Geeks in Phoenix

Geek Blog


Stitching panoramic images for the web with Microsoft Research HD View

A while back. I wrote an article about creating panoramic images with Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) and Photosynth. With ICE and Photosynth, you can create panoramic images and then upload them to the Photosynth website. But what if you wanted to upload them to your website? That's where HD View comes into the picture.

Microsoft Research HD View is a new viewer to help in displaying large images (gigapixels) across the internet. It allows you to create panoramic images for web pages that do not take a lot of bandwidth. When someone views the image, they are only downloading what is required for that view. It is only when they pan or zoom, that more of the image is downloaded. HD View / Deep Zoom is now included in ICE, also as a stand-alone command line utility and (here's the best), a Photoshop plug-in.

HD View / Deep Zoom export in Microsoft Image Composite Editor
HD View / Deep Zoom export in Microsoft Image Composite Editor

HD View / Deep Zoom export in Photoshop plug-in
HD View / Deep Zoom export in Photoshop plug-in

So if you're a Photoshop user, you can now export those panoramic images that Photoshop can create directly to HD View / Deep Zoom format. The Photoshop plug-in is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit. Here's a quote from the HD View website:

About HD View
HD View is a new viewer developed by Microsoft Research's Interactive Visual Media group to aid in the display and interaction with very large images. The HDView development team included Johannes Kopf, Matt Uyttendaele, Howard Good, and Michael Cohen along with Jonathan Fay of the Next Media group.

Recent advances in camera and sensor technology and software for stitching images together has led to the creation of images containing billions of pixels (gigapixels). These images are often panoramic, that is, they cover very wide fields of view. Since monitors typically contain only one to two million pixels, it is only possible to actually see 1/1000th of such image data at once. Also, viewing very wide fields of view require unwrapping of an image projected onto a curved surface (think of a map of the world) which can cause distortions.

HD View leverages current graphics hardware to allow smooth panning and zooming as well as the viewing transformation described below.

HD View was developed with a number of goals in mind. It should:

  • allow smooth panning and zooming on large images,
  • only download enough data to create the current view (and possibly look ahead to the next), and
  • always display the current field of view with an appropriate projection. This means that when zoomed way in you should be presented with a standard perspective projection providing a sense of immersion, and when zoomed out you experience a curved projection so that get a full overview of the scene. In between the projection should smoothly transition.
  • Finally, it should be easy to create your own HD View content and present it to the world via the web.

The HD View plugin currently supports all major browsers on the Windows platform. The first time that you visit a page with HD View content you will be prompted to install the HD View plugin.

For more information on HD View / Deep Zoom, just follow the links below:

Microsoft Research HD View
HD View Utilities (32 bit) - Microsoft Research
HD View Utilities (64 bit) - Microsoft Research

Be more productive in your office for free with OpenOffice 3

A client recently asked me if I knew of any alternative to Microsoft Office. As a firm believer in open source software, I told him about OpenOffice.org 3 from Oracle. It is a complete office software suite with a word processor, spreadsheet, multi-media presentation, graphics and database programs.

OpenOffice.org is Java based and requires it to be installed. It is compatible with other commercial office software and can read / write various file formats. XSLT and StarOffice formats are supported, but you will need to choose the custom installation to enable these filters. You can also expand the functionality of OpenOffice.org by using third party extensions. And you can also export to PDF in all of the applications. And best of all, it's free.

OpenOffice 3's Main Screen
OpenOffice.org 3's main screen

Programs included in OpenOffice.org

Writer
Writer lets you design and produce text documents that can include graphics, tables, or charts. You can then save the documents in a variety of formats, including the standardized OpenDocument format (ODF), Microsoft Word .doc format, or HTML. And you can easily export your document to the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Calc
Calc is a spreadsheet application that you can use to calculate, analyze, and manage your data. You can also import and modify Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Impress
Impress lets you create professional slide shows that can include charts, drawing objects, text, multimedia and a variety of other items. If you want, you can even import and modify Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

Draw
Draw lets you create simple and complex drawings and export them in a number of common image formats. You can also insert tables, charts, formulas and other items created in OpenOffice.org programs into your drawings.

Base
With Base, you can access data that is stored in a wide variety of database file formats. Base natively supports some flat file database formats, such as the dBASE format. You can also use Base to connect to external relational databases, such as databases from MySQL or Oracle.

Math
Math provides numerous operators, functions and formatting assistants to help you create formulas.

OpenOffice.org 3 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on OpenOffice.org 3, please visit their website OpenOffice.org.

Improve the performance of Windows 7 and Windows Vista with ReadyBoost

I am always looking at different ways to improve the performance of Windows. One of the ways is to use ReadyBoost that is built into Windows 7 and Windows Vista. ReadyBoost can speed up your computer by caching files that the system accesses frequently on USB flash drives and SD / CF memory cards.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista use an algorithm named Windows SuperFetch to determine which files should be stored in the cache. SuperFetch monitors files that users access (including system files, application files, and documents) and pre-loads those files into the ReadyBoost cache. Because the ReadyBoost cache stores a copy of the files, the flash drive can be removed at any point without affecting the computer, Windows will simply read the original files from the disk.

When to use ReadyBoost to improve performance

  • The computer has a slow hard disk drive. Computers with a primary hard disk Windows Experience Index (WEI) subscore lower than 4.0 will see the most significant improvements.
  • The flash storage provides fast, random, non-sequential reads. Sequential read speed is less important.
  • The flash storage is connected by a fast bus. Typically, USB memory card readers are not sufficiently fast. However, connecting flash memory to an internal memory card reader might provide sufficient performance.

Requirements for USB flash drives, SD / CF memory cards

  • Capacity of at least 256 MB, with at least 64 kilobytes (KB) of free space.
  • At least a 2.5 MB/sec throughput for 4-KB random reads
  • At least a 1.75 MB/sec throughput for 1-MB random writes

You must reserve at least 256 MB. Larger caches can improve performance, but the ReadyBoost cache in Windows 7 cannot be greater than 4 GB on a FAT32 file system or greater than 32 GB on an NTFS file system. Windows Vista has a 4 GB limit on both file systems. So, if your USB flash drive or SD / CF memory card is larger than 4 GB, it will need to formatted in NTFS to create a ReadyBoost cache larger than 4 GB.

How to turn ReadyBoost on or off

  1. Plug a USB flash drive or SD / CF memory card into your computer.

  2. Autoplay dialog box with Speed up my system selected
  3. In the Autoplay dialog box, under General options, click Speed up my system.

  4. Drive options for ReadyBoost
  5. In the Properties dialog box, click the ReadyBoost tab, and then do one of the following:
    • To turn ReadyBoost off, click Do not use this device.
    • To use the maximum available space on the flash drive or memory card for ReadyBoost, click Dedicate this device to ReadyBoost. Windows will leave any files already stored on the device, but it'll use the rest to boost your system speed.
  6. To use less than the maximum available space on the device for ReadyBoost, click Use this device, and then move the slider to choose the amount of available space on the device you want to use.
  7. Click OK.

Security made easier with Microsoft Security Essentials 2

In a previous article, I discussed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). I like the easy of use, the integration with Windows Update and the small footprint it has, especially on my netbook. Recently, Microsoft has released Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 with some new features, including a new and improved protection engine, Windows Firewall integration and a Network Inspection System.

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
A new look for MSE V2

As you can see, the user interface changed slightly, with a new color palette and mesh graphics. There are a few more options for the user to configure, but it is still one of the easiest anti-virus applications to setup. For more on the major improvements, here is a quote from the MSE web site:

Windows Firewall integration
Windows Firewall can help prevent attackers or malicious software from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. Now when you install Security Essentials, the installation wizard verifies that Windows Firewall is turned on. If you have intentionally turned off Windows Firewall, you can avoid turning it on by clearing a check box. You can change your Windows Firewall settings at any time via the System and Security settings in Control Panel.

Network Inspection System
Attackers are increasingly carrying out network-based attacks against exposed vulnerabilities before software vendors can develop and distribute security updates. Studies of vulnerabilities show that it can take a month or longer from the time of an initial attack report before a suitable security update is developed, tested, and released. This gap in protection leaves many computers vulnerable to attacks and exploitation for a substantial period of time. Network Inspection System works with real-time protection to better protect you against network-based attacks by greatly reducing the timespan between vulnerability disclosures and update deployment from weeks to a few hours.

Award-winning protection engine
Under the hood of Security Essentials is its award-winning protection engine that is updated regularly. The engine is backed by a team of antimalware researchers from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, providing responses to the latest malware threats 24 hours a day.

Now, in going through the program, I did find two options quite interesting...

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
Enable behavior monitoring and Enable Network Inspection System options in MSE V2

I did a little digging in the MSE V2 Help file and found this description of these features:

Enable behavior monitoring
This option monitors collections of behavior for suspicious patterns that might not be detected by traditional antivirus detection methods.

Enable Network Inspection System
This option helps protect your computer against “zero day” exploits of known vulnerabilities, decreasing the window of time between the moment a vulnerability is discovered and an update is applied.

Here are a few of the other changes inside of MSE V2:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials also supports Windows XP Mode in Windows 7
  • The ability to limit CPU usage during scanning
  • Automatic removal of quarantined files after a set amount of time
  • You can now select between monitoring all files, incoming or outgoing

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 is available for Windows XP (SP 2 or SP 3)(x86), Windows Vista (x86, x64) and Windows 7 (x86, x64) and can be downloaded here.

Note:
The only issue I came across was that the update function inside Version 1 would not update the program to Version 2. I tried it on a couple of systems without success. I had to uninstall Version 1 first, then install Version 2.

Harden / Mitigate the security of your Windows programs with Microsoft EMET

*** Revised 19, February 2016 ***
This article has been revised for EMET v5.5

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit 5.5

Let's face it, some of the software we use on a daily basis has become subject to security vulnerabilities and exploits. Software manufacturers do their best to develop and test fixes / patches as fast as possible, but this can take time. A lot of users just cannot keep up with all of the updates and hotfixes. A few years ago Microsoft released the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) to deal with just this issue.

View of the main screen inside EMET 5.5
View of the main screen inside EMET 5.5

So what is EMET? EMET monitors selected programs (Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, etc.) for known attack actions and techniques. When one of the several pseudo mitigation technologies is triggered, EMET will either block the programs' access to the resouce it is trying to reach or just terminate it. EMET expands on the technologies that Microsoft implemented with Data Execution Prevention (DEP), which has been included in the Windows operating system since Windows XP SP2. It will also validate digitally signed SSL certificates inside of Internet Explorer.

View of the application configuration screen inside EMET 5.5
View of the application configuration screen inside EMET 5.5

So how does EMET work? EMET acts as a shim between the program being monitored and the operating system. The monitored program thinks it's talking directly to the operating system, but it's actually talking to it through EMET. EMET comes with predefined profiles for some of the more common programs like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat and Java. You can also add to the predefined profiles or create your own. I recommend that you monitor any program that can open files on or from the Internet.

What security exploits are currently covered

Here's is the current list of mitigations EMET 5.5 currently looks for.

  • Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) Mitigation
  • Export Address Table Filtering (EAF+) Security Mitigation
  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP) Security Mitigation
  • Structured Execution Handling Overwrite Protection (SEHOP) Security Mitigation
  • NullPage Security Mitigation
  • Heapspray Allocation Security Mitigation
  • Export Address Table Filtering (EAF) Security Mitigation
  • Mandatory Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) Security Mitigation
  • Load Library Check - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Memory Protection Check - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Caller Checks - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Simulate Execution Flow - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Stack Pivot - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Windows 10 untrusted fonts

What programs should you harden / mitigate

You only want to harden / mitigate certain programs that are targeted on a regular basis. Web browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, production / office programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, e-mail clients like Outlook and Windows Live Mail are some of the few. I recommend that you harden any program that can open files on or from the Internet.

What programs should you not harden / mitigate

You should never configure EMET to monitor anti-virus, anti-malware, intrusion prevention / detection software, debuggers, software that handles Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies or software that uses anti-debugging, obfuscation, or hooking technologies.

Installation notes

New installation: Just download EMET and install

Upgrade install: Since the registry keys for EMET changed with this version, you can either export your existing EMET settings using the method in the 'What's new' section below, download the converter or reconfigure all of the program settings. With the drastic change with the EMET data format inside of the registry, I think that it would be just easier to reconfigure EMET then try the export / import method. Either way, remember to uninstall any older version of EMET and restart your computer before you install this version.

What's new in EMET 5.5?

  • Full-featured GPO management, compatible with reporting and compliance requirements
  • Command line: new syntax and options
  • Implementation of certificate pinning now based on root CA thumbprints. Exceptions logic removed.
  • Export and Import now memorize path
  • EMET registry has been refactored. To convert settings from previous versions of EMET (including EMET 5.5 Beta), registry values must be saved in a file then imported back with the use of the converter PowerShell script after EMET 5.5 is installed. Here are the steps to follow:
  1. Export settings. With elevated PowerShell, run the following command:
    .\Migrate-EmetSettings.ps1 -RegFile .\NewEmetSettings.reg -MissingCertCsv .\MissingCerts.csv PowerShell script Migrate-EmetSettings.ps1 is provided with EMET 5.5 RTM. It includes documentation about its usage.
  2. Uninstall former version of EMET.
  3. Install EMET 5.5 RTM. When asked to choose between Use recommended settings and Configure manually later, chose option Configure manually later.
  4. Import settings. With elevated PowerShell, run the following command:
    reg.exe import .\NewEmetSettings.reg

Supported Operating Systems

Windows 10 , Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Vista

  • EMET 5.5 requires .NET Framework 4.5.
  • For Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 you need to install KB2790907 - a mandatory Application Compatibility update that has been released on March 12th, 2013 or any other Application Compatibility updates for Windows 8 after that

For more information on EMET, just follow the links below.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5 User Guide
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5 converter

Customer service is #1

Here at Geeks in Phoenix, we take pride in providing excellent customer service. From computer repair, virus removal and data recovery, we aim to give the highest quality of service.

Bring your computer to us and save

Our in-shop computer repair service  is based on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

Contact us

Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

Like Geeks in Phoenix on Facebook

Follow Geeks in Phoenix on Twitter

Watch Geeks in Phoenix on YouTube

Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

Copyright © 2016 Geeks in Phoenix LLC