48 Hours Off-Grid

Background

My wife and I have been interested in emergency preparedness for quite some time. She is a volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps (although currently inactive) and I’m an Amateur Radio Operator (though I haven’t had a great deal of time to put toward emergency communications lately). We have always felt strongly that the Lord put us in this neighborhood to help our neighbors in times of need, and we have been able to do that in various ways over the years.

I wanted to paint that background in order to help others understand where we were coming from with this project. There are all sorts of folks interested in “prepping”, and they are interested in it for various reasons. It would be quick and easy for someone to misunderstand and think we’re some kind of “doomsday whackos”. We’re not. We have, however, had friends and co-workers go without water and/or electricity for up to two weeks because of storm winds. We’re also aware of the many other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, which have caused severe, sustained, disruption to basic services and utilities.

Having been involved in some of the Red Cross and City of Cincinnati disaster planning, we know that the worst case plausible scenario for this area is an earthquake large enough to break the main gas pipeline and damage multiple electric grids during the winter time. This would leave folks across the Midwest with no power, no gas, and conceivably no water when the temperature outside is below freezing.

We are still beginners and learning so we certainly aren’t up to being prepared for that kind of disaster. However, for this scenario we presumed a few things. First, that we have already been “off-grid” for about a week and have therefore exhausted all of our fridge and freezer food and emptied the water out of our house pipes. We also presumed that all gas, water, and electric service was disabled. We also assumed that we would be attempting to continue on with life as normal as possible and that we would be needing to help feed others in our neighborhood, as we live in a densely populated neighborhood with a high poverty rate.

Supplies

Let’s talk about some of the supplies we had in advance that helped us complete this test. First, we have a 55 gallon rain barrel full of water with a spigot near the bottom. We don’t have a water filtration system yet so this water could not be used for drinking but could be used for washing (hands, bodies, laundry, etc) as well as for flushing toilets.

Second, we had 30 gallons of drinking water in 5 gallon containers. This was used for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and in some cases washing hands or anything that interacted with our food.

Third, we had a wide variety of canned and dried foods. We own a dehydrator, so my wife has dehydrated a wide variety of food products for long term storage at room temperature. She has also canned a good amount of our meat so that it too can be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time (years). Remember, we are running on the assumption that everything in the freezer will have thawed and gone bad.

Fourth, we built a Zeer pot. This is a refrigeration method which works best in drier climates than ours but did the job adequately in mild temperatures with a higher humidity. This allowed us to keep some of our fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and powdered milk cool and preserved.

Fifth, we built a cardboard oven which uses charcoal as it’s heat source. This allowed us to bake brownies, although it’s clear I need more practice with the use of such a device. Keeping the temperature controlled and the heat evenly distributed proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated.

Finally, we have a variety of oil lamps, flashlights, and batteries for light at night. It’s a little less important during the summer time when the days are longer but during winter, spring, and fall you can lose light pretty quickly and you want to be able to continue your work even in the early evenings.

In Practice

Some obvious “practical” problems arise very quickly. Let me start with body waste. We are all accustomed to pressing the magic button that takes our excrement away. Thankfully, it’s actually a very simple physical mechanism that, barring significant backups, will continue to work even with everything shut down. It does need a little help though. A gallon ice cream bucket, half to three quarters filled will, when dumped directly into the toilet, flush the toilet for you. For obvious conservation reasons, we only did this when necessary.

Health and hygiene is something that many people think need to go to the wayside in an emergency. We would argue that keeping up your health and hygiene in an emergency situation is even more important because there is less room for error. We kept fresh drinking water in the bathroom in a pail to be used with soap to wash after using the facilities. We felt that 2-3 uses was good before replacing the water, but this is really up to individual preference. Sponge baths were accomplished effectively the same way with a larger pail.

Some folks tend to go into emergency eating mode and try to live off granola bars and fruit roll-ups. We took a different attitude toward this utilizing my wife’s varied pantry. We had spaghetti with meat sauce, bannock, oatmeal, fried Palenta, eggs, and fruit. In fact, we even had brownies for desert thanks to the oven we built. Emergency situations are stressful enough. It’s a bad idea to suddenly and drastically change your diet at the same time. Keeping as many things as “normal” as possible can help with the emotional and physical stability of everyone while getting through the emergency.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the most stunning things to me was the lack of distraction with no electronics. I sometimes forget just how large a part of our lives is devoted to the use of electronics whether it’s looking up information online or calling/texting a friend. Even entertainment tends to come from a TV or streaming video online. It was really nice to sit on my front porch and read a paper book and listen to my wife sing. It’s these simple pleasures that I think we forget about and lose with all our electronic distractions.

So, the end result? We did fine for 48 hours and, if needed, could have easily finished up the week. We would like to improve the use of our space though. Our basement and back patio could be put to better uses. Our basement for food storage and our back patio as a secondary outside kitchen. We would also like to get a shed to store fuel and other items. Having a couple more rain barrels and all of them connected to our downspouts would also be ideal. But for now, we have a good start and we’ve learned that we have the basic supplies and tools we need. Now we can improve on that and be more confident in our ability to provide for ourselves and our neighbors in an emergency.

You can watch the video my wife made as part of the contest that got this going in the first place here.

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Death, Guns, and Perspective

I have been hearing a great deal of talk about gun control, gun violence, and gun rights lately. It got me wondering what some of the real statistics were and how it fit in with the rest of life. I found a copy of the October 2012 edition of the National Vital Statistics Reports entitled “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011”. It gives a useful breakdown of how people die in the U.S. Here are some take-outs from the information:

The population midway through 2011 was about 311,000,000. In 2011 there were 3,953,593 births and 2,512,873 deaths. So, about 0.8% of the population died and about 1.3% of the population was born. Of the 2.5 million deaths, the top 5 categories of causes were as follows:

  1. Diseases of the heart – 596,339 (24%)
  2. Malignant Neoplasms (tumors) – 575,313 (23%)
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases – 143,382 (6%)
  4. Cerebrovascular diseases (strokes) – 128,931 (5%)
  5. Accidents – 122,777 (5%)

Seeing accidents so high got me wondering how many people die of gun accidents. You hear from time to time of these things happening on the news and a close friend of mine lost a family member due to a gun accident.  So, here are some take-outs from the accidental death category (not complete):

  1. Motor vehicle accidents – 34,677
  2. Falls (as in falling to your death or an elderly person falling and not being able to get back up, etc) – 26,631
  3. Firearms – 851

So, it appears you are significantly (31X) more likely to accidentally fall to your death than accidentally get killed with a firearm. Another concern some folks have is that a firearm can be used to kill yourself. Here are some statistics about that:

  1. Total number of suicides – 38,285
  2. Use of a firearm – 19,766 (52%)
  3. All other uses – 18,519 (48%)

So, there is certainly some credence to the fact that firearms are a preferred tool for suicide. However, I think that the fact that about half the people who commit suicide find another means also makes the point that if someone is going to do it, they will find a way. A gun may be convenient, but it isn’t necessary.

Then there is the question of gun violence and people being killed with a firearm. Here are the stats:

  1. Total homicides – 15,953
  2. Homicides by firearms – 11,101 (70%)
  3. All other homicides – 4,852 (30%)

So, if someone is going to kill me, they will probably do it with a gun. Since it’s not possible to keep guns out of the hands of someone who wants to kill me, it seems like my best defense is to have a weapon of similar capabilities. Quite frankly, a knife, a stick, or even a 911 call will not reduce my odds of being shot at. However, a weapon to shoot back with may reduce my chances of being murdered.

So here is my biased interpretation of the data. There are an insignificantly small number of accidental deaths from firearms compared to all of the many other accidental deaths. Although a firearm is used in a significant number of suicides, I doubt that a lack of firearms would reduce the number of suicides. Finally, if my life is truly in danger from another person, it’s going to be because they have a gun. Unlike in the movies, the bad guy with the gun always wins when he has a gun and you don’t.

I think, in short, that the concern about average folks carrying a gun are overblown. We’ve already seen that a person intent on killing many people will find a way, even if it’s with improvised explosives in a pressure cooker. We can’t make the general populace safe by disarming the law abiding citizens. Quite frankly, we can’t make the general populace safe period. The world isn’t a safe place. We all take some level of a sense of security from different things. Some folks might have expensive security systems on their home or vehicle. Some hire body guards. Others build shelters, and still others lobby for larger police forces with cameras on every street corner and UAVs in the sky.

As for me, my sense of security come from the Lord. But I’m not opposed to a Glock in my pocket.

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Racism

I was in a bible study with men and boys one night when an unusual event took place that got me thinking very heavily about racism. A black cat crept up behind two of the boys and one of then was suddenly startled by seeing it in the corner of his eye. Of course, watching a young boy being surprised by a cat is funny and we all laughed and various friendly jokes were made about the cat being a lion and how it was going to eat him and all of that kind of good-natured fun. Then, the youngest of the boys (my son) said something that was unusual. He said “He’s going to eat you because you’re black.”

Now, this is certainly an odd thing to say. Although, coming from my son, it really didn’t surprise me much at all. This is because he’s known to say completely nonsensical things when he wants to be part of a conversation but doesn’t have the right words to do so. But these two boys didn’t know each other at all and the other boy responded with “That’s racist!”. He didn’t really seem offended, just surprised, and my son didn’t really know what he meant but knew he had said something wrong so he did what I’ve taught him to do. He said nothing, and the conversation moved on.

Maybe I should have dealt with it right then and there but I didn’t feel there was an immediate urgency or conflict between the boys and it’s such a big hard topic that I wasn’t sure I could handle the layers properly right then and there. These two boys had stumbled across a larger problem that I have only been somewhat aware of. I would like to break down what I think happened here, show where I see it repeated throughout our society, and voice some concerns about where it could go.

First, I think it’s safe to say that if my son had said “He’s going to eat you because you’re wearing yellow shoes.” it would have been laughed off or ignored because everyone would have realized that it was a nonsensical statement. So really, the issue here was that he said “you’re black”. When it boils down to it, that was the “racist” statement. Now, I don’t see that as being a racist statement, but this young boy did. Having raised a couple of children who use words incorrectly semi-frequently, I’m fairly certain I know what the problem here is. The problem is that he and I don’t have the same definition of “racist”.

My definition of racism, if one were to ask me, is hating another person because of their race or skin color. According to Dictionary.com, racism is:

  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  1. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

So, apparently my definition is at least one of the recognized definitions and I certainly recognize the other two points as being a more complete answer. And yet, by that definition, I still don’t see my son’s comment as being racist, but the other young boy did. Why? My suspicion is that he has a slightly different definition of racist.

So the question is, what is that definition. If I look at the part of the phrase that obviously was offensive I see something interesting. My son said “You’re black”. Now, as a stand-alone statement this is true, and very obvious to any young boy. He could just as easily told the other boy “You’re tall” or “You’re bigger than me” and it would have been just as true and not offensive to the other boy at all. But for some reason, pointing out his skin color was offensive enough to reply with “That’s racist”. From this interaction I would think it’s safe to say that this boy’s definition of racist is something to the effect of “Anyone who isn’t black, pointing out that I am.”

That conclusion hurts my heart because I feel like it must come from a shame about his own skin color that ought not to be there. But I see echoes of this on a larger scale. For instance, it would not go over well in some circles for me to say that my neighborhood has as many black as whites and a growing number of Hispanics. I could, however, say that live in a “diverse” neighborhood. In my neighborhood I hear many African-Americans calling each other disparaging names in a friendly manner that would not be tolerated for me to say. It’s almost like we all are supposed to pretend there are no physical differences, or cultural differences, and call that politically correct and race equality. Meanwhile, by making these obvious topics off-limits between the races I think we unintentionally engender a shame or taboo of diversity.

So, what should I tell my young son, who is not old enough or mentally strong enough yet to understand the complexities and intricacies of “race relations”? Should I just tell him “Son, when you talk to someone who’s skin color is black, don’t mention the color of their skin.”? That would be like saying, “When you talk to someone who has red hair, don’t mention the color of their hair.” It is a ludicrous statement in any other context. And of course, as young children do, he’s going to ask “Why?” How do I answer that? I guess the simplest and most honest answer I can provide is “It might hurt their feelings.”

Racist is an ugly word. The people who are correctly described by that word are ugly in spirit and I do not associate with them. We must be careful though, not to misuse this ugly word or it will lose its potency and we might forget how awful its real meaning is. But I also worry that in creating all of these politically correct words and ceremonies to get around mentioning skin color or ethnicity we are, in fact, fostering a hostility in those groups by making the mention of their physical properties “taboo”, as if it were something to be ashamed of. That right there, it seems to me, could cause true racism against whoever is seen as having implemented such a taboo on something as unalterable (and irrelevant) as skin color. So the unanswerable question I am left with is, “Could society as a whole be unintentionally increasing the likelihood of racism in the name of “tolerance?”

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Thoughts from the Abbey 2012

Settling In

I arrived as I always do. My head was full of the business of life, my body was tense, and everything was normal. I was asleep within an hour, having unpacked and settled in with prayer. After waking up long enough to have dinner, I went to the welcome session for new folks (which I always do).

After some study time I fell asleep and woke on my own about a quarter to 6. This year I am in the South Wing where the monks used to live. There aren’t as many monks as there used to be so this wing is used as overflow for male guests. The wing is set up dormitory-style with 8 rooms to the shared showers and restroom. I managed to get up, take my shower, and begin some early study before breakfast when I heard the rooster crow. For some reason it reminded me that long ago and far away, I woke up early without an alarm clock.

Hospitality

I only mentioned the welcome session because it got me thinking about the whole concept of an abbey. A place to choose to live apart from the rest of the world. It felt to me a little like having your best players on a team bench themselves. Of course, one shouldn’t dismiss the power of prayer and they certainly pray a great deal about current issues around the world. But it seemed wrong somehow to have people who are devoted to God choose to recuse themselves from the world. We need as many workers in the field as we can get.

Then I thought about the hospitality ministry they have. It really is a God-send for me and no doubt the many others who come. It made me wonder about why there aren’t more places like this. Maybe not so large as to have a thousand acres to walk around on, but at least a place to have quiet and be surrounded by other believers. Of course, the main thing that strikes me is that it would take a great deal of money to run something like this at no charge. I am truly grateful that this place exists.

Excitement at the Abbey

Breakfast was exciting (for a silent monastery). The first interesting event was my noticing a man at the next table praying very fervently (though silently). I thought this was very deep and spiritual but wondered if his food was going to get cold. Then I noticed he was a rather fidgety prayer, his fingers kept moving. Upon further, (but discrete) inspection, I discovered he was not praying, but texting. When I realized this I wondered if it might be disruptive to the person across the small table from him. My concerns were quickly alleviated when I realized she was also texting. Now, for those of you who have been to the Abbey before you may be screaming “Blasphemy!” For those of you who haven’t you may be thinking “So what?” You’re probably both right, it’s a bit of both. But I figure it’s no different than the occasional written note Tom and I have passed to each other under our doors. Really, I was more impressed they had a signal.

The excitement didn’t end there though. Just as I was leaving I heard that all too familiar sound of breaking glass. I turned around there was a fellow who looked rather “shocked and somewhat embarrassed” (for you Veggie Tales fans) looking down at a shattered juice glass. His hands were full of his own tray and he certainly didn’t look like he knew what he should do. (How do you ask for help when talking isn’t permitted?) I resumed leaving… for about two steps. I’ve always had this battle in me about being helpful and being in the way. I have a tendency to think that others are far more capable of handling any given situation than I am so I leave so as to not get in the way. But it didn’t take me long to realize that in this situation, my help would be appreciated. So, I turned around and started collecting the glass shards. For those of you who don’t know, over the years I have cleaned up glass fragments by hand many times and have quite a knack for doing it without cutting myself. Being rather clumsy myself, I’ve broken many glasses over the years. I was about done when the kitchen worker showed up with a broom to get the rest. Unfortunately for her, she apparently doesn’t have my practice with broken glass and she managed to cut herself on a piece. But, it all got cleaned up and I went back to my room to study.

Thoughts on Adoption

Aleah and C.J. Brought up the question of us adopting again recently. Really it was more Aleah who brought it up. Heather and I talked about it for a bit and like last time, I was far more reluctant to the idea than she was. That is not to say I don’t want to adopt or am unhappy that we did. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve known what my hesitation is. I think I’ve put the pieces together though. I have been struggling with the amount of friction and frustration between family members I’ve seen over the past year. More recently, we’ve been able to work out some of the sources and things have begun to improve. There is always going to be friction though, and of course the old saying says to pick your battles. I think part of my confusion has been “What battles should I pick?”

Heather said something recently that really stuck with me. She reminded me that our goal in adopting was always to save children for Christ. That their spiritual foundation was really the primary focus. That’s not to say we aren’t trying to get them ready for the basic life skills to take care of themselves. But at the same time, we know that God can and will provide for His children. Our job is to plant those seeds of Truth in their ears so the Holy Spirit can do His work in them. I feel like we have been faithful in that regard.

So then, if we are to adopt more children then it begs the many questions of when, and how many more, and how many can we take at a time and not lose our sanity or the battle for their souls? I think this is the part that has been overwhelming me a bit. It’s only beginning to dawn on me that I’m not giving God enough credit for being able to heal our hearts as well as those of our children. I think I need to believe more strongly that He is more capable than we are obedient. Meaning he can bring more children to Him through us than we have faith to trust Him to do it. Therefore, we will only bring as many children to Him as our faith allows, not as many as His ability allows.

So then the real issue is our amount of faith. This is an interesting conclusion for me to come to because of something Heather has been saying recently. She mentioned an old testament passage about a fellow named Gideon who asked God to do something to prove to Gideon that He would make Gideon successful in battle. Heather suggested we do something similar. She has done so in the past and God was faithful and did all of the miraculous things she asked. I’ve been struggling with doing something similar for adopting children but I couldn’t figure out what my problem with it was. I think I may have a better idea now that I have studied that part of scripture and looked at my own situation. Gideon put that request in for proof after God had already very clearly spoken to him and given him direction on what to do. Gideon’s faith was weak, so he asked for proof not once, but twice in a row. He even says to God “Don’t be angry”.

So here I am presented with a similar situation. I know God called Heather and I to adopt children in order to bring them to Christ. We currently have two children who, despite their broken and angry backgrounds, have a sincere thirst to serve God. Both have been baptized and both try sincerely to live their lives in a way pleasing to God (the best they know how, just like the rest of us). So, with a clear call to adopt and clear success that could only have come from God (all of their therapists and case workers have been amazed at their improvement), why do I still have so little faith in God to use me successfully? I think some times I feel that I am too broken for even God to use.

What is “Biblical”?

One of the common themes throughout the book “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” is to be careful to understand the original context and intent of a passage (exegesis) before trying to put the passage into practical use in our lives today (hermeneutics). One of the examples was showing the pericope (per ik o pay) or story of Zacchaeus as an example of a rich man entering the kingdom of Heaven and at the same time that the pericope of “the rich man” did not mean that giving away all possessions was necessary to be saved. However, in reading about Zacchaeus, I noticed that he chose to pay back 4 times anything he had cheated someone out of as well as give half of his possessions to the poor. This was a response to Christ’s request to stay at his house that day. This story stuck out in my mind because recently I had heard that paying back four times what you stole from someone was “biblical”. Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad consequence at all. It was the justification of “it’s biblical” that had caught my attention. When I heard those words it made me think that somewhere there was a directive in the old or new testament that talked about repaying 4 times what you steal from someone. I have been reading through Exodus recently and had read about some of the old testament laws regarding theft and murder but didn’t remember seeing that one. All that to say that the true context of the pericope had nothing to do with teaching about punishment for thieves or cheaters. It’s important for us to be careful not to turn a single example into doctrine or law when it was clearly not intended as such.

God’s Glory and Miracles

I’ve felt a stronger struggle on this visit than others. A struggle between wanting to feel in control of my life and feel like I know what is best for me and my family vs truly surrendering to God’s will. See, the problem with surrendering to God’s will is He has a tendency of performing miracles. That is, he brings you success when all evidence and common sense say it’s impossible. So, I can choose to wait to do God’s will until I feel and see that it is possible or, I can choose to walk in faith that I really do know God’s will and he’ll make it succeed because it’s His plan and then He gets all the glory for the success. If I can point out all of my good planning and preparation then the glory belongs to me, not God. But I’m not on this Earth to bring myself glory, I’m here to bring God glory by letting Him do miracles through me.

My children are evidence of God’s glory. There is nothing I can point to and say “Yup, they have made that miraculous change because of this particular thing I did”. There is no strategy I can teach or practice I can show you because all I did was love them the best I could with the love God has given me and teach them who Christ is. God did all the rest. Thankfully, I don’t even have to do my part very well. God can use anyone for His glory, the less likely the better. This is because He continues to show His power and authority when we choose to trust in Him.

Helping the Needy

I had a thought about giving monetary support to a crack-head or any other person who has an addiction or pattern of very foolish choices in their lives. Have these people not suffered enough already by their poor choices? I would certainly much rather give some food or warm clothing or shelter as they need it than money (for obvious practical reasons). But it isn’t always practical to have food on me to share or to invite a stranger to stay in my house. It is, however, possible to have a little money to share with a prayer to God that it will be used for their health and not their detriment. At that point it is between them and God. I have shown love in giving, despite my misgivings.

Now, it has been argued that giving money is akin to giving a drunk a drink. I’m not certain I’m convinced that’s true. I have not given the drunk a drink, but a choice. God also gives us the freedom to choose to follow Him or not. Now, if the person is someone I am able to spend more time with and create a relationship with then I may tailor my help more specifically to that person and I may choose to only provide needs, instead of cash, to help reduce the temptation of misusing any monetary support. But again, there are those who I can invest the time and energy to help more, and there are those I can only help a little with some money and a prayer.

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Locked Out! How to gain access to your Windows computer when you forget the password

This may be a bit controversial because this article is going to give step by step instructions on how to gain access to any computer running Windows regardless of whether or not you know the password. Let me start by saying that using this article to gain access to a computer you aren’t authorized to access is a Federal Crime under Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 47 Section 1030(a)(1) and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

That being said, I have two reasons for wanting to write this article. First and foremost, as a tutorial for new techs entering the field because a forgotten password or accidentally (or maliciously) changed password is something you may need to repair. The second reason is for folks to realize that physical access to your computer is all it takes for anyone with basic technical skills to gain access to all of your files. At the end of this tutorial I’ll talk a little about protecting the data on your computer.

First, you will need to download a program called NTPASSWD. You can go to the main web site for it at http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/ and follow the links to download the “Bootdisk”. I recommend downloading the Bootable CD Image “cd110511.zip”. The reason for this is that you are more likely to find a computer that boots off the CD drive by default than off a USB drive. Once you download the ZIP file you will need to extract it. Most current versions of Windows will allow you to right-click on it and “extract” it. Once extracted you will have an ISO file.

An ISO file is a disk image that can be put on a CD or DVD. However, you need to be careful. Don’t try to just “copy” the file to the CD. You will need to use software that allows you to “burn” an ISO to a disk. If you don’t have a program to do this, IMGBurn is a simple little program that you can use to do the job. Find it at http://www.imgburn.com/. Download and install this application and then follow the instructions for writing the ISO file to a blank CD.

Once you have come this far you now have a bootable CD that can be carried around for whenever you need it. So long as the system you are working on has a working CD-ROM drive you’re pretty much set. Now, how to use the tool:

First, you are going to want to insert the disk into the CD-ROM drive. Obviously this is most easily done while the machine is powered up. For very infected computers I try to get the disk in the tray during the boot-up process and before Windows actually starts loading and then cut the power. Next, you want to boot from the disk during start-up. You may have to go into the Boot menu during start-up (the function key for this depends on the machine) or you may have to go into the BIOS to change the boot drive sequence. Since every machine is a bit different I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how to get the PC to boot off the CD-ROM as that is outside the scope of this little tutorial.

Boot Screen

Once you have booted to the CD you will find that you get a welcome message with some optional commands. I’ve never found it necessary to use them. If you wait too long reading them, the program will move on and boot into the first step.

Step 1Here you will be asked to choose the Windows Partition you want to edit. The default is typically correct. As the instructions listed above Step 1 indicate, you can typically just press Enter through most of this process. When you choose your partition here you move on to Step 2.

Step 2

First you are asked the path to the registry files. Again the default is typically correct. This programs has the flexibility to help you with unusual installations, however. That’s why the option is given.

Step 2a

This next part of step 2 shows you the core system files available and asks you what you want to do. The SAM file you see there is where the user passwords are stored. We’re going to do a Password reset so we can just press Enter for the Password Reset option. This begins Step 3.

Step 3

Now that we have chosen to reset the password we are shown that the SAM, Security, and System files have been loaded. We now have the option to edit user data and passwords and we’ll do that by pressing Enter again.

Step 3a

We are now shown a list of all the users. Notice that there are users you didn’t know existed. There are more user accounts on a Windows machine than you typically see. This is true of all operating systems. Notice you can also tell which are administrator accounts and which are disabled or locked. We can choose which account we want to change. If I only need the user account (Michael) then I could simply choose it. I can alternatively choose the Administrator account (that all Windows machines have) to log in with that account alter and makes any changes to any user accounts I need. That’s what we’ll do in this example simply by pressing Enter.

Step 3b

I am now given more information about the Administrator account. I am also able to make certain changes to the account. I can clear the password, change it (notice that this is considered risky), make a user account an administrator, or unlock the account if it’s been locked. I’ll choose to clear the password by pressing 1. Notice I can’t use the default value any more.

Step 4

I now receive a message saying the password is cleared. However, the changes to the registry have not been made yet so I’m not really done. I’m now going to quit by pressing the exclamation mark.

Quit

I’m now given the option to go back and do more editing but instead I will press Q to quit which will bring up the final step. Step 4.

Write Changes - Step 4

Here I am asked if I want to write the files. I have to press Y for yes. The default is no so watch for that.

Then I am asked if I want to try again if there were any problems in writing. Sometimes there will be and you will have to reboot and start the process over again. In this case I can press Enter for the default.

Reboot

I am now out of the menu system and sitting at a prompt. This is where I will eject the CD and reboot the machine. I now can log in as administrator with an empty password and make any changes to the machine I need.

So how can you protect your computer from data theft when it’s this easy to get into any computer? Well, there are some great encryption programs available that will encrypt either certain folders or your entire disk depending on how you want to approach it. I recommend TrueCrypt http://www.truecrypt.org/ for most Windows systems. If you are running the Ultimate or Enterprise editions of Windows then encryption is built-in with BitLocker. If you run Ubuntu, encryption is also built in as an option when you install it on the computer. The reason encryption works is that the password for loggin into the computer is not necessarily the same as the password for the drive encryption. And, even if it is, if you blank out the password then the wrong password is sent to the encryption program. This is why encrypting your drive protects you even if someone can erase your user password.

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Safer Web Browsing

After years of the mantra being repeated over and over, most people know not to open e-mail attachments from people they don’t know.  Slowly but surely, people are beginning to realize it’s also not safe to open strange, unusual, or unexpected attachments from people they do know either because e-mail addresses are so easily spoofed and e-mail accounts are more and more frequently hacked into. However, I would like to remind folks of the new battleground. Virus writers are getting their software into your computer when you browse seemingly safe web sites. That’s right, no downloading or prompting by you is necessary (although sometimes you do get prompted and just click “OK” because that’s what you’re used to doing).

Now, I’m not going to get into the technical hows or the even the whys of these viruses. My focus is on ways to help reduce your risk. First of all, you want to make certain that you keep whatever anti-virus program you have up to date. Most of them are pretty good at updating themselves and becoming very annoying when they get out of date. Don’t ignore these warnings. Updated anti-virus software is very important these days. I often hear people say “I don’t have any viruses, my computer works just fine and I don’t have any anti-virus software at all!” The truth is, most viruses won’t break your computer, that’s not their goal. So really, there’s no way to know if you’re infected without good anti-virus software.

However, anti-virus software only works by detecting a virus that’s already on your system. It’s better if it can’t get on your computer in the first place. To that end, it’s important to keep your web browser software and all of it’s plug-ins updated properly. I found a great site that does this for free and even provides excellent links to help you update anything that has known security flaws. The website is https://browsercheck.qualys.com/. I strongly encourage you to go to this site and get any recommended updates.

One of the ways viruses slip into systems is through advertisements. The bad guys have on several occasions managed to get their wares delivered through advertising company servers. One way to block this is by using the Adblock Plus plug-in for the Mozilla Firefox web browser. This wonderful plug-in blocks a large number of advertisements and if you take some time to learn how to use it you can teach it how to block advertisements it doesn’t already know about. Not only does this increase your web browsing safety, but it tends to speed up the loading of web sites and you don’t have to watch annoying animations scrolling across your screen anymore.

Speaking of animations… Some of the more annoying advertisements and all dangerous viruses that spread through your web browser require your computer to run something called “scripts” on your computer. These are effectively little programs that can do things on your computer. They can make some of your favorite sites (like Facebook) work properly and let you do things such as chatting and your Farmville. However, you can choose to install a plug-in called NoScript for Firefox which will stop all scripts on a web site from running unless you specifically allow them. Admittedly, this feature is not for the feint of heart as you will need to manually allow scripts that you need for your favorite sites to work. However, over time, as you train NoScript, you will have to do less with it and it will protect you from many unexpected problems. And again, it will greatly speed up the load time of web sites.

The real trick about viruses being spread by visiting a web site is that we have become accustomed to web sites being able to do very cool things. Unfortunately, that has required them to have far too much control over our computers. For instance, there is a web browser technology called ActiveX that was designed by Microsoft. It allows web designers to do some very cool things. Unfortunately, there is no way to keep your computer safe from malicious ActiveX software. You can read more about the dangers of the technology on Microsoft’s own website. Also, you won’t find ActiveX in other browsers (like Firefox) partly because it’s too insecure.

I hope this short article has been somewhat helpful. Admittedly it is not extensive and I have not gone into comparing all of the major browsers such as Opera, Google Chrome, Safari, etc. However, each browser has it’s features and limitations and the Qualys web site can check the security of each of your browsers. Internet Explorer is the only browser that I’ve found to have effectively no advertisement or script blocking capabilities and it is, in general, the least secure of all browsers.

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How to run a startup or boot script as root in Linux

Every once in awhile I have wanted to be able to run a specific script automatically when Linux starts regardless of the user. Typically, I have also wanted that script to run as root because I’m doing random odd things like unusual mountings or whatever. In this case, I wanted to set up an IPv4 tunnel to an IPv6 host so that I could access IPv6 only web sites.

So, while the focus of this article will be the startup script, I will also briefly discuss the IPv6 setup. So, to start, you want to create a shell script that will execute the commands you need. In this case we’ll call it LaunchIPv6Tunnel.sh and here are it’s contents:

ifconfig sit0 up
ifconfig sit0 inet6 tunnel ::209.51.181.2
ifconfig sit1 up
ifconfig sit1 inet6 add 2001:470:1f10:5ba::2/64
route -A inet6 add ::/0 dev sit1

Now, I am going to need to be root to do these next steps. Here’s how to become root:

sudo su

Then type in your password when prompted. Next you want to copy your file to the /usr/sbin folder. Now, make it so it runs always as SuperUser (root) by doing the following command:

chmod +s LaunchIPv6Tunnel.sh

Now, the real trick to launching this script is in editing the /etc/rc.local file. Simply add the path and name of your script before the return 0 and you are good to go. Mine looks like this:

#!/bin/sh -e
#
# rc.local
#
# This script is executed at the end of each multiuser runlevel.
# Make sure that the script will “exit 0” on success or any other
# value on error.
#
# In order to enable or disable this script just change the execution
# bits.
#
# By default this script does nothing.
/usr/sbin//LaunchIPV6Tunnel.sh
exit 0

The next time you start your machine the script will run and away you go. You may want to test your script manually first to make sure it doesn’t cause any errors. As a side note, if you want your own IPv6 tunnel, you can go to http://www.tunnelbroker.net to get a free tunnel connection.

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