Category Archives: Technology

Adventures in Windows 10 – The Start Menu

In giving Windows 10 a go, I browsed the App Store for some free games. Also, given that I’m part of the Insider Program, I looked into the Insider Hub to see what was there. They have Quests, which are basically “try out new features, then give feedback”. Which, conscientiously, I ought to do.

The Quest I tried was to investigate the Start Menu. Being used to 95, 98, ME, 98, 98SE, XP for years and years, and Vista for a while, I’m comfortable with the old-style Start Menu. Windows 8’s Metro Screen, which some people in the house are running, I plain don’t like. Windows 10 has a hybrid of both Start and Metro, the latter initially taking up about twice the space, but with settings you can make the Metro part full-screen if you want to.


Windows 10 Start Menu

(I clipped off the very top of the Start Menu, which has my name. The first Metro section is headed “Life at a glance”, the second “Play and Explore”.

Generally, I just ignore the Metro part.

Just now writing this, I right-clicked on the Windows logo which passes for a Start button, here’s what I found:

context menu from right-clicking on Start in Windows 10

Well that’s some pretty useful stuff there. I mean, I actually use that stuff. That’s actually a pretty nice change.

Yesterday I noticed another neat feature. At the bottom of the main Start Menu screenshot earlier, there’s the All Apps button (similar to in Vista, where you’re shown your recent programs and then there’s the “All Programs” button).

These have been streamlined, too: most stuff isn’t in folders anymore, it’s just all listed alphabetically. Some things are still foldered, there’s a downward arrow next to it to let you know.

How folders are handled in the Start Menu

I mentioned at the beginning of the post about trying out a few free games in the App Store. Well, some of those I decided I didn’t want any more, after a quick test. Before I seriously thought of hunting for whatever they call “Add/Remove Programs” this time round, I right-clicked on one of the programs in the Start Menu.

Uninstall from the Start Menu

You can do it right from the Start Menu.

I didn’t expect to be this impressed with Windows 10, but I really like how they’ve streamlined all this stuff.

Adventures in Windows – dual-booting Vista and 10

I said the other day that I was going to try out the Windows 10 Insider Preview. I downloaded it, it took me a couple of days to be ready to try to install it.

During those couple of days, Microsoft has turned a bit cagey about just how things will go after 10’s release date – where they said before that I would be able to switch to the full release Win10 when release day hits, and have it be genuine and supported forever, they are now vague about how long Release Windows obtained that way will last. Staying with Windows Insider will mean I can keep running Win10 allegedly indefinitely, at the potential cost of stability.

With the knowledge that I can switch back to single-boot Vista if Win10 turns out to be a bad proposition, I figured, after all this work, I might as well still give 10 a go.

The prep:

My C: drive is a terabyte. Using Windows disk management and then MiniTool Partition Wizard, I shrank the one partition on the disk down to 500GB. Using AOMEI Backupper, I backed up the partition to D:. I did this twice, once including the boot record, once just the data on the partition.

I used the Universal USB Installer from Pendrivelinux to put Windows 10 on a bootable flash drive (I told the program that it was Windows 8). I installed Windows 10 – not entirely surprisingly, I couldn’t just install it to the Unpartitioned Space, Win10 had to change the partition style to GPT.

The installs:

I told Win10 to use 400GB, with that and the other boot partitions, this left 540GB to put Vista back onto.

Win10 install went fine.

Tried installing Vista from scratch onto the unpartitioned space. The installer complained “Windows cannot be installed to this disk. The selected disk is of the GPT partition style.”

Yes, I know it’s of the GPT partition style, and I’m even reading Microsoft pages saying that Vista supports it.

I’m also finding tons of other pages with other people having the same message.

Most of the advice offered to get around this problem, not usually explicitly, means going back to old-style MBR rather than staying on GPT. Sadly, that’s not an option for me, 10 only likes GPT.

Some instructions said Vista needs to be with SP1 to support GPT. Other places said to force booting in UEFI mode in the motherboard. We put the Vista-with-SP1 installer on a UEFI-enabled USB drive (using Rufus, this time), and I tried rather a few UEFI Bios settings, and kept ending up with the same message.

Somewhere in this process, while fiddling around in GPart (if you look around this subject for any time at all, you’ll find instructions on using this), I accidentally wiped the C drive and the installed Windows 10. Didn’t take long to reinstall it.

In the end, after a lot of searching and trying variations on the above themes, I installed AOMEI Backupper on Windows 10, and restored the just-the-data backup to the Unpartitioned Space.

I loaded the Vista+SP1 installer from USB, and told it to Repair the install. It said that Vista and Windows 10 were now in the bootloader.

Booting into Vista (both times I’ve done it now), it’s wanted to verify the integrity of both hard drives on startup. I have not yet agreed to this.

Booting into Vista the first time, Vista installed some drivers or something, then restarted (hence going into Vista the second time).

Another thing I’ve noticed: in the simple version of the BIOS, the boot order section has displayed some different things over the course of getting Vista to work:

I think with the Windows 10 USB installer, that USB drive had the UEFI sign over it. Not 100% on that, but I seem to recall it.

After installing Windows 10, a boot loader thing showed up in the boot order, with the UEFI sign.

After restoring Vista, another item with the same listed details as the Win10 boot loader, and the same UEFI sign, showed up in the boot order. This loaded Vista the first time (I think on restarting, the computer went into 10, memory is starting to fail me).

After Vista installed the drivers and restarted, I noticed a third bootloader thing listed in the boot order. This went into Vista as well. I hope these things don’t keep being added to what’s there. Visions of Tribbles multiplying and accumulating, came to me.

That’s where things stand at the moment, I haven’t quite had the time today to try more things: to let Vista do the integrity check, try the different bootloader things more, to find out why I haven’t seen a proper OS selection screen – and if that last one’s a problem, to try and Repair 10 to see if that fixes it.

“The course of the adoption of new technologies never did run smooth.” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Technical-Problem-I’m-Determined-To-Fix-Right-Now, Act I Sc I.

As a side note, Windows 10 (which skipped right past Windows 9) was codenamed Threshold. In the Star Trek Voyager episode Threshold, Janeway and Tom Paris exceed Warp 10.

Keep an eye out for Windows 10 early adopters turning into slugs. </PSA>

Games and Processed Meat

I had a couple of spam comments the other day, but yesterday’s post on The Ra Expeditions really tapped into a vein (well, 21 spam comments). A couple of them mentioned “video”, I wonder if the YouTube link triggered it. Well, I’m throwing in a bunch more, today!

I played a couple of old games today: the first one to keep Oldest and Youngest distracted (it only worked for Oldest), and the second because it was easier to switch back and forth between that and dealing with kids, that trying to concentrate on something more productive and dealing with kids.

So the first game was Gran Turismo 2. Youngest loves cars (and trucks, he doesn’t have many words but he distinguishes between those), and Oldest does like playing games.

We were playing a 2-player game in Arcade Mode. This has a reasonable selection of cars, and a limited number of tracks (3 tracks in Road Race, 1 in Rally). You can add more cars by extensively playing in GT Mode, I haven’t played that extensively, and I’m not sure I even have any saves of it.

I won most of the games (as you’d expect), even with having to deal with Youngest (who would occasionally point and say “car”, but most of the time was trying to escape to be with other people).

Oldest almost won a round, running with a 200-odd horsepower car while I ran with the significantly less powerful classic Mini Cooper. Not only was the Mini the car with the absolute least horsepower available (61 IIRC, with a couple of other options clocking in at 63 and maybe 65?), it was also terrible to steer. This of course made Oldest terribly excited, he kept wanting me to use that car again. I did, after trying the other 60-something HP cars first, he won that one.

Funnily enough, after resisting the Rally option the whole time (I forced it on him at the end), he won that round, too. That time, I was running a 400HP car against his 200-something HP car. Thre were just points where my car wanted to do nothing but spin…

I wanted to find the part of the single-player campaign that acted a bit as a tutorial – a big yellow line on the track to help you learn how to take corners is a feature I particularly remember – to help Oldest learn how to play well/beat me. By the time I’d figured out what it was (going for licenses on GT mode), Oldest was done with Gran Turismo for the day.

The Rally track, and Oldest’s favourite Road track, both had “Tahiti Road” in the name. It’s a magical place.

I remember with car racing games on older systems (Commodore 64, Sega MegaDrive) scenery appearing when it was pretty close, you couldn’t see it very far ahead. I noticed that on some corners on GT2 this time round (“oh, this bit of track is visible now…. here it is!”), but thankfully it’s still far enough in the distance that you’re not basing your next few steering moves on it.

The second game is one I’m currently having a “reminiscence run” of, is Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation (download link). I have the CD, it’s nice to not need it.

BOTF is along the lines of the Civilization games. Expand your territory, make the other major races your friends, then squash them like the bugs they are. There are some minor races that you can befriend or conquer.

The opening videos aren’t very inspiring (and weren’t at the time), the “You Won” messages were something of an anti-climax as well, and sometimes the micromanaging (and doing the Exact Same Thing in each new system you colonise) can get tedious, but there’s still a lot going for the game as well.

I like how each race gets a different design for the game screens. That’s a genius move that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and if I’m forgetting a game that does that, then I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen anything that does it to the same extent).

The game has its own screensaver (that I haven’t seen this time round) – each ship in the game rotates around a few times before it gets switched out for the next one. And there are two models for the Borg Cube in that screensaver – on one, one side has a smiley face. Gotta love programmers having fun.

I like the Wormhole mechanic, the Outpost and Starbase mechanic, and the terraforming mechanic.

The space battles with the different tactics are pretty cool, don’t think I’ve seen that sort of thing executed in turn-based strategy anywhere else, and it’s not exactly easy to pull off in real-time strategy, either.

The Open Hailing Frequencies option never seems to be a good choice, sad to say.

And there’s something incredibly satisfying about having your 9 Romulan Warbird IIs decloaking and blasting the Borg Cube to pieces.

Fun times, and memory lane. Don’t have a lot of time for this now.

And I think I’m about out of time this evening for dealing with a Poison Headcrab

Adventures in Windows – approaching 10

Microsoft announced a while ago, that users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 would get free upgrades to Windows 10. Today, ArsTechnica released an article called “Here’s how to get Windows 10 for free even if you don’t have Windows 7 or 8“. The short version is, you need to sign up for the Windows Insider program, install a preview version of the software and run it, then you get to run the final build, and get subsequent updates.

I first used Windows with Win3.11 at school, then when we got our first PC it came with Win3.1 (about a week before Windows 95 came out – Dad picked that up about as soon as it came out). We ran 95 and 98 a long time, my own first PC ran 98 and 98SE a long time – I had a brief experimentation with running Windows ME. ME had some cool features, but due to a lamentable shortage of stability, I upgraded back to 98SE.

When I first built a computer, I got XP Pro. That computer is still running it.

Now other computers in the house are running Windows 7 and 8.1. 7 I could probably get along with, 8/8.1’s change of style irritates me when I’ve tried to use it.

When I built my current computer (such a satisfying thing to do, upgrading some components recently was really cool, too), I didn’t buy an OS. There was a spare Vista Ultimate sitting around the house that I was allowed to use. I’ve heard bad things about Vista compared to good things about Vista SP1, but I managed to miss that whole debacle.

There’s a very apocryphal story, goes something like this:


Bill Gates died. As he got to the Pearly Gates, St Peter greeted him. “Welcome, Mr Gates. According to our records, you’ve done some really good stuff, and also done some not-very-nice things over the years. You are one of the very few true Neutrals we get around here. What we will do for you, you can have a look around Heaven and around Hell, then you can let us know where you’d like us to allocate you.”

Bill Gates thought this sounded reasonable, and so started off the tour of Heaven. There were the fluffy clouds and harps, it seemed quite pleasant. After a few days, his time was up, and so he got into the elevator to the Other Place.

He braced himself for what he might find. As the doors opened, he was pleasantly surprised to find himself on an open golf course. The clubs were weighted perfectly, it was great. As the tour progressed, he found himself sampling all sorts of sumptuous foods, fine wines, craft beers, the kind of music he didn’t know that he’d always wanted to hear…

After the tour, he was taken back to the Pearly Gates. St Peter shuffled over. “Well, Mr Gates, what’s your choice?”

“Well, St Peter, I find myself very surprised to say this, but I’m going to have to choose Hell.”

“Right you are, sir.” St Peter didn’t seem very surprised. Bill Gates walked back towards the lift. As it started descending, the temperature began to rise. It was already unbearable by the time he was halfway down. When he reached the bottom, he realised that Dante was more optimistic than anyone could have imagined. The chains, the tortures, the screams.

“Welcome, Mr Gates”, came a voice from behind, a voice that sent shivers down his spine despite the heat, a voice that threatened to tear his head apart. It was the Devil.

Barely able to speak, Bill Gates managed to stutter “What… happened? It looked… different before.”

“Oh, my deepest apologies, Mr Gates. That was the Beta.”


I think I heard that one round about Win98, and some OSes (Vista, 8) seem to have deserved it more than others (XP, 7). Still, there does seem to be wisdom in not being an early adopter.

I’m doing the 10 Preview upgrade, a) because it’s free, and b) because of the longer-term support. I think I’ll turn my computer into a dual-boot machine, and keep Vista as the primary OS, and play around in the 10 Preview and upgrade that when the time comes. Keep updated, try out the apps, see what legacy programs might still run, see what runs better.

Got some preparation and backup to do before I get to that point, though. Let you know how it goes.

Adventures in Computer Security

My first email address was a Hotmail one. I was in college, and kept trying lots and lots of different things until I found one that they didn’t try and stick a number after. It was frog-themed, and I’ve kept that theme ever since. Even when I branched out into other webmail, even with a slightly modified name on message boards. I had a different website for a while, that had an amphibious motif to it.

I ran Outlook for a while, but have kept coming back to webmail.

These days, of course, we know that email is collected and analysed, some by the email providers to advertise to you better, some by the government because they’re fricking control freaks.

When America was still The Colonies, the British would intercept and analyse mail, looking for treasonous, rebellious and terroristic intent. The colonies set up their own mail system to get around this. Now the US government collects the world’s emails for the exact same purpose. What they’re saying (and not just with this issue), is that the British were right all along.

Well done, you public officials who swore to uphold the Constitution (which was rather against this sort of thing), but let this happen.

Just like the American colonists of yesteryear, there are digital colonists who rightly think that perhaps today’s government is overreaching just a little bit. And then finding ways around it.

Encrypting emails is one way that people are reclaiming their liberty and freedom.

A while ago I read an article on things you could do to improve your internet security and privacy, and a new one just did the rounds in the last couple of weeks. I gave the SeaMonkey internet suite a go, partly for a “try a different browser” challenge (I now use SeaMonkey, IE9, Vivaldi and Opera 12 daily, with FireFox as a “guest” browser on the machine proper, and FireFox as the default browser on my Lubuntu Virtual Machines). I chose SeaMonkey also for email encryption, but I haven’t tried setting that up until today. I read about it months ago, and I’m mainly getting around to it now because I’m finally setting up (after about a week now) the email for this site.

SeaMonkey’s email program doesn’t do the privacy stuff on its own, you have to install a couple of other things.

I followed the instructions for Enigmail. The first thing to do is install GnuPG (which was very straightforward). Installing Enigmail for SeaMonkey was a bit less obvious, but I found it by going through SeaMonkey’s menu, and looking for addons. Setting everything up was straightforward. Well, might be not-entirely-easy for the not-techie, especially throwing in the POP3 settings and everything (POP downloads your emails from the web server to your computer, IMAP leaves them on the server – figured the less time on the server the better). Fairly straightforward to do, but a bit of work.

If you’re looking through the instructions, I didn’t put my Public Key up for the world to see, yet, or really any of the steps after that.

Start small. One step at a time. and work up to sending everything encrypted: cat pictures, puns, world domination plans, the usual :)