Archive for February, 2009

in which tim yells at bios programmers

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Dell have used F2 for their BIOS key practically forever. Any Dell laptop or desktop, it’s F2 to get into the BIOS.

Compaq? F10, but you’ve gotta be on the ball or you’ll miss it.

For most whiteboxes, it’s either F2 or delete. Although I’ve seen control-F2 on a laptop before. Sometimes it’s F1 (isn’t that the help key?), or F11 (which is sometimes the boot menu), or F12 (which is sometimes network boot – hands up everybody who’s needed that option at home?).

The Toshiba I worked on today was a fine example. The splash screen said “hit F2 for boot menu”, which worked, but to get into BIOS you had to hit escape, and then F1 when it told you. If I wasn’t armed with google and the thing’s model number I’d have been mashing random buttons before figuring that out.

The special no-award goes to whatever genius recently decided F8 was a sensible boot menu key. That’s gonna come back and bite you in the ass the very first time you want safe mode, genius. (And probably every other time thereafter also.)

Listen up guys, Apple have had this down pat for centuries now. Hold C to boot from a CD, or N to boot from the network, or T to start that fantastic computer-is-a-firewire-disk mode I wish all laptops had. In the shiny white universe, you can basically guess at a cool feature you’d like your computer to have, and it’ll have it, accessible through the first keyboard shortcut you guess.

Us in the dark universe however basically have to guess every time we encounter a new computer. When your job involves fixing computers for complete strangers, this becomes a factor in your blood pressure.

Here’s my solution. Instead of everybody picking an F-button out of a hat every month, we make Tab the official “stop the process and give me some options” button. It’s already the button you press to get rid of the motherboard brand’s splash screen, giving you a fleeting glance at what drives are present and accounted for and which aren’t.

I want tab to mean “stop right after you finish detecting hardware and loading extra controller cards, so that I can tell you exactly what to boot from, or go to setup, or temporarily pick a boot device, without an arbitrary time limit decided by someone who thinks every technician is chained to his keyboard and his eyes glued open in front of a screen”.

Seriously. You want BIOS setup? Hit tab for a few seconds after turning the PC on, and then probably the enter key because that’d be the first menu option. You want to boot from a CD? Hit tab, then the down arrow until your favourite CD drive is highlighted, then hit enter. You want more than a 3 milisecond look at the thing that says whether you’re in dual channel mode or not? Hit tab, then probably the up arrow and enter to wrap to the bottom of the list and continue booting normally.

A really smart setup like this would also pretend to hit a button when the Windows CD asks “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD…” so it actually DOES that, instead of timing out after 5 seconds and booting from IDE-0, despite you explicitly already telling the computer you want to boot from a CD. I have to make other people answer the phone because I’m stuck waiting for your shit-slow BIOS to wake up and give me options in case I boot from the wrong disk and Windows irrepairably messes up the drive letters.

Okay, that was a little angrier than intended, but the point stands. Tab for BIOS menu – who’s with me?

more speedruns: sonic the hedgehog

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Could I just have your attention for a couple of hours? Yes? Sweet.

To celebrate buying my own Sega Nomad, I went on a bit of a hunt for Sonic the Hedgehog speedruns on YouTube. They’re every bit as awesome as the Keen 5 one from the other week; if you were a Sonic fan back in the day, check these out.

First up, here’s Sonic the Hedgehog 1, for me the scariest of the lot with those gigantic spikes and no spindashing. In two parts, because this was uploaded when Youtube still limited videos to 10 minutes. Up on CPU!

Then there’s Sonic 2, from the Sega logo to the death of the final boss in 19 minutes and 55 seconds:

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do not adjust your set

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

If you happen to have been reading my site over the last hour or so, you might’ve noticed random things changing colours or size or growing antennae or whatever. That’s because my blog’s a bit overdue for some design tweaks, and I’m too lazy to set up a sandbox site to play with, so I’ve been changing the live site as is.

The theme is a bit darker, and I’ve set up a rotating image banner thing for the header. It’s a bunch of closeup photos from in, on or around my desktop PC, and I think it looks much better than the default happy blue bar that used to be there.

The banner thing is run by Dan Benjamin’s randomizer, which was as easy to setup as it was to find, which I did via this.

Howto: Automatically log in and lock your session so things load faster

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

If you don’t set a password on your Windows user account, you get logged in straight away, and things like MSN and your email notifier start loading immediately. If you have a password, things stop dead until you’ve sat down and typed it in to log in, in which case you could still have a minute or two to wait before things are usable again.

What I dreamed up the other day was this: Is there a way to log yourself in automatically, but immediately lock your session, so you still need a password to use your PC but your desktop/icons/random programs are already loaded by the time you type it in? Intel have a feature in their wireless drivers called single sign-on that connects to your wireless network before you’ve logged in, to speed things up in that exact way; why can’t we do it with everything else?

Turns out that a) we can, and b) it’s easy to do, because I’m not the first person to think of doing it.

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Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

How not to treat a wireless LAN adapter.

just a state of being

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009


you’re donating what?

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009


Things to observe in this picture:

  1. Exercise machine.
  2. Microwave oven.
  3. Clothing bin.

Things that spring to mind:

  1. “Well, I came to the op shop for some new pants, but I guess I’ll take the steppermajigger instead.”
  2. “I’m so grateful for the clothing collection bunch. I wear my new magnetron everywhere!”

Mapping your network with Windows 7

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Link Layer Topology Discovery first appeared when Windows Vista came out in 2006, but wasn’t very exciting back then, as most people playing with Vista had existing home networks full of XP, which doesn’t support LLTD by default. Now, though, with Vista machines more common and regular people up to testing Windows 7, it’s becoming more than just a curiosity: it actually works now.


This is Windows 7’s network mapper in action at a recent LAN gathering. C7 and Pitchblack aren’t shown in the map; those PCs were running Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux respectively, both of which need a little tweaking to show up properly in Vista/7’s network mapper.

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