Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

February, 2006

  • Breaking Into Las Vegas

    VivalasvegasThe hackers are at it again.  This time, they are stealing money from a casino.  Did you ever notice the word sin is part of the word casino? Anyway, be sure to check out the latest episode of “The Code Room – Breaking Into Las Vegas”.  In this episode, see the good guys take on the bad guys.  “The Code Room” is produced by the MSDN Evangelist on my team

    I was watching this episode and as I watched, got to thinking how scary this sort of stuff really is.  I mean, what if that was my money?  Like I’ve got a few million just laying around…

    Although the episode is pretty developer focused, we all know that applications run on systems the IT Pros build, deploy, manage and update. With that in mind, here’s a bunch of information to help you secure your systems.

     

     

     

    Top 10 IT Pro Security Action Items

    1. Implement Windows XP SP2 for your Windows XP machines.  I would imagine you’ve already done this, but here’s a friendly reminder just in case.  While you are at it, make sure to download the Windows XP Security Guide.
    2. Burn the Windows Server 2003 Security Guide into your brain.
    3. Review the Threats and Countermeasures overview.
    4. Use Microsoft Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).
    5. Use Microsoft Update if you don’t have a WSUS server.
    6. Secure those databases.  See the SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2000 security areas.
    7. See the Top 10 Security Downloads.
    8. Evaluate Windows Defender for your desktops.  It’s still in beta testing at the moment.
    9. Come to a free TechNet Live Seminar.  Starting in April, we’ll have a bunch of great security content.  Create a custom RSS feed so you are notified of events in your state.
    10. Frequent the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) blog or subscribe to their RSS feed by clicking the feed icon.  RSS reader capabilities are now part of Internet Explorer 7 (hint hint). Click meSubscribe 

     

    Tools

    You need to build your tool arsenal.  The bad guys have them, so you need to do some due diligence in this area.  Start by going to the TechNet Security Tools area. Make sure to grab MBSA 2.0, the Malicious Software Removal Tool, etc.  Next, you’ll want to go and register to download the Security Assessment Tool.  See the FAQ on this tool if you have questions.

     

    Training

    If you want training, there are a number of ways to get it.  As I mentioned above, come to one of the live TechNet seminars in April.  If you can’t make it to one of the city locations, then you can always see a webcast.  You can get a listing of those webcasts.  You can subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking the icon. Subscribe

    You might also want to come to Security Matters - Microsoft 2006 Security Summits.  The summits are free and are being held in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Chicago and Detroit.  I would imagine they are going to be pretty popular so register early.  They are booked into some large venue locations so expect some air cover to drive attendance.  The agenda looks pretty good to me.  I’d love to go to the Dallas event, but I’ll be in Arkansas that week.

    And of course there are other types of training.  See the Microsoft Learning Security Resources and the Learning Paths for Security.

     

  • Have you placed your Origami order?

    HaloonorigamiWell the buzz this weekend is all about Origami.  The website reveals very little.  The music there is all mysterious and spooky.  Actually it sounds a bit like some of the sound effects in Halo.  Dig around and see what you find. 

    A marketing company called D-Kitchen has a very interesting video about the Microsoft Origami device.  After you click the link to their site, click Enter, Work, BrandTheatre, Microsoft Origami.  Their site requires Flash 7.x.

    UPDATE: The D-Kitchen site links have disappeared.  If you were fortunate enough to view the video beforehand, then you saw the goodies.  If not, you can see some screenshots at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/microsoft/origamigallery.asp

    You’ll notice several interesting aspects of the device.  Wireless, small, handwriting recognition, and unfortunately it’s butt ugly.  Ok, I’m half teasing about that but I am used to seeing my gloss black PSP and I am not a fan of the white iPod.  So when I saw the ivory and white device, I wanted to hurl.

    A few other angles caught my eye and would have me considering a purchase and obviously a replacement of my PSP.  First, I liked the size of the device.  It’s obviously smaller than most of the other tablet PC’s on the market.  I also liked the screen size which appears to be a widescreen in the 8–9” range.

    HandmceYou’ll notice in the video the young lady walks out to the backyard and controls her MCE desktop machine with the device.  Unfortunately, you can’t really tell what is going on.  It looks like she needs to get line-of-sight for the remote control to work.  I hope not because that means Ir.  I’d much rather see that work across a higher speed wireless network.  You’ll also notice the Origami device appears to be running something that looks like the MCE shell.  Ideally I’d love to see this device sync with a MCE machine and play music, Recorded TV or Recorded HDTV.  As far as playing the TV content is concerned, I’d like to take it on the road or have it streamed if I am in close proximity to the mother ship.  Scratch that, I want it where ever I’m at.  Stream it across 802.11a/b/g, EVDO, UMTS or whatever.

    It must be relatively powerful since running Halo requires some pretty serious resources.  However if you look closely at the video, it doesn’t appear that the frame rate is that high.  Oh well, lets hope they’re running a mobile NVIDIA Geforce Go 6800 or ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 or better.  While we are applying the wish-list and speculating, lets throw in a multi core cpu.

    The device looks like it is always on.  It appears to use a cell phone network although the guy taking the pictures appeared to use his cell phone for the transfer.  He’s unkewl anyway cause he wasn’t using Bluetooth to listen to his music.

    The speculation on the internet has been rampant.  I am not an insider on this project so I have no real knowledge.  Even after I dig around a bit, I would not be able to share any information that isn’t apparent on the http://www.origamiproject.com website or through press releases.  It looks like we’ll know a lot more in the next couple of days anyway. 

    Until then, what do you think it is?  How much will it cost?  What does it do?  Does it solve world peace?

    The folks at http://www.dualcor.com/ have a device that looks really similar.  The DualCor device is really interesting.  It sports “A unique dual processor architecture and integrated 40GB hard drive allows the cPC to concurrently run both Windows® XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows® Mobile 5.0 applications while simultaneously supporting broadband data and phone connectivity.  The device represents a new category of hardware for global enterprise computing and promises to end the compromise between mobility, functionality and productivity for the mobile business professional.” 

    Interesting stuff, eh?

  • Windows Vista Step-by-Step Guides are here!!!

    [UPDATE] This post is now out of datePlease see the update at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2006/08/21/448316.aspx.

    Windows VistaWell, today we released the Windows Vista February CTP build 5308 to the MSDN download center.  Obviously it was a little busy today as a result.  We also released a bunch of new documentation on the product.

    If you haven’t had a chance to start messing around with Windows Vista, now would be a good time to start your adventures.  The 5308 build is still a bit shaky on my machine, but I still attribute that to the electrical engineering of the machine and the shorts that occasionally occur with the USB ports. Fortunately we’ll be refreshing our laptops in a few months. 

    In the meantime, here are the links to all of the new guides.  I’m sure they’ll show up in the TechNet documentation library, but until then, I thought you would appreciate some weekend reading.

     

    File Name: File Size

    Deploying Vista Step by Step Guide.doc

    213 KB

    Managing Group Policy ADMX Files Step by Step Guide.doc

    150 KB

    Migration Step by Step Guide.doc

    151 KB

    Performance Monitoring and Tuning Step by Step Guide.doc

    209 KB

    Print Management Step by Step Guide.doc

    254 KB

    Step by Step Guide to Controlling Device Installation with Group Policy.doc

    1.1 MB

    Trusted Platform Module Services Step by Step Guide.doc

    155 KB

    User Account Control Step by Step Guide.doc

    146 KB

    Windows System Resource Manager Step by Step Guide.doc

    432 KB

    Windows Vista Beta 2 BitLocker Drive Enryption Step by Step.doc

    205 KB

    Windows Vista Beta 2 Windows Shared View Step by Step.doc

    265 KB

    Windows Vista Mobile Device Center Step by Step.doc

    134 KB

    Windows Vista Speech Recognition Step by Step.doc

    118 KB

     

     

  • Harold Wong's Most Excellent Exchange Adventure

    Just before Christmas, Harold Wong went on a “most excellent” adventure, dude.  Harold delivered a fourteen part webcast series on Exchange Server 2003.  I had the pleasure of helping field many of the questions.  As you know, we record the webcasts for on demand playback.  However, in the past it’s always been audio and video combined.  The TechNet Wecast Program Manager, Dean Andrews, thought it would be kewl to take the webcast audio and provide it for you podcatchers.

    Ok, so here they are.  You’ll have to download then drop them into your listening application and device.  After you’ve had a chance to listen to a few, Dean would like some feedback.  Please go to https://www.webcastaudio.com/survey/ and fill out the survey.  If you do, you’ll be entered in the drawing to win one of the mp3/wma players they are giving away.  See the official rules if you are into that sort of thing.

    Enjoy!!!

    Bluestripe_180[1]

     

    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (1 of 14): Deployment Planning

    How do you effectively plan and deploy Microsoft Exchange Server 2003? Start with this first webcast of the Exchange Server 2003 Series, where we examine the planning phase of any Exchange deployment. Learn the basic consideration for deployment, including hardware and software required to support one or more Exchange servers. From there we examine the infrastructure requirements, covering basic services such as Domain Name System, Microsoft Internet Information Services and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. Finally, we explain the biggest infrastructure requirement, Active Directory directory service. Covering integration and deployment paths, the presentation shows how Exchange and Active Directory are linked and how to deploy this critical service.

    Download: MP3 (22MB) | WMA (14MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (2 of 14): Coexistence and Migration

    Does migration have to be a headache? Not if you create a clear path and follow it. This webcast examines coexistence and migration scenarios when moving from Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 or Microsoft Exchange Server 2000 to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. Connecting a Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 environment to Active Directory as a starting point, the webcast shows how to connect the two directory services and troubleshoot them if they stop performing. With the Active Directory service established, learn how to integrate Exchange Server 2003 into this environment. The webcast concludes with a look at the upgrade path for Exchange Server 2000 deployments to Exchange Server 2003.

    Download: MP3 (20.4MB) | WMA (13.3MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (3 of 14): Managing Recipient Objects

    In this webcast we will cover recipient objects in Exchange Server 2003, starting with a look at the types of recipient objects available-User, Contact, Group, Public Folder, and InetOrgPerson. From there, learn how to create, configure, and manage them. We also cover the information store as it relates to these objects and the address lists for locating these objects.

    Download: MP3 (16.4MB) | WMA (10.5MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (4 of 14): Public Folders

    Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 offer great storage flexibility, and with it, potential complexity, which could make storage management difficult to administer. Start off right with this webcast about the basics of public folders in Exchange Server 2003. First, get an overview and architectural view of public folders. From there, learn about the overall management of public folders-creating them, setting and managing public folder permissions, replication, referrals, and storage requirements. The webcast concludes with tips on monitoring public folder status and mail-enabling public folders.

    Download: MP3 (15.5MB) | WMA (10.2MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (5 of 14): Virtual Server Components

    Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 offers quite a few virtual servers, and you have to decide which ones to use, and know how to configure them. This webcast covers what virtual servers are and how Exchange Server 2003 integrates with Microsoft Internet Information Services to provide them. Learn about the five main virtual servers - HTTP, POP3, Internet Message Access Protocol version 4rev1, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and Network News Transfer Protocol-with some coverage of Remote Procedure Call over HTTP. Going beyond technical descriptions, this webcast shows how to create and configure the various settings of each server.

    Download: MP3 (16.4MB) | WMA (10.7MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (6 of 14): Simple Mail Transfer Protocol

    The more you know about Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the better you can configure Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The SMTP protocol is core to Exchange 2003 and Exchange Administrators require a sound knowledge of the protocol. Join this webcast to gain an in depth understanding of SMTP. Topics addressed include commands and ports for both SMTP and Extended Set of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, how to configure Domain Name System for SMTP, Relays, and Smart Hosts. This webcast includes an important segment on security, which explains how to configure and secure SMTP, firewall requirements, and what makes traffic secure.

    Download: MP3 (14.4MB) | WMA (9.4MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (7 of 14): Server Security

    Server security is a discipline all its own, and any information technology professional needs a strong working knowledge of the issues and methods of securing servers. This webcast covers a variety of topics about server side-Security, starting with Microsoft Exchange Server and firewalls, and what ports are used and need to be configured. The webcast then discusses mailbox security-block lists and connection filtering, Sender and Recipient filters and the Intelligent Message Filter. The webcast concludes with a look at digital signatures and encryption features in Exchange, including both a brief description of them and a demonstration of how to configure them on the server.

    Download: MP3 (14.2MB) | WMA (9.4MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (8 of 14): Backup, Restore, and Recovery

    This webcast covers the critical tasks of backup, restore, and recovery, broken down into their three separate processes. The backup section explains what needs to be backed up both on Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and the operating system, types of backups, the role that logs can play in backup strategies, verification, and volume shadow copy. The restore section covers the different restore needs that may arise, from an entire server down to a mailbox, and public folder restoration. The webcast concludes by showing how to recover Exchange servers, focusing on recovery groups and mailbox recovery.

    Download: MP3 (14.9MB) | WMA (9.8MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (9 of 14): Monitoring, Performance, and Tuning

    To get the most performance out of Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, you must be able to monitor its performance and tune it. This webcast covers the various Exchange Server 2003 monitoring tools and techniques: basic monitoring practices such as event logs and queues, and events and queue issues to monitor; Exchange Monitors that monitor queues, services and disk space; recommended Exchange counters to use and what to look for. The webcast discusses the use of Microsoft Operations Manager as a management tool. The tuning segment present tips and information that can help tune the Exchange Servers.

    Download: MP3 (16.2MB) | WMA (10MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (10 of 14): Troubleshooting

    Troubleshooting tools can actually complicate your life if you don't know when to use which tools, and the sequences in which to use them. This webcast covers various Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 troubleshooting tools and the scenarios where the tools are used. Examples include using DCDiag and Netdiag to troubleshoot network and Domain Controller Connectivity issues, RPC Ping Utility to check Remote Procedure Call connectivity, isinteg to check database integrity, and ESEUTIL for various database tasks. This section also recaps the firewall information about what ports to open and how to look for issues in firewall logs.

    Download: MP3 (16MB) | WMA (10MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (11 of 14): Exchange Best Practice Analyzer

    The Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer Tool (ExBPA) is an automated health check and troubleshooting tool. An essential tool for any Exchange administrator the ExBPA collects configuration settings and performs network and protocol tests in an Exchange topology. Join this webcast as we will cover what the tool is and how to install it, set it up, and use it.

    Download: MP3 (15MB) | WMA (9.3MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (12 of 14): Client Security

    This webcast covers client security for use with Microsoft Office Outlook, Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access (OWA), and POP3 and Internet Message Access Protocol version 4rev1 (IMAP4) access (except mobile devices, which are covered in Part 13). The Outlook segment presents security features that relate to attachments security, address book and object model access, security zones, S/MIME, Remote Procedure Call over HTTP and Information Rights, anti-virus protection, and spam protection through filters. The OWA segment shows how to secure OWA access, Secure Sockets Layer with OWA, how to enable and configure it, S/MIME within the OWA environment, the infrastructure, and integration with firewalls and publishing through Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server. The presentation concludes by addressing POP3 and IMAP4, following the same steps as with Outlook and OWA.

    Download: MP3 (15.8MB) | WMA (9.9MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (13 of 14): Mobility

    This webcast covers the mobility support in Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, including the new mobility features in Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Mobile 5.0. The webcast provides a brief overview of Open Mobile Alliance, and then shows how to configure and enable OMA, before covering some security considerations. From there the webcast discusses Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) access considerations, examining WAP 1.x and WAP 2.0 gateways and how they affect Secure Sockets Layer traffic. The presentation concludes with a brief Windows Mobile 5.0 discussion featuring the Messaging & Security Feature Pack, its integration with SP2, the features of SP2, and what business issues it solves.

    Download: MP3 (23MB) | WMA (14.7MB)


    Exchange Server 2003 In Depth (14 of 14): Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2

    This final webcast looks at the new features within Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 SP2. We will cover the improvements in the Intelligent Message Filter and the mailbox enhancements, increased storage limits for standard edition, as well as some of the mobility improvements in the service pack.

    Download: MP3 (17.4MB) | WMA (10.7MB)

     

  • Do you talk to your computer? Does it listen? Windows Vista does!!!

    Nerds talk to their computers.  In fact, everyone that has a computer “talks” to it in some manner from time to time.  Now granted, some of those conversations can’t be printed here but wouldn’t it be kewl if your laptop or desktop listened?  Windows Vista has dramatically improved that and one of my teammates, Chris Henley, has created an excellent screencast demonstrating the Voice Recognition feature using the Windows Vista Dec CTP.

     

  • Taking Vista Virtual and "Going Deep With Virtualization"

    Virtualpc2004My friend Ben Armstrong writes a a great blog called the “Virtual PC Guy’s Weblog”.  I noticed on one of our internal email aliases he pointed someone to his post on how to install Windows Vista inside a VM.  If this is something you are interested in, check out http://blogs.msdn.com/virtual_pc_guy/archive/2006/02/07/525491.aspx

    I’ve been doing this with each CTP build as well as some of the other daily builds. Ben’s tips will make sure your install and performance is smooth.  Sorry folks, no Aero Glass in the VM world but you can at least check out Vista without dedicating an entire hard drive to it.

    While I was looking around on his blog, I also noticed a screencast that interested me.  Since I figured it might interest you as well I thought I'd point you over to it.  Go check out “Going Deep With Virtualization” at Channel9.  Good stuff.

  • Hello World

    Hello from Windows Vista (February CTP).  I am running through the matrix of applications I use on a daily or weekly basis, so you guessed it, time to test posting into the blahg.  Warm up your downloaders…
  • Here Ye Here Ye, Announcing Office 2007!!!

    2007officelogo[1]So I stroll over to my favorite blog website and notice nobody has posted any information on Office 2007.  How can this be?  It must be Friday and everyone is at Happy Hour.  Well, we interrupt your program for the following public service announcement:

    Important Links

    There are a lot of changes, Groovey new products and information to digest.  This will certainly be some good weekend reading.  You can now return to your respective happy hour activities.

     

  • Blitzkrieg of security offerings coming. Confused?

    250px-PanzerInfantryAdvance[1]Most people are probably familiar with the military term, Blitzkrieg.  According to Wikipedia, it means “lightning war”.  Of course I’m not talking about previous military wars but instead I am referring to the war against viruses, worms and other malicious exploits in the various operating systems and web browsers on this planet.  Well, let the Microsoft blitzkrieg begin.

    This week, Microsoft announced a number of changes to the product lines we have coming that will combat the bad guys.  Unfortunately, with the number of announcements and tools it can get confusing on what you’ll get, when you’ll get it, and how much it will cost.  The good news is that some of my favorite tools will be free.

     

    Branding

    Personally, I’d consolidate all of the tools into one brand.  I’m not sure what the brand would be.  What do you think?  The “Security Center” in Windows XP is pretty straight forward but catchy it ain't.  I like the Windows Defender name.  It’s catchy and conveys a sense of proactive spirit.  How about Microsoft Nuke?  Ok, maybe not.  I’m sure that we’ll eventually do some consolidation in this space.  It would seem that Windows Defender and Windows Defender Professional or Windows Defender Enterprise might work.  If you are a home user, download Windows Defender for Windows XP.  If you buy one of the home SKUs for Windows Vista, it comes built in.  If you are a volume licensing customer, you get the central reporting and control of the Pro or Enterprise product.  Keep in mind I’d put all of the security related stuff (Firewall, automatic updates, virus, malware, spyware, root kit detection, etc.) under the brand so that our customers would know where to look for changes to properties and settings.  Maybe the Microsoft Security Center isn’t soo bad after all, eh?  Just brainstorming here…

     

    Where do I get free training?

    The answer is of course TechnetBriefings.com.  My team will begin delivering live seminars on all of the security technologies in April.  We’ll clarify the security offerings on the Windows Server System products, Windows XP and Windows Vista client platforms. 

    Kai Axford is leading the content development so you know it’ll be stellar.  If you don’t know Kai, he’s a Microsoft Security Specialist and won a Microsoft Chairmans award for his efforts in the security space last year.  He’s also a Greenbay Cheesehead but don’t hold that against him.  Our plan is to cover the server and client products and offerings.  This is likely to include the new ISA Server 2006 stuff, Antigen for Exchange, Futuresoft technologies, etc.  We’ll have a ton of kewl demos so be sure to come to the live event if possible.  Of course you can always see us do webcasts as well.

    For more information on the live events we’ll be delivering, see http://www.technetbriefings.com/.  That site has our current seminar descriptions for Windows Server 2003 R2 and Exchange Server 2003 SP2.  We’ll update it soon with the Q4 content outlines and abstracts.

     

    Where should I look now?

    ProductcomparisonIn the meantime, lets take a look at some of the offerings that got announced or updated.  It would be prudent to look at the matrix of offerings so we can compare features.  You’ll notice on this chart that Windows Defender doesn’t do virus protection or removal.  I would change that.  If you want virus protection and/or removal, we’ll have the Windows Onecare Live and the Windows Live Safety Center.  The Onecare Live service will be a more robust service offering scheduled scans, backups, tune-ups and added protections.  See the OneCare Live press release on pricing and the promotions running through the end of April.

    Most of you are familiar with the Malicious Software Removal Tool.  It’s been around for a while and of course has been updated several times via the Microsoft Update servers.  You could of course run it right now.  Good doggie.

    On the business side of the offerings, you’ll see the Microsoft Client Protection programs.  Like many of the goodies above, it is also in beta testing.  If you want to signup for the beta, go here.  There is a nice little FAQ on the site but unfortunately, pricing and licensing has not been announced.  Stay tuned for that.

     

     

     

     

    Summary

    As you can see, Microsoft continues to invest in a number of technologies and services to combat the bad guys.  Our army of products and services are coming.  It’s a full on blitz and by the looks of things, calendar year 2006 is going to be good for consumers. 

    I’ll do some demos soon on these technologies and by all means let me know if you have any questions.  If you are in the southern states, come see me at one of my events.  Otherwise, keep your eyes on this blog and webcasts I deliver.

  • Ripping DVD's to the PlayStation Portable (PSP)

    PSPIt’s been almost a year since I discussed anything regarding my PSP.  Let me first say it’s still one of my favorite gadgets.  I use it mostly for watching video while in airports, on planes, etc.  I have a few games but I find that the video aspect is what compelled me to buy the thing in the first place, and it is still the main feature I use.

    The Sony PlayStation Portable has been updated a few times over the past year.  The November 2005 update is definitely my favorite because it added support for Microsoft Windows Media Audio (.wma) playback.  Copy protected .wma files are not supported.

    Another feature added in the update is support for RSS subscriptions.  I did some brief testing of the RSS <enclosure> support against my RSS feed and it works nicely.  I haven’t bothered to see how it stores the enclosed audio file.  When I tested it, it started buffering and playing the .mp3 almost immediately.  Enough babbling, lets talk about DVD video, shall we?

     

    DVD Ripping

    As you know, DVD ripping is a touchy subject.  There are a number of ways to “backup” your DVD collection to disk storage on a PC.  Many of the commercially sold audio and video products will do this now.  I have tried a variety of tools.  Whatever tool you choose will need to produce the .VOB file that can then be used for conversion.  Yea, you got that right, it’s a two step process.  After you have completed the first step of creating the “backup” .VOB, you can head over to the PSP Video 9 website and download their transcoding utility.  It’s free although they do accept donations.  I am currently using version 1.6 but will probably download 1.74 later and try it out.

     

    Using PSP Video 9

    When you start transcoding the .VOB files, you have some decisions to make.  You must decide if you want small size or good video quality.  It’s a balancing act.  You will also need to decide if you want to leave the original picture unmodified or do you want to change the aspect ratio and possibly crop to remove black bars common with widescreen formats.

    I did a lot of testing over my Christmas holiday vacation to determine my preferred settings for 4:3 ratio “full screen” movies, and 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 wide screen movies.  Part of the testing included cropping pixels from the top and bottom of the video to remove the dreaded black bars.  I used “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (widescreen 1.85:1) and “Star Wars III – Revenge Of The Sith” (widescreen 2.35:1) for my test base.

    When you launch PSPVideo9, there are a number of profiles in the Setup area to pick from.  I ended up using the “SP/368x208/29.97fps/QB4 Stereo/96kbps” profile for my widescreen tests.  This profile produces a MPEG4 .MOV file with good quality video and audio.  You can produce a much smaller file by using the QB7 profile.

    Just to give you an idea of the size, I ripped the entire Lord of the Rings Special Edition DVD set (6 DVDs) and spread the resulting .MOV files across 2.5gig of the memory sticks I had at the time.  That’s two 1gig sticks and a 500meg stick.  That is some SERIOUS compression.  I used the QB7 profile for that process and did not crop anything.  The end result is certainly watch-able but the QB4 quality is far superior.

    After doing the LOTR rips, I decided to get a little more scientific with my testing.  That means writing down what I tested and documenting the end result.  I never did that with the conversions I did with MCE recorded TV content so I figured I’d better document things so I don’t go bananas trying to remember later.

     

    My Profile Preferences and Results

    I ended up liking the following settings:

    • 1.85:1 Widescreen – Profile SP/368x208/29.97fps/QB4 Stereo/96kbps with 10 pixel crops at the top and bottom.
    • 2.35:1 Widescreen – Profile SP/368x208/29.97fps/QB4 Stereo/96kbps with 60 pixel crops at the top and bottom.

    Results of the above settings:

    • Apocalypse Now Redux – 875 meg
    • Revenge Of The Sith – 616 meg
    • Seabiscuit – 708 meg
    • Black Hawk Down – 961 meg
    • I, Robot – 580 meg
    • Unforgiven – 495 meg
    • Grinch – unknown since I deleted the last test.  The last test I ran on it was using a different profile and the result sucked. I will eventually rerun it with the QB4 crops.

     

    Summary

    As you can see, the DVDs compress nicely.  The limiting factor is the memory stick size you have.  I recently purchased a 2gig Sandisk Memory Stick Duo from amazon.com for $109.  It has since dropped another ten bucks.  This will be perfect for movies like Black Hawk Down that bump up against the 1gig barrier.  There are some after market PSP drives.  Lik-Sang makes and sells the 4gig drive.  You can also find this drive at your local game retailers.

    Use the most powerful computer you have to do both steps of this process.  The second step transcoding process will take 100% of whatever CPU you have.  In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I am saving for a multi core box.  Transferring video from a MiniDV camera and conversion, DVD rips, and MCE recorded TV conversions are the most resource intensive stuff I do.  My lowly Pentium 4 needs a boost so I am saving my pennies.

    Hopefully you found this useful.  If you don’t have a portable video player, look closely at the PSP before you buy anything.  They have really nice screens, are small, and easy to use.  Happy travels!!!

     

     

     

  • The UNIX Haters Handbook

    Get yer gunWhile doing some research for an upcoming screen-cast I’ll be posting in the next couple of days, I stumbled across an interesting book on the Microsoft Research servers.  The book lives at Daniel Weise’s MSR website and can be downloaded from another download location.  See the notes about ownership, out-of-print status, and copyright at the download location.  It appears to be ok although I’m not sure we should continue hosting this for an ex-employee.

    I haven’t read all of it yet, but I plan to. It looks to be a funny read.  I have included part of the FORWARD and Preface below.  As you can see, things get rolling pretty fast (so to speak).  Grab it quick before it gets pulled from the server. <wink>

    Bluestripe_180[1]

    FORWARD

    By Donald A. Normal

    The UNIX-HATERS Handbook? Why? Of what earthly good could it be?
    Who is the audience? What a perverted idea.


    But then again, I have been sitting here in my living room—still wearing
    my coat—for over an hour now, reading the manuscript. One and one-half
    hours. What a strange book. But appealing. Two hours. OK, I give up: I
    like it. It’s a perverse book, but it has an equally perverse appeal. Who
    would have thought it: Unix, the hacker’s pornography. <snip> See the .pdf

    Donald A. Norman


    Apple Fellow
    Apple Computer, Inc.


    And while I’m at it:
    Professor of Cognitive Science, Emeritus
    University of California, San Diego

    Bluestripe_180[1]

    Preface

    Things Are Going to Get a Lot Worse
    Before Things Get Worse

    “I liken starting one’s computing career with Unix, say as an undergraduate, to being born in East Africa. It is intolerably hot, your body is covered with lice and flies, you are malnourished and you suffer from numerous curable diseases. But, as far as young East Africans can tell, this is simply the natural condition and they live within it. By the time they find out differently, it is too late. They already think that the writing of shell scripts is a natural act.”

    — Ken Pier, Xerox PARC

    <snip> See the .pdf

  • Halo 2 Comes to Windows Vista !!!

    BrigadeDamaged-800Master Chief Dual-Wields His Way to Windows Vista
     

    February 9, 2006

    "Halo 2," the award-winning sequel to the instant classic "Halo: Combat Evolved" to make its PC debut on the Windows Vista platform

    "Halo 2," the game that redefined first-person combat and multiplayer action for millions of gamers worldwide, is set to explode onto PCs exclusively for Windows Vista. "Halo 2" for Windows Vista will be developed by a dedicated Microsoft Game Studios team in partnership with Bungie Studios. 

    Only for Windows Vista, "Halo 2" will offer gamers both the single-player campaign and multiplayer experience of the original, as well as the additional maps offered in the "Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack."  Gamers will also have the exciting opportunity to build, create and customize their own multiplayer levels.

    "Halo: Combat Evolved" and its sequel, "Halo 2," have achieved phenomenal success on the Xbox video game platform as gamers around the world follow the saga of Master Chief in his battle against the Covenant forces.  In 2003, the original "Halo" roared onto Windows PCs.  In "Halo 2" for Windows Vista, the action picks up where the first game ended.  Master Chief, with the help of a small group of marines, has destroyed the religious artifact and artificial world known as "Halo," and is making his way back to Earth.  There, he and the last surviving Earth forces will mount a titanic struggle against the marauding Covenant enemy.  To date, the Halo franchise has sold more than 14.5 million games worldwide with over 600 million hours of multiplayer action logged across Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.

    See http://www.xbox.com/en-US/press/2006/0206-halo2vista.htm for the complete press release.

    See http://www.bungie.net/News/TopStory.aspx?story=halo2vistaannounce for more details on the project, job openings, etc.

  • What is the perfect Microsoft demo laptop?

    MulticoreIt’s laptop refresh time again.  I have been doing my research for the next round of machines and have my eye on some pretty nice candidates.  The laptops selected will need to have a couple of key areas covered like a warm blanket.  First, they’ll need to support more than 2gig of RAM.  This is becoming really critical for the TechNet presenters since we typically run 4–5 virtual machines during our webcasts and live seminars.  Second, we need fast hard drives.  Fortunately the new laptops coming out have SATA interfaces and 7200rpm drives are easy to get.

    I’m not going to give away my selections, yet.  I would rather hear from you on what you think I should be evaluating.  We’ll likely lease the machines for 12–18 months.  Microsoft OS and application compatibility would be nice.  Duh.  Although it would be fun to run the Apple MacBook Pro, I don’t think I’ll have an easy time running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2003 R2 on it.  I’m sure Steve would get a kick outta that.

    Any suggestions you make must be announced products.  If you plan to suggest something that is not public, send me private email.  You can use the contact form here on my blog.

     

  • Internet Explorer 7 Rocks !!!

    Ie7banner

    If you haven’t bothered to install Internet Explorer (IE) 7 Beta 2, then please bother.  I’ve been using it for a few days now and have yet to crash it, it works with all of my favorite sites and I like the speed.  This is of course a beta and therefore it isn’t the final released and supported version, but it is off to a great start.

    Yellowstripe_340[1]

    It takes getting used to.  I had to change one of my habits.  I’m used to opening multiple instances of IE6 for the various websites I hit.  After I’m done with the site, I kill off that IE instance.  However, with the new IE7 tabs feature I no longer need to do that.  I can just kill off the tab hosting the website I no longer need.  Unfortunately, I’m a bonehead and haven’t broken my old habit yet.  I am still killing the IE instance but when I do that, good bye to all of the other tabbed instances.  Arrgggg!!!  FireFox, Opera and Navigator users will laugh at that but I'm sure they went through the same behaviour change.

    Since I was messing around with RSS <enclosure> support on my blog, I started using the RSS feeds capability inside IE7.  It works really well after you figure things out.  A word of warning though…  The default feed sync interval is 24 hours.  This is great for newsfeeds and such where you might check them in the morning over coffee.  However, if you want more frequent sync intervals, be sure to right mouse click the feed and set an appropriate time-frame.  There is no global feed interval change UI at present.  I requested a change to this on the IEBlog and they commented this is in the works.

    Page zoomOne of the new security features is the Phishing Filter.  I have yet to see it in action but I’m really glad we are adding this type of support.  I always worry about the less technically inclined in my family (and customers) when it comes to viruses, worms and phishing attacks.  For more information, see the Microsoft Anti Phishing Whitepaper.

    Bluestripe_180[1]

    Since I have bad eyes, I also enjoy the new Clear Type font support and page zooming.  Page zooming is that little magnifying glass at the bottom right corner of IE7.  Click the little down arrow, and you get the popup list (see screenshot) of the presets or the ability to set your own custom setting.

    This will come in real handy for those of you that have a Windows XP Media Center PC connected to a large High Definition TV.  For those HDTV users, they typically run at really high screen resolutions (1920x1080 in my case).  This makes text pretty hard to read so most people crank up the XP DPI settings.  Now, you can control that text display better right inside IE7 and can surf the web in high def glory.

    Printing has been improved.  Thank the heavens!!!  Print preview, page scaling, real time or “live” margin changes can be made, and lots of other goodies.  I try to avoid killing trees but some of those order receipts are important so I’m glad this area got some attention.

    There are some Windows Vista specific features coming.  The Vista features center around some security and parental control.  It’s almost too late for me to worry about controlling my teens.  In fact, it is too late.  The best control I’ve found is the removal of their wireless access.  I know, I know… 

    Yellowstripe_340[1]

    For more information on IE7, be sure to go grab the download at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/ie7/ie7betaredirect.mspx.  Be sure to read the information there in order to assess any application impact you may encounter.  There is an IT Pro checklist at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/ie7/itprochecklist.mspx.  The IE7 Technology Overview is a nice little guide on all of the features but I would imagine you’ll discover most of them rather quickly.  If you do nothing else, be sure to take the fancy shmancy IE7 Tour of Features.

    By the way, one of the top blogs at Microsoft is the IEBlog at http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/default.aspx.  There is a lot of good information there although the replies to specific feature studies can get huge.

    Enjoy!

  • Podcasting is now available from blogs.technet.com

    Over the next few weeks, you’ll start to see more and more audio (podcasts) and video (screencasts) originate from http://blogs.technet.com.  You may have noticed in the past couple of weeks we upgraded the website.  One of the new features that was implemented is podcast support.  We don’t actually store the file at blogs.technet.com.  Instead, the posting author uses the attachment dialog to specify a link to the file and the appropriate RSS <enclosure> is created.

    I have requested a number of mime types to be added and therefore supported.  At the moment, the number of mime types is pretty limited but our site developers will change that in short order.  Here are the steps to create a podcast on blogs.technet.com:

    1. Create the audio file.  For our first example, we’ll just use a .mp3 file.  I’m going to steal an episode of IT Heroes for this demonstration.  All of the IT Heroe episodes are the work of Michael J Murphy who is another member of my team.
    2. Store the audio file on a public web server.  I’m going to use my http://keithcombs.members.winisp.net/ hosting area.
    3. Create the blog entry.  You can go into the settings area for your blog and create the new post that way, or use BlogJet or some other tool.
    4. If you aren’t in the settings for your blogs.technet.com blog area, go to Settings  |  Manage Content  |  Posts.
    5. Click the Edit button on the far right of the post you want to add the attachment to.
    6. Click the Post Attachments tab.
    7. Click the Add/Update button.
    8. Enter the http:// link to the audio or video file in the dialog box (see screenshot).Enclosure
    9. Click the Save button. 
    10. Click the Post button to post the blog entry.

    The rss.aspx feed file will contain the <enclosure> link.  I have tested adding the feed from my blog to Internet Explorer 7, iTunes and bloglines.com to confirm the enclosure is created and the file can be downloaded correctly.  It works baby!!!

    In fact, if you subscribe to my RSS feed with one of those tools, you’ll pickup IT Heroes Episode V from this blog entry.  Look for the tell tale music icon in IE7. 

    FYI, I could not get SharpReader and RssReader to read the RSS feed and display enclosures of any type.  If someone knows how to do that, please reply to this post or let me know.

    Enjoy all of the new rants coming your way… <grin>

  • My HDTV Final Destination

    Introduction

    I started my adventure many months ago.  It was one of those trips without a specific destination.  Those are my favorite kind of trips.  Because I’m a nerd, research and planning always comes into the equation.  Sometimes it is best to avoid those feelings and let lust take over.  I did that with my Infiniti G35 Coupe.  I did that with my HP DLP HDTV.  Lust rulz.

    I planned to make this spiffy blog post about my final HDTV configuration, complete with videos, but the videos I shot sucked.  I guess I should have figured that since my Sony MiniDV DCR-TRV22 is a standard definition video camera.  It just didn’t do justice to my HDTV.  It probably has a lot to do with my lack of knowledge on exposure control.  Never mind.  Time to get down to business.

     

    My HDTV

    I ended up buying the HP MD5880N 58” DLP.  MD5880NI bought it directly from HP because Microsoft employees get a nice EPP discount.  Of course, I bought it back in October and it has already dropped $500 since then.  This is primarily due to the fact HP announced a bunch of new sets at CES a few weeks ago.

    The set is flat black and very kewl looking.  The built in speakers are very nice and so far, I haven’t had a dying need to connect my sound system.  It has two HDMI 1080p capable connections, two Component connections, a VGA connection, and several composite and S-Video connections.

    The remote and menus are easy to use.  I also trained the remote to operate my cable box and DVD player.

    The picture quality is amazing although I am far from being an expert on the matter.  The only time I see anything that is sorta weird is when I watch a rock concert, or tight fast action shots.  During those times, the picture does some pixelation but I understand it’s pretty normal with todays technology.  It isn’t even remotely bothersome to me.  I also see some really slight rainbow effect on dark movies.  This usually only occurs when my eyes are tired late at night.  Nobody in my family has ever commented on seeing it.  As I understand it, it is the result of the color wheel spinning and some of the newer HDTV’s are using LED instead of the color wheel.  Again, it doesn’t bother me at all and is really minor.

    The HDTV I bought got rave reviews initially.  I still give mine rave reviews.  However, as with all electronics there have been some reports of various defects, delivery issues and service issues.  You should probably review some of the forums on the internet and with all opinions, take them with a grain of salt.  Including mine.  Everyone gets different mileage.  So far, my set it doing great but I bought extended warranties from RepairMaster just in case I need it.

    I use my HDTV with a wide variety of components and it has performed flawlessly with my Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, Xbox, Xbox360, DVD player and cable box.  Let’s dive a little deeper into those components.

     

    My HDTV Connected Components

    Your HDTV is only as good as the signal and content you feed it.  The first component I upgraded was the cable box.  That was followed by the DVD player.  I bought lots of cables, hard drives and gizmos to do solve various problems or to satisfy me.  I am not easy to satisfy as I found out. 

    Cable Box

    I use the Charter Communications Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR. This DVR is fine but certainly not perfect.  My main complaints with the box are as follows:

    • Recording Schedule – it records the day and time, not the program.  It doesn’t have metadata (apparently) about a program so if a different program comes on in that time slot, it records anyway.  This was a bummer when the two day season premier for 24 occurred.
    • Hard Drive Size – 120gig fills up fast.  Fortunately the 8300 HD can be expanded with an external drive.  The 8300 HD has an eSATA connector on the back of the box.  So I purchased an external hard drive enclosure, eSATA cable (SS-1ESS Type “I” to Type “L”) and a 500gig Hitachi drive.  I figured this ought to keep me in HD hog heaven for some period of time.  However, the embedded Linux operating system did not like the big Hitachi drive and it would not work.  The avsforum.com thread on the subject indicated that a smaller drive might work more effectively.  So I pulled a 300gig Maxtor out of my MCE machine and used it.  It works perfectly now.
    • Power Saver – the box powers down at 1am each day.  This presents a problem if you are trying to control the box with a Media Center Ir blaster.  To Charter Communications credit, they created a custom provision for my cable box and it no longer shuts down at 1am.  Per their instructions, I power it off when no late night unattended recordings are planned.
    • HMDI connection – if you use a HDMI connection, it turns off video out on the coax and component outputs.  Again, this presented a problem with the Media Center connection and input to its analog TV tuner.

    Upscaling DVD Player

    I wanted a better DVD player.  I had heard that an upscaling DVD player could improve the signal and quality of the DVD playback for a high definition TV.  I didn’t want to spend a fortune on this so I bought the Sony DVP-NS70H at my local BestBuy for $149.  This has turned out to be a pure joy.  It does a nice job of scaling the 480p DVDs we all buy up to 1080i.  As with all things, the movie itself has a lot to do with the final result.  There is a big difference between the quality of “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Blob” with Steve McQueen.  Crud in equals upscaled crud out.  I can’t wait to see how the HD-DVD and Blu Ray drives work with my TV.  My Sony is connected via HDMI.

    Windows XP MCE PC

    I originally connected my Dell MCE PC to the HP via a DVI->HDMI cable.  It worked flawlessly but after testing Half Life 2, Doom3, email, etc., I started to miss that machine in my office.  1080p displays from the PC are kewl and all, but that machine is one of my workhorse machines.  So I disconnected it and moved it back to my office. 

    I then attempted to stream recorded TV programs back to the HP across my wireless network.  Although that works fine for standard definition recordings, the network choked on the high definition recordings.  At this point I was just testing the DViCO FusionHDTV 5 USB Gold external USB tuner.  I had issues with the drivers for this tuner so I returned it and replaced it with the VBOX Cat’s Eye 150Dta-150 which I purchased at pcalchemy.com.  This tuner comes with MCE logo passed drivers and works very nicely.  It exposed my next problem however.

    The VBOX tuner is a PCI card tuner and has a connector for a terrestrial antenna.  Yea, it requires an antenna and cannot be hooked directly to the cable feed from Charter Communications even though there are a number of QAM channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, WB) on that feed that are unencrypted.  Apparently this is a limitation of MCE.  I don’t really know.  I do know that this exposed my next problem.

    My VBOX card is only as good as what it receives.  In the digital world, you don’t get snowy pictures.  Either the picture is on or off.  Sometimes it will be a little jerky, but usually not.  I tried a couple of antennas before finding one strong enough to pick up the local ABC affiliate.  All of the other channels worked great but the local ABC affiliate broadcast is on VHF not UHF like the rest of them.  This was a bit frustrating because I was trying indoor antennas.  I didn’t really feel like running a cable into the attic and mounting a big antenna there.  Fortunately the Terk TV5 did the trick and I pick up all of the channels without issue.  This exposed my next problem to solve.  This is starting to sound like a broken record.

    Now that I have my MCE box recording all of this stuff, I can’t get it to the HDTV across my wireless network.  You know of course that the Xbox 360 can be used as a HDTV extender, but my wireless network doesn’t stream the content smoothly.  Now the real work begins.  I ran CAT6 cable in the attic and down the walls to all of the locations I need.  I had planned on doing this years back but never found the killer app to force it.  HDTV streaming broke the camels back.  Crimping RJ45 connectors is a blast.

    This means my Xbox360 now has a direct Ethernet connection from the switch in my entertainment center to the switch in my office.  Now it is streaming MCE recorded content the way it’s supposed to be.  This also means I have another recording solution with effectively unlimited storage space.  My MCE PC only has a couple of 500gig drives in it at the moment, but a SAN could be used down the road. 

    Xbox 360 MCE Extender and Gaming

    MceWhat hasn’t already been said about the Xbox 360 game console?  It simply rocks.  As a HDTV extender for MCE, it’s beyond belief.  You should see the jaws drop when the in-laws stop by for a demo.  I do play games but this was the ideal solution for getting the HDTV recorded content from my office to the den with the entertainment center.

    Xbox 360 connects very fast and is very responsive to the remote control.  My only complaint with the extender technology is that I would like the Xbox to wake my MCE PC from sleep.  I do not leave my pc up and running all of the time.  After it records a program, it suspends after fifteen minutes.  If I get that to work, then I’ll never have to get off the couch.

    I am connecting my Xbox 360 via the component video connection.  I wish we had provided an all digital HDMI connection, but component works just fine.  I use the 1080i resolution and it looks “killer”. 

    I also have the Microsoft Xbox 360 VGA HD AV cable.  When I originally hooked up all of the above components, the HDMI and Component connections were all filled on my HP.  Since I pulled the MCE PC off a direct connection, I switched the Xbox 360 back to the component cable.  The VGA cable worked perfectly fine but I prefer the 1920x1080 resolution over 1280x720 or 1360x768.

    One of the Xbox 360 benefits I had not expected was a new HDTV version of Halo 2.  When you logon to Xbox Live with Halo2 and the Xbox 360, the new version downloads.  Very very kewl.  I ended up playing through the campaign mode again because it was/is fun to see how nice Halo 2 looks on my HP set.

    We still have our original launch day Xbox.  It is also connected via component and does a great job of collecting dust.  We still fire it up from time to time but we love the new white Xbox 360.  Actually, we don’t like the Xbox 360 color so I’m sure some mods are in its future.

     

    Summary

    I saved and saved.  I researched and researched.  I lurked.  I waited.  I purchased.  What the hell took me so long?  In hindsight, it’s been one of the best technology purchases I’ve made in a long time.  I really enjoy watching HDTV.  I should have made the plunge a year or two before I did.  There are a ton of great HDTV sets on the market.  Spend a lot of time looking at them in various stores, with various lighting conditions and various signal feeds.  You can only satisfy your eyes.  That is the key to buying one of these.  Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy your trip.

     

  • Do 2gig SoDIMMs really exist?

    I keep reading about the new laptops that are coming to market in the next 8 weeks.  Some of the specs for those machines are pretty impressive.  Dual core, fast graphics, Serial ATA drive interfaces, and lots of fast memory support.  More memory support really caught my eye because as you well know, our demo virtual machines love memory.  In fact, the current generation laptops all top out at 2gig of memory, I think.

    2gig of memory should be enough, right?  I mean, some famous person said we should never need more than 640k.  Well the reality is that I'm either going to need two laptops soon, or the vapor 2gig laptop SoDIMMs are going to have to come to market.

    Do they exist today?  How many chicken nuggets does one cost?

    The new Fujitsu LifeBook E8110 specs at http://vilpublic.fujitsu-siemens.com/vil/pc/vil/datenblaetter/mobile/en/ds_lifebook_e8110.pdf say it supports 4gig of memory.  Now we are talking!!!  

    Wait a second, how do they do that?  The specs also say the machine only has two SoDIMM slots.  See?  The magical 2gig SoDIMM must exist, or will very soon.

    Frankly, my current laptop would be just fine if the BIOS supports more than 2gig of memory.  I would be happy dropping a couple of 1.5gig SoDIMMs in it for a total of 3gig.  

    If someone has the inside track on the laptop memory picture, please let me know.  I looked around on the Kingston, Crucial, etc. sites but only saw 1gig sticks. 

     

  • We Share Your Pain (WSYP) v1.0

    Who says the British have a dry sense of humor?  I’ve been playing a funny video at my live seminars and people are constantly asking me where to get a copy.  Ok folks, head over to http://www.microsoft.com/uk/technet/itsshowtime/sessionh.aspx?videoid=9999 and check it out. 

    Rumor has it that v1.5 will have some added features for presenters.