Lawyer’s Computer Virus Doesn’t Excuse Missed Dismissal Motion

A computer virus is no excuse for missed emails, at least in Federal Court.

A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of a wrongful termination case granted after the plaintiff’s lawyer experienced computer problems and never got e-mail notice of a motion for summary judgment.

Lawyer Charles Everage of Charlotte, N.C., said his computer was afflicted by a malware virus and other problems. As a result he never learned of the motion and he didn’t respond to it. A trial judge dismissed the suit Everage had filed on behalf of a fired worker, and denied the lawyer’s motions to reinstate it.

Full article here

Pro Tips: Use a Hot Air Gun to Reflow Solder


A good hot air solder rework station costs well upwards of $100. If you have just a few parts you need to reflow, you can use a common heat gun available at most hardware stores for around $30. These guns have all kinds of uses and are commonly used in construction to strip paint. They are usually around 1000W and some have temperature control. I use a Wagner HT1000, which has selectable 750F and 1000F modes.


Common solder melts around 500 degrees F, no problem for most of these guns. These guns push a lot of air and can blow away smaller components if they aren’t held down, so be careful! For hobbyists building boards with lots of small surface mount components, Continue reading “Pro Tips: Use a Hot Air Gun to Reflow Solder”

Drive an RC Servo from Analog Voltage


This is a circuit I designed to generate a PWM signal for an RC servo given an analog voltage or high frequency PWM.  It has no microcontroller and can be built with one quad op-amp and passive components.

The op-amp I used in my implementation is a NJU7034D-ND, available from digikey, but any rail-to-rail quad op-amp will do.

Since the input stage has a low pass filter built in this circuit will accept a high frequency (>~5kHz) PWM as an input in addition to analog voltages.

Continue reading “Drive an RC Servo from Analog Voltage”

Download the Results of a GMail Search Query, Including Chats!

This program lets you download all the results of a Gmail search query.

Download the source here.

Download the windows executable here.


One of the things I love about Gmail and Gchat is the logging. Every chat I make using Gchat is stored in my archives just like an email.

Unfortunately, though you can download and archive all your regular emails through Gmail’s POP interface using regular email backup tools, for some reason they don’t allow access to the chat logs this way.

Another thing I love about Gmail is the powerful search feature. Google writes search software well, ’nuff said. Unfortunately, you can’t really download emails through a standard POP-based program based on a Gmail search query (if there’s a tool that does this let me know!).

So I hacked together a small program that addresses all of these issues. GmailDownloader is a command line program through which you can:

  • Log into your Gmail account
  • Run a Gmail search
  • Download the results (including chat logs!)

It runs on the Gmail web interface, so it bypasses the restrictions of POP access.  There are limitations to this program:

  • If you download too many messages in too short a time, Gmail could detect this as unusual activity and lock you out of your account. I’ve successfully downloaded 1100 messages in one query without being locked out.  I’ve been locked out several times though when trying to download much more all at once.  The lock was released several hours after filling out the unlock captcha each time.
  • Since the Gmail web interface is not a standard like POP, it could change at any time and make this program stop working.  Let me know if that happens and I’ll try to update it.

This program uses pythonlibgmail, a hack to libgmail from this awesome guy, mechanize, ClientForm and ClientCookie.  It is based on the libgmail example program ‘’.  The Windows executable was generated using py2exe.


  1. Download and unzip the executable (or the source code… it should run out of box if you satisfy its dependencies)
  2. Run the executable.

Continue reading “Download the Results of a GMail Search Query, Including Chats!”

Targus Universal Power Adapters – Beware!

A few people coming in for laptop power jack repairs have also brought in the universal power adapters they use as a replacement for the original AC adapter that came with the laptop, which they lost.

From what we’ve seen Targus dominates the universal power adapter market with this. From what we’ve seen the adapters themselves work alright (though there are reports of overheating around the internet). The main problem we’ve seen is that there are a wide variety of tips available, and several tips may work to power one laptop model even if they don’t fit properly.

It usually goes like this: the user buys a new universal power adapter, which comes with 7-10 tips for various laptop models. He sits down with his laptop and tries to jam each of the tips into the laptop power jack one by one until he finds one that goes in. Then he stops looking and starts using this tip. The problem is even if it goes in, it may not be the right tip, and an ill-fitting tip will damage the laptop power jack over time as it bends the contacts out of place.

To find the tip that fits, use Targus’s Tip Configurator. Simply enter the make and model of your laptop and it will tell you the correct tip to use. Keep in mind that many tips are not included with the universal adapter and must be ordered separately. They’re around $10 each, but if you already have the universal adapter it’s probably worth it, as it may save you an expensive laptop power jack repair necessitated by prolonged use of an ill-fitting tip.

Another option is to just buy the power adapter made for your laptop by the manufacturer and not bother with Targus’s crap. This is what I would do.

HP Image Zone and Printer Software causing svchost.exe error

I have always disliked HP. Their new computers, sold under both HP and Compaq names, arrive out of box up to their eyeballs in crapware. Now I have one more reason to hate them.

In a Windows XP Pro computer, an error:

“svchost.exe: Application ERROR: the instruction at 0xXXXXXXXX referenced memory at ‘0x00000000 the memory could be read ”

Would pop up persistently when logging on or opening up “My Computer”. “My Computer”, in addition to throwing the error, would take several minutes to load, after which it would function normally.

Long story short, it was caused by an HP software suite that came with a printer. “HP Image Zone”, “HP Extended Functionality”, “HP Officejet xxxx”, after uninstalling them the error ceased to appear.

I generally recommend uninstalling that crap even when they aren’t throwing errors because they’re resource hogs. All you need to use an HP printer is the driver, everything else is a waste of resources.


Installing Windows XP Off of a USB Thumb Drive

… is an enormous pain in the ass.  The only installation mediums that Windows XP comes on that I know of are CDs and DVDs, from which you can of course rip images.  So if you don’t have a CD drive on your computer or your CD drive is broken, you have to jump through hoops.  Here are those hoops.  Jump through them at your own risk.

Hardware you will need:

  • A valid Windows XP CD or CD image compatible with your license key (eg. if you have an XP Home license that came with your computer, you should use an XP Home OEM disk)
  • A USB Key at least as large as the source installation media (1GB will do). Note that not all USB flash drives are bootable.  If this tutorial doesn’t work the first time, try again with a different USB flash drive.
  • A computer running Windows to set up the USB key with.
  • The computer you are trying to install Windows XP on.  Make sure it can boot from a USB device.

Software you will need:

  • usb_prep8
  • PeToUSB
  • bootsect

I have zipped all of these into a file available here.  When you unzip the archive you will only see two folders, bootsect and usb_prep8.  PeToUSB is inside of usb_prep_8.  Don’t even worry about it, just follow the instructions.

Making your bootable USB drive:

On the computer you are using for setup:

  1. Plug your USB key.
  2. Insert your installation media.  This means putting the CD into your CD drive, or if you have an image file mounting the image file using a tool like PowerISO.
  3. Unzip the archive.  Go into the usb_prep8 folder.  Run “usb_prep8.cmd” (double click it, highlight and hit enter, whatever).  This will pop up a command window.  Hit a key and it should start PeToUSB, which should detect your USB key.  It should look like this:p1
  4. Select your USB drive from the drop-down menu.  BE SUPER SURE THAT THIS IS THE RIGHT DRIVE, YOU WILL BE WIPING OFF ALL DATA.  Enter the path to your installation media.  For me that was the I: drive, where I had mounted the CD image.  Make the other settings look like mine.p2
  5. Hit the Start button.  Hit Yes on the prompt to continue.  Hit yes again when  it informs you that you are about to format your USB drive.  The format should only take a few seconds and end in a window that says “Operation Completed Successfully!”.  You may now close PeToUSB.  Hit the close button in the bottom right of its GUI. Do NOT close the command window from which it spawned.  This is your usb_prep8 window, leave it alone for a minute.  It should look like this:p3
  6. Now you have to run bootsect.  Go back to the folder where you unzipped USBBoot and go into the bootsect folder.  You need to navigate to this folder in a command prompt now.  If you know how to do this, do it.  If you don’t:  Start a new command prompt by hitting Start->Run, then type cmd into the window that comes up and press enter.  Type “cd “, then copy and paste the full path of the bootsect directory into the command prompt window.  Note that Ctrl-V doesn’t work, you have to right click and hit “paste” in the command window.  The whole command should look like “cd ‘C:Documents and SettingsUserdesktopUSBBootbootsect’ “.  Press enter.  Now type “bootsect.exe /nt52 <YOUR USB DRIVE LETTER>:” and press enter  Your command window should look like this:p4
  7. If the operation completed successfully, you can close the command prompt in which you ran bootsect and return to you usb_prep8 prompt, which should be displaying a text menu.
  8. Press 1, press enter, then input the path to your installation media and press enter.
  9. Press 3, press enter, then input the drive letter of your USB drive.
  10. Make sure that the Virtual TempDrive letter selected does not correspond to an actual drive.  If it does (it shouldn’t), press 2, enter, then enter an unused driveletter.
  11. Verify your settings and press 4, then enter.  This is what my setting look like:p5
  12. You will be asked if you want to format your temp drive and warned that all data on that drive will be lost.  Since the drive doesn’t actually exist, you’re not really losing any data, so go ahead and press y, enter.
  13. You will told that a temporary image is about to be created on the temp drive, go ahead and press any key.
  14. Scrolling list of files for a minute or two, be patient.  For me it took about a minute to get to the next prompt.
  15. You will reach another “press any key” where it tells you its about to copy files from the temp drive onto your usb key.  Press a key.  Then it will ask if you’re sure you want to copy files, hit yes.  Next step takes 10-15 minutes, so go make yourself a sandwich while the files scroll by in your command window.
  16. You will get a prompt asking if you want to USB stick to be the preferred boot drive.  Hit yes.
  17. You will be asked if you want to unmount the virtual drive.  Hit yes.
  18. Enjoy your Windows Setup On A Stick!

Installing Windows From Your USB Drive:

This should be exactly like installing Windows XP from a CD, but with a few caveats.  You can find instructions on how to install windows from a CD elsewhere, I will just list the caveats.  I say stage 1 and stage 2 of the installation, for reference stage 1 is the non-GUI stage where files are copied over to the hard disk.  Stage 2 is the part where you normally reboot of the new installation on the hard disk and setup continues in GUI mode.

  1. Booting off a windows XP installation CD will prompt you whether to boot from the CD or from your hard disk with a “press any key to boot from CD”.  This USB key will bring up a menu with two options, one of which takes you to stage 1 of the installation process and the other of which takes you to stage 2.  Stage 2 is NOT just booting from the hard drive like it is when installing from a CD, Windows is started with special parameters that allow it to accept the USB key as an installation media.
  2. After stage 1 of the installation ( the no-GUI stage ), DO NOT REMOVE THE USB KEY.  You need to boot into the key menu again to complete stage 2.
  3. Remove the USB key only after you complete stage 2 of the install.

In Conclusion:

If your BIOS allows booting from an external CD ROM drive and you have one available, just do that.  Seriously.  It’s way easier.

Let me know if you find anything wrong in this post and I will correct it and credit you.  I drew information from a lot of forum posts all over the internet.

More XP Activation Hell: Activation Wizard will not appear

Recently performed a repair install on a netbook (which is enough of an ordeal to deserve its own post). After performing the repair install, instead of being dumped into the desktop like before, I was greeted with the message:

“This copy of windows has not been activated. Would you like to activate it now? y/n”

Ignore the polite tone of voice. What it’s really saying is:

“Microsoft trusts nobody, and until you jump through our hoops you can’t use this computer.”

Clicking “no” dumps you back at the login screen, so really you only have one choice.

Clicking “yes” closes the prompt and brings you to an empty screen where your computer thinks very hard for a little while. But instead of bringing up the Activate Windows Dialog, it dumps you back at the login screen.

Awesome. Without the activation center, you can’t enter your product key, or obtain an installation ID to use on the phone with the activation center. You’re now stuck.

You need to log in to start the activate and you need to activate to log in.

The Answer:
For some reason the product activation wizard depends on Internet Explorer. In my case this got blasted during the repair install. Reinstalling IE should allow the activation wizard to function.
1. Get a USB key.
2. Download an installer for internet explorer onto said USB key. At the time of writing, this is the latest version of IE.
3. Boot the locked computer and mash F8 during the boot process. This will bring you to the startup options for Windows.
4. Choose “Safe Mode With Command Prompt”
5. You should be booted to a command prompt. Insert your USB key and run the IE installer. If you don’t know how to use a command prompt, type “explorer.exe”. This should bring up the GUI, where you can get to the USB drive from “My Computer”.
6. After successfully installing IE, reboot the computer. Either type “exit” in the command prompt or use the start menu if you have explorer up.
7. Boot normally. This time when you ask for the product activation center to appear, it should actually appear.

Good luck!

If you need to run the product activation center from within windows at any time (if you get that far), open up the Start menu, hit Run and type “oobe/msoobe /a” into the window that appears and hit OK.