Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to recover files when Windows will not boot.

Yesterday, some friends called me with a problem. They had an old laptop that would not boot. It would power up but they couldn't get into Windows. Now the big problem was that they had a lot of pictures of their grandchildren on the laptop and no backups. I asked them to drop it off at my office and I would see what I could do.

Once I had the laptop, I tried to get it to boot. It started to go into Windows but would then throw up a blue screen. I tried rebooting in safe mode but still no luck. The laptop was one that their daughter bought used. They were going to replace the computer and all that mattered was getting the pictures off.

What I did was download a copy of Mint Linux. Most Linux distributions boot into what is called a live CD so just about any of them will work. I selected Mint because it has gotten a lot of good reviews and I wanted to try it out. It worked really well and automatically mounted the Windows hard drive and USB drives. I have to say that it may have been over kill for this task, but I was impressed by how easy it was to use.

Once I downloaded the ISO file, I burned it to a CD and then put that CD into the laptop and booted it.  Once booted, I had a really easy to use desktop.

 I then clicked the icon called Computer.

 Then I clicked on the hard drive.

Once I found the files they wanted, I just copied them to a flash drive. If you have network access you could email them, upload them to Dropbox, or copied them to a shared folder on the network.

When I was done, I burned an extra copy of the files to a CD and returned the laptop, the CD, and the flash drive to my friends. I did take the time to show them how to boot into the Linux live disk to get any other files off that they might need.

Over all I was really impressed by Mint. In the short time I worked with it Mint was super easy to use and did the job as needed. I am going to have to download a full ISO and play with it some more, but it looks like a really good replacement for Windows for some people.

For the less technical folks, here is some additional information you may find helpful.

What is an ISO file?
An ISO file is an image of a CD or DVD. You can recreate an exact copy of a DVD or CD from an IS0 file. You can tell and ISO file because it will end in ".iso".

How do I make a CD or DVD from an ISO file?
Well on the Mac or Linux it is tends to be pretty simple as both systems have the ability built in. Lifehacker has a step by step guide for the Mac here. On Linux it will depend on the distro you are using, but if you Google it, you will find the instructions. For Windows XP or Vista, you will need to get a program. My favorite is called ISO Recorder and you can find it at the link provided. It is free and I find it very easy to use. You just put a CD or DVD into your burner and right click on the the ISO file and select the write to disk option. ISO recorder does not seem to handle DVDs under Windows XP but most live Linux disks are available as a CD. Not to mention that it takes a lot less time to download a CD than a DVD. Windows 7 can write an ISO to a disk with no added software by following these instructions.
You must have a drive that can make CDs or DVDs but those are pretty much standard on most computers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What is wrong with Google Navigation

My wife and I went to Texas for Thanksgiving.  We used Google Navigation on the trip and we found a lot that was good and bad with the navigation.
First thing is the routing. One of the funniest things that happened on the trip involves Google Navigation, a PT Cruiser with out of state plates, and Whataburger.  My wife is from Texas and loves Whataburger's chicken strips and gravy. The sad truth is that there are no Whataburgers in south Florida and they closed all the Whataburgers in central Florida a few years ago. So as we got near Tallahassee Florida my wife put Whataburger into our Google Nav and we started on our quest for chicken strips and gravy. 
As we left the interstate we got behind a PT Cruiser with out of state plates. Now a car with out of state plates is not unusual in Florida but what happened next was just odd. As we came got closer to a major intersection Google Nav told us to turn right. Well what do you know the PT Cruiser in front of us turns right also. Well we are now in a residential area and following right behind the PT Cruiser. Now the PT Cruiser turns left and Google Nav tells us to also turn left.  It seems that for some reason Google Nav took us on this detour just to avoid the light! As we get to the major road the PT Cruiser turns right and Google Nav tells us to turn right as well. My wife and I had to wonder if the people in the PT Cruiser where also using Google Nav!  I have to wonder if the people in the PT Cruiser where thinking "why is that red Mazda following us?"
This was the least annoying of the side trips that Google Nav would take us on. One of them involved a number of secondary roads in northern Mississippi and then just to add to joy of the trip it navigated us past entrance to the hotel and back on to then interstate on-ramp. 
So besides the routing what would I like to see Google Navigation add or change?

  1. A way to add a stop in the middle of a trip. It would be nice to say find the nearest Walgreens, CVS, McDonalds, or what ever to your trip. 
  2. A fill up reminder. Have a way to set a range say for our car 300 miles and when you get near that the Navigation offers to find you the nearest gas stations.
  3. Directional search. If you are looking for a restaurant the ones behind you are probably of no interest. 
  4. Quick searches. This is less of a problem for us since my wife or I worked the searches while the other one drove, but a nice big button that would find you gas, food, or lodging.
  5. A way to customize your favorites. My wife and I always stay at LaQuinta because we are almost always traveling with our dogs.  We prefer Sonic, Whataburger and Raising Canes for fast food on the road because frankly we like them better than McDonalds and so on. So it would be great to have a button that would find the next of those restaurants on our route or the next LaQuinta.
My dream Google Nav would find me the cheapest gas starting when I have driven 300 miles.  Allow me to say that we want to stop for lunch around x and at that time have it start to look for a restaurant from a list of my favorites or at a price level. And allow me to set a time when I want to stop for the night and have it search for a hotel from a list of my favorites or from a price level and that has a vacancy. What would be even better is if it would allow me to reserve a room with a touch of a buttion on my cell phone, maybe using Google wallet.
Okay Google, Nokia/Microsoft, TomTom, Garmin, and or Apple. This is my dream navigation system for long trips. Add in options for routing like favor interstates and scenic routes and you will have a killer long distance navigation app.