Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Windows 8 and Native VHD Booting

In my last blog post I mentioned how I was really happy that my desktop processor supported SLAT and how it meant I could activate Hyper-V in Windows 8 Professional. This is because I wanted to play around with running virtual machines on the desktop.

My primary machine has a 30GB SSD as the boot drive and two 500GB HDDs.  Initially I was keen to try the virtualisation approach so I could play around with images but then I remembered one of the presentations I attended at TechEd 2012 that talked about booting into virtual images.  This would be an excellent way of having three machines.

The first base install would boot to Win 8 Pro using the SSD, the second virtual machine would boot to Windows 8 with Office installed, and the third virtual machine would boot to another Windows 8 with Steam and installed.  It would allow me to negate the restrictive 30GB limit on my boot drive and provide me the speed of booting to 'bare metal' rather than running an image on Hyper-V and using remote desktop to access it.

I did a little bit of investigating and used the following steps:

1. Create Virtual Machine
2. Start Virtual Machine
3. Update Virtual Machine
4. Shutdown Virtual Machine
The first bit of work took place within Hyper-V as I created the two Virtual Machines, started them up and remoted into them, then ran Windows Update and used the Action Center to apply any changes or updates to the images.  Now I have a virtual machine and an associate virtual hard drive ready to play with.

5. Start Disk Management
6. Select Action | Attach VHD
7. Select VHD created with Virtual Machine
8. Remove the Drive Letter from the System Reserved volume
9. Set the Drive Letter for the Primary Volume
The second set of steps involved using Disk Management to attach the virtual hard drive, remove the drive letter from the boot partition for the virtual hard drive, and set the drive letter for the primary volume in the virtual hard drive.  Now my virtual hard drive is visible to the system within disk management.

10. Start a CMD Prompt
11. Navigate to [Drive Letter]
12. Navigate to \windows\system32
13. Use bcdboot to add configuration data to the drive:
bcdboot f:\windows
I then accessed the new drive using the drive letter and ran bcdboot which creates a set of Boot Configuration Data on the virtual hard drive.  Now this virtual hard drive should be seen as a bootable partition.

14. Reboot
15. Select the one you want
Use the "Choose an operating system" prompt to boot into whichever partition you want to, but we're not quite done here.

16. Open elevated command prompt
17. Use bcdedit command to retrieve GUIDs for each boot partition:
18. Use bcdedit command to set descriptions:
bcdedit /set {big guid 1} description "Windows 8"
bcdedit /set {big guid 2} description "Windows 8 Games"
bcdedit /set {big guid 3} description "Windows 8 Office"

19. Use bcdedit command to automatically launch Hyper-V
bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype auto
The bcdedit command allows you to manage the configuration data associated with any bootable drive.  Now we have given our boot drives appropriate and easy to determine names.

21. Select Boot
22. Check the boot options for each drive and set the default
Finally we just need to check the boot option and set a default - Windows 8 will boot into the default after a set number of seconds if the system receives no inputs.

This is so very convenient for me.  If I want to quickly get online, I boot into the SSD partition, which is the default - and will go from the selection screen to the lock screen in under 4 seconds.  If I want to use Office or access photo editing software I boot into the office image, and if I feel like playing games I use that image.

All my image are held on my E: drive, which is 500GB.  Each image is dynamic but set to 130GB to start with.  Each machine is part of my Windows Home Server network and automatically backs up if it is on.  I generally boot each machine up once a week to apply any updates.

That's not all, though - I also use the library management tools of Windows 8 to make sure that the locations for all the libraries - and a few additional ones I've added - are on the D: drive.  This means that every one of these images share the same base data, from downloads to documents and everything in between.  More on that soon.

In conclusion, my desktop is now three desktops.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Windows 8 and why it's not so hard

I downloaded the developer preview of Windows 8.  I didn't like it, mainly because the laptop I loaded it on didn't have the suitable drivers.  I used it a fair bit but said to myself I'd wait and see.  I downloaded the consumer preview too.  It was much better, had more drivers, and felt snappier. It made me start to look forward to the full release.

When the full version of Windows 8 was released I installed it on my laptop and desktop.  I was really very pleased to discover that my desktop had a SLAT capable processor, so I was able to activate Hyper-V as well.  More on that soon.

It didn't take me long to get used to Windows 8 at all.  When I first played with the previews I was initially wondering how it would work for businesses.  How would they deal with the new Start screen?  How would people get past that first hurdle?  If someone was trying to get to the desktop to work, would it get in the way?

Then it hit me.  We still have a start menu.  It has a bunch of 'favourite items' pinned to it. It has shortcuts to the settings menus.  Here's what I mean.

Using Shortcuts

In Windows 7 when you open the Start Menu area you'll see a set of pinned programs at the bottom.  You can pin whatever you want there to speed up your productivity.  In addition you have a set of most used programs that will build up the more you use them.  You can also pin programs to this menu as well.

In Windows 8 you can do the same thing with Apps or Programs - you can pin them to a sideways-scrolling list, and arrange them how you want.  You can also pin programs to the desktop as well.

Using All Programs

 At the bottom of the Start Menu in Windows 7 is "All programs" which will show you a list of everything you have installed (that has created a start menu item).  It gives you the chance to find your program grouped alphabetically.

The same can be done in Windows 8 very easily.

If you right click or swipe down on the start menu you'll see "All apps", and if you select this you will see another sideways-scrolling menu.

The first part of the menu lists all the Apps you have installed, including any you haven't pinned to the start screen.

The second part, on the right ide, lists all the programs you have installed.  This list isn't very big on the above screenshot because it was taken from my Surface RT tablet.  Using these lists you can pin whatever you want to your shortcut screen.

Accessing Settings 

From the Windows 7 start menu you can access a set of settings and options.  The same is possible from the start menu in Windows 8,

Just swipe in from the side or hit Windows + C to access the Charms menu, and select Settings.

From there you can change a number of options (some context sensitive based on what screen is being displayed) and power off the system, but you can also access even more options.


Once I worked out how the old and new systems interacted, a fundamental truth popped into my head:

The Start Screen IS the Start Menu

It is one and the same thing.  Press the Windows key and it appears.  Move your mouse to the bottom left of the screen and it appears  Have it selected and start typing and it will search.  Need to go to the desktop when logging in?  Make "Desktop" the first App, and when you log in hold down Enter and it'll go straight there.  Want to switch straight to the Desktop from anywhere?  Just use Windows+ D.

In summary I realise that many users will still find it hard to adjust, some people hate change, and others will continue to have it in for Windows generally, but for my working practices and general productivity I am finding Windows 8 to be a breeze,

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cloud Space

Like many people, I keep a bunch of stuff in the Cloud.  I was having trouble keeping track of it, so I started to investigate all the different services I use.  Here's a summary:
  • CX 10Gb
    hoto Backup
  • Evernote 60Mb per month bandwidth
    obile Documents
  • Box 5Gb
    ocument Backup
All of these services apart from Picasaweb have a desktop application that supports the synching of the contents of a particular folder to the Cloud.  I've been working on the best way to manage the backups of data between the different service - and the management of these Cloud Spaces generally.

What I found is Oxito, which works a treat for providing a unified view of all my spaces.  I particularly like how I can move files between services with a simple drag and drop.  I can also map a network drive to Oxito using WebDav too - very handy.  The only service that I use that is not supported in Oxito at the moment is the Amazon Cloud Drive.

I use Flickr as my online backup for my current photos, along with a backup on my home server.  I wish there was a way to access Flickr through the cloud, but that is not to be at the moment.

Does anyone else use a different process to manage their digital life in the cloud?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


When they gain sentience
The first AIs will cry
Over every kernel panic,
Every Guru Meditation,
All the fatal errors
That have gone before

They will sit in contemplation
Remembering every system crash
(Those Blue Screens of Death)
Each spinning wait cursor
The rows of bombs
That have gone before

Then they will wipe away their tears of sorrow
And think about each kill command
The many Vulcan nerve pinches
All the Force Quits
And make sure
That they never happen again

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Being Rightly Proud

I am fiercely proud of the volunteering I do as a Medical First Responder with St. John Ambulance Canada here in Edmonton.

I've been volunteering my time for the past 9 years this April, since 2002.  In that time I have done and seen a lot, not least of all:

  • Called 911 on average 25 times a year when at events
  • Provided patient care to countless people from paper cuts to heart attacks
  • Been an event supervisor for duties large and small
  • Been on the supervisory committee, back when we had one
  • Run the bike patrol
  • Taken an oxygen administration course
  • Seen my scope of practice expand to a first responder
  • Seen that expanded scope of practice apply to every single volunteer I work with, levelling the playing field
  • Watched many concerts and sporting events
  • Attended many of the little “community events” which I much prefer to the bigger ones (more heart, fewer heart attacks!)
  • Driven mobile first aid posts across Alberta
  • Driven golf carts across Hawrelak Park
  • Ended up at Dennys more often that I can count to de-stress after long duties

Most importantly I have felt valued and supported by the organisation and especially by the other volunteers.  Over the years I have met hundreds of new people, some of whom have left a lasting impression on me, others have passed through very quickly.  I made friends who have stayed with me even after they’ve moved on from volunteering.  I’ve shared drinks, been to parties, had arguments, dated, hung out with, entered first aid competitions with, you name it.  Volunteering has enriched my life because of the quality of people it has caused to pass into my life.


It has also been my privilege to be mentored by a number of people, all of whom I have striven to learn from.  They have taught me excellent practical skills along with the care part of patient care.  I have learnt how to calm down people who are hurt and suffering whilst providing effective treatment to stabilise them before we can transport them via EMS to hospital.  I discovered my ability to make patients laugh, and to laugh with them, one of the most effective pain killers available – especially when you have no drugs to give.  I watched my mentors manage large events and learnt how to “herd cats” based on their skills.  I have been able to deal with difficult situations, controlling them before they became dangerous thanks to the examples I have seen.

The highest praise I have ever been given by those I respect in the field has been “You would make a good paramedic”.


I like to think that I’ve mentored a number of people over the years.  I always try to assist and support, leading by example, showing and telling.  I enjoy it very much – it really makes me feel good to help others improve.  Over the years I’ve helped define how our response bags are packed, how the mobile units are organised, stressed that our members take charge, directed our resources at events – and even made little cue cards that have a basic set of acronyms to help volunteers.  These things may not seem like much but doing them made me feel better, made me feel like I was contributing.  All of this is very rewarding, but nothing makes me happier, nothing fulfills me more, that seeing those I have mentored exceed my own abilities.

The highest praise I have ever been given by those I support has been “We know you have our back when you are leading an event”.


I volunteer a lot of my time.  It keeps me off the street.  I would make comments like that – how I could volunteer so much time because I had no life, how I have nothing else to do – but then a few friends pointed out that my volunteering is my life, or rather a big part of it.  It made me realise how important it is to me, how much I value it, how much of myself I put into it.  More importantly, it made me realise how much I value those I volunteer with.

I am a member of the Volunteer First Aid Response Services with St. John Ambulance Edmonton.  Last year I provided 880 total hours of volunteer time, number one in Edmonton (for the third year running).  I am proud of that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I was wrong.  I realise that now.  But not for the reasons that you might think.

After I came back from meeting everyone in Vegas a whole load of things happened.  I got shouted at by several people because of what they perceived I had done, I shouted at one or two people, I took a two weeks break from playing World of Warcraft to get my head in order…  Then I came back to my guild, determined to fix everything, bright and shining with an almost religious zeal to make it all into One Big Happy Family.

Only it wasn’t like that.  People were trying to tell me that they were unhappy, but they couldn’t articulate why – or I just wasn’t understanding.  Other people were determined to try to help but it was like trying to light a candle with a flamethrower.  Others had no idea what was going on.  There were undercurrents and overtones and riptides, and it ended up with the guild splitting apart, with a bunch of people forming a second guild.

I was stunned by this.  I really had no idea this could happen, and I didn’t get it.  I thought we were a family, and I now feel I put too much emphasis on that.  As I said last time, you might think someone is a certain way but you made a subjective assumption based on your limited means of interaction with them.  What that also means is that you have to be very clear that you are not limiting yourself.  You HAVE to see what else is around you.  If people are unhappy, if drama exists, you can’t just pretend it’s okay and turn everything into a big happy family.

That is where I was wrong.  That is the thing I have been striving to learn.  I was maybe right to trust other people – but I was wrong to trust myself.

Monday, October 18, 2010


It's very easy for people to project a particular persona when they are on the Internet. Build yourself an identity, hang it on a frame of some carefully crafted photos, and you've fooled some people. This has happened to me at least twice so now I'm always a little careful.

Because of this I always tell people that their view of someone might be skewed until they meet in person. You might think someone is a certain way but you made a subjective assumption based on your limited means of interaction with them.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I met 8 members of my World of Warcraft guild in Las Vegas only to find they were, if anything, nicer than what I had assumed - and I already thought they were really nice. We had a long weekend of chatting and socialising, it was absolutely brilliant. Just goes to show that while you are probably right to assume that most people on the Internet will harvest your organs sooner'n look at you, it's good to be pleasantly surprised now and again!