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So you've been vis­ited by the much dreaded CRC — Cycli­cal Redun­dancy Check error, most likely encoun­tered while copy­ing files between hard disks. On Mac OSX, this will usu­ally appear as some cryp­tic per­mis­sions mes­sage with an Error –36.

To cut the geek-speak, this sim­ply means that you hard disk may have cer­tain files that may have "bad sec­tors", or are cor­rupted in other words.

For­tu­nately, this is a com­mon enough prob­lem in our tech­ni­cally advanced world of exter­nal stor­age. I rec­om­mend solv­ing this on Win­dows (I use both XP and OSX Leop­ard at the time of this writing).

Step 1: CHKDSK

Use what Win­dows offers you by default. The chkdsk com­mand. Just open an MS-DOS com­mand prompt win­dow and go to the drive you wish to check (I'm hop­ing you already know your way around a com­mand prompt; if you don't please con­sider Step 2 below). With the com­mand prompt show­ing the drive let­ter of the disk you wish to check, enter this command:

e:> chkdsk /R

Here, "e:" is my drive to be checked. The "/R" attribute asks the chkdsk com­mand to "recover" what­ever bad sec­tors it finds dur­ing its scan. In most cases, and if you're lucky, this ought to do it.

Step 2: CDCheck (Free)

Only if the prob­lem you were fac­ing still remains after you have run the chkdsk com­mand, should you con­sider doing this. This is a free­ware pro­gram that makes it super-easy to check/recover your disk. It can be any disk – your cur­rent hard disk, a CD or a DVD, or even an exter­nal hard disk. The inter­face is pretty sim­ple as you can see in the screen­shots here.

Step 3: Spin­Rite (US$ 90)

If all else has failed, just save your­self some heart­burn and go straight to Spin­Rite. This is hands-down the best soft­ware for this pur­pose, as any­one in a dire need of data recov­ery will con­firm. I would trust any piece of soft­ware from GRC. Only catch: it's not free, but when you use it you know why it's worth every last cent. It gives you a sim­ple option to save an ISO file, which you can then eas­ily burn on to a CD using any CD writer tool (includ­ing Win­dows' own right-click). Then reboot your machine so it starts from the CD. Spin­Rite will auto­mat­i­cally report and recover what­ever is recoverable.

Next Steps

Basi­cally, a CRC error is the begin­ning of the end. If this is on an exter­nal hard disk, I highly rec­om­mend that you con­sider back­ing up the data immediately.

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So I finally got around to installing Office 2007. This is what it looked like:

Office 2007 - First Look

Office 2007 — First Look

Now I don't know about you, but to me this bloo-ey look is hideous.I am not on Vista yet, by choice, so that sky blue gra­da­tion thing going on the top was not my cuppa. Why soft­ware designed for a cer­tain plat­form can­not honor a user's gen­eral sys­tem UI pref­er­ences is beyond me, but Office 2007 does insist on hav­ing it's own look and feel. As though the new rib­bon clut­ter was not enough.

I wanted to get rid of those rib­bons to begin with. So I down­loaded the the free ver­sion of Rib­bon Cus­tomizer. They offer some Pro ver­sion but it does things I don't par­tic­u­larly care about. Alter­na­tively, there is Tool­bar­Tog­gle, but on their site I did not seem to catch a free ver­sion, and I was unwill­ing to pay for this stuff.

The Rib­bon­Cus­tomizer install is pretty straight­for­ward and when you start Word 2007 after its instal­la­tion, here is how Word looks. There is an addi­tional item in the View menu at the end:

Word 2007 after RibbonCustomizer

Word 2007 after RibbonCustomizer

I clicked on the obvi­ous menu option to make Clas­sicUI my first menu tab. This is what this does:

Classic 2003 interface

Clas­sic 2003 interface

That's a good start, but I now wanted to clean up some other stuff. For­tu­nately, Microsoft chose to include the addi­tional "Min­i­mize Rib­bon" fea­ture, which con­tex­tu­ally hides the rib­bon when your focus is on writ­ing inside the doc­u­ment. So let's do that:

Minimize the Word 2007 ribbon

Min­i­mize the Word 2007 ribbon

Now to get rid of the forced Blue. Click on the "More Com­mands" option in the menu shown in the screen­shot above. Choose Sil­ver and make other adjust­ments to your taste:

Choose silver

Choose sil­ver

Now this is what Word 2007 looks like, with min­i­mized rib­bon, clas­sic 2003 UI, and a some­what less intru­sive sil­ver gradient:

Phew. I also rec­om­mend set­ting the default "Save" options as your reg­u­lar Word ".doc" instead of the new ".docx" (or other .xlsx and .pptx equiv­a­lents) as that is a bit more stan­dard even today in 2008.

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I have to admit, I'm just in it for the "RSS".

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Very use­ful util­ity for the file opener/saver dia­log boxes in Windows.

Here's a nifty lit­tle util­ity that allows you to set most often-used fold­ers on your PC and access them quickly from a FILE OPEN dia­logue box.

These lit­tle icons appear in all the File –> Open boxes in Win­dows. Which is very handy. Among the sev­eral cus­tomiza­tions you can make to this oft-used file dia­log box is the abil­ity to auto­mat­i­cally sort the file names by name, date, size, or type, and the abil­ity to see the file names in Details or Thumb­nails views. (Btw, the skin you see in that screen­shot above is from Fly­aki­teosx).

How to Change FbX But­ton Images

You can tell a util­ity is well coded if you can cus­tomize it to your tastes. I have changed the icons that come with the tool as default (which are some­what Win3.1-ish). This is sim­ple. In the folder where you installed File­Box eXten­der, there's a sub-folder named ICONS. Inside that are sev­eral stan­dard for­mat Win­dows icon files (with the exten­sion .ICO). Copy a pair of these files into the main pro­gram folder, and then rename them to FAVORITE.ICO and RECENT.ICO. Now exit and restart File­Box eXten­der. (In some cases you will have to reboot your machine — exit­ing and restart­ing the pro­gram may not be enough to effect the change). That's it. Your new icons should now appear.

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Inter­est­ing post from ZDNet buoys an impor­tant con­cept to know, but only barely scratches the sur­face of the issue.

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Have slow load­ing Word doc­u­ments, or pass­word pro­tected Excel spread­sheets for which you have for­got­ten a pass­word? Who'd have thunk of this solu­tion to your MS Office woes..

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A lovely fire­wall prod­uct that hogs lesser resources than the ubiq­ui­tous Zone Alarm, pro­vides bet­ter report­ing and pro­tec­tion options, and is still com­pletely free.

Fire­walls are dime a dozen these days. When the con­cept of a fire­wall first became impor­tant on home com­put­ers, with the advent of real high-speed broad­band, Tiny Per­sonal Fire­wall was the best. It even had the approval of experts. Unfor­tu­nately, CA stepped in and gob­bled up the company.

Zone Alarm was already a strong con­tender, but with Tiny gone, it soon became the de-facto fire­wall on the machine of users who knew bet­ter than to let this com­puter floun­der under the bloat­ware of Mcafee or Symantec.

Unfor­tu­nately, of late, Zone Alarm has been a bit of a hog on my machine. It's a Core2Duo, which means soft­ware such as Zone Alarm should cheer­fully work in par­al­lel with no fuss. AVG for instance scans my entire machine for an hour with­out my so much as both­er­ing about it.

It is in this con­text that I came across Comodo Fire­wall, one that is rec­om­mended by more than a few techies. Being a born tin­kerer, I was off in a jiffy to down­load the thing. And short story: it rocks.

Below's a screen­shot. It looks more pro­fes­sional than even Zone Alarm Pro. There are more options, explained more clearly.

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The MKV for­mat, although never orig­i­nally intended to share stuff online because it's large and really high qual­ity, has now become stan­dard. Espe­cially now with Blu-Ray becom­ing a stan­dard. But some of us are happy stor­ing AVI for our own use espe­cially if we can have it in decent-enough qual­ity (MKV files are usu­ally 1GB or more for, say, a film).

Google is full of tools and util­i­ties that allow MKV to AVI con­ver­sion. Many of them are share­ware. You down­load them free but then you have to cough up $29.99.

I have found the FREE tool, All2AVI ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/alltoavi/ ) does the job and does it superbly. It's fast, free, and the con­ver­sion from MKV and other for­mats to AVI hap­pens pretty effi­ciently and reliably.

If you're on OSX, you can use Visu­al­Hub or Sub­merge, but both of them are a bit unre­li­able. Visu­al­Hub in par­tic­u­lar is a fan­tas­tic way to do any con­ver­sion on Mac OSX, but if it col­lapses with a cryp­tic "Sorry, could not con­vert for some rea­son", then you may wish to use All­toAVI inside an XP vir­tual machine.

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Nifty lit­tle desk­top wid­gets that put infor­ma­tion at your fin­ger­tips, and look pretty to boot.

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If not to make things sim­pler for you, then for the sheer delight of it, it's kind of fun to make your Win­dows PC look like a Mac. A full theme from Fly­aki­teOSX, sounds and all, makes it a breeze.

Want a Mac look on your Win­dows machine? Skins and themes would be nice, but there's more to that when you want to REALLY emu­late a Mac OSX inter­face entirely. There are plenty of pro­grams avail­able to emu­late spe­cific fea­tures of OSX, e.g. Finder, icons, etc [exam­ple].

But Fly­akite OSX is a project that's look­ing mature, and it comes with a very com­plete theme, includ­ing sounds and mouse cur­sors and Explorer cus­tomiza­tion, things you don't typ­i­cally expect from a sim­ple 'theme'.

The web­site goes for a Mac look itself, which is a bit painful, but it's worth the download.

Before you go for it, some caveats

  1. The per­for­mance of your machine in gen­eral may be affected, of course. Not too much though.
  2. The theme does fun­da­men­tally change some core files like Explorer.exe but (a) it makes a backup so you can go back with a sim­ple unin­stall, and (b) it doesn't screw up any addi­tional func­tion­al­ity like my Groove but­ton on my Explorer bar.
  3. I don't like shad­ows under my win­dows, but that seems to built-in in the skin.
  4. Some things like Win­dows Media Player will not change. WMP has its own skin, which remains untouched.
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