Curtis Johnstone Curtis Johnstone's Personal Blog

May 15, 2012

A Peek Inside a 3.5” Hard Drive

I have always been curious to open up an old hard drive and look at the inner workings. This was always difficult because of the thick plated steel that protects the moving arm and platter, and the thick bolts with unique socket shapes (Hexalobular screws possibly).

My handy father recently cracked one open with some persistence.  This is what the inside moving arm and magnetic spinning platter looks like. It is a 4 Gb Western Digital circa ~2003.

Hard Drive

After playing with the pieces I was eager to see one in action.

Not to be out done, good old Wikipedia has an excellent article on hard drives including a small video of the inside of a hard drive in action:

January 13, 2012

Online Lookup Tools – DNS Queries and Other

Need to do an external DNS lookup, ping, WHOIS, reverse lookup?

There are many online sites that provide these services. One that is relatively simple and streamlined is

Some other good free online tools:

intoDNS: IntoDNS checks the health and configuration and provides DNS report and mail servers report.  Find Ip Tools, DNS tools, internet tools, WHOIS, traceroute, ping, domain name tools and more. Will list MX records for a domain in priority order. The MX lookup is done directly against the domain’s authoritative name server, so changes to MX Records should show up instantly.

November 23, 2011

Two Great Native Windows Utilities that are Rarely Used

Two very useful but rarely used Windows utilities that are shipped with almost every major Windows O/S:

  1. Microsoft Windows System Information Utility (msinfo32.exe)
    • Launch “msinfo32.exe” from the command line or Run Window.
    • This utility provides a nice detailed report about your computer’s hardware configuration, computer components, and software, including drive drivers.
    • You can export the results to a file.
  2. Microsoft System Configuration (msconfig.exe)
    • Launch “msconfig.exe” from the command line or Run Window.
    • From this utility you can control how your system start’s up including the O/S boot order and which device drivers are loaded.
    • There is also a very handy Tools tab that lists other system tools. You pick any took and directly launch into it.

November 14, 2011

Microsoft Word – Saving to Clean HTML

If you have ever used Microsoft Office to author a document, and then saved it as HTML, you know that the HTML document is littered with large amounts of Microsoft Office-specific tags , including tags used by Microsoft Word to format the document.  This is good if you plan to keep editing the document in Microsoft Office, but not so good if you plan to post the resulting HTML file on a Web page or edit it with another HTML formatting editor.

Microsoft Word 2010 has a file format that you save your document to called “Web Page, Filtered”. This will remove the Office specific tags and only keep the formatting tags necessary to render your document in HTML – as it appears in Word.

Note: saving in this format might prevent you from using some Office features in this document if you edit it in Microsoft Office at a later date.

It is a quick and easy way to clean up the resulting HTML of your Word document though.

September 13, 2011

Getting started with Microsoft LightSwitch

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — admin @ 9:02 pm

Microsoft LightSwitch is a great technology from Microsoft to build business applications.  It leverages Silverlight under the covers and is a simple way to design and delivery polished business applications that consume information from a variety of data sources.

This is a great resource to learn how to creating new data sources or leverage existing ones with LightSwitch:

September 10, 2011

How to Check a MD5 or SHA1 Checksum on a File in Windows

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — admin @ 10:15 am

Many shareware and open source projects are using MD5 or SHA1 checksum’s to ensure that the executable file you download is the authentic executable you are about to run on your computer.

A checksum will be a long ugly looking strong like this MD5 checksum: 5b8a3ce687052c70d3ec524945a70fc4a68f5b5b.

To check that the file you downloaded is authentic, you can use a command line tool from Microsoft called “FCIV”.

The tool and instructions on how to use it is available here:

September 8, 2011

Using the Active Directory PowerShell Cmdlet’s

Starting in Windows 2008 R2, Microsoft included a PowerShell Active Directory module which includes a group of cmdlets to perform various administrative, configuration, and diagnostic tasks in your Active Directory environment. You can use these cmdlet’s to manage existing Active Directory user and computer accounts, groups, organizational units (OUs), domains and forests, domain controllers, and password policies, or you can create new ones.

The Active Directory module is available:

  • On Windows 2008 R2 server when you install the AD DS or AD LDS server roles.
  • As part of the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) feature on a Windows Server 2008 R2 server
  • As part of the RSAT feature on a Windows 7 computer

To use the AD cmdlet’s you will need to import the ActiveDirectory module in PowerShell (V2 is required):

Import-Module ActiveDirectory


%windir%\system32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe -noexit -command import-module ActiveDirectory

A key requirement to use the AD cmdlet’s to manage an Active Directory deployment is the following:

A Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory Web Services (ADWS) service must be installed on at least one domain controller in the AD domain or on one server that hosts your AD LDS instance. For more information about ADWS, see AD DS: Active Directory Web Services (

If you receive this error:

‘Unable to find a default server with Active Directory Web Service running’

You do not have ADWS installed on at least one DC.

In addition, to use the Active Directory module in PowerShell to access or manage Active Directory services that are running on Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2003 computers, you need to install the Active Directory Management Gateway Service. See the Active Directory Management Gateway Service (Active Directory Web Service for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008).

Here is a useful cmdlet (that doesn’t require the ActiveDirectory module) to get information about your AD environment:



Active Directory Administration with Windows PowerShell (TechNet Reference of Cmdlets)

Windows PowerShell 2.0 Brings Scripting to Active Directory — and Not Just for Windows Server 2008 R2

Active Directory Management Gateway Service (Active Directory Web Service for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008)

August 30, 2011

Tool to Manage Certificates on Windows Clients & Servers

Filed under: Technology — admin @ 10:56 am

Certificate Manager (mmc snap-in)

  • Start from the command line: certmgr.mmc

Certificate Manager Tool (Certmgr.exe)

CertUtil.exe (comnmand line)

  • Certutil.exe is a command-line utility for managing a Windows CA
  • It is found in the Windows\System32 directory

A good overview article of how certificates work can be found here How Certificates Work (

August 25, 2011

iPhone/iPad Setting to Automatically Download New Purchases to Other Devices

If you have multiple Apple devices you might be interested in automatically having any new purchases on one device (say your iPhone) automatically download and install on your other device (say your iPad).

You can control whether Apps or Books are automatically synchronized.

The setting is somewhat hidden the Store Settings.  Go to Settings > Store and you will see the setting there.

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