Horrible malware virus rears its ugly head

November 27, 2010

A few months ago the hinge holding my niece’s laptop lid broke off rendering her laptop totally unusable. So out of the kindness of her heart, my wife lent our niece her seldom-used Dell laptop (running Windows 7) so she can continue to do her homework, etc. while her mother figures out what to do (i.e., fix the broken laptop, buy a new one, etc). So as teenagers will do, my niece happily loaded iTunes, Skype, as well as numerous other programs and apps that teenagers cannot live without and went on her merry way. Unfortunately, during that process she inadvertently loaded a malware virus that pretended to be an anti-virus program which found a virus that can only be removed if she paid for the full version of the anti-virus software. A giant scam, of course.

This malware virus is called Thinkpoint and will display the following screen when you boot up your computer:

If you unknowingly click the “Save Startup” button, the program will appear to be scanning for a virus and will finally proclaim it found some very dangerous viruses that can only be removed if you buy their software. What’s bad about this virus is that you can’t easily remove it. There is no way of exiting from this Thinkpoint application, and when I tried to do a CTRL-ALT-DEL to access Task Manager it wouldn’t come up. So this infected laptop would just reboot and reboot with the same Thinkpoint screen as you see above.

So after some Googling, I found my solution. I needed to boot up the laptop from an external USB flashdrive and run a “real” antivirus program to eradicate the Thinkpoint virus. I found this web site that explained how to create the USB flashdrive for booting (into Linux) and then run the antivirus app called AntiVir. Following these directions I was able to have the laptop boot up from the Flash Drive and run the AntiVir software which identified the Thinkpoint virus files. Note, that the AntiVir application by default only identifies the virus files and doesn’t do anything with them. I needed to use the configuration screen for the app to have it rename the virus files. Once I did that, I removed the Flash Drive and was able to reboot the laptop to the Windows 7 user desktop.

I then followed instructions from several other web sites that explained which files to remove and which entry in the system’s registry file to remove to get rid of the Thinkpoint virus. I followed all this up with a full system scan using the freeware antivirus app called Avast! as well as McAfee antivirus. After doing all this, I think the laptop is now virus free.

My niece doesn’t remember what she did to infect the laptop with this horrible virus, but I did find evidence that she (or some application) installed a Peer-to-Peer software called Limewire that I suspect was the culprit. Limewire is a file-sharing application much like Napster, Guntella, etc. which are know to be laced with files containing viruses. As such, I’ve never used such P2P applications and I warned my niece to never install such apps again.

We are very lucky that I was able to remove this bad malware virus, otherwise, I would have needed to wipe the disk clean and go through a clean install of Windows 7 on the laptop followed by hours of trying to find the right drivers from the Dell web site…. ugh.


Windows Phone 7 – The honeymoon is over…

November 18, 2010

As a mobile applications developer, I have a big interest in the public acceptance of the new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. As such, I’ve been reading lots of web postings and reviews on the topic. As with any new device, there’s a lot of fan-fair and excitement just before the release date of the product. That usually follows with the early adopters posting on web forums on how cool and great their new phone is, and how it just beats everything on the market. And then after a few weeks those same enthusiasts begin to complain how their new phone can’t do this or that, or is missing a favorite feature from their previous phone. Some even complain about hardware failures and proudly report they’ve gone through 3 or 5 phones and still have some unresolved minuscule problem.

I’ve been lurking on some WP7 forums and this is the pattern I’m seeing with the new WP7 phones. Lots of people complaining about some minor issues, and I can just see it escalating to bigger and bigger issues until finally these same enthusiasts jump ship to a different brand of phone and start over again with the same cycle. If you follow these forums as I do, you need to take what you read with a grain of salt. Most of these posters are young teenagers that often complain about every little thing (like having one speck of dust inside their screen) and are never satisfied. In my opinion, the WP7 is still a 1st generation device with room to grow and expand. Undoubtedly, Microsoft will be adding more and more features as they build upon this new OS, which is pretty evident with the huge investment they are making in the mobile device space.

Sprint dropping the Palm Pre smartphones

November 15, 2010

This posting on precentral.net seems to indicate that the wireless carrier Sprint will be dropping the Palm Pre from their lineup of smartphones. Sprint was one of the original carriers of the Palm Pre line of phones, and now it seems to be dropping them completely. Sprint began selling the original Palm Pre over one year ago and later sold the Palm Pixi, but never carried the improved Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus phones.

I have a Palm Pixi phone that I got it when the device was first released (over a year ago). That’s a long time for a cell phone, as new designs seem to come out on a 6-8 month cycle. Of course, the delay in providing new and different phones is understandable since the sale of Palm this summer to HP was a big distraction. Palm seemed busy improving the WebOS operating system (now close to releasing 2.0) but their handsets seemed to have suffered. Maybe HP has high hopes of using WebOS on a new tablet device and that took priority over the smartphones?

I’ve used a few different smartphone OSes and I have to say that the Palm WebOS is one of the best. The true multitasking and “card stacking” is a great feature, and if they are able to improve the performance and speed with the WebOS 2.0 version that’s even better. Hopefully, HP will put out some new and exciting phones within the next 6 months and we’ll see them appear on Sprint and other networks early next year.

Script for combining PDF files

November 15, 2010

I often have to combine mutiple PDF files into a single file for convenient storage, and I found a really easy way to do this using an Automator script with my iMac. This web site explains how in a few simple steps you can create such a script and have it available as a “Service” in a right-click popup context menu. So to use it, you select which PDF file you want to combine then do a right-click and select the “Combine PDF Files” service in the popup menu. Easy!

Note, that this only works for the Apple Mac OS system. Below is what the script looks like in the Automator GUI:

Applescript for renaming my video files

November 14, 2010

For certain TV Shows I like to save them in my “archive” for viewing later, so I try to label them in a logical fashion. With my current automated system of recording TV shows, removing commercials, and adding in meta data to the mp4 video file, I’ve created a new Applescript that will help rename the video file for my personal archive.

The script is a bit lengthy to post here in text form, so I’m making it available for download from this link. I’m basically using the freeware program called AtomicParsley to extract some meta data from a specified video file (e.g., show name, episode title, season number and episode number) and use that information for defining the file name. For example, my script will take the video recording of an episode from The Walking Dead and will format the name as:

The Walking Dead – Guts – S01E02.mp4

So it has the TV show’s name, episode title, season and episode number all contained in the name of the video file. Again, it is getting all this data from the metadata contained inside the video file (which was added by my recording script).

I’ve got my Applescript set up as an application icon which I can double-click to bring up File Chooser Dialog Window or you can drag video files onto the icon to process the files. This script makes it much easier for me to rename my videos quickly for storage.

Note, that I tried to do the renaming of these videos in this manner after I processed them in my video recording script, but iTunes renames the video file to only the show’s episode name (e.g., “Guts.m4v”) when it automatically processes the file for syncing.

My Dead Quiet Office

November 14, 2010

I normally work from home in a small but well appointed home office. As a computer professional (and geek) I’ve got numerous computer systems activated at any given moment. I have my big 27″ iMac which handles my personal business, my Dell 17″ laptop for use with my primary job (checking emails, running simulations, etc.), a Dell Netbook for occasionally running PC-based applications (e.g., Microsoft Visual Studio 2005), and my old Quad-Core Desktop PC which I fire up sometimes to do some heavy video processing in batch mode.

Before I purchased my iMac, I used my Quad-Core Desktop PC as my main workhorse computer system. Being a desktop it can become quite loud in my office, but I tried to minimize that by installing a power supply with an oversized fan (quieter) and a variable CPU fan which I can turn down to also minimize the noise. Nevertheless, there was a constant humming in my office that just became the normal background noise as I worked throughout the day.

Since switching from my Quad-Core machine to my iMac desktop, my office has been dead quiet. I’m not sure how Apple did it, but the Quad-Core CPU in my iMac Desktop doesn’t seem to need the same airflow as my PC desktop machine. I don’t hear a thing while I’m working with my iMac. Only on some rare occasion I’ll hear my iMac hum as the internal fans are cooling the CPU during some intensive video processing action, but this happens rarely. The only sound I hear is the hard drive whirling every so briefly when I’m saving a file to the drive.

This is so unlike my Windows PC where the hard drive will thrash away constantly and for no apparent reason. I could never figure out why was my system’s disk drive thrashing away so much. What was it doing that required so much disk reading and/or writing? It just didn’t make any sense to me. On my iMac, I don’t have any of that crazy nonsenseical disk thrashing. None.

My Dell work laptop, however, is the biggest noise maker in my home office. I can hear the internal fan spinning constantly with Microsoft Outlook being the only application open and the disk drive thrashing fiercly whenever I do any activity. So whenever possible (like on the weekends) I’ll turn off my laptop and just have my wonderful iMac Desktop running silently in my office, allowing me to work in peace and quiet…


Command + Delete is my friend

November 14, 2010

When I switched from a Microsoft PC over to an Apple iMac, it took a bit of “relearning” to become totally productive with the new environment. Here are a few glaring differences I found:

With an Apple keyboard you don’t have a HOME, DEL, or END key. It is amazing how much I relied on those keys without knowing it. So if I’m coding and I want to move to the beginning or end of a line, I don’t have a HOME or END key to help me out. The Mac has a DELETE key (which is equivalent to the BACKSPACE key on a PC keyboard), but it doesn’t have an equivalent DEL key (which removes characters behind the cursor). That’s another thing I sorely miss.

On my PC I was able to delete a selected file or folder by just pressing the BACKSPACE key. If you try to do the same thing on a Mac, nothing happens. What I discovered is that you need to press the Command key + Delete key to delete a selected folder or file. At first I thought this was a pain, but in hindsight it seems to be a good thing as it minimizing unintentional deletions by just pressing the Delete key alone.

Also, pressing the RETURN key after highlighting a file will not open that file in the Mac OS (nothing happens).

And finally one big one: When you click the small red “X” ball in the upper left corner of a Mac application window the program appears to exit but it is actually still running in the background. The only way to fully exit the application is to do a “Force Quit” which can be done a few ways:

  1. Select “Quit” or “Force Quit” from the application’s menu bar.
  2. Press COMMAND + Q keys to quit the application (when the app’s title bar is active at the top of the screen)
  3. Right-click on the app in the Dock (at the bottom of the screen) and select “Quit” from the popup context menu.

I usually do option (2) as it seems the fastest for me. So there are a few differences between Microsoft Windows and the iMac OS, but I’ve adapted very quickly and am actually more productive with the addition of Applescript for the Mac!

Microsoft Store opening in Bellevue, WA

November 14, 2010

I just read a multi-page ad in the Seattle Times announcing the opening of a Microsoft Store in the Bellevue Square Mall in Bellevue, WA. I think this is a brilliant idea that Microsoft should have pursued a long time ago. Incidentally, Apple has “The Apple Store” in that very same mall and it has been successful for the last several years.

I’ve been to the Apple Store many times and it’s just a great place to visit and check out the Apple products. No pushy sales people, just tons of machines and devices and young, helpful people their to answer your questions. The store is very inviting, and it’s hard to resist stepping in and checking out the iPads, iPods, iPhones, and iMacs. As such, I think Microsoft will find their store can be equally successful if they have the same inviting atmosphere.

With all of Microsoft’s new products (e.g., Windows Phone 7, XBox Kinetix, Windows 7 OS, Slate PC) and the holidays just around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better. It’s good to see Microsoft’s Marketing machine is working at full steam, and we might just see a big turn around with the companies financials. Good luck to MS.

Applescript for deleting watched shows and podcasts in iTunes

November 12, 2010

Since switching from my Zune HD to an Apple iPod Touch, I’ve noticed that the iTunes software behaves differently than the Zune Software so far as removing deleted shows. For example, after I watch a TV show, movie, or podcast on my Zune HD I can delete it from my device. Then, when I sync with my PC using the Zune Software the application will see that I deleted the video and will also delete it from my PC as well.

With iTunes, it doesn’t work that way. If I delete a video from my iPod Touch after watching it iTunes will copy the video file back on the iPod Touch when I sync again. The only way I’ve found to have iTunes not sync a watched video on my iPod Touch is to configure iTunes to not sync “watched” videos. As such, I manually have to delete the video from iTunes to remove it from my system. I guess this is better, since you may not want iTunes to accidentally delete a video from your system if you really didn’t fully watch it (or in my case, fall asleep in bed while watching a video and have it run to the end!).

So, I’ve written an Applescript that will search out all the videos marked as watched in iTunes after connecting my iPod Touch and remove them from my Mac. Note, that I’m defining that a video has been “watched” if it has been marked by iTunes to have been played and also has a bookmark of 0.0.

My script also does the same for podcast videos and does a final syncing operation. It seems to work pretty well. Below is the full script that I’m using:

I’ve compiled this script to an application and it sits on my desktop where I can launch it by clicking the desktop icon. As I work more and more with nifty things like Applescripts controlling apps, I really appreciate moving from the PC over to the Mac world.

Microsoft Phone 7 Opening Day – Verdict?

November 9, 2010

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the reaction of the public to the opening day of the Microsoft Phone 7, and it was a bit of whimper. I didn’t see any reports of long lines as reported for the latest Apple iPhone debut. Instead, I read in the Seattle Times newspaper this morning that as of noon yesterday the T-Mobile store in the Bellevue Square mall only sold 3 WP7 phones. Personally, I don’t think the WP7 phones are so great that I’m going to terminate my current contract with Sprint and jump over to AT&T or T-Mobile. I have a feeling that existing smartphone users are in wait-and-see mode, and might switch handsets once the WP7 devices are available on their own particular networks.

With Sprint, I get a lot of services (e.g., navigation, free cell-to-cell phone calls (any network), unlimited texting, etc.) that you don’t get automatically with AT&T (they are add on features). So far as value, Sprint has better plans than AT&T in my opinion.

I currently have a Palm Pixi phone with Sprint which I love, but I’m also intrigued with WP7 phones. I’m also a developer who writes apps for the Palm WebOS devices, so which phone I will carry and use in the future will be partially determined by how well HP/Palm begins to market their future phones. If it turns out WP7 is the hot phone that takes off early next year, then I’ll have to switch my development efforts over to that platform and trade in my Palm Pixi for a WP7 device.