it is going to do; and the questions of whether I have been cheated, or Dr. Iwuagwu has been misunderstood, are not going to be resolved.

In these regards, Amazon functioned as a microcosm of concepts of justice in the U.S.  While I do want to post a notice of concern regarding Dr. Iwuagwu, what really interests me about this transaction is what it illustrated, in a very simple exchange consisting of just a few messages.  The preceding paragraph, rewritten to replace "Amazon" with "the court," would largely apply to American litigation processes as well.  The courts have their sphere; they dictate the rules; their rules commonly ignore the realities; and the very common outcome is dissatisfaction and/or injustice, for one if not both parties.

To put it in different terms, Amazon was able to handle the case in this manner because this is what we've gotten used to.  It's what we expect.  In another kind of America, this sort of thing would not be tolerated.  Companies or courts engaging in it would be denounced.

What we would have, instead, could take a variety of forms.  For instance, there might be a strict insistence upon the facts, with disincentives for abuse or manipulation; or there might be an orientation toward equity, where I would not be sent away without at least something to show for the loss of my tapes; or there might be an expectation of consensus or reconciliation, where the arbitrator in Amazon's position would be highly communicative and concerned with mutual understanding and a return to the emotional status quo -- where, that is, resentment or other negative reactions would be taken seriously.  It is remarkable that a company, never mind a society, can be indifferent to all of these justice-related concerns and more.

The case of Dr. Iwuagwu is very simple and minor.  But it's not as though things are done better on the grand scale.  The logic actually seems to run in the other direction.  The message appears to be something like this:  "If we aren't going to do a good job of deciding very important cases in a timely and efficient manner, we sure aren't going to pay much attention to your trivial gripe."  And so people's lives are complicated and often made miserable by mishandled or ignored disputes that seem minor to others but are important to them.

"Life is unfair," we are told, with the implication that that's how it will always be.  That is the ultimate principle underlying justice-related processes in the courts and elsewhere throughout American society.  And it will remain the ultimate principle until people become sufficiently motivated to seek a change.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Windows 7: Mouse Pointer Spotlight

I was using Windows 7.  I noticed that, in some online demo videos, people were able to have their mouse cursor highlighted, as if it were a flashlight.  I wanted to be able to do that.  I ran a search to find a freeware option.  I had to filter this search to find sites that seemed to be helpful.  I found there were some shareware options, including PointerFocus, MouseLight, and SpotOnTheMouse.  There were also some freeware options that looked interesting but didn't give me quite what I wanted, including the freeware MouseShade and Sonar.

At some point, I became aware of the obvious, which was that I could probably just tinker with the mouse cursor or maybe install a different kind of cursor, making it visible in the same way that a spotlight effect would.  Built-in options in Windows 7 (Control Panel > Mouse, Pointers tab and Pointer Options tab) included choosing a larger cursor and adding tails.  To expand on that, I ran a search, glanced at a webpage offering a free download of 7500 various kinds of mouse pointers, and then went to a Microsoft webpage explaining how to change the mouse pointer's appearance.  The basic idea here was that, in that same Control Panel > Mouse > Pointers tab, I could click Browse and see a boatload of cursor (.cur) and animation (?) (.ani) files that existed in C:\Windows\Cursors.

My guess was that I could probably do a search for additional .cur files and download them to that folder, and then they would hopefully be visible in that Pointers tab.  The Open Cursor Library looked like it might have a lot of cursor options.  I also looked cursorily at webpages on creating your own cursor, creating a cursor from an image, previewing a cursor, and using a custom cursor file.  But then I realized that -- damn, being a curser and all -- I had to get back to work.

Google Search: Freeware: Get Rid of Unwanted Sites

I was using Google to search for freeware.  My search produced a bunch of websites that did not give me what I wanted.  This post briefly describes some steps I took to get better search results.

First, I modified my search to eliminate some sites that were giving me a combination of freeware and shareware.  For purposes of this particular search, I figured that any freeware of good quality would have been noticed and commented on by a number of people.  People selling software had a number of strategies to obscure the fact that they were not offering freeware.  Not to blame them -- they worked hard on their software, and they wanted to make some money for it -- but what I was searching for wasn't important enough to buy.  If there was a freeware solution, great; if not, I'd just skip it.  So the modified search I used was this (assuming I was searching for software related to "mouse" and "cursor"):

mouse cursor freeware -shareware -"free download" -"free trial" -"free to try"
This got through one set of unwanted results, but I wasn't done.  Now I was getting a bunch of websites that offered all kinds of freeware, but none providing what I was looking for specifically.  They just seemed to put up any freeware that seemed remotely related, and that wasn't helping me.  I was doing this search in Firefox, and I knew of two ways to get rid of these sorts of sites in Firefox.  (There probably were similar solutions in Google Chrome, but I didn't check.)  One approach was to install the Web of Trust (WOT) add-on, and look for its colored rings next to the search results.  These, I had found, were helpful but sometimes alarmist. 

Another approach, which I used in conjunction with WOT, was to install the OptimizeGoogle add-on, and start to build up its list of list of filters.  The steps here were, first, to install the add-on, and then, in Firefox, go into Tools > Add-ons > Extensions tab > OptimizeGoogle > Options > Filter.  My list of filters was still growing, but at this point the list was as follows:
I saved that list (Export from the filter list) for when I would have to reinstall Firefox.  With this list in place, Google searches in Firefox that found any of these websites would now give me a small, greyed-out line to let me know that my results were being filtered, but would focus on the remaining sites.  This, I found, reduced distraction and saved time in other searches.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Windows 7: You Need Permission to Perform This Action

I was trying to move a file from one folder to another.  This was a frequently used folder.  I had done this operation a thousand times before.  Suddenly I got this error message:

Destination Folder Access Denied
You need permission to perform this action
A search led to the suggestion that, in Windows Explorer, I should right-click on the folder and go to Properties > Security tab > Advanced > Owner tab > Edit > select Administrator (since that was who I wanted to own the folder, though that was *already* who owned it) > Apply > OK.  That didn't work.  Some remarks indicated that this could be a digital rights management issue, in the case of a music file, but this was just a PDF.  It was, however, a PDF created by Sumatra PDF, in an attempt to remove security from the PDF so that I could run OCR on it.  It seemed I should have used Foxit instead.  Anyway, I went back into Properties > Security tab > Advanced > Everyone > Change Permissions > Everyone (check both boxes) > Apply > OK.  That didn't do it either.  I moved everything out of the folder, deleted it, put its former contents into a new folder, and was able to work normally.  No explanation.

Windows 7: Windows Explorer: CDs and DVDs: Files Ready to Be Written to the Disc

When loading a program DVD, I noticed that Windows Explorer showed its files in two groups:  "Files Currently on the Disc" and "Files Ready to Be Written to the Disc."  This wasn't a DVD/RW disc, so this grouping didn't make sense.  I wanted to get rid of it.  I ran a search and got advice to paste this address into the address bar in Windows Explorer:

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Burn\Temporary Burn Folder
and, there, to delete all contents from the Temporary Burn Folder (but not the folder itself). That solved half the problem:  the "Files Ready" group was gone, but I still had "Files Currently on the Disc."  I ran another search and found a webpage leading to a How-To Geek page that said this was a result of having Windows 7 built-in (as distinct from e.g., Nero third-party) DVD burning enabled.  To disable the built-in burning, I downloaded their registry hack for Vista and verified in regedit that it added the desired value to the Win7 registry.  I checked in Windows Explorer.  The Files Currently on the Disc message was still there.  I rebooted.  On reboot, I got an error:
The parameter is incorrect
I wasn't sure if this resulted from the registry edit.  The Files Currently on Disc message was no longer there when I selected the DVD drive (with a disc in the drive) in Windows Explorer.  The original problem seemed to be fixed.  Glary Registry Repair did not identify the registry tweak as a problem.  I went ahead and added it to my all-purpose Win7RegEdit.reg registry tweak file that I would run when installing Windows 7.

Windows 7: Remove InstallShield Update Manager

The InstallShield Update Manager (ISUM) had somehow installed itself on my system.  It would sometimes appear in my system tray, and would also pop up messages telling me that I needed to install updates.  I wanted it gone.

I ran a search and found a Flexera Software webpage that offered a link to a SoftwareManagerUninstall.exe program.  I ran that uninstaller and was greeted with a question:  "Are you sure you want to remove the FLEXnet Connect Software Manager?  Odd question; I hadn't installed any such thing.  Logically, though, it couldn't hurt, so I said sure, do it.  A moment later, it said the software manager had been removed from my system.  I was glad for that.  But the ISUM icon was still in my system tray, and when I double-clicked on it, it informed me that it was currently updating two important programs, namely, ON-OFF Charge B10.0427.1, which I had never heard of, and the InstallSheild Update Manager itself.  Marvelous.

The idea seemed to be that there were different versions of the ISUM, depending on which program installed it on my system, which would explain why various sites pointing me toward specific registry entries didn't work for me -- and I couldn't just delete all references to InstallShield, because all kinds of programs used that as their installer.  I went into Control Panel > Programs and Features to verify that, as I recalled, the InstallShield Update Manager was not listed there.  With the aid of a thread, I found that C:\Program Files\Common Files\InstallShield\UpdateService\ISUSPM.exe was the operative program -- running the Update Manager, I mean -- but somebody said that deleting that wouldn't solve the problem; it would just be reinstalled by the related registry entries at some point.  There was the option to set it not to check for updates, but somebody in that thread said it would then pop up to remind me that I had set it to not remind me.

I ran a better search and got a suggestion to use Autoruns instead of Start > Run > msconfig to identify ISUM as a starting program and untick it.  But before trying the Autoruns/msconfig route, I did a Ctrl-F in Start > Run > regedit for ISUSPM.exe.  This gave me the idea to delete the C:\Program Files\Common Files\InstallShield\UpdateService folder and then run Glary Registry Repair to wipe out references to it.  Thanks to previous tweaks (see links above), I was already running as administrator with about as much freedom as I could persuade Win7 to give me, so I figured the only thing left to do, before I could delete that folder, would be to use my right-click Lockhunter option to free it up in Windows Explorer.  That didn't work, though, so I tried deleting the contents of C:\Program Files\Common Files\InstallShield\UpdateService individually.  Everything went except issch.exe.  For that, I got an error:

File In Use
The action can't be completed because the file is open in InstallShield Update Service Scheduler.
So I went into Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) > Processes tab, highlighted issch.exe, and clicked End Process.  That took care of that.  (When I tried this on another machine, I also had to use Task Manager to shut down agent.exe, ISUSPM.exe, and one or two other processes.)  Then I closed Task Manager.  Now I could get rid of the folder.  I ran Glary.  I was watching one of the references to ISUSPM.exe in regedit, and it did not change when Glary was done, so I rebooted, ran Glary again, and did another search in regedit for ISUSPM.exe.  That reference was still there; so, maybe, were others.  I wasn't sure what to do about that, so I left it alone for a while.

Nothing further emerged, so I left things as they were.  The InstallShield Update Manager seemed to be gone.  There was still an InstallShield Program Updates icon in Control Panel, though.  I got rid of that by going to C:\Windows\System32.  There, I clicked on the Type heading (in Windows Explorer) to sort by that field, scrolled down to the .cpl (Control panel item) files, and deleted ISUSPM.cpl.  The icon was still in Control Panel, but I thought maybe it would go away after a reboot.  That may have been correct.  When I checked a week later, it was gone.

Windows 7: Item Not Found Error

Suddenly, when I was moving folders, I started getting a stupid message that the folder that I was moving was no longer where it used to be.  The message was specifically as follows:

Item Not Found
Could not find this item
This is no longer located in [source folder].  Verify the item's location and try again.
Trying again would finish the move.  I wanted to stop getting this message.  I ran a search and came up with a thread suggesting that the problem was with a Windows 7 update, KB980408.  That thread led me to a .reg file, which I downloaded and ran:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

That seemed to take care of it.

Windows 7: KVM in a Multimonitor Setup

I was using two monitors with two computers.  After reflecting on multiple monitor possibilities, I installed an ASUS EN210 video card in each computer.  This allowed me to connect dual displays.  I decided that monitor A would be available to both computers, and monitor B would be available only to computer B.  To make this happen, I connected monitor A to a keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switch.  So computer A was visible only on monitor A, whereas computer B was visible across the two monitors (assuming that's where I had the KVM set).

Problem:  every time I switched back to computer B on the KVM, monitor A would go blank.  This was not a problem when I was using the KVM only to switch the mouse and keyboard, leaving each monitor dedicated to one computer.  It arose only in the dual-monitor setup.  It seemed that the computer was not remembering the dual-monitor settings for monitor A on computer B.  Each time, I had to go back into Control Panel > Display > Change Display Settings > Detect.  (This KVM problem also seemed responsible for screwing up Adobe Acrobat 9. It was no longer remembering my toolbar settings the way I had previously set them. This seemed to be fixed by going into Acrobat's Help > Repair Acrobat installation.)

A search led to the suggestion that the problem I was having with monitor A was with the KVM:

It is a problem found with those KVM switches which did not pass the console display's EDID and DDC information to all the systems connected to the KVM switch. ...
Windows 7 checks display and display card constantly different from what XP and other operating systems did.
To solve this issue, just replace the KVM switch with those KVM switches supporting FULL TIME Active DDC function.
Please check ConnectPRO new UR or PR serial KVM switches which support Active DDC function to all the ports.
That post pointed me toward a Microsoft webpage with more technical information.  I did another search and saw references to ConnectPRO there too.  A different search suggested that lots of users were running into this problem.  Newegg's Power Search didn't offer an operating system selection, and they didn't seem to carry ConnectPRO KVMs.  A Google Shopping search led to two ConnectPRO KVMs, each costing at least $130.  I ran across a workaround suggestion to hit Win-D before and after switching with the KVM, but apparently that worked only with XBOXes, or anyway it didn't work for me.  There was another workaround, too technical for my blood.  Another thread prompted me to check for the most current driver for my ASUS EN210 graphics card.  As I recalled, the usual advice was to look for the latest drivers on the chipset manufacturer's webpage, so after consulting the details on the EN210, I went to the NVIDIA website and searched for GeForce 210 drivers.  I went with the most recent WHQL-certified driver.  After reboot, I saw that this did not solve the problem.  Note:  the machine had all current Windows updates at this point.

It seemed I had a choice.  I could go back to using one monitor per computer, or I could look for a hardware multimonitor solution.  Going back would mean waiting for Microsoft to fix this problem with Win7.  There was no guarantee that that would ever happen.  Basically, if I wanted multimonitor support for KVM-type functionality for two computers running Win7 (as distinct from one Win7 and one WinXP), it seemed I would either have to buy an expensive KVM or maybe come up with some other kind of funky plugging and switching.  For instance, I wondered whether I could make a go of it with two keyboards, two mice, and a switch just to flip monitor A from one computer to the other.  But this wouldn't circumvent the problem that Windows 7 was constantly polling the monitor, and that was the only thing that counted.  I found a device called the Geffen DVI Detective, which for $80 would remember the EDID and therefore defeat the problem (but only for monitors using DVI connectors).

Then I saw that Amazon carried a bunch of ConnectPRO KVMs, and some were far less expensive.  They did not carry the PR-12, which was the one PS/2 (as distinct from USB) KVM that ConnectPRO offered for my humble purposes:  two computers, one keyboard, one monitor, one mouse.  USB did not work reliably for both keyboard and mouse when Win7 was not running -- when, for instance, I was booting from a CD, or was adjusting the BIOS settings before the operating system booted.  But then I remembered that my new motherboards had only one PS/2 port, and the PR-12 would definitely require two (one each for keyboard and mouse).  I did have the option of using USB mice, one dedicated to each computer, and in fact had been doing that for a while, partly for the reason of pre-boot capability just mentioned and partly to reduce the strain on either wrist.  Another option was to use an adapter or some other gizmo to give me a second PS/2 port.

From ConnectPRO's product comparison page, it seemed there were several options to consider.  One was the choice between VGA and DVI.  DVI provided superior video, but VGA (using D-Sub connectors) was functioning well for me at the moment.  (DVI achieved using DVI-VGA adapters had, in my impression, the same risk of video problems as plain old VGA.)  It seemed that a couple of inexpensive video cards had eliminated problems of ghosting that I was getting when I had the monitors connected directly to the motherboards.  There was also the choice of two- or four-computer KVMs.  I needed only two.  Switching via hotkey was preferable to having to reach up and punch a button on the KVM in order to switch between computers.  All of the relevant ConnectPRO KVMs had All-time Full DDC, which was evidently the core need behind this KVM search.  ConnectPRO's Pro line of KVMs apparently did not have the Dynamic Device Mapping (DDM) technology that would remember attached USB peripherals (e.g., speakers, mice) and would thus eliminate lag time required for the switched computer to re-detect the devices.  It was confusing, shopping among these devices on Amazon, because there were various "kit" options that were described as "new" and yet did not appear on ConnectPRO's website, and also because now it started to look like some of these products did not have Full DDC and/or DDM.  What I came up with was a choice, for me, between the UR-12 PRO, with VGA and DDC but not DDM and no hotkey option ($102 with shipping from ConnectPRO through Amazon); the UR-12 PLUS, with VGA, DDC, DDM, and a hotkey option ($176); and the UD-12 PLUS, which was the same as the UR-12 PLUS but with DVI (and therefore with VGA as an option, via adapter) ($191 from a couple of sellers).

Since I was having no video issues at the moment, and might not have any again for some time, I decided to go with VGA rather than DVI, all other things being equal.  If I did get video problems, I could sell one KVM and upgrade to another later.  So then it was a question of whether I was willing to pay an extra $74 for DDM and a hotkey option.  DDM was nice -- I had noticed the lag in responsiveness at some point, hard to recall at the moment but apparently when I had upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 -- but that was not really bothering me much at present.  Those delays, and the hotkey, were especially important when I was doing a lot of switching between computers, which happened primarily when I was testing or tinkering with hardware or software on one machine and logging the developments on the other.  I was not presently doing much of that, and didn't plan to be doing much of it anytime soon.  It occurred to me that, if the DDM lags did bother me at such times, I could always dedicate one mouse, one monitor, and one keyboard to each computer at those times.  I could arrange that on my desk, and then the only lag would be the time needed to reorient my hands on the other keyboard.  Indeed, for purposes of working with the BIOS and such, I could simply keep a PS/2 keyboard always plugged in and standing off to the side of each computer, in addition to the USB keyboard connected to the KVM.  (PS/2 was not hot-swappable; it would be necessary to reboot to have the keyboard be recognized if it were not plugged in at time of bootup.)  Looking at the choice again, I reconsidered that the price difference between the UR-12 PLUS and the UD-12-PLUS was only $15.  From that perspective, I would choose the latter over the former, so as to wrap up the best product at not much additional cost; and in that case, the price difference between the solution with or without DDM, hotkey, and DVI was substantial:  the UD was almost twice the price of the UR.

As long as I was sure I did want to use dual monitors on computer B, sometimes swapping monitor A between computers A and B, I would need Full DDC, and it seemed the choice was then to spend $102 on a ConnectPRO UR-12 PRO KVM.  If I hadn't gotten the video cards for only $18 each, the decision to add dual monitor capability (with KVM and video cards) would then have cost me more than $150.  It was worth it -- dual monitor capability added a lot to a workspace -- but it was turning into more hassle and expense than it should have been.  I belatedly realized that perhaps I should have looked for a motherboard with dual monitor capability and with enough video memory so that the computer would not struggle to switch between windows on the same monitor, as computer A had been doing before I added the video card.  Desk space permitting, that kind of expense also raised the question of perhaps having three dedicated monitors -- one for computer A and two for computer B, and recabling one of the latter to computer A if a multimonitor need arose there -- thereby reducing the KVM need to a simple $20-30 device that would swap keyboards and mice, assuming those were not likewise dedicated to single machines.  The temptation to just get a third monitor and forget about the Full DDC KVM would be even stronger if I were looking at the nearly $200 price tag for a ConnectPRO UD-12 PLUS KVM.  But even without that, as I considered the time I had devoted to screwing around with KVMs, on this and on previous occasions, I did think that possibly the best approach would be to go with the third monitor, wait for someone to compete with ConnectPRO and/or for Microsoft to get its act together -- to buy a third monitor as an interim solution, in other words, and to sell it when and if a superior KVM alternative emerged.

Adding a PS/2 Port

I had always used PS/2 rather than USB mice and keyboards.  USB had the drawback of not being functional in some circumstances (e.g., when I was booting from some kinds of CDs, or was adjusting the BIOS settings before the operating system loaded).  This seemed to be true even when USB devices were enabled in BIOS.  Unfortunately, my new motherboard had only one PS/2 port.  I would now have to go with at least one USB device.  Between the two, USB mice seemed to function better than USB keyboards in the environments just mentioned, so I could live with a PS/2 keyboard and a USB mouse.

Problem:  I had two computers, and was using a keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switch to share my mouse, keyboard, and monitor between the two computers.  Now I needed two PS/2 connectors unless I wanted to get a USB KVM, mouse, and keyboard.  I didn't want to spend the money, and I liked the PS/2 KVM better than what I was seeing in the USB KVMs.  So there was a question:  could I add a second PS/2 port to a computer with just one PS/2 port?

I tried using Y-splitter cables, which were physically able to connect two PS/2 devices to one PS/2 port.  But they didn't work:  only one device or the other (i.e., mouse or keyboard) would operate.  I ran a search and saw some references to adapters that would convert the computer's serial port to PS/2, though apparently that could have its complications.  The pictures looked familiar.  I dug around and found that I already had something like that.  I didn't want to reboot the computer right then to try it out, so I searched a bit more.  There seemed to be some USB to PS/2 adapters; presumably those wouldn't have the serial port problems.  I also found a PS/2 adapter backplate, which would have required an unused PS/2 header on the motherboard.  I wasn't sure if my mobo had one of those, but I could scope it out when I did shut down.

I wasn't sure which of these solutions I would ultimately wind up using, or even if I would definitely try to stick with PS/2 rather than USB.  This is as far as I took the question at this moment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Windows 7: More Tweaks & Fixes

I had installed a customized version of Windows 7, and then tweaked it in a variety of ways.  This post describes additional random issues that needed to be fixed.  Some of these issues are described in separate posts:

Verify That You Have Access to That Directory

I was working along, minding my own business, when Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro decided to update itself.  Then it gave me this error message:

Error 1310.  Error writing to file:C:\Config.Msi\c33075c.rbf.
Verify that you have access to that directory.
I clicked Retry.  The message returned.  A search led to a seemingly comprehensive Adobe webpage on the problem.  (The webpage said that products affected included Creative Suite 4.0, which included Acrobat.)  I had to cancel out of the error message and the Acrobat update to proceed with the steps it advised.  I started by trying the option of changing properties on the folder named in the error message:  Windows Explorer > right-click on C:\Config.msi > Properties > Security tab > Advanced > Owner tab > Edit > select Administrators > click box "Replace owner on subcontainer and objects" > OK > OK.  Now the Properties dialog was closed.  That gave it a chance to adjust itself.  Now I went back into the same right-click on C:\Config.msi > Properties > Security tab > Advanced dialog, but this time I went to Permissions tab > Change Permissions > verify Full Control for SYSTEM and also for Administrators > check the two boxes (i.e., "Include inheritable permissions" and "Replace all child object permissions") > Apply.  I saw that I now had two different entries for SYSTEM and Administrators here, so I departed from the official instructions here to remove the ones that did not have Inherited permissions.  I had to remove them one at a time.  The "Replace all child object permissions" box did not stay checked.  I went back into Acrobat.  It started doing the update installation again.  The error recurred.  Going back to that same webpage, I tried the option of renaming C:\Config.msi to C:\Config.msi.old.  The error recurred.  I rebooted; same thing.  But now Acrobat was seeing that it wanted to install an update, so I let it.  Apparently this was different from whatever it had been trying to install before but had failed; this one succeeded.  It required another reboot.  After the reboot, the problem was gone:  I was able to start Acrobat without having it first try to run that failing update.  I wondered if perhaps renaming C:\Config.msi had triggered the update that apparently solved the problem.  A week or two later, unfortunately, I found that Acrobat was still malfunctioning.  I tried a repair and that didn't solve the problem, so I uninstalled it and tried alternatives.

Revise Robocopy

In a previous tweak, I had set up a Robocopy script to mirror my data drive to another internal drive every hour.  Now I wanted to have incremental backups, so that I would back up changed files every hour or two, with a reset every 24 hours.  Ultimately, my solution to this item was to install Backup Maker (see below) and let it do its thing.  I didn't like its nag screen, though, and felt that more work on a Robocopy solution might have been better.

Running AvaFind in Windows 7

I had bought a license for AvaFind, a file finder utility, but I'd had problems trying to use it in Windows 7.  AvaFind had not been updated since version 1.5, back around 2003.  I had tried using it in compatibility mode for Windows XP SP3, but that hadn't worked very well; it was still crashing.  As a temporary workaround, I installed a shortcut to AvaFind in my Start Menu, and just clicked there to restart it whenever it crashed.
Meanwhile, on a second machine, I was getting an error message when I tried to install AvaFind.  The error message was:

Ava Find Internal Error
Ava Find has detected an internal error and must be closed.  Error information was saved to on your desktop.
Ava Find Version:
The failed installation left an error log file on the desktop.  I unzipped it and found that the log insisted on being printed as a PDF.  The error message inside that PDF was:
[0x0008062e] Win32Exception 0x80070003: SHGetFolderPath[0x18 COMMON_STARTUP] failed. (0x80070003 The system cannot find the path specified.)
I did a search but found nothing.  Another search turned up some results, but then it occurred to me that AvaFind was functioning correctly on another machine, so what would happen if I just copied over its C:\Program Files\AvaFind folder?  I did that and double-clicked on AvaFind.exe.  It ran.  But getting it to function as a registered copy apparently required installation.  I stored a copy of the AvaFind folder in my customized Start Menu, where I kept all my portables, but I also went ahead and installed it.  As time passed, though, AvaFind was still not working well.  Ultimately, I adopted Everything as a good alternative.

Capture Streaming Video

I was once again looking for video capture freeware.  I had previously tried Camstudio, but had audio problems and poor quality, and TipCam, which seemed temperamental.  I found a list of programs and tried several.  Among these, GetASFStream would only work with a URL, which wasn't helpful for my purposes because the video I was trying to download would pop up in a separate window without its own URL.  I had previously found Debut to be excellent, but it had stopped working after a trial period, requiring me to spend $30 to continue.  Not an unreasonable expectation, but I was not doing much video capturing and had just decided to do without, at that price.  aTubeCatcher had some pretty good reviews on CNET, so that was one option.  Other options included StreamTransport (significantly less praised on CNET), Coojah (not listed on CNET), Orbit Grab Pro (a Firefox extension) and Orbit Downloader (heavily downloaded and fairly well liked on CNET), and the RTMPDump command-line option.  I had previously used Orbit; I saw some remarks about bugs on the CNET page; I decided not to start there.  The CNET review said I would need a URL for aTubeCatcher, so I didn't start there either.  There seemed to be another option, involving some technical adjustments.  Before trying it, I wondered whether maybe Debut had changed their licensing policies or had forgotten me -- it had been a year or more since I had last tried them out.  When I closed this post, this was still an area in development on my system.

Internal Incremental Backup

I had previously used a Robocopy script to mirror a hard drive to an internal partition, and had used the built-in Windows 7 Task Scheduler (taskschd.msc) to run it.  There were several things not to like about this arrangement.  First, I had the script running in a batch file, and I couldn't figure out how to teach batch files to run minimized.  So I would be working along, and then suddenly this thing would pop up and start running.  Second, Task Scheduler didn't have an option to run every two or three hours, and that was what I was needed, because otherwise this script was popping up every hour and running for a good chunk of that hour.  I wasn't sure whether it was actually slowing the system down that much; I just didn't want it running that frequently if it was going to be so visible.  Third, my Robocopy settings were doing a mirror, whereas I decided what I really needed was incremental backups, so that I would have multiple copies of files that I was working on, going back in time.  I came to appreciate the value of this once again, as if I had not learned it many times before, when a file I was working on got corrupted and then got backed up, overwriting the last good copy, so I lost several hours' work.

I decided to scrap the Robocopy approach and go with a more traditional backup program.  For right now, I decided to start with the built-in Windows 7 backup program (Control Panel > Backup and Restore).  But it didn't have an hourly option.  I found a webpage that said I could set up an hourly backup by going into Task Scheduler > left pane > Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > WindowsBackup.  This didn't give me the options they were seeing, so I assumed I first had to have the built-in Backup and Restore program set up.  So I went back into Control Panel and finished setting up a backup.  But now I wasn't sure if the built-in backup program could do incremental backups.  I found one of the invariably useful Gizmo webpages.  It recommended Backup Maker.  German homepage, but mostly English download page.  Backup Maker was not my ideal, but it worked.

Adobe Acrobat 8:  Comment & Markup Toolbar Reverts to Default

I was using Acrobat 8.2.6 in Windows 7.  I had a problem that I had also encountered when using Acrobat 8 in Windows XP.  The problem was that, when I would start Acrobat, often it would start with what was, I guessed, the default set of tools in the Comment & Markup toolbar.  I would select the tools I wanted, lock the toolbars, shut down Acrobat in an orderly way (i.e., File > Exit), and yet the default set would reappear when I opened certain documents.  It seemed that the desired set of tools had to be set manually for each PDF document -- that those that I had not yet opened in Acrobat 8 would favor the default set of tools until otherwise instructed.

I ran a search and found a thread with a few suggestions.  I tried the one about deleting my preference file.  I wasn't sure where to find that.  As I poked through another search to locate it, I saw that deleting the preference file seemed to be common advice for fixing random problems with Acrobat.  It took yet another search to find a post that seemed to address the topic.  The advice here was that I could automatically delete a preference file in some Adobe products by holding Ctrl-Alt-Shift as the program starts.  Just click the Acrobat icon, he said, and immediately hold those three keys down until the program finished starting.  This did not work for me, regardless of whether I started holding those keys down before or immediately after clicking on the Acrobat icon.

I decided to search for the preferences file and delete it directly.  As advised in one thread, I tried looking for it in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\Adobe PDF\Settings.  Unfortunately, I was not able to open that folder.  Attempts to do so gave me an error message:

Location is not available
C:\Documents and Settings is not accessible.
Access is denied.
In Windows Explorer, I right-clicked on the folder and used the nifty "Take Ownership" context menu option that I had previously installed via registry edit.  Now I was able to go in.  I had to repeat that step for the Documents subfolder.  But Adobe was not in there.  I had a general sense that, in Windows 7, the "Documents and Settings" folder was just a placeholder or shortcut to a different folder, but I didn't yet know clearly where that other folder was, and right-clicking on the Documents folder itself gave no clues.  Searches for pref*.dat gave me only Adobe Updater preference files.  It was possible that the problem was due to a flaw in the registry rather than in a preferences file, but I wasn't sure how to find a registry problem either.
At the time when I closed this post, this problem was still unresolved.

Do You Want to Allow This Webpage to Access Your Clipboard?

For some reason, I suddenly started getting this question whenever I tried to copy and paste something in Win7. It may have been the result of an upgrade to Internet Explorer 9. The solution was to go into Control Panel > Internet Options > Security tab > Trusted Sites (green checkmark) > Sites > Add this website to the zone. (This seemed to be the more conservative approach; I guessed that the more adventurous approach would have been to do these same steps under the Internet icon rather than under the Trusted Sites icon, so that they would apply to all websites.) I added the website in question. To do it, I had to unclick the "Require server verification" option. Then I went to Trusted Sites > Custom Level. In the Scripting section, not far from the bottom of the long list of settings, I checked Enable under "Allow Programmatic clipboard access." 

Schedule Defragmenting

I thought I had already taken care of this, but it appeared I had set up automatic defragging for use with a third-party program that I no longer had installed.  Third-party programs may well have been superior for this purpose, but I was OK with just average defragmenting for the time being.  With guidance from a Windows 98 webpage that came up in response to a search, I automated the Win7 defragger by going into Start > Run > taskschd.msc > Action > Create Basic Task.  I went through the wizard to set it up.  When I got to the Action step, I said Start a Program.  The program I wanted was Defrag.exe, and it was to "Start In" the C:\Windows\System32 folder.  In the "Add arguments" space, I typed "/c /u /x" from among the possible options.  At the end, I checked the option to go into the task's properties.  There, under the General tab, I checked "Run with highest privileges" (not the same as high priority) and "Configure for" Windows 7.  Under the Settings tab, in addition to whatever was already checked, I checked "Run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed."

The problem with those settings, as I soon discovered, was with the /c option, which would defrag all volumes, and perhaps also with the /x option, which was much slower than I had expected.  Even though I had this scheduled to run during the night, I would sometimes find that it was continuing on into the daytime.  I had a choice:  set up different defragmenting tasks to run on different nights, or switch to a different defragging program.  Microsoft said IOBit's Smart Defrag was compatible with Windows 7, as it had been with Windows XP, and it still had great ratings on CNET, so I decided to download and use it after all.  I decided not to go with the option of using Security 360, which IOBit offered as another freebie after Smart Defrag installed.  That decision was based on criticisms I saw in several posts I viewed about it.  Anyway, with Smart Defrag installed and configured, I disabled the Defrag.exe scheduled task described in the previous paragraph.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thunderbird for Windows: Transition from Portable to Desktop; Duplicate Email Remover

I was using Thunderbird Portable 3.1.4 in Windows 7.  I wanted to use an add-on (Remove Duplicate Messages (Alternate) 0.3.6) to delete duplicate email messages.  I got the impression that it wouldn't run on the portable version.  I had been thinking about switching to the desktop version of Thunderbird anyway, and now seemed like the time.  To figure out how to transition from portable to installed versions of Thunderbird, I ran a search and found advice that seemed on point.  I did not precisely track all of the steps I took in this process, but the following is a pretty close approximation.

I started by installing regular (i.e., not portable) Thunderbird.  I think I created an email account at that point.  This generated C:\Users\Administrator\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\f0xqaflh.default.  (The f0xqaflh part was randomly generated -- other installations would have a different ????????.default file.)  I closed Thunderbird and moved C:\Users\Administrator\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\f0xqaflh.default to D:\Thunderbird\Profiles\f0xqaflh.default.  I put it on D so that it would be saved in case of Windows reinstallation.

Then I went to Start > Run > "thunderbird.exe -ProfileManager."  In Profile Manager, I clicked on Create Profile > Next > Choose Folder and pointed to D:\Thunderbird\Profiles.  I exited Profile Manager and moved the contents of ThunderbirdPortable\Data\profile (i.e., just the profile subfolder) to D:\Thunderbird\Profiles.  I clicked on my Start Menu shortcut for Thunderbird (not portable).  It ran, and it seemed that all of my emails were there.  I deleted the folder containing the portable version.

I hoped this was all I needed.  Now it was time to try to delete duplicate emails.  I installed the duplicate email remover add-on (Tools > Add-ons > Extensions tab > Install) and ran it (Tools > Remove Duplicates).  It wouldn't check my archive folder until I turned off the Skip Special Folders option (Tools > Add-ons > Extensions tab > Options > Message Comparison tab).  At first, I used the default comparison criteria in that same tab:  Author, Recipients, CC List, Message ID, Send Time, Size, Body, and Subject.  This did not identify too many duplicates, but it appeared they were exact duplicates, so I could delete them all without much manual comparison.  I ran another search, without the Message ID criterion, and yet another, without the Size comparison.  The former likewise seemed not to require much manual comparison; the latter did.  In other words, the final comparison criteria (Author, Recipients, CC List, Send Time, Subject) produced many alleged duplicates, some of which were of very different size.

The add-on did not allow me to open individual emails (via double-click or right-click), to see why two emails bearing the same subject, date, time, etc. would be so radically different in size, so I had to do a lot of manual toggling back and forth between the duplicate remover and Thunderbird, and then searching for individual items in T-bird, to check emails one by one.  In this regard, it was not like DoubleKiller, which I had found to be an excellent duplicate file finder.  But the manual selection process was similar:  check or uncheck the desired item under the "Keep?" column.  Both of these programs would probably have been easier to use if it had been possible to select or deselect items by clicking anywhere on the line, rather than having to mouse over to precisely the checkbox spot each time.

The add-on did allow arrow-key and spacebar navigation and selection.  Playing with this, I eventually discovered that the Enter key would open T-bird to one of the identified duplicate messages, but in that case the comparison window disappeared and I was back in Thunderbird, leaving me to wonder why I was now seeing only one of the duplicates.  Then I realized, oops, hitting the spacebar had not actually opened the selected duplicate; it had gone ahead and run the deletion.  Well, I hoped those 700 messages really were duplicates.  I had been verging toward just saying to hell with the time-consuming and awkward manual comparison process anyway; I just wasn't quite ready for this to happen.  I looked in Thunderbird's Trash folder and realized that I had not emptied the trash before running the duplicate checker (another ideal feature for the duplicate checker), so now I would have to restore not just the 700 messages that I had apparently just deleted, without an "Are you sure?" message, but would also have to restore about 700 other messages that were apparently in the Trash previously, since I was now seeing a total of 1400 messages there.  As I looked at the Trash, I found myself wondering, actually, what was wrong with those 700 other messages.  They didn't seem to be messages that I would have wanted to delete, unless they too were duplicates.  I decided to move the whole lot of them to the archive folder that I had been dup-checking.  At this point, needless to say, I was beginning to fear that I might just be turning my whole email archive into a giant hash.  I started back through a sequence of dup-checks, beginning with the most conservative (i.e., with the most comparison criteria checked), but of course this time I had no patience for checking individual items.  Instead, I just dreamt of an update that would actually display large thumbnails of alleged duplicates, right there in the add-on.

The column headings in the dup-check results window permitted sorting in ascending or descending order.  At first, I thought that feature was not working for some criteria.  Then I figured out that it was meant to sort only within a comparison.  For example, if Size was not a comparison criterion, it would not be in boldface in the top row, and then clicking on it would sort alleged duplicates according to size; but if Size was a comparison criterion, it would be bolded, and then clicking on that heading in the top row would do nothing, since in that case all duplicates within a set would be identical by definition.  It would have been helpful if selected comparison criteria headings had enabled a sorting of all pairs.  That is, if I was comparing by Send Time, I wanted to be able to show the earliest ones (i.e., the pairs of allegedly time-identical messages) first, so that I wouldn't have to do so much jumping-around when I toggled to Thunderbird for a manual comparison.

After running the several comparisons mentioned above, I tried running one with only the Send Time and Subject criteria checked.  This revealed some apparent duplicates whose only difference was that for some reason one item in a pair would be enclosed in quotation marks (e.g., a message from "Joe") while the other would not (e.g., a message from Joe).

That was the end of my use of the add-on at this point.  I returned to finish this post several hours after completing these processes.  It appeared, at that point, that the transition to desktop Thunderbird and the use of the add-on to delete duplicate emails were both successful.