A day in the life of Common Man

This past week has seen a few common events that we all have to face, but can be a challenge.  I upgraded an older PC (about 7 years old now) and all the growing pains that go it.  Had to get my car inspected, but the “check engine” light was on (instant fail) and I had to get my haircut (which has become “a thing” since my hair is longer).
I have upgraded this PC before with additional memory and reinstalled the OS.  This time around I took the RAM to its maximum 2gb, upgraded the video card with EVGA GeForce 6200 Video Card which was a challenge to find since the motherboard is pretty old and can only take the AGP interface.  Finally, I added Windows 7 since it has gotten past it’s awkward beginnings and is a little faster than XP.  All totaled, I spent about $100 on it and it should last another year or two before I get something more powerful as a media center.  The only real trouble I ran into was reinstalling the printer which apparently does not play well with W7.  It was a bear trying to uninstall and W7 has made it a nightmare to locate and install driver manually.
 Next, I needed to get the car inspected to appease the highway overlords.  The trouble is, my car has a charcoal canister as part of the emissions system and the sensor has decided it’s time for a new one, which is a mere $500 installed.  Being a cheapskate…er…thrifty, my mechanic told me a little trick about Camrys, at least for my year model.  When the tester plugs your car into the blackbox, it reads for items and at least three have to be active and ready.  For some reason, the Camry’s emissions system takes a while to cycle.  What that means is, if the system is reset, by say undoing the battery cable, the computer will reset and start cycling through all its checks and for a month or so, the check engine light goes off and I have a window to get my car passed.  So far, this has worked twice.  The only real trouble is, I don’t have the alarm key, so you have to do a special combination of key turns and button pushing to override the anti-theft.  And unless you undo the horn first, it will blare the whole time.
Finally today, I went to get my haircut only to find my usual person had up and quit.  It took a while to find the right person to get my hair right and now I have to start over.  The girl today did a pretty good job, so I may have gotten lucky.

The Dreaded Reinstall

I took a survey at PCWorld asking how often people reinstall their operating system.  Many only do it when it crashes, but there is a large number that do it on a regular basis.  I had a chat with our IT guy at work and he confirmed that.  He does it every six months to keep things clean and running quickly.  The other benefit too is that it keeps you in practice.  When your computer only crashes once every two years of so, you forget all the little quirks that are special to your system.  Mine is a custom built that is at least six years old, so it has plenty of older hardware and other quirks.

So, much to my wife’s chagrin, I decided it was time for a fresh start.  It took on average about 5-7 minutes to boot into Windows XP.  I have dual operating systems with Linux Mint as the second.  It takes about 30 seconds to boot into Linux, so you can see the huge difference.  

My system has three users, one for me, one for my wife and one for the kids.  The reason is pretty obvious, the kids need limited access, my wife likes lots of links on her desktop and I prefer a more minimal approach.  As I mentioned, I also have Linux Mint.  I prefer to do most of my computer time there, but there is still some times I need to be in Windows.   I have an older nVidia graphics card, an old Intel ethernet and audio card.  The hard drive (hdd) is partitioned, almost in half, with the OS on one and all installed programs on the other.  I have a second hdd where Linux is installed and all the photos and music are stored.

I started by copying only a few folders from the kids’ and my profile.  The desktop, “My Documents”, favorites, etc. but not profiles since that is one of the reasons for the reinstall.  The more you install and customize, the more sluggish the OS.  For my wife’s though, I copied it all.  She uses Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.  They have user profile info like saved messages, address boos, bookmarks etc.  I use Gmail which keeps all that out in the cloud.  I had actually forgotten about the user profile stuff for Firefox, but I was being extra careful with my wife’s profile, so all that stuff was saved.  You also have to have your Windows OS key, that 25 letters and number that tells Microsoft exactly where you are and what your doing.  If you are like most people, the OS was already installed so there is no back up or startup disk.  So the number is probably on a sticker on your case somewhere.  You also need to make a start up or recovery disk.

I have a Windows setup disk slipstreamed with SP2.  I thought I had one with XP3, but when I tried that one, it was made from an install disk that required another disk…yadda, yadda, yadda…it did not work.  The reinstall went smoothly until reboot.  Because of the silly old hardware, Windows had fits of bluescreen.  I started it up in Safe Mode and made the mistake of doing a disk check.  That got caught in a loop since the problem was actually a missing driver for the video card.  Windows has trouble with extra memory.  So, I got back into Safe Mode, up loaded the nVidia and intel drivers and the reinstall proceeded as normal.  

I make that sound easy, but the truth is, I forgot about the hardware issues.  I knew I had an nVidia card, but could not remember the others.  Thankfully there is software to help, Unknown Device Identifier.  This nifty bit of software lists the unknowns, and gives you deeper info that Windows does not, like the chipset which can tell you where to go to get your drivers.  In my case, I needed some legacy drivers.  For the nVidia card I have NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 100/200.  That was the easy one.  The Intel stuff was harder, but I had made a note in Evernote a while back, and it led me to PROWIN32.exe.  That one got both the ethernet card and strangely the audio working.

So, now we are booted up.  I set up each of the users again, copy over the info and start downloading software again.  “But your software was installed on a different partition” you say.  Sure, but when software is installed in Windows and I presume other OS, there are various entries made to OS that tell it how to use the software.  That is all lost in the reinstall.  Now you get to decided what you did not really want and start fresh.  Another great resource for that is Ninite.  This site give you a list of popular free software and creates a nice little downloader.  This way you do not have the scour the interwebs looking for all the stuff you need.  You’ll still need to seek out some things, but this shortens that time.

Software was back in place, now I needed to get my wife’s email and web browser back up.  The email was easy.  I have had experience getting that fixed in the recent past.  You get into Thunderbird and set up the email and user like a new account.  Then locate the user profile.  In XP C:Documents and SettingsApplication DataThunderbirdProfilesxxxxxxxx.default.  Same for Firefox.  I actually forgot to do her browser at first.  She has dozens of bookmarks and lives by them.  She was kind enough to point out the various things I had forgotten.  :^)

With all that done, all that was left was to get my Linux back.  But that is a whole other story.

Make Outlook work like Gmail

Here’s how to do it all (at least for Outlook 2003), all documented for you here in one place:
The first thing you need to do is make messages you send get put in the Inbox. An additional thing you need to do is make them get marked as read (otherwise you’ll always have tons of un-read messages from yourself in your inbox).

Outlook Gmail Rules and Filters: This is what my "Rules and Alerts" look after after adding a "CC send messages to inbox" rule and a "Mark messages from self as read" rule.

Outlook Gmail Rules and Filters: This is what my “Rules and Alerts” look after after adding a “CC send messages to inbox” rule and a “Mark messages from self as read” rule. Select Rules and Alerts from the Tools menu.
Click the New Rule button to open the Rules Wizard. (In previous versions of Outlook you’d go straight to the Rules Wizard from the Tools menu.)

Near the bottom click Check messages after sending. Click Next.

Click Next again without checking any condition.

Click Yes to confirm that this rule applies to all messages.

Check the box CC message to *select your email address*.

Click Next and Next again. Name the rule and click Finish.

Then, to get Outlook to BCC, instead of CC so don’t look like a gimp:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2009-04-25 15:32.

Just press alt-F11 to bring up VBA, then Project1(VbaProject.OTM)– and copy the following code to your built-in ThisOutlookSession:

Private Sub Application_ItemSend(ByVal Item As Object, _
Cancel As Boolean)
Dim objRecip As Recipient
Dim strMsg As String
Dim res As Integer
Dim strBcc As String
On Error Resume Next

‘ #### USER OPTIONS ####
strBcc = “youremailaddress@blah.dom”

Set objRecip = Item.Recipients.Add(strBcc)
objRecip.Type = olBCC
If Not objRecip.Resolve Then
strMsg = “Could not resolve the Bcc recipient. ” & _
“Do you want still to send the message?”
res = MsgBox(strMsg, vbYesNo + vbDefaultButton1, _
“Could Not Resolve Bcc Recipient”)
If res = vbNo Then
Cancel = True
End If
End If

Set objRecip = Nothing
End Sub

The next thing you need to do is make your e-mails show up in something that somewhat resembles GMails conversations. I set “Group By…” to “Conversation (ascending) and “Sort…” to Conversation (index).

Outlook Gmail Customized View Options: This is what my customized view options look like after grouping by conversation and sorting by conversation index.

Outlook Gmail Customized View Options: This is what my customized view options look like after grouping by conversation and sorting by conversation index.
Now your inbox should look a lot nicer now and finally, click on the column “Newest on top” to have them sorted by date properly and your Inbox should look as shown in the image.
Thanks to David Grant, the anon poster in comments and PC Magazine for all the pieces to make this work.

Online Storage

I have looked into getting out “into the cloud”, having files out where I can get to them with out having to purchase a portable hard drive (which I already have).  Being a devotee of Google, I have a naive, doey-eyed faith that they have already made these things happen for me.  Alas, I am often disappointed.  Goggle docs does let you store almost anything you want, 1 gb free, 20 for $5 a year and up from there.  Here are a few of my other favorite free sites:

  1. SkyDrive
  2. Adrive
  3. iCloud
  4. Glide

 iCloud and Glide are unique in that they are an online “operating system”.  It acts much like the desktop on your computer.  You can run apps, create docs, listen to music all in your browser.  With the new Google OS set to debut sometime this year, it looks like many companies are aiming to change the way we use computers.