Fix broken Dual boot machine–Linux and Vista/Windows 7

I you have a Windows machine and you’ve installed Linux (Ubuntu, Puppy or the like) and all of a sudden you can’t get into your Windows 7 or Vista Operating system you are not alone.

Many updates to both Linux and Windows seem to ‘bork’ the bootloaders of each. I just got done with a repair on a family members machine so I thought I put down what I did to fix the issue.

First and foremost I won’t say this anymore than once – HAVE YOUR SH$T BACKED UP REGULARLY! I have written so many articles on backups if, by now, you don’t have a back up and recovery solution you deserve to get f&^ked.

OK so let’s start. The system I was recovering was a Windows Vista installation that had recently had Ubuntu 11.04 installed ‘on top of/along side of’ the existing Windows installation – making for a ‘Dual Boot’ system.

After Ubuntu updated the Vista installation became un usable – the system would only boot into Ubuntu and would crash if trying to get into Vista.

You will need to boot with your Vista/Windows 7 installation disk. A repair disk will do. If you don’t have a Vista installation or repair disk you can check out here for information on how to create on. If you don’t have a Windows 7 installation or repair disk you can go here the process is simple.

Put you repair/installation disk in the drive and start your computer off of the DVD/CD. This often entails holding or hitting the ‘F12’ key and selecting the option to boot from the optical/dvd drive.

Hit Enter at the language selection prompt


then hit "R" to get to the repair section. You can then select the automatic boot repair tool, but it often will not do any good. Try that at least once. If it doesn’t work then select the command prompt (console)


and type in the following commands:

On Vista:
bootrec.exe /fixmbr
then hit enter
Then type in:
x:\boot\bootsect.exe /nt60 all /force
then hit enter (you may get error, just ignore for now)

On Windows 7:
bootrec.exe /fixmbr
Then hit enter
bootsect.exe /nt60 all /force
Then hit enter (again you may get error – just ignore)

Then type in:
BootRec.exe /FixBoot


Next type in:
attrib bcd -s -h -r C:\boot\BCD
Then hit enter

Next type in:
ren c:\boot\bcd bcd.old
Then hit enter

Then type in:
BootRec.exe /ScanOs
and Enter

Then type in:
bootrec.exe /rebuildbcd
And enter again

Type in:

Exit. and reboot your system.

HOPEFULLY you will be able to get back in.

If not be prepared to spend a few hours or more searching the web for solutions. Or better yet just restoring your system from a backup image Smile

Thoughts on Privacy, Anonymity and Security

One thing I deal with a great deal in the information/technology  and security field are the very separate concepts of privacy, anonymity and personal security.

Do you think that anonymity and privacy are the same things? Wrong. Do you think that because you are anonymous your information is secure? Wrong There are differences that are important when we want to distinguish what methods you need to protect yourself from attackers and surveillance. Let’s define anonymity,privacy and security. First the definitions:

Anonymity typically refers to the state of an individual’s personal identity, or personally identifiable information; being publicly unknown. Or a condition in which an individual’s true identity is unknown. Read more here

Privacy is usually thought of a person’s right and or ability to control access to his or her personal information. Read more here.

Computer (and ‘information) security primarily means the collective processes and mechanisms by which sensitive and valuable information and services are protected from publication, tampering or collapse by unauthorized activities or untrustworthy individuals and unplanned events respectively. Read more here

So anonymity does not equal privacy or security. Let’s see two examples:

In the first example say you are using a proxy server, a VPN service or Tor to surf anonymously (these offer different levels of anonymity). Your true (or should I say ‘originating’) IP address and therefore your identity (computer/network wise) is hidden. Someone who watches the traffic between your computer and the network cannot see your true identity. However, he can see the traffic and therefore gain access to your personal information. In this case your anonymity is safe but your privacy is not. Worse still, your personal data can contain information to identify you so that both your anonymity and privacy are undermined.

In the second example you protect your data using both data encryption and a secure protocol such as SSL. You control who has access to your personal information. The actual packets of digital information are hidden/encrypted and the information therein cannot be accessed. However, if you don’t protect your anonymity an attacker will know who you are. This might help him in password and social engineering attacks or allow a law enforcement agency to force you to reveal your passwords and lose your privacy.

For true online safety, both privacy and anonymity must be secured.

There are literally thousands of more detailed articles available to you by doing a simple search on Google, Bing or Yahoo or whatever on “privacy vs anonymity”. There are guys who’ve written their PhD thesis’ on this subject, so there is obviously loads of information available if you want some greater depth than my simple explanations.

But I just wanted to remind you to do some of the simple things that can mean a great deal.

  • 1st. And foremost get some kind of security software or suite (Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, MalewareBytes, Eset, MS Security Essentials etc.) AND KEEP IT UPDATED AUTOMATICALLY!!.
  • 2nd. Keep your Operating System updated.
  • 3rd. Keep your browsers and especially the plug-ins (like Adobe Flash and Acrobat) updated.
  • 4th. Use ‘HTTPS’ on ALL your important communications like email, Twitter, Facebook etc. For Facebook look here. You should also use something like ‘no script’ to ensure https connections.
  • 5th. Clear out your internet cache every time you close your browser. You can set all the common browsers to do this automatically or use one of my favorite tools – CCleaner. There is even a Mac version which I wrote about recently.

It is nearly impossible to be truly anonymous and completely private. BUT you can have some security in both of these with a little diligence and common sense. Read some of my other posts on security for other more detailed information.

Please practice safe and secure computing.

Backups, system failures and peace of mind

Another week in the trenches. I had a primary server at our organization have a major failure. The SAS controller (which provides access to SAS type HDDs) died OR the motherboard to the server itself has an issue. Either way without another ‘like’ system that I can put the SAS card into to see if the issues is just the card or the motherboard I cannot access my drives – and they too may be very corrupted. The only machine I have capable of putting the card into is in production. And the cost of a replacement Dell Perc5i SAS card is nearly $200.00 US and could take days to get here. Plus I needed to have this system back up and running very quickly – the server in question runs all or our company financial, shipping and reporting software applications!

Since I have all my ‘data’ backed up to a server drive every night I was secure in the knowledge that we at least had the financial databases and ‘files’ available. But how to get a system back into production? Disk Imaging to the rescue!! I had a fairly recent full system image, created with my favorite backup software – Acronis, available. Yay! Just need a place to restore it to.

Since my organization now has a VMware ESXi/vSphere SAN and cluster running I was easily able to create/import a new ‘Virtual Machine’ from the Acronis disk image very quickly and then just copy over the backed up data files from the night/early morning before. WORKED LIKE A CHARM! If I’d had an available server (Hardware wise) I could also have restored that image to it too.

I’m telling this to you to remind you – I believe in Images(Clones) for my backups, alone with periodic ‘file backups’. That way I’m protected against full drive failures/loses AND stupidity – accidentally erasing or overwriting files. :)
[Imaging or cloning is the procedure by which you create a backup that is identical to a bootable system either to another internal or external drive. This is the ultimate backup! Should your drive fail you can just ‘pop in’ your cloned drive or ‘restore’ that clone to a new drive and your are up and running.]

If you are not regularly creating full image backups you WILL be sorry! I have written numerous articles about cloning and back up.

PLEASE read here if you any kind of concern for you data.

For Mac images and cloning go here.

So of course this weekend I created two new images on separate drives for my home system(s). I can’t tell you the peace of mind you will get from knowing that the worst that could happen to your system is that you might lose a couple of days or a weeks worth of information. If your drive gets corrupted or fails or you get trashed by some virus, you could be back up and running within a very short period of time! No re-installing your Operating System and programs and ‘trying’ to find you data files. Just restore the image and BAM, you up!

What prompted me to start on this rant is that Apple has finally acknowledged it is having some major issues with some of the hard drives in some of their newer systems they have been selling. Looks like some of the drives just ‘fail’. OUCH! You can read about that here.

And although you can have your drive replaced – YOU WILL LOSE YOUR DATA! The Apple folk and/or kids the the ‘Genius’ bar will NOT re-install your system software or clone your drive for you!! Unless you have an image to restore you will have to re-install you System and applications. And unless you had at least some kind of backup to another drive (Time Machine type) your data (read pictures and music!) will be gone!

So folks, backup, backup and then backup again.

The cost of a couple of extra external drives and a little program setup is minuscule to the cost of losing you ‘digital life’. Right now Acronis has a special – only $29.00 US for their home product!! With Apple’s you can even get a way with out purchasing any software!

Be safe, be secure and gain some peace of mind.

Get your Cloud Data down to your machine

Here are some ways to get your ‘cloud data’ backed up locally.

I know most people look to the ‘cloud’ for their secondary backups (if they even have a primary one) but few people ponder what will happen if their information is lost or compromised in the cloud or the terms of service of the provider that holds that information changes to your detriment.

I am going to provide some information on how to get your data out of your web email, Facebook and some other services.

One thing I see quite often is that people cannot access their online/web mail service at an important time to find information or they lose or have deleted the information they need and have no way of retrieving it.

So let’s start with web mail services. Today most people have very important information stored in their email; from plane reservations, business communications all the way to payment receipts. So in my opinion this is the first and most important place to start.

Get your mail downloaded locally.
For GMail. [My personal favorite!]:
Before you do anything, you’ll need to enable POP3 and/or IMAP in Gmail, which will let you access your accounts on the desktop. To do this, head into Gmail’s Settings and go to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Scroll down to the IMAP section and enable IMAP. Then save your changes, and open up your desktop email client of choice to set it up using the following instructions.

I use Outlook 2007/2010.

If you don’t have Outlook you can also use Thunderbird (an open source application by the Mozilla folks)

There are also a number of other mail applications you can use to get your information – Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook Express, LiveMail etc..

I like using the POP3 connections over IMAP for most of my connections.
POP mail service has been available MANY times when IMAP has NOT – for my Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo. If the ‘webmail’ is not available online because of a service interruption then IMAP will most certainly too. This is not usually the case with POP. HOWEVER there is a big caveat with POP – you must make sure in the advanced settings or your mail client that you choose "to leave a copy of the message on the server"!!

But IMAP does have its advantages too.
So pick what will provide you with the most features you feel you will need – I suspect that would be IMAP probably be best for most people.

To set up POP with Gmail look here,  and find your client and follow the steps.
For IMAP go here.  and find your client or device on the list and follow the instructions.

If you’d like to read further about the differences between IMAP and POP you can read this here.

For Yahoo mail it is a little harder if you live in the U.S..
Yahoo wants you upgrade to a "Mail Plus" paid account to get POP and IMAP access directly. But you don’t have to! The best option is to use an application called YPOPs. I’ve used it in the past to get my Yahoo mail connected to Thunderbird and Outlook with out any issues.

If you have Window Live Mail or Apple Mail the client itself downloads your Hotmail/.Live or MacMail/MobileMe data to your machine by default. BUT remember this is an IMAP connection so if you delete something from you Live Mail client on the desktop it will be deleted on the server!

One important thin that may people miss is to get their CONTACT data out/backed-up from their mail clients. Something I also feel is very important.
For virtually all web mail clients that is as simple as going to the ‘Contact’ section and finding and choosing the ‘Export’ option. Those can then be exported into a format that virtually any Email client can import.
That should get you going with your mail.

Now to Picasa.
Simplest way is to install the latest version Mac or PC and then simply go up to the menu and use File ==> Import from Picasa Web Albums ==> Select All.
And Flickr
You can use Flickr’s Flash based web app here  just click on the ‘start now’ and follow the instructions.
Or you can use the open source application Downloadr . Downloadr is a photo downloader for Microsoft Windows. It provides a simple interface to download large sized images from Flickr to your computer.

Now to Facebook.
If you have Yahoo you can easily download/copy all of your contact out. You can follow this tutorial here.  One tip is that I would suggest setting up a ‘temporary’ Yahoo alias with NO contacts in it so that you do not end up with duplicates or mismatched merges. Then export those and import them into any application you choose.

Also Facebook now allows you to actually export YOUR data to a file! Following this VERY well written walk-through right here. I’ve done it and it works great! You may have to wait a while before you receive your ‘confirmation email’ and link but you will be able to get your stuff.

Finally there is an open source application Called MyCube Vault. MyCube Vault Backs Up Your Facebook and Google Data Regularly
Once installed, the app requires you to authorize it to each of the services you want to back up. From there you can tell the service where to store your backups and how often to save your data. If you’re concerned about downtime or just wary of keeping your data in the cloud, it’s worth a look.

I checked it out and it works well.
Windows version here

Mac version here

Well that is a long winded post and I hope some people will put it to use. Like backing up your local data don’t be the person who loses precious information because you were too lazy or couldn’t be bothered to learn something new.