Bad Words: “Windows Registry”

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Featured Image from http://www.nikalsystems.co.uk/cleaning-up-and-optimising-a-microsoft-windows-xp-computer/


UPDATE: 20-JAN-2017

While composing a rough draft of thoughts, it appears I accidentally published this to the web.  I know, I know.  “I’ve lost the element of surprise.  I was careless.  The Earth did not end” – and so forth.  I suppose now all there is to do is state my case about the Windows Registry in this manner:

ben-stein-530x298

Sorry, Ben.  It just seems fitting.


“Thems fightin’ words…”

Even among diehard Windows fans, it is amazing to hear an entire office become an arid, dry, soundless wasteland as soon as someone mentions a anything related to “Windows Registry”.

No joke there.

In fact, just listen in the next time someone drops those two words out loud.  Sit back and watch everyone put their coffee down, disconnect from clients, and slowly turn towards the source of such profanity.  It is just a tension builder due to its intended purposes, misuse, and refusal to shrink that drives admins crazy.


What happened?

For myself, this is the single question that keeps my angst alive.  I tried to run a line count – per root node using reg – but I got tired of waiting.  Between  %USERPROFILE%\NTUSER.DAT and %windir%\System32\config, it “claims” the registry hives are only using 15 megabytes of space.  I am certain between portions in-memory and what is being used by programs that have free access to the registry, it is much larger.

Think back to Windows 3.11 -a mere graphical MS-DOS application in reality – as this is when the Windows Registry was introduced to us.  I can understand why with the addition of user accounts to the shell, but it was good enough in my own opinion.

registrationeditor_2

Don’t just take my word for it – check out the following MSDN blog regarding the registry as we barely were aware of it underneath the Windows 3.11’s box of boxes:

https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20120521-00/?p=7573

Now today: oh, it is just another form of temp space for lazy programs; a graveyard of bytes even after programs have been uninstalled.  It is even referred to as a database – which is sort of not fine, but okay – however, if it gets corrupted, you are up the creek.


In Summary…

The Windows Registry as we know it today – along with the page file – quite simply kill performance on both virtual and physical hardware.  The longer a system is used, the larger the registry becomes.  And, per the article from MSDN above, anyone can see it has evolved into a beast within itself.

Do you back it up?  How often?  How can we prune it safely?  Etc, etc.

It is as if it was designed so just so an industry of “malware laden” products could be downloaded for ad-revenue under the guise that “it will clean up your registry and defrag it!”

Wow.  Tell that to autoexec.bat and config.sys.

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

 

Computer Museum Project: 2

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Featured Image from http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/blog/a-gallery-of-vintage-blank-audio-cassette-tapes


Score! (It’s the little things)…

If you recognize the image above – thanks to a great website, grayflannelsuit.net – and you also were one of the readers (besides me) regarding “Ditching Optical Media” and my… blogumentary (I just made that up) regarding work towards my Computer Museum, well boy oh boy: I am quite the happy chappy.

Atlanta traffic was what it usually was as I left the office yesterday.  A big sea of metal infested concrete with nowhere to run.  I thought about it and just headed to my parents house.  I mean, in all seriousness, by the time I made it home I would need to be in full Thundercat Pajamas and ready for bed.  Optional Robotech Pajamas, but last night was definitely a Thundercat night.

I have (well, my Dad and I have) a ZX Spectrum I bought him with a 16K memory extension for his birthday.  Reported seller on some famous auction site reported it to be in working condition.  Yeah, to quote my dad “3/7th of the keys worked and the RF out needs to be fixed”… lovely.  I’m not paying to ship it: I am going to revive it!

And why?  Well, first of all…. it looks like this (along with its accessories being in near mint condition):

zx81

However, not to be second as it is far more important to this story as a friend of my father’s dropped off some high-end audio gear.  Among the lot were some PC speakers he wanted me to have and in my curiosity I pulled out something I had been tracking at modern retail stores, but for near $40.00.  I didn’t realize the implications of what I hath discovered, but my dad sure did.  The expression on his face was absolutely heart warming.  “OH!  AH-HA!  THE ZX!”  And he wasn’t just right about the ZX now having storage, for voila!

gmcassetteokayer

Oh, yes indeed!  Exactly what we need for using tapes off older computers, but also to make digital backups.  Data storage, data preservation, and cassette-driven audio bliss.  It was a moment of angelic harmonies as while it may not be the original Tandy cassette player (see below) — it will most certainly do the job with it’s 6 AA batteries (or 6V DC power requirements):

tandytapedeck


Go ahead and laugh…

Not only am I one free component closer to my glorious museum, I can also use it when I want to (literally) spin my cassettes.  Yeah, cassettes.  USB thumb drives don’t spin and I certainly can’t play my “passed on” tapes from the likes of…

These guys

queentape

… or this guy …

davidbowie


In Conclusion?

Never jump to those.  But seriously, yeah – yuck it up or applaud the preservation as while I condone the abuse of any animal, my dad’s “OH!  AH-HA!” moment (along with a passing of the cassette player to me)… well, I’ve done this:

two-birds-one-stone

“I think you’d better hang on to yourself.” -David Bowie

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Computer Museum Project: 1

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Featured Image from http://lifevesting.com/blog/2015/02/02/unoccupied/comment-page-1/


Or as my wife and I call it…

The Third Reclamation.  The cover photo for this article is not my home office – unfortunately – as it isn’t posh nor oddly flash, as in those home makeover television shows.  I can say that the picture is in stark contrast to the state of my office, which looks more like my boys had all their mates over and threw a wicked local area network (LAN) party fueled by the finest of American Sodas: Monster Energy Drinks.  And yes, that last bit was sarcasm (sans the mess).

Before taking on new roles and responsibilities away from Citrix, my personal office slowly evolved into a horrendous mess.  I stacked racks with my own equipment, ran all sorts of packet slapping hardware across the room, and even had to fit an air conditioning unit as to not sweat data out of my machines, artwork, and things “open source XenServer”.

It truly was a masterpiece for it not only represented sheer chaos, but it also illuminated that no matter what, all things “digital” is my primary hobby.  I will have to shuffle around for a bit to find photos of it, but it was just above college dorm status and right below the apocalyptic level.

“What does this have to do with this museum you speak of,” I can hear you asking.


I Know My Place…

Well, over the years I had built up a collection of modern hardware.  Everything from audio/visual projects to spare cases I would use to stand up my own network area storage (NAS).  The problem was that out of all my electronics, many machines, consoles, and so forth made it to the trash or recycling bins.  My young boys and wife took priority and I had no time to address the state of each system, so instead of storing them, out they went.  More on that later as eBay has only enraged me over the last two years in reclaiming older systems.

Fast forward to 2015 and I found a mint condition Apple ][gs.  Bought it for literally nothing as in a form of irony, the seller needed to get rid of his own computers to make space for a home expansion project.  My wife was all to kind to remind me that my order of operations in setting up my living, breathing, yes you can touch it, check out this code I wrote in 1992-esque museum was all wrong.

I had been taking donations in without the unused, modern machines going out.  She was quite right and as of late, has even been helping me re-design my office as so I can – through purchase or donation – circle the room with a TRS-80, Mac LCIII, Kaypro, Amstrad (imported or otherwise!), and so on.

While I am happy to say that I am down to two computers for virtualization, I am fighting the hardest bit all of us face: sorting the bits I need to keep as spares as well as finding the actual machines I had recycled over a decade ago.  Try and find the small form factor DEC Alpha online.  Yeah, it isn’t cheap.  Try and talk to someone with a “mint condition ZX Spectrum, but um – I can’t test it” — that’s where I am at now.


So for now…

It may not be a Jay Leno garage, but I’m about 30% close to repainting the walls of the office, properly installing wrap-around desks, but more importantly: book shelves.  Despite being an O’Reilly author along with a good friend, Tim Mackey, I own the first copy of “The Whole Internet: User’s Guide and Catalog” by Ed Krol among many other gems I still find to this day.  Many I have owned in the past and many are unique: capturing a few years of the hottest technology and how to become the master of such wizardry.

I’ll keep updates on my progress and sure, if you have an old system that you want to get rid of…. let me know!  It will be well taken care of and can stare at their great grandfathers: my 1957 and 1945 Remington Rand typewriters I refurbished.

 

–JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Ditching Optical Media

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Featured Image from http://www.rosannadavisonnutrition.com/feeling-bloated-after-christmas/


Thinking Back…

For the last three years I have wanted to start a slogan-based campaign to rival the likes of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”!  It is a simple slogan, but one that did rise out of annoyance and necessity.  So, without a proper logo, I ask you close your eyes and imagine saying:

“Don’t burn it, flash it!”

no-cd

Well?  Yup, I know.  The slogan needs some work.

Still, every machine I’ve built over the last four or five years, I’ve pretty much left out the optical drives.  From XenServer to rebuilding home machines for friends: it is just more practical to buy slot covers than to invest in an optical reader/burner when every laptop or desktop seems to have 10,000 USB ports.

Yet, there are plenty of reasons where a DVD or CD-ROM drive are completely relevant.  I know in my family, us computer geeks keep copies of Norton Ghost on bootable CD-ROM media (and floppy), burn copies of Live CD antivirus for testing, or to make copies of family movies we transferred to DVD before streaming media became all the rave.

The nostalgic, grumpy, “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” side of me has to fall silent as I look at a spare CD-ROM drive from an old Sun Workstation, Gateway PC, or generic machine from “the old school”…

“Go put it in recycling.  You have 10 spares for your older compute systems.”

usbdrives


Modern and Logical

You can make a USB thumb drive bootable from an ISO or disk image, so what is the need for dual-layer DVDs or CD-ROMs, etc?  You can use USB to store your archive of literal crap you will never need.  You can even use a USB hub to connect other USB hubs together: hording “data” while listening to your DRM protected Big Data MP3s off of another USB device…

wowusb

The ironic thing is that a USB bootable thumb drive can help you lock down a system so it never has to use USB again: after setting up an infrastructure I want no one to mess with (even if it dies).  Boot off of the USB drive, install what you need, reboot and remove said USB drive, go back into BIOS, lock down the BIOS to prevent non-hard disk boot, remove the drives or at least the power to USB and optical devices, and so on.

Sure, maybe someone could use a floppy to boot from, but that seems to be not only a foreign concept to many, but it also means your modern system has to have a floppy drive… or you have to have a USB-based floppy drive, but with USB ports physically and BIOS disabled… yeah, nothing is booting off of an external source.

oldfloppy


Thoughts Distant to USB and Optical Media

All of the USB stuff is groovy and if you know me personally, I have at least six or seven thumb drives on me along with a multi-terabyte USB drive.  I have enough data to setup real environments, install my favorite games, hold backups of important data, or tote my music around.  While I can’t use a sharpie to label the small things, I can just unplug one thumb drive for another until I find what I am looking for.

Adding up all of what I seemed to have bragged about (regarding USB storage), I failed to mention I only switched to it due to the massive size of every stinking download I seem to come across.  Games?  I get it.  Operating Systems.  You get on my nerves.

I have to ask (rhetorically to you, but in seriousness to Linux/Win/Alt OS distribution producers):

Why so much space consumption?  Why are all installers so bloated?  Why?  Why?  Why?

It seems as if processors and RAM are pretty much irrelevant because of all of that data (and yes, even empty spaces for data) that has to be handled.  It makes me wonder if processors and RAM are really faster or if developers have to cram so much crap into installers, dependencies, and so forth that… SURE!  Let’s use a 4.99GB install image?!?!

Come on!?  Do you expect home users to install fibre channel cards with toss links to a dedicated storage controller (optional head unit on payment of your first born child)?  That is the stuff of business and it does really bother me at the sheer size of bytes software uses.

But, in the end, I’m not the lead producing these projects, but please Microsoft, Linux-distros, and the like: don’t give us an awesome tech preview and then expect us to be happy about a 12,123,543 GB download.  I don’t have the redundant, raid-level USB drives to store it!

 

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

My Wife is THE BEST!

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Featured Image from http://www.rflan.org


I had plans, but…

I come home Friday night to hang out with the family.  Sip a beer or two, have some dinner, and bust out a family night of board games, card games, etc, etc, etc.  The week was busy and with soccer (proper football) tryouts coming up this week, my boys were planning on taking it easy and they opted to relax in front of our collection of consoles.

Hey – they both brought home perfect scores, so I’m not going to kick them outside.

Then, I log in to see what Heroes of the Storm – an online, free to play MOBA – had unlocked EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER this weekend for anyone to play.  The game is awesome, but like endless reams of bad reality shows, it isn’t played to boost your brain cells.  It is meant to seriously work as a team, be as fast as possible, level up, and move on.

What is really fun is that the game – which will have endless characters – all are from the Blizzard Universe of games.  Starcraft, Diablo, etc.  The first player I unlocked within Heroes of the Storm was that of the (now infamous, yet younger generation forgotten) Kerrigan: the alien that graced the original StarCraft expansion pack.

kerrigan2


So, my wife sees my excitement…

And she told me to grind out the game all weekend.  Beat the system.  Have fun.  Besides, I’m in competition with my brother, so while I had planned to catch up on topics that seemed to be relevant for this blog…

Instead, I sip a pint to you, wink, and say: my word, I feel my age after binge gaming, but it is satisfying.  My wife and I don’t keep tabs, trust me, but for as much as I have been glued to gaming, she managed to get her own form of rest-n-relaxation this weekend, too!

 

–JK Benedict | @xenfomation

 

Consider Your Goals…

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Featured Image from https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/2015_10_01_archive.html


I am breaking a rule: blogging while at work, but my oh my, I have to share this!

However, take a minute to think about your own personal goals in life.  Know that the featured image, while pretty, is not as gorgeous as what I was pointed to.  Realize that until success looks, feels, and drives like this… you always need to work on your goals!

Now, go here: https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/


If you thought you had achieved your goals, it is now time to sit down hit the drawing board (again).

Don’t worry, I’m in the same position, though being a gear head I can only seem to afford all things compute: books, punch cards, computers people toss because “it doesn’t match the decor”, etc.

This project is a labor of love and I know what  I will be reading tonight!  An epic adventure of family fun, engineering, salvage and resurrection of the ’65 racing spirit!  This is one of my favorite coupe body styles, and I am quite proud to say I know those who took this from beat to sweeeeeet!

I have to say, due to the glory, is the following entry: https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/2015_10_01_archive.html

After reading the above blog, you can check out a bit more drab details regarding the Factory Five Type 65 here.

Well done, HomeSchoolCoupe – WELL DONE!

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Hardware Maintenance Complexities

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Featured Image from https://neosmart.net/wiki/enable-uefi-boot/


Over the Georgian weekend of Snowpocalypse 2017, I had posted about rough drafts I had found unfinished and new content I would be posting.  A majority of the inspiration came from one of many, many conversations about computer life with my dad.  At some point we talked about hardware maintenance: from the good old days of kick-starting a steam powered adding machine (joke) to modern machines that are obsolete by the time they are sold.

With that said, let’s dive into an area I’ve had some experience with and see if I can at least help out one reader (or two).

For the record, there will be no mention of brands, vendors, and so forth as this article’s purpose is meant for the here and the now.  Things happen, but things mostly get resolved.  Enjoy?


Hardware Maintenance Today

From the mainframe, to the terminal, onto the desktop, across the servers, and into the portable age of laptops, all of these require maintenance at some point.  The difference today is that instead of tubes and soldering iron, much of it is done via update utilities.  You know: the software that came pre-installed on your system to ensure you have easy access to drivers, firmware, and even BIOS updates.

I always thought it was a neat way, especially back in the day, to help keep PC users system’s healthy without involving the previous generations floppy or tape swapping.  However, while the update client is still a great idea, many things have been added onto the hardware layer which makes board-based stacks a bit more complex.  A few examples are Trusted Platform Modules (TPM), bio-metric devices tied into boot components, added low-level encryption, and of course, the transition from Basic Input Output Systems (BIOS) to Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), some updates can prove to be a bit of a problem.

chip_bios

Before I go on with my own experiences and precautionary measures one can take, I want to make sure that you have better resources to explain TPM, BIOS, and UEFI.  So, feel free to click on each acronym where more information on these topics can be found:

The last item I almost left out was that of the disk drive.  Encryption is as old as war, so in this day and age you have no doubt heard of full hard disk encryption utilities, such as BitLocker, that even during the use of your hardware it keeps your data secure.

With all these layers making their way into the stack responsible from boot, to login, to every day use of our hardware, it isn’t hard for good intentions to toss a monkey wrench into your day.  This brings us back to the update agents shipped with your new, sleek, and highly aerodynamic machines.


The Reboot Prompt

At some point, such as myself, you will receive a warning to reboot your machine.  Sure, this is no doubt malicious as the vendor software has downloaded and installed anything from low-level firmware to updates for their own software running on your hardware.

If you are lucky, you have an option to push off these updates or at least speak with your resident IT expert to discuss the updates.  I would recommend this – especially if your hardware has been built around 2008 or 2009 to the present.  Why?

Twice I’ve had a “no choice reboot” and with the additional stacks added for boot-time, run-time, and OS-use security, I’ve almost ended up with a brick for hardware.

Unlike the lower levels, such as BIOS, network card firmware, and other updates that may trigger a potential security threat perception to the hardware, BitLocker resides at the OS level and I was easily able to be regenerated a key to validate my machine was not being hijacked or stolen.

The only problem I faced was that long before I could ever get to that screen, I had a BIOS loop wherein the machine never even hit the disk drive.  It assumed the BIOS and other updates were injected as a means of theft.  When I was able to get into the BIOS, I found out why this was:

My chipset has a hybrid combination of both BIOS and UEFI.  Why this was and is – it is rather simple.  Certain OSes and UEFI don’t (or didn’t) play well together, so while my hardware had been set to support UEFI, I found the BIOS update kicked it back to LEGACY (BIOS) mode.  Correcting this and seeing BitLocker ask me for a challenge key was quite a relief.


The Main Point

I wasn’t trying to administer the hardware — I was trying to overcome an obstacle out of my control and document it.  My experience is my own and I recommend if something similar happens to a machine you use – especially if it is property of your company – call those responsible for your hardware!

Long are the days of booting off a floppy, CDROM, or USB drive to simply update your BIOS and as such, be careful of any OS warnings to apply and reboot to apply endless loads of digital gunk: especially if you are not the administrator.

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation