Things to Pack When You Travel

I used to carry a sort of emergency kit of digital media. It started out with a few linux disks and one Windows 98 SE disk and eventually progressed to a fairly well thought out array of support tools. Unfortunately I haven’t traveled for a while and I forgot just how important such things were. Until my trip to Boston last week when my Dell system’s hard drive encrypting by WinMagic locked up for no particularly good reason. It just took my username and password and spit out an error 0x00007212 and told me to call Win Magic. I’m supposed to get support today for the problem and I’ll let you know how that turns out.

In the meanwhile I thought I’d list out what I’ve put in my new rescue kit. It’s a miscellany of operating systems and media types. Basically, if I can carry it on a CD, I do. Why? Because many people don’t have DVD drives in their laptops, so the older standard is more useful for rescue utilities.

  1. Solaris x86 install disc. I currently support Sun systems and it’s always useful to be able to boot into the mini-root.
  2. Solaris sparc install disc. Same problem, different chip architecture. There may be a dual boot disc, but for now I have two discs to solve the problem.
  3. knoppix bootable CD. I’ve used knoppix in the past to fix things that were somewhat Windows problems but linux was an easier way to fix them.
  4. Ubuntu desktop 32-bit install CD.  I love Ubuntu, but I have the same criticism here that I have of Solaris.  This disc can help me install or run a liveCD of Ubuntu for my laptop, but if my co-worker has a 64 bit processor, I can’t help him.  Anyhow, for those new to Ubuntu, it’s probably the best attempt at an XP like desktop.  Not much changes (except behind the scenes) so you don’t have to keep learning how to use it every time you upgrade.
  5. BartPE.  It’s a bootable Windows environment.  Good for repairing XP.
  6. Darik’s Boot and Nuke.  This is a disk wiper utility.  If for some reason you need to ship a disk this utility will help destroy the information on it in a way that makes forensics much more difficult.
  7. Gparted and Clonezilla.  GpartEd is a partition editor similar to an old utility called DiskMagic.  If you need to resize your partitions, this is the best way to do it.  Of course, you should run backups first, but if you’re on the road you may have to take a few chances.  Clonezilla is used to make disk images.  It’s good if you need to be able to quickly restore the same system back to exactly the same state quickly.  It’s also good for propagating a disk image to a lot of similar systems.
  8. Puppy Linux.  This is THE THING I WOULD HAVE PAID $100 FOR LAST WEEK!  Puppy linux is so lightweight you can run it off of a USB stick, but you need the disk to create the USB stick(or just carry a USB stick of it).  It’s ultra easy to use, so much so that many call it linux for grandmas.
  9. XP Install media.  It’s old school, but I still try to keep it around if I can.
  10. l0phtcrack.  This is used to get Windows passwords off of systems.  Some consider it a hacker tool.  I consider it a rescue executive tool because I’ve been expected in the past to magically make things work without access to their systems.  I’ve also used it to refine system building techniques so that I never write a good password to the filesystem in a way that l0phtcrack can crack it.  It appears that this product may not be available any more.  I’ll try to see if I can find something new.
  11. Miscellaneous.  Customize this area to tools that you need but will be hard to acquire remotely.  I include my corporate VPN software for multiple OSs and Truecrypt(although fairly available, I prefer to not have to md5sum it every time I DL it.)
  12. Some blank CDs and DVDs.  Useful if you need to DL and use new tools for some things.
  13. Entertainment discs.  Entertainment makes me work better, so I always pack some.  Usually 2 DVDs full of movies ripped to AVI, 1 nonverbal music disk(trance/monks chanting/enya), 1 normal music disk and 1 disk of books on CD.

Please let me know if I forgot something or if you don’t concur.  Now I need to run to work.

Photo courtesy of PSD

Heartland Tree Alliance – Treekeeper Graduate

I’ve always been a big fan of trees. It started with my grandfather. He really loved planting different trees in his yard and he also harvested dead trees to use them to heat the house.

So, as my life has calmed down a bit more, I’ve looked for ways to learn more about trees and to also spend time with groups that take care of trees. Recently I attended a program that is run by the Heartland Tree Alliance. They’re an extension of Bridging the Gap that has a mission of taking care of trees in the Kansas City region. We help plant new trees, plan out how to add trees back into the urban setting while not creating problems like upturned sidewalks or messed up siding, and we help prune young trees.

It was a pretty great program. It consists of 6 night classes that are a few hours long and two field sessions that gave us some hands on with the trees and tools and it only cost $25. They do also ask that you volunteer 24 hours to pay them back for the time they’ve invested in you.

Like any volunteer organization, there are always a few nutcases(hey, I fit right in!) but generally it’s a group of knowledgeable people who care and want to help make the world a better place. If you know of an area in Kansas City that’s on public land and needs some attention, please feel free to contact me. Or if you would like someone to come to your business, church, school or organization and make a presentation explaining the benefits of trees I can also hook you up with someone for that.

If you’re interested in participating, you could also attend a class and maybe we’ll meet up sometime. We’ve got one project that’s going to help fight climate change. In the next 10 years we plan on planting 120k trees in the metro! But we need help locating where to put those trees.

Anyhow, here’s the link for more information: Heartland Tree Alliance

Is Your Bank Safe?

So most of you know that over 100 more banks are now under a deathwatch by the FDIC.  How can you prevent this from happening to you?  Well, the obvious part is to never keep more than 100k in one bank.  But lets say you just don’t want the hassle of a bank failure to affect you.  Well then choose a good bank!

I know, you’re thinking, I don’t know how to read all those fancy schmancy financial documents.  But wait, there’s someone who will do it for you.’s Safe and Sound evaluates banks to see how good of shape they’re in.  My credit union gets a C score.  I’m okay with that because they have a ton of things that I require in a credit union, but be assured, I’ll be checking back to frequently to see if it’s been downgraded.

Link to the tool.

pdftk – command line magic for PDFs

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted. Things have been busy this summer with family reunions, family visiting, on-call of course, and all the normal fun of life.

So here’s at least a little fun to share. I’m sure you occasionally want to chop up a PDF file into tiny bits and then re-assemble it. For instance if you’re teaching a class and you want to give students the chapter they’re working on and the glossary at the back.

Enter pdftk onto the scene. It allegedly runs on *nix, Windows and Mac. I can only testify for the Windows portion of it. I know, you’re saying, “BUT THIS IS A UNIX BLOG.” Well, I decided that something was better than nothing.

So anyhow, it’s free, go download it here and try it out. Like many command line commands it’s a bit enigmatic, but try the –help flag and you’ll be jamming in no time.

Dr. Who on hiatus until 2010

DavrosWell, I’m a geek.  So it was inevitable that I would eventually cover Dr. Who in some way shape or form.  I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the new revival of Dr. Who for the last four years.  Now the executive producer, Russell T. Davies, is going to move on and the top writer, Steven Moffat, is going to take over the helm.  I’m not worried about the change, but for some reason the BBC has decided to only do 4 specials in 2009 where both Davies and Moffat work together before kicking off a Davies free season in 2010.  So I’m going to go through withdrawal next year.  Please bear with me as the DTs hit me.


mirror of posting on GPT partitions

This web page is a mirror of the web page that used to live at

It is currently cached by google here.

But in case doesn’t come back up I’m going to mirror this for a while as a fair amount of my readers link through me to that original site.  I want them to be able to get to the tools.

Maybe you have come across this or maybe you havent but if you even put in a hard drive and go into the Disk Manager in Windows XP and the system tells you the drive is a GPT Protective Partition and you try everything to format the drive with no luck here is how you get around this.

There are 2 ways to do this one is quick the other a lot longer.

The quickest method isto aquire a copy of XBOX Hard Drive Perparer V1.3. We were able to find the application here.

Choose the offending drive and for Zeroing select Only 1st 4096 sectors of partition and hit prepare zeroing out the first 4096 sectors. Now reboot and then you will be able to create partitions and format the drive for use.

The second method would be to aquire your manufacturers low level format utility. This can take a very long time depending on the size of the hard drive and is an alternative if you have nothing better to do with your time.





FAQ: Low level format

Western Digital

Hope this helps and if you have any questions of comments please feel free to post it.