Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

July, 2009

  • Optical Illusions Can Mess With Your Mind

    OpticNerve Like many of the type A folks I work with, I rarely make mistakes.  But I made an interesting one this week and by golly it wasn’t my fault.  Or was it?

    Anyone who is a frequent writer knows it’s beneficial to have someone spot check your work to pick up on spelling, grammar and other mistakes you simply overlook.  The brain is pretty weird and wonderful.  It tries to anticipate what you are doing and in real time it fills in the dots for you.

    This is all well and good until something that needs to be precise is overridden.  That happened to me Saturday and I could not override the override until today.  And the only reason I could flip the switch was because someone else figured out the problem for me.

    What the hell am I talking about? 

    It’s really simple.  We all have to put those little keys in for activating products.  In the case of many of the Microsoft products it’s a 5x5 key.  5 nodes with 5 digits.  This is especially true for the Dell XPS 420 I have that has premium high definition recording capabilities.  Machines that have the “OCUR” feature have two keys.  One for Windows and one for activating the digital cable tuners.

    On Saturday I did an in-place upgrade from Vista Ultimate x64 SP2 to Windows 7 Ultimate x64 RTM.  The initial upgrade went fine except I was prompted to re-activate the cable tuners.  The key you use comes from two places, or in my case, three possible places.  The normal key is an OEM key and is embedded when you get the machine.

    Since I originally received the machine with 32bit Vista, I lost the original OEM DCT key when I flattened the machine.  But the Certificate of Authenticity on the back of the machine has the Windows key AND the DCT activation key.  So I grabbed my flashlight, a Post-It pad and pen.  I wrote down the key.  I plugged in the key on the Windows input field and the key was rejected.


    So I double checked the key again to verify it was correctly written.  I tried it again and activation failed.  At this point I’m rewinding to 18 months back when I first got the machine and the SATA controller issues that forced a couple of unplanned installs and tests for Dell.  I burned a couple of activations of the OCUR DCT key back then so I’m assuming this has come back to haunt me.  My workaround is to lookup another key I had issued then and use it.  That worked.  Crisis averted.

    However, I did follow-up with the Windows program managers and ask them to look at my key.  I wanted to know if it was out of activations.  I made the assumption at this point it was.  Bad assumption.

    The Problem is Between the Keyboard and the Seat

    The program manager that contacted me wanted the key, so I typed it in and shot it off to him in email.  Now keep in mind I am still using the post-it note as my reference point.  I had checked this key probably five times at this point, digit by digit or more accurately, node by node.

    The PM writes back after a couple of days that the key isn’t checking out.  So I snapped about ten hand held pictures with my digital camera.  They are too blurry.  Now keep in mind I am still comparing my hand written note to the digital pictures.  So I yank the machine from under my desk and place it on top of a trash can.  I then put my camera on the tripod and rip off another five pictures.  This time they are clear as glass.  I’ll show that freaking PM who’s got a valid key!!!

    I crop the pic and send it off.  I receive a reply in a few minutes and he points out the email I sent with the key I typed is a different key than the one in the image.  WTF?  I just checked the damn thing.  But sure enough, the very last digit is supposed to be a 7 and I’ve been typing a T.

    This is freaking weird.  I typed the key wrong 3-4 times.  At least three in attempts on the Windows input prompt and one on the email I sent.  The email clearly shows the error.  But every time I visually compared the onscreen key against the hand written note, the 7 and the T looked the same. My brain said it was OK.  In fact, I didn’t even notice it on the digital pic after looking at close to twenty different pictures of the COA.  It took a completely different person to point out the error.  Wow.  That’s a really ugly mental optical illusion.  The difference between a 7 and a T is pretty small visually but come on brain.  Get with it.

    Moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you read.

  • “Microsoft has yet again raised the bar” – on Win7 Media Center

    image has a pretty decent review of the new features in the Media Center feature of Windows 7 at  If you haven’t ever experienced recording TV with Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, you need to check it out.

    Saturday I did an in-place upgrade of my Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP2 machine.  The upgrade went very smoothly.  I hit one small issue with my digital cable tuner activation that I was able to workaround.  Since that time I have recorded several movies.  I am also testing sleep/resume to verify it is waking up properly for scheduled recordings.

    I’ll report more results later and capture some of the action in the form of a screencast.

  • The Intel® X25-M Mainstream 160GB SSD should rock Windows 7

    Capture Out with the old, in with the new.  I’ve been selling a few items on my wife’s costume ecommerce site.  I sold enough stuff so far to purchase the recently announced Intel® X25-M Mainstream 160GB SSD drive. 

    This particular drive has been getting rave reviews and I am looking forward to receiving it sometime this week.  It already shipped from 

    Strangely, newegg deactivated the part number at  I think they realized all of the other Intel SSD drives were going to collect dust if they didn’t sell them first. Duh.  They’re like two hundred more dollars.  Earth to newegg, discount the hell of the first generation and get rid of them.  Take the loss and move on.

    But I see a storm on the horizon.  Some of the laptop makers have been advertising 3.0GB SATA speeds in the specs for their laptops for years and it doesn’t look like those machines support the advertised spec.  I’m not going to name names right now, but you can imagine this isn’t going to make their customers happy when they start buying drives like this.

    By the way, anyone know what the maximum Windows 7 rating is for a hard drive in the WINSAT tests?  Should be fun to find out.  To be continued… 

    [UPDATE]  Apparently my drive never made it out the warehouse door and got stopped due to the firmware issue described at the article.  Sigh…  Now I’ll probably have to wait weeks for the next one.

  • Halo Legends anime coming!


    See the Presspass announcement.  I guess the Saturday morning cartoons are next.  Grin.

  • Microsoft Contributes Linux Drivers to Linux Community

    “REDMOND, Wash., July 20, 2009 — Today, in a break from the ordinary, Microsoft released 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux community. The code, which includes three Linux device drivers, has been submitted to the Linux kernel community for inclusion in the Linux tree. The drivers will be available to the Linux community and customers alike, and will enhance the performance of the Linux operating system when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V.”

    See the rest of the news release, article and video at

  • On age and The Open

    TomWatson Someone asked me if Tom Watson was good for the image of golf.  They were lamenting that having a 59 year old almost win The Open Championship made it look like golf was too easy.  Anyone who would think something like that apparently has never chased that stupid little ball around some of the most beautiful pieces of property on the earth.

    Yea, golf is easy.  Anyone can do it.  But not everyone can be a Masters or Open Champion.  I mean seriously, Tiger Woods is expected to become the first athlete billionaire.  A lowly golfer.  Yea, anyone can be the next Tiger Woods.

    Tom Watson has been The Open Champion five times.  He was Masters Champion twice.  He also won the U.S. Open.  He’s in an elite club and deserves respect.  Anyone that thinks his possible sixth win of The Open is bad for the game is no golfer.  True golfers and fans of the sport are in awe of the man.  Rock on Tom.  We love you.

    And yes, there is another Tiger Woods out there.  Some snotty nose kid learning to hit the ball at age 7 or something.  That’s about the time I smacked my first golf ball.  And someone will eventually come along and try to out do Tiger, or Tom or whoever.  But it sure was fun to see Tom try this week.  I wish he had made the putt, but that’s the game of golf.  There’s no pressure.  It’s easy. 

  • What is a “experience-targeted cloud OS” anyway???

    According to Dell’s Doug Anston, his group is researching an “experience-targeted cloud OS” like Google Chrome OS for their line of products.  Go for it Doug, I would expect you to.  He also goes on to say “alternative operating systems continue to evolve, flourish and prosper”.

    I really don’t know what his definition of flourish and prosper is, but it’s certainly true that Windows is doing great on a variety of form factors including the Dell Mini line.  I don’t routinely take other bloggers to task over their articles, but Doug is obviously a fan of anything other than Microsoft.  Otherwise he would acknowledge the success Windows has had on his companies line of notebooks, desktops and servers.

    Windows is a choice at Dell, so I wish Doug would acknowledge that.  You can buy a Dell Mini 10 netbook for $349 USD with either Ubuntu or Windows XP (today).  I wonder what the percentage of Ubuntu sales are compared to Windows in the Mini line?  I have heard linux based netbook returns are high, but I haven’t seen numbers to substantiate the rumors from Dell or any other maker.

    I’m all for competition and Microsoft has more competition than ever.  Competition is good.  Customers benefit.

  • Don’t Make Conan Mad

    Where's Windows 7

  • How long do your hard drives run non stop?

    image In June of 2007 I purchased a TiVo Series 3 HD DVR and promptly attached a 500GB SATA hard drive to the TiVo eSATA port.  That hard drive and enclosure has had a workout since then.

    They’ve been running non-stop for 24 months and at some point you and I both know the MTF grim reaper is going to knock on the door.

    I have been considering buying the same exact enclosure again because I like the design for this particular application.  However, the enclosure I was using was changed so I opted for the new version.  The new version is still very similar and has the main design point I was looking for, a quiet fan.

    I purchased the case at Fry’s. carries them and of course has some great pictures.  Click the pic above to take you to the site and SKU.  Like the original case, it isn’t the best looking case around but I don’t care much.  I just want it to work non-stop for months and months.  I’m pretty sure the current hard drive will wear out before too long so I also purchased a 1TB Hitachi drive which I’ll swap out at the end of the summer, just before the fall shows premiere.

    The case itself is aluminum.  The hard drive tray is plastic.  I don’t use the stand and from all practical appearances sucks.  The front of the drive is lit and a bright blue.  I placed a piece of electrical tape over all but a slit of the front display to blind the blue light.  Works very nicely.  I can still see when the drive is de-fragmenting the work areas. 

    I’ll let cha know in a couple of years if this one survives.  That seems like a reasonable period of time.  $40 for 24 months of use?  Sounds good to me.  Any other recommendations for non-stop operation drives and enclosures?

  • Expression Encoder Screen Capture 3 – HD screencast demonstration

    image You’ve seen me do literally hundreds of Camtasia captured screencast demos.  One of the screencasts I did on Windows Server 2008 was captured using the Windows Media Encoder x64 product.  That product has now been depricated and the screencast below was captured with a new product called  Expression Encoder Screen Capture 3.  This product ships with and is designed to run with Expression Encoder 3.

    This new screen capturing tool does a great job of capturing high quality work you might like to demonstrate via a blog or webpage.  The screencast below was captured where the source machine was running a display resolution of 1920x1200.  In the demo I also execute and run a Halo 3 720p HD video.  That Halo 3 video is 30fps and the data rate for the video is right at 6MB.  Try duplicating this capture with other products on the market or the internet.  Let me know how successful you were.  Grin.

    The following demo requires the released version of Silverlight 3.  Install from  I haven’t quite figured out the code to force that check in the blog post.  So for now, there’s a little manual human intervention required.  You can handle it.  Smiles.

    The Demo

    Download Location

    If you want to download the Windows Media Video file that was produced by Expression Encoder 3, right mouse click the following link and SAVE TARGET AS to a location local to your machine.

    Some Notes on the Source and Output

    The captured file size ended up being slightly less than 800MB.  After selecting the Expression Encoder 3 VC-1 Screen profile and making some slight adjustments, I encoded to the Silverlight VC-1 format with a resulting file size of 40.5MB.  That’s some serious crunching and compression folks.

    The most impressive aspect is the quality of output.  To truly appreciate this, run this screencast on a 24” monitor that has a native res of 1920x1200 and go full screen with the Silverlight 3 player control.  The full screen button shows up if you move your mouse into the lower portion of the player and the controls pop up.  The button I am referring to is bottom right.  When full screen on a 24” monitor, the clarity should be nearly perfect with very little blurriness, artifacting, or other noise.

    If you are using a smaller LCD panel like I am at the moment (15.4” laptop LCD at 1680x1050), you will see some blurriness but it should not be too bad.  I haven’t yet decided what ot use in the future for my recordings so feedback now would be VERY welcome.

    Since the data rate for this screencast is 4MB, those of you with slower internet connection may see some issues with playback buffering before the file is progressively downloaded.  I am not using the adaptive bitrate streaming for this example.

    Software locations

    Be sure to install the released version of Silverlight 3 at  After that, be sure to download the trial versions of the Expression Suite 3 products at when they come out (soon).  Expression Blend 3 with Sketchflow is available now.

    Other References

  • Office 2010 – Technical Preview Waitlist Registration now open


    Waitlist Me for the Technical Preview!

  • “Taking the iPhone 3GS off the job market” by Engadget Editor-in-Chief

    apple Joshua Topolsky wrote and published “Editorial: Taking the iPhone 3GS off the job market” on the widely popular website today.  I think he’s a little upset.  I never would have thought I’d see the day the engadget folks would publish an article like that since they are pretty pro Apple. 

    He actually said, “even Windows Mobile just makes more sense”.  I know, I snipped the juicy sound bite from the article.  No problem.  Go read the entire article.  He also said the Palm Pre, Android, Blackberry and others make more sense, too.  WOW.

    I’m guessing Apple probably called him this afternoon and wanted to know how they could help.

  • Seen the light?


    [UPDATE] Apparently they moved some stuff around after I posted some of the links.  Thanks for the comments.  Enjoy the new tools!!!

  • Deployment run amuck

    I'm multicasting Someone deployed to many images to this node.  Looks like it went into to a freaking loop.  I’m sure SCCM didn’t do this.  Either that or it’s a WDS server multicasting some streamed images.

    Photo nightmare courtesy of

  • Revisiting using a Zune with a MacBook Pro

    One of the first things I did when I got my Mac back in late 2007 was to see if the USB connection capabilities worked in Fusion.  But that was about eighteen months ago and nearly the entire world has “rev’d” since then.

    So let the updates begin…  OS X is at v10.5.7.  I updated VMWare Fusion to v2.0.5.  I installed Service Pack 2 on the Windows Vista Enterprise x64 virtual machine.  I then downloaded and installed the 64 bit version of the Zune 3.1 software.

    I plugged in the trusty Zune 80 Original and sure enough, the device was detected properly and the driver installed.  Time to cross your fingers and hope for the best.  I launched the Zune software and synced the Zune 80.  YAY !!!

    Now you might be thinking so what?  Well, there are a few people interested in the Zune Marketplace and a device coming out this fall.


    One other thing.  I haven’t tried this yet with Windows 7.  I’ve been really busy the past 6 months and at this point I might as well wait for the released version.

  • For Sale – some gadgets and goodies

    psp I am going to start selling off some of the stuff taking up space in my drawers and home office.  Some of this stuff is in mint condition so be sure and let me know if you have any questions.  All of the photos are just stock photos from the internet.  If you are concerned about wear and tear on any of the items, let me know and I’ll take a few pictures with my digital camera.

    My wife has an ecommerce site for her costume business so I created a section there so I could easily take credit card transactions.  I’ll probably put them up on eBay later.  All sales are final.  Most items have their original box and contents.  USA and Canada sales and shipping only.  Sorry. 

    Happy shopping @ Keith’s Gadgets and Electronics.

    If you want to keep up with new items I am adding, follow me on twitter.  My twitter account is  I still have a number of items I’ll be adding over time and I don’t want to spam my blog too much.

  • The Hyper-V Resource Kit is now available !!!

    Hyper-V Want the latest information about Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V?  If so, then you’ll want to check out the “Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V Resource Kit” by Robert Larson and Janique Carbone with the Windows Virtualization Team at Microsoft (Microsoft Press, 2009; ISBN: 9780735625174; 800 pages).

    In-depth and comprehensive, this official RESOURCE KIT delivers the information you need to plan, implement, and manage a virtualized enterprise infrastructure. Covers R2 features. You get authoritative technical guidance from those who know the technology best—leading industry experts and the Windows Virtualization Team—along with sample scripts, job aids, and other essential resources. Get expert advice on how to:

  • Manage the project visioning phase—scope, risks, budget
  • Design Hyper-V server infrastructure and components
  • Apply the steps and tools that streamline installation
  • Configure single or multiple Hyper-V servers
  • Plan a server workload consolidation strategy
  • Use console-based tools to manage central and remote operations
  • Minimize downtime when migrating from Microsoft Virtual Server to Hyper-V
  • Apply security best practices
  • Implement business continuity and recovery plans
  • Monitor health and tune performance CD features:
  • Library of Windows PowerShell scripts for automating Hyper-V management tasks
  • Understanding Microsoft Virtualization Solutions From Desktop to Datacenter eBook
  • Job aids and links to useful virtualization-related resources and tools
  • Fully searchable eBook of this guide
  • Get it from Amazon @

    Get it from B&N @

  • Star Wars USB drives a go – but where is Blu-ray ???


    Anyone else other than me think it sucks that we can buy all sorts of Star Wars approved apparel, but when it comes to buying the widescreen Blu-ray versions of the movies they are nowhere to be found?  What is it with George Lucas and the owners of that franchise anyway?  Click the pic for your pre-order link but having Yoda stuck into your lappy USB port isn’t going to make you a Jedi, and the force isn’t making a Blu-ray anniversary boxed set.

  • Using Bing with Firefox 3.5 – default search engine

    image I run my share of software that isn’t made by Microsoft.  Like a number of you, I downloaded and installed Firefox 3.5.  I really have to because I need to make sure the Firefox experience is good on my blog and on  Gotta keep those boys in check.

    So today I was wondering how to flip the search engine from Google to Bing inside Firefox.  The official Microsoft Bing add-on for Firefox is at  I looked up Alessandro Catorcini and Beatrice Oltean in our internal Exchange global address list and they are both Program Managers in the Search division of Microsoft.  I see some skepticism in the comments at the add-on location (as was I).  So I double checked.

    Anyway, after you download and install the add-on, you can make Bing the default search engine that is used for queries.  Bing is rocking and you should really try it.  And I am not just saying it because I work here.  Enjoy.