Monday, January 6, 2014

How to create a virtual disk drive that your PC thinks is physical

Recently I draw a diagram of my backup processes.

It looks more complex than it is as most of it happens automatically.

However there was one part I was keen to eliminate as a result of implementing some new backup strategies, namely to us CrashPlan to get backups onto my NAS (Network Attached Storage).

CrashPlan's home version, the paid version, allows all sorts of wonderful destinations for your backups:

  • External hard disks
  • Friends computers
  • CrashPlan Cloud Servers
  • Other computers on your network

It does not, however, let you backup to a mapped network drive. In fact there are a lot of programs that won't let you access a mapped network drives as if they were a real drive. I cannot suggest their motives as I am sure they vary.

The reason this happens is that actual disks get mounted using device drivers whereas mapped drives don't and once your software has decided to exclude on type or another there's not much you can do about it.

When I searched for an answer I couldn't readily find one. What I did see was a lot of folk poo-pooing why anyone would want to do this in the first place.

Well, my reason was that by getting CrashPlan to do the backup I could eliminate 4 encrypted volumes and the related synchronisation process required to keep that data secure on a non-PC machine (NAS). I could also eliminate the need to further migrate/copy those volumes to off-site backups (external hard disks).

NB: In case you don't know what a "mapped drive" is, it is a directory on a remote machine that is given an alias so that it looks like a disk drive.

So, to explain how I solved this...

In the picture below you can see the Z: drive looks much like the C:, D:, E: and other "drives" on the computer. Z: is a mapped network drive connected to the "Info" volume on my NAS called Terry:

The problem is that CrashPlan knows it isn't a real drive and as such I cannot backup to it:

It is plain to see that Z: is not among the available drives to backup to. But the mysterious "R:" drive is!

NOTE: N: and Y: are external drives that I don't have plugged in at the moment.

So what is drive R: you may ask?

Well, drive R: is a TrueCrypt volume on my NAS drive.

Once I have mounted the TrueCrypt volume CrashPlan automatically sees it as a physical drive and backs up to it :-)

NOTE: Shown above for selection. Shown below is the completed automatic backup to the drive.

So I am pretty happy about that :-)

I suspect this trick will work with many, if not all, of the other software that misbehaves in the same way. I say "misbehaves", they probably do it on purpose to get us to fork out for the "network" or "Pro" version of their software.

NOTE 1: The creation of a TrueCrypt volume requires some skill and attention. Be very careful with how and where you go about this. Having said that, once you know what you are doing it is easy and there is plenty of documentation of the TrueCrypt web site. 

NOTE 2: Creating a large TrueCrypt volume is not a fast process so prepare yourself for a wait of a few hours while the volume is encrypted/created.

NOTE 3: Details of how to fully set up a CrashPlan backup destination to a drive is available through their web site and/or the program's help system.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Windows 8.1 update update...

Windows 8.1 update update...

Synopsis: Don't do it.
Here's why:

1) If you have a Telstra USB Next G or other USB modem it won't work with win 8.1.

2) Chances are that if you are on a slightly old PC or laptop, and I am only talking 15 months or so old, that its BIOS (Built In Operating System) will not be compatible with "Secure Boot".

While secure boot is a good idea and quite fine on machines that come with it, if your computer's BIOS is not compatible with it Win 8.1 will permanently display a "watermark" in the bottom right hand corner of your screen to that effect.

The only way to attmept to fix it is to update your BIOS. This is always a risky prospect and this time I found out the hard way - my ASUS laptop BIOS update failed and completely, and I mean completely, killed my laptop. No lights when i plug in the power, no noises, no sign of life whatsoever. It is now on its way back to ASUS to hopefully have the BIOS may require a motherboard replacement (ouch).

So don't do that.

Aside from that, that is if you can live with those things, the brief time I had with windows 8.1 itself was great.

So buy it on a new machine by all means, just don't upgrade to it yourself...for now...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fix Windows 8 - Techlife's Magic Program

I'm OK with windows 8 now but the shift and the new way of operating are just too much hassle for some

That's OK. Techlife have a solution.

Their FREE downloadable "Fix Windows 8" program allows you to put the start menu back like windows 7, Vista, XP or "traditional" mode.

In Expert mode you can tweak the hell out of it to even turn off and on the think you like and dislike about the whole shooting match. For instance, you can still have the Win 8 metro start up screen if you want with the restore Start button.

"Fix Win 8" link here is a program. So "save it" [DOWNLOAD] and then run it.

Follow your nose from there. It is easy, trust me.
There's even a big undo" button if you stuff up or get scared.

If you wish to persist with windows 8, then the plethora of shortcuts keys do make a world of difference.

The article I found them in first is here.

Lastly, the new file explorer in win 8 is supposed to be the ducks guts.
It is worth having a play with.

Info/article here:

Have fun with that :-)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 10 most useful Windows 8 shortcuts

A while back I was looking for the Computer Manager in windows 8.
Turns out it is easiest accessed by the Win-X key combination.
So I checked what else is new and "convenient" :-)

Check these...

If Microsoft mentioned, promoted or even just told us about these key combinations it would make a world of difference to the Win 8 experience.
Instead they leave the user floundering with blank screens of solid colours.
I am sure the OS could tell new users about them somehow on the way but it/they don't.

I almost like Win 8 now :-)

Friday, March 1, 2013

What are all those "please update" messages about?

Note: This article has a Mac focus but the concepts apply to any computing platform.
Prompted by recent events concerning "Java" security bugs, this newsletter is all about updating the software on your Mac - or having it automatically keep itself up to date. It's not the most captivating of topics but just like you should know to regularly service your car, you should also know to regularly update your computer.

Updates vs Upgrades

First let's define a technical difference between these two terms that are often used interchangeably …

Generally speaking an "update" contains small software fixes (patches) and minor functionality improvements. Often the patches relate to security holes that have been discovered. Updates will be free of charge and the updated software should still be compatible with your current hardware. Updates may happen quite frequently for a product if security holes keep being discovered. Because updates are free they can often be downloaded and/or installed automatically - or at least the software can notify you automatically when an update is available.

On the other hand an "upgrade" will generally mean a major functionality improvement or change and will typically require a payment. The changes to the software may be significant enough that it can no longer run on your hardware - in which case you will need to keep running the old version.

With OS X on your Mac the version number is in the form 10.x.y. When the x changes it is an upgrade (eg. 10.8 = Mountain Lion), and costs money, whereas when the y changes it is an update (eg. 10.8.2) and will show up in your Software Update panel.

Backups first

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes the updated software goes haywire and you need to revert to how things were previously. This is one of the several reasons why you should have a regular backup running on your Mac. Please check now that your backup has run recently!

OS X software update

You can access the Software Update settings on your Mac by opening the System Preferences application then choosing the Software Update pane. My recommendation is that you select an option to automatically check for updates and that you install them as soon as convenient. eg. at the end of your working day. You'll always be asked for permission before the update itself happens. If you are using OS X 10.7 or 10.8 the updates will actually take place within the App Store application.

Mac App Store Apps

The App Store application came into existence as of OS X 10.6.8 and allows you to easily download and install programs/apps that have been curated by Apple. A large number are free and most of the others only cost a few dollars. What is pertinent to this discussion is that this application will automatically tell you when there are updates available for any of the apps that you installed via the App Store. These updates are always free of charge.

iTunes/iOS App Store Apps

The apps that run on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch will also receive periodic updates. In this case you can see the updates via either iTunes on the computer to which your device syncs, or within the App Store application on your device. Again, these updates are free of charge.

Now for some specific product information….

Microsoft Office

The updating of the MS Office suite of products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Entourage) is looked after by the Microsoft AutoUpdate application. You can get to this from within any of the products by clicking on Help in the Menu bar then selecting "Check for Updates".

Microsoft recently issued an update to Office 2011 which they named Service Pack 3, which actually means version 14.3. This update has a few bug fixes but most significantly it starts to align the licensing model with Microsoft's new strategy of charging a yearly fee rather than a fee for each version upgrade.

If you are looking to buy Microsoft Office 2011 (either new or as an upgrade from MS Office 2008) you now have two options which boil down to:

a)    A traditional license with a single payment, but which is restricted to a single computer.

b)    An Office 365 license which incurs a yearly fee, but which can be used on up to 5 computers.

Recent news indicates that Microsoft is starting to be far more strict about the single computer restriction for option a.


The recent news reports about security problems with Java have inevitably created confusion. So to give a definition, Java is extra software that is engineered to run as a "middle man" on different types of computer and therefore allow program developers to write code for one interface but which will run on many different machines. A new Mac does not have that extra Java software installed on it but will prompt you to download & install it if any program needs to use Java.

There are 2 different places that Java software is installed. The one that is most commonly in the news is a "plugin" for your web browser. This plugin allows web sites with Java content to do fancy things on the web page your are viewing. The other is a Java "runtime environment" that is used by programs/apps that run on your Mac.

Until recently Apple wrote & distributed its own version of Java - and so that gets updated via Software Update on your Mac. But for Java 7 (also confusingly known as 1.7) onwards the software is distributed and updated by Oracle. If you have this version installed there will be a Java pane in your System Preferences which in turn opens a "Java Control Panel". In this control panel there is an Update tab and here you can set it to automatically update.

So you may have 4 "flavours" of Java installed on your Mac. (Note: Javascript is not a flavour of Java. It is used by most web sites to make them interactive and turning it off may cause those sites to not perform as designed.)

It's very difficult to keep track of all this (even for the geeks!) so both Apple & Oracle use mechanisms to disable versions of Java that are out of date. In the case of the web browser plugin your Mac will also deactivate the Java  plugin if it hasn't been used in the last month. Turn it back on in Safari > Preferences > Security > Enable Java.

Therefore you may occasionally see a "missing plugin" icon displayed in your browser where Java content should display. Click on that to be directed to the appropriate place to download an update.

Flash Player plugin

Talking of the "missing plugin" icon - the other time you are most likely to see this is when Adobe Flash is out of date (or not installed) on your Mac. In recent versions of OS X your Mac checks back with Apple every day about any known malware (like an anti-virus program). One of the things that it keeps track of is the version of Flash that is installed. If Apple believes there is a security hole in your version of Flash (which happens quite often), OS X will prevent it from being used - and then you get the "missing plugin" icon.

Automatic updates for Flash Player can be configured in System Preferences > Flash Player.

Adobe Reader

The other ubiquitous product from Adobe is Adobe Reader - used for viewing PDF documents. For the vast majority of PDFs you can use the built in Apple program "Preview" to view them and to make minor edits. But there are some PDFs that only work properly within Adobe Reader - so most people will have it installed just in case it is needed. This program is also subject to security holes & patches - so make sure that within Adobe > Preferences > Updater you have it set to automatically check for updates. When this is turned on you will occasionally be prompted (seemingly at random) by the Adobe Reader Updater (or Adobe Update Manager) to allow an update to proceed.

That's a lot to digest, so if you have any questions or issues please get in touch with I Hate My PC and we can help you assess your particular situation.