Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to move Vista/7 Free Cell (and other games) to Windows 8 and 10

Update: Works on Windows 10!
Another update: Windows 10 Anniversary Update (ver. 1607) breaks this hack. However, there is another solution, check here.

Windows 8 doesn't include the classic solitaire card games (and Mahjong and inkball) contained in Vista/7 (or XP). Instead you have to download them from the Windows store and they aren't as good as the older games. So you need to move them from your Vista/7 machine to your Windows 8 machine and make a quick modification so that the games know that they're now OK to run on 8.

First you need to locate your Microsoft games folder. To do this click on start, then right-click on Computer, then left-click on Explore.

This opens Windows Explorer. You want to double-click on the C: drive and navigate to c:\program files\microsoft games\

Right click on Microsoft Games and copy the folder.

Assuming you know how to do this, now navigate to your USB stick in the same way you found the C: drive, right click and choose "paste." If you're smart enough to link your computers together you can just copy the files directly through your network router connection.

Make sure when you get to Windows 8 you copy the Microsoft Games folder into the c:\Program Files (x86)\ folder, this is where the 32-bit programs go. All the solitaire games are 32 bit, don't confuse yourself with whether or not you're using 64-bit Windows, it doesn't matter.

Now you want to navigate to c:\windows\system 32\ and find the file CardGames.dll

Copy this by right-clicking and choosing copy. Then paste this to your USB stick (or copy through your network) same as you did with your Microsoft Games folder. Copy the CardGames.dll file to each of the games folders or they won't work (they will say they can't find the file).

You might want to save your high scores and win streaks as well. To do this, navigate to c:\users\(your computer user name)\AppData\local\Microsoft Games and copy that folder to your USB stick, too. When you move it to Windows 8 put the folder in the "same place" there by dragging and dropping onto the AppData\local folder.

If Windows 8 gets fussy about what you're doing in the Program Files folder, you will have to log on as Administrator. Or do the following steps on your old Vista/7 machine. You pick.

Now you need to install a program that can edit the games applications. The reason you have to do this is that the games look for the version of Windows you're using to make sure they will work (for instance, the Vista games won't work on XP and the program needs to know that). What you're about to do is modify the program so it knows that Windows 8 is OK to run the program.

This looks scary but it's very easy as you'll see.

Go to this website and download the free hex editor:

HxD Free Hex Editor and Disk Editor

Download the zip file, extract it to the folder of your choice, double-click the "setup.exe" file, install it to the same folder and run the program. It will look like this. Go to "File Open"

Find the game you want to modify, in this case it's Free Cell.

The file will open and you will see a bunch of columns of "hex" numbers (0-9, A-F) and a column of text translations of the hex pairs.

You want to find this line: 7D 04 83 65 FC 00 33 C0 83 7D FC 01 0F 94 C0

Use Search-Find to do this. The line may start in the middle of these columns, or not. Just find the right string.

Make sure you choose "Hex-values" as well. I just searched for "7D 04 83" that was good enough.

The program will highlight 7D 04 83

Click on the 7D and change it to EB

The EB will be highlighted in red.

Now File-Save the program.

That's all. Your game will work now in Windows 8. Make this edit for every game in the Microsoft Games folder (except inkball, it isn't needed). Then navigate back to the Microsoft Games folder, right click and then click "Send to Desktop" to put an icon for the game on your desktop so you can find it easier.

Again, if you want to transfer your scores from your Vista/7 machine, in addition to transferring the Microsoft Games folder to the Program Files (x86) you want to transfer this:

c:\users\(your computer user name)\AppData\local\Microsoft Games\

This contains all your scores and win streaks and also backups of those in case you ruin a win streak and want to restore it.

If you want to start fresh just skip this step.

XP notes: Instead of moving "CardGames.dll" (because it doesn't exist) you just move the file "cards.dll" and I don't think you have to do any hex editing of the games (haven't tried it yet, I'm happy with the Vista versions).

A Google search will reveal a "patch" circulating that will do the above editing for you, if you trust the program, go ahead and try it. I found it on

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fix scratched glasses with Rain-X

I've read many blogs and DIY sites about removing or minimizing the effects of small scratches in reading glasses, but none mentioned Rain-X, an automotive windshield glass protectant.

Other fixes include rubbing wet wood ashes, or Brasso, or Lemon Pledge. Others use rock polishing material such as aluminum oxide. The ashes, Brasso and rock (or metal rouge) polish actually will cut a layer of plastic off your specs and requires quite a bit of work to shine up your glasses like new. The Pledge is a wax that fills in the scratches and makes them seem less noticeable.

I remember when I was first introduced to Rain-X by off-road racer Ivan Stewart. He explained that Rain-X fills in the minute pits in your car's windshield. Water, snow and other wet material just beads up on your windshield as a result and flies away or rolls off. I've used this product off and on for decades. I even drove through a thunderstorm near Lake Elsinore and didn't need my windshield wipers, it's that effective.

I wanted to fix up some reading glasses and tried the other methods with unsatisfactory results. I didn't have Pledge so I just used a candle. It helped a tiny bit. The wood ashes, Brasso and rock polishing compound didn't work at all, in fact the Brasso just made the glasses worse by imparting a dull haze to the plastic.

Looking through old boxes for something else one day I found a new bottle of Rain-X, I hadn't used the product in quite some time and totally forgot that I had used it many years ago on a regular basis. Hey, that fills in microscopic pores on your windshield, would it work on glasses? Answer is YES!

Here's what you do, it's quite simple.

  • Clean glasses thoroughly with window cleaner and soft rag.
  • Wash your hands (actually just a fingertip) well to remove any oil.
  • Apply one drop of Rain-X to the glasses surface.
  • Rub around with a fingertip, let dry a bit, rub some more, let dry, keep doing this until the light scratches in your glasses disappear and the Rain-X has dried to a thin, invisible layer.
  • You're done! You will have to re-apply the Rain-X fairly often but hey, with only one drop at a time and a couple minutes, a bottle of the stuff will last you forever and you've saved money on repair or new glasses!
  • Works on plastic, and I'm sure it'll work on regular glass, too since it was designed for cars.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mysteries of Mount St. Helens

Panorama from the south rim of Mount St. Helens looking north to east. The volcano left of center is Mount Rainier to the north, and Mount Adams is to the right (east).

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted with a fury, destroying over 200 square miles of dense forest land in just a few minutes, killing 57 people and causing over $1 billion in damage.

I was less than a year out of high school and working in the sports department of a small newspaper in San Diego County. I saved newspaper clippings from that day, being an afternoon paper we had the news of the event from that morning.

Ridiculous headline (right) that I hate to this day. I took this news seriously, having had a rock collection as a kid and always finding geology the most fascinating of all the sciences.

Hiking was a far-off thought for me at the time, being an 18-year-old I was more interested in having a daily job and putting myself through college. It wasn't until the year 2001 that I put on serious hiking shoes, and that year I successfully day hiked Mount Whitney. I also had explored the many volcanic areas along Owens Valley in Eastern California, including Mono Lake, Mammoth Mountain and Devil's Postpile. I still lived in San Diego and really hadn't thought of making the drive to Washington to hike Mount St. Helens until I moved to Reno, Nevada in 2006.

Finally, in March 2008, I reserved the permit to hike the volcano in September. I picked that month because I felt the weather would be nice and the trails would be snow free. I also wisely chose the weekend nearest to full moon. The Saturday hiking date turned out to be my sister's birthday.

With the permit I also received a T-shirt saying "I climbed the volcano." Well, as of March I hadn't yet, the T-shirt sat draped over a chair for six months, I refused to put it on until I actually stood on what was left of the mountain. It sat there on the chair a daily reminder, I counted the days, every day.

Finally, the day arrived. I took off Friday from work and drove 11 hours to Cougar, Washington, where the permit was waiting. I took back roads to Mount Shasta along the way and enjoyed the beautiful forests of northern California and Oregon.

Then I arrived in Portland during afternoon rush hour and very nearly quit. Saw Mount St. Helens off in the distance, it looked much, much bigger than I had thought it would be and way, way steeper. Yuck, this is not going to be good, I'm over my head.

After such a long drive and leaving Cougar at 8 p.m., I decided to skip pitching a tent and instead reserved a room in Longview, about 90 minutes away. It was a decision I didn't regret.

I dilly-dallied the morning of the hike and didn't start off from Climber's Bivouac until 10:15 a.m. A couple from Vancouver, Wash. started behind me but passed me on the mountain later in the day. I'm a slooooow hiker.

There is a campground at the Bivouac trailhead, which was full. Looking through the forest up at Mount St. Helens, it looked so very far away, but the hike is only around four miles, with two through forest and two on the steep slope.

The forest section is a nicely shaded hike, relatively flat, and a good area to let your mind wander to subjects such as Sasquatch. Ape Canyon and Ape Cave are nearby and named for the elusive biped.

Even in September, the trail is quite lush, and wildflowers are in bloom.

Hikers make a gradual climb to treeline over about two miles. Along the way there are breaks in the forest, where views to the south begin to take your breath away before you even begin to climb. Even on this hazy day, I had good views of Mount Adams to the east and Mount Hood (barely visible, right) to the south in Oregon, not far away across the Columbia River. From here I thought often of the Sasquatch reports all around this area on the BFRO web site.

Finally, the business of climbing the steep flank of a volcano strikes, and strikes hard. There is no trail up the side of Mount St. Helens!

At treeline, you're greeted with a lava flow consisting of large and small boulders. Here and there are sticks suggesting a route. For the next mile and a half  up you pick your way through this jumble of rocks and slog your way up a difficult 45-degree slope.

In places there is something of a dirt trail, but not much. Mainly you weave your way in and out of these boulders. In many places you're Class 2, using your hands to pull yourself up or balance. It's not difficult route-finding.

This particular route is known as "Monitor Ridge" for obvious reasons. Mount St. Helens, being one of the most active volcanoes in the world, is heavily studied. Here you can find one of the instrument platforms.

Finally the lava flow gives way to the steepest part of the mountain, covered in very loose, fine ash. The view here is spectacular. That's Mount Hood off in the distance, 60 miles away. Directly below center, where you can see the forest has been logged, is the trailhead and Climber's Bivouac area.

In between the many lava flows spilling over the sides of the volcano are glaciers with crevasses deep enough to hurt yourself in if you were unfortunate enough to fall into. But, I heard from another climber that Mount St. Helens is easier to climb in the winter.

Here you can see why that might be the case. What you see below is solid ash, fine particles of volcanic glass. Those two dots lower left of center are other hikers. Every two steps forward and you're sliding back one step. Trekking poles are a big help. Your shoes will fill with ash. You will be covered in ash. It gets into everything, and you're sweating your way up. It's a mess. But then you reach the rim and all that is forgotten.

The devastation really hits you. The entire top and north flank of this formerly Fuji-like mountain has completely vanished! Hundreds of square miles of nothing where forest used to be. Spirit Lake (upper right) suffered a tsunami in the supersonic blast, spilling water over its far ridge and dragging back thousands of denuded trees which still float in the lake.

The trees shift position with the wind. You can see them hugging the far shore with Mount Rainier in the distance about 50 miles away. Imagine the hills beyond the lake were once covered in forest.

Inside the crater is a pair of steaming domes plugging the earth's interior, and around them is the crater glacier. It's hard to see because it's covered with ash. The rim of Mount St. Helens continues to erode, with large pieces falling into the crater every few minutes. So far the interior of the mountain has grown back over 1,500 feet.


Above headline is for Kerri Honeysett, a Facebook friend who found me in a search because I happened to mention Mount St. Helens one day. She studies stratigraphy because of this mountain, which displays its layers like nowhere else, you can clearly see them built upon each other as it grew and erupted over the last several thousand years. Below is Spirit Lake and off in the distance is Mount Rainier.

And you can see my shoes. On the way back down, the soles of BOTH shoes blew out. I had to stop several times to empty them of ash.

Even on the devastated slopes of the mountain, here and there life has found a way. The lava flows are dotted with small clusters of wildflowers.

It was getting late so I stuffed my pockets full of ash and pumice souvenirs and made my way back down. It wasn't too easy, and finally darkness made its way over me. Two hikers even came back up the slope to offer me a headlamp, but I said thanks, I have two. I hadn't checked the batteries in either one, and when I finally reached the last boulder field before treeline I was navigating mostly by light of the full moon. Once back in the forest, my headlamp was barely on but I could see well enough thanks to that moon.

About 45 minutes from the trailhead I found something curious. About 30 feet off the trail, two hikers with headlamps were off trail, walking around each other apparently in circles, as if they were looking for something or getting ready to find a spot to (fill in blank). Neither said anything, and they hadn't seen me because of my waning headlamp. Finally they did see me, and both came to a dead standstill and stared at me going by. I wasn't going to ask any questions. Two people in the forest in the dark off trail in the liberal northwest...figure it out.


I don't have a picture of Bigfoot so here's a picture of treeline from the initial field of boulders. Somewhere in these trees, about 15 minutes after I encountered those two weirdos, I was about 30 minutes from the trailhead. Out of headlamp light but also coming out of the forest I heard a very shrill, louder-than-a-peacock whistle, two whistles, one low and one high. Extremely loud. I'm sure those extracurricular people hadn't made their way through the forest to do this. And a few seconds later far, far off to the west, I hear what sounded like a man's voice repeating the whistle tones, just in a voice, uuu-uuuh, UUUU-UUUUH? Like that, ending higher pitched with a question mark. You judge. Maybe sasquatch, maybe campers from the bivouac. I did read one report on BFRO describing shrill whistles like that. I dunno. I haven't found anything on the internet about native birds making such a whistle. It was extremely loud and not human, I would know a human whistle.

Finally, back at the trailhead at 10:15 p.m., 12 hours after I started. Even being dog tired, I didn't have much of a problem driving back to Longview. Shortly before midnight I kicked back in bed and popped open a beer. Next thing I knew it was Sunday morning. The beer was sitting there with one sip out of it.

Drove home to Reno on Sunday, taking the long way around through The Dalles and around Goose Lake, the Lava Beds in Modoc County, Alturas and finally home late Monday morning around 1 a.m., and back at work a few hours after that. And here, five years later in 2013, memories solidly intact. What an excellent trip.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tracking aircraft with ultra-cheap software-defined radio dongle

My fascination with airplanes goes way back, probably to the days when my grandfather was a line foreman at Convair. I would spend hours looking through a small telescope at passing aircraft, and later wound up working at Convair in the MD-11 project for a couple years (before labor union costs caused the company to go under). I still today will spend time in the yard taking pictures of birds, both living and mechanical.

I have a similar interest in radio, my dad's longtime hobby. I have many radios including a shortwave radio. Left the hobby for around 15 years, though, and only recently returned to it thanks to software-defined radio.

Airplanes and the SDR can be combined with a minimum amount of expense and give you more information than you might want to have known. This is known as "virtual radar."

 I have found it useful to see an airplane on  my computer screen and then go outside and take a picture of it if it's a plane of interest, such as a 747, DC-10, helicopter or a military craft, for instance. Logging software will track each flight for you and give you information on distance, flight altitude and speed, where the plane is going to and from and much, much more.

Here's how you set up an SDR to locate and track flights in your area. You need only a few things: a computer, a radio dongle, a good antenna and your choice of free or pay software.

Assuming you already have a computer, the first thing you'll need is the radio. It's a USB dongle originally manufactured for DVB-T digital television and FM radio and it looks something like this:

They can be white or black, doesn't matter. But make sure it's a DVB-T dongle and it MUST have the RTL2832U chipset with either the R820T or E4000 tuner. You can find a lot of them on ebay or you can buy one outright from outfits such as nooelec (an ebay store). Don't pay more than $20 for these. I have paid as little as $12 with free shipping out of China.

Now you need a decoder to pull aircraft information out of your dongle. I am using ADSB#, a freeware, open source decoder for Windows (or Linux if you know how to build the program from source). The program requires several special DLLs, follow the directions on the web site. You can also use RTL1090, which works just as well.

Aircraft owners currently are upgrading to a data-transmission standard known as ADS-B Mode S. Not all planes have it yet (about 40 percent in the USA) and not all planes give their location (about 30 percent in my logs, including pretty much none of the military, for obvious reasons). The transmissions occur at 1.090 GHz, an easy tune for the dongle. The transmissions are short bursts of data in "frames" of 56 or 112 bits that the decoder picks up from the dongle and converts to a useable text form.

Take a look at the above screen cap. You have a start/stop button to kick your dongle into gear. The port number is the software's output port, where decoded messages are sent. You can share these over the internet using ADSBHub or other internet tracking services. The decoder confidence can be adjusted depending on the quality of your antenna. The timeout is how long ADSB# keeps a plane's information before it sends its data back through the filter. The frames/sec are how many transmissions the dongle is receiving (there are a lot!). Below are the controls for the dongle, generally you want to uncheck the built in Auto Gain Controls and adjust your RF gain manually until you get a maximum frames/sec. Don't worry about the frequency correction, you don't need it with the RTLSDR.

The antenna

That 1090 MHz microwave frequency requires an antenna that can receive short wavelengths, which are only a little short of 11 inches (27.4 cm). The cheap antenna that comes with a DVB-T stick is terrible for TV, but actually works fairly well for aircraft monitoring. After a few minutes of this, you'll want a better antenna to receive more and farther away planes.

I opted for a coaxial-collinear antenna, since I had many feet of unused coax laying around. I'll not clutter this post with directions on how to build these, check the link, it's quite good.

What you do is stagger pieces of coax as shown above. The lengths are half-wavelength (5.4 inches or 130.6 mm) will vary according to your coax cable's "velocity factor." Radio signals slow down inside coax, making the wire seem like it's bigger than it really is, so it'll have to be trimmed accordingly. My coax has velocity factor of 0.80, Cheaper cable usually has a factor of 0.66. You can have as many pieces as you want but more pieces will eventually cause signal loss because of its length so anything between 8 and 12 seems ideal.

The above antenna was cobbled together in a couple hours. A few days later I went with something a little more sturdy for mounting outside. I stripped the plastic sheath and outer shield from the coax and inserted the inner dielectric and copper core into copper refrigerator tubing, which runs about $1 per foot at the local hardware store. You won't need more than three or four feet, some solder and a soldering iron for this project.

Run the completed antenna into a length of half-inch PVC and mount the antenna as high as you can and I also recommend connecting your dongle as close as you can to the antenna and use USB extension cables for long runs to your computer. High frequency signals disappear quickly through coax but not so much in the USB cable.

Now you need software that'll show you where the airplanes are! There are two excellent free plotters called Virtual Radar Server (first picture in this post above, which uses Google Maps) and ADSBScope. Both work with ADSB# and both also will transmit to the internet for sharing with your freakishly obsessed virtual flight buddies. If you want to pay for your plotter, PlanePlotter is the best and not all that expensive (I'm just ultra cheap).

Above is one of the many map options you have with ADSBScope.

What to do with all this information? Well, it's up to you, it'll all appear in logs automatically. Since I worked for a time on the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (which unfortunately don't fly above my location) I am partial to its predecessor, the DC-10. FedEx runs those frequently out of San Diego and they fly over my location high in the mountains. When I see one on the computer screen I'll run outside and get a picture of it.

Interesting, huh? Well, mildly by itself but using Virtual Radar Server you can find out the aircraft's ID number is N361FE. Take that registration number and input it into and find out it was manufactured in 1981 as a DC-10 and refitted for FedEx in 2000 as an MD-10. Now it's more interesting.

Many people wish to track military planes. They give their ID and altitude but most times not their location. However, with internet sharing and accurate time stamps, the plane's location can be deduced via "multilateration" or "mlat." I haven't tried this because my internet connection is via satellite and thus delayed :( not to mention I don't think there's anyone within many 10s of miles of me who do this kind of stuff.

I have been logging around 1,500 flights each day from my remote mountain location in Southern California. Many planes run regular routes so this translates to something less than 2,000 aircraft since December 2012 (this is now March 2013), haven't counted it up yet.

(UPDATE: I did finally count it all up. From Dec. 12 to March 12, 90 days, I logged a little less than 110,000 flights and 10.900 aicraft)

Have fun with your cheap toy, this is only one of many things you can do with a RTLSDR dongle.  Surprising how much radio is all around you! You can also download weather pictures from passing NOAA satellites and listen to radio communications by local government such as fire, police, even tow trucks and taxi cabs!

You can upgrade your equipment, even pay many hundreds of bucks if you want dedicated airplane receivers and logging. I'm not that into it, for an investment of considerably less than 50 bucks I'm having just as much fun!