Sunday, December 20, 2009

Imaging / Fixing my laptop

Two and a half months plus after my hard drive on my laptop failed, the ordeal is finally (mostly) over. I've recovered nearly all of my data, except for the 2-3 weeks right before the crash. I still haven't tried restoring my XP partition; despite the data on there, it's just not a challenge I'm ready to face yet. However, after much trial, tribulation, difficulty, despair, and delay, it's finally back to working condition. Through it, I learned some valuable lessons, so I'd like to share some of my experiences in the tiny hope that it might help someone else.

First, my solution is backup using Acronis TrueImage 11 and Windows Vista (also XP, although as mentioned, I haven't gotten to that yet). It seems to be a great solution; easy to set up and, once you know all the caveats, capable of restoring very effectively, so that even software like Microsoft Office, which can be somewhat temperamental with moving/cloning, works just fine. However, these caveats combined with my busy schedule meant that I spent more than two months without real access to my old data and with a pretty much unusable laptop.

By far the biggest caveat is to know what you're doing with drive letters. Specifically, Microsoft recommends to never change the drive letter of a Windows install, and I think they're right. Long story short(ish): you will need to make every attempt to restore to the same drive letter as the original, and even then you may still have to manually change the system drive letter. There might be an easier or faster way, but what I ended up doing (which worked for me) was: make a recovery partition (accidentally named C:), make a second recovery partition at D:, remove the C: label from the other recovery partition (and format that partition), format and the partition you want to restore onto, give that partition the C drive letter, restore to that partition (TrueImage should show in the restore process that you're restoring C: to C:), then boot into the restored Windows.

Once I booted, I discovered that the drive letters were still messed in the restored Windows. This led to me using a bit of a hack to get a command shell to come up without logging into windows, so that I could edit the registry (read: use regedit) to set the system drive letter. Basically, the idea was replacing the sticky keys executable with cmd.exe so that using sticky keys popped up a command prompt. If you can't figure out how to do this by Googling, leave a comment and I can probably point you to some helpful web resources. After getting the command prompt up, I launched regedit and changed the system drive letter back to C: (again, if you're having trouble figuring out how to set the system drive letter, leave a comment and I can point you there). Now, my system drive letter and the drive letter Windows was expecting were back in alignment, and things seemed to be mostly back. I could login, my old desktop and icons popped up, etc. Phew!

Another caveat: Validating Windows. Even though this Windows install was properly validated, and I restored to the same hardware (except for a large HD), my windows unvalidated itself and refused to validate online. A quick call to the telephone support line resolved this problem, although I had to go through the phone validation process with a live person, which was slightly tedious, but I was glad because it really wasn't too much hassle.

A final caveat: Windows update. You might have to reset Windows update. Windows update and the Windows Defender update process were giving me issues. I used the fix found here: , and now the updaters seem to be working again.

Now, the full story of how I figured this all out (if you're interested): I created a small partition to run the recovery from, then restored to a partition with a different drive letter than it had before (before, it was on the C drive). It appeared to boot just fine, but logging in gave a message like "personalizing your desktop" before going to a blank screen where it would hang for quite a while and then quite back to the login screen. I decided that the proper thing to do at this point would be to try and upgrade to Windows 7, in the hopes that it would replace enough of the broken stuff that I would have a fully functional computing machine. This then led me to an error message about having to have my users, windows, and something else on the same partition...which of course they were. That then led me to an internet search that led me to investigate my environment variables, which revealed a few of them were set to different drive letters.

I googled for a while about how to fix those variables, then, after having fixed them, I tried again...but still got the same error. This led me to the registry...where I discovered that a ton of stuff was hardcoded for drive C. I then (somewhat stupidly) decided to use a registry utility to attempt to automatically change every instance of C: to the new drive letter. It was pretty ridiculous. I finally got to the point where I could log in to a very broken windows, where I was able to launch the Windows 7 installer and get past the warnings about the data on different partitions. However, I got a message about having to uninstall my older version of McAfee first. Windows installer was unfortunately one of the things that was still broken, and after multiple attempts to fix the installer and a look at the effort it would take to manually uninstall (and coming to terms with the idea that installing Windows 7 would likely not fix everything that was broken), I finally came to the idea of creating another recovery partition. Previously, I wasn't able to use C: for the restored partition, because the recovery partition used that. However, creating and installing Vista on another recovery partition would allow me to delete the old one and use the C: drive letter for the restored data. That's finally what I ended up doing, as described above, and it seems to have worked successfully.

Was that longer than needed? Probably, yeah. But, I put a lot of time into figuring out the solution, so I figured I should get something out of it, even if it's just a boring long story on a blog.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How to make private Blogger posts

Idea: just type and save a draft, then don't ever post it. Seems to function equivalently to a private post to me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

YouTube Errors

If you're getting mysterious errors when trying to upload HD content to YouTube, check your file size. If it's over 1GB and you're using a mac, check out this page. They say this happens with 1-3GB of RAM, but my mac currently has 7GB, and I was still getting the errors, so take that as you will. It's kind of annoying not to have a progress bar, but hey, it works.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Winsxs folder getting huge? Running out of HD space?

UPDATE (9/11/09):
Never mind. This space re-disappeared within about a week. Bummer. On the plus side, I was able to use the Scanner app ( to locate some old iTunes and Safari installers in various temp folders.

Original (8/25/09):
Recently, I've been running low on HD space. Using Scanner, my HD-as-a-pie-chart-viewing tool of choice, I've often noticed just how much space my winsxs folder takes up. I've Googled it a number of times only to find that it isn't the kind of place you can just go and delete things. However, I decided to try it again, and fortunately, I stumbled upon this helpful post.

Using the vsp1cln.exe utility saved me almost a GB of HD space - extremely valuable. Of course, my winsxs folder is still huge, and it's only a matter of time until I run out of HD space again, but this just might be enough to get me through until my next computer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

iPhone User Guide

If you're looking for a manual for the iPhone, one of the better resources I've found is the iPhone Users Guide. It's formatted specifically for iPhone, so if you try to view it on a computer, you will not get the same result. Punch in the URL on Safari on your iPhone, though, and you'll get a very helpful resource.

For whatever reason, I wasn't able to find this guide easily via Google...I had to go back and find it on my personal iPhone (where I have it bookmarked). I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon it in the first place, but I'm glad I saved the URL. The URL is:

Hope you find it helpful. It's definitely a good resource to link to for anyone you know who is new to the iPhone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

iPhone jailbreaking - 3.0

Just a quick note...

hypothetically, if you're jailbreaking an iPhone 1st gen with firmware 3.0 (or 3.0.1), and you get stuck at the waiting for reboot step, unplugging then quickly plugging back in your iPhone might just solve the issue.

Hypothetically, that tip was posted as only helping PowerPC users, but hypothetically, it might also work with Intel macs as well.

Hypothetically :D.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Brain Teaser

Want to hurt your brain a bit?

OK, so how do you know when you've made a decision? When you've weighed the evidence enough to be confident proceeding? Well, you have to decide that...but how do you decide when you're ready to make a decision? I guess you have to decide... whether you've made a decision on making a decision. Etc.

So yeah. Decisions might seem a little unexplainable then.