Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Community Data Shared with WinPatrol FREE

One of the functions WinPatrol has always had was to keep a count of any time someone requested information for a particular file. Originally, it let me know which files were the more invasive. A couple years ago I expanded the information to count every time a new program is accepted, rejected or removed from the Windows registry.  This information turned out to be more valuable because it helps WinPatrol users make decisions if a program needed to run on startup or could be removed. Instead of just being my opinion it let members know what the rest of the WinPatrol community thought.
Until now this community data was collected and was only available to WinPatrol PLUS members.  Starting today all WinPatrol users will have access to what we’ve named the “WinPatrol PLUS Community Shield”. This is a great example of how social media can provide a major benefit. By everyone sharing their choices even the most novice user can benefit from the experience of others.

Here’s a portion of the screen that will now be available to all users. This example displays the count for a common Microsoft file, Ctfmon.exe.  In this case it’s not clear if Ctfmon.exe is welcome or not. I invite you to try other files on your computer and see if you agree with our WinPatrol friends.
Click image for the full page provided to WinPatrol Free Edition
Community Reviews In addition to the automatic summary of requests, rejections and accepted files we’ve also added a way for the WinPatrol Community to give feedback based on their expertise and/or experience. Instead of a number rating system we created five typical types to chose from in common sense terminology.  Now that more WinPatrol users have access to community data this screen will continue to become more valuable. Watch for the sharing of additional community data in our future.

Even though all we do is count an action performed with WinPatrol, it has always been an option. If the option is checked we collect data from Free, PLUS and even folks using WinPatrol PLUS illegally.
Click for more details on WinPatrol Options
Privacy When “Share choices with other WinPatrol users” is checked any decision or action made when a file appears on a computer is recorded.
We obviously don’t connect the action to anyone’s identity but a users choice is now what some refer to as meta-data.  The NSA keeps using the term to describe data that they collect which does not include personal information.

WinPatrol PLUS members still receive more extensive information about a file. When a PLUS member receives a PLUS Info for Ctfmon.exe it will include a human readable description along with a link to a helpful page from Microsoft.;EN-US;q282599

Update: One of the advantages of the WinPatrol model is that users are allowed to make their own decision if a program is behaving badly.  Some popular programs have been threatened by companies with Cease and Desist orders if they remove unwanted programs. The WinPatrol Community Shield enhances the power users have based on real data and not my opinion. If over 200,000 users reject a program, this information shared by other WinPatrol users is safe to publish. It is factual and not just my opinion.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unboxing My New Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

I spent over a month looking at various Windows 8 touch based laptops.  I’ve been very happy with my Microsoft Surface RT but needed a laptop that would run all my software including development tools I need for creating Windows 8 applications. 

Early this year Lenovo introduced a new Windows 8 Hybrid/Convertible Ultrabook that received rave reviews and awards in many “Best of” categories.

According to Lenovo website

Unfortunately, like many products featured at the Consumer Electronics Show the ThinkPad Helix wasn’t immediately available. I patiently waited and finally in late May Lenovo started to accept orders.  One of the promoted features, “mobile broadband” is still included in the online manual however was not available when I was finally able to order my Helix. I’m guessing the delay was due to FCC approval. Ironically, the day I was notified my Helix would be shipping, the mobile broadband feature became available. So my machine came with a SIM card slot that can’t be used.

My decision to purchase the ThinkPad Helix had nothing to do with reviews following CES.  I have been a loyal Lenovo customer and I’m not alone. While other companies are reporting low sales Lenovo is has increased PC sales. It appears the Helix will also help sales.

A nice reply to the news my Helix arrived.

You can read the specs and details for the Helix anywhere but I’ll tell you why it was my choice after long research. I’ve had my Helix for over two weeks so I could provide a real review and not a “isn’t my decision great” review.

**** Battery Life 
For a laptop, the battery life can’t be matched at this time.  There is one battery in the keyboard that can provide up to four hours but the primary battery is in the detachable display screen.  When you remove the screen you have an All-in-One Windows 8 multi-touch tablet running on a series 3 Intel i7 CPU with up to six hours available.

One problem is the batteries can’t be removed so if you need a new battery it requires tech support. Lenovo doeshelixlithium provides a number of ways to save battery life and even an option to recharge your battery in a way meant to increase it’s life.


***** Design
It really is a laptop and a tablet. When you want a laptop, just plug the screen back into the keyboard You’ll have a quality Lenovo keyboard, some USB 3.0 ports and four more hours of battery.  This is problem the main reason I’m happy to have the Helix. Anytime I’ve been in public the reaction from others has been positive. Most people can’t believe it’s a Windows 8 system.

***** Navigation Control
Like most ThinkPad laptops the keyboard includes the IBM TrackPoint(little red eraser tip thingy).  Not everyone loves it but as a long time ThinkPad user I’ve learned to appreciate the TrackPoint.  The Helix also allows navigation with fingers on the 10-point touch screen, on a large multi-function touchpad, a mouse of your choice via USB and the real bonus a digital pen. Pen input isn’t available on most new systems and it’s especially useful when selecting small desktop controls and text links. I am not a typical consumer because I’ve been using pen input since my Motion Computing Tablet running Windows XP.  Pen input has found a real home on Windows 8.  


**** Display

The Helix is also one of the few laptops that includes a display value called NITS in its spec.  This defines the brightness of the screen. Unfortunately, mentioning this value may be a little deceptive. The Helix display will go up to 400 nits which I now know isn’t as unusual as I thought. While my previous Lenovo x61 is worthless around the pool in the bright sun the Helix is readable but so is my Microsoft Surface RT. The screen does support a wide viewing angle and the resolution of 1920 x 1080 something rare on Windows 8 touch systems.

***** Performance

My Helix is configured to include an Intel i7 Dual Core/Quad Thread CPU. It’s 64 bit which I ‘m not a fan of but as a developer I need to support all the 64 bit machines out there. It does allow me to have 8 GB’s of memory but the real speed comes from a 256 GB solid state (SSD)boot drive. 

* No SD or MicroSD card slot
I’m still trying to wrap my head around this failure. I have a useless SIM card slot but no SD slot. Having an SSD for my primary drive I would really like having an secondary drive that I can use for multimedia and other data. I also assign my virtual drive and temp file to a secondary drive to cut down on excessive writes to the SSD.

** Unwanted Trial Software
Like most computer company’s Lenovo continues to install trial software that takes up precious disk space and causes confusion. Some trial software will claim data file types but after the trial period they don’t restore the previous setting when they’re Uninstalled. I’d like to Uninstall many of the Lenovo trial software but some of the Lenovo apps are useful and it’s not obvious yet which programs I can remove.

startup Pre-Installed Software as Traditional Auto Startups

While I specifically said no Anti-Virus software, Lenovo installed the Norton Internet Security trial. Norton has had ups and downs so I was actually pleased  with  the experience of their new Norton Studio.  I was very happy to see they’ve evaluated WinPatrol and continue to give us appropriate respect.


** Hardware Controls
I don’t have huge fingers so I suspect anyone will have trouble pressing the Power and Volume buttons along the edge of the screen/tablet. I appreciate that is prevents accidently pressing them which will never happen in their current configuration. I was pleased to see the Windows button is still accessible while docked in laptop mode. This is a problem with the Lenovo Lynx which uses a similar dual battery screen/keyboard design.


More Cool Stuff
Some other features are new since the Helix combines a real laptop with a mobile table. The following weren’t important in my decision but could be to you.
- NFC Device Pairing
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 720p face tracking webcam with low light sensitivity
- 2mb front camera, 5mb rear with LED flash
- Dolby® Home Theater® v4 (Dual speakers)
- Noise-canceling digital microphone

A Helix with my configuration goes for a little over $2000 which I’m sure isn’t a price most folks are looking for. My choice of the Helix was based on a personal wish list which may not be required by most users. If you want a small machine with plenty of power, plenty of battery, plenty of options than a ThinkPad Helix may be your best choice.  If you’re not in a rush you may want to wait for an improved version. I wanted to rave about how great the Helix is, but like new software it might not hurt to wait until some of the quirks are worked out. I would have been happier if I just waited another week.

If you’re looking to upgrade to Windows 8 you’ll want a touch screen. I primarily use the keyboard but I frequently reach to the screen for some functions. It’s really annoying when I use a non-touch screen and forget nothing happens when I touch the screen. Most won’t believe they’d use a touch screen until they have one. Having multiple navigation methods especially with Windows 8 will increase production.

“When Microsoft dreamed up Windows 8 I have to believe the ThinkPad Helix was exactly the machine they saw in its future.”

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is Your Printer Spying on You?

The following is a neat piece I wrote over six years ago with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It provided details on how your printer is designed to help the government catch counterfeiters'. In light of the recent acknowledgement by the government that they will do anything to catch bad guys, I thought it would be a good reminder.

The information below was written in January 2006 so it shouldn't surprise anyone that more sophisticated methods are now available. Most likely your printer is on your home network and has its own IP address and like your web camera could be hacked. Even Time Magazine’s online tech wrote about researchers who claimed a hacker could remotely set your printer on fire.

I agree with HP that it’s unlikely anyone will set your printer on fire but redirecting your output to anywhere in the world is kids play once access is gained.

Bits from Bill:  January 15th, 2006
I thought this was fairly well known but the reaction to yesterdays printer comments have ranged from “Wow, I didn’t know that” to “Are you that paranoid?”  PC World actually reported this in 2004.
Most world governments require copier and printer manufacturers to include a method to track where a printed image came from. Originally, it was designed to trace counterfeits but now the explanation is mostly related to terrorism.  The only publicly disclosed technique at this time was created at Xerox in the 80’s and consists of a yellow pattern of microscopic dots.
Microscopic Printer Dots
Close up of actual tracking dots,  as seen through a microscope.
The information available is said to include the printer serial number as well as the date and time the image was printed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is investigating and has published a list of those printers they’ve been able to identify as using the yellow dot technique.  So far, their list is limited to laser printers using the Xerox method. Any technique used by ink jet printers has not been disclosed to the public.

Exposed using a Photon blue LED light
Photos from


Update: When I originally shared this information I had been working many years for Epson America as a contract programmer. Epson was good to me and while I’m no longer under NDA I’m not one to kiss and tell.
I don’t think it’s a company secret that many printers actually include FTP software in their firmware. One program I developed used the file transfer software built into the printer to send and receive commands. This was still a dot-matrix printer so imagine what a new printer could do!

Security is not restricted to just PC’s, tablets and smart phones.  Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Bonus 1GB Wristband with Family Pack License

I always get smiles and questions when I take off my unique WinPatrol 1 GB USB Wristband.  I guess it’s not common to have files readily available on your wrist but I can verify it works even if you just carry it in your pocket.

Bonus ($25 value) when upgrading to WinPatrol PLUS Family license

This week, while supplies last, anyone who purchases a WinPatrol PLUS Family Pack license will receive a FREE WinPatrol wristband. The USB drive comes with 1 GB of space for music, photos or portable programs like our own included WinPatrolToGo.exe.

The single file portable version of WinPatrol is designed to run from a SD card or portable USB device without having to be installed on a target computer.  While it doesn’t provide real-time detection of changes it will let you clean out the useless, wasteful programs that just take up space and slow you down. Having WinPatrolToGo, especially on the WinPatrol wristband, can optimize everyone’s computer and make you a hero to family and friends.

WinPatrolToGo Sample Screen showing Windows Services
Changes to Startup Type can Prevent Persistent Startups or Toolbars


You may not know how useful a handy USB drive is until you don’t have one. The first time I used my WinPatrol wristband was after the death of a family member. In an effort to collect meaningful photos to celebrate his life we passed around a wristband.  Everyone in the family was able to copy their favorite photos on to my wristband and a wonderful slide show was created that we all contributed too and shared.

If you’re already a WinPatrol PLUS member you can still purchase just a wristband at
Supplies are limited so this offer will expire when we no longer have inventory available.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Laptop Travel Nightmare: What Would You Do?

Instead of a Memorial Day picnic, you have to fly Minnesota. Once you arrive late in the evening you still have to drive six hours and be ready for training the following day.  You reach into your bag and find a Microsoft Surface RT that apparently belongs to someone you’ve never met or heard of.  What would you do?

Now imagine you traveled halfway across the country, taking two separate crowded economy flights. When you arrive it first appears that your airline has lost your bag but you eventually find it. It’s a good thing because Delta Airlines surprised me with a $25 charge to check one bag. You locate the taxi stand and ride into the city dragging both your bag and carry-on bag into a noisy downtown hotel. When they can’t find your reservation you discover Hilton has two hotels on the same street in Minneapolis.  So at 10 PM you’re in a strange downtown dragging your bags four blocks to the hotel that is expecting you. You’re given a great room but told the kitchen is closed so there wouldn’t be any room service and because it’s a holiday there’s nothing near by that’s still open.

View of Target Field home of the Minnesota Twins

So far what I describe sounds like a typical travel annoyance. If you’re like me, your spouse has packed great home made cookies and you decide it doesn’t matter how much they want for that diet soda in the mini bar. So you settle down to connect your computer so you can whine about your travel issues. Unfortunately, your laptop is gone.  You immediately assume since your dragged along bag was a little open your small, light Surface RT was either been stolen or fell out somewhere between the baggage claim and your hotel. Could it be in the cab, laying on the floor of the airport or did someone find it laying in the street.  Now what would you do?

Yes, it happened to me.  I considered all possibilities, made a number of phone calls, traced my steps to the first hotel, left messages at the airport and even contacted the local Microsoft Store since someone would need a power cable and in theory a way to refresh the system.  Currently, Microsoft corporate does not have any way to track a Surface Pro or RT.

The next day I was ecstatic to have both a phone call and Email from a gentleman who found my Surface tucked into his carry-on.  Apparently when I got up near the end of the flight to stow my laptop I mistook his bag for mine. My Surface was safely in the hands of a fellow traveler and Microsoft Partner.  Since Windows 8 uses your email address to log in my contact information was right there.  As soon as he was able, he boxed up my computer and shipped it to my home.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons USPS isn’t making a profit.
Lucky, my Surface RT was packed well and is built like a rock..


So I give thanks to my new best friend who requested anonymity and hope my story will save one of you from making a terrible mistake like I did.

One treat of my trip was The McNamara Tunnel created by Northwest Airlines(Delta) between to concourses at Detroit Airport. I had experienced the tunnel at Chicago O’Hare but now with LED lighting available this light show kicks butt.

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