Upgrading Compaq CQ56-115DX hard drive to solid state drive

I ended up taking ownership of my wife's Compaq CQ56-115DX laptop recently. The laptop was okay, but needed upgrading. In went Windows 8.1 Pro instead of Windows 7. Also going in was 8 gigabytes of RAM instead of the default, and quite paltry, 2 gigabytes. Still, while performance wasn't bad, there seemed room for improvement.

So, in went a Crucial MX100 Solid State Drive, replacing the default 250 gigabyte Seagate Momentum 5400.6 drive. The new Crucial solid state drive is 256 gigabytes, a good replacement match for the Seagate. I didn't need any more disk capacity, and at barely over a hundred bucks, the 256 gigabyte solid state drive seemed like a pretty good upgrade.

The drive showed up from Amazon in about a week, even in the midst the of Christmas mailing madness. The box contains a slip of paper with a link where you can download a stripped down of Acronis TrueImage (or whatever) to clone the existing hard drive to the solid state drive. I already had a copy of Clonezilla, an excellent free open-source drive cloning utility.

I got the solid state disk installed into a handy portable SATA drive case I had around the house. I highly suggest having one of these, especially since they only cost about thirteen bucks on Amazon.

The actual cloning took about an hour, but I wasn't really paying attention. After the cloning was done, I removed the original drive and installed the solid state drive. I fired up the laptop and got... Disk Not Found. Ugh. I rebooted the laptop, and immediately got the Windows 8.1 login screen. It was like ka-pow! I don't know why the solid state drive wasn't picked up the first time, but it has been no problem since.

Now before I pulled the original drive, I ran ATTO's Disk Benchmark. I remember ATTO being around 20 years ago as a prime supplier of SCSI II controllers for Macs way back when. Anyhow, here are the results:

To get the real performance difference, don't just look at the bars. Look at the index values. They're different. For the largest file transfer, the bottom value, the factory hard drive managed to transfer about 75 megs a second. The solid state disk transfers 256 megs a second. That's a 340% performance improvement. If you look at the chart, you can see the performance is a big improvement regardless of the file size being read or written to disk. For a hundred bucks, getting a 3x disk improvement is pretty impressive. I'm going to make picking up a solid state disk a "must do" for any laptop I own from now on. Well, that and cramming it full of RAM.

Even if you lump in needing to purchase an external SATA case for $13 to temporarily hold the solid state disk during the transfer, the overall process is pretty easy. Took less than two hours, and the laptop is noticeably faster. I'm totally stoked with the outcome of this upgrade. A huge thumbs up.

How to fix dead lights on a fake Christmas tree

Do you have an artificial Christmas tree that is a few years old, and the built-in lights on the tree are almost all dead? We got a tree like this. Got it for 90% off when K-Mart closed up shop for good in Anchorage. That was years ago. Now, the once-brilliant tree now has maybe 20% of the original lights working. A sorry sight indeed.

As most people have learned, trying to find the dead bulb or bulbs in a string of Christmas lights is a lesson in futility. We decided to wrap the tree with additional lights.

Now that we are putting the tree away for the season, I decided it was high time to cut off all those now-dead lights. Our tree being sectional, I started with the top portion, which stands maybe a foot and a half. With the tree safely unplugged, I get out wire cutters and have at it.

Bad idea.

Turns out that the lights which are interwoven into the Christmas tree also have a pretty tough nylon cord along with the wires. This nylon cord is probably there to assist in the manufacturing of the tree, as the lights will be more tolerant to tugging and pulling. Also, those lights are woven in a fashion similar to maybe a spider's web or an umbrella, and they are bound down with probably a thousand of these little green plastic horseshoe-shaped clips. The whole network of wire and clips are arranged to give the tree its shape when it is splayed out. It took probably an hour to strip that small first section of its lights, and for all that effort I have a mountain of cut horseshoe clips, a bunch of accidentially snipped green fake pine needles, and a Charlie Brown tangle of useless tree lights.

My suggestion on how to fix dead lights on a fake Christmas tree? Abandon in place. Do not entertain the notion of cutting those lights off of the tree. Next year we will probably wrap additional lights on the tree and not plug in those original lights at all. I may cut the plug ends off of the original lights just so that they don't get plugged in ever again. But cut the lights off the tree? Forget it!

Brother MFC-8670DN Windows 8 Printer Drivers

If you own a Brother MFC-8670DN printer, and have a typical 64-bit Windows 8 or a Windows 8.1 laptop (or desktop), you may have discovered that the built-in Windows 8 drivers only support the most basic of printing capability. You can't even duplex print. Ugh.

If you searched for print drivers, you probably ended up over at Brother's website, and discovered that they do not have Windows 8 print drivers either, and they say use the built-in drivers. Ugh.

There is hope, though: Use Windows 7 drivers instead. Go to the Brother site for the MFC8670-DN and choose Windows® 7 (64-bit). The driver download is about 40mb size, so it took a couple of minutes. You have to run the download as Administrator, so after the file is downloaded to your PC, locate the file MFC-8670DN-inst-win7-A2, right click it, and pick "Run as Administator". You will eventually get prompted to run the Setup.exe file, and of course, you do so. When all is said and done, you'll have the full printer driver package installed with all the bells and whistles. Duplex printing, manual feed, all that. Enjoy.

The Alan Plan - Days 1 and 2

So, it occurred to me recently that I've put on a fair amount of extra weight since I was following "The Daniel Plan" in earnest. No fault at all to Daniel, after all, in the Bible, nobody really knows what that "Pulse" he ate was anyway. So, anyhow I'd like to be rid of at least 10 pounds.

Some of "The Daniel Plan" sounds like a typical Southern California Prius Driver's fantasy; "Organic" everything, no sugar, no gluten, all the usual stuff. I can go with some of that, other bits, ("no coffee"), well that ain't gonna happen.

So, with no dietitary background other than liking to eat, I've cooked up my own plan, The Alan Plan.

  • Lots of coffee. It's natural, basically water and beans. Just leave out the sugar.
  • Honey is great, have some.
  • No bread. Yeah, it makes you (well, me) fat.
  • Well, no candy and stuff like that.
  • Tofu is great, tempeh is great, too.
  • Chicken is great, but not breaded.
  • Pork is great, just not breaded
  • Beef is great, in a steak.
  • On those meats, do so in moderation. Just a few ounces.
  • Fruits, vegetables, yeah, eat lots of those.

So that's the plan in a nutshell.


Day 1

Don't recall even eating breakfast. Made a latté.

Lunch was some vegetables from a vegetable tray at church.

Dinner was a fine stir fry of tempeh, onion, spinach, carrots, and a giant glob of hot chili oil.

Day 2

Breakfast was a half-container of tofu with Tamari doused over it.

Lunch was a 1/2-pint of teriyaki chicken at New Sagaya.

Dinner was the salad at Costco. I did use only about 2/3 of the salad dressing.

How to reset the security lockout on a Saturn Vue

The Scenario: I have an aftermarket remote start system, along with a totally useless "start your car from your phone" system. (side note: great idea, if only it ever worked...) So, one fine day, I decide to try resetting the "phone start" system by the suggest method of disconnecting the battery and touching the disconnected positive cable to the negative . Yes, this drains the electrical system of any charge.

Now, though, not only does the "phone start" system still fail to function, the remote start fob now fails to work as well. Attempting to start the car with the remote fob causes the doors to lock, the lights to blink, and instead of starting, a "car and padlock" icon is displayed on the dash. Attempting to lift the door handle results in the irritating "beep beep beep" shopping mall car alarm.

So what happened? Something GM calls "Passlock." Like it or not, Saturn vehicles such as the 2007 Saturn Vue, come with an anti-theft system which really doubles as a money-maker for GM dealership service departments. When the battery is drained, apparently, the Passlock system starts out in what I'll call "agressive" mode. The remote start system needs the Passlock set to the least agressive of three possible systems. So how to set it?

Here is how to set the Passlock system to its least agressive of three possible settings, basically disabling it: Get the original factory remote unlock key fob, the one with a red "Panic" button it. Get in the car and turn the ignition key to the "Run" position. Within five seconds, press the "Panic" button on the original key fob four times. Within three seconds after that, press the "Unlock" button once. The car will chime. After that, all should be well.

This informtion about how to reset the Passlock system is in the original Saturn Vue owner's manual, if you happen to have it. I think it's page 104 or so.

So anyhow, after getting the Passlock system tamed, I was able to start the car using my aftermarket remote start. The "phone start", well, that still fails to do anything useful at all, so I guess that'll be another article for another day.

PowerShell command to create Active Directory domain

In my last entry, I used a PowerShell command to remove the "corp.adatum.com" domain from my test domain controller DC1; basically torching the AD environment and returning DC1 to being a lowly workgroup server.

Oh yeah, this all is being done on a virtualized test lab environment, where the server DC1 is a Windows Server 2012 R2 server. I'm going through Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2, if you are interested.

So now, I want to create a domain "contoso.com" using PowerShell. I log onto my lowly workgroup server DC1, and fire up a PowerShell session as administrator.

And here is the one-liner to turn my server into a domain controller for the domain contoso.com:

Install-ADDSForest -DomainName contoso.com -InstallDNS

I then supply the local administrator password, and away it goes. After a couple minute's PowerShell work, I get hit with a restart prompt. And once the server restarts, ka-pow, there it is, as the domain controller for the mighty contoso.com domain. I don't know what this Contoso corporation does, but they seem like a nice place to work for.

PowerShell command to remove Active Directory domain

If you're working on an MCSE or working on the labs for course 70-410 "Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2", you might come across something about a PowerShell command to uninstall an Active Directory domain. True, there is such a command, but getting it to actuall work is another thing. Fwiw, I'm looking at page 196, Chapter 4, in the official Microsoft training guide.

I've got a virtual lab environment, and the VMs are all checkpointed after a clean install, so I always could go back to the checkpoint, but I really want to see the Uninstall-ADDSDomainController command do its thing.

In my scenario, I've got a single domain controller "DC1" which is the domain controller for the domain "corp.adatum.com". I logged onto DC1 as Administrator, and fired up a PowerShell session as Administrator. After quite a few whacks at the command, I found a sequence which actually worked for me. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Uninstall-ADDSDomainController -Force -IgnoreLastDCInDomainMismatch -IgnoreLastDNSServerForZone -LastDomainControllerInDomain -RemoveApplicationPartitions

After that, I got prompted for the local admin password, and then eventually, the command took off and started doing its thing. It took about 5 minutes in my tiny test lab environment to complete, with that complete being an alert that a reboot was necessary. I allowed the reboot to occur, and after the server came back around, it was now an apparent non-domain-controller. I logged on as Administrator, and the Server Manager fired up, showing a nag flag. The nag flag says "Post-deployment Configruation - Configuration required for Active Directory Domain Services at DC1".

As for the server itself, a look at Computer > Properties shows a Full Computer Name of "DC1.corp.adatum.com" and it is a member of the workgroup "WORKGROUP".

So that did the job. Now to throw a couple of one-liners at it to turn it into a Domain Controller for contoso.com...

The last grain of sand in the hourglass

As we were at the vet, having Cougar Cat put down, we were given the choice of being present while they did the actual euthanasia or not. I couldn't bring myself to be there while it actually occurred, so we decided to leave that task to the technician. The vet tech was a nice lady, and was quite understanding. The three of us exited the room at the same time, and the technician took Cougar Cat away, wrapped in a towel. He was so weak by then. I recall watching the double doors swing as the tech took Cougar Cat to the back, and as the door swung to close, I could see Cougar Cat's back foot peeking out through the towel. The door swung closed, and, in my mind I knew, "Well that's that. Goodbye old friend." The last grain of sand in the hourglass fell at last, and time stood still.

The great hourglass has been turned over once again, and we begin a new chapter with Cougar Two, a likely relative of Cougar Cat. Cougar Two is very much a lover, and a serious breadmaker. She can knead you raw, especially with those razor-like knives for claws. We gave her a claw clip today. She is still getting acclimated to her new home, and Trixie Cat still greets her with down ears and a hiss. Ah, time will hopefully soften that as well.

Cougar Cat is resting peacefully with Jesus

Cougar Cat, after almost 15 years of good living with our family, has gone on to be with Jesus.

Really, time nor space could do justice to tell his story. I can say in short, though, that no kitty companion was ever so beloved. In this very picture, laying in comfortable repose on our bed, you can capture the essence of Cougar Cat. He would often be found on the bed. If it was summer, he would be enjoying the sunlight. If winter, he would be tucked in under the covers or perhap resting on a pillow. He was regal and majestic for a cat, conducting himself with dignified elegance. Up until maybe the most recent couple of years, he enjoyed having his head rubbed and petted, but went on to prefer tummy rubs.

Anybody who met Cougar Cat learned that he always had the most tremendous purr. His purr could be heard from adjacent rooms! Oh he enjoyed his pleasures to the fullest, luxuriating during a good petting session. When he was but a wee kitty, our daughter fed him a piece of apple, and I do believe I have on video somewhere (what a pile of DV tapes I have to go through!) Rachel declaring "Cougar likes apple!". If I had a bowl of cereal, he enjoyed drinking the milk at the bottom of the bowl. Cougar Cat enjoyed his life indoors, or perhaps occasionally venturing out into our "kitty house", an attached enclosed structure to let the kitties have a taste of the outdoors.

Later on in his old age, Cougar Cat took to sleeping next to my head, on the pillow, at bedtime. This was a real treat, something I shall always remember. I can hear his breathing and his purr as I type this, and I shall always cherish those memories.

If you have had a close pet companion, then you can relate with much of what I'm writing, for sure. He will always be beloved by me, and someday, I look forward to seeing him in Heaven.

Blaise Pascal, eternity, and a free book.

Blaise Pascal was an early 17th century French mathematician and philosopher. He was a Christian, and died pretty young, not even 40 years of age. He was working on a book regarding the defense of the Christian faith, but never finished it.

After his death, his writings were gathered and organized into a book called Pensées, which basically means "Thoughts". Some of his writings are pretty profound, such as this paragraph:

434 The chief arguments of the sceptics--I pass over the lesser ones--are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are then illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?

Pascal, in working on his defense, basically busts the bubble for the humanist and the atheist. In their blustering insistence on "Science" and "Reason", they have no possible way to know for sure that all they hold so real is not in fact a thin, pale, watered-down version of a much deeper and richer reality which they will taste once they awaken from this present "dream". Either that or they awaken to eternal torment far darker and far more agonizing than anything in this present age.

The whole book is filled with these sorts of thought-provoking illustrations and musings. I'd urge all Christians to add this to their bookshelf, and considering the book is free online, why not?

Pensées is entirely in the public domain; you can get it for free online at Project Gutenberg. They have plain text, Kindle, and more.

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