Tuesday, December 31, 2013

99 Facts on The Future of Business - a MUST read for 2014 and beyond

Well, it’s the final day of the 2013 calendar year and a good time to consider what you should do for 2014 (and beyond).

I’d recommend that you mosey on over to SlideShare and look at 99 Facts on The Future of Business assembled from a wide range of sources by SAP:

Business Innovation is the key ingredient for growth in the future of business. Changes in technology, new customer expectations, a re-defined contract between employees and employers, strained resources, and business and social networks are requiring businesses to become insight-driven businesses.

In this presentation, we have gathered 99 facts that represent the changes taking place in the world today. Each facts represents a key insight and suggests where we need to focus and change to become viable, sustainable and growing future businesses.

Some of the slides present mind-boggling facts and statistics that should be relevant to planning for any organization, big or small (and not just businesses either), and even for us as individuals.

A few of the 99 factoids, taken at random:

  • 90% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video (petabyte upon petabyte)
  • Data being stored is doubling every 18 months
  • Asian students account for 53% of all students studying abroad worldwide
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels he or she is being treated
  • Tablet growth is more rapid than smartphone growth (3 time iPhone growth)
  • Small and Midsized Businesses (SMB) account for over 99% of all businesses in developed economies and 40-70% of value added in the economy (but are the least likely to sell online)


Friday, December 27, 2013

What could free software mean to a programmer?


From geek-and-poke.com … See other geeky cartoons there!

For more holiday season reading for programmers, take a look at this lengthy article at stackoverflow

What is the best comment in source code you have ever encountered?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to stop Windows task bar (system tray) icon tooltips being obscured

When parts of Microsoft Windows start behaving oddly or even completely stop operating it can be painful in the extreme trying to find a fix or a workaround.

Why not get support from Microsoft, you ask? Well, yes and no. Microsoft’s support website site is vast, and it’s a hit-and-miss affair to find any solution for your problem.

Success often lies with the vast user base of Windows -- in the hundreds of millions if not billions. If you’re persistent enough, sometimes more by chance more than anything else you’ll sooner or later find a forum or blog or a team of Windows specialists out there to help define and solve problem. In the early days of Windows this rarely happened, but these days it’s a lot more likely that you’ll hit the jackpot somewhere in the large community of Windows users..

The problem I’m discussing in this post occurred on some but not all of my Windows 7 systems, and happens on my Windows 8.0 desktop system yet not on Asus Slate touchscreen system (which also runs Windows 8.0).

Here’s the symptom: when I hover the mouse over an icon in the “system tray” -- more properly called the “notification area” -- the tooltips do not pop up on top, they are  partially (in some cases completely) obscured by the task bar. This equally applies to the pop-up panel that displays the so-called inactive icons.

I probably have quite a few more inactive icons than most people because I have tons of applications installed. Screenshot 1 shows the inactive icons panel being invoked on my desktop PC:


Once the above panel has opened, I found when I moved the mouse pointer to any one of the hidden (inactive) icons that each tooltip (pop-up help text) was always either partially or totally obscured by the panel (screenshot 2):


This has usually led me to move the mouse around the panel and hover it over different inactive icons, sometimes with the icon’s tooltip completely obscured, until by trial and error I came to the icon that I wanted to invoke at that time.

As I mentioned earlier in this post on some of my Windows systems this does not occur, so it’s pertinent to ask what causes this to happen and what can be done to get rid of the annoyance.

To cut a long story short, after several hours of research spread over some days (because it took me a while to determine some potential solutions and test them all).

The only success I had was in using one of the freeware utilities from Nir Sofer’s  bountiful website.

The tool of choice to download for fixing this problem is NirCmd which is a command-line utility having virtually a million-and-one divergent uses. The 32-bit and 64-bit NirCmd downloads are near the bottom of that page, as is the following link to the NirCmd Full Help File.

In my case, after extracting the command from its zip container I moved it into the C:\UTILS folder (adjust the example below to match your own choice of folder).

There’s a big pile of text in the NirCmd help file. The command variant that we’ll be using is settopmost to set the topmost state of a Windows form such as the task bar or the inactive task bar icons panel. (See here and here and here for some background about  the topmost state for a form.)

Since it is inconvenient to repetitively run NirCmd from a command-line [via a DOS command prompt window[, I decided to create a BAT file (in the UTILS folder, which is in my system PATH environment variable) called TooltipsFixer.bat which contained the following:

@echo Tooltips should no longer be obscured by the Task Bar ...
C:\UTILS\nircmd.exe win settopmost class "tooltips_class32" 1

Then I created a shortcut to the TooltipsFixer.bat file and placed it in a convenient place for repetitive use.

That’s because the problem keeps cropping up, therefore I need to run this BAT file most times that I access the inactive icons panel. One of the other solutions launches a Windows service that runs in the background and does away with the need to repeatedly correct the problem, which would be nice, but it didn’t work for me.

Now I merely double-click on this shortcut to rectify the problem and force the tooltips to display in front of the task bar, and in front of the inactive icons panel.

Problem solved. I’m still rather peeved that this issue cropped up in the first place, and wonder why it affects some systems yet not others (anybody know why?).

Google’s Blogger/BlogSpot commenting can “go cactus” on you

Today I kept failing to add a comment to one of my very own blog posts at Google’s BlogSpot (blogger.com). It had “gone cactus” on me, to use an Aussie term.

It was for the first time in a while, and hadn’t ever had this problem before. I was properly logged in with my Google account, typed a response, but whenever I clicked on the Submit button nothing appeared to happen, repeatedly.

After messing around for some time managed to get it working again by editing my Blogger profile and changing one of the commenting options:


The comments had been set to be “Embedded” which shouldn’t have been problematic but apparently was. I tried the up window” setting, but to no avail.

However when I altered the Comment Location setting to “Full page” the issue was resolved (I was again able to add comments to posts),

I’m using Firefox 25.0.1 browser running on 64-bit Windows 8.0 if that’s relevant (probably isn’t).

What caused all this is beyond me, but it worked and that’s all that I’m interested in. And perhaps the same Comment Location setting change will work for other BlogSpot users too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I was going to delay writing this, but here it is anyway …

What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
   ANSWER: I don’t know, and I don’t care!

It’s been one of those days for me, when random thoughts come flooding in for no apparent reason.

Well, perhaps it’s all been triggered by my reading the following article:
  Putting it off: some ideas about why we procrastinate

Go read it yourself – if you can be bothered. Else put it off until mañana.

And as we know from the famous Peggy Lee song of 1948, mañana is soon enough

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Trigger fingers kill people (guns don’t)

Of course, that’s just as absurd a statement as many others that are spouted out in the gun control debate.

Do guns become animate and start firing by themselves? Perhaps sensor-controlled ones would, but fortunately there aren’t many of those around, certainly not in movie theatres and schools, thank goodness. It’s what’s on the other end of the trigger finger that’s responsible, surely?

The above was prompted by reading Data suggest guns do in fact kill people in the online version of The Economist. This article concludes:

“It's really not terribly shocking that making it harder to get your hands on machines designed to kill people results in fewer people being killed. But we've worked very hard over the past few decades to convince ourselves otherwise.”

Go read the article and ponder the arguments for and against gun control.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A way to repair Windows Firewall, and Windows connectivity problems resuming from Sleep mode

During the last few days a Windows connectivity problem reared its ugly head. I used to get this from time to time with Windows 7, and now am suffering from it under Windows 8.

Every time that I resume from Sleep mode (which is several times per day) the wired Ethernet adapter would not reconnect and remained permanently offline in “Unidentified network” state, lasting for some minutes at least (I didn’t wait any longer, it should come online in 10 to 20 seconds at most).

While researching the above problem, thanks to trusty old Google search I stumbled  upon what seems to be a solution for a related painful problem that I described some months ago at Windows 8 will not save Network Discovery settings.

In summary, Windows Firewall went awry earlier this year, stopping LAN connections between this system and other Windows systems in my local area network. Since then, I’ve had to keep Windows Firewall turned off, and have experimented with several other firewalls which themselves caused a few problems: firstly being very intrusive (or “noisy”), plus making some other software quite difficult to keep running properly.

Consequently for the last few weeks I’ve been running without a software firewall and being alert for intrusions (as well as some benefit from the Cable modem’s built-in hardware firewall).

My discovery today -- while doing a Google search for Windows 8 repair “Windows Firewall” (this time with searchword “repair” that I hadn’t used on previous occasions) – was an interesting-looking repair tool called reimage that claims to give excellent results. I installed and ran it, and after a couple of minutes of scanning it presented the following results (the final part of the scan results only):


When I clicked on the “START REPAIR” button it opened a browser window inviting me to subscribe:


Being tight for funds at the moment (undergoing some treatment for melanoma, too many decades in the strong Australian sunshine I suppose), I declined payment.

So I went looking for a similar but hopefully FREE repair tool and luckily found one, which I used with good results and so would recommend to you. It’s available from Tweaking.com who describe themselves as “a group of tech heads with system performance on their brains.”

See the overview of their software and specifically (for this discussion) go to Repair Windows Firewall . . .
This will repair the Windows Firewall. The firewall is built into the system rather deep. And when the firewall becomes corrupt it can still block out side connections from coming in. Even when turned off. Also when corrupt you are unable to add any exceptions to the firewall.
Built into Windows “rather deep” is an understatement! As you will see from my earlier post the underpinnings of Windows Firewall are totally obscure. Microsoft themselves don’t provide any readily-accessible documentation for understanding how it’s all supposed to work, and how to systematically go about fixing things when it all goes wrong.

Anyway, even though it’s only described as being “for Windows XP, 2003, Vista, 2008 & 7” I installed and ran Repair Windows Firewall under windows 8. A little over a minute later I got the final screen:

But did it really fix my Network Discovery problem, could I browse other Windows systems on the LAN and could they browse this Windows 8 system?

Some quick testing proved that the answer was Yes, Yes, Yes.

Look again at the second-last last screenshot at Windows 8 will not save Network Discovery settings . . .

Thankfully now, after running Repair Windows Firewall, I see:

Many, many, many, many, many thanks to Tweaking.com for this Network Discovery firewall-related problem resolution, and I’ll certainly be trying out some of your other repair tools.

If you decide to try this Repair Windows Firewall tool, of course  it goes without saying (does it not) that you should take an appropriate backup first so that you can recover if Windows somehow gets messed up.

And life goes on for me . . . Now I only have to worry about the recent issue of Ethernet connectivity failure after resuming from Sleep mode.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Bitten again by faulty context menu items (shell extensions) in Windows

Every now and again, perhaps a few times per month, I need to carry out some sort of computer management such as device or disk management.

The way that I usually initiate the process is to right-click the Computer icon on the windows desktop and select the Manage option from the context menu:


Following this, the Computer Management window appears and I get on with my job:


However during the last month something changed, and late last week I discovered that no amount of clicking on the Manage context menu item would cause the Computer Management window to launch. While it’s easy enough  to use alternative ways of launching Device Management and Disk Management (or other such tasks), I was both puzzled and irritated that my favorite method had stopped working.

After a while it dawned on me that I had been in this quandary before, see my earlier post How to detect and disable faulty context menu items (shell extensions) in Windows 

I can happily report that by using the “binary search” technique explained in that post it  took me less than five minutes to determine that a newly-installed application called ExtremeCopy was the culprit:


As soon as I disabled the two shell extensions belonging to ExtremeCopy my problem went away. The developers of this copy utility at Easersoft need to review and correct their implementation of shell extensions (which I will point out to them).

The detection technique was very fast, the only delay was because it took a day or two for my previous experiences with all this it to bubble to the surface in my slow old brain!

Monday, June 17, 2013

NotesTracker Guide Version 5.3 has been added to Docstoc

NotesTracker is alive and well, and the guide for Version 5.3 Guide has been added to Docstoc.image

View or download the guide at

The guide introduces NotesTracker, explaining what it is and how it can be of value to your organization by enhancing your IBM Notes and Domino applications.

Following that is a section that shows how to configure and administer NotesTracker in each application, and finally a section for Notes developers explaining the steps used to add NotesTracker to the design of the applications.

Hyperlinks in the table of contents make it easy to jump to the various sections and subsections.

Legally, the bank owns a depositor’s funds–Super Scary!

What happened in Cyprus to bank depositors’ funds surely must have scared everyone a lot—except for the bankers themselves that is.

Those of us outside Cyprus would all have thought to ourselves “Thank goodness that can’t happen in my country” and gone on with our day-to-day existence.

But apparently that’s not the case already in some countries, and probably in more and more countries over time.

Read this scary article by Ellen Brown at the Web Of Debt website:
It Can Happen Here: The Confiscation Scheme Planned for US and UK Depositors

Apparently New Zealand plus probably other countries are planning something similar.

“Can the banks do that?” she asks (emphasis mine):

Although few depositors realize it, legally the bank owns the depositor’s funds as soon as they are put in the bank. Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay. (See here and here.) But until now the bank has been obligated to pay the money back on demand in the form of cash. Under the FDIC-BOE plan, our IOUs will be converted into “bank equity.” The bank will get the money and we will get stock in the bank. With any luck we may be able to sell the stock to someone else, but when and at what price? Most people keep a deposit account so they can have ready cash to pay the bills.

. . . If our IOUs are converted to bank stock, they will no longer be subject to insurance protection but will be “at risk” and vulnerable to being wiped out, just as the Lehman Brothers shareholders were in 2008.

To become even more scared, you only have to read an earlier post of hers:
A Safe and a Shotgun or Publicly-owned Banks? The Battle of Cyprus

This has got me pondering how to make my funds safer. Stuffed under the mattress, or buried in a biscuit tin under the lemon tree in the back yard?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

NotesTracker Guide Version 5.3 has been added to Scribd

NotesTracker is alive and well, and the guide for Version 5.3 Guide has been added to Scribd.image

View or download the guide at

The guide introduces NotesTracker, explaining what it is and how it can be of value to your organization by enhancing your IBM Notes and Domino applications.

Following that is a section that shows how to configure and administer NotesTracker in each application, and finally a section for Notes developers explaining the steps used to add NotesTracker to the design of the applications.

Hyperlinks in the table of contents make it easy to jump to the various sections and subsections.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some free widgets for your website

I just stumbled upon a range of free widgets that should add value to your web sites, blogs and other online publications.

Because of the nature of the website (oilprice.com) the widgets are all related to energy, precious metals, and related financial matters.

You’ll find them here:
Energy Widgets | Metal Widgets | Financial Widgets | News Widgets | Clocks Widgets

Here are a few of them in action…





Sunday, June 09, 2013

Do dogs show empathy? It could well be so.

Just back from checking that our pooch was comfortable on a clear. cool early Winter’s night here Down Under in Melbourne. He was okay, and seemed to appreciate the visit!

Back inside, I went to ABC Australia’s Catalyst science show’s website to catch up on their latest episode. You may recall that back in April I pointed out a story about dogs cute appearance probably being due to their facial musculature (see Cute Canines, Eyes That Engage You and watch the video).

Well, in this week’s new episode there’s another intriguing story, this one about dog empathy which the story describes as:

“. . . the naturally occurring subjective experience of similarity between the feelings expressed by self and others without losing sight of whose feelings belong to who. Translated, what that means is to have true empathy, you have to not only feel someone's pain, you have to know that the emotion belongs to them and not to yourself.”

Watch the video. What do you think?

I’m somewhat convinced. I do know that if I’m playing with my dog (and others before him), I only have to howl or yelp in a certain way – making the sort of sound you hear if you accidentally tread on the dog, or if the dog gets bitten in a dogfight – then consistently the dog will immediately stop whatever he’s doing and cuddle up close to to me as if to offer sympathy.

You only have to do a simple search or two and you’ll find much other material about the unique dog-human relationship.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Fascinating Facts about Flu - What Flu is and isn’t

As southern winter sets in here Down Under, I’m aware that for the previous two years I suffered a number of quite nasty attacks of what I called “the Flu” – But was it really influenza, or something else, and will I succumb again this year despite again getting jabbed with Flu vaccine?

Just-published this first week of June 2013 is a “Facts about Flu” series of articles in The Conversation that sheds light on this topic. There are insights and clarifications, as well as lots of shadowy and dark areas where our knowledge remains deficient.

This excellent series is as follows:

Part one: Of influenza, flu, potions and key opinion leaders

Part two: Influenza vaccine for 2013: who, what, why and when?

Part three: H1N1, H5N1, H7N9? What on earth does it all mean

Part four: The Tamiflu saga shows why all research data should be public

Part five: CSL’s flu vaccine leaves a hole in Australia’s pandemic plan

Part six: Should flu shots be mandatory for health-care workers?

Part seven: The Holy Grail of influenza research: a universal flu vaccine

Part eight: Is it really the flu? The other viruses making you ill in winter

Part nine: The heart of the matter: how effective is the flu jab really?

Monday, June 03, 2013

Enjoy excellent online jigsaw puzzles at Jigsaw Explorer

I just came across a site with outstanding interactive jigsaw puzzles, go to Jigsaw Explorer if such puzzles turn you on.

For example, this tower at Beget, Spain (with the option selected to remind you what the “box top” is for the puzzle):


Actually, rather than jigsaws my definite preference is for word puzzles, not only as a consumer but and in the past I’ve created some crosswords that were based around various themes in information technology.

Unfortunately they’re now offline after a redesign of the site where I created them, and the site owner isn’t interested in bringing them back to life.

I really should create some more of these interactive crosswords, this time on my own site so that nobody can take them offline. I used the highly recommended Crossword Forge to build them:

Crosswords take a long time to compile, especially when the choice of words is confined to a theme rather than the general language. Software like Crossword Forge significantly eases the burden.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Windows 8 will not save Network Discovery settings (yet another unwanted issue)

Late in January 2013 I upgraded my main desktop  work system from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 8 Pro (both 64-bit), which went quite smoothly on the whole.

I had problems with an external hard disk docking device’s USB 3.0 driver that took some trouble to sort out. The dock would run in USB 2.0 mode only until I eventually found an updated driver that gave back the USB 3.0 capability I had been enjoying under Windows 7. Usually Windows Update does all this, but in this case it not discover the updated driver, and in the end I had to telephone the manufacturer in the USA to get the required information.

I had to reinstall a few of my (very many) applications, and tweak some of the Windows 8 settings, but eventually – after installing Classic Shell to give back the Start button and equally important the heritage Windows hierarchical menu structure needed to maintain control over all those (very many) applications.

So now I have the desktop system running almost exactly like Windows 7, at full productivity and avoiding the stupid “Modern UI” tiled approach that is not at all appropriate for a non-touchscreen desktop system. (Just last week I purchased a touchscreen slate device running Windows 8 Pro, and the tiled UI works reasonably well in that environment.)

However I am experiencing a major Windows networking problem at the moment, which remains unresolved despite my spending many hours seeking a solution. (I think this problem arose only in the last month or so, but I experiment with a vast amount of software that might be responsible, and am unsure about the timing and about any possible cause.)

I run a simple Windows workgroup (no domain or homegroup), and utilize the username/password method to control all logins across the network.

The symptom is that, while the main system cannot access any of the other Windows systems, including my new Windows 8 tablet, the others can access each other across the network but none can gain access to the main Windows 8 system.

The following screenshot should help in explaining what I now get -- on the Windows 8 main system -- with Windows Explorer (a.k.a. File Explorer) when I attempt to browse from the main system to other systems:


I know from painful experience in past years that this is a network browsing issue, so on the main Windows 8 system I immediately went to the Network and Sharing Center panel with Change advanced sharing settings and clicked on it:


From past experience with Windows 7 I know that this networking problem is usually solved by ensuring that network discovery is turned on, which is done by selecting the following  two circled radio buttons:


However after doing this (and saving the changes) I found that the networking issue remained. Upon returning to the Advanced sharing settings panel I found that these two settings were still turned off. Repeating the steps always came up with the same result: network discovery always remains off.

I have spent many hours scouring the Web looking for a resolution, to no avail. Others have encountered the same issue, but none of the suggested solutions (such as ensuring that a certain set of Windows services all are started)  had any effect on my system.

What can be causing these two network discovery radio buttons always to switch back to the OFF position (or, more correctly, never to be allowed to switch to the ON position)? A key observation is that whenever I temporarily turn Windows Firewall off, the networking access issue goes away, and when I turn the Firewall back on the issue comes back.

So far, I have not been able to determine what Windows Firewall configuration setting or feature/function could be causing this. Certainly it’s not die to some deliberate action on my part.
I have tried the troubleshooter, to no avail:


I've examined Windows Firewall settings, to no avail (not that I’m an expert in this field):


I've looked at various group policy settings, to no avail. I’m even less of an expert here, and could easily be looking in the wrong places:


One possible inkling of what might be awry in my main Windows 8 system comes from digging into the Allow an app or feature through Windows Firewall settings:


This yields a list of applications, in alphabetical order, the central part of which is:


My friend Paul in Canberra took time out the other day to have a look inside Windows Firewall on his Windows 8 system, and pointed out that he had an entry for Network Discovery. (Thanks Paul, this gave me a promising new area to explore.)

When I examine this list in a virtual test machine, as expected I get a different list, but the interesting thing is that – unlike on my main Windows 8 system – this virtual system  contains an entry for Network Discovery:


So this is where I’m at today.  Why doesn’t my system have this Network Discovery entry in the Windows Firewall list of allowed apps? It’s certainly not due to some explicit action that I took. I have that certain feeling that this is related to why I cannot turn network discovery on unless Windows Firewall is turned off.

Any feedback and suggestions would be most welcome!

A way to repair Windows Firewall, and Windows connectivity problems resuming from Sleep mode

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cute Canines - Eyes That Engage You

My mother adored cats, and I was brought up with felines of all fur colors, temperaments ranging from cuddly to haughty, taking control as they do all over the house. But my wife hates cats, so it’s been dogs during my married life.

I’ve gotten to really like dogs, and I’m in good company. For example, British prime minister Winston Churchill in the movie The Gathering Storm is pictured one day sitting in the farm section of his country property pondering the animals around him. He comments to an approaching visitor:

“You know, a cat looks down upon a man, and a dog looks up to a man, but a pig will look a man in the eye and see his equal.”

I don’t know about pigs, the closest I’ve ever been to one is while eating ham or bacon. Can’t say that I’ve eaten cat or dog (knowingly at least, but then again I have been to parts of Asia).

The dogs that we’ve had have always been cute and devoted. What is it about dogs that makes them into “man’s best friend” as is generally accepted?

Of course, there’s the services they faithfully carry out for us: watchdogs, seeing-eye dogs, wartime duty, lifesaving, farm dogs effortlessly shepherding sheep, and much. much more.

But it was an episode of the outstanding Catalyst science program Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that put forward another fascinating insight. Catalyst features stories about dogs every now and again.

For example, there’s this story about dogs’ eyes:

It was thought, that like humans, all dogs have the same eye structure and see the world the same way. But Australian researchers have discovered that dogs had a completely different retina. Amazingly, it means different dogs see the world completely differently.

All very interesting, but it doesn’t answer my question of why, of all domestic animals, dogs seem so cute and appealing (compared with cats, especially).Dogeyebrows_small

It seems that there could be a good scientific reason for this. There’s now a plausible theory that it all has to do with dogs’ eyebrows.

Watch the video, and read the transcript.

Are you convinced?

Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft developers really think

I’ve just been  was using the Windows 8 registry editor (regedit.exe) in an attempt to remove the remnants of an application that wouldn’t uninstall cleanly.

Even with my shiny new 8-core processor, twin fast Intel SSDs in RAID configuration plus 32 GB of RAM (rarely is even a quarter of this RAM used), there were periods of up to a minute when the registry editor was scanning for a search string.

During this boring period it simply displayed the following bland, deadly boring [Windows 8 flat, colorless, unappealing] dialog box:


I wonder why on earth some of Microsoft’s developers seem so short-sighted and not to think about the user’s experience. . . . Searching the registry for what, fellas?

In this case, if it was me writing the registry editor then the above dialog would for sure have looked something like this quick mock-up:


It ain’t rocket science!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Updating desktop Java sure can be confusing at times!

Ho hum, more security weakness issues have just been discovered in the desktop Java Runtime Environment (JRE).

See for example Yet another Reflection API flaw affecting Oracle's Java SE

“The new flaw was verified to affect all versions of Java SE 7 (including the recently released 1.7.0_21-b11). It can be used to achieve a complete Java security sandbox bypass on a target system. Successful exploitation in a web browser scenario requires proper user interaction (a user needs to accept the risk of executing a potentially malicious Java application when a security warning window is displayed).

What's interesting is that the new issue is present not only in JRE Plugin / JDK software, but also the recently announced Server JRE as well.”

Wow, a chink in the armor of Java servers. That should raise a few eyebrows!

Back to desktop Java, however. I’ve been assiduously trying to keep my desktop JRE up to date, and it’s annoying that you have to go to the trouble of navigating to the Control Panel of Windows and then and click on Java (when Java for one of several reasons has not automatically presented the Update dialog in a timely manner).

Actually, it’s more than just annoying: I’d call it a significant shortcoming in the Java security maintenance regime, enabling Java updates to fall way behind if you’re not careful. I reckon that Oracle should improve the ‘reliable timeliness” of this entire process.

Well now, a month or two ago I was puzzled by not finding the Update tab to be present in the Java Control Panel, which I expected to look like the following:


A few months I lost some valuable time hunting around to find why this tab does not always appear. Take a look at What is Java Auto Update? How do I change notify settings? Notice that you have to read this page very carefully and about half way down the page you come across the clincher:

Why is the Update tab missing from the Java Control Panel?

Java Auto Update is currently not available for 64-bit versions of Java. 64-bit versions of Java do not include the Update tab in the Java Control Panel.

This is rather slack behavior by Oracle.

It seems that when I got my new desktop system (in late 2012) I slipped up and indeed did have the 64-bit version installed when, like the vast bulk of users, I only needed the 32-bit version. So I dutifully hunted for, downloaded and installed the latest 32-bit JRE version and left it at that.

Last week, after reading about the latest pile of Java exploits, I decided that it was time to update Java again. However I kept getting the following dialog box:


Why no Update tab? I pondered this for a while and after checking  Programs and Features realized that, as noted in bold font on the above image, I still had 64-bit JRE installed (as well as the 32-bit JRE).

After uninstalling the 64-bit JRE the Update tab re-appeared, meaning that Oracle needs to update that statement at What is Java Auto Update? How do I change notify settings? to mention that the mere presence of the 64-bit JRE suppresses the Update tab even if you do have the 32-bit JRE installed.

Trivial? . . . Possibly, but I’d say still worth being described so that other people might save some time and frustration.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My premise: Australia’s NBN shouldn’t mangle the English language

I’m totally enjoying being a pedantic old grump. It’s one of the privileges of getting on in years, one of the joys of dotage.

At out home we’ve been really enjoying having the Optus Cable service for more than a decade now, and for the past year or two their highest offering of 100 Mbps download speeds (as well as a 1 terabyte download quota). I measure the cable speeds every day, and even though HFC is a shared service my tests show that it only drops as low as 30-40 Mbps on weekends and other similar busy times.

So it performs as promised, good work Optus. However I’d prefer it if they offered upload speeds higher than the nominal 2 Mbps (never better than about 1.5 Mbps in practice). The DOCSIS 3.0 standard does support faster speeds, though our National Broadband Network (NBN) being rolled out nation wide I don’t reckon that Optus will ever offer such higher HFC speeds.

So to get even better speeds I’m very much looking forward to the NBN. Unfortunately it’s a huge project expected to take the best part of a decade to roll out, and it was greatly hampered during the first year or two by the “moving target” syndrome (unexpected changes in regulations about the number of Points of Presence, drawn-out negotiations with Telstra, and so on).

I like just about everything that the NBNCo has done so far (and sincerely hope that the 2013 Australian federal election coming in mid-September don’t’ see a change of government and a much inferior NBN result from the new government’s limited vision).

However THERE’’S ONE THING THAT THE NBN DOES ALL THE TIME THAT I DON’T APPRECIATE AT ALL and it’s my pet hate. Their chief spokesperson,  CEO Mike Quigley, uses the term “premise” far too much when he should actually be referring to “premises” – and irritatingly keeps on doing so!

Unfortunately it seems to be spreading throughout NBNCo like an infectious disease (perhaps they’re afraid to correct the boss).

Here’s the latest example, from several days ago, A Report to the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on the NBN.

Just one example, a chart showing an estimated price on each “premise” passed. Dollars per “premise” – how slack:


The Australian federal opposition party hasn’t yet picked up on this litany of misused terminology, they would surely use it as another way to criticize NBNCo if they did, wouldn’t they?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How to detect and disable faulty context menu items (shell extensions) in Windows

Many software applications  that execute in Windows 8 (and earlier Windows versions) come with so-called Windows shell extensions.

These are intended to provide extra application functionality and convenience and they usually do a good job, but like any other software they can go wrong and cause complete or partial application failure -- with considerable bother and even havoc in some cases.

This is a longish blog post, necessitated by the complexity of the way that shell extensions work. They are so tightly interwoven into the parent applications that it can be very difficult to identify, isolate and resolve problems with them.

Hence I’ve gone to the trouble to explain it carefully and in some detail.  I hope it will save you wasted time and ease your frustration if you happen to become a victim!

As the name extension implies, these code elements provide extra functionality to File Explorer (you’ll know it as Windows Explorer in earlier versions of Windows) and other parts of Windows.
As MSDN puts it: “The Windows UI provides users with access to a wide variety of objects necessary for running applications and managing the operating system. The most numerous and familiar of these objects are the folders and files that reside on computer disk drives. There are also a number of virtual objects that allow the user to perform tasks such as sending files to remote printers or accessing the Recycle Bin.”

Shell extension handlers are developed by Microsoft as part of Windows itself, but also by many third-party developers ranging from  big software corporations right down to solo developers. (There’s a vast number of the latter in the Windows community, many of whom provide  retail or freeware products of very high quality).

The type of extension handler that I’m focusing on in this post is  Shortcut menu handlers which these days are more commonly referred to as Context menu handlers.

A context menu -- or shortcut menu -- appears when you right click on an object in File Explorer or other contexts such as dialog boxes. For example, in File Explorer to edit the hosts file I might do the following (with the pointer showing where I performed the right click mouse operation):


Context menus are extremely useful, and it’s not long after installing Windows and your favorite third-party software products that there will be quite an assortment of context menu handlers present in your Windows system, all waiting to do your bidding. A typical example:


All right, all right, everybody knows that. Let’s move on to the real point of this blog post.
Last October (2012) I took delivery of what might well be my last ever Windows desktop system. For my prime development system I switched from a quite adequate 4-core machine running Windows 7 64-bit (with a healthy 8 GB of RAM and several terabytes of SSDs plus more terabytes of spinning disks) to an even zippier 8-core machine (with 32 GB of RAM, twin faster SSDs in RAID mode plus even more terabytes of spinning disks), also running 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate.

This was a few weeks prior to the release of Windows 8 Pro. Once it was released, I tested Windows 8 Pro extensively in a virtual machine environment -- especially getting back some favorite Windows features that Microsoft removed such as the Start Button (via Classic Shell, which I had long been using on Windows 7) and desktop gadgets (via a hack, the 8GadgetPack). I mention this here only because Windows 8 Pro was my final destination.

All went well for a month or two, and then I started having unusual problems with Windows Explorer on the new Windows 7 machine (but not on the old one).

I happen to be an extremely heavy user of context menus, and sometimes in Windows Explorer -- but not every time -- when I invoked a context menu (similar to the example above) there would be a pause lasting a few seconds followed by the following error dialog (1):

(1) WIndows_Explorer_has_stopped_working__Upon_context_menu_invocation
(Click on the various images to view enlargements)

Upon clicking the Cancel button, the following dialog (2) appears:
(2) WIndows_Explorer_has_stopped_working__After_clicking_Cancel_button_in_step_1

What could be causing such errors? A little research at the Microsoft support website plus other Windows specialist sites indicated that this sort of thing is likely to be caused by a faulty Windows shell context menu handler.

The question that I was faced with – exactly as you will be in similar circumstances -- is which of many installed software products (ranging from complex suites to tiny single-purpose utilities) have context menu handlers? And then, of course, how do you determine which specific piece of software is causing the current fault?

The universal answer to this seems to be to go to Nir Sofer’s excellent freeware product site. For today’s exercise, download and install the ShellExView utility which enables you to display details of all the shell extensions installed on your computer, and to easily disable or enable each individual shell extension.

TIP - While at the site, you might consider downloading Nir’s entire suite of utilities in a neat package called NirLauncher, a package of more than 150 portable freeware utilities for Windows. The NirLauncher package includes a “variety of tools that you may need for your daily computer use, including utilities to recover lost passwords, to monitor your network, to view and extract cookies, cache, and other information stored by your Web browser, to search files in your system, and more.”

Identifying and adopting a systematic, consistent debugging approach for the more esoteric parts of Windows can be very difficult.

In this case, by disabling shell extensions one at a time, you should be able to determine whether or not it’s the one causing the problem. But this is easier said than done.

Firstly, you’ll find that your system has dozens and dozens of shell extensions installed. Therefore disabling, testing, then [if not faulty] re-enabling them one at a time is a slow and elaborate process.
Secondly, it’s not always easy to recognize and reproduce the conditions that cause the error. For example, while this context menu error was repeatedly occurring on my new Windows 7 machine, it never did arise on the old Windows 7 system. Despite my best attempts to keep the apps on the two systems in synchronization, apparently the new system had some differently installed and/or configured applications.

It happened that this problem was not at the top of my priorities as the end 2012 approached, so I let it slip as summer vacation time arrived here Down Under.

In no time it was January 2013, and I was planning to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro before the end of January (being a miser, I wanted to do this before the expiry of Microsoft’s generous $14.99 upgrade price offer). The in-place upgrade to Windows 8 went surprisingly smoothly. I only had to reinstall a couple of products to make them work properly again, and  most products worked without a hitch. (I only had to chase down a single device driver update, for an external hard disk docking station  that had stopped running at USB 3.0 speeds, and to reinstall a couple of programs after which they worked fine.)

So now I had Windows 8 Pro running pretty well (using my four monitors in non-touchscreen mode, operating 99 percent like Windows 7 did prior to the upgrade, is exactly how I wanted). I get all the benefits of the many under-the-cover enhancements in Windows 8 while happily avoiding the “Modern UI” (a.k.a. “Metro”) like the plague. (It has no relevance  at all for the way I work.  Whenever I purchase a Windows 8 Pro tablet then, and only then, will I be content to make use of this new tiled interface. But that’s another story.)

But guess what? Whenever I right-click on a folder in the left navigator column of File Explorer, I discover that Explorer always freezes for a few seconds and then closes unceremoniously, without displaying the indicative error dialog that I mentioned above (the earlier  screenshot “Windows Explorer has stopped working”) . . . No  error message at all, zilch, nada – I really appreciate that, Microsoft!

Luckily, if you call it that, I had been experiencing the Explorer freeze-ups with Windows 7. So I surmised -- quite rightly as it transpired -- that this was likely to be that same context menu bug. I should point out here that without the prior experience under Windows 7 I would have been totally I the dark, without any clue about what was happening under Windows 8 and why. For some reason the Microsoft developers worsened the situation by neglecting context menu error trapping code when developing Windows 8 File Explorer.

So, how should you go about using ShellExView to resolve your difficulties? While some other people have discussed the use of ShellExView, generally they’ve omitted usage details (see this case).
When I ran ShellExView on my Windows 8 system I got the following listing. Note that it’s best to sort the entries by vendor name (Company), and I’ve highlighted the Microsoft section in yellow. This is the start of the list (T represents “Top”):


After scrolling down a long way in ShellExView, here are the last few Microsoft entries and the remainder of the non-Microsoft entries (B represents “Bottom”):


It’s a reasonable assumption that it is highly unlikely that the faulty shell extension will be contributed by Microsoft, so let’s ignore the central yellow section of the list.

Adopt a binary search type of approach. Firstly, select all of the entries bottom entries (B) and disable them via the context menu of ShellExView (click “Disable Selected Items” or press the F7 key).
Now focus on the section of the list (T). Disable each of them one at a time, and see if the fault that you’re testing remains or not (in my case, see if Windows File Explorer crashes silently).

As mentioned earlier, this sort of testing can be a laborious process. So if the top section (T) contains too many entries, consider using the binary search approach on it by disabling half of these and checking the other half one at a time.

If none of the top entries seem to be causing the problem, re-enable them and move down to the bottom section (B) of ShellExView, where you carry out the same binary search approach:


It was here that I discovered that when I disabled the Spybot-S&D Explorer Integration the problem went away. Relief at last, like as if I’d stopped hitting myself on the head with a hammer!
The final task was, naturally, to double-check that this is the only disabled shell extension and that all the others were enabled.

So there you are,  job done: a methodology for you to follow when you’re faced with this sort of problem. I hope that it’s one you can use effectively, and avoid losing as many hours as I did when solving this issue.

And of course, some faulty shell extension code that Safer-Networking Ltd has to fix in Spybot - Search & Destroy.

UPDATE (25 April 2013):
Their support team just advised me that this is a known problem with Search & Destroy version 2, here is their forum post about it:
You do not need to uninstall Spybot 2, you can simply disable the feature that is causing the issue. Please run the Start Center, switch to advanced mode and start Settings.
Now open the tab "System Integration“. Here you can uninstall "Windows Explorer integration“. Click "Apply“ and "OK“ afterwards. Settings can also be launched via SDTray (the small Spybot 2 icon beside your systems clock in the taskbar).
Making use of ShellExView was the only way that I eventually determined what the cause of the problem was. Because of the nature of this crash I didn’t have a clue that it was a Spybot issue, so didn’t ever even think to check on this particular support forum.

UPDATE (05 November 2016):
 My system recently got infected with one of those annoying adware nasties that causes annoying advertising in new web pages that open unexpectedly when you click on a spot in a perfectly normal web page.

I tried several tools that made an effort to remove adware like this, and while they did find various other unwanted PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) none of them found whatever browser extension was displaying those irritating advertising pages.

So I installed Spybot again -- luckily, hadn't needed it for several years -- and it seems to have rooted out the cause of my woes, which was a nasty called Mindspark.

Would you believe it? ... Even after more than three years the above bug in Spybot is still there! Are the people at Safer Networking doing anything these days? Anyway, here's a screenshot of the setting used to uninstall the shell extension causing the problem (and now, three years later, it's happening with Windows 10):