Sunday, February 2, 2014

How To Recover All Your Phone Data From a Rooted Samsung Galaxy S4 That Keeps Rebooting (ClockWorkMod Method)

A phone that keeps restarting repeatedly is unusable, but retrieving the data on it is still possible. Unrooted phones are at a great disadvantage unless you've used an external SD card to store all your information. But if you have rooted your phone and also installed a recovery method using ClockWorkMod or TWRP, you're safe! All your data is salvageable, whether on the internal SD card or the external. Even the phone's internal storage memory is salvageable as a "Nandroid" backup! In this post, I will concentrate on recovery steps for a rooted Samsung Galaxy S4 with ClockWorkMod (CWM) recovery software installed (v6.0.4.4).

Harold Hisona has written up a very useful guide on how to recover from a constantly rebooting phone at http://thedroidguy.com/2014/01/fix-samsung-galaxy-s4-keeps-rebooting-stuck-boot-loop/. I suggest you read that first, but return to me if you reach the end of that guide and are hesitant to do a master/hard reset for fear of losing your data.

You Will Not Lose Your Data!

The truth is you will not lose your data. CWM won't wipe your internal SD card. This is the data you really want to keep, in addition to your external SD card's. During normal use, all apps on a Google Android-based Galaxy S4 phone generally store their information either on the internal SD card or on what is called the external SD card (though in reality that "external SD card" is mounted on a slot that resides internally as well, behind the Galaxy's back cover!)  But you'll want to follow a specific sequence of steps in order to recover the most you can recover from your misbehaving phone.  I will walk you through these steps in more detail later on. In brief, so you get an overview of the process, you will:
  • Backup the External SD Card - First you'll want to mount the external SD card on your computer and move all data off to a location of your choice on your PC (you can simply do this via a USB data cable without needing to open up the phone's case and physically extract the external SD card)
  • Perform a Nandroid Backup - Next you'll want to create a Nandroid backup of all your phone's internal storage memory (this is different from the internal SD card on the Galaxy). I will step you through this but you can also see Ada Sandoval's post on Nandroid backup creation at http://www.shetalksandroid.com/2012/09/how-to-do-android-nandroid-backup-cwm-recovery-manager.html. Another very nice step-by-step guide is found at http://galaxys4root.com/galaxy-s4-tutorials/how-to-backuprestore-rom-on-galaxy-s4-with-root-cwm-recovery/. You might ask, why perform a Nandroid backup of a phone's ROM when it is already misbehaving (incessantly rebooting)? Well, let's just say we're doing this because we're trying to make as thorough a backup of the phone as we can in case there's anything there you want to go back to later after a factory reset. 
  • Reset The Phone - Then you'll want to reset the phone using CWM and restore normal operation to the phone. Note that this is not a stock recovery wipe, but the data wipe/ factory reset provided by CWM which is not as destructive. The contents of the internal SD card will be kept around, which is a great relief wince CWM does not allow us to back the internal SD card nor do the Samsung USB drivers mount it onto Windows! Having the internal SD card survive CWM's factory reset will give us a chance to back up its contents in the next step.
  • Backup the Internal SD Card - Finally, using Windows Explorer on your PC, regain access to the phone's internal SD card and copy its contents to your PC
If you've got the Samsung Galaxy S4 drivers (http://www.samsung.com/levant/support/model/GT-I9500ZKAMID-downloads or http://www.samsung.com/us/support/owners/product/SPH-L720ZWASPR) already installed on your PC, then you can recover all your data by doing the following. I assume your external SD card is as large as your Samsung's internal SD card.

Backup the External SD Card

  1. Make sure your phone is off
  2. Connect your phone to the PC using a USB cable
  3. Boot to CWM on your phone by pressing and holding Volume Up, Home and Power buttons simultaneously.
  4. Use the Volume Up/Down buttons on your Samsung phone to scroll over to the menu item called "Mounts and Storage" and use the Power button to select it
  5. Scroll again this time to "Mount USB Storage" (I expect from now on you know to hit the Power button to select the menu item); you should hear the PC sound off a notification that a USB device has been connected
  6. Use Windows Explorer on the PC to find the drive where your external SD card has been mounted
  7. Move the entire contents of the mounted drive to a location of your choice on your PC with the intention of leaving the external SD card empty.

Perform a Nandroid Backup

  1. Once finished backing up your external SD card data, scroll to "Go Back" on your phone; the mapped (mounted) drive will temporarily go away on your PC.
  2. Hit "Go Back" again and you should arrive at the CWM main menu
  3. On the CWM menu scroll to "Backup and Restore"
  4. Scroll to "Backup to /storage/sdcard1"
  5. The backup should take a little while and the CWM screen should display an on-going status; wait for it!
  6. Now return to the "Mount USB Storage" menu we visited on step 5 and move all files from your mounted drive in Windows Explorer to a location of your choice
  7. You're done! You've now got what is called a "Nandroid" backup

Reset The Phone

  1. To reset the phone back to factory setings, return to the first (main) menu in CWM (remember, contrary to the impression this gives, you won't lose the internal SD card's data!)
  2. Scroll to "Wipe Data/Factory Reset"
  3. Reselect the option in the subsequent confirmation prompt, i.e., scroll down to "Yes - Wipe all user data" and tap the Power button to select that option!
  4. Don't cringe--it's gonna be alright!
The Galaxy S4 should immediately appear in Windows
Explorer upon rebooting the phone.

Backup the Internal SD Card 

  1. It's time now to reboot the system by selecting that very option at the top of the CWM menu
  2. The phone will go through its familiar initialization routines and finally arrive at the Samsung Galaxy "Welcome" screen where you may begin reconfiguring your Samsung again for the first time
  3. What's more, if you go back to Windows Explorer (assuming you already installed all Samsung USB drivers earlier) you should see your internal SD card's contents again--all intact!!
  4. Double-click on the Phone drive and select all the files and folders there by pressing Ctrl-A.
  5. Copy the files to the clipboard and then paste them to the location of your choice on your PC.
  6. Now we're really done!
The contents of the SD card are intact and listed as "Phone".
Remember the external SD card is empty because we moved
its contents to the PC earlier!

NOTE: Accessing individual files from CWM's Nandroid backup data requires you use a decompression utility that can read *.tar files. Mind you, this is an uncommon thing to do. Nandroid backups typically contain only Android system data, some APK files, and the like....but no user data of any use to the normal or even intermediate user. The files are found in a directory structure in a pathname similar to clockworkmod\backup\<datetime>, where datetime is the timestamp of your backup. If your Windows installation doesn't know what to do with these types of files, download and install Winip, WinRAR or 7-Zip. Just do a Google Search for it. WinRAR or 7-Zip should allow you easy access to the individual files and folders compressed in the *.tar files. 

For more information on decompressing simple tar files produced by CWM, see Vijay Rajasekara's post on CWM tar file extraction at http://ajqi.com/how-to-extract-files-from-a-nandroid-backup/.

However, there are more complicated backup tar file scenarios. Recent versions of CWM have begun splitting large tar files into parts ending in tar.a, tar.b, tar.c, etc. Your Nandroid backup data (if it was large enough) may be stored in multiple files, some labeled like data.ext4.tar.?, where the ? stands for an alphabetic letter. There are data tar files and system tar files (there's also cache tar files). In order to see the contents of these strangely-suffixed data.ext4.tar.a, tar.b, and tar.c backup files from Windows, you'll need to perform some commands prior to using WinRAR or 7-Zip. Using a Windows command prompt (cmd), change directory (cd) to the folder where your backup tar.a and tar.b and tar.c files are. Then type the following commands to build a usable data.tar file and system.tar file:

Copy /b data.ext4.tar.a + data.ext4.tar.b + data.ext4.tar.c data.tar
Copy /b system.ext4.tar.a + system.ext4.tar.b + system.ext4.tar.c system.tar

Once each command is complete, you should be able to decompress the new data.tar or system.tar file. I would move these files from the backup directory in which you just created them though and place them elsewhere just to keep the original CWM backup directory contents pristine.

What If You're Not Rooted?

If you are sobbing because you haven't yet rooted your phone and can't take advantage of anything I've shared here, maybe you would like to in the future. For information on rooting the Samsung Galaxy S4, check out http://www.droidviews.com/root-sprint-galaxy-s4-sph-l720-on-android-4-3/.

If you want a recovery menu like ClockWorkMod or its competitor, TWRP, visit Alex Dumitru's post at http://www.android.gs/how-to-install-and-boot-cwm-and-twrp-recoveries-for-rooted-sprint-samsung-galaxy-s4-l720/.  Personally, after trying CWM and seeing what can be done with TWRP, I prefer the latter. For an introduction, see QBKing77's video presentation at http://www.how-to-diy.org/ktTmFFiX8xTQBb/How-to-Install-TWRP-Recovery-on-the-Samsung-Galaxy-S4.html. TWRP, by the way, can be installed right over CWM to replace it as your preferred recovery method if you end up liking it better ...as I did!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Family Safety Against Malware and Media Abuse


When a dear friend of mine recently started a study aimed at equipping parents with information on how to safely raise their children in this increasingly electronically-dependent society, I felt compelled to put together a short, informative article to highlight the most important protective steps parents can take to safeguard their children. It seems kids are all distancing themselves from their parents' sense of common decency at an alarming rate nowadays, due in large part to the proliferation of social media and our nation's increasing acceptance of the most controversial types of lifestyles! As a parent, you may not want to allow this at home, and keeping even the adults at home accountable on the web may be as high a concern as protecting your
children online.

In this article, please keep in mind that the following labels/terms for electronic devices/services may be used interchangeably:


  • Internet, web, network
  • Cell phones, smartphones, handheld devices, wireless devices
  • Tablets, hand-held devices, wireless devices
  • Laptops, PCs, computers, wireless devices
  • Game systems, gaming consoles, wireless devices
  • TV, entertainment or mass media, broadcast or streaming service

Fighting for your family's safety on the Internet and mass media is a complex battle that requires a well-coordinated, strategic plan of action. Your enemy is the multitude of commercial and private entities seeking to gain unauthorized access to:

  • Your personal information (e.g., social security number, birthdate, etc.)
  • Your assets (your bank accounts, or even just your computer, tablet or smartphone's compute cycles, i.e., to clandestinely reprogram your unit to become a bouncing board for illegal activity)
  • Your services (e.g., e-mail accounts, websites, social media, etc.)
  • Your loved ones (i.e., to lure your children out of the house, or to seduce a husband through porn, etc.)

Collectively, the software used by the enemy to corrupt our families and our assets is called "malware." As far as the mass media goes (in which I include TV and the various broadcast and streaming services proliferating today, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora), unrated or underrated worldly and secular programming often undercuts the morals and values we're trying to instill at home. However, neither suggestive video content nor computer malware is always the source of our troubles when we're fighting for our family's safety--because sometimes the attack does not come from the outside in, but from the inside out. Your own children or even the adults in the home may be innocently or not-so-innocently led to seek out the undesirable content themselves. They may unwittingly be the ones who sabotage your electronic security defenses, your assets, your family's innocence and purity, or worse: your very lives! Let's face it: our real problem lies in whether we have helped our children and those with whom we live to make righteous choices that lead to a healthy lifestyle. In a world where few if any socio-political platforms are generally accepted and anything goes, defining what a "healthy lifestyle" actually means and determining the right parental choices to lead a child into such a healthy lifestyle seems overwhelmingly difficult. Difficult unless, of course, you are arriving at this juncture of your life already certain of what you stand for and what "family safety" really means. This is the territory where leftist or right-wing agendas simmer, and the proving grounds for those who claim to live by higher standards, such as Christians (right-wing) or atheists (left-wing). But that is another story!

To protect against Internet and mass media intruders and their potential for sabotaging our children's innocence and our teenagers' purity, you'll need to cover all the bases:
  • Laptop and personal computer access to the Internet
  • Tablet and handheld device access to wireless signals (WIFI)
  • Cell phone access to wireless signals (3G, 4G, WIFI)
  • Game system access to the Internet
  • The nature of TV and media content

Your primary weapons for tactical defense are:
  • Malware Prevention
    • Antivirus software for smartphones, handhelds, and PCs
    • Rogue software prevention, e.g., antiadware, antispamware and antispyware for computers
  • Safeguards Against Media Abuse
    • Family safety software-based Internet filters for all electronic devices
    • Software and hardware firewalls
    • Routers and managed switches with hardware-based web filters
    • Cell phone and wireless device monitoring software
    • Game system parental controls
    • TV and entertainment media rating systems

The purpose of this post is to bring awareness to the availability of defensive armor available to parents in the battle to maintain our families' sense of purity and dignity.  The discussion will follow the sequence of bullet points listed above and provide slightly more detail.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive explanation of how to set up parental controls on any device, but rather as an eye-opener for folks who knew little or nothing about these preventive measures already available in their own home. For more information, use your favorite Internet search engine and seek out web pages that go into further detail on the terminology I expose here, and go study the parental control products and features that seem most relevant to your situation. There are definitely more brands than I've mentioned here--and this is by no means a thorough review of the products I do mention--so I'd welcome your professional opinion and any other products you'd like to enter.

Malware Prevention

Malware includes, viruses, adware, spyware, and spamware. Guarding against these generally involves the use of their antidotes (antivirus software, antispyware, and antispamware.)

Antivirus Software

Viruses attach themselves to software and make it perform erratically or not at all. A virus can attack different areas of a computer or even an entire network, for which several categories have been labeled (e.g., worms, Trojans, boot sector viruses, etc.) Trustworthy brand names in the PC antivirus market include Microsoft Essentials, AVG Antivirus, and Avast Antivirus. Other good players in the antivirus market are McAfee, TrendMicro, Vipre, and Norton. The degree of effectiveness of their products varies also with their price; free or temporarily free (trial) versions of their programs are generally available and satisfactory for use, but with purchase of their software come additional enhancements such as firewall features, antispamware features, etc. Fortunately, you can obtain additional free software packages from other vendors to cover these needs separately. Some of the best antivirus programs are specialized to do just virus scanning and cleaning and nothing else. There are antivirus programs from Avast and AVG available also for smartphones and tablets, although their necessity is greatly overstated at this time. Not many viruses attack smartphones...yet.

Rogue Software (Spyware, Spamware, Adware)

As far as rogue software, there are loads of these on the Internet. They come in many forms. Spyware track your clicks in a web browser and monitor your online activity without your consent. Adware are programs that riddle your PC with pop-up ads and often underperform in their stated function if at all. People fall for them because they often use very official-looking on-screen prompts to lure in unwary users, with false claims that they can clean out a previously unknown viral infection on your PC for example. Thinking that their PC is actually infected with a virus,  people click the ads and install these pesky programs. Many times they're hard to get rid of. Spamware, finally, are programs that use your own e-mail address without your authorization to send out unsolicited e-mail we call spam. Some products designed to stop such rogue software are Windows Defender, Lavasoft Ad-Aware, and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Safeguards Against Media Abuse

Safeguards against sabotage and Internet/media abuse include family safety programs for the PC, software and hardware firewalls to prevent attacks from hackers outside your network, and hardware designed to prevent or filter visits to rogue or indecent websites. Lastly, they include cell phone and portable device safeguards as well as TV and streaming media parental controls.


Family Safety PC Software 

Family safety software include Internet filters, the most illustrious of which is Microsoft's Live Essentials' Family Safety module. A competitor which has also received great ratings from PCWorld and other reviewers is AVG Family Safety. Another package is Norton Online Family. I personally prefer the Microsoft series. The purpose of these programs is to allow the parent to hold administrative rights over the PC, while handpicking what programs are allowed to run for the child users on the PC, what websites can be visited, etc. Very powerful. Very essential! And ultimately, much of the prevention of unwanted web page visits and unwanted software installs depends on your proper installation and configuration of these family safety products. A couple more safety products that deserve special mention are Google's SafeSearch Lock and YouTube's Safety Mode. Turning these features on is often on a per-browser/per-machine basis but it prevents access to explicit web content.

Software/Hardware Firewalls

A firewall is a method by which programmatic or user-initiated access to the Internet is filtered and also a means to thwart unwanted attempts to access your home's computers by hackers from the outside. Microsoft Windows brings its own Windows Firewall software, but you may also obtain additional or alternative firewall software from software manufacturers such as Avast, Norton, and ZoneAlarm. Also, many routers and managed switches bring firewall features that can supplement or replace software firewalls.

Hardware-Based Web Filters

Routers and managed switches are hardware boxes usually standing between your Internet Service Provider's modem and your PC. A router or managed switch can split the signal from the modem out to several PCs at a time, allowing for Internet connection sharing. But a smart router/managed switch can also be programmed to filter out unwanted websites when users inside your network attempt to visit them. This is instrumental if you want to prevent Internet abuse in your home. It can be an added level of protection beyond the use of software family filters. Web filtering can be an additional level of configuration beyond the use of a firewall feature. But it does not necessarily have to be done via a router; nowadays more advanced and more user-friendly Internet-based mechanisms such as OpenDNS are available to do just the same thing. These services somewhat take away the difficulty of setting up a router and understanding all the technical terminology related to web filtering and place it in a more centralized, easy to access, easy to read, and easy to follow website.

Cell-Phone and Wireless Device Monitoring

Finally, there are the more difficult devices to safeguard and monitor: cell phones, tablets, and other hand-held devices. Fortunately few viruses affect these devices, so viruses are generally not a serious issue here. The more serious concern with portable handheld devices, smartphones, tablets, and cell phones is the fact that these devices are portable and not easy to track if lost or to monitor if they're being misused. They run on completely different operating systems than PCs, and as a result have fewer or more complicated solutions to address the family safety problem. If you're trying to monitor a member of your household and prevent Internet misuse on a portable device, the best solutions are (in order of preference):
  • Abstinence (i.e., don't give them a cell phone at all!)
  • Give them a rudimentary cell phone that has no Internet access.
  • Open the cell phone account in your own name (not your kids'!) so you can track its usage yourself. NTelos Wireless, for between $11/mo - $15/mo for example, offers security tracking, curfews, SMS keyword monitoring alerts to help you keep track of what's being communicated through your children's cell phones. 
  • Give them a smartphone or tablet already preprogrammed to prevent rogue software or unauthorized contacts (such as the Nabi touchscreen tablet which comes with preloaded parental controls, or the Kurio touchscreen tablet)
  • If you have an existing portable device (phone or tablet) you wish to implement parental controls on, try downloading Zoodles for younger ages (available for Android). Zoodles is a virtually impregnable sandbox full of kid videos and games that will keep them entertained for hours while you're at the dentist office. Zoodles prevents the child from accessing areas of your phone you don't wish them to. Unfortunately, not all software and feature sets are available for all product lines. For example, Zoodles is easy to break out of on an Apple device. Apple products, Android products, and Windows Phone certainly have other features and apps available besides those listed here.
  • For older kids and for adults, you'll need tougher security. Android's App Lock helps lock out access to software unless a password is provided. The service CovenantEyes.com will filter all web activity (for an upfront fee) by replacing your cell phone or tablet's browser with a custom one that has monitoring capability so that an accountability partner can review your online behavior. A similar browser content filtering product for the iPhone is x3watch.com.

Game System Parental Controls

If you've got kids, you've probably heard about the ESRB by now. It's a rating system that provides helpful guidance about the content and age-appropriateness of games for the PC and gaming consoles. There are parental controls based on the ESRB on all new video game platforms, allowing you to block out unwanted content. Also, Internet access can be disabled and password protected on such video game consoles as the Nintendo Wii--which is by far the most child friendly game console on the market. Although parental control settings are also available on the XBOX and Playstation, keep in mind these game consoles are generally far too advanced for children and were already designed from the ground up with the indiscriminate teenage and adult game-player in mind. If you've already bought one of these, you'll want to screen closely what types of games and movies your family obtains for the console. Fortunately, the XBOX and Playstation do offer far more advanced parental controls than even the Wii. Whew! The XBOX appears to top out the parental control feature list, with Ratings and Content settings that let you restrict games and video content based on the content's rating, a Family Timer curfew feature that allows you to limit the time that your console can be used, and Xbox LIVE Access controls to allow you to limit connections to the Internet-based Xbox LIVE and even prevent Xbox LIVE membership creation without consent.

TV and Entertainment Media Ratings Systems

Believe it or not, there are families that do not own a TV by their own conscientious decision. It's too much of a liability if you're trying to raise children with pure minds! If you want to offer your family safe TV, may I suggest SkyAngel? It competes with DISH and DirectTV and Comcast and the other TV service providers, but limits its channels to those from Christian broadcasters and other less risky sources. Watching DVDs and Blu-rays? Take note of the ratings on the box.  For TVs, the V-chip is actually a means for a parent to place limits on what a kid can watch. A parent can program the TV with a rating, and the TV will block all shows above that rating. For example, if you program the TV-Y7 rating, the TV will allow your child to watch shows rated at TV-Y and TV-Y7. Shows with higher ratings will be blocked. Now as far as media streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, woefully inadequate parental controls have been put in place by each, consisting of kid zones that can be easily bypassed by a curious child and no form of program ratings monitoring or other safety controls. You'll definitely want to be present in the room everytime TV streaming services are used at home! Same must be said for audio/music streaming services such as Pandora.com, Spotify.com, and TuneIn.com radio. You've got to stay abreast of the artists your children are listening to and what lyrics they sing; these services provide no adequate means of controlling what your children hear. The best you can do is set up these services for them yourself if they're at a teachable age and expose them to good wholesome musical sources, like HisKidsRadio. The website NewReleaseTuesday.com can be a great tool to watch for up and coming worthwhile artists. Finally, if you frequent the theatre much, first visit PluggedIn.com for the latest family-friendly reviews on the movies.

Conclusion

If you are already under a viral attack and unable to clean out your PC using the software I've mentioned, you'll need a technician like myself. If Internet or streaming/broadcast media abuse is an issue at home, you may need to either 1) cancel the service in question, 2) hide the remote! 3) establish some solid means of accountability either by an honor system or by employing the provided safety controls for that service or device--or if that has proven to be fallible, then 4) obtaining the counsel of a Pastor for the entire family or seeking therapy with a trusted family psychologist might be in order (!)

Hopefully you've come away a bit more enlightened after this discussion. I hope more than that, that you're also coming away empowered to establish meaningful family safety measures to prevent future breaches or attacks in the home!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Does The Next Three Years Look Like For The Computer Industry?

I just rooted my Android cell phone a few days ago and have been pleasantly surprised by the plethora of freely available Android apps. Just what is there that I cannot do on my little LG AS740 Axis and my unlimited NTelos wireless service? And the thought immediately arrested me. Forget the onslaught of Apple's increasing popularity over the years. The days of Microsoft's worldwide sovereignty are over.

The Personal Computer (in all its incarnations, starting with the original clunky IBM desktop PC down to the most recent netbooks) has run through its career much like a pop artist. IBM begat the consumer industry in the early 80s and lost its parental control over it during the Personal Computer's teenage years. The Microsoft promotions machine then quickly made the PC rise to stardom only to bring its illustrious career to that of just a dated icon struggling to maintain its rep. Kind of like Madonna.

Who speaks well of Microsoft? It seems nowadays everyone gets a kick out of throwing tomatoes at the company. What we are now witnessing is a flurry of new talent and ideas. Nothing like you've ever seen or heard. Contending for the top spot as prime computing technology in your home and at work are a whirlwind of amazingly smart cell phones and tablets. There's iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Nook, the Java phone, Kindle, Android...you name it. Laptop computers are hanging in there because there's stuff these tiny phones and tablets are just not well suited for [yet], but desktop PCs are now more of a specialty item for people with special needs (heavy duty PC gamers and certain media professionals being among them). Even then, smaller, external USB hardware is beginning to replace the traditional need for internal slots on a PC. The underlying hardware is also radically different from that of the past and due to its tinier circuitry and increasingly lower price, it is often best replaced rather than repaired. The general consumer and most business people today will opt for these smaller footprints (the laptop, notebook, netbook, or the tablet), and in every case a smart cell phone that can integrate with their hardware is indispensable. Apple Computer, Inc. foresaw that in 2007 when it removed the word "Computer" from its name and kept it as just Apple Inc.

But what's most revolutionary right now is the fundamental shift in operating environments occurring in the marketplace. Gone are the days of Microsoft's dominating presence as the platform of choice for consumer software and graphics; Java-based equipment can now play videos and run games that are often just as flashy as Windows'. Apple has also greatly increased in popularity with the release of the new iPhone and iPad, and has made its already strong media platform even more attractive. And gone are the days of Microsoft's monopoly on office software! You can now open Word documents and Excel spreadsheets in a growing list of compatible software products running on any of these alternative platforms. OpenOffice and ThinkFree Office are both feature-rich competing products that will do everything the Microsoft Office suite does and more (for FREE!), will run on an Android phone or a Mac, and yet retain compatibility with Microsoft's industry-standard document formats. What's Microsoft to do?

The new contenders vying for Microsoft's crown are as diverse as they are versatile. And they're menacingly popular. Why? Because they break with tradition, and they break the yoke of Microsoft's market share. It's all in the same vein as the social unrest that has captivated this generation. Look at the political shifts happening internationally and how social media has fueled them. It's the GNU era. Open source. Free for all. Apple has managed to keep that rebel flair since its inception--never quite taking lead, but probably better off for not doing it. Now, for the first time in decades, a strong third contender has made its presence felt in the industry: Google Android phones have swallowed up almost a 50% market share of today's cell phone operating systems. You can already buy Android tablets and netbooks and completely bypass Microsoft's and Apple's longstanding presence in the market if you're a new buyer shopping at Best Buy.

I could say the stage has been set for a fierce competition in the next three years to determine which will be the hardware footprint of choice, but we all know smaller is better and at the end of those three years the cell phone and tablet will win.  I could predict that whoever takes the lead in the cell phone operating systems market will eventually rule over or determine the fate of the laptop and desktop software/hardware market...but who am I kidding? We all know this generation is sick of big bullies and will destabilize any company trying to become king. What I really think will happen in the next three years is that we will see an on-going tolerance of diversity in operating systems platforms. Smaller and more inter-operable electronics will marginalize the desktop PC market. Open source will continue to flourish. Apple's iOS will continue to gain popularity. But if any of these rising companies are smart, they will keep their throttle at a safe pace. Microsoft's last card to play in this era is Windows 8. Botching up another release as it happened with Vista is not an option. And the best strategy for Microsoft right now is to take a hint from the career of other giants. Either Microsoft gets Windows an effective crowd-pleasing makeover that can ride out the storms of this generation's unrest, or this new generation might forcefully pull it off-stage in a less-than-desirable abrupt ending.

Now, whether Madonna can keep up with this generation is another story.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recovering a Corrupted HP Computer's Hard Drive Using a Third-Party Tool (BartPE)

Perhaps your hard disk has been irreversibly wrecked by viruses and you're ready to reformat and reload all the original manufacturer's preinstalled software.  But you find yourself in a bind: you never did make those Recovery CDs the system nagged you about when you first bought it!  Have no fear: there are still several solutions available to you.  First, you may have direct access to the recovery partition on your hard drive if you press F10 during boot-up.  Next, obviously, you can contact your PC's vendor and ask to receive replacement recovery CDs for your model PC if you'd rather make sure (for once!) that you obtain those.  But what if you're impatient and can't wait the number of days it takes to get your replacement CDs in the mail, or what if that F10 key just won't work?  Well, now you and I are ready to start talking!

This entire blog post is hanging on the possibility that your recovery CD software is actually still intact within your computer's corrupted hard drive.  This is entirely possible (and I've witnessed it!) since the recovery partition usually lies dormant in a locked state.  You may even have seen an H: drive (or some other odd drive letter) while browsing through Windows Explorer at some point in the past.  Its contents may have been displayed on the screen as a lock icon which you couldn't browse into.  Guess what?  That's your recovery software in there.

There is a very obscure tool called BartPE by Bart Lagerweij which you can download for free from his website and tap into that locked partition. But wait!  Don't click on that link until I tell you the whole story!

My goal in suggesting that you use BartPE is to help you gain access to that recovery partition locked away within your computer and run a process to restore all your operating system files and software to their original state.  BartPE will give you, "a complete Win32 environment with network support, a graphical user interface (800x600) and FAT/NTFS/CDFS filesystem support."  With it, you can boot your PC into a mini-Windows XP environment and gain access to the hidden recovery partition's executable files.  You can then literally execute (double-click on) the Restore.exe file found normally in H:\MiniNT\system32 and have your machine back to its original state! What's great about this method is that (because you're restoring directly from the internal H: drive into the C: drive) it cuts down the file restoration time to just a few minutes, as opposed to potentially hours of swapping HP Recovery CDs into your drive bay!

Alright, go ahead and click the link!  You've got the picture.  You will create a boot CD using the simple BartPE instructions on the product page, start the PC using that boot CD, and off you go!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Software Development Life-Cycle (SDLC)

There's much already shared on the Internet and in books regarding the software development lifecycle (SDLC), but the term still frightens even some seasoned I.T. professionals.  Really, it's very simple.  About the only scary part of it for the average Jane/Joe is the part where you have to sit down and actually write.

Any successful software project must be first well thought-out and planned on paper (or some other electronic means, if you'd rather.)  You've already begun following some crude sort of software development lifecycle process at this point.  Beyond this, there's researchers at Carnegie Mellon who've already written up volumes of theory and educational material to guide you to create the most fabulous and most perfect software product ever.  If you'd rather get on with your project, read on.

My simple (and more so fabulous) SDLC process would have you write the following documents (document titles are in bold; proposed contents are bulleted):

Business Requirements
  • Problem Description
  • Organizational Impact
  • Solution Requested

Project Proposal
  • Solution Proposed
  • Technical Details
  • Product Deliverables
  • Additional Features
  • Cost Analysis
  • Project Plan

Functional Specifications
  • Workflow Model
  • User Interface
  • Object Model
  • State Diagram
  • Database Design
  • Flowchart Diagram
  • Glossary

Implementation Plan
  • Algorithm Design
  • Code Samples

Maintenance Plan
  • Tune-up Schedule
  • Change Control
  • Upgrade Plan
  • Disaster Recovery

Verification Testing
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Integration Testing
  • System Testing
  • Acceptance Testing

User Manual

Validation Plan
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Documentation Plan
  • Verification Plan
  • Acceptance Qualification

These last two documents really ought to be among the first to get drafted, though I list them last because they generally get edited or even rewritten after the code has been developed.  However, it's the documents themselves that will drive the entire SDLC process.  They are of utmost importance.  I will provide some guidelines on fleshing these out later.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Introduction

I've programmed systems internals, designed database applications, developed business intelligence software, and set up corporate websites for multiple clients and employers for nearly 20 years. In this blog I want to share with you the expertise I've amassed--everything relevant to a well-rounded Information Technology specialist:
  • tips on several types of computers and hardware peripherals
  • the in-roads I've made into software development on various platforms
  • some complex software engineering tricks
  • simple desktop application software solutions to common problems
  • freeware/shareware and retail product software reviews
  • some business analysis and technical writing helps in support of the Software Development Life-Cycle
  • computer networking and router setup assistance
  • my supervisory experience with both onsite and telecommuting programmers
  • the management of testers and Quality Assurance personnel
  • and even my aesthetic and practical suggestions on how to write good user, testing, and validation manuals.
Knowing how challenging it is to stay on top of today's ever-advancing Information Technology industry, I hope this blog will help some other beginner or intermediate I.T. specialist make sense of his/her often daunting project responsibilities!